Mithra and Christ
Over the centuries—in fact, from the earliest Christian times—Mithraism has been compared to Christianity, revealing numerous similarities between the two faiths’ doctrines and traditions, including as concerns stories of their respective godmen. In developing this analysis, it should be kept in mind that elements from Roman, Armenian and Persian Mithraism are utilized, not as a whole ideology but as separate items that may have affected the creation of Christianity, whether directly through the mechanism of Mithraism or through another Pagan source within the Roman Empire and beyond. The evidence points to these motifs and elements being adopted into Christianity not as a whole from one source but singularly from many sources, including Mithraism.
“The evidence points to these motifs and elements being adopted into Christianity…”
Thus, the following list represents not a solidified mythos or narrative of one particular Mithra or form of the god as developed in one particular culture and era but, rather, a combination of them all for ease of reference as to any possible influences upon Christianity under the name of Mitra/Mithra/Mithras.
Mithra has the following in common with the Jesus character:
- Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
- The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
- He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
- He had 12 companions or “disciples.”
- He performed miracles.
- As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
- He ascended to heaven.
- Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
- Mithra is omniscient, as he “hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him.”
- He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
- His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
- His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper.”
- Mithra “sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers.”
- Mithraism emphasized baptism.
Both Mithra and Jesus were considered the Son of God…
December 25th Birthday
The similarities between Mithraism and Christianity have included their chapels, the term “father” for priest, celibacy and, it is notoriously claimed, the December 25th birthdate. Over the centuries, apologists contending that Mithraism copied Christianity nevertheless have asserted that the December 25th birthdate was taken from Mithraism. As Sir Arthur Weigall says:
December 25th was really the date, not of the birth of Jesus, but of the sun-god Mithra. Horus, son of Isis, however, was in very early times identified with Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, and hence with Mithra…
Mithra’s birthday on December 25th has been so widely claimed that the Catholic Encyclopedia (“Mithraism”) remarks: “The 25 December was observed as his birthday, the natalis invicti, the rebirth of the winter-sun, unconquered by the rigours of the season.”
Yet this contention of Mithra’s birthday on December 25th or the winter solstice is disputed because there is no hard archaeological or literary evidence of the Roman Mithras specifically being named as having been born at that time. Says Dr. Alvar:
There is no evidence of any kind, not even a hint, from within the cult that this, or any other winter day, was important in the Mithraic calendar. (Alvar, 410)
In analyzing the evidence, we must keep in mind all the destruction that has taken place over the past 2,000 years—including that of many Mithraic remains and texts—as well as the fact that several of these germane parallels constituted mysteries that may or may not have been recorded in the first place or the meanings of which have been obscured.
The claim about the Roman Mithras’s birth on “Christmas” is evidently based on the Calendar of Filocalus or Philocalian Calendar (c. 354 AD/CE), which mentions that December 25th represents the “Birthday of the Unconquered,” understood to refer to the sun and taken to indicate Mithras as Sol Invictus. Whether it represents Mithras’s birthday specifically or “merely” that of Emperor Aurelian’s Sol Invictus, with whom Mithras has been identified, the Calendar also lists the day—the winter solstice birth of the sun—as that of natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae: “Birth of Christ in Bethlehem Judea.”
Moreover, it would seem that there is more to this story, as Aurelian was the first to institute officially the winter solstice as the birthday of Sol Invictus (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) in 274 AD/CE. (Halsberghe, 158) It is contended that Aurelian’s move was in response to Mithras’s popularity. (Restaud, 4) One would thus wonder why the emperor would be so motivated if Mithras had nothing whatsoever to do with the sun god’s traditional birthday—a disconnect that would be unusual for any solar deity.
Regardless of whether or not the artifacts of the Roman Mithras’s votaries reflect the attribution of the sun god’s birthday to him specifically, many in the empire did identify the mysteries icon and Sol Invictus as one, evidenced by the inscriptions of “Sol Invictus Mithras” and the many images of Mithras and the sun together, representing two sides of the same coin or each other’s alter ego. Hence, the placement of Mithras’s birth on this feast day of the sun is understandable and, despite the lack of concrete evidence at this date, quite plausibly was recognized in this manner in antiquity in the Roman Empire.
Mithra (Avestan: Miθpa) is the Zoroastrian divinity (yazata) of covenant and oath. In addition to being the divinity of contracts, Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing protector of Truth, and the guardian of cattle, the harvest and of The Waters.
The term Mithra is from the Avestan language. In Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian etc.),Mithra became Mehr, Myhr etc., from which Modern Persian مهر Mehr, Pashto لمر Lmar, Waziri ميېر Myer andArmenian Mihr ultimately derive.
Mithra is the Iranian god of light, contracts and friendship. He also maintains the cosmic order. Sometimes mentioned as the son of Ahura Mazda, he assists him in his struggle against the forces of evil