Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mithras was the central savior god of Mithraism, a syncretic Hellenistic mystery religion of male initiates that developed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and was practiced in the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. Parthian coins and documents bear a double date with a 64 year interval that represents Mithra's ascension to heaven, traditionally given as the equivalent of 208 BC, 64 years after his birth.
The name Mithras was adapted from the Persian god Mithra, the mediator between Ahura Mazda and the earth, the guarantor of human contracts, although in Mithraism much was added to the original elements of Mithra. However, some of the attributes of Roman Mithras may have been taken from other Eastern cults: for example, the heavy Mithraist use of astrology strongly suggests syncretism with star-oriented Mesopotamian or Anatolian religions. At least some of this syncretism may have already been underway when the cult was adopted in the West.
The cult surrounding Mithras had many similarities to Christianity, in particular that Mithras's birth would be celebrated on December 25 and his followers would practice baptism. Some, particularly atheists, interpret these similarities as evidence that Christianity is actually a religion that evolved out of pagan myths.
- David Ulansey, "The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras"
- David Fingrut, "Mithraism: The Legacy of the Roman Empire's Final Pagan State Religion" (a high-school level paper that does, however, summarize well the classic work of Cumont)
- Franz Cumont, The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism
- Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World. Oxford University Press 1991. ISBN 0195067886.
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