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A belief in the resurrection of the dead was current in the Greek mythologies. We have already had the instances of Alcestis and Eurydice brought from Hades to life, and there are others. Dionysus, or Bacchus, recovered his mother Semele from Hades. His own body was cut to pieces by the Titans, and he was restored to life by Rhea or Demeter (Smith's Dict.). Persephone was carried off by Pluto to Hades. Her mother, Ceres, or Demeter, searched for her in vain, but Hermes brought her back to Eleusis (Smith's Dict.). Adonis after death was restored to the upper world by Persephone ; but every six months he had to return to her, the intervening six months of liberty being passed with Aphrodite (Smith's Dict.). Mystic rites were established in commemoration of these several events.
The Eleusinian mysteries were organized to inculcate the doctrine of a future life. It was taught that the body brought sin into the soul which underwent reward or punishment according as it had resisted or yielded to the bodily inducements. The mysteries embraced three stages, that of Purification, Initiation, and Perfection. The Neophyte had to divest himself of worldly concerns, and to cultivate communion with the divinity. The profane were kept at a distance. These were the lesser mysteries. Having learnt therein what were the miseries of the soul while under subjection to the body, the recipient was initiated and introduced to the greater mysteries. The passage of the soul through Hades is then enacted before him, after which he is accorded a vision of Elysium. The descent of Hercules, Ulysses, and others, into Hades, and the fables of Bacchus and Persephone, are here made use of. Apuleius thus describes his initiation. “I approached the confines of death, and treading on the threshold of Persephone, and being carried through all the elements, I came back again to my pristine situation. In the depths of midnight I saw the sun glittering with a splendid light, together with the infernal and the supernal gods : and to these divinities approaching near, I paid the tribute of devout adoration.” Plato, in the Phædrus, says, “In consequence of the divine initiation, we became spectators of entire, simple, immoveable, and blessed visions, resident in a pure light; and were ourselves pure and immaculate, and liberated from this surrounding vestment, which we denominate body, and to which we are now bound like an oyster to its shell.” On this passage Proclus observes, “That initiation and inspection are symbols of ineffable silence, and of union with mystic natures, through intelligible visions.” Proclus gives vent to his aspirations in a beautiful hymn addressed to Minerva :
“Great goddess, hear! and on my darkened mind
Pour thy pure light in measure unconfined;
(Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries. Anon.).
With all those associations of sin with the members of the body; with the struggles to “keep under the body” by “subjection;" with the ideas of heaven and hell, and the judgment of the dead before a Pluto or a Rhadamanthus ; with the groanings“ in the earthly house of this tabernacle," " earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven,” “ that mortality might be swallowed up of life,” occurring in the Christian scriptures, earnest and enlightened Greeks were already familiar ; with the image (in many a varied form) of a Saviour of mankind, divinely born, God and man together, lowering himself for the sake of man, undergoing toil, peril, and even death, to effect their deliverance, the Greeks were provided equally as the Christians. The religions, in these great characteristics, were the same, and it was not difficult that the one form of faith, in the progress of development, should pass into the other. The constituents were essentially identical ; all that had to be effected was a change of scene, of name, and of historical incidents, for which the Jewish creed gave the necessary indications.
The early Christian writers of Gentile stock necessarily were well acquainted with the legends of the Grecian divinities. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Minutius Felix, Theophilus of Antioch, and Clement of Alexandria, all evince this knowledge in their writings. The conclusion was inevitable that the Christians had delineated Christ from Pagan models. This was an accusation constantly raised against them, and prominently by Celsus, and they felt themselves under the necessity of rebutting it how they could. “Nor is sentence upon us passed by Minos or Rhadamanthus” (observes Tatian), “ before whose decease not a single soul, according to the mythic tales, was judged ; but the Creator, God himself, becomes the arbiter.” He thereupon lowers the attributes of Zeus, Rhea, Aphrodite, Artemis, Athene, Æsculapius, Apollo, and Kronos. “Such,” he says, “ are the demons.” “Prometheus," he observed, “ fastened to Caucasus, suffered punishment for his good deeds to men,” on which he charged Zeus with envy (Address to the Greeks, Cap. vi., viii., X., xxi.). “We have been taught,” Justin stated, “ that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought Atheists ; as, among the Greeks, Socrates, and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others.” “This, then, to speak shortly, is what we expect and have learned from Christ, and teach. And Plato, in like manner, used to say that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish the wicked who came before them; and we say that the same thing will be done, but at the hand of Christ.” “And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of
Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribe to Jupiter; Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all ; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven ; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils ; and the sons of Leda, the Dioscuri ; and Perseus, son of Danae ; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars? And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Cæsar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre ?” “And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse ; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them. . . . . And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius.” Then the apologist has to account for the similitudes, while maintaining that Christianity is derived from a divine source, and he does so thus. “Those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them ; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they (the demons) heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in ; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain.” In this manner features connected with Bacchus, Bellerophon, and Perseus, held to be applicable to Christ, are accounted for (1st Apol., viii., xxi., xxii., xlvi., xlvi., liv). “When they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by (Jupiter's) intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven ; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that the devil) has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses ? And when they tell that Hercules was strong, and travelled over all the world, and was begotten by Jove of Alcmene, and ascended to heaven when he died, do I not perceive that the Scripture which speaks of Christ, “strong as a giant to run his race,' has been, in like manner, imitated ? And when he (the devil) brings forward Æsculapius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ" (Dial. with Trypho, lxix). Truly a cause must be desperate when it is to be thus defended. And the misery of the defence is that not only do the Greek mythologies precede the alleged prophecies in point of time, but that the Christ of the Christians is more closely shaped after the Greek mythologies than after the Jewish prophetical scriptures.
Besides drawing from the models presented to them in their own proper mythologies when building up their new faith, the early Greek Christians found ample resources in the Egyptian beliefs, of which they also availed themselves. The intercourse between the Greeks and the Egyptians is traceable to the time of Psammitichus, or B.C. 670, and the Greeks, who, in respect of their religious exhibitions, were a copying rather than an originating race, embellished their mythological system with Egyptian elements.* Both creeds,
* “The Legends of the Old Test.” 21-24.