The Fourth Fundamental: Miracles and the Resurrection, Part V

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 10 October 2007 0 Comments
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I am a member of the Spiritual Quest group at St. Mark's
Episcopal Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. One of the topics
we have been studying is the ancient Wheel of the Year and the
relationships of pagan beliefs, customs, and celebrations to
those of Christianity. At the vernal equinox, we found a
variety of very interesting stories, one of which follows: In
Rome, about 200 years before the birth of Christ, there was a
wide range of what we today would call "mystery cults." Attis
and Cybele held their vernal equinox rituals at the same place
where St. Peter's Basilica now stands in the Vatican - the
center of Catholicism today. Attis was also known under various
names such as Osiris, Dionysus, Tammuz, and Orpheus. The Attis
and Cybele festival had a death or day of blood, three days of
semi-death, then a return to life for the deceased. Attis'
mother was called Nana and she was a virgin - no surprise there.
Attis was crucified on a pine tree and his followers ate his
body; his blood was spilled or released to renew/redeem the
earth. Attis was both a sacrificial victim and a savior, his
death and re-birth intended to bring salvation to mankind. Most
researchers will declare that Attis is clearly the prototype for
Christ. (This information is from Ireland's Druidschool Web site). It appears
that the Christian churches tried to win over the pagans by
taking over or blending in with their celebrations at these
particular times of the year pertaining to the sun, moon,
fertility, harvest, and otherworldly observances like Halloween.
Does the church calendar have any meaning? Does it really
matter? How does all this complicate our understanding of God,
Jesus, and our ministry in the world? And, lastly, what do you
think about it?


It is now quite obvious that as Christianity
moved out of its Jewish womb into the Mediterranean world, it
was introduced to, conformed with and shaped by the culture.

For example, the virgin birth did not enter the
Christian story until the 9th decade. There were lots of virgin
birth stories in the pagan religions of the Empire. They were
clearly mythological interpretive devices. The cannibalistic
ideas associated with the Christian Eucharist in which the flesh
and blood of the savior figure are eaten and drunk clearly have
pagan origins. The account of a hero figure dying and returning
from death is also present in many ancient pagan sources.
Easter was a pagan word for spring and the return of the earth
to life after the winter. That is why the crucifixion of Jesus
was moved to the season of the Passover so that his victory over
death could be celebrated at the same time the forms of life
showed victory over the death of winter by coming to life again.

Christmas and Hannukah were attached to the return of
the sun from its retreat into darkness. Hence both celebrations
come at or near the shortest day of the year in the northern

Every religious system is layered over ancient roots.
Christianity is no different. That is why anyone who
literalizes the Jesus story or the Bible is revealing little
more than profound ignorance. That is also why it is my
experience that studying the Christian faith requires a
lifetime. None of these things, however, distorts the basic
Christian message that God calls us to live, to love and to be.

John Shelby Spong

P.S. Please give my regards to the people of St Mark's. I
remember with much pleasure doing a series of lectures there
some 4 or 5 years ago.




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