The Urantia Book Fellowship

Responses to Dan Massey's Paper, "Jesus, Mithras, Mithraism"

The following two commentaries are in response to the paper by Dan Massey titled "But who say you that I am?" While the tone of the responses is at times somewhat critical, the decision to publish both opinions was based on the thoughtful quality of each and, especially in the case of the second, longer article, its scholarly approach. A response from Dan Massey follows each. As Dan himself said, Open discussion of ideas contained in [my] paper could be beneficial and interesting to readers.

Response from John M. Andrews

Many thanks to Dan Massey for conveying an interesting theory, some entertaining and thought-provoking speculations, and some good insight into the "preparatory" work Jesus did on his trip to Rome. But.... The point ignored in Dan's article is that the apostles, at Peter's instigation and over the objections of Nathaniel, did not do what Jesus had told them to do. They didn't preach the simple gospel he had taught and lived among them; instead, they preached a message "about" Jesus, focusing on the facts of epochal revelation and the material circumstances surrounding it. (Sound familiar?)

Dan's article invites an erroneous and unfortunate conclusion in the mind of the reader: that the serious mistakes of the apostles were an expected part of the Salvington plan, and therefore of no consequence in ensuing events. It would seem to follow, then, that any similarly unwise actions on OUR part are probably expected by Salvington, and therefore not really our responsibility. How convenient! It is true, and certainly interesting, that Jesus prepared the way among Mithraic (and other) groups for the reception of something. But it seems clear to me that the "something" he had in mind was his saving message of the ever-present potential of a sonship relationship with a living and loving God.

This is what Jesus told the apostles to preach, and what he had trained them to teach for years. If the apostles had canted the gospel message instead of one of their own devising, the world would be a different and better place today. I see no reason to believe that the apostles' substitution of facts about Jesus for his gospel message was anymore a part of the Salvington plan than were the mistakes of Adam and Eve. These events were simply creature error, with real and lasting repercussions for the whole world -- slowing down and confusing planetary progress.

It was certainly within the power of understanding of the apostles to go forth and preach the same thing Jesus had practiced them at preaching all those years! Jesus' preparation for the reception of their message by Mithraism, and therefore by Rome, would have worked whichever message they had carried! It remains true: If the apostles had carried the gospel message instead of one of their own devising, the world would be a different and better place today. They could have; they should have; and (I believe) Jesus intended them to--but they just didn't.

And so it is in our time: It is not a part of the Salvington plan that we should foster another religion about epochal revelation--by idolizing and glorifying the book, as if it were an end in itself. That many "fans" of the book seem intent on fostering another such "religion about epochal revelation" does not mean that is what Salvington intended. From a practical point of view, we could be doing a better job -- carrying the gospel in our message and in our lives. If we continue to fail in this regard, it will have a lasting, detrimental effect upon the world -- slowing down the progress of Jesus' spiritual message.

John M. Andrews

Author's Reply:

John Andrews seems to have missed the point of my paper. This point was, simply, that Jesus knew enough about human nature to anticipate the possibility of Apostolic deviation from his instructions and to prepare a backup plan. In the paper, I speculated that this contingency could have been foreseen during the planning of the bestowal. I provided evidence that this eventuality was anticipated by Jesus in his handling of the apostles after the Capernaum crisis. I think everyone agrees with Mr. Andrews that the direction the Apostles took, in fostering a religion about Jesus, was not the best choice; however, The Urantia Book makes clear that what they did do was also not the worst choice they could have made.

My paper was offered in the context of a careful, intellectual study of Part IV of The Urantia Book. At no time did I suggest that this line of thinking should be applied to our present-day choices about dissemination of epochal revelation. Because Mr. Andrews has opened this discussion, I feel entitled to offer my own thoughts on the subject. It seems reasonable to me that the varying responses of mortal minds and human social institutions to the fifth epochal revelation, and the events surrounding it, have been anticipated by the revelators. In the total scheme of things, there are "best choices" available to each of us, as individuals, in knowing and executing the divine will with respect to the revelation.

Our individual growth in supremacy is a result of our success in making these choices. The aggregate of our individual choices determines the social trajectory of the revelation. Salvington must plan for and respond to all reasonable possibilities. No doubt some possibilities are vastly more desirable than others. While The Urantia Book provides a great deal of advice about what to do with Jesus' revelation, it provides very little guidance about its own mission. Mr. Andrews believes he knows of one possible approach that is absolutely wrong to foster a religion about the book. Many other readers would disagree with him. This argument becomes endless because it ignores the fact that individual moral choice determines group behavior. Groups do not and cannot make moral choices. -- Dan Massey

Response from Stephen F.—Truth Is Not Trickery

[This is a response to "But who say you that I am?" by Dan Massey] To those of us who believe that Jesus really was the fulfillment of the highest spiritual hopes of the two Isaiahs, Dan Massey has an acidic reply: the Hebrew Bible is mainly the product of "generations of pseudo religious social parasites." "There was virtually nothing in the pseudo-sacred texts of the Hebrews that Michael could expect to use effectively." And "the Mithraic version was closer to the truth than the Hebrew concept of the Messiah." Massey's skimpy research on Mithraism and his bitter words about Judaism tend to discredit everything in the article. There is much that can be said about the disciples' "obsession with the Messianic myth", but Massey characterizes Judaism as "ethnocentric silliness" and says that Jesus really set out to fulfill "the mythic adventure of Mithras." Apparently the choice of the Jews as bestowal race was a big smoke-screen; Jesus was really investing his hopes in a mystery cult. "The belief system of the human race was tricked by God." Let us start with facts and proceed to values.

1. The Mithras Myth

The Urantia Book discusses the crucial facts about Mithraism: its role as the leading mystery cult at a time when personal salvation and ascension had emerged as major intuitions of religion (1337); and its influence upon Paul's teachings (in particular, the sacraments: 2070; 2074:1). To flesh out the story of Mithraism, one needs to read the available literature, but Massey seems to have read only one book: David Ulansey's eccentric work. Ulansey's thesis is narrow and "pat," like the quick ending of pot-boiler. He excludes large areas of evidence. He is alone in denying that the cult is traceable to Persia at all (contradicting Urantia Book 1082). He ignores the evidence of Mithraism throughout Asia Minor in the Hellenistic period.

No, it all started in 128 BC: thought up by Stoic astrologer/astronomers in Tarsus -- a religion manufactured by intellectuals! People so much smarter than "a generation of totem worshipers" who can be tricked into accepting a religion made for them. The Stoics may really have incorporated a recent astronomic discovery into Mithraic symbols, but this is just one of many local developments of a widespread cult. In other locales Mithraism assimilated other myths: in Commagene Mithras was identified with Olympian gods; in Rome, he took on some of the mythology of Attis; astrological accretions began 600 years earlier, when the Persians conquered Babylon.

I know of no scholar who supports Ulansey's theory that the secret of Mithraism was its symbolization of the precession of the equinoxes, and that we need look no further than Tarsus, or earlier than 128 BC. When this notion is added to Massey's anti-Biblical feelings, we get the ridiculous idea that 128 years of manufactured cult yielded more truth than 19 centuries of ethical monotheism. This misrepresents Mithraism as well as Judaism. Most of all, it cheapens the significance of religious development, of the hard-won advances in religious thought. Mithraism, like any other religion, prospered because it did something for men's religious needs (and it was only for men).

Massey stretches the similarity between the Mithras myth and Jesus's resurrection, saying that Mithras "dies and, on the third day, arises from the dead and ascends to heaven. The UB does not say this. It lists similarities between Mithraism and Christianity (1083) and this does not appear there. Actually it is the myth of Attis (son/lover of Cybele, the Great Mother) which has a death and resuscitation of the god. In Rome, acting under the protection of the Mother cult, Mithras tended to take on some of the Attis myth, but (to my knowledge) this imagery does not appear in Mithraism in Europe and Asia Minor. "Mithra is the only god who does not suffer the same tragic destiny as the gods of the other Mysteries."

The Mithras myth deals with this god's difficulties in slaying the Primeval Bull at the dawn of time, in fighting off the demons of the Evil One, and in accepting the mantle of power from Helios, the Sun. He is seen as the intercessor and savior for men. And it seems that the cult adapted some version of the Zoroastrian Messiah concept. Zoroastrian scripture speaks of the coming of "the Saoshyant," who would be born of a virgin and would lead a band of resurrected heroes in the final and victorious battle against "the Demon and the Lie." After this "commences the renovation of the universe," including the judgment of the dead.2

2. Judaism a Poor Third?

Speculating about the pre-bestowal survey of Urantian religions, Massey says the "Aten cult" would have been the best choice, had it prospered. He calls the visit by some Alexandrian priests to the infant Jesus, "the only direct recognition of his divinity from traditional human sources that would mark his entire life on Urantia." "As Michael surveyed Urantia from Salvington, he must have thought that, given the limitations of the Aten cult, the next-best venue for his ministry would be the Hebrews, who held the essential truths of his teachings buried deep within their complex theology... [But] their concept of divine truth had degenerated into a religion of the book." Massey seems to forget that the principle remnants of Egyptian monotheism today are found in the Bible (1046 8). Michael found gobs of material in the "supposedly sacred texts" of the Jews which he used for preaching (some favorites were Psalm 51:10 and Hosea 6:6) and for describing his mission on earth (especially Isaiah 61).

When asked a question about anger, he reeled off eleven straight Bible quotes on the subject (1673). But Massey especially denigrates Judaism in comparison with his favorite mystery cult. Mithraism is" the religion of destiny," while "the Hebrews suffered under primitive tribal standards of socialization." This belittling the religion of the bestowal race is (to say the least) unscientific. This will not be the method of Urantia Book scholars who will make a contribution to this study. Coming to understand the importance of Mithraic elements in Christianity will not mean denying the importance and value of the Jewish element. Let us now establish some values and some manners for future research: honoring the truth-values by which ethical monotheists have lived; recognizing the complexity of religious history; and having some faith in Michael's far-sightedness -- his ability to anticipate the influx of ideas from other religions, and to know how to bring out their truths.

3. The Big Trick

Massey asserts that, although Michael incarnated as a Hebrew, he secretly planned to fulfill the hopes of the Mithraic cult. His choice of the Hebrews was reluctant, and halfway through his public ministry he forgot about them and decided to "1ive the life of a mythic reinforce the myth." Thus he ensures that his gospel will get a Mithraic slant and will "take over the structure of the widespread Mithraic cult." Massey feels Jesus gave up on the idea of conveying truth: '`Nowhere was there either a literal or a psychic basis for opening a dialogue." Thus he was willing to resort to trickery "The belief system of the human race was tricked by God for two thousand years in a way which displays respect for the human mind only as a vehicle of free will choice." No! -- It is with truth and by truth, and not by trickery, that Jesus makes use of any religious idea. Massey seems to feel that humanity is so stupid, so "totemistic," that truth-methods don't work, but trickery and coercion do.

4. Material Power

Many of his conclusions seem to descend from the idea that religion, to prosper, must have a political base, a "1iteral, material institution," "a homogeneous social institution," or an "organized body of mortal culture." Jesus' revelation might have died out and been forgotten if it weren't linked to the favorite mystery cult of the Roman soldiers, and then made into the state church of a decadent Rome. The midwayers tell us there are other avenues the movement could have gone: it could have done better in Asia, for instance. But Massey seems to feel that it had to be adopted by a political power in order to endure, and he nominates Rome. Mithraism's link with Rome is probably his reason for ranking it over Judaism. God uses this same kind of material reasoning "Michael will structure...his life in such a way as to mesh with the salvation myth of Mithraism, which is, in material if not in spiritual content, much closer to the facts than the myth of the Jewish Messiah."

And how will Mithraism carry the torch? "Because of the extreme organization of the army, as well as the organization of the Mithraic cult, the infusion of spiritual power would create a social force able to begin the reformation of planetary culture." If this is how culture is transformed, then Christianity didn't begin its work until after Constantine, after it became the state church. But its real power diminished then. The greatest works were done in the first 300 years. The Author of the Spirit of Truth does not suppress truth.... Christianity did absorb many lines of Persian religious thought, as well as Achaean, Thracian, and Egyptian. Christ was alive in the midst of it, but that doesn't mean he was responsible for the precise developments of Christianity, much less for its failures.

5. Blaming Jesus

"Religious truth will be submerged on Urantia for fifty generations in the cocoon of a gross pagan myth that the incarnate deity decided to liberalize in order to capture the attention of a totem-minded culture. The factualization of this myth will make it terribly difficult to uncover the truth, except through the passage of time. Those far-seeing souls who dare to penetrate the myth to secure the truth will be persecuted by Jesus' appointed managers of human affairs even more outrageously than the Master himself was persecuted by Jewish authorities." This is crazy. The Author of the Spirit of Truth does not suppress truth -- and certainly not to "capture attention"! He could have captured all outward power by dazzling people with miracles. But the man who refused kingship did not need tricks. And he does work by truth -- that is precisely why his gospel has suffered abuse, because he will not suppress lies by force, but only with truth. He will win us over, not trick us. The craziest notion is that Jesus is to blame for what persecutors have done in his name! Inquisitors and power trippers are not Jesus' "appointed ministers." Nor is Jesus to blame for the continuing incomprehension of intellectuals.

6. Last Thoughts

We have left untouched many of the questions that prompted Massey's article: the tendency of humans to idolize and lionize instead of to listen and learn; the degree to which a Mithraic-ization of his message may have been foreseen by Jesus; the extent of Persian elements within Christianity (including the element of Mithraic thought involved in Paul's atonement doctrine). But without solid scholarship, this just leads to pointless speculation anyway. Also, philosophy must maintain a humble recognition of its debts to religion. Otherwise we have religious speculation, and "speculation invariably falsifies its object." (1121:4)

-- Stephen F., San Francisco, CA

Short Bibliography

S. Angus, The Mystery-Religions and Christianity, 1926.
Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, 1989 F.
Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra, 1903
Eranos Yearbook 42, The Mysteries
J. Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire, 1990E
O. lames, Christianity and Other Religions, 1968 S.
Laeuculi, Mithraism in Ostia, 1967A.
Nock, Early Gentile Christianity
Vermaseren, Mithras D. Winston, '`The Iranian Component in the Bible..."History of Religions 5, #2, Winter, 1966

Author's Reply

I have been most gratified by the interest which my paper, '`But who say you that I am?" has generated among readers of The Journal. The paper was presented at the midpoint of the Education Committee's program of study of Part IV of The Urantia Book, and was designed as a contribution to the total study agenda. Readers who have followed the development of these programs over the years understand that there is a multiple focus--study of the book, stimulus to study the book, and demonstration of methods of study and stimulus. The fact that many readers have written to me with positive observations about the paper has been gratifying.

The fact that two readers, Mr. Andrews and Mr. F., presented negative views is also gratifying since they took the time and effort to put their objections in writing to share with others. To the extent this debate stimulates others to examine the issues, the paper serves its actual purpose. For this reason, I will not provide a lengthy defense of the paper. Instead, I will point out a few ways Mr. F., like Mr. Andrews, has distorted the intent and thrust of the paper. I invite readers to examine the issues in this light. Mr. F.'s response to my paper confuses the method employed to stimulate thought and study with the topic under discussion. He seems particularly offended by my use of the image of a "trickster" deity to effect the teachings of The Urantia Book in a way which undermines traditional myths of Christianity. This offense at my method leads him into an argumentative complaint that, by his own admission, fails to address the actual topic of my paper.

Mr. F's pronouncements on Mithraism, in spite of his elegant bibliography, are quite biased. Students of The Urantia Book should know that virtually nothing is academically recognized as known about the belief systems and worship practices of Mithraism. The Urantia Book, understood as a revelation of truth, contains more authoritative information about Mithraism than all the sources cited by Mr. F. The failure of students of comparative religion to identify Mithraic roots stems from the fact that (reformed) Mithraism is alive and well today within Christianity. Like Urantian astronomer struggling to map Orvonton from a point within its vast star clouds, the academicians have largely failed to grasp that this ancient myth is one pillar of their own belief system. Revelation corrects this problem.

Whether or not one agrees with David Ulansey's interpretation of Mithraism is irrelevant to the point of my paper. I thought Ulansey's book useful for background because it is written from a secular viewpoint and is concerned with the Mithraism of Tarsus, home of the tentmaker, Saul. Mr. F's response to my paper confuses the method employed to stimulate thought and study with the topic under discussion. . My paper does not portray Judaism as "a poor third." It is quite obvious that Mithraism was the "poor third." It is also quite obvious that first century Mithraism (as an organized system) achieved some temporal "success" and that first century Judaism (also as an organized system) failed literally, mindally, and spiritually.

Mr. F misunderstands the idea of "trick" in religion. A trick is, for example, an apparently innocuous situation arranged by deity in such a way that the person of good intent emerges blessed by the experience, while a person of evil intent experiences reproof and a chance to adopt a better attitude. There is nothing malicious or negative about the trick. It is one of the most common ways in which good comes to triumph over evil. One element of Jesus' ministry was such a trick :would he be accepted as the Son of Man or the Son of God? The path taken, the choice of the Son of God, amplified evil hidden in the hearts and minds of mankind so it could eventually be corrected. Anyone might believe Jesus is the Son of God. Only the truly pure of heart can know Jesus as the Son of Man.

My paper does not "blame Jesus" for the temporally hideous outcome of the trick. Rather, it recognizes that Jesus knew what would happen, knew how his life and teachings would be perverted, knew the incalculable toll of human suffering that would result, and knew that, through the Spirit of Truth, he would experience every single bit of it. The Apostles made a free will choice to reject the Son of Man. Knowing them well enough to see the inevitability of this, with supreme grace Jesus offered them the Son of God as a way to protect and foster the light of truth.

-- L. Dan Massey, Jr.

A service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship
Serving the Readership since 1955