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on 31 October 2005
This book is well researched and provides compelling detail on the origins of Christianity. I've been searching for a book like this for years and I'm glad I've found it. My only quibbles are that it does tend to overstate its case at times (there really is no need; the evidence is clear enough on its own) and the style is a bit sensationalist. The irritating and wholely excessive use of exclamation marks encapsulates both of these faults. However, those are essentially surface points. The meat is in the arguments and evidence. Here, the copious footnotes are invaluable. Ironically, a little less missionary zeal on the part of the authors (and a little less of the occasional speculation presented as fact) would have made their underlying analysis even stronger. Still, if you want a good analysis of this difficult subject, here it is.
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on 9 April 2011
The Jesus Mysteries is a radical reinterpretation of the Jesus story. Freke and Gandy argue that nearly all of the miracles (and the moral teaching given by Christ) were constructed from elements of the surrounding Pagan Greco-Roman culture. Historically, we regard Christianity as being 'set apart' from the Pagan cultures of the classical world and this is perhaps inevitable given the primacy of the Christian church in Western culture. However, when we study the Bible in the light of modern scholarship a very different version of the origins of Christianity emerges from that propagated for millennia by the institution of the church.

For most of the Christian era the 'Gnostics' were the shadowy enemy of the true Church; we only really knew about their beliefs and practices through the writings of their detractors and of course that isn't a very good way of obtaining accurate information. All this changed in 1945 with the discovery of a cache of 'Gnostic' Gospels at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. For the first time in over 1000 years the Gnostics-through these rediscovered writings- could speak for themselves.

The fact that the Gnostic Gospels were condemned by what we now think of as the 'mainstream' church doesn't make them any less spiritually interesting or any less spiritually potent. After all, who is to judge that the faith of a small group of early Christians gathered around 'The Thought of Norea' or 'The Gospel of Thomas' was somehow deficient compared to a similar group gathered around 'Mark' or 'Matthew,' though it must be said that the Gnostic Gospels are not all sweetness and light. I'm not sure that Gnosticism offers a better version of Christianity just a very different one (the idea that material world is intrinsically bad, for example) and many of them are of significantly later date than the four canonical works. However, Freke and Gandy's central point is a valid one: people tend to forget that centuries passed before there was such a thing as a fixed Christian Bible. We somehow assume (and we have been culturally conditioned to assume) that the Bible in the form that we have it now was part of Christianity from day one. It wasn't.

The Jesus Mysteries I found to be a fascinating read and Freke and Gandy do a good job in reconstructing and defending the beliefs of the Gnostic Christians which they themselves seem to share or at least have sympathy with. Central to the Jesus Mysteries thesis is the idea that Jesus was a mythical and archetypal 'God-Man' not an actual historical person. Indeed, they go so far as to suggest that the Jesus story is-almost-a kind of 1st Century Star Wars. In other words a story with an underlying mystical meaning but essentially a story. Many people would-naturally-dispute this.

As other reviewers have helpfully pointed out Freke and Gandy are not the first writers to make these or similar points. Professor Elaine Pagels (who is liberally quoted here) has advanced similar arguments years before Freke and Gandy and decades earlier still the esteemed professor of oriental religions Edward Conze posited the idea that the Gnostics may have been familiar with Hinduism and/or Buddhism. The book also leans heavily on the work of Joseph Campbell. In summary The Jesus Mysteries is an interesting and controversial book though I doubt that it is the final word on this millennia old subject.
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on 30 December 2011
"The Jesus Mysteries" is a fascinating, compelling and almost mesmerizing book, written by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. I read the book years ago, and it did rock my world! The book made me interested in the quest for the historical Jesus. And perhaps the Christ of faith, as well.

But is it true? That, after all, is the really important question. Personally, I strongly doubt it.

Freke's and Gandy's thesis is that Jesus never existed. He is a purely imaginary character. The Gospels are myths. The point of the exercise was to create a Jewish version of the myth of Osiris-Dionysus, the dying and resurrecting god-man of the pagan mystery religions. The original form of Christianity was identical to Gnosticism. Paul was a Gnostic. However, the Gnostic message was secret. The "outer mysteries" claimed that Jesus actually had been a real historical figure. Around AD 100, Ignatius and other powerful bishops suppressed the "inner mysteries", which were all but forgotten within main line Christianity. Instead, we got a hierarchical, literalist Church which have dominated the Western world ever since. It should be noted that Freke and Gandy aren't anti-Gnostic. On the contrary, they want to claim Paul as one of their own, and use the myth of Jesus as a vehicle of Gnostic enlightenment and transformation. In plain English, Freke and Gandy are neo-Gnostics. This is made explicit in the sequel, "Jesus and the lost Goddess", an exposition of the Gnostic message projected back onto the early Church.

Freke's and Gandy's arguments aren't as compelling once they are looked into more closely, however. I suppose a case *could* be made for Jesus being a myth, but the traditional historical-critical position (that the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels is somewhat freely based on a true story) seems more robust and parsimonious. Freke and Gandy date the New Testament extremely late, much later than standard scholarship. For instance, they believe that Acts weren't penned until AD 150 (sic). The letters of Ignatius, which speak for an earlier date, are simply brushed aside as forgeries. Naturally, the authors claim that Josephus never mentions "our" Jesus. Meanwhile, the Jewish-Christian Pseudo-Clementines are dated much *earlier* than usual (by a couple of centuries), since the authors like the idea of Paul being a "heretic" in comparison to the "Jewish" Peter. The lack of an overtly Gnostic message in the New Testament is explained away as the result of the Gnostic teachings being secret - not an argument that would go along well with a historian. Freke's and Gandy's Gnostic spin on Paul is also problematic. Paul clearly believed in *some* kind of bodily resurrection, since the "heavenly bodies" were transformed earthly bodies, rather than pure souls or spirits leaving a decaying material body behind. While this wasn't identical to the sometimes embarrassingly physical interpretation of the resurrection developed by some Church Fathers ("what happens to people eaten by cannibals"), it was also different from the Gnostic position. Essentially, Freke and Gandy have simply pinned a later, Valentinian exegesis on Paul.

The parallels with the mystery religions are a very mixed bag, once you read the actual legends, rather than just rely on the author's descriptions. The image of a crucified pagan god on the book cover isn't earlier than Christianity, but belongs to a period when Christianity had began to compete with the pagan religions. Thus, it might very well be a Christian influence on paganism rather than vice versa. But yes, I admit that the pagan mystery element in Christianity is a complex issue - after all, Plato talked about the righteous man being hung on a pole, the Son of God lying cross-wise in the universe, etc. The Christian apologist Justin Martyr even used this as an argument for Christianity, something Freke and Gandy find very ironic. And is it really a co-incidence that Jesus is said to have performed a "Dionysian" miracle (turning water into wine) in Cana, only 18 miles from pagan Scythopolis, a centre of Dionysian worship? (I got this from the Christian theologian Martin Hengel, not from Freke and Gandy!) However, it seems that the direct dependence on the mystery cults postulated by the authors is an exaggeration of some early historical-critical writers, and that modern scholars are more circumspect on this point. Some kind of criss-crossing and mutually reinforcing elements might be the true picture. Besides, why couldn't a real Messianic figure who actually was executed by crucifixion be turned into an object of worship by Hellenized Jews and pagans? What's the problem, really?

A curious trait of "The Jesus Mysteries" is that the authors often reject Christian arguments by an appeal to naturalism, while simultaneously believing in a supernatural reality. This strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. Thus, Freke and Gandy sardonically reject the claim of some Church Fathers that the pagan religions were the results of "Diabolic mimicry". Well, I don't believe that either, but can it be ruled out by a sleight of hand if you are a neo-Gnostic? Can't evil or jealous spirits create a counterfeit religion? Why not? On another point, the authors point out (unless I'm mistaken), that the story of Barabbas must be a myth, due to a number of weird parallels between Jesus and the fortunate hoodlum. The real name of Barabbas was Jesus Bar-Abbas, which means "Jesus, Son of the Father" (!). But if the supernatural realm exists, there could be occult correspondences between it and the material world. Why can't a robber named "Jesus Son of the Father" show up at the exact moment when Pilate is going to decide the fate of Jesus, the Son of God? I'm not saying this actually happen - I'm saying that two New Age authors don't have the right to reject it on prima facie grounds. Ever heard of Jungian synchronicity? Another suspicious facts cited by the writers is that Jesus' name has the numerical value 888, or that the early Christians were obsessed with the symbol of the fish. Jesus was born at approximately the same time as the astrological Age of Pisces began. But once again, this could be given a supernaturalist twist. Perhaps Jesus was the avatar of the Piscean Age, as proposed by Elizabeth Clare Prophet?

I'm not saying everything in "The Jesus Mysteries" can be rejected out of hand. However, the book should be approached with great caution due to its reliance on outdated or fringe scholarship, its partisan tendency to constantly assume that the most extreme position simply must be true, its anachronistic projection of developed mid-2th century Gnosticism on Paul's letters, composed about a century earlier, and its problematic method when approaching the supernatural traits of the Gospels.

Everyone should read this book and attempt to come to terms with it. However, since the authors are on really shaky ground, I'll only give it three stars.

(Some of these issues are also dealt with in my reviews of Martin Hengel's books "The Hellenization of Judea in the First Century after Christ" and "The Son of God".)
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on 19 February 2002
An excellent book, which is clear and concise: trying to pick out the salient points of a vast subject. If anything it is a little lightweight. Anyone interested in the roots of Christianity and Christ's true message before it was corrupted by a political organisation should pick it up. As should anyone who is interested in historical facts which the church has tried to obliterate over the last 2000 years in an attempt to stamp its authority over humanity. Not content with raping, torturing and murdering every culture and civilisation they have come into contact with, the Christian Organisations are shown to be deceitfully peddling man's inheritance and salvation as their own invention.
To suggest that it only portrays one side of the argument is stating the obvious and it is a side of the argument, which is sorely needed. And to suggest that it use out dated reference material, can by a quick look at the notes section (which are extremely wide ranging and meticulous) shown to be incorrect. The breadth of material used to support their arguments adds strength to their whole standpoint.
It gives a glimpse of pre-Christian religions and shows them to be enlightening and bringing to humanity everything that Christianity claims to do yet blatantly has not. At last people are starting to break free of the Church's suffocating grip and quest to keep us all in the dark ages it enforced on us in the first place. It contains enough inspiration and promise to keep you reading further on the subject. Well worth a purchase.
Anyone who finds agreement in what they read might try "The Dark Side of God" which reaches a similar conclusion but by a different path. It's a weightier read but again concludes that the Chruch in Rome bears little resemblence to the orginal Nazarenes, Desposyni and Gnostics.
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on 18 July 2016
Before I go on, I should say that I have no particular axe to grind about Jesus. I don't believe he was God, I have nothing against mysticism, and certainly nothing against pagan myths. The reason I give this book 1 star is that it is a confused mish-mash that shows very little understanding of its sources.

There is nothing new in the claim that Christianity was influenced by the mystery religions, and there are indeed some similarities. But they are general similiarities, not exact parallels. The authors have taken several pagan gods here, and combined various aspects of their stories to create a figure who is more like Christ than any of them were individually. They call this figure Osiris-Dionysos. The similarities between these two gods was noted in antiquity (e.g by the Greek historian Herodotus). But the parallels with Christ are not exact. For example, they claim that this figure was the "Son of God", born of a mortal virgin. How does this claim stand up? Dionysos was the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele, but it was not a virgin birth - I don't think any of the stories about mortals having children by gods were. Osiris was the son of the Egyptian sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb. Adonis was born from a tree, and Mithras from the rock of a cave! Other claims are equally weak. Dionysos was not born in a cave, but when Semele saw Zeus in his divine form, and the light was so brilliant that she was burnt to ashes, except for her child. It is true that the birthday of Mithras was 25th December, but the only birth date for Dionysos I can find is 5th January. Osiris was born sometime in July - that's when the Egyptian new year was. The notion that "Osiris-Dionysos" died for the sins of mankind is a purely Christian idea, with no precedents in antiquity.
Similarly, these pagan gods didn't ascend to heaven, but were bound to cyclical returns to the underworld.

The authors simply dismiss any evidence that doesn't fit their ideas. For example, they claim the book of Acts is from 150AD when scholarly agreement is that it is from about 80AD. Josephus gets short shrift as does Tacitus, as these two authors are the best evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus.

They also claim that Gnosticism was the original form of christianity. There is no reason to suppose this. As Christianity began to spread around the Roman Empire, many different interpretations developed and different groups interpreted it in accordance with their own concerns. Gnosticism (which has roots in Greek philosophy) was one aspect of this. The earliest Gnostic gospels are from around 140. Furthermore, Gnosticism could involve some very disturbing ideas, such as that the material world was evil, the supreme being was a capricious and evil madman, and that some people lacked souls and could not be redeemed. There is no evidence that Gnosticism had anything to do with the mystery schools. In fact, the mysteries all centred around nature and agricultural deities, such as Dionysos, Demeter and Osiris. Tales of seasonal cyclical renewal became allegories of course, but all the same, it would be difficult to reconcile such tales with the anti-material aspects of gnosticism.

In short, I think a good book could be written about the influence of the mysteries on Christianity - but this isn't it.
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on 1 July 2013
This book send a pretty interesting shock wave through christianity, and it takes a lot to shake a christian these days, the chuch being too busy trying to cover up one scandal after another in the present, it doesn't have time anymore to deal with the ones rooted at its origins.
Tim Freke makes it clear at the beginning of the book that its aim was not so much a single minded attack on christianity (and reitereates this at various points in the book) but to offer a different path, an alternate way of lookin at and dealing with its legacy, which no doubt the church will ignore and its proponents will decry as some of the books critics have tried, which some of the negative comments here are proof of, falling back on very weak arguments that the writer is not enough of a scholar or lacks the academic pedigree to be taken seriously or that the secondary literature on the subject he refers to is too obscure and hard to find. Really? That's the best they came up with?
Just read the book and judge for yourself and no, he's no Dan Brown, thank unconscious field, he makes a very convincing case and offers a glimpse to a different path of spirituality which I can recommend and read some of his other work, especially The Mystery Experience.
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on 10 December 2001
The book begins with a very interesting demonstration of the parallels between Christianity and pagan religions such as the worship of Mithras. The idea that Christianity is a combination, by Paul, of pagan workship with a Jewish preacher seems quite plausible. It then becomes a lot less convincing as instead of simply doing a demolition job, they attempt to establish some kind of true Christianity. Be sceptical, but its a fun read.
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on 28 April 2006
I like this book as it gets people to question what they have learnt about Christianity. A certain amount of 'unlearning' is needed if someone is to start to get to the core of the Jesus story . Freke and Gandy's illustration of parallels with pagan religions, in particular the 'mystery' religions is very striking. The shock value this book holds to a reader is strong, but having now researched the topic in detail i can see there are many flaws.

Firstly the theory is not new, secondly its been analysed in great detail about 100 years ago, and thirdly its not accepted by scholars of today. Stripping away layers of dogma and interpolation are absolutely necessary to getting a more true picture of Jesus, but saying he was a completely fictional character is not a valid conclusion i feel.

Bits that were very dubious indeed were:

- Stating that St Paul was a gnostic despite his emphasis on the literal interpretation of the crucified Christ.

- Throwing out the testimony of Josephus - they were right to question its authenticity but a more authentic version has been found which corroborates that Josephus talks about Jesus as a real person

- Over simplification of some of the subtle similarities between ritual rights in the pagan and Christian traditions.

Overall this is a useful book and a good one to stimulate interest in this area. For me i do not support the conclusions and have found them to be untrue, but were it not for this book i would not have under taken that journey.

Many claim its 'well researched' yet many contemporary sources are overlooked and ignored. The writers have gone for a more sensationslist approach to their book - but its worth a read to consider the information.
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on 25 February 2004
Of the 2 authors of this book, one has a degree in philosophy and is an authority on world mysticism with more than 20 books published internationally; the other has an MA in classical civilizations, specialising in the ancient Pagan Mystery religions.
Together they have turned detective and with their extremely detailed and very careful research (all listed in Notes) and logical, clear thinking have come up with this book and explained in layman's terms what has actually been known to scholars for centuries:
- there is no evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus;
- for thousands of years Pagans also followed a Son of God;
- this Pagan saviour was also born of a virgin on the 25th December before 3 shepherds, turned water into wine at a wedding, died and was resurrected, and offered his body and blood as a Holy Communion;
- these Pagan myths have been rewritten as the gospel of Jesus Christ
- the earliest Gnostic Christians knew that the Jesus story was a myth;
- Christianity has turned out to be a continuation of Paganism by another name.
I was brought up as a Christian and have great respect for Christians and their belief in the Christian faith. I am certainly no theologian but I am interested in world religions and have a belief in God/higher power. I have attended Christian services in different churches from Roman Catholic to Church of England to URC and also attended services in a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple.
However, although I respect Christians I can see that Christianity does seem to have lost its way somewhat. When the authors reviewed the very substancial evidence they concluded that the traditional "history" of Christianity was nothing less than the greatest cover-up of all time.
Christianity's original Gnostic doctrines and its true origins in the Pagan Mysteries had been ruthlessly suppressed by the mass destruction of the evidence and the creation of a false history to suit the political purposes of the Roman Church. All those who questioned the official history were simply persecuted out of existence until there was no one left to dispute it.
(Parallels with more recent history helped them to understand what had happened. At the beginning of the twentieth century a small handful of Communists took power in Russia. Yet within a few years huge numbers of people had joined the Communist Party. If you wanted to get on you had to be a Party member and if you associated yourself in any way with the past regime, you were branded an enemy of the people. Similarly with Christians in the Roman Empire - they were given preferential treatment.)
It is my belief that people have found God throughout the centuries without the need of organised religion. For example, Buddha was not a Buddhist, Krishna was not a Hindu. I believe that we are all capable of developing spiritually and finding God by spending time, twice daily, meditating for about 20 minutes each time. Close eyes and sit alone, undisturbed, on a chair with feet on the ground first thing in the morning and again early evening. Just concentrate on your breathing in and out. Thoughts come and go but return to concentrating on your breathing. You will go down from beta waves (busy mind) to alpha waves (relaxed mind) and then down to theta waves (deeply relaxed). The benefits of this simple meditation cannot be over-emphasised.
As regards this wonderful book, at the front, just before the Contents page of the book, the authors dedicate the book thus: "This book is dedicated to the Christ in you." I endorse that comment wholeheartedly.
At the end of the book the authors reiterate that their desire is not to attack Christianity, but to point to the possibility of it regaining something it has lost - the Inner Mysteries, which reveal the secrets of Gnosis. They do not feel that the Jesus Mysteries Thesis undermines Christianity, but rather that it reveals the ancient grandeur of the Jesus story.
No wonder the Daily Telegraph called this: "Book of the year" when it was published.
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on 4 January 2016
I am extremely interested in early Christianity. This is the best book I have read so far on the subject and it answers my very fundamental question on Christianity, that is to say why do I feel that I can not take the bible literally and if i can't, what can I learn from it ? This book brings so many answers to my questions and takes me back to a personal spiritual world . A must !
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