In the centuries following the conquests of Alexander the Great the dramatic unification of the Mediterranean world created exceptionally fertile soil for the growth of new religions. Christianity, for example, was one of the innovative religious movements that arose during this time. However, Christianity had many competitors, and one of the most remarkable of these was the ancient Roman "mystery religion" of Mithraism. Like the other "mystery cults" of antiquity, Mithraism ...
In the centuries following the conquests of Alexander the Great the dramatic unification of the Mediterranean world created exceptionally fertile soil for the growth of new religions. Christianity, for example, was one of the innovative religious movements that arose during this time. However, Christianity had many competitors, and one of the most remarkable of these was the ancient Roman "mystery religion" of Mithraism.
Like the other "mystery cults" of antiquity, Mithraism kept its beliefs strictly secret, revealing them only to initiates. As a result, the cult's teachings were never written down. However, the Mithraists filled their temples with an enigmatic iconography, an abundance of which has been unearthed by archaeologists. Until now, all attempts to decipher this iconography have proven fruitless. Most experts have been content with a vague hypothesis that the iconography somehow derived from ancient Iranian religion.
In this groundbreaking work, David Ulansey offers a radically different theory. He argues that Mithraic iconography was actually an astronomical code, and that the cult began as a religious response to a startling scientific discovery. As his investigation proceeds, Ulansey penetrates step by step the mysteries concealed in Mithraic iconography, until finally he is able to reveal the central secret of the cult: a secret consisting of an ancient vision of the ultimate nature of the universe.
Brimming with the excitement of discovery--and reading like an intellectual detective story--Ulansey's compelling book will intrigue scholars and general readers alike.
David Ulansey's brilliant new book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries ....is an absolutely spell-binding detective story of antique lore. [It] sets a new standard for both scholarly and popular works on Mithras.
A. M. Devine
This is a brilliant and fascinating little book which presents a totally new and entirely convincing explanation of the basic meaning of Mithraism. The reviewer had trouble in putting it down, and many others will also want to read it in one sitting - to discover the secret behind the Mithraic Mysteries! Ulansey's book will be of the utmost interest to students of ancient religion, classicists, historians of science, and patristic scholars.
This book presents a new and remarkable thesis concerning the origin of Mithraism and the meaning of its iconography.... Ulansey has presented his interpretation with admirable succinctness and as a gradually unfolding argument; his book makes a very pleasurable read. In comprehensiveness his theory appears to have no rival. His persuasive fitting of Mithraism into a perspective of post-classical antiquity's search for salvation beyond the stars will henceforth, we predict, be an interpretation to be reckoned with.
A. T. Kraabel
There has indeed been a paradigm shift in our understanding of Mithraism.... This thrilling book is the account both of the shift and of its results. Ulansey rejects Franz Cumont's view, dominant for a century, that the origins of Roman Mithraism are to be found in the Iranian cult of Mithra. Instead, says Ulansey. "the Mithraic mysteries began as the response by a group of imaginative intellectuals to the unsettling discovery that the universe was not quite as simple as they had thought it to be." That unsettling discovery, in about 128 BCE by the astronomer Hipparchus was "the precession of the equinoxes," due to a slow, regular wobble in the earth's rotation on its axis. Viewed geocentrically, this translated into a new and unexpected movement of the structure of the entire cosmos in relation to the earth. The fixed stars and the axis of the cosmos, ancient symbols of permanence integral to traditional astrology, were not immutable after all! In response to this disturbing discovery "a group of Stoicizing intellectuals" conceived a powerful new divinity "capable of moving the structure of the entire cosmos." Bravo for Ulansey.