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Pagan Influence Upon ChristianityThis article illustrates some of the possible influences of ancient pagan cults upon Christianity in general. For a more specific look at pagan influence upon Roman Catholicism, please see Pagan Influence in Roman Catholicism.
Ancient Babylon was infamous for its pagan mystery religions, or cults, and the Bible makes various references to some of them. For example, in Jeremiah 51:7 we see a mysterious "Golden Cup"; in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 we read of a "Mystery of Iniquity"; and in Revelation 17:5, John refers to the "Mystery of Babylon the Great" in his prophecies of the end times. We will use enlightenment from the book, "The Two Babylons" by Alexander Hislop, to explore the origins of the ancient Babylonian cults, and then examine some of the apparent influences of those cults which have been carried over into Christianity.
Ancient Mystery Religions
In Christianity, we read about a man named Nimrod in the book of Genesis, and history tells us that he was the first King of Babylon, and that this is where the mystery religions originated. Genesis 10:9 tells us that Nimrod was a mighty hunter and a great archer. History has attached many different names to him, and the reading of the historical accounts of Nimrod is often complicated because of all of these different names, including: Sogittarius; Bal; Bel; Belus; Kronos; the horned one; and, the scatterer abroad. Nimrod was deified and was said to have taken the form of a gigantic horned man-bull, where his horns were a symbol of power, and a leopard was used to symbolize his deity. Sometimes he was known as Baal-aberin, the winged one, who was celebrated as the elevator of the heavens, and the emancipator and deliverer of mankind.
In classical literature, Nimrod is sometimes called Ninus, but Ninus was probably, in fact, Nimrod's son, the builder of the city of Ninevah. Nimrod's wife was Semiramis, the Queen of Heaven, and sometimes her husband is called Ninus, while other times, Ninus is said to be her son. The confusion is related to the story of Nimrod's deification. The legend said that Nimrod was killed, but that he was resurrected as his wife's son, a feat which could have been orchestrated only by a god. Thus began the mother/child cult religions. Semiramis, sometimes called Rhea, came to be known as the Great Mother of the gods, while her son, Ninus, or Bacchus, or Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14) was known as The Lamented One. Tammuz is sometimes called Adonis or Dionysus. Other variations of the Babylonian gods of Rhea and Tammuz included Ceres (or Irene) and Plutus in Greece, Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Fortuna and Jupiter in pagan Rome, Isi and Iswara in India, Cybele and Deoius in Asia, Shing Moo in China, and the Goddess mother and son in Tibet. All of these boast similar stories of their gods, and it is easy to believe that all of the legends were derived from Rhea and Tammuz. In some literature, it is believed that Tammuz was known as Hercules the Lamenter, and he is sometimes confused with the Shem of the Bible, or at least with being his descendent. Some believe that the Crishna of the Hindus and the Budda of Japan are also derivations of these same Babylonian gods.
It is not difficult to see how some of the traditions of these ancient pagan gods carried over into Christian Rome. Even in the first century, poems confused the pagan story of the divine father, mother, and son with the Christian story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. In Japan, Spain, and India, there were pagan legends of three-headed gods which some confused with the trinity of the Godhead of Christianity. In many pagan lands, mother-worship prevailed and was supported by citing Genesis 3:15 as proof that the mother would bruise the heel of Satan, and that she indeed had power over him. In paganism, the Messiah is sometimes seen as only a mediator between the goddess and mankind, instead of as a savior, as in Christianity.
In the pagan tradition of portraying Nimrod as a great horned man-bull, the Anglo-Saxons worshipped a god called Zernebogus, the seed of the prophet Cush, whose physical appearance has carried even into our day, as what many perceive as Satan. He was black and had horns and hooves. His horns were called his Corona, or Kronos, or crown, a symbol of his power and might. He was said to have been the first king after the great flood. Some stories call him Saturn, the first king to wear a crown.
Hislop considers to what extent we have carried some of these pagan customs into our own brand of Christianity. Have you ever asked yourself what time of year Jesus was born? December 25th? It doesn't seem too likely that Jesus was born in the wintertime. In that part of the world it is, and was, usually cold in the winter. It is unlikely that the Roman government would have demanded that the people make long trips during the winter time, like the trip that Mary and Joseph were just completing at the time of Jesus's birth. Also, due to the cold weather there, the sheep could usually be kept in the open fields only until October, and the shepherds would not have been watching their flocks by night, as the Bible tells us they were.
Actually, the practice of celebrating Jesus's birth on December 25th began in the third century, and it did not become common practice until the fourth century. The reason that this date was chosen was very likely due to the practice of observing ancient pagan holidays. In ancient Babylon, the pagans celebrated a festival honoring the birth of the son of the Queen of Heaven. This festival was sometimes called Yule Day, which is a Chaldean term for "infant." In that time, the sun was worshipped as a goddess, and the Lord Moon is said to have been born on December 25th. This seems to be the origin of the celebration we now call Christmas. Apparently, Christians celebrate Christmas on the date that the pagans celebrated Yule Day, instead of on Christ's birthday.
In pagan Egypt, the palm tree was a symbol of victory. In pagan Rome, the fir tree symbolized the pagan Messiah Baal-Tamar, or Baal-Berith. The legend says that the mother of Adonis, the sun god, was supernaturally changed into a tree, and she then bore her divine son. The son was known as "the man," "the branch," or "yule." It was the custom of the pagans to place a Yule log into the fire on the evening of December 24th, which would supposedly change into a new tree by the next morning. December 25th became the birthday of the unconquered sun god, and Nimrod was worshipped as the
Babylonian messiah, who had been killed by his enemies, then was deified as the sun god, and revived again as a god. The trick with the yule log sounds strikingly similar to our modern day Christmas tree and our welcomed surprises on Christmas morning.
Have you ever wonder how kissing under the mistletoe got started? The pagans used a branch of mistletoe to represent the messiah Nimrod. The kiss was a symbol of divine reconciliation and pardon.
The pagans believed that Tammuz, or Adonis, was killed by a boar, so their custom was to sacrifice a boar for their festival. It was popular to even display the head of the boar at the December 25th meal. Sometimes they served a holiday goose, and sometimes yule cakes. Likewise, our Christmas celebrations usually include a feast.
Historians tell us that the pagan celebration described in Isaiah 65:11 was an annual worship of the sun god by celebrating with food and wine on the last day of the last month of the year, or what we now call New Year's Eve. The sun was worshiped as god incarnate, and there was plenty of drunkenness and revelry at what is sometimes called the feast of Saturn or the festival of Bacchus. Could it be that our modern-day New Year's Eve parties are also a carryover from the ancient pagans?
The name of the holiday that Christians now call Easter was also derived in the pagan cults of ancient Babylon. It began as Beltis, the day honoring the Queen of Heaven, and was later called Ishtar, Astarte, or Easter. In the third or fourth centuries, a custom began of observing Pasch, or Passover, in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ. It was celebrated at the same time of year as was the Jewish Passover, around March 23rd, but with Pasch came the additional celebration of Lent. Lent began in Babylon, as forty days of abstinence commemorating the death and resurrection of Tammuz, and the custom spread to Egypt, in commemoration of Adonis or Osiris, the great mediatorial god. The practice later spread to pagan Mexico, and it was still practiced in Koordistan in the 20th century. In pagan Palestine and Assyria, Easter was celebrated in June, the month of Tammuz. In Egypt it was celebrated in May, and in Britain, April.
The tradition of Hot Cross buns for Good Friday was a carryover from the use of sacred bread in the pagan worship of the Babylonian Queen of Heaven in 1500 BC. The tradition of dyed eggs on Easter Sunday came from the use of eggs for mystic purposes in pagan Egypt and Greece. The pagan legend said that a giant egg had fallen from Heaven into the Euphrates River, some fish rolled it to the bank, and it was hatched by doves, giving birth to Venus, the Syrian Goddess, Astarte. Also, the pomegranate had been the fruit which served as the symbol of the knowledge of good and evil, but later, in Rome, the symbol was changed to oranges because pomegranates weren't grown there.
Another custom of the ancient pagan mystery religions was that of lighting candles on the eve of the festival of the Babylonian god, to do him honor. The pagans would light these candles on an altar. Is the Christian practice of lighting Advent candles also a carryover from Babylon? What about the altars? Are they a carryover from the altars of sacrifice to God in the Old Testament, or are they carried over from Babylon?
It is interesting to note at this point that many of the stories of the pagans coincide with the true story of Christ. They often refer to the birth of a divine son, a mediatorial messiah, and his death and supernatural resurrection. Satan has managed to confuse the truth with enough lies so that the unsuspecting worshippers can easily be deceived. For example, Hercules was known as the deliverer of the human race.
Infiltration into Christianity
How could Christians have been so deceived? Hislop says, "To conciliate the pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and pagan festival amalgamated, and by a complicated but skillful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter, in general, to get paganism and Christianity--now far sunk in idolatry--in this as in so many other things, to shake hands."
At the Council at Aurelia in about 519 AD, under the authority of Hormisdas, Bishop of Rome, a decree was granted that called for Lent to be solemnly observed before Easter. There had traditionally been fasting before the Nicene Council, but it had never lasted for more than three weeks. Then Abbot Dionysius the Little set the Christian era as beginning four years from Christ's birth. This is why many scholars today believe that Christ was born in 4 BC according to today's calendar.
In speaking of the Bible, Linacer, a physician during the reign of Henry VIII said, "Either this book is not true, or we are not Christians."
Owen Weber 2009