Here's one for the bulletin board at work. =)
For over three hundred years the rulers of the Roman Empire worshipped
the god Mithras. Known throughout Europe and Asia by the names Mithra,
Mitra, Meitros, Mihr, Mehr, and Meher, the veneration of this god
began some 4000 years ago in Persia, where it was soon imbedded with
Babylonian doctrines. The faith spread east through India to China,
and reached west throughout the entire length of the Roman frontier;
from Scotland to the Sahara Desert, and from Spain to the Black Sea.
Sites of Mithraic worship have been found in Britain, Italy, Romania,
Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Persia, Armenia, Syria, Israel,
and North Africa.
In Rome, more than a hundred inscriptions dedicated to Mithras
have been found, in addition to 75 sculpture fragments, and a series
of Mithraic temples situated in all parts of the city. One of the
largest Mithraic temples built in Italy now lies under the present
site of the Church of St. Clemente, near the Colosseum in Rome.
The widespread popularity and appeal of Mithraism as the final
and most refined form of pre-Christian paganism was discussed by the
Greek historian Herodotus, the Greek biographer Plutarch, the
neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, the Gnostic heretic Origen, and St.
Jerome the church Father. Mithraism was quite often noted by many
historians for its many astonishing similarities to Christianity.
The faithful referred to Mithras as "the Light of the World",
symbol of truth, justice, and loyalty. He was mediator between heaven
and earth and was a member of a Holy Trinity. According to Persian
mythology, Mithras was born of a virgin given the title 'Mother of
God'. The god remained celibate throughout his life, and valued
self-control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality among his
worshippers. Mithras represented a system of ethics in which
brotherhood was encouraged in order to unify against the forces of
The worshippers of Mithras held strong beliefs in a celestial
heaven and an infernal hell. They believed that the benevolent powers
of the god would sympathize with their suffering and grant them the
final justice of immortality and eternal salvation in the world to
come. They looked forward to a final day of judgement in which the
dead would resurrect, and to a final conflict that would destroy the
existing order of all things to bring about the triumph of light over
Purification through a ritualistic baptism was required of the
faithful, who also took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine
and ate bread to symbolize the body and blood of the god. Sundays were
held sacred, and the birth of the god was celebrated annually on
December the 25th. After the earthly mission of this god had been
accomplished, he took part in a Last Supper with his companions before
ascending to heaven, to forever protect the faithful from above.
However, it would be a vast oversimplification to suggest that
Mithraism was the single forerunner of early Christianity. Aside from
Christ and Mithras, there were plenty of other deities (such as
Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Balder, Attis, and Dionysus) said to have died
and resurrected. Many classical heroic figures, such as Hercules,
Perseus, and Theseus, were said to have been born through the union of
a virgin mother and divine father. Virtually every pagan religious
practice and festivity that couldn't be suppressed or driven
underground was eventually incorporated into the rites of Christianity
as it spread across Europe and throughout the world.