Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
Given such a modification, however, we have to reckon with a tendency that is seen to have been chronic in religious historythe tendency, namely, to revert to a foreign or archaic form of sacrifice or mystery in times of national disaster and uncertainty. 3 It is expressed alike in the Roman resort to eastern and Egyptian Gods
in times of desperate war, in the revival or preservation of the cults of subdued races, 1 in the multiplication of magical rites for decaying civilisations, and in the chronic reversion during times of excitement to palmistry and other modes of fortune-telling. 2 And that the idea of religious anthropophagy prevailed in the early Christian world is obvious from the central ritual of the cult, where the formulas: "Take eat, this is my body"; "Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood," cannot conceivably be other than adaptations from a mystery ritual in which a sacrificed God so spoke by the mouth of his priest. 3 In the fourth gospel we have an amplification in the same sense, the act of symbolical anthropophagy or theophagy being made the means to immortality:
The very repetitions are ritualistic; we have them in the ritual of the Khonds, and in the ritual of the pre-Christian Mexicans. 5 And there is another curious parallel in a certain ritual of Dahome, where, with all the stress of human sacrifice, cannibalism occurred in one set of cases onlythose killed by lightning, a death "which renders sepulture, as among the Romans, unlawful." In these cases the official "wives" of the Thunder-God place the body upon a platform, cut from it lumps which they chew without eating, crying to passers-by: 'We sell you meat, fine meat, come and buy.'" 6
Now, the eucharist stands both in the myth and in the nature of the cult in the closest relation to the act of human sacrifice; and to explain the latter without reference to the former is to miss part of the problem. For the compilers of the fourth gospel, as we have noted, the Crucified One is the final and universal paschal sacrifice, being slain at the time of the paschal lamb-eating, whereas in the
synoptics he had previously partaken thereof. And that this conception existed among the Judæo-Christists before the gospels were written is clear from the book of Revelation, where we have a Judaic writer of the early days of the Gentile schism 1 identifying Jesus with the Alpha and the Omega = the Almighty, and at the same time with "the Lamb that was slain," and that has seven horns and eyes, like the symbol of Mithra, the slain God actually appearing as a Lamb in the vision. Thus in the Jesuine eucharist, as in so many others, there is embodied the primitive countersense of the God eating himself, in that the sacred or sacrificial animal which he eats is his own manifestation. There could not well occur in respect of the lamb the further myth-evolution seen in some other cults, as in that of the goat-eating Dionysos, where "we have the strange spectacle of a God sacrificed to himself on the ground that he is his own enemy." But the primary principle is the same: whether through totemism or through an early application of the zodiacal principle, making the spring sacrifice consist in a lamb because the Sun is then in the constellation of the Ram-Lamb, the lamb stands for the God; and "as the God is supposed to partake of the victim offered to him, it follows that, when the victim is the God's own self, the God eats of his own flesh." 2 In the gospel legend this happens by a double necessity, inasmuch as the God must found his own eucharist before his death.
It was doubtless by way of refining upon the earlier practice of flesh-eating that in the synoptics the God is made to call the bread his flesh; though in the course of the supper he presumptively ate of the prescribed flesh of his special symbol and representative, the lamb. In the same way the Mithraists, whose God was symbolised by both the bull and the lamb, had a sacred meal of bread and wine and one of bread and water, though the God is normally figured as slaying the bull, and a lamb was at certain times eaten in the mysteries. 3 So in the mystical eucharist of the Egyptians, wherein the divine beings "eat the God Bah [God of the water-flood] and drink the drink offerings," 4 the "cakes and ale" so constantly mentioned in the funeral ritual clearly stand for bread and wine as symbolising flesh and blood, the cakes being made of white grain, and the ale from red grain. 5 The worshippers of Dionysos inferribly did the same when his worship was linked to that of Dêmêtêr or Ceres, the Corn-Goddess, and in his cult in turn the wine was
mixed with water. 1 But it is on record that though some Christian worshippers in the second century and later, whether imitating the Mithraists or proceeding on general ascetic principles, substituted water for wine in the normal sacrament (a mixture of wine and water being the common usage), 2 an actual lamb was in many churches anciently sacrificed and eaten at Easter, and that when that usage ceased a baked image of a lamb was substituted. 3 And vestiges of both customs survive to this day in the practice of the Catholics of Italy, wherein an actual body of a lamb as well as a confectionery image is blessed by the priest, with the Easter eggs, and sometimes bread. 4
There were in reality two ideals in the early Church: that set forth by a number of the Fathers down to Augustine, according to which the ritual of the Holy Supper is purely mystical; 5 and another, resting on the natural feeling that the ritual language was gratuitously fantastic if taken as wholly mystical. This, the realistic view, founds on the whole historical analogy of sacrifice, which always meant a communion with the God in partaking of a common meal, 6 and often, further, a partaking of the God 7 under the form of his animal or human representativethis after the principle of totemism, if ever present in the particular cult, had been long overlaid by a later mysticism.
In short, if men ate the paschal sacrament of the Lamb by way of eating the God, they were doing what was pleasing to the God; and if they further regarded the God as incarnate in human shape, they were equally entitled or committed to eating him in that form. But are we then to suppose that in any Mediterranean population about the beginning of the Christian era a religious sect could sacrifice a human being and afterwards sacramentally eat of the flesh? In the records of the man-sacrifice of the Babylonian Sacæa or Zakmuk, to which Dr. Frazer looks for the original of a rite
copied by the Jews in their Purim feast and incidentally applied to the execution of a historic Jesus, there is no trace of a subsequent anthropophagous or other sacrament; any more than a rite of resurrection. Yet such a sacrament would seem to be primordial; and the idea of resurrection, developed as a doctrine of individual immortality from the primary conception of the annual revival of vegetation, had become part of the mystery rituals of Osiris and Dionysos, and of the Eleusinia, long before the Christian era.
It is the same doctrine that we find in pro-Christian Mexico, particularly in the worship of Huitzilopochtli, concerning which a discerning mythologist of the last generation noted that the practice of making from dough and seeds and children's blood small images of the God, which were treated like human victims and eaten, signified his death and the eating of his body:
With the comparative "morality" of the heathen and Christian sacraments we need not here concern ourselves. But it is to be noted that among the early Christians the sacramental bread was treated as having medicinal virtue; and that in the Middle Ages it became practically a fetish. 2
140:3 Cp. Robertson Smith, Semites, p. 339; Pausanias, iv, 9; vii, 38; viii, 2; ix, 34; Granger; The Worship of the Romans, 1895, p. 300; Gibbon, ch. ii, Bohn ed. i, 41; ch. xxxiv (iii, 554): Boissier, La Fin du Paganisme, i, 31; Mariner, Tonga Islands, 3rd ed. i, 190, 300; J. Williams, Narrative of Missionary Enterprises, 1837, p. 549; Rhys, Celtic Britain, 2nd ed. p. 69; Murray, Rise of the Greek Epic, p. 15; and above, p. 65.
141:1 Cp. K. O. Müller, Introd. to Mythology, Eng. tr. pp. 169, 193-4; 2 Kings xvii, 26; Herodotus, if, 171. Cp. Short History of Freethought, i, 43-5.
141:2 Such a revival was noted among upper-class people in England in connection with the extensive volunteering for service in South Africa in 1899-1900; and there are clear traces of it in every age.
141:3 See Frazer, G. B., 2nd ed. ii, 134, and refs., as to the priests of Attis at Pessinus and Rome; and cp. Jevons, pp. 273-5. The usage was widespread, being found among the Polynesians and the aboriginal magicians of California, and in several of the cults of pre-Christian Mexico. See J. G. Müller, Amerikanische Urreligionen, pp. 77, 493, 577; Mariner, Tonga Islands, 1827, i, 101, 290; W. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, 2nd ed. i, 373-5; iv, 309-10.
141:4 John vi, 48-56.
141:5 Cp. Sahagun, passim.
141:6 Burton, A Mission to Gelele, 1864, ii, 143.
142:1 Cp. Rev. ii, 9; iii, 9.
142:2 Frazer, G. B., ii, 167.
142:3 See below, Part III, Mithraism, §1 6, 9.
142:4 Book of the Dead, ch. lxv, Budge's tr. pp. 120, 156.
142:5 Id. ch. cxxiv, tr. p. 187.
143:1 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. p. 360.
143:2 Bingham, Antiq. of the Christian Church, B. xv, ch. ii, §§ 5, 7.
143:3 Hatch, Hibbert Lectures, p. 300. The criticism of Dr. Cheatham on this passage (The Mysteries, Pagan and Christian, 1897, p. 149) denies the sacrifice on the altar (cp. Bingham, Bk. xv, ch. ii, § 3), but admits that a lamb, blessed by the Pope, was eaten. But there is evidence that a lamb is actually sacrificed on the altar in at least one place to this day. A picture representing the practice was published some years ago in (I think) the Daily Graphic.
143:4 Order of Divine Service for Easter, according to the use of the Church of Rome (Art and Book Company: London), 1899, p. 99. "The offices of "Blessing of the Housesthe Lambthe Eggs" are not given in the official Office of Holy Week according to the Roman Rite, published by Washbourne, London, 1896.
143:5 Augustine, De Doctr. Chr. iii, 16, § 24; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, xli; Clemens Alexandr. Pædagogus, i, 6; Tertullian, Against Marcion, iv, 40.
143:6 Cp. Jevons, p. 288; and The Dynamics of Religion, pp. 146-53. The blunder of Bentley, sometimes recklessly backed up by Christian writers to this day, is repudiated by all competent scholars. Cp. Newton, Essays in Art and Archæology, 1880, p. 186.
143:7 Cp. Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, 2nd ed. ii, 251, and Decharme, as there cited.
144:1 J. G. Müller, Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen, 2te Aufl. 1867, p. 606.
144:2 Bingham, Christian Antiquities, B. xv, iv, §1 7-20; v, §§ 5-9; Lea, History of the Inquisition, i, 49.