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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 17. Further Pagan Adaptations.

One likely result of the non-performance of the mystery-play as such would be a modification of the sacramental meal. When the crucifixion was represented in sequel to the supreme annual eucharist,

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the bread and wine of the weekly Supper were somewhat definitely presented as symbols, whereas the merely priestly representation of the God by the ministrant in the simple eucharist would emphasise the declaration "this is my body." As to what may have ritually occurred in this connection either shortly before or after the period of the mystery-play we can but speculate, as aforesaid; but we have seen that the ritual eating of a lamb did take place in the post-Pauline period, as in the mysteries of Mithra and Dionysos; and there is reason to infer that for similar reasons there was long and commonly practised among Christists the usage of eating a baked image of a child at the Easter communion. 1 That is the only satisfactory explanation of the constant pagan charge against the Christians of eating an actual child—a charge met by the Fathers in terms which convey that there was something to conceal. 2 As it was made and repelled long after the gospels were current with the mystery-play added, there would be no reason for the attitude of mystery unless the ritual included some symbolism not described in the books. Given that this symbol was bread shaped in a human form, Christism was exactly duplicating one of the practices of the man-sacrificing Mexicans, who at the time of the Spanish conquest employed such a symbol in some of their sacraments alongside of still surviving rites of man-eating, and constant human sacrifice. 3

When, however, the Christian cult was officially established, there needed no such primary symbolism to secure for the habitual sacrament the reverence of the faithful. The general belief that the sacred bread became the flesh of the God, and as such had miraculous virtue, could be maintained on the strength of the bare priestly blessing; and though the consecrated wafer is itself copied from pagan practice, 4 it is finally a symbol of a symbol. For the same reason the church was able to put down a tendency which can be traced in the second and third centuries, and even later, to set up a new sacramental symbol for the Christ—to wit, the Fish. 5 This peculiar symbolism was superficially traced to the fact that the Greek word Ἰχθύς, Fish, is got from the initial letters of the phrase,

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[paragraph continues] Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Ὑιὸς Σωτὴρ—Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour. But such a solution is incredible: the anagram is framed after the symbol, not before it; and the true explanation must be that whereas the divine lamb had long been identified with the zodiacal sign Aries, into which the Sun enters at the vernal equinox, the time of the crucifixion, the precession of the equinoxes had for some time made the sun's zodiacal place at that season not the constellation Aries, but the constellation Pisces1 Either for the same reason, or in virtue of the simpler myth according to which the Sun was a fish who every evening plunged in the sea, Horus had long been "the Fish" in Egypt; and in some planispheres he was represented as fish-tailed, and holding a cross in his hand. It was he, and not Jesus, who figured for the Gnostics as the Divine Fish; 2 and it was probably through the Gnostics that the symbol entered the Christian system. And though the Egyptian precedent was inconvenient, and the symbol recalled both the Philistine Fish-God Dagon and the Babylonian Oannes, many Christists would be the more led to such a change of symbol because the lamb symbol was awkwardly common to both Judaism and Mithraism; and because in particular the phrase of the Judaistic Apocalypse, "washed in the blood of the Lamb," pointed very inconveniently to the Mithraic rite of the criobolium, which with the taurobolium was a highly popular pagan rite of "purification." 3 The catacomb banquet scenes in which fishes figure as the food 4 are probably due to this motive; and the story of the sacred meal of fish in the fourth gospel was probably shaped in part under the same pressure, though the idea of a banquet of seven was also Mithraic. 5

A State Church was able to dispense with such tactics, though it saw fit to discourage the use of the lamb symbol. That, nevertheless, survived with the equally pagan symbol of the Easter egg, which has no place in the sacred books, but was taken by the Gnostics from the lore of the Orphicists. The bread symbol, finally attenuated to the wafer, served as the supreme or official sanctity. Yet in this remotely symbolical fashion the historical Church has sedulously preserved the immemorial principle, common to paganism and Judaism, of a constantly repeated sacrifice; and by that doctrine the Church of Rome stands to this day, the Church of England

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leaning strongly towards it. 1 Hierologically speaking, they are quite justified; the eucharist is a sacrificial meal or nothing; and those who recoil from the sacrificial principle, if they would be equally consistent, have by rights but one course before them, that of relegating the Christian cultus to the status of those of paganism.

But in the way of such a course there stands the agelong prepossession in favour of the Gospel Jesus as a personality and as a teacher. In these his moral aspects, men think, he stands apart from the Christs, mythic or otherwise, of the Gentile world, and is worthy of a perpetual attention. In these aspects, then, finally, must the Christian God-Man be comparatively studied.


207:1 See the evidence for this view given in Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 205-215; and cp. Frazer, Golden Bough, ii, 343 sq., and Grant Allen, Evolution of the Idea, of God, pp. 344-5.

207:2 Cp. Hatch, as cited, pp. 292-305.

207:3 Below, Part IV, § 6.

207:4 Cp. Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy, 2nd ed. p. 44. To begin with, the early sacramental bread was certainly in round cakes or rolls (Bingham, B. xv, c. ii, §§ 5, 6), as were the paniculi of the pagan sacrifices. Originally it was taken from the oblations offered by the people, and was therefore not unleavened. It was only after such oblations had practically ceased that the Church began to supply the sacred bread in the form of wafers, for economy's sake, and, these being necessarily unleavened, argued that they ought to be so.

207:5 Tertullian, De Baptismo, 1; Augustine, De Civ. Dei, xviii, 23. Cp. Lundy, Monumental Christianity, 1876, pp. 130-140, as to the Christian and pre-Christian symbolisms. The Messiah is already identified with Dag, the Fish, in the Talmud.

208:1 See below, Part III, § 6, and compare Gubernatis, Letture sopra la mitologia vedica, 1874, pp. 216-232, as to the wide bearings of the Fish myth.

208:2 See the Gnostic Seal (Brit. Mus. No. 231) engraved in Mr. Gerald Massey's Natural Genesis, 1883, i, 454; and compare the planispheres in that vol. and vol. ii of his Book of the Beginnings, 1881.

208:3 Below, Part III, § 6.

208:4 Northcote and Brownlow, Roma Sotteranea, 1879, ii, 67-71.

208:5 Christianity and Mythology. 2nd ed. p. 382.

209:1 See The Eucharistic Sacrifice, by A. G. Mortimer. Longmans, 1901.

Next: § 18. Synopsis and Conclusion: Genealogy of Human Sacrifice and Sacrament