Δευτέρα, 20 Μαρτίου 2017

EARL DOHERTY : The Mystery Cults and Christianity (3)


The Mystery Cults and Christianity
Part Three:


The "Problem"


If there is a "bible" for modern scholars who champion the disassociation of Christian doctrine from that of the mysteries, it is Gunter Wagner's Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries, published in 1963 in German, English translation 1967. It is also a favorite on amateur apologetic websites, which quote the book to support the disproving of any dependence by early Christianity on the Graeco-Roman mystery cults. Wagner's stated purpose is to solve a "problem." This problem centers around Christian baptism as presented in the New Testament. In the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, baptism is a rite of conversion following a declaration of faith and acceptance of the message about Jesus. It confers forgiveness of sins and a reception of the Holy Spirit. And the recipient will "have part in the eschatalogical salvation" [p.5]. But then...

    If we now turn to the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, we are struck by the completely different language that is used. In his own particular fashion, Holtzmann has expressed astonishment that can be felt on finding such an "innovation" in the New Testament conception of baptism. He characterises baptism according to Rom. vi as a mystical action, by means of which the believer is incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, and he continues:
    Here, to eyes accustomed to the simple and clear-cut outlines of the world-picture drawn by the Old Testament and the Synoptic Gospels, a sudden glimpse is given of an odd twilight such as up till now we have only come across in our introductory account of the nature of contemporary mystery religion.
    It seems odd that here Paul connects baptism with the death of Jesus, and regards it as a dying with Christ and a rising to new life with Him. Furthermore, the phrase "ē agnoeite" obviously presupposes that what he has said is not strange to the Christian community at Rome; hence it might be inferred that to understand baptism in terms of the mysteries is indigenous to them, and that Paul sets out from that point. Does not the expression "homoiōma" suggest that baptism is a ritual re-enactment of the death and resurrection of Christ, and that—like the initiate in the mystery religions—the baptised believer shares the fate of his Lord? Do not other baptismal texts (such as Gal. iii. 27 and 1 Cor. xii. 13, xv. 29) support such an interpretation? But can such an interpretation be arrived at in so simple a way? Can a view that is not far removed from the magical be ascribed to Paul? Or does he perhaps shoulder its burden because it is a remnant of paganism of which he cannot get rid?
    Is not his thinking, however, fundamentally different from all that is thought and practised there in those mystery cults? Is it to be held that his dependence on the mystery religions simply consists in his terminology, while the real interpretation of his views must be obtained from his own theology? Where is the solution of the problem to be found? [p.5-6]
    Thus, Wagner's starting point is incredulity. He cannot accept what seems to lie on the pages of Romans (and other Pauline epistles), an impression which a host of other scholars have also gained and over which they have expressed everything from acceptance to puzzlement to dismay. And thus Wagner embarks on a determined enterprise to discredit that impression and reinterpret Paul so that he says what Wagner and his readers would prefer him to say.

-- i --
Taking No Prisoners


First, however, he devotes the bulk of the book to an examination of virtually every aspect of the mysteries of certain savior gods which past scholarship, especially that of the History of Religions school, have presented as having similarities to Christian soteriology. Virtually everything is challenged, denied, discredited. No rebirth of the initiate, no resurrection of the god, (sometimes no dying, either), no linking of the fate of the initiate with that of the god, and much else. In the course of his swathe of destruction, Wagner exhaustively addresses the opinions of previous generations of scholars who have pronounced on Paul's vision of baptism and its relation to the mysteries, although when they support a connection with the mysteries he consistently does it to disprove or set aside such views. The book is thus a useful survey of almost a century of scholarly thinking on the matter prior to the 1960s.

    It is not my intention to examine all of it in detail. But some of it is too informative to pass over, and I want to give some indication of Wagner's approach and a sense of what he is up against. Which is not to say that nothing Wagner says can be trusted; he is a formidable scholar, and I would accept a lot of what he concludes in regard to the character of the mysteries and their savior figures. But his bias is not just evident, it is rampant, and even his admissions are delivered with the greatest reluctance.

    He first examines the range of particular interpretations of Pauline baptism in Romans 6 in relation to the mysteries. Here it would be advisable to lay out that passage in Paul, as well as a few subordinate ones mentioned by Wagner (Romans 6 will be repeated later):

Romans 6:
    ...We who died to sin: how can we still live in it?
    3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
    4 Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death,
       in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
       so also we might walk in newness of life.
    5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death,
       so too shall we be (united with him) in (the likeness of) his resurrection.
    6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him
       so that our body of sin might be done away with...

Galatians 3:27:
      For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:13:
      For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...a body not made of one part but of many.

1 Corinthians 15:29:
      Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized on behalf of the dead?
      If the dead are not raised, why are they baptized on behalf of them?

    Wagner's first survey is of those scholars who regarded Paul's view of baptism as fully dependent on the mysteries. With one eye on the foregoing passages from Paul, we can perhaps sympathize with those scholars, like Gunkel (1903, 1930), Wendland (1912) and Brandon (1955), who interpreted Romans 6 as teaching that

- the believer is joined in mystical union with Christ
- the recipient experiences the death of Christ
- he rises to a new life
- he puts on Christ 'as if a garment'
- everlasting life is to be gained by such a sacrament
- what happened to the heavenly person (Christ) happens again to the believer in the sacrament
    Wagner admits that to those approaching Romans 6 from the Old Testament, from a Jewish direction, such things "may be incomprehensible and strange" [p.8]. Wendland expresses the view that Paul, who may have come in contact with Mithraism in Tarsus, unconsciously and unintentionally "reconstructed mystery ideas because he was 'steeped in the atmosphere of those religions'." Wendland equates Paul's baptism with initiation rites in the mysteries: the cleansing bath in the cults of Mithras and Isis, the taurobolium of the Cybele cult which confers rebirth, and a rising with the deity to new life. In his opinion, an even 'magical' view of Pauline baptism can be seen in the fact that it was administered "in the name of Christ, that a formula and name was believed to have power, and that it was supposed that the Spirit was communicated by the laying on of hands" [p.9]. Other scholars were of the opinion that Pauline baptism is "a mystico-sacramental action" (Schneider, 1954), "a ritual re-enactment of the death and resurrection of Christ in the person of each neophyte," not a memorial or a prophecy, but a re-creation, a 'tapping into' "the efficacy of events he believed to be beneficial." As such, Christian baptism was something in a long line of thought in religious history, the practice of "ritual perpetuation of (a sacred event of) the past," usually a primordial one (Brandon, 1955).

    This will give us an idea of what Wagner must contend with. To discredit such views, which seem quite reasonable in light of the Pauline texts and in the context of the mysteries, Wagner must do two things: show that the mysteries themselves did not actually contain such elements, and reinterpret Paul in a different manner. To avoid having the two trains collide, he will send them off in opposite directions.

    As others have done before him, Wagner offers as a fundamental difference between Paul and the mysteries the emphasis in the former on ethics, while it is "insignificant" in the latter [p.11-12]. There is no denying that Paul is fixated on sin (one might ask whether such a thing is simply to be equated with "ethics" rather than neurotic obsession), while the mysteries, with the exception of Orphism, were rather refreshingly not. But such a distinction has no effect on the basic issue. I like the quote [p.12, n.22] from A. Titius (1900), that Paul held a "conception of the mystical contact of the soul with the heavenly world," for it places Paul's focus on that non-earthly sphere which his Jesus inhabited. The relationship between earth and heaven, matter and spirit, not only fits the philosophical atmosphere Paul moved in, it aligns itself with the spirit of the mysteries with their ever-present gods interacting with the devotee, at a time when myths are being reinterpreted by philosophers as timeless or recurring events, not as historical happenings in the distant primitive past.

    Wagner calls attention to the views of H. Böhlig (1914): "The Christian and Christ become merged into one single personality and therefore, as soon as this happens, the death and resurrection of Jesus must also be communicated to the believer" [p.15]. Paul never spells out the latter thought, but the former saturates his thinking. Christ and the believers form one body ('Christ the head, believers the limbs'), as some of the above epistle passages show. To these witnesses to the idea of the integration of the believer with Christ, we can add Galatians 3:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me"; or Galatians 4:19, "My children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you." For Böhlig, this has definite magical overtones, the baptismal ceremony directly producing an effect, a transformation of the initiate, and the creation of a mystical relationship between god and believer. Thus there is "no longer any perceptible difference from the mysteries here."

    Wagner has a task ahead of him.

Ex Opere Operato


There is a curious stance in modern scholarship in this area which I don't have the theological smarts to understand. It seems the worst thing one can accuse Christian baptism of is being a "sacrament" or "mystery" which works "ex opere operato". As I explained earlier in Part Two, this refers to the concept that the actual performance of the rite, in this case baptism, created the effect. I describe the principle this way in The Jesus Puzzle:

Just as today we perceive natural laws and forces working in nature and the universe, the ancients perceived spiritual forces operating between the natural world and the supernatural, between the present, earthly reality and the primordial past or higher divine reality. For Paul, the rite of baptism was a sacrament in this sense, something which drew on invisible spiritual forces operating between past and present, between heaven and earth. [p.99]
    Considering that the Catholic Church, as I understand it, has no hesitation in calling baptism and the Eucharist "sacraments" (although just how they perceive the operating forces I am unclear), perhaps this all relates to a sectarian distinction between Catholic and Protestant, in which the ancient Roman Church corrupted apostolic Christianity by "platonizing" it, as discussed in the previous article. The preferred alternative is that "Paul's doctrine of baptism was not sacramental, but symbolical and subjective" since the former is seen as too close to 'magical' principles. Kirsopp Lake (1911) is quoted as saying that Paul's conception is based on "the well-known idea that results could be reached in the unseen spiritual world by the performance of analogous acts in the visible material world" [p.17, n.45]. This is a compelling idea, and it further supports the concept just mentioned, that Christ operates in the spiritual world with which believers in this one strive to establish a connection through the participation in sacred rites. A little later Wagner quotes J. Leipoldt (1908) who provides a succinct statement of the homologic principle, the idea of the counterpart parallel between heaven and earth in the workings of salvation, which is nothing more than an extension of one of the fundamental ideas of the ancient world, that things in heaven are mirrored on earth, the prototype and the type. (See The Jesus Puzzle, p.99-100.)

Those who believe in the mysteries relive the fortune of the god in their sacraments."...In these cults the fortune of the god is the prototype of the fortune of his believers. "As the god dies and rises again from the dead, so does the devotee who is united to him by sacraments." [p.28]
Within such an outlook, many of the features found in the epistles of the New Testament assume a coherence which theologians seem unable to give them in the context of an historical, Gospel-based Jesus.

    Some scholars have chosen to see Paul as inhabited by a contradiction, a warring combination between the two worlds, like oil and water. The Pauline water is identified as his precondition for faith sincerely held, a factor absent in the mysteries. So too, of course, the ethical emphasis and the love of God, supposedly much weaker in the cults of the pagan saviors who, it will be remembered, did not voluntarily die for humanity. This conflict is resolved by seeing Paul as one who "did not think magically, (and whose) doctrine is of infinitely higher worth; it is 'moralised' mystery doctrine" [p.24, from P. Gardner, 1911). Others, such as Otto Pfleiderer (1905), see Paul as transforming the baser mystery concepts by presenting the death of Christ as "the moral act of the self-sacrifice of holy love" [p.26]. Paul thus used the traditional mystery forms "to express deeper and more truly Christian thoughts." But even this will not do, for in the latter 20th century, no mystery dimension is allowed to sully Pauline Christianity.

    Inevitably, there surfaces the supposed major difference between Christianity and the mysteries, as put forward by M. Bruckner (1908). Both "have a common mythological source, while their reciprocal influence is to be understood as due to their kinship. On the other hand, it is the historicity of the person of Jesus that distinguishes Christianity, and prevents Christian thought from getting lost in the general history of religion" [p.27]. As we know by now, Paul fails to give us any clear indication that he was aware of such a distinction.

When is a Resurrection Not a Resurrection?


In the central section of the book, Wagner steers the train of the mysteries out of the station and into a dismal and barren countryside. Here there is no grass of rebirth, no trees resurrecting into the sky, no green meadows where happy devotees romp in unity with the god; no foliage of hope crowns the sterile shriveled scrub. Across this desolate landscape, mourning figures shuffle in celebration of death, vainly seeking the entrance to a happier afterworld. Savior after savior is relegated to a ghostly apparition, flitting about the scene uncertainly as if asking, "What am I doing here?"

    In a brief preliminary survey of the major savior gods in regard to the 'dying and rising' category, only Dionysos "is possibly to be counted among the 'dying and rising' gods, though in this case one can only speak of a 'resurrection' in the most symbolical sense of the term" [p.66-7]. Close, but no cigar. And what is the standard to qualify at all for a resurrection? Wagner quotes Martin Nilsson (The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistic and Roman Age, p.130). Referring to the myths in which Dionysos descends to the Underworld and reascends with his mother in tow, and in which Dionysos is reborn from Zeus after being killed by the Titans, Nilsson says:

This may seem to be the best example of an idea, dear to scholars who tried to find a common background of beliefs in the mysteries of the Roman age, that is, that the death and resurrection of the god was the prototype of the death and resurrection of man; thus the mystae would be sure of rising again from death. But this is not so. The adherents of the Bacchic mysteries did not believe that they would rise up from the dead; they believed that they would lead a life of eternal bliss and joy in the Other World." [p.67, n.22]
    This, of course, is the classic objection, constantly reiterated by a generation of scholars and universally appealed to on apologetic Internet sites devoted to discrediting any mystery-Christianity connection (and they are legion). The latter are perhaps to be forgiven for their myopia, but scholars who have studied the mysteries in detail should not be forgiven for mounting this colossal straw man and wielding their scythes so vigorously. Even if Jesus were historical and was believed to have exited from his tomb in flesh, such a distinction has no effect on the ultimate fate of the believer, or the basic process by which it is achieved. Besides, no Christian today imagines he is going to walk out of his grave in a resurrected body. His destiny in heaven is exactly equivalent to the expectation Nilsson allots to the cultic initiates: "they believed that they would lead a life of eternal bliss and joy in the Other World." If this could be guaranteed by unity with a god who had proceeded to the Netherworld after death, to set up the salvation accommodations, why is one different or superior to the other? Christians also have a belief (according to some creedal promises) that the body will be resurrected at the end of the world, but no Greek or Roman wanted that to happen; it was the soul that would enjoy the afterlife. The irony here is that Paul never makes this kind of distinction himself. It is not a factor in his soteriological system. He doesn't say, because Jesus rose in flesh, you will too. In fact, he tells his readers that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. And the conception of Christ's resurrection in all of the epistles is one of ascending immediately to the right hand of God, in spirit. There is no sojourn on earth in flesh, let alone any appeal to such a feat as an essential feature in the death and resurrection parallel as laid out in Romans 6.

    If one assumes this standard scholarly illusion, Christianity must have possessed an undeniably distinctive asset in a savior who had risen from an earthly tomb, to walk the countryside again in a physical body. And he had done this within living memory, whereas the pagan saviors were a distant mythical echo. What a huge selling point! What a knockout piece of superiority! Yet not a single epistle writer brings up such a difference. Furthermore, whether Jesus was claimed to have walked out of his tomb (as in the Gospels), or was resurrected only in spirit (as in 1 Peter 3:18), no one, Christian or pagan, ever says that Christians had a monopoly on the very idea of resurrection. Certainly Celsus did not. Most of the second century apologists have not a single word to say about resurrection of any kind for their Son and Logos. The Pauline concept, as pointed out earlier, surfaces nowhere in the Christian record in the entire 2nd century. Justin, in defending Christianity against pagan similarities, does not say, 'But we have the only god who was resurrected!' This is one reason why we can say with confidence that the pagan mysteries must have had a 'resurrection' concept for their gods, even if it wasn't exactly equivalent to that of Christianity—although in the 1st century, before the Gospels began to circulate, it would have seemed equivalent. This is a huge red herring, and modern scholars are to be faulted for not recognizing, or admitting it as such.

Dissecting and Eviscerating the Cults


Wagner spends almost 200 pages subjecting most of the cults—Eleusis, Osiris-Isis, Tammuz, Marduk, Adonis, Attis—to close examination. He does not address Mithras or Dionysos, Mithras because he is not a dying and rising god, Dionysos probably because he is, as Wagner has allowed. He questions and largely rejects all the past scholarly interpretations attached to the elements we have been discussing throughout these articles: baptism, rebirth, death and resurrection, unity with the god, salvation through parallelism with the god's own experiences. It is impossible to lay out and respond to all of Wagner's arguments here; nor can all of them be refuted, especially as posed. Diversity did exist, differences are clearly evident between the cults and Christianity, some of them significant and pointing up the gap in cultural background and the innovation which Christianity, especially Paul, brought to the new faith. Many of the arguments Wagner presents against this or that savior god have been dealt with earlier in other contexts. What I will do is focus on three particular areas, especially where he addresses ground not previously covered here, and then go on to the more important issue of how he interprets Pauline baptism itself.

Baptism at Eleusis


In examining Eleusinian baptism, Wagners appeals to two arguments which are common throughout. The first one goes like this:

Notwithstanding the attempts that have been made to prove that Eleusinian baptism signified rebirth, or to envisage it as a bridal-bath, a death-mystery, or an image of the resurrection, such possible interpretations cannot be grounded on the attestations that have come down to us.
This, if course, is the argument from silence, but there is a difference here from the appeal made to it as part of the mythicist case, such as by myself. In the latter we have an organized collection of literary documents numbering over 100,000 words in the early record of non-Gospel Christianity, inside and outside the New Testament. When something critical (such as a life of Jesus) is missing from a record like that, we are justified in taking notice and drawing certain conclusions. When the record in the other case is fragmentary, without coordination, on subjects which are largely forbidden to be expounded, less secure interpretations are inevitable. But one is hardly permitted to simply dismiss them as worthless on the basis of a lack of clear evidence; and too often the evidence that is available for interpretation is not permitted to speak to us in positive ways. Wagner notes that there is only one surviving illustration of Eleusinian baptism, on a dedicatory relief from the 5th century BCE. Here is how he dismisses any dramatic inferences (like the ones mentioned in the above quote) from its more arresting features:

The portrayal is doubtless ideal. The sprinkling form is probably chosen for artistic motives. From the fact that this is done not by the priest but by the goddess, one can scarcely venture to draw an inference about the value attached to baptism in the mysteries. [p.71, n.13]
The fact that the initiate is being baptized by the goddess herself rather than by the priest fails to impress Wagner or lead him to think that such an honor might suggest a view of this rite which is greater than he is allowing it to be given. [I am unaware of any early Christian representations of Christ himself performing baptism on the convert.]

    Wagner's analyses are full of such terms as "probably," "not likely," "appears untenable," "does not convince." Others' views are often "an over-interpretation." Through filters like these it is going to be very difficult to get any sense that the mysteries stood for anything that might encroach on Christian prerogatives.

    The second commonly-used argument is even more insidious. Some of the interpretations of Eleusinian baptism which Wagner is eager to discredit rely on evidence contained in Tertullian, in his De baptismo. But this is not to be taken at face value.

Since there is no evidence anywhere that the "fundamental significance" of the mysteries is that the neophyte is adopted by Demeter, becomes her child, and so attains to everlasting life, what Tertullian says in De baptismo 5 could simply be evidence that Eleusinian baptism is associated with the idea of adoption. But in Tertullian Pelusiis is to be read instead of Eleusiniis, and in speaking of regeneratio the Church Father is putting a Christian construction upon the pagan festivals that he mentions.
It would seem that neither the primary, nor the secondary evidence from the ancient world is to be accepted as anything but misleading. (In another spot [p.82], Wagner says that "the text from Hippolytus must be set aside.") Even Christians contemporary with the practice of the mysteries misunderstood them and were guilty of 'reading into' them the understandings of their own practice. What a methodology! Did Wagner not consider that the latter in itself might indicate that they were able to do so because the two did in fact bear such close resemblance? This, incidentally, is what Tertullian has to say:

[T]he nations, who are strangers to all understanding of spiritual powers, ascribe to their idols the imbuing of waters with the selfsame efficacy....For washing is the channel through which they are initiated into some sacred rites....at all events, at the Apollinarian and Eleusinian games they are baptized; and they presume that the effect of their doing that is their regeneration and the remission of the penalties due to their perjuries. [On Baptism, ch. 5; ANF, vol.3, p.669]
Quite a lot to get wholly wrong, I would say.

    Even if all the interpretations of Eleusinian baptism cannot be clearly supported, even if it was basically a rite "of a prepartory nature" to the main mystery ceremonies, Wagner has not come close to banishing the elements of "regeneration and remission" of sins which more adventurous scholars have read into the entire process. As I've said earlier, baptism in Christianity was a self-standing rite, complete in itself. Mysteries such as those of Eleusis and Attis comprised a complex of components, only one of which was the baptismal experience, and often it is difficult to know where to attach a given effect. Factors like these may illustrate differences between the two expressions, but they do not eliminate certain commonalities in overall result or understanding.

Firmicus Maternus and Osirian Resurrection

    Wagner questions the spread of the Isis-Osiris cult in the 1st century, and the degree of influence it could have had on early Hellenistic Christian communities and figures like Paul. In the west, Isis worship tended to be accompanied by that of Serapis, the artificial god (an oxymoron?) who supplanted Osiris. Yet Plutarch in the late 1st century witnesses to the vigor of Osiris traditions in the Roman world at that time. Paul lived and worked in the Levant, which is next door to Egypt, so Wagner cannot rule out the presence of such Osirian influences. Moreover, "mysteries centered on Osiris did exist in the West" [p.96], which we know from Apuleius in the mid 2nd century. Wagner deals with the much-examined comments of Firmicus Maternus in the mid 4th century. Where others apply them to the rites of Attis, Wagner represents another group who identify them with those of Osiris, perhaps correctly.

    In De errore profanarum religionum [22, 1], Firmicus says:

...On a certain night the effigy of the god is laid on its back on a bier and is lamented with cries of woe and threnodies. Then, when they have had enough of their imaginary grief, a light is brought in. Then the throats of all who have been mourning are anointed by the priest, and when they are anointed, the priest whispers in a slow, murmuring voice: "Take heart, mystai, the god has been saved, and for us also shall there be salvation from troubles." [p.96, translation by Ziegler]

    Wagner feels he must discredit the usual interpretation of the final sentence, the pronouncement of the priest. Not even in the mid 4th century can it be allowed that the pagan gods were regarded as resurrected or that their devotees should themselves be saved as a conjoined consequence of the god's salvation. He calls attention to the second following paragraph [3], and admits in regard to its final sentence that "in point of fact there does happen to be a sentence in Firmicus that could refer to a death and resuscitation mystery: Sic moriaris ut moritur, sic vivas ut vivit."

    That paragraph reads (in the translation by Clarence A. Forbes, Firmicus Maternus: The Error of the Pagan Religions, 1970, p.93-4):

You bury an idol, you lament an idol, you bring forth from its sepulture an idol, and having done this, unfortunate wretch, you rejoice. You rescue your god, you put together the stony limbs that lie there, you set in position an insensible stone. Your god should thank you, should repay you with equivalent gifts, should be willing to make you his partner. So you should die as he dies, and you should live as he lives [Sic moriaris ut moritur, sic vivas ut vivit]!"

   In regard to that final sentence, Wagner says: "Yet it is quite 'uncertain whether these words express Firmicus's own reflections or whether he is alluding to the actual beliefs of the mystai'." (Here he is quoting Martin Nilsson.) In other words, both are suggesting that from "Your god should thank you..." the thought is a taunt from Firmicus, not actually reflective of the beliefs of those engaged in the ritual. A taunt it certainly is, and the entire text of Firmicus, when speaking of pagan beliefs, drips with scorn. But how sensible is Wagner's contention? The previous portion of the text speaks of a burial and lament, followed by the bringing forth of the idol from its tomb, reassembly its parts (an indication that the myth of Osiris is probably in view here), and this is accompanied by rejoicing. Firmicus calls the assembled idol "insensible stone," but this does not mean it did not symbolize Osiris' resuscitation; Firmicus is simply denying that symbolism any true reality. Familiarity with the myth of Osiris would indicate that for the devotees this represents the rescue and reassembly of Osiris by Isis, with a consequent benefit for them. All the features that Firmicus then enumerates reflect "the actual beliefs of the mystai," but Firmicus is doing so in his own sneering fashion. If none of these ideas actually existed in the cult, why would Firmicus raise them? Rather, it's like throwing a taunt at a suicide bomber: "Then go to your Paradise with its 72 virgins!" Nor is Firmicus likely to be carrying over belief motifs from his own religion and applying them in this context to a cult which knew nothing of them. He is scorning their expectations that these supposed consequences are guaranteed from
—as he presents it—putting together a pile of stones.

    (Forbes appends a note to this paragraph: "Though Firmicus speaks contemptuously, he actually condenses in this short sentence the essential doctrine of the mystery religions: that the mystae by initiation and ritual acts gained a share in the divine life and a guarantee of immortality." He has apparently not read Wagner.)

    Thus, contrary to what Wagner wants to suggest, this passage is a very good indication that the cult of Osiris in Firmicus' day contained the ideas of unity with the god, and parallel experiences between man and god. It also sounds as though Firmicus has similar concepts in his own faith, but the taunt involves ridicule of the idea that such hopes as Christians legitimately enjoy should be entertained by those who worship a god of stone. Such an interpretation is supported by the tactic Firmicus adopts throughout this whole section, comparing similar things in both religions and making a contrast in their quality and worth. The ointment referred to in verse 1 is in verse 4 ridiculed as "folly," an ointment for the dead, anointing the Osiris initiates into alliance with the devil; whereas the ointment of Christian rites is "a different thing...which God the Father gave over to His only Son," of "an immortal composition and...of spiritual ingredients" (even though both were no doubt obtained at the same market).

    The same tactic is employed in the preceding verse 2 following on the priestly pronouncement of the cultic mystery, and this too supports the contention that Firmicus is comparing the quality and relative worth of two 'resurrection' traditions; not a Christianity with one and a rival without. Here, Wagner attempts another spin on things which is as weak as his previous one. He suggests that in the description of the Osiris rite, if the priest's pronouncement were referring to a resurrection of the god, "we would expect it to be followed by a 'discussion of death and resurrection'." What sort of discussion? Hardly one that would imply some respect given to the cult. In fact, Firmicus does discuss death and resurrection, but, true to form, it is to heap contempt on the Osiris faith and contrast it with Christian faith in the resurrection of Christ. Here is that verse 2:

Why do you exhort unfortunate wretches to rejoice? Why do you drive deluded dupes to exult? What hope, what salvation do you promise them, convincing them to their own ruination? Why do you woo them with a false promise? The death of your god is known, but his life is not apparent, nor has a divine prophecy ever issued a statement about his resurrection, nor has he manifested himself to men after his death to cause himself to be believed. He provided no advance tokens of this action, nor did he show by prefiguring symbolic acts that he would do this.

    Here again the assumption must be, as earlier, that the Osiris cult had a belief in their god's resurrection, just as the Christians did for theirs. It is the relative basis for those beliefs that is being contrasted. Wagner overstates the case when he quotes Nilsson, that "Firmicus, however, dismisses this thought very curtly, declaring that the god is dead, not risen like Christ." Well, that is precisely what Firmicus does not say. It can hardly be contained in the "The death of your god is known, but his life is not apparent." This is not strong enough to encompass the thought that the Osiris cult had no conception of a resurrection; he means simply that it was not justified. Firmicus could simply have said, "We have a god who was resurrected, you don't." "His life (i.e., his resurrection) is not apparent," means that it has not been witnessed, or well-recorded
—which he goes on to contrast with the 'well-recorded' resurrection of Christ. Firmicus would hardly trouble to outline the 'proofs' of Christ's resurrection if it was not to illustrate that the justification for believing in a resurrection of Osiris could not equal the Christian justification. Such an exercise would be meaningless if in fact the Osiris cult did not claim resurrection for their god. Of course, the 'proof' on the Christian side was entirely dependent on the historical veracity of the Gospels and the view of Jewish scripture as a divine prophecy of Jesus.

    Wagner is further mired in his failure to logically think things through when he goes on to say [p.97]: "On this account Nilsson justly says that either the Christian writer had not fully grasped the idea 'that the resurrection of the god is a pattern for the resurrection of his worshippers, or else we ourselves read it into what he tells us'." Without Nilsson's context in which this remark is made, its meaning is somewhat uncertain. But it seems to imply that Nilsson has read the text as suggesting an imperfect understanding on Firmicus' part of the parallel-pattern principle, if we are not seeing the latter because of our own disposition. But I think that this is indeed Firmicus' implication, that he ridicules the Osiris cult in terms of their apparent belief in that very thing, that their salvation is in parallel with the perceived salvation of the god. Nor can I see any indication that Firmicus has "not fully grasped the idea." After quoting the priest's pronouncement (god saved
we shall be saved), he condemns the priest for exhorting them to rejoice. "Why woo them with a false promise?" That promise has to be personal resurrection and not simply earthly "troubles," which is what Wagner claims it is limited to [p.98]. The latter would be too mundane, hardly sufficient fodder for Firmicus' vigorous condemnation. Besides, the entire verse 2 is about the contrast between the unreliability of Osiris' promise based on inadequate proof of his resurrection, and the reliability of the Christian promise based on sure proof of Christ's resurrection. The latter promises are not likely to be simply a reference to Christians being saved from their earthly "troubles" (something Christianity did not lay any emphasis on), but are to salvation from death, based on Christ's resurrection. If that thought is on one side of the debated equation, it has to be on the other side. Once again, logic compels us to conclude that the Osiris initiates expected salvation from death and it was based on the idea of Osiris' salvation from death. As for the word itself in Firmicus, it is ponos in the plural (pains, travails, miseries): "there will be salvation for us from our ponōn," such as we might say that "God will rescue us from the pains of this world," implying salvation to the next. The word ponos could be being used (rather than simply from "death") because it also encompassed the idea of a better lot before death, which was an emphasis in the mysteries.

    That "promise" of salvation (in this world and the next) could only be rooted in the god's own resurrection; this Firmicus plainly understands. And where did he get this understanding? Where else but from his own faith system? Both Wagner and Nilsson seem to be trying to exclude such a principle from Christian thought, which contradicts their earlier preference for denying such a thing to the Osiris cult, preferring instead that the sentence, "So you should die as he does, and you should live as he lives," are "words (that) express Firmicus' own reflection." They can't have it both ways.

    Nor should we take refuge in presuming that perhaps Firmicus has completely misunderstood the cult he has quoted from. By now (mid 4th century), the mysteries and ascendant Christianity were locked in mortal combat, as evidenced by documents like this one. Scholars suggest that mutual copying was going on, especially by the mysteries. Condemnation by Christian writers of minute details in the cults and pagan theology in general was widespread, and had been for a couple of centuries. There is no reason to think that Firmicus got things that wrong.

    As a last resort, Wagner falls back on the timeworn recourse just alluded to. If we are forced to believe that the pagan cults like that of Osiris did possess a dying and resurrecting god, whose actions did guarantee a parallel experience of resurrection for the devotee, well,

In Firmicus a fourth-century writer is speaking to us, and so an author who wrote in an age when the pagan cults had long been forced back on the defensive, and in order to compete with the now fashionable Christianity had appropriated some of its doctrines. [p.98]

In contrast to this, Wagner says, 1st century mystery thought around Osiris regarded him as only "the god of the dead," and thus we are back to the old red herring that being 'god of the dead' was no proper form of resurrection for a god, and no good status for a human. Somehow, one supposes, Paul's "Thus we shall always be with the Lord (in the kingdom of heaven)" (1 Thess. 4:17) is of a different and superior nature than the Osiris believers joining Osiris in their afterworld.

    We are also brought full circle back to Paul's view of baptism as a parallel-experience relationship between Christ and the Christian saved. If that's what the Osiris cult "appropriated" from Christian doctrine, this is an admission that such a thing existed in the Christian repertoire, and what is to prevent us from seeing this as going back to Paul? Of course, Wagner will be denying any such attribution later in the book, as he has all along. When one deals with evidence from preconceived and dogmatic positions, conflict and contradiction is inevitable.

The Resurrection of Adonis

     Wagner's study of Phoenician Adonis is quite thorough. More a demigod than a full deity in his own right, Adonis was for a long time subordinate to a female deity (Aphrodite/Venus), like Attis to Cybele. But Adonis never reached Attis' exalted status. The cult, such as it was, was chiefly observed by women, and little case can be made that Paul would have been influenced by it, if he even came in contact with it. Wagner is willing to allow that Adonis began as a vegetation god, but one representing the birth of foliage in the spring followed by a death in the heat of summer. Elements of his myth suggest this, such as death by a boar, "the animal peculiar to the god of the summer heat." The common motif of a portion of the year spent in the underworld and the rest in the upper world is present in standard versions of the myth, but in the pre-Christian era there seems to be no suggestion whatever, either in myth, cult or other records, of anything pertaining to a resurrection in any sense.

    That changed in the second century CE. Wagner admits that "a sort of 'resurrection' is suggested" in Lucian (De dea Syria, 6). The first trace in the annual Adonis festival of a rejoicing over the god's return from death is found about 150 CE. Prior to that it had apparently been a cult of mourning, difficult to see as designed to confer any mystical benefit on the participant. There is a certain 'cyclical' element to the festival, in that it began by celebrating the return of Adonis to the upper world and his marriage to Aphrodite, but this preceded the mourning for his death which followed immediately afterwards, and the bulk of the festival is devoted to the mourning. Wagner will not allow any thought of 'resurrection' to be read into things, and it does seem that it is certainly underplayed, not to mention being in the 'wrong' order. Yet there is this quote from Theocritus who puts these words into the mouth of a celebrant at the end of the festival:

Look on us with favour next year too, dear Adonis. Happy has thy coming found us now, Adonis, and when thou comest again, dear will be thy return. [p.197, n.128]

Agreed, this is not resurrection, but neither is it finality of death. And while it is difficult to get inside the minds of the participants of these ancient cults and to understand what they were commemorating and what they derived psychologically from them, we still must believe that no society ever creates a cult, preserves it for centuries and invests the lives of thousands in it, unless there is some positive element involved, some embodied hope beyond a mere cathartic indulgence in a morbid fixation on death.

    But this is not the crux of the matter for our purposes here. Wagner acknowledges that "after the beginning of the second half of the 2nd century of the Christian era we hear about the 'resurrection' of Adonis being celebrated in connection with the annual mourning festival" [p.198]. Further, "a festival of the resurrection of Adonis is also known to a few of the Church Fathers," namely Origen (first half of the 3rd century), Jerome and Cyril. In these writers, the sequence of the festival is a reversal of what was found earlier, yearly return of Adonis followed by his death. Now it is death of the god followed by his resurrection. Wagner searches for an explanation of this apparently new appearance of "the resurrection of Adonis as part of the mourning festival," and comes up with this:

[T]his gives reason for serious consideration of the possibility of a new development in the Adonis cult under the influence of syncretism, and perhaps also as a result of its struggle to compete with Christianity. [p.199]

    Thus the specter of reverse borrowing rears its head. But there are problems with this floated idea that Wagner does not address. First of all, he explores the idea that "there is much to support the view that the introduction of a celebration of Adonis' resurrection is to be attributed to the influence of the Osiris cult" [p.200]. I need not go into his detail on that here, but this would certainly be the prime and preferred candidate for influence on a new Adonis resurrection over that of any Christian influence. Wagner's detail relates to features of the Osiris cult, while he has no detail to spotlight in Christianity other than the concept of Christ's resurrection. But the major anomaly is the idea in his quote above, that the Adonis cult would be struggling to compete with Christianity. The new Christian religion, throughout the 2nd century, was a despised faith, widely persecuted, and we have no evidence that there were huge numbers of Christians in the empire with whom any of the cults had to 'compete'. (The one thing often appealed to, Pliny's reference in his letter to Trajan to deserted temples and unpurchased sacrificial animals supposedly on account of Christian conversions, is too ludicrous to accept as accurate or genuine; and it is not even clear from Pliny's language that the falling off was due to Christianity, especially since the new reversal of that situation is not said to be, nor likely to be, because of the persecution.) If syncretism was taking place, it is far more reasonable that it was happening among the mystery cults themselves. If Adonis, a relatively minor cult throughout the empire, was adopting a resurrection motif from other cults, that concept obviously existed in them prior to the mid 2nd century, perhaps at least as early as the 1st century if we can judge by some of the artifacts unearthed at that time and earlier in regard to Attis. Such earlier dates would even more securely rule out Christianity as being the example 'copied' from. It simply wouldn't have exercised that kind of pressure on the pagan cultic organizations. Even in the latter 2nd century, whole apologies by major Christian writers (Tatian, Theophilus, Athenagoras, Minucius Felix) do not speak of a resurrection of their Logos/Son in presenting a picture of the faith. If even Christian writers failed to take notice of such a thing, why should long-established pagan cults? And as I pointed out earlier, no one, Christian or pagan, refers to a situation in which Christianity alone, even in the 1st century, possessed the unique concept of a resurrection of its god. Celsus has nothing but distaste and condemnation for this young upstart which has borrowed everything from its hallowed predecessors. Could such an outlook lead to blatantly stealing its most prominent feature for the mysteries when they supposedly never possessed it before?

    Moreover, Wagner's own presentation of the earlier phases of the Adonis cult shows that it contained at least the potential for a resurrection element, and that is even more true for other cults, especially of Osiris. We may not recognize
—or be willing to admit—this latency, but it is inherent in the myths and it is expressed in the many witnesses to the expectation of a happy afterlife by devotees of the cults. For example, Martin Nilsson [op cit, p.130], reminding us of "the ever increasing concern of the age with the afterlife," mentions an inscription on a gravestone in Roman times:

"While we, overcome by our loss, are in misery, you in peace and once more restored live in the Elysian fields."

If this is connected to the Dionysos cult, one has to ask by what process such a happy fate was assured if not through some kind of linkage with the god's own fate. If ancient Egyptians could look to an afterlife by undergoing the same ritual processes as had Osiris, which gave him the desired afterlife, then the god had undergone his own 'resurrection'. Cicero, as quoted earlier, wrote: "We have learned from (the Eleusinian rites) the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with better hopes" [De legibus, II, 14, 36]. The Homeric Hymn speaks of the epopteia rite at Eleusis and its climactic vision: "Happy is he who has seen it!" The hymn "directly relat[es] the vision to the assurance of a favored lot in the other world" [Walter Otto, "The Meaning of the Eleusinian Mysteries," in Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, p.23].

    Walter Burkert admits that evidence for "the promise of a privileged life beyond the grave for those who have 'seen' the mysteries...ranges from the earliest text, the Hymn to Demeter, down to the last rhetorical exercises of the Imperial period" [Ancient Mystery Cults, p.21]. The same, he says, "is true for the Dionysiac mysteries from at least the 5th century BC onward. Scholars have been reluctant to acknowledge this dimension of Dionysiac worship, on the assumption that concern about the afterlife should be seen to have developed in later epochs; but the clearest evidence is concentrated right in the classical period." On what in the mysteries could this almost universally witnessed conviction of an assured happy afterlife have been founded if not a linkage with the god? What purpose do the myths serve if not as a perceived indication, a perceived basis, for that linkage? Scholars have been anything but forthcoming, let alone convincing, with their alternative explanations. Usually they present 'uncertainty' for our consideration, founded on the lack, or ambiguity, of such motifs, the sheer frustrating murkiness of clear meaning in the record. Burkert's subsequent comment is typical:

It is tempting to assume that the central idea of all initiations should be death and resurrection, so that extinction and salvation are anticipated in the ritual, and real death becomes a repetition of secondary importance; but the pagan evidence for resurrection symbolism is uncompelling at best. [p.23]

Heaven forbid that we should give into temptation. Indeed, Wagner conveys nothing so much as an obsession with avoiding at all costs the 'sin' of connecting the ideas of the pagan cults with the purity of Christian faith, especially as found in Paul
—or rather, an obsession with doing the reverse, effected through his dubious methodological technique: finding Christian ideas copied by the pagan cults. Burkert's observation, if taken at face value, certainly raises a conundrum. But is the evidence being downplayed? Is it "uncompelling" because that is the way Christian scholars want to see it? Have they placed the bar so high that it becomes quite impossible to see it? Or is it because the difference between the bountiful record left by early Christianity and the meagre, deliberately obscure information on the pagan cults is vast? Should not a degree of dispassionate logic be brought to our evaluation of the mysteries, what they promised to their followers and through what spiritual processes those ends were achieved?

    The monumental irony in all of this frustrating pursuit is that if there were not such a dread on the part of scholarship to link Christianity with the mysteries, such a driving need for denial (no one demonstrates this more than Wagner), Christianity itself would present an indicator, a window to cast light on the workings of the cults that lie in so much greater obscurity. If we were not blinded by the requirement of special privilege for Christianity, we could see that the 'new' religion was being joined by the same men and women, the same mentality as those who joined the mystery cults, inhabiting the same world, possessing the same responses and outlooks. Recognizable and inevitable differences would not be seized on to cut the cords entirely, but would be usable as methodological tools to help postulate what forms and expressions certain elements might have assumed in Graeco-Roman culture. The process of insight might also work the other way: what we can glean from the cults would also help interpret exactly what writers like Paul are getting at, how they have formulated their own soteriological philosophies. But, of course, that would only work in the context of dispassionately conducted historical investigation. What happens in the vast bulk of modern New Testament research is passionately something quite different.

    I will leave off any further discussion of Wagner's treatment of the mysteries and proceed to the long-delayed core of his concern: Pauline baptism, as reflected in Romans 6. One part of his groundwork has been laid, the discrediting of the mysteries as containing anything that could be related to Christian soteriology. That train has left the station for parts distant and unknown. Now the Pauline train, made up entirely of first-class coaches, must be driven in the opposite direction, toward lands sacred and familiar.

-- ii --

The Nature of Pauline Baptism

    Wagner's opening argument relies on a careful examination of the implications behind the language and tone of Romans 6:1-11. It revolves around the question of what Paul is assuming the people he is writing to already understand about Christian baptism (specifically his). This is crucial to the further question of where they have gotten this existing understanding. Keep in mind that Paul has never been to Rome, so he has not previously been responsible for giving them whatever understanding they already have. Do they possess this because it is closely related to a widespread salvation philosophy as found in the mysteries, that the initiate into rites like baptism enters into unity with the god and undergoes counterpart experiences? Is Paul simply building on this 'universal' understanding? Keep in mind, too, that although the question is debated, the people he is writing to in Rome (presumably in the 50s, only about a decade after Claudius' expulsion of all Jews from the city) are liable to be chiefly, if not entirely, gentiles. (He, after all, considers himself an apostle to the gentiles, and he also speaks of the Jews and Israel in chapter 9 as though they are other than those he is speaking to.) This further suggests that his audience would be familiar with Graeco-Roman mystery cult theory.

    Wagner, then, has to analyze this passage in such as way as to minimize any understanding, including on Paul's part, that his audience was a party already to the ideas he is expounding.To consider Wagner's argument, we need to lay out the passage, and I have italicized certain lines for reasons that will become clear. Note first of all that the principal if not sole object of this passage is not to teach about baptism, but to use an understanding of baptism, its inbuilt principle of being united with Christ and undergoing parallel mystical experiences with him (as I would read it), in order to make the point that Paul wishes to make about sin: namely, that the believer has "died to" it and is now embarked on and capable of living a new life without sin, which he urges his audience to do.

       2    ...We who died to sin: how can we still live in it?
    3    Or do you not know [are you ignorant] that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus
        were baptized into his death?
    4 a Therefore [oun] we were buried with him through baptism into death,
in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
      c so we too might walk in newness of life.
    5   (For) if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death,
        so too shall we be (united with him) in (the likeness of) his resurrection.
    6   This we know [knowing this], that our old self was crucified with him,
        so that our body of sin might be done away with,
        that we should no longer be slaves to sin,
    7   because he who has died [i.e., in the way represented by baptism] has been freed from sin.

    Wagner focuses on the "do you not know" of verse 3. What is its implication? Is Paul implying that they do not know, therefore he is telling them? Wagner wants to get as close to this as possible, even if he does not assume that they would be entirely ignorant. The tone does not allow for that, and besides, the passage is not one of teaching such basics from scratch; they are brought in by Paul as a tool to make his point about abandoning sin. Wagner settles on Leitzmann's "courteous instruction": "actually you do not know this but you really ought to have known it." Paul shows, says Wagner, a "mild displeasure...that his correspondents have simply not grasped what their baptism involved" [p.278].

    But if Paul had never been to Rome, how could he have felt they "ought to have known" the proper understanding based on other missionaries' preaching
(which is Wagner's way of interpreting the matter)? Let's consider that for a moment. Paul has said he did not get his gospel from any man but through revelation (Gal. 1:11-12); though we might question exactly how this Romans passage is to be equated with his "gospel," still, we should wonder at his trust in other "apostles of the Christ" to teach the sophisticated baptismal theory he is advancing here—especially in light of 2 Corinthians 10-12 where he is largely castigating other apostles who "preach another Jesus," especially in light of 1 Corinthians 1 where he is condemning rival apostles (like Apollos?) who frequent places further west, like Corinth, and seem not to possess even a basic theology of the cross ("Christ crucified"). Despite 1 Corinthians 15:11, Paul's general remark that "we all preach the same thing," is any scholar prepared to suggest that the Jerusalem apostles like Peter could have taught the Romans (did they even get that far by the 50s?) the highly sophisticated mystical doctrine of Romans 6, or that Paul would assume they had? Paul, in fact, is traditionally regarded as the one who turned the simple Jesus into a Hellenistic transcendent entity; there are those who even suggest that the Jerusalem group did not regard Jesus as divine! On all these counts, it makes no sense for Paul to assume that, in the absence of any preaching from him, the Romans had sufficient understanding of this mystical significance to baptism that he could use it as a springboard to make his point about sin. And yet, that is the overriding tone of the passage.

    I suggest that this would be possible only if such an understanding was part of the language of the time, on which Paul could build his particular emphasis, the consequences for sin. (This, of course, was not the emphasis of the mysteries
—though they were not entirely without it—but was the fixation of certain early Christian preachers like Paul.) We therefore need to separate out, in this passage as well as others, the understanding that is based on the simple parallelism/likeness principle relating to death and resurrection which is arguably derived from the extra-Christian milieu of mystery cult understanding, and the overlay Paul has placed on it in regard to the consequences for living a new sin-free life. It is the latter that is essentially Paul's product, and which he is "teaching" to the Romans, not the homologic theory on which he is basing it. Those two layers in the text have been marked out by using italics to represent Paul's overlay in regard to sin.

    (In passing, I might point out the tradition in regard to Rome's conversion to the Christ faith mentioned by "Ambrosiaster" a few centuries later. This 4th century churchman remarked in his commentary on the epistle to the Romans that "One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any of the apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ, although according to a Jewish rite." If this tradition has any basis, it indicates that Christ belief in Rome arose independently of any proselytizing movement from outside. This would remove any question of Paul trusting in others to have conveyed a 'proper' teaching about baptism (which would have to have coincided with his own), and would support a picture of an early Christian movement not based on an historical figure or single point of origin, but one that arose through a widespread philosophical and theological speculation reflective of trends of the time.

"Do you not know?"

    So let's reconsider Wagner's reading of "do you not know" in verse 3: "do you not know that all of us who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" Paul is chiding them, to give us a reading that could be illustrated by this analogy:

"Do you think you can go to a party and consume a dozen drinks and then drive home? Do you not know that this would put you over the legal limit and you could be charged with DUI? Don't drink and drive!"

Here the listener knows very well that driving over the legal limit of alcohol can lead to an arrest. It's part of the community's knowledge which everyone should be aware of. The speaker uses that assumed knowledge, which he reminds his listener of, to make his point about not drinking and driving. The "do you not know," especially given the presence of the "not," implies: "You are acting as though you don't know, but I expect that you really do." The presence of the negative in a phrase like this almost always implies an expectation of the positive: "Don't you know I love you?" Or, "Wouldn't you know!" where the understood meaning is that we do know.

    Ironically, Wagner appeals to a subsequent passage which in fact supports my interpretation rather than his. Chapter 7:1-4 also begins with "do you not know," and here we can see the two layers of thought, the appeal to what is known and the consequent principle to be derived from it. Paul, in fact, spells out in this case that the 'what is known' is known by his audience.

Do you not know brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only for such time as he lives?

Then he proceeds to give an example which actually does not fit the point he is making. He says that a woman is bound to her husband only as long as he lives, that she is only an adulteress if she marries again while he is alive, but not if he has died. The point Paul then derives from this is:

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

And he goes on once again to speak of passing from being 'in the passions of the flesh' to dying to sin and the Law, and serving in the new sinless spirit.

    The example Paul gives from "the law" (whether this is common law or Jewish Law doesn't matter) represents what his listeners know (even though he asks "do you not know"): namely, the principle that the law has authority over someone only while he is alive. No one would argue the common sense of that, or the common sense of the example he gives, even if it isn't the same thing as the principle. (In the former it is the one who dies who becomes free; in the latter, one is freed by another's death. Wagner calls this 'changing the metaphor', but that's being kind to Paul, who has simply come up with an inaccurate and confusing analogy.) In any case, principle and example represent what Paul declares he knows his audience knows. From this common knowledge, he justifies his conclusion, that "you died to the law" (here he unquestionably refers to the Jewish Law). This again is a focus on the subject of sin.

    We can go back now to chapter 6. Let's repeat it here:

       2    ...We who died to sin: how can we still live in it?
    3    Or do you not know [are you ignorant] that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus
        were baptized into his death?
    4 a Therefore [oun] we were buried with him through baptism into death,
in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
      c so we too might walk in newness of life.
    5   (For) if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death,
        so too shall we be (united with him) in (the likeness of) his resurrection.
    6   This we know [knowing this], that our old self was crucified with him,
        so that our body of sin might be done away with,
        that we should no longer be slaves to sin,
    7   because he who has died [i.e., in the way represented by baptism] has been freed from sin.

Wagner is forced to allow that the content of verse 3 is what is known to the Romans, but only that. He points to the "oun" (thus, therefore) at the beginning of verse 4 as introducing a "conclusion" by Paul, one following on verse 3. But 4a is essentially the same thought as 3, adding the corollary of burial, and 4b is definitely known and simply introduces a further condition for 4c. Thus, 4c is the only part of that verse which represents a "conclusion," and it concerns the subject of sin, namely the new absence of it, which is Paul's focus here.

    In any case, the content of verse 3, even alone, seems suspiciously tied to mystery concepts. Being "baptized into his death" represents a linkage with the god's experiences, the homologic principle. As he died, so too do we. Wagner has already taken a great step across the supposed great divide. And the following thought, of being "buried" with Christ, is simply consequent on the death, a natural corollary. It is part of the mystery-style background leading to Paul's focus on sin. (Remember the 'burial' of the Attis devotees during his 'passion week' festival, when they descended to the tomb of the Great Mother.)

    But what, then, do we make of the powerful verse 5? The funny thing is, in the argument of this entire passage, it is the least important. It's almost an aside, for it is quite incidental to Paul's focus on sin and his justification for regarding oneself as free from it. First of all, we need to be clear on its meaning. Wagner almost seems to suggest that it does not refer to a resurrection after death, but is part of the focus on sin: since it follows on the thought of embarking on a new sin-free life (v.4c), the latter is what is being referred to as "resurrection," i.e., to one's newness of life. But this surely has to be ruled out by the use of the future tense: "we shall be [esometha] also resurrected." The other would require the past tense, as used in regard to the death and burial. Besides, that idea has already been covered in verse 4b and c. No, this is referring to the future resurrection after literal death. It almost seems as though, having spotlighted the two parallels in symbolic death and burial, Paul in verse 5 simply threw in their companion, even if it did not directly relate to his topic of freedom from sin. It was the ultimate linkage with the god Christ: as he was, we too shall be resurrected. He then in verse 6 reverts back to the already-realized parallel of a symbolic "crucifixion with Christ" and what this means for sin.

    Thus, verse 5, like verses 3 and 4a, is not part of Paul's "conclusion." It is part of the background (if an irrelevant part) to the actual conclusion he is focusing on: the new, present life and its freedom from sin. All of that background is rooted in the homologic principle, that what the god undergoes, so too does the believer by being united with him through baptism. This is the underlying engine of the mysteries, even if, as Wagner has demonstrated, it is variously embodied across the cults in often obscure fashion. And it is this background that Paul assumes is familiar enough to the Romans that he need refer to it only in passing, without explanation or argumentation, in making his insistent homily on living a new life.

    Wagner seeks to show that the "homoiōma" of verse 5 ("likeness") does not refer to baptism itself, i.e., 'in the likeness of the rite.' This is true, in the sense that the rite itself is not seen as a 're-creation' (Wagner refers to it as "realized ritually") of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. This is a concept often assigned to mystery cult thinking, and it smacks too much of 'magic' for theologians' liking.
(By the way, it's debatable whether this denial can be made in the case of the Eucharist, at least in Catholicism, which sees the transubstantiation of the bread and wine by the priest as a 're-creation' of Christ's action at the Last Supper.) But this still leaves open a significance for "homoiōma" in the sense of parallel actions or experiences between Christ and the initiate, brought into effect through the rite of baptism. In the end, the distinction is minimal, if not meaningless. Since the guarantee is based on having undergone baptism, the efficacy proceeds from the rite. Baptism triggers the potential application, which is in the same general category as magic. To say that it requires the action of God on precondition of faith and repentance is no different from saying that it is automatic if all the right elements are present. One theologian's "power and wisdom of god" is another man's "magic" (especially when neither one of them bears any relation to reality).

    Wagner attempts a similar sleight-of-hand on the matter of "burial with Christ" [p.281]. He argues that "baptism is not 'of necessity to be understood as a reproduction of the burial of Christ'," (the internal quote is from Dibelius, with which he disagrees), in that same sense that the rite itself is not a 're-creation' of Christ's burial. In any event, how is the 'burial' in Christian baptism different from the mystery concept?

...the suntaphēnai (to be buried) is referred to because it strongly stresses the genuine nature of the death to sin; just as the burial of Jesus is "a sealing of the actual bodily death of Christ, so too the suntaphēnai of believers is a seal of their being dead with Him" (quoting Bornkamm). [p.281]

Wagner has mentioned in passing that Paul referred to Christ's burial in the "traditional kerygmatic formula" of 1 Corinthians 15:4, so here he is comparing that presumed historical burial as a 'seal' of the actuality of Christ's bodily death, with the symbolic burial of the believers as a 'seal' of their being dead with Christ. In such a comparison, we've got a very literal understanding of a literal event providing a parallel (in Paul's understanding, so Wagner claims) with a very unliteral and mystical "death" with Christ. This is not only incomprehensible, it is not a parallel at all. The "seal" in the first case is a tangible 'proof' of actual death in the normal sense. In the second it is some kind of mystical assurance, based on a mystical sacrament, that the believer has undergone a symbolic "death" to sin with Christ. One might ask what it means to call this "genuine." (If it all seems mind-bogglingly obscure, we can put it down to the natural tendency of theological discourse.) What would make it more of a parallel, however, is if we realized that in 1 Corinthians 15:4 Paul is not speaking of an actual physical historical death and burial, but a mythical one. That way, the 'events' on both sides are spiritual; the parallels both have to do with spiritual processes, one undergone by Christ in a spiritual setting, the other by the initiate wherein the spiritual operates within the material. Everything inhabits a mystical dimension.

    In any case, it is difficult to see how Wagner's interpretation as having nothing to do with the 're-creation' concept effects a complete divorce from mystery cult attitude toward burial. The Attis cult (as suggested in his passion week festivities) also involved a symbolic burial of the celebrant, which may have been looked upon as a 'death' to his old life; it may even have involved a 'death' to past sin. (See the discussion in Article 13A.) And Wagner's "sealing of burial with Christ" quote above certainly looks like a statement of the parallel-experience principle. Thus his concluding sentence is entirely unfounded:

The understanding of baptism as a burial with Christ does not favour the mystery-hypothesis, but is definitely against it.

    But perhaps we can cast further light on that obscurity I referred to above. Wagner now notes [p.282] that the believer enjoys "a life with Christ free from the dominion of death and sin." And why is this? It is based on Romans 6:8-11:

  8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him,
  9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again;
    death is no longer master over him;
10 For having died, he died to sin, once for all; but living, he lives to God.
11 So you also consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Christ died to sin. And Christ cannot die again. How exactly Paul sees the former is unclear, since he hardly would have regarded Christ as having previously been sinful. But he says it, showing that the need for parallelism with the believers overrides any consideration as to whether the concepts
involved make consistent sense. It is on the basis of Christ never again being in thrall to sin and death that Paul declares that believers too are dead to sin and to death's mastery over them. They have conquered both, just as Christ did. This claim would not work without the underlying concept of parallel experiences between god and man, which in any case Paul in these verses has spelled out. The theological and linguistic contortions Wagner is engaging in are designed to keep himself (and his readers) from realizing what Paul is saying.

    As I noted above, Wagner refers to the burial of Christ "in the traditional kerygmatic formula in 1 Corinthians 15:4" ["and that he was buried"], adopting the usual view that this is a death, burial and resurrection promulgated in the community, based on recent history. Such a dramatic historical event in the background of Paul's thought would serve to stress a difference between Paul's Christianity and any possible correspondence in the mysteries, since the latter would only have been paralleling a symbolic feature of their rite with a mythical experience of the god. Again, this ignores Paul's statement that he got his gospel not from any man but through revelation, making the natural meaning of "according to the scriptures" (in 1 Cor 15:3-4) a reference to knowledge derived from the scriptures through revelation, and thus we can postulate that Christ's experience, too, was mythical. We can also note that Paul does not attach "according to the scriptures" to the phrase "and that he was buried." As I noted above in regard to Paul's inclusion of Christ himself being "dead to sin" simply because of his need for parallels with the believer, I suggest that he included the 'burial' element in his gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:4 for the same reason: it wasn't derived from scripture, but Paul still needed it because Christ had to go through parallel experiences to the believer in order to bring about the desired guarantee.

Early Missionary Preaching

    Wagner argues [p.286] that "the obvious assumption is that in missionary practice it was taught that baptism into Christ was a baptism into his death." This is anything but obvious. Nothing like this idea existed in Judaism. Where did all the early apostles get it? From Paul? He had only a two week contact with Peter and James in the first 17 years of his mission, according to Galatians. And would they have submitted to some weird, very un-Jewish ideas on the say-so of a man who was going off half-cocked about abolishing the Law entirely?
It's hardly likely they came up with it themselves, being so hidebound that they insisted on circumcision and the continued application of Jewish dietary laws for gentiles (Gal. 2). Whatever the source, if they didn't get it from Paul, then Paul was not the originator of such concepts as applied to Jesus, which stands in direct contradiction to standard scholarly estimations of Paul's role.

    Wagner attempts to argue for this "obvious assumption," that "baptism into his death" was the message of general early Christian preaching.

[I]n the centre of the Christian message of salvation stands the kyrios Xristos [Lord Christ] as the estaurōmenos [crucified]. To this Christ as his Lord the man submits himself by faith, confession (Rom. x.9), and baptism. In Rom. vi.3 Paul can appeal to baptism to elucidate his doctrine of grace, for baptism stands at the beginning of every man's Christian life...

So far, none of this has anything to do with a parallelism of experience between man and god, simply because Wagner is doing his best to come up with something which does not, and still relate it to Romans 6. But his problem is with the key phrase itself, baptisthēnai eis Xriston Iēsoun (to be baptized into Christ Jesus), and particularly that pesky "eis." It more than suggests a 'linkage' idea, a connection between the baptized believer and Christ achieved through the rite itself. So Wagner goes on, following on the above, to conjure up a different interpretation for it:

...and does so as the basic deed of the man's conveyance to Christ [my emphasis]—which is implied by the baptisthēnai eis Xriston Iēsoun in Rom. vi.3—and of his engagement by the One who was crucified for him....In this engagement—as in all obedience of faith—the "acceptance" of Christ's death, of His Cross, is included." [p.286-7]

    "Conveyance to Christ"? What does this mean? Where does Paul say or imply this? This is little more than theological mummery to be able to define the "baptized into Christ" in a mundane way that avoids mystery associations. Besides, if the "baptized into Christ" means 'conveyed to Christ,' then the following phrase "baptized into his death" means 'conveyed to his death,' which makes no sense. Wagner's second idea, "and of his engagement by the One who was crucified for him," is equally woolly and provides no meaningful explanation for why a sophisticated idea like 'baptized into Christ and into his death' would have been adopted by the entire early preaching movement, especially if it was supposed to have had some concrete meaning not associated with mystery-cult concepts. Those readers not taken in by this hocus-pocus will find Wagner's summary claim unconvincing:

The explanation of baptism into Christ as a baptism into his death therefore follows as a logical consequence from the preaching of salvation and the character of baptism as a conveyance to the Lord who died for us...these logical conclusions were drawn in the primitive Christian preaching...

    Considering that the whole idea of baptism into the death of Christ is found only in Paul, and that, as pointed out earlier, there is no sign of it anywhere else in the Christian record even through the 2nd century, those early Christian preachers must have had a hard time getting it across to the communities they visited. And to expect that subtle ideas like this, ones not easily communicated to simple believers (as the modern theological output on Paul demonstrates), could permeate and be adopted by a diverse, uncoordinated missionary movement and preached to become widespread doctrine, is beyond reasonable credence. All of which renders absurd Wagner's claim that such a theological understanding was not only current in the Christian congregation in Rome in the 50s, but that Paul knew and expected that it was.

Wagner's Ten Arguments Against the Mystery Hypothesis

    Wagner advances ten "arguments against the mystery hypothesis" [p.283f]. I will consider each of them in turn, often by way of summary of fuller discussions above.

First. He claims that no one with a primary concern for ethics would appeal to something as "maladroit" as the mystery pattern, since the latter, presumably, has nothing to do with ethics. But nothing prevents Paul from superimposing his own concerns on a pre-existing foundation. That's what the evolution of ideas is all about. If the postulated mystery-cult salvation thinking is what is prevalent in his society, Paul has little other option than to work with it, and there would be a natural inclination to do so. Wagner also suggests that the mysteries are "marked by magic," which is something "against which (Paul) sets his face." Wagner is reading the latter into things, since Paul does not actually argue in those terms. In any case, removing the rite of baptism from the 'magical' sphere is a concern of modern scholarship, and the distinction is not clear-cut between the two.

Second. He offers an unproven assumption that the "knowledge" presupposed was only the "baptism into Christ as a baptism into his death" and nothing else. I have demonstrated that this is a dubious if not untenable assessment. Besides, "baptism into his death" is a good distance into mystery cult thinking.

Third. Paul's characteristic "with Christ" has allegedly no parallel in the cults, but is specifically Pauline. Partially true, but it could be seen as having a general derivation from 'being in unity with the god', with an overlay of Paul's own thought as to what that constitutes in terms of effect and benefit. No one is saying that Paul brought nothing new to his preaching message.

Fourth. "The suntaphēnai [to be buried], for which it is even less possible to cite any parallel, bears such a strong stress in our passage that it surely ought to be admitted that Paul is determined to undercut the mystery rites." I have discussed the alleged distinction between the burial concepts above, with conclusions that make Wagner's opinion here entirely unjustified. If Paul were "determined" to undercut the mystery rites, he would have said so. It is also not clear how a use of the verb suntaphēnai would serve to "undercut" the mysteries; Wagner offers no arguments on that point, but simply begs us to "admit" it.

Fifth. The death for sin of Jesus is never said about any of the "dying and rising" gods. Perhaps true enough, although we don't have the written sources for the latter that we do for early Christianity, so we can't be quite that categorical. Besides, a linkage with sin, while not predominant in the record we do have, can be found in general in some mystery cult thought. Again, the fixation on sin being something peculiar to Paul and other early Christians does nothing to rule out a mystery cult foundation in other basic ways.

Sixth. "The death of Jesus is further distinguished from the fate of all the mystery-deities by the fact that it happened once for all (ephapax, vs.10), and is incapable of being repeated cultically; here we have an historical event, there a mythical drama." I dealt with this alleged distinction in previous articles. Of course, it is dependent on the proposition that Paul is speaking of an historical event, despite the stark absence of any clear reference to such a thing in the entire epistolary corpus (outside of 1 Thess. 2:15-16, widely regarded by critical scholars as an interpolation, and 1 Timothy 6:13 within the Pastorals, widely regarded as a 2nd century product). In any case, the mythical "Christ event" would not be portrayed as 'repeated' since it had no direct root in agricultural or other cycles. (Neither would the 'Mithras-event', the slaying of the bull, have been regarded as cyclical.) Moreover, the one-time character of Christ's death is never presented in historical terms by the early writers. It can easily be seen as having been relegated, in its 'once-for-all' character, to some higher spiritual realm, at some unspecified 'past' point (all Paul can say is that it happened "in the fullness of time"), in loosely Platonic fashion. What has happened in the present, historical time is the revelation of that spiritual event and its consequences for humanity in terms of the salvation that is now available. That is what the epistles are full of, not an historical Christ event.

Seventh. "Jesus' death and resurrection are salvation events." Wagner claims that no "all-inclusive significance (is) attached to the fate of the cultic demigod." But this statement is actually a qualified one; it is true in the sense that "to none of them has the intention of helping men been attributed." But the significance of this distinction is relatively unimportant; it might simply be regarded as an 'improvement' on the mysteries, one determined by cultural differences, given the Jewish focus on 'atonement' in the deaths of martyrs (though not quite the same sort of atonement as the Christian concept). In any case, I am unconvinced that in the minds of the devotees, even if it is not expressed in the meagre writings on the subject, there was no thought present that the gods had a conscious interest in providing salvation. If it was entirely an automatic, almost accidental, effect proceeding from the god's fate (which Wagner is anxious to suggest), why such devotion expressed by initiates like Apuleius? Why would the devotee feel so attached to the god if he was envisioned as having no concern for humans? Isis (though not a dying and rising deity) is widely portrayed as being sympathetic to humankind. Besides, it's hard to see how the parallel effect could exist if not intended by the gods. Wagner has overstated his case here.

Eighth. Somewhat like the Sixth: "In baptism
—in absolute antithesis to the mystery-initiations—the primary thing is the historical salvation-event that took place in Jesus, and what the believer experiences is the derivative. 'Paul...speaks of the Christ-event in order to explain the baptism-event' [quoting Bornkamm]. The external symbolism of the process of baptism is of secondary importance." Certainly, the Christian rite of baptism is much simpler, with less "complicated display," than the rites of the mystery cults, but this proves nothing. It is the underlying principle that counts. Again, Wagner makes an unexamined assumption that the Christ salvation-event was historical. Even if it were, the "derivative" benefit to the believer is still of the same basic nature as that of the pagan initiate from the cultic myth of the god's experience. One of the hallmarks of the evolution of ideas is that older concepts are borrowed and invested with new significance. Paul's focus (or rather obsession) on sin as the central theme of his baptismal rite is an example of such an adaptation.

Ninth. "Thus while baptism
—in antithesis to the initiations—does not acquire its significance through the performance of a ritual that works magically, there is nevertheless a corresponding faith-attitude on the part of the candidate, and this attitude of faith is the necessary precondition for receiving it, though of itself it does not make baptism into baptism." The scholarly claim that the workings of baptism bear no resemblance to 'magic' is debatable, as I've discussed earlier. The faith component of Christian baptism may be unique, but this does not change the character of the rite itself or its understanding; it is simply a precondition to its operation.

Tenth. This final argument needs to be carefully examined for its implications.

Had the Christians in Rome been obliged to understand baptism as an initiation-sacrament, which (as in the cults of Attis, Adonis, and Osiris) grants participation in the destiny of the cult deity, how much more must this have applied in the following centuries, during which the mystery cults flourished and developed as never before. I have not been able to trace a single text or allusion from the Apostolic and Church Fathers in which Rom. vi was interpreted by reference to or in contrast with "analogous" rites or experiences of the mystai of Attis, Adonis, or Osiris. Not even one allusion of this nature is to be found. This fact speaks for itself, and all the more so as the Fathers dealt very fully with the relationship between baptism and the death of Jesus.

     In the attached note [117], Wagner refers to four examples. The first is the Epistle of Barnabas, ch.10, v.8. In this chapter, the author is trawling scripture for 'prophetic' references to water/baptism and the cross. He offers several Old Testament passages (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) which make reference to "water," which Barnabas, in his typical bizarre fashion, without any reasonable justification, interprets as a veiled reference to the future Christian baptism (though the Jews should have seen this!); as in Jeremiah 2:13, "they [the Jews] have deserted me [referring to God], the spring of life"; or Isaiah 33:18," his water is sure" [Staniforth translation: "where there are springs of never-failing water"]. The key passage is dependent on a quote from Psalm 1:3: "And he shall be as the tree, which is planted at the partings of the waters...[LXX]" For Barnabas this is a reference to the cross and baptism: "Mark how he described the water and the cross together. For he means this: blessed are those who hoped on the cross, and descended into the water" [11:8].

    Now, aside from the ludicrous nature of such interpretations of the Jewish scriptures, Wagner should realize that Barnabas, throughout this entire epistle, is focused solely on finding adumbration of Christian elements in those scriptures, with the purpose of showing how blind and shortsighted the Jews were in not realizing that God was forecasting Christian doctrine and ritual through the prophets. With such tunnel vision, this writer could hardly be expected to digress outside his narrow focus and make any comparison or contrast with mystery analogies. A mind like Barnabas', saturated in Christian theory, might not even have been aware of such things; or if he was, it would have been akin to blasphemy to throw light on such parallels. And since his theme is the relationship of Christianity to Jewish 'prophecy', anything to do with the mysteries would have been thoroughly irrelevant. Thus, Wagner's argument from silence is misplaced. We should also note that Barnabas, throughout his entire epistle, makes no appeal to Paul or to Pauline principles surrounding the meaning of baptism. This is a far more significant silence than any silence on the mysteries. It indicates a point made earlier: Pauline mysticism is either unknown to the 2nd century Fathers, or had little impact on their thinking.

    Wagner's next example is Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 18:2. After a quote from 1 Corinthians 1:20 ("where is your wise man now, or your subtle debater?"
—which shows that he is familiar with a letter of Paul, though this quote has nothing to do with baptism)Ignatius goes on to speak of Jesus as conceived by Mary of the Holy Spirit. Then: "He was born, and was baptized, that by his Passion he might purify the water." Ignatius has led off this brief passage by declaring his devotion to the Cross which, for Christians, is "salvation and eternal life." There is no description of the workings of baptism, either as a rite or in its effects on the believer. This is hardly a case of a Father, as Wagner has put it, "deal(ing) very fully with the relationship between baptism and the death of Jesus," and certainly not in any connection with effects on the believer. It is a mystical statement of how Christ purified the waters of baptism. There is no scope here at all for bringing in any reference to or comparison with the mysteries, and Ignatius would no doubt have shied away from such a thing in a pastoral letter to a Christian community. Once again, Wagner's argument from silence is totally inappropriate. Ignatius is even silent on Paul's interpretation of baptism, so he clearly had no interest in analyzing the workings of the sacrament. As noted earlier, this is also an indicator that the force of Pauline teaching on soteriology was quite weak, if not virtually non-existent, in much of the 2nd century. Ignatius shows definite knowledge only of 1 Corinthians; Ephesians is a possibility, but in regard to others such as Romans "the evidence (is) too uncertain to allow any reliance to be placed upon it," as J. C. O'Neill points out [The Theology of Acts, p.23]. Again, a wide influence of Paul on the early Christian scene has to be discounted, and that a corpus of his letters was formed before the early part of the 2nd century virtually ruled out.

     For his next two examples, Wagner appeals to quotations from Ambrose and Augustine, both of the late 4th century. He takes these from the context of a paper by Hugo Rahner, which we looked at in an earlier article ["The Christian Mystery and the Pagan Mysteries," Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, p.394], and I will consider them in that context.

Ambrose: "What is water without the Cross of Christ?" [De mysteriis, 4, 20]

Augustine: "The water of the baptismal font is consecrated by the sign of the Cross" [Contra Julianum, VI, 19, 62]

    Rahner claims that "this mystery is the form taken by Pauline theology, stated in Romans, which sees baptism and the Cross of Christ as a single mystery." Is it? Ambrose and Augustine, and Ignatius before them, have in common the idea that Christ, through his cross, have sanctified the water of baptism. Through some process, magical or otherwise, the 'event' of Christ's crucifixion transformed the rite of baptism to give it sacred properties capable of conferring certain effects on the recipient. This is, in only a limited and most general way, equivalent to the Pauline theology of baptism. There is no mention in any of these three writers' contexts about being baptized into Christ's death, or burial, or joining with him in being freed from sin and death. And seeing "baptism and the Cross as a single mystery" is a very general conception. Nor is there any mention in Paul of Christ's cross having an effect on the waters of baptism, though as a background concept it could have been present in his thinking. Colossians 2:14 has the cross serving as the bulletin board for an announcement of the Law's death-knell, but nowhere before Ignatius [Eph. 18:2]  is the cross
—possibly, since the passage is unclearsaid to have an effect on the waters of baptism, and even here it is at most Christ's "suffering" and not the cross itself. The latter thought is characteristic of the Christianity of Late Antiquity.

    Of course, theology is supremely capable of reading anything into anything. And it is also capable of overlooking what is missing. Rahner says:

For a fuller insight into this mystery, we must go back to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, which the early Christian theologians already regarded as the true paradigm of the mystery of baptism [op cit, p.394]

Those "early Christian theologians" must surely include Paul, and yet Rahner seems oblivious to the fact that Paul (or any other of those early theologians) never once addresses or alludes to Jesus' supposed baptism in the Jordan. If this was so essential to 'the mystery of wood and water', how could Paul have avoided working it into his thinking on baptism? As Rahner goes on to say:

That God himself in human form should have stood in earthly water, and that in this moment God should have spoken to say, This is my son: for the ancient Christian this was a paradox, a mystery, a moment foreshadowing the decision between light and darkness, the irruption of the transcendent principle to be realized through Christ's suffering on the Cross.

God's words from heaven at the Jordan: This is my son. Paradox or not, how could Paul not have seized on such a tradition to illustrate his claim (Gal. 4:5-6) that God had made us his sons
—presumably through baptism, the only Christian rite eligible for such a purpose? The descent of the Holy Spirit into Jesus at the Jordan. Since this was one of the declared effects enjoyed by the recipient of the baptismal rite, how could such a comparison with Christ's own experience not have been made by any early Christian theologian?

    Remember that Wagner's point was that nowhere in the Apostolic or Church Fathers could he find a text or allusion "in which Romans vi was interpreted by reference to or in contrast with 'analogous' rites or experiences of the initiates of (the mystery cults)." But none of the four cases he appeals to as examples discuss Romans vi or Paul's concept of baptism at all! Ambrose is describing "for the benefit of those about to be baptized, the rites and meaning of that Sacrament..." Ambrose never quotes Romans 6 in the context of discussing the workings of baptism, including in the chapter from which Wagner and Rahner have drawn their citation. In another chapter Ambrose quotes Romans 6:4, but only in the context of addressing the debate over whether post-baptismal sin can be forgiven. In this entire document on the Christian "Mysteries" no appeal is made to Romans 6 as a factor in the presentation and interpretation of the baptismal rite. So not only is Wagner's context (an "interpretation of Romans 6") a non-existent one in Ambrose, he is ignoring the context of Ambrose's treatise, a manual for Christian initiates illuminating the Christian sacraments. It is highly unlikely that Ambrose would bring in the pagan mysteries for discussion. As for the quote from Augustine, I have been unable to locate a text of the Contra Julianum (even the comprehensive Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series does not contain it, due to its "bulk"), but the quote itself does not suggest it is to be found in the context of a general discussion of the meaning of Romans 6. Thus, the foundation of Wagner's "tenth" argument falls apart.

Romans 6 in Other Christian Literature

    As a final point on this matter, one might consider perhaps the most extensive discussion of Romans 6 in the ancient Christian literature, the Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle to the Romans (written around the year 400).

Verse 3, 4. “Know ye not,” he says, “my brethren, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death.”

What does being “baptized into His Death” mean? That it is with a view to our dying as He did. For Baptism is the Cross. What the Cross then, and Burial, is to Christ, that Baptism hath been to us, even if not in the same respects. For He died Himself and was buried in the Flesh, but we have done both to sin. Wherefore he does not say, planted together in His Death, but in the likeness of His Death. For both the one and the other is a death, but not of the same subject; since the one is of the Flesh, that of Christ; the other of sin, which is our own. As then that is real, so is this....

Do you believe, he means, that Christ died, and that He was raised again? Believe then the same of thyself. For this is like to the other, since both Cross and Burial is thine. For if thou hast shared in Death and Burial, much more wilt thou in Resurrection and Life. [Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, vol.11, p.709]

     Now, this certainly smacks of the language and concepts of the mysteries. And Chrysostom's explanation of Paul's meaning also bears a resemblance to what Paul actually says. I am not going to attempt any close comparison between the two. They are centuries apart, so there would be little surprise if the two did not coincide in all respects. Besides, in this homily, Chrysostom does not say much by way of explanation than to put Paul's words into his own, adding little insight that is not already there in Paul. But my point is this. By the late 4th century and early 5th, which is when all three of these examples appear (Ambrose 380, Chrysostom 400, Augustine 420), Christianity and the mysteries had had centuries to undergo a good degree of absorption of each other; this would have been especially true in the 4th century. By then, Christianity's sense of itself and its doctrines would have become second nature. Christianity had won the day, and the mysteries were on their death-bed; in fact, they were in the process of being outlawed and exterminated. There would have been no need or reason to discuss any parallels with those defunct and discredited cults when laying out Christian principles, and certainly not in documents written for the faithful.

    Thus in all respects Wagner's argument and its basis is an illusion. That later situation, however, is quite different from what would have obtained in the time of Paul. Then, Christianity was a fledgling newcomer, with many competing ideas within its own ranks, not to mention in the great religious maelstrom that surrounded it on all sides. In such a situation, Paul's audience would have been familiar with similar, very active, ideas attached to the mysteries, even if in somewhat different contexts than that presented by Paul with his focus on a death to sin and a new life. The fact that Paul presents the parallel experience template without explanation, without providing any disassociation from, or saving contrast with, mystery principles strongly suggests that it was simply the accepted background thought of the time. Paul was building on precedent, and knew his Roman audience would understand and fit his particular version, one based an a new "Christ" savior god with some new angles in a Jewish oriented setting, into the framework they were accustomed to.

    Prior to the 4th century, there is no discussion to be found in any Christian writer on the analysis of the workings of baptism in Romans 6. Not in Irenaeus, not in Clement of Alexandria, not in Origen, not in any of the minor writers of the intervening centuries. The only extended appeal to this passage is to be found in Tertullian's "On the Resurrection of the Flesh" 47. The title of the treatise tells us the context of Tertullian's appeal to 6:3-5 and a few verses from later in the chapter. He is not analyzing Paul's concept of baptism or the believer's parallel guarantees, but rather uses these verses to prove the necessity of being resurrected in flesh. Thus there is no occasion or need to introduce a comparison or contrast with mystery concepts. As for Justin, he discusses Christian baptism once (Apology 61) without the slightest nod to Pauline thought on the subject. If Romans 6 made this little impact on Christian thinking for centuries, how likely that it was central to formative Christian preaching, as Wagner has claimed? How likely that it was so original, and not simply one thread of new application to the background thinking of the time? Paul's greatest impact has been on the post-medieval and modern world. Even in the late 4th century, in the minds of Augustine, Ambrose and Chrysostom, the thought of Paul in Romans 6 has been carried into fresh fields of interpretation, such as the sanctification of baptism by the cross of Christ, as in the quotes from those three Fathers. (The one thing that remains constant is the fixation on sin.)

Wagner's Final Arguments

    It is at this point that Wagner introduces his reading of "conveyance to Christ" as the meaning of the "baptized into Christ" found in Romans 6:3, as the first in a concluding series of "Explanation[s] of the Pauline Association of Baptism with the Salvation-Events." I dealt with this one in detail earlier, in a context to which I preferred to relate it. We will consider the remainder of these explanations here.

    Wagner tries to make the case that the language of Romans 6:4-6 could be seen as simply one of metaphor [p.288-290]. He notes Jesus' words in Mark 10:38 (echoed in part by Luke 12:50): "Can you drink the cup which I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am to be baptized with?" Jesus compares his impending death with baptism, such as we would use the mataphor 'a baptism of fire'. Just as "the cup I drink" is a metaphor, so too the reference to baptism, claims Wagner, eliminating the need to think that Jesus is expressing himself like Paul, that " 'being baptized' is the symbolic equivalent to 'dying'," which would place the language and thought perilously close to the mystery cult prototype. But even if Mark's words placed in Jesus' mouth are meant only to be metaphorical, this cannot absolve Paul of being non-metaphorical. The two writers are vastly different, coming neither from the same time nor setting.

    Wagner acknowledges that the Markan use of metaphor, as well as similar tendencies toward metaphor in the Old Testament, "do not go all the way towards explaining Romans vi" [p.289]. He also admits that "there is no evidence at all that Paul developed his doctrine of baptism on the basis of these logia" (the sayings in Mark and Luke). On that he is certainly correct. The Gospels reflect a much simpler world, one with which Paul seems to have little or no connection, where even the basic doctrine of atonement is scarcely of much substance.

    Wagner makes a further observation [p.290] which I am all in favor of. He suggests that Paul has employed the metaphorical language of "burial" (in both Romans 6 and 1 Corinthians 15) because the baptismal process of bodily immersion in water suggested such an image. Here we have sufficient reason for Paul's inclusion of Christ's burial in his gospel kerygma of 1 Corinthians 15:4, because he needed a parallel for Christ to the symbolic 'burial' of the initiate in the waters of baptism.

    Once again, Wagner examines the recurring phrase in Romans 6 (as well as chapter 5) "with Christ" (sun Xristō), which is closely connected with the very common phrase through Paul and pseudo-Paul, "in Christ" (en
Xristō). This phrase, he maintains "is explained not by the mystery-hypothesis but by the representative and eschatological salvation-event in Christ, in which the baptised person becomes involved." The former (unpermitted) explanation certainly seems to fit the general mystery concept of unity with the god, a sharing in his experiences, which is what the language of 6:3-5 taken plainly seems to be outlining. Wagner's struggle to present a qualitative distinction from this is strained, and he cannot avoid slipping into language descriptive of the relationship between Christ and believer which smacks of the very thing he is claiming it does not possess:

Since Christ died a representative death for sinners...the man who believes in Him is justified and has attained life; he is en Xristō Iēsou, i.e. his life is determined by the Christ-event...To be determined by the Christ event really means to be involved in the eschatalogical event of the cross and resurrection...He has become like Christ in his death, and in this lies his hope of sharing in the resurrection...Paul can say that he bears the "death of Jesus" in his body, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested...Life en Xristō is sharing in the life of Christ in all its phases...a "being crucified with Him." [p.291]

    Trying to dig into these and other quoted passages to argue whether or not they contain or do not contain what Wagner wants them to contain or not to contain would be a fruitless endeavor, since it would be based on the obscure and elusive niceties of theological thinking. But Wagner's concluding statement to this passage is astounding.

Since relationship with Christ is not a question of mysticism and the texts cited above do not favour a "mystical interpretation, "dying with Christ" is not to be explained mystically..." [p.292]

And in Note 138, Wagner remarks, after Wiencke, that "Paul is not to be accused of 'mystical excess'." Well, I don't know what definition of "mystical" Wagner subscribes to, but if I can quote the Random House Webster's College Dictionary, "mystic(al)" as an adjective is defined as:

1. "characterized by esoteric, otherworldly, or symbolic practices or content, as certain religious ceremonies and actions. 2. involving mysteries known only to the initiated. 3. spiritually symbolic.

"Mysticism" is defined as:

... 2. the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding. 3. [my favorite] obscure thought and speculation.

    Now, if the passages quoted by Wagner do not fit the definition of mystical or mysticism, I don't know what would qualify. No doubt, theological definitions are more malleable and cooperative. So much of Wagner's argument throughout his book involves this sort of methodology. State that something is or is not a certain way, and back it up with 'evidence' whose meaning is not only tractable but variously interpretable, with the chosen interpretation always the one that allegedly supports the statement. It's a more than faintly circular process. The unprejudiced reader eventually realizes that the whole of Wagner's case rests on shifting sand and flickering illusion.

Corporate Personality and Contemporaneity

    That mercurial flicker often reveals quite an opposite picture, one nowhere so telling as in Wagner's final argument. "[T]he understanding of participation in Christ's death and resurrection and of the 'contemporaneity' of the Christian with Christ in baptism" is to be seen in the context of an idea "known to us from the Old Testament, that (of) 'corporate personality' " [p.292]. That is, each person is part of a group, while the individual can represent the collective. Supposedly, this type of thinking "most probably" underlies the Pauline idea of "the Body of Christ" (I'll come back to this below). But it is also to be seen as underlying the parallels between the initiate and Christ in Romans 6; this is Wagner's final effort to explain the latter passage by something which has nothing to do with the mysteries. But is his effort feasible?

    Looking back by way of comparison to the Adam-Christ parallel of Romans 5:12f, Wagner says: "Adam and Christ are both representatives of mankind"; as Adam represented all fallen and sinful mankind, so Christ represents the "new redeemed and death-conquering mankind"..."The destiny of man is involved in their destiny." Rather than see this as sharing in the god's (and the forebear's) experiences à la the mysteries (which would certainly be a natural interpretation of Wagner's description), he reaches instead for that idea of "corporate personality." But I'm not sure that this alleged connection is legitimate. Because Adam and Christ, within their respective spheres, both have a determining effect on the nature of mankind within their respective spheres, does this have anything to do with "corporate personality" as supposedly understood in the Old Testament? The Adam and Christ effect is better seen as an expression of the parallelism principle, that as one side of the conjunction behaves, so does the other. As Adam, so humanity in its fallen state; as Christ, so humanity in its redeemed state. This is misleadingly labeled "corporate." Adam doesn't represent his group; he gave rise to it. Christ doesn't represent his group; he determines it, he makes it possible. The 'corporate' idea may be, as Wagner claims, present in Paul's concept of the Body of Christ of which believers are a part, Christ the head and Christians the members of one "body," but this is a mystical concept; the 'group' (entailing the participation of Christ) exists only in the minds of the believers. If Paul was inspired here by Old Testament concepts, so be it. But this is different from the area of parallelism, the sharing of attributes or experiences. If dependency could conceivably be present in the former, it is by no means thereby present in the latter. In any case, the Adam/fallen and the Christ/redeemed parallelism has as much if not more in common with the idea of unity with the god than with Old Testament concepts of "corporate personality." In fact, the former is closer, since the latter never involved any 'incorporation' into God himself, virtually a blasphemous proposition for Jews. By that same token, even Paul's "Body of Christ" idea, involving as it does a combination of divine and human components in the corporate entity, could never find a home in Jewish thought. Perhaps the best that could be said here is that Paul is syncretizing two separate trends of thinking, and in undeniably quite mystical fashion.

    However, Wagner also introduces alongside this idea of 'corporeality' something rather distinct from it: "contemporaneity," in which he appeals to Thorlief Boman's Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek. Boman calls attention to the peculiarities (to us) of the Hebrew and other Semitic languages in regard to verb forms. The latter make distinctions between the completeness and incompleteness of actions, as opposed to the Greek language (and our own) which distinguishes between past, present and future. This allegedly suggests that Hebrew thought was capable of experiencing the past as present, through feeling a connection (a "corporate personality," if you will) with all manifestations of a group, even across the Greek dividing lines of past, present and future. For Boman (and H. Wheeler Robinson, whom he quotes [p.70, 148]), this enabled the Israelites to feel an ever-present connection with their 'history', and especially its major events like the Exodus, as still alive within themselves. (I suppose that could be said of the Jewish psyche even today, though I doubt it is still determined by their language.)

    What does Wagner make of these observations?

For Paul, in whom this same way of thinking was innate, the Cross and Resurrection were an event not in the past, but still going on and present to faith. For him the baptised person was involved in the "history" that began with Christ, i.e. in the eschatological event of the Cross and Resurrection. [p.293]

Boman makes much the same type of point in regard to modern Christians as illustrating the concept of contemporaneity (as presented by Kierkegaard):

To be a true Christian and truly to believe in Christ means, according to him [Kierkegaard], to leap across and forget the centuries in order to become contemporaneous with Jesus and his disciples as well as his opponents, to see and hear the simple, misunderstood Rabbi, and then in that situation to make with the soul's passion a decision for him, because one believes in him as the Son of God. [Hebrew Thought Compared with Greeek, p.147-8]

Yet I wonder if Boman (and Kierkegaard) are guilty of over-interpreting. Modern Christians are thinkers in Greek-language forms, not Hebrew, so their sense of close association with Jesus of Nazareth and events of his time is not an example of the concept of "corporate personality"; they have simply absorbed the story of a 2000-year-past alleged man and his activities and made it a part of their lives and hopes, and thus their commitments.

    As for Wagner, once again he wants to be able to interpret Romans 6, in its idea of enjoying personal experiences with those of Christ, as a reflection of the "corporate personality" thinking of the Old Testament and Hebrew thought patterns, rather than mystery cult principles. Yet there are many "but's" here. Paul spoke and thought in Greek; he was an inhabitant (we presume, according to Acts) of the Diaspora, raised in a Greek milieu. To what extent could that have been overridden, if at all, by reading the Old Testament according to Hebrew thought-patterns? It's a dubious proposition, and Wagner's claim that Hebrew thinking was "innate" in Paul is wishful thinking. In fact, Paul would almost certainly have known the Jewish scriptures through the Greek Septuagint, which was generally guilty of converting the Jewish bible's thought to Greek thought, as a comparison of the two texts will show in so many instances. Philo in the Hellenistic-Jewish community of Alexandria rendered the scriptures thoroughly into Greek patterns of thinking
—and contemporary ones at that, in the exegetical practices of his own community which were steeped in Middle Platonism.

    Moreover, as Boman points out [p.70], this 'corporate/collective' sense of something individual representing a whole group has a parallel of sorts in the Platonic Idea, which thus provides a feasible root for Paul in Greek thought. Other aspects of Greek thought plainly inform so much of early Christian expression, from descriptions of the Son that are virtually identical to the intermediary Logos
(as in Hebrews 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20), to the Eucharist conforming to 'consumption of the god' sacred meals in the mysteries, both decidedly un-Hebrew. Most significant, however—and this is the crux of the matter here—is Paul's conception that, in the above words of Wagner, "the Cross and Resurrection were an event not in the past but still going on and present to faith." It is true that Paul often expresses himself as though this were so; there is so little if any sense in Paul (and all the other early epistle writers) of the Christ-event being a fact of recent history—or any history. Lightfoot made the comment of the writer of 1 Clement:

To Clement Jesus is not a dead man whose memory is reverently cherished or whose precepts are carefully observed, but an ever living, ever active Presence, who enters into all the vicissitudes of Clement's being. [The Apostolic Fathers, p.398]

The same comment could equally be made of Paul. But is this to be put down to Wagner's "corporate personality" based on the Old Testament, or is it better explained
—in view of Paul's and Clement's Greek background rather than an archaic Hebrew one—in terms of Greek thought as found in Platonic philosophy and the mysteries? (For a thorough look at the lack of an historical Jesus in 1 Clement, see my Article No. 12, Part One.)

    Besides, in the context of Old Testament "corporate personality," Wagner's attempt to co-opt Paul doesn't work. The Hebrews could identify themselves with their past, but that past was always clearly located in history (or perceived history). They never transcendentalized (if I may coin such a term) the Exodus, or the figures of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Paul, on the other hand, has done exactly that to the presumed Jesus of Nazareth; the 'past' he is identifying with is obscure, to say the least. Thus, one can hardly appeal to the Hebrew precedent as an explanation for why Paul did this to Jesus, ignoring history and the historical figure, leaving it and him in the forgotten and 'uninteresting' shadows in his alleged raising of the Christ event to mystical, spiritual significance and making Jesus into a transcendent deity. The same is true of the writer of Hebrews, of the fashioner of the pre-Pauline hymns. The baptized person was not, as Wagner thinks to put it, "involved in the 'history' that began with Christ," the historical "event of the Cross and Resurrection," because Paul never makes any such connection. In his complex presentation of the meaning of baptism for the initiate, there is no link to the historical baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, with features of that event (as discussed earlier) which would truly have spelled a direct "involvement" of the baptized person with Christ in history. Scholars simply do not allow themselves to recognize this; they read into Paul, into the background of his words, the alleged history of Christ, never able to acknowledge that it is not there in the text itself
—indeed, that the text is full of indications of the opposite. If they did, they would realize that the aspect of Paul Wagner highlights, the 'present-ness' of Christ to faithas it is in 1 Clement, as it is in Hebrews, in 1 John, in 1 Peter, concurrent with the absence of any accounting of historyis there not because these writers are continually reliving and embodying such a history, but because they are experiencing and embodying an entirely spiritual Christ who has acted in the spiritual, essentially timeless, sphere of reality in the heavens. Their Christ communicates with them from there (as the language of Hebrews and 1 Clement manifestly reveals). They have been inspired by the revelation that proceeds from scripture and Christ's voice as found within it, not by historical traditions and memories from recent history which are never mentioned. This, too, scholars cannot allow themselves to recognize in the texts, though it stares openly at us from their pages.

    This involvement of the believer with an ever-present Christ is not rooted in Hebrew thought and its relationship with an historical past, but in Platonic thought, the relationship between the material present with its earthly copies of things, and the higher realm where true reality existed and the gods operated. This Platonic duality is what is to be found in Paul's parallelism of action between man and god, and especially as embodied in the Platonically-realized mystery cult soteriology. Mithras 'saves' and vitalizes the earth (according to the astro-theologians of Tarsus who quite possibly created the Roman cult of Mithras) by 'slaying' the heavenly Taurus and directing the grand-scale movements of the stars; he is an ever-present force for his devotees. Other gods save by undergoing a paradigmatic dying and rising (of sorts) which, because it is a governing paradigm in the 'real' higher universe, creates a counterpart effect for those linked to them in the 'copy' universe. The pagan gods effected this salvation because it was inherent in the system. Paul and early Christianity, no doubt under certain Jewish influences, converted this to a more personal conception, that their savior Christ died for them through a voluntary offering of himself, contingent on faith and the living of a new sin-free life. This is one reason why Christianity was triumphant, and the mysteries passed into "fossilized history"
—a passing aided by a swift kick from the Christian bully who was determined to rule over the whole schoolyard by himself. The other reason was an advance over Paul. This savior had come to earth as a man and lived his redeeming life among us in recorded history; in remembered events, not mythical ones. Once the Gospels gained the ascendancy, the actual roots of the faith were lost, expunged, and are only being recovered today.


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