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Adonis and Jesus Christ

Is archaeology an exact science? Could an archaeological dig under the monumental 6th century Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem verify facts about the ancient written records which tell of the people of Bethlehem venerating a grotto as the birth cave of that central cult figure Adonis, Tammuz in various mystery religions? Some mythologists insist that the Adonis shrine is the very same one as the Christians revere, that instead of originating with Jesus and Christianity, the shrine began with the cult of Adonis, a deity of rebirth and vegetation. They say that the holy cave was consecrated by the heathens to the worship of Adonis and that it was the Christians who took over this pagan centre giving a precedent later for the many early churches in Europe and America being built on the sites of pagan temples. 


Indeed, the actual existence of Adonis worship in Bethlehem cannot be disputed it is just a matter of when it took place - before or after the birth of Jesus. Yet the fact that the Church of the Nativity, the oldest continuously used Christian place of worship in the world covers the site of a former temple to Adonis is seldom mentioned. The church's importance is because as well as safeguarding the alleged birthplace of Jesus it is the sole major church now in the Holy Land that survives intact from the early Christian period. This ancient basilica was built by Empress Helena, the devout mother of Emperor Constantine after she travelled from Rome and started turning this eastern corner of the Mediterranean into the Holy Land. 

This year with the church jammed full of scaffolding and ladders ready for the most extensive restoration works in its long history the possibility of archaeological research into rock cuttings near Jesus' birthplace has been raised. But the three churches that control the Byzantine edifice have, so far, not granted permission for anyone to drill into the rocks. Such a refusal though is unexpected. Although religious faith does not rely on facts, in the past century and a half thousands of excavations and surveys have been carried out to confirm the truth of the Old and the New Testaments. Dozens of priestly shovels have dug deep to connect places with biblical happenings and events from the Iron Age to the end of the Roman era. Indeed, the systematic study of the biblical past through unearthing physical remains has been intense everywhere from Jericho to Jerusalem, from Nazareth to Nablus and from Galilee to the Dead Sea. Excavations were made in the 1970s during restoration works in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well. This church as everyone knows was built over the sites of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. Using probes through the floor, archaeologists went down 5 metres to bedrock. Samples brought up confirm that the place of the crucifixion had been a limestone quarry and that later it had been the site of Hadrian's 2nd century Temple to Venus. Unlike Adonis though, Venus had few similarities with Jesus. Adonis was a vegetation god, a life-death-rebirth deity whose nature was tied to the farming and seasonal calendar. 

A Palestinian soldier rests outside of the Entry of Humility, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem [Credit: Wayne McLean]
So the question must be asked why, with the exception of some superficial works by the London based Palestine Exploration Fund prior to the 2nd World War the birthplace of Jesus had been left untouched by archaeology. Is it because the churches do not want to introduce controversy into Christmas, the most important family festival for the world's 2 billion Christians? Even though the Holy Land is now the most dug area in the world, archaeology is always controversial and political. As well as Israelis and Palestinians often using the results of digs to reinforce their identity in the region, their land claims and historical roots, debate now often surrounds assumptions arising from what some experts dismiss as 'post Dan-Brown pseudo archaeology' and from television programs such as The Naked Archaeologist. There is also another factor: The Palestinian tourist trade. Shopkeepers and hoteliers in Bethlehem, whether Christian or Muslim, have strong commercial reasons to discourage anything that diminishes the pilgrim trade. 

Would examination of the seldom mentioned history of Bethlehem once being a centre of Adonis worship distract from the annual Christmas celebrations? Saint Jerome, the erudite scholar who was the first to translate the bible into Latin, lived in Bethlehem in the 4th and early 5th centuries and wrote in his Epistle 58, that prior to the construction of the church that the birth cave 'where the infant Messiah once cried' had been consecrated to the worship of Adonis, 'the paramour of Venus'. Like other early Christians he insisted that Adonis' followers came after Jesus, that they were only practicing in Bethlehem during the 180 years between Emperor Hadrian's time, that is 135AD, until the reign of Constantine when the church was built. Jerome also described the site of the Church of the Nativity as being shaded by a sacred grove of trees planted by Hadrian to wipe out the memory of Jesus. 

However, in 1890 the pioneer anthropologist Sir James Frazer in chapter 33 of his book The Golden Bough, a study of magic and religion fiercely disagreed with Jerome. Pagans, he said, predated Jesus. The cult around the dimly lit subterranean cave was long established there before Mary gave birth in Bethlehem so that the very first worshippers at the grotto were Adonis followers not Christians. He points out the connection between Adonis as a fertility god, 'the spirit of the corn' and the fact that the name Bethlehem means the House of Bread or House of Corn. 

Empress Helena's son Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, could be called the original Father Christmas. Not only did he arrange for the money to build the massive Church of the Nativity, he gave Christians what became known as Christmas Day. It was easy to transpose the birth of Jesus to the date of a heathen festival as nobody knows the exact day, month or year of Jesus' birth. Neither the New Testament nor early church records mention the date. Constantine, who had forsaken the cult of Mithras, designated Mithras' feast day, the 25th December, that is the winter solstice, to the Christians as the birthday of Jesus. There are no contemporary writings of Jesus' early life and no archaeological evidence. All we can be sure of is that Jesus was not born in the Palestinian winter in December. 

When Mary gave birth in a manger, according to Luke, shepherds were 'living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night'. Between November and February it is too cold and wet in Palestine to keep precious farm animals outside at night. They were always inside under cover. The gospels also mention that Jesus' birth coincided with the tax census when citizens were required to return to the cities of their birth. The Romans were efficient administrators, so they would never have organised an event requiring travelling during the rainy weather of mid-winter when days were also short. 

For centuries members of the Christian hierarchies of the churches have ignored both Mithras and the date of Christmas day, as well as the Adonis cult in Bethlehem. But then in the Holy Land much is ignored. Just look at the attitudes amongst the three Christian denominations which share the church's custody - the Greek Orthodox Church, the Latins that is the Roman Catholics under the Franciscan custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Orthodox. Under them repairs were prevented by arguments over who had the right to restore the collapsing roof. 

Perhaps though, carbon dating and hammers in Bethlehem are not needed. The written evidence from the early biblical scholars proves that there is indeed a strong connection between Adonis and Jesus and copious documentation shows that Christmas Day is unlikely to be the birth date of Jesus. Scientifically guided hammers are not needed to prove these facts. Still archaeology could produce some surprises and indeed make it clear that Jesus and Adonis were not only worshipped at the same place but that there were similarities between them. 

Source: ABC - Ockham's Razor [July 17, 2011]
TANN

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2 comments :

  1. Sun cult mutation into Christianity?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just because there were pagans before Christ, and pagans after Christ does not refute that this was the site where Christ was born. Naturally, Emperor Hadrian, in an attempt to wipe out the holy memory of Christ, built a pagan temple there. As he did in other holy places too, like Calvary. Interestingly, when Constantine and Helena tore down the pagan temples, they found the holy sites in tact. They found three crosses that the Romans discarded in a cistern. And they built churches over these sites. It is true that Christian leader replaced pagan religious festival with Christmas. But that doesn't mean that Christ was never born. Was never crucified. And did not Resurrect.

    ReplyDelete


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