The facts, however, demonstrate that the opposite is more likely true.
Mithras, for example, had no ancient sacred writings. The earliest known example is a single liturgy from the fourth century AD, in the late Roman phase.
All else that we know about Mithras has come down through the Middle Ages via Catholic commentators, chronologists, and copyists.
Unfortunately, these Catholic writers had a predilection for altering other religious writings to conform to Christianity; and most of what we know about ancient religions is found in very late manuscripts after many times being copied and altered.
A clear example involves the religious histories by Egyptian (Manetho) and Babylonian (Berossos). We have no copies, or even fragments, of their writings. What we have has come down to us only as quotes by Jewish and Catholic chronologists (Josephus, Eusebius, Syncellus, etc.) in a form modified to support Bible chronology. For example, a manuscript of Syncellus modifies the Egyptian chronology to support the Greek Bible’s dates for the deluge and Fallen angels of Genesis.
To support the claims the chronologies are interpreted to place the founding of Egypt and Babylon within six months of each other; and during the life of the Biblical Enoch, supposedly when the angels fell. This is accomplished by “interpreting” Egyptian “years” and the Babylonian Saros as variable.
Another example involves the ancient Greek mystery religions. Aside from one small fragment, the oldest copies we have of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter date from the fourteenth century. Moreover, Clement of Alexandria is our key source for details about the cults of Eleusis, Aphrodite, Cybele, the Corybantic, and the Sabazian mystery cults. Again for Clement we have copies of copies of copies, etc.
Therefore, it is most likely that, over many centuries, these Christian scribes conformed other religions to Christianity. Therefore, what we now “know” about those religions has been extensively corrupted.
So while these ancient religions themselves did in fact predate Christianity, the documentary “evidence” cited for those religions is found in manuscripts which are much later than the Christian writings, and have been corrupted by conformity.
It is therefore very likely that Christianity did not adopt beliefs from these earlier religions. Rather the beliefs of these other religions were adapted to conform to the Christian Bible.
What we have today is most likely the result of centuries of changes, or corrections, by Catholic commentators, chronologists, and copyists.
We can also need to factor in common errors, such as parablipsis arising from homoeoarcton or homoeoteleuton.
These factors, therefore, need to be taken into account when researching ancient religions such as those related to Eleusis, Mithras, Magna Mater, Isis, Osiris Sarapis, etc.
So where does this leave us?
Unfortunately, it leaves us with the fact that the true nature of these pre-Christian religions have probably been completely corrupted and hopelessly lost.
J. Warren Wells – 2 April 2011