With the merging of the Bacchus/Dionysus cult with Mithraism, centering around the winter solstice, some thought that “Jesus” was “Sol” the sun god. Some church fathers like Tertullian disagreed and Augustine denounced this association, as did Pope Leo I. This controversy ranged between the years 160-430 AD. Some Christians went so far as to stand on the doorstep of the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome and turned toward the east to adore the rising sun. In pagan Rome and Greece, the period of the winter solstice was a period of joy and celebration. Because this season was so popular, it was decreed as the time of the birth of Christ by the Roman church. Many Christmas customs were influenced by the Roman Saturnalia. The Christmas tree has volumes of information about it, but we will deal with it briefly. Anciently, tree were set up in just about every pagan culture of the world. Egypt, India, Babylon, Rome and Greece utilized trees in worship rituals. Trees were forbidden to be used in such scenarios in the Bible (Deut 16.21). These trees were called “trees of life” and were set up in homes during Saturnalia. The Bible calls them “asherim” and “the groves” and Jer 10.1-8 describes one. It was considered a wooden idol. In Egypt they used palm tress and in Rome they used fur trees. In the book “The Magickal Year: A Pagan Perspective on the Natural World” by Diane Ferguson she writes that Virgil, a Roman poet who died in 19 BC, said “in jolly hymns they praised the god of wine (Bacchus/Dionysus) whose earthly images adorn the pine. And these hung on high in honor of the vine, the saturnalia tree.” She also writes “the tree with the closest association with Christmas is of course the Christmas tree, and the practice of bringing a celebratory tree indoors at the festival time was observed by our pagan fore-bearers. On the night before a holiday in ancient Rome, such as Saturnalia, priests known as the “tree bearers” would go through the pine groves of the goddess and there they would cut down a pine, decorate it and bring it back to the goddess’ temple and receive the effigy of the sacrificial god. The Roman pine with its pyramid form represented the fertilizing powers of the god as does the modern Christmas tree.” Now, in pagan rituals, the tree is a picture of the pubic triangle, which is associated with fertility. She goes on to say ” In Egypt, at the winter solstice festival, they also decorated their homes with the “tree of life” and in their case it was a date palm, which was their tree of immortality.” In another place she writes “Another way the tree embodies the god himself is the spirit of vegetation, the “evergreen”, living when all else is dead. The Christmas tree promises rebirth, and a prayer is at the heart of the mid-winter festival. A star at the top of the tree is a sign of hope, the goddess rising as the star of the sea. Call her Isis, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Mary to announce the birth of her own, particular god.” You can see how Saturnalia and the Bacchus/Dionysus cult would be forbidden by the Lord. The passage we have already discussed in Isa 65.11 (part 3) is linked to these festivals. In the ruler cults, which we have briefly touched on, emperor worship was the center of how Constantine was seen by the people. He was the supreme ruler with divine status. He was called “Pontifex Maximus” which is another way of saying the “high priest” of what was known as Mithraism. He embodied the sun god, married to Roma and tied in with the moon goddess. Her day was December 24th. The birthday of the “sun god” (Mithra) was December 25th. All of this was going on before Yeshua and it continued to Constantine. He had an army which was made up of soldiers who practiced Mithraism along with the Christians. In 312 AD, he was facing a battle at the Milvian Bridge in Rome for the ruler-ship of the empire. The story goes that he saw a symbol called the “Chi Rho” superimposed over the sun, according to several, conflicting Christian accounts (Eusebius and Lactantius for example). The Chi and Rho are the first two letters of the word “Christ” in Greek. The story goes that Constantine was to conquer using this sign. But, was Constantine really a believer? Ancient records seem to point to the fact that he was not a believer in Yeshua. Christian sources will say otherwise, but that is understandable because of the place he holds in Christian theology. But he was a politician and he saw that he could join Mithraism and Christianity together and make them “one” so that nothing really changed. He was named “Pontifex Maximus” and Constantine was worshipped in line with the ruler cults. The Roman emperors would eventually be called “popes” of the Roman Catholic Church and they still carry the title “Pontifex Maximus” to this day. His word was “infallible” and he is “the rock” on which the church was built, a total perversion of what Yeshua really said and meant in Matt 16.13-20. The “fathers” of Mithraism became the “fathers” of the Catholic Church, who still retain the title.Some of the aspects of Mithraism, sun worship, ruler cults, pagan gods and festivals, the Bacchus/Dionysus cults, Saturnalia were all absorbed into what would be known as Christianity. Much of the terminology is still the same. But many reading this will say “I’m not a Catholic” but when the Reformation came, they reformed some of the excesses of the Catholic Church but not the doctrines. Many things that are practices in Protestantism are the same as the Catholic Church, such as Sunday as the Lord’s Day, the Lord’s Supper, Christmas and Easter. Christianity absorbed many of its core beliefs from Mithraism to become what it is, that’s why Mithraism “disappeared” about the same time Christianity rose to ascendancy. Early Christianity was very similar to the other pagan religions and it ascended above the others to become one of the most powerful religions in the world. In order to get the fullness from these concepts you will have to do more research. Test it out and move away from the things you find questionable. Don’t avoid your family as you learn and cause a family war. They will come to you as the Lord moves in their life. On the other hand, Chanukah is not a substitute for Christmas. Some of the things about Chanukah aren’t reality either and we will deal with that subject in “The Facts Concerning Chanukah.” It does not relate to Christmas at all. Let the Lord move in your life and bring you to where he wants you in relation to his Word and the truth. You may have to do this on your own. It is a choice you have to make. Don’t worry about what you have done in the past concerning Christmas. He looks at where you are today. Are you moving forward or backward (Jer 7.24). Many will say it doesn’t really matter, but it does. God will search the world and the hearts of men for complacency (Zeph 1.12; Rev 2.23). Keep learning and let it renew your mind and follow the truth no matter where it leads you.
Christmas tape series, Hatikva Ministries