Mithras and Serapis

The Ptolemies are known for establishing the cult of Serapis, a composite deity based on the separate cults of Osiris, Ptah/Hapi (Joseph), Isis, and Thoth/Anubis (Hermes/Hermanubis/Cerberus). Cerberus was a "three-headed dog". Hapi or Hapy was a male god of the Nile but depicted with breasts. The funerary cults of Osiris and Ptah had been at least partially merged from the 18th Dynasty onward. The first Ptolemy, Soter son of Lagus (compare Logos/Ptah) gave it an extreme make-over.

The celestial basis seems to have been that the constellation of Orion, associated with Horus and especially the dead Horus resurrected as Osiris, had as its “attendant” the dog constellation Canis Major. Canis Major in turn held the brightest star of all, Sirius, associated with Isis.

A Greek-style statue of a Joseph-figure was brought from the province of Pontus in northern Asia Minor to be worshiped as the embodiment of the new designer deity.

The constellation of Orion was also associated with the Persian cult of Mithra/Mithras. Likewise was the Greek god Hermes. The older Persian form of Mithras was Mitra, which contains the root mit/mid. One of the epithets of Hermes was Midas, a name which conveys "knowledge", "measure", "middle", and of course "gold". The root is also found in the word pyramid, which is also closely linked to Hermes/Thoth.

The original meaning of Mithra is thought to be "friend" and was a god especially noted for its role in covenants and tests of fire (to prove guilt or innocence in a matter). The god Thoth/Hermes was the friend of all the gods, that is, the consummate politician. He was their "middle man". He brokered agreements and ruled in disputes.

So, it seems quite clear that Mitra was at first an Eastern cult of Hermes-Thoth. However, by the time of the Ptolemies it had become much more. This was probably due to various great kings who championed the cult. According to legend, the most significant reformer of Persian religion was Zoroaster (Zarathustra), a name that relates to the Egyptian Sar/Asar (Gk. Osiris) and Hebrew Azar. Aster connotes “star” and “god”. The founder of the Achaemenid line of Persian kings has in fact been named here as the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenamun Ramses VIII, whose more famous Libyan alias was Usermaatre Osorkon III. In the Bible he is called the good king Azariah/Uzziah. He, perhaps along with his grandson Osorkon IV, also a Great King and High Priest of Amun, is the likely identity of Zoroaster. There was also another priest-king Osorkon V, better known in Persia as Darius.

A number of great pharaohs included Maat-Re in their throne names, including Amenemhet III, Hatshepsut, Amenhotep III, Ramses II (the Great), and Ramses III. There is cause for linking Maat-Re with the cult of Mithra, because of the association of Maat (“justice”) and Thoth. The association is also borne out in the Persian king name Mithradates, “Justice of Mithra”. Maat-re is included in the throne name of almost every Libyan pharaoh of Egypt. It is however the reign of Usermaatre Osorkon III/Akhen-amun Ramses that best reflects the transformation of Mithra from a Persian Hermes/Thoth cult to the highly syncretized religion it would become.

As a young prince, Osorkon III was typecast as a “Horus Bull of His Mother”, but failed to confirm the role by siring a son from this union. Thereafter he became something of a “Horus which is in Osiris”, and traveled widely as an Osiris spreading civilization. Very late in life he decided to transfer the role of Osiris to his son Takelot III and take the role of Ra (Moses) for himself. It was only then that he assumed the name Akhenamun (Achemenes) Ramses. The throne name Akhenamun was one obviously modeled after an earlier Moses type, Akhenaten, who was remembered in Greek tradition as Hermes Trismegistus.

Mithra, like the Egyptian cult of the Aten, was first represented by the winged sun disk. In Roman times it was equated to the cult of Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”). Later images show Mithra as a hero mounting a bull and slaying it with a sword. A Horus (Aries) aspect of Mithra was evidently added to justify its prominence in the Age of Aries that followed (figuratively killed) that of Taurus the bull. Bull sacrifice was perhaps not part of the early Mithra cult. In Egypt, the Apis bull of Ptah was not killed (to our knowledge), but was believed to become an Osiris in its death. Mithras also assimilated a very distinct aspect of Osiris without losing its association with Thoth/Hermes or with Horus.

While Serapis was being elevated over Egypt, Mithras became leading god in the heart of the Seleucid kingdom. Many Seleucid kings called themselves Antiochus, a name seemingly of Hurrian/Eastern derivation (Antakiya/Antakya). The name Seleuces/Seleukos implies, “shaker, inciter, disturber”. However, the Saluki or “El Hor” was also an ancient Egyptian hunting dog, so perhaps there is more to the name than first appears. (See, A number of Seleucid and Ptolemaic kings adopted the epithet Epiphanes, “Illustrious”, or “The Shining One”, which was also an epithet of Mithra. In the Book of Genesis, immortal Abraham, typecast as both Thoth and Osiris, is called Shemeber, translated as “The Illustrious One”.

See the following web sites for more background and references on Mithra:


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