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Christians share a sacred meal with their God—Pagans did it first

I sit with Gods at their celestial feast."
Virgil, Aneid, Book 1, line 76


Was Christianity new?  Was Christianity unique? Let's talk about the venerable Pagan sacrament of the sacred meal shared with the Gods.

I guess you know about the Christian Eucharist, right?—the Lord's Supper. It commemorates the supper Jesus had with his disciples the night before the Romans nabbed Him and dragged him off, eventually to be crucified. Right? Christians still reenact that meal with Jesus, the meal with the God Jesus. You know this. Some Christians believe the meal is the body and blood of Jesus.

What you maybe didn't know is that Mithras' faithful celebrated a sacred meal with their God. So did followers of Adonis, Attis, Osiris, and other Pagan Gods of the Mystery Religions. New members of the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris completed their initiation with a sacramental meal.

"Still working" means I'm months away from getting back to this page. Meanwhile I thought you'd like to know that ancient religion included the idea of eating the flesh of sacrificed human type people. Here's a bit from Leucippe & Clitophon, a Greek novel written in the 2d century AD.



Leucippe is kidnapped. Here she's dragged to a Pagan altar, sprinkled with wine, sacrificed (killed) and as part of the gruesome sacred ritual, her body is eaten. (The shock value was part of the fun. In this type of novel I mean. In real life it would still be gruesome.)

In everyday ancient pagan and Jewish worship living animals were sacrificed and eaten. The practice had died out, but at least theoretically people could also be sacrificed. In novels like this they often were. In our sacred bible (Genesis chapter 22) Abraham had been ready to sacrifice Isaac. The idea of human sacrifice was part of ancient culture. And so, as you see here, the logic of eating sacrificed people was also part of ancient culture.

 

...they had an improvised altar made of mud and a coffin near it. Then two of them led up the girl, her hands tied behind her back. I could not see who they were, as they were in full armour, but I recognized her as Leucippe. First they poured libations over her head and led her round the altar while, to the accompaniment of a flute, a priest chanted what seemed to be an Egyptian hymn ; this at least was indicated by the movements of his lips and the contortions of his features. Then, at a concerted sign, all retired to some distance from the altar ; one of the two young attendants laid her down on her back, and strapped her so by means of pegs fixed in the ground, just as the statuaries represent Marsyas fixed to the tree ; then he took a sword and plunging it in about the region of the heart, drew it down to the lower part of the belly, opening up her body; the bowels gushed out, and these they drew forth in their hands and placed upon the altar ; and when they were roasted, the whole body of them cut them up into small pieces, divided them into shares and ate them.

S. Gaselee, translator, Achilles Tatius, Leucippe & Clitophon, Book 3, Ch 15. 2d century AD. Loeb Classical Library 1917, page 165-7
Current Loeb is red; I'm not sure why. The 1917 edition is green and in Greek.
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Don't worry about Leucippe, by the way. Later on she rises from the dead. That also happened a lot in ancient novels. But you already knew that, right? 'Cause they told you in church.

I'm still working on this page 

Here's how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Pagan Eucharists of the Mystery Religions

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" There was usually the meal of mystic foods—
grains of all sorts at Eleusis,
bread and water in the cult of Mithra,
wine (Dionysus),
milk and honey (Attis),
raw bull's flesh in the Orphic Dionysus-Zagreus cult."

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI, Paganism

Christians share a sacred meal with their God—Pagans did it first

 

The Romans' Lectisternia
It wasn't just the mystery religions whose believers ate sacred meals in communion with the God. The notion that worshipers eating together would be joined by their God was widely diffused throughout the ancient world hundreds of years before Jesus. In Rome the rite even had its own name, "lectisternia."

A lectisternia was a sacred meal in which an icon of the God was actually brought to the table with the celebrants. In Rome the whole Senate celebrated a sacred meal, with a statue of Jupiter lying on a cushion, and the two goddesses Juno and Minerva in chairs beside him.

 

Yes, it does sound ridiculous. But it wasn't to the ancients, and in fact the rite was common to many ancient Gods. The Christian apologist Arnobius describes the process:

"The lectisternium of Ceres will be on the next Ides, for the gods have couches; and that they may be able to lie on softer cushions, the pillows are shaken up when they have been pressed down."
Amobius, Against the Heathen, Book 7.32

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Aelius Aristides wrote about a Pagan Eucharist in which the faithful of Serapis summoned the God to a sacred meal, where they

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" set him at their head as guest and diner."
Aelius Aristides, Oration 8.54, 2d century AD

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Dating lectisternia
The Roman ritual, copied from the earlier Greek theoxenia, was first described in Rome by the Sibylline Books in B.C. 399.

From the start of the third century B.C. the banquet was regularly given to the three Capitoline divinities, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva on November 13th. During the Empire, the date changed to September13th.

Which Gods?
Devotees of Hercules celebrated sacred meals this way, as did those of:

 

Jupiter
Juno
Minerva
Volcanus
Apollo
Venus

Vesta
Ceres
Diana
Aesculapius
Hygia
Isis

Mars
Mercury
Neptune
Mithras
Jupiter Dolichenus

 

Christians share a sacred meal with their God—Pagans did it first

 
 

The next time you're in Church
ask yourself:"What about what I'm hearing was new and unique with Christianity, and what was already part of other religions in a culture where over and over again new religions were built with old parts?"

Next time you're in church...When they get to the part about eating a sacred meal in remembrance of the God, remember the lectisternia of Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Vesta, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Neptune, Volcanus, Apollo, Aesculapius, Hygia, Isis, Mithras, and Jupiter Dolichenus.

You'll know you're hearing about theology that predated Christianity by hundreds of years—in a culture where over and over people built new religions out of old parts.

Wow!

The Greeks' Theoxenia
You probably won't be surprised to learn that the Romans' lectisternia was copied from the Greeks. The Greeks entertained the Gods in a sacred meal they called the theoxenia. At Delphi, in Greece, the festival of Theoxinia was an especially big deal—it even gave its name to the month.

The Romans got the idea for their lectisternia from the theoxenia at Delphi. Ancient carvings of the ritual show a meal spread out on a banquet table, with the Gods attending.

But if he is one of the immortals come down from heaven, then is this some new thing which the gods are planning; for ever heretofore have they been wont to appear to us in manifest form, when we sacrifice to them glorious hecatombs, and they feast among us, sitting even where we sit.
Homer, Odyssey, Book 7, line 198

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Christians share a sacred meal with their God—Pagans did it first

 
   

Eating the Flesh of the God
The notion that the meal involved eating the God's flesh was not new with Christianity. Of the Roman God Liber (aka Dionysus, or Bacchus) Christian father Firmicus Maternus writes that

his followers believe >

 

"he was intercepted and killed," and his murderers, "chopped his members up into pieces and...devoured them." An event which his worshipers celebrate in "recurring sacred rites celebrated every two years," in which, "They tear a live bull with their teeth, representing the cruel banquet at which the God was eaten. "
Firmicus Maternus, The Error of the Pagan Religions, Ch 6.2

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Christians eat a sacred meal that is the flesh of their God—but Pagans did it first

 

Modern Scholarship
Other Eucharist theologies

The Lord's supper commemoratesJesus' last meal with his disciples. The wine is His blood. The bread is His body. Right?

What if I told you it wasn't always so? What if I told you that at least some first century Christians celebrated the Eucharist without remembering the meal Jesus shared yada yada, and without equating the wine with his blood or the bread with his body. In fact, they celebrated the Eucharist without even mentioning Jesus' saving death. Wow. If I told you that, you'd believe me, right?

Of course you wouldn't. What, are you nuts? I'm just some guy on the wacky web.

 

Don't believe me. Believe the Christians who were there.

The Didache is a handbook—a book of instructions first century Christians used away back before the New Testament was a twinkle in Bishop Athanasius' eye.

Chapters 9 and 10 of the Didache told newly baptized Christians about the Eucharist—step by step how to celebrate the Eucharist. What to do. What to say.

Here's the beginning of Chapter 9 > >

Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks as follows.

(2) First, concerning the cup:
We give you thanks, our Father,
for the holy vine of David your servant,
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant,
to you be the glory forever.

(3) And concerning the broken bread:
We give you thanks, our Father,
for the life and knowledge you have made known to us
through Jesus
, your servant;
to you be the glory forever.

Didache, Chapters 9 (1st century AD),—which you can find in: Holmes, Michael. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (1999), pg. 259 - 263

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Now, if you're smarter than me:

You actually read the thing. I usually skip poetry, especially ancient poetry.

You noticed without someone telling you that when the Didache-using-Christians celebrated the Eucharist they equated the wine with the holy vine of David (whatever the hell that means)—not with Jesus' blood. And the bread with the life and knowledge made known through Jesus—not with Jesus' body.

And it's not just the sections we've got room for here (which are the main ones anyway). Get a copy of the Didache, read all of Chapters 9 and 10. The body and blood of Jesus? They never come up. Jesus' saving death? Never comes up.

In the first century, way back at the founding of the faith, there were Christians who did not link the Eucharist with the story about Jesus' last supper with His disciples. Wow.

 

This isn't Greg talking, this is standard modern scholarship.

Here's Harvard Professor and all-around hot shot Helmut Koester describing the Eucharist in the Didache > >

OK, so the holy vine of David is the covenant of David. Don't you feel better, knowing that?

The Eucharist prayers in the Didache also have their origin in Hellenistic Judaism. . .. In their Christian form they relate the cup to the covenant of David and understand the bread as the symbol of the oneness of the congregation. There is no attempt to connect wine and bread... to the death of Jesus….

And here's a snippet of the modern scholarship about what that means >>

 

T here is no reason to assume that the communities of Syria, for whom the Didache was written, followed the same eucharistic practice and formulae that are attested in 1 Cor 11:23- 26. This is my body, this is my blood, etc. Rather, these prayers may well belong to a direct continuation of the fellowship meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples and friends. .
Koester, Helmut. History and Literature of Early Christianity, Volume 2, Introduction to the New Testament, 2d edition. (2000), pg. 164

POCM quotes modern scholars

In other words, the tradition about the Eucharist commemorating Jesus' last meal with his disciples—that was just one early idea about what the Eucharist meant. One of at least two. Maybe more. There were other early Christian Eucharist theologies that were completely different from ours.

Now, let me ask you a question. Which do you think is more likely:

that the earliest Eucharist really was given to the disciples by Jesus, complete with the do-this-in-remembrance-of me instruction, but the Didache-Christians somehow missed that little detail ( they had a tough day and forgot, maybe), or

that the Didache-Christian's Eucharist, descended as it was from the Hellenistic culture back then was the original, and somebody later on added the story about Jesus' last meal?

Here's what I think I think the Hellenistic Didache Eucharist came first, and someone added the Jesus last supper myth to it later. The Christian Eucharist descends, by way of Hellenistic Judaism, from Pagan sacred-meals-with-the-God. And now you know how it happened. Wow.

 
   
 

The next time you're in Church
ask yourself:"What about what I'm hearing was new and unique with Christianity, and what was already part of other religions in a culture where over and over again new religions were built with old parts?"

Next time you're in church...When they get to the part about the Holy Eucharist being the blood and body of Jesus, remember the sacred meal of the Roman God Liber.

You'll know you're celebrating an ancient Pagan ritual that predated Christianity by hundreds of years—in a culture where over and over people built new religions out of old parts.

Wow!

 

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