The Ancient Mysteries

The Ancient Mysteries : A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts

Edited by Marvin W. Meyer , By (author) Ockert Meyer


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Zeus and the other gods of shining Olympus were in reality divine only by popular consent. Over the course of time Olympian luster diminished in favor of religious experiences more immediate to the concerns of people living in an increasingly cosmopolitan ancient world. These experiences were provided by the mysteries, religions that flourished particularly during the Hellenistic period and were secretly practiced by groups of adherents who decided, through personal choice, to be initiated into the profound realities of one deity or another. Unlike the official state religions, in which people were expected to make an outward show of allegiance to the local gods, the mysteries emphasized an inwardness and privacy of worship within a closed band of initiates. In this book, Marvin W. Meyer explores the sacrifices and prayers, the public celebrations and secret ceremonies, the theatrical performances and literary works, the gods and goddesses that were a part of the mystery religions of Greece in the seventh century B.C. to the Judaism and Christianity of the Roman world of the seventh century A.D.

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  • Paperback | 280 pages
  • 154.94 x 228.6 x 17.78mm | 430.91g
  • 09 Apr 1999
  • University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Pennsylvania
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 081221692X
  • 9780812216929
  • 176,193

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Author Information

Marvin W. Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University. He has written and edited several books, including The Unknown Sayings of Jesus and Ancient Magic and Ritual Power. He is a research project director at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate School, and codirector of the Albert Schweitzer Institute.

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Review quote

"The ancient mysteries have remained all too mysterious because of the lack of ready access to them... Now we have in one volume a fine collection of the sources that have survived... This will be for many students the lifting of the veil for which they have been looking."-James Robinson, Institute of Antiquity and Christianity, The Claremont Graduate School "The Ancient Mysteries contains a very balanced selection of sources for the study of the ancient so-called mystery religions, starting with Eleusis and ending with mysteries in Judaism and Christianity... No other modern sourcebook exists in this field. Therefore this book fills a gap not only in the area of late antiquity and early Christianity, but also in the field of history of religions in general."-Kurt Rudolph, Philipps-Universitat Marburg, Germany "Unlike most books on 'ancient mysteries,' this one is based on careful reading of the original texts in their original languages. It is a competent, intelligent, and sympathetic study of which the original conclusions deserve careful consideration."-Morton Smith, author of Jesus the Magician and The Secret Gospel

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Review text

An anthology of writings on the Greco-Roman mystery religions, with a helpful introduction and clarifying notes. Using selections from Herodotus, Aristophanes, Plutarch, Euripides, Plato, Origen and many others, the editor gives us a picture of the religions of the Hellenistic period. The so-called mystery religions were popular among people seeking newer, deeper and more rewarding religious experiences. The dieties worshipped were Greek, Syrian Anatolian, Egyptian or Persian and combinations thereof. They were often quite different and had varied cultural and theological bases, but they shared enough similarities to be classed together. The origins of some of them were quite old and are lost to history. Some of the dieties worshipped are familiar - Osiris, Dionysius, Baal, Adonis - and others are strange and exotic. The relationship of agrarian and fertility festivals to the mystery religions is examined, as are the religious concepts of good and evil, life and death and rebirth. Secret ceremonies, religious experiences and the types of people in the various cults are described, sometimes satirically. The worshippers of Mithras, an early competitor of Christianity, were often Roman soldiers and government officials. When the Titans and their usurpers like Zeus were worn out, the mystery religions fulfilled a need for a more personal, ecstatic experience. This collection gives one a feeling for the times and the issues, as well as an insight into the Judaeo-Christian tradition. (Kirkus Reviews)

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