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Christianised rituals were among the cultural features of the Mediterranean world that were adapted by the Early Christians, as part of the thorough-going Christianization of pagan culture, which included the landscape (see Christianised sites) and the calendar (see Christianised calendar). The obvious connection to Jewish rituals of Christian practices such as the Eucharist and Baptism, is often argued to be by design. Christian tradition places these Christian use of these activities as having originated in the life of Jesus, as attested by the Biblical narratives (e.g. the Baptism of Jesus for Baptism, and Last Supper for the Eucharist), and the Biblical incidents are said to be examples of Jewish ritual (e.g. Baptism as ritual cleansing, and the Last Supper as a passover seder). However, these practices are also present in several non-Christian, non-Jewish, ancient religions, a fact that made several church fathers uncomfortable. So similar were the practices of major rivals, such as Mithraism, and so obviously did they occur before the existence of Christianity, and unconnected to Judaism, that church fathers such as Tertullian and Justin Martyr argued that Satan himself had given the rituals to the rival religions, as a sort-of prophetic mockery. According to several secular scholars, the fact that even early Christian church fathers admitted that the other religions used these rituals, and that they admitted the other religions used them first, suggests that Christianity adopted them from these sources, and the biblical narrative was invented later to justify Christian usage.

As Christianity emerged from within Palestinian Judaism, many religious practices were initially similar; on the weight of Biblical evidence (such as Acts 3:1; 5:27-42; 21:18-26; 24:5; 24:14; 28:22), early Christians are usually assumed to have kept most Jewish customs, including the observation of the Sabbath from Friday's sunset to Saturday's sunset. However, by the time of the Council of Laodicea, the number of Christians observing the Friday-Saturday sabbath was in a minority; the council of Laodicea ruled that Sunday should be the holy day, and went to the extreme of even outlawing resting during the Friday-Saturday period. It is unclear why early Christians moved to observing Sunday in preference to the Friday-Saturday period, though several scholars have argued that the Friday-Saturday observation became unpopular when the church attempted to distance itself from Judaism, after the Jewish-Roman wars. Socrates Scholasticus, an early historian of the church, argued that Sunday was chosen due to some ancient tradition, though without specifying what the tradition was. In the time preceding the Council of Laodicea, Sunday was the day dedicated by the Romans to the form of Mithras known as Sol Invictus (the unconquerable sun), and several historians have proposed that the observation of Sunday as holy by Christians began as an osmotic process, under the influence of the significant, and historically noted, similarities between Christianity and Mithraism, the other major religion in the Roman Empire of the fourth century. Those who allege that Christianity began as a form of Osiris-Dionysus mystery religion instead sometimes argue that Sunday had always been the holy day in Christianity, and it was keeping the Friday-Saturday period that was a development, in this case happening due to the influence of Judaism.

The sign of the cross, a gesture consisting of hand motions that outline a cross, is often considered by Christians to be a purely Christian symbol, though, like the cross itself, the gesture predates Christianity. The earliest form of the gesture in Christianity is the three point tau cross, which was the main form known to early Christian writers such as Tertullian; the tau cross was not completely T shaped but was based on an early form of tau which had a small stroke above the cross bar, though too small to make the gesture have more than three points. The tau cross appeared in the Egyptian religion. Tertullian himself wrote that initiates into the Mithras religion used this gesture, and were marked on the forehead with the Tau cross. The religious symbolism of the tau cross appears to originate with the mystery religion of Tammuz, one of the Osiris-Dionysus group, whose initial T has an obvious significance, and spread from there to surrounding countries including Israel (whence Ezekiel's awareness of it) and from there to Egypt.[1]


The Eucharist

The historical position of Christianity, and one supported by some modern Christian groups (such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and high church groups), was that this consumption of bread and wine was theophagy, the consumption of the flesh of the Deity, since they regarded the bread and wine as having been transformed during the liturgy into the body and blood of Jesus. This theophagy was not unique to Christianity, and early Christians often argued that their theophagy was the only genuine one.

Although the communal practice of a sacred meal over bread and wine has precedent in contemporary Judaism,[2] some authors of the 19th century arguing the disputed Christ myth theory believe it may have been used in Mithraism.


The ritual of Baptism, an activity in which prolonged contact with liquid is made (the meaning of the Greek term Baptizo from which Baptism derives) for ritual reasons, is regarded as important by most Christian groups, particularly Baptists, and Anabaptists, though beliefs about its meaning, and about the appropriate degree of contact with water, vary substantially. In Christianity, it is usual to believe that Christian Baptism originates with the biblical account of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist who lead a group of Jewish sectarians, some of whom joined the Jesus movement after his death.

Most scholars believe that Christian baptism had its origins with the Jewish ritual of mikvah, a form of ritual total immersion in water, for the ritual purpose of removing ritual uncleanliness; this possible origin is the one usually favoured by scholars, as it consistently places John the Baptist within the mileu of second temple Judaism. It has been argued by various polemicists that followers of most mystery religions were baptised (in some locations by full immersion in water), and considered themselves afterwards to have been re-born. The early Christian church father Tertullian commented on this that in certain Mysteries it is by baptism that members are initiated and they imagine that the result of this baptism is regeneration and the remission of the penalties of their sins. These beliefs of the initiates into mystery religions are also those shared with historic Christianity, and with some modern groups such as the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism, and some scholars have consequently proposed that Christian usage of baptism actually derives from that of the mystery religions, not from Judaism. One of the surviving ancient gnostic-like mystery religions, Mandaeanism, not only performs baptism frequently,[3] but also claims John the Baptist to have been one of their greatest teachers.

See also


  1. ^ An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words' (London, 1962), W.E. Vine, entry for cross
  2. ^ Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls ed. James H. Charlesworth
  3. ^ image of Mandaean baptism (carried out by american Mandaeans)


  • Kaplan, Steven 1984 Monastic Holy Man and the Christianization of Early Solomonic Ethiopia (in series Studien zur Kulturkunde) ISBN 3-515-03934-1
  • Kerenyi, Karl, Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life 1976.
  • MacMullen, Ramsay, Christianizing the Roman Empire, AD 100 – 400 Yale University Press (paperback, 1986 ISBN 0-300-03642-6 )
  • Trombley, Frank R., 1995. Hellenic Religion and Christianization c. 370-529 (in series Religions in the Graeco-Roman World) (Brill) ISBN 90-04-09691-4
  • Vesteinsson, Orri, 2000. The Christianization of Iceland: Priests, Power, and Social Change 1000-1300 (Oxford:Oxford University Press) ISBN 0-19-820799-9
  • Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods, Barbara F. Sessions, tr. (Bollingen Foundation: Princeton University Press) 1953 (Originally La Survivance des dieux antiques 1940)


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