Tuesday, April 01, 2003

The notorious book, the Jesus Mysteries, has an amulet on the front that shows a crucified man and is labelled Bacchus. The authors claim this shows that Jesus was derived from Bacchus which we can of course discount. But the question remains, what is this amulet and why does it show a pagan god on a Christian symbol? I found the answer in Richard Kieckhefer's "Magic in the Middle Ages" (CUP) where he discusses these charms and shows illustrations of a couple from the British Museum. One features a picture of Jesus on the cross (but this time actually labelled as Jesus) with a woman at prayer at his foot. All very Christian, except that on the reverse are magical incantations. What is happening here is that any symbol believed to have supernatural power is being co-opted by magic users to try to use it for their own purposes. Pagans as well as Christians were deeply suspicious of this kind of thing and the charms and gems were not part of mainstream pagan religion (or even the mystery religions). So we find Christian and pagan symbols being mixed and matched to try and maximise the efficiency of the magic being attempted. The amulet on the cover of the Jesus Mysteries is an interesting example of this rather than the earth shattering piece of evidence the authors take it for. Besides, the British Museum's amulet labelled Jesus is earlier still (3rd century) and, as far as I know, the earliest representation of Jesus being crucified that we possess.

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