Some news and thoughts on the crucified Orpheus image on the front cover of the Jesus Mysteries.
The authors, Peter Freke and Timothy Gandy, present this as evidence that Jesus was derived from the mystery religions. We can reject that, but the question remains, what is this amulet and why does it show a pagan god on a Christian symbol?
The gem in question was housed in a Berlin museum but lost during the Second World War. It is dated to the fourth century and intended as a stone to be set on a ring. Such gems are very common in museums - literally tens of thousands are known. A few are Christian, even showing Jesus crucified but the crucified Orpheus gem is unique. If not found in situ by archaeologists they are very hard to date and fakes are extremely common as any competent jeweler could create them easily enough. Today, large numbers have been exposed and no attribution is safe.
Freke and Gandy do not supply a reference for the picture in their book but kindly let me know by email. The first they supplied was R Eisler, Orpheus the Fisher (Kessinger Publishing reprints), first published in 1920 and where the fourth century date for the amulet is given and it is illustrated. Interestingly it is dated to the fourth century simply by virtue of its representation of a crucifixion so could, in theory be older or more recent.
The second reference was WKC Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion Princeton University Press, 1952. This is the second edition and discusses the amulet at some length on page 265. He mentions the views of Eisler and Otto Kern who was a very distinguished German expert on Orpheus. At the time, both considered the gem to be an ancient Orphic artifact and Eisler suggested their was a tradition of a crucified Orpheus. Pointing to the evidence of Justin Martyr, who denies there ever was a crucified pagan, Guthrie rightly rejects this interpretation.
In correspondence published on the Secular Web's discussion board, Freke wrote:
"The irony - of course- is that we are not making any spectacular claims about the amulet at all. Only that it exists - which we have taken on trust from coming across it a couple of times in our research - and that the Jesus Mysteries thesis explains it very neatly. Our thesis certainly doesn't rest on it in any way. (It is after all from the 3rd century CE if the dating is right, which we have not challenged). Our thesis is an attempt to explain a vast body of otherwise puzzling information. The amulet did play a psychological role for us - however -when it unexpectedly turned up late in our research. And of course it makes a very striking cover."
It does indeed make a striking cover, especially when computer enhanced. But there is a final kicker to this story that Freke failed to mention. I found an endnote to the 1952 edition of Guthrie's work (page 278) states:
"In his review of this book [Orpheus and Greek Religion] in Gnomon (1935, p 476), [Otto] Kern [unfeasibly esteemed German expert on Orpheus] recants and expresses himself convinced by the expert opinion of Reil and Zahn [more distinguished Germans] that the gem is a forgery."
I looked up the review in Gnomon but it is in German so I can't make anything of it. Still, the gem has been branded a forgery by noted experts. Luckily for Freke and Gandy that they don't think the gem important to their thesis, but you still have to ask what it was doing on the front cover of their book. And one can also have suspicions as to why they didn't give a reference to where the picture came from.
For the moment, Freke and Gandy's crucified Orpheus is in the same boat as the James Ossury.