Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins,” was released this week and in anticipation numerous bloggers have begun the critique of Rob Bell’s Hell (his doctrinal view). After I watched
The reason I’m a little late to the ball is directly due to my desire to contact Pastor Bell before refuting him publicly. As a fellow follower of Christ, it was important to me to offer him a chance to respond, first, before saying anything about his view in public and to let him know that I would be offering a public refutation of his material. This is a courtesy I wish would be extended to me from fellow Christians, though unfortunately rarely happens. I sent an email at the start of last week through the contact form on his church website. Perhaps a little more digging would have profited me with a better means of communication, but I assume someone is checking the emails there. I have not heard back from him or anyone yet, but I will keep my hopes up that a response is forthcoming. For now, I will explain the incorrect material relayed in the Nooma #15 video.
In the introductory portion of
Pastor Bell states that Mithraism was an influential religion of the first century and Mithra’s “followers believed he was born of a virgin, he was a mediator between God and humans, and Mithra had ascended to heaven.” He also makes similar comments on the god, Attis, and discusses a little about emperor worship. After discussing the emperor worship, he states, “In the first century, to claim that your God had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, well it just wasn’t that unique. The claims of the first Christians weren’t really anything new. Everybody’s god had risen from the dead. What makes yours so special?”
I believe what Pastor Bell is trying to create is a mood or setting by which to contrast the gospel message with the messages of the other views in the early days of Christianity. However, I was left with a sense of failure on this endeavor. He set up an account of the first century culture that seemed to best fit with his point, rather than demonstrating a commitment to accuracy. If I was not a Christian, I would view this video as a failure to convince me that Jesus was any different from these other gods after listening to Pastor Bell establish that Jesus was not any different. Why should I follow Jesus if I prefer another version of the same story, such as Mithras?
Inaccuracy of the Presentation
Now to the more serious accusation: inaccuracy. First, Pastor Bell states that Mithras’ Roman followers believed he was “born of a virgin.” The Roman god Mithras was born of a rock near the banks of a river under a sacred tree.[ii] As he came forth from the rock, he grasped a dagger in one hand and a torch in the other, which he used to illumine the depths below (from whence he came). So unless, there is some evidence that springing out of a rock meant the same thing in first century Rome as birth from a human female who had never had sexual intercourse, the first century Roman Mithraic followers did not believe Mithras was born of a virgin. Plus, Pastor Bell’s telling of the story of Mithras is as though these facts are widely evidenced. However, there are no written accounts of the Roman Mystery of Mithras of any substantive nature.[iii]
Mithra also never loses an earthly battle and he never dies; he is ever-victorious. The later Roman god, Mithras, was also popularly worshiped amongst the Roman soldiers because of his notoriety for being “invictus.” While there are some noted similarities between the gods, Mitra, Mithra, and Mithras, Mithraic scholars have argued for nearly a century whether or not the Roman version of Mithras is an evolutionary view of the antecedent Iranian/Persian versions.[v] By utilizing all versions of the stories blended together in order to set up a point,
Finally, I think the obvious problem that should be noted is
[i] I know that we will all make mistakes, so I’m not looking for perfection here. I am looking for a responsible use of the sources available to convey historical facts.
[ii] “Born of a rock,” see Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra: the Origins of Mithraism, 1903; Internet; available from http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/mom/index.htm; accessed on
[iii] N.M. Swerdlow, “Review Article: On the Cosmical Mysteries of Mithras,” review of David Ulansey, “The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World,” Classical Philology, vol. 86, no. 1 (Jan., 1991), 49.
[v] Bruce Lincoln, “Mitra, Mithra, Mithras: Problems of a Multiform Diety,” review of John R. Hinnells, “Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies,” History of Religions, Vol. 17, No. 2, (Chicago: University of Chicago, Nov., 1977), 200. Or as Arthur Darby Nock states, “The evidence is scant.” Arthur Darby Nock, “The Genius of Mithraism,”The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 27 (1937), 109.