Ancient Armenia and Cilicia

Map of the Roman Empire

It was in the dissemination of the original Mysteries of Mithras, that we find the first coalescence of those families which would ultimetely produce the leading Illuminati bloodlines. This network was centered around the House of Herod, and included an important Armenian bloodline from Cappadocia, of mixed Alandrian and Persian heritage, a hereditary Syrian priesthood of Baal, and the family of Julius Ceasar. It was these families that were involved first in the formation and spread of the Mithraic cult, and ultimately, in a conspiracy to supplant the Christian Church, which succeded when one of their descendants, Constantine the Great, implemented Catholicism, which was but an assimilation of Mithraism, by associating Jesus with the cult of the dying-god.

While the trail of these relationships are complicated and detailed, it is essential to examine them, in order to properly understand the origin, direction and beliefs of their successors. Initially, the cult of the Magi was most prevalent in that part of Asia Minor, that is, of Armenia, Cappadocia and Pontus. Pontus was founded following the death of Alexander the Great, shortly after 302 BC. As the greater part of this kingdom lay within the immense region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Black Sea, the kingdom as a whole was at first called “Cappadocia towards the Pontus”, but afterwards simply “Pontus”. Pontus included not only Pontic Cappadocia, but also Colchis, and Lesser Armenia.

Pontus was founded following the death of Alexander the Great, shortly after 302 BC, by Mithradates I, son of Mithradates II of Kios (Mysia), a Persian ruler in the service of Antigonus, one of Alexander’s successors. As the greater part of this kingdom lay within the immense region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Black Sea, the kingdom as a whole was at first called “Cappadocia towards the Pontus”, but afterwards simply “Pontus,” the name Cappadocia being henceforth restricted to the southern half of the region previously included under that title. Pontus included not only Pontic Cappadocia, but also Colchis, and Lesser Armenia. As Franz Cumont indicated, in Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism:

These two authors agree then in fixing in Asia Minor the origin of this Persian religion that later spread over the Occident, and in fact various indications direct us to that country. The frequency of the name Mithradates, for instance, in the dynasties of Pontus, Cappadocia, Armenia and Commagene, connected with the Achemenides by fictitious genealogies, shows the devotion of those kings to Mithra.[1]

Scholars have refused to accept that Mithraism could have been a formulation from earlier than the first century AD. However, as we have seen, the Mysteries of Dionysus, which influenced Orphism, were in imitation of those practiced by the Magi. Therefore, some primitive form of occult rite must have existed among them. More recently, though, Roger Beck has provided an intermediary theory, in which he proposes that the cult of Mithraism was created in Commagene. Commagene was a small kingdom, located in modern south-central Turkey, in what had once been part of greater Cappadocia. Its capital city was Samosata, or modern Samsat, near the Euphrates.

Commagene was ruled by a dynasty known as the Orontids. The dynasty was founded by Orontes, who had been appointed by the Persians as “satrap”, or governor of Armenia. In 401 BC, Artaxerxes II, then reigning Emperor of Persia, gave him his daughter Rhodogoune in marriage. Artaxerxes II would have been the grandson of Xerxes, who according to Jewish tradition, married Esther, of the Book of Esther.

In the Book of Esther, Ahasuerus, usually identified with Xerxes, is married to Vashti, whom he puts aside after she rejects his offer to visit him during a feast. Mordecai’s cousin Hadassah is selected from the candidates to be the kings new wife, and she assumes the name of Esther. His prime minister Haman, and his wife Zeresh, plot to have Ahasuerus kill all the Jews, without knowing that Esther is Jewish. Esther warns Ahasuerus of the plot, Haman is hanged, and Mordecai becomes prime minister in his place. However, Ahasuerus’ edict decreeing the murder of the Jews cannot be rescinded, so he issues another edict allowing the Jews to kill their enemies, which they do.

Esther made Queen

Esther made queen

In the late nineteenth century, some critics developed the theory that the Book of Esther was actually a story derived from Babylonian mythology, representing the triumph of the Babylonian deities Marduk and Ishtar over the deities of Elam. Esther is an Aramaic name for the goddess Ishtar. Mordecai means “servant of Marduk”, Marduk being another name for Bel, the chief god of the Babylonians.

The description in the Book of Esther of the parade through the streets dressed in royal robes, the mock combat and other happenings are similar to the Babylonian celebration of the New Year, held in Spring, the original Easter ceremony of the dying-god. This celebration had mock combat between one team representing the old year, and other team representing the New Year, with the old year being hanged in effigy. Apparently, Jews also took part in this New Year celebration, and eventually the story of Esther had been invented to explain the celebration and to turn it into a Jewish celebration, much as Christians were to change pagan holidays into Christian holidays.[2]

In 1923, Dr. Jacob Hoschander wrote The Book of Esther in the Light of History, in which he proposed that the events of the book occurred during the reign of Artaxerxes II, as part of a struggle between adherents of the still monotheistic Zoroastrianism, and those who wanted to bring back the Magian worship of Mithra and Anahita.

Starting from 301 BC, Armenia was included within the sphere of influence of the Seleucid Empire. Towards the end of 212 BC, the country was divided between two kings, both vassals of the Seleucids, being Greater Armenia, and Armenia Sophene, which included Commagene or Armenia Minor. Seleucid Emperor Antiochus III the Great, decided to suppress the local dynasties, he besieged Arsamosata. Xerxes surrendered and implored the clemency of the king, whom he accepted as his sovereign. Antiochus gave his sister Antiochis as a wife to Xerxes, who later murdered Xerxes.

The Armenian kingdom of Commagene arose in 162 BC, when its governor Ptolemy broke free from the disintegrating Seleucid Empire. Ptolemy’s mother was a descendant of Alexander and Roxanna, Aesopia the Perdiccid. Aesopia herself was the great-grandmother of Laodice III of Syria, who married Mithradates III of Pontus, who ruled Pontus between 220 and 183 BC. Their daughter, Laodice III of Pontus, married Seleucid Emperor Antiochus III of Syria. In turn, their daughter Antiochis married Xerxes I King of Armenia, a descendant of Artaxerxes II. Their son was Ptolemy.[3]

Ptolemy’s son Mithradates I Callinicus of Commagene embraced the Hellenistic culture and married Laodice, a Seleucid princess. Thus, their son, Antiochus I of Commagene, who lived from 69 BC to 40 BC, could claim dynastical ties with both Alexander the Great and the Persian kings. The combined heritage found in Antiochus led to the assimilation of Mithras with the Greek Hercules, which marked the first early form of the Mithraic cult. As Franz Cumont explained:

This reverence for Persian customs, inherited from legendary ancestors, this idea that piety is the bulwark of the throne and the sole condition of success, is explicitly affirmed in the pompous inscription engraved on the colossal tomb that Antiochus I., Epiphanes, of Commagene (69-34 B.C.), erected on a spur of the mountain-range Taurus, commanding a distant view of the valley of the Euphrates (Figure I). But, being a descendant by his mother of the Seleucidæ of Syria, and supposedly by his father of Darius, son of Hystaspes, the king of Commagene merged the memories of his double origin, and blended together the gods and the rites of the Persians and the Greeks, just as in his own dynasty the name of Antiochus alternated with that of Mithridates.[4]

Antiochus I is said to have practiced astrology of a very esoteric kind, and laid the basis for a calendrical reform, by linking the Commagene year, which till then had been based on the movements of the Moon, to the cycle of the Star of Sirius used by the Egyptians as the basis of their calendar. This would suggest that Antiochus was knowledgeable about an Egyptian manifestation of Magian influence, known as Hermeticism.[5] Antiochus is most famous for founding the sanctuary of Nemrud Dagi, an enormous complex on a mountain-top, featuring giant statues of the king surrounded by gods, each god being a synthesis of Greek and Persian gods, where Apollo is equated with, Mithras, Helios and Hermes. The gods are flanked a lion and an eagle. The lion may be the lion of Judah, representing Jewish heritage, while the eagle is the heraldic symbol of the Tribe of Dan, representing another line of Jewish heritage from the Greeks, the descendants of Danaus, by way through Alexander the Great.

Nemrud Daghi

Nemrud Daghi

Scholars dismiss the fact that this cult could represent an early form of Mithraism. However, Mithridates VI of Pontus, the grandson of Mithridates III, who ruled between 120 and 63 BC, was allied to the pirates of Cilicia, a province bordering Commagene. According to Plutarch, who lived in the first century AD, these pirates were responsible for transmitting the mysteries of Mithras to the Romans. According to Plutarch, these were the pirates who constituted such a threat to Rome until Pompey drove them from the seas. In his biography of this general, Plutarch writes of the pirates: “They brought to Olympus in Lycia strange offerings and performed some secret mysteries, which still in the cult of Mithras, first made known by them [the pirates]”.

Mithradates, meaning “gift of Mithras”, was one of Rome’s most formidable and successful enemies. His demise is detailed in the play Mithridates of 1673 by Jean Racine, which formed the basis for many eighteenth century operas, including one of Freemason Mozart’s earliest, known most commonly by its Italian name, Mitridate, re di Ponto, written in 1770. When Mithradates VI was defeated by the Roman general Pompey the Great in 65 BC, in the last of a series of three Mithridatic Wars, remnants of his army took refuge among the Cilician pirates. In the middle of the second century A.D. the historian Appian adds that the pirates came to know of the mysteries from the troops who were left behind by the defeated army of Mithridates VI.[6]

The Mithraic Bloodline

Caligula

Caligula

The House of Commagene combined with the family of Herod the Great, the Syrian priest-kings of Baal, and the family of Julius Caesar, who took the early symbolism of the Mithra worship of the heretical Magi, and combined it with the emerging Kabbalistic mysticism, to form the Mysteries of Mithras. Essentially, the Mithraic mysteries adapted the ancient king-worship of the Babylonians, to the worship of the emperor, as a personification of their god the Sun. Through the influence of the Commagenian dynasty, this cult retained its Persian themes, but represented its god Mithras with the physical form of Alexander the Great, their progenitor.

The reciprocal worship attributed to Alexander and Darius as representatives of god as the Sun, is mentioned in a work falsely ascribed to Callisthenes, an advisor to Alexander. The text underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and provided the basis for other versions developed in all the major languages of Europe and the Middle East. According to the text:

Alexander then seeing the great pomp of Darius was moved almost to worship him as Mithra the divine, as though clothed in barbaric splendor he had come down from heaven, - such was his splendid array. Darius was seated upon a lofty throne, with a crown of most precious stones, wearing a robe of Babylonian silk inwoven with golden thread.

[according to the Syriac version] And when Darius saw Alexander he did obeisance and worshipped Alexander, for he believed that he was Mihr [Mithras] the god, and that he had come down to bring aid to the Persians. For his raiment was like that of the gods, and the crown with rested upon his head shone with rays of light and the robe with he wore was woven with fine gold.[7]

The person through which the House of Commagene was able to enter into contact with that of Herod, in addition to the family of Julius Ceasar, to produce the Mithraic bloodline, which went on to produce the leading conspiratorial families of Europe, was Antiochus IV. Antiochus IV’s great-grandfather, Antiochus I of Commagene had supported Pompey against the Parthians, and in 64 BC was rewarded with additional territories. After submitting to Greek rule under the Seleucids, the Persian Empire eventually reemerged under the Parthians, a semi-nomadic people who, in the second century BC, arose from an area southeast of the Caspian Sea. It was ruled by the Arsacids, who claimed descent from the Persian king Artaxerxes II. Through the conquests of Mithradates I and Artabanus II in the second century BC, the Parthians established control over Iran and expanded westward into Mesopotamia.

Antiochus I of Commagene had supported Pompey against the Parthians, and in 64 BC was rewarded with additional territories. After submitting to Greek rule under the Seleucids, the Persian Empire eventually reemerged under the Parthians, a semi-nomadic people who, in the second century BC, arose from an area southeast of the Caspian Sea. It was ruled by the Arsacids, who claimed descent from the Persian king Artaxerxes II. Through the conquests of Mithradates I and Artabanus II in the second century BC, the Parthians established control over Iran and expanded westward into Mesopotamia.

Antiochus I was able to deflect Roman attacks from Mark Antony, whom he eventually joined in the Roman civil war, but after Antony’s defeat to Augustus, Commagene was made a Roman client state. This state of affairs signaled the beginning of the relationships that led to the transference of the Mithraic cult to Rome.

Augustus was the first of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC to 68 AD, beginning with Augustus, followed by Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius, until the last of the line, Nero, who committed suicide. The dynasty is so named because its members were drawn from the Julia and the Claudius family. Julia derive their name from Iulus, or Julus, also known as Ascanius, who, according to Greek and Roman mythology, was a son of Aeneas, himself the son of Aphrodite, the Greek Venus, and the cousin of Priam. The name “Ascanius” is thought to have been derived from Ashkenazi, or Ashkuza, the name given to the Scytians by the ancient Akkadians.[8] After the Trojan War, Ascanius escaped to Latium in Italy and had a role in the founding of Rome as the first king of Alba Longa. The founder of the dynasty, Caesar Augustus, was a Julian through his adoption by his great-uncle, Julius Caesar.

In 17 AD, Tiberius deposed Antiochus’ successor, Antiochus III, but Caligula reinstated his son Antiochus IV of Commagene, who even enlarged his territory. And, although Caligula deposed him shortly after, he was restored by Claudius in in 41 AD. In 52 AD, Antiochus campaigned against some wild tribes there which had been harrowing the coastal cities. And Beck considers that, “it is worth considering whether the germination of the Mysteries might not have taken place when Commagenean and Cilician Mithra-worship coalesced at the exposure of Commagenean administrators and military to the rites of the Cilician tribes.”

Antiochus IV’s associate, Caligula, was influenced by the Babylonian or Mithraic tradition of worshipping the king as embodiment of the sun-god, and cult which he tried to institute in the Roman Empire. Caligula was described, by H. H. Scullard, a former professor of ancient history at King’s College, as a “monster of lust and diabolical cruelty”.[9] According to an article in Wikipedia:

Under Augustus, the Cult of the Deified Emperor had been established and promoted, especially in the western empire, and was generally the first organization established in any new Roman colony. Augustus proclaimed on multiple occasions that he was not himself personally divine; instead the Cult centered around his numen, his personal spirit, and gens, the collective spirit of his family and ancestors. After Augustus, Tiberius seems to have had little interest in the Cult, and its promulgation and expansion seems to have been on a local level and driven by local magistrates, rather than from a central organizational structure. Caligula expanded this Cult on an unprecedented scale. The temple of Castor and Pollux on the Forum was linked directly to the Imperial residence on the Palatine and dedicated to Caligula himself; he would appear here on occasions, dressed and presenting himself as a god, and demanding that those in his presence adopt sycophantic methods of aknowledging him. The nature of the Cult of the Deified Emperor changed from honoring the spirits around the Emperor to direct worship of Caligula himself. Likewise, Caligula's policies affected religious practice in the whole of the Empire, not just those practices associated with the Cult. The heads of the statues of many of the gods throughout Rome and the empire were replaced with Caligula's head, including many of the female statues, and Caligula demanded that he be worshipped as an embodiment of these gods, similar to the Hellenistic ruler-cults. A plan to place a statue of himself as Zeus in the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was halted only after the intervention of Herod Agrippa, a personal friend of Caligula.[10]

Caligula, like Antiochus IV, was also a close friend of Herod Agrippa, king of Judea, also called the Great, who lived from 10 BC to 44 AD. Herod Agrippa was the king named “Herod” in the Acts of the Apostles, in the Bible. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, rebuilder of the Temple. Herod the Great arose from a wealthy, influential Idumaean family. The Idumaeans were successors to the Edomites, who had settled in Edom in southern Judea, but between 130-140 BC, were required to convert to Judaism. According to Josephus, after the murder of his father, young Agrippa was sent by Herod the Great to the imperial court in Rome. There, Tiberius conceived a great affection for him, and he eventually became a close friend of Caligula. And on the assassination of Caligula in 41AD, Agrippa’s advice helped to secure the ascension as emperor Claudius, who was also the grandson of Mark Antony and Octavia, and who eventually made Herod Agrippa governor of Judea.

Along with Commagene and the Julio-Claudian families, a third would be introduced into this mix, which would feature in not only the creation of Mithraism, but its continued preservation through the centuries, culminating in the Illuminati families of Europe. That family was the hereditary priest-kings of Emesa. The Royal Family of Emesa, today Hims in Syria, was a dynasty of Priest-Kings who formed a powerful and influential aristocracy. Emesa was renowned for the Temple of the Sun, known as Elagabalus, a derivation of Baal, adored in a shape of a black stone. Around 64 BC, Pompey the Great had reorganized Syria and the surrounding countries into Roman Provinces, and had installed client kings, who would be allies to Rome. One of those client kings, would be Sampsiceramus, the founding member of the Priest-King dynasty of Emesa.

Emperor Claudius

Emperor Claudius

Herod Agrippa gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, King of Emesa. She had already been married to Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus I of Commagene. However, Herod had stipulated that Epiphanes should embrace the Jewish religion. Epiphanes finally refused. Azizus, in order to obtain Drusilla’s hand, consented to be circumcised. She later divorced him, though, to marry Felix Antonius, the Procurator of Judea.

In 54 AD, after the death of Claudius, and during political strife within Armenia, the Parthian king Vologases I, the great-great-grandson of Antiochus I of Commagene, placed his own brother Tiridates I on the Armenian throne. This invariably led to war, since it was Rome, and not Parthia who held the right of Armenian succession. Over the next several years, Roman legions, led by the general Corbulo, invaded Armenia and the two powers fought a virtual stalemate.

From 59 to 63 AD, the Romans installed Tigranes VI as King of Armenia. Tigranes was son of Alexander, the grandson of Herod the Great. His mother was the great-granddaughter of Mark Antony and Antonia. Tigranes VI married Julia, the heiress of the Edomite royal bloodline, the daughter of Herod Phollio King of Chalcis, grandson of Herod the Great. Their son Alexander of Cilicia married Iotape of Commagene, the daughter of Antiochus IV.

By AD 63, however, a peace treaty was negotiated in which Tiridates would lay down his crown, hence surrendering the Parthian right to place him on the throne, but it was agreed that he would travel to Rome where Nero himself would give him the throne under Roman authority. At the coronation Tiridates declared that he had come “in order to revere you [Nero] as Mithras”.[11] In the same visit, according to Pliny, Tiridates “the Magus” brought Magi with him and “initiated him [Nero] into magical feasts”.[12]

Fifteenth Apollonian Legion

These several families also contributed to the Roman attempt to suppress a the Jewish revolt in Palestine, which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem. It was among the Roman troops who participated in this campaign that we find the first dissemination of Kabbalistic ideas in the form of mysteries dedicated to Mithras, and attributed to the Magi. Between the years 67 to 70 AD, the Fifteenth Apollonian Legion, which had followed Corbulo against the Parthians in Armenia, was sent to Palestine to suppress the Jewish revolt. The Fifteenth Apollonian legion of the Roman army was originally formed by Julius Caesar in 53 BC, but was destroyed in Africa in the autumn of 49/48 BC. The legion was again founded in 41 or 40 BC, by Caesar’s heir Octavian, who chose the surname Apollinaris, because he worshipped Apollo above all other gods.

Under Roman occupation, though rebellion had been sporadic, disturbances among the Jews were frequent. Soon, the Roman procurator Florus lost control of the situation. However, in 67 AD, the future emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, had arrived with the Apollonian legion, and by the end of the year, Galilee was captured. Judea was reduced in three campaigns which ended with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when 97,000 Jews, according to Josephus, were taken captive.[13]

detail from the Arch of Titus, showing spoils from the sack of Jerusalem

Arch of Titus
showing spoils from the sack of Jerusalem

Jerusalem was destroyed and became the permanent garrison town of a Roman legion. The Temple itself was sacked and the sacred contents of its inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, were carried back to Rome. As depicted on Titus’ triumphal arch, these treasures included the immense gold seven-branched candelabrum, so sacred to Judaism, and possibly even the Ark of the Covenant.

The Apollonian legion then accompanied Emperor Titus to Alexandria, where they were joined by new recruits from Cappadocia. It seems to have been a curious mix of these several elements, after the Legion had been transported to Germany, that erected their first temple dedicated to Mithras on the banks of the Danube.[14]

The Romans’ allies in suppressing the revolt had also included, not only Herod Agrippa, and Antiochus VI of Commagene, but Soaemus of Emesa. Soaemus was the grandson of Aristobulus II of Emesa, the grandson of Herod the Great, who married Iotape, the daughter of Sampsiceramus, the founding king of Emesa. As Beck noted, Commagenian military elements, under royal command, were also engaged in the suppression of the Jewish Revolt, and there would have been extensive contact with Roman legionary and other troops, including those units identified among the earlier carriers of the new mystery cult, like the Fifteenth Apollonian. According to Beck, therefore, “what I propose, then, is that the Mysteries of Mithras were developed within a subset of these Commagenian soldiers and family-retainers and were transmitted by them at various points of contact to their counterparts in the Roman world.”[15]

Antiochus IV reigned until 72 AD, when Vespasian deposed the dynasty. The dynasty, after its deposition, was resident for a period in Rome. As Beck points out, “Antiochus was no stranger to the city; it was presumably there that, together with Herod Agrippa of Judaea, he “associated with” (syneinai) Caligula, a relationship which the Romans observed with dismay, considering the pair of client princes “mentors in tyranny”[16]

Specifically, Beck attributes the formulation of the Mithraic cult to Ti. Claudius Balbillus, who was both the leading astrologer of the period in Rome, and related by marriage, possibly by blood too, to the Commagenian dynasty. Balbillus had also been a prefect of Egypt, and served as head of the Museum and Library of Alexandria. It is generally agreed that Balbillus was the father in law of Iulius Antiochus Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus IV. Scholars also accept that Balbillus was the son of the leading astrologer of the previous generation, Ti. Claudius Thrasyllus, who may also have married Commagenian princess.

The Mysteries of Mithras

woodcut of Ezekiel's vision, from the Bear Bible, 16th century

woodcut of Ezekiel's vision
from the Bear Bible, 16th century

Though the Mysteries of the Mithras that came to pervade the Roman world were purportedly of Magian origin, the role of the House of Herod in its formation suggests a possible origin for the evident relationship that exists between them and the emerging form of early Jewish Kabbalah, known as Merkabah mysticism. An important source for the early penetration of these ideas, and which would continue to play an central role in the of dissemination of “Eastern” occult influences to the Western world, through to the time of the Crusades, and finally, the links between European secret societies and Islamic terrorism in our time, would be Egypt.

Although Rome came to dominate the scene politically, it was the city of Alexandria in Egypt, that would continue to dominate culturally. Due to the numerous cultures that congregated in the city, whether Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Indian or Jewish, new esoteric creeds were formulated based on older traditions. These various schools held in common a type of mysticism, which some scholars term Gnosticism. More correctly, these variations represented aspects of a single school, that is, Kabbalah, exercised through the influence of the substantial Jewish community that existed in the city. As Franz Cumont remarked, a great number of Jewish colonies were scattered everywhere on the Mediterranean, and “the Jews, who were acquainted with the arcana of the Irano-Chaldean doctrines and proceedings, made some of the recipes known wherever the dispersion brought them.”[17]

Founded when Alexander assigned them a quarter of the city of their own, it became the most important Jewish community of the Diaspora. The Roman geographer Strabo, who said that the Jews were a power throughout the inhabited world, indicated that there were a million of them in Egypt alone. They formed a majority of the population in two out of five quarters of the city, occupied a quarter of their own, and enjoyed the highest status of any non-Greeks and possessed considerable autonomy.

A mystical Jewish sect existed at Alexandria, known as the Therapeutae, who were related to the more famous group, the Essenes. The Essenes were one of three main philosophical Jewish sects, the other two being the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Essenes were regarded by their contemporaries as the heirs of Chaldean and Egyptian astronomy, and the medicine of the ancient Persians, and Philo of Alexandria compared them with the Persian Magi and the Indian Yogi.[18]

Today, more is known since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which scholars are generally agreed belonged originally the Essene community. According to Scholem, a leading scholar of Kabbalah, it was in apocalyptic literature, examples of which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, that contained the earliest evidence among the Jews of the development of Merkabah mysticism, the earliest definite appearance of Kabbalistic ideas in Judaism.

Mithras

Mithras as Phanes

Early Jewish mysticism already incorporated the several tenets that were central to the cult of the Magi, including astrology, numerology and pantheism. However, it is in Merkabah mysticism that we find the first evolution of that doctrine which would become central to all the schools of Hellenistic mysticism, the ascent through the seven palaces. This mystical process involved the initiate advancing successively through the seven planetary spheres, in order to remove the astrological influence his soul had received from them on his descent into matter.

The purpose of Merkabah mysticism is union with the highest god, interpreted as the vision the Chariot of God, described in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. Supporting the chariot, Ezekiel described four “creatures”, each with a human body, two sets of wings and cloven feet like that of a calf. Each creature had four faces, of a man, lion, ox and eagle, understood esoterically to represent the four seasons and elements. The man is Aquarius or air, the lion is Leo or fire, the ox is Taurus or earth, and the eagle is Scorpio or water. The four wings are the four winds. The creatures are set on wheels, each like “a wheel inside a wheel,” referring to the intersection of the zodiac and the celestial equator.

Merkabah texts involved elaborate anthropomorphic descriptions of God, known as Shiur Komah, which were based on the Song of Solomon. The most important of all Kabbalistic texts, and from which most of its symbolism is derived, the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, is a collection of love poems spoken alternately by a man and a woman, a number of which describe the beauty and excellence of the beloved. To Rabbi Akiva, the great exponent of Merkabah, as for later Jews, the Song was regarded as an allegory, interpreted as a dialogue of love between the Shekinah, the nation of the Israelites, with whom God has made His sacred covenant, and God. The beloved, or the Shekinah, is the Kabbalah’s interpretation of the goddess. In the Song she is described as bride, daughter and sister. Originally, she is the planet Venus, the goddess of love and war of Antiquity.

If Mithraism was developed for the House of Commagene, then the Kabbalistic elements of Merkabah found in it must have been introduced by the House of Herod. Herod Agrippa also gave special favor to the Essenes. Herod Agrippa also gave special favor to the Essenes. From Flavius Josephus, we learn:

Among those spared from being forced [to take a loyalty oath to Herod] were those we call Essenes . . . . It is worth saying what caused [Herod] to honor the Essenes. There was a certain Essene whose name was Manaemus . . . . This man once saw Herod when the latter, still a boy, was on the way to his teacher's house, and addressed him as 'King of the Jews.' Herod thought he was ignorant or joking and reminded him that he was a private citizen. But Manaemus smiled gently and tapped him with his hand on the rump, saying: 'But indeed you will be king and you will rule happily, for you have been found worthy by God.[19]

Through the influence of the priest-kings of Emesa, Mithraism retained its roots in Baal worship. Essentially, the Mithraic mysteries combined the occult mystery rites originally practiced in Babylon, and adapted by the Magi, to the worship of the emperor, as a personification of their god the Sun. Through the influence of the Commagenian dynasty, this cult retained its Persian themes, but visualized its god Mithras in the physical form of Alexander the Great, their progenitor.

The ascent through the seven “palaces”, or planets, of Merkabah mysticism seems to have been introduced to the primitive mystery rites the heretical Magi, forming the Roman Mysteries of Mithras, spread far and wide by the Roman soldiers, and through Mithraism, to the other schools of Hellenistic mysticism. Ezekiel’s vision held striking similarities to the Mithraic image of the Leontocephalus, as well as to the Orphic Phanes.

According to the Orphic Theogonies, Phanes, identified with Kronos, or Time, and equated with Saturn, is described as “a serpent having heads growing upon him of a bull and a lion, and in the middle the face of a god; and he has also wings upon his shoulders, and is called ageless Time, and Herakles the same.” In Orpheus and Greek Religion, W.K.C. Guthrie remarked that, “the depicting of ageless Time himself in this form shows correspondences with Oriental, and in particular with Persian religion, which are too detailed and exact to be passed over.”[20]

Much like the “creatures” that support the chariot in Ezekiel, the Leontocephalus is usually depicted as a lion-headed youth, covered in Zodiac signs, with two sets of wings, the feet of a goat, and coiled by a serpent. The Leontocephalus was depicted standing on a globe, on which there are two circles intersecting each other, the “wheel inside a wheel”, which Celsus explained, “is a symbol of the two orbits in heaven, the one being that of the fixed stars and the other that assigned to the planets.”

Ultimately, reserved for the highest-ranking members, and representing the ultimate mystery, the Leontocephalus was equated with Mithras, Phanes and Ahriman, the Zoroastrian devil, all as one god. Macrobius recorded that, according to Orpheus: “one Zeus, one Hades [Greek god of the Underworld], one Sun, one Dionysus.”[21] The Leontocephalus has also been identified with Saturn. In Armenian texts Saturn is called Zurvan[22], and according to Ptolemy, the people of Persia and Mesopotamia “worship the star of Aphrodite [Venus], naming it Isis, and the star of Kronos [Saturn] as Mithras Helios.”[23] Saturn, known as the nocturnal Sun, and “Pluto”, Porphyry explained, “is the Sun going beneath the earth and voyaging round the invisible world…”

Footnotes:

[1] Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism
[2] Zoroastrians and Judaism.
[3] James Allen Dow, “Mithridates I `Ctistes' (King) of ARMENIA”,
[4] The Mysteries of Mithra
[5]Antiochus I of Commagene”, Wikipedia.
[6] Farvardyn. Mithraism.
[7] Pseudo-Callisthenes, History of Greece, II. 14
[8]Ashkenazi Jews”, Wikipedia.
[9]Caligula”, Wikipedia.
[10] ibid.
[11] Dio Cassius 63.5.2
[12] Natural History, 30.1.6
[13] Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chap IX: 3.
[14] Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithras, p. 47.
[15] Beck, Roger, “The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of their Genesis”, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. LXXXVIII, (1998), p. 122.
[16] ibid.
[17] Oriental Religions, p. 189
[18] Szekely. The Essenes by Josephus and his Contemporaries, p. 36
[19] Antiquities of the Jews 15, 371-9
[20] Orpheus and Greek Religion, p. 86
[21] Saturnalia, Book I, 18
[22] van der Waerden, Science Awakening II, p. 194.
[23] Tetrabiblos 2.2.64, quoted from Beck, Planetary Gods, p. 86.
[24] Beck, Planetary Gods, p. 89.