The New Testament Use Of The Greek Mysteries -- By: Augustine S. Carman

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 050:200 (Oct 1893)
Article: The New Testament Use Of The Greek Mysteries
Author: Augustine S. Carman


The New Testament Use Of The Greek Mysteries

Rev. Augustine S. Carman

THIS article proposes an inquiry into the influence of the Greek Mysteries upon the language and imagery of the New Testament. The wide-spread influence of these observances on the life of the Greek and Roman world for centuries is well understood. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most celebrated and typical, the alternation and contrast of night and day, of wintry gloom and joyous spring, the cycle of seed-sowing and harvest, the whole series of phenomena of life and death, with more or less distinct reference to the suggested deeper questions of sin and purification, of the resurrection and of the future life, were set forth in striking dramatic form, engrossing the attention for days of great concourses of people, and given under the direct authority of the state. It was inevitable that the vivid impression should reproduce itself in some form of influence as pervasive as Greek civilization itself, extending to those documents of the New Testament connected with localities where the Mysteries had greatest prevalence.

There will be presented an account of the Mysteries sufficient to indicate their characteristic ideas and terminology; instances of the reproduction of these ideas and this terminology in the literature of the ancient world apart from the New Testament will be adduced; and the New Testament itself will then be examined for instances of the same influence upon its language and imagery.

I. What Were The Mysteries?

The Greek word μυστήριον, (usually found in the plural, τὰ μυστήρια, when referring to these rites,) is derived from the verb ύω, to close, implying either the closing of the eyes or of the lips. Either sense is appropriate enough to the idea of the Mysteries, the reference being in the one case to the closing of the eyes to external sights, i.e. the shutting out of objective impressions and the heightening of subjective influences, and in the other to the closing of the lips in the profound silence which characterized the relation of the initiates to the rite itself, and in the permanent secrecy ever after imposed upon them regarding that which they had seen and heard. A study of the original verb with its cognate forms in other languages (Sanscrit mukas, dumb; Latin mutus; English mute;), and of the prominence of the idea of silence in connection with the Mysteries, induces the belief that the prominent derivative idea is that of the closing of the lips, although it is not unlikely that both ideas appear, with even the additional idea of closing the ears from ext...

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