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Pagan Regeneration, Preface




[b. 1890 d. 1962]

Chicago., Ill., The University of Chicago Press

[1929, copyright not renewed]


IT MUST frankly be confessed that this study of mystery initiations in the Graeco-Roman world is but a prolegomenon to further research in early Christian origins. For some years the author has been fascinated by the problem of the genesis of Pauline mysticism. How did it come about that, with Judaism and primitive Christianity essentially unmystical in character, Pauline Christianity developed in a way to accentuate the mystical phases of religious experience? The writer hopes that some day circumstances will permit him to make a contribution toward the solution of this problem. In order to answer this question it is patently necessary to investigate the gentile religious milieu in which Pauline Christianity had its development.

Researches in the field of Graeco-Roman religions prove conclusively that apologists for early Christianity and even eminent classicists have been inclined to underestimate the genuineness of gentile religious interests and the extent to which religion dominated life in pagan lands when Christianity was emerging. Of the gentile cults probably the most popular in the first century, and certainly the least known and understood in the twentieth, were the so-called mystery religions. Notwithstanding the protestations of apologists there is ample evidence that in both the west and the east the mystery cults were widely disseminated and very influential before Christianity appeared on the scene. In the following pages care is taken to exhibit this evidence in relation to each of the mystery systems.

A detailed investigation of typical cult experiences further convinced the author that the central meaning of mystery initiation--the regeneration, both essential and ethical, of the individual devotee--has largely escaped the notice of even sympathetic researchers. To bring out this meaning in the terminology and thought-forms of the initiates themselves, as recorded in scattered and fragmentary remains both monumental and literary, is one of the major purposes for which these studies are published.

Additional researches in Hermetic and Philonian literature demonstrated how important this mystical type of religious experience was considered to be, not only by religio-philosophical groups but also by individual thinkers quite outside the circle of gentile cult brotherhoods. To the writer Philo's case was particularly interesting, because it illustrated the extent to which the thought and experiences of a diaspora Jew might be influenced by gentile religious practices.

An analytical investigation of the social milieu in which the mystery cults operated brought to light the fundamental character of the interests and needs met by mystery initiation. On the one hand this made intelligible the undoubted popularity of the mystery cults themselves; on the other hand it served to suggest why it was the early Christian propagandists, in order to win gentile adherents to their cult, came to place such insistent emphasis on the experience of individual regeneration.

By means of the dedicatory page the author has tried to express a gratitude and appreciation that lie too deep for words. He would also make grateful acknowledgment to Professor Shirley Jackson Case, who guided his early studies in the mystery religious, and to Professor Edgar J. Goodspeed, who gave helpful advice and encouragement. The reading of proof, the verification of references, and the preparation of the Index have been largely the work of Dr. A.D. Beittel and Mr. R.B. Brewer. Their painstaking exactness is deserving of commendation. Above all the writer would express his appreciation to a number of his own students who with patience more than Christian have endured tedious lectures about pagan mysteries.

H.R.W. Godspeed Hall The University of Chicago July 4, 1929


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