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Sourcebooks: ancient texts

A sourcebook is a collection of primary documents, in our case a book with excerpts from ancient authors who wrote about Pagan religion and early Christianity. The advantage of a sourcebook is you don't have to trust a secondary writer to give you the straight skinny, you get the facts firsthand.


Documents For The Study Of The Gospels
David Cartlidge, editor

What you'll find:

A sourcebook. Original documents with little commentary. Read the facts yourself. Decide for yourself.

Extended quotations from ancient pagan authors chosen to illustrate Pagan-Christian parallels.

SEE!   the healing miracles of Asclepius.
SEE!   Dionysus turns water into wine.
SEE!   1st century AD Pagan miracle worker in Syria heal the sick by casting out daemons.
SEE!   the divine births of Plato, Alexander, Augustus.
SEE!   Pagan Martyrdoms, Pagan ascensions, Pagan sacraments.

Extended quotations from non-proto-orthodox early Christian authors illustrating the diversity of earliest Christianity

Extended quotations from early proto-orthodox Christian authors confirming Pagan-Christian parallels.

Think of this as POCM's blue boxes in a book, without Greg's annoying commentary.
(This is not where POCM got it's blue box stuff, but it could have been, if I'd found this book 10 years earlier. Shit.)

Highly recommended.


The Golden Ass
or The Metamorphosis
by Apuleius

The ancients had novels (who knew?!), and this is one of them.  And, believe it or not, it's a fun read, lighthearted, funny, and well written. The story moves.  For the boys: it even has explicit sex. Amazing.  Who knew?!

The story is about Lucius' adventures after he gets turned into a donkey.  The first ten chapters are just fun, not related to the Pagan origins.

Chapter eleven is about Lucius in Egypt, and his study and initiation into the mysteries of Isis and Osiris (he's a man again by this point).  For the ancients these mysteries were sacred secrets—believers would and did die rather than reveal them.  Apuleius' novel is the only surviving text that comes close to describing the mystery initiation ceremony.  Apuleius also says initiation brought salvation:

"The keys of hell and the guarantee of salvation were in the hands of the goddess, and the initiation ceremony itself a kind of voluntary death and salvation through divine grace."

And the good thing is, you don't have to believe me, you can read it for yourself.


The Error of the Pagan Religions
by Firmicus Maternus

What you'll find:

A fourth century Christian convert's vitriolic attach on Pagan religion, important mainly because it describes aspects of Pagan religion that have not otherwise survived.

Firmicus was a rich Roman Pagan who converted to Christianity some time in the fourth century AD, after which he wrote this book telling everyone how vile and ridiculous Pagan religions were.



The Egyptian Book of the Dead
Raymond Faulkner, et. al., translators

This is the original text of a famous and revealing collection of ancient spells the Egyptians put in tombs along with the dead guy. The idea was for the dead guy to use the power of the magic spells as a guide and tool in the complicated Egyptian afterlife.

Yes I know that sounds sounds silly, but the book tells us a lot about Egyptian religion—including the Egyptian savior Gods Ra and Osiris.

The famous Chapter 125 describes Osiris' believers standing before Osiris after death, to be judged according to the life they lead, seeing if they would to make it into Egyptian Heaven or end up suffering in Egyptian Hell.



Isis and Osiris
in Moralia V
Loeb Classical Library #306

by Plutarch

This is the same Plutarch who wrote Plutarch's Lives.  Like Solon, Plato and Pythagoras before him, when he wasn't biographying Plutarch traveled to Egypt and studied the mysteries of Isis and Osiris—probably even got initiated (though he doesn't say for sure).

Isis and Osiris, at just over 90 pages, is modern scholarship's main source for the goodies on one of the ancient world's big name Pagan religions. 

This Loeb translation is pretty easy to read. And fun. You'll discover "accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification and regenesis" [Isis and Osiris, 365]—His death and resurrection!  


Be careful, there are a bunch of P's Moralias in print at Loeb and elsewhere. For Isis and Osiris, you want number V, which is Loeb #306.

And the good thing is, you don't have to believe me, you can read it for yourself.


Ancient Near East, Volume 1:
An Anthology of Texts and Pictures
Edited by James Pritchard

The Ancient Near East, Volume II)
A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Paperback)
Edited by James Pritchard

Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. With Supplement
Edited by James Bennett

Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement
Edited by James Bennett Pritchard ISBN: 0-691-03503-2

What you'll find:

Egyptian, Syrian, Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian texts relevant to our Old Testament -- because of the clear parallels.

Primary evidence, with marginal notations referring you to the verses in the Bible that later expressed the same ideas.

A famous scholarly work, accessible to laymen.


The Nature of the Gods
by Cicero

A readable roundup of ancient ideas about God. If you're like me, you'll be surprised to learn:

1. The ancients could write anything fun to read.

2. Ancient "philosophies" were really religions




On the Soul
by Aristotle

 Christianity didn't invent the human soul. Hear are details from the 4th century BC.






The Works and Days
The Shield of Herakles

by Hesiod

No more tedious than, say, being locked in a prison cell. Tied down, blindfolded. With water dripping on your head.

But a very important record, from maybe the 8th century BC, of the archaic Greek religion. Often quoted by ancient writers and modern scholars.

Fortunately it's short and easy to skim.






Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism
translated and edited by Mary Boyce
Emeritus Professor of Iranian Studies, University of London

What you'll find:
A selection of the Zoroastrian sacred texts

Resurrection of the dead from the people who invented resurrection of the dead.




Magika Heira [Sacred magic]
Ancient Greek Magic & Religion
by Christopher Faraone and Dirk Obbink, editors

What you'll find:

Primary ancient evidence—archaeology, inscriptions, and texts— detailing the overlap of magic with Greek religion

Chapters include, among others:
Incantations and Prayers for Salvation on Inscribed Greek Amulets
Dreams and Divination in Magical Ritual
Prayer in Magical and Religious Ritual
Magic and Mystery in the Greek Magical Papyri

Poindexter heaven.



Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History
Complete and Unabridged

translated by C. F. Cruse

What you'll find:

the first official history of the Christian Church, written in the fourth century AD



Celsus On the True Doctrine
A Discourse Against the Christians
translated by R. Joseph Hoffman

What you'll find:

A second century Pagan's opinion of Christianity


Celsus was a Pagan. In the second century AD he wrote a book pointing out flaws in Christianity. Of course Celsus points up the same contradictions and illogicalities in the Christian myth that people point up today. Ignore those. They aren't the point.

The point is the things Celsus doesn't complain about—the things he takes for granted because they're part of his Pagan culture and his Pagan religion. Celsus doesn't attack Christians for believing in God, or in a godman, for the idea of a human soul, for Heaven or Hell or prayer or salvation or eternal life, etc., etc.

Pay attention, while you read, to all the Pagan things in Christianity that Celsus doesn't attack—your ideas about Christianity will change forever. Wow. Highly recommended.

The original version of On the True Doctrine was written in the second century AD by a Pagan guy named Celsus. The Christains burned it; no copies sruvive. So where does this book come from? In the third century one of the Church Fathers, a fellow named Origen, wrote a long rebuttal (he called it Against Celsus) that quoted Celsus idea by idea and often word for word. Against Celsus does survive. This book uses it's long quotes to reconstruct Celsus' book. Is it perfect? No. Is it pretty good? Yes.


Porphyry's Against the Christians
The Literary Remains

by R. Joseph Hoffmann, translator & editor

What you'll find:

the most famous—and effective—early Pagan criticism of Christianity

Porphyry if Tyre was a third century (c 232 - 305 AD) Pagan scholar. His Kata Christianon (Against the Christians), an ass-kicking look at the illogic of early Christianity, was widely read and eventually (448 BC) burned by the church. Unlike Celsus' critique, most of which survives in Origins refutation, Porphyry's work was so feared that even its refutations were burned. It survives only in "fragments," and of course people argue about which fragments are real and which aren't.


1 Enoch
by George Nickelsburg, and James Vanderkam

What you'll find:

Primary evidence: A hot shot in the field translates and comments on the ancient Jewish text called First Enoch

Enoch is a Jewish godman based on mythic elaboration of old Jewish legends.

SEE! the Jewish godman Enoch called the Son of Man, the Chosen One

SEE! the godman Enoch fly up to heaven and back.

Enoch is a Jewish hero who gets just a line or two in our Old Testament. In intertestamental Judaism his legend was puffed up with new myths that sound right familiar to folks who've read the Bible.

Adds plausibility to the theory that the Jesus stories are mythic elaborations of old Jewish legends (Isaiah).

The New Complete Works of Josephus
translated by William Whiston

What you'll find:

the writings of the 1st century AD Jewish soldier and Quisling Josephus

Jewish Antiquities
The Jewish War
Against Apion

Two brief mentions of Christ—both disputed.


Old Testament Parallels
Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East
by Victor Matthews & Don Benjamin

What you'll find:

350 pages of ancient Near Eastern texts whose myths parallel and precede our bible's Old Testament stories.

There are lots of books like this to choose from. This is one of the clearest, most readable, and most comprehensive.

Highly recommended.



Martyrdom and Noble Death
Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Antiquity
by Jan van Henten and Friedrich Avamarie

What you'll find:

Ancient Pagan, Jewish and Christian texts about the Pagan idea of the noble death, which entered Christianity as martyrdom.