Christmas Day is nearly upon us and I was going to take the week off writing for this blog until an idea for one or two posts occurred to me. And as all writers know, when an idea comes, one has to write it down.
Last week, I read Walter M. Ellis’s book Ptolemy of Egypt. In it, he describes how Ptolemy I created a new cult that would bring his Greek and Egyptian subjects together. Enter Sarapis.
Was it a strictly a cynical move to push Egyptian propaganda throughout the Mediterranean, or is it possible that Ptolemy experienced some sort of genuine conversion?
(Ellis Ptolemy of Egypt p 30)
We’ll never know for sure but given how politically savvy Ptolemy was I agree with Ellis that the former reason is more likely to be the true one.
Sarapis did not enter Egyptian life alone. He came with Isis – his sister-wife.
Ellis states that,
[Isis] is all-woman. She is mother, maiden, whore and virgin, wife and mother, all-knowing and all-forgiving. She is Athena, Hera, Artemis, Demeter, Aphrodite, Persephone, and Hecate.
She became all things to all men, and her worship spread all around the Mediterranean. Five centuries later Isis remained the primary competitor to Christianity for the minds and souls of the men and women of the Roman empire.
(Ibid p. 36)
At first sight, I find it hard to imagine what Isis and Christianity have in common but as I think about it a little more, Isis starts to remind me of two people in particular – the two who are at the heart of our celebrations this Wednesday: Mary and Jesus.
Isis is not an exact prototype – no one calls Mary a whore and Jesus is not all-forgiving if by that we mean He automatically forgives everyone who does anything wrong, but there is more than enough of them in her to make me now see why she provided such strong competition for the loyalty of Men’s souls.