"The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts"

Edited by Marvin W. Meyer
$19.95 paper; 288 pages

Biblical scholars and philologists have long been aware of the "ancient mysteries" - the secretly practiced religions of the Mediterranean world - but until now, there has not been a balanced sourcebook of original texts for the study of these religions. This book fills a gap not only in the history of late antiquity and early Christianity, but also in the field of history of religions in general.

Marvin W. Meyer presents the prayers, secret ceremonies, literary works, and public celebrations of the mystery religions, from the popularly practiced, non-state-sanctioned worship of ancient Greece to the mystery religions surrounding Christianity in the Roman world of the seventh century A.D.

According to Meyer, over the course of time, Olympian luster gave way to religious experiences that spoke to the concerns of people living in an increasingly cosmopolitan ancient world. These worship services were secretly practiced by groups of adherents who chose to worship a particular deity on their own.

Unlike the official state religions, in which people were expected to make an outward show of allegiance to the local gods, the mysteries emphasized an inwardness and privacy of worship. The cults of Dionysus and Osiris are two of the well-known mystery religions of the ancient world, but because adherents of these gods no longer exist, scholars are more often intrigued by the fragments of early Christian theology and practice that have survived the centuries.

Many of these texts, including the Gnostic Gospels, both challenge fundamental tenets of Christianity and help explain some of the accepted practices. These texts of the ancient mysteries provide a factual basis for understanding how the spiritual life of Mediterranean people evolved over the millennia.

-University of Pennsylvania Press

Front page for this issue | Pennsylvania Current home page

Originally published on April 29, 1999