Nearly a decade ago, Tom Harpur published The Pagan Christ. He proposed that the Christian approach to pushing a literal interpretation of the Bible is not only unsupported by historical documentation, it is divisive and limiting to our growth as a spiritual community. Around the same time, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy published The Jesus Mysteries, with similar provoking ideas and questions.
"What if there were absolutely no evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus? What if for thousands of years Pagans had also followed a Son of God? What if this Pagan saviour was also born of a virgin on the 25th of December before three shepherds, turned water into wine at a wedding, died and resurrected at Easter, and offered his body and blood as a Holy Communion? What if these Pagan myths had been rewritten as the gospel of Jesus Christ? What if the earliest Gnostic Christians knew that the Jesus story was a myth?What if Christianity turned out to be a continuation of Paganism by another name?" - Timothy Freke
Freke and Gandy provide a substantive body of evidence to suggest "The traditional history of Christianity is hopelessly inadequate to the facts. From our research into ancient spirituality it has become obvious that we must fundamentally revise our understanding of Christian origins in the most shocking of ways. Our conclusion, supported by a considerable body of evidence in our book, The Jesus Mysteries, is that Christianity was not a new revelation. It was a continuation of Paganism by another name. The gospel story of Jesus is not the biography of an historical Messiah. It is a Jewish reworking of ancient Pagan myths of the dying and resurrecting Godman Osiris-Dionysus, which had been popular for centuries throughout the ancient Mediterranean."
They overview that the myth of the Godman has been around for centuries before the Christian myth moved the teaching myth from allegory to being presented as historical fact. "The stories told about Osiris-Dionysus will no doubt sound familiar. He is the Son of God who is born to a virgin on the 25th of December before three shepherds. He is a prophet who offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism. He is a wonder-worker who raises the dead and miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony. He is God incarnate who dies at Easter, sometimes through crucifixion, but who resurrects on the third day. He is a saviour who offers his followers redemption through partaking in a meal of bread and wine, symbolic of his body and blood. The Jesus story is a synthesis of the Jewish myth of the Messiah Joshua (in Greek Jesus) with these Pagan myths of the dying and resurrecting Godman." - Freke and Gandy
They suggest that Gnosticism was the predecessor to Christianity, and that in this system, myth and allegory were often used as teaching tools. It was not expected or assumed that these stories were historical fact. They were simply tools for moving through levels of spiritual initiation; the abstract spiritual truths underlying the story were uncovered as the spiritual student was capable of understanding the deeper lesson.
Freke and Gandy believe that first century Jewish mystics adapted the potent symbolism of the Osiris-Dionysus myths into a myth of their own, the hero of which was the Jewish dying and resurrecting Godman Jesus. Therefore, the story of Jesus is a consciously crafted vehicle for encoded spiritual teachings created by Jewish Gnostics. The Romans either misunderstood or consciously saw a mechanism to control the population by building dogmas and literalist interpretations of the gospels. Ongoing, the Roman Catholic Church destroyed evidence of the connection between Christianity and the pagan mysteries. And today, we find ourselves unravelling the myths. We live in a time when this does not lead to excommunication or other means of censorship meant to bury any truth but a literalist interpretation.
Easter has a long standing pagan influence. Today you can trace the direct line between most Easter traditions and pagan rites. The Romans found it easier to manage the people and resistance to new beliefs by layering literalist Christian dogma over top of existing pagan practices. The Christian High Holidays, Christmas and Easter, continue many pagan traditions. For example, Ukrainian Easter eggs are filled with symbolism of fertility, wealth, harvest, love, and abundance. When Christianity came to Ukraine, eggs incorporated crosses, and some of the pagan symbols were reimagined. The fish no longer simply represented food or spiritual seeking; now it was about the Fisherman Jesus, the fisher of men.
So, if we reject a historical and literal interpretation of the Bible, what is the gnostic way to approach Easter? Easter is a celebration of spring, of death and rebirth. It is a recognition of creative power manifesting as the old is fully released. The cycle of death and rebirth is a constant metaphor in spirituality. We must let old beliefs and issues die for new realities to manifest. "Any death is simply the soul transforming. The spirit never dies." Sidonie Bouchet
Easter then is the beautiful confirmation of our Divine nature, reflected in the cycles of nature, in our self-awareness, in all that we release to move forward, upward. Easter is the opportunity to go within, let die all the limitations of suffering, and let emerge the Divine Nature.