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Mithras: Kult und Mysterium, by Manfred Clauss

Reviewed by Roger Beck

Although not explicitly identified as such, Clauss’s Mithras is a revised edition of his book of the same title, originally published by C. H. Beck in 1990. Accordingly, this review will concentrate on Clauss’s coverage of the new material, both archaeological and scholarly, available to him over the intervening twenty-two years. The question of changes in Clauss’s own approach is quickly answered. His methods and interpretations remain the same.

As before, Clauss’s Mithras is the one indispensable general study of this Roman mystery cult. After an introduction to the god himself and to the religious scene of the Roman empire into which he migrated from the East, Clauss presents in order the cult’s spread in time and space; its membership; its sacred space (the “cave” or mithraeum, as we now call it) and its furnishings; the cult-myth and its representation on the monuments (Mithras’s birth from the rock, the so-called “water miracle,” Mithras’s pursuit and sacrifice of the bull); festivals (initiation, the cult meal which replicates in some way a banquet shared by Mithras and Sol on the hide of the bull); cult pottery and other utensils; the seven grades of initiation, which Clauss treats as a priestly hierarchy; Mithras as “helper” and the cult’s moral teachings; Mithras and other gods, in particular Sol and the cult’s own god of time (normally represented as lion-headed, snake- encircled, and winged); finally, Mithraism and Christianity and the end of the cult. There are useful new regional maps and an updating of the inventory of Mithraists which Clauss compiled in his (again, indispensable) Cultores Mithrae: Die Anhängerschaft des Mithras-Kultes (Stuttgart 1992).

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