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Pagan Regeneration: A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World [Paperback]

By Harold R. Willoughby (Author)
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Item description for Pagan Regeneration: A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World by Harold R. Willoughby...

Contents: pagan piety in the Graeco-Roman world; greater mysteries at Eleusis; Dionysian excesses; Orphic reform; regenerative rites of the great mother; death & rebirth in Mithraism; Isiac initiation; new birth experience in Hermeticism; mysticism of Philo; social significance of mystery initiation.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Pages   307
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.51" Width: 5.76" Height: 0.7"
Weight:   0.86 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2008
Publisher   Wipf & Stock Publishers
ISBN  1556357648  
ISBN13  9781556357640  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Ancient
2Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Rome
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History

Reviews - What do customers think about Pagan Regeneration: A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World?

An Objectivist Guide to the Mystery Religions  May 1, 2005
In an era when subjectivism has swept through the study of the humanities and social sciences, reinterpreting the past with the specific aim of influencing the present, the reprinting of Willoughby's often overlooked 1929 masterpiece represents an act of real integrity and courage on the part of the publisher. Today, Elaine Pagels and a host of other revisionist scholars and writers, mostly from Ivy League schools, raise the late second- and early third-century a.d. cult of Gnosticism to a place of historical pre-eminence over primitive Christianity. In doing so, they are attempting to convert this late-developing post-Christian cult into the true historical Christianity. The republication of Willoughby's important 1929 work from the University of Chicago, however, from an era when historical thinking was objective and not subjective, provides modern researchers with a classical historical distillation of precisely those religions which probably did, in a profound way, influence the form that Christianity adopted in the classical world.

That is to say, Christianity came out of Judaism, a communitarian religion based on the three factors of national identity, adherence to an ancient monotheistic law code, and strict observance of both public and private sacrificial rites. Yet Christianity came into the world almost from the start as a religion of personal salvation and spiritual transformation. The proper antecedents to this aspect of Christianity are to be found outside of Judaism in the Greco-Roman mystery religions, which provided the hope of spiritual and moral transformation through secret rites--i.e., mysteries--which brought an inductee into direct union with the deity.

Using classical historical methodology during a period at which American universities such as the University of Chicago were rising to world-class stature, Willoughy writes a profound exposé of these religions. In doing so he relies heavily on a wide variety of ancient primary sources. His work thus reveals what can be known of the mysteries and secret rites of these ancient religions--probably the first historical religions of personal salvation--from all manner of classical texts, including court testimony.

For instance, Willoughby recounts a special court case that reveals 1) the extent to which the knowledge of the external aspects of the mysteries were know in the wider culture, and 2) the seriousness with which the laws of the mysteries were taken in official Roman jurisprudence. In this case, Willoughby notes that a death sentence befell any member of the Eleusynian mysteries (the cult of the ancient Greek Goddess of the harvest, Demeter) who revealed the contents of the mysteries. Here, Caesar Augustus, himself an inductee into the Eleusynian mysteries, on hearing a case of murder in the context of one of the Eleusynian initiations, dismissed all others from the courtroom and took the testimony himself from the witnesses. Such vignettes bring the reader face-to-face with the painstaking steps Willoughby has taken to bring home the reality and prevalence of the mystery religions in Greco-Roman society.

In contrast to the books written on this topic today, Pagan Regeneration is devoid of any overt or covert religious or political agenda (unlike the works of Pagels and others) and thus can be used with integrity as a work of scholarship. In addition, the book is extremely well-researched and well-written, and the student or scholar of religion can easily employ Willoughby's work as a critical source in modern historical study. No other work of this caliber has ever emerged on this subject.

Accordingly, I recommend Pagan Regeneration to anyone seeking an objective, textually based presentation of the Greco-Roman mystery religions. It is informative not only for the Greco-Roman world itself, but for the development of Christianity along certain lines, the origins of which are not readily apparent today. I bought my copy for $1 at a used book sale over 30 years ago. Today, I see it can be worth up to $150. At $30 or so, the reprint is a real value.

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