by Michael R. Schultheiss (posted on Amazon on September 5th, 2010)
Fantastic: Will Change Everything You Thought You Knew About the Bible
Diana Agorio's Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity is a masterful tour-de-force into the realms of ancient culture, astrology and religion, one that offers a revelation of truly Biblical proportions. Agorio's thesis is that Christianity and Judaism have their roots in the ancient cultures of West Asia (Mesopotamia, the Levant and Anatolia), Egypt, and the influence of the Greeks during the Hellenistic (the period of the successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great's Macedonian Empire). The book traces the evolution of key religious ideas and practices in the ancient world, from their Bronze Age roots through the Iron Age, the Persian Period, and the Hellenistic, illuminating how they changed and why.
The myths of the ancient world are central to this story, and Agorio brings them alive with consummate skill. The myths were represented in the star patterns of the zodiac, and priestly knowledge of the stars was an important source of their power from the days of ancient Sumer on. Just as the myths were written in the stars, so too they were dramatized in ritual, with sacred temple prostitution and drug use. In the Levant, the region of West Asia which includes Palestine, the Iron Age brought another, far more disturbing practice: child sacrifice.
The sexual practices of the ancient world come alive too: Agorio explains how the institution of the `sacred marriage' became commoditized, particularly in the Persian period, when the power of the priesthoods of West Asia was at an all-time low. Particularly shocking to modern sensibilities is the ancient practice of pedophilia, which was correlated with the rise of the storm gods and chariot warfare in the mid-second millennium BCE. Much later, Plato's idea of `Platonic love' celebrated man-boy sexual relationships--and these practices, when combined with the idea of sacred sex, exerted a seminal influence on Christianity.
Contrary to Biblical myth, the Hebrews emerged in the land of `Canaan' (Palestine) as an indigenous people, scarcely different from their other Semitic cousins in the Levant. Agorio explains that ethnic identities did not exist in West Asia until the Persian period, and West Asia as a whole was characterized by remarkable cultural similarities, with relatively minor regional differences. Like other Levantine peoples, the Iron Age Hebrews worshipped Baal Hadad and Anat/Ishtar/Astarte, the great Goddess, as well as Yahweh, a more local deity. Indeed, the myths of Baal later formed the template for the Biblical myths of Abraham. And throughout the Old Testament, the influence of the Star Chart casts a very long shadow, as Biblical heroes and prophets ranging from Moses and Joshua to Jonah prove to be modeled on `pagan' gods and heroes.
Agorio's deconstruction of the Biblical myths places the writing of most of the Old Testament solidly in the Hellenistic, a time of resurgent priestly power after the relatively secular government of the Persians. Whilst this late dating of the Biblical texts, known as `minimalism', is controversial to religionists who ardently insist on ludicrously-old dates and equally-ludicrous literal interpretations of the myths, the truth is that the literary styles and the contents of the texts themselves clearly mark them as Hellenistic.
But if Agorio's conclusions about the Old Testament seem revolutionary, her treatment of the New Testament is earth-shaking. Even readers who are familiar with the `mythicist' hypothesis that there never was a historical Jesus are in for a shock. Agorio explains that Jesus was essentially a Palestinian, Semitic version of the savior-god Adonis. Inasmuch as Jesus' story in the Gospel of Mark perfectly follows the Babylonian Star Chart, from baptism to death and resurrection, it reveals a profoundly disturbing theology of child sacrifice and ritual drug use articulated in opposition to emergent Judaism. The apostle Paul, in turn, is revealed to be another sacred-drug-user and boy-lover, and a eunuch to boot, a member of a despised and radical Roman subculture who engaged in these practices. Paul's own letters (the authentic ones) take on a whole new light: Paul, like Leviticus before him, condemned homosexual relations between freeborn adult males which were outside the confines of the `sacred marriage' practice in his cult. His supposed condemnations of homosexuality in Romans chapter 1 were in fact condemnations of "lustful" same-sex liaisons. The letter to Philemon proves to be a sordid and chilling request for Paul to keep the slave Onesimus as his personal boy-toy.
A bold challenge to entrenched religious obfuscation, Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity strips away the facades of faith to reveal the Bible's true and sordid origins. If you read no other book on the origins of Christianity and Judaism, read this one. Meet the gods who became men, and the boys who became gods. 5 stars.