by Hugh Bowden
Princeton University Press, 2010
available from Amazon
Hugh Bowden is senior lecturer in ancient history at King’s College, London. His beautifully illustrated book, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, is an excellent and accessible overview and introduction to the mystery cults in the ancient world that required rituals of initiation.
Among the cults covered in the book are the Eleusinian mysteries focused on Demeter and Kore (Persephone), the cult of Dionysus, the originally Egyptian cult of Isis which spread throughout the Mediterranean, and finally the cult of Mithras, a Roman cult for men only that was very popular in the Roman army.
One of the best aspects of the book is the attention paid throughout to how the cults eventually faded and were sometimes suppressed (and not only by Christian emperors) as well as the relations between the various cults with the wider population. In the process, Bowden challenges some common historical positions, such as the long-held view that, because the mystery cults preceded Christianity, and Christian rites in the early Church involved a process of initiation, ergo Christianity was directly “influenced” by the Mysteries. Bowden finds little evidence of that, and makes a good case.
An excellent and beautiful book.