Re: HELP: Paul and the greek word musterion

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Sep 24 1998 - 06:46:50 EDT

At 3:33 PM -0500 9/23/98, wrote:
>On Tue, 22 Sep 1998 23:30:37 -0500, you wrote:
>> I am currently working on a paper dealing with Paul's usage of
>>musterion(mystery) Most scholars claim it > originates with the mystery
>>religions. i am looking for sources that deal with musterion in detail.
>>Anty > suggestions friends?
>I wish I could help ~ I have wondered about that term as well.
>It shows up in John 11 with the PARA prefix, and translates commonly
>as 'console'. [PARAMUQHSONTAI if I am remembering correctly] It
>always seemed like a really big word for such a small meaning, yet if
>it connects to its roots in mystery-religion, then perhaps it is
>indicating more than just console. I have wondered if the Lazarus
>event took place in an Essenian community, and if so, would the
>Essenes qualify as a MUSTERION, and hence the alternative
>understanding of this term with PARA in John 11?
>As this is wandering off topic for b-greek, off list responses would
>be more appropriate amd greatly appreciated.

Well, I don't know whether I can head off this posse at the bridge, but I
shall try. The word you're referring to in John 11 is in verse 19, which
tells us that many 'of the Jews' had come to Martha and Mary hINA
PARAMUQHSWNTAI AUTAS PERI TOU ADELFOU: it's an aorist subjunctive in a
purpose clause, and the verb, which basically means "talk away," certainly
does mean "console" here. PARAMUQEOMAI is indeed a compound of PARA and the
noun base MUQOS, "talk," "speech." But there is no association,
etymological or otherwise, between this verb and the word MUSTHRION.

The root from which MUSTHRION derives is MUW, "wink," or "close and open
the eyes." We are told that the initiates at the Eleusinia entered the hall
for the final stage of their initiation, the EPOPTEIA ('looking upon') in
darkness and sat down, and at the right moment a torch or lamp was lit to
reveal whatever it was that the initiates saw (while there's much
speculation about what this was, it's all speculation as this is the
best-kept secret of antiquity, one which it was forbidden to reveal). The
theme then, is "light out of darkness," or the sudden coming of a beatific
vision. The initiate is called a MUSTHS (1st decl m.noun) and MUSTHRION is
a place for this consummation of initiation or applied, esp. in the plural
MUSTHRIA, to the rites of initiation. There came to be other initiatory
rites in the Greek-speaking world, of course, but this is the oldest and
most venerable one, and it is generally thought to be the ultimate source
for the language associated with initiation. Of course the Pauline usage is
distinct in the sense of a secret truth that is made known at the right
KAIROS to those to whom it is granted the privilege of its revelation.

In this instance, even if one is properly warned against reading too much
out of etymology in general, etymology seems to be genuinely helpful; my
primary intent here is to scotch the notion that there's any relationship
between the word MUSTHRION and the verb PARAMUQEOMAI.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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