I have three items for my write-up today on Helmut Koester's History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age.
On page 156, Koester says that "The old Greek religion was a religion
of city gods", in which gods were the patrons of cities. He says on
pages 164-165 that "None of these cults would ever claim to be a world
religion since the belief that deities were bound to particular holy
places was still very much alive." But Koester narrates that people
moved around and economics, politics, and science became increasingly
universal, and so people were becoming dissatisfied with local deities.
While Koester notes that Hellenistic kingdoms "used the ancient city
cults in the service of their more universal policies", he goes on to
say that "this did not result in a new understanding of the gods as
universal deities" (page 157). But, according to Koester, philosophy
brought about more of a concept of a universal religion. And, within
Stoicism, the naming of the planets coincided with this move towards
universalism. Koester states that "Zeus, once the ruler on
Mount Olympus, was transformed into the planet 'Jupiter,' the radiant
lord of heaven, as soon as he was identified with the Babylonian healer
god Marduk and rediscovered as the brightest planet" (pages 157-158).
are things about this scenario that puzzle me. Did the old Greek
religion seriously believe that (say) Zeus was confined to a city?
Koester talks about mystery cults. He believes that their concepts go
back to Hellenistic times, and he appears also to think that Paul echoes
them in his emphasis on being united with Christ and gaining eternal
life, or a new life of service to the deity. At the same time, Koester
notes differences between the Egyptian myth of Osiris and Christianity.
In Christianity, Jesus dies and rises again, whereas it is not said in
the myth of Osiris that Osiris was resurrected, but Osiris after his
death goes to the realm of the dead to rule, while his son takes charge
of this world.
According to Koester, many turned to
mystery religions to escape becoming "unconscious shadows after death",
but the problem was that only the few who could afford to be initiated
into the mystery could attain that. Koester states that Christianity
essentially democratized this hope, making it available to people
without financial cost.
Koester makes interesting points about the goddess Isis. For
one, he says that the woman in Revelation 12 resembles Isis, which
stood out to me, as one who was raised in a denomination that tried to
disassociate from the "pagan" elements of the "world's" Christianity.
Second, according to Koester on page 189, Isis in Apuleius'
Metamorphoses 11.5.1-3 is treated as the "one and only god" and "ruler
of the the universe" (Koester's words). As I look at the
passage itself, there seems to be therein an acknowledgement that other
gods exist, but there's also an affirmation that Isis is "The single
form that fuses all gods and goddesses" (the passage's words).
I know Christians who really wrestle to understand the difference
between the soul and the spirit in the New Testament. To be honest, I
do not entirely know what the difference is, but the topic was touched
upon in my latest reading of Koester's book. On page 143, Koester says
"It was possibly also [the Stoic philosopher]
Posidonius who developed the trichotomic anthropology which later became
widely disseminated: the human spirit has its origin in the sun, but from the intermediate world (the moon) it receives the soul which animates and maintains the body
provided by the sublunar world. At the point of death, the whole
process is reversed; once the spirit has freed itself from the soul, it
returns to its solar origin. These concepts, once introduced into Stoic
philosophy, reappear among later Stoic and other philosophers,
including the Romans Cicero and Seneca..."
I wonder what the spirit was believed to provide, that the soul did not.
(UPDATE: I read somewhere, but I forget where, that the soul was thought to animate the body, whereas the spirit gave the person intelligence. But I should be crisper on this, for there were also people in the ancient world who believed there was a rational part of the soul, indicating they thought that the soul related to intelligence.)
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