Thursday, November 1, 2012

Zeus; Mithraism; Heracles

I started Robert Grant's Gods and the One God.  I have three items.

1.  In my post here, I was puzzled by Helmut Koester's claim that the old Greek religion had city-gods who were not exactly considered to be universal deities.  The reason that I was puzzled was that I did not think that Zeus was believed to be confined to a city, but was rather deemed to be the supreme god.  But Grant appears to touch on this issue on page 62:

"We begin with Zeus, not Zeus the supreme father in heaven, who did not usually manifest himself to individuals, but Zeus the local deity of Stratoniceia in Caria, Zeus Panamaros.  When the city was under attack, probably in 40 B.C., flames from the temple drove the enemy away at night, and fog and rain followed the next day.  An inscription ascribes the miracle to the local Zeus."

On pages 75-76, Grant talks about how Christians wondered how many kinds of Zeus there were.  Was there actually a belief that there was more than one Zeus?  Or was there believed to be only one Zeus, who manifested himself to different regions, or whom different regions claimed as their own?  But if the supreme Zeus was not thought to manifest himself to individuals, there has to be a lower Zeus, right?  But perhaps not all held that Zeus was so transcendent that he did not manifest himself to individuals.  Maybe there was a variety of conceptions of Zeus.

2.  I talk in my post here about Koester's discussion of Mithraism.  It has been debated whether or not Mithraism influenced Christianity.  Some say that it did not because it became a prominent religion in the Roman empire after Christianity had developed, and there is also the argument that we don't know a whole lot about the mystery religions in the first place because, well, they were mysteries.  Others maintain that mystery religions could have been around and influential (on some level) when Christianity was developing.

Grant notes that there is no apparent trace of Mithraism in Rome and Pompeii prior to the second century C.E.  Then, Christian apologists mention it.  And Justin is aware of certain rituals and concepts in the mysteries----the bread and cup of water, "initiations in caves" (Grant's words), and the birth of the savior-figure from a rock.

But Justin Martyr still felt compelled to address the parallels between Christianity and pagan stories.  As Grant states on page 97: "[Justin] notes that Jesus' crucifixion is like the disasters that overwhelmed several sons of Zeus, while his birth from a virgin is like the birth of Perseus.  His healings of people who were lame and paralyzed or blind from birth, or even dead, are like what Asclepius was said to have done."  Grant cites as his source Justin's Apology 1.22.  You can read that, and Apology 1.23 (which is also relevant), hereJustin Martyr brings up the parallels between Christianity and paganism to show that Christianity's beliefs are not that odd, for paganism has some of the same ideas.  And Justin maintains that demons may have been the ones who gave pagans those ideas before Christ came to earth.

3.  On pages 68-69, Grant talks about some things that the first-second century C.E. Stoic philosopher Epictetus said about Heracles.  According to Epictetus, Heracles was deified because he tried to eradicate injustice and lawlessness.  Yet, Heracles was promiscuous and had children, whom he deserted.  Epictetus states that Heracles realized that the Father (Zeus) would take care of them.  That, in my opinion, is using God's love as an excuse to shirk one's responsibilities!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog