Herodotus - The Histories


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Potential relevant info for the exploration of apossible wider cultural context in religious belief systems of the time:

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HERODOTUS - The Histories

(can be found online at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/herodotus/ )

Bk 2 sections 36 and 37 - mention of the Egyptians practising circumcision.

They are the only people in the world- they at least, and such as have learnt the practice from them - who use circumcision.

They practise circumcision for the sake of cleanliness, considering it better to be cleanly than comely.

Bk 2 - 41 - They also abstain from beef and utensils having touched

The male kine, therefore, if clean, and the male calves, are used for sacrifice by the Egyptians universally; but the females they are not allowed to sacrifice, since they are sacred to Isis. The statue of this goddess has the form of a woman but with horns like a cow, resembling thus the Greek representations of Io; and the Egyptians, one and all, venerate cows much more highly than any other animal. This is the reason why no native of Egypt, whether man or woman, will give a Greek a kiss, or use the knife of a Greek, or his spit, or his cauldron, or taste the flesh of an ox, known to be pure, if it has been cut with a Greek knife. When kine die, the following is the manner of their sepulture:- The females are thrown into the river; the males are buried in the suburbs of the towns, with one or both of their horns appearing above the surface of the ground to mark the place. When the bodies are decayed, a boat comes, at an appointed time, from the island called Prosopitis, - which is a portion of the Delta, nine schoenes in circumference, - and calls at the several cities in turn to collect the bones of the oxen. Prosopitis is a district containing several cities; the name of that from which the boats come is Atarbechis. Venus has a temple there of much sanctity. Great numbers of men go forth from this city and proceed to the other towns, where they dig up the bones, which they take away with them and bury together in one place. The same practice prevails with respect to the interment of all other cattle - the law so determining; they do not slaughter any of them.

Bk 2 - 45 - Samson/ Hercules comparison

The Greeks tell many tales without due investigation, and among them the following silly fable respecting Hercules:- "Hercules," they say, "went once to Egypt, and there the inhabitants took him, and putting a chaplet on his head, led him out in solemn procession, intending to offer him a sacrifice to Jupiter. For a while he submitted quietly; but when they led him up to the altar and began the ceremonies, he put forth his strength and slew them all." Now to me it seems that such a story proves the Greeks to be utterly ignorant of the character and customs of the people. The Egyptians do not think it allowable even to sacrifice cattle, excepting sheep, and the male kine and calves, provided they be pure, and also geese. How, then, can it be believed that they would sacrifice men? And again, how would it have been possible for Hercules alone, and, as they confess, a mere mortal, to destroy so many thousands? In saying thus much concerning these matters, may I incur no displeasure either of god or hero!

Bk 2 - 46 - Goat worship! Scapegoat, ie, Satanic, worship?

I mentioned above that some of the Egyptians abstain from sacrificing goats, either male or female. The reason is the following:- These Egyptians, who are the Mendesians, consider Pan to be one of the eight gods who existed before the twelve, and Pan is represented in Egypt by the painters and the sculptors, just as he is in Greece, with the face and legs of a goat. They do not, however, believe this to be his shape, or consider him in any respect unlike the other gods; but they represent him thus for a reason which I prefer not to relate. The Mendesians hold all goats in veneration, but the male more than the female, giving the goatherds of the males especial honour. One is venerated more highly than all the rest, and when he dies there is a great mourning throughout all the Mendesian canton. In Egyptian, the goat and Pan are both called Mendes.

Bk 2 - 47 - Pigs as unclean. But! They have a special veneration in the Isis Osiris cult (reason not given). Dionysios as Osiris and originally from Egypt - pig and phallus association (fertility)

The pig is regarded among them as an unclean animal, so much so that if a man in passing accidentally touch a pig, he instantly hurries to the river, and plunges in with all his clothes on. Hence, too, the swineherds, notwithstanding that they are of pure Egyptian blood, are forbidden to enter into any of the temples, which are open to all other Egyptians; and further, no one will give his daughter in marriage to a swineherd, or take a wife from among them, so that the swineherds are forced to intermarry among themselves. They do not offer swine in sacrifice to any of their gods, excepting Bacchus and the Moon, whom they honour in this way at the same time, sacrificing pigs to both of them at the same full moon, and afterwards eating of the flesh. There is a reason alleged by them for their detestation of swine at all other seasons, and their use of them at this festival, with which I am well acquainted, but which I do not think it proper to mention. The following is the mode in which they sacrifice the swine to the Moon:- As soon as the victim is slain, the tip of the tail, the spleen, and the caul are put together, and having been covered with all the fat that has been found in the animal's belly, are straightway burnt. The remainder of the flesh is eaten on the same day that the sacrifice is offered, which is the day of the full moon: at any other time they would not so much as taste it. The poorer sort, who cannot afford live pigs, form pigs of dough, which they bake and offer in sacrifice.

Bk 2 - 104 - Comments on Ancient Egyptians and circumcision (the Colchians are held to be the progenitors of the Medes)

There can be no doubt that the Colchians are an Egyptian race. Before I heard any mention of the fact from others, I had remarked it myself. After the thought had struck me, I made inquiries on the subject both in Colchis and in Egypt, and I found that the Colchians had a more distinct recollection of the Egyptians, than the Egyptians had of them. Still the Egyptians said that they believed the Colchians to be descended from the army of Sesostris. My own conjectures were founded, first, on the fact that they are black-skinned and have woolly hair, which certainly amounts to but little, since several other nations are so too; but further and more especially, on the circumstance that the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians, are the only nations who have practised circumcision from the earliest times. The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine themselves confess that they learnt the custom of the Egyptians; and the Syrians who dwell about the rivers Thermodon and Parthenius, as well as their neighbours the Macronians, say that they have recently adopted it from the Colchians. Now these are the only nations who use circumcision, and it is plain that they all imitate herein the Egyptians. With respect to the Ethiopians, indeed, I cannot decide whether they learnt the practice of the Egyptians, or the Egyptians of them - it is undoubtedly of very ancient date in Ethiopia - but that the others derived their knowledge of it from Egypt is clear to me from the fact that the Phoenicians, when they come to have commerce with the Greeks, cease to follow the Egyptians in this custom, and allow their children to remain uncircumcised.

Bk 2 - 123 - Ancient Egyptians believe in Reincarnation:

They were also the first to broach the opinion that the soul of man is immortal and that, when the body dies, it enters into the form of an animal which is born at the moment, thence passing on from one animal into another, until it has circled through the forms of all the creatures which tenant the earth, the water, and the air, after which it enters again into a human frame, and is born anew. The whole period of the transmigration is (they say) three thousand years. There are Greek writers, some of an earlier, some of a later date, who have borrowed this doctrine from the Egyptians, and put it forward as their own. I could mention their names, but I abstain from doing so.

Bk 7 - 204 - Herpdotus quotes Leonideas of Sparta (famous for his doomed defence of Thermopolae with 4oo Spartans and 15,ooo allies, before the might of Xerxes combined Persian armies).

Now Leonidas was the son of Anaxandridas, who was the son of Leo, who was the son of Eurycratidas, who was the son of Anaxander, who was the son of Eurycrates, who was the son of Polydorus, who was the son of Alcamenes, who was the son of Telecles, who was the son of Archelaus, who was the son of Agesilaus, who was the son of Doryssus, who was the son of Labotas, who was the son of Echestratus, who was the son of Agis, who was the son of Eurysthenes, who was the son of Aristodemus, who was the son of Aristomachus, who was the son of Cleodaeus, who was the son of Hyllus, who was the son of Hercules.

Bk 8 - 131 - Spartans tracing descendents to Hercules

This Leotychides, who was both general and admiral, was the son of Menares, the son of Agesilaus, the son of Hippocratides, the son of Leotychides, the son of Anaxilaus, the son of Archidamus, the son of Anaxandrides, the son of Theopompus, the son of Nicander, the son of Charillus, the son of Eunomus, the son of Polydectes, the son of Prytanis, the son of Euryphon, the son of Procles, the son of Aristodemus, the son of Aristomachus, the son of Cleodaeus, the son of Hyllus, the son of Hercules. He belonged to the younger branch of the royal house. All his ancestors, except the two next in the above list to himself, had been kings of Sparta.

Book 9 - 139 - Any similarity to the story of John the Baptist?

After a while the thing was discovered in the way which I will now relate. Amestris, the wife of Xerxes, had woven with her own hands a long robe, of many colours, and very curious, which she presented to her husband as a gift. Xerxes, who was greatly pleased with it, forthwith put it on; and went in it to visit Artaynta, who happened likewise on this day to please him greatly. He therefore bade her ask him whatever boon she liked, and promised that, whatever it was, he would assuredly grant her request. Then Artaynta, who was doomed to suffer calamity together with her whole house, said to him - "Wilt thou indeed give me whatever I like to ask?" So the king, suspecting nothing less than that her choice would fall where it did, pledged his word, and swore to her. She then, as soon as she heard his oath, asked boldly for the robe. Hereupon Xerxes tried all possible means to avoid the gift; not that he grudged to give it, but because he dreaded Amestris, who already suspected, and would now, he feared, detect his love. So he offered her cities instead, and heaps of gold, and an army which should obey no other leader. (The last of these is a thoroughly Persian gift.) But, as nothing could prevail on Artaynta to change her mind, at the last he gave her the robe. Then Artaynta was very greatly rejoiced, and she often wore the garment and was proud of it.
The reason I thought the Herodutus references posted were interesting was because of their possible links and relevance to Judaism.

The points about circumcision, and abstaining from beef and utensils used to cook it, sound terribly Jewish (okay, it should be pork, but there's definite Kosher methodology in there).

the Hercules/Samson parallel should speak for itself, and the notion of "scapegoat" and pigs being unclean are also heavily linked to Judaism.

When I originally read Herodotus those sections jumped out so much that I made notes. I originally wondered if the Jews had been a derivative sect from Egypt (a tenuous hypothesis, but I couldn't see the Egyptians copying "backwater" Judeans).

However, after posting them up I wonder if Herodutus instead spoke to Jews in Egypt and generalised far too much of their own religious identity across non-Jewish Egyptian culture. Perhaps he was even travelling in parts of Egyptian controlled Judea - though I'd have to check to see whether this was recorded as being so for the time period in question.

It's also interesting to note that he claims that the people of Colchis were the first Egyptians - how would this link referring to Herodotus to the Jews? Obviously, we know him now to be wrong in parts, but the Judaism connection seemed worth highlighting for further study and possibly discussion.

The other points were mainly just interesting - especially the idea of Egyptians subscribing to reincarnation.

The last section was interesting because this is the same methodology reported as used to snare the execution of John the Baptist. I wondered if perhaps the Gospel account had therefore mined this, or else whether women of the ancient world were often using this tactic. ;)