Ancient world - cultural contexts

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Just some research notes:

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Gods and Myths of the Ancient World - Mary Barnett, Grange Books, ISBN 1 84013 081 4

(annoyingly, no text references)

Man made from clay figures:

p. 153 - reference made to the Titan, Prometheus, making the first men out of clay figures, into which Athena breathed life. The first woman was much later made by Hephaestus, and she was called Pandora. She was supposed to have, despite warnings, opened a jar given by the gods, and thus released all the evils and illnesses of the world upon mankind.

[rem! Greeks learned their alphabet by corrupting the Phoenicians, who had their bases in Palestine, especially Tyre (the silver pennies of Tyre were the required offering in the Temple of Jerusalem by Jesus’ day). This story may have spread to Greece via the Phoenicians, who would have been aware of Jewish lore. Alternatively, the Jews may have taken the story into Genesis from a previous source - perhaps the Phoenicians themselves, who may even have carried it from one of the myriad of cultures they were involved with? Either way, imagine how accessible the fall story in Genesis would be to the Greeks, and Romans, of later times, especially considering it’s subsequent neceesity for Salvation through Jesus.

((also note: Egyptian Creation myth - varied between cities, which in terms of religion were semi-autonomous. The creation myth of Memphis mentions the god Khnum as a like as a divine potter, who fashions humans from clay to create them.))

Greek Flood myth:

Also - Later on, Zeus sends a flood to destroy all of humanity. But Prometheus warns his son, Deucalion, about the coming deluge, and advises him to build an ark. Deucalion and his wife survive the nine day inundation, and then make sacrifice to Zeus, who is so pleased by this that he shows them how to repopulate the earth by casting stones them.

The author suggests that this story is likely to have been imported from the middle-east, where agriculture there relies on the seasonal flooding of rivers. Obvious connection to the flood myth in Genesis.

Bodily ascension:

p.246 - refers to a myth in which Hercules was lifted to Heaven from his funeral pyre. The story of Romulus ascending to Heaven is mention (from Livy). The author comments on the necessary mythologising of Romulus, founder of Rome, so as to justify the Roman people with a divine founder (as many ancient cities apparently did).

Cultures didn’t state themselves descended from gods and divine humans from mere pretension - it was a form of propaganda used to justify a rulers position. When the Normans conquered England their historians attributed a lineage from King Arthur to William the conqueror. (More pertinent examples from the ancient world will follow.) In those times, kings and other rulers only held their position by claiming divine favour, thus justofying their elevation over the common folk and other nobility. By surrounding themselves with religious mysticism, origin, and ancestry, they were attempting to scare their superstitious people from considering a revolt. Obviously, to work against the king was to work against the gods, and few mortals would ever possible dare try that. Of course, the ones who did cloaked themselves in religious mysticism, andwhen they succeeded the whole cycle repeated over.


p.291 - Augustus apparently referred to a vision of Apollo before the Battle of Actium, in which he was granted victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra. However, Augustus was always trying to promote the old roman gods over those newer faiths spreading in from the Middle East. (cf Constantines supposed vision of the cross, as related by Eusebius.)

Descent from the gods:

p.293 - "It is scarcely surprising that, after his death, Augustus, like his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, was declared a god himself. It had long been a feature of Greek and Roman religion that exceptional men, at the end of their lives, might be taken into the pantheon of gods … Alexander the Great had asked for, and had been given, recognition of his divinity, mainly as an astute way of establishing his power in his Eastern and Egyptian armies, where kingship and divinity went hand in hand … Augustus ruled Egypt as part of the Roman Empire, so was perforce a divine emperor there."

"His adoptive father, Julius Caesar, had believed he had a personal association with the goddess Venus because, as a member of the Julian fmaily, he was directly descended from Iulus, or Ascanius, the son of Aenas, who was himself the son of Venus and Anchises."

Bodily ascension:

And on p.294 the author refers to soething I’ve seen in the Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus - where a senator apparently claims to have witnessed Augustus ascending bodily to Heaven.
Regarding the Greeks picking up myth from earlier sources.

First, it is absolutely accepted now that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and the later story of the flood all had their origins in ancient Sumeria, a good three to four thousand years before the Jewish version would have been written down. The transition is so transparent that there are even still places in the Genesis account where the word for “God” is in the plural, “Elohim”; “Let us make man in our own image” is not God using the British royal we, but an almost exact quote from a Sumerian source, where the gods decide to create “workers” from clay and breath into them the breath of life. The name "Adam" may come from the Sumerian "Adamu," meaning reddish dirt or earth, while the bit about the rib is either a translation error or a deliberate pun. "Ti" in Sumerian meant BOTH "life" and "rib."

In an interesting transplant of mythologies, there is an ancient Greek myth about a world-wide flood brought on when Zeus decided that humans were getting too uppity. Warned in advance, a man and his wife—forget the names offhand—built an ark and rode out the flood. Afterwards, with the world empty, an oracle told these two to “throw the bones of your mother over your shoulders behind you.” They were shocked at this impropriety, until the man remembered that rocks were the bones of Mother Earth. They accordingly threw rocks over their shoulders, and these grew into the new generation of humans.

Of course, the Flood myth is found worldwide, including throughout the Americas—one reason writers like Donnelly and Spence got such mileage out of the Atlantis story. It would be interesting to trace the spread of recognizable myths across the Mediterranean world.
Glad to see someone pick up on specific ancient world comparative study!

Yes - the Greek story is Deucalion, which is referenced in the first post. Interesting to see reference to the Sumerian vocabulary - not something I've managed to cover yet.

The Epic of Gilgamesh does have a place in the still regrettably small "Ancient Worlds" section of the site:

Epic of Gilgamesh

As to the actual flood myth - I'd actually argue from the perspective that the history of human habitation is essentially the history of water - in so much as that humans were restricted to settling only where water was either present or could be supplied to. As rivers and coastal settlements were the mainstay of human habitation for millenia, and because of the known flooding issues that could affect these areas, not least in terms of storms, then it's no wonder than flood stories appear globally.

To this I would specifically add that although there are storms, there are also "super-storms" – much rarer events that can hit any local geography every few centuries that can cause untold damage. I believe we've had something approaching similar with catastrophic flooding in China and Mozambique over the past few years (though it needs be said that these were not so much "super-storms" as much as particularly bad storms whose effects were terribly accentuated by hydrological processes, not least damming projects that didn't take into account the extra volume of flow until too late to do anything but open the sluice gates full).

So the Sumerian flood I'd personally place in reference to local Sumerian flood only – after all – wherever we live is "the world", and we should be careful from forcing our own very modern view of "a globe of the earth" onto cultures who defined "world" in very local terms only.

I'm sure there are actually at least two major flood layers in Mesopotamian archaeology – a particularly one around 2700 BC, I think – which has even been suggested by some Biblical archaeologists as a way of dating a local flood as the "global flood" that modern Christianity reads too easily into the Genesis account.

Speaking of which, I'd like to refer anyone who's interested to Bob X's great piece on tracing rout sources through the Torah in his short series of articles hosted here:

Torah Torah Torah

specifically with reference to the Noah doublet of the third paragraph in chapter 1, which specifically raises the issue of 2 of every kind of animal versus 2 of ever clean only.

To myself, this helps demonstrate the evolution of belief in general from the local to global effect. And the Noah story reflects either a real - or figurative - person who learned to recognise that a major weather pattern moving north from the Arabian Sea therefore meant a great deluge of rain flooding in from the Zagros Mountains. And so he built a boat to float his animals on – just a handful, and covering the sexes for each clean species, to ensure future breeding prospects.