Friday, July 31, 2015

Lying Cretans and Unknown Gods: Allusions to Epimenides in the New Testament

Apostle Paul Preaching upon the Ruins by Giovanni Paolo Panini (1744)

[The AMAIC is generally inclined to give precedence to the Hebrews, as having influenced the pagan Greeks – and not the other way around]


Only lately have I really begun to appreciate how much literary allusion there is in the New Testament. The books of the Christian canon were not written in a vacuum — its authors were literate, educated Greek speakers who drew heavily upon other writings from both the Jewish and Greek cultural spheres. My unfamiliarity with most ancient Greek literature has made me uncomfortably aware of how much context I am missing when I read the New Testament. As I explore the sources that influenced early Christian writing, I plan on blogging about them here. Today, I begin with Epimenides.
Illustration of Epimenides from %22Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum%22 by Guillaume Rouillé

Who was Epimenides?

Epimenides was a Greek poet and seer from Knossos on the isle of Crete. He lived in the sixth century BCE and became known as one of the “Seven Wise Poets” in ancient Greece.
Among other things, he was famous as the original Rip Van Winkle. According to widely-known legends, he once lay down for a nap in a cave while searching for a lost sheep. When he woke up, it was some fifty years later, and scarcely nothing was recognizable to him. He soon gained renown as a “favourite of heaven” and was thought to have received divine revelation from Zeus during his sleep.
Epimenides was also a priest of the cult of Zeus on Crete, acquainted with the famous lawgiver Solon, and reputed to survive on almost no food. He was known as a seer or prophet, but according to Aristotle, he only practised divination about the past, not the future.

The Deliverance of Athens

There is a particular episode from the life of Epimenides related by the biographer Diogenes Laertius that is of some interest. According to this story, Athens was being attacked by pestilence, and after consulting with the Oracle of Delphi, the Athenians sent a ship to Crete to ask for the help of Epimenides.
Epimenides agreed to help the Athenians. He came to Athens and brought some sheep to the Areopagus — an important location in Athens, also known as Ares Rock or Mars Hill. He released the sheep and allowed them go to where they pleased. Wherever a sheep lay down, Epimenides had the spot marked so that sacrifices could be made to the unknown local divinity there. Epimenides’ remedy worked, and Athens was delivered from its scourge. Thus, from that day onward, visitors to Athens would find altars to unknown gods around the city.
The Aeropagus in Athens today (source: Wikipedia)

“It was one of them, their very own prophet…”

The Epistle to Titus is one of the Pastoral Epistles, ostensibly written by Paul the apostle, but generally recognized as a pseudepigraphic work since the late 19th century.¹ It is addressed to its namesake Titus, a companion of Paul’s in Galatians and 2 Corinthians who appears here in the role of a bishop to the churches in Crete. (I will leave aside interpretation matters, such as whether the addressee in the Epistle to Titus is meant to represent an actual individual or not.) The writer warns Titus about opponents spreading lies in the form of false doctrines on Crete. He emphasizes his point with an interesting quotation in Titus 1:12–13a:
It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” That testimony is true.
The writer seems to expect his readers to be familiar with the quotation, so he does not provide a source. However, several early Christian writers, including Clement of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Epiphanius, and St. Jerome, identified Epimenides as its source. These writers felt obliged to identify explain the quote’s origin in order to address the reasons why Paul would authoritatively cite a pagan prophet (and indeed call him a prophet in the first place), smoothing over any theological qualms some readers might have.
Since none of Epimenides’ works have survived to the modern age, it is mainly thanks to the patristic writers that we know the origin of Titus 1:12. Its exact context and the title of the work in question have long been a mystery, however (Jerome called it Oracles of the Poet of Crete, while John Calvin referred to it as Concerning Oracles). One possibility regarding its context is suggested by another ancient poet, Callimachus, who paraphrased Epimenides in his own Hymn to Jupiter.
The Cretans, prone to falsehood, vaunt in vain,And impious! built thy tomb on Dicte’s plain;
For Jove, th’ immortal king, shall never die,
But reign o’er men and Gods above the sky.
This poem addresses a popular idea frowned upon by the cult of Zeus — namely that Zeus had once lived as a king on earth, and then died. In fact, there was even a tomb on Crete that some claimed was that of Zeus. Thus, the Cretans were to be condemned as liars for spreading false myths about Zeus, much as they were accused of doing with respect to the God of Christianity in the Epistle to Titus. The point is not necessarily to paint all Cretans this way. Rather, as Lawlor puts it, it was “a sort of rhetorical generalization based on a single fact” — an allusion to a specifically religious heresy.²
St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael (1515)

“As even some of your poets have said…”

There appears to be one other quotation of Epimenides in the New Testament, and it comes from the same work of his — the same passage, in fact. However, it was largely unknown until fairly recently, although many of the clues were there.
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a professor named Rendel Harris discovered a longer quotation from Epimenides’ Minos and Rhadamanthus in the Syrian lectionary Garden of Delights and in a 9th-century commentary on Acts by Isho’dad of Merv — both dependent on a now-lost work by Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 400 CE). Harris found that the passage (quoted in Syriac) could be back-translated into good hexameter Greek poetry. An English translation is as follows:
A grave has been fashioned for thee, O holy and high One,The lying Cretans, who are all the time liars, evil beasts, idle bellies;
But thou diest not, for to eternity thou livest and standest,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.
Line two in Greek is identical to the quotation in Titus 1:12. However, the passage was quoted by Isho’dad as the source of Acts 17:28a. Let’s look at that verse in context:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens… some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” …So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
We now understand more clearly the scene with which we are presented in Acts 17 — which should probably be understood as a literary creation rather than a strict historical account.³ Paul visits the great city of Athens and is taken by Epicurean and Stoic philosophers to debate with them on the famous hill where philosophers give speeches and magistrates conduct legal matters. Paul sees the altars to unknown gods and remembers that their existence is credited to the wise poet Epimenides, who delivered Athens from a plague. But whereas Epimenides served Zeus first and foremost, Paul proclaims the Jewish God as the unknown god and true object of the Athenians’ piety, using a quotation from Epimenides to drive his point home.
(Paul then employs a quotation by the poet-philosopher Aratus, “For we too are his offspring”, from the poem Phaenomena, as a segue to the next part of his speech.)
St. Paul preaching to the Athenians (Greek postage stamp, 1937)

Other Remarks

It is difficult to say whether other ancient Christian writers noticed this quotation but did not mention it. John Chrysostom mistakenly attributed the Aratus quote in Acts 17:28b to Epimenides in his Homily on Titus. Epiphanius, Jerome, and Boccaccio all discussed both the Acts passage and the Titus quotation in conjunction with each other, suggesting some awareness of a connection.
The fact that the same passage by Epimenides could be the source of quotations in two disparate New Testament works is significant and has not gone unnoticed. Nicklin, writing nearly a century ago, thought it was strong evidence for common authorship of Titus and Acts. (He identified the author as St. Paul himself, though few if any scholars would agree today.) Nicklin also believed that the word “poets” in the plural hinted at an earlier revision or source in which Acts 17:28a was explicitly portrayed as a quotation. More recently, David Trobisch has argued for the existence of a single second-century editor behind the New Testament canon, and unexpected intertextual links could in theory be the work of such an editor.⁴
I should note that although the identification of the quote in Acts 17:28a with Epimenides is doubted by a few scholars, it seems to have received broad acceptance. The Acts Seminar Report calls it a “probable allusion” to Epimenides. The NRSV and some other translations put the line in quotation marks to indicate someone is being quoted. The Jerusalem Bible and the NIV both explicitly attribute the line to Epimenides in a footnote.
James Buchanan Wallace, in his monograph Snatched into Paradise (2 Cor 12:1–10), sees certain parallels between the story of Epimenides and the cave and Paul’s own (claimed) experience of heavenly enlightenment.⁵ Could it be that the author of Acts, either deliberately or subconsciously, drew upon legends of other Greek seers and visionaries in describing the events of Paul’s life beyond the Areopagus confrontation?


  1. For a detailed discussion on the authorship of the Pastoral epistles and a history of scholarship thereupon, see Bart Ehrman, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, 2012, pp. 192–217.
  2. H. J. Lawlor, “St. Paul’s Quotations from Epimenides”, The Irish Church Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 35 (Jul., 1916), p. 193.
  3. According to the conclusions of the Acts Seminar, Paul’s trip to Athens in Acts does not match anything from Paul’s letters and is likely fictitious. See Dennis E. Smith and Joseph B. Tyson, editors, Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, 2013, Kindle loc. 3852.

Further Reading

  • Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.109–115.
  • T. Nicklin, “Epimenides’ Minos”, The Classical Review, March 1916.
Readers might also have heard of the Epimenides Paradox, a problem in logic inspired by the statement that “all Cretans are liars”, made by someone who himself is a Cretan. A wonderful exploration of this and similar ideas can be found in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Gospel According to Hermes

Paul and Barnabas at Lystra - Jacob Pynas (Dutch, Amsterdam 1592:93–after 1650 Amsterdam (?))

A few months ago, I wrote about some interesting allusions to the priest-poet Epimenides in the New Testament. I’d like to continue exploring non-scriptural literary influences and connections in the Bible with a look at a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Publius Ovidius Naso was a Roman poet who lived from 43 BCE to about 17 of the Christian era. He wrote epic poetry in Latin, and his works have become a major source of information on Greco-Roman mythology. His magnum opus was Metamorphoses, a work spanning 15 books and containing some 250 mythic stories that encompass all of history, from creation to the death of Julius Caesar, within a frame narrative.

Hither Came Jupiter in the Guise of a Mortal…

What I am interested here is the story of Philemon and Baucis in Book VIII. A brief summary is as follows:
The gods Jupiter and Mercury visit Phrygia disguised as human travellers. They go from house to house in search of food and lodging, but are refused a thousand times. At last they come to the cottage of old Baucis and Philemon, who show the two visitors their finest hospitality despite their poverty. They prepare the finest meal they can muster, and are astonished at one point to see the wine replenishing itself. Realizing that their guests are divine, they attempt to offer their only goose as a sacrifice, but Jupiter and Mercury stop them. The two gods then pronounce judgment on the region for its wickedness, but make an exception for Baucis and Philemon. They lead the couple over to a nearby mountain and then watch while the entire countryside is flooded and their own house is transformed into a magnificent temple. The two gods then offer to grant Philemon and Baucis whatever they want, and the couple asks to serve as priests of the temple and to have their lives end at the same time. Years later, when the two die, they are immediately transformed into two sacred trees: an oak and a linden tree.
This tale, well-known in the ancient world, forms the basis for an episode in Acts. In chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas visit Lystra, a Roman colony not far from Phrygia. Paul heals a cripple, and when the crowds see it, they cry out that the gods have visited them, calling Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes. They attempt to offer sacrifices in honour of the visitors, but Barnabas and Paul angrily put a stop to it, insisting that they are mortals.
Zeus, of course, is the Greek name for Jupiter, and Hermes for Mercury. The basic idea, then, seems to be that the townsfolk of Lystra know the famous story about Jupiter and Mercury (Zeus and Hermes) travelling in the guise of mortals, and they jump to conclusions when they see Paul’s miracle. After all, they certainly don’t want to meet with the fate that the inhospitable villagers did in the story of Philemon and Baucis! But while Ovid’s visitors reveal their divine nature and accept hospitality, our two apostles reveal their mortal nature and refuse hospitality.
All commentaries agree on that much, more or less. There’s a bit more to it, however. Luther H. Martin in a paper published in New Testament Studies (see bibliography below) makes some important observations that most people miss. He notes that many commentators, “focusing on facticity rather than narrativicity,” fret over the difficulties of verse 11, which explicitly has the crowds speaking in Lycaonian. How did uneducated Lycaonian-speaking peasants communicate with the foreign apostles, and how likely is it they would have used the names Zeus or Hermes if they weren’t speaking Greek? (p. 153 n. 8)
Wrangling over such difficulties misses the point, however. Martin sees the author of Acts as a sophisticated writer with a “classical” perspective — and we have already seen his adroit use of the Epimenides legend. Acts was written to address a Greek audience, and their familiarity with traditions about Zeus and Hermes is all that really matters here. The parallels between Acts 14 and Philemon and Baucis go beyond a simple case of mistaken identity by the superstitious locals.
For starters, it is important to understand that Zeus and Hermes were “guarantors of emissaries and missions” in Greek tradition. (Cf. Plato, Leg. 941A.) It was considered a sin against Hermes and Zeus to deliver a false message. As Martin puts it, “Hermes guarantees that what is to be spoken is not ‘false messages’ but ‘good news’.” One of Zeus’s epitaphs was “giver of glad tidings”, while that of Hermes his messenger was “bringer of glad tidings”. (p. 155) It is no surprise then, that it is Paul who is made out to be Hermes because he is the main speaker and message bearer, delivering the Good News.
(Side note: There is also a problem if we ascribe the identification of Paul with Hermes to the Lystrans rather than to the author of Acts. Though inscriptions attest to the veneration of Zeus and Hermes in that area, these were apparently secondary names applied to a pair of local Luwian deities — Tarhunt, a weather god, and Runt, protector of wild animals — who did not possess the functions of king and messenger that are relevant to the author’s point. The actual residents of Lystra are unlikely to have made such a connection. See Versnel p. 42 for more on the subject.)
Another important parallel is the theme of hospitality. Just as Jupiter and Mercury visit a thousand homes before they find one that welcomes them, the hospitality offered by the Lystrans comes after Barnabas and Paul have been rejected at Antioch and Iconium. Zeus and Hermes are particularly relevant, as they were seen as patrons and protectors of travellers in foreign lands. (See Martin, p. 155 for numerous classical references.)
Thus, although the passage is ostensibly an entertaining account of mistaken identity, the author of Acts is actually placing his story “in the context of classical Greek tradition”, reinforcing the legitimacy and truth of the Christian mission to the Gentiles and reminding readers of their obligations regarding hospitality when receiving Christian missionaries. At the same time, the story reinforces a sharp contrast between the pagan and Christian views of deities. (p. 156)


Taken from:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why do Most Cultures Have Flood Myths and Stories?


Flood Myths go Global

Flood myths have been around probably since man first started oral traditions. The most well known in Western culture is the story of Noah's flood from the Bible but there are many other stories. The Sumerians ... [wrote] down their flood myths with the story of Gilgamesh ....
In Europe Plato wrote of the city of Atlantis that swallowed up by the sea. It is said he got his story from the ancient Egyptians. This isn't to say that Europe did not have any original flood myths, as they did. The Arcadians, Samothrace, ancient Germans, Scandinavians, Celtic, Welsh, Lithuanian, Transylvanian, and Turkish peoples all had various forms of flood myths popping up in their culture.

Updated on January 25, 2013

Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa

In Asia the Vogul, Samoyeds, Yenisey-Ostyak, Kamchadale, Ataic, Tuvinian, Mongolian, Sagaiye, Buryat, Bhil, Kamar, Assam, Tamil, Lepcha, Tibetian, Singpho, Lushai, Lisu. Lolo, Jino, Karen, Chingpa, Chinese, Korean, Munda, Santal, Ho, Banar, Kammu, Zhuang, Sui, Shan, Tsuwo, Bunun, Ami, Benua-Jakun, Kelantan, Ifugao, Atá, Mandaya, Tinguian, Batak, Nias, Engano, Dusun, Dyak, Ot-Danom, Toradja, Alfoor, Rotti, and Nage all had thier different versions of flood myths.

In Africa flood myths can be seen in the cultures of the Cameroon, Masai, Komililo Nandi, Kwaya, Pygmy, Ababua, Kikuyu, Bakongo, Basonge, Bena-Lulua, Yoruba, Ekoi, Efik-Ibibio, and Mandingo.

In Australia the Aboriginals of each region seemed to have a different flood myth and hundreds of tribes in the Americas each had their own wild stories of flooding as well. These stories often involved animals, sometimes rescuing people, sometimes riding the storm out with boats. In our current modern day world most of the major religions still have at least one flood myth among their texts.

The Common Threads

Although all the flood myths vary, sometimes to large degrees, many of them have some thread of commonality. Often these stories are told about one human character or one human family. Animals are involved in many of these stories and there is almost always a moral, with the flood coming only after the human race has committed some wrong doing.

Theories about their Origin

It's long been noted that flood myths are one of a handful of stories that seem to be common in almost every culture.


One of the most interesting theories is that all these stories could have started out as one story that really happened sometime during the end of the last ice age when glaciers would have been melting rapidly making ocean waters rise and swallowing whole civilizations near the coasts.

.... It is an intriguing idea.


Taken from:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

'Rich Man and Lazarus' Parable

Image result for abraham and eliezer

The True Story in Detail

The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is a parable (Matthew 13:34). Once this is recognized the interpretation behind the narrative can become quite meaningful. It is also very important to note the context in which the parable is found. There was a reason why Christ spoke this parable at that time. Christ had just given His teaching about the unjust steward who had mishandled his master’s money (Luke 16:1–13). This parable was told to further illustrate what proper stewardship is.
Let us first consider the identification of Lazarus. This is the only time in Christ’s parables that a person’s name is used. Some have imagined that this use of a personal name precludes the story being a parable. But this is hardly true. The name "Lazarus" is a transliteration of the Hebrew "Eleazar" (which means "God has helped"). The name was a common Hebrew word used for eleven different persons in the Old Testament.
When one analyzes the parable, this Eleazar can be identified. He was one who must have had some kind of affinity with Abraham (or the Abrahamic covenant), for the parable places him in Abraham’s bosom after death. But he was probably a Gentile. The phrase "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table" was typical of Gentile identification (see Matthew 15:22–28). Even the phrase "laid at his gate" is reminiscent of the normal one used by Jews to denote the Gentile proselyte "Proselyte of the Gate." This Eleazar must also have been associated with stewardship because Christ gave the parable precisely for the reason of explaining what represents the true steward.
There was only one Eleazar in the historical part of the Bible that fits the description. He was a person associated with Abraham, he was a Gentile (not an ethnic part of the Abrahamic family), and a steward. He was Eleazar of Damascus, the chief steward of Abraham.
"And Abram said, ‘Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eleazar [Lazarus] of Damascus and lo, one born in my house is mine heir.’"
  • Genesis 15:2–3
Long ago it was suggested that the Lazarus of the parable represented the Eleazar associated with Abraham (Geiger, JuJ Zejtschr., 1868, p. 196 sq.), but for some reason very few modern commentators have taken up the identification. But once this simple connection is made, a flood of light emerges on the scene which can interpret the parable with real meaning.
The Lazarus of the parable represented Abraham’s faithful steward Eleazar. And faithful he was! Though he had been the legal heir to receive all of Abraham’s possessions (Genesis 15:3), Abraham gave him an assignment which was to result in his own disinheritance. But the Bible shows he carried out the orders of Abraham in a precise (and faithful) way.
"And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house [Eleazar], that ruled over all that he had, ‘Put, I pray thee, your hand under my thigh: and I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife unto my son [Isaac] of the daughters of the Canaanites.’"
  • Genesis 24:2–3
Eleazar agreed to do what Abraham desired, although the fulfillment of his task meant the complete abandonment of Eleazar’s claim to any of Abraham’s inheritance—both present and future! Each step that Eleazar took northward to procure a wife for Isaac was a step towards his own disqualification. Eleazar recognized this, for he admitted to Laban, Rebecca’s brother, that "unto him [Isaac] hath he [Abraham] given all that he hath"(Genesis 24:36). There was nothing left for him! Thus, Eleazar’s faithfulness to Abraham resulted in his own disinheritance from all the promises of blessing which God had given to Abraham. They were now given to Isaac and his future family. That inheritance included wealth, prestige, power, kingship, priesthood, and the land of Canaan as an "everlasting" possession. But now Eleazar was "cast out." He and his seed would inherit nothing. Thus, the parable calls Lazarus a "beggar" who possessed nothing of earthly worth.

Who Was the Rich Man?

The Rich Man was an actual son of Abraham. Christ had him calling Abraham his "father" (Luke 16:24) and Abraham acknowledged him as "son" (verse 25). Such sonship made the Rich Man a legal possessor of Abraham’s inheritance. Indeed, the Rich Man had all the physical blessings promised to Abraham’s seed. He wore purple, the symbol of kingship, a sign that the Davidic or Messianic Kingdom was his. He wore linen, the symbol of priesthood, showing that God’s ordained priests and the Temple were his. Who was this Rich Man who possessed these blessings while living on the earth?
The Israelite tribe that finally assumed possession of both the kingdom and priesthood, and the tribe which became the representative one of all the promises given to Abraham, was Judah. There can not be the slightest doubt of this when the whole parable is analyzed. Remember that Judah had "five brothers." The Rich Man also had the same (verse 28).
"The sons of Leah; [1] Reuben; Jacob’s firstborn, and [2] Simeon, and [3]Levi, and Judah, and [4] Issachar, and [5] Zebulun."
  • Genesis 35:23
"And Leah said ... ‘now will my husband be pleased to dwell with me; for I have born him six sons.’"
  • Genesis 30:20
Judah and the Rich Man each had "five brethren." Not only that, the five brothers of the parable had in their midst "Moses and the prophets" (verse 29). The people of Judah possessed the "oracles of God" (Romans 3:1–2). Though the Rich Man (Judah) had been given the actual inheritance of Abraham’s blessings (both spiritual and physical), Christ was showing that he had been unfaithful with his responsibilities. When the true inheritance was to be given, Judah was in "hades" and "in torment" while Lazarus (Eleazar, the faithful steward) was now in Abraham’s bosom. He was finally received into the "everlasting habitations" (verse 9).


Taken from:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Influences from Book of Judges, Abimelech

Image result for abimelech judges


Salting the Earth

The Book of Judges (9:45) says that Abimelech, the judge of the Israelites, sowed his own capital, Shechem, with salt, c. 1050 BC, after quelling a revolt against him. This may have been part of a ḥērem ritual[2] (compare with "salt in the Bible").

Starting in the 19th century,[7] various texts claim that the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus plowed over and sowed the city of Carthage with salt after defeating it in the Third Punic War (146 BC), sacking it, and forcing the survivors into slavery. However, no ancient sources exist documenting the salting itself. The Carthage story is a later invention, probably modeled on the story of Shechem.[8] The ritual of symbolically drawing a plow over the site of a city is, however, mentioned in ancient sources, though not in reference to Carthage specifically.[9]


Killed by a Stone

Compare Judges 9:

50 Next Abimelech went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. 51 Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—had fled. They had locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. 52 Abimelech went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, 53 a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull.

The death of Pyrrhus by a tile flung down by a woman as he rode into the town of Argos is an historic parallel (Pausan. 1:13). The ringleader of an attack on the Jews, who had taken refuge in York Castle in 1190, was similarly killed.

And v. 54:  
Hurriedly [Abimelech] called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his servant ran him through, and he died. ....
Whether [Pyrrhus] was alive or not after the blow is dubious, but his death was assured when a Macedonian soldier named Zopyrus, though frightened by the look on the face of the unconscious king, hesitantly and ineptly beheaded his motionless body.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The God in the Cave

Image result for nativity in cave

G. K. Chesterton

"The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths... explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true." Chesterton dwells upon the theme of Bethlehem in this excerpt from the book which many consider to be his masterpiece.
Traditions in art and literature and popular fable have quite sufficiently attested, as has been said, this particular paradox of the divine being in the cradle. Perhaps they have not so clearly emphasised the significance of the divine being in the cave. Curiously enough, indeed, tradition has not very clearly emphasised the cave. It is a familiar fact that the Bethlehem scene has been represented in every possible setting of time and country of landscape and architecture; and it is a wholly happy and admirable fact that men have conceived it as quite different according to their different individual traditions and tastes. But while all have realised that it was a stable, not so many have realised that it was a cave. Some critics have even been so silly as to suppose that there was some contradiction between the stable and the cave; in which case they cannot know much about caves or stables in Palestine. As they see differences that are not there it is needless to add that they do not see differences that are there. When a well-known critic says, for instance, that Christ being born in a rocky cavern is like Mithras having sprung alive out of a rock, it sounds like a parody upon comparative religion. There is such a thing as the point of a story, even if it is a story in the sense of a lie. And the notion of a hero appearing, like Pallas from the brain of Zeus, mature and without a mother, is obviously the very opposite of the idea of a god being born like an ordinary baby and entirely dependent on a mother. Whichever ideal we might prefer, we should surely see that they are contrary ideals. It is as stupid to connect them because they both contain a substance called stone as to identify the punishment of the Deluge with the baptism in the Jordan because they both contain a substance called water. Whether as a myth or a mystery, Christ was obviously conceived as born in a hole in the rocks primarily because it marked the position of one outcast and homeless....
It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast. It is profoundly true to say that after that moment there could be no slaves. There could be and were people bearing that legal title, until the Church was strong enough to weed them out, but there could be no more of the pagan repose in the mere advantage to the state of keeping it a servile state. Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instruments can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man's end. All this popular and fraternal element in the story has been rightly attached by tradition to the episode of the Shepherds; the hinds who found themselves talking face to face with the princes of heaven. But there is another aspect of the popular element as represented by the shepherds which has not perhaps been so fully developed; and which is more directly relevant here.
Men of the people, like the shepherds, men of the popular tradition, had everywhere been the makers of the mythologies. It was they who had felt most directly, with least check or chill from philosophy or the corrupt cults of civilisation, the need we have already considered; the images that were adventures of the imagination; the mythology that was a sort of search; the tempting and tantalising hints of something half-human in nature; the dumb significance of seasons and special places. They had best understood that the soul of a landscape is a story, and the soul of a story is a personality. But rationalism had already begun to rot away these really irrational though imaginative treasures of the peasant; even as a systematic slavery had eaten the peasant out of house and home. Upon all such peasantries everywhere there was descending a dusk and twilight of disappointment, in the hour when these few men discovered what they sought. Everywhere else Arcadia was fading from the forest. Pan was dead and the shepherds were scattered like sheep. And though no man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfil all things; and, though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The shepherds had found their Shepherd.
And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity need not disdain the limits of time and space. And the barbarian who conceived the crudest fancy about the sun being stolen and hidden in a box, or the wildest myth about the god being rescued and his enemy deceived with a stone, was nearer to the secret of the cave and knew more about the crisis of the world, than all those in the circle of cities round the Mediterranean who had become content with cold abstractions or cosmopolitan generalisations; than all those who were spinning thinner and thinner threads of thought out of the transcendentalism of Plato or the orientalism of Pythagoras. The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true. Since that hour no mythologies have been made in the world. Mythology is a search....
The philosophers had also heard. It is still a strange story, though an old one, how they came out of orient lands, crowned with the majesty of kings and clothed with something of the mystery of magicians. That truth that is tradition has wisely remembered them almost as unknown quantities, as mysterious as their mysterious and melodious names; Melchior, Caspar, Balthazar. But there came with them all that world of wisdom that had watched the stars in Chaldea and the sun in Persia; and we shall not be wrong if we see in them the same curiosity that moves all the sages. They would stand for the same human ideal if their names had really been Confucius or Pythagoras or Plato. They were those who sought not tales but the truth of things; and since their thirst for truth was itself a thirst for God, they also have had their reward. But even in order to understand that reward, we must understand that for philosophy as much as mythology, that reward was the completion of the incomplete....
The Magi, who stand for mysticism and philosophy, are truly conceived as seeking something new and even as finding something unexpected. That sense of crisis which still tingles in the Christmas story and even in every Christmas celebration, accentuates the idea of a search and a discovery. For the other mystical figures in the miracle play, for the angel and the mother, the shepherds and the soldiers of Herod, there may be aspects both simpler and more supernatural, more elemental or more emotional. But the Wise Men must be seeking wisdom; and for them there must be a light also in the intellect. And this is the light; that the Catholic creed is catholic and that nothing else is catholic. The philosophy of the Church is universal. The philosophy of the philosophers was not universal. Had Plato and Pythagoras and Aristotle stood for an instant in the light that came out of that little cave, they would have known that their own light was not universal. It is far from certain, indeed, that they did not know it already. Philosophy also, like mythology, had very much the air of a search. It is the realisation of this truth that gives its traditional majesty and mystery to the figures of the Three Kings; the discovery that religion is broader than philosophy and that this is the broadest of religions, contained within this narrow space....
We might well be content to say that mythology had come with the shepherds and philosophy with the philosophers; and that it only remained for them to combine in the recognisation of religion. But there was a third element that must not be ignored and one which that religion for ever refuses to ignore, in any revel or reconciliation. There was present in the primary scenes of the drama that Enemy that had rotted the legends with lust and frozen the theories into atheism, but which answered the direct challenge with something of that more direct method which we have seen in the conscious cult of the demons. In the description of that demon-worship, of the devouring detestation of innocence shown in the works of its witchcraft and the most inhuman of its human sacrifice, I have said less of its indirect and secret penetration of the saner paganism; the soaking of mythological imagination with sex; the rise of imperial pride into insanity. But both the indirect and the direct influence make themselves felt in the drama of Bethlehem. A ruler under the Roman suzerainty, probably equipped and surrounded with the Roman ornament and order though himself of eastern blood, seems in that hour to have felt stirring within him the spirit of strange things. We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some rumour of a mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the capricious despots of Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new generation of the populace. Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men. Not everybody has seen the significance even of its very contrast with the Corinthian columns and Roman pavement of that conquered and superficially civilised world. Only, as the purpose in this dark spirit began to show and shine in the eyes of the Idumean, a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his shoulder; have seen behind him filling the dome of night and hovering for the last time over history, that vast and fearful fact that was Moloch of the Carthaginians; awaiting his last tribute from a ruler of the races of Shem. The demons in that first festival of Christmas, feasted also in their own fashion.
Taken from: