Genesis V. Theogany; A Comparison Of The Christian And Ancient Greek Cultures Essay, Research Paper
Genesis v. Theogony:
A Comparison of the Christian and Ancient Greek Cultures
Most Christians (or those religions that follow the basic principles of the Bible) believe in the stories told in the Bible. In fact, these stories are usually regarded not only as mere stories, but also as actual historical accounts of important people, events, and concepts of the Christian faith. However, stories of Greek and Roman mythology are typically regarded as nothing more than fictional, fantasy stories. The idea that Ancient Greeks viewed these stories to be their religion seems insane to many people of Biblical Faith. This idea seems to cast a stigma of irrationality, almost ignorance, upon the Ancient Greeks. Although placing this stigmatism on a long-dead culture may seem to be unimportant in much of the contemporary world, it is important because this long-dead culture represents the history of a large portion of the world (the Ancient Greek empire was much more vast than modern-day Greece). Just as many Americans would find it offensive to have their history as irrational and ignorant, it seems logical that Greeks might as well. Therefore, it is necessary to try and understand that both Ancient Greeks and Ancient Christians may have held similar beliefs about the world they were living in. The fact is that Greek myths contain unrealistic and unbelievable characters, events, and
other elements, but upon comparison of Greek mythology stories with different Biblical accounts, it is apparent that some parallels between the two do exist, and that the Ancient Greeks view of the events of the early world are very similar to the views of both ancient and contemporary Christians.
The similarities begin with the creation stories, although these similarities are very minimal. In both the Christian creation story, Genesis, and in many accounts of the
Ancient Greek creation story, the earth began with darkness and nothingness- a void, or Chaos, as known to the Greeks (Genesis 1:2; Tripp 159). This Chaos was the bearer (meaning that he gave birth to) of Ge/Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (underworld), Eros (love and sex), Erebus (darkness), and Nyx (night) (Tripp 159). In the Christian creation story, God is the parallel to the Greek Chaos in that he invents the same things (with the exception of an underworld; the creation of Adam and Eve and their later reproduction could be comparable to Eros) as Chaos bore (Genesis 1:1-18). However, unlike Chaos, God is not a void of nothingness, but the beginning of all things. God also remains the ruler of the entire world in Biblical stories, while the Greek Chaos is displaced by several actual ?divine? beings, the most important and permanent of those being Zeus (Tripp 606; Hesiod 2-3).
There is also a slight similarity in the ?separations? or ?falls? in man?s relationships with God and Zeus (later chief god of the ancient Greeks). Although the offenses in each case were very different, both falls were the products of trickery, deceit,
and temptation. In both cases, the temptation was in the form of food (Genesis 3:1-6; Tyrell and Brown 15). Probably the most important similarity in the two falls, however, is the negative role that Woman plays in each. In the Bible, woman actually leads man to the fall from God and the punishment for that fall (exile from the Garden of Eden), while Greek mythology cites that Woman was the punishment for the fall from Zeus (Genesis 3:6-24, Hesiod 4). In the ancient Greek culture, Woman was designed to make man miserable (Hesiod 4). Although she plays different roles, Woman eventually bears the blame for all human suffering and sorrow in both stories (Tyrell and Brown 17).
In both the Ancient Greek and Christian accounts of the early world, there exist stories of great floods that destroyed most of humankind (Genesis 7; Tripp 608). In the Bible?s version of the flood, God becomes frustrated with the wickedness of the world and decides to destroy the earth with a flood, although it saddens him to do so (Genesis 6:5-7). However, God found Noah to be a good and just man, and he asked Noah to build an ark that would float upon the waters (Genesis 6:9-14). On the ark, Noah was to take his wife, three sons, their wives, and two of every living creature (Genesis 6:18-22). In this way God could be sure that the world would be repopulated. In the Greek flood story, Zeus becomes very angry with men and decides to destroy them as revenge for their ?impieties? (Tripp 608). His intention is to destroy all of mankind. However, Prometheus, who tells his son, Deucalion, to build an ark so Deucalion and his wife could escape Zeus? wrath, thwarts Zeus? attempt (608). In this story Prometheus assures that
mortal life will go on. Although the stories are different in some aspects, the parallels show that both the Ancient Greeks and followers of the Christian faith seem to agree that a great flood was a significant event in the early years of the world. As well, they both believe that someone survived this flood by building an ark and living there until the flood subsided. These people survived in order to continue human life.
War was also a common characteristic of both the Ancient Greek world and of the Biblical world. For example, the Trojan War is a major event in Greek history, and is recorded most famously in Homer?s Iliad (Homer). The gods always
seemed to play important roles in this war, especially Zeus, Ares (the god of war), and the other Olympians (the gods and goddesses living on Mount Olympus) (Homer 404-405). Wars between Greek city-states were also common occurrences, with gods and goddesses almost always involved in them in some way. Similarly, the Bible accounts many stories of wars between different countries and religious groups. One of the most famous examples is the war between the Philistines and the Israelites (1 Samuel 17). In this war, God interfered and sent the small shepherd boy David to save the Israelites (1 Samuel 17). David does so by defeating the giant Goliath, a feat he would not have been able to accomplish without God?s help (1 Samuel 17:46-52). These examples show the cross-cultural belief that war was an important event in the ancient world, and the gods/God played significant roles in these wars.
Prophecies of the overthrowing of rulers were frequent events in both Greek mythology and in Biblical stories. In both cultures these prophecies usually lead to the attempted suppression (usually murder in Bible stories) of the group that the overthrower will supposedly come from. This suppression rarely worked. For instance, the Greek god Cronus was told that one of his children would conquer and overthrow him (Tripp 177). In a desperate attempt to prevent this, Cronus swallowed each of his children as they were born (177). However, through deceit and trickery, Cronus? wife Rhea manages to bear and hide the youngest child, who grows and conquers his father (177). This child is Zeus. He frees his brothers and sisters and then seizes his father?s power, becoming chief of gods (Tripp 177, 705). The most important example in the Bible of this same type of prophecy is directed at Herod, who was King at the time that Jesus was born (Matthew 2). When three wise men tell Herod that the King of Jews was to be born that night, Herod demands that the three find where the baby was to be born and report back to him (Matthew 2:1-9). When the wise men fail to do so, he orders that all newborn boys in Bethlehem be killed (Matthew 2:16). However, Jesus escaped this fate because God tells Joseph, Jesus? earthly father, to take the baby and its mother to Egypt until the time that Herod dies (Matthew 2:13). Both the Christians and Ancient Greeks found these prophecies to be important parts of their histories.
These are only the big similarities. There are many smaller ones. The previous examples show that Christian and Ancient Greek histories of the origins and events of the
ancient world are not as different as many people may think. Both have floods, wars, and prophecies. Both cultures believe in the nothingness that existed before everything else. Most importantly, both cultures have their own beliefs, the most significant of these being their gods/God. It is ironic that these beliefs are actually the differences that many contemporary people cannot get past. Perhaps these contemporary people are the ones who are ignorant and irrational. If the world is to live together in peace and harmony, everyone must be accepting of the fact that people come from different backgrounds and have different histories. Sometimes those histories may seem a little silly to others, but these stories are still histories of entire cultures of people; and to each of these cultures, their histories are probably sacred. The Greeks? feelings towards their Ancient Greek history is undoubtedly just that, regardless of the fact that that history is made up of mythical stories of fictional gods and goddesses. The numerous gods and fantasy events of Ancient Greek mythology are just the surface, however. In order to be more accepting of the Ancient Greek culture, Christians may have to see that their beliefs may be more similar to Ancient Greek beliefs than what was previously thought. And sometimes to find the similarities in these very different cultures, it is necessary to look beyond the fantasy that is so hard to believe.
Hesiod. ?Selections from Hesiod?s Theogony.? Trans. John Svarlien. Class Handout. Holy Bible: The Old and New Testaments. King James Version. Nashville: Broadman
Homer. ?Iliad: Book Twenty.? CLAssics 135-001: Greek and Roman Mythology, Fall
1998. Ed. James A. Francis. Incentives Creativity, 1998. 62-68.
Tripp, Edward. The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology. New York: Penguin
Tyrell, William Blake and Frieda S. Brown. ?Hesiod?s Myth of the Birth of the
Cosmos.? Foundations of the Liberal Arts: Science, Nature, Culture, Spring
1999. Acton: Tapestry Press LTD., 1999. 8-20.