The Mythological Gods of History—A Critical Examination


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Explore the fascinating world of ancient mythology with our comprehensive review of the Mythological Gods of History. From Greek and Roman pantheons to Babylonian influences, this critical examination uncovers the captivating tales and cultural significance of these historical deities. Discover the complexities of ancient worship practices and their enduring influence on society.

Gods and Goddesses

The pantheon of gods and goddesses worshiped by various societies across time are fundamentally human constructs. They are a reflection of flawed human cognition, envisioned by individuals who “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.” (Romans 1:21-23) The intrinsic traits and vulnerabilities of these divine figures often mirror those of their imperfect creators. In fact, a Hebrew term used to denote idols or false gods is accurately translated as “valueless thing” or “worthless thing.”—Leviticus 19:4; Isaiah 2:20.

Scripture identifies Satan the Devil as “the god of this world.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) It’s unequivocally established later in the verse that the “god” in reference is indeed Satan, who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” In Revelation 12:9, he is designated as “the deceiver of the whole world.” His reign over the current malevolent era, including its governance, is asserted when he offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” in return for “an act of worship.”—Matthew 4:8, 9.

Worship directed towards these fabricated gods, according to scripture, is indirectly offered “to demons, and not to God.” (1 Corinthians 10:20; Psalm 106:36, 37) Jehovah God demands exclusive devotion. (Isaiah 42:8) Hence, those venerating idol-gods inadvertently deny the true God and cater to the objectives of Jehovah’s principal adversary, Satan, and his demonic entities.

The Bible acknowledges numerous gods and goddesses worshiped by ancient civilizations, although specific identification of these entities often proves challenging.

Origin of Gods and Goddesses

The stark similarities discernible when examining the deities of ancient civilizations cannot simply be chalked up to coincidence. Commenting on this, J. Garnier opines, “The fact that Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Hindus, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists, Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Druids, Mexicans, Peruvians, indigenous Australians, and even the primitives of the South Sea Islands share strikingly similar religious concepts suggests a common origin and central source for these ideas. There exist astonishing parallels in their rites, ceremonies, traditions, as well as the names and roles of their respective gods and goddesses.” —The Worship of the Dead, London, 1904, p. 3.

Biblical accounts suggest that the origins of these misleading religious notions trace back to the post-diluvial land of Shinar. Under the guidance of Nimrod, referred to as “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah,” the construction of the city of Babel and its tower, likely a ziggurat intended for false worship, commenced. Far from being an endeavor to honor Jehovah God, this project was driven by the builders’ self-aggrandizement, their aspiration to carve out “a celebrated name” for themselves. This was in stark defiance of God’s directive for humankind to populate and inhabit the earth. God thwarted their ambitions by confounding their language, rendering mutual comprehension impossible. As a result, the construction ceased, and people dispersed. (Genesis 10:8-10; 11:2-9) Nonetheless, Nimrod presumably, remained in Babel, extending his reign and establishing the first Babylonian Empire. —Genesis 10:11, 12.

The dispersed populations carried with them their misconstrued religious beliefs, which were reinvented and practiced under new terms within their newly adopted languages and locations. The dispersion occurred during the lifetime of Peleg, born approximately a century after the Deluge and who lived to 239. Given that both Noah and his son Shem outlived Peleg, the scattering transpired when knowledge of previous events, like the Flood, was still fresh. (Genesis 9:28; 10:25; 11:10-19) This knowledge was likely retained in some form in the collective memory of the dispersed populace. Evidently, many ancient mythologies reflect elements of the biblical narrative, albeit in distorted, polytheistic formats. For instance, various gods are portrayed as serpent slayers, and many ancient religions worshiped a god who, while acting as a benefactor, suffers a violent earthly death only to be resurrected. This could indicate that such a god was a human figure, deified and erroneously considered as the ‘promised seed.’ (Compare Genesis 3:15.) Myths also recount the amorous affairs between gods and earthly women and the heroic feats of their hybrid progeny. (Compare Genesis 6:1, 2, 4; Jude 6.) Nearly every civilization possesses a legend about a global flood, and remnants of the tower-building narrative can also be discerned in human folklore.

Pantheon of Babylonian Deities

After Nimrod’s demise, it would have been natural for the Babylonians to hold him in high esteem as the founding monarch, the initial builder of their city, and the initiator of the original Babylonian Empire. Tradition tells us Nimrod met a violent end. As Marduk (Merodach), the Babylonian god, was recognized as the city’s founder, some hypothesize that Marduk could be the deified version of Nimrod. However, scholars’ views on linking specific deities with certain humans vary greatly.

Over time, the gods of the first Babylonian Empire proliferated. The pantheon grew to incorporate multiple triads of gods or deities. One such triad included Anu (sky god), Enlil (earth, air, and storm god), and Ea (god of the waters). Another prominent triad was made up of Sin (moon-god), Shamash (sun-god), and Ishtar, a fertility goddess and consort of Tammuz. Babylonians also recognized triads of devils, such as Labartu, Labasu, and Akhkhazu. The worship of celestial bodies was common (Isaiah 47:13), and specific planets became associated with certain gods. Jupiter was associated with Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, Venus with Ishtar, Saturn with Ninurta, Mercury with Nebo, and Mars with Nergal.

Each city in ancient Babylonia had its unique guardian deity, analogous to “patron saints.” In Ur, it was Sin; in Eridu, Ea; in Nippur, Enlil; in Cuthah, Nergal; in Borsippa, Nebo, and in Babylon, Marduk (Merodach). When Hammurabi established Babylon as the Babylonia’s capital, Marduk, the city’s favored god, naturally gained prominence. Eventually, Marduk absorbed the attributes of other gods and was frequently referred to as Belu (“Owner”), or simply Bel. His consort was Belit, translated as “Mistress.”

The depiction of gods and goddesses in ancient Babylonian texts mirrors the flawed human nature. The texts narrate how deities were born, loved, started families, quarreled, and even died, like Tammuz. They were depicted as being fearful during the Deluge, often gluttonous, indulging in excessive drinking, prone to temper outbursts, and harboring deep-seated suspicions and hatreds towards one another. For instance, Tiamat, intent on annihilating other gods, was defeated by Marduk, who split her into two halves to form the sky and the earth. Eresh-Kigal, the underworld goddess, ordered Namtaru, the pestilence god, to incarcerate and afflict her sister Ishtar with 60 miseries.

This gives a glimpse into the milieu that faithful Abraham abandoned when he left the Chaldean city of Ur, a city deep in Babylonian idolatry. (Genesis 11:31; 12:1; Joshua 24:2, 14, 15) Centuries later, this was the Babylon, a “land of graven images” and repugnant “dungy idols,” where thousands of Jewish captives were cast.—Jeremiah 50:1, 2, 38; 2 Kings chapter 25.

Assyrian Pantheon

Generally, the Assyrian pantheon’s deities closely mirror those in the Babylonian pantheon. However, Asshur, the principal god, seems to have been a unique addition to the Assyrian assemblage of gods. The suggestion has been made that this god may represent Shem’s son Asshur, deified by those practicing false worship, considering that Assyria takes its name from Asshur.—Genesis 10:21, 22.

Unlike Marduk, who was worshiped in both Assyria and Babylon but always had his central place of worship in Babylon, the location of Asshur’s worship shifted as the kings of Assyria relocated to different cities. Various sanctuaries dedicated to Asshur were also established throughout Assyria. Asshur was primarily symbolized by a military standard, which was borne into the heat of battle. The god Asshur was often depicted as a bearded man emerging from a winged circle or disk. Sometimes, this figure is shown wielding a bow or shooting an arrow. Another representation of Asshur incorporates a triadic concept: besides the central figure emerging from the circle, two human heads can be seen on top of the wings, flanking the central figure.

After the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.E, exiles from the northern ten-tribe kingdom found themselves amongst such Assyrians. (2 Kings 17:1-6) Later, the prophet Nahum prophesied the fall of Nineveh (the Assyrian capital) and its gods, which came to pass in 624 B.C.E.—Nahum 1:1, 14.

Egyptian Pantheon

The gods and goddesses revered by the Egyptians evidence a profound influence from Babylonian culture. They too, worshipped triads of deities, and in some instances, enneads or groups of nine deities. One of the prevalent triads consisted of Osiris, his consort Isis, and their son Horus.

Osiris was an exceptionally venerated Egyptian god, considered the offspring of the earth-god Geb and the sky-goddess Nut. The mythology of Osiris tells the story of his reign as king of Egypt alongside his wife Isis, his murder at the hands of his brother Set, and his subsequent resurrection to become the judge and ruler of the dead. The relationship and attributes of Osiris and Isis remarkably resemble those of the Babylonian Tammuz and Ishtar. Consequently, many scholars postulate their identities to be synonymous.

The Egyptians worshiped triads such as these. Left: Horus, Osiris, and Isis. Right: Isis, Horus, Nephthys

The cult of the mother and son was also particularly prevalent in Egypt. Isis is frequently depicted with the infant Horus on her lap. This portrayal significantly resembles that of the Madonna and Child, leading some in Christendom to mistakenly venerate it. The god Horus, in particular, seems to present an alteration of the Edenic prophecy concerning the seed that would bruise the serpent’s head. (Genesis 3:15) Horus is occasionally depicted as trampling crocodiles and seizing snakes and scorpions. According to one narrative, when Horus set out to avenge his father Osiris’s death, Set, the murderer, transformed himself into a serpent.

The sacred symbol, the crux ansata, appears frequently on Egyptian murals and sculptures. This emblem of life resembles a “T” with an oval handle at the top, potentially representing a union of the male and female reproductive organs. The Egyptian deities are often depicted holding the crux ansata.

The crux ansata, the Egyptian cross, was viewed as sacred

A multitude of creatures was revered as sacred by the Egyptians, such as the bull, cat, cow, crocodile, falcon, frog, hippopotamus, ibis, jackal, lion, ram, scarab, scorpion, serpent, vulture, and wolf. However, the sanctity of these animals varied across regions, occasionally leading to civil wars. Some animals were not just sacred to certain gods but also considered incarnations of these gods. The Apis bull, for example, was perceived as the embodiment of the god Osiris and an emanation of the god Ptah.

As per Herodotus (II, 65-67), deliberate killing of a sacred animal warranted death; accidental killing resulted in a fine determined by the priests. Intentional or not, killing an ibis or a hawk resulted in death, typically at the hands of an incensed mob. The death of a cat prompted shaving of eyebrows by all household members, while a dog’s death resulted in shaving the entire body. Sacred animals were mummified and buried in elaborate rituals. Mummified animals found include the bull, cat, crocodile, and falcon, to name a few.

The mythological narratives depict Egyptian deities with human flaws and frailties. They were portrayed as susceptible to fear, pain, and danger. Osiris was slain. Horus, in childhood, was said to have suffered from internal pains, headaches, and dysentery and to have died from a scorpion’s sting, only to be resurrected. Isis was believed to have suffered from breast abscess. As the sun-god Ra aged, his strength diminished, and saliva dripped from his mouth. His life was threatened by a magical serpent created by Isis, although he recovered due to Isis’ magical incantations. Sekhmet, a goddess embodying the sun’s destructive power, was depicted as bloodthirsty. Her delight in human slaughter led Ra to fear for humankind’s survival. To prevent human extinction, Ra distributed 7,000 jugs of beer and pomegranate mixture over the battlefield. Mistaking it for blood, Sekhmet drank until intoxicated, halting her massacre. Nephthys was said to have seduced her brother Osiris, the husband of her sister Isis, while he was inebriated. The sun-gods Tem and Horus were depicted as engaging in autoerotic behavior.

Interestingly, when Pharaoh appointed Joseph as Egypt’s second-in-command, Joseph was effectively raised above the practitioners of Egypt’s idolatrous worship.—Genesis 41:37-44.

The Ten Plagues: A Divine Judgement

Through the infliction of the plagues upon the Egyptians, Jehovah executed a resounding judgment on their gods, casting them into disrepute. (Exodus 12:12; Numbers 33:4) The inaugural plague, the transformation of the Nile and all Egyptian waters into blood, tarnished the reputation of the Nile-god Hapi. The ensuing death of the Nile fish compromised Egypt’s religion as some species of fish were venerated and even mummified. (Exodus 7:19-21) The frog, symbolic of fertility and the Egyptian idea of resurrection, and sacred to the frog-goddess Heqt, was brought into disrepute by the plague of frogs. (Exodus 8:5-14) During the third plague, the sorcerers admitted defeat, unable to convert dust into gnats with their occult practices. (Exodus 8:16-19) Thoth, the god accredited with the origination of magic or occult arts, proved useless in aiding the sorcerers to replicate the third plague.

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The divide between the Egyptians and the adherents of the true God became distinct from the fourth plague onward. While the Egyptians’ residences were swarmed by gadflies, the Israelites in Goshen were unaffected. (Exodus 8:23, 24) The subsequent plague, the pestilence upon livestock, denigrated deities such as the cow-goddess Hathor, Apis, and the sky-goddess Nut, envisioned as a star-affixed cow. (Exodus 9:1-6) The plague of boils dishonored the gods and goddesses deemed to possess healing powers, such as Thoth, Isis, and Ptah. (Exodus 9:8-11) The extreme hailstorm shamed the gods presumed to command the natural elements, including Reshpu, associated with controlling lightning, and Thoth, credited with power over rain and thunder. (Exodus 9:22-26) The plague of locusts represented a defeat for the gods expected to ensure abundant harvests, like the fertility god Min, considered a protector of crops. (Exodus 10:12-15) The plague of darkness debased numerous deities, including sun-gods like Ra and Horus and Thoth, the god of the moon and presumed orchestrator of the sun, moon, and stars.—Exodus 10:21-23.

The death of the firstborn resulted in the most significant humiliation for the Egyptian pantheon. (Exodus 12:12) Egyptian rulers stylized themselves as divine beings, the progeny of Ra, or Amon-Ra. They asserted that Ra, or Amon-Ra, engaged in relations with the queen, thereby making the resulting son a god incarnate, dedicated to Ra, or Amon-Ra, at his temple. Consequently, the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn was, in essence, the death of a god. (Exodus 12:29) This event alone would have been a severe blow to the Egyptian religion, and the impotence of all the deities was evident in their inability to save the firstborn of the Egyptians from death.

Canaanite Pantheon

Evidence from sources beyond the Bible suggest that El was revered as the creator and supreme deity among the Canaanite gods. While he appears to have been somewhat distanced from terrestrial affairs, there are numerous instances where other deities approach him with their appeals. El is portrayed as a rebellious son who overthrows and emasculates his own father and is also characterized as a ruthless dictator, a killer, and an adulterer. In the Ras Shamra texts, El is referred to as the “father bull” and depicted with gray hair and a gray beard. His partner was Asherah, often portrayed as the divine matriarch of the gods, while El is cast as the divine patriarch.

However, the most distinguished among the Canaanite gods was Baal, a fertility deity associated with the sky, rain, and storms. (Judges 2:12, 13) The Ras Shamra texts often describe Baal as the son of Dagon, although El is also mentioned as his father. Baal’s sister, Anath, acknowledges El as her father, who in turn identifies her as his daughter. Consequently, Baal might have been viewed as El’s son, or perhaps his grandson. Mythological narratives depict Baal overcoming Yamm, the water god who was seemingly El’s favored son. However, Baal perishes during his confrontation with Mot, perceived as a son of El and the god of death and barrenness. This narrative mirrors Babylonian myths of a god who dies violently and is subsequently resurrected.

The primary goddesses mentioned in the Ras Shamra texts are Anath, Asherah, and Ashtoreth. There seems to be considerable overlap in their roles. In Syria, where the Ras Shamra texts were discovered, Anath may have been seen as Baal’s spouse, as she, despite being frequently referred to as a “maiden,” engages in sexual relations with Baal. The Biblical records, however, only mention Ashtoreth and the sacred pole, or Asherah, in association with Baal. Consequently, Asherah or Ashtoreth might have been considered as Baal’s consorts at different times.—Judges 2:13; 3:7; 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4; 12:10; 1 Kings 18:19.

The references to Anath in the Ras Shamra texts shed light on the degraded perception of deities, a worldview likely shared by the Canaanites and Syrians. Anath is described as the most beautiful among Baal’s sisters, but possessing an exceedingly volatile temperament. She is portrayed threatening to crack her father, El’s skull and make his gray hair and beard drip with blood if he did not accede to her demands. In another instance, Anath is depicted engaging in a bloodthirsty rampage. She fixed heads to her back and hands to her belt and waded knee-deep in the blood and hip-deep in the gore of valiant ones. Her pleasure in such carnage is reflected in the phrases: “Her liver swells with laughter, her heart fills up with joy.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, pp. 136, 137, 142, 152.

The heinous and debased nature of Canaanite worship underscores the fairness of God’s decree to annihilate the land’s inhabitants. (Leviticus 18; Deuteronomy 9:3, 4) However, the Israelites’ failure to execute this divine decree fully led them to eventually fall prey to the depraved practices associated with the worship of Canaanite gods.—Psalms 106:34-43.

Medo-Persian Pantheon

There are signs that the monarchs of the Medo-Persian Empire were adherents of Zoroastrianism. Although it’s unclear whether Cyrus the Great conformed to Zoroastrian teachings, from the era of Darius I, the royal inscriptions frequently mention Ahura Mazda, the primary god in Zoroastrianism. Darius I acknowledged Ahura Mazda as the architect of heaven, earth, and humanity and recognized this deity as the provider of his wisdom, physical prowess, and kingdom.

Zoroastrianism is notable for its dualistic theology, the notion of two autonomous divine entities, one embodying good and the other evil. Ahura Mazda was seen as the originator of all things benevolent, while Angra Mainyu was perceived as the architect of all things malevolent. It was believed that the latter could instigate natural disasters, diseases, and death and incite discord and warfare. These two gods were thought to be aided by lesser spirits in executing their duties.

Cyrus II of Persia (approximately 600-530 BC; Old Persian: 𐎤𐎢𐎽𐎢𐏁 Kūruš), widely recognized as Cyrus the Great, was the influential founder of the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the inaugural Persian Empire. His reign saw the incorporation of all the civilized nations of the ancient Near East into this burgeoning empire, which subsequently extended its influence vastly to encompass most regions of Western Asia and a considerable portion of Central Asia. From the Mediterranean Sea and the Hellespont in the western region to the Indus River in the east, the empire that Cyrus brought into existence represented the most expansive entity the world had witnessed until that time. As his successors carried on his legacy, the Achaemenid Empire reached its pinnacle in terms of territorial coverage, stretching from parts of the Balkans, specifically Eastern Bulgaria-Paeonia and Thrace-Macedonia, in the west to the Indus Valley in the east.

The emblem of Ahura Mazda resembled the Assyrian representation of Asshur: a winged disc, occasionally featuring a bearded man with a bird’s vertical tail emerging.

Ahura Mazda might have been part of a divine triad. This possibility is suggested by Artaxerxes Mnemon’s invocation of Ahura Mazda, Anahita (a goddess of water and fertility), and Mithra (a god of light), and his attribution of his renovation of the Hall of Columns at Susa to the benevolence of these three deities.

Several scholars have drawn connections between Anahita and the Babylonian Ishtar. As E. O. James noted in his book The Cult of the Mother-Goddess (1959, p. 94), Anahita was revered as the ‘Great Goddess whose name is Lady’, the ‘all-powerful immaculate one’, cleansing ‘the seed of males and the womb and the milk of females’. She was essentially the Iranian equivalent of the Syrian Anat, the Babylonian Inanna-Ishtar, the Hittite goddess of Comana, and the Greek Aphrodite.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus (I, 131), the Persians also worshiped natural elements and celestial bodies. He notes that they did not typically create and erect statues, temples, and altars, as they did not believe in gods resembling humans, as did the Greeks. They regarded the entire heavenly sphere as Zeus and made offerings to him on mountain summits. They also sacrificed to the sun, moon, earth, fire, water, and winds. These were the only deities they had originally worshiped; later, they learned to offer sacrifices to ‘heavenly’ Aphrodite from the Assyrians and Arabians. This deity was known as Mylitta to the Assyrians, Alilat to the Arabians, and Mitra to the Persians.

The Zend-Avesta, the holy texts of Zoroastrianism, include prayers to fire, water, and planets and to the light of the sun, moon, and stars. Fire is even described as the progeny of Ahura Mazda.

Despite possibly being a Zoroastrian, Cyrus the King was identified in biblical prophecy as the one chosen by Jehovah to topple Babylon and enable the liberation of the Jewish captives. (Isaiah 44:26–45:7; compare Proverbs 21:1.) After the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E., the Israelites came under the jurisdiction of the Zoroastrian Medo-Persians.

Exploration of the Greek Pantheon

A detailed analysis of the pantheon of Ancient Greece reveals apparent influences from Babylonian tradition. As observed by Professor George Rawlinson of Oxford University, the intriguing similarities between the Chaldean and classical mythologies are noteworthy. He suggested that these parallels in mythological constructs and genealogical succession are too extensive and specific to be accidental. He proposed that a transference of beliefs occurred from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean territories in antiquity. —The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, 1885, Vol. I, pp. 71, 72.

A perversion of the divine prophecy regarding the ‘promised seed’ might be discernible in mythological narratives about Apollo slaying the serpent Python or infant Hercules (the offspring of Zeus and a mortal woman, Alcmene) throttling two serpents. The recurring motif of a deity who dies and subsequently revives is evident. The brutal death and resurrection of Adonis were commemorated annually, primarily by women who mourned his demise, carried effigies of his body in processions akin to funerals, and eventually cast them into the sea or springs. Dionysus or Bacchus, another Greek deity whose violent death and resurrection were celebrated, has been associated with the Babylonian Tammuz, like Adonis.

The mythological tales portray the Greek deities as essentially human-like. Although gods were perceived as superior in size, beauty, and strength, their physical forms were depicted as human. Instead of blood, “ichor” was believed to flow in their veins, leading to the view that the divine bodies were incorruptible. However, it was thought that humans could inflict painful wounds on gods using weapons, yet these wounds invariably healed, leaving the gods eternally youthful.

Primarily, the Greek deities are depicted with profound immorality and human frailties. They engaged in disputes, physical combats, and even plots against each other. Zeus, the paramount Greek god, is said to have overthrown his father Cronus, who himself had ousted and emasculated his father Uranus. Both Uranus and Cronus were portrayed as merciless fathers. Uranus hid the children borne to him by Gaea, his wife, within the earth, denying them exposure to light. Cronus swallowed his offspring birthed by Rhea. The gods were accused of various reprehensible acts, including adultery, incest, rape, deceit, theft, intoxication, and murder. Those who incurred the wrath of a god or goddess faced brutal punishments. For instance, the satyr Marsyas, after challenging Apollo to a musical contest, was tied to a tree trunk by Apollo and skinned alive. Artemis, the goddess, allegedly transformed the hunter Actaeon into a deer and had his own dogs devour him for witnessing her nudity.

Although some dismissed these mythological accounts as mere poetic fantasies, Augustine, in the fifth century C.E., argued that these fabrications, if considered sacrilegious, become more detestable. The devil’s malice could not have crafted a more deceitful plot: the more virtuous the slandered deity’s life, the more wicked the slander appears. (The City of God, Book II, chap IX) Nonetheless, the popularity of these narratives, as represented on the Greek stage, suggests that the majority did not perceive them as defamatory. Instead, they agreed with them, as the deities’ immorality often served to rationalize human transgressions, making these myths popular among the masses.

The apostle Paul encountered worshipers of the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes during his ministry. (Acts 14:12, 13) Athenians demonstrated their reverence and fear of the gods by constructing numerous temples and altars. (Acts 17:22-29) The flagrant sexual immorality inherent in Greek worship also impacted the Christian congregation in Corinth, prompting Paul to reproach the congregation. —1 Corinthians Chapter 5.

Roman Pantheon: An Overview

Roman religious practices were significantly influenced by the Etruscans, a civilization predominantly believed to have originated from Asia Minor. The Etruscan tradition of divination demonstrates a direct connection to Babylonian religion. Evidence of this link is the similarity between the clay liver models used in Mesopotamian divination and a bronze liver model unearthed in Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Therefore, when the Romans integrated Etruscan deities into their religion, they indirectly adopted a Babylonian legacy. The Roman triad of Jupiter (the paramount deity, associated with the sky and light), Juno (Jupiter’s consort overseeing women’s affairs), and Minerva (the patron goddess of all crafts), finds its parallel in the Etruscan triad of Tinia, Uni, and Menrva.

Over time, the major Greek gods were assimilated into the Roman pantheon, albeit under different names. The Romans also embraced deities from other cultures, including the Persian Mithras (whose birth was celebrated on December 25), the Phrygian fertility goddess Cybele, and the Egyptian goddess Isis, both of whom have been equated with the Babylonian deity Ishtar. Additionally, the Roman emperors themselves were deified.

The deity Saturn was revered for ushering in a golden age in Rome. The Saturnalia, initially a one-day festival commemorating him, evolved into a week-long celebration held in the latter half of December. This event was characterized by intense merriment. Participants exchanged gifts like wax fruit and candles, and clay dolls were specifically presented to the children. During the festivities, punishments were suspended; schools and courts went on holiday, and even military campaigns were paused. Slaves were permitted to switch roles with their masters and could speak freely without fear of reprisal.

Early Christians resisted involvement in Roman worship, especially the emperor’s veneration, leading to severe persecution. They steadfastly chose to “obey God as ruler rather than men,” denying Roman rulers the worship due solely to God. —Acts 5:29; Mark 12:17.

Contrasting the Deities of Ancient Civilizations with the God of the Bible

In contemporary times, many of the deities cited in the Bible have been reduced to mere names. Despite the sacrificial offerings their devotees gave them, including their own children at times, these fictitious gods were incapable of aiding their worshipers in times of distress. (2 Kings 17:31) Consequently, the Assyrian king flaunted his military victories, with his spokesman Rabshakeh gloating, “Have any of the gods of the nations ever saved their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they saved Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands has saved their land from my hand, that Jehovah would save Jerusalem from my hand?” (2 Kings 18:28, 31-35)

Unlike the false deities, Jehovah did not fail his people. In a single night, Jehovah’s angel annihilated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. The haughty Assyrian king Sennacherib, thoroughly shamed, retreated to Nineveh, only to be later assassinated by two of his sons in the temple of his god, Nisroch. (2 Kings 19:17-19, 35-37) The Psalmist’s declaration resonates: “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols; but Jehovah made the heavens.”—Psalm 96:5.

The invented deities not only embody the traits of their creators but also influence their worshippers to mimic these attributes. Consider King Manasseh of Judah, who was an ardent follower of false gods, even making his son undergo a fire ritual. Manasseh’s fervor for idolatry didn’t make him a benevolent ruler. On the contrary, he was as ruthless as the bloodthirsty deities he revered, mercilessly spilling innocent blood. (2 Kings 21:1-6, 16) This is in stark contrast to the followers of the true God who strive to emulate their Perfect Creator, exhibiting the fruits of His spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.—Ephesians 5:1; Galatians 5:22, 23.

Mythical Gods Without Merit

Throughout history, numerous cultures have conceived a myriad of gods and goddesses, all vying for their place in the pantheon of human religious consciousness. Yet the Scriptures firmly assert that there is only one true God, Jehovah, who transcends the limitations of human constructs and flawed deities. This fundamental truth is central to understanding the emptiness of mythical gods who are, in essence, without merit.

Babylonian religious influence permeated ancient civilizations, as outlined in The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, impacting Egypt, Persia, and Greece. Greek mythology, often imbued with Babylonian elements, did not revolve around a singular, authoritative sacred book, which gave rise to diverse narratives and interpretations, as noted in The Encyclopedia of Religion. This wide margin of interpretation fostered an environment conducive to the creation of a vast repertoire of mythical gods, each possessing its distinct narrative but lacking an objective foundation of truth.

A renowned Greek poet of the eighth or ninth century B.C.E., Homer, was instrumental in developing Greek religious thought through his works, the Iliad and the Odyssey. These epic poems, portraying interactions between mythical gods of Mount Olympus, mortals, and godlike heroes, became a rich source for Greek religious traditions. Consequently, myth and religion overlapped significantly in ancient Greek culture.

Greek religion, ever receptive to external influences, adopted the Egyptian cults of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, which subsequently permeated the Roman Empire, according to The New Encyclopædia Britannica. This integration showcases the transient and mutable nature of these religions, revealing the lack of a solid, unchanging foundation.

The early Romans harbored a simplistic religious outlook that personified gods as impersonal spirits dwelling within material forms. Their religious practices were dominated by superstition, omens, and rituals, with little emphasis on spiritual or moral principles. This fundamental spiritual vacuum led Romans to seek more sophisticated religious experiences, eventually absorbing Greek gods and goddesses, virtually unchanged, into their pantheon.

The early Roman clergy, devoid of spiritual or moral leadership, primarily functioned as facilitators of rituals and liturgies. Consequently, Roman religion, similar to its Greek counterpart, had many faces, names, and lacked a consistent, moral, and spiritual foundation.


A Greek God on the March

Alexander III of Macedonia, often referred to as Alexander the Great was a noteworthy figure who engaged with these mythical constructs. Tutored by the esteemed philosopher Aristotle and deeply influenced by Homer’s writings, Alexander embarked on a campaign of conquest upon inheriting the Macedonian throne at the age of 20. Throughout his reign, Alexander was acclaimed as divine, both in his lifetime and posthumously. For instance, after liberating Egypt from Persian rule, he was hailed as ‘son of Ammon,’ equating him with Zeus, the chief god of the Greek pantheon.

However, the grandeur and perceived divinity of Alexander the Great were ephemeral. At the young age of 32, Alexander’s life abruptly ended, halting his journey of conquest. This stark reality presents a compelling contrast with the eternal nature of Jehovah, the God of the Scriptures, who is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2).

Mythical gods, while captivating the imaginations of ancient civilizations, fundamentally lacked merit. They were mutable, subject to human interpretation, devoid of consistent moral and spiritual leadership, and often inextricably linked to temporal, mortal figures. In contrast, Jehovah, the one true God of the Scriptures, offers an immutable, moral, and spiritual foundation, transcending temporal limitations. These contrasts firmly establish the meritless nature of mythical gods and underscore the unique supremacy of Jehovah.


Pervasive Greek Piety

The concept of “Pervasive Greek Piety” speaks to the deep-seated religious fervor that characterized ancient Greek society. Despite the diverse range of gods and goddesses worshipped, the ancient Greeks shared a common respect and reverence for the divine, evident in their everyday life and societal structure.

Ancient Greeks did not have an exclusive term to denote “religion” as we understand it today. Instead, they employed the term “eu·seʹbei·a” which encompasses a broad range of connotations such as “piety,” “right conduct concerning the gods,” “revering well,” and “godly devotion.” This term thus reflects their profound sense of respect and devotion towards the divine.

Historically, this piety had a significant duration and geographical influence. According to The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Greek religion, in its developed form, prevailed for more than a thousand years, from the era of Homer (likely in the 9th or 8th century B.C.E.) to the reign of the emperor Julian in the 4th century C.E. Throughout this period, its influence pervaded from Spain in the west to the Indus in the east, encapsulating the entire Mediterranean region.

One of the major societies influenced by the Greeks was the Romans, who aligned their deities with those of the Greeks. Interestingly, under the emergence and subsequent dominance of Christianity, Greek heroes and deities metamorphosed into saints, and local cults across Southern Europe retained their independence via the veneration of different renditions of Mary, the mother of Jesus, reminiscent of the Greek religious flexibility.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

The pervasiveness of Greek piety profoundly impacted the religious landscape that early Christians had to navigate. For instance, the Bible records an episode in Acts 14:11-15, where the apostles Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Greek gods by the people of Lystra. The crowd, struck by the miracles performed by Paul, acclaimed them as gods—Barnabas as Zeus, the presiding deity of the Greek pantheon, and Paul as Hermes, the messenger god, due to his eloquent speech. In response to their deification, the apostles rent their clothes, a traditional Jewish expression of deep distress or disagreement, and implored the people to turn from these “vain things” to the “living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the things in them.”

This incident encapsulates the extensive prevalence and influence of Greek piety. Even as the early Christian missionaries sought to propagate the Gospel message, they were met with deeply ingrained Greek religious notions, which often resulted in significant misunderstandings.

Ultimately, the exploration of “Pervasive Greek Piety” reveals not only the influence and reach of Greek religious thought but also the challenges this posed for the spread of early Christianity. The Greeks’ profound reverence and deference towards their pantheon of gods present a compelling study of an ancient society steeped in religious fervor, thus offering vital insights into the intersection of religion, culture, and societal norms in antiquity. Understanding this allows for a greater appreciation of the spiritual tenacity and resolve of the early Christian missionaries in their quest to spread the Gospel message amidst a largely polytheistic society.

Greek and Roman Divinities

  The Greco-Roman world shared many commonalities in their mythology and religion, a consequence of extensive cultural exchange over centuries. This is clearly reflected in their respective pantheons, where many deities hold parallel roles and share similar attributes, although they may have different names and local variations in their stories. The following table lists some of these correspondences:






Goddess of love, beauty, and desire



God of music, poetry, light, prophecy, and medicine



God of war



Goddess of the hunt, wilderness, childbirth, and the moon



God of healing



Goddess of wisdom, warfare, and crafts



In Greek mythology, ruler of the Titans and father of Zeus; in Roman mythology, also the god of agriculture



Goddess of agriculture and the harvest



God of wine, fertility, and wild behavior



God of love



Symbol of the earth, and mother and wife of Uranus



God of fire, metalworking, and crafts



Queen of the gods, goddess of marriage and childbirth. Protector of marriage and women. In Greek mythology, sister and wife of Zeus; in Roman mythology, wife of Jupiter



Messenger of the gods, god of trade and science, thieves and vagabonds, and protector of travelers



Goddess of the hearth



God of sleep



God of the underworld and the dead



God of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. In Greek mythology, also god of earthquakes and horses



Wife and sister of Cronus



Son and husband of Gaea and father of the Titans



King of the gods, god of the sky, lightning, and thunder

In many cases, the Romans not only adopted the Greek deities but also incorporated their mythology, adjusting and integrating them into their own religious and cultural context. For example, the Greek goddess Athena, known for her wisdom, strategic warfare, and patronage of various arts and crafts, found her counterpart in the Roman goddess Minerva. However, while the Romans held Minerva in high regard, similar to the Greeks’ veneration of Athena, they placed a greater emphasis on her wisdom aspect, and less on her warlike qualities.

Another prominent example is Zeus (Greek) and Jupiter (Roman), both considered the king of gods and god of the sky, thunder, and lightning. Their roles and attributes are so closely aligned that they are often seen as virtually identical.

However, it is crucial to note that while the Romans adopted many aspects of Greek religion, they also maintained their unique interpretations and practices. Some Roman gods did not have direct Greek equivalents and vice versa. Moreover, the way these deities were worshipped, the rituals performed, and the emphasis on certain aspects over others could vary greatly between the two cultures.

Therefore, while there are many parallels between the Greek and Roman pantheons, each maintained its distinct flavor, embodying the unique cultural, societal, and historical contexts from which they emerged.

A Revered Roman God

Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, known initially as Octavian, has left an indelible mark in history. He consolidated power in 31 B.C.E. following the death of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, and set the foundations for what became the Roman Empire, bringing about the Pax Romana, a period of relative peace and stability. Augustus was revered by the people of Rome, referred to as ‘the revered’, and was even deified by the Roman Senate after his death. Yet, a question arises – did he truly merit the divine status and the reverence he received?

To address this, it is essential to delve into what the Scriptures say about true divinity and reverence. In the Scriptures, divinity is ascribed to the One who holds supreme power and wisdom, the Creator of all things visible and invisible. In Isaiah 44:6, Jehovah declares: “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.”

No human, despite their grandeur, might, or wisdom can claim such attributes. All humans, no matter how powerful, are subject to mortality and limitations. The apostle Paul states in Acts 17:28, “For in him [God] we live and move and have our being,” highlighting our inherent dependency on God for existence itself. In stark contrast, Augustus, like all humans, was limited in his power, wisdom, and lifespan, ultimately succumbing to mortality.

Moreover, in the biblical worldview, reverence is reserved for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:28 exhorts believers to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,” as it is Jehovah who is worthy of such adoration. On the other hand, Augustus, although a powerful ruler, was a fallible human. His achievements, though notable, were also characterized by political manipulations, power struggles, and imperfections.

The Scriptures also emphasize that human rulers are placed by God’s allowance. In Romans 13:1, Paul states: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” So, while rulers like Augustus may have authority and command respect due to their positions, they are not in themselves objects of worship or ultimate reverence.

Furthermore, the Scripture guides us to place our trust and hope not in human rulers but in God. Psalms 146:3-5 admonishes: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit goes out, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in Jehovah his God.” Despite the admiration Augustus received, he could not provide ultimate salvation or eternal peace.

Indeed, echoing the sentiment of Homer’s Iliad, it can be said: “How vain, without the merit, is the name.” Names and titles may carry the semblance of divinity and inspire awe, but without true divine attributes – eternal existence, ultimate power, complete wisdom, and perfect goodness – they are hollow.

As we reflect on historical figures like Augustus, it is crucial to maintain a clear distinction between human authority and divine sovereignty. Such an understanding enables us to appreciate human achievements while acknowledging the supremacy of the One who grants us breath and life. Therefore, while Augustus may have been a revered Roman ruler, his acclaim and the deification he received do not meet the biblical standard for true divinity or the reverence it merits. The Scriptures, then, provide a lens through which we can evaluate the past, perceive the present, and envision a future grounded in the recognition of God’s sovereignty.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV)




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