Paganism

Can I ask why this is of such concern to you?

I mean did the early Christians reject the beliefs of pagan mythology.

I returned to the Church after 24 years of being away and I fear that what if what’s so important to me now, my faith, isn’t what I was taught after all? What if my beliefs turn out to be a copy of pagan mythology rather that the Truth?

I returned to the Church after 24 years of being away and I fear that what if what’s so important to me now, my faith, isn’t what I was taught after all? What if my beliefs turn out to be a copy of pagan mythology rather that the Truth?

Can anyone comment on this?

:twocents:

You need to work on developing your relationship with the living God. (We all do.)
Your doubts may be His calling you to Truth.
It sounds like you are just dealing with ideas.
Pray, participate in the mass and be good to others, that is what is essential.

Aloysium is right. I wouldn’t worry about it. Is there anything I wrote that you don’t feel to be a correct explanation of the different concepts of Jesus and Dionysus? We can “what if” all day, but ultimately we have to accept the evidence.

If you feel the need to research this further, you could read “Shattering the Christ Myth” by James Patrick Hodding, a collection of articles that pretty effectively demolishes any claims that Jesus was modeled on pagan deities, or “The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition” by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd.

While the Christians rejected polytheistic mythology, some elements of pagan culture - such as the use of terms and concepts from Greek philosophy - was used within the early Church. No truth conflicts, and the use of reason and logic are gifts given to all people. In the same way, we use pagan names for days of the week in our calendars and church bulletins, (Thursday - “Thor’s Day,” Wednesday comes from Woden, etc.) and the months (January comes form the Roman god Janus, etc.), we use a pagan method of execution (the cross) as the symbol of our faith, and even some cultural practices (wearing white at a wedding, using wedding rings, etc.) originated in pagan Roman culture. None conflict with Christian teachings (so the wearing of white now signifies the purity of the bride, not an assurance that the pagan patriarch is marrying a virgin, and the ring represents voluntary binding of the couple under a covenantal relationship, not ownership by the pagan male) and are not tied to specific worship of those deities (i.e., I don’t think about sacrificing a child under the Thunder Oak of Geismar just because it’s Thursday.) Elements from pagan culture can be sanctified through Christ, which is a very different idea than secretly importing paganism into worship. Even pagan traditions contain some elements of truth, goodness, and beauty, however imperfectly understood, derived from the Natural Law written in our hearts.

On the claim that YHWH began as a Canaanite deity whom the Jews “evolved” into a monotheistic God, our conception is that our understanding of the one God evolved, not the concept. The God of Israel’s name was written as YHWH but He was never called that. He was addressed as Adonai, Elohim, HaShem, and other names. The Canaanites had a god they called Yahweh, who was not identified as (our) monotheist understanding of God (Elohim). The Canaanite Yahweh was a Levantine storm god, whose name later became associated with the monotheist conception of God, as the Hebrew language evolved and old concepts were used to express newly understood ones.

The early Jews did not yet have the benefit of full revelation of the nature of God, and some appeared to pursue polytheist ways (a habit some fall in to again and again in the OT), but there’s some evidence that many of the polytheists had an imperfect but partially correct conception of God’s true attributes and nature - as when Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, was accepted by him despite the injunction against consorting with other deities. This is only explainable if Jethro had some, albeit not the full, understanding of God given to Moses. God, who proclaimed “I AM,” was not contained by a name, but was known by His divine attributes, and by binding himself to the people of Israel by covenant. We know him by His attributes (as revealed to Abraham and Isaac, i.e., He was not a god who demanded human sacrifice, as the pagan gods often did.)

Certain titles (not proper names) were also associated with both God and the gods in the OT, as with “El” or “Elohim”. “El” was used to refer to both an Ugaritic God in the 13th century B.C., but is also used generically for a deity (as I use the word “god” for both the true God and mythological gods) at that time, and in fact “El” was used throughout the region for any number of deities. “Elyon” is an epithet meaning “Most High” that is used in the OT to refer to God, but the evidence that this was used to refer to a different God than Yahweh is lacking. (It is also phonetically unrelated to “El,” as they begin with different letters in the Hebrew alphabet.) Melchizedek was worshipping the same God as we do, in this view. We have no attestations in or outside of the OT that there was an earlier God named “Elyon” or “El Elyon” that merged with the Jewish conception of Yahweh.

For further reading on this, I would recommend “Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey” by Dr. Richard Hess.

Hope this is helpful on this St. Stephen’s Day.

Wikipedia is not a good source for religious research because of the nature of the open editorial policies.

CS Lewis has some very interesting things to say on this subject. Parts of “Mere Christianity” touch on it and “The Abolition of Man” addresses it in some depth. The “Epilogue” of JRR Tolkien’s non-fiction essay “On Fairy Stories” also addresses it.

Yay! I’ve got Mere Christianity on my bookshelf, unread.

I can’t find much in this book that addresses what we’re talking about.

The thing that most pagans did, particularly in the Roman Empire, was to blend religions and gods in order to make everyone comfortable.

But Jews and Christians got in trouble with the Roman government, and got killed by the rest of the pagan people of the Empire, precisedly because they refused to blend God with other gods.

For example, the thing that set off the Maccabees’ revolt was a Greek king making sacrifices to his god on the Temple altars; and the thing that set off the Jews against the Romans was the Romans putting up an eagle of Jupiter above the Temple doors. These things would have been considered perfectly pious, patriotic and good ANYWHERE ELSE in the ancient world. It was openminded and diplomatic to blend gods and goddesses.

But in Israel, they were an “abomination,” and the only way to cleanse this intolerable thing was by fire, and by killing the perpetrators.

Similarly, there were plenty of openminded, diplomatic Roman pagans who were eager to blend the worship of Jesus and/or YHWH with Jupiter and Baal and Apollo in their own homes; or to get followers of Jesus to sacrifice a pinch of incense to the patriotic god called the Genius of the Emperor, and thus save their lives and show their good citizenship.

But Christians could not do this (unrepentantly, anyway) and still remain Christian. Christians preferred to obey God rather than men, and to die.

But the more pagan-y, old-fashioned pagans were actually against any approach to Christianity as similar to good pagan values, because Jews and Christians were atheists from their point of view. Christians actually took the eyewitness testimony of women seriously, and treated women as equals with equal souls. Christians worshipped a poor man who’d been crucified, instead of a rich and powerful magician king or a great monster-slaying hero. What the heck were they thinking? Wasn’t it just too embarrassing and gross to take seriously?

There are naturally some similarities between any random group of wonderful mythological stories (or fairy tales, or histories, or novels) and the Bible, because Christ is the Word, and His story is THE story. But Abraham Lincoln wasn’t born a frontiersman because George Washington was born a frontiersman, or vice versa. They were both born on the frontier because that’s where their parents lived, and that’s what happened.

Jesus did what He did, and what He did has been reported by accounts drawn from numerous eyewitnesses, so that you can know that it’s true.

You know I was actualy agreeing as I read this post untill I reached this paragraph. What is your source for this claim that the pagans of antiquity did not take the testimony of women seriously or claimed they had lesser souls. I know of no religion that does this in particular. Within the empire hundreds of different female dietys were worshiped, and female clergy like the Vestal Virgins and Oracles of Delphi were held in high regard. While much of your post is correct in that pagans have a very different world view from christians I can’t agree with this untill you show me some evidence here.

Plato, who was certainly a pagan: “It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may continue through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfilment; the best a woman can hope for is to become a man” (Plato, Timaeus 90e).

Aristotle: ‘It is the best for all tame animals to be ruled by human beings. For this is how they are kept alive. In the same way, the relationship between the male and the female is by nature such that the male is higher, the female lower, that the male rules and the female is ruled.’ Aristotle, Politica, ed. Loeb Classical Library, 1254 b 10-14.

Women generally could not testify in pagan Greece, as they were classed with children and slaves in status. Plato felt that some exceptions could be made in homicide cases for women, children, and slaves, but only with the permission of all the (male) defendants and if the woman was older than 40 years of age, as infancy for a woman was considered to extend at least to age 30. See jstor.org/stable/262256?seq=1

Re the ability of pagan women in classical Rome to be witnesses, this is a complex issue, and was usually related to the period of history, the woman’s class status, her age, the wishes and desires of the man who had legal authority over her, either as a father (patria potestas), husband (manus) or slave owner; the nature of the court’s jurisdiction (they were sometimes permitted to testify in family court matters), whether they were testifying against a man (less likely) or another woman (more likely), whether they were acting as a disinterested witness or as a defendant, and the crime of which they were accused. Accused adulteresses could not testify at all, as they had dishonored a man in the past, nor could a wife accuse a husband of adultery in court under Julian law. There was also a blanket restriction against women testifying in very serious matters, such as homicide or forgery.

Women were greatly restricted in their ability to bring suit, but they were allowed to defend themselves in some restricted circumstances (and there are some examples of this in literature and histories, as with Maesia of Sentinum in 30 A.D., as reported by Valerius Maximus - her testimony was allowed because due to her noble, masculine bearing, she was felt to be an androgyne, possessing the honor of a man although in a woman’s body), although it was still felt to be preferable that a man should defend them.

The best resource on this is probably Judith Evans Grubb’s excellent Women and the Law in the Roman Empire, London: Routledge, 2002

As Skadi said, there were women who held positions as oracles, etc. who were held in high regard as the mouths of the gods, but it should also be considered that they were under the control of male priests (as was the Pythia, who was the female oracle at Delphi), and the gibberish she spoke after inhaling the methane or ethylene-laced vapors was then interpreted by exclusively male priests, the hosioi (“ὅσιοι”, “holy ones”) and the prophētai (“προφῆται”, singular prophētēs). Plutarch was one of these.

“· In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. –Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)”

I’m sure the pagan population of Rome stood in awe of such respect for women as this, certainly they found lavishing words as kind as this on their wives and daughters disgusting. Women on ancient times were unfortunately treated as second class citizens, regardless of dominant culture or religion. In fact for over a millennia the freest women on earth were not in the Roman Empire or Christian Europe but Germanic and Scandinavia, the rites and treatment of women after the adoption of Christianity in North Europe fell off significantly until the 18th century really.

Not to say that Christianity degrades women. But in ancient times the belief in male superiority was extremely prominent in ALL religions, whether based in dogma or not.

Shall I find more?

You’re welcome to post more quotes if you’d like, Skadi. I was responding to your request for evidence that pagan religions (and to the Romans and Greeks, religion and the state were unified under the polis a) believed that women had lesser souls than men, and that b) women’s testimony was considered less truthful than men’s. Your question asked whether there was evidence, which I provided to you, not whether one mediterranean culture was superior to another in its views towards women. Christ’s radical teaching on the equal worth and dignity of women was not found in those cultures.

Did some members of the Church hold retrograde views of women? Without a doubt. Tertullian was never canonized, as you know, as he departed from orthodoxy and apostolic teaching.

I will also have to differ with your views on pre-Christian German and Scandinavian pagan culture’s views on women. By almost any metric, women’s dignity and rights were far less valued before Christianity than afterwards for the Merovingians, Carolingians, and Anglo-Saxons, for the period for which we have any kind of textual data.

Although German pagan women had some rights that the Roman pagans did not grant them - they could speak in political councils and testify in court - the customs of marriage devalued women. Their consent was not required for marriage, and marriage by abduction and rape was common (so much so that there was even a pagan marriage ceremony for such events, indicating that they were common.) Child marriages and marriage to children as young as infants were common, so much so that the Church had to set minimum standards for legal marriage. Incest and consanguineous relationships, essential to retain the “honor” of the German pagan male and to secure political relationships, were common and a source of conflict with the early Church.

Polygamy and legal concubinage, which historically have been factors that reduce the dignity and worth of women, was commonly practiced by the pagan Germans. The Merovingian Charibert refused to give up his concubines despite excommunication and reverted to paganism. Dagobert was known for the number of concubines he possessed. Women were punished for adultery under the Germanic pagan codes, whereas men generally were not.

Most of the pagan tribes allowed a man to divorce his wife, but not vice versa (the Anglo-Saxons were the lone exception in this.)

Pagan German queens did have a far greater level of power and authority than high-ranking women in pagan Rome or Greece, and acquired even greater levels of autonomy under Christianity. We also see the rise of female-led religious communities under Christianity, and women acquired the right to own land, and had the ability to dispossess sons - unheard of under the pagans.

Less is known about pagan Viking culture. There is no evidence that women were allowed to express their views in Viking assemblies it is controversial whether women were allowed to own land (probably not). Men could be punished by death for adultery or for the rape of a virgin, but these were crimes that impacted on the honor of a dishonored husband or father. Sexual assault was common in Viking raids on other countries (as at Barking Abbey, where the nuns disfigured themselves to avoid rape and the aggrieved Vikings burnt the women to death.) Women were commonly enslaved by the pagans for sexual purposes, both among the Vikings and the Celts. One of the 2 surviving texts that are from St. Patrick calls out a Celtic pagan king for this practice, at the risk of Patrick’s own life.

I should make it clear that pagan cultures “valued” women, inasmuch as they were of worth to men. Every culture in history has done that, just as men have valued heads of cattle. Our culture, which is increasingly pagan, “values” and rewards women like Molly Cyrus, inasmuch as she earns money for the men of her record company, and perpetuates a cultural belief that all young women want to dress in a sleazy manner and tweak with older men. Our culture does not value the middle aged women working behind the counter at WalMart to support her children. That is the radical difference of Christianity - it values the inherent human dignity of all women, not just the young, skinny, pretty, or rich ones.

It occurs to me that part of the problem, at least in this thread, is that the word “pagan” remains undefined. Even now, do we use the word as it might have been used 2,000 or more years ago?

There are a couple of points I’d like to bring up, but would like to learn how other posters define the term.

While the dictionary version of th word Pagan is a religion worshiping anything other than the god of Abraham, it originated as Roman military slang for farmer or country dweller, and eventually became equivalent to the modern term “Hick” as Christianity spread in city’s much more effectively then rural areas.

When I use it I am specifically reffuring to either

  1. Non-Abrahamic religions from Classic antiquity, specifically Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
  2. Modern incarnations of those religions or Neo-pagan religions derived from various forms of paganism, for example Wicca.

While by dictionary defenition religions like Hinduism and Shinto are pagan I don’t refer to them as such.

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