Christianity and Greek Mythology

Religion: a set of believes concerning cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and often containing morals. Myth: A story where often the forces of nature and soul are personified and have embodied morals (dictionary). Since religion and myth have two different definitions they always regarded two different concepts. However, taking a further look into Christianity-one of the biggest modern day religions- and Greek mythology, the two have just as many similarities as they do differences. These similarities show that modern day Christians have somewhat the same outlook on the world, historical events, and philosophical issues as the ancient Greeks. The Christian bible tells many stories which are similar to the stories that were orally told in Ancient Greece; they’re stories filled with wisdom and morals-all serving the same purpose-to create a general set of guidelines to live by.

In the Greek story of creation the Earth is nothing more than a dark void, or Khaos, which is often translated to ‘chaos’. Khaos was the lower atmosphere which surrounded the Earth. This Khaos gave birth to the Gods: Gaia: the Earth, Tartaros: the Underworld, Eros: love and sex, Erebus: darkness, Aither: light, Hemera: day, and Nyx: night. This Khaos in Greek mythology is equivalent to Christianity’s God because he invented the same things with the exception of an underworld. God then went on to create Adam and Eve and they eventually went on to reproduce. Adam and Eve’s reproduction can be compared to the Greek Eros. However, unlike Khaos, God is not a void of nothingness, but the beginning of all things. God also remained the ruler of the entire world in the biblical stories, while Khaos was displaced by several gods and goddesses in years to come (Hesiod 2-3). Both creation stories agree that Earth began from a void, and that it gave birth to what is now our Earth.

In both Greek myth and Christianity there are downfalls in man’s relationship with God and Zeus, who was later the chief God of the ancient Greeks. Both falls in the relationships stemmed from deceit, trickery, and temptation. IN the Greek myth, Pandora is given a jar by Zeus, and told to never open it. She grows curious and eventually peeks inside it. The jar contained all the evils of mankind (Regula). Pandora opening the jar causes everyone on Earth to suffer. The Christian parallel to Pandora is the story of Adam and Even. In the Christian version, Adam and Eve are told by God not to touch any of the fruit on the tree of knowledge. Eve eventually fell victim to the temptation of Satan and tastes the forbidden fruit, and she makes Adam taste with her (Genesis: Chapter II). In both stories it is woman who causes the fall from the Gods. Although they played different rolls in the fall of man, the women eventually bear the blame for all human suffering and sorrow.

In both the ancient Greek and Christian accounts of the early world, there exist stories of great floods that destroyed most of humankind (Ashford). In the Bible’s version of the flood, God becomes frustrated with mans’ wickedness. He decides to destroy the Earth with a flood, although it saddens him to do so (Fairchild). God tells one man, Noah, to build an ark  and take with him his family and a pair of every animal and to stay there until the flood passes. God flooded out the entire world until nothing but Noah and everything on the ark was left. In the Greeks version of the story, Zeus becomes angry with mankind and decides to destory them as revenge for their impieties (Tripp). Zeus’ intention was to destory all of mankind. However, Prometheus, who tells his sun, Deucalion, to build an ark so he and his wife could escape Zeus’ wrath, thwarts Zeus’ attempt. In the Greek version, 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 agree that a great flood was a significant event in the early years of the world. As well, they both believe that someone survived the flood by building an ark and living on it until the flood ended, and in doing so continued human life.

War is another common characteristic of both the Ancient Greek world and the Biblical world. The Trojan War is a major event in Greek history, and is recorded most famously in Homer’s “Iliad.” The Gods, mainly Zeus, played a major role in the war, althouth Ares, the God of War, and the other Olympians played significant parts in the story (Homer). Wars between Greek city-states were common occurrences, with gods and goddesses almost always involved in them in some way. The Bible also accounts many different stories of war between different countries and religious groups. The war between the Philistines and the Israelites is one of the biggest examples (Philistines Capture the Ark). In this war, God interfered and sent David to save the Israelites. David does so by defeating Goliath, a feat he wouldn’t have been able to do without God’s help. These two examples show the belief from both cultures that war was an important event in the ancient world, and that the gods played very significant roles in the wars.

In the Greek myths, Odysseus was a carpenter who went on to lead a life of great suffering trying to get back to his home (Hunter). Odysseus had to hide his true identity when he returned, and rid his house of the many men who were trying to steal his wife. In the Bible, Jesus was a carpenter who also lived a life of great suffering. He arrived at the temple in Jerusalem, saw the sins and greed taking place, and angrily went through destorying the items inside. The Hebrews are thought to be the apple of God’s eye…Jesus was the head of their household. He felt compelled to protect them and keep them from the “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Both stories have a similar God who feel the same emotions towards their people, and have to suffer through the same tasks to protect them.

There were also many prophecies in Greek myth and Biblical stories of the overthrowing of rulers. In both cultures, these prophecies lead to the attempted suppression, or murder, of the assumed overthrower; the attempts of suppression were rarely successful. The Greek god Cronus was told that one of his children would conquer and overthrow him (Rymer). Cronus, not wanting to be overthrown, swallows each of his children as they’re born. However, through deceit and trickery, Cronus’ wife Rhea hid their youngest child Zeus. Zeus grows up to free his brothers and sisters and seizes his father’s power. The Christian version of the same sort of prophecy is directied at Herod, who was king at the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod orders all newborn boys in Bethlehem be killed in at attempt to avoid being overthrown. However, Jesus escapes this fate because his parents ran away to Egypt until Herod died. Both the ancient Greeks and Christians found these prophecies an important part of history.

Hades and Satan are another aspect of Greek stories and Christianity that have many parallels but are also quite unique. In the Bible, Satan is the main antagonist. He’s perceived as evil and destructive. In Greek myth, Hades, who reins the underworld, isn’t evil. He was simply sent unwillingly to protect the dead. Hades did show his selfish side when he demanded Persphone to spend a portion of every year with him in Hell. Satan and Hades are similar in the fact that they are both rulers of an underworld, which makes them the keepers of peoples’ souls. This also leads into the views ancient Greeks and modern Christians have on death. The Greeks called the in-between of Heaven and Hell “Asphodel” while the Christians call it “Limbo.” Both have the same meaning. A dead person isn’t good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell. In both cultures, the rejected spirits to Heaven stay to haunt the living as ghosts.

There are many similarities in the emphasis of certain numbers in both Greek myths and Christianity. In Greek myth many things came in threes, most famously the three fates. Cronus was overthrown by three of his sons, Cerberus is a three headed dog, and Scylla was a sea monster with six heads (divisible by three). In the Bible there are the three kings, and the Holy Trinity. Another number, twelve, is similar because there are 12 Gods on Mt. Olympus and 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. These similarities point to the fact that the ancient Greeks and the Christians found truth in the same numbers

Modern day Christians practice their religion in churches. They often meet to worship God and to be forgiven of their sins so they can be accepted into heaven. Christianity is a religion that preaches of life after death. In the times of ancient Greeks there weren’t any churches, rather, religious cults that met to worship Hades. The attendees of the cult believed in the promise of life after death, and believed ‘praying’ to Hades would liberate their fear of death, and eventually make them immortal. Although Christians pray to God in hopes of living eternally in heaven, the ancient Greeks pictured the same afterlife but instead, they prayed to Hades to avoid death.

Although religion and mythology are two different things, the parallels between the ancient Greek myth and modern day Christianity are hard to ignore. The Bible stories are quite similar to those of the ancient Greeks. There is a main God, who cares and protects his people. Those Gods will properly protect his people, as well as punish them when needed. Delving into the two topics it is obvious that there are just as many similarities as there are differences.

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