What Basis for the Greek Myths?
ZEUS, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite—these and others are familiar to most of us as the names of Greek gods and goddesses. Many, too, know that the mythological accounts of the ancient Greeks ascribe all kinds of detestable practices to their deities. They are depicted as quarreling among themselves, fighting against one another and even conspiring against one another. That the myths might have even the slightest basis in fact may seem difficult to conceive. Yet, strange as it may seem to some persons, the Bible sheds light on the possible, or even probable, origin of these legends.
According to the true history found at Genesis 6:1-13, angelic sons of God came to the earth prior to the flood of Noah’s day and took up living as husbands with attractive women. The offspring of these unions were “Nephilim” or “Fellers,” that is, ‘those causing others to fall.’ This contributed measurably to the immorality and violence that prevailed on earth then.
Doubtless the Deluge survivors, Noah and his family, passed on the information about pre-Flood conditions to their descendants. It is therefore noteworthy that the myths attributed to the Greek poets Homer and Hesiod echo the account found in the Bible. Of course, these myths present matters in a highly distorted form when compared with the Bible record.
The Grecian deities described by Hesiod and Homer had human form and great beauty, though often being gigantic and superhuman. They ate, drank, slept, had sexual intercourse among themselves or even with humans, lived as families, seduced and raped. Though supposedly holy and immortal, they were capable of any type of deceit and crime. They could move among mankind either visibly or invisibly.
Besides the principal gods, the Greek legends describe demigods or heroes who were of both divine and human descent. The demigods were of superhuman strength but were mortal (Hercules being the only one of them said to have been granted the privilege of attaining immortality). So the demigods bear a marked similarity to the Nephilim mentioned in the Genesis account, whereas the gods appear to find their counterpart in the ‘sons of God’ who forsook their heavenly position.
EVIDENCE OF BABYLONIAN INFLUENCE
But why is it that the Greek myths present such a distorted version of what appears to be alluded to in the Holy Scriptures? The facts of history, as contained in the Bible, provide the needed clues for answering this question.
It was after the Flood that a large segment of mankind chose to rebel against Jehovah God. On the plain of Shinar, they undertook the building of the city of Babel and a tower, likely a ziggurat to be used for false worship. This project was begun in defiance of the Creator’s purpose for humans to spread about in the earth. But it had no success, for Jehovah confused the language of the builders. Unable to understand one another, they eventually stopped their construction work, and were scattered.—Gen. 11:2-9.
However, the knowledge about earlier events, such as the conditions existing before the Flood, must have lingered in some form in the memory of the dispersed people. Reasonably they and their descendants accommodated such knowledge to their religious concepts. This could explain why these myths are in many respects so different from the Biblical account.
Since Babel was the point from which the rebellious people were scattered, we should expect to find Babylonian or Chaldæan influence in the Greek myths. And this is exactly what numerous scholars have noted. Orientalist E. A. Speiser traces the theme of the Greek myths back to Mesopotamia, saying:
“The tale of divine beings who were guilty of unseemly acts, which they sometimes carried to the point of savage family battles, was taken over from Mesopotamia by the Hurrians, was transmitted from them to the Hittites, and cropped up eventually in Greek and Phoenician sources.”—The World History of the Jewish People, Vol. I, p. 260.
Years earlier Professor George Rawlinson observed:
“The striking resemblance of the Chaldean system to that of Classical Mythology seems worthy of particular attention. This resemblance is too general, and too close in some respects, to allow of the supposition that mere accident has produced the coincidence. In the Pantheons of Greece and Rome, and in that of Chaldæa, the same general grouping is to be recognized; the same genealogical succession is not unfrequently to be traced; and in some cases even the familiar names and titles of classical divinities admit of the most curious illustration and explanation from Chaldæan sources. We can scarcely doubt but that, in some way or other, there was a communication of beliefs—a passage in very early times, from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the lands washed by the Mediterranean, of mythological notions and ideas.”—Seven Great Monarchies, Vol. I, pp. 71, 72.
Yes, the evidence points to one source for the religious concepts that are a distortion of the truth as contained in the Bible. Wrote Colonel J. Garnier in his book The Worship of the Dead:
“Not merely Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phœnicians, Greeks and Romans, but also the Hindus, the Buddhists of China and of Thibet, the Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Druids, Mexicans and Peruvians, the Aborigines of Australia, and even the savages of the South Sea Islands, must have all derived their religious ideas from a common source and a common centre. Everywhere we find the most startling coincidences in rites, ceremonies, customs, traditions, and in the names and relations of their respective gods and goddesses.”—P. 3.
The fact that the theme of the legends from widely scattered areas can be traced back to one point of origin, Mesopotamia, demonstrates that they simply could not have been the product of independent imaginations. Had the sole basis for these legends been imagination, it would be difficult to explain why the deities are always presented in a poor light. Later Greek writers and philosophers did, in fact, try to purge the accounts of Homer and Hesiod of some of the baser elements. But there is no indication that the people generally ever thought that their gods were being slandered or blasphemed by the legends. Evidently they preferred to venerate deities that could be portrayed in a disparaging way, for the immorality of the gods doubtless gave them reasons for justifying their own wrongdoing.
In worshiping deities whose course of action was wholly unworthy of imitation, the ancient Greeks and other peoples were really serving those spirit creatures who had become demons. They were glorifying and venerating those disobedient sons of God whose disgusting practices in pre-Flood times may well have become the underlying basis for numerous myths. As the apostle Paul told Christians at Corinth: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.”—1 Cor. 10:20.