Altar to an Unnamed Deity
THE apostle Paul visited Athens, Greece, in about 50 C.E. There he saw an altar dedicated to an unknown god and later mentioned it while giving a fine witness regarding Jehovah.
In opening his discourse on Mars’ Hill, or the Areopagus, Paul said: “Men of Athens, I behold that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities than others are. For instance, while passing along and carefully observing your objects of veneration I also found an altar on which had been inscribed ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore what you are unknowingly giving godly devotion to, this I am publishing to you.”—Acts 17:22-31.
Although that Athenian altar has never been found, similar altars existed in other parts of Greece. For instance, the second century Greek geographer Pausanias mentioned altars of “gods Named Unknown” at Phaleron, not far from Athens. (Description of Greece, Attica I, 4) According to the same work, at Olympia there was “an altar of the Unknown gods.”—Eleia I, XIV, 8.
In his work The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (VI, III), Greek writer Philostratus (c. 170-c. 245 C.E.) said that at Athens “altars are set up in honour even of unknown gods.” And in Lives of Philosophers (1.110), Diogenes Laertius (c. 200-250 C.E.) wrote that “nameless altars” could be seen in different parts of Athens.
The Romans also erected altars to unnamed deities. Shown here is one dating from the first or second century B.C.E. and preserved at the Palatine Antiquarium in Rome, Italy. Its Latin inscription indicates that this altar was consecrated either to “a god or a goddess”—a phrase “often found in prayers or dedicatory formulas both in inscriptions and in literary texts.”
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Altar: Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma