A Satirical Lesson about the Afterlife

One of the things I’m planning to emphasize in my scholarly book on voyages to the afterlife, is that the overarching point of most of these narratives is not only (or even primarily) to reveal what will actually happen to people after they die, but to encourage them to live in certain ways now, while they can.  This is true not only for the Christian accounts but for pagan ones as well.

One of the most hilarious authors from Greco-Roman antiquity ...

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Life in Hades

In my previous post I discussed Odysseus’s encounter with his mother in Hades, where we learn that the “spirits,” “shades,” “ghosts,” “souls” (they are called a number of things) there do not have any physical characteristics – no flesh or bones, even though they can be seen and can drink blood and are afraid of swords.   I think, at the end of the day, this is not a coherent picture.  If they can drink blood but don’t have bodies, where ...

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The Body and Soul in Hades

When Odysseus goes to the underworld, he meets with a number of people, but most interesting are his encounter with his own mother (who died after he had set sail, years before, with the Greek armies heading to Troy) and the great Greek hero Achilles, the greatest of the mighty warriors in the war.   The encounters are interesting because they show us how the realm of the dead was being imagined.   There is real pathos in both episodes.  In this ...

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The First Recorded Visit to the Realm of the Dead (in Western literature)

The first account we have of a living human making a trip to the realm of the dead in Western literature is in the Odyssey of Homer.  The Odyssey is about the ten-year attempt of the hero, Odysseus, to return home to Ithaca after the (also ten-year) Trojan war.   Many adventures and mishaps meet him en route.  At about the half-way point of the narrative, in book ten, he is on the island of Aeaea where he has encountered the ...

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Was Jesus Made Up? A Blast from the Past.

In browsing through some old posts, I came across this one from five years ago, in which I deal with two questions I still today get asked about the “evidence” that Jesus did, or did not, exist.  The post deals with pointed issues raised by my colleague in the field, Ben Witherington.  The answers still seem germane to me today, as the question of Jesus’ existence has simply ratcheted up, all these years later.

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Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical ...

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Why Was the Emperor Worshiped?

This will be my last post about the worship of the Roman emperor as a god.  I have been trying to make several major points in this thread.   So let me begin by summarizing them:

  • The reason worshiping the man who ruled the empire would not have seemed bizarre to ancient people was that there was not thought to be an enormous chasm between the divine and human realms (as there is for most people today). There were some gods who ...
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The God Julius Caesar

I mentioned in a previous post the scarcely-remembered-these-days Diogenes Poliorcetes (Diogenes, the Conqueror of Cities), who was acclaimed as a divine being by a hymn-writer (and others) in Athens because he liberated them from their Macedonian overlords.   I should point out that this great accomplishment paled with time, and he did some other things that the Athenians did not find so useful or approve of, and the rescinded their adoration of him.

My point was that sometimes military men/political rulers were ...

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Rulers as Gods: The Context of Ancient Religion

Why did ancient people in the Greek and Roman worlds sometimes consider political leaders as gods?  That’s the question I’m dealing with in this series of posts.  And I think now, after a good bit of background, I’m able to begin to answer it.

The gods in Greek and Roman thought were considered to be superhuman.  Unlike, say, the (animal-shaped) gods of Egypt, the Greek and Roman gods were literally in human form.   When they appeared here on earth to humans ...

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When Men Became Gods: My Lecture in Denmark

As I indicated earlier, I am in Denmark this week giving talks.  I’m staying in Copenhagen, a fabulous city, but two of my talks are in Odense, an hour and a half (very pleasant) train ride from here.  I am being sponsored by the University of Southern Denmark, which invited me almost a year ago now to give a lecture to students and faculty on the relationship between the Roman Imperial cult (the worship of the Roman emperor as a ...

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The Divine Realm in Antiquity

I have started a thread on my current interest, the relationship of the imperial cult (the Roman worship of the emperors) to the rise of Christology (the understandings of Christ).  Both Caesars (especially deceased ones, but in some parts of the empire, also the living one) and Christ (by most of his followers, now that he too was deceased) were thought of and called “Savior,” “Lord,” “Son of God,” and even “God.”

Most people would know that was true of Christ.  ...

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