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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 were beyond our imagination, and others that were far less powerful – but still more powerful than the guy living next door to you, by an amazing margin.  So too, there were some humans who were SO powerful (or smart or beautiful) that they seemed to be more than human. The gods generally were worshiped because they could provide things for humans that humans could not provide for themselves. Worship was a way to secure divine benefits – that is, it was a way to be given access to divine power when human strength [...]

2020-04-03T03:03:20-04:00September 28th, 2016|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

The God Julius Caesar

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paled with time, and he did some other things that the Athenians did not find so useful or approve of, and they rescinded their adoration of him. My point was that sometimes military men/political rulers were talked about as divine beings.  More than that, they were sometimes *treated* as divine beings: given temples, with priests, who would perform sacrifices in their honor, in the presence of statues of them.  Does that make the person a god?  In many ways, they would be indistinguishable.  If it walks like a god and quacks like a god…. Best known are the divine honors paid to rulers of the Roman Empire, starting with Julius Caesar.   We have an inscription dedicated to him in 49 BCE (five years before he was [...]

2022-06-06T21:58:41-04:00September 23rd, 2016|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

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 they were often “bigger than life,” but they could assume regular human form when they wanted to and they were human-shaped even when attending to their heavenly duties.  In the Greek and Roman myths, they acted in human ways, they experienced the range of human emotions, they manifested human foibles, and so on. But they were different from humans in several ways.  For one thing, they were far more powerful than mere mortals.  They could accomplish things that no human could.  None of them was infinitely powerful, but on the scale of power, they [...]

2020-04-03T03:05:15-04:00September 22nd, 2016|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

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 divine being) and the rise of Christology (the understanding of Christ as a divine being). The lecture was yesterday, and I thought it might be worthwhile here on the blog to explain the topic and the issues it raises.   I called the talk “When Men Became Gods: Caesar and Christ.”  The overarching idea that I tried to develop was that the Christian acclamation of the divinity of Jesus had a clear historical context within the broader Greco-Roman world.  There were other humans in that context who were considered divine.  And none more prominently than the [...]

2020-04-03T03:05:22-04:00September 21st, 2016|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

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.  But why was it true of the Roman emperor?  Why would you worship your political leader?  Does this mean we’re going to have to call either Hillary or Donald “Lord” or “God”?  It seems unlikely.  So why did ancient people in the Roman Empire do it? That’s what I want to explore over a few posts.  To get there, I need to provide a refresher course (or, for those who don’t know this, simply a course!) on how ancient people imagined the divine realm in relation to the human realm.   I  have taken this [...]

2022-05-10T13:45:58-04:00September 16th, 2016|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|
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