In my previous posts I have been insisting that if one wants to say that “Jesus is God” according to an early Christian text, one has to ask “in what *sense* is he God? Now is a good time for me to lay out how I understand ancient people understood the divine realm. It was very different from the way most people today – at least the people I run across – imagine the divine realm.
As I pointed out earlier, people today think of God as completely Other than us humans. We are mortal and limited in every respect; he is immortal and unlimited. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere-present. We are by comparison weak, ignorant, and in one place at a time. He is infinite and eternal; we are finite and temporal. There is an unbridgeable gap between us and God. (Although in Christian theology, it is Jesus who bridges that gap by being a divine being who becomes human; in traditional theology, he did that so that we humans could then become divine.)
People in the ancient world did not think of the divine realm in that way. True, the major Gods were enormously powerful and knowing and were immortal (you couldn’t kill them, and they couldn’t kill each other! And they never died.). But there were lots of different gods with lots of different power and knowledge. And many of the gods (nearly all of them) came into being at some point in the past. They haven’t always existed. Like us, they get born. And like us, gods have strengths and weaknesses, and rarely were gods imagined as all-knowing, and almost never as all-powerful.
But there were gods and there were gods. I try to illustrate the divine realm to my students by speaking in terms of a divine pyramid.
This can get interesting: among other things, it shows how humans could sometimes also be divine in ancient thought. Wanna see? Join the blog: you get at least five posts each and every week, with archives back to 2012!