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 was not enough to make life livable or enjoyable.
- Gods could provide health, prosperity, victory in war, and so on. And so Gods were called “Savior” “Benefactor” “Lord” and so on.
- The emperor too was amazingly powerful, and could bring deliverance from foreign aggression, the conditions for wealth and prosperity, and so on. And so he too could be called Savior, Benefactor, and Lord.
- It was a very small step, then, to identify the emperor as a kind of God. Not as the greatest god – say Zeus or Jupiter – but as one of the divine beings who was providing assistance to people who could not always help themselves.
Now I want to make a few additional points about how unevenly distributed the worship of the emperor was. As it turns out, he was not worshiped everywhere in the empire, or in the same way, and one question historians have asked is why that is. One question that has perennially interested historians of ancient religion is…
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