THE NEPHILIM: The Legend of Yahweh verses Zeus, Part II.
March 9, 2010
A Spiritual and Literary Comparison of Biblical and Classical Literature.
“In those days as well as later, when the sons of the gods had intercourse with the daughters of mortals and children were born to them, the Nephilim were on the earth; they were the heroes of old, people of renown.” Genesis 6:4 (Revised English Bible)
II. YAHWEH VERSUS ZEUS
The Hebrew authors of the Bible sought to establish their God’s greatness over the gods of the surrounding nations by emphasizing his good character traits and his mighty power. A comparison of Yahweh to the Greeks’ highest deity and god of heaven, almighty Zeus produces a similar result. In Homer’s The Iliad, Zeus boasts to the other gods, “I am mightiest of all…You could not drag down Zeus. But if I wished to drag you down, then I would” (Hamilton 25). Zeus may have been the most powerful, but he wasn’t all-powerful; he often depended on the other gods to get things done as they each had individual powers unique to themselves, and they each had authority over different areas of the world. As overseer of justice in heaven, Zeus was a hypocrite at best. He made sure the wealthy and powerful were hospitable to each other, but he was known to strike his thunderbolt of judgment irrationally and without cause. Of all the gods weakness for mortal women, his was the most famous as he constantly committed adultery against his wife Hera, who happened to be the goddess of marriage. Although Zeus had some insight into the destiny of the world, he had no control over it. He was subject to the will of the Fates just like everyone else. As the myths developed over the years, the Fates were eventually given three female personalities, but the earliest sources of Greek literature described the Fates as a mysterious force that decreed mankind’s destiny. The early Greek poets’ inspiration of the Fates was probably based on a distant memory of the legend of an all powerful creator that had been passed down to them. The specific details of this creator would have been forgotten after they turned to the worship of lesser gods. According to Genesis, Yahweh has to reintroduce himself to man through Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. The only limits that Abraham’s God has are what he has placed on himself by giving mankind freewill. He paradoxically controls the destiny of the universe, without controlling the actions of individual human beings. He is a God of compassion and love; he speaks to man in a whisper; he ensures justice to the weak and powerless. Because he demands all men to live righteous lives, he is often a God of wrath and judgment, but a repentant soul quickly finds forgiveness. He is a patient God as he works to develop the character of all who serve him as a father lovingly raises his child.
The authors of the Bible clearly see all other gods as enemies of their God, and Zeus bears a striking resemblance to Yahweh’s archenemy Satan. According to Hector Ignacio Avalos it is unsure whether the Satan of the Old Testament is only one character (678-679). Satan is actually the Hebrew title for Adversary. It not really important whether the Old Testament authors are only speaking of the fallen archangel, Lucifer, or of all his companions in rebellion when they mention the Adversary; Genesis 6 also mentions the plural “sons of God” and there are many gods mentioned in both the Bible and the Greek myths. In the New Testament, however, Jesus gives Satan the title “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” (Luke 11:14-20); in other words, the boss, and this Satan is recognized as one being. According to Christian legend derived from different sources within the Bible, Satan took one third of Yahweh’s angels and rebelled against him as he sought to take the throne in Heaven. According to Greek legend, Zeus led his brother-and-sister-gods in rebellion against their father Cronus, the Titan of Heaven, and against the other Titans. According to mythology, they won. Satan never overpowered Yahweh, but he did manage to gain authority over the earth when he deceived Adam and Eve in the beginning of our time. A Christian teacher, Steve Thompson, explains, “By obeying the word of the enemy, Adam…forfeit[ed]…his God-given authority over the earth, to Satan” (4). When Yahweh created Adam and Eve, he gave them the authority to rule over and subdue the earth; he gave them only one rule, one “don’t.” A snake appeared to Eve and talked her into doing the don’t, she talked Adam into doing it, and the snake got their authority (but it came with a curse). Adam submitted himself under Satan’s authority rather than Yahweh’s, which caused grave consequences for him and all his offspring. Man, and the earth he was in charge of, was now under the rule of the gods. Satan holds another close characteristic to Zeus in this legend. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, he tells the tale of Arachne who spun a long tapestry depicting the many myths of Zeus disguising himself, sometimes as a cow, sometimes as a shower of gold, in order to deceive and rape beautiful mortal women (165-166). Certainly Satan would have no problem disguising himself as a snake to deceive the first woman in order to gain authority over mankind and the earth. He could not defeat Yahweh and knock him off his throne, but he could manipulate the beings Yahweh had created and loved and given freewill. In this sense, Satan could claim a victory over his father and ruler of heaven.
Next week: “Part III, Jesus versus Hercules”
Peter L Richardson
Avalos, Hector Ignacio. “Satan.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 678-679.
Esses, D.H.L., Michael. Jesus in Genesis. Plainfield: Logos International, 1974.
Graves, Robert and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths, The Book of Genesis. Garden City : Doubleday & Co. , 1964.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston : Little, Brown and Co. , 1942.
Keck, Leander E. and Gene M. Tucker. “Literary Forms of the Bible.” The Oxford Study Bible. New York : Oxford University Press , 1992. 12-31.
Ovid. The Metamorphoses. Trans. Horace Gregory. New York: Mentor, 1960.
Sacks, Robert D. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.
“The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible.” New American Standard Bible. Ed. Spiros Zodhiates. Chattanooga: AMG Press, 1990.
“The Oxford Study Bible.” Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katherine Doob Sakenfeld and James R. Mueller. New York : Oxford University Press , 1992.
Thompson, Steve. “The Astounding Authority of a Believer.” The Morning Star Journal 7.1, 1997.