My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

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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)

IV.     CHRISTIANITY VERSUS PAGANISM

The poets of Greek mythology seemed more concerned with finding a way to explain the origins of phenomena they did not understand rather than seeking to develop religious dogma, but in their commentary on the mysterious world they lived in, they also made a clear statement about their gods: this is who they are, and this is the best way to deal with them. By the time of Jesus, the worship of the Greek gods was adopted by the Romans, and it dominated their entire empire. Only philosophers and intellectuals regarded the myths simply as fantastic stories with little meaning and only worthy as analogies for teaching lessons and for preserving heritage. The Bible is more than a book of rules, more than stories meant to exult the history of a people group, even more than a guide of how to live a moral life. Even with all the different authors of the books of the Bible spread out over hundreds of years, there is a common theme throughout each book to display Yahweh’s glory and his authority over his creation and his love for all mankind. In The Book of Exodus, the author explicitly tells the account of Yahweh’s power over the Egyptian gods. Later, when the Babylonians break the walls of Jerusalem and take the Jews into exile, the various authors of that generation explicitly attribute the fall of Jerusalem to the judgment of Yahweh for their breaking of the covenant they made with him in the beginning of their history. But just as Yahweh spoke of the coming judgment through his prophets, he also spoke of the day these exiles would return to their homeland and be redeemed through a coming Messiah who would cause all the nations of the world to worship Yahweh, the one true God. I doubt the author of Genesis Chapter Six was specifically thinking of heroes the Greek peoples celebrated while he wrote the account of the Nephilim; however, the subtle similarities of these legends are too close to be ignored, and the contrast of the value systems of these cultures that have had so much influence over the Western world is intriguing. No wonder Western thought and culture is full of so much contradiction and complexity.

The Judeo-Christian tradition taught in the Bible exults itself over Greco-Roman mythology in another way worthy of note. In the prophetic book, Isaiah, in the Old Testament, Yahweh proclaims: “I shall put a sign in them and those survivors I shall send to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, to Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, distant shores which have never yet heard of me or seen my glory among the nations” (66:19). This is exactly what the Christians in The Book of Acts began. After this new religion sprang up out of Judaism and Jerusalem, it spread throughout the region of Judea, then north though Galilee, and into the city of Antioch which housed the first Gentile church. From there, the Apostle Paul and his companions moved it throughout the provinces of Greece where it spread like wildfire. However, Paul’s original plans were to take the gospel throughout the provinces of Asia. Acts 16:7-9 reads, “they tried to enter Bithynia [heading towards Asia] but, …the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them, …a vision came to Paul; a Macedonian [a man of a province of Greece] stood there appealing to him, ‘Cross over…and help us.’” It seems one of Jesus’ first orders of business as the reestablished Godhead of the earth, after dealing with his chosen people, the Jews, was to convert the Greeks. Christianity eventually spread throughout the entire Roman Empire and was a major factor in putting an end to the worship of Zeus and his relatives. However, Yahweh had already pronounced his judgment on the sons of God in Psalm 82:

1God takes his place in the court of heaven
  to pronounce judgment among the gods:
2‘How much longer will you judge unjustly
  and favor the wicked?
3Uphold the cause of the weak and the fatherless,
  and see right done to the afflicted and destitute.
4Rescue the weak and the needy,
  and save them from the clutches of the wicked.’
5But these gods know nothing and understand nothing,
  they walk in darkness;
  meanwhile the earth’s foundations are all giving way.
6‘This is my sentence: Though you are gods,
  all sons of the Most High,
7yet you shall die as mortals die,
  and fall as any prince does.’

8God, arise and judge the earth,
  for all the nations are yours.

Peter L Richardson
Fall ’97

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.

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)

III.     JESUS VERSUS HERCULES

Genesis 6:4 also states, “In those days  as well as later…the Nephilim were on the earth; they were the heroes of old, people of renown.” This states that the children of supernatural and natural parents continued to exist after the flood, and the Israelites continued to do battle with these giants, men of exceedingly great strength, bulk and height, throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Joshua, the first book that follows the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, Yahweh again places judgment over a people corrupted by an excess of wickedness. The land of Canaan, the Promised Land for the Israelites, was reported to be inhabited by giants, and Yahweh commands the army of Israel to totally destroy the people, their possessions, and ultimately their wicked culture. However, these giants continued to exist among the Philistines, a people along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering the southwest of the land of Israel. Many scholars believe that “the Philistines…come from over the western sea” (Sacks 85, 14.5n). Homer’s knowledge of the Mediterranean Sea and its borders was rather extensive for his time, and the worship of the pantheon of gods that he writes about was considerably popular among the peoples along the coasts of the Great Sea. The Philistines were more than likely descendants of Japheth and they traveled across the Mediterranean to settle on the coast of Israel. They would certainly have brought their own legends with them. In the popular story of David and Goliath, Yahweh uses a boy to defeat the Philistine giant and he demonstrates his authority to use his power through the humble and faithful to strike down the proud and “heroic” (I Samuel 17).

Most of the heroes of the ancient Greeks were the offspring of a god or goddess who were exulted for valiant deeds and demonstrating their strength in battle. However, their motivation to fight was usually for fame rather than any desire to help anyone, and their personal honor was always more important than justice. They weren’t necessarily giants, but they were definitely more beautiful, had a greater physical build, superior skills and abilities, and were more courageous than the rest of their mortal counterparts. They knew they were better, and they were not shy about it. They were boastful and self-exultant, but they would not have been able to succeed in many of their “heroic” deeds if their supernatural parents had not intervened in the troubles they caused time after time. Most of them showed about as much good character and dignity as their god-parents did. They were almost the opposite of what the Hebrew Scriptures consider to valuable in a man. Robert Sacks comments on Genesis 6:14: “Rather than simply denying [the heroes] existence, the Biblical author tries to show us what he was really like. His days were not the glorious days the poets sing of but the days of corruption which led to the flood” (52).

While the pantheon of Greek gods sired many children with mortals, according to Christian teaching, Jesus Christ is Yahweh’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16, New American Standard Bible). It is worthwhile to make a comparison of these godly offspring, but since there are so many children of the gods to choose from it is sufficient to narrow it down to their greatest hero, Hercules. Hamilton, who has compiled the stories of Hercules into a comprehensive but compact summary (224-243), explains, “The greatest hero of Greece was Hercules…Hercules embodied what the rest of Greece [besides Athens] most valued. His qualities were those the Greeks in general honored and admired” (224-225). The New Testament Gospels were written to introduce us to Christ, and the New Testament letters all teach us to follow him in deed and action. Christians are exhorted to live their lives like Jesus. Just as he was morally perfect, Christians are taught to seek to have a moral and loving character strengthened by the power and authority over evil that Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection is believed to bring. In fact, the word “Christian” means “little Christ.” The comparison of Hercules and Jesus begins with conception.

Zeus disguised himself as the husband of Hercules’s mother, had his pleasure with her and left. He probably would have preferred that no one find out he was the father. Hercules really had no specific purpose from his father-god; although his mother thought she was making love to her husband, he was an illegitimate child of a rape victim. Other than the villages and provinces he saved from supernatural monsters, the world wouldn’t have changed much without him. In contrast, there are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that are contributed to a Messiah, or Christ, who will one day come and bring reconciliation and salvation for mankind. The New Testament authors make a pretty clear case that Jesus fulfills those prophecies and that the Messiah was meant to be the Son of God. It is clear that Yahweh had Jesus in mind from the beginning, and there is evidence of God as the Trinity in many books of the Old Testament. When Yahweh created natural beings with free will, he knew their potential to rebel, and he was already prepared to one day come in the form of a human to take the sacrifice of death that mankind’s rebellion required. When the time came, Yahweh announced in advance to Mary, the mother of Jesus, what he planned to do (Luke 1), and he revealed to her betrothed (her fiancée) that Mary was, in fact, still a virgin (Matthew 1). This means that there was not any form of intercourse between Yahweh and Mary. Yahweh, being the creator, had mastery over the natural world and was more than able to create a conceived egg inside Mary’s womb to make her pregnant. Yahweh was a gentleman with his plan in every way, and Jesus remained untainted from Mary’s sin-nature.

Because he was the child of a god, Hercules possessed superhuman strength and he was an unconquerable foe to his enemies. According to legend, he had a good heart with good intentions. He often used his power for good as he fought off and defeated evil monsters plaguing many provinces of Greece. However, he had almost no self-control, and he often killed innocent people in his fits of rage, or just by plain accident. He possessed all of the common characteristics of a god-child already mentioned, but he didn’t seem to have any more of a relationship with his father than any other mortal on earth had with Zeus. He stumbled through life from one battle to the next, seeking atonement for his incredible blunders. Jesus had no obvious superhuman strength, but like his Father, he did have power over the natural world, and was able to manipulate nature to perform miracles. Because he was directly descended from Yahweh he was able to remain morally perfect in a mortal body. He demonstrated in his life the love, good character and self-control his Father desires for all man. He waited patiently for the right time for his ministry to start, and it wasn’t until he received baptism at the age of thirty that the Holy Spirit descended upon him and gave him authority to cast out demons, heal sickness, raise the dead, and know men’s thoughts. He was in constant prayer and communication with Yahweh, his Father, and he often declared, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” Chapters 14-16 in the Gospel of John reveal the incredible intimacy between Jesus and his Father, God. He died at the age of 33, but he spent the last three years of his life moving throughout Judea and Galilee displaying his power, releasing it to his followers, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was finally among them. He sought after those who would repent and join him to seek after more who would repent and escape the wrath and judgment that Yahweh is bringing upon the wickedness of the world. His goal was to be crucified and become a righteously pure sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus, who was without sin, took atonement for a wicked world upon himself. Three days later, he rose from his grave and defeated death, part of the curse placed on man for Adam’s first disobedience to God and submitting himself under Satan’s authority.

Yahweh gave authority of his natural creation to man, Satan stole it from man, and Jesus was Yahweh’s instrument to get it back and gather a people who would learn to serve him and become worthy to regain authority over the earth. The apostle Paul said: “For he has forgiven us all our sins; he has cancelled the bond which was outstanding against us with its legal demands; he has set it aside nailing it to the cross. There he disarmed the cosmic powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, leading them as captives in his triumphal procession” (Colossians 2:13-15). Likewise, before his ascension up to heaven, Jesus himself declared: “Full authority in heaven and earth has been committed to me. Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Book of the Acts of the Apostles begins the story of those who have committed their lives to Christ. They waited patiently for the time of their ministry to begin. When the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they went to the world and displayed the power and authority of Jesus they received to proclaim the Kingdom of God. They seek after those who would repent, join Christ, and escape the wrath and judgment of Yahweh on the wickedness of the world.

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the author writes that a day will come when Jesus will return to the earth with an army of angels and all those who have served Yahweh throughout the ages to war against Satan and his army of demons and the kings of the earth who have rejected Yahweh’s authority. Satan’s army will be defeated and they will be cast into hell, a place of chaos and separation from Yahweh and all his goodness (Revelation Chapters 19-20). The restoration of authority over a new earth will be accomplished through God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and be given back to man who will be free from sin and death, and trained to humbly serve God in power. After Hercules’s death, he was taken up to Mt. Olympus where he was given the honor of being transformed into a god and becoming immortal; he was spared the bleak existence of Hades, where according to Greek myth, all other mortals dwell in the afterlife. We have no legends that sing of his deeds after he became immortal (Hamilton 243).

 Next week, the conclusion: “Part IV, Christianity versus Paganism”

Peter L Richardson
Fall ’97

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.

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
Fall ’97

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.

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)

I.     WHO ARE THE NEPHILIM?

Genesis Chapter Six begins the famous story of Noah’s Ark in which God destroyed the earth by flood because of man’s wickedness. Only Noah’s family and a remnant of all the animals God had created survived. Not nearly as famous; however, is the introduction of Noah’s story in this chapter: the account of the Nephilim.

Genesis 6:1-4 tells us that “sons of the gods” took daughters of men and had intercourse with them, producing the Nephilim, “the heroes of old, people of renown.” Legend tells us the Nephilim were giants, they were something super-human. Some modern scholars, like Michael Esses, claim they were really just the wicked people who were the cause of the flood (35). However, it is clear the authors of the Bible held the former opinion. This little passage plays an important role when taken in context with the whole of the books of the Bible, and it provides a basis for a comparison of Biblical literature to early Greek literature. The author of Genesis Chapter Six is expressing his assurance that his God has authority over all other gods. We must keep in mind that the writers of both the Hebrew and Greek cultures believed their words were divinely inspired. In the article, “Literary Forms of the Bible,” the authors state, “The biblical writers…were writing for religious communities which they sought to address as effectively as possible” (Keck and Tucker 14), and in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a book that summarizes most of the major Greco-Roman Myths into one volume, she states that “Not the priest, but the poet, had influence with heaven” (11).

This story is the Bible’s first specific mention of supernatural beings opposed to God’s will, and the author is quick to establish God’s authority by relating them to man’s wickedness and our punishment through the flood. What does this have to do with Greek mythology? I believe the legend of the Nephilim was passed down to the Biblical authors by Noah’s son Shem, who settled in Mesopotamia. Shem was the father of the Semites and was a direct ancestor of Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. I believe this legend is the same story that inspired the Greek legends of their gods and the children they sired with mortals as it was passed down from Shem’s brother Japheth who settled west of Mesopotamia. Genesis 10:5 says that Japheth’s son Javan became the peoples of the coasts and islands; Javan is the father of the clans of Greece. As legends were passed down through descendants of these two emerging cultures, each would undoubtedly choose different aspects of the legend to emphasize and to remember according the emerging values and beliefs in each culture to form the literature that survives today. The Greeks, who also have a similar account of the flood, preferred the stories celebrating the accomplishments of very human heroes who were in some way a descendant of one of their many gods and goddesses, if not the direct son or daughter of one. The Biblical authors formed their history based on the action of their Almighty God, Jehovah, who they believed was the Creator of the universe. 

Most translations of the Bible begin Genesis 6:2 with “the sons of God” rather than the Revised English Bible’s translation, “the sons of the gods.” In contrast to Jesus, the Son of God, this indicates these beings were simply created by God and, like Him, spiritual in nature. Not surprisingly, there are a number of non-biblical Hebrew legends about the sons of God and the daughters of men. Most of these hold the common link that the sons of God were the fallen angels who rebelled against God with Satan. These angels preferred the lusts of man to the supernatural righteousness of God and they took mortal women as they willed to satisfy themselves. The offspring became the Nephilim. In some legends, the fallen angels are attributed to teaching man how to live in greater excess and rebellion towards God (Graves 100-107).

Mention of fallen angels, or evil spirits, are brief and vague in the Old Testament, but the God of the Israelites (whose name is most often translated as Yahweh) consistently finds himself proving his power and authority over the gods of other nations and punishing His chosen people for worshiping these other gods. These gods emerge in the New Testament as demons and “rulers and authorities of heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10). They are clearly the enemy of Yahweh and all that is good. The Apostle Paul writes of them in his letter to the Ephesian church: “Our struggle is not against human foes, but against cosmic powers and the authorities and potentates of this dark age, against the superhuman forces of evil in heavenly realms” (6:12).

In Greek mythology, the gods are immortal, they have supernatural powers, and they possess special authority over certain aspects of the universe (i.e. Zeus, god of heaven; Poseidon, god of the sea; Ares, god of war; Athena, goddess of wisdom, etc.). They act as judges of mankind, but their characters leave something to be desired when it comes to justice. Hamilton says “they often acted in a way no decent man or woman would” (11), and “a very limited sense of right and wrong prevailed in Homer’s heaven [Homer is the earliest known poet of Greek mythology], and for a long time after” (12). The gods spread their seed among mankind with almost every inclination of lust they had for mortal women, and even a few goddesses had children from mortal men. Sometimes they took the time to seduce their objects of desire, but they would just as often rape an unsuspecting mortal. These gods acted upon their own self-interest and selfish gain rather than working events out for the greater good of mankind. The purpose of sacrificing to these gods was more like a bribe to get him or her to work on one’s particular side, as opposed to the Old Testament where sacrifices were offered as atonement for sin. The Greek gods were more like bullies with immortal powers as they took on human characteristics and natural desires just as the sons of God did when they lusted after and took for themselves the daughters of men.

Next week: “Part II, Yahweh versus Zeus”

Peter L Richardson
Fall ’97

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.