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Transcript
Paganism
1500 BCE - 200 CE
Overview
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Definition and fundamental characteristics of paganism
Public Religion in Classical Greece and in Republican
Rome
Influence from Eastern Religions
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Cybele: Magna Mater
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Isis, Osiris, and Horus
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Mithraism
Summary
Terminology & Characteristics of
Paganism
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Paganus was a Roman word for country dweller
Unlike Christianity which flourished in the cities of the
Empire during the third and fourth centuries, traditional
religion or paganism remained more firmly entrenched in
the countryside
–
Its ritual sacrifices and festivals were well adapted to the needs
of agricultural life which had an established annual rhythm
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Christianity tended to be very intellectual with concepts such
as the Trinity, Virgin Birth, resurrection of the dead; it was a
book religion which had little appeal to the traditional folk of
the countryside
Ancient Greek Religion
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The Greeks had no word for religion; instead they spoke
of ta deia – things to do with the gods
Twelve principal gods
Gods and Goddesses were associated with various
locations
The mythology about deities changed from place to
place; no central authority
Enormous freedom to create new rituals or establish new
sanctuaries based on personal experience
Boundary between the divine and human more porous
than in monotheistic religions
Public Religion in Republican Rome
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Public religion
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Primary emphasis on gaining divine favor for the city
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festivals
rituals
temples
divination
piety associated with patriotism
Agricultural and familial procreation were other foci of
devotion
Little thought for the afterlife
Public Religion in Republican Rome
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Religious Offices
–
Pontifex maximus
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initially chosen from patricians
assumed by emperors after fall of the republic
assumed by bishop of Rome after fourth century
Vestal Virgins – numbered 6
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protection of the family
chaste young women
kept flames burning
buried alive if found to have violated their vow of chastity
which was indicated by the extinction of the flame
Served a term of thirty years
Public Religion in Republican Rome
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Traditional Roman religion emphasized duty and loyalty to
the family and the state
The center of the city’s religious practices was the
Capitoline Hill, location of the Temple of Jupiter and the
Temple of the Vestals
The Temple of Jupiter housed the Sybelline Books which
contained instruction for the performance of state rituals;
those books burnt in 83 BCE when the temple itself burnt
down
Romans expected the gods to protect their safety and to
provide prosperity
Each household maintained a small sanctuary that housed
the family gods
Public Religion in Republican Rome
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Feasts
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Lupercalia – fertility festival on February 15th; naked men
and women ran around on the Palatine Hill
Saturnalia – the inversion of the social order would occur
on December 17th; masters had to wait on slaves; Saturnus
was the god of liberation
Omens
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The Romans always sought omens before undertaking any
significant military action; occasionally this behavior
frustrated soldiers, such as Claudius Pulcher, who in 249
BCE threw chickens who would not eat off his ship after
waiting too long for them to give a sign to proceed with
invasion; he was said to have said “Well, let them drink,
then”
Influence from Eastern Religions
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Rome’s conquest of portions of the Hellenistic Empire in the
third century BC had a profound impact on Roman religion
as Roman sought to obtain favour from eastern gods
Conquest of the eastern mediterranean and Persia by
Alexander creates a climate conducive to both trade and the
dissemination of religion and ideas
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Syncretism: the admixture of various mystery cults
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Mystery cults
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Restricted knowledge and rituals to members
–
Difficult to reconstruct specifics of all but the most
widespread mystery cults
Mystery Cults
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Provided special knowledge that was not available
to publicly practiced religions of pagan city-states
Usually featured several stages of the attainment of
grace from initiate to priest with several
intervening levels of understanding; they
frequently offered
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Map to the afterlife
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Enlightenment during this life
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Spiritual fellowship
Cybele: The Great Mother
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The mother goddess who gave birth to all the gods as well as
humans and wild beasts
well known in Greece prior to Roman conquest and
transmitted to Rome in the second half of the third century
a prophecy suggested that Rome would achieve victory against
Carthage if the Romans brought the Cybelene rock to Rome;
accomplished in 203 BC amidst wild rejoicing
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Priests of her order were required to perform self castration
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rituals in her honor usually featured bloodletting and orgies
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suppressed throughout much of the last century of the Republic
but resuscitated during the Empire
Isis, Osiris, and Horus
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Classic mystery cult that developed in Egypt as early as
3000 BC
Osirian myth tied to the reconstruction of the Egyptian
calendar from 360 to 365 days
Osiris taught the Egyptians the arts of war and peace and
was the focus of an elaborate mythology
The myth begins with the reign of the Isis & Osiris, who
were known for justice
Osirian myth
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Osiris brought justice to Egypt
Outlawed cannibalism
– Established settlements
– Established farming of grain
While he is away from Egypt, civilizing the rest of the
world, his “celibate” brother Set seduces his wife who
fought off his advances
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Set is depicted as a serpent
Set, associated with all that is evil, kills Osiris and sends
his coffin down the Nile
Osiris returns as a resurrected king
Osirian myth
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Set kills Osiris a second time and cuts his body into 14
parts
Isis collects all of the missing body parts, except for the
male member, and pieces them together; she fashions
male members out of balsam wood and places them in
temples around Egypt to be venerated
After instructing his son, Horus, in the arts of war in
order to overthrow Set, Osiris departed to the world of
the gods to judge the dead
Gradually Horus fuses with Osiris in his nature
The Goddess Isis
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Worshipped by Cleopatra
Augustus tried to suppress the cult during his reign
Isis was a compassionate figure whose tears caused
the annual flooding of the Nile
She symbolized female independence by
impregnating herself with the member of her
deceased husband, Osiris
In artwork she was often depicted nursing her son
She inspired her followers to practice social justice
Significant Similarities to Christianity
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An elaborate mythology
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A tripartite God: Osiris, Isis, and Horus
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Two of these, Horus and Osiris, share a common
nature
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Depictions of Isis and Horus resemble the Madonna
with child
A man achieves immortality after resurrection
Just humans can achieve afterlife if they pass the
judgement of Osiris
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Preservation of human body after death
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Ritual meal of the God: a eucharist
Significant Differences
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The Egyptians venerated procreation and particularly of
the male sex organ; their gods were clearly sexual beings
A distinctly female part of the Osirian godhead, Isis was
more similar to Venus than the Virgin Mary in character
Isis and Osiris were associated with more animal images
than merely the Christian lamb and fish
In Osirian eschatology, judgement occurred immediately
after death and heaven, and the Elysian fields, are
characterized by abundant grain
Mithraism
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Perhaps the most popular mystery cult in the Roman Empire
at the time of Christ
Allegedly of Persian, Zoroastrian, or even Vedic origin,
Mithraism was highly popular in the Western half of the
Roman Empire, where most of the surviving temples
Few details are known but Mithraism appears to have
featured many levels of knowledge
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Raven
Male Bride
Soldier
Lion
Persian Sun Runner
Father
Mithraism
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Christianity appears to have borrowed several
traditions from Mithraism:
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birth on Dec. 25
ascension into heaven at Spring equinox
Last Supper of bread & wine with 12 disciples
celibate priesthood, etc
venerated by the Roman legions, who saw in him a
cult of power and hierarchy
Summary
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Traditional Roman religion did not feature a close
association between morality and ethics; instead it
emphasized piety & rituals for the protection of the state
As Rome came into contact with the East, it adopted
mystery religions and other eastern religious practices
Some of these religions practiced ecstatic and orgiastic
rituals while others emphasized ritual meals and secret
knowledge
Common features of pre-Christian pagan culture included
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an appreciation for the beauty of the naked human form
and a general toleration for public male nakedness
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Sexuality and the miracle of procreation
Summary
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Concerned about the proliferation of eastern
mystery religions and the neglect of Roman
religion, imperial authorities attempted to
suppress non traditional forms of religious
expression
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Between the introduction of Cybele c. 200 and
the proliferation of the cult of Mithras in the early
first century, Roman authorities came to fear the
subversive potential of eastern religions
Temple of Jupiter
Ceres
Goddess of
Agricultural
fertility
Part of Aventine
triad with Liber
and Libera
Mars – Roman God
of War
• Legendary Father of
Romulus and Remus
• Through his divine favor
the Romans believed that
they succeeded in martial
endeavors
• Part of Palatine triad with
Jupiter and Quirinus
Mars – Roman God
of War
• Legendary Father of
Romulus and Remus
• Through his divine
favor the Romans
believed that they
succeeded in martial
endeavors
Temple of the
Vesta Rome
• Dates to second
century BCE
• Where 6 priestesses
kept the civic fires of
Rome burning
continuously
• Circular design was
particularly Roman
Pontifex Maximus
• Chief priest of Rome
• Title assumed by Julius
and Augustus Caesar in
their attempts to
consolidate power
• Title later assumed by the
bishop of Rome i.e. the
Pope
Pantheon
• Built in first century
CE
• Housed the seven
principal gods of
Rome (planet gods)
• Concrete exterior
including roof
• One of the largest
domed structures in
the world
Pagan Temple in Armenia
Dionysus
• Through syncretism fused
with Osiris to be the god
of civilization, the
lawgiver, and liberation
• Herodotus recognized the
similarities in the 400s
BCE
• The fusion expanded to
include Mithras and other
bearers of civilization
Scenes from the Villa of Mysteries in
Pompeii depicting the cult of Isis
Ceremony of
Isis cult in
Herculaneum
first century
CE
Isis
Set
Osiris
Ammit
Isis
Lactans
Cybele
The Great Mother
Pagan God Mithras
The Empire
During the Pax Romana
Judea at the time
of the Incarnation
of Christ
Qumran
site of Dead Sea
Scrolls
and
likely site of Essene
Community in
Eastern Judea
What was not a typical feature of Roman
pagan religions prior to 200BC?
A. Polytheism
B. Emphasis on fertility
C. Emphasis on the collective strength of the polity
D. Emphasis on personal salvation
What does the term pagan mean?
What problems were associated with
paganism?
Why did many Romans remain
attached to paganism?