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Paganism 1500 BCE - 200 CE Overview ● ● ● ● Definition and fundamental characteristics of paganism Public Religion in Classical Greece and in Republican Rome Influence from Eastern Religions – Cybele: Magna Mater – Isis, Osiris, and Horus – Mithraism Summary Terminology & Characteristics of Paganism ● ● 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 – 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 ● ● ● ● ● ● 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 ● Public religion – – – – ● Primary emphasis on gaining divine favor for the city – ● ● 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 ● Religious Offices – Pontifex maximus ● ● ● – initially chosen from patricians assumed by emperors after fall of the republic assumed by bishop of Rome after fourth century Vestal Virgins – numbered 6 ● ● ● ● ● 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 ● ● ● ● ● 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 ● Feasts – – ● 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 – 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 ● ● 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 ● Syncretism: the admixture of various mystery cults ● Mystery cults – Restricted knowledge and rituals to members – Difficult to reconstruct specifics of all but the most widespread mystery cults Mystery Cults ● ● 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 – Map to the afterlife – Enlightenment during this life – Spiritual fellowship Cybele: The Great Mother ● ● ● 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 ● Priests of her order were required to perform self castration ● rituals in her honor usually featured bloodletting and orgies ● suppressed throughout much of the last century of the Republic but resuscitated during the Empire Isis, Osiris, and Horus ● ● ● ● 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 ● 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 – ● ● ● ● 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 ● ● ● ● 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 ● ● ● ● ● ● 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 ● An elaborate mythology ● A tripartite God: Osiris, Isis, and Horus ● ● – Two of these, Horus and Osiris, share a common nature – 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 ● Preservation of human body after death ● Ritual meal of the God: a eucharist Significant Differences ● ● ● ● 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 ● ● ● 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 – – – – – – Raven Male Bride Soldier Lion Persian Sun Runner Father Mithraism ● Christianity appears to have borrowed several traditions from Mithraism: – – – – ● 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 ● ● ● ● 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 – an appreciation for the beauty of the naked human form and a general toleration for public male nakedness – Sexuality and the miracle of procreation Summary ● 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 ● 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?