Zeus FAQ




Why is Zeus significant in a Bible cosmology FAQ?

A.  The religion of the Greeks prevailed throughout the world in the inter-testament period. In the 2nd century BC, Greek culture was imposed on the Jews, with some lasting effects. The cosmology of the Hebrew scriptures was revised in the hellenistic age. The idea of a rigid heaven in the first chapter of Genesis is a relic of the hellenistic period. To understand the nature of the cosmology that has been inserted in the Bible, we need to understand something about the Greek religion and Zeus, its principal deity.

What is the meaning of the name 'Zeus'?

A.  Zeus, his ancestral name was 'Dyeus' from whence 'tuesday'.  A.B. Cook's conclusion was that Zeus was the bright blue sky, as his name indicates.
"Zeus, whose name means 'the Bright One,' was originally conceived in zoistic fashion as the bright sky itself - a conception that has left its mark on the language and literature of ancient Greece.
...
Again, when Hellenistic artists portray Zeus with a blue nimbus round his head, a blue globe at his feet, a blue mantle wrapped about his loins, what are these attributes, taken together, but an indication that the god so portrayed was once the blue sky and the blue sky only?"

[Cook, Arthur B., Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, vol 1, Cambridge U. Press, 1914, p. 776.]

From:
http://psychcentral.com/psypsych/Zeus

Zeus is the continuation of Dyeus, the supreme god in Indo-European religion, also continued as Vedic Dyaus Pitar (cf. Jupiter), and as Tyr (Ziu, Tiw, Tiwaz) in Germanic and Norse mythology. Tyr was however supplanted by Odin as the supreme god among the Germanic tribes and they did not identify Zeus/Jupiter with either Tyr or Odin, but with Thor.

Plato wrote: "Zeus, the mighty lord, holding the reigns of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven, ordering all and taking care of all." (Phaedrus 246e, transl. by B. Jowett [1871]).

Why was Zeus depicted as a man?

A.  From The Ruins of Empires, 1791, by C. F. Volney ch. 12.

"Ioupiter," says the ancient verses of the Orphic sect, which originated in Egypt; verses collected by Onomacritus in the days of Pisistratus, "Ioupiter, represented with the thunder in his hand, is the beginning, origin, end, and middle of all things: a single and universal power, he governs every thing; heaven, earth, fire, water, the elements, day, and night. These are what constitute his immense body: his eyes are the sun and moon: he is space and eternity: in fine," adds Porphyry. "Jupiter is the world, the universe, that which constitutes the essence and life of all beings. Now," continues the same author, "as philosophers differed in opinion respecting the nature and constituent parts of this god, and as they could invent no figure that should represent all his attributes, they painted him in the form of a man. He is in a sitting posture, in allusion to his immutable essence; the upper part of his body is uncovered, because it is in the upper regions of the universe (the stars) that he most conspicuously displays himself. He is covered from the waist downwards, because respecting terrestrial things he is more secret and concealed. He holds a scepter in his left hand, because on the left side is the heart, and the heart is the seat of the understanding, which, (in human beings) regulates every action." Euseb. Proeper. Evang., p 100.

How is Zeus connected with the rigid sky?

A.  As explained in the following, the sphere of the fixed stars (Caelus) was identified with Zeus. 

The starry heaven is the principal seat of the divine energy and light which are spread throughout the world. But all the stars have not an equal share of its power: only some among them, or even one among them, can properly be called "catholic" and omnipotent. We proceed to pass in review these various divinities.

The highest of these gods is Heaven (Caelus), "Summus ipse deus," says Cicero, "arcens et continens ceteros," that is to say, the heaven of the fixed stars, which embraces all the other spheres. The divine Power which there resides, and which causes it to move, was sometimes in the West identified with Bel,--that is to say, with Zeus,--and in Latin lands was invoked under the title of "Optimus Maximus Caelus Aeternus Iupiter." The movement of this heaven was a continuous revolution, not a motion forwards and backwards like that of the planets, and, assigning a moral sense to the word (...), men said that since it did not wander or err, therefore it was not subject to error, and that this infallibility was a proof of its divinity. Certain theologians, associating this with infinite Time, represented Heaven as the supreme power of the world. The vast orb of the sky was deified in its whole, and in its parts. Its two portions, alternately dark and luminous, were worshipped under the form of the Dioscuri. The sons of Tyndareus, according to the Greek legend, shared in turn life and death, and they became in the eyes of theologians the personification of the two hemispheres.
...
Not only were the stars of heaven an object of worship, but also the subtle substance which lit their fires, the Ether which filled the lofty spaces of the heavens. Sacrifices were offered to it, or it was celebrated in hymns as the source of all brightness, and the worshippers even dedicated inscriptions to this pure and serene air that it might chase away the devastating hail.

Into the sphere of the fixed stars, which marks the bounds of the world, are fitted seven other spheres, those of the planets, which are, in order, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. The qualities and influences which are attributed to them are due sometimes to astronomical motives. They are deduced from their apparent movements as discovered by observation. Saturn makes people apathetic and vacillating, because, being farthest from the earth, it appears to move most deliberately. But most frequently the reasons assigned are purely mythological. The planets, being identified with the divinities of Olympus, have borrowed their nature. Mars, Venus, Mercury, have a history known to all: the mere mention of their names is enough to explain their action: Venus needs must favour lovers, and Mercury assure success in business and swindling. This double conception of planetary divinities, of whom now one, now the other, displays the activities, favourable or destructive, which are attributed to them, corresponds to the hybrid origin of astrology, which pretends to be a science but always remained a creed, and is found again also, to a lesser degree, in the doctrines concerning fixed stars.

Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans
Franz Cumont
[1912]
http://www.sacred-texts.com/astro/argr/argr09.htm



How does Homer describe Zeus?

A.  In the Iliad, Book 8, Homer relates a story in which Zeus boasts to the other gods about his strength, saying that if one were to hang a golden chain from the sky, and attach the earth, the sun, and the moon, and the sea and all the other gods to it, he will be able to pull them up, and yet all of them combined would not be able to pull him down out of heaven. Only if he thought the sky is a solid structure would one be able to make sense of fastening a golden chain to it. Zeus was the rigid sky, strong enough to pull up the earth, the sea, the sun, and the moon, and all the other gods.



Did Plato and Aristotle view the sky as god?


A.  Yes, Plato and Aristotle considered the sphere of the fixed stars to be divine.

From:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/GreekScience/Students/Tom/AristotleAstro.html

In De Caelo, Aristotle equated the prime mover of all things with the sphere of the fixed stars, which was itself moving with unceasing motion. (De Caelo, Book I, chapter 9) In the Metaphysics, however, he placed an unmoved prime mover "behind" the fixed stars. He describes this transcendent first mover as eternal and without magnitude; he says that it causes circular movement, and that is the kind of movement that is most perfect, since it has no beginning or end; he states that it is good, and its activity is the highest form of joy. It seems that at one point Aristotle thought of the prime mover as somehow an integral part of the universe itself, and at another as existing outside space and time.
 
As indicated above, Aristotle sometimes equated it with the prime mover, but did not call it Zeus. However other philosophers, poets, etc, identified the sphere of the fixed stars with Zeus and Jupiter. The elite may have had a rather different idea of god than the plebs, who were more likely to believe in multiple gods. Some say Plato referred to god in a monotheistic sense when writing for philosophers, and many gods when writing for the masses.

From:
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv3-35

As for the Golden Chain, in the eighth book of the Iliad Zeus reveals his strength by pulling the chain up towards himself even though all the other gods are suspended from the chain; and Aristotle sees in this myth a symbol of the prime mover, the unmoved cause of all motion (On the Motion of Animals, IV, 699b 32; Pépin, pp. 121, 123).

From:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/GreekScience/Students/Tom/AristotleAstro.html

In De Caelo, Aristotle equated the prime mover of all things with the sphere of the fixed stars, which was itself moving with unceasing motion. (De Caelo, Book I, chapter 9) In the Metaphysics, however, he placed an unmoved prime mover "behind" the fixed stars. He describes this transcendent first mover as eternal and without magnitude; he says that it causes circular movement, and that is the kind of movement that is most perfect, since it has no beginning or end; he states that it is good, and its activity is the highest form of joy. It seems that at one point Aristotle thought of the prime mover as somehow an integral part of the universe itself, and at another as existing outside space and time.


How do poets like Pindar describe Zeus?

A.  Pindar's odes: epithets for Zeus

son of Cronus and Rhea, who rule over your home on Olympus
the great father, the husband of Rhea whose throne is above all others
Charioteer of the thundercloud with untiring feet, highest Zeus!
Savior Zeus, high in the clouds
great king of the gods
Athena leapt from the top of her father's head (Birth of Athena)
the son of Cronus
Zeus the god of hospitality
the son of Cronus, loud-thundering Zeus
Zeus of the flashing thunderbolt
Zeus of the red lightning-bolt
the ruler of Olympus
the greatest god
Zeus who rouses the thunder-clap, the burning bolt that suits omnipotence
Highest lord of Olympia, ruling far and wide; for all time, father Zeus
Zeus whose spear is the thunderbolt
Zeus the Accomplisher
the Olympian father
the strongest god
the eagle sleeps on the scepter of Zeus
Hera, who was allotted to the joyful bed of Zeus
the father of Uranus' descendants
Zeus whose spear is the thunderbolt
The great mind of Zeus steers the fortune of men that he loves
the son of Cronus, the loud-voiced ruler of lightning and thunder
"What is someone? What is no one? Man is the dream of a shadow. But when the brilliance given by Zeus comes, a shining light is on man, and a gentle lifetime."
Zeus the lord of Olympus
Zeus the highest
the destiny which had been fated by Zeus
Zeus who rouses the clouds
Zeus the king of the immortals
the husband of Hera
the king of gods
son of Cronus
aegis-bearing Zeus
Zeus dispenses both good and bad, Zeus the master of all
Zeus the king
the loud-thundering father



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