Ancient Religions by Ms. Sarah Iles Johnston

By Ms. Sarah Iles Johnston

Non secular ideals and practices, which permeated all points of lifestyles in antiquity, traveled well-worn routes during the Mediterranean: itinerant charismatic practitioners travelling from position to put peddled their talents as healers, purifiers, cursers, and initiators; and vessels adorned with illustrations of myths traveled with them. New gods encountered in overseas lands via retailers and conquerors have been occasionally taken domestic to be tailored and followed. This selection of essays through a extraordinary foreign staff of students, drawn from the groundbreaking reference paintings faith within the old global, deals an expansive, comparative viewpoint in this complicated religious international.

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A similar practice occurs in Greece, although with very different ramifications. A god worshiped throughout Greece, such as Artemis, may become associated with a local god whose traits are similar (thus in Arcadia we find Artemis Callisto). In these cases, however, an originally independent god—even a encountering ancient religions 26 god who continues to be worshiped independently in some cases—is subordinated to the Panhellenic god both in the sense that the lesser god’s altar is smaller than the greater god’s and in the sense that myth makes the lesser god a “heroic” companion of the greater god.

Typically, the highest god is also the creator (Marduk in Babylonia; Re, later Amun-Re, in Egypt; although in Greece and Rome, according to the best-known cosmologies, neither Zeus/Jupiter nor any other god creates the world; it simply develops out of Chaos on its own). In Egypt, the highest god combines the aspects of creator, sun, and king. Here, the idea of unity seems most prominent. Before the monotheistic revolution of Akhenaten, however, the fundamental plurality of the divine world in its cosmic manifestation was never questioned.

Revolutionary monotheism is based on the distinction between true and false, between one true god and the rest of forbidden, false, or nonexistent gods. The introduction of this distinction into the realm of religion constitutes a radical break. Polytheistic or “primary” religions generally are not concerned with questions of what to believe, but how to act. Not the truth of the beliefs but the correctness of the ritual performances and recitations is what matters: orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy.

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