Part 6 – The Spread of the Early Church in the Roman Empire

Jesus appeared to his disciples several times during a period of almost six weeks after his resurrection in Jerusalem. His final instructions to them before he ascended into heaven can serve as a kind of overview of the entire book of Acts: “You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and in every part of the world.”

Thousands of Jews believed the Gospel preached by the apostles in Jerusalem, and they were baptized. The city had no large body of water nearby, and the baptisms must have taken place in small ritual immersion pools or perhaps in cisterns where rainwater was collected under the houses.

After a period of perhaps several years in Jerusalem, Simon Peter, who is the leading figure of the first chapters of Acts, went down to the town of Lydda.

From Lydda Peter was asked by the believers to come to Joppa or Yafo on the coast. Here he raised from the dead a woman named Dorcas. While he was in Joppa, Peter stayed at the home of a man who made his living preparing leather from animal skins.

In response to a vision and an invitation from a Roman military officer, Peter went north to the city of Caesarea where he preached the Gospel to non-Jews. The first believers in Jesus, like Jesus himself, were Jews. Even before Peter went to Caesarea, the Gospel had left the confines of Judaism when a Jerusalem believer named Philip preached in the region of Samaria.

In Caesarea were the headquarters of the Roman army in the province of Judea. Caesarea had been built by Herod the Great in honor of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. The Roman governor normally stayed there, going up to Jerusalem only on special occasions. Caesarea was a large city, spreading inland from the sea. It boasted all of the normal institutions of a well-developed Hellenistic city. Acts chapter 12 describes the death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea; the Jewish historian Josephus gives a very similar description and places the speech of Agrippa in the theater of the city.

While the young church grew rapidly in and around Jerusalem, it did encounter opposition. The most dedicated opponent was a young student of the Law of Moses named Saul. After the death of Stephen, in which Saul took part, he received permission from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to go to Damascus, an important city in the province of Syria, and there arrest believers in Jesus. Outside the walls of Damascus, Saul had an experience that would change his life dramatically. Seeing a bright flash of light, he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice calling his name: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

The speaker was Jesus. He commissioned Saul to preach the Gospel. The light had made Saul blind, and he had to be led by the hand into the city. He was brought to the house of a man called Judah in the street called Straight. After he was healed and baptized, Saul, whose Greek name was Paul, began to preach in Damascus with the same zeal with which he had persecuted those Jews who had believed in Jesus.

Other Jews there, who had expected Paul to solve their Jesus problem, saw that he was only making it worse. They made plans to kill him. Paul’s friends helped him escape one night by lowering him in a basket from the city wall.

Paul did not go directly back to Jerusalem. Instead he traveled to Arabia in the kingdom of Nabatea.


The Nabateans were an Arab people who inhabited the desert regions in the south and east of the land of Canaan. From about the fourth century BC until perhaps the late first century AD their capital was in the city of Petra. Petra was literally carved out of the rock, and indeed “Petra” means rock, as does the Old Testament name for the same place, “Sela.” Petra was a city of tombs and temples. It was a necropolis, a city of the dead. Near Petra was the commercial center, called Little Petra, where camel caravans were unloaded and the goods were stored.

The Nabateans made their living primarily from transporting spices and perfumes produced in southern Arabia and the Far East. These included rare luxury goods such as myrrh and frankincense. From southern Arabia to their main shipping port of Gaza was a distance of over 2300 km. The transported goods were carried by caravans of camels along the so-called “spice route.” The trip could take many weeks, and the Nabateans maintained some sixty-five rest stations along the route. In the Negev region the most important of these stations was at Avdat. The Nabateans also had a substantial army to guard the camel caravans and the rest stations.

In the first century BC the Nabatean kingdom expanded northward into southern Syria, reaching as far as the city of Damascus. Paul returned from Arabia to Damascus. His activity in Arabia may have angered the Nabatean king Aretas IV, who not long afterward gave orders that Paul should be arrested.

From Damascus Paul returned to Jerusalem. However, his enthusiastic preaching soon aroused opposition in Jerusalem as it had in Damascus. At the urging of the church leaders, Paul took a ship to the city of Tarsus in Cilicia, where he had been born.

Tarsus was located in what is today southeast Turkey. It was a port city and an important commercial center. Tarsus was a Greco-Roman city, and being born there gave Paul Roman citizenship. The city was known for its excellent educational institutions, and the young Jewish boy received training in Greek philosophy and rhetoric, which is the art of arguing, debating, and writing.

At a young age Paul moved to Jerusalem, where he received a more traditional Jewish education, studying the Law of Moses and the traditions of his people. He studied under the famous rabbi and Pharisee Gamaliel, an influential member of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin. Paul himself became a devoted member of the party of the Pharisees.

Once the Gospel started to spread outside the land of Israel, it made quick progress, first to the island of Cyprus, then to the city of Antioch, not far from Paul’s hometown. Here the Gospel was preached to people who were not Jewish. Barnabas, who was a native of Cyprus, went to Tarsus to look for Paul to help in the new challenge of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

The book of Acts records four journeys taken by Paul. On the first journey he teamed up with Barnabas, the man who had supported him in Jerusalem and Antioch. Paul’s home base was the city of Antioch, and he always returned to report to the church there. Antioch was the capital city of the province of Syria, which included Judea and Galilee. It was one of the three most important cities in the Empire, after Rome and Alexandria. A cave near the modern city of Antakya may have been one of the earliest meeting places of the believers, who were first given the name Christians at Antioch.

From Seleucia, the port of Antioch, Paul and Barnabas sailed to the island of Cyprus. After they had preached for a time in Jewish synagogues, the governor of the island, Sergius Paullus, asked to hear their message, and he himself became a believer. The governor was originally from another city called Antioch, in the district of Pisidia.

The apostles sailed from Cyprus, landed at the port city of Perga, and went directly to this second Antioch, where the family of Sergius Paullus had a large estate. It is possible that he supplied the two apostles with letters of introduction to influential people in his hometown. At the time Paul visited Pisidian Antioch, about 47 AD, the city had magnificent buildings and was a center for the cult of the deified emperors. The theater and the main street, with shops on each side, have been excavated.

All over Asia Minor, present day Turkey, there were cities, founded centuries earlier by Greeks who had left the rather barren Greek peninsulas and islands to find lots of space and fertile land in Asia Minor. These Greek colonists founded many new cities and brought with them Greek culture and language. So everywhere Paul traveled in Asia Minor he could speak the Greek language and be understood.

Travel in ancient times

Paul’s journey from Perga to Antioch in Pisidia was on good paved roads that connected all the major cities in Asia Minor. Paul would have used a pass through the Tauros Mountains, which run parallel to the coast and reach an altitude of more than 2000 meters. Most of the year the Tauros peaks are covered with snow.

Land travel was relatively easy in the Roman Empire. Along the main thoroughfares there were inns where people could rest and eat and where fresh horses and mules could be obtained. Paul may have normally traveled on horseback and was able to cover long distances in relatively short periods of time. He could have crossed the entire length of Asia Minor, a distance of over 1000 kilometers, in about two weeks.

From Antioch in Pisidia they went to preach the Gospel in the cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, all in the southern Galatia region. They visited most of those cities twice, as they returned along the same route back to their home base at Antioch in Syria. On the way to Attalia, where they took the boat back to Antioch, Paul preached in the synagogue of Perga.

The highly successful evangelizing trip raised some serious questions for the young church. Until that time, all of the believers in Jesus were Jews, and very little attempt had been made to extend the Gospel to non-Jews. As word filtered back to the church leaders in Jerusalem that large numbers of Gentiles were being admitted into the fellowship of believers, the Church was faced with a serious question: Was this just a Jewish movement? Should non-Jews be converted to Judaism before they were allowed into fellowship?

Paul and Barnabas were invited to Jerusalem to explain what they had been doing. The discussion that followed came to be known as the Jerusalem Council. Its decision was clear: the Gospel was for everyone; Gentiles were welcome, and they did not need first to convert to Judaism. The two apostles carried the news back to Antioch, where it was received joyfully. They decided to return to the cities where they had first preached, but they could not agree on whom to take with them. After just one trip together their partnership broke up. Barnabas set out for Cyprus with his cousin Mark, while Paul chose a new partner, Silas.

Paul’s second journey

Paul and Silas traveled overland through Asia Minor and arrived here at Troas, the port city on the coast of the Aegean Sea. Here in Troas Paul had a vision, a man from Macedonia calling him, begging him, to come and bring the Gospel. And so Paul and Silas sailed out of Troas, went across the sea to Macedonia carrying the Gospel to Europe. This was a significant turning point in the spread of the Gospel in the early Church.

This was probably in the year 49 AD.

Macedonia, the homeland of Alexander the Great, was an important and prosperous Roman province. The Romans had conquered the kingdom of Macedonia in the second century BC.

The most important city in Macedonia was Philippi, which stood along the Via Egnatia, the main road linking Rome with the east. The Romans also established a large colony around the city, giving land to retired Roman officers. These, together with Greeks and local Thracians, formed the population of the large city. The Roman aristocrats owned estates outside the city, where large numbers of slaves worked the fields.

Philippi had many temples devoted to different gods, a theater, and all the other buildings normally found in a Greco-Roman city.

In Philippi the apostles met Lydia, a Greek woman from the city of Thyatira in Asia Minor who had converted to Judaism. She traded in purple cloth, most probably selling the purple dye made from a sea snail, a famous export commodity of the Phoenicians. The wearing of purple cloth was restricted only to aristocrats. The presence of this Greek woman indicates that there was a market for purple cloth in Philippi. Lydia accepted Paul’s preaching of the Gospel and was baptized in the river outside Philippi, which probably had no synagogue.

In Philippi Paul and Silas were arrested and thrown into prison. An ancient prison was often just a place to hold someone until a punishment could be determined and carried out. Prisons could be buildings specially prepared for this purpose, but they were often little more than a hole in the ground. Jeremiah was held in a dry cistern, and it is possible that Jesus was held in something similar before he was led out to be crucified. While the exact structure of the prison in Philippi is unknown, the text does say that it had doors. The prison in Philippi may have looked like this cave with a wall closing it in from the front. Paul and Silas were put into wooden stocks, which would have been very uncomfortable.

From Philippi Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica, the capital city of the province of Macedonia. In Thessalonica Paul’s preaching led to a clash with certain Jews. They caused an uproar in the city, and Paul had to leave in a hurry. He left behind him a young church that became quite strong. From Thessalonica they went to Beroea, and from there Paul traveled on alone to Athens, most probably by sea. As he approached Athens Paul would have seen the impressive temple of Poseidon, the god of the sea, which dominated a cape near the city.


Paul arrived in Athens before his companions, who may have traveled overland. Athens had once been the most important city in Greece, but by Paul’s time it was small and relatively insignificant and known only for various philosophical schools that were active there. As was his custom, Paul spoke about Jesus in the local synagogue.

[dialogue] Paul also went into the agora


and there he spoke with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

They actually thought he was trying to introduce new gods into the city: Jesus and Anastasis


They brought him to a hill called the Areopagus.

That was the place where the city council of Athens met.

The council was responsible not only for state affairs but also for religious matters.

Right. It was their duty to investigate someone like Paul teaching about new gods.
The name Areopagus can refer both to the hill and to the council that met there.

K: What would Paul have seen from this hill of the Areopagus?

R: The Areopagus stands right next to the hill of the Acropolis, and on the Acropolis Paul would have seen magnificent white marble temples shining in the sun, including, for example, the temple called the Parthenon, dedicated to the patron goddess of the state, Athena.

K: And where would the altar to the unknown god be located?

R: That’s a very good question. No one has ever found such an altar in Athens, so I can’t tell you where it would have been.

Paul’s conversations with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers would have taken place in a covered area called a stoa. The stoa was constructed of rows of columns covered with a high roof. Protected from the heat of the sun, people could carry on business in the shops or even have philosophical discussions.

Many ancient cities had a fortified high place, known in Greek as “acropolis,” or “upper city.” In addition to being elevated and easier to defend, the acropolis of a city often held temples and other sacred structures of the city. The prominent temple on the acropolis of Athens was dedicated to the goddess Athena and was called the Parthenon.

[dialogue ] The way Paul related to the religion of the Athenians was really quite remarkable.

Yes, even though Luke says Paul was deeply upset by all the idols he saw around the city, his words to those who gathered in the marketplace show great respect for their religious beliefs.

True. We might have expected him to attack idol worship as he does in some of his letters.
In fact, he even quotes from their own poets, including a poem in honor of Zeus.

How do you think we can explain Paul’s gentle approach here in Athens?

Well, I see it as an application of his own principle, stated in 1 Cor 9, that he became all things to all men so that he might save some of them.

I think we should also consider the different audiences. Luke shows Paul speaking respectfully of Greek religion and philosophy, but when Paul himself writes to Christians, his perspective on the same beliefs is far less positive.


From Athens Paul traveled on to Corinth. He lived and preached in Corinth for a year and a half and later wrote at least two letters back to the church there. The city of Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. It was much larger than Athens, with a population of several hundred thousand. Corinth was located on a narrow strip of land separating two important bodies of water in Greece. This location gave the city great strategic and commercial advantages.

While Paul stayed in Corinth he preached the Gospel every Sabbath day in the local synagogue. While no remains of that synagogue have been found, archaeologists did find an inscription from a later synagogue that most likely stood on the same location. The full inscription probably read “Synagogue of the Hebrews.”

Another inscription indicates that a large paved area near the theater was paid for by a man named Erastus. The name Erastus was not a common one, and it is quite possible that this is the same man who greeted the church in Rome when Paul wrote to them from Corinth. It is probably the same Erastus who is mentioned in Acts 19 and in 2 Timothy 4.

Like Athens and many other Greek cities, Corinth lay at the foot of an acropolis, or sacred upper part of the city. It was called the Acrocorinth. On its slopes and on its peak were located temples to various gods.

[dialogue] The Jewish community in Corinth accused Paul before the Roman proconsul, a man named Gallio.

What exactly was their accusation?

Well, Luke just quotes them as saying “This man persuades men to worship God in a way that is contrary to the law.”

Which law were they talking about?

That is a good question. They were probably speaking Greek, so they used the word “nomos.”

But that could mean either Roman civil law or Jewish law, the Torah.

Right. Gallio himself may have been unsure at first just what they meant, and we can assume that he told them to be more specific.

Yes, his response makes it clear that he did not see it as a matter for a Roman court. He replies that it is only a dispute about their own law.

To hear their case, Gallio sat on a special platform called a bema, which was for hearing legal cases or for delivering public speeches. Just such a platform was found in front of the residence of the proconsul. From the dates inscribed on it, it may well have been the one where Gallio sat.

Paul ended his second journey with brief stops in Ephesus and probably in Jerusalem before returning to Antioch in Syria.


Almost three years of Paul’s next journey with the Gospel were spent in Ephesus. Except for the brief stop there at the end of the previous journey, he had avoided the city. From Antioch Paul took the shortest overland route directly to Ephesus.

Ephesus was the capital city of the province of Asia and one of the largest and most important cities of the Roman Empire. It boasted a population of over a quarter million, and was the center of the highly popular cult of the goddess Artemis. Artemis, who was known to the Romans as Diana, was a goddess of fertility, a mother-goddess figure portrayed in ancient art as having many breasts. Her cult was spread over much of the known world. This temple of Artemis stood in the Decapolis city of Gerasa.

At the time of the New Testament, Ephesus was honored with the title “temple keeper of the great Artemis.” An inscription was found in the city bearing exactly these words, as they are used by Luke in the book of Acts.

All that remains of the Artemis temple in Ephesus is this column and some foundations. It was an extremely large building, over one hundred meters long and almost fifty meters wide. Inside it had over one hundred columns 16 meters high. The temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Behind the main altar stood a statue of Artemis, referred to in Acts 19 as “the sacred stone that fell from the sky.”

Paul’s preaching in Ephesus was very successful, so much so that merchants who sold models of Artemis and her temple were worried about losing money. They started a riot and a large, angry crowd gathered in the theater. This is one of the largest theaters in the Roman Empire. It held about 25,000 people. For about two hours they rioted. Paul wanted to come into the theater here and address the crowd, but because of the danger his friends would not allow him inside. In the end the riot ended peacefully, although it is possible Paul spent some time in prison afterwards.

Not long afterward Paul departed from Ephesus. While he was there he probably wrote the letters we know as First and Second Corinthians. He may also have written other letters from Ephesus.

Probably because of its importance in the Roman administration, Ephesus soon became recognized as the mother church of a number of other churches in less important cities in the region. The book of Revelation is addressed to the churches in Ephesus and six of these other cities.

John, the author of the book of Revelation, may have been a leader of the church in Ephesus. He was confined to the island of Patmos, a small, barren, and sparsely populated island a few hours by boat from Ephesus. The island is only 15 km long and a few kilometers wide. Patmos has many caves, and John may have lived in one of these when he received his visions. Perhaps he recorded the visions only later after returning to Ephesus.

John was exiled probably during the reign of the emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), who organized wide scale persecutions of Christians. The teaching of a new religion was not forbidden by the Romans. However, the new Christian religion taught not to worship the traditional gods. Since the Romans believed that the gods protected the state, such a teaching was considered dangerous to the stability of the empire. A Christian who refused to sacrifice to the gods or to the image of the emperor could be considered disloyal to Rome.


The third of the seven letters in the book of Revelation was addressed to the church at Pergamum. Pergamum had long been an important city in Asia Minor, and at least for a while it had served as the capital of the province. Perhaps more significantly, it was the center of worship for two major cults. The first was the cult of the healing god Asklepios. Asklepios was given the title “Soter,” meaning Savior; he was represented by a staff with snakes wrapped around it.

The ancient world had its healing cults. The most important god of healing for the ancient Greeks was the god Asklepios, with main centers at Epidauros in the Peloponnesian peninsula and here in Pergamum. The sick came into this treatment center, bathed themselves and often would spend the night here or in buildings around, hoping perhaps to have a dream from the god during the night showing them how they might be healed.

People who were healed presented to the god tokens indicating the nature of their healing. Pergamum had a medical faculty and a large library of books on the subject of sickness and ancient healing methods.

The second important cult in Pergamum was the worship of the Roman emperor. In 29 BC the first ever temple to a Roman emperor and the goddess Roma was built in Pergamum. During the first century AD the city quickly grew to become the recognized center of emperor worship in Asia.

The letter to the church at Pergamum refers to the city as the place “where Satan has his throne.” We cannot say for sure what this phrase refers to, but most scholars connect it to Pergamum’s prominence in the cult of the emperor. The worship of Asklepios could also provide some of the background. It is also possible that a large altar to the god Zeus the Savior contributed to this phrase; the altar resembled a large throne.


Situated in a fertile valley, the city of Laodicea was a prosperous industrial center. Here high quality woolen clothing was produced.

Laodicea was one of the seven churches of the book of Revelation. The Christians in Laodicea were characterized as lukewarm. Nearby the city were springs that issued lukewarm water. This may be the background of this characterization we find in the book of Revelation.

The letter in the book of Revelation describes the Christians of Laodicea as being neither cold nor hot. This figure of speech may hint at springs in the nearby mountains that did not produce cold water as mountain springs normally do, but only lukewarm water. These springs still issue calcium-rich but lukewarm water.

Paul now retraced some of his steps from his second journey, returning to churches in Macedonia and Greece, which may mean that he went as far as Corinth. He returned northward to Macedonia, and after the festival of Passover he and his companions sailed from Philippi to the city of Troas in Asia Minor. Troas was one of the ports nearest to Greece, and Paul passed through there more than once. Hurrying to get to Jerusalem, Paul did not go into Ephesus but only met leaders from the Ephesian church at the port of Miletus, about 70 kilometers away from Ephesus.

The final destination of the ship Paul was on was the port of Ptolemais, mentioned once in the book of Judges under the name of Acco. However, the ship first had to unload cargo in the city of Tyre. Paul spent a week with believers from the church there. From Ptolemais Paul traveled to Jerusalem by foot, stopping for several days in Caesarea.

In Jerusalem Paul was arrested and put in prison. He was sent under guard to Caesarea, where he spent about two years in prison. When Paul was finally tried by the Roman governor Festus, he used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to the emperor in Rome. Paul’s journey to Rome did not go well, and the ship broke up off the coast of the island of Malta. He and his companions finally made it to Italy over three months later. Traveling north along a road called the Apian Way, Paul, still a prisoner, finally arrived in Rome. It was early in the year 60 AD.

Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst (eds.)


I. Zeus is the main divinity of the Greek pantheon. His name is of undisputed Indo-European origin, connected with Lat Iu-piter, Rigveda Dyaus (pitar) etc., derived from the root *diwu-, “day (as opposed to night)” (Lat dies), “(clear) sky.” He is identified with local weather gods of Asia Minor, with great sky gods (Zeus Beelsemen, Baalshamem) as well as local Ba’alim of Syria and Palestine, and with the Egyptian Amun/Ammon. In the Bible, he appears in 2 Macc 6:2 (the temple in Jerusalem and the sanctuary of Garizim are rededicated to Zeus) and in Acts 14:12-13 (the inhabitants of Lystra in Lycaonia call Barnabas Zeus, Paul Hermes; the priest of Zeus prepares a sacrifice to them).

II. Zeus is the only major god of the Greek pantheon whose IE origin is undisputed. The Homeric and later epithet pater is closely paralleled by Roman Iu-piter and Indian Dyaus pitar: his role as father must be already IE, not in a theogonical or anthropogonical sense (regardless of the frequent epic formula “Zeus, father of men and gods”), but as the Homeric variant Zeus anax, “Lord Zeus,” proves, as having the power of a father in a patriarchal system. This role, which implies unrestricted power as well as its control by father-like benignity, continues as the fundamental role of Zeus in all antiquity and finds expression also in the standard iconography of a bearded but powerful man (SIMON 1985:14-34; ARAFAT 1990).

Accordingly, his cult is well attested in the Linear B tablets from Pylos and Knossos (GERARD-ROUSSEAU 1968:72-74; HILLER, in SCHWABL 1978:1001-1009), Thebes and Khania (HALLAGER 1992), though at least in Pylos he seems to share his prestige with Poseidon. The palaces of Pylos and Khania had a sanctuary of Zeus; a Knossian tablet attests a month name or, if already the Mycenaean names of months derive from festivals, a festival of Zeus; another one derives from the epiclesis Diktaios, Zeus of Mt. Dikte, which remained important in the first millennium. A Pylos text attests the common cult of Zeus, Hera, and Drimios Son of Zeus: Drimios is unknown in the first millennium (though a tablet from Khania notes a common cult of Zeus and Dionysos in the sanctuary of Zeus, and though a triad of Zeus, Hera and Dionysos is attested on Lesbos, Alcaeus frg. 129 L.-P., it would be rash to identify Drimios with Dionysos), but the connection of Zeus, Hera and a son of Zeus suggests Hera as consort of Zeus, as in later mythology.

The role of Zeus, the IE god of the bright sky, is transformed in Greece into the role of Zeus the weather god whose paramount place of worship is a mountain top; such a cult-place is specific to Zeus (see Herodotus 1,131,1). Among the many mountains connected with Zeus (list: COOK 1926:868-987), many are reflected only in an epithet hi h does not necessarily imply the existence of a peak sanctuary. Few such sanctuaries have been excavated (e.g. on Mt. Hymettos in Attica, LANGDON 1976); those attested in literature are mainly connected with rain rituals (Zeus Hyetios or Ombrios), though the sanctuary on the Arcadian Mt. Lykaion had an initiatory function as well (rain: Pausanias 8,38,4; initiations BURKERT 1972: 97-108). As Zeus “the Gatherer of Clouds” (nephelegeretes, a common Homeric epithet), he was generally believed to cause rain, both in serious expressions (“Zeus rains”) and in the comic parody of Aristophanes (Nub. 373). With the god of clouds comes the god of thunder (hypsibremetes “He Who Thunders High Up”) and of lightning (terpsikeraunos “He Who Enjoys Lightning”); a spot struck by lightning is inaccessible (abaton) and often sacred to Zeus Kataibates (“He Who Comes Down”). As the Master of Tempest, he is supposed to give signs to the mortals through thunder and lightning and to strike evildoers, as he struck the Giants and the monstrous Typhon at the beginning of his reign.

This entire complex finds expression in the myth that Zeus lives on Mt. Olympos, together with all the gods of his household; from a real mountain, Olympos was transformed into a mythical place already before Homeric poetry; the myth in turn provoked cult on the mountain (Arch. Delt. 22 [1967] 6-14). As Master of Lightning, he has the Cyclopes at his command, the divine blacksmiths who fabricate his main weapon.

The shift from Indo-European god of the bright sky (according to the etymology) to the Greek Master of Sky and Storms makes Zeus a relative of the Weather Gods of Anatolia and Syria with whom he later was identified. This shift seems inconceivable without Near Eastern influence which is also tangible in the Hesiodic succession myth (see below).

Already for the early archaic Greeks, and conceivably the Mycenaeans (emphatically so KERENYI 1972:21-34), Zeus was a much more fundamental deity. According to the succession myth in the Hesiodic Theogony, Zeus deposed his father Kronos, who in turn had deposed and castrated his father Uranos; after his accession to power, Zeus fought the Giants and the monster Typhon who attacked his reign, and disposed the actual order of things by attributing to each divinity his or her respective sphere: to his brothers Poseidon and Hades-Pluton, he allotted two thirds of the cosmos, to the one the sea, to the other the netherworld; to his sisters Hera, his wife, and Demeter, and to his many divine children their respective domains in the world of the humans; mankind had been preexistent to Zeus’ reign. The main outline of this myth is known also in Homer (Zeus is the son of Kronos, Kronion or Kronides, Rhea his mother A 15,188, the Titans are sons of Uranos, H. 5,898; the tripartite division of the world R. 15,187; the deposition of Kronos and the Titans R. 8,478. 14,200. 274. 15,225; the fight against Typhoeus A 2,780). The myth makes Zeus the ruler (“King,” anax or, after Homer, basileus) both over the other gods (whom he overrules by sheer force, if necessary, e.g. R. 8,18-27) and over the world of man: the order of things as they are now is the order of Zeus.

Closely related succession myths are attested from Hittite Anatolia and from Mesopotamia. In Hittite mythology, the succession passes through Arm, “Sky,” who is deposed and castrated by Kumarbi, and finally to Teshub, the Storm God, who would correspond to Zeus; other myths narrate the attacks of Kumarbi and his followers on Teshub’s reign (HOFFNER 1990). Myths from Mesopotamia present a similar, though more varied structure; the Babylonian Enuma Elish moves from a primeval pair Apsu and Tiamat to the reign of Marduk, the city god of Babylon and in many respects a Ba’al and Zeuslike figure; a later version of the Typhoeus myth (Apollodorus, Bibl.1,6,3) locates part of it on Syrian Mt. Kasion (Phoen. Zaphon), seat of a peak cult of Ba’al Zaphon (Zeus Kasios, SCHWABL 1972:320-321). The conception of Zeus the kingly ruler of the present world is as unthinkable without Oriental influence as is the figure of Zeus the Master of Storms.

But Zeus the king is no tyrant. One of his main domains is right and justice: he has ordered the world, and any transgression of this order is injustice, and Zeus watches over it; if necessary, he punishes transgressors (e.g. Salmoneus, who had made himself into an image of Zeus). Human kings are under his special protection, but they have to endorse the justice of Zeus (LLOYD-JONES 1971; Dike). Zeus himself protects those outside ordinary social bonds, i.e. the strangers, supplicants (Homer, Od 9,296-298) and beggars (Od. 6,207-208; 14, 57-60); the cult attests Zeus Xenios, “He of the Strangers” (SCHWABL 1972:341) and Zeus Hikesios, “He of the Supplicants” (SCHWABL 1972:317-318). In order to preserve the order he had set, he is himself subject to it; he has no right to change it out of personal whim—therefore, he feels himself liable to Fate (whom Homer can call “Fate of Zeus”; BIANCHI 1953).

In many instances, human affairs follow the plan of Zeus (the Trojan War, the return of Odysseus), despite apparent setbacks. He might hasten perfection, if asked in prayer to do so (Zeus Teleios, “He who Perfects,” Aeschylus Ag. 973), and he might signal his will, either asked for or unasked, in dreams, augural signs, thunder and lightning (Homer R. 2,353. 3,242), but also by provoking ominous human utterances (thunder and utterance, pheme, combined in Hom. Od. 20,102-105). In cult, this function is expressed in rare epicleses like Phanter (“He Who Signals”), Terastios (“He of the Omina”), Phemios (“Who gives Oracular Sayings”) or Kledonios.

In these cases, Zeus’ prophetic power is occasional and subordinated to his main role as guarantor of cosmic and social order. It becomes central in the only Greek oracle of Zeus, Dodona in Epirus (BOUCHE-LECLERCQ 2, 273-331; PARKE 1967: 1-163). The oracle is reputed to be the oldest Greek oracle; it was known already to Homer (II.16,233-234; Od.14,327-328) and was active until late-Hellenistic times; though visited also by cities, its main clients were private people from Northwestern Greece. Zeus (surnamed Naios; he had a cult also on nearby Mt. Tomaros) is here paired with Dione, mother of Aphrodite in ordinary Greek myth. Homer mentions the Selloi as prophets, “barefoot, sleeping on the earth” (H. 16,234-235). They disappear without a trace; in the mid-fifth cent. BCE, Herodotus knows only of priestesses (“Doves,” Peleiades), and later authors add that they prophecy in ecstasy, Aristides, Or. 45,11. Zeus manifested himself in the sounds of the holy oak-tree (Od. 14,27-28, 19,296-297), in doves, whose call from the holy oak-tree or whose flight are used as divine signs (Herodotus 2,55-58); other sources know also divination by lots (cleromancy), water vessels (hydromancy), and by the sounds of a gong.

Zeus has but few major polis festivals; and only a few month names attest to an important early festival of Zeus—the Bronze Age month Diwos (Knossos) to which correspond the Macedonian, Aetolian and Thessalian Dios, the Attic Maimakterion, which comes from the minor festival of a shadowy Zeus Maimaktes (a storm god?), the Cretan (V)elchanios which belongs to a typically Cretan (Zeus) Velchanos (an originally independent storm god? VERBRUGGEN 1981: 144). The relevant chapter in NILSSON (1908: 3-35) devotes much space to weather festivals, Lykaia and Buphonia. Of some interest were the Koan sacrifice of a bull of Zeus Polieus and the festival of Zeus Sosipolis in Magnesia on the Maeander, both attested by a Hellenistic law (Kos: SOKOLOWSKI 1969 no. 156; Magnesia: SOKOLOWSKI 1955 no. 32); they show the pomp with which Hellenistic poleis could celebrate the god whose cult expressed their identity and hope; both festivals emphasize the choice and importance of the victim.

Athenian festivals of Zeus (DEUBNER 1932:155-178) are less self-asserting. To the Koan and Magnesian festival, one might compare the Diisoteria with a sacrifice and a procession for Zeus Soter and Athena Soteira: again, it is a festival in the honour of Zeus Saviour of the Town. But as to calendar and to place, in Athens it was marginal: it was celebrated outside the town in Piraeus, although with the participation of the town. Closer to the centre were the Dipolieia and Diasia. The Dipolieia contained the strange and guilt-ridden sacrifice of an ox on the altar of Zeus Polieus on the acropolis (Buphonia: BURKERT 1972:153-161); they belong to the rituals around New Year. Aristophanes thought it rather old-fashioned (Nub.984): the ritual killing of the ox, the myth which makes all participants guilty. the ensuing prosecution of the killer with the formal condemnation of axe and knife enacts a crisis, not a bright festival.

The Diasia, “the greatest Athenian festival of Zeus” (Thucydides 1,126,6), had an even less auspicious character. The festival took place in honour of Zeus Meilichios who had the form of a huge snake. The cult place was outside the town, with animal sacrifice or bloodless cakes; the sacrificial animals were entirely burnt. This meant no common meal to release the tension of the sacrifice; instead, we hear of common meals in small family circles and of gifts to the children; the community passes through a phase of disintegration. The character fits the date, Anthesterion 23 (February/March); the main event of the month had been the Anthesteria which had a similar, but even more marked character of uncanny disintegration.

This apparent paucity of polis festivals is not out of tune with the general image of Zeus. Though he often is called Polieus, he has no major temple on an acropolis, unlike the Roman Iupiter Capitolinus, though he might be paired with Athena Polias. The polis has to be under the protection of her specific patron deity, Athena or Apollo. Zeus, the overall protector, cannot confine himself to one polis only— his protection adds itself to that of the respective deities.

On the other hand, he is prominent as a panhellenic deity from early times. Besides Dodona, whose founding hero Deukalion, father of Helen, discloses its panhellenic aspirations (BOUCHE-LECLERCQ 1879-82:2, 280), his main Greek festivals are the penteteric Olympia with the splendid sacrifice to Zeus Olympios and the ensuing panhellenic agon. Their introduction in 776 BCE, according to tradition, marked the end of the isolation of the Dark Age communities; the common festival took place at a spot outside a single polis and under the protection of a superior god. The analysis of the sacrifices points to an origin in initiation rituals of young warriors, related to the Lykaia (BURKERT 1972:108-119) which, however, had opened up itself at a time not too distant from the Homeric poems with their own universalist conception of Zeus.

Inside the polis, Zeus has his own specific province and cares for the smaller units whose lawful unification forms the polis. His own domain is the agora: as Zeus Agoraios, he presides over the just political dealings of the community (see the law from Erythrai, GRAF 1985:197-199); in this function, he can be counted among the main divinities of a city, Hestia Prytaneia and Athena Poliouchos or Polias (Crete: SCHWABL 1972:257-258). On the level of smaller units, he is one of the patrons of phratries (Zeus Phratrios or Zeus Patr(o)ios, sometimes together with Athena Phratria or Patr(o)ia, see Plato, Euthyd. 302 d) or clans (Zeus Patr(o)ios). In this function, he also protects the single households; as Zeus Herkeios (“He in the Yard”), he receives sacrifices on an altar in the courtyard (Homer Il. 11,772-774, Od.22,334-336; every Athenian family had to have one, Aristotle, Pol. Ath.55, NILSSON 1965:403), as Zeus Ephestios (“He on the Hearth”), on the hearth of a house.

There are functions of Zeus on the level of the family which easily are extended both to individuals and to the polis. Since property is indispensable for the constitution of a household, Zeus is also the protector of property, Zeus Ktesios; as such, he receives cults from families (Thasos: Zeus Ktesios Patroios), from cities (Athens: a sacrifice by the prytaneis in 174/173 BCE) and from individuals (Stratonikeia: to Zeus Ktesios and Tyche) (SCHWABL 1 326-327). In many places, Zeus Ktesios has the form of a snake (Athens, Thespiai): property is bound to the ground, at least in the still agrarian conception of ancient Greece, and its protectors belong to the earth (see Ploutos, “Richess” whose mother is Demeter, Hesiod, Th. 969, and Plouton, “The Rich One,” one of the many names of the god of the Nether World). The same holds true for Zeus Meilichios, “The Gentle One.” On the level of the individual, Xenophon attests his efficiency in providing funds (anab. 7,8), while in many communities, Zeus Meilichios protects families or clans; in Athens finally, he receives the polis festival of the Diasia; here and elsewhere, he also has the form of a snake (SCHWABL 1972: 335-337). And finally, one might add Zeus Philios, protector of friendship between individuals as among an entire polis (GRAF 1985:204-205).

As the most powerful god, he has a very general function which cuts across all groups and gains in importance in the course of time: Zeus is the Soter, the “Saviour” par excellence. As such, he receives prayers and dedications from individuals, groups of every sort, and from entire towns (rarely specified as Sosipolis, see above; the evidence is too vast for a satisfactory collection, SCHWABL 1972:362-364); the dedications reflect all possible situations of crisis, from very private ones (where Zeus rivals with Asklepios Soter, see e.g. Zeus Soter Asklepios in Pergamon, Altertuemer von Pergamon VIII:3 no. 63) to political troubles (Athens: SEG 26 no.106,7), natural catastrophes (earthquake BCH 102 [1978] 399) or military attacks (Delphi, Soteria after the attack by the Gauls, SCHWABL 1972:363,19).

The Zeus cults of Crete fit only partially into this picture (VERBRUGGEN 1981). Myth places both his birth and his grave in Crete: according to Hesiod, in order to save him from Kronos, Rhea gave birth to Zeus and entrusted the baby to Gaia who hid it in a cave near Lyktos, on Mt. Aigaion (Theog. 468-500). Later authors replace Gaia by the Kouretes, armed demons, whose noisy dance kept Kronos away, and name other mountains, usually Mt. Ida or Mt. Dikte. This complex of myths reflects cult in caves which partly go back to Minoan times (FAURE 1964) and armed dances by young Cretan warriors like those attested in the famous hymn to Zeus from Palaikastro (sanctuary of Zeus Diktaios) which belong to the context of initiatory rituals of young warriors (JEANMAIRE 1939:421-460); in the actual oaths of Cretan ephebes, Zeus plays an important role. In this function, Zeus can exceptionally be young—the Palaikastro hymn calls him “youngster”; the statue in the sanctuary of Zeus Diktaios was beardless, and coins from Knossos show a beardless (Zeus) Velchanos. There certainly are Minoan (and presumably Mycenaean) elements present in the complex, but it would be wrong, as VERBRUGGEN (1981) rightly points out, to separate Cretan Zeus too radically from the rest of the Greek evidence; both the cults of Mt. Lykaios and of Olympia contain initiatory features.

Already in Homer (much more than in actual cult), Zeus had reached a nearly overpowering position. During the classical and hellenistic age, religious thinkers developed this into a sort of “Zeus monotheism.” Already to Aeschylus, Zeus had begun to move away from simple human knowledge (“Zeus, whoever you are…,” Ag. 160-161) to a nearly universal function (“Zeus is ether, Zeus is earth, Zeus is sky, Zeus is everything and more than that,” frg. 105); and Sophocles sees his hand in all human affairs (“Nothing of this which would not be Zeus,” Trach. 1278). Its main document is the hymn to Zeus by the Stoic philosopher Cleanthes (died 232/231 BCE) (text: SVF 1 121 no. 537; translation LONG & SEDLEY 1987:1,326-327); Zeus, mythical image of the Stoic logos, becomes the commander over the entire cosmos (“no deed is done on earth … without your office, nor in the divine ethereal vault of heaven, nor at sea”) and its “universal law,” and at the same time the guarantor of goodness and benign protector of man (“protect mankind from its pitiful incompetence”). This marks the high point of a development—other gods, though briefly mentioned, become insignificant besides universal Zeus.

Neoplatonist speculation rather marks a regress: in the elaborate chains of divine beings, Zeus is never set at the very top; the neoplatonists allegorize the succession from Uranos over Kronos to Zeus and consequently assign him to a lower level.

III. 2 Macc 6 relates how, in 168 BCE, Antiochos IV Epiphanes sent an envoy to Jerusalem in order to press the Hellenization of Israel; foremost on his agenda was to rededicate the temple of Jerusalem to Zeus Olympios and the one on Mt. Garizim to Zeus Xenios. 2 Macc 6:4-5 describes the ensuing profanation of Temple and Altar. While 1 Macc 1:54 dates the building of bdelygma eremoseos, the altar (presumably) of Zeus, on the main Altar of the Temple; Judas Maccabee removed it in 165. From a political point of view, the identification of Yahweh and Zeus, the main god of the Greek pantheon, imposes itself; when Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem, he dedicated its main temple to Iupiter Capitolinus, the main god of the Roman pantheon. Besides, hellenized diaspora Jews identified their God with Zeus: they used Hypsistos (Most High) as Greek name of their God, while it had been a poetic epithet of Zeus from the 5th cent. BCE onward and his cultic epiclesis first in Macedonia, then in the hellenized East (COLPE 1975); the syncretist magical papyri associate Iao (i.e. Yahweh) with Zeus, PGM 1 300. V 471 (Zeus Adonai Iao, cf. IV 2771). Finally, the cult of Zeus Olympios was widespread in Syria, Palestine and Phoenicia (SCHWABL 1972:343-344) as interpretatio Graeca of Ba’al Shamem (TEIXIDOR 1977:27; for Tyre Josephus, Ant. 8,145-147): seen from outside, this might legitimate the identification of Zeus and the Jewish supreme god (see the positive evaluation of Antiochos’ programme in Tacitus, Hist. 5,8,2); seen from inside, it makes the Biblical protests all the more understandable. On Mt. Garizim near Shechem, the capital of Samaria, the Samaritans had built a temple to a nameless god (megistos theos) after their independence from Jerusalem in the 4th cent. BCE (Josephus Ant. 11, 322. 13,74-78); again, the hellenization of this Ba’al-like mountain god as Zeus is what one would expect. According to a anti-Samaritan tradition in Josephus Ant. 12, 262-263, the Samaritans had themselves hellenized the god as Zeus Hellenios in order to oblige Antiochos IV; this same anti-Samaritan point of view is manifest in the epiclesis transmitted in 2 Macc 6:2, Xenios, “He of the Foreigners,” instead of Hellenios of Josephus.

The Lystra episode of Acts 14:12-13 fits into the context of the local religions of Asia Minor. After Paul and Barnabas had manifested superhuman powers by healing a lame man, the native Lystrans (speaking Lycaonian, their indigenous language) explained this with a well-known myth, the visit of gods in human disguise. The myth is widely attested (FLUECKIGER-GUGGENHEIM 1984), but finds a very close parallel in the story of Philemon and Baucis who were visited by Zeus and Hermes in the shape of men (Ovid, Metam. 8, 618-724). This reflects local religious beliefs: in Ovid, who follows a local historian, Philemon and Baucis are Phrygians, and the common cult of Zeus and Hermes is well attested in the region (MALTEN 1940).

Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst (eds.)


I. Artemis is the Greek virgin goddess originally of hunting and animal fertility. it occurs as a divine name in Acts 19 (in Jewish literature only Sib. Or. 5,293-295); moreover one of Paul’s companions had the theophoric name Artemas, a hypocoristic derived from Artemidoros ‘gift of Artemis’ (Titus 3:12). Being the divine huntress, her name, especially its Doric-Aeolian form Artamis has been connected etymologically with Attic artamos ‘butcher; slaughterer,’ or else with ark(t)os ‘bear,’ because the bear was one of the animals sacrificed to her, and her young priestesses were sometimes called ‘she-bears.’ Both explanations fail, however, to account for the phonetic difference in Attic between her name and the adduced appellatives from that same dialect, unless one supposes that Artemis itself is not originally Attic but stems from yet another dialect. It has even been suggested, therefore, that the form Artamis, the other way round, owes its existence to popular etymology on the basis of artamos. In the Linear-B tablets from Pylos her name occurs twice, as A-te-mi-to (gen. sg), and as A-ti-mi-te (dat. sg.). The alternative explanation, now generally adopted, is that her name is not Indo-European at all, but of pre-Greek origin, like those of so many other Greek gods and heroes. In Lydian she was called Artimus, in Etruscan Artumes (nom. sg.), Aritimi (dat. sg.), in Imperial Aramaic she appears as ‘artamu (KAI 260137) or ‘artamush (Fouilles de Xanthos VI, p. 137 line 24). Unlike that of her brother Apollo, the Romans and Latins did not take over her Greek name, but identified her, instead, with the indigenous Diana.

II. General Survey. In Greece Artemis is attested since 1200 BCE, and in Greek literature from Homer onward. According to the most current version of her myth she was the elder twin-sister of Apollo, the two of them being the offspring of Zeus and his first cousin Leto, a daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. As the pregnant Leto had to roam in flight from Hera, the jealous spouse of Zeus, she gave birth to Artemis in Ortygia or ‘quails’ land,’ which some located near Ephesus. Subsequently she bore Apollo in the island of Delos, at this second birth being assisted according to some authors by her new-born daughter Artemis. Originally the realm of Artemis was the world of wild animals and natural vegetation. Homer summarizes her character as “Mistress of the Animals  , Artemis the Huntress” who uses “to kill the animals in the mountains” (Iliad 21,470-471;485).

Positively, therefore, she is the one who rules over fertility in general, in particular the fertility of women, over animals hunted by man such as the deer and the boar, and wild trees. She is also the one who keeps under control animals that are dangerous to mankind, such as the bear and the wolf. To a lesser extent cultivated trees, cereals and domesticated animals seem to have fallen under her sway as well. With the other gods she was entitled to the first fruits of the annual crops. At Patrae, in archaic times, the human sacrifices made to her wore on their heads garlands of corn ears (Pausanias 7,20,1). In Thasos she was venerated under the epithet of Polo or ‘Protectress of Foals,’ in other places as Daphn(a)ia or ‘Goddess of the Laurel.’ Normally, however, it was Demeter who made the corn grow, Poseidon who was the horse-god, and Apollo to whom the laurel was especially sacred. Moreover, she never competed with Dionysus or Athena as far as the vine or the olive tree were concerned.

Negatively, she could show her power by killing women in childbirth, by sending monsters by way of punishment, such as the ‘Calydonian’ Boar to Calydon in order to devastate the arable land and kill the cattle, because its inhabitants had forgotten to include her name in the invocations at the annual sacrifice. She changed her hunting companion Callisto into a she-bear, because she was found to be pregnant. When her temple at Patrae had been desecrated she caused the earth to yield no harvest and sent diseases as well (Pausanias 7,19,3). Being generally of a rather vindictive character, she had the hunter Actaeon killed by his own hounds for having seen her naked when bathing, and Orion by a scorpion because he had tried to rape her; together with her brother she shot down six of the seven daughters and six of the seven sons of Niobe, who had insulted her mother Leto for having only two children.

Only seldom in myth does she help a human, one of the rare instances being little Atalanta who had been exposed on Mt. Parthenion by her father, because he only wanted sons. Her life was saved by a she-bear who suckled her. After that she grew up to be a swift-footed virgin huntress, who would only marry the man that could beat her in running. The bear, being one of Artemis’ sacred animals, had, of course, been sent by the goddess (Apollodorus, Libr. 3,9,2). For the rest her myths are concerned with killing, and, unlike the mythology of other goddesses, not at all with love.

Being a huntress, she is often depicted carrying bow and arrows. So is her brother Apollo, but in his case because his original function probably was to protect the herds from the attacks of wolves, hence in all likelihood his epithet Lukeios This is explained as ‘wolf-killing’ by Sophocles (Electra 6-7), but secondarily interpreted as ‘Lycian’ because his mother Leto was in reality a Lycian goddess. His Homeric epithet Lukegenes would then be the equivalent of Letogenes In Troezen, to match her brother in this respect, Artemis was venerated as Lukeia while Apollo in his turn was sometimes invoked as ‘the Hunter’ Agreus, Agraios).

As Artemis had a special relation to women, presiding over their fertility and being called upon during the hours of labour (epithets: Lexo and Loxeia, ‘protectress of the child-bed,’ Soodina, ‘who saves from travail’), she was naturally in course of time also connected via the menstrual cycle with the moon. As a counterpart to this development, but for other reasons, her brother became the god of the sun. Here a third etymology of Lukeios has played its part, the one which derived it from luke ‘morning twilight’ (cf. Macrobius, Sat. 1,17,36-41). In both cases the connections with the celestial bodies are clearly secondary; they are still unknown to Homer. For Hesiod, too, Selene and her brother Helios are still the children of the Titans Hyperion and Theia (Theog. 371), but in later times Philo of Alexandria could simply say that some of mankind (i. e. the Greeks) “call the moon Artemis” (De decal. 54). A further parallelism between Artemis and Apollo is the unmarried status of both, Artemis being emphatically venerated as a virgin. This latter characteristic may be in accordance with the fact that the wild animals with whom she is often associated, the deer, the boar and the bear, do not live in pairs, the bear normally living solitary outside the mating season. The sacrifices made to her were the wild animals mentioned, also wolves, even a fox at Ephesus, goats, edible birds and the fruits of trees. There are several testimonies to earlier human sacrifices having been replaced by other rites. The most widely known reminiscence of the former practice is, of course, the story of king Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigeneia, who was sacrificed but in the last moment replaced by a hind or a she-bear. In spite of the OT instances of Isaac and Jephtha’s daughter, pagan gods were readily criticized by Christian church fathers on the point of human sacrifices; Artemis, e.g., by Tatian (Or. 29,2).

Artemis was depicted as wearing a short hunting tunic or a long robe (Artemis katestalmene In iconography she is often accompanied by a hind and carries bow and quiver, sometimes a torch. The latter attribute she assumed from the goddess Hecate, with whom she was often identified because the two shared a number of characteristics (such as her lunar associations). Her appearance in dreams of hunters or pregnant women was considered a propitious sign, but when she appeared naked it was an ill omen (Artemidorus, Onirocr. 2,35).

She was widely venerated in Greece and more particularly in Asia Minor, sometimes together with Apollo (so e. g. at Mantinea, Daphne near Antioch, Syracuse). Pausanias, who describes many local varieties of the different deities, each with a distinctive surname, lists no less than 64 of such epithets for Artemis, many of which are, of course, only geographical, such as ‘Ephesia.’ In this respect she was only marginally surpassed by Zeus (67 epithets); but she herself surpassed Athena (59), Apollo (58), Aphrodite and Dionysus (both 27), and Demeter (26). Her great popularity was undoubtedly due to the fact that she was one of the rare goddesses who presided over the exclusively female aspects of life like pregnancy, childbirth and the rearing of infants. When boys and girls came of age they sacrificed a hairlock to the goddess on the third and last day of the Apatouria or clan festival. A boy did so when his epheby ended and he was enlisted in his father’s phratry or clan, and became a full-fledged citizen himself; girls made this sacrifice before their marriage was solemnized, probably in the phratry of the future husband.

In various places the local calendar included a month named after Artemis: e.g. Artamitios at Sparta, Artemisiaon at Erythrae, and Artemisios in the Macedonian calendar used in the Hellenistic kingdoms. In Athens the month was called Elaphebolion after her epithet Elaphebolos (‘deer huntress’); her festival, the Elaphebolia, was celebrated in this month.

In Greece Artemis was at times conflated with other goddesses, mainly with Hecate, to whom she owed her association with magical practices. Abroad she was often identified with others, with several mother goddesses in Asia Minor, with the Near Eastern Nanea (so 2 Macc 1, 13, but Josephus’ version in Ant. 12,354 has “Artemis”), with the Persian Anaitis, one of the three imperial deities of the later Achaemenids, with the Thracian Bendis, with the Italian Diana, and in Egypt with (Bu)bastis, i. e. Bastet, the cat-goddess.

III. As there is no way of knowing which Artemis the parents of Artemas (Titus 3,12) had in mind when they gave a name to their son, the further NT references to the goddess are only to the Artemis of Ephesus. All the same it was this man who unwittingly retained the name of the goddess in Christian times, for in later tradition he was considered to have belonged to the seventy apostles, and to have become bishop of Lystra. As a consequence a festive day was devoted to him in the calendar on the 21st of June.

Artemis Ephesia was an early identification with one of the various Anatolian fertility and mother goddesses, an identification which may well go back to the very first Greek immigrants in the 11th century BCE. The name of the indigenous goddess was probably Upis (Callimachus, Hymn to Artemis 240) or Opis (Macrobius, Sat. 5,22,4-6). It was this particular cult of Artemis, which in the course of the ages, became more important than all her other local cults and was world famous by the time of Paul. Her temple, built by Chersiphron and his son Metagenes, was so imposing that it was the only one, so Solinus, that was spared by king Xerxes when he was setting fire to all the other Greek sanctuaries in Asia (Solinus 40,2-4). In 356 BCE it nevertheless succumbed to the torch in the hand of Herostratus, whose sole purpose it was to become in this way as famous as the building itself; as a result his name is now better known than those of the architects. After it had been rebuilt by Dinocrates it was traditionally reckoned among the Seven Wonders of the World, and functioned not only as a sanctuary, but also as a place of asylum and as a bank of deposit. In the last mentioned capacity it had already been used by Xenophon in the period between his military expedition to Persia and the Spartan war against Boeotia, in which he also took part. Paul’s younger contemporary, Dio Chrysostom of Prusa, describes it as a place where people from all over the Roman empire, private persons, allied kings and townships, had deposited large sums of money (Or. 31,54). Although Dio denies it, there are others who say that this money was also lent out (Nicolaus of Damascus frg 65). The area of the asylum had had different extents in the course of time, but was finally reduced by Augustus, because it attracted too many criminals (Strabo 14,1,23). The new area was probably marked by boundary stones like the one which carries this bilingual inscription: “Imp. Caesar Augustus fines Dianae restituit. Autokrator Kaisar Sebastos orous Artemidi apokatestesen (IGLS 3239). The goddess, however, was also the owner of estates in the neighbourhood, marked by similar stones.

The regular cult as well as the festivals attracted many visitors from abroad for whom lodging and nutrition had to be provided. In addition to this there was a whole industry of miniature Artemis temples, which may have been both dedicatory gifts and souvenirs, and although they are known only from the 7th century, the silver pins carrying a bee, the sacred animal of Artemis Ephesia, were in all likelihood still fabricated in the Roman period as well. Altogether this means that the temple of ‘the Goddess’ was one of the major sources of wealth and prosperity for Ephesus, of which the economical importance can hardly be overestimated.

Although ‘Ephesia’ may have been in origin an Anatolian mother goddess, like the Phrygian Matar Kubileya (Cybele), the identification with Artemis was carried through to the very point of virginity, so that the poet Antipater of Sidon around 125 BCE could call her temple a ‘Parthenon,’ like that of her virgin half-sister Athena. She was also a huntress, for hunting weapons were carried by those who formed her festive procession, in which horses and hounds paraded as well. The Ephesians maintained, however, that both Artemis and Apollo had been born on Asian soil. Another difference was that she always wore a long robe and a kind of apron covered with what were and are usually considered to be female breasts, a token of fertility. This interpretation as polumastos goes back to Antiquity (e. g. Minucius Felix, Oct. 22,5), but is certainly secondary, for a similar apron is worn by the male Zeus Labraundenus of Tegea. And as it is stated in so many words of yet another goddess, Berecynthia, that she was covered with testicles, what Ephesia was wearing were in all likelihood the testicles of the bulls sacrificed to her. The bee was her sacred animal, and as it does not itself procreate, it may have been a symbol of her chastity. It appears on the coins of Ephesus from the 7th to the 3rd centuries BCE, after that the image of the goddess herself begins to replace her emblem. The virgins, who served in her cult as priestesses, were also called melissai ‘bees,’ and because the queen-bee, whose function was not understood in Antiquity, was mostly thought to be male and called ‘the king,’ one of the titles of her priests was essen an indigenous word for ‘ruler.’ According to Strabo those priests had to be eunuchs (14,1,23), but Pausanias states that they only had to abstain from sexual intercourse for a period of one year (8,1,3). The change may be due to the intervening edict of Hadrian, who forbade castration even if consent was given (Digestae 48,8,4,2). Both priests and priestesses had to sacrifice their fertility to the goddess in their own way.

Without the slightest doubt it was Artemis who was the most important deity of the city. An inscription calls her “the goddess who rules proestosa our city” (SIG 867,29). Other epithets, like Megiste, as well as Megale (Acts 19:26; cf. Achilles Tatius 8,9,13) and Protothronia emphasize that she was first in rank, but certainly not the only deity venerated. No less than about twenty-five other gods were worshipped in Ephesus, among whom there were several Egyptian deities. This latter point is of some importance for the interpretation of Acts 19, because it underlines that the opposition described was hardly against the introduction of a foreign god as such.

As the bilingual boundary stone of Augustus shows, the Romans also referred to Artemis Ephesia as ‘Diana.’ In fact the cult statue in her temple on the Aventine Hill in Rome was supposed to be the copy of the statue in Marseille, which, in turn, was a replica of the Ephesian statue (Strabo 4,1,5). Consequently, the Vulgate version also has ‘Diana’ in Acts 19, and this was then taken over by Luther’s version, the King James Version, etc.

The Ephesian goddess had filial sanctuaries all over the world, not only in nearby Greece (Alea; Scillus, founded by Xenophon), but also in Massalia (Marseille), and even as far away as Hemeroscopion in Spain (Denia). According to inscriptions the goddess communicated with her adherents and worked through oracles and epiphanies, and is reported to have effected healings. It is often stated by modem scholars that she was particularly connected with magic. This was indeed the case, but not particularly so, and she owed this connection mostly to her being identified with Hecate, the goddess of magic par excellence. That may explain why the Christian Tatian can say rather curtly: “Artemis is a magos” (Or. ad. Gr. 8,2). The emphasis, therefore, which is laid on this aspect is hardly justified, and has probably been brought about by the simple fact that in Acts 19 the story of the burning of magic books at Ephesus is immediately followed by one about the riot of the silversmiths in favour of Artemis, but such a burning could easily have happened elsewhere, too. A second factor has undoubtedly been the fact that magical words and formulae were often called ‘ephesia grammata’ in Antiquity. Yet it is not at all certain that this means ‘Ephesian’ and a derivation from ephesis (from ephiemi ‘send against; put on’) is quite possible. That such words were inscribed on the statue of Artemis Ephesia is stated only by Pausanias the Lexicographer (2nd cent. CE), but is not corroborated by others or by iconographical data. It is also true that the name of Artemis, or characteristic epithets of hers like Iocheaira or Luko are found in the magical papyri, in the hymns and prayers that form part of them, but here again, nearly always together with the name of Hecate or epithets of hers like Trikaranos, Trioditis, Kuno, etc. Only once does she occur here with her epithet Lukaina, and without Hecate, in a spell for procuring knowledge of future events in which now also Isis, Osiris, Amun, Moses, Iao, and Helios Mithras play a part (PGM 111 434). Finally, the collection of magical papyri contains a love charm which does not mention Artemis, but only her or Selene’s epithet Phosphoros. The verso of this papyrus makes it clear, however, who this particular Phosphoros is, as it carries a drawing which unmistakably depicts the ‘many-breasted’ Artemis Ephesia. Moreover, it makes mention of Phnun, here rather “the Abyss” than the Egyptian god Nun, and ends with a triple invocation of Iao (PGM LXXVIII). The latter two instances may show how syncretistic magic could be: a situation in which the distinctive character of each individual deity is hardly highlighted.

In Ephesus the whole month Artemision was sacred to her and all its days were holy days, which implied int. al. that all juridical activity had ceased. The main festival was the Artemisia during which sacrifices, banquets, processions and games took place. There were also mysteries and mystic sacrifices, but no further details are known about their character, except that they were performed by the college of six or more ‘curetes,’ in the sacred grove ‘Ortygia,’ or on Mt. Solmissos above it (Strabo 14,1,20). They were named after those ancient curetes or armed dancers who, at the birth of Artemis, had made such a terrible noise that they frightened away the jealous Hera. This motif has undoubtedly been taken over from the story of the birth of Zeus in Crete, in which the curetes play a comparable role. The original function of these priests may have been to represent the Artemis temple and its estates in the city council of Ephesus.

IV. The presence of Jews in Asia goes back at least to about 345 BCE when the philosopher Aristotle met there with a Jew who had come from Coele-Syria and who could converse with him in Greek (Josephus, Apion 1,176-182). King Seleucus I started to grant to the Jews who lived there civic rights in specific places, and so probably did his grandson Antiochus 11 (Josephus Ant. 12,119;125). These rights amounted at least to isonomia (ibid. 16,160), which implied that Jews were allowed to live there in accordance with their own laws and customs, so that Jewish and Greek legislation were both treated as equally valid by the king. Such a construction harbours, of course, the seeds of conflicts, and these arose on several occasions during the first century BCE. The pagans asked whether Jews were not obliged to venerate their gods, too, and whether it was permissible for them to collect their own temple-tax and send it to Jerusalem. Both questions reveal that the Jewish practice was considered detrimental to the local economy, all citizens having to contribute to Artemis, for instance, instead of transferring large sums abroad. The Jews on their part objected against having to appear in law-courts on the sabbath, and also against military service. The Roman officials, however, repeatedly reinforced the principle of isonomy, so that the Jews could not be forced to transgress their own laws. It should be noted in this connection that, in general, Jews were not averse to bearing pagan theophoric names. As far as Artemis is concerned, this is confirmed by an Egyptian papyrus from the 2nd cent. BCE which mentions a “Dositheos, son of Artemidoros, Jew” (CPJ 30,18); Dio Cassius, too, makes mention of an Artemion, who was the leader of the Jewish revolt in Cyprus around 117 CE (Roman Hist. 68,32).

This unstable equilibrium was endangered when Paul, outside the synagogue, started to preach that man-made idols were not gods at all (Acts 19,940; 26; cf. 17,29). Apparently, this idea had thus far never been propagated by Jews except within their own congregation. Earlier, persons who had insulted and violated the filial cult of the goddess in Sardis had even been sentenced to death (I. Eph. la,2; IV BCE). Quite understandably, since Paul was naturally to be considered as one of its members, the other Jews wanted to put things right by distancing themselves from him or even declaring him to be an apostate (Acts 19:33-34). This, however, did not help much. The motley crowd that flocked together in the theatre apparently knew quite well that the Jews, although they did not directly endanger the manufacture and sale of the silver Artemis temples, were not venerators of the goddess either. The core of Paul’s preaching against her, viz. that her statue was man-made and not divine, was dismissed by the ‘secretary’ of the city as incorrect by the use of one single word only. He simply reminded his audience of the fact that the statue was diopetes, “fallen down from Zeus” or “from heaven” (Acts 19,35), and therefore of divine origin. In some cases this could imply that an image had been made out of a meteorite, but it is known for a fact that the statue of Artemis Ephesia was a rather dark wooden image (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 16,213-214). Centuries earlier the Athenian audience of Euripides found nothing contradictory in the assertion that a wooden image of Artemis had as such fallen down from heaven Qph. Taur. 87-88; 977; 1044-1045). In the 2nd century, Athenagoras wrote an apology for the Christian religion to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. It devotes a whole chapter to famous cult statues of the time and mentions the various sculptors who had carved them so as to show that they were man-made and not divine. It is certainly no coincidence that the statue of Artemis of Ephesus opens the enumeration because of its role in the NT. Athenagoras ascribes it to Endoeus, a pupil of the well-known Daedalus who was the architect of the Cretan labyrinth (Supp. 17,4).

In the Letter to the Church of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, the congregation is praised for not having yielded to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (2:6), which held that Christians were allowed to eat meat sacrificed to idols (2:14-15). At Ephesus this would certainly have involved the Artemis cult. Some forty years earlier Paul, likewise, had forbidden this practice as long as it more or less implied one’s partaking of a sacred pagan meal (I Cor 8; 10:28). But if such meat had found its way from a temple to a market it was, according to Paul, sufficiently secularized for Christians to eat it (1 Cor 10:25-27).

The Jewish attitude towards the Artemis cult can hardly ever have been much more positive than that of the Christians, and must have been comparable to some kind of armistice. The 5th book of the Sibylline Oracles, written under Marcus Aurelius, openly predicts her downfall, saying that her temple “by yawnings and quakes of the earth” will fall into the sea (293-297). Ironically, the temple survived vandalization by the Goths in 263 CE and ended up as a Christian church; it was rather the retreating sea, which, through the silting up of the estuary of the river Cayster, ultimately caused Ephesus to become desolate with temple and all.

Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst (eds.)


I. Hermes was one of the most popular and frequently represented, if most complex, of the Greek Olympian deities. Identified by the Romans with Mercury, he was associated from the archaic through the Hellenistic periods with cunning and theft, music and eloquence, travel and commerce, and (especially as the Hellenistic Hermes Trismegistus) magic, alchemy and astrology. In the Bible, Hermes occurs as a divine name in Acts 14:12, and as the name of an otherwise unknown Roman Christian greeted by Paul in Rom 16:14.

II. The name, Hermes, is attested from three palace archives of the Late Bronze Age: Knossos, Pylos, and Thebes (SIEBERT 1990:285-286). The nature of the Greek Hermes is neither Minoan nor Mycenaean, however, but is associated with the hermae, ithyphallic stone pillars capped with a head or bust of Hermes that were employed throughout Greece as topographic markers. The oldest form by which Hermes was represented (Herodotus 2.51; Dio Chrysostom 78.19; Pausanias 1.24.3, 4.33.3), these ubiquitous herms stood upon the thresholds of private homes and estates, at the gateways of towns and cities, before temples and gymnasia, along the side of roadways and at crossroads, at the frontiers of territories and upon tombs, the portal between this and the underworld, to mark the boundaries of inhabited space and to protect its productive areas against incursions.

In Homeric myth, in which the character of Hermes is already fully developed, he is the son of Zeus and the Arcadian nymph Maia (the daughter of Atlas), and the younger half-brother, therefore, of Apollo (Homer, Od. 14.435; Hesiod, Th. 938; H. Merc. 1-4; Pindar, 01. 6.80). Even as an infant, Hermes’ kratos, ‘strength’ or ‘might,’ is compared to that of his older brother (H. Merc. 406-407), and, emphasized by the Homeric tradition, becomes one of Hermes’ epithets (R. 16.181, 24.345; Od. 5.49; see also H. Merc. 101, 117; H. Cer. 346, 377).

On the evening of the day of his birth, Hermes stole fifty head of cattle from Apollo’s sacred herd (H. Merc. 18-19, 68-74) to ensure, as one of the younger of the Olympian deities, that he might be honoured in the same way as Apollo and the other Olympians (H. Merc. 173) by instituting the equitable practice of sacrifice (H. Merc. 115-137; see Od. 14. 418-436). As ‘lord of the animals,’ both domestic and wild (H. Merc. 564-571), Hermes is frequently represented in art as the Kriophoros, the ‘rambearer’ or ‘good shepherd’ (Pausanias 4.33.5, 5.27.5. 9.22.1), caring for and guarding his flocks against predators; because domesticated animals are not only required for all sacrifice, but are the basis of the ,riches and wealth’ of the pastoral economy of ancient Greece over which Hermes, as ‘keeper of the herd’ (H. Merc. 488) and their increase, presided (Hesiod, Th. 444; Homer, R. 14. 490-491; H. Merc. 491-494, 529; Pausanias 2.3.4). It is not surprising that some considered the Arcadian shepherd god, Pan, to be Hermes’ son (H. Pan. 1, 27-41), and the two are often invoked together (Aristophanes, Th. 977).

Wherever livestock represent the principal form of wealth, cattle-theft will be frequent (Homer, R. 11.677-681; Hesiod, Op. 348; Th. 1.5.3), and Hermes is described as the very ‘prince of thieves’ (H. Merc. 175, 292), a ‘thief at the gate’ (H. Merc. 15), a cunning and crafty “watcher by night” (H. Merc. 15) and the ally of nocturnal activity (H. Merc. 97, 290). Throughout the night, the wily Hermes hastily drove his purloined cattle “through many shadowy mountains and echoing gorges and flowery plains” (H. Merc. 94-97), having them walk backwards so that their hoofprints gave an appearance of their joining Apollo’s main herd rather than being stolen away. Walking normally himself, he relied on newly fabricated sandals to disguise the tracks of his own ‘swift feet’ (H. Merc. 75-86; 225). Hermes’ extraordinary mobility, even as an infant, is thus emphasized by Homer who elsewhere portrays the divine traveler as flying “over the waters of the sea and over the boundless land,” home by immortal, golden sandals (Od. 5.44-46; 11. 24.340-342; see also H. Cer. 407; H. Pan. 29; Horace, Carm. 2.7.13; Orph. Hymn 28.4), an image that anticipates the common representation of Hermes (and his Roman counterpart Mercury) as having winged shoes or sandals (e.g., Philo, Quod Omn. Prob. 99; PGM 5.404, 7.672, 17b.5).

As quick of mind as swift of foot, the clever and cunning shepherd provided an image for success not only for a pastoral economy, but also for cultural and urban commerce. Apollo’s anger at the theft of his cattle had been assuaged by Hermes’ singing to the accompaniment of the lyre which Hermes had invented on the day of his birth even before the cattle-theft (H. Merc. 17, 39-61), and which Apollo accepted as a payment that he conceded was worth the fifty cattle (H. Merc. 437-438). The association of the lyrical competition between Hermes and Apollo (Pausanias 9.30.1) was celebrated at the Pythian games from their beginnings where contests of musical performance were honoured alongside athletic prowess (Pindar, Pyth. 12). Established later at the Nemean and Isthmian games, music became part of Greek classical education in which proper styles of music were held to contribute to courage (Plato, Resp. 398C-399D; Leg. 653D-673A; 795A-812E) and to ethics (Aristotle, Pol. 1339A-1342B). The herm or statue of this ‘leader of men’ (Pausanias 8.31.7) came to stand, therefore, before the entrance to stadiums (Pausanias 1.17.2; 5.14.9; 8.32.3; 8.39.6), where he was honoured as the god of gymnastics and agonistics (Pindar, 01. 6.79, Pyth. 2.10, Isthm. 1.60; Pausanias 1.2.5, 5.14.9; Horace, Carm. 1.10.3; Ovid, Fast. 5.667; Aristides, Or. 37.21, 26.105).

Plato intellectualized Hermes’ creative talents as having to do with speech (logos): “he is an interpreter (hermeneus), and a messenger (angelos [Homer, Od. 5.29; H. Cer. 407; H. Pan. 29; see Philo, Quod Omn. Prob. 99]), wily and deceptive in speech, and is oratorical. All this activity is concerned with the power of speech” (Plato, Crat. 407E-408A; see Phdr. 264C). This abstracted and rationalized view of Hermes was continued by the philosophical tradition (Cornutus 16; Porphyry in Eusebius, PE. 3.114; Aristides, Or. 37.21) as well as in popular perception (PGM 5.403, 407; 7.670; 17b.3). As a figure of the word (logos), Hermes was reportedly equated with the Saviour by the Naassenes, an early Christian-Gnostic group (Hippolytus, Ref. 5.2). As his associations with the lyre and music, together with poetry and oratory were one, the divine composer and poet became the deity of litterateurs, called by Horace “Mercuriales viri” (Cann. 2,17.29-30).

As the deity chartered by Zeus himself to preside over trade (H. Merc. 516-517), Hermes was invoked further as the “Hermes of the Market” (Pausanias 1.15.1, 2.9.8, 3.11.11, 7.22.2, 9.17.2), and deity of Merchandise and Sales (Aristides, Or. 37.21). Diodorus Siculus reports that Hermes invented “measures and weights and profits to be gained through merchandizing, and how also to appropriate the property of others all unbeknown to them” (5.75.2), an association between commerce and theft already explicit in the Homeric Hymn (H. Merc. 514-517). And, the Greek Magical Papyri preserve a spell in which a figure of Hermes, the “finder of thieves” (PGM 5.188), was used to promote good business (PGM 4.2359-2379). Even today, in parts of modem Greece, theft is equated with courage, ingenuity and entrepreneurship, an ethos of cunning deception that is still considered primarily a sporting contest in which a challenge with respect to status is communicated (STEWART 1991:73, 62).

As a good thief is clearly a brave and clever man, there is a correlation between good thieving and good marriage (STEWART 1991:69-73), a relationship that suggests the ancient association between Hermes and Hestia, goddess of the hearth. Although Plutarch reports that the ancients associated Hermes with Aphrodite (Coniug. praec. 138D) with whom he fathered Hermaphroditus (Ovid, Met. 4.288-293), he was more often paired ‘in friendship’ with Hestia, first-born of Rhea and Kronos, in both literature (H. Vest. [29]) and in representation (Pausanias 5.11.8). Whereas Hestia represents the spatial principle of stability around a fixed centre of home or village that is inhabited and known, Hermes is the personification of the ambiguities and uncertainties of encounters with social others in a variegated external world of travel, trade and commerce that, while unpredictable, must necessarily be traversed (VERNANT 1983); it is in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes that the proverb is preserved: “It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors” (H. Merc. 36-37).

Hestia’s hearth is round whereas the herm is square (Thucydides 6.27), and Hermes is known as the tetrag6nos (Heraclititus, All. 72.6; Pausanias 4.33.4; Babrius 48); in the Greek Magical Papyri, Hermes, as ‘square,’ is contrasted with the circle (PGM 5.402, 8.670, 17b.3); and he was born on the fourth day of the month (H. Merc. 19; Aristophanes, Pl. 1126). The number four is, according to Plutarch, “particularly associated with Hermes” (Q. Conviv. 9.2). He surveys, in other words, the cardinal points of the terrestrial world (KERENYI 1996:6768; VERNANT 1983:147), in addition to the chthonic world in which his herm is so firmly planted (Cicero, Leg. 2.26.65; Horace, Sat. 1.8; see PGM 4. 1444, 1464) and whose portals he guards (Aeschylus, Ch. 1, 620; Pers. 628-632; Sophocles, El. 110-111). As such, Hermes is the deity ,most friendly’ to mortals (II. 24.334-335; Orph. Hymn 28.4, 9), lending ‘grace and glory to all [their] work’ (Od. 15.319-320) as he guides them along the road of life (Od. 15.319; II. 24.153, 182, 437-439, 461, 681; Aeschylus, Eum. 89-92), during the dark night also when, as the deity of sleep (Homer, Il. 24.343-344; Od. 5.47-48, 24.34), Hermes is the ‘conductor of dreams’ (H. Merc. 14). In perhaps his most well-known role, that of psychopompos, he continues his tutelage until the dangerous frontier of death is finally passed (H. 24.334-338; Od. 24.118; Diodorus Sic. 1.96; Plutarch, Amator. 75813; and in iconography)—a frequent theme of the tragedians (e.g., Aeschylus, Ch. 124-126; Sophocles, Aj. 832, OC. 15401548; Euripides, Alc. 743-744) that was adopted by the Pythagoreans (Diogenes Laertius 8.1.31). It is in this comprehensive sense of the protective guide of humans in their quotidian activities that Hermes is euangelos, the ‘bringer of glad tidings’ (IG 12.5.235 [1st century BCE]; Hesychius s.v.), and implementer of Zeus’ will, or that of the celestial Olympians collectively, among the inhabited world (Il. 24.169, 173; Od. 1.38, 84-86; 5.29; H. Cer. 407-408; H. Pan. 2829; H. Vest. 8). In the summary of Plato, Hermes was dispatched by Zeus “to bring respect for others and justice among men, to the end that there might be order in the cities and a bond of friendship among them” (Plato, Prot. 322C). Thus was Hermes viewed as the divine figure in accordance with whom humans might discover their rightful place in the socio-political world, even as the ancient herms provided the markers for organizing their world topographically.

As ‘Lord of the World’ (PGM 5.400, 7.668, 17b.1), of its order and its elements (PGM 17B. 16-19), Hermes came to be associated with the central Hellenistic notion of Tyche/Fortuna, ‘luck’ or ‘fortune’ (PGM 8.52). Roman coins of the Imperial period depict Fortuna carrying the typical caduceus of Hermes (RIC 2, p. 16, no. 11 [69-71 CE]). The Greek word hermaion, ‘gift of Hermes,’ has the sense of an unexpected, i.e., godsent, piece of luck, and one of Hermes’ epithets is Kerdoos, ‘the gainful’ (Lucian, Tim. 41; Alciphron 3.47; see Plutarch, De Tranq. An. 12). In the Greek Magical Papyri, Hermes is equated with the ‘thread of the Moirai,’ ‘the fates’ (PGM 7.675-676, 17b. 11). A third century BCE inscription identifies Hermes with tychon (Inschr. Magn. 203; compare Clement of Alexandria, Prom 10.81 and Hesych. in Theognost, Can. 33), who apparently was personified as a minor god of chance even as was tyche as the goddess (LS7). Related to the phallic character of the herms, Tychon was originally a priapic deity (Diodorus Sic. 4.6; Strabo 588) who may have originated in Cyprus (H. USENER, Der heilige Tychon [Leipzig/Berlin 1907]). The name, which carries a general sense of tyche or luck for its bearer (ALGRM 5: 1386), may have preserved this attribute of Hermes as a Christian homonym in the hagiography of St. Tychon, a fifth century bishop of Amathus in Cyprus, (A. B. COOK, Zeus. A Study in Ancient Religion [Cambridge 1914-1940] 1: 175-176, in addition, see II.1: 675; and II.2: 878 n. 11, 879 n. 17 and 1163 re: Zeus; K. PREISENDANZ, Tychon, ALGRM 5: 1381-1387).

Although one of the most well-known and often-mentioned deities of the Greco-Roman world, few temples were dedicated to Hermes and few festivals celebrated in his name, and these were predominantly in Arcadia, the likely region of his historical origins (H. Merc. 1-2; 18.1-2). Pausanias refers to a festival of Hermes in Tanagra in which a boy carries a lamb around the walls of the city on his shoulders in imitation of Hermes who allegedly had averted a plague by this same apotropaic practice (9.22.2); Athenaeus writes of the Hermaia, a Cretan festival characterized by the reversal of social roles (639B). Although he had been given a technique of divination by Apollo (H. Merc. 550-568), Hermes had little to do with such activity apart from a minor oracle at Pharae (Pausanias 7.22.2-3).

A late Hellenistic (second-fourth centuries CE) anthology of philosophico-religious writings, including also magical, alchemical and astrological texts, was collected under the name of Hermes Trismegistus or ‘Hermes the thrice-great,’ the Hellenistic name for the Egyptian deity Thoth (PGM 4.886, 7.551-557), one of the most diverse and popular of the Egyptian deities. Survivals of a more extensive literature (see now, for example, Codex VI 6 from the Nag Hammadi library), the sometimes contradictory teachings of this Corpus Hermeticum have little in common but their claim to this common revelatory deity. And some have argued that Thoth, sometimes euhemerized in the Hermetic literature as an Egyptian sage, shares little or nothing with the Greek Hermes but his name. However, Thoth had already been identified with the Greek Hermes in the fifth century BCE by Herodotus (2.67, 2.138; see thereafter Diodorus Sic. 1.16, 5.75; Strabo 104, 816; Plutarch, Q. Conviv. 9.3, Is. et Os. 3, De Gerr. 2; Cicero, De Nat. Deor. 3.22.56; Horace, Carm. 1.10.3; Ovid, Fasti 5.668). Another tradition, attributed to the third century BCE Egyptian priest, Manetho, reports that the ‘second Hermes,’ i.e., Hermes Trismegistus, had received his teachings from ‘Thoth, the first Hermes’ (Ps.-Manetho; Appendix 1, Manetho, ed. W. G. WADDELL [Cambridge, Mass. 1964] 208-211).

Like the Greek Hermes, the Egyptian Thoth was a guide of souls who conducted the dead to the underworld, an inventive trickster and the messenger of the gods, the inventor of writing (see Pliny, HN 7.191) and the lord of wisdom (FOWDEN 1986:22-23; COPENHAVER 1992:xiii-xlv). Thoth’s association with wisdom may be alluded to in the Bible in Job 38:36: “who has put wisdom into thwt” The Hebrew word thwt, otherwise unknown, corresponds closely to the consonantal orthography of the Egyptian form of ‘Thoth’ during the 18th Dynasty when the deity’s popularity had spread to Phoenicia (M. POPE, Job, 3rd. ed. [Garden City 1973] 302). Further, Thoth was the god of language, magic, medicine, the heavenly bodies and their influence on individual destiny (FOWDEN 1986:22-23). Hermes had been associated specifically with language since Plato (see above), as had been Thoth (Phdr. 274D; Phlb. 18B); and with magic, or ‘wonderous deeds,’ since Homer. The sandals which Hermes fabricated to help his escape with Apollo’s cattle, for example, are described as “wonderful things, unthought of, unimagined” (H. Merc. 80-81). Further, Hermes is described as possessing a golden staff or wand (rhabdos) which, similar to Circe’s own magic wand (Homer, Od. 10. 238, 319), enabled him to overpower human senses (Homer, Il. 24.343). Hermes’ rhabdos is described as the gift of Apollo: “gold, with three branches … accomplishing every task, whether of words or deeds that are good, which [Apollo] claim[s] to know through the utterance of Zeus” (H. Merc. 529-532). Chrysorrhapis, ‘of the golden wand’ is, in fact, also one of Hermes’ epithets (Homer, Od. 5.87, 10.277; H. Merc. 539). According to the Odyssey, Hermes showed Odysseus the uses of the herb ‘Moly’ (10.302-306), a pharmakon that protected him against Circe’s own alchemical pharmakon (Od. 10.287-292). And, in the Hellenistic period, he was known as the ‘inventor of drugs’ (PGM 8.27) and one of the founders of the Hellenistic alchemical tradition (Zosimos, On the Letter Omega 5). Some considered Hermes also to be the inventor of astrology (Hyginus, Poet. Astr. 2.42.5) and the Christian-Gnostic Peratai cited Hermes Trismegistus in their astrological speculations (Hippolytus, Ref. 5.9). R. REITZENSTEIN has suggested that these Hermetic texts may constitute ‘Lese-Mysterien,’ ‘literary mysteries,’ in which a reader experiences the effects of actual cultic initiation imaginatively (Hellenistic Mystery Religions [1926], Eng. trans. J. E. Steely [Pittsburgh 1978] 51-52, 62). Whatever their social and cultic origins, one of the most interesting characteristics of these texts, the production of which was contemporary with those of the New Testament, is the influence of the Old Testament and intertestamental traditions upon both (DODD 1964).

111. The Greek Hermes played a continuing role in the religious environment of early Christianity (see e.g., Philo, Decal. 54; Quod Omn. Prob. 101; Leg. 93-102), as evinced by the recurring polemics of the Church Fathers against him (e.g., Justin, I Apol. 21-22; Hippolytus, Ref. 5.2; Clement of Alex., Protr. 2.24, 4.44, 10.81; Origen, C.Cels. 1.25, 6.78; Lactantius, Inst. 1.10.7); and he is one of the few Greco-Roman deities mentioned in the New Testament by name. When Barnabas and Paul fled the hostile mobs that confronted them in Iconium, they went first to the city of Lystra in Lycaonia (Acts 14:5-6), a Roman colony established by Augustus as part of the defence of the Province Galatia, where, upon the healing of “a man cripple from birth” by Paul (Acts 14:8-10; compare the similar account in Acts 3:2-8 of a healing by Peter), the crowds acclaimed the apostles as “gods come down to us in the likeness of men.” Whereas Paul was reputedly taken for a deity also by the inhabitants of Malta following his survival of a poisonous snake bite (Acts 28:6; in this case, however, a healing follows the acclamation), the deities with whom the apostles were identified in Lycaonia were specifically named by the Lystrans: “Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes” (Acts 14:11-12). The two apostles were identified with deities by the Lystrans because of Paul’s wonderous cure of the cripple (Acts 14:11), but Paul was identified specifically with Hermes “because he was the chief speaker” (ho hegoumenos tou logou)—almost precisely the characterization of Hermes by the third century neo-Platonist, Iamblichus, as the god “who is the leader in speaking” (Iamblichus, Myst. 1.1: ho ton logon hegemon). Inscriptions and statues associating these two deities are documented from this region, but only from the third century CE (H. SWOBODA, J. KEIL & F. KNOLL (eds.), Denkmaeler aus Lykaonien, Pamphylien und Isaurien [Brno/Leipzig/Vienna 1935] no. 146). At the beginning of the first century, however, Ovid had told a story, set in nearby Phrygia, in which Jupiter (Zeus) and Mercury (Hermes) also appear together disguised as mortals (Met. 8.611-725).

The narrative point of the identification of Barnabas and Paul with Zeus and Hermes by the Lystrians and the dramatic rejection of this identification by the apostles (Acts 14:14) seems to be the establishment of a sharp contrast, in the context of the Lycaonian mission, between gentile deities and the Christians’ “living God” (Acts 14:15), on the one hand, even as a distinction between the “unbelieving Jews” and the Christians is made in the previous and following passages (Acts 14:1-7, 19-23), on the other. Additionally, the warrant of Hermes and Zeus had been associated, since Plato, with the veracity of ambassadors and messengers (Leg. 941A; Diodorus Sic. 5.75.1; see Philo, Quod Omn. Prob. 99). Thus, the author of Acts is also indicating the legitimacy of the Christian foreign mission in the narrative context of Paul’s and Barnabas’ first entirely non-Jewish audience.

‘Hermes’ also appears in the New Testament as a personal name in the list of those to whom Paul sends greetings in Rome (Rom 16:14). Hermes was the most common theophoric name in the Roman empire, including Greece (J. BAUMGART, Die roemischen Sklavennamen [diss. Breslau 1936] 47); even as Hermes was “essentially a god of simple people” (GUTHRIE 1950:91), his name was home mostly by humble people and especially by gladiators (see, e.g., Martial 5.24 and the analysis by VERSNEL 1990:206-251). Theophoric names ideally indicated an alliance with the deities from whom they were taken and something of their ‘power and honour’ (Plutarch, Def. Orac. 421E); but despite the account in Acts of Barnabas’ and Paul’s rejection of any association with Zeus and Hermes, the elimination of pagan theophoric names was not so early and thorough as might have been expected. The frequency of the name Hermes in Christian circles, especially as a martyr-name, is a case in point (I. KAJANTO, Onomastic Studies in the Early Christian Inscriptions of Rome and Carthage [Helsinki 1963] 87, 97). Although nothing more is known with any certainty about the Hermes of Rome greeted by Paul, he was, according to Eastern (Greek) liturgical tradition, one of the ‘seventy’ disciples of Jesus (Lk 10:1) who succeeded Titus as Bishop of Dalmatia to become Bishop of Salona (Spalato) in Dalmatia before suffering martyrdom (the Menaion and the Menologion for November 4; see also the sixth-century Pseudo-Dorotheus and Pseudo-Hippolytus).


The Spread of the Church in the Roman Empire

Session One: The gospel leaves Jerusalem, Nabateans, travel

Readings:        Script up to page 3, Paul’s second journey.

Articles on “Zeus” and “Hermes” from Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible.

Acts 13: 13-52 and Acts 14:1-20.

Do the following:

  1. What do you know about the city of Antioch in Pisidia?
  2. What geographical area is covered by the term Asia Minor?  
  3. Why were there Greek cities in Asia Minor? 
  4. Summarize Paul’s sermon in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. What was the point Paul wanted to emphasize in his sermon?
  5. Explain why the people of  Lystra thought Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes.

Session Two: Paul’s second journey, Athens, Corinth

Readings:        Script page 3 to page 6, Ephesus.

 Acts 15:36—18:22.

Do the following:

  1. What did prisons look like in the ancient world? Describe the traditional prison site in Philippi.
  2. What kind of trade was Lydia, the Greek woman who was converted in Philippi, involved in?
  3. Summarize Paul’s sermon in Athens and explain his general approach.
  4. The Jews in Corinth took Paul to the court. What accusations did they bring against him?

Session Three: Ephesus, Pergamum, Patmos, Laodicea

Readings:        Script from page 6 to the end.

Acts 19.

Article on “Artemis” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible.

Do the following:

  1. Highlight the political and religious importance of the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor.
  2. How did the uproar caused by Paul’s preaching in Ephesus end?
  3. Read Revelation 2:12-17. According to Revelation 2:13, Pergamum was the place where Satan had his throne. Explain this.
  4. Read Revelation 3:14-22 (NRSV). Give a full exegesis of Revelation 3:15-16 and translate the same verses into your language.

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:

15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”