Monday, July 23, 2012

The Adventures of Herc and Rom

This is the last item I'll post from the April 2009 E-Block. The Ticker may take some time off if I get pegged with jury duty (the usual waste of time for me as a former corrections employee) this week. I was asked to comment on alleged "parallels" between Jesus, Romulus, and Hercules. Here they are.

  • Romulus is born of a vestal virgin, which was a priestess of the hearth god Vesta sworn to celibacy (Early History of Rome, 1.3-1.4). However, like many "virgin births" often used as parallels, this is a case of a virgin being implanted with "divine seed" and indeed, the passage cited indicates something quite, erm, sexual was involved:
    But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it.
    As we have noted elsewhere, the language used by the NT (Luke particularly) indicates that the conception of Jesus was an act of divine fiat in nature similar to that of the creation of the world in Genesis 1, where the Spirit "hovers over" the primordial waters.
  • Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, are tossed in the river and left for dead (A "slaughter of the innocents" tale which parallels that of Matthew 2:13-16). In only the loosest sense, perhaps. The twins are disposed of in a way that was rather typical for the day; exposure of infants, especially those who were unwanted (eg, handicapped or the product of some illicit union) was just something the Romans did. To that extent, there's no real parallel here, save by using broad terminology to describe quite different events. In addition, Jesus was not actually exposed whereas Romulus was.
  • Romulus is hailed as the son of god. This is a true parallel; whether it is significant is another matter. "Son of God" seems to have been a more generic phrase; but in Romulus' case, does it mean that Romulus was the incarnate Wisdom of a deity, as it means in Jesus' case? Rather, it seems to be recognition for his achievements after his apotheosis.
  • He is "snatched away to heaven" by a whirlwind (It is assumed that the gods took him), and he makes post mortem appearances (See The Early History of Rome 1.16). The former, of course, would at best be an Elijah-parallel, not a Jesus-parallel! The latter is true, but a case again of broad terminology. There is no hint of Romulus appearing in a resurrected (glorified, physical) body; to that extent, one may also as well say that any "ghost story" is a parallel for Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, which would seem to take matters too far.
  • In his work Numa Pompilius, Plutarch records that there was a darkness covering the earth before his death (Just as there was during Jesus’ death according to Mark 15:33). True, though there is more to it; the full citation reads: However, it does not seem that Romulus actually died here, and the darkness seems to have come from the weather, which in turns seems to have been the cause of the whirlwind which took him up. It's the closest so far, but once again, to draw a parallel requires some appealing to "least common denominator" descriptions. In addition, it is noted that Romulus' body ascended to heaven, as did Jesus'; I do regard this as a true parallel, and an intentional one: Jesus' bodily ascension would have served as a strong political and religious statement in an era when it was only the most powerful and virtuous like the Emperors who were counted worthy of ascending to heaven. Jesus' ascension was a purposeful slap in the face to the powers that be.
  • He also states that Romulus is to be know afterwards as 'Quirinus'; A god which belonged to the Archiac Triad (a "triple deity" similar to the concept of the Trinity). This information may be found in the second paragraph of the translation of Numa Pompilius.... I am told that the note re Quirinus is not meant to be corresponded to the Quirinius in Luke. In terms of the "Triad" I see no "similarity" to the Trinity, aside from there being three persons as members. Two of the members are not in hypostatic relationships with the third and most superior in power; the ancient work referred to for this information says, The next thing he did was to add to the two priests of Jupiter and Mars a third, in honour of Romulus, whom he called the Flamen Quirinalis. This seems to not be much upon which to base a "Trinitarian theology".
Heracles (Hercules)
Such is our verdict on Romulus; what of Hercules?

  • Heracles is the Son of a god (Zeus). The answer to this is the same as above. That said, our contact added: In Library of History 4:9:1-2, it is recorded that Zeus is both the father and great-great- great grandfather of Heracles, just as Jesus is essentially his own grandpa, being both "The root and offspring of David" (Revelation 22:16) as he is part of the triune God which is the father of Adam and eventually of Jesus. Both are doubly related to the Supreme God. I am not persuaded that this description does the matter justice. Library of History says at the point referenced:
    This, then, is the story as it has been given us: Perseus was the son of Danaê, the daughter of Acrisius, and Zeus. Now Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus, lay with him and bore Electryon, and then Eurydicê, the daughter of Pelops, married him and gave birth to Alcmenê, who in turn was wooed by Zeus, who deceived her, and bore Heracles. Consequently the sources of his descent, in their entirety, lead back, as is claimed, through both his parents to the greatest of the gods, in the manner we have shown. The prowess which was found in him was not only to be seen in his deeds, but was also recognized even before his birth. For when Zeus lay with Alcmenê he made the night three times its normal length and by the magnitude of the time expended on the procreation he presaged the exceptional might of the child which would be begotten
    It would seem to me that there is a world of difference, again, in descent via divine intercourse versus creation by divine fiat; and of being produced by such intercourse, and being the hypostatic attribute of divinity.
  • Diodorus writes that,"For as regards the magnitude of the deeds which he accomplished it is generally agreed that Heracles has been handed down as one who surpassed all men of whom memory from the beginning of time has brought down an account; consequently it is a difficult attainment to report each one of his deeds in a worthy manner and to present a record which shall be on a level with labours so great, the magnitude of which won for him the prize of immortality."-Library of History, 4:8:1. Jesus is also said to have done a very large number of good works. John 21:25 says that: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." I find this, too, to be a case of reducing descriptions to a "lowest common denominator" -- under the description of "works". Is Heracles' clearing of the Augean stables to be classified with the healing of a blind man because both are "good works"? If that is so, then there are also the same parallels to be found in the lives of other gods, Roman emperors, Atzec kings, and modern charity workers.
  • Hera tries to kill Heracles as an infant by sending two serpents after him (Library of History, 4:10:1) yet Heracles survives by strangling them. This parallels Herod's slaughter of the innocents in an attempt to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:13-16). Does it? The serpents were sent after Heracles in particular, and no other infants were involved...and Jesus was long gone by the time his would-be assassins arrived. It seems to me again that for a parallel this broad, we may as well again appeal to the ancient practice of exposure of unwanted infants.
  • Heracles makes a descent into Hades and returns from it with Theseus and Peirithoüs (4.26.1), just as Jesus descends into the "lower parts of the earth" or Hades (Ephesians 4:7-8)... I cut this one off at the chase, for as I have noted elsewhere, I do not think Jesus did descend into Hades, or that Ephesians supports that idea:
    The reference to "lower parts" is in the comparative, not in the superlative, which does not accord with a reference to the underworld (as in the LXX version of Ps. 63:9 and 139:15, which does use the superlative -- Linc.Ep, 245). Rather, the "lower parts" is understood to refer to the earth itself (the word "of" is not in the original Greek), the descent being the Incarnation, and the ascent being the Ascension. A couple of lines of evidence support this view. The interpretation requires that the phrase "the earth" be taken as being "a genitive of opposition which further defines the preceding noun" [Linc.Ep, 247], a procedure which is used elsewhere in Ephesians (2:14, 15, 20; 6:14, 16, 17). It also fits in with the theme of a descent/ascent or humiliation/exaltation Christology which first describes Jesus coming to earth, then ascending to Heaven (John 3:13, Phil. 2:6-11). Finally, there is a problem in reading the passage as indicating a "breakout" from a Spirit Prison, since the indication both in the Psalms source that forms the background (Ps. 68:18) and in the language is that Christ has taken prisoners after some sort of campaign, not freed those who once were prisoners. Who was it that was taken prisoner? In all likelihood, this involves the "principalities and powers" defeated on the cross. (Eph. 1:21-2; Col. 2:15) The idea of a descent into the underworld must be read into this passage over and against a much more likely interpretation based on the internal clues of Ephesians and the Christology of other NT passages. Finally, it should be noted that there is a strong parallel to this verse in a Targum commentary on Ps. 18 [Linc.Ep, 242-3]. Although from a later source than the NT, it undoubtedly has earlier roots, for it is inconceivable that the Targums should have borrowed it from the NT. Speaking of Moses, the passage reads:
    You have ascended to heaven, that is, Moses the prophet; you have taken captivity captive, you have learnt the words of the Torah; you have given it as gifts to men.
    Obviously there is nothing here to suggest that Moses went to Hades and freed a load of prisoners; he did ascend to Sinai (from the earth!) and receive the covenant. Paul now takes over this language to express Christ's own fulfillment of Ps. 18, and there is no parallel idea of a descent into Hades for him to draw from. His readers would never have understood such a thing from this passage.
Such are my views of the parallels claimed.

1 comment:

  1. And Herc had a Samsonic or even Goliathic talent for fighting, and Rom a talent for ruling by domineering ... neither is very like Our Lord.

    If some say Herc beat death when it came to Alcestis, Our Lord showed what raisng the dead really looks like. If some said the guy who whipped the traders from the temple was of nephelim tribe, I think they should pick Herc or Rom for that role instead.

    Or Thor too, if he was seen along Odin in Upsala. Odin has something in common with Simon Magus (the Roman adventure, not in Biblical Acts, but in Acts of Peter) - Odin fooling the old king was what Simon would have pulled off if St Peter had not been praying there.