Sunday, March 16, 2014

Zeus, ever living!

Among the Gods of Olympus, Zeus is the one that resembles the God of the Jews, Moslems, and Christians. Not Jesus, that figure most resembles a conglomeration of several other Gods, including Apollo and Dionysus, but God the Father.

This isn't so much of interest to me theologically, since I accept the Olympian paradigm as my only paradigm, but it is important to me when I realize how much of my culture, the languages I speak, and the morals and ethics I was taught from my youngest days has evolved as part of the greater influence that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have had on Western culture.

I mention Islam because as a hispanic, Islam had great influence on Spanish culture and language, just as the Gypsies and Catholicism have, but it isn't about the details of that influence, but how  it has all merged into my own personal culture and how my perception of the Gods is influenced by it.

This is why, for example, when I hear people say "God" in my mind the image of Zeus is usually what pops up, because Zeus' imagery was used early on by the Greeks and Italians (of varying Italian cultures of the time) to create the image we now so often associate with the Abrahamic God.

This is not surprising, since that God, known to the Jews as YHWH, or Yahweh, was also, by all accounts, a sky god, and therefore, in essence, the same spiritual entity we call Zeus, but just as the Greeks gave to Zeus imagery and iconography based in their own culture and understanding, the Jews did the same for YHWH.

Zeus, the ever living God of the Sky, Lord of Heaven, Lord of Hosts, of the Rains, the Thunder, The Storms that bring life and change to the Earth could have those very attributes placed after the name YHWH and I doubt any Christian or Moslem or Jew would argue.

So, why are they worshipped so differently?

It started with the Jews, of course, who were not always a monotheistic people. Through their history, they have been a small group. Even in the heyday of their ancient history, theirs was never a large culture. They were always a small group amidst enormous powers. From Egyptians and Babylonians to Assyrians and Persians, the Jewish people have always been a small minority. Their cultural history speaks of their enslavement, their escape, and their turning to their God to help them, and one cannot deny that their survival speaks to some kind of divine intervention, since so many other, larger, cultures have vanished while theirs has managed to survive, at least religiously. They gave thanks for his help, and interpreted it in ways that, to me, are odd. They turned to him as their only God, and then, after who knows how long, contrary to all other evidence, turned to a belief that he was not just their only God, but THE only God.

This break with the previous polytheism of this Semitic people lead to what we call the Abrahamic faiths of today, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (I would argue that none of these are truly monotheistic, but that is something for another day) and eventually to the fall of ancient Paganism in Middle Eastern and European culture, but Paganism (here used to refer to the ancient polytheistic religious systems) did not simply disappear. The people continued traditions that were common among Pagans, festivals that would not die were simply assimilated into Christianity (Christmas, Easter) and other traditional celebrations were Christianized, even if they remained local.

One of these were the visual aspects of religious representation in art. To this day, Christian imagery retains a decidedly Greek and Roman look. Statues are don mostly in a Greek/Roman form, including robes and other adornment, and even imagery of other figures in their mythos, like Angels and Demons, are done in forms that retain that Greek and Roman artistic sensibility. This means that images of Jesus, Mary, and Jehovah are often reminiscent of the images of Zeus and other deities of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Etruscans.

So, you see, even in these religions that claim to have only the one God, the Gods echo, for while religious zealots, philosophers, and commentators may seek to reduce them to a singularity, in our hearts we all know that the universe is inhabited by, guided by, moved by not one, but many forces and wills. Zeus, ever living, survives even in the differently told stories of the monotheists, in the colorful stories of the Hindus, in the quiet seeking of the Buddhists, and in the prayers of children who fearing the thunder call to him, by whatever name they know, to protect them.