Category Archives: Argonautica


Greek Myths Related to Tales of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the Promised Land

by Neil Godfrey
Golden Fleece Sochi

Image via Wikipedia

The classical Greek myths related to the founding of the colony of Cyrene in north Africa (Libya) are worth knowing about alongside the biblical narrative of the founding of Israel. This post is a presentation of my understanding of some of the ideas of Philippe Wajdenbaum found in a recent acticle in the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, and that apparently epitomize his thesis, Argonauts of the Desert.

My recent post drew attention to the following mythemes in common to both the Phrixus and Isaac sacrifice stories. I’m not sure if my delineation of them is guilty of slightly blurring the edges of a strict definition of a mytheme, but they are certainly common elements. read more »


The Bible’s roots in Greek mythology and classical authors: Isaac and Phrixus

by Neil Godfrey
Phrixos and Helle

Image via Wikipedia

When I wrote a series of posts on resonances between the Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes and several features of Old Testament narratives, I confessed I did not know how to understand or interpret the data. But someone else does. Philippe Wajdenbaum in 2008 defended his anthropology doctoral thesis, “Argonauts of the Desert — Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible.” He applies the structural analysis of myths as developed by Claude Lévi-Strauss to the Bible, something Lévi-Strauss himself never got around to doing, although he did eventually encourage biblical scholars to do so. This post looks at one detail of a detail-rich article in the 2010 Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament (Vol. 24, No. 1, 129-142), “Is the Bible a Platonic Book?” (After a few more posts on this my next project will be to see if the same type of analysis can be used to suggest origins of the Gospel myths.)

Lévi-Strauss and structural analysis of myths

In Wajdenbaum’s words,

For Lévi-Strauss, a version of a myth is always derived from an existing adaptation, originating most of the time from a different culture and language. A myth must always be analysed in comparison to its variants within the same cultural area where contacts between populations are proven. (p. 131) read more »


Bible and the Argonautica. ch. 6 [Book 4]

by Neil Godfrey
Jason bringing Pelias the Golden Fleece; a win...

Image via Wikipedia

Concluding my little series of posts

Book 4 — Seaton’s translation of the fourth and final book of the Argonautica. (Ignore the chapter numbering in the title.)

The tricks of verisimilitude

Modern readers are not fooled by into thinking that the tale of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece is based on historical traditions simply because it happens to contain lines like:

. . . from that time the altar which the heroes raised on the beach to the goddess remains till now, a sight to men of a later day.

From this land, it is said, a king made his way all round through the whole of Europe and Asia, trusting in the might and strength and courage of his people; and countless cities did he found wherever he came, whereof some are still inhabited . . .

And the clammy corpse he hid in the ground where even now those bones lie among the Apsyrtians.

Some set foot on those very islands where the heroes had stayed, and they still dwell there, bearing a name derived from Apsyrtus; and others built a fenced city by the dark deep Illyrian river, where is the tomb of Harmonia and Cadmus, dwelling among the Encheleans; and others live amid the mountains which are called the Thunderers, from the day when the thunders of Zeus, son of Cronos, prevented them from crossing over to the island opposite. read more »


Bible and the Argonauts. ch.5 (Book 4)

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing my little series of posts reading the Bible in the context of popular ancient fiction, specifically with the Argonautica.

Book 4 — Seaton’s translation of the fourth and final book of the Argonautica. (Ignore the chapter numbering in the title.) This post covers only the early portions of this book.

Escape adventure and happily disbelieving reunion

Having thrown her lot in with Jason Medea flees her father’s palace under cover of darkness fearing his wrath. As she rushed forth from her home,

the bolts of the doors gave way self-moved, leaping backwards at the swift strains of her magic song. . . . Quickly along the dark track, outside the towers of the spacious city, did she come in fear; nor did any of the warders not her, but she sped on unseen by them.

Peter is not a semi-divine being as Medea is (she is a granddaughter of the sun god Helios and has magic powers) so he needs an angel to help him out when it is his cue to enter this Hellenestic adventure motif of fleeing for his life, past guards unseen, with doors opening of their own accord: read more »


Bible and the Argonauts. ch. 4 (Book 3)

by Neil Godfrey
Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse.
Image via Wikipedia

Continuing my little series of posts reading the Bible with popular ancient fiction in mind, or the other way around, with the Argonautica as the case study.

Book 3 — Seaton’s translation of the third of the four books of the Argonautica. (Ignore the chapter numbering in the title.)

Change of pace in the story flow

Book three of the Argonautica illustrates the one of the distinctive features found in all four gospel narratives, a feature that is found in much other popular literature of the day, too. Here the adventure of Jason and his Argonauts shifts gears. Up till now the story has been a travelogue. One adventure after the other as the heroes move from one place to the next. But with book 3 the pace settles down into a very detailed and lengthy narrative in a single setting, covering a short period of time, and that relates the climax to which the previous itinerary has been leading us.

After Jesus and his disciples experience many mini-adventures as they travel this side and the other side of the lake, to this town and that region, they come to Jerusalem — the place where they have been destined to meet their destiny, to accomplish what has been planned from the beginning. And it is from this point that the gospels settle into a detailed narrative of all that is related to this climactic adventure. It all happens in the one region, and is told in much more detail than the earlier brief episodes.

Scholars have in the past attempted to explain this difference in pace by suggesting the Passion Narrative was originally an independent story that was later extended with the earlier episodes. But a little more familiarity with the popular epics and novels of the day would point to a simpler explanation.

Renewed beginning at the climax read more »


Bible and the Argonauts. Chapter 3 (Book 2)

by Neil Godfrey
Clashing Rocks Parted by Poseidon

Continuing here my commentary on the points of literary, thematic, religious and cultural contacts between ancient popular literature and the Bible, with the Argonautica as a case study. From my initial post:

Anyone who treats the Bible too seriously as history needs to take time out to read Jason and the Argonauts, or the Argonautica, composed in the third century BCE by Apollonius of Rhodes.  They could also read a lot of other ancient literature, epic poetry, tragic dramas, Hellenistic novellas, to find a more grounded perspective for the Bible as literature, but here I focus on the Argonautica.

Book 2 — this links to Seaton’s translation of the second of the four books of the Argonautica. (The “chapters” in my titles are only for convenience to follow the sequence of posts on the blog and are not part of any formal numbering system.)

The Dual, the Prophecy, the Parting Rocks, and Seeing the Glory of God

read more »


Bible and the Argonauts. Chapter 2

by Neil Godfrey
Hypsipylé, first wife of Jason, from Octavien ...

Image via Wikipedia

Continuing the story in Book 1 (links to Seaton’s translation) of the Argonautica. It is one of many ancient works of literature that deserve to be read alongside the Bible to keep everything in its perspective.

Prayer, promise, loss and suffering

Before embarking on their quest for the golden fleece, the leader of the expedition, Jason, utters a lengthy prayer to Apollo, the god of his fathers. His prayer reminds Apollo of promises the god made to him in the past, seeks protection, offers devotion, and announces that all will be done for the god’s glory. Following the prayer a number of sacrifices are offered. In their wake, one of the crew, Idmon, pronounced a prophecy declaring final success for the mission, but only through many trials and tribulations, including death for himself. The crew listened with mixed feelings, rejoicing in the promise of eventual success, but mournful at the fate of Idmon.

Jason’s prayer is matched by Solomon’s prayer at the inauguration of the Temple and the beginning of the new era for Israel under God. God is reminded of his promises, protection is sought, and God’s name is to be glorified. At the Amen, the sacrifices begin. But with the prayer are hints that not all will be well. Readers are reminded of the history of failure of Israel. There are many such prayers throughout the Bible. Jesus prays for the safety of his followers, conceding that one must be lost according to the divine pre-ordained will. All prayers acknowledge the necessity that the godly must suffer severe trials before they reach their final reward.

The leader sets himself apart, and is challenged, but music restores the calm

The crew, the argonauts, quickly forget the sober moment when evening falls and it is time to rest, tell stories and feast with wine. Their leader Jason, however, cannot share with them their carefree spirits. He is too burdened with the full awareness of the dangers ahead, and his responsibility of leading them all safely. Like Homer’s Odysseus before him when he knew too well the dangers that faced his crew, and who likewise left them in their carefree state of mind to go off alone to pray, Jason withdrew himself. read more »

Bible and the Argonauts: chapter 1

by Neil Godfrey
The Argo

Image via Wikipedia

Anyone who treats the Bible too seriously as history needs to take time out to read Jason and the Argonauts, or the Argonautica, composed in the third century BCE by Apollonius of Rhodes.  They could also read a lot of other ancient literature, epic poetry, tragic dramas, Hellenistic novellas, to find a more grounded perspective for the Bible as literature, but here I focus on the Argonautica.

Book 1 — this links to Seaton’s translation of the first of the four books of the Argonautica.

It opens with a prophecy that sets the action in motion. King Pelias had been warned that he would be murdered at the behest of a man he saw approaching with one sandal. It just so happened that Jason happened to have lost one sandal while crossing muddy waters when he came to King Pelias to enjoy a banquet. Pelias could hardly kill him on the spot for losing his sandal, so sent him on a mission (to a distant land to retrieve a golden fleece) from which he believed he could scarcely return.

So begins the action. And it is not just an ordinary adventure of ordinary folk. It is to be a tale of famous deeds by some of the most renowned of ancient heroic names. And the plot is driven by prophecies from the gods and their agents. This is the stuff of ancient epics, dramas and novellas. read more »