Tag Archives: Baucis and Philemon

Greek Myths and Genesis

Stephen Fry comments on the similarity between a couple of Greek myths and stories in Genesis in his recently published retellings: Mythos and Heroes. I am reminded of posts I completed some years back discussing Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert.

One story was about the requirement of a god for a king (so he believed) to sacrifice his son. The son willingly accepted his fate and laid himself out to be sacrificed but as the priest was about to bring the knife down a voice called out to stop the proceedings and a golden fleeced ram swept down from the heavens to carry him away. The poor ram was itself then sacrificed to Zeus. I posted the details of this story here and here back in 2011.

So I found it interesting to read Stephen Fry’s comment on his own account of the myth:

In the Book of Genesis, you may remember, the patriarch Abraham was tested by God and told to sacrifice his son Isaac. Just as Abraham’s knife was descending God showed him a ram caught in a nearby thicket and told him to kill the animal in place of his son. One version of the story of Iphigenia and Agamemnon, which helped set in motion both the Trojan War and its tragic aftermath, is another example of this mytheme – but it is not yet time to hear that particular tale.

(Heroes, p. 189)

Another myth spoke of an elderly couple welcoming two strangers into their humble home. The strangers had met with inhospitality from others so they showed special kindness to this welcoming couple. It began to dawn on the hosts that there was something rather special about their two guests, and in fact they were gods in disguise. The climax of the story came when the divine guests ordered the couple to flee to the mountains so they could escape the destruction they were about to bring upon the rest of the village. Above all, they were ordered not to look back. The gods then proceeded to destroy the ungrateful town by a flash flood. Unfortunately the couple they enabled to escape did look back and so were turned into trees.

This theoxenia, this divine testing of human hospitality, is notably similar to that told in the nineteenth chapter of Genesis. Angels visit Sodom and Gomorrah and only Lot and his wife show them decency and kindness. The debauched citizens of Sodom of course, rather than setting the dogs on the angels wanted to ‘know them’ – in as literally biblical a sense as could be, giving us the word ‘sodomy’. Lot and his wife, like Philemon and Baucis, were told to make their getaway and not look back while divine retribution was visited on the Cities of the Plain. Lot’s wife did look back and she was turned, not into a linden, but into a pillar of salt.

(Mythos, p. 380)

What is interesting is that some sort of association between the Greek myths and Genesis stories is clear enough for anyone to see. Yet I suppose we will still find naysayers insisting that there can be no link because the “differences are greater than the similarities”.

Fry, Stephen. 2017. Mythos. London, England: Penguin.
———. 2018. Heroes. London, England: Penguin.


Same Miracles, Same Arguments, Different Gods

"Jupiter and Mercurius in the house of Ph...
Image via Wikipedia

Anyone who reads the Bible should read it in context and see how similar the other religious stories about other gods were in those olden days. Anyone who hears an argument for the truth of the Bible and its God should hear the same arguments being advanced to prove the truth of other religious tales and gods in those same ancient times.

Here is myth preserved by a Roman poet, Ovid, about the time two gods visited earth, met a pair of humble mortal god-fearers, performed some miracles familiar to readers of the Bible, and finally rescued them from a general disaster that befell all their neighbours.

Readers familiar with the Bible will be reminded of

  1. heavenly visitors, appearing as mortals, coming to the tent of Abraham and Sarah, and the hospitality that couple lavished on their guests
  2. the general wickedness of mankind highlighting the piety of the pious hero
  3. the heavenly visitors grant what the pious couple most desire
  4. heavenly visitors coming to the house of Lot and rescuing his family from the general destruction by taking them out to a mountain
  5. they turn back to look at the destruction — in the Bible this results in a transforming punishment (salt); in the Roman myth, in a transforming reward (marble)
  6. the pious mourn the destruction of the wicked
  7. the miraculous manner in which a bowl of wine or oil never ran out as it continued to be poured out
  8. the appropriately pious response of those who see this miracle
  9. the changing of a mortal into another element, in the Bible narrative into a pillar of salt

Modern readers may scoff at the possibility of such tales being true. Devout modern readers who believe the Bible may scoff at the same stories being told of the nonbiblical gods and heroes.

But look at the arguments used to persuade the pagans of the truth of those tales and see how they are no different from some of the arguments used today in an effort to convince nonbelievers of the truth of the Bible: read more »