Posted by: religionthink | May 4, 2011

Hellenistic Paul: Letter To The Romans- Chapter Two


Hellenistic Paul: Letter to The Romans Chapter Two

What the Greeks and Romans heard. A translation  with editing based on The Letter to the Romans from Paul while comparing ideas from Greek thought and philosophy in order to highlight the hellenstic ideas in the writings of Paul. Below is Chapter 2 of Romans. This is  a  fictional text. The references in the “Notes” section are theological and philosophical ideas that would apply to the context.

Those people are on a dark spiral downward towards Hades. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But Zeus isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done. You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract Zeus from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice deity, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. Zeus is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of virtue adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, Zeus’s fiery thunderbolt and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you– Real Life for those who work on Zeus’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance and Vice, Thunderbolt!

If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way of Virtue, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Greek won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. Zeus pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind. If you commit vice and injustice without knowing what you’re doing, Virtue takes that into account. But if you commit vice and injustice knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing Virtue’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what she commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with Virtue. When outsiders who have never heard of Virtue’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that Virtue’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes Virtue’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to Virtue’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day Virtue makes the final decision about every man and woman. The Message ringing in my ears that I proclaim through Virtue takes into account all these differences.

If you’re brought up Greek, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to Virtue’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of philosophy, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know Virtue’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to virtue. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t commit injustice!” are you going to accuse unjustly? Who would suspect you? The same with pride. The same with cowardice. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with rhetoric about virtue and her law. The line from Plato, ” The reality and not the appearance of virtue is to be followed above all things, as well in public as in private life.” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away. Virtue and Justice marks you as a Greek, is great if you live in accord with Virtue’s law. But if you don’t, it’s worse than not being Virtuous. The reverse is also true: The Virtuous who keep Virtue’s ways are as good as the gods in fact, better. Better to keep Virtue’s law and be a sufferer of vice than break it and become a doer of vice. Don’t you see: It’s not the appearance of virtue that makes a good Greek. You become a good Greek by who you are. It’s the mark of Virtue on your heart, not of outward appearance of virtue, that makes a good Greek. And recognition comes from Virtue herself, not rhetorical critics. (Rom 2:1-29)- The Message Bible Translation where not edited.


Now all morning long, as the sacred daylight Grew brighter, the missiles of both sides struck home, and the warriors Fell. But when the Sun-god bestrode mid-heaven, The Father lifted his golden scales and in them Placed two lots of grievous and leveling death, One for the horse-taming Trojans, for the bronze-clad Achaeans The other. Then he took hold of the middle and lifted The scales, and the fatal day for Achaeans sank down And their fates rested on all-feeding earth, while those Of the Trojans were raised toward heaven’s expanse. And now Zeus uttered a great crash of thunder and hurled a huge bolt Of lightning down into the host of Achaeans. At this They were stricken with awe, and olive-pale panic gripped all of them Hard. -Iliad Of Homer, Book 8. English translation by W. Leaf

Perhaps this may appear to you to be only an old wife’s tale,which you will contemn. And there might be reason in your contemning such tales, if by searching we could find out anything better or truer: but now you see that you and Polus and Gorgias, who are the three wisest of the Greeks of our day, are not able to show that we ought to live any life which does not profit in another world as well as in this. And of all that has been said, nothing remains unshaken but the saying, that to do injustice is more to be avoided than to suffer injustice, and that the reality and not the appearance of virtue is to be followed above all things, as well in public as in private life; and that when any one has been wrong in anything, he is to be chastised, and that the next best thing to a man being just is that he should become just, and be chastised and punished; also that he should avoid all flattery of himself as well as of others, of the few or of the many: and rhetoric and any other art should be used by him, and all his actions should be done always, with a view to justice.– Gorgias by Plato, Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Posted by: religionthink | May 4, 2011

Hellenistic Paul: Letter To The Romans- Chapter One


Hellenistic Paul: Letter To The Romans- Chapter One

 What the Greeks and Romans heard. A translation  with editing based on The Letter to the Romans from Paul while comparing ideas from Greek thought and philosophy in order to highlight the hellenstic ideas in the writings of Paul. Below is Chapter 1 of Roman’s. This is  a  fictional text. The references in the “Notes” section are theological and philosophical ideas that would apply to the context of Romans.

I, Paul, am a devoted slave of twice born Dionysus on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim virtue’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the followers in Rome, Virtue’s friends. The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on Virtue’s Son. His descent from Zuse roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of Zeus was shown by the Spirit when Dionysus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the chosen one, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Virtue. You are who you are through this gift and call of Virtue! And I greet you now with all the generosity of Zeus our Father and our master Dionysus. I thank Zeus through Virtue for every one of you. That’s first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of Virtue, and every time I hear them, I thank him. And Zeus, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son– Virtue!–knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you.

The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver Zeus’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you. Please don’t misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I’ve made plans for Rome. I’ve been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of Zeus’s work among you, as I have in so many other Greek and Roman towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet–it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple–deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that’s why I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of Zeus. It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of Virtue’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts it, starting with Greeks and then right on to everyone else! Zeus’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Hesiod teachings has said all along: “Through him mortal men are famed or un-famed, sung or unsung alike, as great Zeus wills. For easily he makes strong, and easily he brings the strong man low; easily he humbles the proud and raises the obscure, and easily he straightens the crooked and blasts the proud, — Zeus who thunders aloft and has his dwelling most high.” But Zeus’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of Zeus is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!

By taking a long and thoughtful look at what Zeus has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew Zeus perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like Zeus, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of Zeus who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So Zeus said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true Zeus for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the Zeus who made them–the Zeus we bless, the Zeus who blesses us. Oh, yes! Worse followed. Refusing to know Zeus, they soon didn’t know how to be human either–women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men–all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it–emptied of Zeus and love, godless and loveless wretches. Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge Zeus, Zeus quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in Virtue’s face. And they don’t care–worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! – (Rom 1:1-32) The Message Bible Translation where not edited.


I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian (30) pirates on a well- decked ship — a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway, put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said:

`Madmen! What god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.’

So said he: but the master chid him with taunting words: `Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way.’

When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the god changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysus had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him:

`Take courage, good…; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying Dionysus whom Cadmus’ daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.’

Hail, child of fair-faced Semele! He who forgets you can in no wise order sweet song. –Homeric Hymn to Dionysus, Translation by Evelyn-White.

Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth (6). The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another’s city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis (7), with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil. – Works And Days, lines 170-201 by Hesiod

Whether such matters are to be regarded jestingly or seriously, I think that the pleasure is to be deemed natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust. The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver. Leaving the story, we may observe that any speculation about laws turns almost entirely on pleasure and pain, both in states and in individuals: these are two fountains which nature lets flow, and he who draws from them where and when, and as much as he ought, is happy; and this holds of men and animals-of individuals as well as states; and he who indulges in them ignorantly and at the wrong time, is the reverse of happy. -The Laws Book 1, By Plato

Posted by: religionthink | April 29, 2011

Used Car Salesmen For Christ: Thoughts On Witnessing

Used Car Salesmen For Christ: Thoughts On Witnessing

By A.D. Wayman 

Not that I am arrogant or a proud person but my intelligence was insulted the other day while I was on my lunch break. I am always up for a good discussion of religion, philosophy, and mythology. I sat by one nice guy while on break at work and started a generic conversation about the weather. Then he asked me “ If you died tonight do you know where you would go?”. Automatically I knew what I maybe in for. I perked up and prepared for an excellent conversation with a devout Christian Evangelical who felt compelled by his faith to share with me the “Good News”. But was that his real intent? I had to find out.

My answer was straight forward and direct. I told him, like a good Stoic, that such a conversation exploring such a question was of the highest importance, for death is never late and always on time, for at that moment when fate or the divine has ordained our earthly time is over. However, one would be selfish to prepare themselves for an afterlife of bliss in the land of the blessed, when at the moment they should be spending all their time in pursuit of virtue and righteousness, and using whatever means to help their fellow humans along in obtaining the same path, in the here and now, without the selfish desire of heaven. So I know not, nor care if such a place exists, for one should only concentrate on virtue. I then told him that if he knew some path that was easier then I will be most willing to hear it.

The gentlemen scratched his head taken rather off guard and took his sandwich out of his lunch pail that was labeled heavily with scripture verses of repentance from the New Testament. He proceeded to take me down the Roman Road. A place that I have so often been before. He had it all mapped out and talked fast, for we only had a thirty minuet break. He quoted Romans 3:23, then 6: 23 of the same text, then jumped to Romans 5:8, then to Romans 10:9 and 10 . Then he jumped to Revelation 3:20 and ended it all with John 3:16. He even put my name in the text to make it personal. I found it quite amazing that he knew the text by heart. “Very good!” I said. “But What did Jesus have to say about it?” He munched on his sandwich, “What do you mean?” he asked. “When the rich man asked Jesus What must I do to inherit eternal life? in Matthew 19:16 Jesus did not tell him all you told to me just now, did he?” “Jesus’s reply in Matthew 19:17 was, “but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

We had to go back to work and never finished the conversation. The corporation applauds diversity and personal development, however, I had the feeling they would not like to pay us for large discussions on virtue, righteousness, and salvation philosophies. But ever since that conversation I have been thinking on the true motivations of witnessing and wondered if people thought about what they were feeling compelled to do and say by themselves or by their belief systems. Right down to the method of rhetoric, intimidation, and mental techniques that would win any persuasion speech contest, the system has been perfected. Currently I have listed a few thoughts on the topic and will discuss them below.

The message of salvation, the kingdom of heaven, or the “Gospel” should not be sold like a used car. And believers, you are not God’s used car salesman. Just like good salesman take classes on how to sell a car, learning and perfecting the techniques of sales, or perfecting the craft through personal experience or by a mentor, so to it seems the believer. At times it is sicking all the time and energy spent on “Witnessing Seminars” , “Home Mission’s Workshops”, and “How to Talk About Jesus 101” Sunday school lessons. When in reality all that is needed to be a true witness can simply be what is discussed by Christ.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Mat 25:34-40)

Another issue on the technique of witnessing that I came to realize is that like the used car salesman, believers can be pushy. Know that one who cares about his life’s path will not buy your car until he has examined first what is under the hood. Believers may use rhetoric to make a persuasive speech, that still, after being caught up in the emotion of that speech, I may not come to myself until days later. But that will not set anyone on the path of virtue, salvation or righteousness. For those set on such a path with good intentions spurred on by emotion will get lost when coming to themselves. Also believers may use intimidation and scare tactics, or that of promises as bribes. Like some used car salesman, those who use such tactics are nothing but crooks and thieves. For virtue and salvation should be obtained after rigorous inspection and not out of fear or bribes.

So in conclusion it would be good for those who feel compelled to pounce on some unsuspecting non-believer in order to drag him, as a lion would take a wounded sheep, into your pen of salvation; know that your technique it’s self maybe the cause for so many leaving your fold, and why your advancements are met with retaliation and scorn. For some of us would never buy a car without looking under the hood, or tracing all it’s parts back to the manufacture, or looking at the history of the vehicle. We have bought lemons before. Some also realize that virtue and salvation is not as free as some salesmen would imply. Like software, the initial download is free but the upgrade to “Salvation Pro 1.5” may cost you your life and your all.

 “Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito.” Socrates, Crito by Plato

Posted by: religionthink | March 18, 2011

Rob Bell Like Plato Discusses Hell


Rob Bell Like Plato Discusses Hell

Not to milk the Rob Bell tag, but because the topic is currently relevant, I have below collected places where the underworld and Tartarus are mentioned in the texts of Plato. As the reader progresses through these quotes one will see that the philosophers held views of the underword suspect, and many times point out the “I know not for sure but have been told.” point of view. Which is far different then what is found in the evangelical Christian climate today. Each denomination freely adds and freely takes away, and rightly we should be saying as Socrates to Gorgias “Listen, then, as story-tellers say, to a very pretty tale,which I dare say that you may be disposed to regard as a fable only, but which, as I believe, is a true tale, for I mean to speak the truth.”

I have not included here the conversation concerning the soul, which is another interesting study. However, I have composed this collection  of quotes on the underworld and Tartarus to assist those looking for a quick reference to such ideas. I would encourage the reader to go to these texts mentioned to understand the full context of the discussions taking place for many quotes here are from dialogues addressing a wide range of issues between groups of people. I have decided to do such a search to illustrate the types of views that were believed and discussed at the time of Plato. I also would like the reader to use this resource to compare such ideas to current theological views. All quotes are in the public domain and were translated into English by Benjamin Jowett 1871. I apologize ahead of time for the formatting issues with this post.

For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is not this ignorance of a disgraceful sort, the ignorance which is the conceit that a man knows what he does not know? And in this respect only I believe myself to differ from men in general, and may perhaps claim to be wiser than they are:–that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonourable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.Socrates, Apology by Plato


Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito.” – Socrates, Crito By Plato


But how did you come to have this skill about Homer only, and not about Hesiod or the other poets? Does not Homer speak of the same themes which all other poets handle? Is not war his greatargument? and does he not speak of human society and of intercourse of men, good and bad, skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing with one another and with mankind, and about what happens in heaven and in the world below, and the generations of gods and heroes? Are not these the themes of which Homer sings? – Socrates, Ion by Plato


Now the proper office of punishment is twofold: he who is rightly punished ought either to become better and profit by it, or he ought to be made an example to his fellows, that they may see what he suffers, and fear and become better. Those who are improved when they are punished by gods and men, are those whose sins are curable; and they are improved, as in this world so also in another, by pain and suffering; for there is no other way in which they can be delivered from their evil. But they who have been guilty of the worst crimes, and are incurable by reason of their crimes, are made examples; for, as they are incurable, the time has passed at which they can receive any benefit. They get no good themselves, but others get good when they behold them enduring for ever the most terrible and painful and fearful sufferings as the penalty of their sins-there they are, hanging up as examples, in the prison-house of the world below, a spectacle and a warning to all unrighteous men who come thither. – Socrates, Gorgias by Plato


And Homer witnesses to the truth of this; for they are always kings and potentates whom he has described as suffering everlasting punishment in the world below: such were Tantalus and Sisyphus and Tityus. But no one ever described Thersites, or any private person who was a villain, as suffering everlasting punishment, or as incurable. For to commit the worst crimes, as I am inclined to think, was not in his power, and he was happier than those who had the power. No, Callicles, the very bad men come from the class of those who have power. And yet in that very class there may arise good men, and worthy of all admiration they are, for where there is great power to do wrong, to live and to die justly is a hard thing, and greatly to be praised, and few there are who attain to this. Such good and true men, however, there have been, and will be again, at Athens and in other states, who have fulfilled their trust righteously; and there is one who is quite famous all over Hellas, Aristeides, the son of Lysimachus. But, in general, great men are also bad, my friend. – Socrates, Gorgias by Plato

Some of them were priests and priestesses, who had studied how they might be able to give a reason of their profession: there, have been poets also, who spoke of these things by inspiration, like Pindar, and many others who were inspired. And they say-mark, now, and see whether their words are true-they say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born again, but is never destroyed. And the moral is, that a man ought to live always in perfect holiness. “For in the ninth year Persephone sends the souls of those from whom she has received the penalty of ancient crime back again from beneath into the light of the sun above, and these are they who become noble kings and mighty men and great in wisdom and are called saintly heroes in after ages.” The soul, then, as being immortal, and having been born again many times, rand having seen all things that exist, whether in this world or in the world below, has knowledge of them all; and it is no wonder that she should be able to call to remembrance all that she ever knew about virtue, and about everything; for as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things; there is no difficulty in her eliciting or as men say learning, out of a single recollection -all the rest, if a man is strenuous and does not faint; for all enquiry and all learning is but recollection. And therefore we ought not to listen to this sophistical argument about the impossibility of enquiry: for it will make us idle; and is sweet only to the sluggard; but the other saying will make us active and inquisitive. In that confiding, I will gladly enquire with you into the nature of virtue. – Socrates, Meno by Plato


Many terrible misfortunes are said to have happened to him in his life- last of all, came the utter ruin of his country; and after his death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in the world below- all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You might imagine that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos (the most weighted down by misfortune), disguised the name by altering it into Tantalus; and into this form, by some accident of tradition, it has actually been transmuted. The name of Zeus, who is his alleged father, has also an excellent meaning, although hard to be understood, because really like a sentence, which is divided into two parts, for some call him Zena, and use the one half, and others who use the other half call him Dia; the two together signify the nature of the God, and the business of a name, as we were saying, is to express the nature. For there is none who is more the author of life to us and to all, than the lord and king of all. Wherefore we are right in calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name, although divided, meaning the God through whom all creatures always have life (di on zen aei pasi tois zosin uparchei). – Socrates, Cratylus by Plato


Then, Simmias, as the true philosophers are ever studying death, to them, of all men, death is the least terrible. Look at the matter in this way: how inconsistent of them to have been always enemies of the body, and wanting to have the soul alone, and when this is granted to them, to be trembling and repining; instead of rejoicing at their departing to that place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they loved (and this was wisdom), and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many a man has been willing to go to the world below in the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there only, and nowhere else, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were to fear death. – Socrates, Phaedo by Plato


Yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or pleasure or pain, which are measured like coins, the greater with the less, is not the exchange of virtue. O my dear Simmias, is there not one true coin for which all things ought to exchange?-and that is wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice. And is not all true virtue the companion of wisdom, no matter what fears or pleasures or other similar goods or evils may or may not attend her? But the virtue which is made up of these goods, when they are severed from wisdom and exchanged with one another, is a shadow of virtue only, nor is there any freedom or health or truth in her; but in the true exchange there is a purging away of all these things, and temperance, and justice, and courage, and wisdom herself are a purgation of them. And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not mere triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. For “many,” as they say in the mysteries, “are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics,”-meaning, as I interpret the words, the true philosophers. – Socrates, Phaedo by Plato


And this, my friend, may be conceived to be that heavy, weighty, earthy element of sight by which such a soul is depressed and dragged down again into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible and of the world below-prowling about tombs and sepulchres, in the neighborhood of which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions of souls which have not departed pure, but are cloyed with sight and therefore visible. -Socrates, Phaedo by Plato


Why, because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body; so that she soon sinks into another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and pure and simple. – Socrates, Phaedo by Plato


Nay, my good friend, said Socrates, let us not boast, lest some evil eye should put to flight the word which I am about to speak. That, however, may be left in the hands of those above, while I draw near in Homeric fashion, and try the mettle of your words. Briefly, the sum of your objection is as follows: You want to have proven to you that the soul is imperishable and immortal, and you think that the philosopher who is confident in death has but a vain and foolish confidence, if he thinks that he will fare better than one who has led another sort of life, in the world below, unless he can prove this; and you say that the demonstration of the strength and divinity of the soul, and of her existence prior to our becoming men, does not necessarily imply her immortality. Granting that the soul is longlived, and has known and done much in a former state, still she is not on that account immortal; and her entrance into the human form may be a sort of disease which is the beginning of dissolution, and may at last, after the toils of life are over, end in that which is called death. – Socrates, Phaedo by Plato


Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him, and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after the pleasures of knowledge in this life; who has adorned the soul in her own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth-in these arrayed she is ready to go on her journey to the world below, when her time comes. You, Simmias and Cebes, and all other men, will depart at some time or other. Me already, as the tragic poet would say, the voice of fate calls. Soon I must drink the poison; and I think that I had better repair to the bath first, in order that the women may not have the trouble of washing my body after I am dead.– Socrates, Phaedo by Plato


Ten thousand years must elapse before the soul of each one can return to the place from whence she came, for she cannot grow her wings in less; only the soul of a philosopher, guileless and true, or the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy, may acquire wings in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand years; he is distinguished from the ordinary good man who gains wings in three thousand years:-and they who choose this life three times in succession have wings given them, and go away at the end of three thousand years. But the others receive judgment when they have completed their first life, and after the judgment they go, some of them to the houses of correction which are under the earth, and are punished; others to some place in heaven whither they are lightly borne by justice, and there they live in a manner worthy of the life which they led here when in the form of men. And at the end of the first thousand years the good souls and also the evil souls both come to draw lots and choose their second life, and they may take any which they please. The soul of a man may pass into the life of a beast, or from the beast return again into the man.

But the soul which has never seen the truth will not pass into the human form. For a man must have intelligence of universals, and be able to proceed from the many particulars of sense to one conception of reason;-this is the recollection of those things which our soul once saw while following God-when regardless of that which we now call being she raised her head up towards the true being. And therefore the mind of the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, and rebuke him; they do not see that he is inspired. Thus far I have been speaking of the fourth and last kind of madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of earth, is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he would like to fly away, but he cannot; he is like a bird fluttering and looking upward and careless of the world below; and he is therefore thought to be mad. And I have shown this of all inspirations to be the noblest and highest and the offspring of the highest to him who has or shares in it, and that he who loves the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it. For, as has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature beheld true being; this was the condition of her passing into the form of man.

But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw. Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them; and they, when they behold here any image of that other world, are rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive. For there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty. There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness-we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining impure light, pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell. Let me linger over the memory of scenes which have passed away. – Socrates, Phaedrus by Plato


Thus great are the heavenly blessings which the friendship of a lover will confer upon you, my youth. Whereas the attachment of the non-lover, which is alloyed with a worldly prudence and has worldly and niggardly ways of doling out benefits, will breed in your soul those vulgar qualities which the populace applaud, will send you bowling round the earth during a period of nine thousand years, and leave, you a fool in the world below. – Socrates, Phaedrus by Plato


Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side, by side and to say to them, “What do you people want of one another?” they would be unable to explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said: “Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another’s company? for if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of two-I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to attain this?”-there is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love. There was a time, I say, when we were one, but now because of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed us, as the Arcadians were dispersed into villages by the Lacedaemonians. And if we are not obedient to the gods, there is a danger that we shall be split up again and go about in basso-relievo, like the profile figures having only half a nose which are sculptured on monuments, and that we shall be like tallies. -Aristophanes, Symposium by Plato


But do not know that we are going beyond the truth. Doubtless, as he is older, he may be expected to be wiser than we are. And if he could only just get his head out of the world below, he would have overthrown both of us again and again, me for talking nonsense and you for assenting to me, and have been off and underground in a trice. But as he is not within call, we must make the best use of our own faculties, such as they are, and speak out what appears to us to be true. And one thing which no one will deny is, that there are great differences in the understandings of men. – Socrates, Theaetus by Plato


And by reason of all these affections, the soul, when encased in a mortal body, now, as in the beginning, is at first without intelligence; but when the flood of growth and nutriment abates, and the courses of the soul, calming down, go their own way and become steadier as time goes on, then the several circles return to their natural form, and their revolutions are corrected, and they call the same and the other by their right names, and make the possessor of them to become a rational being. And if these combine in him with any true nurture or education, he attains the fulness and health of the perfect man, and escapes the worst disease of all; but if he neglects education he walks lame to the end of his life, and returns imperfect and good for nothing to the world below. This, however, is a later stage; at present we must treat more exactly the subject before us, which involves a preliminary enquiry into the generation of the body and its members, and as to how the soul was created-for what reason and by what providence of the gods; and holding fast to probability, we must pursue our way. -Timaeus, Timaeus by Plato


Again, when a man thinks that others are to be blamed, and not himself, for the errors which he has committed from time to time, and the many and great evils which befell him in consequence, and is always fancying himself to be exempt and innocent, he is under the idea that he is honouring his soul; whereas the very reverse is the fact, for he is really injuring her. And when, disregarding the word and approval of the legislator, he indulges in pleasure, then again he is far from honouring her; he only dishonours her, and fills her full of evil and remorse; or when he does not endure to the end the labours and fears and sorrows and pains which the legislator approves, but gives way before them, then, by yielding, he does not honour the soul, but by all such conduct he makes her to be dishonourable; nor when he thinks that life at any price is a good, does he honour her, but yet once more he dishonours her; for the soul having a notion that the world below is all evil, he yields to her, and does not resist and teach or convince her that, for aught she knows, the world of the Gods below, instead of being evil, may be the greatest of all goods. – The Laws Book 5, By Plato


When a man is doing or has done something which he desires that no one should know him to be doing or to have done, he will take the life of those who are likely to inform of such things, if he have no other means of getting rid of them. Let this be said as a prelude concerning crimes of violence in general; and I must not omit to mention a tradition which is firmly believed by many, and has been received by them from those who are learned in the mysteries: they say that such deeds will be punished in the world below, and also that when the perpetrators return to this world they will pay the natural penalty which is due to the sufferer, and end their lives in like manner by the hand of another. If he who is about to commit murder believes this, and is made by the mere prelude to dread such a penalty, there is no need to proceed with the proclamation of the law. – Athenian Stranger, Laws Book 9 by Plato


Then all things which have a soul change, and possess in themselves a principle of change, and in changing move according to law and to the order of destiny: natures which have undergone a lesser change move less and on the earth’s surface, but those which have suffered more change and have become more criminal sink into the abyss, that is to say, into Hades and other places in the world below, of which the very names terrify men, and which they picture to themselves as in a dream, both while alive and when released from the body. And whenever the soul receives more of good or evil from her own energy and the strong influence of others-when she has communion with divine virtue and becomes divine, she is carried into another and better place, which is perfect in holiness; but when she has communion with evil, then she also changes the Place of her life. – Athenian Stranger, Laws Book 10 by Plato


Now we must believe the legislator when he tells us that the soul is in all respects superior to the body, and that even in life what makes each one us to be what we are is only the soul; and that the body follows us about in the likeness of each of us, and therefore, when we are dead, the bodies of the dead are quite rightly said to be our shades or images; for the true and immortal being of each one of us which is called the soul goes on her way to other Gods, before them to give an account-which is an inspiring hope to the good, but very terrible to the bad, as the laws of our fathers tell us; and they also say that not much can be done in the way of helping a man after he is dead. But the living-he should be helped by all his kindred, that while in life he may be the holiest and justest of men, and after death may have no great sins to be punished in the world below. If this be true, a man ought not to waste his substance under the idea that all this lifeless mass of flesh which is in process of burial is connected with him; he should consider that the son, or brother, or the beloved one, whoever he may be, whom he thinks he is laying in the earth, has gone away to complete and fulfil his own destiny, and that his duty is rightly to order the present, and to spend moderately on the lifeless altar of the Gods below. – Laws Book 12 by Plato


For let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true: either from the weakness of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of these things; suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others. And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings. But to him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age:

Hope, he says, cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey;–hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.

How admirable are his words! And the great blessing of riches, I do not say to every man, but to a good man, is, that he has had no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men. Now to this peace of mind the possession of wealth greatly contributes; and therefore I say, that, setting one thing against another, of the many advantages which wealth has to give, to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest. – Cephalus, The Republic Book 1 by Plato


Still grander are the gifts of heaven which Musaeus and his son vouchsafe to the just; they take them down into the world below, where they have the saints lying on couches at a feast, everlastingly drunk, crowned with garlands; their idea seems to be that an immortality of drunkenness is the highest meed of virtue. Some extend their rewards yet further; the posterity, as they say, of the faithful and just shall survive to the third and fourth generation. This is the style in which they praise justice. But about the wicked there is another strain; they bury them in a slough in Hades, and make them carry water in a sieve; also while they are yet living they bring them to infamy, and inflict upon them the punishments which Glaucon described as the portion of the just who are reputed to be unjust; nothing else does their invention supply. Such is their manner of praising the one and censuring the other. – Adeimantus, The Republic Book 2 by Plato

Let us be consistent then, and believe both or neither. If the poets speak truly, why then we had better be unjust, and offer of the fruits of injustice; for if we are just, although we may escape the vengeance of heaven, we shall lose the gains of injustice; but, if we are unjust, we shall keep the gains, and by our sinning and praying, and praying and sinning, the gods will be propitiated, and we shall not be punished. `But there is a world below in which either we or our posterity will suffer for our unjust deeds.’ Yes, my friend, will be the reflection, but there are mysteries and atoning deities, and these have great power. That is what mighty cities declare; and the children of the gods, who were their poets and prophets, bear a like testimony. – Adeimantus, The Republic Book 2 by Plato

– Such then, I said, are our principles of theology–some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another.

-Yes; and I think that our principles are right, he said.

– But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?

-Certainly not, he said.

– And can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible?

– Impossible.

– Then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.

-That will be our duty, he said. – The Republic Book 3 by Plato


And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm of them, the less are they meet for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death.


Also we shall have to reject all the terrible and appalling names describe the world below–Cocytus and Styx, ghosts under the earth, and sapless shades, and any similar words of which the very mention causes a shudder to pass through the inmost soul of him who hears them. I do not say that these horrible stories may not have a use of some kind; but there is a danger that the nerves of our guardians may be rendered too excitable and effeminate by them.

There is a real danger, he said.

Then we must have no more of them.

True. – The Republic Book 3 by Plato


But now that we are determining what classes of subjects are or are not to be spoken of, let us see whether any have been omitted by us. The manner in which gods and demigods and heroes and the world below should be treated has been already laid down.

Very true.

And what shall we say about men? That is clearly the remaining portion of our subject.

Clearly so. – The Republic Book 3 by Plato


The institution of temples and sacrifices, and the entire service of gods, demigods, and heroes; also the ordering of the repositories of the dead, and the rites which have to be observed by him who would propitiate the inhabitants of the world below. These are matters of which we are ignorant ourselves, and as founders of a city we should be unwise in trusting them to any interpreter but our ancestral deity. He is the god who sits in the center, on the navel of the earth, and he is the interpreter of religion to all mankind. – The Republic Book 4 by Plato


Who then are those whom we shall compel to be guardians? Surely they will be the men who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the State is best administered, and who at the same time have other honours and another and a better life than that of politics?

They are the men, and I will choose them, he replied.

And now shall we consider in what way such guardians will be produced, and how they are to be brought from darkness to light,–as some are said to have ascended from the world below to the gods?

By all means, he replied.

The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better than night to the true day of being, that is, the ascent from below, which we affirm to be true philosophy?

Quite so. – The Republic Book 7 by Plato


And you would say the same of the conception of the good?

Until the person is able to abstract and define rationally the idea of good, and unless he can run the gauntlet of all objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth, never faltering at any step of the argument– unless he can do all this, you would say that he knows neither the idea of good nor any other good; he apprehends only a shadow, if anything at all, which is given by opinion and not by science;– dreaming and slumbering in this life, before he is well awake here, he arrives at the world below, and has his final quietus. – The Republic Book 7 by Plato

And here, my dear Glaucon, is the supreme peril of our human state; and therefore the utmost care should be taken. Let each one of us leave every other kind of knowledge and seek and follow one thing only, if peradventure he may be able to learn and may find some one who will make him able to learn and discern between good and evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as he has opportunity. He should consider the bearing of all these things which have been mentioned severally and collectively upon virtue; he should know what the effect of beauty is when combined with poverty or wealth in a particular soul, and what are the good and evil consequences of noble and humble birth, of private and public station, of strength and weakness, of cleverness and dullness, and of all the soul, and the operation of them when conjoined; he will then look at the nature of the soul, and from the consideration of all these qualities he will be able to determine which is the better and which is the worse; and so he will choose, giving the name of evil to the life which will make his soul more unjust, and good to the life which will make his soul more just; all else he will disregard. For we have seen and know that this is the best choice both in life and after death. A man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest, coming upon tyrannies and similar villainies, he do irremediable wrongs to others and suffer yet worse himself; but let him know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible, not only in this life but in all that which is to come. For this is the way of happiness.– Socrates, The Republic Book 10 by Plato


On Tartarus:

Listen, then, as story-tellers say, to a very pretty tale, which I dare say that you may be disposed to regard as a fable only, but which, as I believe, is a true tale, for I mean to speak the truth. Homer tells us, how Zeus and Poseidon and Pluto divided the empire which they inherited from their father. Now in the days of Cronos there existed a law respecting the destiny of man, which has always been, and still continues to be in Heaven-that he who has lived all his life in justice and holiness shall go, when he is dead, to the Islands of the Blessed, and dwell there in perfect happiness out of the reach of evil; but that he who has lived unjustly and impiously shall go to the house of vengeance and punishment, which is called Tartarus. And in the time of Cronos, and even quite lately in the reign of Zeus, the judgment was given on the very day on which the men were to die; the judges were alive, and the men were alive; and the consequence was that the judgments were not well given. – Socrates, Gorgias by Plato


The judges are awed by them, and they themselves too have their clothes on when judging; their eyes and ears and their whole bodies are interposed as a well before their own souls. All this is a hindrance to them; there are the clothes of the judges and the clothes of the judged-What is to be done? I will tell you:-In the first place, I will deprive men of the foreknowledge of death, which they possess at present: this power which they have Prometheus has already received my orders to take from them: in the second place, they shall be entirely stripped before they are judged, for they shall be judged when they are dead; and the judge too shall be naked, that is to say, dead-he with his naked soul shall pierce into the other naked souls; and they shall die suddenly and be deprived of all their kindred, and leave their brave attire strewn upon the earth-conducted in this manner, the judgment will be just. I knew all about the matter before any of you, and therefore I have made my sons judges; two from Asia, Minos and Rhadamanthus, and one from Europe, Aeacus. And these, when they are dead, shall give judgment in the meadow at the parting of the ways, whence the two roads lead, one to the Islands of the Blessed, and the other to Tartarus. – Socrates, Gorgias by Plato


As I was saying, Rhadamanthus, when he gets a soul of the bad kind, knows nothing about him, neither who he is, nor who his parents are; he knows only that he has got hold of a villain; and seeing this, he stamps him as curable or incurable, and sends him away to Tartarus, whither he goes and receives his proper recompense. – Socrates, Gorgias by Plato


Such is the nature of the whole earth, and of the things which are around the earth; and there are divers regions in the hollows on the face of the globe everywhere, some of them deeper and also wider than that which we inhabit, others deeper and with a narrower opening than ours, and some are shallower and wider; all have numerous perforations, and passages broad and narrow in the interior of the earth, connecting them with one another; and there flows into and out of them, as into basins, a vast tide of water, and huge subterranean streams of perennial rivers, and springs hot and cold, and a great fire, and great rivers of fire, and streams of liquid mud, thin or thick (like the rivers of mud in Sicily, and the lava-streams which follow them), and the regions about which they happen to flow are filled up with them. And there is a sort of swing in the interior of the earth which moves all this up and down. Now the swing is in this wise: There is a chasm which is the vastest of them all, and pierces right through the whole earth; this is that which Homer describes in the words,

Far off, where is the inmost depth beneath the earth”;

and which he in other places, and many other poets, have called Tartarus. And the swing is caused by the streams flowing into and out of this chasm, and they each have the nature of the soil through which they flow. And the reason why the streams are always flowing in and out is that the watery element has no bed or bottom, and is surging and swinging up and down, and the surrounding wind and air do the same; they follow the water up and down, hither and thither, over the earth-just as in respiring the air is always in process of inhalation and exhalation; and the wind swinging with the water in and out produces fearful and irresistible blasts: when the waters retire with a rush into the lower parts of the earth, as they are called, they flow through the earth into those regions, and fill them up as with the alternate motion of a pump, and then when they leave those regions and rush back hither, they again fill the hollows here, and when these are filled, flow through subterranean channels and find their way to their several places, forming seas, and lakes, and rivers, and springs. Thence they again enter the earth, some of them making a long circuit into many lands, others going to few places and those not distant, and again fall into Tartarus, some at a point a good deal lower than that at which they rose, and others not much lower, but all in some degree lower than the point of issue. And some burst forth again on the opposite side, and some on the same side, and some wind round the earth with one or many folds, like the coils of a serpent, and descend as far as they can, but always return and fall into the lake.

The rivers on either side can descend only to the center and no further, for to the rivers on both sides the opposite side is a precipice. Now these rivers are many, and mighty, and diverse, and there are four principal ones, of which the greatest and outermost is that called Oceanus, which flows round the earth in a circle; and in the opposite direction flows Acheron, which passes under the earth through desert places, into the Acherusian Lake: this is the lake to the shores of which the souls of the many go when they are dead, and after waiting an appointed time, which is to some a longer and to some a shorter time, they are sent back again to be born as animals. The third river rises between the two, and near the place of rising pours into a vast region of fire, and forms a lake larger than the Mediterranean Sea, boiling with water and mud; and proceeding muddy and turbid, and winding about the earth, comes, among other places, to the extremities of the Acherusian Lake, but mingles not with the waters of the lake, and after making many coils about the earth plunges into Tartarus at a deeper level. This is that Pyriphlegethon, as the stream is called, which throws up jets of fire in all sorts of places. The fourth river goes out on the opposite side, and falls first of all into a wild and savage region, which is all of a dark-blue color, like lapis lazuli; and this is that river which is called the Stygian River, and falls into and forms the Lake Styx, and after falling into the lake and receiving strange powers in the waters, passes under the earth, winding round in the opposite direction to Pyriphlegethon, and meeting in the Acherusian Lake from the opposite side. And the water of this river too mingles with no other, but flows round in a circle and falls into Tartarus over against Pyriphlegethon, and the name of this river, as the poet says, is Cocytus.

Such is the name of the other world; and when the dead arrive at the place to which the genius of each severally conveys them, first of all they have sentence passed upon them, as they have lived well and piously or not. And those who appear to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the river Acheron, and mount such conveyances as they can get, and are carried in them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil deeds, and suffer the penalty of the wrongs which they have done to others, and are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds according to their deserts. But those who appear to be incurable by reason of the greatness of their crimes-who have committed many and terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the like-such are hurled into Tartarus, which is their suitable destiny, and they never come out.

Those again who have committed crimes, which, although great, are not unpardonable-who in a moment of anger, for example, have done violence to a father or mother, and have repented for the remainder of their lives, or who have taken the life of another under like extenuating circumstances-these are plunged into Tartarus, the pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of the year the wave casts them forth-mere homicides by way of Cocytus, parricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon-and they are borne to the Acherusian Lake, and there they lift up their voices and call upon the victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them, and to receive them, and to let them come out of the river into the lake. And if they prevail, then they come forth and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into the rivers unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have wronged: for that is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges. Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer far than these, which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to tell. -Socrates, Phaedo By Plato

Posted by: religionthink | March 14, 2011

Rob Bell Is Swell: Thoughts On The “Love Wins” Scare

Rob Bell Is Swell: Thoughts On The “Love Wins” Scare

by A. D. Wayman

I used the term “Swell” for no other reason then because it rhymed. I am writing this article previous to the book “Love Wins” being released. Across the evangelical blogs the early warning alarm system is going off and everyone is running for cover. As for me, I am rereading the story of “Chicken Little” as I wait for the theological apocalypse to descend. Many evangelicals are taking sides to zip up the theological tents to protect themselves and the little ones from a rain of “New Age Universalism” they feel will pour down and flood fundamentalism with heresy. However will it be that bad? I plan on waking up tomorrow like normal, reading, and going to work. I’ll possibility stop at the store to buy a loaf of bread and a few other things I may need for the rest of the week.

Why could I care less? Because Rob Bell is a Christian philosopher and I am glad we have an individual who is thinking and asking questions. Why am I chuckling to myself about the claims of “new ground breaking ideas”? Because they are not new at all and anyone who has read the classics of ancient Near East, Greek, and Roman literature, and philosophy know these ideas are not new. As a matter of fact, each theological concept developed by the early church fathers have a “Theological Darwinism” aspect to them. To think that the version of hell we have today was started by Christ is quite absurd. Below is a sample out of the dialogues of Plato.

“Such is the name of the other world; and when the dead arrive at the place to which the genius of each severally conveys them, first of all they have sentence passed upon them, as they have lived well and piously or not. And those who appear to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the river Acheron, and mount such conveyances as they can get, and are carried in them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil deeds, and suffer the penalty of the wrongs which they have done to others, and are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds according to their deserts. But those who appear to be incurable by reason of the greatness of their crimes-who have committed many and terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the like-such are hurled into Tartarus, which is their suitable destiny, and they never come out. Those again who have committed crimes, which, although great, are not unpardonable-who in a moment of anger, for example, have done violence to a father or mother, and have repented for the remainder of their lives, or who have taken the life of another under like extenuating circumstances-these are plunged into Tartarus, the pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of the year the wave casts them forth-mere homicides by way of Cocytus, parricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon-and they are borne to the Acherusian Lake, and there they lift up their voices and call upon the victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them, and to receive them, and to let them come out of the river into the lake. And if they prevail, then they come forth and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into the rivers unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have wronged: for that is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges. Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer far than these, which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to tell. “

-Phadeo, By Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett

So here already in 360 BCE we have such concepts of the underworld as we find in New Testament themes, not exact, but built upon. And when we look in the Jewish literature at this time period we can see the influences of Greek Hellenization and Roman influence in the literature of Enoch and the New Testament. In the above translation we see the New Testament parable of the rich man in the underworld looking to the poor man for relief and comfort. Platonism and Hellenization saturates early Christian literature from Paul, through the Early church fathers, to the current day. And at each juncture the concepts and theologies and philosophies were built upon.

Another example around 60-100 A.C.E., is the excellent description of the underworld from the very cultural mixture we described. Josephus, a Hellenistic Jew, writing while being supported by Rome, wrote the text “Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades”. Below is a quote from that text, an English translation by William Whiston.

“This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe [their resurrection]. But learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when he hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that he is able to do some things, and unable to do others. We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again; for although it be dissolved, it is not perished; for the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed, and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish, and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain, but at the mighty sound of God the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in aclothed and glorious condition, though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed [with the earth]. So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body; for although it be dissolved for a time on account of the original transgression, it exists still, and is cast into the earth as into a potter’s furnace, in order to be formed again, not in order to rise again such as it was before, but in a state of purity, and so as never to he destroyed any more. And to every body shall its own soul be restored. And when it hath clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but, being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness. But as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, not freed from diseases or distempers, nor made glorious, but with the same diseases wherein they died; and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged. “

In the text above we even see Plato’s name. Josephus is building on the concept by adding his own views where he believes the Greeks err. So it is plain that throughout history such ideas were discussed and such questions were asked.

There is one more topic I would like to cover and that is the idea that only evangelicals will be in heaven. I found this quote from the blog Sola Sisters:

“So let’s look at Universalism, that is to say, the straight up, New Age, Oprah kind of Universalism that most people have at lease some understanding of:

UNIVERSALISM: ALL paths leads to God. You can be a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, whatever, and you get to God through your own path, whatever that looks like according to your faith tradition.Absolutely no Jesus necessary. (Please note that this is the main point that distinguishes Universalism from Universal Reconciliation)”-

While many preach the “Christ Only” doctrine, poor Elijah and Enoch must be sneaking about the heavenly realms so as not to disappoint those of said ideas. And while I pity those who were a part of the religion OF Jesus, before the religion ABOUT Jesus became the rule of law, those of that ABOUT crowd forget what Christ had to say when asked point blank how one might gain eternal life.

“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mar 10:17-21, KJV)

In the above reference Jesus did not quote Romans 10:9-10. I am familiar with the type of movement the Sola Sisters evolved from. I find it houmous that the same people who criticize Rob Bell as being a “Oprah king of Universalism”, have their church libraries full of  Joel Osteen self-help and inspirational material.

So what would I recommend Rob Bell do? We will end with a quote from Plato once more from the “Dialogue of Crito”, translated by Benjamin Jowett :

“Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least of all to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito.”

This, dear Crito, is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. And I know that anything more which you may say will be vain. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.”

So be well Rob Bell. It might be cold outside the tent. Some of the best philosophers slept alone on the ground.

p.s. Sorry about the formatting issues.

Posted by: religionthink | February 27, 2011

Prometheus Bound: Justice Versus Tyranny

Prometheus Bound: Justice Verses Tyranny

In the last few weeks and months the world has seen movements towards justice and liberty in the middle East. I can not say if democracy is the answer to every solution, but citizens of certain nations are making hard decisions that are causing them to be chained to the rugged mountain of injustice, due to their love for citizen and country . Those few in the ruling party who, choosing virtue over vice, justice over injustice, and choose not to obey the tyrant pay dearly as Prometheus. Some are torchered, killed, or exiled from their homes and countries for breaking ranks with the tyrant.

“Hung here in chains, nailed ‘neath the open sky. Ha! Ha!

What echo, what odour floats by with no sound?

God-wafted or mortal or mingled its strain?

Comes there one to this world’s end, this mountain-girt ground,

To have sight of my torment? Or of what is he fain?

A God ye behold in bondage and pain,

The foe of Zeus and one at feud with all

The deities that find

Submissive entry to the tyrant’s hall;

His fault, too great a love of humankind.

Ah me! Ah me! what wafture nigh at hand,

As of great birds of prey, is this I hear?

The bright air fanned

Whistles and shrills with rapid beat of wings.

There cometh nought but to my spirit brings

Horror and fear.” -Prometheus Bound By Aeschylus

Watching the speech by Libya’s Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, Qaddafi’s son, I found just how far removed the tyrant can be from his people and nation. Justice is ignored to hold the power structure. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi talked for an extend period of time shaking his finger at the camera and talking in metaphoric terminology about “rivers of blood” and “enemies of the state”. When he himself, and the ruling party was the greatest offender. At this very time I had just finished Plato’s Republic once more and realized how relevant this excellent text from the past fit into our modern culture. Below is a section on what Socrates thought the formation of a tyrant was.

“He first takes their property, and when that falls, and pleasures are beginning to swarm in the hive of his soul, then he breaks into a house, or steals the garments of some nightly wayfarer; next he proceeds to clear a temple. Meanwhile the old opinions which he had when a child, and which gave judgment about good and evil, are overthrown by those others which have just been emancipated, and are now the bodyguard of love and share his empire.

These in his democratic days, when he was still subject to the laws and to his father, were only let loose in the dreams of sleep. But now that he is under the dominion of love, he becomes always and in waking reality what he was then very rarely and in a dream only; he will commit the foulest murder, or eat forbidden food, or be guilty of any other horrid act. Love is his tyrant, and lives lordly in him and lawlessly, and being himself a king, leads him on, as a tyrant leads a State, to the performance of any reckless deed by which he can maintain himself and the rabble of his associates, whether those whom evil communications have brought in from without, or those whom he himself has allowed to break loose within him by reason of a similar evil nature in himself. Have we not here a picture of his way of life?

Yes, indeed, he said.

And if there are only a few of them in the State, the rest of the people are well disposed, they go away and become the bodyguard or mercenary soldiers of some other tyrant who may probably want them for a war; and if there is no war, they stay at home and do many little pieces of mischief in the city.

What sort of mischief?

For example, they are the thieves, burglars, cutpurses, footpads, robbers of temples, man-stealers of the community; or if they are able to speak they turn informers, and bear false witness, and take bribes.

A small catalog of evils, even if the perpetrators of them are few in number.

Yes, I said; but small and great are comparative terms, and all these things, in the misery and evil which they inflict upon a State, do not come within a thousand miles of the tyrant; when this noxious class and their followers grow numerous and become conscious of their strength, assisted by the infatuation of the people, they choose from among themselves the one who has most of the tyrant in his own soul, and him they create their tyrant.

Yes, he said, and he will be the most fit to be a tyrant.  “-The Republic by Plato Book 9.

So to those who hang in chains for the highest forms of virtue and justice, there is no higher reason to be bound. Never learn to bear tyranny but constantly play the lover of virtue, justice, and man kind. But know such pursuits are comfort-less.

“Wherefore thy long watch shall be comfort-less,

Stretched on this rock, never to close an eye

Or bend a knee; and vainly shalt thou lift,

With groanings deep and lamentable cries,

Thy voice; for Zeus is hard to be entreated,

As new-born power is ever pitiless.” -Prometheus Bound By Aeschylus

“And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved and has not perished, and will save us if we are obedient to the word spoken; and we shall pass safely over the river of Forgetfulness and our soul will not be defiled. Wherefore my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.”

-The Republic by Plato Book 10

by A. D. Wayman

Links to the texts:

Prometheus Bound By Aeschylus:

The Republic by Plato:

Posted by: religionthink | February 23, 2011

Assisting Socrates In Charmides

I was somewhat disappointed  arriving to the conclusion of Plato’s dialogue, titled Charmides, and finding that Socrates was unable to provide a concise and satisfactory definition of the virtue Temperance.  It is interesting that at times religious groups are also guilty of this oversight, failing to clearly define the principles they consider virtuous and simply leave it to the individual to decide for himself.

The apostle Paul lists a number of virtues described as the “fruits of the spirit” . However, according to early Christian theology,  a person who pursues such virtues but persists in his disbelief in the salvation of the soul through Jesus Christ does so for selfish reasons. His virtue amounts to nothing, and he is doomed to eternity in hell.  Later, more enlightened, christians amended this tenet of the church.  Non-believers were saved from the fiery pit by the creation of purgatory and limbo though still were barred from climbing the airy staircase of the highest forms of virtue.  Plato, being a philosopher, was a bit more diplomatic.  He taught that each person regardless of belief has the potential to realize the highest forms of virtue through mindful practice of said virtue.

Many of the questions put forward in the Charmides are put forward also in the texts of the Upanishads.  One example of such is on the topic of “knowing what you know and do not know.”  The following excerpt comes from the Kena Upanishad:

“If thou thinkest thou knowest It well, little indeed dost thou know the form of the Brahman. That of It which is thou, that of It which is in the gods, this thou hast to think out. I think It known. I think not that I know It well and yet I know that It is not unknown to me. He of us who knows It, knows That; he knows that It is not unknown to him. When It is known by perception that reflects It, then one has the thought of It, for one finds immortality; by the self one finds the force to attain and by the knowledge one finds immortality. If here one comes to that knowledge, then one truly is; if here one comes not to the knowledge, then great is the perdition. The wise distinguish That in all kinds of becomings and they pass forward from this world become immortal.”

The answer to Socrates’ question “What is temperance?” can also be found in the Upanishads, in the metaphoric text of the charioteer:

” ‘Know the Self to be sitting in the chariot, the body to be the chariot, the intellect the charioteer, and the mind the reins  ‘The senses they call the horses, the objects of the senses their roads. When he  is in union with the body, the senses, and the mind, then wise people call him the Enjoyer.’ ‘He who has no understanding and whose mind (the reins) is never firmly held, his senses (horses) are unmanageable, like vicious horses of a charioteer.’  ‘But he who has understanding and whose mind is always firmly held, his senses are under control, like good horses of a charioteer.’

– Katha Upanishad  3:3-5

Here is where Socrates may rest his mind on a definition of Temperance.  Any virtue, when placed as the charioteer, can lead the mind to understanding and rein in the senses. And we may be able to satisfy ourselves , for a time, naming temperance the charioteer.  Still however, I believe Socrates, being Socrates, would desire to further investigate this metaphor.   And I am more then willing to let him do so.

By A. D.  Wayman

Edited by Rachel Kopacz-Wayman

Posted by: religionthink | March 1, 2010

On Tsalmâveth Or The Death Shadow

On Tsalmâveth Or The Death Shadow

While having a discussion on the description of death and the underworld some belief systems have the concept that texts imply that death maybe the end. However other texts may imply otherwise and the Hebrew  composite noun, tsalmâveth. This appears seventeen times in the Hebrew Tanach.  At times English biblical texts translate the word as “shadow of death” rather then “death shadow”.  Below are references to where each is found.

Job_3:5; Job_10:21; Job_10:22; Job_12:22; Job_16:16; Job_24:17; Job_28:3; Job_34:22; Job_38:17; Psa_23:4; Psa_44:19; Psa_107:10; Psa_107:14; Isa_9:2; Jer_2:6; Jer_13:16; Amo_5:8

After reading thoughts on the underworld in Greek mythology, my personal views of the Hebrew word tsalmâveth has changed, below is an example of the death shade. Here we see a ritual in which the death shadows are enabled to talk to the hero Odysseus.  Also, we have a description of the death shades and their characteristics, which in some ways are comparable to what we read in the texts  above. It is also possible that these texts may have been written around the same time period for the late Hebrew themes most of the references above (see notes for Psalm 107 in the  The JPS Torah Commentary. Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia: 1989.).

“Here Perimedes and Eurylochus held the victims, while I drew my sword and dug the trench a cubit each way. I made a drink-offering to all the dead, first with honey and milk, then with wine, and thirdly with water, and I sprinkled white barley meal over the whole, praying earnestly to the poor feckless ghosts, and promising them that when I got back to Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer for them, the best I had, and would load the pyre with good things. I also particularly promised that Teiresias should have a black sheep to himself, the best in all my flocks. When I had prayed sufficiently to the dead, I cut the throats of the two sheep and let the blood run into the trench, whereon the ghosts came trooping up from Erebus- brides, young bachelors, old men worn out with toil, maids who had been crossed in love, and brave men who had been killed in battle, with their armour still smirched with blood; they came from every quarter and flitted round the trench with a strange kind of screaming sound that made me turn pale with fear. When I saw them coming I told the men to be quick and flay the carcasses of the two dead sheep and make burnt offerings of them, and at the same time to repeat prayers to Hades and to Proserpine; but I sat where I was with my sword drawn and would not let the poor feckless ghosts come near the blood till Teiresias should have answered my questions.

“The first ghost ‘that came was that of my comrade Elpenor, for he had not yet been laid beneath the earth. We had left his body unwaked and unburied in Circe’s house, for we had had too much else to do. I was very sorry for him, and cried when I saw him: ‘Elpenor,’ said I, ‘how did you come down here into this gloom and darkness? You have here on foot quicker than I have with my ship.’

“‘Sir,’ he answered with a groan, ‘it was all bad luck, and my own unspeakable drunkenness. I was lying asleep on the top of Circe’s house, and never thought of coming down again by the great staircase but fell right off the roof and broke my neck, so my soul down to the house of Hades. And now I beseech you by all those whom you have left behind you, though they are not here, by your wife, by the father who brought you up when you were a child, and by Telemachus who is the one hope of your house, do what I shall now ask you. I know that when you leave this limbo you will again hold your ship for the Aeaean island. Do not go thence leaving me unwaked and unburied behind you, or I may bring heaven’s anger upon you; but burn me with whatever armour I have, build a barrow for me on the sea shore, that may tell people in days to come what a poor unlucky fellow I was, and plant over my grave the oar I used to row with when I was yet alive and with my messmates.’ And I said, ‘My poor fellow, I will do all that you have asked of me.’

The Odyssey.  Book 11,  Translated by Samuel Butler

Below we have another example of the death shades in the under world.  We come to book 6 in the Aneid where the hero like the example above also makes a trip.  This is a lter description.  Here the relm of the dead and the description of it are more defined.

You gods, who hold the domain of spirits! You voiceless shades! You, Chaos, and you, Phlegethon, you broad, hushed tracts of night! Suffer me to tell what I have heard; suffer me of your grace to unfold secrets buried in the depths and darkness of the earth!

On they went dimly, beneath the lonely night amid the gloom, through the empty halls of Dis and his phantom realm, even as under the niggard light of a fitful moon lies a path in the forest, when Jupiter has buried the sky in shade, and black Night has stolen from the world her hues. Just before the entrance, even within the very jaws of Hell, Grief and avenging Cares have set their bed; there pale Diseases dwell, sad Age, and Fear, and Hunger, temptress to sin, and loathly Want, shapes terrible to view; and Death and Distress; next, Death’s own brother Sleep, and the soul’s Guilty Joys, and, on the threshold opposite, the death-dealing War, and the Furies’ iron cells, and maddening Strife, her snaky locks entwined with bloody ribbons.

In the midst an elm, shadowy and vast, spreads her boughs and aged arms, the whome which, men say, false Dreams hold, clinging under every leaf. And many monstrous forms besides of various beasts are stalled at the doors, Centaurs and double-shaped Scyllas, and he hundredfold Briareus, and the beast of Lerna, hissing horribly, and the Chimaera armed with flame, Gorgons and Harpies, and the shape of the three-bodied shade [Geryon]. Here on a sudden, in trembling terror, Aeneas grasps his sword, and turns the naked edge against their coming; and did not his wise companion warn him that these were but faint, bodiless lives, flitting under a hollow semblance of form, he would rush upon them and vainly cleave shadows with steel.

From here a road leads to the waters of Tartarean Acheron. Here, thick with mire and of fathomless flood, a whirlpool seethes and belches into Cocytus all its sand. A grim ferry man guards these waters and streams, terrible in his squalor – Charon, on whose chin lies a mass of unkempt hoary hair; his eyes are staring orbs of flame; his squalid garb hangs by a knot from his shoulders. Unaided, he poles the boat, tends the sails, and in his murky craft convoys the dead – now aged, but a god’s old age is hardy and green. Hither rushed all the throng, streaming to the banks; mothers and men and bodies of high-souled heroes, their life now done, boys and unwedded girls, and sons placed on the pyre before their fathers’ eyes; thick as the leaves of the forest that at autumn’s first frost drop and fall, and thick as the birds that from the seething deep flock shoreward, when the chill of the year drives them overseas and sends them into sunny lands. They stood, pleading to be the first ferried across, and stretched out hands in yearning for the farther shore. But the surly boatman takes now these, now those, while others he thrusts away, back from the brink. –

The Aeneid Book 6. Translated by H.R. Fairclough

Such readings changed the meanings and implications of the biblical texts for me personally.  Also, we can see in later Jewish texts like that of  Enoch become more and more defined.  This transition also happens in the Greek for the description of the underworld’s dead is less defined in the Iliad then in the Odyssey. Below is a description from the Iliad.

“When swift-footed godlike Achilles had stripped the corpse,
standing among Achaeans, he spoke these winged words:
“My friends, leaders and rulers of the Argives,
since gods have granted that this man be killed,
who’s done much damage, more than all the rest,
let’s test these Trojan by attacking them
with armed excursions round their city,
to see what they intend—whether they’ll leave
their lofty city now that Hector’s dead,
or stay there, still keen to fight without him.
But why’s my fond heart discussing this?
By our ships lies a dead man—unwept,
unburied—Patroclus. I’ll not forget him,
as long as I remain among the living,
as long as my dear limbs have motion.
If down in Hades men forget their dead,
even there I will remember my companion
Come, young Achaeans, sing a victory song,
as we’re returning to our hollow ships.
We’ll take the body. We’ve won great glory,
killing noble Hector—Trojans prayed to him
in their own city, as if he were a god.”
Achilles finished. Then on noble Hector’s corpse
he carried out a monstrous act”.

– Iliad  Book 22, Translation by Ian Johnston

We end this comparison of the death shade with a text from to make the point of how closely theses texts compare.  It is not certain who influenced who but the Greeks did trade in the ancient Near East which could account for the exchange:
Had I been as though I never was, Had I been carried from the womb to the grave. My days are few, so desist! Leave me alone, let me be diverted a while Before I depart — never to return — For the land of deepest gloom; A land whose light is darkness, All gloom and disarray, Whose light is like darkness.” (Job 10:19-22 NJPS)

Posted by: religionthink | March 1, 2010

How To Have A Discussion With The Jehovah’s Witnesses

A How To Have A Discussion With The Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Alford D. Wayman

When having a discussion with the witnesses or any religious group, I always implement a few ground rules with myself. Below are a few techniques that may be helpful in having discussions with the Witnesses that wake you up on Saturday morning. To start off I have at least ten basic assumptions about religious groups in general, which are listed below. After all, they already have assumptions about you!

1. Every belief system views their texts, revelations, and theology and the pure and original and that every other perceived parallel is just a distortion of the pure.

2. Each belief system sees it’s founder or founders and being divinely inspired and straight from the deities themselves.

3. Each belief system will justify the violent aspects of their religious texts and theology with the perceived divine mission.

4. Believers of all religions romanticize the history of their founding, patriarchs, and sacred literature.

5. Apostates of the belief system will maximize the perceived negative aspects of the belief system/ the believer will minimize such aspects.

6. People will always be people no matter what the belief system. How do they treat their apostates?

7. Spoken words and actions of believers is far different then what the texts relate, and what the belief system demands.

8. Within religions and belief systems, “truth” is always democratic.

9. Within belief systems there is always a double message. One message to proselytize with, and another to followers. When the media is involved there maybe a third. So deception is acceptable to a certain extent.

10. Pious acts committed by belief systems and religions may not always be for the reason given by the follows. Always ask “What’s in it for them?”

Moving back to the topic one ground rule is that I respect the views of the other party and take time to listen to their points being made. This is most helpful in having any kind of conversation. This give and take process will provide you with information on the person’s worldview and theological ideas which is useful in bringing up topics of debate and discussion.

Second, I try to be upfront about my religious views and say the words “In my opinion…” often because the last implies that what we discuss are in fact that, opinions or theological views that are currently accepted by the main stream or orthodox of the particular belief system. Also words like “It is currently thought or accepted that..” this implies that theology changed or changes over time, which is something that most of fundamentalist belief systems are not willing to accept. This word usage will possibly get the other person to do the same. If they say, “Well we believe that…” this is a good sign.

Third, give examples of texts that may not go with the theological assumptions of the theology. This is rather challenging because one needs to be well studied, not only in what the Witnesses view is, but also of Jewish and Christian literature, theology, and world mythology. Also, some basic knowledge of Hebrew and Greek may be in order and knowing the dating of texts and the political and cultural circumstances that were happening at the time. This is done to replace the theological overtones and exegesis with that of a secular view, backed by historical events with examples from archeology and texts of other belief systems of that time period.

Fourth, do not be shy in bringing up topics that maybe controversial, but try to do it tactfully. Do not be afraid to compare and contrast with other belief systems by giving examples of the same controversial issues elsewhere. This will do two things. It will put them on the defensive and also it will force them to explain how they are different or exclusive from others who have the same issues.

Fifth, Before they show up apply the “ex-spouse technique” Those of you who have been divorced know that the ex will tell everyone everything if they ask. So ask or view (on video sharing sites)an ex-member for information on how the group works and treats their members and those rejected from the community. Weed out the obvious exaggerations that ex-spouses always give to spice up the story and you have a gold mine of information.

Lastly here is part of a real conversation that I had recently to give an idea of how it might go:

JW: We gather for study in Kingdom halls, They are not sacred but just places to come together and study. Like the Jewish synagog, so to speak.

Me: Excellent the Synagog was like the glue that held the Jewish nation together while in exile because the Pharisees tried to preserve the culture and fight assimilation by their study and teachings.

JW: But the Pharisees were very legalistic for they looked down on the people.

Me: How so?

JW: They refereed to the as עם הארץ or “people of the earth”. Therefore they viewed themselves as being higher or more holy then the common people.

Me: In my opinion I do not see the term as being derogatory. They were people of the earth for they were all sons of Adam which is a word play on the word Adama which means reddish or of the earth. The divine referred to Ezekiel as the בן־אדם or “Son of man.” in Ezekiel 2:1 “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. ” Had they not been people of the earth they would have been called the “Sons of the divine beings” or בני־האלהים. They were not gods but men. The Pharisees had to hold a high standard to live as examples to prevent assimilation into the Babylonian culture. They gladly took on the Yoke of the law.

JW: But they had laws that were over burdened. One lady I knew cried one time when I visited her at a nursing home because she broke the Sabbath by opening the refrigerator. Do you feel this is just?

Me: The only view that most people get of the Pharisees, especially among Christians , is the view from the New Testament. I personally believe this view is inaccurate. Fences were applied to in front of laws so people would not brake the actual law. Theses fences could be created or removed depending on the actions of the people. You might have fences in your own belief system and may not even realize it.

JW: We no longer need the laws because it is written on our hearts. The Holy Spirit guides us in the right paths.

Me: We can see the the diversity of belief systems among Christians that this may not the case. A group of people who have the same views put together moral guidelines and theology that they consider orthodox to the belief system that they agree to follow. I believe that even you have a group of people called the “Governing Body”. Each interprets the text and uses exegesis to apply it to their lives. They create laws and doctrine for the followers. We know what happens if such things are not followed.

JW: So what do you think about 2Pe 1:20-21 For YOU know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.

ME: I can not take that as being true because of the example of Hosea. Hosea had to live an allegory so he would know how the divine felt in order to make his message more powerful to the people. Each of the prophets had different reasons for why the exile happened. If it was only one interpretation form the divine then they would all have the same view. This is not the case. Reading the various views of the prophets concerning the society tells us this. I even believe that Elijah spoke of the divine and asked for a sign when he thought he was the only prophet left. I believe that was brought on by the will of a man. Also the Urim and Thummim stones that were used to tell the divine will of future events.

JW: Do you believe the bible to be the inspired word of God?

ME: No.

JW: Why not?

ME: Because if this was the case I believe God would have done a better job at preserving it. In the New Testament we have no originals, but copies of copies of copies. Even the text on 2 Peter you read earlier is thought by most not to be written by Peter but attributed to him. Also, as you well know the inserted text thought to be in the book of John. This makes me question what was meant to be said. I do appreciate the literature and believe it plays a role in society but I do not believe it is inspired.

JW: What would it take for you to believe?

ME: I have read to much religious literature both current and past and see the influences and similarities between them all. People complain of paganism in modern belief systems but just how far are you willing to go? What do we keep and what do we toss? Canaanite deities El, Mot and Yam all show in the Hebrew language and even more embedded ideas in Christian theology. I tend not to care what people say but what they do. I look out my window. If I see it benefiting my community then it works. If it is harming my community then it will not. At times by doing nothing is just as bad as harming.

JW: In the end only two laws apply – He said to him: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40 NWT). So as long as I love my neighbor as myself and God I would be following all of the laws as it states in the text. We will not always be perfect and when we are not we try to repent.

Me: True. But what you might think is good for you might not be good for your neighbor. But I get your point. So then would the apostate or one “shunned” from you belief system count as a neighbor? Just something to think about because I have seen the videos and heard the stories. I do realize that some are exaggerations but I refuse to let that person be me. All these books behind me are from scholars and they are all commentary on the literature. I currently can not join a group and have another person telling be how a text is suppose to be read. I need the freedom to have ideas without the worry of offending orthodox. Because things in research tend to change faster then a belief system’s theology.

JW: Well it has been nice chatting!

ME: Same here. Come back anytime. But I’m going to keep reading and you keep reading and maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to make some kind of decision.

We both laugh.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalms 18: Smoke Went Up From His Nostrils

Psalms 18: Smoke Went Up From His Nostrils

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse. For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?— the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great. You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed. I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets. You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me. As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me. Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds. The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation, the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me; who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent. For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever. (Psalms 18:1-50 NRSV)

Here is one of the best examples of how one who asked for help and vindication, was in fact vindicated by Yahweh. We see here Yahweh the warrior coming down to help the devoted believer with battle. This could possibly be the result of Psalm 17, when the lamenter asked for help. Here Yahweh delivers not only from enemies, but from the depths of sheol its self.

There is no evidence that this was written by David but the above psalm is attributed to him. Psalm 18 is divided into two parts and may be outlined as follows: verses 2-4 are praise to Yahweh, 5-7 the poet describes his mortal issues, 8-10 the writer depicts Yahweh’s intervention 21-31 Yahweh’s justice is acknowledged. The second part of Psalm 18 verses 32-51 may be broken down using verses 32-35, where the writer praises Yahweh for training and a Bow, 36-44 victory over enemies, 44-46 victory over foreign people, and finally the hymn of praise and thanksgiving in verses 47-51.

Within this text there is a treasure chest full of imagery and motifs that could be presented. The writers boasting of the works of his god, the modes of warfare the god uses, the types of interments and devices of war. Much within this Psalm recalls to memory the description in Canaanite mythology, angry gods slaughtering the masses, rulers, gods using Nature and magical tools to wage war, and finally and ironically, the boasting of the Egyptian king on how the god help him destroy Israel. Below we will discuss some of these motifs and explore some comparisons in other works that may prove to be relevant.

One example that comes to mind is the account of the goddess Anat, in the Baal Epic, from Canaanite Mythology. The text portrays vivid imagery of a gory battle between the goddess and men. Reading below we get a glimpse of the battle:

The gates of Anat’s house were shut,

and the lads met the lady of the mountain.

And then Anat went to battle in the valley,

she fought between the two cities:

she killed the people of the coast,

she annihilated the men of the east.

Heads rolled under her like balls,

hands flew over her like locusts,

the warriors’ hands like swarms of grasshoppers.

She fastened the heads to her back,

she tied the hands to her belt.

She plunged knee-deep into the soldiers’ blood,

up to her thighs in the warriors’ gore;

with a staff she drove off her enemies,

with the string of her bow her opponents.

And then Anat arrived at her house,

the goddess reached her palace;

there, not satisfied with her battling in the valley,

her fighting between the two cities,

she made the chairs into warriors,( Coogan p. 90-91)

Anat is not satisfied with the gore and her rage was still not appeased. This can be compare to the above text in Psalms 18:8-15:

“ Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.”

Next we find that the writer gives thanks for being trained in war and it is implied that through Yahweh he was granted superhuman powers. In verses 29-37we read:

“ By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?— the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great. You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.”

In the Baal Epic we find that tools of war we created to help Baal fight the god of the Sea by the craftsmen Kothar-wa-Hasis, and with these tools he was able to conquer the Sea:

And Kothar-wa-Hasis replied:”Let me tell you, Prince Baal,

let me repeat, Rider on the Clouds:

behold, your enemy, Baal,

behold, you will kill your enemy,

behold, you will annihilate your foes.

You will take your eternal kingship;

your dominion forever and ever.”

Kothar brought down two clubs,

and he pronounced their names:

“As for you, your name is Driver;

Driver, drive Sea,

drive Sea from his throne,

River from the seat of his dominion.

Dance in Baal’s hands,

like a vulture from his fingers.

Strike Prince Sea on the shoulder,

Judge River between the arms.”

The club danced in Baal’s hands,

like a vulture from his fingers.

It struck Prince Sea on the shoulder,

Judge River between the arms.

Sea was strong; he did not sink;

his joints did not shake;

his frame did not collapse.

Kothar brought down two clubs,

and he pronounced their names: (Coogan p.88)
Lastly is the text that was found on what is labeled the “Israel Stela” and relates the victory of Mer-ne Ptah over the Libyans. The text is not a historical account as compare to other texts describing the same battle but is an overview of the universally victorious pharaoh in the conquering of foreign peoples. Here the Hymn brags to the god of his deeds. It is here that the only mention of the name “Israel” is found in Egyptian literature.
“The princes are prostrate, saying: “Mercy!”
Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.
Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;
Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Isiral is laid waste, his seed is not;

Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified; (
Pitchard p. 376-378)

These three texts are just a few examples of the topics and themes written in Psalm 18. Volumes more could be written in grater detail comparing such literature styles and topics. Many times such themes are overlooked because the text is taken at face value and applied to our current day situations. While the Psalm above can be used in this way and any piece of biblical literature it is at time proper to also bring to light the writing styles and historical backgrounds and environment in which the texts were written.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

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