They Got Their Ideas from Us

In my latest reading of Erwin Goodenough’s By Light, Light: The Mystic Gospel of Hellenistic Judaism, Goodenough talks about a view among Jews and Christians that pagans got some of their ideas from figures in the Hebrew Bible.

On page 292, Goodenough states, “Moses the great miracle worker is thus in the Second Century B.C. specifically identified with Hermes, Musaeus, Orpheus, and given all the most recognizable and familiar functions of Isis and Osiris as well.”

On the previous page, Goodenough discusses the work of Artapanus of Alexandria, a Jew in the second century B.C.E.  Artpapanus said that the Greeks called Moses “Musaeus”, whom Plato said was a prophet and who was believed to have been the father of priestly hymns.  According to Artapanus, Musaeus taught Orpheus, who was thought to be the father of Greek culture.  (As you can see in wikipedia’s article on Musaeus of Athens, however, there was a difference of opinion in the ancient world about what Musaeus’ relationship with Orpheus was—-if Musaeus was Orpheus’ son, teacher, or student.)

Artapanus also associated Moses with Hermes, whom the Egyptians equated with Thoth, the wisdom god and the inventor of writing.  This was because Moses taught the Egyptian priests hieroglyphics, Artapanus contends.  Artapanus also maintained that Moses was the inspiration for the Egyptian deities Isis—the inventor of sailing and a lawgiver—-and Osiris—-who “gave the Egyptians their laws and taught them the worship of the gods” (Goodenough on page 291).  According to Artapanus, Moses also inspired the Egyptians to adopt circumcision.

I would have to read Artapanus (who appears to be present in one of Eusebius’ works) to see when he believed that Moses did all of this.  Was it when Moses was a prince in Egypt, or did it also include the time when Moses was trying to deliver the Israelites, and thereafter (i.e., Sinai)?

On page 294, Goodenough refers to a widespread early Christian view that the Greco-Egyptian god Sarapis was the biblical Joseph because Joseph gave the Egyptians grain during the famine.

I’m intrigued by the notion that the gods of the pagans were real human beings who came to be exaggerated into deities.  Why did certain Jews and Christians attribute elements of pagan religion to biblical figures?  A lot of it was a matter of national pride—-to assure the Jews or those who adopted the Jews’ heritage (the Christians), who were attacked by pagans, that aspects of pagan thought actually came from the Israelites, or ancestors of the Israelites (such as Abraham).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Greco-Roman, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.