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Comparison of Greek Mythology and Christianity: Cultural Influences

At first glance there does not seem to be much similarity between Christianity and Greek Mythology; however, upon a more detailed examination, one finds many similarities. Cultural influences affect both Christianity and Greek Mythology and cause the similarities seen. These two religionsí origins are found in the Near East/European geographical area. Both religions arose within a similar culture, Christianity gaining popularity at the expense of Greek Mythology.

The differences that the two religions have are surface level differences. The most obvious difference deals with the number of gods. In Christianity, there is only one god: Yahweh. This God is the personal God of all the Israel people. Yahweh forbids the people to worship other gods. They are not allowed to worship a fertility god, because Yahweh IS the only Fertility God. He is also the god of war, the god of love; he is the god of everything and anything. The people are to worship only him.

This is different in Greek Mythology. There are multitudes of gods. The excepted number of Olympian Gods is 12; however, there are other gods that are worshiped within Greek Mythology.

When a new territory was gained that had a different local god, the region was allowed to still worship that god, however, the people had to acknowledge that the Greek Gods were more powerful. This idea can be seen in other religions besides Greek Mythology, like with Babylonian mythology. The idea was one that helped with tensions between the territory that was taken over and the conquering nation, like the Greeks. It allowed the Greeks to merge and blend with other cultures. Infact there seems to be evidence that this was how the original twelve Olympian Gods originated.

The reason why Christianity did not follow in the cultural path is that the role that religion played in society. For the Christians religion was something very serious, it dealt with the eternal soul and the place that the eternal soul would rest once it left this realm. They believe that a personís actions here on earth dictates where that personís soul will go. A person has control over his or her destiny by the choices he or she makes in life. They not only pray to the lord for help in life, but also for help in saving the eternal soul. People pray for to repent whatever sins they may have committed in life.

The role of religion of Greek Mythology is not like that. This role deals not with the afterlife , but rather with life on earth. The religion is also very public. When there is a prayer, it is usually done by a group of people, because they felt that the more people that the gods promised something to (and the bigger the sacrifice) the bigger the reward would be. Often times the religion was more of a status symbol for the rich and powerful. For the most part the people who were active in the religion were very wealthy and powerful, while the lay person was only concerned with local deities (mainly fertility gods).

The idea of the afterlife in each religion really affected the role that it played in society. For the Christians the afterlife was very important. They believed that the choice made on earth dictated the place that one would fill in the afterlife. If one lived a good life, believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God, that he died on the cross for oneís own sins, and one repents oneís sins, one will receives Godís glory in heaven for all eternity. However, if a person does not meet those criteria he or she is doomed to spend eternity outside of Godís light. For some, this existence also includes punishments, while for others never knowing Godís glory or being within his light is the only punishment. For Christians, the afterlife of reward is easily attainable and within reach to all.

This is not true with the Greeks. The afterlife is much different then the Christian afterlife. For the Greeks, the afterlife consisted mainly of wandering aimlessly within the underworld. A very small minority (mostly Heroes or people who have some direct connection with the Gods) are able to live in a part of the underworld known the Isle of the Blessed. This place can be compared to Heaven or Eden. It is a place of great happiness. However, very few people are able to make it there. However, the reverse side is also true, very few people are put into ďHell,Ē known to the Greeks as Tarterus. Only the worst of the Criminals, the ones the Gods are afraid of are placed here. It is in the lowest part of the Underworld.

The idea of afterlife brings up one of the similarities between Christianity and Mythology. The first obvious similarity is the idea of afterlife itís self. However, there are more similarities then that. With Christianity, there is an idea of Heaven and Hell. In the Greek tradition those ideas are called Isle of the Blessed and Tarterus respectively. Now, the way a soul is able to get to Heaven or Hell is different.

Another similarity deals with how a soul gets to hell (for Christians) or the underworld (for the Greeks). A soul must travel across a river, and Charon charters him across. From there, the souls are not able to get back across, they are stuck for eternity. What happens after that varies with each religion.

In order for the soul to get to the afterlife, he or she needs a burial for his or her body. If the person is not buried he or she is doomed to wander earth for eternity. This is true in both the Greek and Christian belief. For the Greeks, a soul is not capable of crossing the river to the underworld if he or she does not receive a burial. A sprinkling of a little earth over the body is least amount of requirement for a burial. This idea is not seen just in the Greek tradition, but in many others, including Christian, Jewish (which was the religion that the Christians split off from), and Native American to name just a few.

Besides the idea of death, the afterworld, and how to get to the afterworld, the two religions are similar in the roles that men and women are portrayed. This can show a cultural history of the people with whom the religion started.

The role that women play in the religions is one of submission. A woman must to submit to her husband, father, or older brother. She does not have many rights, and the law (and religion) treats her as property of the head of the house. The Christian Religion portrays women as crafty, cunning, devious, dangerous, and the cause of evil. The bible rarely mentions women by name, unless a woman interacts with a man. When they are, though it usually has some negative connotation with it. For instance: Eve. She is responsible for bringing evil into the world. She is the one that gave Adam the forbidden Apple. It was her fault that God exiled the couple from the Garden of Eden, forced to live . . ., and forced to die. Another example is Jezebel. She was the wife of Ahab, who was the son of Omri and a ruler of Israel. The bible says she brought trouble on the Israelites by bringing in other gods for the people to worship, namely Baal.

For the Greeks, women also brought in evil. The myth about Pandora shows this clearly. She was a gift from the Gods to Prometheusí brother, Epimetheus. The Gods designed her as a punishment to humankind for Prometheusí trickery. Pandora eventually led to the opening of a jar that contained evils. She only closes the lid to the jar after all of the evils have escaped, except one. That one was hope. The myth states that Zeus told Pandora to keep hope in. In addition, women were to blame for trouble that occurred during the Trojan War. When Agamemnon refused to give up his girl to appease her father, he angered Apollo. To make things right he gave up the girl, but took Achilleusí girl. This caused Achilleus to stop fighting, which made things bad for the Greeks.

Hera shows another example of the deceitfulness and craftiness of women, in Greek Mythology. Hera brings disaster down upon all the illegitimate children of Zeus. She does not do this in a forceful way, but chooses cunning ways to cause trouble for humans. Medea shows a third example. She causes the trouble for Jason wherever the two of them went. They are kicked out of several towns because of Medeaís tricks. Eventually she causes the Jasonís downfall.

Greek Mythology portrays women as being the homemaker and the person who raises the children. The Goddessí powers reflect that. For instance, Hestia is the Goddess of the hearth and home. Hera is the Goddess of marriage. Demeter is the Goddess of grain or rather fertility of the soil. Aphrodite is Goddess of Love. There are causes where this is not true, like with Artemis, who is the Goddess of Hunting.

The role of men differs from women, in that they are to be strong, brave, leaders, and the ones who support the family. In Christianity, the leaders who God chooses are all males. God does not choose any females to rule. He also does not choose to give his covenant to any females. The Old Testament shows men as brave, strong and wise. They seem to know exactly what to do. They are the masters of their house. God also places a different value on female slaves compared to male slaves. Female slaves usually become concubines or sex slaves, where as the men become fighters or laborers.

Greek Mythology also portrays this idea. When Greek heroes (all of them male) fight a monster (usually female) he usually brings home a female as a war prize. The Iliad shows this quite clearly. When Achilleus captured a near by town of troy the men were killed and the women were taken as slaves. The Greeks then divided the women up the same as they divided the gold, and other property.

The leaders or rulers in Greek Mythology were all male. Zeus was the ruler of the Stars. He was the one that supposedly ruled over all of the gods. He beat his wife and children when they got out of line. Zeus used force to control those around him. Poseidon ruled the Oceans, while Hades ruled the Underworld. In Myth, the rulers of the kingdoms were male. The leader of the Greek army at Troy was Agamemnon. The leader of the Trojan side was Priam.

All of these similarities, especially the similarities with the role of men and women show a probably cultural influence. The fact that both religions originated in the same region where a culture was already present makes this suggestion more probably. The Greeks and the Christians lived in a patriarchal society that is, they lived in a male dominated society. The portrayals of women as evil or monsters probably signify that men do not quit know how to relate to women. Men are trying to conquer something they do not quit understand.

Besides cultural influence, the similarities could be caused from a way of solving similar problems or a way of expressing similar fears. When one looks at what caused the fears or way in which the problem was solved one finds that culture had an influence in it. This would support the idea that culture influences religion.

The differences in the religions probably deal with the culture trying to solve different problems. Since the two religions originated at different times, each would have to solve different problems. The way the problems were resolved affected the religion. Christianity and Greek Mythology have many similarities, which are due to cultural influences. The differences seen between them are because the religion arose in different times and so in a slightly different culture.




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