Sadly Mythtaken – On The Christian Apostles Confused For Greek Gods In The Bible

I find this kinda hilarious. The Apostles Paul & Barnabas in Lystra, Lycaonia [SW Anatolia]. What’s going on is that Paul and Barnabas have turned up in the city, healed a man … and the town has basically decided as a result of this miraculous occurrence that they’re Zeus & Hermes come in human form – as happens with some frequency in Classical mythology, particularly in association with tests of Xenia [‘sacred hospitality’].

The (Christian) Apostles are attempting frantically to convince the populace that no, no they’re not the Gods, so please don’t sacrifice that cattle, etc. – with the local Priest of Zeus pictured in the foreground engaged in dialogue, and the statue of Zeus in the background looking rather chagrined at the whole affair.

Shortly after this, the enraged mob from the city these guys had just departed in a rush from, manage to catch up with them in Lystra … and a stoning ensues.

There’s one further point of comparative interest here – in that the language spoken in this city supposedly isn’t Greek .. but rather, Lycaonian. If true, then this is an Anatolian Indo-European language – probably one of the broad swathe of Luwian descended tongues.

However, it has also been argued that as the two Apostles are being referred to with quite specifically Greek theonyms … that this may instead mean that due to the long-standing Hellenization of the area, the Lystrans are instead speaking a rather heavily localized Greek dialect.

I’m not sure how well that presumption holds – after all, as the Apostles themselves demonstrate through their preaching in Greek earlier, it is perfectly possible to have regard for a deity in a language and a cultural context other than that deity’s originally housing one.

One could also point toward the well-attested incorporation of Greek deific expressions into the local Indo-European religious spheres of Central Asia as further proof of this concept in motion.

Presuming, of course, that the encounter happened broadly as presented – rather than being tailored in some details for an audience more familiar with Classical deities than others.

Anyway, to quote from the Book of Acts:

“8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked. 11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” 18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.”

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