Anthropomorphism in Hellenism and in Judaism -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 127:507 (Jul 1970)
Article: Anthropomorphism in Hellenism and in Judaism
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Anthropomorphism in Hellenism and in Judaism

Edwin M. Yamauchi

[Edwin M. Yamauchi, Associated Professor of History, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.]

In a previous article, “Anthropomorphism in Ancient Religions,” Bibliotheca Sacra, CXXV (January-March, 1968), 29–44, the writer discussed the anthropomorphic concepts of ancient pagan religions in comparison with the anthropomorphic expressions of the Old Testament.

In Mesopotamia, for example, the gods as embodied in images were treated as human kings. “From a Neo-Assyrian letter we learn that the image of Nabu went into the game park to hunt, which demonstrates charmingly how the life of the image in Assyria was patterned after that of the king.”1 In Egypt the idol of the god, who had supposedly slept during the night, would be aroused by the priests in the morning.2

The Canaanite gods were quite unabashedly and crudely anthropomorphic. “Their gods were like the Greek gods, glorified human beings, contentious, jealous, vindictive, lustful, and even, like El, lazy.”3 Like the Mesopotamian gods in the Babylonian story of the Flood, the Hittite gods were thought to be dependent upon the sacrifices offered by humans for their sustenance. “In Fragment d Ea blames Kumarbi for his evil conduct. If he is going to annihilate mankind, there will remain nobody to feed the gods with offerings.”4

Similar anthropomorphic concepts may be found in the ancient and also the current religion of Hinduism: “The gods of the Hindu pantheon are, more or less, magnified humans. They have their moods and lapses; they often lose their temper, suffer hunger and thirst and have sexual desires; having no gross bodies they are less exposed to the danger of sudden decay and premature death than human beings.…”5

Hellenistic Reactions against Anthropomorphisms

The Homeric pantheon of Greece is probably the best known example of pagan anthropomorphic deities.6 Already in the Archaic Period some Greek writers were troubled by some of the traits of the Olympian gods. Hesiod (eighth-seventh cent. B.C.) could not believe that Prometheus could have fooled Zeus. He held that Zeus had only pretended to be deceived. Pindar (sixth cent. B.C.) rationalized the story of Pelops’ ivory shoulder. The ancient myth related how Tantalus, the father of Pelops, had impiously served his son up as a meal to t...

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