Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel). Tr. E.H. Gifford (1903) -- Book 1
I. What the treatise on the Gospel promises p 1 a
II. The charges usually brought against us by those who try to slander our doctrines p 4 d
III. That we did not adopt the sentiments of the word of salvation without inquiry p 6 b
IV. Our adoption of belief in the greatest blessings is not uncritical as to time p 9 d
V. We did not forsake the superstitious errors of our fathers without sound reason p 14 b
VI. Primitive theology of Phoenicians and Egyptians p 17 b
VII. Character of the cosmogony of the Greeks p 19 a
VIII. Philosophers' opinions concerning the system of the universe p 22 b
IX. The ancients worshipped no other gods than the celestial luminaries, knowing nothing of the God of the universe, nor even of the erection of carved images, nor of daemons p 27 b
The stories about the gods among other nations are of later introduction p 30 d
X. Theology of the Phoenicians p 33 b
By the present treatise, which includes in its design the Demonstration of the Gospel, I purpose to show the nature of Christianity to those who know not what it means; and here with prayers I dedicate this work to thee, Theodotus, most excellent of Bishops, a man beloved of God and holy, in the hope of so gaining from thee the help of thy devout intercessions on my behalf, whereby thou mayest give me great assistance in my proposed argument on the teaching of the Gospel. But first of all, it is well to define clearly what this word 'Gospel' means to express. It is this then that brings 'good tidings' to all men of the advent of the highest and greatest blessings, which having been long since foretold have recently shone forth on all mankind—a Gospel which makes not provision for undiscerning wealth, nor for this petty and much-suffering life, nor for anything belonging to the body and corruption, but for the blessings which are dear and congenial to souls possessing an intelligent nature, and on which the interests of their bodies also depend, and follow them like a shadow.
Now the chief of these blessings must be religion, not that which is falsely so called and full of error, but that which makes a true claim to the title; and this consists in the looking up to Him, who in very truth is both acknowledged to be, and is, the One and Only God; and in the kindling of the life after God, wherein friendship also with Him is engendered; and this is followed by that thrice-blessed end of God's true favour, which coming from on high is dependent upon that better world, and is thereto directed, and terminates again therein.
What then can be more blessed than this excellent and all-happy friendship with God? Is not He both the dispenser and provider to all men of life and light and truth and all things good? Does He not contain in Himself the cause of the being and the life of all things? To one then who has secured friendship with Him what more can be wanting? What can he lack, who has made the Creator of all true blessings his friend? Or who can be superior to him who claims in the place of a father and a guardian the great President and absolute Monarch of the universe?
Nay, it is not possible to mention anything in which he who draws near in disposition to God the absolute Monarch, and through his intelligent piety has been deemed worthy of His all-blessed friendship, can fail to be happy alike in soul and body and all outward things.
It is then this good and saving friendship of men with God that the Word of God sent down from above, like a ray of infinite light, from the God of all goodness proclaims as good tidings to all men; and urges them to come not from this or that place but from every part out of all nations to the God of the universe, and to hasten and accept the gift with all eagerness of soul, Greeks and Barbarians together, men, women, and children, both rich and poor, wise and simple, not deeming even slaves unworthy of His call.
For indeed their Father, having constituted them all of one essence and nature, rightly admitted them all to share in His one equal bounty, bestowing the knowledge of Himself and friendship with Him upon all who were willing to hearken, and who readily welcomed His grace.
This friendship with His Father Christ's word came to preach to the whole world: for, as the divine oracles teach,
'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,' and 'He came,' they say, 'and preached peace to them that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh.'
These things the sons of the Hebrews were long ago inspired to prophesy to the whole world, one crying,
'All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the LORD, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Him: for the kingdom is the LORD'S, and He is the ruler over the nations'; and again, 'Tell it out among the heathen that the LORD is king, for He hath also stablished the world, which shall not be moved'; and another saith, 'The LORD will appear among them, and will utterly destroy all the gods of the nations of the earth, and men shall worship Him, every one from his place.'
These promises, having been long ago laid up in divine oracles, have now shone forth upon our own age through the teaching of our Saviour Jesus Christ; so that the knowledge of God among all nations, which was both proclaimed of old and looked for by those who were not ignorant of these matters, is duly preached to us by the Word, who has lately come from heaven, and shows that the actual fulfilment corresponds with the voices of the men of old.
But why should we hasten on to anticipate in our eagerness the due order of intermediate arguments, when we ought to take up the subject from the beginning, and clear away all the objections? For some have supposed that Christianity has no reason to support it, but that those who desire the name confirm their opinion by an unreasoning faith and an assent without examination; and they assert that no one is able by clear demonstration to furnish evidence of the truth of the things promised, but that they require their converts to adhere to faith only, and therefore they are called 'the Faithful,' because of their uncritical and untested faith. With good reason therefore, in setting myself down to this treatise on the Demonstration of the Gospel, I think that I ought, as a preparation for the whole subject, to give brief explanations beforehand concerning the questions which may reasonably be put to us both by Greeks and by those of the Circumcision, and by every one who searches with exact inquiry into the opinions held among us.
For in this way I think my argument will proceed in due order to the more perfect teaching of the Demonstration of the Gospel, and to the understanding of our deeper doctrines, if my preparatory treatise should help as a guide, by occupying the place of elementary instruction and introduction, and suiting itself to our recent converts from among the heathen. But to those who have passed beyond this, and are already in a state prepared for the reception of the higher truths, the subsequent part will convey the exact knowledge of the most stringent proofs of God's mysterious dispensation in regard to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Let us then begin the Preparation by bringing forward the arguments which will probably be used against us both by Greeks and by those of the Circumcision, and by every one who searches with exact inquiry into the opinions held among us.
For in the first place any one might naturally want to know who we are that have come forward to write. Are we Greeks or Barbarians? Or what can there be intermediate to these? and what do we claim to be, not in regard to the name, because this is manifest to all, but in the manner and purpose of our life? For they would see that we agree neither with the opinions of the Greeks, nor with the customs of the Barbarians.
What then may the strangeness in us be, and what the new-fangled manner of our life? And how can men fail to be in every way impious and atheistical, who have apostatized from those ancestral gods by whom every nation and every state is sustained? Or what good can they reasonably hope for, who have set themselves at enmity and at war against their preservers, and have thrust away their benefactors? For what else are they doing than fighting against the gods?
And what forgiveness shall they be thought to deserve, who have turned away from those who from the earliest time, among all Greeks and Barbarians, both in cities and in the country, are recognized as gods with all kinds of sacrifices, and initiations, and mysteries by all alike, kings law-givers and philosophers, and have chosen all that is impious and atheistical among the doctrines of men? And to what kind of punishments would they not justly be subjected, who deserting the customs of their forefathers have become zealots for the foreign mythologies of the Jews, which are of evil report among all men?
And must it not be a proof of extreme wickedness and levity lightly to put aside the customs of their own kindred, and choose with unreasoning and unquestioning faith the doctrines of the impious enemies of all nations? Nay, not even to adhere to the God who is honoured among the Jews according to their customary rites, but to cut out for themselves a new kind of track in a pathless desert, that keeps neither the ways of the Greeks nor those of the Jews?
These then are questions which any Greek might naturally put to us, having no true understanding either of his own religion or of ours. But sons of the Hebrews also would find fault with us, that being strangers and aliens we misuse their books, which do not belong to us at all, and because in an impudent and shameless way, as they would say, we thrust ourselves in, and try violently to thrust out the true family and kindred from their own ancestral rights.
For if there was a Christ divinely foretold, they were Jewish prophets who proclaimed His advent, and also announced that He would come as Redeemer and King of the Jews, and not of alien nations: or, if the Scriptures contain any more joyful tidings, it is to Jews, they say, that these also are announced, and we do not well to misunderstand them.
Moreover they say that we very absurdly welcome with the greatest eagerness the charges against their nation for the sins they committed, but on the other hand pass over in silence the promises of good things foretold to them; or rather, that we violently pervert and transfer them to ourselves, and so plainly defraud them while we are simply deceiving ourselves. But the most unreasonable thing of all is, that though we do not observe the customs of their Law as they do, but openly break the Law, we assume to ourselves the better rewards which have been promised to those who keep the Law.
These being questions which would naturally be the first put to us, let us, after invoking the God of the universe through our Saviour, His own Word, as our High Priest, proceed to clear away the first of the objections put forward, by proving at the outset that they were false accusers who declared that we can establish nothing by demonstration, but hold to an unreasoning faith.
This then we will disprove at once, and with no long argument, both from the proofs which we employ towards those who come for instruction in our doctrines, and from our replies to those who oppose us in more argumentative discussions, and by the debates, whether written or unwritten, which we are zealous in holding both privately with each inquirer, and publicly with the multitudes; and especially by the books which we have in hand, comprising the general treatment of the Demonstration of the Gospel, in which is included our present discourse proclaiming to all men the good tidings of all the grace of God and His heavenly blessing, and accrediting in a more logical way by very many manifest proofs the dispensation of God concerning our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is true that most of those before us have diligently pursued many other modes of treatment, at one time by composing refutations and contradictions of the arguments opposed to us, at another time by interpreting p. the inspired and sacred Scriptures by exegetical commentaries, and homilies on particular points, or again by advocating our doctrines in a more controversial manner. The purpose, however, which we have in hand is to be worked out in a way of our own. The very first indeed to deprecate deceitful and sophistical plausibilities, and to use proofs free from ambiguity, was the holy Apostle Paul, who says in one place, 'And our speech and our preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.' To which he adds: 'Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect; yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world that come to nought; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden.' And again: 'Our sufficiency,' he says, 'is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant.'
Rightly then is the exhortation addressed to all of us, 'to be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason concerning the hope that is in us.'
Hence, by recent authors also, there are, as I have said, demonstrations without number, which we may carefully read, very able and clear, written in argumentative form in defence of our doctrine, and not a few commentaries carefully made upon the sacred and inspired Scriptures, showing by mathematical demonstrations the unerring truthfulness of those who from the beginning preached to us the word of godliness.
Nevertheless all words are superfluous, when the works are more manifest and plain than words,—works which the divine and heavenly power of our Saviour distinctly exhibits even now, while preaching good tidings of the divine and heavenly life to all men.
For instance, when He prophesied that His doctrine should be preached throughout the whole world inhabited by man for a testimony to all nations, and by divine foreknowledge declared that the Church, which was afterwards gathered by His own power out of all nations, though not yet seen nor established in the times when He was living as man among men, should be invincible and undismayed, and should never be conquered by death, but stands and abides unshaken, settled, and rooted upon His own power as upon a rock that cannot be shaken or broken—the fulfilment of the prophecy must in reason be more powerful than any word to stop every gaping mouth of those who are prepared to exhibit a shameless effrontery.
For who would not acknowledge the truth of the prophecy, when the facts so manifestly all but cry out and say, that it was indeed the power of God, and not human nature, which before these things came to pass foresaw that they should happen in this way, and foretold them, and in deeds fulfilled them?
Certainly the fame of His Gospel has filled the whole world on which the sun looks down; and the proclamations concerning Him ran through all nations, and are now still increasing and advancing in a manner corresponding to His own words.
The Church also which He foretold by name stands strongly rooted, and lifted up as high as the vaults of heaven by prayers of holy men beloved of God, and day by day is glorified, flashing forth unto all men the intellectual and divine light of the religion announced by Him, and is in no way vanquished or subjected by His enemies, nay, yields not even to the gates of death, because of that one speech uttered by Himself, saying: 'Upon the rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'
There are also countless other sayings and prophecies of our Saviour, by collecting which in a special work, and showing that the actual events agree with His divine foreknowledge, we prove beyond all question the truth of our opinions concerning Him.
And in addition to all this, there is no small proof of the truth which we hold in the testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures, in which so vast a number of years beforehand the Hebrew prophets proclaimed the promise of blessings to all mortal life, and mentioned expressly the name of the Christ, and foretold His advent among men, and announced the novel manner of His teaching, which in its course has reached unto all nations. They predicted also the future unbelief in Him, and the gainsaying of the Jewish nation, and the deeds they wrought against Him, and the dismal fate which thereupon immediately and without delay overtook them: I mean the final siege of their royal metropolis, and the entire overthrow of the kingdom, and their own dispersion among all nations, and their bondage in the land of their enemies and adversaries, things which they are seen to have suffered after our Saviour's advent in accordance with the prophecies.
In addition to this, who can fail to be astonished at hearing the same prophets preach in clear and transparent language, that the advent of Christ and the falling away of the Jews would be followed by the call of the Gentiles? Which call itself also straightway became a fact in accordance with the prophecies, through the teaching of our Saviour.
For through Him multitudes from every race of mankind turned away from the delusion of idols, and embraced the true knowledge and worship of Him who is God over all, wellnigh ratifying the oracles of men of old, and especially that one which by Jeremy the prophet said 'O Lord my God, unto Thee shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Our fathers inherited false idols, and there was no profit in them. Shall a man make unto himself gods, which yet are no gods?'
All these circumstances then confirm the story of the facts of our religion, and show that it was not contrived from any human impulse, but divinely foreknown, and divinely announced beforehand by the written oracles, and yet far more divinely proffered to all men by our Saviour; afterwards also it received power from God, and was so established, that after these many years of persecution both by the invisible daemons and by the visible rulers of each age it shines forth far more brightly, and daily becomes more conspicuous, and grows and multiplies more and more. Thus it is plain that the help which comes down from the God of the universe supplies to the teaching and name of our Saviour its irresistible and invincible force, and its victorious power against its enemies.
Also the help thence gained towards a happy life for all men, not only from His express words, but also from a secret power, was surely an indication of His divine power: for it must have been of a divine and secret power, that straightway at His word, and with the doctrine which He put forth concerning the sole sovereignty of the One God who is over all, at once the human race was set free from the delusive working of daemons, at once also from the multitude of rulers among the nations.
In fact, whereas of old in each nation numberless kings and local governors held power, and in different cities some were governed by a democracy, and some by tyrants, and some by a multitude of rulers, and hence wars of all kinds naturally arose, nations clashing against nations, and constantly rising up against their neighbours, ravaging and being ravaged, and making war in their sieges one against another, so that from these causes the whole population, both of dwellers in the cities, and labourers in the fields, from mere childhood were taught warlike exercises, and always wore swords both in the highways and in villages and fields,—when God's Christ was come all this was changed. For concerning Him it had been proclaimed of old by the prophets, 'In his days shall righteousness flourish, and abundance of peace,' and 'they shall beat their swords into plow-shares and their spears into pruning-hooks; and nation shall not take sword against nation, and they shall not learn war any more.'
In accordance with these predictions the actual events followed. Immediately all the multitude of rulers among the Romans began to be abolished, when Augustus became sole ruler at the time of our Saviour's appearance. And from that time to the present you cannot see, as before, cities at war with cities, nor nation fighting with nation, nor life being worn away in the old confusion.
Surely there is good cause, when one considers it, to wonder why of old, when the daemons tyrannized over all the nations, and men paid them much worship, they were goaded by the gods themselves into furious wars against each other—so that now Greeks were at war with Greeks, and now Egyptians with Egyptians, and Syrians with Syrians, and Romans with Romans, and made slaves of each other and wore each other out with sieges, as in fact the histories of the ancients on these matters show—but that at the same time with our Saviour's most religious [and peaceful] teaching the destruction of polytheistic error began to be accomplished, and the dissensions of the nations at once to find rest from former troubles? This especially I consider to be a very great proof of the divine and irresistible power of our Saviour.
And of the benefit which visibly proceeds from His doctrines you may see a clear proof, if you consider, that at no other time from the beginning until now, nor by any of the illustrious men of old, but only from His utterances, and from His teaching diffused throughout the whole world, the customs of all nations are now set aright, even those customs which before were savage and barbarous; so that Persians who have become His disciples no longer marry their mothers, nor Scythians feed on human flesh, because of Christ's word which has come even unto them, nor other races of Barbarians have incestuous union with daughters and sisters, nor do men madly lust after men and pursue unnatural pleasures, nor do those, whose practice it formerly was, now expose their dead kindred to dogs and birds, nor, strangle the aged, as they did formerly, nor do they feast according to their ancient custom on the flesh of their dearest friends when dead, nor like the ancients offer human sacrifices to the daemons as to gods, nor slaughter their dearest friends, and think it piety.
For these and numberless things akin to these were what of old made havoc of human life.
'It is recorded, for instance, in history that the Massagetae and Derbices deemed those of their kindred who died a natural death most miserable, and for this reason hastened to sacrifice and to feast upon the aged among their dearest friends. The Tibareni used to throw their old kinsmen alive down a precipice; and the Hyrcanians and Caspians threw them out to birds and dogs, the former while alive, and the latter when dead. But the Scythians used to bury them alive, and to slaughter over their funeral pyres those who were most dear to the deceased. The Bactrians also used to cast those who had grown old alive to the dogs.' 1
These however were customs of a former age, and are now no longer practised in the same manner, the salutary law of the power of the Gospel having alone abolished the savage and inhuman pest of all these evils.
Then there is the fact that men no longer regard as gods either the lifeless and dumb images, or the evil daemons operating in them, or the parts of the visible world, or the souls of mortals long since departed, or the most hurtful of irrational animals; but instead of all these, solely through the teaching of our Saviour in the Gospel, Greeks and Barbarians together, who sincerely and unfeignedly adhere to His word, have reached such a point of high philosophy, as to worship and praise and acknowledge as divine none but the Most High God, the very same who is above the universe, the absolute monarch and Lord of heaven and earth, and sun and stars, Creator also of the whole world. They have also learned to live a strict life, so as to be guided even in looking with their eyes, and to conceive no licentious thought from a lustful look, but to cut away the very roots of every base passion from the mind itself.
Must not then all these things help all men towards a virtuous and happy life?
What also of the fact that men, far from perjuring themselves, have no need even of a truthful oath because of learning from Him to 'swear not at all,' but in all things to be guileless and true, so as to be satisfied with 'yea' and 'nay,' making their purpose to be stronger than any oath? 2 And then the fact that even in simple sayings and common conversation they are not indifferent, but carefully measure their words even in these, so as to utter by their voice no lie, nor railing, nor any foul and unseemly word, because again of His admonition, wherein He said, 'for every idle word ye shall give account in the day of judgement'—to what a high degree of philosophic life do these things pertain? 3
Add to this that whole myriads in crowds together of men, women, and children, slaves and free, obscure and illustrious, Barbarians and Greeks alike, in every place and city and district in all nations under the sun, flock to the teaching of such lessons as we have lately learned, and lend their ears to words which persuade them to control not only licentious actions, but also foul thoughts of gluttony and wantonness in the mind: and that all mankind is trained in a divine and godly discipline, and learns to bear with a noble and lofty spirit the insults of those who rise up against them, and not to repay the wicked with like treatment, but to get the mastery over anger and wrath and every furious emotion, and moreover to share their possessions with the helpless and needy, and welcome every man as of the same race, and to acknowledge the stranger, commonly so reputed, as being by the law of nature a close kinsman and a brother.
How then could any one, taking all these things together, refuse to admit that our doctrine has brought to all men good tidings of very great and true blessings, and has supplied to human life that which is of immediate advantage towards happiness? For what thinkest thou of the fact that it induced the whole human race, not only Greeks, but also the most savage Barbarians and those who dwell in the utmost parts of the earth, to refrain from their irrational brutality and adopt the opinions of a wise philosophy? As, for example, the opinions concerning the immortality of the soul, and of the life laid up with God for His beloved after their departure hence, for the sake of which they studied to despise this temporary life; so that they showed those who were at any former time renowned for philosophy to be but children, and that death that was so much talked of and celebrated in the mouth of all philosophers to be a mere trifle; since, among us, females and young children, and barbarians and men apparently of little worth, by the power and help of our Saviour have shown by deeds rather than by words that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is true. Such also as is the fact, that all men universally in all nations are trained by our Saviour's teachings to sound and steadfast thoughts concerning God's providence as overseeing the whole world; and the fact that every soul learns the doctrine concerning the tribunal and judgement of God, and lives a thoughtful life, and keeps on guard against the practices of wickedness.
But to understand the sum of the first and greatest benefit of the word of salvation, you must take into consideration the superstitious delusion of the ancient idolatry, whereby the whole human race in times long past was ground down by the constraint of daemons: but from that most gloomy darkness, as it were, the word by its divine power delivered both Greeks and Barbarians alike, and translated them all into the bright intellectual daylight of the true worship of God the universal King.
But why need I spend time in endeavouring to show that we have not devoted ourselves to an unreasoning faith, but to wise and profitable doctrines which contain the way of true religion? As the present work is to be a complete treatise on this very subject, we exhort and beseech those who are fitly qualified to follow demonstrative arguments, that they give heed to sound sense, and receive the proofs of our doctrines more reasonably, and 'be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh us the reason of the hope that is in us.' 4
But since all are not so qualified, and the word is kind and benevolent, and rejects no one at all, but heals every man by remedies suitable to him, and invites the unlearned and simple to the amendment of their ways, naturally in the introductory teaching of those who are beginning with the simpler elements, women and children and the common herd, we lead them on gently to the religious life, and adopt the sound faith to serve as a remedy, and instil into them right opinions of God's providence, and the immortality of the soul, and the life of virtue.
Is it not in this way that we also see men scientifically curing those who are suffering from bodily diseases, the physicians themselves having by much practice and education acquired the doctrines of the healing art, and conducting all their operations according to reason, while those who come to them to be cured give themselves up to faith and the hope of better health, though they understand not accurately any of the scientific theories, but depend only on their good hope and faith?
And when the best of the physicians has come upon the scene, he prescribes with full knowledge both what must be avoided and what must be done, just like a ruler and master; and the patient obeys him as a king and lawgiver, believing that what has been prescribed will be beneficial to him.
Thus scholars also accept the words of instruction from their teachers, because they believe that the lesson will be good for them: philosophy, moreover, a man would not touch before he is persuaded that the profession of it will be useful to him: and so one man straightway chooses the doctrines of Epicurus, and another emulates the Cynic mode of life, another follows the philosophy of Plato, another that of Aristotle, and yet another prefers the Stoic philosophy to all, each of them having embraced his opinion with a better hope and faith that it will be beneficial to him.
Thus also men pursue the ordinary professions, and some adopt the military and others the mercantile life, having: assumed again by faith that the pursuit will supply them with a living. In marriages also the first approaches and unions formed in the hope of begetting children had their beginnings from a good faith.
Again, a man sails forth on an uncertain voyage, without having cast out any other anchor of safety for himself than faith and good hope alone: and, again, another takes to husbandry, and after casting his seed into the earth sits waiting for the turn of the season, believing that what decayed upon the ground, and was hidden by floods of rains, will spring up again as it were from the dead to life: and, again, any one setting out from his own land on a long journey in a foreign country takes with him as good guides his hope and his faith.
And when you cannot but perceive that man's whole life depends on these two things—hope and faith—why do you wonder if also the things that are better for the soul are imparted by faith to some, who have not leisure to be taught the particulars in a more logical way, while others have opportunity to pursue the actual arguments, and to learn the proofs of the doctrines advocated? But now that we have made this short introduction, which will not be without advantage, let us go back to the first indictment, and give an answer to those who inquire who we are and whence we come. Well then, that being Greeks by race, and Greeks by sentiment, and gathered out of all sorts of nations, like the chosen men of a newly enlisted army, we have become deserters from the superstition of our ancestors,—this even we ourselves should never deny. But also that, though adhering to the Jewish books and collecting out of their prophecies the greater part of our doctrine, we no longer think it agreeable to live in like manner with those of the Circumcision,—this too we should at once acknowledge.
It is time, therefore, to submit our explanation of these matters. In what other way then can it appear that we have done well in forsaking the customs of our forefathers, except by first setting them forth publicly and bringing them under the view of our readers? For in this way the divine power of the demonstration of the Gospel will become manifest, if it be plainly shown to all men what are the evils that it promises to cure, and of what kind they are. And how can the reasonableness of our pursuing the study of the Jewish Scriptures appear, unless their excellence also be proved? It will be right also to state fully for what reason, though gladly accepting their Scriptures, we decline to follow their mode of life: and, in conclusion, to state what is our own account of the Gospel argument, and what Christianity should properly be called, since it is neither Hellenism nor Judaism, but a new and true kind of divine philosophy, bringing evidence of its novelty from its very name.
First of all then let us carefully survey the most ancient theologies, and especially those of our own forefathers, celebrated even till now in every city, and the solemn decisions of noble philosophers concerning the constitution of the world and concerning the gods, that we may learn whether we did right or not in departing from them.
And in the clear statement of what is to be proved I shall not set down my own words, but those of the very persons who have taken the deepest interest in the worship of those whom they call gods, that so the argument may stand clear of all suspicion of being invented by us.
It is reported then that Phoenicians and Egyptians were the first of all mankind to declare the sun and moon and stars to be gods, and to be the sole causes of both the generation and decay of the universe, and that they afterwards introduced into common life the deifications and theogonies which are matters of general notoriety.
Before these, it is said, no one made any progress in the knowledge of the celestial phenomena, except the few men mentioned among the Hebrews, who with clearest mental eyes looked beyond all the visible world, and worshipped the Maker and Creator of the universe, marvelling much at the greatness of His wisdom and power, which they represented to themselves from His works; and being persuaded that He alone was God, they naturally spake only of Him as God, son from father successively receiving and guarding this as the true, the first, and the only religion. The rest of mankind, however, having fallen away from this only true religion, and gazing in awe upon the luminaries of heaven with eyes of flesh, as mere children in mind, proclaimed them gods, and honoured them with sacrifices and acts of worship, though as yet they built no temples, nor formed likenesses of mortal men with statues and carved images, but looked up to the clear sky and to heaven itself, and in their souls reached up unto the things there seen.
Not here, however, did polytheistic error stay its course for men of later generations, but driving on into an abyss of evils wrought even greater impiety than the denial of God, the Phoenicians and then the Egyptians being the first authors of the delusion. For from them, it is said, Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, first brought over with him the mysteries of the Egyptians, and imparted them to the Greeks; just, in fact, as Cadmus brought to them the Phoenician mysteries together with the knowledge of letters: for the Greeks up to that time did not yet know the use of the alphabet.
First, therefore, let us inquire how those of whom we are speaking have judged concerning the first creation of the world; then consider their opinions about the first and most ancient superstition found in human life; and, thirdly, the opinions of the Phoenicians; fourthly, those of the Egyptians; after which, fifthly, making a distinction in the opinions of the Greeks, we will first examine their ancient and more mythical delusion, and then their more serious and, as they say, more natural philosophy concerning the gods: and after this we will travel over the account of their admired oracles; after which we will also take a survey of the serious doctrines of the noble philosophy of the Greeks. So, when these have been thoroughly discussed, we will pass over to the doctrines of the Hebrews—I mean of the original and true Hebrews, and of those who afterwards received the name Jews. And after all these we will add our own doctrines as it were a seal set upon the whole. The history of all these we must necessarily recall, that so by comparison of the doctrines which have been admired in each country the test of the truth may be exhibited, and it may become manifest to our readers from what opinions we have departed, and what that truth is which we have chosen. But now let us pass to the first point.
From what source then shall we verify our proofs? Not, of course, from our own Scriptures, lest we should seem to show favour to our argument: but let Greeks themselves appear as our witnesses, both those of them who boast of their philosophy, and those who have investigated the history of other nations.
Well then, in recording the ancient theology of the Egyptians from the beginning, Diodorus, the Sicilian, leads the way, a man thoroughly known to the most learned of the Greeks as having collected the whole Library of History into one treatise. From him I will set forth first what he has clearly stated in the beginning of his work concerning the origin of the whole world, while recording the opinion of the ancients in the manner following.
[DIODORUS] The full account of the ideas entertained concerning the gods by those who first taught men to honour the deity, and of the fabulous stories concerning each of the immortals, I shall endeavour to arrange in a separate work, because this subject requires a long discussion: but all that we may deem to be suitable to our present historical inquiries we shall set forth in a brief summary, that nothing worth hearing may be missed.
But concerning the descent of the whole human race, and the transactions which have occurred in the known parts of the world, we shall give as accurate an account as may be possible about matters so ancient, and shall begin from the earliest times. 'With regard then to the first origin of mankind two explanations have been held among the most accepted physiologists and historians. For some of them, on the supposition that the universe is uncreated and imperishable, declared that the human race also has existed from eternity, their procreation of children having never had a beginning; while others, who thought the world to be created and perishable, said that, like it, mankind were first created within definite periods of time. 'For, according to the original constitution of the universe, heaven and earth, they said, had one form, their nature being mixed: but afterwards, when their corporeal particles were separated from each other, though the cosmos embraced in itself the whole visible order, the air was subjected to continual motion. The fiery part of it gathered towards the highest regions, because fire is naturally borne upwards by reason of its lightness; and from this cause the sun and all the multitude of stars were caught and carried off in the general whirl: but the muddy and turbid part of the air, in its commixture with the moist parts, settled down together because of its heaviness, and by revolving in itself and continually contracting made the sea out of the moist parts, and out of the more solid parts made the earth, muddy and quite soft.
'This was at first hardened from the fire round the sun shining upon it, and afterwards, when the surface was thrown into fermentation through the warmth, some of the liquid particles swelled up in many places, and tumours were formed about them surrounded by thin membranes, a thing which may still be seen going on in stagnant pools and marshy places, when upon the cooling of the ground the air becomes suddenly fiery, because the change does not take place in it gradually.
'The moist parts then being quickened into life by the warmth in the way mentioned, during the nights they received their nourishment direct from the mist which falls from the surrounding atmosphere, and during the days became hardened by the heat; and at last, when the pregnant cells attained their full growth, and the membranes were thoroughly heated and burst asunder, all various types of living things sprang up.
'And those of them which had received the largest share of heat went off into the upper regions, and became birds; while those which retained an earthy consistency were counted in the order of reptiles and of the other land animals; and those which had partaken most largely of the watery element ran together to the place congenial to their nature, and were called aquatic.
'But the earth being more and more solidified both by the fire about the sun and by the winds, at last was no longer able to quicken any of the larger creatures into life, but the several kinds of animals were generated from their union one with another.
'It seems that even Euripides, who was a disciple of the physicist Anaxagoras, does not dissent from what has been now said concerning the nature of the universe; for he thus writes in the Melanippe:
"So heaven and earth at first had all one form;
But when in place dissevered each from other,
They gave to all things birth, and brought to light
Trees, birds, and beasts, and all the salt sea's brood,
And race of mortal men." 5
'Such are the traditions which we have received concerning the first beginnings of the universe. And they say that the primitive generations of mankind, living in a disorderly and savage state, used to go wandering out over the pastures, and procure for food the tenderest herbage, and the fruits of trees that grew wild: and that when warred on by the wild beasts they were taught by their own interest to help one another, and from gathering together through fear they gradually recognized each other's forms.
'And though their speech was originally indistinct and confused, by degrees they articulated their words, and settling with each other signs for every object lying before them, they made their interpretation of all things intelligible among themselves.
'But when such associations came to be formed throughout all the inhabited world, they had not all a language of the same sounds, because they each arranged their words as it chanced; and from this cause there were originally all kinds of languages, and the associations first formed became the progenitors of all the nations.
'So then the first generations of men, by whom none of the conveniences of life had been discovered, passed a hard time, being destitute of clothing, and unused to houses and fire, and altogether without any idea of prepared food. For not knowing even how to harvest their food that grew wild, they did not lay by any store of the fruits for their needs: and therefore in the winters many of them perished of the cold and scarcity of food.
'But afterwards, being gradually taught by experience, they took refuge in their caves in the winter, and laid by such fruits as could be kept. And when fire became known, the usefulness of other things was gradually discovered and the arts also were invented, and all other things that could benefit their common life.
'For necessity itself became universally men's teacher in all things, naturally suggesting the knowledge of each to a being well endowed by nature, and having for all purposes the help of hands, and speech, and ready wit. So concerning the origin of mankind and the most primitive mode of life we will be content with what has been said, making brevity our aim.'
Thus much writes the aforesaid historian, without having mentioned God even so much as by name in his cosmogony, but having presented the arrangement of the universe as something accidental and spontaneous. And with him you will find most of the Greek philosophers agreeing, whose doctrines concerning the first principles of things, with their differences of opinion and of statement, based on conjectures not on a clear conception, I shall on the present occasion set forth from Plutarch's Miscellanies.8 And do thou, not casually but leisurely and with careful consideration, observe the mutual disagreement of the authors whom I quote.
[PLUTARCH] 'Thales, it is said, was the first of all who supposed that water was the original element of the universe, for that all things spring from it and return to it.
'After him Anaximander, who had been a companion of Thales, said that the Infinite contained the whole cause of both the generation and decay of all things, and out of it he says that the heavens, and, generally, all the worlds, which are infinite in number, have been brought into distinct form. He declared that decay and, long before that, generation originated in the revolution of all these worlds from infinite ages. The earth, he says, is in figure cylindrical, and its depth a third part of its breadth. He says too that the eternal generative force of heat and cold was separated at the generation of this world, and that from it a kind of sphere of flame grew round the atmosphere of the earth as bark round a tree; and that when this flame was rent asunder and shut off into certain orbits, the sun and moon and stars came into existence. Further, he says that man at first was generated d from animals of other kinds, because while the other animals quickly find food of themselves, man alone needs to be nursed for a long time; and for this reason, being such as he is, he could not in the beginning have been kept alive. These then are the opinions of Anaximander.
'But Anaximenes, it is said, declared the air to be the first element of the universe, and that this is in its generic nature infinite, but is differentiated by the qualities attached to it, and that all things are generated by virtue of a certain condensation and subsequent rarefaction of this air. Its motion however subsists eternally, and when the air was compressed, first, he said, the earth was produced, and was very broad, and therefore according to reason floated upon the air; and the sun, and moon, and other heavenly bodies were originally produced out of earth. He declares, for instance, that the sun is earth, but because of its swift motion it has a great supply of heat.
'Xenophanes of Colophon has proceeded by a way of his own, diverging from all who have been previously mentioned, for he leaves neither generation nor decay, but says that the All is always alike. For, says he, if it were to begin to be, it must previously not be; but Non-being cannot begin to be, nor can Non-being make anything, nor from Non-being can anything begin to be.
'He declares also that the senses are fallacious, and with them altogether disparages even reason itself. Also he declares that the earth being continuously carried down little by little in time passes away into the sea. He says also that the sun is formed from a gathering of many small sparks. With regard to the gods; also he declares that there is no ruling power among them; for it is not right that any of the gods should be under a master: and none of them needs anything at all from any; and that they hear and see universally and not partially.
'Also he declares that the earth is infinite, and not surrounded; by air on every side; and that all things are produced out of earth: the sun, however, and the other heavenly bodies he says 'are produced out of the clouds.
'But Parmenides the Eleatic, the companion of Xenophanes, both claimed to hold his opinions and at the same time tried to establish the opposite position. For he declares that in real truth the All is eternal and motionless; for he says it is
"Sole, of sole kind, unmoving, uncreated"
and that generation belongs to the things which upon a false assumption are thought to exist, and he denies the truth of the sensual perceptions. He says too that if anything subsists besides Being, this is Non-being, and Non-being does not exist in the universe. Thus he concludes that Being is uncreated. The earth, he says, has arisen from the dense air having settled down.
'Zeno the Eleatic put forth nothing properly his own, but discussed these opinions more at large.
'Democritus of Abdera supposed that the All is infinite, because there was none who could possibly have framed it: he further says that it is unchangeable; and generally, everything being such as it is, he expressly asserts that the causes of the processes now going on have no beginning, but all things absolutely, past, present, and to come, are wholly fixed beforehand by necessity from infinite time. Of the generation of the sun and moon he says, that they moved in their separate courses, when as yet they had no natural heat at all, nor generally any brightness, but on the contrary were assimilated to the nature of the earth; for each of them had been produced earlier when the world was as yet in some peculiar rudimentary condition, and afterwards, when the orbit round the sun became enlarged, the fire was included in it.
'Epicurus son of Neocles, an Athenian, endeavours to suppress the vain conceit about gods: but also says that nothing is produced out of Non-being, because the All always was and always will be such as it is; that nothing new is brought to pass in the All because of the infinite time which has already passed; that all is body, and not only unchangeable, but also infinite; that the summum bonum is pleasure.
'Aristippus of Gyrene says that pleasure is the summum bonum, and pain the worst of evils; but all other physiology he excludes by saying that the only useful thing is to inquire
"What for your home is evil and what good." 6
'Empedocles of Agrigentum made four elements, fire, water, air, and earth, and their cause friendship and enmity. There was first the mixture of the elements, out of which, he says, the air was separated and diffused all around; and next to the air the fire leaped out, and having no other place was driven upwards by the freezing of the air. And there are two hemispheres, he says, moving in a circle round the earth, the one wholly of fire, the other of air and a little fire mixed, which he supposes to be night; and the beginning of their motion resulted from its having happened when the fire predominated in the combination. And the sun is in its nature not fire, but a reflexion of fire, like the reflexion formed from water. The moon, he says, was formed separately by itself out of the air left by the fire; for this air froze just like hail: but its light it has from the sun. The ruling power, he says, is neither in the head nor in the breast, but in the blood; whence also he thinks that in whatever part of the body this ruling power (the blood) is more largely diffused, in that part men excel.
'Metrodorus of Chios says that the All is eternal, because if it were created it would have come from Non-being; and infinite, because eternal, for it had no first principle to start from, nor any limit, nor end. But neither does the All partake of motion; for it cannot be moved without changing its place; and a change of place must of necessity be either into plenum or into vacuum. The air being condensed makes clouds, then water, which also flowing down upon the sun extinguishes it: and it is rekindled again by evaporation. And in time the sun is made solid by the dryness, and forms stars out of the clear water, and from being extinguished and rekindled makes night and day, and eclipses generally.
'Diogenes of Apollonia supposes that air is the primary element, that all things are in motion, and that the worlds are infinite. His cosmogony is as follows: when the All was in motion, and was becoming in one part rare and in another dense, where the dense part happened to meet it formed a concretion, and so the other parts on the same principle; and the lightest having taken the highest position produced the sun.'
Such is the judgement of the all-wise Greeks, those, forsooth, who were entitled physicists and philosophers, concerning the constitution of the All and the original cosmogony; in which they did not assume any creator or maker of the universe, nay, they made no mention of God at all, but referred the cause of the All solely to irrational impulse and spontaneous motion.
So great also is their mutual opposition; for in no point have they agreed one with another, but have filled the whole subject with strife and discord. Wherefore the admirable Socrates used to convict them all of folly, and to say that they were no better than madmen, that is, if you think Xenophon a satisfactory witness, when in the Memorabilia he speaks thus:
[XENOPHON] 'But no one ever yet either saw Socrates do, or heard him say, anything impious or irreligious. For even concerning the nature of all things, or other such questions, he did not discourse, as most did, speculating what is the nature of the cosmos, as the sophists call it, and by what necessary forces the heavenly bodies are each produced, but he even used to represent those who troubled their minds about such matters as talking folly.'7
And presently he adds:
'And he used to wonder, that it was not manifest to them, that it is impossible for men to discover these things; since even those who prided themselves most highly on discoursing of these subjects did not hold the same opinions one with another, but behaved to each other like mad people. For as among madmen some do not fear even things that should be feared, and others fear what is not at all fearful; ... so of those who trouble themselves about the nature of all things, some think that Being is one only, others that it is an infinite multitude; and some that all things are ever in motion, but others that nothing ever can be moved: and some that all things are created and perish, but others that nothing ever can either be created or perish.'9
So says Socrates, according to the testimony of Xenophon. And Plato also agrees with this account in his dialogue Concerning the Soul, describing him as thus speaking:
[PLATO] 'For in my youth, Cebes, said he, I myself had a wonderful longing for this kind of wisdom which they call Physical Research: it seemed to me a magnificent thing to know the causes of everything, why each comes into being, and why it perishes, or why it exists. And I was constantly turning my mind this way and that, in examining first such questions as these:—Is it when hot and cold have assumed a kind of putrefaction, as some used to say,—is it then that living things are bred and nourished? And is the blood that by which we think, or the air, or the fire? Or is it none of these, but is the brain that which supplies the sensation of sight, and hearing, and smell? And from these might come memory and opinion, and from memory and opinion, when they have reached a settled state, in the same manner knowledge arises. And then again I speculated on their decay, and the changes to which the heaven and the earth are subject, and at last it seemed to me that I was of all things in the world the least fitted by nature for such speculation. And I will tell you a good proof of it: I was so utterly blinded by the mere inquiry, that even what I clearly understood before, at least as I and others thought, I then unlearned,— even what I thought I knew before.'10
So said Socrates, that very man so celebrated by all the Greeks. When, therefore, even this great philosopher had such an opinion of the physiological doctrines of those whom I have mentioned, I think that we too have with good reason deprecated the atheism of them all, since their polytheistic error also seems not to be unconnected with the opinions already mentioned. This, however, shall be proved on the proper occasion, when I shall show that Anaxagoras is the first of the Greeks mentioned as having set mind to preside over the cause of the All.
But now pass on with me to Diodorus, and consider what he narrates concerning the primitive theology of mankind.11
[DIODORUS] 'It is said then that the men who dwelled of old in Egypt when they looked up to the cosmos, and were struck with astonishment and admiration at the nature of the universe, supposed that the sun and moon were two eternal and primal gods, one of whom they named Osiris, and the other Isis, each name being applied from some true etymology.
'For when they are translated into the Greek form of speech, Osiris is "many eyed"; with reason, for casting his beams in every direction he beholds, as it were with many eyes, the whole earth and sea: and with this the poet's words agree:
"Thou Sun, who all things seest, and nearest all." 12
'But some of the ancient mythologists among the Greeks give to Osiris the additional name Dionysus, and, by a slight change in the name, Sirius. One of these, Eumolpus, speaks in his Bacchic poems thus:
"Bright as a star, his face aflame with rays." 13
And Orpheus says:
"For that same cause Phanes and Dionysus him they call."14
Some say also that the fawn-skin cloak is hung about him as a representation of the spangling of the stars.
'"Isis" too, being interpreted, means "ancient," the name having been given to the Moon from her ancient and eternal origin. And they put horns upon her, both from the aspect with which she appears whenever she is crescent-shaped, and also from the cow which is consecrated to her among the Egyptians. And these deities they suppose to regulate the whole world.' 15
Such then are the statements on this subject. You find, too, in the Phoenician theology, that their first 'physical philosophers knew no other gods than the sun, the moon, and besides these the planets, the elements also, and the things connected with them'; and that to these the earliest of mankind 'consecrated the productions of the earth, and regarded them as gods, and worshipped them as the sources of sustenance to themselves and to following generations, and to all that went before them, and offered to them drink-offerings and libations.' But pity and lamentation and weeping they consecrated to the produce of the earth when perishing, and to the generation of living creatures at first from the earth, and then to their production one from another, and to their end, when they departed from life. These their notions of worship were in accordance with their own weakness, and the want as yet of any enterprise of mind.'
Such are the statements of the Phoenician writings, as will be proved in due course. Moreover, one of our own time, that very man who gains celebrity by his abuse of us, in the treatise which he entitled Of Abstinence from Animal Food, makes mention of the old customs of the ancients as follows in his own words, on the testimony of Theophrastus:16
[PORPHYRY] 'It is probably an incalculable time since, as Theophrastus says, the most learned race of mankind, inhabiting that most sacred land which Nilus founded, were the first to begin to offer upon the hearth to the heavenly deities not the first-fruits of myrrh nor of cassia and frankincense mingled with saffron; for these were adopted many generations later, when man becoming a wanderer in search of his necessary livelihood with many toils and tears offered drops of these tinctures as first-fruits to the gods.
'"Of these then they made no offerings formerly, but of herbage, which they lifted up in their hands as the bloom of the productive power of nature. For the earth gave forth trees before animals, and long before trees the herbage which is produced year by year; and of this they culled leaves and roots and the whole shoots of their growth, and burned them, greeting thus the visible deities of heaven with their offering, and dedicating to them the honours of perpetual fire.
'For these they also kept in their temples an undying fire, as being most especially like them. And from the fume (θυμιασις) of the produce of the earth they formed the words θυμιατηρια (altars of incense), and θυειν (to offer), and θυσιας (offerings),—words which we misunderstand as signifying the erroneous practice of later times, when we apply the term θυσια to the so-called worship which consists of animal sacrifice.
'And so anxious were the men of old not to transgress their custom, that they cursed (αρωμαι) those who neglected the old fashion and introduced another, calling their own incense-offerings αρωματα.'
After these and other statements he adds:
'But when these beginnings of sacrifices were carried by men to a great pitch of disorder, the adoption of the most dreadful offerings, full of cruelty, was introduced; so that the curses formerly pronounced against us seemed now to have received fulfilment, when men slaughtered victims and defiled the altars with blood.' 17
So far writes Porphyry, or rather Theophrastus: and we may find a seal and confirmation of the statement in what Plato in the Cratylus, before his remarks concerning the Greeks, says word for word as follows:
[PLATO] 'It appears to me that the first inhabitants of Hellas had only the same gods as many of the barbarians have now, namely the sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven: as therefore they saw them always moving on in their course and running (θεοντα), from this their natural tendency to run they called them θεουσ (gods).' 18
But I think it must be evident to every one on consideration that the first and most ancient of mankind did not apply themselves either to building temples or to setting up statues, since at that time no art of painting, or modelling, [or carving], or statuary had yet been discovered, nor, indeed, were building or architecture as yet established.
Nor was there any mention among the men of that age of those who have since been denominated gods and heroes, nor had they any Zeus, nor Kronos, Poseidon, Apollo, Hera, Athena, Dionysus, nor any other deity, either male or female, such as there were afterwards in multitudes among both barbarians and Greeks; nor was there any daemon good or bad reverenced among men, but only the visible stars of heaven because of their running (θεειν) received, as they themselves say, the title of gods (θεων), and even these were not worshipped with animal sacrifices and the honours afterwards superstitiously invented.
This statement is not ours, but the testimony comes from within, and from the Greeks themselves, and supplies its proof by the words which have been already quoted and by those which will hereafter be set forth in due order.
This is what our holy Scriptures also teach, in which it is contained, that in the beginning the worship of the visible luminaries had been assigned to all the nations, and that to the Hebrew race alone had been entrusted the full initiation into the knowledge of God the Maker and Artificer of the universe, and of true piety towards Him. So then among the oldest of mankind there was no mention of a Theogony, either Greek or barbarian, nor any erection of lifeless statues, nor all the silly talk that there is now about the naming of the gods both male and female.
In fact the titles and names which men have since invented were not as yet known among mankind: no, nor yet invocations of invisible daemons and spirits, nor absurd mythologies about gods and heroes, nor mysteries of secret initiations, nor anything at all of the excessive and frivolous superstition of later generations.
These then were men's inventions, and representations of our mortal nature, or rather new devices of base and licentious dispositions, according to our divine oracle which says, The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.19
In fact the polytheistic error of all the nations is only seen long ages afterwards, having taken its beginning from the Phoenicians and Egyptians, and passed over from them to the other nations, and even to the Greeks themselves. For this again is affirmed by the history of the earliest ages; which history itself it is now time for us to review, beginning from the Phoenician records.
Now the historian of this subject is Sanchuniathon, an author of great antiquity, and older, as they say, than the Trojan times, one whom they testify to have been approved for the accuracy and truth of his Phoenician History. Philo of Byblos, not the Hebrew, translated his whole work from the Phoenician language into the Greek, and published it. The author in our own day of the compilation against us mentions these things in the fourth book of his treatise Against the Christians, where he bears the following testimony to Sanchuniathon, word for word:
[PORPHYRY] 'Of the affairs of the Jews the truest history, because the most in accordance with their places and names, is that of Sanchuniathon of Berytus, who received the records from Hierombalus the priest of the god Ieuo; he dedicated his history to Abibalus king of Berytus, and was approved by him and by the investigators of truth in his time. Now the times of these men fall even before the date of the Trojan war, and approach nearly to the times of Moses, as is shown by the successions of the kings of Phoenicia. And Sanchuniathon, who made a complete collection of ancient history from the records in the various cities and from the registers in the temples, and wrote in the Phoenician language with a love of truth, lived in the reign of Semiramis, the queen of the Assyrians, who is recorded to have lived before the Trojan war or in those very times. And the works of Sanchuniathon were translated into the Greek tongue by Philo of Byblos.' 20
So wrote the author before mentioned, bearing witness at once to the truthfulness and antiquity of the so-called theologian. But he, as he goes forward, treats as divine not the God who is over all, nor yet the gods in the heaven, but mortal men and women, not even refined in character, such as it would be right to approve for their virtue, or emulate for their love of wisdom, but involved in the dishonour of every kind of vileness and wickedness.
He testifies also that these are the very same who are still regarded as gods by all both in the cities and in country districts. But let me give you the proofs of this out of his writings.
Philo then, having divided the whole work of Sanchuniathon into nine books, in the introduction to the first book makes this preface concerning Sanchuniathon, word for word: 21
[PHILO] 'These things being so, Sanchuniathon, who was a man of much learning and great curiosity, and desirous of knowing the earliest history of all nations from the creation of the world, searched out with great care the history of Taautus, knowing that of all men under the sun Taautus was the first who thought of the invention of letters, and began the writing of records: and he laid the foundation, as it were, of his history, by beginning with him, whom the Egyptians called Thoyth, and the Alexandrians Thoth, translated by the Greeks into Hermes.'
After these statements he finds fault with the more recent authors as violently and untruly reducing the legends concerning the gods to allegories and physical explanations and theories; and so he goes on to say:
'But the most recent of the writers on religion rejected the real events from the beginning, and having invented allegories and myths, and formed a fictitious affinity to the cosmical phenomena, established mysteries, and overlaid them with a cloud of absurdity, so that one cannot easily discern what really occurred: but he having lighted upon the collections of secret writings of the Ammoneans which were discovered in the shrines and of course were not known to all men, applied himself diligently to the study of them all; and when he had completed the investigation, he put aside the original myth and the allegories, and so completed his proposed work; until the priests who followed in later times wished to hide this away again, and to restore the mythical character; from which time mysticism began to rise up, not having previously reached the Greeks.'
Next to this he says:
'These things I have discovered in my anxious desire to know the history of the Phoenicians, and after a thorough investigation of much matter, not that which is found among the Greeks, for that is contradictory, and compiled by some in a contentious spirit rather than with a view to truth.'
And after other statements:
'And the conviction that the facts were as he has described them came to me, on seeing the disagreement among the Greeks: concerning which I have carefully composed three books bearing the title Paradoxical History.'
And again after other statements he adds:
'But with a view to clearness hereafter, and the determination of particulars, it is necessary to state distinctly beforehand that the most ancient of the barbarians, and especially the Phoenicians and Egyptians, from whom the rest of mankind received their traditions, regarded as the greatest gods those who had discovered the necessaries of life, or in some way done good to the nations. Esteeming these as benefactors and authors of many blessings, they worshipped them also as gods after their death, and built shrines, and consecrated pillars and staves after their names: these the Phoenicians held in great reverence, and assigned to them their greatest festivals. Especially they applied the names of their kings to the elements of the cosmos, and to some of those who were regarded as gods. But they knew no other gods than those of nature, sun, and moon, and the rest of the wandering stars, and the elements and things connected with them, so that some of their gods were mortal and some immortal.'
Philo having explained these points in his preface, next begins his interpretation of Sanchuniathon by setting forth the theology of the Phoenicians as follows:
'The first principle of the universe he supposes to have been air dark with cloud and wind, or rather a blast of cloudy air, and a turbid chaos dark as Erebus; and these were boundless and for long ages had no limit. But when the wind, says he, became enamoured of its own parents, and a mixture took place, that connexion was called Desire. This was the beginning of the creation of all things: but the wind itself had no knowledge of its own creation. From its connexion Mot was produced, which some say is mud, and others a putrescence of watery compound; and out of this came every germ of creation, and the generation of the universe. So there were certain animals which had no sensation, and out of them grew intelligent animals, and were called "Zophasemin," that is "observers of heaven"; and they were formed like the shape of an egg. Also Mot burst forth into light, and sun, and moon, and stars, and the great constellations.'
Such was their cosmogony, introducing downright atheism. But let us see next how he states the generation of animals to have arisen. He says, then:
'And when the air burst into light, both the sea and the land became heated, and thence arose winds and clouds, and very great downpours and floods of the waters of heaven. So after they were separated, and removed from their proper place because of the sun's heat, and all met together again in the air dashing together one against another, thunderings and lightnings were produced, and at the rattle of the thunder the intelligent animals already described woke up, and were scared at the sound, and began to move both on land and sea, male and female.'
Such is their theory of the generation of animals. Next after this the same writer adds and says:
'These things were found written in the cosmogony of Taautus, and in his Commentaries, both from conjectures, and from evidences which his intellect discerned, and discovered, and made clear to us.'
Next to this, after mentioning the names of the winds Notos and Boreas and the rest, he continues:
'But these were the first who consecrated the productions of the earth, and regarded them as gods, and worshipped them as being the support of life both to themselves, and to those who were to come after them, and to all before them, and they offered to them drink-offerings and libations.'
He adds also:
'These were their notions of worship, corresponding to their own weakness, and timidity of soul. Then he says that from the wind Colpias and his wife Baau (which he translates "Night") were born Aeon and Protogonus, mortal men, so called: and that Aeon discovered the food obtained from trees. That their offspring were called Genos and Genea, and inhabited Phoenicia: and that when droughts occurred, they stretched out their hands to heaven towards the sun; for him alone (he says) they regarded as god the lord of heaven, calling him Beelsamen, which is in the Phoenician language "lord of heaven," and in Greek "Zeus."'
And after this he charges the Greeks with error, saying:
'For it is not without cause that we have explained these things in many ways, but in view of the later misinterpretations of the names in the history, which the Greeks in ignorance took in a wrong sense, being deceived by the ambiguity of the translation.'
Afterwards he says:
'From Genos, son of Aeon and Protogonus, were begotten again mortal children, whose names are Light, and Fire, and Flame. These, says he, discovered fire from rubbing pieces of wood together, and taught the use of it. And they begat sons of surpassing size and stature, whose names were applied to the mountains which they occupied: so that from them were named mount Cassius, and Libanus, and Antilibanus, and Brathy. From these, he says, were begotten Memrumus and Hypsuranius; and they got their names, he says, from their mothers, as the women in those days had free intercourse with any whom they met.'
Then he says:
'Hypsuranius inhabited Tyre, and contrived huts out of reeds and rushes and papyrus: and he quarrelled with his brother Ousous, who first invented a covering for the body from skins of wild beasts which he was strong enough to capture. And when furious rains and winds occurred, the trees in Tyre were rubbed against each other and caught fire, and burnt down the wood that was there. And Ousous took a tree, and, having stripped off the branches, was the first who ventured to embark on the sea; and be consecrated two pillars to fire and wind, and worshipped them, and poured libations of blood upon them from the wild beasts which he took in hunting.
'But when Hypsuranius and Ousous were dead, those who were left, he says, consecrated staves to them, and year by year worshipped their pillars and kept festivals in their honour. But many years afterwards from the race of llypsuranius were born Agreus and Halieus, the inventors of hunting and fishing, from whom were named huntsmen and fishermen: and from them were bom two brethren, discoverers of iron and the mode of working it; the one of whom, Chrysor, practised oratory, and incantations, and divinations: and that he was Hephaestus, and invented the hook, and bait, and line, and raft, and was the first of all men to make a voyage: wherefore they reverenced him also as a god after his death. And he was also called Zeus Meilichios. And some say that his brothers invented walls of brick. Afterwards there sprang from their race two youths, one of whom was called Technites (Artificer), and the other Geinos Autochthon (Earth-born Aboriginal). These devised the mixing of straw with the clay of bricks, and drying them in the sun, and moreover invented roofs. From them others were born, one of whom was called Agros, and the other Agrueros or Agrotes; and of the latter there is in Phoenicia a much venerated statue, and a shrine drawn by yokes of oxen; and among the people of Byblos he is named pre-eminently the greatest of the gods.
'These two devised the addition to houses of courts, and enclosures, and caves. From them came husbandmen and huntsmen. They are also called Aletae and Titans. From these were born Amynos and Magus, who established villages and sheepfolds. From them came Misor and Suduc, that is to say "Straight " and "Just": these discovered the use of salt.
'From Misor was born Taautus, who invented the first written alphabet; the Egyptians called him Thoyth, the Alexandrians Thoth, and the Greeks Hermes.
'From Suduc came the Dioscuri, or Cabeiri, or Corybantes, or Samothraces: these, he says, first invented a ship. From them have sprung others, who discovered herbs, and the healing of venomous bites, and charms. In their time is born a certain Elioun called "the Most High," and a female named Beruth, and these dwelt in the neighbourhood of Byblos.
'And from them is born Epigeius or Autochthon, whom they afterwards called Uranus; so that from him they named the element above us Uranus because of the excellence of its beauty. And he has a sister born of the aforesaid parents, who was called Ge (earth), and from her, he says, because of her beauty, they called the earth by the same name. And their father, the Most High, died in an encounter with wild beasts, and was deified, and his children offered to him libations and sacrifices.
'And Uranus, having succeeded to his father's rule, takes to himself in marriage his sister Ge, and gets by her four sons, Elus who is also Kronos, and Baetylus, and Dagon who is Siton, and Atlas. Also by other wives Uranus begat a numerous progeny; on which account Ge was angry, and from jealousy began to reproach Uranus, so that they even separated from each other.
'But Uranus, after he had left her, used to come upon her with violence, whenever he chose, and consort with her, and go away again; he used to try also to destroy his children by her; but Ge repelled him many times, having gathered to herself allies. And when Kronos had advanced to manhood, he, with the counsel and help of Hermes Trismegistus (who was his secretary), repels his father Uranus, and avenges his mother.
'To Kronos are born children, Persephone and Athena. The former died a virgin: but by the advice of Athena and Hermes Kronos made a sickle and a spear of iron. Then Hermes talked magical words to the allies of Kronos, and inspired them with a desire of fighting against Uranus on behalf of Ge. And thus Kronos engaged in war, and drove Uranus from his government, and succeeded to the kingdom. Also there was taken in the battle the beloved concubine of Uranus, being great with child, whom Kronos gave in marriage to Dagon. And in his house she gave birth to the child begotten of Uranus, which she named Demarus.
' After this Kronos builds a wall round his own dwelling, and founds the first city, Byblos in Phoenicia.
'Soon after this he became suspicious of his own brother Atlas, and, with the advice of Hermes, threw him into a deep pit and buried him. At about this time the descendants of the Dioscuri put together rafts and ships, and made voyages; and, being cast ashore near Mount Cassius, consecrated a temple there. And the allies of Elus, who is Kronos, were surnamed Eloim, as these same, who were surnamed after Kronos, would have been called Kronii.
'And Kronos, having a son Sadidus, dispatched him with his own sword, because he regarded him with suspicion, and deprived him of life, thus becoming the murderer of his son. In like manner he cut off the head of a daughter of his own; so that all the gods were dismayed at the disposition of Kronos.
'But as time went on Uranus, being in banishment, secretly sends his maiden daughter Astarte with two others her sisters, Ehea and Dione, to slay Kronos by craft. But Kronos caught them, and though they were his sisters, made them his wedded wives. And when Uranus knew it, he sent Eimarmene and Hora with other allies on an expedition against Kronos. and these Kronos won over to his side and kept with him.
'Further, he says, the god Uranus devised the Baetylia, having contrived to put life into stones. And to Kronos there were born of Astarte seven daughters, Titanides or Artemides: and again to the same there were born of Rhea seven sons, of whom the youngest was deified at his birth; and of Dione females, and of Astarte again two males, Desire and Love. And Dagon, after he discovered corn and the plough, was called Zeus Arotrios.
'And one of the Titanides united to Suduc, who is named the Just, gives birth to Asclepius.
'In Peraea also there were born to Kronos three sons, Kronos of the same name with his father, and Zeus Belus, and Apollo. In their time are born Pontus, and Typhon, and Nereus father of Pontus and son of Belus.
'And from Pontus is born Sidon (who from the exceeding sweetness of her voice was the first to invent musical song) and Poseidon. And to Demarus is born Melcathrus, who is also called Hercules.
'Then again Uranus makes war against Pontus, and after revolting attaches himself to Demarus, and Demarus attacks Pontus, but Pontus puts him to flight; and Demarus vowed an offering if he should escape.
'And in the thirty-second year of his power and kingdom Elus, that is Kronos, having waylaid his father Uranus in an inland spot, and got him into his hands, emasculates him near some fountains and rivers. There Uranus was deified: and as he breathed his last, the blood from his wounds dropped into the fountains and into the waters of the rivers, and the spot is pointed out to this day.'
This, then, is the story of Kronos, and such are the glories of the mode of life, so vaunted among the Greeks, of men in the days of Kronos, whom they also affirm to have been the first and 'golden race of articulate speaking men,' 22 that blessed happiness of the olden time!
Again, the historian adds to this, after other matters:
'But Astarte, the greatest goddess, and Zeus Demarus, and Adodus king of gods, reigned over the country with the consent of Kronos. And Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as a mark of royalty; and in travelling round the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.
'Kronos also, in going round the world, gives the kingdom of Attica to his own daughter Athena. But on the occurrence of a pestilence and mortality Kronos offers his only begotten son as a whole burnt-offering to his father Uranus, and circumcises himself, compelling his allies also to do the same. And not long after another of his sons by Rhea, named Muth, having died, he deifies him, and the Phoenicians call him Thanatos and Pluto. And after this Kronos gives the city Byblos to the goddess Baaltis, who is also called Dione, and Berytus to Poseidon and to the Cabeiri and Agrotae and Halieis, who also consecrated the remains of Pontus at Berytus.
'But before this the god Tauthus imitated the features of the gods who were his companions, Kronos, and Dagon, and the rest, and gave form to the sacred characters of the letters. He also devised for Kronos as insignia of royalty four eyes in front and behind . . . but two of them quietly closed, and upon his shoulders four wings, two as spread for flying, and two as folded.
'And the symbol meant that Kronos could see when asleep, and sleep while waking: and similarly in the case of the wings, that he flew while at rest, and was at rest when flying. But to each of the other gods he gave two wings upon the shoulders, as meaning that they accompanied Kronos in his flight. And to Kronos himself again he gave two wings upon his head, one representing the all-ruling mind, and one sensation.
'And when Kronos came into the South country he gave all Egypt to the god Tauthus, that it might be his royal dwelling-place. And these things, he says, were recorded first by Suduc's seven sons the Cabeiri, and their eighth brother Asclepius, as the god Tauthus commanded them.
'All these stories Thabion, who was the very first hierophant of all the Phoenicians from the beginning, allegorized and mixed up with the physical and cosmical phenomena, and delivered to the prophets who celebrated the orgies and inaugurated the mysteries: and they, purposing to increase their vain pretensions from every source, handed them on to their successors and to their foreign visitors: one of these was Eisirius the inventor of the three letters, brother of Chna the first who had his name changed to Phoenix.'
Then again afterwards he adds:
'But the Greeks, surpassing all in genius, appropriated most of the earliest stories, and then variously decked them out with ornaments of tragic phrase, and adorned them in every way, with the purpose of charming by the pleasant fables. Hence Hesiod and the celebrated Cyclic poets framed theogonies of their own, and battles of the giants, and battles of Titans, and castrations; and with these fables, as they travelled about, they conquered and drove out the truth.
'But our ears having grown up in familiarity with their fictions, and being for long ages pre-occupied, guard as a trust the mythology which they received, just as I said at the beginning; and this mythology, being aided by time, has made its hold difficult for us to escape from, so that the truth is thought to be nonsense, and the spurious narrative truth.'
Let these suffice as quotations from the writings of Sanchuniathon, translated by Philo of Byblos, and approved as true by the testimony of Porphyry the philosopher.
The same author, in his History of the Jews, further writes thus concerning Kronos:
'Tauthus, whom the Egyptians call Thoyth, excelled in wisdom among the Phoenicians, and was the first to rescue the worship of the gods from the ignorance of the vulgar, and arrange it in the order of intelligent experience. Many generations after him a god Sourmoubelos and Thuro, whose name was changed to Eusarthis, brought to light the theology of Tauthus which had been hidden and overshadowed, by allegories.'
And soon after he says:
'It was a custom of the ancients in great crises of danger for the rulers of a city or nation, in order to avert the common ruin, to give up the most beloved of their children for sacrifice as a ransom to the avenging daemons; and those who were thus given up were sacrificed with mystic rites. Kronos then, whom the Phoenicians call Elus, who was king of the country and subsequently, after his decease, was deified as the star Saturn, had by a nymph of the country named Anobret an only begotten son, whom they on this account called ledud, the only begotten being still so called among the Phoenicians; and when very great dangers from war had beset the country, he arrayed his son in royal apparel, and prepared an altar, and sacrificed him.'
Again see what the same author, in his translation from Sanchuniathon about the Phoenician alphabet, says concerning the reptiles and venomous beasts, which contribute no good service to mankind, but work death and destruction to any in whom they inject their incurable and fatal poison. This also he describes, saying word for word as follows:
'The nature then of the dragon and of serpents Tauthus himself regarded as divine, and so again after him did the Phoenicians and Egyptians: for this animal was declared by him to be of all reptiles most full of breath, and fiery. In consequence of which it also exerts an unsurpassable swiftness by means of its breath, without feet and hands or any other of the external members by which the other animals make their movements. It also exhibits forms of various shapes, and in its progress makes spiral leaps as swift as it chooses. It is also most long-lived, and its nature is to put off its old skin, and so not only to grow young again, but also to assume a larger growth; and after it has fulfilled its appointed measure of age, it is self-consumed, in like manner as Tauthus himself has set down in his sacred books: for which reason this animal has also been adopted in temples and in mystic rites.
'We have spoken more fully about it in the memoirs entitled Ethothiae, in which we prove that it is immortal, and is self-consumed, as is stated before: for this animal does not die by a natural death, but only if struck by a violent blow. The Phoenicians call it "Good Daemon": in like manner the Egyptians also surname it Cneph; and they add to it the head of a hawk because of the hawk's activity.
'Epeïs also (who is called among them a chief hierophant and sacred scribe, and whose work was translated [into Greek] by Areius of Heracleopolis), speaks in an allegory word for word as follows:
'The first and most divine being is a serpent with the form of a hawk, extremely graceful, which whenever he opened his eyes filled all with light in his original birthplace, but if he shut his eyes, darkness came on.'
'Epeïs here intimates that he is also of a fiery substance, by saying "he shone through," for to shine through is peculiar to light. From the Phoenicians Pherecydes also took the first ideas of his theology concerning the god called by him Ophion and concerning the Ophionidae, of whom we shall speak again.
'Moreover the Egyptians, describing the world from the same idea, engrave the circumference of a circle, of the colour of the sky and of fire, and a hawk-shaped serpent stretched across the middle of it, and the whole shape is like our Theta (θ), representing the circle as the world, and signifying by the serpent which connects it in the middle the good daemon.
'Zoroaster also the Magian, in the Sacred Collection of Persian Records, says in express words: "And god has the head of a hawk. He is the first, incorruptible, eternal, uncreated, without parts, most unlike (all else), the controller of all good, who cannot be bribed, the best of all the good, the wisest of all wise; and he is also a father of good laws and justice, self-taught, natural, and perfect, and wise, and the sole author of the sacred power of nature.
'The same also is said of him by Ostanes in the book entitled Octateuch.'
From Tauthus, as is said above, all received their impulse towards physiological systems: and having built temples they consecrated in the shrines the primary elements represented by serpents, and in their honour celebrated festivals, and sacrifices, and mystic rites, regarding them as the greatest gods, and rulers of the universe. So much concerning serpents.
Such then is the character of the theology of the Phoenicians, from which the word of salvation in the gospel teaches us to flee with averted eyes, and earnestly to seek the remedy for this madness of the ancients. It must be manifest that these are not fables and poets' fictions containing some theory concealed in hidden meanings, but true testimonies, as they would themselves say, of wise and ancient theologians, containing things of earlier date than all poets and historians, and deriving the credibility of their statements from the names and history of the gods still prevailing in the cities and villages of Phoenicia, and from the mysteries celebrated among each people: so that it is no longer necessary to search out violent physical explanations of these things, since the evidence which the facts bring with them of themselves is quite clear. Such then is the theology of the Phoenicians: but it is now time to pass on and examine carefully the case of the Egyptians.
[Selected footnotes moved to end and numbered]
1. Porphyry, Abstinence from animal food, iv. 21
2. Matt. v. 34, 37
3. Matt. xii. 36
4. 1 Pet. iii. 15
5. Euripides, Melanippe the Wise, Fragm. 487
6. Homer, Od. iv. 392
7. Xenophon, Memorabilia of Socrates, 1.i.11
8. 22 b 1. This fragment of Plutarch's Stromateis or Miscellanies is known from Eusebius only.
9. Xenophon, Memorabilia of Socrates, 1.1.13
10. Plato, Phaedo 96 A
11. Diodorus Siculus, I, 11.
12. Homer, Ill. iii. 277
13.27 d 5 The only known Fragment of Eumolpus
14. d 7 Orphica, Fragment, vii. 3 (Hermann), clxviii (Abel)
15. Quoted from Philo Byblius
16. Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Food, ii. 5
17. ibid. 33
18. Plato, Cratylus, 397
19. Deut., iv. 19; Wisdom of Solomon, xiv. 12
20. Porphyry, Against the Christians, a fragment preserved by Eusebius only
21. 31 d 8 - 42 b 2. Philo Byblius, Fragments quoted by Porphyry and preserved by Eusebius.
22. Hesiod, Works and Days, 109
This text was transcribed by Peter Kirby, with amendments by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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