Heaven and Hell are concepts of Christian, Judaism, and Islamic religions. All see them of a place of punishment (Hell), and a place of reward (Heaven). The biggest difference is that Christians and Judaism see heaven as a place where God resides, a place where you do not need subsidence such as food or sleep, and Islamic view it as a place of gardens, food, where they find unimaginable bliss and all desires are met. Depending on the religion there can be one or many different levels of each. Hell can also be temporary for those of the Islamic belief and is permanent for those of the Christian belief.
Of course the Nativity and the Passion of Christ seemed familiar to the pagan audience. There are countless tales of demi-gods or offspring of the gods and human. Achilles was said to be such a man. Many times a story started with a god coming in the form of their choosing and laying with a woman, producing a child of great power. Then a sign was shown to bless this child. There were also many stories of martyrdom of these children of gods with the sacrifice being welcomed into the arms of the gods. Tales of being born again through trials to claim their namesake. Neither of these happenings seemed farfetched. Both the birth and the rise of Christ fit the mythology and folklore of pagan societies.
The Gods of Gilgamesh and in the Iliad were vengeful, petty, jealous, and self serving. They had human qualities, faults, and egos. You would pray to the Gods, give tribute, and more often than not the Gods would answer. Mercy was not a quality associated with the gods and repentance a foreign idea. Gods were to be feared, unforgiving in nature, and vengeful. In Gilgamesh and the Iliad it was ok to laugh at the gods, cry with them, yell at them in anger, and worship at their alters. The New Testament shows a different type of God. One who is loving and kind. In Luke 15 it tells of a shepherd who lost a lamb and how he rejoices when that one lamb is found and saved. This is how Jesus said God rejoices over the repentance of a sinner, no matter if there are 99 righteous who need not repent. The return of one to the flock should be celebrated; in the Iliad I can see the one we just found becoming a burnt sacrifice to thank the gods we found our lost lamb. Irony at its best. The New Testament put God apart from humans. We can now sin and then ask forgiveness and still get into heaven. Instead of vengeful gods we have one of love and mercy, but only one. The Gods of Gilgamesh and the Iliad where like friends you shared a drink with, got into fights with only to embrace again later, this new God was more like a father figure with humans the errant children. The bond changed from being rowdy friends to honoring thy father, and with it the divine/human relationship.
Many elements of the Nativity and the Passion come from mythology. The story of Isis the Virgin Goddess and her birth of Horus has several similarities to the birth of Jesus. From the virgin birth to the birth in a stable. Figurines of Isis nursing Horus were the models for the Christian figures of the Virgin and child.
One explaination of why the Nativity and Passion stories seem familiar to pagans is because the authors of these stories wanted to appeal to a broader audience. Also, I like how you compared the stories of Gilgamesh and the Iliad and all of their gods to the Christian God, there are a lot of good points in there!
I liked the picture you choose, (the sign pointing to heaven and hell) I wanted to snag it from you, but I refrained:) I like how you included Hell can be temporary for those in the Islamic belief and its not the same for the christian belief.
In response to your comment on my post.. I haven’t taken an ethics class yet, but I bet they probably all are anti- religion, but i’m not sure either. Are you liking your ethics class? It would probably rattle my brain as well, it is so hard to leave my own thoughts and opinion out when I’m writing my post.
I noticed your comments on the difficulties in the Ethics classes. I will say that I have never been so offended by a professor before. The class material was clearly anti-religion of any kind. In that class, there is no such thing as a God other than worshiping man’s ability to reason. I must admit though, even as I thought my brain might break trying to understand what the professor wanted, I realized he was teaching me how to think differently. Nothing he said challenged my faith in any way shape or form, yet he challenged me to learn to “explain” versus “describe” and that was worth suffering in his class. Ironically, I realized after the class, that the letters of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament are written with the same form of “reasoning” used in the class. No wonder they’re still around.
It’s hard, but I often times have to remind myself if something is hard, or makes me uncomfortable it usually means I’m learning. I’ve also had professors who say outrageous things just to get a reaction and make someone take the bait. One such professor ended up on CNN when a student secretly recorded his lecture. Everyone has different methods of course, but often I think an off-putting discussion can be the way to access your own ideologies and ways of thinking. Still, I’m glad you got something useful out of a challenging course.
I agree whole-hardheartedly. The only way I was able to get through Ethics, was to remind myself that this was forcing my brain to work in a way it didn’t want to. You’re quite right. I think instead of rebelling against the instructor, you have to ask yourself “What is it I believe?” “Why do I believe it?” and of course, that can be frightening. But if you fall back on what you know, and look to where it comes from, often you will find you still believe it, but now you have a better understanding of “why” you believe it.
When it comes to gods one of the best things that I’ve ever heard is that the gods are simply the ideals of humanity. If you take that into account its very interesting contrast between the gods of the ancient greeks and Sumerians and the god shown through Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Then wondering what would have motivated the change.