30 October 2000
Word Count: 2900
Comparison and Contrast of the gods in Homer's epics with the God of the Hebrews
There are many similarities and differences between the Greek gods and the Hebrew God. These similarities and differences are revealed in the character and functionality of the gods. The revelation of similarities and differences can also be seen in man's relationship to his god or gods. Homer was instrumental in documenting the oral traditions of the Greek gods in his poetry. Moses, the Hebrew leader, is attributed with documenting what he witnessed from God in the Torah. The Greek and Hebrew belief systems were established for the purposes of explaining the world we live in, the phenomenon in nature, and the existence and purpose of man. The Greeks were polytheistic and had more gods than they could probably keep up with. In contrast the Hebrews had only one God. Regardless, the Greeks and Hebrews shared the same desire and that was to find answers to questions about existence and the purpose of life.
The character and functionality of the Greek gods vary from god to god. Zeus was the chief of the Greek gods and considered the most powerful. This may be a bit misleading because even though he held the highest rank, the lesser gods did not always submit to his authority. The lesser gods did things at times that they knew would go against the wishes of Zeus. It is apparent that all the gods did things for their own pleasure and men were the pawns in the games they played. This can be seen in Homer's The Iliad. Zeus loved Sarpedon and wanted to intervene to save him from injury or death. Queen Hera advised Zeus that it would be unwise to intervene because the other gods would see it as favoritism. Petroclus killed Sarpedon. The god Apollo avenges the death of Sarpedon by stripping away Petroclus' armor rendering him
defenseless, and thus he is killed by Hector. It is apparent that the Greeks felt that the gods ordered their destiny. According to Alexander Murray, "
man himself, and everything around him, was upheld by Devine power; that his career was marked out for him by a rigid fate which even the gods could not alter, should they wish it on occasion. He was indeed free to act, but the consequences of all his actions were settled beforehand" (2). In the case of Petroclus, it was his destiny to die in that particular battle and thus the gods ensured that it happened according to fate. The Greek gods were not always considered fair in their dealings with man. There arose doubts to the absolute justice of the gods, and even the sanctity of their lives. There seemed to be two sets of standards, one for the gods and one for man. The deities were not eternal in their existence. There are stories about their birth. They were the offspring from other gods. The gods were immortal; however, there is a story of the death of Zeus that came from the Isle of Crete. The gods maintained and preserved the existing order and system of things according to their divine wisdom. The Greeks never arrived at the idea of one absolute eternal God. This is a distinction the Hebrews held fast to.
The Hebrew god is most commonly referred to as God; however, he has been also called Elohim, and Yahweh. In the English rendering he is called Jehovah. There appears to be no documentation that states that the Hebrews were ever polytheistic and evolved into worshipping one supreme god. The Pentateuch or Torah is composed of the first five books of the bible. These books reveal the character and function of the Hebrew god. Genesis, the first book of the bible states: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (1.1). This beginning is the creation of the universe, man, and all living creatures. It is not the beginning of God. We have no oral account or written history as to God's beginning. We are only told that...
Gibson, Michael. Gods Men & Monsters. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942.
Homer, The Iliad. The Norton Anthology World Masterpieces. New York:
W.W. Norton Company, 1999.
Murray, Alexander S. Who 's Who in Mythology. New York: Crescent Books, 1988.
The Holy Bible. King James Version: Anchor Bible Concepts, 1996.
Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Publishing, 1967 ed.
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