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Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr is a graduate of the United States
Military Academy at West Point with a degree in general science, and an
airborne, ranger infantry veteran of the Viet Nam War. He is the author of
Athena and Eden: The Hidden Meaning of the Parthenon's
East Facade (May 7, 2002), and
Athena and Kain: The True Meaning of Greek Myth
Athena and Eve
by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.
Ancient Greek religion, what we call mythology, tells the same story as the Book of Genesis, except that the serpent is the enlightener of mankind rather than our deceiver. Athena represents Eve—the reborn serpent’s Eve in the new Greek age. She and the Parthenon and the entire ancient Greek religious system celebrate the rejuvenation and re-establishment of the way of Kain (Cain) after the Flood. Though on one hand Greek idolatry violates the teaching of the Word of God, on the other, if properly understood, it reinforces the truth of the Scriptures.
Figure 1. The Parthenon as it appears
today atop the
Athena’s magnificent temple, the Parthenon, is the national monument of Greece (Figure 1). From 447 to 432 BC, during the Classical Age, the ancient Athenians built for Athena one of the most superb architectural works of antiquity. Featuring more sculpture than any other Greek temple, the Parthenon dominated their Akropolis—the high place of the city. Inside stood her forty-foot-tall gold and ivory idol-image. Later in this article, we are going to take a close look at Athena’s famous Parthenon statue as it has been reconstructed in the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, from ancient replicas and descriptions of it. We are not going to be able to understand very much about Athena’s idol-image, however, unless we see where she fits into the history of humanity as the Greeks saw it. We need some background. Fortunately, the Greeks provided it in their myths and art.
The first couple
There is no Creator-God in the Greek religious system. The ancient Greek religious system is about getting away from the God of Genesis, and exalting man as the measure of all things. You may think to yourself that the Greeks are exalting gods, not man; but haven’t you ever wondered why the Greek gods looked exactly like humans? The answer is the obvious one: for the most part, the gods represented the Greeks’ (and our) human ancestors. Greek religion was thus a sophisticated form of ancestor worship. You have no doubt heard of the supposedly great philosopher, Sokrates. In Plato’s Euthydemus, he referred to Zeus, Athena, and Apollo as his ‘gods’ and his ‘lords and ancestors’.1 Greek stories about their origins are varied and sometimes contradictory until their poets and artists settle upon Zeus and Hera as the couple from whom the other Olympian gods and mortal men are descended. This brother/sister and husband/wife pair, the king and queen of the gods, are a match for the Adam and Eve of Genesis. Figure 2 is Hans Holbein’s Adam and Eve. This couple is the beginning of the family of man, and the origin of the family of the Greek gods, Zeus and Hera. Figure 3 shows us Zeus and his wife Hera, sculpted on the east frieze of the Parthenon, c. 438 BC. With no Creator-God in the Greek religious system, the first couple advances to the forefront.
Figure 2. Hans Holbeins’ Adam and Eve.
Hera, the queen of the gods, is the primal Eve
According to the Book of Genesis, Eve is the mother of all living humans, and the wife of Adam. Since God is the Father of both Adam and Eve, some consider them to be brother and sister as well. After they had both eaten the fruit, Adam named his wife Eve (Chue in Hebrew which means ‘Living’) and Genesis 3:20 explains why: ‘… for she becomes mother of all the living’.† In a hymn of invocation, the 6th-century BC lyric poet, Alcaeus, refers to Hera as panton genethla, or ‘mother of all’.2 As the first mother, the Greeks worshipped Hera as goddess of childbirth; as the first wife, the Greeks worshipped her as the goddess of marriage.
† Bible quotations taken from the Concordant Literal Translation.
We are told in Chapter 2 of Genesis that Eve was created full-grown out of Adam. Before she was known as Hera, the wife of Zeus had the name Dione. The name relates to the creation of Eve out of Adam, for Dione is the feminine form of Dios or Zeus. This suggests that the two were once, like Adam and Eve, a single entity.
The attribute most often associated with Hera in ancient art was the sceptre. She is often depicted as enthroned and holding it in her right hand. She is, and always will be, the queen of Olympus. As the sister/wife of Zeus, Hera is a deification of Eve, the motherless mother of all humanity. She holds the sceptre of rule by birth.
Zeus, the king of the gods, is Adam
From the Judeo-Christian standpoint, the taking of the fruit by Eve and Adam at the serpent’s behest was shameful, a transgression of Yahweh’s commandment. From the Greek standpoint, however, the taking of the fruit was a triumphant and liberating act which brought to mankind the serpent’s enlightenment. To the Greeks, the serpent freed mankind from bondage to an oppressive God, and was therefore a saviour and illuminator of our race. The Greeks worshipped Zeus as both saviour and illuminator; they called him Zeus Phanaios which means one who appears as light and brings light. The light that he brought to the ancient Greeks was the serpent’s light that he received when he ate the fruit from the serpent’s tree.
In his Zeus and Hera, mythologist Carl Kerényi suggests that the name Zeus or Dios, at its deepest level, means ‘the actual decisive, dynamic moment of becoming light’.3 Thus, the very meaning of the names of the first couple, Dios and Dione, points to that time when they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and first embraced the enlightenment of the serpent. The natural force, lightning, depicts who Zeus is and what he brings to mankind perfectly. It should not surprise us, then, that the attribute most closely associated with Zeus in ancient art was the lightning bolt. On most of the vases on which he is depicted, Zeus holds the lightning bolt in his right hand. From the Greek viewpoint, there is no more ‘actual decisive, dynamic moment of becoming light’ in human history than the time Adam and Eve received the serpent’s enlightenment, and no more appropriate symbol for it than the lightning bolt of Zeus.
On a Greek vase from c. 410 BC, a naked Zeus holds the sceptre of rule in his left hand and the lightning bolt in his right.4 He is the naked and unashamed king of Olympus. The fruit of the tree—the serpent’s enlightenment—has been passed to him. It is the true source of his power.
Zeus and Hera are the first couple described in Genesis
In his Works and Days, the poet Hesiod wrote of ‘how the gods and mortal men sprang from one source’.5 The first couple, Zeus and Hera, were that source. Hera is the single mother of all humanity, and Zeus is, according to Hesiod, ‘the father of men and gods’.6 The term ‘father Zeus’ is a description of the king of the gods which appears over one hundred times in the ancient writings of Homer.7 As the source of their history, Zeus and Hera became the gods of their history.
According to Genesis, Adam lived 930 years. The length of Eve’s life is not mentioned but there is no reason to think that it wasn’t about as long as Adam’s. That by itself would confer a godlike status on them.
And who came before them? No-one. It is only natural that the Greeks worshipped Adam and Eve as Zeus and Hera. Those without a belief in the Creator have only nature, themselves, and their progenitors to exalt.
The Greek tradition insists that Zeus and Hera were the first couple; the Judeo-Christian tradition insists Adam and Eve were the first couple. Two opposite spiritual standpoints share the same factual basis.
If the above is true, then the Greeks ought to have directly connected Zeus and Hera to a paradise, a serpent, and a fruit tree. They did, indeed, make such a direct connection.
The Garden of the Hesperides—Eden’s Greek counterpart
The Greeks remembered the original paradise. They called it the Garden of the Hesperides, and they associated Zeus and Hera with its enticing ease, and with a serpent-entwined apple tree.
The Hesperides, the spirit-beings associated with this tree, its apples, and its serpent, get their name from Hespere in Greek which means evening, and that signifies the west where the sun sets. This matches the Genesis account which describes civilization developing to the east of Eden. A return to Eden would mean travelling west. The Greeks put the Garden of the Hesperides, with its serpent-entwined apple tree, in the far west.
Some mythologists have mistaken the Hesperides for guardians of the tree, but they certainly are not. Their body language, their easy actions and their very names serve the purpose of establishing what kind of a garden this is: a wonderful, carefree place.
In Figure 4, we see the Garden of the Hesperides depicted on a water pot from c. 410 BC. The serpent entwines the apple tree with its golden fruit. The names of the figures are written on the vase. Two of the Hesperides, Chrysothemis (Golden Order) and Asterope (Star Face) stand to the immediate left of the tree. Chrysothemis moves toward the tree to pluck an apple. Asterope leans pleasantly against her with both arms. To the left of them, Hygeia (Health) sits on a hillock and holds a long sceptre, a symbol of rule, as she looks back towards the tree. To the right of the apple tree, Lipara (Shining Skin) holds apples in the fold of her garment, and raises her veil off her shoulder.
The names of the Hesperides describe what the garden is like. It’s a land of soft starlight, gold for the taking, perfect health, and wondrous beauty. Apollodorus gives four different names for the Hesperides: Aegle (Dazzling Light), Erythia (Red Land), Hesperia (Evening Star) and Arethusa (Water Fountain).8 The sound of a water fountain is one of the most peaceful sounds. What an enchanting and delightful place! The Hebrew word for Eden means ‘to be soft or pleasant’, figuratively ‘to delight oneself ’. The Garden of the Hesperides is, with little doubt, the Garden of Genesis.
If Adam and Eve, in the Greek religious system, have become Zeus and Hera, there should be literary evidence for their presence in this garden, and there is. Apollodorus wrote that the apples of the Hesperides ‘were presented by Gaia [Earth] to Zeus after his marriage with Hera’. This matches the Genesis account: Eve became Adam’s wife right after she was taken out of Adam (Genesis 2:21–25), and the next recorded event is the taking of the fruit by the first couple. Connecting Zeus and Hera with the Hesperides automatically connects them with the serpent and the fruit tree with which they are always represented.
The chorus in Euripides’ play Hippolytus speaks of ‘the apple-bearing shore of the Hesperides’ where immortal fountains flow ‘by the place where Zeus lay, and holy Earth with her gifts of blessedness makes the gods’ prosperity wax great’.9 Thus Euripides put Zeus in the garden, and his language affirms that this is where Zeus came from.
You have probably heard one time or another about Eve eating the apple. The Hebrew word for fruit in Chapter 3 of Genesis is a general term. The idea that Adam and Eve took a bite of an apple comes to us as part of the Greek tradition.
Atlas pushes away the heavens and with them, the God of the heavens
The Greek poets placed a figure named Atlas in the ancient Garden of the Hesperides. Hesiod wrote in his Theogony:
‘And Atlas through hard constraint upholds the wide heaven with unwearying head and arms, standing at the borders of the earth before the clear-voiced Hesperides; for this lot wise Zeus assigned him.’10
His presence there clarified the Greeks’ religious viewpoint, for it was his job to put the authority of heaven at a distance from them.
The two antagonistic sons of the first family
Now if Zeus and Hera are pictures of Adam and Eve, we would expect them to have two antagonistic male children just as the first man and woman did. Zeus and Hera had two male children: Hephaistos, the elder, and Ares; and they were as averse to each other as Kain and Seth.
By his Roman name, Vulcan, we associate Hephaistos, the deified Kain, immediately with the forge and the foundry. According to Genesis 4:22, the members of Kain’s family were the fi rst to become forgers ‘of every tool of copper and iron’. These surely included the hammer, the axe and the tongs—the tools most often associated with Hephaistos in Greek art.
‘And knowing is Kain his wife and she is pregnant and bearing Enoch. And coming is it that he is building a city, and calling is he the name of the city as the name of his son, Enoch’ (Genesis 4:17).
The return of Hephaistos to Olympus in Greek religion corresponds to Kain’s ignoring Yahweh’s command to wander, and his building a city instead. Out of that city, the defiant line of Kain prospered as he and his offspring embraced the wisdom of the serpent.
Zeus was fond of his son Hephaistos, who performed an indispensable and appreciated function as armorer of the gods. On the other hand, Zeus considered his youngest son, Ares, to be worthless, calling him ‘hateful’ and ‘pestilent’ and a ‘renegade’.14 The ancient poet, Homer, referred to Ares as ‘the bane of mortals’.15 The only reason Ares has a place in the Greek pantheon is that he is the son of Zeus; that is, he is one of the two actual sons of the first couple, Adam and Eve, of whom Zeus and Hera are deifications. Zeus hates Ares, but accepts responsibility for siring him: ‘for thou art mine offspring, and it was to me that thy mother bare thee’, and then rails at this son of his, telling him that if he were born of any other god, he would have been ‘lower than the sons of heaven’ long ago.16 Some scholars say Greek religion is anthropomorphic; that is, gods take human form. That’s not quite right. What happens is that real human ancestors retain their original identities and take on godlike qualities. Ares, as a deification of Seth, is trapped, in a sense, by the historical framework. His father, Zeus, had to hate him, and Greek heroes were expected to kill his children.
According to Genesis, the Flood temporarily wiped out the way of Kain. Noah, in the line of Seth, ‘a just man’ (Genesis 6:9), survived with his wife, three sons, and their wives in the Ark. All but these eight people disappeared into the earth. The Greeks pictured this cataclysmic event as half-men/half-horses known as Kentaurs (Centaurs) pounding a man named Kaineus into the ground with a rock (Figure 6). Kaineus means ‘pertaining to Kain’, or more directly, ‘the line of Kain’.
The resurgence of the way of Kain after the Flood
For a number of years after the Flood, God’s awesome and decisive intervention in human affairs remained fresh in the minds of Noah’s descendants, and the way of Kain remained dormant. Then, gradually, a yearning for the serpent’s wisdom began to take hold. On a shield band panel from about 550 BC, a Greek artist depicted this all-too-human desire perfectly (Figure 7).
Life in service to the God of Noah seemed boring. Humanity wanted
another big bite of the apple from the serpent’s tree in the Garden of the
Hesperides. Ancient Greek religion commemorates the return and triumph of
the way of Kain after the Flood, and it is celebrated in many interrelated
ways in myth and art:
Athena—the serpent’s Eve reborn after the Flood
In one way or another, Athena is involved with all of these events. She is the ultimate symbol of the great victory of Zeus-religion. She is the serpent’s Eve, reborn and exalted after the Flood. According to the Greek myth, she was born full-grown out of Zeus, an unmistakable picture of Eve being born full-grown out of Adam.26 And she was born in the presence of Hera, the primal Eve, meaning that she (Athena) is the new representation of Eve in the Greek age. As a sign of this change, Herakles presented the golden apples from the serpent’s tree, which once belonged to Hera, to his patron goddess, Athena.
The curse of the Gorgon Medusa
Athena’s true identity is so self-evident that she may as well have worn a sign around her neck saying, ‘Hello, I’m the serpent-worshipping Eve of Genesis.’ Why haven’t the great scholars of Greek myth been able to see something so simple? I attribute their abysmal ignorance to the curse of the Gorgon Medusa on Athena’s aegis (Figure 9), the focal point of her idol-image. If you remember the myth, the look of the Gorgon Medusa had the power to turn men to stone. The hero, Perseus, who cut off the Gorgon’s head and presented it to Athena, used his polished shield as a mirror to view her indirectly, negating the power of her gaze. Most of the revered teachers of mythology and anthropology (J.J. Bachofen, Jane Ellen Harrison, Robert Graves, Joseph Campbell et al.)27 were at worst atheists, and at best contemptuous of the Book of Genesis. As they looked to Athena herself for their understanding, the stare of the Gorgon on her aegis turned their minds figuratively to stone—a kind of mental paralysis set in. In this intellectual stupor, they were unable to recognize Athena as the serpent’s Eve. As unbelievers, they would never have considered looking away from Athena and toward Genesis in order to understand the identity of the goddess.
We believe God and so the curse of the Gorgon has no power with us. We instinctively look away from the Gorgon and toward the Scriptures for our understanding. When we view Athena’s image indirectly, as it is clearly and simply reflected in the Book of Genesis, we get a true picture of her identity, and understand her role in Greek religion as a depiction of Eve—the serpent’s Eve.
Modern scholarship has yet to learn the simple lesson that, without reference to the early events described in the Book of Genesis, it is not possible to make any real sense of Greek mythology. In fact, the entire formidable religious framework of ancient Greek society means virtually nothing without reference to those events. The next time you’re in a bookstore or a library, go to the mythology section. Look at all the books on the subject and ponder all the fruitless theorizing and all the wasted paper that have resulted from writers leaving the Creator of Heaven and Earth out of what they imagine is their deep and reasonable thinking.
The 2004 Olympics in Athens as a spiritual opportunity
While the Chad Ape-man and other hoaxes of evolutionary ‘science’ have made it to the front pages of America’s newspapers, my books, Athena and Eden and Athena and Kain, have been ignored by the mainstream. And this, despite the books’ systematic presentation of abundant evidence that the events of Eden were part of the Greeks’ collective cultural memory, and that their interpretation of those events made up the very raison d’etre of their religious system.
The first part of my prayer for the near future is that both books will develop a Christian underground following; and that, during next year’s Olympics in Athens, thousands of us will be able to explain to our doubting friends, in convincing detail, who Athena is and why the Greeks elevated her to a position of such undisputed supremacy. The second part of my prayer is that the True and Supreme Spirit of Light and Love will use these occasions so that our friends, in the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘also may be happening upon the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.’28
1. Plato, Euthydemus, from: The Dialogues of Plato, Jowett, B.
(Translator), Third Edition, Vol. I, Oxford at the Clarendon Press: Oxford
University Press, Humphrey Milford Publisher, 302d, 1892.
Copyright © 2004 by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.
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