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Ancient civilization was way different from ours
Getting started
What's wrong with this picture? Olympian Atlas holding the Earth on his shoulder -- it's an image sunk deep in western culture. But did the Greeks who came up with the myth really conceive of the Earth as a big globe Atlas could tote around?

No they didn't.

The Greek God Atlas didn't hold the Earth. He held the Universe -- the cosmos, the celestial spheres.

That's a big deal for a couple reasons. First, the myth of Atlas itself is an example of what associate professors call the ancients' "cosmology" -- their ideas about the fundamental structure of the universe. You won't be surprised to hear the Ancients' ideas about cosmology influenced their religious beliefs. Pagan and Christian.

Second, our modern error of plopping on Atlas' shoulders the Earth rather than the Cosmos points up the profundity of our understandable misconceptions about the Ancient world. We've reinterpreted their myth to fit our own ideas about the structure of the universe. The way we understand the universe is deeply different from the way the ancients understood it.

Christianity is an ancient religion. If the history of religion interests you, you'll have to get beyond modern misconceptions and reinterpretations and learn how the ancients saw the universe before you can understand how Christianity and other ancient religions were invented. Man, that's a long sentence.



The Ancients For much of recorded history Europeans were a primitive bunch. For roughly a thousand years they passed through a dark age living in tribal villages, assisted by no real government, exploited by gangster lords, ignorant of the world beyond a day's walk of their dirt floored shacks. With no written language of their own they were illiterate, superstitious, afraid of witches, magic spells, and a thousand forest spirits. Life was brutal, ugly, short.

It wasn't always so.

Earlier, between about 1,000 BC (much earlier in Mesopotamia and Egypt) and when the Middle Ages began -- sometime near 500 AD., tribal villages in Mediterranean Europe grew into city states, city states into nations, and nations into vast civilizing empires.

Enduring civic institutions brought stability and prosperity to millions. Prosperity brought cosmopolitan cites, roads, travel, commerce, suburbs, learning, literature, drama, representative art, engineering, architecture, mathematics, philosophy. And sophisticated religion.

We call this first great historical western flowering "Ancient Civilization." Rome, Greece, the pyramids, Jesus, that stuff. Ancient civilization endured over 1,500 years. We call the people who lived then and there the "Ancients."

There were Ancient Chinese too. We're not talking about them.


A misconception: the ancients were primitive simpletons.
Truth is they were people, just like the people you know: some smart, some dumb, most in between. Like us. And they weren't primitive. It's true they didn't have choo-choo trains and digital watches, but they did have indoor plumbing, high rise apartments, central heating, pop-top bottles and bikinis. They also had -- I've just said this -- literature, drama, art, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and philosophy.


And the incredible thing is, think about this: they invented it all! Starting as savages two spits from the stone age, the ancients developed literature, mathematics, government and architecture -- after they invented writing, numbers, law and mortar.

Primitive? No. Incredible? Incredibly!


But they didn't see things "Just like us" The ancients were people just like us -- but their ideas were shaped by a culture that was incomprehensibly different from ours.

Here's an example that always floors me. This famous painting is from the Centenary House in Roman Pompeii -- 79 AD. The people who owned the house had this painting on the wall of one of their rooms. Notice that the woman is wearing a brassiere. That was the Roman custom -- only lascivious women showed their breasts during sex.

So, Romans could have a painting on their wall of people having sex -- but the painting would be of a woman who covers her breasts out of modesty.

By the way
ASPFYMIL moments

This business of ancient culture being incomprehensibly different from ours comes up a lot -- When it does, I call it A sacred penis for your mother-in-law moment.
At POCM you'll find ASPFYMIL moments marked with this picture >>

What's more, the Romans would go to the mixed- sex public baths completely naked. And, for women followers of the Goddess Cybele, having sex with a stranger at the temple was a religious act -- a holy duty! And, get this, you read in the ancient texts about a man, a follower of Dionysus, dedicating a sacred penis to his mother-in-law! Go figure.

You can't figure. It doesn't make sense -- to us. It did make sense to the ancients. That's the point. Ancient culture was different from ours in ways we would never predict and can't understand.

Keep that in mind while we talk about ancient religion. In fact, ancient religion was so different from ours, I've included a couple pages [Ancient Religion for Dummies and Ancient Religion Syncretism ] to get you up to speed on things you'll want to know help you understand Christianity's Pagan Origins.