Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 1

by A.P.S.
(Los Angeles)

Madrid fountain depicts Cybele

Madrid fountain depicts Cybele

The truth that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God," 2 Timothy 3:16, does not mean we can ignore the cultural, historical and religious context of scripture. We cannot impose modern views about sexual orientation onto the biblical culture of the first century AD.

"A third contribution of (Sir William M.) Ramsay comes from his repeated emphasis upon the importance of thorough historical study as foundational to the study of the New Testament which ...has its roots deeply imbedded in the age in which it was written and must be interpreted in terms of that age. Whatever message it has for us today should be in harmony with its original message to those who first received it as a word from God."

- Sir William M. Ramsay: Archaeologist and New Testament Scholar, 1851-1939, p. 63

Even though Paul did not mention Cybele by name, to understand Romans 1, it is important to understand the cultural historical and religious context of the pagan city of Tarsus where the apostle Paul grew up, the places in Phrygia where he preached the gospel and the pagan goddess religions out of which people were gloriously saved on Paul's missionary journeys.

Links to Part 2 and Part 3 are at the bottom of the page. This three part series provides ten biblically and historically sound reasons to believe that the apostle Paul was describing Cybele worship when he wrote Romans chapter 1 from Corinth in AD 58.

1. Paul grew up in the city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia, where the Phrygian goddess Cybele and Greek and Egyptian gods were openly worshiped. Tarsus is Paul's first link to knowledge of Cybele. The Dublin University Magazine pointed out these helpful facts in 1869 therefore this is not new information.

"We take the first, Apollo, who was worshipped at Tarsus as such, and often as Baal. A coin of Tarsus bears the image of a winged Apollo standing upon the back of a lion, holding a lamp in his hand. A bunch of grapes is appended to the god, and we know that at the Temple of Baal, at Baalbec, grapes were appended to all the images of Baal… Another image of Apollo was discovered adorned with the attributes of Osiris, the Egyptian deity, with a chalice on the head to hold incense or lustral water.

A radiated image also of this god was discovered, which can be traced upon many coins of Tarsus… Another image was found of Cybele with the turret upon her head, which proves that she was also regarded as the Phrygian Cybele, who was always turreted as goddess of the cities of the earth…

The pantheons of all these countries expressed the Divine mystery of fecundity by fish-gods and the phallus; hence arose the Phallic processions thought to be the first form of Greek comedy.' The custom of carrying the phallus (membrum virile) in processions prevailed all through the East, even to Rome, and in the Bacchanalian orgies it was carried by women.

This throws some light upon the declaration of the Apostle who, writing to the Romans, says of those who practiced these orgies, that God had given them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts to dishonour their own bodies between themselves (Romans 1:24); and to the Ephesians he says it would be a shame to speak of these things which are done by them (the heathen) in secret, Ephesians 5:12.

Note: In 1869, Christians linked Rom 1:24ff. and Eph 5:12 to pagan idolatry, NOT to gays and lesbians.

It is clear that this custom had extended to Tarsus, for several specimens were found among these terracotta images representing the same thing; for instance—a portion of a body which terminated in a fish form was found with the phallus appended to it; so also the lower portion of a female figure in full drapery, the left hand of which held the phallus; and a still more extraordinary specimen was that of the upper part of a figure, the head of which was wholly a phallus...

We are again reminded of the burning words of the Apostle, who must have had the most accurate knowledge of every form of Paganism, and especially of this, in that he describes its devotees as changing "the glory of the incor-ruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds and four footed beasts and creeping things," Romans 1:23, almost a detailed description of this very figure.

Another phase of Cilician Paganism was the worship of Mercury, the Roman name for the Greek Hermes, one of the earliest forms of Greek worship… So in this Cilician Hermes was the idea of "speech," as in the olden time. And here we have another confirmation of the historical credibility of the account in the Acts, of the people of Lycaonia offering to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, recognising in the latter Jupiter, and in Paul, Mercury (Hermes), because he was the chief speaker (Acts 14:11)...

Several heads of bulls were found at Tarsus, representing the Bull at Heliopolis, the emblem of Osiris, another instance of Egyptian mythology at Tarsus...

The early years of Saul are lost in the darkness of the past, but from what we have gathered together from the various sources of the variegated history of paganism, we can form some idea of what his surroundings were as regards the religious worship of pagan Tarsus...

As scarcely any portion of Asia Minor failed to pay its devotions to the great mother of the gods Rhea, Cybele, or Gaia, so we find among these remains of Cilician Paganism several representations of this goddess.

She was received at Rome with great solemnity and splendour, as Ovid relates in his Fasti; and throughout the Roman Empire she was identified with Ceres.

Dublin University Magazine, December, 1869,
Saul of Tarsus and the Paganism of Cilicia, December 1869, Vol. LXXIV, pp. 603-618.

2. Paul's first and second missionary journeys to Phrygia, Acts 13-18, brought him into open confrontation with Cybele worshipers in Iconium in the AD 46-48 time frame, ten years before he wrote Romans.

Phrygia is another link to Paul's knowledge of Cybele. In Phrygia were the cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colosse. By the time Paul preaches there, Cybele had been the Great Mother goddess of Phrygia for hundreds of years.

Beginning in AD 46-47, the apostle Paul spent a lot of time ("Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord" Acts 14:3), evangelizing, preaching and planting churches in Phrygia, homeland of Cybele, Acts 14:1-18, 16:6, 18:23.

More than ten years before he wrote his Epistle to the Romans, Paul was well acquainted with goddess worship and Cybele worship from his personal experience of growing up in Tarsus and from winning souls and planting churches in Phrygia as a gospel preaching missionary. The city of Iconium, mentioned in Acts 14:1, 16: and 18:23, was in Phrygia

a. Xenophon identified Iconium as a city of Phrygia in 394 B.C. (Anabasis).

b. In AD 145 Pliny says Iconium was a Phrygian city.

c. In AD 163 Justin Martyr and other believers were put on trial in Rome for their Christian faith. At the trial a slave named Hierax was asked who his parents were. Hierax replied, “My earthly parents are dead; and I have been brought here (a slave) torn away from Iconium of Phrygia.” This testimony is from a native of Iconium.

d. Firmillian, bishop of Caesarea, is said to have attended a council in AD 232 at Iconium in Phrygia. - Info from: Biblical Archaeology

e. The Greek historian Xenophon, marched with Cyrus through Phrygia into Lycaonia. He calls Iconium the last city of Phrygia. Dr. Luke in Acts 14:6 describes Paul and Barnabas fleeing from Iconium to the cities of Lycaonia, implying that the border of Phrygia and Lycaonia passed between Iconium and nearby Lystra. Other ancient authorities speak of Iconium as Phrygian until far into the Roman imperial period. -Note from the NET Bible Online

f. It was not until AD 372 when the Roman Emperor Valens instituted a new province of Licaonia that Iconium began to be included in Lycaonia instead of Phrygia.

Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 2

Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 3

Romans 1 and the link to Cybele

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2012 Photo of Cybele fountain in Madrid, Spain, featuring Cybele in her cart pulled by lions by Владимир Шеляпин, via Wikimedia.org used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This page updated August 20, 2016

Comments for Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 1

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Mar 31, 2014
You just make up stuff
by: Harvey

I read a lot, I like history and I know my stuff. I've never heard of Cybele. I think you just make stuff up. If what you wrote is true, it would be well-known. Preachers would not say what they say if what you wrote is true. So I still believe gay is bad. I don't believe in Cybele. Sorry guy - you have not convinced me.

Rick's comment: Hi Harvey - sadly for you, a closed mind gathers no truth.

Apr 07, 2014
With the Internet, being stupid is no excuse
by: MeJoe

For Harvey - Cybele was the goddess of nature and fertility. Because Cybele presided over mountains and fortresses, her crown was in the form of a city wall. The cult of Cybele was directed by eunuch priests called Corybantes, who led the faithful in orgiastic rites accompanied by wild cries and the frenzied music of flutes, drums, and cymbals. Her annual spring festival celebrated the death and resurrection of her beloved Attis. Her Greek mythology counterpart was Rhea.

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