Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 3
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A Cybele altar in the Milano museum
Because our Christian faith is based on historical facts, we use those facts to accurately interpret scripture. Without an understanding of first century culture history and religion, the Bible will make little sense to us today. We must know and understand what was happening in the first century when the New Testament was written.
Because the human authors of the Bible assumed this knowledge on the part of their readers, they did not spend time explaining the biblical cultural doctrinal historical linguistic and religious context. Our task is to obey 2 Timothy 2:15 and learn the context. We learn the context by asking questions and exploring history to find the answers.
What did the text mean to the people who first heard or read it? What situation confronted the author and his audience? Cultural historical and religious circumstances not only explain what was written, they often explain why it was written. Ignoring these factors may cause us to miss the point of a passage. By paying attention to context, we can accurately carefully correctly honestly reverently truthfully interpret scripture.
In Part 1 and Part 2 we provided ten compelling reasons why the Phrygian goddess Cybele figures prominently in Romans 1 even though Paul did not mention her by name. Now we draw conclusions based on cultural historical and religious facts which were well-known in the first century AD to Paul's readers but which are not well-known to modern Bible readers.
Cybele the Phrygian goddess
The ancient city of Iconium in Phrygia was founded around 3000 BC. At approximately 1500 BC (the time when Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt), the biblical Hittites invaded the area which was later called Phrygia when Paul preached there. Around 275 BC, Gauls who were driven out of what is now modern France settled in Iconium, Phrygia. That area of central Asia Minor also came to be known as Galatia, named after the Gauls. That is the area to which Paul addressed his Epistle to the Galatians.
Some of the people who got saved under Paul's ministry in this area, Acts 14-18, were saved out of goddess worship with all its evil practices. Archaeological excavations reveal that religious worship in ancient Iconium included worship of bull cults, Acts 14:6-20, and worship of the prehistoric mother goddess.
Cybele and Jupiter
"In goddess dedications discovered in modern Sizma, five hours north of Iconium, Minerva (Minerva Zizimene, the Latin version of Zizima, the local form of the great mother Cybele of the Iconium region), is linked to her consort, Jupiter Optimus Maximus
and in the Greek with the Tyche (of Iconium); here evidently Jupiter and Minerva are Latin representatives of a pair of Phrygian deities
, while in the Greek she is herself expressed in two forms as the (Mother) and Hellenized as the Iconian Good Fortune."
- W.M. Ramsey, The Classical Review, Vol. 19, No. 7, Oct., 1905,
pp. 367-370, published by Cambridge University Press
Minerva Zizimene is the Anatolian mother-goddess, who was worshiped under different names in different parts of Asia Minor.
- W. M. Calder, The Classical Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Feb., 1913,
pp. 9-11, published by Cambridge University Press
"Among the deities that the Gentiles of Iconium worshiped, the most prominent was Cybele, the Phrygian mother goddess
; Phrygian mystery cults were also common." - The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
, Craig S. Keener, InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 361
"Essentially it (the myth of Demeter and Persephone) was the same myth as that of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Tammuz and Ishtar in Babylonia, Astarte and Adonis in Syria, Cybele and Attis in Phrygia. The cult of motherhood survived through classical times to take new life in the worship of Mary the Mother of God
." Will Durant, History of Civilization
, Vol. 2, 1939, p.178Corpus cultus Cybelae attidisque
(CCCA) 3, Maarten Jozef Vermaseren, p. 235ff. describes Cybele statues in the Archaeological Museum in Konya, which is modern Iconium.
"In 1886 I found the first of a series of inscriptions which show that the protecting goddess of Iconium was called Mother Zizamene or Zizimmeme. In publishing this (Ath. Mitt. 1889, p. 237) I suggested that the name was equivalent to Dindymene… A feature in this inscription is that the Mother goddess is mentioned first and Apollo after her. Generally Apollo or whatever name is applied to the god is mentioned first in the public inscriptions, though in the Mysteries which must have been celebrated at Zizyma the important position which belongs to the Mother goddess was undoubtedly emphasized.
It may now be regarded as practically certain that the Dindymos of Kybele and Didyma the seat of Apollo bore the same name as Zizyma the seat of the Mother goddess
. At Didyma the goddess recedes into the background and is hardly ever mentioned while the god alone under the name Apollo appears publicly; but the analogy of all other Asia Minor religious ritual practiced at Didyma, we should find the goddess alongside of the god. At Zizyma the goddess is, even to public view, the more important figure, but the god under varying names, Apollo, Dionysos, Zeus, and so on, is frequently mentioned along with her, and the two constitute the divine pair. It is characteristic of Hellenic feeling to lay stress on the god, and to keep the goddess in the background."The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1918,
Volume 38, pp. 138-139, W.M. Ramsey,
The Zizimene Mother was the local Iconium version of Cybele, mother of the gods, who had been kidnapped and taken to Rome in 204 BC.
"This was the epitaph engraved on the tomb of their son Zotikos by Kallinikos and Ammia, priest and priestess of a local cult closely connected with the fate of Iconium. The son Zotikos, being hereditarily connected with the cult, fulfilled certain duties subordinate to those of his parents in the ritual: the great Anatolian priesthoods were hereditary. (Note 89: Aeschines was minister to his mother the priestess of Cybele: the case is typical, as described by Demosthenes, de cor 29).
The generally recognized goddess of the Iconian municipal region was the Zizamene Mother, who had her seat at Zizyma or Zizima (modern Sizma), five hours north of Iconium, but it is clear that the cult mentioned in this inscription lay near the city: a sacred place in the immediate neighborhood of Iconium was the center of the ritual here described. The names and the religious ritual are of the Anatolian type. Galateia is a local nymph, really a local variety of the (Orondian) Mountain-Mother, whose chief home was at Zizima, but who was manifested in other places near Iconium.
- The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Volume 38, 1918,
Greek Philology, p. 162
Conclusions about Cybele
Ignoring Cybele's influence and prominence in Phrygia, in Rome and throughout the Roman Empire and Paul's experience of growing up around the goddess worship of Tarsus and winning pagan worshipers of Cybele to saving faith in Jesus Christ in her Phrygian stronghold, guarantees a wrong understanding of Romans every time.
The idolatry Paul so carefully describes in Romans 1 is directly related to Paul's life experience and what he knew to be happening in Rome when he wrote his epistle. The pagan sexual worship of the fertility goddess which was rampant in ancient Tarsus and Paul's personal experience as a soul-winning street preaching missionary in ancient Phrygia ten years before he wrote Romans, impacted what he wrote in Romans 1. Historical context is important and knowing the ancient world in which the apostle Paul wrote Romans helps us interpret and exposit the text accurately. Cybele is inextricably linked to first century Rome and to Paul's ministry as he labored to win her worshipers to saving faith
in Jesus Christ.Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 1
Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans? Part 2
Romans 1 and the link to Cybele
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Photo of the Cibele altar at the Milano Archaeological Museum by CristianChirita, via Wikimedia.org used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
This page updated September 13, 2014