Monday 1 October 2012


This post is mostly from a Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern point-of-view, and so I can't speak for other people.

I think, again from this perspective, that adopted culture and ancestry are more important for religious practice than birth culture and ancestry.  Here are a few examples of this from the ancient Mediterranean world.  We have the Philistines, coming from Kaphtor or Greece, being Mycenaeans, and entering Canaan after fleeing their homeland.  In addition to their old mother goddess, their old Greek pottery style, their Mycenaean-style houses and temples, and their old 'seren' system of government; the Philistines worshiped Dagon and Ashtart, and spoke a Canaanite language.

There were many occasions when Nubians entered Egypt and became prime ministers or even kings, adopting the Egyptian ways of kingship and in many cases influencing them.  The crowns, the symbols of kingship, the powers of heavenly Ra- all of these were influenced by the Nubians and adopted by the Nubian kings of Egypt.  Here's something else to remember- differences in people were marked by culture and customs, not physical appearances.  The Nubians were black and so unlike the Egyptians in appearance, but could still adopt the ways of their northern rivals.

The Cushites from their kingdoms often went into Arabia, to their kingdom Seba or Saba, which was also inhabited by Arabians who called it Sheba (the difference being whether they pronounced it with a 's' or 'sh' sound).  The Cushites, while having their own lifestyle and being valuable warriors in the Sabaean armies due to their skills with hunting and archery, did take the cults of the gods of the Sabaeans- in some cases even taking them back to their own lands.

In Persia much use was found for Babylonian art and architecture, much of it also coming through the Medes, who had contact with the Babylonians for years.  After invading Babylon, and due to their king paying homage to the city's chief god, many Persian names included the divine name 'Bel'.

After the conquests of Alexander, Jerusalem became a part of two Hellenistic empires: firstly the Ptolemaic, and then the Seleukid.  During the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, there were two factions of Jews living in Judah.  One of them was a Hellenized group of Jews who regrew their foreskins, went to the gymnasiums, worshiped Zeus Olympios and Pan by sacrificing pigs in their temples, and had Hellenic names such as Jason (which they used in place of Joshua, often their birth name).  The other were true to their Jewish origins and wanted a Jewish kingdom, and they had Hebrew or Aramaic names such as Honiyyo (Onias).  So it was entirely possible for a Jew to become a Greek at that time.

Ya-milku (Iamblichus) the Aramaean Neoplatonic philosopher, is also mentioned in Greek writings as being an Aramaean, and by that they meant a native Aramaean who was descended from the priest-kings of the ancient city of Hom-Es, located near to Dimashqu.  They make it clear that they did not mean a Greek who lived in Aram and adopted Aramaean ways and customs, indicating that it was possible for a Greek to become an Aramaean.

During the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history, as in the days of old, there were many groups living in Egypt.  The main two, though, were Egyptians and Greeks.  Egyptians often married Greeks, especially Greek soldiers, and as such their customs mixed.  A Greek might serve as a high priest in the temple of Osir-Api (Serapis) in Menef (Memphis) or Alexandria.  And there might be a Greek funerary priest who was born as Olympios but took the name Ptahhotep and wore the mask of Anapu (Anubis) in the city of Ta-opet (Thebes).  Similarly, there might be an Egyptian man named Ahmose who served as a priest in the shrine of Demeter, or an Egyptian named Ra'meses who took the name Alexandros and served as a priest in the shrine of Zeus, who he identified with his father's god Amun while he was growing up on the streets of Ta-opet.  In many parts of Egypt, it became difficult to work out who was born into an Egyptian family and who was born into a Greek family, because their children had adopted different customs.

Among the Canaanites, it is always custom to allow foreigners to stay as part of the community provided that they show respect for Canaanite customs.  And if a Hittite or Egyptian chose to, they could adopt Canaanite customs and religion and become a full member of the Canaanite community.

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