God and Godlike Humans in the Bible and Iliad

10 October 2016

The characterization of individuals through specific and repeated character descriptions are consistent with social norms and create binding values associated each character. In the Iliad, which can be considered the primary religious text of antiquity, godly epithets are used to accompany characters with dominant abilities. The Bible also features consistent divine descriptions throughout the various writings.

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By regularly featuring characters with “godlike” descriptions, Homer’s language defines the humanity and position of the Greek gods, creating a sharp distinction from the descriptive writing in the Bible that defines the unreachable position of the monotheistic God. Although the gods of the Iliad and the God of Genesis are similar in their interaction with mortals, the usage and nature of divine language in character descriptions, along with the ability for a mortal to attain “godlike” status, are remarkably different.

Throughout the Iliad, Homer pays respect to soldiers by mentioning their name with various adjacent positive qualities. In the first book of the Iliad, “godlike Polyphemous” is introduced among a list of noteworthy soldiers (Iliad 1:264). Although Polyphemous is an unfamiliar character that is not central to the action, Homer wholly compares him to a god. The pairing of this godly term with such an insignificant character represents how divine status is obtainable for mortals, especially because Homer does not provide an explanation as to how Polyphemous achieved this status.

Within this same listing of soldiers, Theseus is also mentioned as being “in the likeness of the immortals” (Iliad 1:265). While this phrase exemplifies noteworthy status in the gods’ perspective, it is distinctively different than being compared to the gods. Homer, therefore, employs specific language to carefully present a difference in how characters can either be in the likeness of the gods or completely similar to them. Homer frequents divine descriptions when mentioning soldiers, noting how numerous men have ascended into a role similar to a god simply by heroic accomplishments or physical attributes.

For example, Homer describes Idomeneus “like a god standing” and “Akamas, beauteous as god” (Iliad 2:230, 11:60). This divine language not only portrays the importance of both soldiers and physical prowess in society, but also represents how mortals can bridge the gap between the divine and the earthly by possessing superior ability or physical features. In book 5 of the Iliad as Diomedes is preparing for battle, Homer provides an anecdote of Eurypylos, who was “honored about the countryside as a god is” due to his victory in battle (Iliad, 5:78).

By mentioning this story and specific language before a battle scene, Homer demonstrates to the reader that Diomedes, or any character, can achieve godlike standing by winning a significant battle. Warfare, which is an integral aspect of society in the Iliad, also plays an important role in the Old Testament. In the book of Genesis, the writers mention Nimrod as the “first on earth to become a mighty man” (Genesis 10:8).

Similar to the large amount of soldiers mentioned in the Iliad, Nimrod achieves recognition for his violent skills and physicality. However, Nimrod is purposely introduced as a “hunter before the lord” (Genesis 10:10). Rather than comparing Nimrod to God because of his skill, the writers of Genesis portray his skill as being devoted to the lord. Although Homer would have confidently considered Nimrod godlike, this language displays how the writers of Genesis believed that superiority in skill does not create a godlike mortal.

Rather, excellent ability is practiced in honor of the lord and fulfilled in accordance with God’s desires. Odysseus, the skilled speaker and warrior, is consistently featured in the Iliad with godlike qualities. For example, he is titled “godlike” while motivating the Greek soldiers before battle (Iliad 2:335). This specific account not only displays how possessing a superior talent is considered a godlike quality, but also how reputation and fame grant worthy comparison to the gods.

Odysseus became well known during the Trojan War because of his profound ability to speak, giving him the opportunity to encourage thousands of soldiers who “cried out” and offered “applause” in honor and respect (Iliad 2:335). Homer’s language in this scene displays that famous and recognizable mortals are comparable to the gods, who are the most identifiable characters in antiquity. Because citizens of Greece admire Odysseus’ skill and knew his name just as if it were a god’s, Homer considers him to be godlike.

Hector, another distinguished soldier known throughout Greece, is the most notable example of immortal characterization. Presented as “equal of Zeus in counsel,” Homer portrays Hector as being wholly comparable to Zeus, the most significant of the gods (Iliad 7:47). This language blatantly proclaims that Hector, one of the most idolized mortals, is equally advisable as Zeus, the most idolized god. Because Helen is the speaker, the reader gains an understanding into the analogous value of both Hector and Zeus from a mortal’s perspective.

Abraham, one of the most prominent mortals in the book of Genesis, is the patriarch of the Israelites, serving as the liaison between God and his people. Abraham achieved his fame and status through defeating challenges and personal displays of righteousness, but the writers of Genesis do not consider him to be godlike. Rather, Abraham is considered “blessed by God most high” (Genesis 14:19). The highest achievement for mortals in Genesis is not to be considered godlike, but only to be fortunate under the direction of God’s desires.

This language proves that God not only provides success and preeminence, but also deserves honor from those he has provided for. Although similar to Odysseus and Hector in status, Abraham’s significance does not make him godlike. The writers of Genesis viewed his prestige and position as a gift from the unreachable God. Although mortals never deliberately strive to mimic the gods in the Iliad, Homer employs divine language to present how superiority in skill, physicality, and fame give mortals godly status.

In the Old Testament, mortals such as Abraham, who live according to God’s commands and therefore impersonate his heavenly characteristics, are never able to elevate to godlike status. Although both the Olympian gods and God present humanlike qualities and interact with mortal characters, the position of God’s status remains unreachable. The usage and nature of divine language in character descriptions may help explain why the Iliad is now historically considered mythology and the Bible stills remains a religious text.

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