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To the unknown God


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Acts 17: 16-23 (NASB)

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he observed that the city was full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers as well were [o]conversing with him. Some were saying, “What could this [p]scavenger of tidbits want to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him [q]to the [r]Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is [s]which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

 

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the [t]Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 2

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[When I was in twi, I was taught something specific about this incident.

I was taught that Athens had SO many gods that they set up an altar to cover whoever was left out, a miscellaneous altar, and labelled that "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." Furthermore, I was taught that after this, it was illegal, under pain of death, to bring any more gods into Athens.

No citation for any of this was given.

I'm now of the belief that no citation was given because there was none- somebody made up that entire explanation out of whole cloth.  

Apparently, historical sources agree on a completely different story.

The short of it was that they wanted to stop a plague. They offered on altars for every god they knew. No improvement.

So, they offered up offerings to a god they didn't know, and the plague stopped.

They concluded (post hoc, ergo propter hoc, after this, therefore because of this)

that "the unknown god" accepted their sacrifice and stopped the plague.

So, there were some altars made up to that "unknown god."

THAT's what Paul saw and commented on. So, Paul used the monument as his  "conversation starter" on Mars' Hill, a point to begin his exposition and explanation.

 

Biblical Archaeology "To the Unknown God"

 

https://odb.org/AR/1994/03/11/to-the-unknown-god

https://www.biblehistory.net/newsletter/the_unknown_God.htm

 

 

I don't know what prompted people in twi to make up explanations out of whole cloth and pretend they had researched something and found that as the answer,  but I've never liked that.   Allegedly, in pfal, it was stressed not to say you knew if you did not, or to guess. It would have been nice if that really was the practice of twi and not just the profession of twi.

 

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Great post, WordWolf !

It’s fascinating and satisfying to find out about the much more significant backstory of a biblical account that wierwille obfuscated with his amateurish speculations. Thanks!

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/19/2022 at 12:52 AM, WordWolf said:

Acts 17: 16-23 (NASB)

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he observed that the city was full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers as well were [o]conversing with him. Some were saying, “What could this [p]scavenger of tidbits want to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him [q]to the [r]Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is [s]which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

 

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the [t]Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 2

======================================================================

[When I was in twi, I was taught something specific about this incident.

I was taught that Athens had SO many gods that they set up an altar to cover whoever was left out, a miscellaneous altar, and labelled that "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." Furthermore, I was taught that after this, it was illegal, under pain of death, to bring any more gods into Athens.

No citation for any of this was given.

I'm now of the belief that no citation was given because there was none- somebody made up that entire explanation out of whole cloth.  

Apparently, historical sources agree on a completely different story.

The short of it was that they wanted to stop a plague. They offered on altars for every god they knew. No improvement.

So, they offered up offerings to a god they didn't know, and the plague stopped.

They concluded (post hoc, ergo propter hoc, after this, therefore because of this)

that "the unknown god" accepted their sacrifice and stopped the plague.

So, there were some altars made up to that "unknown god."

THAT's what Paul saw and commented on. So, Paul used the monument as his  "conversation starter" on Mars' Hill, a point to begin his exposition and explanation.

 

Biblical Archaeology "To the Unknown God"

 

https://odb.org/AR/1994/03/11/to-the-unknown-god

https://www.biblehistory.net/newsletter/the_unknown_God.htm

 

 

I don't know what prompted people in twi to make up explanations out of whole cloth and pretend they had researched something and found that as the answer,  but I've never liked that.   Allegedly, in pfal, it was stressed not to say you knew if you did not, or to guess. It would have been nice if that really was the practice of twi and not just the profession of twi.

 

Cool!!! Thanks!

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Interesting, WW..  I checked The Oxford Companion to the Bible (ed. Metzger & Coogan) for more information

"Unknown God.  A dedication found on an Athenian altar according to Acts 17:23.  Altars belonging to unknown gods (plural) at Olympia and elsewhere were probably aimed at satisfying divinities who had been overlooked, but they do not explain the singular formulation in Acts.  Because votive offerings were connected to specific prayers, it is unlikely that an individual who had received aid would make a dedication to an unknown divinity.  There is no evidence that either Stoics or gnostics addressed or worshipped the supreme being as an unknown god.  The most likely reference is to the anonymous altars (ie, bearing no inscription) erected to local divinities throughout Athens under Solon.  In Roman literature, these altars are sometimes cited as dedications to unknown gods (always plural).  Whatever the source, the Areopagus speech reveals both the importance of relating the Christian message to broader cultural assumptions and the distinctiveness of Christian monotheism." 

(Contributed by Robert Stoops, Associate Professor, Dept of Liberal Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham)

Solon was a local aristocrat and powerful administrator.  Here's a lengthy Wikipedia article about him.  Solon - Wikipedia  The article gives some interesting background to the cultural situation in Athens and the  wider Mediterranean area at the time.

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