The Bible Itself Tells Us Ancient People Were Very Superstitious!


Many Christians claim that ancient people were not that superstitious compared to our own age. They do this in order to help bolster the purportedly historical claims of their faith. The longest chapter in my book takes the Bible at face value and asks what it says about the beliefs of ancient people. That is, if the Bible is true, and it says ancient people were superstitious, then they were, period.


What I found was that Biblical people were superstitious to the core. Now someone might argue that there were literate and skeptical people in the ancient world, and there most certainly were. But the people who were reached by the message of Christianity, the masses for the most part, can be overwhelmingly described as superstitious.

Here's just one example of many many I could offer:

Acts 19:23-41: The Riot in Ephesus.

23 “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

While it's probably an exaggeration to say that this goddess "is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world," certainly most all people in and around Ephesus did. There were undoubtedly many people throughout the known world who did also.

Who is Artemis, anyway? From Microsoft Encarta: “Artemis, in Greek mythology, is one of the principal goddesses, counterpart of the Roman goddess Diana. She was the daughter of the god Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of the god Apollo. She was chief hunter to the gods and goddess of hunting and of wild animals, especially bears. Artemis was also the goddess of childbirth, of nature, and of the harvest. As the moon goddess, she was sometimes identified with the goddesses Selene and Hecate.”

“Although traditionally the friend and protector of youth, especially young women, Artemis prevented the Greeks from sailing to Troy during the Trojan War until they sacrificed a maiden to her. According to some accounts, just before the sacrifice, she rescued the victim, Iphigenia. Like Apollo, Artemis was armed with a bow and arrows, which she often used to punish mortals who angered her. In other legends, she is praised for giving young women who died in childbirth a swift and painless death.”

Now Christian...tell me this, do you think there is any evidence for the existence of Artemis? Any? Then why did these ancient people believe in Artemis? Because it was a good story, it explained some things, and they were polytheistic people. No evidence. Just a good story to help them through life.....right?

28 “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.”

Even though the text attributes financial motive to Demetrius, the overwhelming reaction is that the initial crowd overwhelmingly believed in Artemis.

32 “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

Even if some of these Ephesians hadn't known why they were there, they did know what they believed--with fanaticism! Two hours! Artemis! Artemis! Artemis! It would seem as if they were in a pep rally or something. Did they try to reason with Paul? No! They shouted. It kinda reminds me of Militant Muslims with their guns in the air and shooting off round after round. Fanaticism. Mythology.

35 “The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.”

Here's a pragmatic clerk in the midst of fanaticism. But can you imagine any town clerk in America dealing with the same problem...and admitting the things he did: "these facts are undeniable." That's the difference between them and us today, I think. These people were definitely overwhelmingly superstitious, and had no evidence for the existence of Artemis, except religious experiences which can be interpreted according to their own beliefs. These people would believe any good story if told sincerely, wouldn't they? And so, the competition between religious truth claims would be in who had the best story, wouldn't it, even if old beliefs die hard, like in Ephesus.

But the Christian gospel story had to win, because it couldn't be topped--about a God who died for the world's sins! And Paul established a church there.

My question is whether there is any evidence for the Christian story too. It didn't require any in the ancient past, but it does now. And if that's the case, then why should I believe in any of these religious stories of the past...any of them. I have more rigorous scientific and philosophical standards, as do all educated modern people today.

11 comments:

CalvinDude said...

I think you have a very odd definition of superstitious. What you've described from Acts is religious belief, yes. But if you're equating religious belief with superstition then your argument that the Bible shows people are superstitious is lacking a point. The Bible does state that people have religious beliefs. My question is: so what? What difference does it make? What does it prove to say that?

paul said...

John,
Here's a bit more. Acts 17:23, Paul makes the point outright: "...men of Athens! I see in every way you are very religious." That would be NIV, KJV uses the word "superstitious" instead of "religious." Paul also has a very odd definiton of superstitious.

John W. Loftus said...

My point, Calvin, because you missed it, is that these people believed in religious stories without needing evidence, and that to me is superstitious thinking. I know it's true that what one considers superstition may not be considered so by another. But surely you yourself would see how superstitious these people were to whom Paul told some tall tales.

And I said no wonder Paul's story won the day--because it was a bigger tale. And so the question for me is why should I consider Paul's story with any more evidential support than their stories?

Paul, I know I know. I've documented most all of them. Consider also the fact that these ancient people were quick to think that the gods can take up human form (Acts 14:11 & Acts 28:6). How many people do you know who would conclude this in today's modern educated world?

And we today are supposed to believe that Christians had a different (skeptical?) mindset from their contemporaries? It's a legitimate question which I and the bloggers here have answered with a resounding "NO!"

DagoodS said...

What is interesting about this tale is a common reaction to a different religion that we still see predominantly today. It is human tendency not to debunk the other position, but rather to bolster their own.

As you point out, the crowd does not question Paul, or point out the problems they view in his religion. Rather they figure whoever shouts the loudest wins.

How many Christians have read the Qur’an? Or the Book of Mormon? Or studied Islam or Christian Science? Relatively vary few. The way in which most Christians “debunk” competing religions, is to immerse themselves in their own.

In the same way, how many people would have even cared to respond, let alone refute early Christianity? There were at least 20 different sects of Judaism that we know of. They have enough in-fighting among themselves, let alone with the Romans to worry about some new upstart religion. Such Messianic claims came and went.

And which Christianity to even be skeptical of? Paul’s claims to the gentiles? James’ hold on the church in Jerusalem? The Galilean church? The Johannine Church? The Nazarenes, or The Way, or Peterine, or Judaizers, or Gnostics, or Apollos’ followers?

And then we have the Roman Gods of each town and city, all competing for their piece of the action. We have the mystic cults, the druidic cults, and the Mithra cults.

People believed in crying statutes, healing pools, howling at the moon, earthquakes at great events, and virgin births with gods. Even Josephus, who we rely upon as an intelligible historian succumbs to recording the occasional miracle.

And now some guy comes to our city and tells of this new religion (sounding similar to another resurrected savior cult) about events that happened years ago in another land? Easiest way to set this straight—“Artemis! Artemis! Artemis!”

Paul Manata said...

another post bites the dust for John: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/05/debunking-reading-comprehension.html

eddie said...

another post bites the dust for John
only in the myopic mind of Paul Manureta

John, John-Boy, thanks for exposing the claptrap of the sadistic religion called Christianity. I for one appreciate every time I can come here and have my own thinking challenged beyond the myths Christianity peddle as the “truth” and “revelation” of a god. This blog has helped me to realize their imaginary deity is no less “incredible” or “supernatural” than the Pagan gods, and it bolster my rejection of all that Christianity stands for. My sincere appreciation to all the contributors here.

Beyond that, I wasn’t sure if I should get your book, but if it contains material such as this, then I am definitely ordering. I didn’t want to own yet another book that addresses the same apologetics, so I am ordering …

Mike Stratton said...

I have been doubting Christianity for a while now. I am a minister and have been educated at a prestigious seminary.

As I searched the internet for reasons for/against wht I believed, someone referrd me over here.

At first I read many posts here nad was stimulated by the content. As I searched through previous posts and saw links to triablogue I started readem them as well. I figured I should keep an open mind.

I must say that the guys at triablogue have seriously dismantled the folks over here. I can't tell you what a blessing and encouragment it has been for me to see no-nonsense Christians defending their beliefs. With all due respect, John, you have been completely taken apart.

Daniel said...

Mike,

Thanks for your honesty. If I may ask, of what theological/philosophical persuasion are you? Reformed?

Also, what arguments do you feel the Christian religion has better answers for? Our origins? Our morality? The problem of evil?

Keep reading, and commenting, if you please.

Best regards,
Daniel

Daniel said...

For those interested, the Triabloguers have written three posts and some comments over at their site about this thread.

John W. Loftus said...

Mike, is this an intelligence contest or something? I do not believe, and the reason I don't believe is because I see things differently. I use my education and intelligence to help others see what I see. But if what I say is doesn't do this then it might not be because I don't have the needed intelligence or the eductational background, because I do. It might be because you are blinded by your faith and want to hear what they are saying. And who's to judge which is true here?

Apparently you think they are winning something here. Bully for you. For me it's not a contest. I do not believe, and the reasons I offer are sufficient for me...that's all I can do, and that's all you can do too.

Thanks for reading. Comment all you like.

paul said...

John,
"is this an intelligence contest?"
bingo.
One of the things I look for in christians is evidence that they are different from the rest of us. but what i see is the same attitudes, methods that are common to all people. the point becomes 'winning' the argument, saying the most clever thing as opposed to discerning the truth. i went around and around with a christian on another post here, on this topic, and he never got it. i hold christians to a higher standard because thier doctrine does, i.e. "we'll know they are christians by their love", etc. or how about being a "fool for Christ?" (all i see is a desperate effort to seem intelligent) if Jesus lives inside of them, where is the evidence? to me debunking is simply exposing what is false, not beating up on someone (though a fair amount of that happens here to). what we often see here is sparring to 'win' a contest of words, which to me is very revealing, that we're all playing at the same game.