Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Paul's Pagan Quotations I

Aratus, Phaenomena (Mair, tr.):

From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Race! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars.

Aratus's work, a poem about the constellations, is rarely read today, but it was highly regarded in the Roman Empire. Its greatest claim to fame, however, is that one of the lines is quoted by St. Paul in his Areopagus sermon:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ [NIV]

It's worth keeping in mind that quoting a text often alludes to context not quoted, and when one does this, it becomes easy to see that this quotation is quite appropriate. The beginning of Paul's speech to the Athenians had noted that they had altars To the Unknown God. The unquoted part of the context says that we should never leave Zeus unspoken/unexpressed/unnamed, i.e., that we should never fail to call upon him. The Aratus passage says that Zeus is everywhere and Paul says God is not far from us.

What is more, there is at least one text Paul might have known as his immediate source, a quotation of Aratus by the Jewish author Aristobulus, that explicitly and deliberately replaces Aratus's 'Zeus' with a more generic 'God', increasing the similarities. Eusebius (Preparatio Evangelica 13.12) describes him, immediately after having quoted Aratus, as saying:

It is clearly shown, I think, that all things are pervaded by the power of God: and this I have properly represented by taking away the name of Zeus which runs through the poems; for it is to God that their thought is sent up, and for that reason I have so expressed it. These quotations, therefore, which I have brought forward are not inappropriate to the questions before us. For all the philosophers agree, that we ought to hold pious opinions concerning God, and to this especially our system gives excellent exhortation; and the whole constitution of our law is arranged with reference to piety, and justice, and temperance, and all things else that are truly good. 

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