The Idols of Athens

Paul in Athens Acts 17 (Part 1)

I was interested to read Acts 17 again, so I thought I might research a little deeper.

So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. (Act 17:15-16 NKJ)

athensSupposing Paul arrived by ship, he would have landed at Piraeus and would have gone north from the harbor and entered Athens by the “Double Gate” on the west side of the city, where four highways converged. Before passing the gate, however, he would have gone through an extensive cemetery, where he would have noticed the graves of many distinguished Athenian citizens, the most famous being Menander, the son of Diopithes.

Passing through the gates, Paul would have seen the Temple of Demeter with statues of the goddess and her daughter Demeter was the goddess of fertility and harvest, her daughter was goddess of the underworld. A little further on he would have passed the statue of Poseidon, God of the Sea, hurling his trident. Beyond this, he would have seen the statues of Healing Athena, Zeus, Apollo, and Hermes standing near the Sanctuary of Dionysus, the god of the wine harvest and drunkeness.

 While Paul waited for Silas and Timothy, whom he had instructed to join him as soon as possible (Acts 17:15), he must have explored the city. He could have visited the Royal Colonnade, the Metroum or Sanctuary of the Mother of the Gods with her image.

In the agora the Apostle would have passed what sometimes called “the Music Hall at Athens,” the odeon, a small roofed theater. In the agora the Athenians had an altar of Mercy, which stood in a grove of laurels and olives. Close to the agora, in the gymnasium of Ptolemy, there was a stone statue of Hermes, and a bronze statue of Ptolemy.

Wherever Paul turned, he must have seen statues, temples, and shrines. There was the Sanctuary of the Dioscuri, the Serapeum in the lower part of this city, the Temple of Olympian Zeus southeast of the Acropolis, the Pythium on the southern side of the Acropolis, the Sanctuary of Dionysus at the foot of the Acropolis, and many more.

Entering the Acropolis he would have passed two statues of horsemen facing each other on opposite sides of the road. On his right, on the western edge of the Acropolis, was the Temple of Victory Athena, the so-called Wingless Victory. Paul would have looked towards the sea and seen the Bay of Phaleron, perhaps with grain ships from Alexandria, Egypt.

He would have visited the most famous and beautiful of all Greek temples, the Parthenon, and then the Erechtheum standing on the northern edge of the Acropolis. Here his eyes must have fallen on the oldest and most venerated statue of Athena, which like that of Diana of Ephesus, was believed to have fallen from heaven. (Acts 19:35)

And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?

Finally, there was the most conspicuous statue of the city-goddess, a dedication from the spoils of the Battle of Marathon.

Among all these deities Paul discovered one altar dedicated to the “unknown god.” There are many examples of similar inscriptions in the Greco-Roman world. The idea, of course, was that these altars to the “unknown gods” ensured that no deity was omitted from worship

Published by Terry Threadwell

Dr. Terry Threadwell has thirty five years ministry experience. Author, educator and Director of the Institute of Progressive Pentecostal Studies.

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