Herakles: The Need for a Death-Defeating Savior

mythos, Myrrha

I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. ~ Genesis 3:15

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:14

This is the post I tread most cautiously with, as I do not want to cause anyone to misunderstand.  I wish to make it clear: Jesus is the one and only Savior, and there is no other.  

A Word on Historians

The Enemy loves to put doubt in people’s minds, and a huge way he does that is through the teaching of young, malleable minds.  History teachers love to point out the “fact” that Jesus was just one more demi-god cult, the last in the line of many.  They love to point to the legends of old and say “See! See!  Jesus is not what your religion says he is!  He was just like these gods: a myth, a legend, a fake.”

These history teachers and their words used to make me very frightened – for what do you say to such a thing?  You’re wrong?  In a way, they weren’t wrong; the Greeks – along with all other gentiles – did believe in and worship demi-gods, the children of gods by mortal women.[1]  These heroes were not generally begot willingly upon the women, either.  

How, then, do you reconcile the “facts” with our faith?

Herakles

The truth is, you cannot look at the world and then see God; you must look at God and then see the world.  When you look at God first, you see His kindness, His love for all humanity, and His ardent desire to bring all to Him.  That is His goal.  With that perspective, the answer becomes, “Of course the gentiles believed in a son of a god to save them!”  Despite their idolatry, the gentiles still clung to the promise of the chosen seed described in Genesis 3:15.  A chosen seed – a child, a savior to destroy their Enemy.  

The gentiles might not have remembered the origin of the belief, but they held the belief close.  You can see that in the heroes they worshiped.  These were generally mini-saviors who destroyed the fantastical creatures terrorizing the cities of Greece.  But die they did, and they did not return.  Only Herakles bested the greatest enemy, Death.  To pay back the kindness of his host, Herakles personally wrestled with Death to win back his host’s wife who had just died.[2]  It was not, however a permanent resurrection.  

It is no accident that the Greeks had their greatest hero personally rescue a woman from Death, the greatest enemy of all.  Although Herakles saved the Greek people from many monsters, he was only a personal savior to one – and not even that was a permanent salvation.[3]  It was as if the Greeks longed for deliverance from death, but never truly believed such a thing could happen for them.  It would be Pandora’s hope to wish for such a savior.

Preparing the Nations

I am full of awe that God – who is sovereign over stories – allowed them their sin, but put enough kernels of truth in their stories so as to draw the gentiles back to Himself when the time was right.  Their worship of demi-gods like Herakles was sinfully misplaced, to be sure.  However, isn’t it so gracious of our God to prepare their hearts in that way?  

Can you imagine growing up with these heroes, and then hearing of the One who died on your behalf and rose again, defeating Death, so that you could have eternal life?  And on top of that, He did it for you, personally.  Not even Prometheus could do that.  The best he did was hide from mankind when they would die.[4] 

Historians are wrong.  The Greek heroes like Herakles are nothing like Jesus, and the ancient Greeks knew it instantly.  Their myths hinted at the truth, and, I would argue, they were more prepared to recognize Jesus as their Savior than the Israelites were.  The Israelites were looking for a Messiah to conquer the Romans; the Greeks were looking for a Messiah to conquer Death.  Neither of them, however, realized they would get a personal relationship with such a Savior.  I think that was God’s special and beautiful surprise for us, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

As you contemplate the coming of Jesus, think of all the miracles surrounding his birth.  Think of how God – foreseeing the need of the nations – allowed their myths to point toward Him before He was even born.  And rejoice in such a great God that would place kernels of truth in the midst of lies in order to point others to Him.[5]

 

Sources 

[1] To my knowledge, Aphrodite was the only goddess to be tricked into sleeping with a mortal man.  The child from that union was Aeneas of Troy.

[2] Alcestis, by Euripides

[3] Herakles wasn’t exactly one to pattern your morals off of; he was more akin to reckless Samson than holy Messiah.

[4] “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus, lines 374-377

[5] It’s also important to note that the demi-gods were always half-god, half-men; Jesus was fully God, and fully man (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 2:17, Titus 2:13, John 4:29)

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