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Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Judaic Studies | Classics | Studies in Religion | Philosophy | Brooklyn College Library

JUST/CLAS/RELG 3022 and PHIL 3729: Searching for God: Week 1: Intro

Ancient Greeks, Jews, and Christians

Topic for the week

Topic: Introduction. God Before Philosophy: Ancient Greece, Ugarit, and the Bible

Primary Source: Ancient Greece


  1. Homer’s Iliad 9:497-501 (quoted in Plato’s Republic, 364-d, 364-e and see also 365-e)
    • Citation: Homer. The Iliad, trans A.T. Murray, in two vols. (Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd.1924.) 
  2. Odyssey, 1:234, 8:266-366 (and see Heraclitus the exegete’s Problem 69 below explaining this)
    • Citation: Homer. The Odyssey, trans A.T. Murray, in two vols. (Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.)
  3. Hesiod, Theogony 450-506 (Note what Plotinus does with this myth when we get to that unit)
    • Citation: Hesiod. Theogony. tans Hugh G. Evelyn-White. (Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.)
  4. Hesiod, Works and Days 248-51 (“For the immortals are close to us, they mingle with men”)
    • Citation: Hesiod. Works and Days. tans Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914

Primary Source: Ugarit


Introduction to The Baal Cycle pp. 81-86, then skim the Baal Cycle (pp. 87-164). Pay special attention to the following:

  • in KTU 1.2.IV.7-10 of the Baal Cycle, Baal is called “Cloudrider” and told to smash his enemies to seize his kingship;
  • in 2.IV.27, we are told “Baal drags and dismembers Yamm. Destroys Judge River”;
  • Gods can murder other gods and die (4.II.24-26 [Anat and Baal are accused by Athirat of possiby plotting to murder some of the other god]; 5.VI.8-10 and 23, 6.I.6 [Baal is killed by Mot]) and be buried in the earth (6.I.15-18);
  • Gods can cut themselves and be cut (5.VI.17-22; 6.I.2-5);
  • Gods need homes (Baal’s need for a home like the other gods is the theme of much of the Baal Cycle, and is stated explicitly in a number of passages including 4.IV.50-57, V.27-29);
  • Gods get hungry and thirsty and eat and drink (4.IV.33-38; 5.I.24-25); gods can smile and laugh (4.IV.27-28) and cry (6.I.9);
  • Gods get sexually aroused (4.IV.38-40);
  • Gods can have sex and impregnate (5.V.17-22);
  • Gods have body parts like skin, cheeks, chin, arms, chest, back (5.VI.17-22; 6.I.2-5), and even genitals (4.IV.38).
  • Baal as storm king who brings rain, clouds, and lightning (4.V.6-9; 5.V.6-8, 10 V 6-9, 10 VII 25-31),  
  • Gods can be made king and sit on thrones (4.VII.42 and 49, 4.VIII.12-14);
  • Gods can stand and sit (5.VI.11-14) and prostrate themselves (6.I.38);
  • Gods can be located in specific places and move from place to place (e.g., 5.I.6-11, 5.II.13-15; 5.VI.11-14; 6.I.32-36);
  • Gods can be afraid (5.II.6-7).

Primary Sources: Mesopotamia

Discussion question:

Is the Cyrus Cylinder's notion of the gods similar to or different from the above conception? Give some examples of how it is similar or different.

Ares and Aphrodite Pompeii.

Naples National Archaeological Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Primary Source: Hebrew Bible

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Sefaria Texts

All these readings have been digitized and are accessible on Sefaria: a Living Library of Jewish Texts Online

Primary Source: The Moabite Mesha Stele

Secondary Sources

Citation: Kugel, James L. The Great Shift : Encountering God in Biblical Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. Print.  To Read: If you are able to get a copy of the book to read, look at the Foreword and Part 1.

Since there isn't an online version of the book itself you can read some good summaries and critiques of the books to gain information.

Other Readings

Discussion Questions

  1. What did the ancient Israelites see as some of the main functions of their God? Look particularly at 1 Samuel 4:1-11, 7:10, and 17:45-47, 1 Kings 11:1-10, and 2 Kings 18:31-35. What is the role of God(s) in these verses?
  2. In 2 Kings 18:31-35, what is the Assyrian messenger's assumption of the role the Israelites will imagine for their god, and is that consistent with or different from the Israelite notion in general?