Tertullian on Serapis

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Tertullian on Serapis

Post by MrMacSon » Fri Jun 23, 2017 2:26 am

Ad Nationes, Bk I, Chap X
The most brilliant and discerning of your ancestors, whose traditions you are powerless to dismiss, betray themselves as impious. I am well aware of the fact that from time to time the pagans have decreed that a general must await approval from the Senate before he can dedicate a temple he promised to build in the event of victory. And yet Marcus Aemilius promised a temple to the god Alburnus without Senate approval. Is it not the height of impiety and insult that the honor of divinity is bestowed at the consent and concession of human opinion? There can be no god except at the pleasure of the Senate. Many times the censors have torn down a temple without consulting the people. They banished Father Baccus and his rites not only from the city but throughout Italy. Furthermore Varro gives us an account of the ban from the Capital against Serapis, Isis, Harpocrates, and Anubis. Their altars, torn down by decree of the Senate, were restored by popular resistance. But on the following first of January the Consul Gabinius grudgingly approved sacrifices to Serapis and Isis in response to popular agitation. Even though he had made no prior decision to support the decree of the Senate or to favor Serapis and Isis, he upheld the ban of the Senate, opposed the rush of the crowd, and forbade altars to be built.

Here among your ancestors you find, if not the name, then at least practice of the Christians to neglect the gods. Even if you honor your gods, you are guilty of violating your religious norms. And I still find that you have advanced both in superstition and impiety. How you are declining in your religious observance! You retain your household gods, the Lares and Penates, by personal oath, and yet you trample them under foot, selling and pawning them to meet each passing whim. Such religious outrage would be more acceptable if it were not practiced with such measured moderation. There is, however, slight solace for the plight of your household gods only because you treat your public divinities even more wantonly and outrageously.

First of all, you offer your gods up for public auction. Every five years you put them up for sale among your other revenues. Thus you conduct business at the temple of Serapis and the temple of Jupiter. Then your gods themselves are brought in for barter at the bidding of the auctioneer, at the direction of the magistrate.

Ad Nationes Bk II, Chap 8
Chapter VIII.—The Gods of the Different Nations. Varro’s Gentile Class. Their Inferiority. A Good Deal of This Perverse Theology Taken from Scripture. Serapis a Perversion of Joseph.

There remains the gentile class of gods amongst the several nations: 906 these were adopted out of mere caprice, not from the knowledge of the truth; and our information about them comes from the private notions of different races. God, I imagine, is everywhere known, everywhere present, powerful everywhere—an object whom all ought to worship, all ought to serve. Since, then, it happens that even they, whom all the world worships in common, fail in the evidence of their true divinity, how much more must this befall those whom their very votaries 907 have not succeeded in discovering! For what useful authority could possibly precede a theology of so defective a character as to be wholly unknown to fame? How many have either seen or heard of the Syrian Atargatis, the African Cœlestis, the Moorish Varsutina, the Arabian Obodas and Dusaris, or the Norican Belenus, or those whom Varro mentions—Deluentinus of Casinum, Visidianus of Narnia, Numiternus of Atina, or Ancharia of Asculum? And who have any clear notions 908 of Nortia of Vulsinii? 909

There is no difference in the worth of even their names, apart from the human surnames which distinguish them. I laugh often enough at the little coteries of gods 910 in each municipality, which have their honours confined within their own city walls. To what lengths this licence of adopting gods has been pushed, the superstitious practices of the Egyptians show us; for they worship even their native 911 animals, such as cats, crocodiles, and their snake. It is therefore a small matter that they have also deified a man—him, I mean, whom not Egypt only, or Greece, but the whole world worships, and the Africans swear by; about whose state also all that helps our conjectures and imparts to our knowledge the semblance of truth is stated in our own (sacred) literature. For that Serapis of yours was originally one of our own saints called Joseph. 912 The youngest of his brethren, but superior to them in intellect, he was from envy sold into Egypt, and became a slave in the family of Pharaoh king of the country. 913 Importuned by the unchaste queen, when he refused to comply with her desire, she turned upon him and reported him to the king, by whom he is put into prison. There he displays the power of his divine inspiration, by interpreting aright the dreams of some (fellow-prisoners). Meanwhile the king, too, has some terrible dreams. Joseph being brought p. 137 before him, according to his summons, was able to expound them. Having narrated the proofs of true interpretation which he had given in the prison, he opens out his dream to the king: those seven fat-fleshed and well-favoured kine signified as many years of plenty; in like manner, the seven lean-fleshed animals predicted the scarcity of the seven following years. He accordingly recommends precautions to be taken against the future famine from the previous plenty. The king believed him. The issue of all that happened showed how wise he was, how invariably holy, and now how necessary. So Pharaoh set him over all Egypt, that he might secure the provision of corn for it, and thenceforth administer its government. They called him Serapis, from the turban 914 which adorned his head. The peck-like 915 shape of this turban marks the memory of his corn-provisioning; whilst evidence is given that the care of the supplies was all on his head, 916 by the very ears of corn which embellish the border of the head-dress. For the same reason, also, they made the sacred figure of a dog, 917 which they regard (as a sentry) in Hades, and put it under his right hand, because the care of the Egyptians was concentrated 918 under his hand. And they put at his side Pharia, 919 whose name shows her to have been the king’s daughter. For in addition to all the rest of his kind gifts and rewards, Pharaoh had given him his own daughter in marriage. Since, however, they had begun to worship both wild animals and human beings, they combined both figures under one form Anubis, in which there may rather be seen clear proofs of its own character and condition enshrined 920 by a nation at war with itself, refractory 921 to its kings, despised among foreigners, with even the appetite of a slave and the filthy nature of a dog.

Apology, Chap 6

Yet the very tradition of your fathers, which you still seem so faithfully to defend, and in which you find your principal matter of accusation against the Christians — I mean zeal in the worship of the gods, the point in which antiquity has mainly erred— although you have rebuilt the altars of Serapis, now a Roman deity, and to Bacchus, now become a god of Italy, you offer up your orgies,— I shall in its proper place show that you despise, neglect, and overthrow, casting entirely aside the authority of the men of old.
Apology, Chap 18
Now in ancient times the people we call Jews bare the name of Hebrews, and so both their writings and their speech were Hebrew. But that the understanding of their books might not be wanting, this also the Jews supplied to Ptolemy; for they gave him seventy-two interpreters — men whom the philosopher Menedemus, the well-known asserter of a Providence, regarded with respect as sharing in his views. The same account is given by Aristæus. So the king left these works unlocked to all, in the Greek language. To this day, at the temple of Serapis, the libraries of Ptolemy are to be seen, with the identical Hebrew originals in them. The Jews, too, read them publicly. Under a tribute-liberty, they are in the habit of going to hear them every Sabbath. Whoever gives ear will find God in them; whoever takes pains to understand, will be compelled to believe.
Apology, Chap 39
The Salii cannot have their feast without going into debt; you must get the accountants to tell you what the tenths of Hercules and the sacrificial banquets cost; the choicest cook is appointed for the Apaturia, the Dionysia, the Attic mysteries; the smoke from the banquet of Serapis will call out the firemen. Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agapè, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you, do parasites aspire to the glory of satisfying their licentious propensities, selling themselves for a belly-feast to all disgraceful treatment—but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly. If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste.
The Serapeum was erected "in a place called Rhacotis, where there had stood a chapel consecrated in old times to Serapis and Isis. Such is the most popular account of the origin and introduction of the God Serapis" (Tacitus, Histories, IV.84). This district, where Alexandria itself had been founded, was in the old Egyptian quarter of the city and "lies above the ship-houses" (Strabo, Geography, XVII.1.6, who further remarks that the Serapeum then was "almost abandoned," like the other ancient buildings that "have fallen into neglect," 1.10). Access to the Acropolis, which was situated on a narrow promontory that dominated the city, was by way of a monumental stairway of one-hundred (or more) steps (Progymnasmata, XII) that approached the temple from the side rather than along its principal axis.

The earliest reference that the sanctuary contained a library is from Tertullian, who in about AD 197 remarked "To this day, at the temple of Serapis, the libraries of Ptolemy are to be seen, with the identical Hebrew originals [the Septuagint] in them" (Apology, XVIII.8). Such an important temple would be expected to have a library, as did the Caesareum (where, after it had been converted to a church, Hypatia was murdered). Philo of Alexandria described it in about AD 38.
  • "For there is no sacred precinct of such magnitude as that which is called the Grove of Augustus, and the temple erected in honour of the disembarkation of Caesar, which is raised to a great height, of great size, and of the most conspicuous beauty, opposite the best harbour; being such an one as is not to be seen in any other city, and full of offerings, in pictures, and statues; and decorated all around with silver and gold; being a very extensive space, ornamented in the most magnificent and sumptuous manner with porticoes, and libraries, and men's chambers, and groves, and propylaea, and wide, open terraces, and court-yards in the open air, and with everything that could contribute to use or beauty; being a hope and beacon of safety to all who set sail, or who came into harbour" (Embassy to Gaius, XXII.151).
In AD 181, the Ptolemaic Temple of Serapis burned down (Jerome, Chronicle, 240th Olympiad; Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, IV.47) and was rebuilt on a much grander scale by the Romans, principally Septimius Severus and, other than the Capitol in Rome, enthused Ammianus, "the whole world beholds nothing more magnificent" (Roman History, XXII.16.12). It was completed sometime before AD 215, when Caracalla sacrificed there before ordering his army to slaughter the young men of Alexandria (Herodian, History of the Empire, IV.9.1ff; for which there was lamentable precedence "when this population had been nearly annihilated" by Ptolemy VIII Psychon more than three centuries earlier, Polybius, Histories, XXXIV.14.6).

This is the Serapeum described by Aphthonius, with its books located in the colonnaded stoa (other rooms served as shrines to honor the gods). The libraries seen by Tertullian in the Serapeum of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-222 BC, as attested by gold foundation plaques) less than two decades after its destruction suggest that they, too, had been in the stoa, protected by the expansive stone courtyard that surrounded the temple.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) had been commanded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas, IXff; elaborated upon by Philo, Life of Moses, II.31ff, and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XII.2ff; also Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.21.3; Clement, Stromata, I.22; Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel, VIII.2). Aristeas relates how Ptolemy agreed to a request by his librarian Demetrius (cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers) that the Jewish Law be translated and included among the books in the Library of Alexandria. Seventy-two translators (six from each of the twelve tribes) were said to have been chosen, who completed their work on Pharos in seventy-two days. Josephus is the first to refer to the translators as "the seventy," from which the Septuagint itself is titled and abbreviated LXX.

Tertullian saw a copy, as did John Chrysostom almost two hundred years later. In AD 386, in the first of a series of polemical homilies against the Jews, John declared that "Up to the present day the translated books remain there in the temple. But will the temple of Serapis be holy because of the holy books? Heaven forbid! Although the books have their own holiness, they do not give a share of it to the place because those who frequent the place are defiled" (Adversus Judaeos, I.6.1).

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/enc ... ghter.html

... there also was religious prejudice and intolerance, both Christian and pagan. Tertullian famously had asked in about AD 200,
  • "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians?....Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides" (Prescription Against Heretics, VII).

The ancient serpent-god of the Gnostics from the East was Serapis. The various spellings of the name Serapis are Sor-apis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek), Sarapis (Σάραπις, Dorian Greek), Serapin (Greek Ὄφις), or in Hebrew Seraph. All these names mean 'serpent.' The name 'seraphim' is the plural form of serpent and is also said to mean, “the burning ones.” Serapis is the Hellenized version of the Egyptian Osiris-Apis.


The Seraphim are the first hierarchy of angels who some say are demons that were Cherubim and Thrones. In the bible under Isaiah 6:6, it is said– “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.” Beelzebub was a prince of the Seraphim, just below Lucifer. Lucifer is another word for phosphorus. The Latin word corresponding to Greek Phosphorus is “Lucifer.” Phosphorus (Greek Φωσφόρος Phōsphoros), a name meaning “Light-Bringer”, is the Morning Star.

Tacitus, who informs us that Serapis had appeared in a dream Serapisto Ptolemy as beautiful young man, and ordered him to Sinope in order to bring his statue to Egypt. The dream would align with the Greek influence on Serapis being depicted as a young man. The statue of Serapis, according to Macrobius, was of a human form, with a basket or bushel on his head, resembling plenty, and referring, as some say, to the history of Joseph's supplying the Egyptians with corn.

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