How did people revere their gods differently among three civilizations? Did they worship with the same general intent? What were gods’ role(s) in people’s lives? A brief exploration into the religions of Egypt, Greece, and the Hebrew people may bring insight to these questions. Although the main idea of higher beings remains constant throughout societies’ religion, their form of presence in people’s lives varies. I will present the relationship between the leaders and the gods, as well as resemblance to monotheism and systems of government.
Egyptian religion is polytheistic. The gods are present in the form of elements of life – natural forces and human condition. Greek religion is also polytheistic. Like Egypt, the Greek gods exist to represent different aspects of life, but they also play an active social role in the people’s lives. In Greek mythology, the gods have feelings and flaws as the normal people do. Greek Gods have even had children and committed adultery with people. The Egyptian gods interact more with each other than with the people. They interact with the people more on a supernatural level. Osiris, the Egyptian god of agriculture and afterlife, judges people when they die. Amon, the king of gods, is hidden inside the ruler (This “king of gods” title was not always so as the popularity of Aton, the sun-disk rose through the reformation of Pharaoh Akhenaton in 1369-1353 BC). Hebrew religion, being monotheistic, had only one all-powerful god. Instead of being believed by the people to be somewhere in the world, the Hebrew god was completely separated from the physical universe. Abraham in Canaan (about 1800 BC) is the first known practicer of monotheism. As for monotheistic resemblance in other cultures, the Greek god Zeus is seen as a leader of the other gods, but not independent of them. Akhenaton’s short-lived reform of Egyptian religion reveres Aton as the source of all life. This is the earliest religious expression of a belief in a sole god of the universe. Akhenaton’s challenge to the power of the priests did not last beyond his own lifetime.
As Greek governing power was within aristocracy, their gods were also viewed as somewhat of an aristocracy. I say this to elucidate that there is a unique relationship between a leader or ruler and his society’s god – in perception by the people, and by interaction.

Zeus, keeping his promise to Thetis, tricks Agamemnon with a dream into imagining he can capture Troy at once. Agamemnon, however, craftily tests the spirit of his men by telling them that Zeus has forbidden him give up the siege. Athene, sent by Hera, inspires Odysseus to oppose the plan, and he incites the Greeks to continue the struggle.

One can see from the above text that leadership is described in terms of the game-of-strategy relationship between a leader and the gods. It is the struggle between the two, which most immediately resembles democracy compared to the Egyptian and Hebrew relationship. The Egyptian god, Amon-Ra, is said to be inside the king (statues of Amon resembled ordinary humans), so the relationship seems more of an implied puppetry. (This and the fact that Priests sold spell books to people to guarantee their safety and good judgement in the afterlife leads me to believe that manipulating religious belief was a popular self-benefit tool for the smarter Egyptians.) The Hebrew relationship between the leader and his god had both God talking to the people through the leader, and a struggle between God and the leader. God also talked directly to the people. It seems like more of a Parent-children relationship.
People’s religions have generally the same idea, and their perceptions of their gods were alike. The way they differed was specific to the societies they exist for.

Category: History