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4. MINGLING OF RELIGIONS AT THE TIME OF JN.

Before, however, we can show this, it remains necessary to review another part of the history of religion; that is to say, the mingling of the religions of the Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Syrians, people of Asia Minor and Greeks, in the last centuries before Christ. Amongst nearly all these peoples there were legends of gods, goddesses or sons of gods, who came down from heaven to earth to contend with hostile beings. One such foe is the great serpent of the Babylonian religion. It represents darkness, and the floods which in that country made the winter such a joyless season. It is conquered by the sun of spring, which is of course thought of as a god. In other religions the struggle associated with the change in the year’s seasons was differently represented, but in such a way that the identity of the thing could not be mistaken.

Another purpose for which the gods had to descend from heaven is found in the belief that the soul of man is from heaven and yearns after its home, but cannot find the way, unless a being descends from above and releases it from the prison in which it is held captive. This idea also had received, in different religions, different, but not altogether dissimilar, expression.

But even that the world might be created or organised, subordinate divine beings had to help as soon as a religion was dominated by the belief that the highest God, if He was to continue to be perfectly pure and divine, could have nothing to do with the world.

But, further, it must be possible to say, as regards these divine beings, how they arose; and their origin, as can be easily understood, was represented in such a way that one 148always proceeded from the other or was born from two others, thought of as male and female. Here we have reason enough for the existence of a number of divine figures in every religion, whose derivation from one another, whose rank, friendship and enmity amongst one another, whose activity in favour or to the detriment of men, it was a somewhat intricate problem to solve.

When, especially from the end of the fourth century, Alexander the Great’s expeditions brought all the well-known peoples, and many more which were less important, into frequent contact, there was an interchange of ideas, even as regards their gods. The agreement between so many divine forms in the different religions was recognised, and the manner in which such and such a god was worshipped in one country was transferred to the related god in another, so long as people believed that, by doing so, they could better assure themselves of his help. In brief, a complete mingling started, which made this whole world of deities not only an intricate, but even a confused, puzzle.

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