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Religious Anxiety In Roman Empire

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During the 2nd century CE, the Roman empire was definitely full of religious anxiety. There are a number of interesting religious founders that we know so much about, perhaps even more than we know of Jesus. There are two specific that I will be approaching in this paper Alexander the prophet and Peregrinus both who demonstrate that the age of Jesus was not an age of remarkable religious insight. It was an era filled with con artists, gullible believers, martyrs and miracle workers.

One mans adventure for religious glory is that of Alexander the prophet. In Lucian's Alexander the Quack Prophet we see how easy it is for a man with a suave vocabulary and some good looks, basically invent a god and sit back and watch the crowds run to worship it. "Lucian considered Alexander someone of ingenious scheming with a soul composed of variety of ingredients, one that blended deceit, trickery, tirelessness in carrying out plans with trust, reliability, and the knack of acting a better role of looking white when the end in view was black" (Lucian 270). In this story we see Alexander move from place to place setting himself up as an oracle, a prophet. The story that we learn is that of a snake-god with a human head born as an incarnation a Asclepius, and Alexander was his keeper and liaison. It all started with Alexander as a young boy, he was a prostitute and went to bed with anyone that would pay. It was at this time that he met his mentor. They were meant for each other, they both lusted over taking advantage of people and making money anyway that they could. When this man died, Alexander was left penniless but with a lot of knowledge. He then met another man whom he partnered with, they acted as magicians pulling off scams. They followed one woman they had met in their travels back to Macedonia. In Macedonia, she was the tamer of snakes that could be compared to children, they were enormous, yet gentle and tame. The two men bought one of these serpents from the woman and began to set up their plans for an oracle. They became so prosperous in this, so to say, career, which was full of lies and deceit.

Alexander left his mentor behind in Chalcedon where he was busy telling fortunes and died soon after, ironically of a snake bite. Alexander began his main source income from what he looked at as business and what the public looked at as religion. "He went to his home townÐ'...pretending to have fits of madness and even managing to froth at the mouth at timesÐ'...also ready for use, a linen mask in the form of a serpents head with a human face looking so lifelikeÐ'...the snake from Pella was there, too, which would later be revealed to the public"(Lucian 275). Alexander had become an intermediary and keeper for this snake god. With this arraignment Alexander gave oracles, offered intercessory prayers, and even began his own mystery religion. Lucian tells us the inside story that "Glycon" was in fact the trained snake with the puppet head, and all the miracles surrounding him were either myths spread by his followers or the ingenious tricks of Alexander himself. "Of all of the tricks that Alexander had played the greatest was this. When the war in Germany was ablaze the late emperor Marcus Aurelius had already come to grips with the Marcomanni and Quadi, Alexander forwarded and oracle. It stated that the two live lions should be thrown into the Danube along with a lot of expensive spices and other sacrificial offerings. His instructions were carried out. The lions swam for the enemy shore and where the were taken for gods as a new kind of wolf were they were finished off with clubs, also the greatest was the loss of close to twenty thousand men. To explain, Alexander gave an excuse much of the oracle at Delphi which was that the god had prophesized a victory without specifying whether it was to be Rome's or the enemies"(Lucian 291-292). Lucian describes this as Alexanders greatest trick though I see it as his greatest lie. I personally think that his greatest trick would be him pretending to hatch a serpent from and egg which started the worship of the snake god.

But what would we think if Lucian was not to tell us this? How do we know what he speaks is the truth? There are some other sources from which we have evidence of the snake god. There have been coins found, dating from the reign of Antonius Pius and even further into the 3rd century with the image of the human headed snake on it. There are also statues and inscription attesting to Alexander and his snake god (internet web sites).

Alexander had a great deal of influence on the public. His audience ranged from men, woman, children, rich and poor, everyone was dumbfounded by his miraculous ways. Alexander actually was a "quack" prophet, he was a fake. He had persuaded people so well that they thought he was the main part for the communication with their god. There were temples built for him, he was unbelievably rich and had what and who ever he wanted. Alexander had made a life out of magic, common stupidity of others and oracular responses. The public so thirsty for any sort of religious hierarchy that the first sense of something god like without question, they drop to their knees in prayer. Alexander's god was so popular that people rushed from all over the Roman empire to consult him. When Alexander the Prophet introduced Glycon the snake to the Abonoteichans, it displayed how the masses of antiquity were eager to worship some sort of God. Moreover, it really illustrated how easy it was to invent a god and watch the public run to worship it. The people throughout the Roman world were so superstitious, ignorant and gullible that even a skeptic with convincing arguments and evidence had no practical effect on the unsuspecting believers.

Alexander was indeed an intelligent and resourceful man and that was part of the reason

he was so successful at his cons. The other reason for his success was due to the sheer ignorance of the roman people and he used both of these factors to his advantage.

The other interesting religious character from the 2nd century CE that I will be discussing is Peregrinus or as he called himself Proteus. In Lucian's The Death of Peregrinus we learn of a man who jumps into a fire in the middle of the Olympic games to prove his faith in reincarnation. This idea of suicide to prove faith, was something that we have seen before. He wants to set an example of fortitude like the Brahmans'. The difference between Proteus and the Brahmans' is that Proteus announces his death and wants crowds of people to come watch. Proteus simply just jumps in bursts into flames and dies. There is a description of that Onesicritus, Alexander the Greats navigating officer, saw Calanus



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