Epimenides is supposed to have been a prophet from the island of Crete around the end of the 7th century BCE. One of the stories told about Epimenides is that he was called to purify Athens from the Kylonian curse. He directed that black and white sheep, who would have naturally been hungry during the pestilence, should be released to wander off. If they lay down rather than seek food, an unmarked altar was to be built on that spot, and this was how the curse was removed. Later it is said that numerous unmarked altars were still present around the Greek Empire and that these were from this incident. A similar altar in Rome looks like this:
Epimenides is also said to have written a poem dedicated to the immortality of Zeus, which I will return to in a moment.
But in the meantime, let’s go to a couple of references from the Bible. One of these is from Acts, supposedly quoting Paul. The other is from Titus, falsely attributed to Paul. Neither were likely representative of Paul’s words, but of those who “used” his authority after his death. I will start with the reference from Titus.
“For there are many people who are rebellious, especially those who are converts from Judaism. They speak utter nonsense and deceive people. They must be silenced, because they are the kind of people who ruin whole families by teaching what they should not teach in order to make money in a shameful way. One of their very own prophets said, “Liars ever, men of Crete, Savage brutes that live to eat.” That testimony is true. For this reason, refute them sharply so that they may become healthy in the faith”
The unknown author of Titus, claiming to be Paul, makes this statement while apparently talking about Jewish-Christian philosophers of Crete; “One of their very own prophets said, “Liars ever, men of Crete, Savage brutes that live to eat.”” That is a reference to the poem of Epimenides, titled “Cretica”. That statement would also later become known as the “Epimenides Paradox”, although that paradox was probably not the original intent of the author. Just remember that the quotation from Titus comes from Epimenides poem “Cretica” which will be discussed further in a moment, and be thinking about what Epimenides was talking about when he called his fellow Cretans liars and brutes that live to eat.
The next reference is from the Acts of the Apostles, in which the unknown author places Paul among the philosophers of Greece, trying to convince them that his religion was true. It’s more likely fiction than a historical event. But here’s how it begins:
(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
The altars to an unknown God is thought to be a reference to these unmarked altars placed under the direction of Epimenides around Greece.
Now what was it that Epimenides was talking about when he called all his fellow Cretans liars? They denied the immortality of Zeus, and the poem is dedicated to Zeus’ immortality, put in the mouth of Minos; and it goes like this:
They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.
— Epimenides, Cretica
Epimenides was convinced that Zeus was immortal and those unmarked altars were possibly altars to Zeus. Pseudo-Paul apparently adopted them for his own deity.
BUT here is one other novel little tidbit.
Remember the last line quoted from Epimenides’ “Cretica”, a poem about the immortality of Zeus, thought to have been written at the end of the 7th century BCE? “For in thee we live and move and have our being.” Sounds a bit familiar, don’t it? It is entirely possible that if you have been in a Christian worship service, you may have sung a song that has those very lyrics within the song. Well, here’s where it came from:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
It’s a part of the same story, just a few verses later, where Pseudo-Paul is addressing the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, not talking about Zeus, but now trying to claim that these were references to his deity.
Pagan mythology is being adopted by Christianity, right before your very eyes.
Links for Epimenides: