Day Seventeen: How does this deity relate to other gods and other pantheons?
Imhotep lived in the 27th century BCE. He was a high priest of Ra at Heliopolis, and is regarded as the earliest known architect, engineer, and physician in history. He is credited with writing a medical text with clinical observations and remedies. He was identified with Thoth, the god of scribes, mathematics, engineering, and medicine. He is one of the few commoners to have been deified in ancient Egypt. He was revered as a god of healing, and his cult center was at Memphis.
Serapis was a syncretistic deity derived from Osiris and Apis. His cult was promoted during the 3rd century BCE by Ptolemy I as a means to unify the religion of the Greeks with Egyptian religion. Many Greeks and Romans identified Serapis with Asclepius, probably because both healing gods were represented with a serpent-entwined staff, and the cults of both deities used the practice of incubation to heal and to identify treatments.
Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish preacher and healer who is believed to have lived in Judæa during the early 1st century CE. His followers regard him as the son of or an incarnation of their god. Accounts of his life in the Gospels describe him as performing a number of miracles, including healings.
The cult of Jesus competed with traditional religion and popular healing cults like those of Asclepius and Serapis. Using the prevalent iconography, Jesus was sometimes portrayed in art wearing a mantle fastened on the left shoulder, leaving the torso bare, and carrying a philosopher’s staff. It is not known whether the artists didn’t know that the Jews were a modest people, and that Jewish men of the time customarily wore a long sleeved tunic beneath the mantle – or if the artists intentionally portrayed Jesus with an appearance familiar to Hellenistic pagans.
So-called polychrome plaques showing Jesus performing miracles 4th century,Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Rome. Image source: Zanker, Paul. The Mask of Socrates: The Image of the Intellectual in Antiquity. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, c1995 1995. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft3f59n8b0/
In 391 CE, the Theodosian decrees effectively ended the practice of traditional religion by outlawing public sacrifice and prohibiting use of the temples. The Serapeum in Alexandria was destroyed that same year. It is known that Christian churches were built near the sites of sanctuaries that had been dedicated to Asclepius, sometimes re-using the building materials, and that the practice of incubation continued at at least two of these sites, with Christian saints being invoked in the process instead of Asclepius.
Image: Asclepius, 2nd – 3rd century AD, from Cremna (Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix), Burdur Museum. Photographer: Carole Raddato, 2013, via Flickr.