Paul versus the Goddess The religion of the mother goddess, the great mother (), is one of the oldest recorded religions, dating at least to 6000 BCE. A terracotta figurine from this era, found at Catal Huyuk, in modern-day Turkey, shows the Mother sitting on her throne between two large cats. This religion was in Asia Minor by at least the seventh century BCE, in Greece by the 5th or early 4th century, and its official entry into Rome was on April 6, 204 BCE. According to tradition, the Sibylline books instructed the Roman government to bring the “Mother of Mount Ida” to Rome if they wanted to defeat Hannibal, while a minor earthquake convinced King Attalus to release the goddess to them in the form of a small black meteorite. The temple dedicated to Cybele on Palatine Hill was completed in 191 BC. The importance of the goddess religions in the Greco-Roman period cannot be underestimated. During Paul’s missionary travels, the goddess religions were having a wide resurgence, and Fear notes that while "mystery religions in general were not a focus of Christian polemic, Attis and Cybele on the other hand appear to have been a favorite target for the invective of Christian writers." Temples dedicated to Cybele/Attis, Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter and Venus were in most large cities of the region. The temple to Artemis in Ephesus was claimed to be the largest building in the world and one of the Seven Wonders, and as will be described later, Acts 19 describes a conflict between Paul and the followers of Artemis in Ephesus. Strabo (somewhat dubiously) claimed that the temple to Aphrodite in Corinth had more than 1,000 temple prostitutes and it was this business that made the city rich. In Rome, the Cybele/Attis temple was built in the heart of the city on one of the Seven Hills of Rome (the Roman temple to another goddess, Aphrodite, was on another of these hills) and the official sanctions that had prevented citizens from fully participating in the priestly rituals were lifted in the mid-first century. In addition, Cybele’s image was printed on some Roman coins, two major city festivals, the Day of Blood and the , were organized around Cybele and Attis, and a statue of Cybele presided over the public games. Roller describes the worship of Cybele as central to Roman life:
By the first century CE, the Magna Mater was thus a divinity with a central place in Roman life. And the place of honor created for her cult in the first two centuries of its existence in Rome continued under the early Empire.


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