A History of Mars
- Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Mars has always been the subject of mythology, from the pagan myths of the ancient world to the modern mythos of science fiction. As Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in August 2003, it might be worthwhile to consider the influence of the folklore associated with the Red Planet.
Though many Christians are uncomfortable with pagan mythology, we can nevertheless see from the Mars myths how the LORD can bend even pagan superstitions to His purpose. And despite the wishful thinking of those who hold to the secular faith of organized science, the modern myths of Mars also show how the LORD remains on throne even in this present age.
What's in a Name?
In the earliest days of Greek culture, the pagan religion of Greece had not yet become associated with the stars. The wandering star now known as Mars was originally called "Pyroeis" - "The Fiery Star." In this early period, the Greeks gave descriptive names to the planets based on their appearances.
Over time, the Greeks learned much of the culture of Egypt and Babylon, and used the science and mathematics of these cultures as the foundation for their great philosophical accomplishments. But in the process, the Greeks also acquired the Babylonian habit of astrology. In this way, the wandering planets came to be associated with the pagan gods of Greece.
The fiery star Pyroeis was hereafter called after "Ares," the god of war, known to the Romans as "Mars." In around 350 B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato included this description of Mars in his dialogue, "The Timaeus"....
"...Next to it is the star of Ares, and this last has the reddest color of them all."
The Red Planet and the other celestial bodies are creations of God, just as much as the birds and trees and everything else on the Earth. But unfortunately, old Babylonian habits die hard. To this day, the names and other astrological associations remain attached to the Red Planet and God's other celestial creations, even after two millennia of Christianity.
The name of Mars has influenced European language. The word "martial" has combat and military connotations, such as in "martial law" and "martial arts." And the name of Mars was found in Roman names, such as Marcus and Marcellus. Male and female variations of these names are still found today in many European languages, such as Mark, Martin, Marcia, Mario and Marcel. This is still another example of the persistent influence of Roman culture, even down to the present day.
In the first century, it was not uncommon for Jews to have Roman-influenced names. For example, we read in Acts and Paul's letters of John Mark, Barnabas' cousin, who traveled with Paul and Barnabas. And the Gospel of Mark is attributed to this same John Mark. So we can see that the LORD was pleased to inspire a man named after Mars to breathe His Word.
Athens has always been the capital of Greece, in ancient times just as it is today. In Athens there is a hill called the "Areopagus," a Greek name which means "Mars Hill." The Areopagus was the site where the tribunal of Athens had historically met to judge legal cases, especially murder trials. According to Greek myth, the Olympian gods had judged Ares on this hill, after he had been charged in the murder of a son of the sea god Poseidon.
In about 600 B.C., the Areopagus was firmly established as the court of Athens by Solon the lawgiver, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Among the cases heard at the Areopagus was the trial of the philosopher Socrates, who was condemned in 399 B.C. for allegedly corrupting the youth and for impiety against the Greek gods.
Perhaps the most famous case heard at Mars Hill was that of the Apostle Paul, as we read in Acts 17:
"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry ... And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?'" (Acts 17:17, 19)
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