The Greeks and Romans shared a good deal of their religion. The names were different, with the notable exception of Apollo, but the gods were pretty much the same. Zeus of the Greeks was Jupiter of the Romans. Likewise, Aphrodite was Venus, Ares was Mars, Hera was Juno, Hephaestus was Vulcan, and so on.
Similarly, Kronos, king of the Titans, was the equivalent of the old god of the Romans, Saturn. In both Roman and Greek religion, this was the deity who ruled the earth during a long-ago Golden Age, when humanity lived like gods, free from toil and care. Both were overthrown by their son, the storm-god, and confined to the netherworld. To the Greeks, this was Tartarus, a place as far below Hades as the earth is below heaven; in Roman myth, Jupiter put Saturn in chains to ensure that he didn’t overeat. It was believed that Saturn consumed the passing days, months, and years, and it would have been a problem if the old god had turned his voracious appetite to eating the present and future as well.
Kronos’ family relations were strained, to say the least. You’ve probably heard the story: The primordial couple, Ouranos (Sky) and Gaia (Earth), gave birth to the first generation of gods, the Titans, and some monstrous siblings—Argus, a giant with a hundred eyes, the Cyclopes, giants with only one eye, and the Hecatoncheires, giants with a hundred arms and legs. However, the passion of Ouranos was such, the story goes, that the Titans were trapped inside Gaia, unable to escape her womb. With the encouragement of his mother, Kronos led his siblings in a rebellion and castrated his father with an adamantine sickle.
You remember that this is similar to the story of the Hurrian father-god, Kumarbi, who likewise rebelled against his sky-god father, Anu (although Kumarbi performed the castration with his teeth). Like Kumarbi, Kronos was also eventually consigned to the underworld by his son, the storm-god. The similarities between the stories are detailed in an earlier chapter, but it’s worth repeating that they are too many and too close to be coincidence. In short, the Greeks got the story from the Hurrians and/or the Hittites they encountered, probably in western or southern Anatolia (Turkey). Since we know Hittites, Hurrians (Horites) and Greeks (Hivites) were together in Canaan during the Old Testament period at least through the time of David and Solomon, there were plenty of opportunities for religious and cultural cross-pollination between Mesopotamia and the Aegean over the centuries.
The dysfunctional family relations of Kronos didn’t end with his parents. Because of a warning from Ouranos and Gaia that he was doomed to be overthrown by one of his children, Kronos devised a cunning plan:
But Rhea was subject in love to Kronos and bore splendid children, Hestia, Demeter, and gold-shod Hera and strong Hades, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth, and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker [Poseidon], and wise Zeus, father of gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken. These great Kronos swallowed as each came forth from the womb to his mother’s knees with this intent, that no other of the proud sons of Heaven should hold the kingly office amongst the deathless gods. For he learned from Earth and starry Heaven that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, strong though he was, through the contriving of great Zeus. Therefore he kept no blind outlook, but watched and swallowed down his children: and unceasing grief seized Rhea.
You’d think Rhea would have noticed a pattern after Kronos swallowed their first two or three kids, but it wasn’t until she was pregnant with their youngest, Zeus, that she tried to save one. With the help of Gaia, Zeus was born and hidden away in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete, where his existence was concealed by a group of daimones (“spirits”) called the Kouretes who danced and raised a ruckus with clashing shields and spears to drown out the sound of the infant Zeus’ cries. When he reached maturity, he tricked Kronos into vomiting up his siblings and then led them in a long and bitter war against the Titans, which eventually ended with Zeus supplanting his father as king of the pantheon. Kronos and the Titans were banished to Tartarus, precisely where the “sons of God” from Genesis 6 are confined, according to the Apostle Peter.
Jewish religious scholars understood the connection between the Titans and the Watchers—and, by extension, the demigods of the Greeks and the Nephilim. Seventy-two Jewish scholars in the fourth century BC produced a version of the Hebrew Scriptures in Koine Greek at the direction of Ptolemy II, the Greek king who inherited Egypt after the breakup of Alexander the Great’s empire. Ptolemy apparently wanted to add the Torah to the famous library of Alexandria in a language his constituents could understand.
We’ve already showed the connection between the Titans and the sons of God of Genesis 6, the sinful angels mentioned by Peter and Jude. The references in the Septuagint, however, are more obvious.
And the foreigners heard that David had been anointed king over Israel. And all the foreigners went up to seek David. And David heard and went down to the stronghold. And the foreigners gathered and met in the Valley of the Rephaim [Titânes].…
And the foreigners still continued to go up and meet in the Valley of the Rephaim [Titânes]. (2 Samuel 5:17–18; 22, Lexham English Septuagint [LES])
References to the Valley of Rephaim/Titans also occur in 2 Samuel 23:13 and 1 Chronicles 11:15. Then there are references that are less obvious because the Hebrew word rephaim is usually translated as “shades” or “the dead” in our English Bibles:
One who wanders from the way of good sense
will rest in the assembly of the dead [rephaim]. (Proverbs 21:16)
A man who is misled from the way of righteousness
will sleep in the congregation of the giants [gigánton]. (Proverbs 21:16, les)
The dead [rephaim] tremble
under the waters and their inhabitants. (Job 26:5)
Are not giants [gígantes] brought forth
from beneath the water and its neighbors? (Job 26:5, LES)
For her house sinks down to death,
and her paths to the departed [rephaim]. (Proverbs 2:18)
For she has set her house close by death
and her paths close by Hades with the shades [gigenón, “Earth-born” = Titans, children of Gaia]. (Proverbs 2:18, LES)
Another mention of the Titans occurs in the apocryphal Book of Judith:
For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men,
nor did the sons of the Titans strike him down, nor did tall giants set upon him;
but Judith daughter of Merari
with the beauty of her countenance undid him. (Judith 16:3–6, NRSV)
The oldest text of Judith available to us today is from the Septuagint, so we don’t know the book’s original language for certain. It may have been composed in Greek, since the earliest Hebrew copy is from the Middle Ages. The point is that by the time Greeks conquered the lands of the Bible more than three hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Jewish religious scholars and scribes had no problem directly linking the Titans to the Rephaim (i.e., the Nephilim) and describing them as giants. Jewish scholars recognized in Greek myths their own stories of the Watchers, the Nephilim, and the rebel gods who’d rejected the authority of the Creator, Yahweh. And the early church universally accepted these teachings as truth:
But the angels transgressed this appointment. and were captivated by love of women, and begat children who are those that are called demons;
—Justin Martyr, Second Apology V
…in the days of Noah He justly brought on the deluge for the purpose of extinguishing that most infamous race of men then existent, who could not bring forth fruit to God, since the angels that sinned had commingled with them.
—Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV, 36.4
…these [angels] fell into impure love of virgins, and were subjugated by the flesh, and he became negligent and wicked in the management of the things entrusted to him. Of these lovers of virgins, therefore, were begotten those who are called giants.
—Athenagoras of Athens, A Plea for the Christians 24
In my opinion, however, it is certain wicked demons, and, so to speak, of the race of Titans or Giants, who have been guilty of impiety towards the true God, and towards the angels in heaven, and who have fallen from it, and who haunt the denser parts of bodies, and frequent unclean places upon earth…
—Origen, Against Celsus 4.92
But from their unhallowed intercourse spurious men sprang, much greater in stature than ordinary men, whom they afterwards called giants; not those dragon-footed giants who waged war against God, as those blasphemous myths of the Greeks do sing, but wild in manners, and greater than men in size, inasmuch as they were sprung of angels; yet less than angels, as they were born of women.
—Pseudo Clement, Homily 8:15
Plutarch…says that the mythical narratives told as concerning gods are certain tales about daemons, and the deeds of Giants and Titans celebrated in song among the Greeks are also stories about daemons, intended to suggest a new phase of thought.
Of this kind then perhaps were the statements in the Sacred Scripture concerning the giants before the Flood, and those concerning their progenitors, of whom it is said, “And when the angels of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, they took unto them wives of all that they chose,” and of these were born “the giants the men of renown which were of old.”
For one might say that these daemons are those giants, and that their spirits have been deified by the subsequent generations of men, and that their battles, and their quarrels among themselves, and their wars are the subjects of these legends that are told as of gods.
—Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 5.4
You get the idea. The preachers, teachers, and theologians of the early Christian church were nearly unanimous in the belief that the gods of the Greeks and Romans were not imaginary, as most of us modern Christians assume. They, like the Jewish scholars a few hundred years earlier, understood that the Olympians, Titans, Gigantes, heroes, and daimones of the pagans were supernatural beings called “angels,” “Watchers,” “sons of God,” “Nephilim,” “Rephaim,” and “demons.” In fact, the second-century theologian Irenaeus of Lyon, a student of Polycarp (who was a disciple of the Apostle John), connected the Titans to end-times prophecy:
Although certain as to the number of the name of Antichrist, yet we should come to no rash conclusions as to the name itself, because this number  is capable of being fitted to many names…. Teitan too, (ΤΕΙΤΑΝ, the first syllable being written with the two Greek vowels ε and ι), among all the names which are found among us, is rather worthy of credit. For it has in itself the predicted number, and is composed of six letters, each syllable containing three letters; and [the word itself] is ancient, and removed from ordinary use; for among our kings we find none bearing this name Titan, nor have any of the idols which are worshipped in public among the Greeks and barbarians this appellation. Among many persons, too, this name is accounted divine, so that even the sun is termed “Titan” by those who do now possess [the rule]. This word, too, contains a certain outward appearance of vengeance, and of one inflicting merited punishment because he (Antichrist) pretends that he vindicates the oppressed. And besides this, it is an ancient name, one worthy of credit, of royal dignity, and still further, a name belonging to a tyrant. Inasmuch, then, as this name “Titan” has so much to recommend it, there is a strong degree of probability, that from among the many [names suggested], we infer, that perchance he who is to come shall be called “Titan.” (Emphasis added.)
To his credit, Irenaeus added a warning that we shouldn’t obsess over deciphering the meaning of “666,” because “if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision.”
In other words, if we were supposed to know the identity of the Antichrist, God would have revealed it to John and told him to let us know.
The Greeks believed that the blood of the castrated sky-god Ouranos impregnated Mother Earth, Gaia, who gave birth to the Gigantes, a tribe of a hundred giants usually depicted with serpents’ tails in place of legs. At Gaia’s urging, the Gigantes waged war against the Olympians and were destroyed. It’s tempting to connect the war between the Olympians and the Titans, called the “Titanomachy,” and the later the “Gigantomachy,” with God’s response to the sins of the Watchers (the Titans) and the Nephilim (the Gigantes). The Greeks and Romans remembered these conflicts as epic struggles between divine combatants that ended with the losing side buried deep below the surface of the earth. (Thrashing giants were believed to be the cause of active volcanoes like Etna and Vesuvius.)
Likewise, the Watchers followed their time on the earth chained in the netherworld while the Nephilim were drowned in the Flood—inglorious endings for the king-god and his children, the mighty men who were of old.
Next: Remember the Titans!
 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White: Theogony(Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1914).
 Deborah Levine Gera, “The Jewish Textual Traditions.” In K. Brine, E. Ciletti & H. Lähnemann (Eds.), The Sword of Judith: Judith Studies Across the Disciplines (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2010), pp. 23–39. Web. http://books.openedition.org/obp/986>, retrieved 4/5/21.
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