Thrones and Goddesses

Another interesting part of the Knossos complex on Crete is the throne room. In the picture I have here, the room has been restored (against the wishes of many archaeologists) to give an idea of what it actually looked like some 3000 years ago. It’s hard to make out, but there’s a fresco of a griffin on the wall by the door.┬áThese griffins circle the room, which also contains a reproduction of the original throne. It’s unknown if this throne was the seat of the king, the queen, or a goddess (let’s say, an effigy of a goddess). A number of archaeologists argue that the throne was made for a woman because of the curves of the seat, which they say were ‘made for a woman’s buttocks.’ I wasn’t aware archaeologists were experts on women’s buttocks but perhaps they are. Also, I’m not sure they’re even allowed to say such a thing in today’s culture of anti-sexism. But they have. In any case, my thought about the throne room centers on the idea that the throne was considered to be the place where the actual goddess of the Minoans came and held court. The Minoans created lifelike effigies (say, scarecrows) to reinforce that idea (and scare everyone, no doubt). This was a common practice among the people of many cultures, from the carving of small hand-sized idols to the sculpting of massively huge stone carvings. People wanted to see their god and they wanted to believe they could use these images of gods as a means to get the things they wanted (money, love, power). Some cultures Mesopotamia even had ‘god rooms’ where their god statue lived; people were dedicated to feeding, washing, and tending to these nonliving statues. When God spoke in the Old Testament against making and worshiping idols, He was speaking about something that was about as commonplace to the people then as our use of cell phones is now. It wasn’t just a matter of not making or buying idols anymore. It meant an entire new way of thinking about who God was and how God wanted to interact with human beings. I always have to look at my own life and consider what simple, normal everyday culturally normal thing in my life might actually be hindering my relationship with God.

Altar of Sacrifice

I was fortunate to be able to visit the island of Crete, and even more fortunate to visit Knossos, which is considered to be one of the oldest cities is human history. For people like me who enjoy old, dead ruined things, this is a ‘must see’ location. Not only is it old (like I would need any other reasons), it is also the capital and center of the Minoan culture and the source of the mythological story of King Minos, Theseus, and the Minotaur. In current times, the Minoans are frequently portrayed as a peaceful, gentle, non-militaristic people who ruled over a sort of ‘idealistic paradise.’ If only it were so. But as you walk the site and listen to the guides explain about the culture, you come across a plain looking raised area of brick.

This is a sacrificial altar. This is a place where individuals were restrained and then slaughtered, their blood running freely as an offering to the gods of the Minoans. It’s a difficult subject to consider: human sacrifice. Yet, our human history is filled with cultures who sacrificed human beings (in particular, for their blood) as offerings to gods. In many of these cultures, individuals were generally chosen against their will to be sacrificed or forced to give away their sons and daughters. It’s horrific. Barbaric. But if we look at our Christian religion, we see this idea of blood sacrifice at the center of it. While never easy to accept, if we look at the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood in the context of so many cultures in the past, we can get an idea of how important it was to humanity. Here was a man, claiming to be God, offering his blood (voluntarily) as a sacrifice for the benefit of all men and women. Even more, he was revealing to all people that no more sacrifices of human life and blood need ever be offered to gods again. So we may not see why all this ‘blood stuff’ is in the New Testament, but if we can grasp even a little bit how much the sacrifice of blood was a part of human activity in the past, we can appreciate how much the sacrifice of Jesus must have meant to the people of the world. Both then and now.