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Savior gods—Paganism had 'em first

"O Hermes, guardian of my father's realms,
Become my savior [σωτηρ] and my ally,
in answer to my prayer."
Aristophanes, Frogs, 1119 (405 BC),
which you can read at Perseus.

Was Christianity new?  Was christianity unique?  Let's talk about the pagan idea of saviors—savior Gods and savior people. By now you're an advanced student. The purpose here is not to bring up another Pagan-Christian similarity as much as it is to let you use your advanced understanding of Christian origins to see a new and better way to think about this old Christian idea.

I know an intelligent person such as yourself knows Jesus is The Savior. I'm guessing that, like me, if you ever thought about where that idea came from, you sort of figured Jesus saves people from death and sends them to Heaven, and that's where the name/ title The Savior comes from.

Some of the bible sure makes it sound that way:      >>

Philippians 3:20
... our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior [σωτηρα] from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

  NT Philippians (author unknown) Chapter 3 (2d century AD?), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


The category Soter, σωτηρ.
The story is a bit more complicated. It turns out ancient Mediterranean culture had the concept of a category called "savior." The word they used was soter—σωτηρ. Soters had properties. They did soter things for soter reasons with stereotypical soter results. Pagan people called their Gods "Savior." Jewish people called their God, "Savior." Christian people called their Gods, "Savior." Yahweh/Jesus was a Soter in the ancient sense of the word. He/they did soter things, with soter results.

When an ancient person said "savior," they didn't mean the same thing we do. Drs. Liddel, Scott and Jones turned their giant brains on the ancient word "soter," and summarized the ancients' idea this way  (to read the original, follow link, click on "LSJ")

Saviors "saved" people not from eternal death, but from lots of stuff. Soter meant "helper," or "aiderer"

1 A. saviour, deliverer, c. gen. of person etc. saved;
also …a preserver from disease, ills, hurt;
of a philosopher or guide, esp. of Epicurus, “

Zeus was widely referred to as Zeus the Savior

2. epithet of Zeus, etc., to whom persons after a safe voyage offered sacrifice, there was often a temple of Zeus Soter at harbours, e.g. the Piraeus,


To Zeus Soter the third cup of wine was dedicated, to drink this cup became a symbol of good luck, and the third time came to mean the lucky time, whence the proverb το τριτον τω σωτηρι the third (i.e. the lucky) time,


and Zeus was himself called "the third savior"

This is the money phrase for understanding the ancient idea soter. The term was applied generally to "guardian or tutelary gods," with tutelary meaning Gods who helped people. Helping people was something lots of Gods did; there were lots of savior gods.

b. Epithet of other gods, as of Apollo, Hermes, Asclepios, the Dioscuri, even with female deities—generally, of guardian or tutelary gods,

Kings were called savior. "Ptolemy the Savior," like that.

3. Applied to rulers, viz. Ptolemy IV Philopator, Antiochos Soter, and Roman Emperors or governors,

Pagan people called their Gods "Savior."
Jewish people called their God, "Savior.".
people called their Gods, "Savior."

4. in LXX [Septuagint = Greek version of Old Testament] (Yahweh) and NT (Jesus), applied to God

II. in Poets, as Adj., ….
the office or prerogative of saving, of the Dioscuri


III. name of a month created by Caligula,


Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott, which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


Soter, σωτηρ examples.
With that background, lets read some ancient people using the idea soter  [σωτηρ]. In each passage, I've highlighted the word Soter, and included the greek word used in the original. It's not letter-for-letter s-o-t-e-r each time because Greek is fucked up. Keep your eye out for the root "so,"  "σω".

The ancients called lots of gods "Savior."

Zeus our Savior

Aeacus: By Zeus  our Savior (Δια τον σωτηρα), a real gentleman is your master.

Xanthias: Of course he's a real gentleman, he only knows how to drink and screw.

  Aristophanes, Frogs lines 738-40 (405 BC), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Savior Zeus

When Hercules heard that, he went to Tiryns and did as he was bid by Eurystheus. First, Eurystheus ordered him to bring the skin of the Nemean lion; now that was an invulnerable beast begotten by Typhon. On his way to attack the lion he came to Cleonae and lodged at the house of a day-laborer, Molorchus; and when his host would have offered a victim in sacrifice, Hercules told him to wait for thirty days, and then, if he had returned safe from the hunt, to sacrifice to Savior  Zeus   [Διι σωτηρι], but if he were dead, to sacrifice to him as to a hero. And having come to Nemea and tracked the lion, he first shot an arrow at him, but when he perceived that the beast was invulnerable, he heaved up his club and made after him. And when the lion took refuge in a cave with two mouths, Hercules built up the one entrance and came in upon the beast through the other, and putting his arm round its neck held it tight till he had choked it; so laying it on his shoulders he carried it to Cleonae. And finding Molorchus on the last of the thirty days about to sacrifice the victim to him as to a dead man, he sacrificed to Savior Zeus [σωτηρι θυσας Διι] and brought the lion to Mycenae.

  Apollodorus of Athens, Library 2.5 (2d century BC - 2d century AD?).

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Hermes my Savior.

Aeschylus: “Subterranean Hermes, guardian of my father's realms, Become my savior [σωτηρ] and my ally, in answer to my prayer. For I am come and do return to this my land.”

  Aristophanes, Frogs, 1119 (405 BC), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Pallas Athena the savior saves me.

Orestes: O Phoebus Apollo! How will the trial be decided?

Chorus: O Night, our dark Mother, do you see this? [745]

Orestes: Now I will meet my end by hanging, or I will live.

Chorus: Yes, and we will be ruined, or maintain our honors further.

Apollo: Correctly count the ballots cast forth, friends, and be in awe of doing wrong in the division of the votes. Error of judgment is the source of much distress, [750] and the cast of a single ballot has set upright a house.The ballots are shown to Athena.

Athena This man is acquitted on the charge of murder, for the numbers of the casts are equal.

Orestes Pallas, savior [ω σωσασα] of my house! I was deprived of a fatherland, and it is you who have given me a home there again. [755] The Hellenes will say, “The man is an Argive once again, and lives in his father's heritage, by the grace of Pallas and of Loxias and of that third god, the one who accomplishes everything, the savior [σωτηρος] ”—the one who, having respect for my father's death, [760] saves me [σωζει με], seeing those advocates of my mother.

  Aeschylus, Eumenides 744 (458 BC). Which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In describing the mysteries of Eleusis, goddess is identified as SAVIOR goddess.

In regard to interrogation, its employment is especially opportune, when the opponent has already stated the opposite, so that the addition of a question makes the result an absurdity; as, for instance, when Pericles interrogated Lampon about initiation into the sacred rites of the savior goddess (των της σωτεριας ιερων). On Lampon replying that it was not possible for one who was not initiated to be told about them, Pericles asked him if he himself was acquainted with the rites, and when he said yes, Pericles further asked, “How can that be, seeing that you are uninitiated?”

  Aristotle, Rhetoric Book 3, Chapter 18 (4th century BC), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Artemis the Savoir

[2] Not far from this fountain is an ancient sanctuary, and in our day likenesses stand in it of Roman emperors, and a bronze image is there of Artemis surnamed Saviour [Σωτειρας]. There is a story that a detachment of the army of Mardonius, having over run Megaris, wished to return to Mardonius at Thebes, but that by the will of Artemis night came on them as they marched, and missing their way they turned into the hilly region. Trying to find out whether there was a hostile force near they shot some missiles. The rock near groaned when struck, and they shot again with greater eagerness, [3] until at last they used up all their arrows thinking that they were shooting at the enemy. When the day broke, the Megarians attacked, and being men in armour fighting against men without armour who no longer had even a supply of missiles, they killed the greater number of their opponents. For this reason they had an image made of Artemis Saviour [Σωτειρας].

  Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.40 (2d century AD), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

People who helped people were also Saviors.


[47] Demetrius came before the Senate again and asked at all events to be released as a hostage, since he had been given as a substitute for Antiochus, who was now dead. When his request was not granted he escaped secretly by boat. As the Syrians received him gladly, he ascended the throne after having put Lysias to death and the boy with him. He removed Heraclides from office and killed Timarchus, who rebelled and who had administered the government of Babylon badly in other respects. For this he received the surname of Soter [σωτηρ] (the Protector), which was first bestowed upon him by the Babylonians.

  Appian of Alexandria, History of Rome, Syrian War, Chapter 8.47 (2d century AD), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


[7] “Well,” answered Cyrus, “it is obvious that just as soon as the wings now advancing in column get directly opposite the flanks of our army, they will face about so as to form front and then advance upon us from all three sides simultaneously… For in this way we shall best throw the enemy into confusion and then fall upon them. And I also shall be there as soon as I can, please God, to join in the pursuit.”

[10] When he had spoken these words, he passed along the lines the watchword, Zeus our Saviour and Guide [Ζευς σωτηρ και ηγεμων επορευετο], and rode on. And as he passed between the lines of chariots and heavy-armed infantry and bestowed a glance upon some of those in the lines, he would say: “What a pleasure it is, my friends, to look into your faces.”

  Xenophon, Cyropaedia 7.1 (4th century BC), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


[4] Gelon treated all men fairly, primarily because that was his disposition, but not the least motive was that he was eager to make all men his own by acts of goodwill. For instance, he was making ready to sail to Greece with a large force and to join the Greeks in their war against the Persians.

[5] And he was already on the point of setting out to sea, when certain men from Corinth put in at Syracuse and brought the news that the Greeks had won the sea-battle at Salamis and that Xerxes and a part of his armament had retreated from Europe. Consequently he stopped his preparations for departure, while welcoming the enthusiasm of the soldiers; and then he called them to an assembly, issuing orders for each man to appear fully armed. As for himself, he came to the assembly not only with no arms but not even wearing a tunic and clad only in a cloak, and stepping forward he rendered an account of his whole life and of all he had done for the Syracusans;

[6] and when the throng shouted its approval at each action he mentioned and showed especially its amazement that he had given himself unarmed into the hands of any who might wish to slay him, so far was he from being a victim of vengeance as a tyrant that they united in acclaiming him with one voice Benefactor and Saviour [σωτηρα] and King.

  Diodorus Siculus, Library 11.26 (1st century BC), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


I myself would enjoy history more if Archidamus looked like this....if he was a girl. If he was a guy, not so much.

When Phaeon was archon in Athens, in Rome the consulship was taken over by Lucius Furius Mediolanus and Marcus Manilius Vaso. During this year a great and incredible catastrophe befell the Lacedaemonians; for great earthquakes occurred in Sparta, and as a result the houses collapsed from their foundations and more than twenty thousand Lacedaemonians perished. [2] And since the tumbling down of the city and the falling in of the houses continued uninterruptedly over a long period, many persons were caught and crushed in the collapse of the walls and no little household property was ruined by the quake. [3] And although they suffered this disaster because some god, as it were, was wreaking his anger upon them, it so happened that other dangers befell them at the hands of men for the following reasons. [4] The Helots and Messenians, although enemies of the Lacedaemonians, had remained quiet up to this time, since they stood in fear of the eminent position and power of Sparta; but when they observed that the larger part of them had perished because of the earthquake, they held in contempt the survivors, who were few. Consequently they came to an agreement with each other and joined together in the war against the Lacedaemonians. [5] The king of the Lacedaemonians, Archidamus, by his personal foresight not only was the savior of his fellow citizens [κατα τον σεισμον εσωζε] even during the earthquake, but in the course of the war also he bravely fought the aggressors. [6] For instance, when the terrible earthquake struck Sparta, he was the first Spartan to seize his armour and hasten from the city into the country, calling upon the other citizens to follow his example. [7] The Spartans obeyed him and thus those who survived the shock were saved [εσωθησαν]

  Diodorus Siculus, Library (Diodorus Siculus) 11.63 (1st century BC), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Kings were called "Savior."

Antiochus I Soter  =. "Antiochus the Savior", was a king of the Seleucid Empire from 281 BC – 261 BC.

the Maeander (river)… rises in a hill called Celaenae, on which there is a city which hears the same name as the hill; and it was from Celaenae that Antiochus Soter [ὁ Σωτηρ Αντιοχος] made the inhabitants move to the present Apameia.

  Strabo, Geography 12.8 (1st century AD), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Jews called Yahweh "Savior"


Hosea 13
1 When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. 2 Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, "They offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf-idols." 3 Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window. 4 "But I am the LORD your God, [who brought you] out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me [θεον πλην εμου ου γνωση και σωΖων ουκ εστιν παρεξ εμου]5 I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. 6 When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. 7 So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. 8 Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open. Like a lion I will devour them; a wild animal will tear them apart.

  Old Testament Hosea 13, which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


In the three and twentieth year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, [and reigned] seventeen years. [2] He did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel to sin; he didn't depart from it. [3] The anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Syria, and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, continually. [4] Jehoahaz begged Yahweh, and Yahweh listened to him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, how that the king of Syria oppressed them. [5] Yahweh gave Israel a savior [σωτηριαν], so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians; and the children of Israel lived in their tents as before.

  2 Kings Chapter 13 (author unknown), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


[1] David spoke to Yahweh the words of this song in the day that Yahweh delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul:
[2] and he said, Yahweh is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, even mine;
[3] God, my rock, in him will I take refuge; My shield, and the horn of my salvation [σωτηριασ], my high tower, and my refuge; My savior, [σωτηριας] you save [σωσεισ] me from violence.
[4] I will call on Yahweh, who is worthy to be praised: So shall I be saved [σωθησομαι] from my enemies.
[5] For the waves of death compassed me; The floods of ungodliness made me afraid:
[6] The cords of Sheol were round about me; The snares of death came on me.
[7] In my distress I called on Yahweh; Yes, I called to my God: He heard my voice out of his temple, My cry [came] into his ears.
[8] Then the earth shook and trembled, the foundations of heaven quaked were shaken, because he was angry.
[9] There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.
[10] He bowed the heavens also, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
[11] He rode on a cherub, and did fly; Yes, he was seen on the wings of the wind.
[12] He made darkness pavilions round about him, gathering of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
[13] At the brightness before him coals of fire were kindled.
[14] Yahweh thundered from heaven, The Most High uttered his voice.
[15] He sent out arrows, and scattered them; lightning, and confused them.
[16] Then the channels of the sea appeared, The foundations of the world were laid bare, By the rebuke of Yahweh, At the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
[17] He sent from on high, he took me; He drew me out of many waters;
[18] He delivered me from my strong enemy, From those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
[19] They came on me in the day of my calamity; But Yahweh was my stay.

  Old Testament, 2 Samuel, Chapter 22.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


The 1st century Jewish writer Josephus understood the term "Savior" as referring to helper-kings

Ptolemy Soter, 367 BC – c. 283 BC was a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great, and ruler of Egypt from 323 BC – 283 BC.

[11] WHEN Alexander had reigned twelve years, and after him Ptolemy Soter [Πτολεμαιου του Σωτηρος] forty years, Philadelphus then took the kingdom of Egypt, and held it forty years within one. He procured the law to be interpreted, and set free those that were come from Jerusalem into Egypt, and were in slavery there, who were a hundred and twenty thousand.

  Titus Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12.11 (1st century AD), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Seleucus Soter V 3.0, also called Seleucus Ceraunus, ca. 243 BC – 223 BC, was a ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom

At this time Seleucus, who was called Soter [Σελευκος ὁ Σωτηρ], reigned over Asia, being the son of Antiochus the Great. And [now] Hyrcanus's father, Joseph, died. He was a good man, and of great magnanimity; and brought the Jews out of a state of poverty and meanness, to one that was more splendid.

  Titus Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12.223 (1st century AD), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


[218] Now a little while after Demetrius had been carried into captivity, Trypho his governor destroyed Antiochus, the son of Alexander, who was also called The God [σοτηρ],
…. [222] But as Antiochus, the brother of Demetrius who was called Soter (s?t??), was not admitted by any of the cities on account of Trypho, Cleopatra sent to him, and invited him to marry her, and to take the kingdom.

  Titus Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.218 (1st century AD), which you can read at Perseus.

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


The next time you're in Church
ask yourself:"What about what I'm hearing was new and unique with Christianity, and what was already part of other religions in a culture where over and over again new religions were built with old parts?" Next time you're in church...

When they get to the part about Jesus being a Savior, remember Zeus, Artemis, Hermes, Aesclepius, Ptolemy and all the other ancient saviors.

You'll know you're hearing about stuff that predated Christianity by thousands of years—in a culture where over and over people built new religions out of old parts.


Good Books for this section