Abraham in Greek Mythology

 by John R. Salverda

Abraham and the Minyan Athamas

Minyans, Kurds, Armenians, and UR.
Abraham and the Ram-Lamb?
The Almost-Consummated Sacrifice of the Son! Competing Wives and their Allegorical Significance.
Isaac and the Mountain.
Different Hebrew Traditions Coalesced in Greek Mythology.

Minyans, Kurds, Armenians, and UR
The Athamas of Greek Mythology, as the King of Orchomenus a city founded by Minyas, was a well known Minyan. Abraham and his family were said to have been from Ur of the Chaldees. These two statements fit together because the Minyans were the Armenians (Ur-Manneans indicating those from the mountains [ur] of Minni), and the Armenians of Urartu were famously known as the Chaldians of Urartu. This is the land where Noahs ark landed, and the People of Noahs land, could build ships, (The Greek word for ship, is plausibly derived from the very name of Noah, naus) and they were very colonial. The Minni, named in connection with Ararat, by Jeremiah (from Jeremiah 51:27), are the same People as those mentioned by Josephus (quoting Nicolaus of Damascus), who uses the Greek form Minyas, (Antiquities i. I. 6,) to indicate a place in Armenia, the country where Noahs Ark landed. Thus there are fairly convincing connections between the Greek, Minyas, and the Armenians. Historians know well these People and call them the Manneans, or the kingdom of Van. This group lived in the mountains, (alternately known as, the Gordyan or Cordyaean mountains by Berosus, and as, the Chaldean mountains by Xenophon,) where Noahs ark landed. The Chaldeans are the descendants of Noahs grandson, Arpachshad. Abraham was one of these Chaldeans. These three closely related peoples, the Armenians, the Hebrews, and the Minyans, knew about each others existence, and they kept in touch in ancient times. Since the Manneans, are known to have been largely composed of Hurrians it seems reasonable to assume that the Hurrians were so called after Ur, the homeland of Abraham (The pre-Canaan home of Abraham, the city of Haran, named for Abrahams brother, and the surrounding quod-city area, including the cities of Nahor, named for either Abrahams brother or his grandfather, Pethor the home of Balaam, and Carchemish were also settled, according to modern archaeologists, by the Hurrians.). The theory that Abraham came from the city of Ur in Sumer dies slowly, but surely. As has been argued by Prof. Cyrus Gordon and others, Abraham was a nomadic herdsman, he was from the mountains of Noah, the ship builder, with specialized abilities like knot tying for the rigging of canvas, astral navigation for nomadic travels, and he had herds for wealth, (goats and sheep, animals that are specialized for the mountains,) he was not a city dwelling farmer, like the Sumerians, and obviously did not come from the urban centers of the plains of Shinar.

Trading merchandise, stories, and perhaps even adventurous tourism, would go between Greece and the Minyans by way of a seafaring, horse breeding People, who also had ties to the Minyan culture called, the Thekel, (the Thekelwesh, of the Sea Peoples,) more familiarly known as, the Thessalians or Thessalonians, a name they adopted about 825 BC. The People of Thessaly, were from the Levant, and were a branch of the Aeolians, the sons of Aeolus, (plausibly from Eloah [god], with the usual Greek suffix, -us appended) the Hebrews knew of these People and called them, the sons of Elishah. The Aeolians traded extensively with the people of the land of Canaan, (see Ezekiel 27:9-25) and, gray colored, Minyan ware, (as it is so called by modern archaeologists who find it scattered throughout northern Greece and southern Thrace from the time preceding the Troy VI period), likely came from the Maneans down through the Mitanni to the coastal cities on the Cyprus corner of the Mediterranean sea, from there the goods were carried over sea by the Aeolians of Thessaly, to northern Greece and Thrace. The Thessalians, as is evidenced by the story of the Argonautica (often referred to as the Minyan tale), were also familiar with another oversea route, between Armenia and Greece, through the Black Sea.

Abraham and the Ram-Lamb?
The Minyans, as Hurrians from Armenia, knew well the story of the Hebrew, Abraham, they called him Athamas. The Minyans most likely got their, only slightly tainted, version of the story, brought over by migrants from the area of Carchemish and therefore named its Greek colony at the city of Orchomenus (a plausible transliteration, and supposed by some to have been founded by Athamas himself) after the place. Even a cursory comparison of the two supposedly unrelated stories displays them as remarkably coincidental. Athamas began a movement toward, the abolition of, that age old and wide spread, religious concept, human sacrifice (as well as its companion tradition, cannibalism). Although we praise Abraham for his role in this abolition, it seems that some factions (mainly, the Achaeans) of the ancient Greeks, were of a different opinion. They considered their Abrahamic equivalent Athamas, and his descendants as well, to be cursed for their part in the civilizing of mankind (See Herodotus 7. 197 Athamas the son of Aeolus contrived death for Phrixus, having taken counsel with Ino, and after this how by command of an oracle the Achaeans propose to his descendants the following tasks to be performed: whosoever is the eldest of this race, he is brought forth to the sacrifice. This is done to the descendants of Kytissoros the son of Phrixus, because, he brought the wrath of the gods upon his own descendants.). In both cases, whether Scripture or myth, the abolition of human sacrifice in favor of animal sacrifice (the ram) is the obvious message of the story. Pausanias describes a statue depicting the sacrifice of this ram; "There is also a statue of Phrixus the son of Athamas carried ashore to the Colchians by the ram. Having sacrificed the animal, he has cut out the thighs in accordance with Greek custom and is watching them as they burn." (Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 2) Take note of the Greek custom of cutting out the thighs as if to make the sacrifice Kosher. There is no doubt in my mind as to where they got such a notion.

The Almost-Consummated Sacrifice of the Son!
Intricate details of Abrahams life appear as parts of the Greek myth as well, I cant think of another pair, of ancient stories which are so similar, and yet so seldom compared! Both Abraham and Athamas were divinely commanded to sacrifice, each their own son, with a knife on a mountain top, and each was about to comply when the child was saved, each by the miraculous appearance of a ram. The ram was considered to have been supplied by God, and was said to have been acceptable to Him as a replacement sacrifice instead of the son of man. ... The symbol of the sacrificed lamb of god, appears in the Greek Myth, complete with an association to the Hebrew story of the garden of Eden, for the quest of the Argonauts, like the Biblical quest of all mankind, hangs in (nailed to) a tree, in a sacred grove, there is a serpent, and the way is guarded.  Phrixos sacrificed the golden-fleeced ram to Zeus Phyxios, but gave its fleece to Aetes, who nailed it to an oak tree in a grove of Ares." (See Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 80) "The fleece in Colchis and the apples of the Hesperides, since they seemed to be of gold, two serpents that never slept guarded and claimed as their own." (Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 17. 6) This association begs for the conclusion that these Greeks had some knowledge about the Hebrew concept of the original sin as well as the hopeful promise of the Messiah. No doubt they did, for they knew many intricate details of the Hebrew story, including the sophisticated religious symbolism inherent in the parable of Abrahams two wives.

Competing Wives and their Allegorical Significance.
Both Abraham, and Athamas, are said to have had a pair of competing wives each of whom were obvious allegories of differing religious concepts. Offspring was gotten from each of the wives, and the quarrel concerned, whose offspring, and their attending religious concept, would be favored, this is true in both stories. Ino is the Greek equivalent of Hagar from the Hebrew story, while Nephele is the counterpart of Sarah. Consider the Ino, Hagar identification first; The Greeks considered Ino to be the loser of the wifely quarrel, she was exiled and had to flee from her family home, with her half dead child in her arms, (Gen. 21:14,15) to the point of her death, when god intervened, granting Ino powerful miraculous abilities over water, thus saving the lives of Ino and her son Melicertes and appointing them to become great religious icons among the People who lived in the land of her exile, which we are told in the myth, was Corinth in Greece. Except for the location and names, all of these motifs are straight from the life of Hagar, who was looked upon as symbolic of earthly Zion, the covenant with slavery and death (Gal. 4 :22-31).

On the other hand, Sarah was symbolic of freedom, the Heavenly Zion, the wife of God (also in Gal. 4 :22-31). Now, Consider the identification of Nephele with Sarah; Nephele was created as a duplicate of Hera, the heavenly wife of god, "Zeus formed a figure of Hera out of cloud (Nephele) (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 69. 4) "a Cloud (Nephele)? its form was like the supreme celestial goddess, the daughter of Kronos. The hands of Zeus set it as a trap for him, a beautiful misery (Pindar, Pythian Ode 2. 32 ff). Zeus  fashioned a Cloud (Nephele) to look like Hera (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E1. 20). Hers were the favored offspring, who were carried off to the Egyptian land, (That Colchis [in the Caucasus] was an Egyptian land we learn from Herodotus who says:

There can be no doubt that the Colchians are an Egyptian race. Before I heard any mention of the fact from others, I had remarked it myself. After the thought had struck me, I made inquiries on the subject both in Colchis and in Egypt, and I found that the Colchians had a more distinct recollection of the Egyptians, than the Egyptians had of them. Still the Egyptians said that they believed the Colchians to be descended from the [Egyptian] army of Sesostris (Herodotus Histories 2.104) from which they eventually had a miraculous epic deliverance (Argonautica).

Isaac and the Mountain.
On the day of Isaac's being weaned, Ishmael was caught taunting of Isaac over heirship. (Gen. 21 :8, 9) ... Phrixus, the fugitive, was the son of Nephele. The Greek myth likewise connects the conflict between the heirs with the exile to the Egyptian land and eventual deliverance of Phrixus, when his bones and descendants are brought back home with the Argonauts. Phrixus sacrificed the ram at its own suggestion to Zeus alone, because he is the god of fugitives;" (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2. 1141 ff) See how Apollonius in writing the Argonautica looks upon the sacrifice of the ram to be to the one god, Zeus alone, and further note the phrase the god of fugitives as it may relate to the god of Abram who was a stranger in the lands of Canaan and Egypt and the eventual epic deliverance of Israel. If you study the story of Athamas you will come across the term, "Laphystius" which is a surname of  Zeus and is associated with the mountain upon which Athamas nearly sacrificed his son, it is derived from the verb "laphussein", meaning "to flee" and is apparently synonymous with the similarly used term "Phyxius" (Paus. i. 24. 2, ix. 34.  4.). Phyzius means "the god who protects fugitives" and occurs as a title of Zeus that is often used for him in Thessaly (Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. ii. 1147, iv. 699; Paus. ii. 21.  3, iii. 17.  8).

And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years (Gen 15:13).

Different Hebrew Traditions Coalesced in Greek Mythology.
There was a famous famine in the land of Athamas that precipitated and instigated the sacrifice and exile of his offspring Phrixus. "The oracle prophesied an end to the dearth if Phrixos were to be sacrificed to Zeus. When Athamas heard this and was pressured by the joint efforts of the inhabitants, he had Phrixos placed on the altar. (See Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 80) Now, it was a famine, or a dearth as Pseudo-Apollodorus would have called it, that drove Israel into the Egyptian realm and placed them under the suzerainty of the son of the sun god. However there must have been some confusion among the Greek mythographers concerning the chronology of the events for they seem to have compressed three generations of Hebrew history (those of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), into one generation (that of Phrixus) of Greek mythology. Phrixus is the Minyan version of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, all rolled into one. As Isaac he is almost offered up as a sacrifice by his father on a mountain top, but is saved at the last minute by the miraculous appearance of a ram. As Jacob he goes off to the Egyptian land where he stays until the end of his life. In each case his descendants returned and his bones are carried back home for burial (this is also true of Joseph). As Joseph, Phrixus has an episode with the wife of Cretheus. Cretheus had Demodice as wife; others name her Biadice. Moved by the beauty of Phrixus, son of Athamas, she fell in love with him, and could not obtain from him favor in return; so, driven by necessity, she accused him to Cretheus, saying that he had attacked her, and many similar things that women say (Hyginus Astronomica 2.20). This is an obvious doublet of the same story told about Joseph with the wife of Potiphar. Later Phrixus was given the daughter of the son of Helios (the same Helios whom the Greeks associated with the Egyptian city of Heliopolis) to wed, just as Joseph was wed to the daughter of the High Priest at Heliopolis. Aeetes, the son of Helios received him (Phrixus) and gave him Khalkiope, one of his daughters (See Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 80). Famines played an important role in the Hebrew story as well. And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. (Gen 12:10) and again, And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. (Gen 26:1). Evidently the famine in the days of Abram was so well known that it had to be distinguished from the later famine of Isaac's time. The grievous famine of Abram drove him into the land of Egypt, just as the later famine had done in the days of his descendants Jacob and Joseph. Perhaps it was this feature, the fact that both famines had driven the Hebrews, as fugitives or sojourners, into the land of Egypt, that had mislead the Greeks into combining the two events. Of course, the story of the epic deliverance, in one instance the Exodus and in the other the Argonautica, would serve as the continuation and conclusion in both cases.

It truly stretches credulity to imagine that these two widely spread versions of apparently the same story could have been written by two different peoples, the Greeks and the Hebrews, without awareness of one another, as if by instinct. The Greeks who wrote of Athamas obviously had, not only passing, but intricate knowledge, not only of the story, but much of the theology connected to the history of the Hebrew Abraham.


-John R. Salverda

For more articles by John R. Salverda on the Hebraic Connections of Greek Mythology, see:
"Helleno-Yishurin. The Hebrew Origin of Greek Legends"

Join the Brit-Am Ephraimite Discussion Group
Just Send an
with "Subscribe"
in the Subject Line

Main Page

Offerings and Publications

Return to
Question and Answer
Table of Contents