Just a quickie today. Several people have asked this question in one form or another:
I’ve read a number of people who claim that your use of the term “euhemerization” is incorrect. These typically give definitions along the lines of the following in Wikipedia: “Euhemerism is an approach to the interpretation of mythology in which mythological accounts are presumed to have originated from real historical events or personages.” This is consistent with what you say about Euhemerus in Element 14 [of On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 114-24], but in Element 45 [Ibid., p. 222] you use the term in the inverted sense, [whereby] people were invented based on gods, rather than gods being invented based on people.
I do wonder where the confusion arose among people (and I’ve seen a lot of them online) thinking euhemerization means turning a real person into a god. That’s not euhemerization. That’s deification. Julius Caesar was deified. He was not euhemerized. Euhemerized gods are always historically non-existent.
Obviously the word “euhemerize” means doing what Euhemerus did. That’s what the word means. Even just in its grammar (the -ize suffix in Greek and English means “to do like,” hence “to do like Euhemerus did”). But also in how it originated and why. Euhemerus took celestial (ahistorical) gods (Zeus and Uranus) and then turned them into historical men. Not the other way around. Therefore, anyone who does that is doing what Euhemerus did. They are therefore euhemerizing a god. Just as Euhemerus “euhemerized” Zeus and Uranus.
I don’t know why anyone thinks otherwise. Or how it would even make sense to think otherwise. But maybe this is what’s confusing people…
It has been asked, “Didn’t Plutarch discuss the theory of Euhemerus that all such tales are the mythification of past kings into current gods,” and therefore attest that “Euhemerus thought that earthly kings were the basis for mythical gods”? Not exactly. In On Isis and Osiris Plutarch surveys several competing theories as to who Isis and Osiris were or are, and in turn he describes each one and then rejects it, until he gets around to saying he supports the demonological theory (that they were never on earth but always celestial deities who began as lower ranking sky spirits later elevated to full godhood by their deeds).
One of the theories Plutarch describes and rejects is what we call the euhemerization theory. So context is key here: he is explaining why euhemerization is not believable. His reason? Because anyone who tries to claim celestial gods were once deified historical persons is doing exactly what Euhemerus did: making a fake history out of a supernatural story. Plutarch is not saying that euhemerizers are correct. He is saying they aren’t. So insofar as he would call them euhemerizers, that would mean precisely what Plutarch is saying is wrong with people who try to spin earthly histories for sky gods: euhemerizing is always fiction.
This is ironic, of course, because Plutarch himself gullibly accepts the euhemerization of Romulus and Hercules. He never realizes that he is doing for them what he condemns in On Isis and Osiris. Because he doesn’t know they were euhemerized (and never says they were; to do so would be to condemn their stories as fake). He thinks they were simply deified. This is because Plutarch didn’t euhemerize them. Someone else did. And Plutarch just gullibly believed them. He saw through what Euhemerus did. He saw through several enough other examples of other people doing what Euhemerus did. But he didn’t see through them all. Some of them successfully punked him.
Euhemerus himself of course did not believe what he claimed. He pretended that that’s how the gods Zeus and Uranus began. He well knew that. Because he completely made up their history himself. Before that, they had no such history (they had always resided in faraway supernatural realms, e.g. above the clouds of Mount Olympus or deep in the caverns of Hades or faraway in outer space). Plutarch likewise knew that was pretense. What Plutarch then critiques are people who buy the pretense and think it’s real. Who aren’t themselves the euhemerizers. They are just the dupes who believed the euhemerization. Amusingly including Plutarch in some cases. Unbeknownst to him.
Notably, however, Plutarch does think euhemerizing is respectable: he explains in detail that the priests of Osiris, who in fact teach the demonological theory to initiates of sufficient rank (the in-group—and we must remember he wrote this book for a high ranking priestess of the cult), created the euhemerized story and sold it to the uninitiated masses (the out-group) to hide the cosmic truths within a system of allegories, all to help keep the public from learning the sacred mysteries without adequate preparation and dedication. I point out in OHJ (Element 14) that the Jewish theologian Philo had even adopted this idea to explain parts of the Old Testament he didn’t like to take literally. Paul did as well (Gal. 4:24). And the Christian theologian Origen fully approved of it, especially the part about duping lower ranking members of the church with fake histories presented literally but secretly intended allegorically.
Separating the Izer from the Audience
So we must not confuse the “-izer” with the audience. The euhemer-IZER is the one faking a story (obviously: the story isn’t real, and never existed before their creating of it, so they definitely know they are making it up). How people react to that euhemerization is an entirely different story.
So maybe people have become confused because they turned the attitude of duped recipients of euhemerization into the euhemerizers. That makes no sense. Except insofar as you want to say Euhemerus wasn’t lying. But then that process would be called Deification, not Euhemerization. And it would mean Zeus and Uranus really did exist as historical men. And Euhemerus somehow knew this. And so on. We can tell from his storytelling and the preceding evidence that that is not what happened. Euhemerus was a bullshitter. And many scholars like Plutarch knew he was a bullshitter.
But his manner of bullshit caught on. Lots of bullshitters after Euhemerus did what he did. But to be fair, he didn’t really invent this kind of bullshit. He was just the most famous and identifiable culprit, and the one who made the trend popular again. So doing what he did came to be named after him. In actual fact what he did had been done before. Most famously Dionysus and Hercules, who began as shrine-celebrated skygods, but later were given historical backgrounds on earth. We see this already in Homer, even though we know from Mycenaean writings that Dionysus began as a worshipped skygod and not a man, and the clues in the astrotheology of Hercules cult and the variances of his worship across the West suggest the same of him (certainly none of the histories of him match archaeological evidence enough to be believed).
Even sincerely attempting to explain a God by postulating a historical man as origin is still the same thing: making up a historical man. It’s just a more honest process. That I suppose could still be called euhemerization. Yet it’s still a non-existent man being inserted into history. Not a real man who was actually deified.
Lastly, in modern times (e.g. the 19th century) some scholars (e.g. religious rationalists) liked the idea so much that they voluntarily swallowed the dupery pill, celebrating euhemerizing as “discovering” the real history of skygods, when in actual fact they well knew they, too, were making it all up. Only they used “speculation is as good as fact” as their excuse, rather than winkingly just outright bullshitting everyone as Euhemerus himself originally did. But even then, they were still making it up. And indeed, doing so more in the tradition of Frankfurt-style bullshittery: they didn’t even care whether what they were saying was true. It just worked for them. So why not?
But the bottom line is, none of their euhemerized gods existed either.