One of the major figures of Greek Mythology was Theseus, whose exploits were renowned as much as those of Hercules. Whilst Theseus was making his way towards Athens, he encountered a number of unsavoury beings, fought them and overcame them. One of these encounters concerned a vicious man by the name of Procrustes, known locally as “the stretcher”. He had an iron bedstead, and anyone who happened by his place was seized and bound to the bed. If he was shorter than the bed, he was stretched to fit, and if he was longer, parts of his anatomy were severed to make him fit. Procrustes attacked Theseus, but he was overcome, and suffered the fate he had imposed on others.
Now, it may be asked why this story should be told here, and what relevance it has. The answer comes from The Book of Jasher, which is mentioned twice in the O.T. The story found there has its origin in the practises of the wicked people of Sodom. Here is the text, from chapter 19:3-7.
“And by desire of their four judges the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had beds erected in the streets of the cities, and if a man came to these places they laid hold of him and brought him to one of their beds, and by force made him to lie in them. And as he lay down, three men would stand at his head and three at his feet, and measure him by the length of the bed, and if the man was less than the bed these six men would stretch him at each end, and when he cried out to them they would not answer him. And if he was longer than the bed they would draw together the two sides of the bed at each end, until the man had reached the gates of death. And if he continued to cry out to them, they would answer him, saying, Thus shall it be done to a man that cometh into our land. And when men heard all these things that the people of the cities of Sodom did, they refrained from coming there.”
It is clearly obvious that the two accounts refer to the same events. The original is from Jasher, and refers to an actual malpractice by the people of Sodom, but the Greeks must have known about this, and included it in their Mythologies. If parallels such as this were studied more often, further truths could be gleaned from the Mythology to add to our knowledge of Old Testament history.
When Theseus reached Athens, he found to his dismay that every year a number of young men and maidens were taken to Crete as food for a vicious monster called the Minotaur. This being lived in a labyrinth of tunnels, so intricately designed that anyone entering would never be able to find his way out, and would eventually be consumed by the monster.
Theseus was outraged by this, and of his own accord went with the next batch of victims. The story tells of how he overcame the monster with the help of King Minos’s daughter Ariadne, who gave him a ball of twine to unwind, thereby to find his way out.
This monster was said to be half human and half bull. Hence the name, Minos + Taurus, the bull. Now we come to an actual event, recorded in the Book of Jasher, chapter 6:14-15. Here is the text, concerning Zepho, the grandson of Esau.
“And it was one day that Zepho lost a young heifer, and he went to seek it, and he heard it lowing round about the mountain. Zepho went and he saw and behold there was a large cave at the bottom of the mountain, and there was a great stone there at the entrance of the cave, and Zepho split the stone and he came into the cave and he looked and behold, a large animal was devouring the ox; from the middle upward it resembled a man, and from the middle downward it resembled an animal, and Zepho rose up against the animal and slew it with his swords.”
It is easy to recognise the similarity between the two stories, and Zepho’s experience must have been the origin of that in Greek Mythology. This also suggests that the Book of Jasher was extant in very early times, whereby such tales could be used to write the Greek stories.
There is a further account in Jasher which deserves a mention here. It comes from chapter 36:30.
“120 terrible animals from the wilderness came to the asses of Anan. Their shape was from the middle downward of the children of man and from their middle upward some the likeness of bears.”
In both of these stories there is evidence of cross-breeding of animals and humans. Such experiments were disallowed by God, who designed creatures to multiply “according to their kind”. Gen.1:21. “Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.” Leviticus 18:23.
One further record will be reserved for the final part of this series.