The Curious Incident at Mars Hill
Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Diogenes Laertius, a Greek author of the third century details a fascinating story regarding a plague that struck the city of Athens in his work The Lives of Eminent Philosophers. At the time in Athens (6th– 7th century BCE) one writer asserts there were “more gods then men.” Despite all of the people’s attempts to appease their gods, the plague continued to worsen. Finally, the men of Athens decided to contact a “Cretan Hero” known as Epimenides, who is perhaps most famous for being quoted in the Bible (book of Titus).
When Epimenides arrived to Athens he instructed the men that they must invoke the help of an unknown god, as there must be an unknown god who the Athenians have failed to acknowledge. Epimenides believed that the unknown god would be merciful for the men’s ignorance if he were indeed a god great enough to do something about the plague. He then instructed the men to bring a flock of hungry sheep to Mars Hill the next day, and await his further instructions.
The next day when the men arrived at Mars Hill with the sheep, Epimenides instructed them to release the hungry sheep on the hillside and then turned his eyes towards the heavens. He pleaded with the unknown god to cure the plague, and to give them a sign if he did intend to cure the plague. Epimenides asked that the unknown god would cause the hungry sheep to lie down (contrary to their nature) on the hillside if he intended to cure the plague. The men of Athens were stunned as several of the sheep lay down on the hillside and didn’t eat. The men were filled with awe and wonder, and left several altars on Mars Hill marked simply agnosto theo – To an Unknown God.
Later on, a man named Paul was in Athens waiting for his traveling companions Timothy and Silas. As a Jewish sage, Paul would have been greatly offended by the amount of idols and graven images in the city. But instead of condemning the men of Athens or speaking derogatory remarks about the gods in Athens, Paul stands up and says (Acts 17:22-23), “People of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and very carefully looked at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an Unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.