Original Research - Special Collection: A.G.van Aarde Festschrift

Christians reacted differently to non-Christian cults

Eduard Verhoef
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 67, No 1 | a804 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v67i1.804 | © 2011 Eduard Verhoef | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 February 2010 | Published: 11 April 2011

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Eduard Verhoef, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Christians were confronted with many other religions during the expansion of Christianity. What was their attitude towards these other religions? Apparently Christians reacted very differently. Earlier I argued that the Christians in Philippi adopted some elements of the cult of Euephenes, an initiate in the Kabeiric cult of Samothrace. The Kabeiric cult was very much present in Thessalonica as well. In this article I argued that, here too, Christians took over some elements of the Kabeiric cult. In some other cities non-Christian cults were eliminated. These different reactions towards other religions and cults seemed to stem from the local situation. In particular, local religious customs seem to have been adopted and to have taken precedence over well-known national or even international religions. Apparently, it was very difficult for people to abandon strong local rituals.

In 1997, Andries van Aarde and Sanrie van Zijl published a very interesting article in which they drew attention to the pagan Hellenistic background that may have played a role in the development of Christology. Though more aspects should be taken into consideration it is self-evident to me that the entire history of the Christian church can be understood only against the background of the whole contemporary world. For example, Christians reacted very differently to non-Christian cults after they had assumed power in the Roman Empire. Sometimes temples and shrines were devastated, sometimes they were reused as churches. And sometimes elements of other cults were adopted in a more or less Christianised form. Recently I argued that in Philippi the cult of Euephenes, an initiate in the cult of the Kabeiroi on Samothrace, was succeeded by the veneration of Paul.

In the present article, however, I focused on the cult of Kabeiros in Thessalonica and its impact on the cult of Demetrios that was already thriving there, whereby the latter cult began to incorporate elements of the former. I concluded the article with short remark about the way Christians elsewhere adopted or rejected other cults, touching on the question why, in some cases, an older cult was integrated into the Christian cult and why it was terminated in other cases.


Thessalonica; Philippi; Kabeiros; Demetrios; Christianisation


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