River myths and the soul
The spiritual rivers of the Bible bring healing and life, and cause the desert to bloom, the desert being the spiritual environment of the saints who are represented by the woman in the wilderness, in Revelation 12:6 and 14. These spiritual rivers contrast with the mythical rivers of Homer’s epics, or in the works of Plato, which are associated with theories about the afterlife, and the concept of the immortality of the soul, and the tales about them couched in gloomy superstition, that cultivate and promote the fear of death. According to various articles at Wikipedia:
–In Greek mythology, Acherusia was a name given by the ancients to several lakes or swamps, which, like the various rivers called Acheron, were at some time believed to be connected with the lower world, until at last the Acherusia came to be considered to be in the lower world itself.
–Plato described the river Phlegethon as “a stream of fire, which coils round the earth and flows into the depths of Tartarus.” It was parallel to the river Styx.
–Oceanus was an enormous river encircling the world.
–Cocytus or Kokytos, meaning “the river of wailing” is a river in the underworld in Greek mythology. Cocytus flows into the river Acheron, across which dwells the underworld, the mythological abode of the dead. There are five rivers encircling Hades. The River Styx is perhaps the most famous; the other rivers are Phlegethon, Lethe, and Acheron.
–Tartarus is a deep, gloomy place, a pit, or an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld. In The Iliad, Zeus asserts that Tartarus is “as far beneath Hades as heaven is high above the earth.”
Benjamin Jowett wrote in his Introduction to Plato’s Phaedo:
The hollows on the surface of the globe vary in size and shape from that which we inhabit: but all are connected by passages and perforations in the interior of the earth. And there is one huge chasm or opening called Tartarus, into which streams of fire and water and liquid mud are ever flowing; of these small portions find their way to the surface and form seas and rivers and volcanoes. There is a perpetual inhalation and exhalation of the air rising and falling as the waters pass into the depths of the earth and return again, in their course forming lakes and rivers, but never descending below the centre of the earth; for on either side the rivers flowing either way are stopped by a precipice. These rivers are many and mighty, and there are four principal ones, Oceanus, Acheron, Pyriphlegethon, and Cocytus. Oceanus is the river which encircles the earth; Acheron takes an opposite direction, and after flowing under the earth through desert places, at last reaches the Acherusian lake,–this is the river at which the souls of the dead await their return to earth. Pyriphlegethon is a stream of fire, which coils round the earth and flows into the depths of Tartarus. The fourth river, Cocytus, is that which is called by the poets the Stygian river, and passes into and forms the lake Styx, from the waters of which it gains new and strange powers. This river, too, falls into Tartarus.
The dead are first of all judged according to their deeds, and those who are incurable are thrust into Tartarus, from which they never come out. Those who have only committed venial sins are first purified of them, and then rewarded for the good which they have done. Those who have committed crimes, great indeed, but not unpardonable, are thrust into Tartarus, but are cast forth at the end of a year by way of Pyriphlegethon or Cocytus, and these carry them as far as the Acherusian lake, where they call upon their victims to let them come out of the rivers into the lake. And if they prevail, then they are let out and their sufferings cease: if not, they are borne unceasingly into Tartarus and back again, until they at last obtain mercy. The pure souls also receive their reward, and have their abode in the upper earth, and a select few in still fairer ‘mansions.’
Socrates is not prepared to insist on the literal accuracy of this description, but he is confident that something of the kind is true. He who has sought after the pleasures of knowledge and rejected the pleasures of the body, has reason to be of good hope at the approach of death; whose voice is already speaking to him, and who will one day be heard calling all men.
The mythical rivers associated with pagan beliefs about the afterlife were associated with flawed belief in the geocentric cosmology. These ideas of the Greeks influenced the Jews in the hellenistic era, and belief in the soul’s immortality prevailed among the Pharisees in the time of Jesus and the apostles.
From about the third to the seventh centuries, while paganism declined in the Roman Empire, many churches were involved in building places of worship that incorporated the cosmology of that age in their architecture, especially through the construction of elaborate domes representing the rigid heaven, which was identified with Zeus by the pagans. Some of these buildings still exist.
Plato’s idea of the soul’s immortality was accepted as orthodox dogma by both Catholic and Protestant denominations. But the belief undermines the New Testament teaching of a resurrection of the dead. If the soul remains conscious, why would a resurrection be necessary? And belief in the immortality of the soul seems to be one of the causes of confusion about what Jesus meant, when he said, in the Olivet Discourse, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” [Matthew 24:34-35]
While Platonists may admit that Jesus rose from the grave, they assume that the souls of everyone else of that generation continue to remain conscious too. And they suppose the souls of those who have died in every generation since, remain and exist somewhere, as well. The resurrection of Jesus, to a Platonist, does not imply his generation differs from other generations. Not perceiving that the generation of Jesus is unique, because Jesus rose from the grave, and remains alive, those who believe Plato’s teaching are blind to the meaning of the words of Jesus about his generation. They think he must have meant either the generation of the first century, or some future generation. In fact, Jesus included himself in his generation; it continues to exist, till all is fulfilled, because he remains alive.
The rivers of Bible prophecy are spiritual rivers that heal people whose minds have been darkened by pagan superstition about the soul, and the afterlife. Plato’s ideas of the soul are contradicted in the Bible; it was the serpent who said, “Ye shall not surely die,” to the woman in Eden. [Genesis 3:4] The author of Ecclesiastes showed there is no consciousness in the grave. “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” [Ecclesiastes 3:19] And, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” [Ecclesiastes 9:10]
Ezekiel said the soul dies, thus it is not immortal. “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” [Ezekiel 18:4] And, in verse 20, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Paul said, Jesus is the only one who possesses immortality: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” [1 Timothy 6:16]
This is why Peter could say, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]