Apotheosis of Roman Emperors and their close relatives after their death was a common practice in the Roman Empire. I understand that it wasn't a meaningless ritual, there was an elaborate Imperial Cult around that concept.

We also know that monotheistic religions inside the empire -- like Judaism and Christianity -- were reluctant, or even hostile to the pagan rituals, or even symbolism.
One example of this is that of Pontius Pilate, who tried to bring military standards with pagan imagery on them. This lead to a fiasco, and finally he had to remove that imagery from the standards.

My question is:
Had it been the imagery of the Imperial Cult, instead of actual pagan imagery, would it have resulted in a similar reaction from the Jews? In other words, when the ex-emperors and their relatives were elevated Godhood, would the Jews and Christians also view them as rival Gods? (I know that since they are monotheistic, they won't accept anything else except the God as God. But I hope my question is clear -- I don't know how to frame it)

  • Presumably the 'Abrahamists' (hard to distinguish Jewish and Christian at that point, but they're both Abrahamic) didn't believe that Jupiter et al actually existed. Difficult to say though, as the other Abrahamic gods lived on for a while as evil spirits, and the Bible talks about Satan and demons (so baddie gods, basically). Good question. – Ne Mo May 23 '16 at 10:53
  • Is this history or theology? – Mark C. Wallace May 9 '19 at 22:20

The deceased emperors were not proclaimed gods (deus), they were proclaimed god-like (divus) or the most god-like (divinus). The temples erected after their deaths or during their lifes were dedicated to the emperor's genius (something like guardian angel). It was believed that all people had such geniuses that protected them.

If somebody refused to venerate the emperor's genius, he would be seen as somebody who does not want good luck to the emperor or even maybe wants his death.

  • AFAIK Julius was deified as Divus Julius, Augustus as Divus Augustus (see Wikipedia page on the Imperial Cult, for example). Do you have any source that says it was divinus and not divus. – taninamdar May 24 '16 at 21:29
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    @taninamdar the word divus is also an adjective in most cases by the way. The word for god was deus. – Anixx May 24 '16 at 22:26
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    That makes sense, thanks. This is also corroborated by this. A genuine question though, was such a fine distinction really important from the point of view of Monotheists(or even pagans)? – taninamdar May 24 '16 at 22:35
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    @taninamdar in Russian "god" is "бог". God-like is "божественный". But actually this word means just very good, great, beautiful, unearthy, not literally like a god. For instance one can use this word to describe a good music or painting. In Latin language it was the same. It meant "great". By the way, I have "Life of the Twelve Caesars" in Russian and the titles of the caesars are translated with this adjective, not as "gods". – Anixx May 24 '16 at 22:44
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    @taninamdar I meant that the meaning "very good" also comes from PIE. – Anixx May 25 '16 at 9:54

...military standards with pagan imagery on them...

That kind of imagery is violating the Jewish / Christian first commandment, something that their god did not look kindly upon (you might remember that episode with the golden calf).

...would the Jews and Christians also view them as rival Gods?

I do not think it has much to do with "rivalry". For a devout Jew / Christian, there is only one god, everything else is a falsehood anyway. So it doesn't matter (IMHO) "how much" the emperors were considered to be gods (by the Romans); according to Jewish / Christian tradition, considering them divine at all is in direct violation to their scripture, and tolerating such worshipping -- which displaying idols on military standards is, in a way -- would amount to complicity.

In other words, even if they didn't dance around a golden calf themselves, they also didn't want to be found near anyone who did. Collateral damage and such.

So the question of "godhood" does not come up in the first place; it is the worshipping as if they were gods that got Jewish / Christian hackles raised.

  • Well, would it be accurate to say that the Christians and Jews believed in the existence of evil demons with supernatural powers? So did they believe the Roman emperor was such a demon, or just a blaspheming infidel with huge political power? I think that's what the asker wants to know, he'll correct me if I'm wrong. – Ne Mo May 23 '16 at 13:29
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    @NeMo: What the individual person believed, I of course cannot judge. But I would find it strange if many Jews / Christians of that time would actually believe in a dead Roman emperor achieving any supernatural powers, simply because it runs contrary to all the teachings of their own religion. So, for them, the dead emperor would just be a dead man, and those elevating him to divinity (i.e. the Roman troops with their standards and / or idols) are heathens, violating the principal commandment of Jewish / Christian faith. – DevSolar May 23 '16 at 13:33
  • Yes, I see your point. Just saying it wouldn't be any more contra-monotheistic than believing in angels and demons, which it would seem they did believe in. – Ne Mo May 23 '16 at 13:42
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    @taninamdar: The offense is taken about worshipping something other than The One True God as divine. The deity in question could be benign, its teachings ethical, the priesthood altruistic -- it doesn't matter. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." – DevSolar May 23 '16 at 14:43
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    @DevSolar Right, I did understand that from your answer. I have already +1'd. – taninamdar May 23 '16 at 14:45

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