At least seventy artifacts at Berlin's Museum Island museums, including paintings and Egyptian sarcophagi, were sprayed with an oily substance earlier this month in what officials describe as the largest attack on museum artifacts in postwar German history. The attack occurred on October 3 but was only made public this week. While the attacker is unknown, German police tied the attack to social media posts from Attila Hildmann, a conspiracy theorist with fringe ideas about COVID-19, who claimed that the famous Pergamon Altar of Zeus, on display at the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, was the "throne of Satan." The altar is currently undergoing conservation and is not on display. A digital recreation of it was attacked, however.
Hildmann's claims made news because they sound outlandish, but they have a long history in Christian circles. The claim is, surprisingly enough, not a crazy conspiracy but rather comes directly out of the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 2:12-13, a letter to the Church in Pergamon makes quite plain that early Christians considered the massive altar and the pagan worship at Pergamon to be a center of Satan on Earth:
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. (NIV)
As you know, early Christians considered the pagan gods to be demons. The great altar, therefore, might easily become the throne of Satan in this view. Indeed, by the early twentieth century, Christian thinkers were already making that argument, just a few years after the altar had been excavated and set up in Berlin. The altar first went on display in 1901, and here is a divinity professor making the claim almost contemporary with the display: "It is better to find in 'Satan's throne' an allusion to the rampant paganism of Pergamum, symbolized by the great altar which seemed to dominate the place from its platform cut in the acropolis rock...." Prior to the excavation of the altar in the late 1800s, Christians held the verse of Revelation to refer to the worship of Aesculapius at Pergamon because of his serpent symbol.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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