Minerva, Our New Heroine

Posted on February 1, 2020


Did anyone else kind of pause at our new statue unveiled earlier in December to the goddess of wisdom, Minerva?

I realize dear readers that we live in the midst of a state university which is a pretty secular institution, although universities were not founded in this country to serve up pagan gods and goddesses. I followed the course of early universities, from Harvard to William & Mary, in another column a month or two ago.

 I am not advocating a return to Puritanism or Puritan theology but suggesting as gently as possible that who or what we lift up as models—and statues and slogans—very often represents how we feel about what makes us as a people. Or, in other words, what or who do we admire and wish to symbolize in our statues, slogans, or in the language of today, how do we “brand” our product.

You can look up Minerva as easily as I did on Wikipedia. She was the Roman version of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, and Minerva is popular as a symbol of her virtues, those of wisdom and strategic warfare and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. 

She’s a nice enough goddess and we have frequently reached back into Roman and Greek antiquity for symbols or models of Western civilization. Democracy for example was an ancient concept from Greek city-states which was incorporated into the structure of our new republic, and both democracy and republics were borrowed from Greek and Roman models. These were altered to suit our sensibilities as heirs of certain other traditions inherited from our English antecedents.

But, folks, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to leave Minerva resting comfortably in her pagan world and celebrate someone like Solomon from our Judeo-Christian background?

If you haven’t read about Solomon lately, he was widely admired for being the wisest man of his age. And he authored one of the greatest books of wisdom and knowledge in the world, the Book of Proverbs, whose verse 10 in chapter 9 is one of the best, and most beloved, known truths in Scripture, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We can interpret and argue the meaning of that simple truth until the cows come home, but it is one of the absolutes of our faith.

Do we think statutes and models are important? Recent history argues “yes indeed.”

Over the past several years, critics of the Confederacy have been hard at work in tearing down monuments to its heroes, while its defenders are equally passionate in maintaining fidelity to the courage and heroism of Confederate warriors. Both critics and defenders would argue that “yes, indeed, we think statues are important reflections of our past.”

Minerva, Athena, and the pantheon of other Gods are all interesting examples of how man (and you girls too of course; see the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon for a good story on how the ancients related to each other, based as much on sex as on politics) invented gods to explain the universe beyond the natural one we inhabit. Or, how do we explain the world we can’t control?

But Zeus, Mars, and all the others are figments of our imagination. Not so the story told in the Bible, from the Hebrew antecedents of their relationship to God all the way through the life of Jesus Christ. God himself, the one true God, not only created the world and man, but also continued to intercede into and manage the lives of the Hebrew people. This had been expressed in God’s covenants with them as a special, chosen people. The Old Testament, and the New Testament, are history as well as story. They are true, not invented by man.

Are there issues and points to ponder and discuss on the Bible as history? Sure, join me each fall in an OLLI class on the Bible as history and theology intersect in the early Christian church, from its Hebrew antecedents through the age of the early church.

My point here is why celebrate a pagan invention—in this case Minerva—when we can connect so directly to a man of wisdom like Solomon? Why celebrate pagans like the Druids who practiced human sacrifice and opposed the civilizing virtues of the Romans for example?

Heck, the good citizens of Enterprise erected a statue to a bug, the boll weevil in 1919 to celebrate the new peanut era that restored prosperity to the region after the boll weevil almost destroyed the old standby, cotton.

I suppose, a statue, like Minerva, is better than a beetle, but, in my reckoning at least, they both fall far short of a Solomon. I am not endorsing Solomon with a fanatical devotion to the man, just using him as an example of someone better than a pagan or beetle to celebrate and lift our eyes and spirit up to for inspiration.

Published as “Minerva, our new heroine,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, Dec. 28 2020

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