Gods are generally thought of as eternal, existing before the universe or being the first things to spring from the chaos. That is not a view shared by everyone, however. Throughout history, humans like us (though perhaps with slightly larger egos) have been raised to the status of gods. Here are 10 people who have been deified.
Empedocles the philosopher was a protoscientist and doctor who lived in Greece in the fifth century. By all accounts, he was a snappy dresser and something of a braggart. “All hail! I go about among you an immortal god, no more a mortal.”
He used his knowledge to help others while increasing his own fame. One account says he raised a woman from the dead. At a feast to celebrate this miracle, all the guests fell asleep. In the morning, Empedocles was missing.
The servants said they had heard a loud voice calling the philosopher away. Thereafter, sacrifices were offered to him as a god. Other accounts have him worshiped for stopping a plague by bringing freshwater to a city.
In the most famous tale of his apotheosis (the act of becoming a god), he slipped away to make others think he had become a god after healing the sick (not dead) woman. Climbing the volcano Etna, he hurled himself into the crater and was burned up.
He would have gotten away with the charade if not for his showy bronze slippers. One of them was later spewed out of the lava and Empedocles’s fate was revealed. Or at least that of his footwear was.
In the Roman Empire, it was common for emperors to be raised to god status after their deaths. Mothers, wives, and children of emperors also became gods on occasion. Emperor Hadrian, however, made his young male lover, Antinous, into an object of veneration.
The two were inseparable. Even though some homosexual acts were not considered shameful, it was deeply unusual to flaunt such a strong emotional bond. It was a scandal, but the emperor was too powerful for gossip to harm him.
In AD 130, Antinous drowned in the Nile under suspicious circumstances. Was he murdered? Did he commit suicide? Was he sacrificed to bring the emperor good health?
Whatever happened that day, the emperor was devastated. He erected a city called Antinopolis on the site of his lover’s death. Shrines were set up to Antinous throughout the empire.
Father M.J. (“Major Jealous”) Divine was born around 1880. Founding an independent Christian church in the 1920s, he preached to a mostly African-American flock. When his white neighbors objected to his meetings, he was thrown in jail. Two days after sentencing, the judge in the case dropped dead. When asked about it, Father Divine said, “I hated to do it.”
The case and his “divine retribution” brought him fame, and his followers accepted him as god on Earth. During the Great Depression, his Peace Missions opened across the country to feed people who would have otherwise gone hungry. He also preached an end to racial segregation and is now recognized as an early Civil Rights campaigner despite his unorthodox views on his own divinity.
In 2015, only 18 followers of Father Divine remained, all of them over 70.
Haile Selassie was the 225th—and last—emperor of Ethiopia. He is also known as Ras Tafari, the incarnation of god and messiah in the Rastafarian faith. Although he gave Ethiopia a constitution which declared the emperor to be sacred, it was a prophecy from across the ocean that made him a divine figure.