5

In the phrase Soli Deo gloria one can read soli in two different ways:

  1. If it is solus, the phrase means "glory only to the God" or "glory to the only God".
  2. If it is sol, the phrase means "glory to the Sun God".

In Christian context the first one is intended, of course. But the second interpretation is also sensible. The same happens whenever solus Deus is in dative, not only in this particular phrase.

When and how was this double meaning observed? Are there examples from the pagan antiquity of the phrase sol deus in dative?

2

It seems that the Romans typically called their sun-god by the name of Deus Sol, not Sol Deus. Therefore I would not expect the Christian use of 'Soli Deo' to have been confusing or ambiguous to them.

  • According to Manfred Clauss in The Roman Cult of Mithras (1990, translated 2001), chapter 13, Mithraists referred to their sun-god as Deus Sol (not Sol Deus).
  • Vicipaedia has a picture of a coin with emperor Elagabalus on it, from the year 218, dedicated to DEO SOLI. Its source has twelve other coins with Deo Soli, but none with Soli Deo.
  • In The Cult of Sol Invictus (1972) by Gaston Halsberghe, Sol Deus, Soli Deo and Solis Dei are never used instead of Deus Sol, Deo Soli and Dei Solis. On page 145, he writes that the Emperor Aurelian established a new office of 'Pontifex Dei Solis' around the year 280.
  • The late fourth century Res Gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus, chapter 17, has "deo Soli speciali munere dedicatus" (in Yonge's 1911 translation: "especially dedicated to the Sun-god").
  • A few pages later, Ammianus translates one Hermapion's interpretation of the hieroglyphs on one of the obelisks in Rome. It contains both "Sol Deus magnus" (!, for " Ἥλιος θεὸς μέγας", Yonge: "The Sun, the great God") and "Deus Sol" (for " Ἥλιος θεὸς", Yonge: "the Sun, the god").
  • Vicipaedia uses 'deus solis' as a common term to refer to the sun-gods of various nations.

So I can find 'Sol Deus' only once, in a translation from Greek Ἥλιος θεὸς, which itself is claimed to be a translation from Egyptian.

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