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Friday, November 14, 2014

God and the Greeks

Although the Hebrews introduced YHWH and His message to the world, it has often been overlooked that it was the Greeks who made Him and His message accessible to the rest of the world. Moreover, the Greek people's introduction to the story of YHWH does not begin in the New Testament. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the story told in the Old Testament.

It has been widely recognized by Biblical scholars that the highly symbolic prophecies recorded in the book of Daniel contain extensive references to the Greek people and their rulers, empire and influence on the rest of the world. In his famous interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great image, Daniel informed the king that the statue represented four successive kingdoms. (Daniel 2) It has generally been understood that the third kingdom of brass which would "bear rule over all the earth" represented the Greeks. (Daniel 2:39) Later, Daniel also had a vision of four beasts that were said to correspond to the four successive empires portrayed in the king's dream. (Daniel 7) Notice that the third kingdom is described as being "like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it." (Daniel 7:6)

Then in the eighth chapter of the book of Daniel, we are given a more extensive treatment of the prophecies relative to the Greeks. The chapter begins with a portrayal of Alexander the Great's (the he goat) victory over the Medo-Persian Empire (the ram with two horns). (Daniel 8:1-7) Continuing, we read: "Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken (Alexander died at the height of his power); and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven (his empire was divided among his generals)." (verse 8) The meaning of this symbolism is confirmed later in the same chapter when the angel Gabriel tells Daniel: "The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power." (verses 20-22)

After Alexander's death, history tells us that his generals (Cassander, Lysimachus, Antigonus, Seleucus, Ptolemy, etc.) fought for control of his realm. Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic dynasty of pharaohs that ruled over Egypt until Roman times. Likewise, Seleucus founded the Seleucid dynasty of kings that ruled over Syria during the same period. In the eleventh chapter of Daniel, these are referred to as the kings of north (Ptolemies) and south (Seleucids). In fact, after a brief summary of the fall of Persia and rise of Greece (Daniel 11:1-4), the remainder of the chapter is devoted to the rivalry that existed between the kings of the north and south for hegemony in that part of the world. (verses 5-45)

Before leaving the book of Daniel, it is also interesting to note that the story of the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes is told in some detail. Prominent among these details was his antipathy for the holy covenant (Daniel 11:28), collusion with Jewish collaborators (verse 30) and pollution of the sanctuary (Temple) with the "abomination that maketh desolate." (verse 31)

The story of how the Maccabees defeated Antiochus, cleansed the Temple, reasserted Jewish independence and instituted the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) is told in the non canonical books of I and II Maccabees. Nevertheless, the period of Greek dominance over the Holy Land by both the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Greeks had a profound effect upon Jewish religious and political thought. Indeed, the Jewish state that the Romans later conquered had been thoroughly Hellenized. Hence, Jesus Christ was born into a very Greek world (Greek was the language of the intellectual elite).

One of the most powerful influences of Greek culture came in the arena of religion. The concept of an immortal soul within the Jewish and Christian traditions originated in Greek philosophy. Likewise, the association of Hades (or Hell) with the Underworld and the realm of the dead was a thoroughly Greek concept.

The author of the book of Acts informs us that the Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time among the Greeks during his missionary journeys. We are told that he visited the Greek cities of Neapolis, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. (Acts 16 and 17) And take a second look at that list - Notice that many of his epistles were directed to Greek audiences. Finally, we must not forget that the New Testament was written and preserved in the Greek language - not Hebrew!

In this connection, I think that the archeological dig at the large tomb near Amphipolis should be of great interest to Christians all over the world. The tomb dates from the time of Alexander and is the largest, most elaborate and most expensive edifice of its kind to ever have been discovered in Greece. What if the tomb contains the remains of Alexander the Great (a man mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures)? And what does it say about God that he used a homosexual man to accomplish "His" will (or one who was at least bi-sexual)? Much has been made about God's connection to the Hebrews, but we should all stop for just a moment to consider what a profound role the Greeks have played in God's plans for (and message to) humanity.

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