Hebrew Mind vs. Greek Mind


Lesson Four

Greece, in the fourth century B.C., produced a second thinker whose intellectual legacy achieved monumental proportions. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), Plato's most brilliant follower, earned his enduring reputation in science and philosophy from his groundbreaking work in promoting rigorous systems of logical argument. He taught that truth was discovered by systematic arguments based on "premise to conclusion" concepts. One first begins with a premise and then sets down a system of steps to come to an ultimate conclusion. The problem with this is that it still relied on human reasoning which was, of course, limited by human experience. The gods would not and could not supply truths, for they were to be idolized only. The block logic of Hebrew was considerably different than this type of thinking, but none the less, it was Hebrew logic that the Scriptures were written in. We will discuss this much later in the course. Aristotle's religious beliefs were much the same as Plato. The gods were still to be worshiped and revered and excellence was still the goal, (telos in the Greek). He was deeply critical of democracy, but only because it meant the rule of the majority and the majority was uneducated and poor. Only the elite had the capacity to rule. Only the academies could train children to succeed. Fathers and mothers were incapable of properly training Greek children.

During the years of Aristotle came the military rule of Philip of Macedonia, a land just north of Greece. Philip was a great conqueror, but not as great or popular as his son Alexander. The main thrust of Alexander's reign was that it happened so quickly. This is the primary reason why Greece is referred to as a leopard in the book of Daniyy'el (Daniel). With lightning fast speed, the greatest mortal hero of Greece defeated the known world. Alexander was not only a great military leader but was savvy and wise as well. His strategy was for Greece to dominate the world by conforming the world to Greek thinking. He knew that this could only be accomplished by language. He knew, almost supernaturally, that if you change a people's language, you change their whole view of life. Alexander, because of his brilliant tactics, was revered as a god, and he considered himself the son of Zeus. His belief in the superiority of Greek civilization was absolute. His most treasured possession was "The Iliad" of Homer, and he had the plays of the three great tragedians sent to him in Asia, together with poems, and the history of Philistus. They were his favorite readings. He admired Aristotle as the leading exponent of Greek intellectual enquiry, and he had a natural yearning for philosophical discussion and understanding. His mind was to some extent cast in the Aristotelian mold. He educated his future leaders in Greek letters and weaponry and established schools throughout his conquered regions. At the same time, he organized traditional Greek festivals to honor the gods in the most lavish fashion. He taught that the deities made their wishes known through natural phenomena and through omens and oracles, which were interpreted through great speakers in the theaters and arenas. This is why Sha'ul (Paul) and Barnabas were called Jupiter (Zeus) and Mercury (Hermes). These were the Roman names for the Greek gods. Although Rome conquered Greece, they took upon the same system of philosophy, only the names were changed.

The story of Alexander is a story of a major change in thought, so much so that he named a city for himself, Alexandria, Egypt, and the Tanakh was translated into Greek at this city. Alexander trained his successors in the Greek language. A most interesting twist occurred at Alexander's death. Instead of appointing his son to take over, he remained basically silent in the matter. His four top generals took over the reign of the known world instead of his son. These four men were Antigonus, his son Demetrius, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. These four men would soon divide up the known world and begin what would eventually be called the Hellenistic age. Antigonus and Demetrius took over Macedonia and Greece, Seleucus in Syria and the old Persian empire, and Ptolemy in Egypt. Israel would end up being under the domain of Ptolemy. All four of these kings carried on the Greek religion and thought process. Eventually all four kingdoms would fall to the Romans. All four kings forced the koine Greek language on their conquered territories. As I said before, this was a very wise move, for language shapes, molds, and defines a culture. Hate will soon turn to loyalty if one can change the meaning and purpose of words and traditions. Greek had become the international language of the eastern Mediterranean coast lands. Even in Afghanistan, King Asoka, a convert to Buddhism, used Greek in his public inscriptions to announce his efforts to introduce his subjects to Buddhist traditions. Literature in these Hellenistic cultures began to shift more and more to mythical dramas and comedies, yet worship and adoration of the gods remained as strong as ever. Human behavior and truth were becoming irrelevant as long as the gods were pleased through public attestation.

Greek philosophy in the Hellenistic period reached a wider audience than ever before. Fewer thinkers were concentrating on metaphysics and more on logic, physics, and ethics. The Epicurean and Stoic schools were now becoming popular. This is also a result of the Greek concept of the gods. The Greek gods were not infallible to their minds. They all had the ability to change, to fail, to give in to emotions, and to vacillate. It is because of this that philosophical schools came and went, as well. The bottom line at this time was how to deal with negative, outside forces. So we now have the rise of the Stoics and Epicureans. The Epicureans took their name from it's founder, Epicurus (341-271 B.C.). Basically, Epicurus believed that humans should pursue pleasure. The best way to achieve this is to stay away from distasteful situations by congregating with friends and like minded people. One should avoid the everyday mundane existence of the common people. The gods take no notice of human affairs, so humans have no fear of them. The Stoics, on the other hand, recommend a different, less isolationist path for humanity. A man named Zeno of Citium founded this philosophy. Their goal was the pursuit of virtue and a resignation to fate. They believed that fate was responsible for everything that happened, basically denying free will. Stoics believed in shunning all emotion, which is how our culture uses that term. Through endurance and self-control one attains tranquility. Dozens of other schools, such as the Sceptics and the Cynics, popped up to help explain life to the Greek world. The gods had not the foresight to guide life in any absolute way and were not interested. This brought about the infusing of various cultic and religious philosophies in concert with the reverence of the gods. The Hellenistic age can be summed up in one word, mixed. What was wrong today, may be right tomorrow, what is distasteful to one generation may soon become the banner of the next generation.

Shalom Alecheim!