Hebrew Mind vs. Greek Mind
THE INFLUENCE OF HOMER
by Brad Scott
The New Testament makes several references to Grecians and what had become commonly known as Hellenism. What is Hellenism and what influence did Hellenism have on the culture of Yeshua''s time? The term "Hellenistic" was invented in the nineteenth century to designate the period of Greek and Near Eastern history from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. to the death of Cleopatra VII, the last Macedonian ruler of Egypt, in 30 B.C.The early Hellenistic period saw the emergence of a new form of relationship, compounded from Macedonian and Near Eastern traditions, which became the dominant political, religious, and social structure in the eastern Mediterranean after Alexander's death. The "Helen" of Hellenism comes from the writings of a blind poet by the name of Homer. Most Greek scholars are not convinced that this man actually lived, but for someone who may not have existed, he certainly was very influential in the shaping of Greek art, science, philosophy, religion, and social justice. His alleged writings were called "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey". These were epics set in the 12th century B.C. about a war between Greece and the city of Troy. This is where the Trojans come from. This is not a course on Greek history, but we need to get the background of where Greek thinking comes from. It did not burst onto the scene with Alexander. There was a gradual process that spring-boarded the influence of Greek thinking onto the known world at that time. The retrospective story of the Trojan War that the Iliad tells symbolizes the aims of this society as reflected in the literature of a later age. The heroes of Homer's poem sail far from their homes in Greece to attack the citadel of the Trojans in western Anatolia. Their announced mission is to rescue Helen, the Greek queen whom the son of the king of Troy had lured away from her husband. This is essentially where the term "Hellenism" comes from. Most of the anti-Biblical, pagan cultures we are familiar with, Greek, Babylonian, Persian, etc., have a woman or Goddess-type mother that represents that culture. Isis, Astarte, Ishtar, or Gaia are some examples. Greek culture was no different. However, this way of thinking has a background, as well. The background of Hellenism is from Egypt, no less. Some nineteenth century scholars wish to downplay or deny any significant cultural influence of the Near East on Greece, but that was plainly not the ancient Greek view of the question. Greek intellectuals of the historical period claimed that Greeks owed a great deal to the older civilization of Egypt, in particular, to religion and art. Recent research agrees with this ancient opinion. Greek sculptors in the Archaic Age chiseled their statues according to a set of proportions established by Egyptian artists. Greek mythology, the stories that Greeks told themselves about their deepest origins and their relations to the gods, was infused with stories and motifs of Near Eastern origin. The clearest evidence of the deep influence of Egyptian culture on Greek culture is the store of seminal religious ideas that flowed from Egypt to Greece. Rather than looking for a nonexistent origin of Greek identity, we will identify, as many as possible, the various sources of cultural influence that flowed together over a long period of time to produce the Greek culture we find recorded in the New Testament times. "Hellenistic" also conveys the idea that a mixed, cosmopolitan form of social and cultural life combining Hellenic (i.e. Greek) traditions with indigenous traditions emerged in the eastern Mediterranean region in the aftermath of Alexander's conquests. This provides some of the background for the term "Grecian", or 'Hellenist', as applied to many Jews at the time of Yeshua'. These were a mix of Hebrew ethnicity with Greek world views. The very nature of the ways of the nations in Scripture is a mixture of various ideas and views of how to live life. The Greek perspective provides us with a background as to the nature of a god or gods that desire to be worshiped, entertained, adored, and revered, but not necessarily obeyed. In Greek mythology, the gods were to be revered and celebrated, but the intellect was to guide man in this life. This is precisely why Sha'ul (Paul) tells us in 1Corinthians 1:22 that the Jews require a sign but the Greeks seek wisdom. The Greeks are also known for their philosophy. We will discuss Aristotle and others later. The poet Homer's poems set the stage for the creative writing of the Greek myths of ancient gods and goddesses. This would provide the background for the ultimate mind of all the gods called the logos. This logos, as we will learn later, is a mixture of religious concepts from several cultural sources, which are generally represented scripturally by Jezebel, Babylon, the queen of heaven, and many other names which will be mentioned as we go. The nature or essence of Greek philosophy will be studied in detail later on in this course. Right now we are trying to establish the fact that this philosophy made a major impact on the thinking process of the populations that Sha'ul encountered, and that this influence has stayed with the church for two thousand years. The following is a quote from the book "Alexander the Great" by N. G. L. Hammond. Mr. Hammond is considered to be the foremost expert on ancient Macedonian history. Macedonia is the ancient name of the kingdom of the Balkan peninsula, which generally covers the area of Greece, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria.
"In 342 B. C. Philip [Alexanders' father] hired Aristotle at a handsome salary to teach ‘philosophy', which embraced both practical and theoretical knowledge. Lessons and seminars were held usually in the open air in the sanctuary of the Nymphs near Mieza, a beautiful place with natural grottos in the limestone, which was visited by sightseers in Plutarch's day and still is so visited. The influence of Aristotle on Alexander was profound. Alexander accepted as correct Aristotle's views on cosmology, geography, botany, zoology and medicine and therefore took scientists with his army to Asia, and he was fascinated by Aristotle's lectures on logic, metaphysics, the nature of poetry, and the essence of politics. Above all he learned from Aristotle to put faith in the intellect. In their personal relationship the boy's admiration developed into a deep affection, and they shared a special interest in establishing the text of "The Iliad"."
Homer was the major influence of Aristotle. It was Homer who introduced, at least from the view of literature, the whole idea of mythology and hero worship. This lies at the core of Greek society. The era called the dark age of Greece (900-700 B.C.) was the beginning of the construction of gymnasiums. These were Greek arenas that housed athletic games, with great crowds cheering the participants and the gods, particularly Zeus. The gymnasium was a place where nude athletes would appease the gods by their great feats. The word gymnos is the Greek word for naked. This period also began the great city-state called the polis, which was designed to confine the social elite. These cities were erected to honor the gods. Within these city-states, smaller arenas, later called theaters, were erected. Theaters began with the Greeks, and were intended to host two particular events. At the beginning, they were primarily used to provide a place for the production of comedies and later, Greek tragedies. But by the later Archaic age, these were used to host the great philosophers and their famous debates. These debates were originally created to provide a place for the great thinkers and intellects to have a place to out-intellectualize each other. These places would soon produce Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
THE ATHENIAN HISTORY
We have now come to what is known as the Athenian age in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War around the 4th century B.C. This episode in Greek history produced the famous Socrates. According to most current encyclopedias, Socrates was the most influential thinker in the Western world. Socrates, although he wrote nothing of his own, was the progenitor of the philosophy that man's evil actions are caused by ignorance. He developed, what is called today, the Socratic method. This is called inductive reasoning - that is, by reasoning from particular facts to a general idea. In theory this seems logical, but all the reasoning depended upon what was considered a fact. Life was based upon thoughts and ideas to be debated. Many of the testimonies of his students attested to the fact that there were rarely any conclusions drawn, but everyone looked forward to the next debate. Socrates lived in poverty and disdained material possessions. He believed that no one knowingly did evil. Although Socrates was a thorn in the flesh of conventional Greek thinking, he none the less separated himself from any instructions of the gods and taught to rely on, after careful scrutiny, our own moral intellect to lead a happy life. Socrates, like many before him, sought wisdom no matter where it came from. Every culture had a part to play in the collective mind so long as moral knowledge was the goal.
Socrates' student, Plato will be the one who introduces the world to the demiurge. We will discuss this during our next lesson. Meanwhile I would like you to read Mizemor (Psalm) 119:1-9.
Shalom Alecheim! ◊