Thursday, August 27, 2009

Orthodoxy and the Hellenization of the Jews

"...Jewish Palestine had already been under Hellenistic rule and its resulting cultural influences for some 300 years by the time of Jesus of Nazareth's arrival." --Dr. Martin Hengel, Ph.d

Recalling that in antiquity Greece was not the unified nation as we think of it today, but a nation of city-states (polis), each have to a large measure its own sovereignty. Thus a citizen of one polis was not a de facto citizen of any other, and once obtaining permission to leave one's own polis, travel to another was a potentially hazardous undertaking. After a citizen departed the gates of his own polis, where he held citizenship, he passed out into a place of limbo while en route. Traveling to the next place, one would not necessarily be admitted, since one was a foreigner in that place.

Despite the political alliances and organization of ancient Greek cities, Greek learning, thought and education was widespread and prominent throughout the middle east. "Hellenization was so widespread" that Jewish Palestine was more accurately described as Hellenistic Judaism, writes Constantelos in his book, Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church."Its force, which embraced almost every sphere of life... was an expression of the power of the Greek spirit which penetrated and shaped everything, expressively and receptively." Thus Greek was the language, long in common use by all. The Hebrew tongue of the Jew's forefather was nearly forgotten. The coming of the Christ was approximately 360 years into Greek-Roman rule.

Judaism did not rebuke Hellenization. Nor did the emerging Jewish Christians reject
wholesale the thoughts, perceptions, philosophy, life-style or politics of Hellenism. Rather the Christian-Jewish sect embraced it. Greek and Roman culture through subsequent centuries became part and parcel of Orthodox belief and imagination.

Thus Christianity appears in the world not as a reaction against Hellenism, but in concert, as a new and empowered spiritual force; it united the Greek and Roman world thoroughly. The doctrine of God was brought to the Christians by way of an already established view that long played a part in
Hellenism. Monism was much in vogue and debated by many scholars in antiquity. God was spoken of as the 'one who contained all'.

Many elements of Christianity that would claim to be uniquely her own, in fact, stretch far back into the ancient world; these ideas have had a long reign in the world of ideas. The Church would like to claim,
for example, that she has the origins of the name (logos); that divine revelation was limited to the Jewish-Christians. They used established Greek thought to attack polytheism and to explain elements of the Torah, which reflect a sometimes different conception of the natural world. "Natural revelation is a very important element in several religions," argues Constantelos.

While ancient Greece accepted polytheism, the "new
religion," Judeo-Christianity, advanced the cause of the Oneness, and her corresponding view of God as a mono-theism. Yet ancient Greece was pluralistic in her beliefs. No single philosophical idea was dominant. Both monotheism and polytheism were widespread. Greek civilization was correspondingly in flux.

Choice (heresy, haeresis) was thought the right of the Greek in the polis; later this notion of choice developed further into a sense of free-will, and remained part of Orthodox teaching, while other ideas related to the free Hellenistic spirit of the earliest eras were deemed heresy and expunged. The developing Orthodoxy saw life, and God everywhere.

God was, in the Christian mind, uncontainable (achoretos); Life is a mystery, suffused with this most holy of spirits. Creation is sanctified by the presence of the deity in man and nature. "This state reveals itself in human consciousness." For this reason temples, altars and other religious materials were put into use by the Christian community, reminding themselves that the presence of God was everywhere.The development of an idea of the personal, loving Spirit in the Christian mind further distinguished Orthodox Christians from others in the ancient world.

Consequently, through the Hellenization of the Jews, the stage was set for the timely entry of the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. "Greek monotheism developed progressively after the sixth century B.C.E (BC). It was now Aristotle, the Greek thinker, who wrote, "God, being one, yet has many names, being called after all the various conditions which he, himself inaugurates."

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