JESUS and the
HELLENISTIC WORLD
 

 The Victory of Titus

Walker, “Period I. From the Beginnings to the Gnostic Crisis” . 1.1-1.3, pp. 1-18:

[1.1]. The General Situation; [1.2]. The Jewish Background; [1.3]. Jesus and the Disciples;

 THE GENERAL SITUATION

 

 

[1.1] THE GENERAL SITUATION
 

 

 

1) LANDS surrounding Mediterranean in the possession of Rome -under the sway of a single Hellenistic culture [Alexander]  [Julius Caesar] [Augustus]

Outside its borders only savage or semicivilized tribes

2) HELD together by allegiance to a single Emperor
and by a common military system subject to him.

3) PROVINCES largely self-governing:

local religious observances retained

local religious observances
Among the masses - ancient languages and customs

Native rulers allowed  limited authority in portions of the empire

 

4) Incredible VARIETY in the realm of religion.

All except few philosophers, believed in the existence of a power, or of powers, invisible, superhuman, and eternal, controlling human destiny, and to be worshipped or placated by prayer, ritual, or sacrifice.

 Earth = center of the universe.
Around it sun, planets, and stars ran their courses
Above it was the heaven
below the abode of departed spirits or of the wicked
 

No conception of science or the laws of nature in popular mind.

All the ongoings of nature were the work of invisible powers of good and evil, who ruled arbitrarily. Miracles [and divinely-ordained catastrophes]were, therefore, to be regarded not merely as possible; they were to be expected whenever the higher forces wanted to make a point.

The world was the abode of innumerable spirits, righteous or malevolent, who touched human life in all its phases, and who even entered into such possession of men as to control their actions for good or ill.

A profound sense of unworthiness, of ill desert, and of dissatisfaction with the existing conditions of life characterized the mass of mankind.

 

 


GREEK PHILOSOPHY
 

 

 

 

Hellenistic ideas dominated the intelligence of the Roman Empire, extensive only among the educated. Greek philosophic speculation at first concerned itself with the explanation of the physical universe. Yet with Heraclitus of Ephesus (about B. C. 490), though all was viewed as in a sense physical, the universe, which is in constant flow, is regarded as fashioned by a fiery element, the all-penetrating reason, of which men’s souls are a part. Here was probably the germ of the Logos conception which was to play such a role in later Greek speculation and Christian theology. As yet this shaping element was undistinguished from material warmth or fire. Anaxagoras of Athens (about B. C. 500-428) taught that a shaping mind (noûs) acted in the ordering of matter and is independent of it. The Pythagoreans, of southern Italy, held that spirit is immaterial, and that souls are fallen spirits imprisoned in material bodies. To this belief in immaterial existence they seem to have been led by a consideration of the properties of numbers—permanent truths beyond the realm of matter and not materially discerned.

Socrates and Plato

To Socrates (B. C. 470?-399) the explanation of man himself, not of the universe, was the prime object of thought. Man’s conduct, that is morals, was the most important theme of investigation. Right action is based on knowledge, and will result in the four virtues—prudence, courage, self-control, and justice—which, as the “ natural virtues,” were to have their eminent place in mediaeval Christian theology. This identification of virtue with knowledge, the doctrine that to know will involve doing, was indeed a disastrous legacy to all Greek thinking, and influential in much Christian speculation, notably in the Gnosticism of the second century.

In Socrates’s disciple, Plato (B C. 427-347), the early Greek mind reached its highest spiritual attainment. He is properly describable as a man of mystical piety, as well as of the profoundest spiritual insight. To Plato the passing forms of this visible world give no real knowledge. That knowledge of the truly permanent and real comes from our acquaintance with the “ideas,” those changeless archetypal, universal patterns which exist in the invisible spiritual world—the “intelligible” world, since known by reason rather than by the senses—and give whatever of reality is shared by the passing phenomena present to our senses. The soul knew these “ideas” in previous existence. The phenomena of the visible world call to remembrance these once known “ideas.” The soul, existing before the body, must be independent of it, and not affected by its decay. This conception of immortality as an attribute of the soul, not shared by the body, was always influential in Greek thought and stood in sharp contrast to the Hebrew doctrine of resurrection. All “ideas” are not of equal worth. The highest are those of the true, the beautiful, and especially of the good. A clear perception of a personal God, as embodied in the “idea” of the good, was perhaps not attained by Plato; but he certainly approached closely to it. The good rules the world, not chance. It is the source of all lesser goods, and desires to be imitated in the actions of men. The realm of “ideas” is the true home of the soul, which finds its highest satisfaction in communion with them. Salvation is the recovery of the vision of the eternal goodness and beauty.

Aristotle

Aristotle (B. C. 384-322) was of a far less mystical spirit than Plato. To him the visible world was an unquestioned reality. He discarded Plato’s sharp discrimination between “ideas” and phenomena. Neither exist without the other. Each existence is a substance, the result, save in the case of God, who is purely immaterial, of the impress of “ idea,” as the formative force, on matter which is the content. Matter in itself is only potential substance. It has always existed, yet never without form. Hence the world is eternal, for a realm of “ideas” antecedent to their manifestation in phenomena does not exist. The world is the prime object of knowledge, and Aristotle is therefore in a true sense a scientist. Its changes demand the initiation of a “prime mover,” who is Himself unmoved. Hence Aristotle presents this celebrated argument for the existence of God. But the “prime mover” works with intelligent purpose, and God is, therefore, not only the beginning but the end of the process of the world’s development. Man belongs to the world of substances, but in him there is not merely the body and sensitive “soul” of the animal; there is also a divine spark, a Logos which he shares with God, and which is eternal [although for Aristotle the soul is not immortal], though, unlike Plato’s conception of spirit, Aristotle’s is essentially impersonal. In morals Aristotle held that happiness, or well-being, is the aim, and is attained by a careful maintenance of the golden mean.

Greek philosophy did not advance much scientifically beyond Plato and Aristotle, but they had little direct influence at the time of Christ. Two centuries and a half after His birth, a modified Platonism, Neo-Platonism, was to arise, of great importance, which profoundly affected Christian theology, notably that of Augustine. Aristotle was powerfully to influence the scholastic theology of the later Middle Ages. Those older Greek philosophers had viewed man chiefly in the light of his value to the state. The conquests of Alexander, who died B. C. 323, wrought a great change in men’s outlook. Hellenic culture was planted widely over the Eastern world, but the small Greek states collapsed as independent political entities. It was difficult longer to feel that devotion to the new and vast political units that a little, independent Athens had, for instance, won from its citizens. The individual as an independent entity was emphasized. Philosophy had to be interpreted in terms of individual life. How could the individual make the most of himself? Two great answers were given, one of which was wholly foreign to the genius of Christianity, and could not be used by it; the other only partially foreign, and therefore destined profoundly to influence Christian theology. These were Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Epicurianism

Epicurus (B. C. 342-270), most of whose life was spent in Athens, taught that mental bliss is the highest aim of man. This state is most perfect when passive. It is the absence of all that disturbs and annoys. Hence Epicurus himself does not deserve the reproaches often cast upon his system. Indeed, in his own life, he was an ascetic. The worst foes of mental happiness he taught are groundless fears. Of these the chief are dread of the anger of the gods and of death. Both are baseless. The gods exist, but they did not create nor do they govern the world, which Epicurus holds, with Democritus (B. C. 470?-380?), was formed by the chance and ever-changing combinations of eternally existing atoms. All is material, even the soul of man and the gods themselves. Death ends all, but is no evil, since in it there is no consciousness remaining. Hence, as far as it was a religion, Epicureanism was one of indifference. The school spread widely. The Roman poet Lucretius (B. C. 98?-55), in his brilliant De Rerum Natura, gave expression to the worthier side of Epicureanism; but the influence of the system as a whole was destructive and toward a sensual view of happiness.

Contemporarily with Epicurus, Euhemerus (about B. C. 300) taught that the gods of the old religions were simply deified men, about whom myths and tradition had cast a halo of divinity. He found a translator and advocate in the Roman poet Ennius (B.C. 239?-170?). Parallel with Epicureanism, in the teaching of Pyrrho of Elis (B.C. 360?-270?), and his followers, a wholly sceptical point of view was presented. Not merely can the real nature of things never be understood, but the best course of action is equally dubious. In practice Pyrrho found, like Epicurus, the ideal of life one of withdrawal from all that annoys or disturbs. With all these theories Christianity could have nothing in common, and they in turn did not affect it.

 

 


STOICISM
 

 

 

CLEANTHES

EPICTETUS

MARCUS AURELIUS

The other great answer was that of Stoicism, the noblest type of ancient pagan ethical thought, the nearest in some respects to Christianity, and in others remote from it.

Its leaders were Zeno (B. C.?-264?), Cleanthes (B. C. 301?-232?), and Chrysippus (B. C. 280?-207?). Though developed in Athens, it flourished best outside of Greece, and notably in Rome, where Seneca (B. C. 3?-A. D. 65), Epictetus (A. D. 60?-?), and the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (A. D. 121-180), had great influence. It was powerfully represented in Tarsus during the early life of the Apostle Paul. Stoicism was primarily a great ethical system, yet not without claims to be considered a religion.

Universe = materialistic. All that is real is physical. Yet there is great difference in the fineness of bodies, and the coarser are penetrated by the finer.

Hence fine and coarse correspond roughly to the common distinctions between spirit and matter. Stoicism approximated, though it much modified, the view of Heraclitus.

The source of all, and the shaping, harmonizing influence in the universe is the vital warmth, from which all has developed by differing degrees of tension, which interpenetrates all things, and to which all will return. Far more than Heraclitus’s fire, which it resembles, it is the intelligent, self-conscious world-soul, an all indwelling reason, Logos of which our reason is a part.

It is God, the life and wisdom of all. It is truly within us. We can “follow the God within”; and by reason of it one can say, as Cleanthes did of Zeus; “We too are thy offspring.” The popular gods are simply names for the forces that stream out from God.

1) Since one wisdom exists in all the world, there is one natural law, one rule of conduct for all.

2) All are morally free.

3) Since all are from God, all men are brothers. Differences in station in life are accidental. To follow reason in the place in which one finds oneself is the highest duty, and is equally praiseworthy whether a man is an Emperor or a slave.

So to obey reason, the Logos, is the sole object of pursuit. Happiness is no just aim, though duty done brings a certain happiness purely as a by-product. The chief enemies of a perfect obedience are passions and lusts, which pervert the judgment. These must resolutely be put aside. God inspires all good acts, though the notion of God is essentially pantheistic.

 

The strenuous ascetic attitude of Stoicism, its doctrine of the all-pervading and all-ruling divine wisdom, Logos its insistence that all who do well are equally deserving, whatever their station, and its assertion of the essential brotherhood of all men, were profoundly to affect Christian theology. In its highest representatives the creed and its results were noble. It was, however, too often hard, narrow, and unsympathetic. It was for the few. It recognized that the many could never reach its standards.

Its spirit was too often one of pride. That of Christianity is one of humility. Still it produced remarkable effects. Stoicism gave Rome excellent Emperors and many lesser officials. Though it never became a really popular creed, it was followed by many of high influence and position in the Roman world, and modified Roman law for the better. It introduced into jurisprudence the conception of a law of nature, expressed in reason, and above all arbitrary human statutes. By its doctrine that all men are by nature equal, the worst features of slavery were gradually ameliorated, and Roman citizenship widely extended.

Popular Religion

The WELL-EDUCATED MINORITY thought in Rome and the provinces, by the time of Christ, in spite of wide-spread Epicureanism and Scepticism, inclined to pantheistic Monotheism, to the conception of God as good, in contrast to the non-moral character of the old Greek and Roman deities, to belief in a ruling divine providence, to the thought that true religion is not ceremonies but an imitation of the moral qualities of God, and toward a humaner attitude to men. The two elements lacking in this educated philosophy were those of certainty such as could only be given by belief in a divine revelation, and of that loyalty to a person which Christianity was to emphasize.

MAJORITY of the Population believed in many gods and manylords . Every town had its patron god or goddess, every trade, the farm, the spring, the household, the chief events of life, marriage, childbirth. These views, too, were ultimately to appear in Christian history transmuted into saint-worship. Fortune-tellers and magicians drove a thriving trade among the ignorant, and none were more patronized than those of Jewish race. Above all, the common people were convinced that the maintenance of the historic religious cult of the ancient gods was necessary for the safety and perpetuity of the state. If not observed, the gods wreaked vengeance in calamities—an opinion that was the source of much later persecution of Christianity. These popular ideas were not vigorously opposed by the educated, who largely held that the old religions had a police value. They regarded the state ceremonies as a necessity for the common man. Seneca put the philosophical opinion bluntly when he declared that “ the wise man will observe all religious usages as commanded by the law, not as pleasing to the gods.

 

 


WORSHIP of the STATE
 

 

 


 

Julius Caesar

Temple (in Rome) of Divus Iulius (Julius the Deity)

Emperor Augustus as Jupiter
1st cent. Hermitage

 

The abler Emperors strove to strengthen and modify the ancient popular worships, for patriotic reasons, into worship of the state and of its head. This patriotic deification of the Roman state began, indeed, in the days of the republic.

1) The worship of the “Dea Roma” may be found in Smyrna as early as 195 B.C.  This reverence was strengthened by the popularity of the empire in the provinces as securing them better government than that of the republic.

2) As early as 29 B.C. Pergamum had a temple to Rome and Augustus.

This worship, directed to:

a) the ruler as the embodiment of the state, or rather

b) to his “genius” or indwelling spirit, spread rapidly.

It soon had an elaborate priesthood under state patronage, divided and organized by provinces, and celebrating not only worship but annual games on a large scale.

It was probably the most highly developed organization of a professedly religious character under the early empire, and the degree to which it ultimately affected Christian institutions awaits further investigation. From a modern point of view there was much more of patriotism than of religion in this system. But early Christian feeling regarded this worship of the Emperor as utterly irreconcilable with allegiance to Christ. The feeling is shown in the description of Pergamum in Revelation 2:13. Christian refusal to render the worship seemed treasonable, and was the great occasion of the martyrdoms.

 

Some attempt was made to revive the dying older popular paganism. The earlier Emperors were, many of them, extensive builders and patrons of temples. The most notable effort to effect a revival and purification of popular religion was that of Plutarch (A. D. 46?-120?), of Chseronea in Greece, which may serve as typical of others. He criticised the traditional mythology. All that implied cruel or morally unworthy actions on the part of the gods he rejected. There is one God. All the popular gods are His attributes personified, or subordinate spirits. Plutarch had faith in oracles, special providences, and future retribution. He taught a strenuous morality. His attempt to wake up what was best in the dying older paganism was a hopeless task and won few followers.

Mystery Religions

 


MYSTERY RELIGIONS
 

 

 

MITHRAIC MYSTERIES (Rome c.230)

ISIS and HORUS (Rom. frieze, 20 BC)

CYBELE (Magna Mater 100 BC)

 

The great majority of those who felt religious longings simply adopted Oriental religions, especially those of a redemptive nature in which ‘mysticism or sacramentalism were prominent features. Ease of communication, and especially the great influx of Oriental slaves into the western portion of the Roman world during the later republic facilitated this process. The spread of these faiths independent of, and to a certain extent as rivals of, Christianity during the first three centuries of our era made that epoch one of deepening religious feeling throughout the empire, and, in that sense, undoubtedly facilitated the ultimate triumph of Christianity.

One such Oriental religion, of considerably extended appeal, though with little of the element of mystery, was Judaism, which because of its universally-acknowledged antiquity would be largely exempted from participation in the state and Imperial cults. The popular mind turned more largely to other Oriental cults, of greater mystery, or rather of larger redemptive sacramental significance. Their meaning for the religious development of the Roman world has been only recently appreciated at anything like its true value.

The most popular of these Oriental religions were

1) those of the Great Mother (Cybele) and Attis, originating in Asia Minor;

was essentially a primitive nature worship, accompanied by violent rites [the priests are said to have flagellated and castrated themselves during festal processions], reached Rome in B. C. 204, and was the first to gain extensive foothold in the West.

2) of Isis and Serapis from Egypt;

with its emphasis on regeneration and a future life, was well established in Rome by B. C. 80, but had long to endure governmental opposition.

3) and of Mithra[s] from Persia. [MITHRAISM]

the most widespread of all, though having an extended history in the East, did not become conspicuous at Rome till toward the year 100 A.D. , and its great spread was in the latter part of the second and during the third centuries. It was especially beloved of soldiers. In the later years, at least of its progress in the Roman Empire, Mithras was identified with the sun—the Sol Invictus of the Emperors just before Constantine. Like other religions of Persian origin, its view of the universe was dualistic.


1) All these religions taught a redeemer-god.

2) All held that the initiate shared in symbolic (sacramental) fashion the experiences of the god, died with him, rose with him, became partakers of the divine nature, usually through a meal shared symbolically with him, and participated in his immortality.

3) All had secret rites for the initiated.

4) All offered mystical (sacramental) cleansing from sin./

In the religion of Isis and Serapis that cleansing was by bathing in sacred water;

in those of the Great Mother and of Mithras by the blood of a bull, the taurobolium, by which, as recorded in inscriptions, the initiate was “reborn forever.”

5) All promised a happy future life for the faithful.

6) All were more or less ascetic in their attitude toward the world.

7) Some, like Mithraism, taught the brotherhood and essential equality of all disciples.

There can be no doubt that the development of the early Christian doctrine of the sacraments was affected, if not directly by these religions, at least by the religious atmosphere which they helped to create and to which they were congenial.

The Situation in the Pagan World

In summing up the situation in the pagan world at the coming of Christ, one must say that, amid great confusion, and in a multitude of forms of expression, some of them very unworthy, certain religious demands are evident. A religion that should meet the requirements of the age must teach one righteous God, yet find place for numerous spirits, good and bad. It must possess a definite revelation of the will of God, as in Judaism, that is an authoritative scripture. It must inculcate a world-denying virtue, based on moral actions agreeable to the will and character of God. It must hold forth a future life with rewards and punishments. It must have a symbolic initiation and promise a real forgiveness of sins. It must possess a redeemer-god into union with whom men could come by certain sacramental acts. It must teach the brotherhood of all men, at least of all adherents of the religion. However simple the beginnings of Christianity may have been, Christianity must possess, or take on, all these traits if it was to conquer the Roman Empire or to become a world religion. It came “in the fulness of time” in a much larger sense than was formerly thought; and no one who believes in an overruling providence of God will deny the fundamental importance of this mighty preparation, even if some of the features of Christianity’s early development bear the stamp and limitations of the time and have to be separated from the eternal.

[1].2. THE JEWISH BACKGROUND

 

 

[1.2] THE JEWISH BACKGROUND
 

 

 

 

The Antonia Fortress and Temple of Herod (Model-reconstruction)

 

The external course of events had largely determined the development of Judaism in the six centuries preceding the birth of Christ. Judaea had been under foreign political control since the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, B. C. 586.

 

 

JEWISH CAPTIVITY and REBELLIONS

 

 

 

It had shared the fortunes of the old Assyrian Empire and of its successors, the Persian and that of Alexander.

After the break-up of the latter it came under the control of the Ptolemies of Egypt and then of the Seleucid dynasty of Antioch. While thus politically dependent, its religious institutions were practically undisturbed after their restoration consequent upon the Persian conquest of Babylonia

 

 

1) THE HEREDITARY PRIESTLY FAMILIES were the real native aristocracy of the land. In their higher ranks they came to be marked by political interest and religious indifference. The high-priesthood in particular became a coveted office by reason of its financial and political influence. With it was associated, certainly from the Greek period, a body of advisers and legal interpreters, the Sanhedrim, ultimately seventy-one in number. Thus administered, the temple and its priesthood came to represent the more formal aspect of the religious life of the Hebrews.

 

 

2) On the other hand, the feeling that they were a holy people living under Yahweh’s holy law, their sense of religious separatism, and the comparative cessation of prophecy, turned the nation to the study of the law, which was interpreted by an ever-increasing body of tradition. As in Muslim lands today, the Jewish law was at once religious precept and civil statute. Its interpreters, THE SCRIBES, became more and more the real religious leaders of the people. Judaism grew to be, in ever-increasing measure, the religion of a sacred scripture and its mass of interpretative precedent.

 

 

3) For a fuller understanding and administration of the law, and for prayer and worship, the SYNAGOGUE developed wherever Judaism was represented. Its origin is uncertain, going back probably to the Exile. In its typical form it was:

a) a local congregation including all Jews of the district

b) presided over by a group of “elders,”

c) having often a “ruler” at its head.

These were empowered to excommunicate and punish offenders.

The services were very simple:

could be led by any Hebrew, though usually under “a ruler of the synagogue.” They included

1) prayer,

2) the reading of the law and the prophets,

3) their translation [from Hebrew into Aramaic - Targumim]

4) and exposition (sermon),

5) and the benediction.

Because of the unrepresentative character of the priesthood, and the growing importance of the synagogues, the temple, though highly regarded, became less and less vital for the religious life of the people as the time of Christ is approached, and could be totally destroyed in A. D. 70, without any overthrow of the essential elements in Judaism.

 

 

Under the Seleucid Kings Hellenizing influences came strongly into Judæa, and divided the claimants for the high-priestly office. The forcible support of Hellenism by Antiochus IV, Epiphanes (B. C. 175-164), and its accompanying repression of Jewish worship and customs, led, in B. C. 167, to the great rebellion headed by the Maccabees, and ultimately to a period of Judæan independence which lasted till the conquest by the Romans in B. C. 63. This Hellenizing episode brought about a profound cleft in Jewish life. The Maccabean rulers secured for themselves the high-priestly office; but though the family had risen to leadership by opposition to Hellenism and by religious zeal, it gradually drifted toward Hellenism and purely political ambition. Under John Hyrcanus, the Maccabean ruler from B. C. 135 to 105, the distinction between the religious parties of later Judaism became marked. The aristocratic-political party, with which Hyrcanus and the leading priestly families allied themselves, came to be known as SADDUCEES—a title the meaning and antiquity of which is uncertain. It was essentially a worldly party without strong religious conviction. Many of the views that the Sadducees entertained were conservatively representative of the older Judaism. Thus, they held to the law without its traditional interpretation, and denied a resurrection or a personal immortality. On the other hand, they rejected the ancient notion of spirits, good or bad. Though politically influential, they were unpopular with the mass of the people, who opposed all foreign influences and stood firmly for the law as interpreted by the traditions.

 

 

The most thoroughgoing representatives of this democratic-legalistic attitude were the PHARISEES, a name which signifies the Separated, presenting what was undoubtedly a long previously existing attitude, though the designation appears shortly before the time of John Hyrcanus. With his reign the historic struggle of Pharisees and Sadducees begins.

As a whole, in spite of the fact that the Zealots, or men of action, sprang from them, the Pharisees were not a political party. Though they held the admiration of a majority of the people, they were never very numerous. The ordinary working Jew lacked the education in the minutiae of the law or the leisure to become a Pharisee. Their attitude toward the mass of Judaism was contemptuous. (John 7:49) They represented, however, views which were widely entertained and were in many respects normal results of Jewish religious development since the Exile. Their prime emphasis was

1) On the exact keeping of the law as interpreted by the traditions.

2) They held strongly to the existence of spirits, good and bad—a doctrine of angels and of Satan that had apparently received a powerful impulse from Persian ideas.

3)They represented that growth of a belief in the resurrection of the body, and in future rewards and punishments which had seen a remarkable development during the two centuries preceding Christ’s birth.

4)They held, like the people generally, to the Messianic hope.

The Pharisees, from many points of view, were deserving of respect. From the circle infused with these ideas Christ’s disciples were largely to come. The most learned of the Apostles had been himself a Pharisee, and called himself such years after having become a Christian. (Acts 23:6) Their earnestness was praiseworthy. The great failure of Pharisaism was twofold. It looked upon religion as the keeping of an external law, by which a reward was earned. Such keeping involved of necessity neither a real inward righteousness of spirit, nor a warm personal relation to God. It also shut out from the divine promises those whose failures, sins, and imperfect keeping of the law made the attainment of the Pharisaic standard impossible. It disinherited the “ lost sheep “ of the house of Israel.

 

 

THE MESSIANIC HOPE

 


ANTIOCHUS EPIPHANES

HEROD the GREAT

TIEMPLE of HEROD the GREAT

 

The  Messianic hope, shared by the Pharisees and common people alike, was the outgrowth of strong national consciousness and faith in God. It was most vigorous in times of national oppression. Under the earlier Maccabees, when a Godfearing line had given independence to the people, it was little felt. The later Maccabees, however, deserted their family tradition. The Romans conquered the land in B. C. 63.

Nor was the situation really improved from a strict Jewish standpoint, when a half-Jewish adventurer, Herod, the son of the Idumean Antipater, held a vassal kingship under Roman overlordship from B. C. 37 to B. C. 4. In spite of his undoubted services to the material prosperity of the land, and his magnificent rebuilding of the temple, he was looked upon as a tool of the Romans and a Hellenizer at heart. The Herodians were disliked by Sadducees and Pharisees alike. On Herod’s death his kingdom was divided between three of his sons, Archelaus becoming “ethnarch” of Judaea, Samaria, and Idumea (B. C. 4-A. D. 6); Herod Antipas “tetrarch” of Galilee and Peraea (B. C. 4-A. D. 39); and Philip “tetrarch” of the prevailingly pagan region east and northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Archelaus aroused bitter enmity, was deposed by the Emperor Augustus, and was succeeded by a Roman procurator—the occupant of this post from A. D. 26 to 36 being Pontius Pilate. With such hopelessly adverse political conditions, it seemed as if the Messianic hope could be realizable only by divine aid. By the time of Christ that hope involved the destruction of Roman authority by supernatural divine intervention through a Messiah; and the establishment of a kingdom of God in which a freed and all-powerful Judaism should nourish under a righteous Messianic King of Davidic descent, into which the Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire should be gathered, and by which a golden age would be begun. To the average Jew it probably meant little more than that, by divine intervention, the Romans would be driven out and the kingdom restored to Israel. A wide-spread belief, based on Malachi 31, held that the coming of the Messiah would be heralded by a forerunner.

Other Forces in Judaism - Apocalyptic

These hopes were nourished by a body of apocalyptic literature, pessimistic as to the present, but painting in brilliant color the age to come. The writings were often ascribed to ancient worthies. Such in the Old Testament canon is the prophecy of Daniel, such without are the Book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, and a number of others. A specimen of this class of literature from a Christian point of view, but with much use of Jewish conceptions, is Revelation in the New Testament. These nourished a forward-looking, hopeful religious attitude that must have served in a measure to offset the strict legalism of the Pharisaic interpretation of the law.

Anawim

 

 

THE ANAWIM

 

 

MARY

SIMEON

ZECHARIAH

 

In the country districts especially, away from the centers of official Judaism, there was a real mystical piety. It was that of the later Psalms and of the “poor in spirit (anawim)” of the New Testament, and the “Magnificat” and “Benedictus” (Luke 1:46-55; 68-79) may well be expressions of it (See Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, §12, C2, pp. 350-355 Mary in the New Testament, 6.A.3, p. 243. To this mystic type belong also the recently discovered so-called Odes of Solomon. From this simpler piety, in a larger and less mystical sense, came prophetic appeals for repentance, of which those of John the Baptist are best known. It was not Pharisaic, but far more vital. [Possibly also associated with the piety of the Anawim was the Qumran community, “Pious Ones (hassidim) who initially supported the Maccabees, but later separated (c. 150 BC) when the Maccabees usurped the High Priesthood and founded a dynasty less opposed to Hellenization].

 

 

One further conception of later Judaism is of importance by reason of its influence on the development of Christian theology. It is that of “wisdom,” which is practically personified as existing side by side with God, one with Him, His “possession” before the foundation of the world, His agent in its creation. (Prov. 3:19; 8; Psalms 33:6) It is possible that the influence of the Stoic thought of the all- pervading divine Logos is here to be seen; but a more ethical note sounds than in the corresponding Greek teaching. Yet the two views were easy of assimilation.

 

 

  JUDAISM OUTSIDE PALESTINE - Diaspora, Philo

 

 

Palestine is naturally first in thought in a consideration of Judaism. It was its home, and the scene of the beginnings of Christianity. Nevertheless the importance of the dispersion of the Jews outside of Palestine, both for the religious life of the Roman Empire as a whole, and for the reflex effect upon Judaism itself of the consequent contact with Hellenic thought, was great. This dispersion had begun with the conquests of the Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs, and had been furthered by many rulers, notably by the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the great Romans of the closing days of the republic and the dawning empire.

 Estimates are at best conjectural, but it is not improbable that, at the birth of Christ there were five or six times as many Jews outside of Palestine as within its borders. They were a notable part of the population of Alexandria. They were strongly rooted in Syria and Asia Minor. They were to be found, if in relatively small numbers, in Rome. Few cities of the empire were without their presence. Clannish and viewed with little favor by the pagan population, they prospered in trade, were valued for their good qualities by the rulers, their religious scruples were generally respected, and, in turn, they displayed a missionary spirit which made their religious impress felt. As this Judaism of the dispersion presented itself to the surrounding pagan , it was a far simpler creed than Palestinian Pharisaism. It taught one God, who had revealed His will in sacred Scriptures, a strenuous morality, a future life with rewards and punishments, and a few relatively simple commands relating to the Sabbath, circumcision, and the use of meats. It carried with it everywhere the synagogue, with its unelaborate and non-ritualistic worship. It appealed powerfully to many pagan s; and, besides full proselytes, the synagogues had about them a much larger penumbra of partially Judaized converts, the “devout men,” who were to serve as a recruiting ground for much of the early Christian missionary propaganda.

  ALEXANDRIA

In its turn, the Judaism of the dispersion was much influenced by Hellenism, especially by Greek philosophy, and nowhere more deeply than in Egypt. There, in Alexandria, the Old Testament was given to the reading world in Greek translation, the so-called Septuagint, as early as the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (B. C. 285-246). This made the Jewish Scriptures, heretofore locked up in an obscure tongue, widely accessible. In Alexandria, also, Old Testament religious ideas were combined with Greek philosophical conceptions, notably Platonic and Stoic, in a remarkable syncretism.

  PHILO

The most influential of these Alexandrian interpreters was Philo (B. C. 20?-A. D. 42?). To Philo, the Old Testament is the wisest of books, a real divine revelation, and Moses the greatest of teachers; but by allegorical interpretation Philo finds the Old Testament in harmony with the best in Platonism and Stoicism. The belief that the Old Testament and Greek philosophy were in essential agreement was one of far-reaching significance for the development of Christian theology. This allegorical method of Biblical explanation was greatly to influence later Christian study of the Scriptures. To Philo, the one God made the world as an expression of His goodness to His creation; but between God and the world the uniting links are a group of divine powers, viewed partly as attributes of God and partly as personal existences. Of these the highest is the Logos which flows out of the being of God Himself, and is the agent not merely through whom God created the world, but from whom all other powers, flow. Through the Logos God created the ideal man, of whom actual man is a poor copy, the work of lower spiritual powers as well as of the Logos. Even from his fallen state man may rise to connection with God through the Logos, the agent of divine revelation. Yet Philo’s conception of the Logos is far more philosophical than that of “wisdom” in Proverbs, of which mention has been made; and the source of the New Testament Logos doctrine is to be found in the Hebrew conception of “wisdom” rather than in the thought of Philo. He was, however, a great illustration of the manner in which Hellenic and Hebrew ideas might be united, and were actually to be united, in the development of later Christian theology. In no other portion of the Roman world was the process which Philo represented so fully developed as in Alexandria.

Jesus_and_Disciples

 

 

[1].3. JESUS and the DISCIPLES
 

 

 

THE way was prepared for Jesus by John the Baptist, in the thought of the early Christians the “forerunner” of the Messiah. Ascetic in life, he preached in the region of the Jordan that the day of judgment upon Israel was at hand, that the Messiah was about to come; and despising all formalism in religion, and all dependence on Abrahamic descent, he proclaimed in the spirit of the ancient prophets their message: “repent, do justice.” His directions to the various classes of his hearers were simple and utterly non-legalistic. (Luke 3:2-14; Matt. 3:1-12)  He baptized his disciples in token of the washing away of their sins; he taught them a special prayer. Jesus classed him as the last and among the greatest of the prophets. Though many of his followers became those of Jesus, some persisted independently and were to be found as late as Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts, 191-4).

While the materials are lacking for any full biography of Jesus such as would be available in the case of one living in modern times, they are entirely adequate to determine His manner of life, His character, and His teaching, even if many points on which greater light could be desired are left in obscurity. He stands forth clearly in all His essential qualities. He was brought up in Nazareth of Galilee, in the simple surroundings of a carpenter’s home. The land, though despised by the more purely Jewish inhabitants of Judaea on account of a considerable admixture of races, was loyal to the Hebrew religion and traditions, the home of a hardy, self-respecting population, and particularly pervaded by the Messianic hope. Here Jesus grew to manhood through years of unrecorded experience, which, from His later ministry, must have been also of profound spiritual insight and “favor with God and man.”

From this quiet life He was drawn by the preaching of John the Baptist. To him He went, and by him was baptized in the Jordan. In connection with this baptism there came to Him the conviction that He was the Messiah of Jewish hope, the chosen of God, the appointed founder of the divine kingdom. A struggle with temptations to interpret this Messiahship in terms of ordinary Jewish expectation, resulted in His rejection of all political or self-seeking methods of its realization as unworthy, and the unshakable conviction that His Messianic leadership was purely spiritual, and the kingdom solely a kingdom of God, He began at once to preach the kingdom and to heal the afflicted in Galilee, and soon had great popular following. He gathered about Him a company of intimate associates—the Apostles—and a larger group of less closely attached disciples. How long His ministry continued is uncertain, from one to three years will cover its possible duration. Opposition was aroused as the spiritual nature of His message became evident and His hostility to the current Pharisaism was recognized. Many of His first followers fell away. He journeyed to the northward toward Tyre and Sidon, and then to the region of Caesarea Philippi, where He drew forth a recognition of His Messianic mission from His disciples. He felt, however, that at whatever peril He must bear witness in Jerusalem, and thither He went with heroic courage, in the face of growing hostility, there to be seized and crucified, certainly under Pontius Pilate (A. D. 26-36) and probably in the year 30. His disciples were scattered, but speedily gathered once more, with renewed courage, in the glad conviction that He still lived, having risen from the dead. Such, in barest outline, is the story of the most influential life ever lived. The tremendous impress of His personality was everywhere apparent.

In treating, however briefly, of the teaching and work of Jesus, it must be recognized, as Harnack has pointed out, that we have from the first a twofold Gospel—a Gospel of Jesus— His teachings; and a Gospel about Jesus—the impression that He made upon His disciples as to what He was. He began with what were the best possessions of contemporary Judaism, the kingdom of God and the Messianic hope. These had been the center of John’s message. The mysterious thing in Jesus’ experience is that He felt Himself to be the Messiah, and, as far as can be judged, this conviction was no matter of deduction. It was a clear consciousness. He knew Himself to be the Messianic founder of the kingdom of God. Yet that kingdom was not earthly, Maccabean. It was always spiritual. But His conception of it enlarged. At first He seems to have regarded it as for Jews only. (Mark 7:27; Matt. 10:5-7, 15:24) As He went on, His conception of its inclusiveness grew, and He taught not merely that many “shall come from the east and west and from the north and south,” (Luke 13:29) but that the kingdom itself will be taken from the unbelieving Jews. (Mark 12:1-12) Jesus held Himself in a peculiar degree the friend of the sons and daughters of the kingdom whom Pharisaism had disinherited, the outcasts, publicans, harlots, and the poor. Their repentance was of value in the sight of God.

The kingdom of God, in Jesus’ teaching, involves the recognition of God’s sovereignty and fatherhood. We are His children. Hence we should love Him and our neighbors. (Mark 12:28-34) All whom we can help are our neighbors. (Luke 10:25-37) We do not so love Hence we need to repent with sorrow for sin, and turn to God; and this attitude of sorrow and trust (repentance and faith) is followed by the divine forgiveness. (Luke 15:11-32) The ethical standard of the kingdom is the highest conceivable. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) It involves the utmost strenuousness toward self, (Mark 9:43-50) and unlimited forgiveness toward others. (Matt. 18:21. 22.) Forgiveness . of others is a necessary condition of God’s forgiving us. (Mark 11:25, 26) There are two ways in life: one broad and easy, the other narrow and hard. A blessed future or destruction are the ends. (Matt. 7:13, 14) Jesus was, like His age, strongly eschatological in His outlook. Though He felt that the kingdom is begun now, (Mark 4:1-32; Luke 17:21) it is to be much more powerfully manifested in the near future. The end of the present age seemed not far off. (Matt. 10:22, 19:26, 24:34; Mark 13:30)

Most of these views and sayings can doubtless be paralleled in the religious thought of the age; but the total effect was revolutionary. “He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22) He could say that the least of His disciples is greater than John the Baptist ; (Matt. 11:11) and that heaven and earth should pass away before His words. (Mark 13:31) He called the heavy-laden to Him and offered them rest. (Matt. 11:26. ) He promised to those who confessed Him before men that He would confess them before His Father. (Matt. 10:32.) He declared that none knew the Father but a Son, and he to whom the Son should reveal the Father. (Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22) He proclaimed Himself lord of the Sabbath, (Mark 2:23-28) than which, in popular estimate, there was no more sacred part of the God-given Jewish law. He affirmed that He had power to pronounce forgiveness of sins. (Mark 2:1-11) On the other hand, He felt His own humanity and its limitations no less clearly. He prayed, and taught His disciples to pray. He declared that He did not know the day or the hour of ending of the present world-age; that was known to the Father alone. (Mark 13:32) It was not His to determine who should sit on His right hand and His left in His exaltation. (Mark 10:40) He prayed that the Father’s will, not His own, be done. (Mark 14:36) He cried in the agony of the cross: “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) The mystery of His person is in these utterances. Its divinity is no less evident than its humanity. The how is beyond our experience, and therefore beyond our powers of comprehension; but the church has always busied itself with the problem, and has too often practically emphasized one side to the exclusion of the other.

Jesus substituted for the external, work righteous, ceremonial religion of contemporary Judaism, the thought of piety as consisting in love to God and to one’s neighbor—to a God who is a Father and a neighbor who is a brother—manifested primarily in an attitude of the heart and inward life, the fruit of which is external acts. The motive power of that life is personal allegiance to Himself as the revelation of the Father, the type of redeemed humanity, the Elder Brother, and the King of the kingdom of God.

What Jesus taught and was gained immense significance from the conviction of His disciples that His death was not the end—from the resurrection faith. The how of this conviction is one of the most puzzling of historical problems. The fact of this conviction is unquestionable. It seems to have come first to Peter, (1Cor. 15:5) who was in that sense at least the “rock” Apostle on whom the church was founded. All the early disciples shared it. It was the turning-point in the conversion of Paul. It gave courage to the scattered disciples, brought them together again, and made them witnesses. Henceforth they had a risen Lord, in the exaltation of glory, yet ever interested in them. The Messiah of Jewish hope, in a profounder spiritual reality than Judaism had ever imagined Him, had really lived, died, and risen again for their salvation.

These convictions were deepened by the experiences of the day of Pentecost. The exact nature of the pentecostal manifestation is, perhaps, impossible to recover. Certainly the conception of a proclamation of the Gospel in many foreign languages is inconsistent with what we know of speaking with tongues elsewhere (See 1 Cor. 14:2-19) and with the criticism reported by the author of Acts that they were “ full of new wine,” (Acts 2:13) which Peter deemed worthy of a reply. But the point of significance is that these spiritual manifestations appeared the visible and audible evidence of the gift and power of Christ. (Acts 2:33) To these first Christians it was the triumphant inauguration of a relation to the living Lord, confidence in which controlled much of the thinking of the Apostolic Church. If the disciple visibly acknowledged his allegiance by faith, repentance, and baptism, the exalted Christ, it was believed, in turn no less evidently acknowledged the disciple by His gift of the Spirit. Pentecost was indeed a day of the Lord; and though hardly to be called the birthday of the church, for that had its beginnings in Jesus’ association with the disciples, it marked an epoch in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the disciples’ conviction of Christ’s presence, and in the increase of adherents to the new faith.


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