Archive for category Other Religions

Road map

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote anything. I apologize for that. It seems that for the last year or so I have been wrestling with some questions. Some of these questions are about religion in general and some of them are directed solely at the Christian Church. A lot of these questions remain unanswered, even after taking so long to meditae on them. The other night, though, I found something that opened my eyes to a new way of seeing things. I found a new way of looking at not only my own questions, but of the things the questions themselves were questioning.
If you know me, you know that I have a deep seeded resentment towards ignorance in the face of knowledge. Show me someone who would rather take it easy rather than learn something about themselves or the world and I would see someone I would rather kick in the back of the head. For a long time, whenever someone in the American Christian church would talk about religion, I would basically tune it out. The reason being that I had come to the conlusion that most American Christians would rather be boiled in acid then acually have to think for themselves. I chalked it up to a hatred of knowledge on their part and dismissed the idea that maybe there was some other factor involved. That is, until I read something in a book.
In his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamees Buddhist monk, discusses the relationship between the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha. For the first part of the book I was not much impressed. I had read much concerning Buddhism beforehand and what this book was saying about the similarities between the two religions was not very revealing, at least not in a new and novel way. It wasn’t until I got to the titular chapter that I had my mind blown. Hanh states, “When Jesus said, ‘I am the way,’ He meant that to have a true relationship with God you must practice His way. … But we must distinguish the ‘I’ sopen by Jesus and the ‘I’ that people usually think of. The ‘I’ in His statement is life itself, His life, which is the way.” It was here that suddently things began to click.
For as long as I can remember, the statement “I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me,” was always used only in one context: to prove that Christianity was the only way to heaven. I can not recall a time in which this statement, spoken by Jesus, was not used to disregard another religious teaching or philosophy. The only way to heaven is through Jesus, which means that the only way to heaven is by worshiping Jesus, which means that anyoen who doesn’t worship Jesus is going to go to hell. That was the interprutation I learned from the Church and from other Christians. But this statement by Hanh, esspecially put in the context I had prior to learned about Buddhists, is of monumental importance to me.
The true meaning of the statement, in my view, is two fold. The first one is like the original interpruation: Jesus is the way to heaven. The second one is this: being as Jesus is the way to heaven. I think that American Christianity has lost a lot of itself in he last century. It is told to me that there were people in the world who became like Jesus; people who, instead of following a list of regulations and conforming to a set of social expectations, actually embodied the attributes of Christ in the world. Today, it is hard to imagine what such a person would be like.
Christians today have taken, what I consider, a grave turn. Instead of becoming like Christ, they have instead taken to becoming a Jesus cult. This may sound ridiculous, but consider it for a moment. A lot of Christians today would describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” or would give an account of the religious affiliation as “I love Jesus”. Go to a “praise session” at a modern church and you will find people who will, instead of reflecting on how to become more like Christ, put their hands in the air and chant or mutter “Jesus” over and over. There is a strange fixation on the death and sacrifice of Jesus to the point where all other teachings of Christ fall by the wayside. I think it would be fair to say that to some extent they could be called a Jesus-cult. A cult which is hung up on the humanity of Jesus instead of on his divinity and his teaching.
Let me clarify a bit. I am not, I repeat Not, saying that loving Christ or the sacrifice made by him for humanity is not important or in anyway a bad thing. What I am saying is that it would seem that Christians today, esspecially in America, have become stuck in a rut of making those the focal point of their entire lives. Why, though, is that a bad thing? Christ did come to die for our sins, no doubt. However, if that was all he was here to do then he could have done that at any time. What makes a Jesus-cult bad is that it religates the teachings and the life of Christ to the back burner if not cuts it out all together and begins to teach that all that is needed for salvation is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior and all is forgiven and you are heaven bound. If that was really all there was to it we would be no better than the Buddhist cult that believes that they can lead any kind of life, but as long as they call upon the name of the Buddha before they die they are guaranteed to be reincarnated in the Pure Land.
Christ did not come just to die so that we could claim him as a savior and then go about our merry way so long as we worship his name every noe and again. He came to teach us how to live–Not only as a guideline, but as a requirement. It is not enough that we say “I believe in Jesus.” We must become like Christ. We must live like Christ. We must follow his teachings: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind; to love your neighbor as yourself regardless of what he has done or what he believes; to be charitable and merciful; and to seek peace within ourselves and to spread that peace to others. As Hanh says, “If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus.”
The Jesus-cult is so prevelant because it is so easy. In today’s society we like things that are simple, easy, and convenient. Showing up to church, praising the name of Jesus, getting swept up in the emotion of a crowd (as opposed to fostering true emotions within one’s self), claiming Jesus as a personal savior, and going home, these are easy and simple. There is no real life change except maybe for a new schedule to follow and a few new social norms to abide by. But the true person has not, I think, been changed at all. What has been changed are only the clothes of the person. Being a true Christian is hard, strenuous, and tough. It requires not only “rebelling” against a society in which we are in to be “good” but requires us to change ourselves from the soul out. It demands us discovering who we are, who this person is whom I call “I”. It requires knowledge and wisdom, something that has become hard to aquire as those who could pass it on have themselves passed on and those who seek the easy path have nothing to offer. When Christ said that there were two paths, a wide, easy path a rocky, narrow one, he did not mean just “being evil is easy and good is hard”, he also meant that being good is easy, but following his life and his teachings is hard.
Examine your own faith, if you are a Christian. Are you being as Christ or are you simply praising the name of a man?

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote anything. I apologize for that. It seems that for the last year or so I have been wrestling with some questions. Some of these questions are about religion in general and some of them are directed solely at the Christian Church. A lot of these questions remain unanswered, even after taking so long to meditae on them. The other night, though, I found something that opened my eyes to a new way of seeing things. I found a new way of looking at not only my own questions, but of the things the questions themselves were questioning.

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The Abolition of Man

There are very few things in life that are quite as satisfying as a good answer to a very tough question. Last night I had an opportunity to find one of these answers that had been bothering my thoughts for probably over a year. So for this article I decided to regale you all with the question and the answer I found.

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Something to Think About

Lately, I’ve been studying some Eastern philosophy; specifically the codes of honor from Japan. Here is something that everyone, regardless of creed, should probably read and take to heart.

From Code of the Samurai by Thomas Cleary

One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day through the night of New Year’s Eve.

As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow.

Here are the reasons for that. All human life is likened to evening dew and morning frost, considered something quire fragile and ephemeral. While this is so of all people’s lives, the life of the warrior is particularly precarious.

If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they will think they will have forever to do their work and look after their parents—they may fail to perform for their employers and also treat their parents thoughtlessly.

But if you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time—so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employer and your parents. This is why I say you also fulfill the paths of loyalty and familial duty when you keep death in mind.

In any case, when you forget death and become inattentive, you are not circumspect about things. You may say something offensive to someone and get into an argument. You may challenge something you might as well have ignored, and get into a quarrel.

Or you may stroll about in resorts where you have no business, not avoiding the crowds, where you might bump into some oaf and get into an unexpected brawl. You could lose your own life, get your employer bad publicity, and cause your parents and siblings difficulties.

All this trouble comes from inattentiveness when you fail to keep death in mind at all times.

When you always keep death in mind, when you speak and when you reply to what others say, you understand the weight and significance of every word as a warrior by profession, so you do not engage in futile arguments. As a matter of course you do not go to dubious places even if people invite you, so there is no way for you to get into unexpected predicaments. This is why I say you will avoid myriad evils and calamities if you keep death in mind.

People of all social classes, high and low, constantly overeat, drink too much, and indulge in their desires to an unhealthy degree, all because of forgetting about death. This puts a strain on their internal organs, so they may die remarkably young, or else become sickly or invalid.

When you always keep death in mind, even if you are young and healthy, you already know how to take care of yourself. You moderate food and drink, avoid sexual addiction, and behave prudently. As a result, you are physically sound. because you are healthy, you will live a long time.

When you assume that your stay in this world will last, various wishes occur to you, and you become desirous. You want what others have, and cling to your own possessions, developing a mercantile mentality.

When you always keep death in mind, covetousness naturally weakens, and to that degree a grabby, greedy attitude logically does not occur. That is why I say your character improves.

Yet there is the question of how to keep death in mind.

To just keep sitting there all the time waiting for death twenty-four hours a day, like the monk Shinkai of whom Yoshida no Kenkou wrote in his Tsurezuregusa, might be appropriate for monk’s training, but it is not in accord with the aim of martial training. If you face death in that way, loyality and familial duty to your employer and parents will be neglected, and your professional warriorhood will wind up defective. That will never do.

The idea is to take care of your public and private duties day and night, and then whenever you have any free time when your mind is unoccupied, you think of death, bringing it to mind attentively. It is said that the great hero Kusunoki Masahige’s instructions to his son Msasyuki, he told him to “always get used to death.”

This is for the understanding of the neophyte knights.

From Code of the Samurai by Thomas Cleary (reproduced section is from the freely available chapter viewable on Copyrights and so on belong to the Mr. Cleary)

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There comes a point in everyone’s life when he or she just snaps and they stop caring about causes that before hand they had staked their life on. Take for example my conservativeness. Up until recently I fervently argued the points and the topics of the day with liberals. I used reason and facts to support my statements and usually at least got the other person to concede a little ground if not just call it a fair draw. But this process took hours, headaches, and above all, constant bombardment of arguing from the other-side. I then realized that no matter what, the irrationality and the ill founded arguments would never stop. I might win one person, but there would be no shortage of his friends to take his place. And so at some point in the last few months I just gave up trying.

I tell you this example for the simple reason that I feel the same kind of snap coming on when it comes to christianity. Everyday, from all sides, I am bombarded with criticism, direct and indirect, about my choice in religion. It doesn’t matter how much research and soul searching I have done in my life because, since I’m christian, I am an ignorant, brainless drone who is one of those people who is a stick in the mud. And from the other side as well I receive constant criticism for not being christian enough because i don’t attend church regularly or condemn all manners of immorality in a vocal and confrontational way. it doesn’t matter to which side i turn, I am just plan wrong.

When it comes to talking to atheists, agnostics, pagans, whatever, about religion, I try to do the one thing that i think 99% of christians out there would positively rather die than do: i talk to them about it. I try to do so in the most understanding way possible because I know that if I am to even dream of planting the tiniest seed of light in their mind the first thing i must show is an openness to listen to their arguments and their concerns. I have to come to them with an open book of not only my religion and its history and teachings, but also my personal life open so they can see that I am not being hypocritical when I try to explain behavior to them. In this state, I leave myself very vulnerable to attack. All I have to defend me is the logic of the arguments I am presenting. If thats not pressure in a conversation I don’t know what is. Yet what does it net me in the end?

Perhaps I have planted that seed in some people, but a vast majority of non-christians I talk to want nothing of the sort. They see any pro-religious rhetoric as propaganda spread by liars and the stupid to further their grasp on how people think. They see christians, and by extension, myself, as pushing their unwanted dogma down their throat. And so, even though I may have a few people who I can say I got to start thinking seriously about religion in general, and maybe one or two thinking about christianity, all the others have attacked me, dogmatically and personally. They may not mean to do it, but I still have to bear the brunt of the attack. I am chided as stupid, ignorant of the “facts” of history, brainwashed, one of “them”, etc. It has gotten to the point where I am reluctant to even pronounce my faith in any public forum before anyone knows me well enough to know that if i do pronounce it, I’m not just a “jesus freak.” Otherwise, any argument I put forward will instantly be shot down under the premise of other stupid christian.

On the other-side of the fence, when I try and goto christians to ask for help/guidance on the issue and maybe even try and persuade them to be not as insane towards the non-faith, I am equally abused. For instance, should i goto a fellow christian and say “I’m tried of being called a jesus freak. i have to wait in debates to declare my faith” I am met with “is jesus not good enough for you? you want to hide him!?”. If I goto church, “thats the guy who hangs out with those immoral types.” if i try to debate with them, “why cant you just believe the bible literally?” it doesn’t do me any good. Perhaps there is some truth in the belief among the non-faith that christians are insane little zealots. Unfortunately, everyday I am met with more and more evidence that that presumption is true. Its gotten to the point where I feel ostracized by my own people; partly because they don’t want me there, and partly because i feel ashamed of being a part of them.

How can I effectively tell an avowed atheist that I believe christ loves everyone when we have christians who want nothing to do with not just non-christians but christians from some other denomination? How can I say “Christianity is born of logic, reason, and learning” when a huge majority of the christian community rejects blatant evidence that the earth is older than 6000 years? How can I tell someone God cares about them when there are hundreds of christians waiting in line to cast the stone at one another?
and to be fair:
How can I tell christians not to hate atheists when all they spit is venom and hatred at the mention of jesus? How can I tell the faithful to take in a sinner who thinks that they are all nothing but mindless drones speaking rubbish about love and invisible friends in the sky? How can I take the atheist’s claim of “open mindedness” seriously when I mention religion and he shuts his ears automatically?

The answer to all of these questions is: I cant. I try very hard, have tried very hard and I am met from all sides with a distain the like of which would all go away if I simply wasn’t christian anymore. If I was a weak minded drone, I would have given it up completely by now. If I wanted to fit in, I would have fully joined one or the other side and just given up my independent thought and gone along with the flow. If i didn’t firmly believe that Christianity (true, first century, christianity) then I would have rejected it by this point. Yet here I am, sick of debating and arguing, but not past helping someone who actually wants to talk, from either side.

Do i think that I am better than both sides? I would by lying if i said i didn’t. I think I’ve reached a point where I can communicate effectively, perhaps not positively, with both sides. But I have only done so at the cost of my own reputation as a christian leader or an effective speaker among non-believers. I have also probably not been the best of christian role models or practitioners. Nor have I had the fun that comes with rejecting moral codes all together. So instead, Here i am writing a ranting article about my position in life.

Perhaps this article was more be venting that anything. Maybe it was a fishing scheme to see if someone out there empathizes with my position. Maybe i want someone to see me was some kind of martyr. I don’t know. What I do know is that regardless of why i wrote this and made it public, its what I believe and feel about my life and the two huge forces I am stuck between. If i could have it my way, it would all just vanish, but I am not that lucky.

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Hellenism and the Maccabean Revolt

Few events in human history have so shaped the world as Alexander the Great’s conquest of the land in and around Mesopotamia in the 4th century BCE. Surely the conquest of the Persian Empire redefined the politics and the religious practices of the surrounding regions. Alexander united these lands into one under his name, however, he was more than just a mere soldier seeking fame, glory, and power on the battlefield. He was also a missionary, one that spread his homeland’s religious and spiritual beliefs to the far corners of the world known at that time. This Greek way of life, this center of the then civilized world was known as Hellenism.

Hellenism brought with it, where ever it was taken, a new way of thinking as well as a new pantheon of gods to be worshiped by the locals. In a small, nearly forgotten part of the world known as Judah, Hellenism would threaten and nearly crush the religion of Judaism practiced there. Its long established laws and rituals would be challenged by rulers, thinkers, and even its own high priests who were sympathetic to the Hellenistic influence which had come into their land. As a result, the locals revolted in a spectacular way. Led by just a few men, a small band of rebels liberated a nation and beat back the kingdom of Syria which had ruled over them after Alexander the Great’s death.

The spread of Hellenism throughout Judea threatened not only the Jewish way of life, but the very existence of the Jewish identity. The Maccabean revolt of 168 BCE was seen as a victory over the gentile way of life that had invaded their land, but did it actually defeat the Hellenistic thought that had already been introduced into the population? The evidence seems to indicate that although the Maccabean revolt did in fact win Judah religious and political independence from Syria and even though Hellenism did bring about benefits for the Jewish people, it would still leave an indelible mark on the people of Judah, so much so that its effects are still being felt today.

Before the impact of Hellenism on the Jewish people can be analyzed, its context needs to be explained. At the beginning of the Hellenistic influence over Judea, there was only Alexander who was championing the religion throughout his newly conquered lands. Even though he was spreading his religious system, he did not seem to be doing so by force. In fact, Alexander even appears to be accepting of the other religions of the empire. One account by Josephus in the Book of Antiquities tells of Alexander going to Jerusalem and offering sacrifices to the Jewish God (( Charles F. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments (Grand-Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1959), 69. )). This account is disputed by historians, however, the fact remains that the mentioning of such an event, true or not, paints Alexander in a friendly light with regard to the Jewish people.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his empire was split up by his generals after seven years of war. In the end, in 315 BCE, four leaders emerged. These were: Antigonus, who controlled the central European Mediterranean coast to central Asia; Cassander, who controlled Macedonia; Ptolemy Lagi, who controlled Egypt and the southern part of Palestine; and Lysimachus, who controlled Thrace (( Ibid. 71. )). Under Ptolemy’s rule, Judah was still able to function mostly as an independent entity. Although tribute was still paid to the Egyptian ruler, the Jews were still allowed to operate autonomously in respect to religion. This was until the High Priest Onias II refused to pay Ptolemy IV the tribute as was the law. Ptolemy IV saw this as a sign of defiance of the political power of Judea and therefore chose a man named Joseph to be the tax collector for the region, effectively stripping the High Priesthood of its foreign relations duties.

Soon after this, Palestine was invaded and seized by Antigonus who was then beaten back by the combined forced of the other three powers. The area of Judah was now a chip to be bantered back and forth between kingdoms for the next ninety years (283 BCE – 198 BCE). At the end of this period, Judah lay in the hands of the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes. Also known as Antiochus IV, he was born in Athens and served as magistrate there for several years. He also spent twelve years in Rome as a hostage. After this he came the the Syrian throne with a sense of purpose, to spread civilization (read: Hellenism) to his kingdom (( Ibid. 79. )). His means of doing so was not to quickly to subdue a minority nation and convert it to his religion. There was already a large section of the Jewish population who welcomed such a integration with the outside world.

The wake of this is seen in the changing hands of the position of High Priest. The orthodox Jew, Onias, who was of the line of Priests descended from Simon the Just, was in fact the rightful man to fill the position. However, Antiochus saw the position of the high Priest, not as a religious position, but one that was political. To that end he allowed a man named Jason, a Hellenistic sympathizer, to bribe his way into being appointed High Priest in Onias’ place. While the king had the right to do this, it was not done before because of the former ideal of letting Judah govern itself. But the bribe of large sums of money as well as an aggressive Hellenistic agenda persuaded Antiochus to place Jason in Onias’ place (( W. G. Jordan, “The Significance of the Maccabean Period,” The Biblical World (Vol. 38.5 (Nov. 1911), 301. )).

Under Jason, the orthodox Jews saw a decline in in the sanctity of the priesthood. They called him evil, ungodly, and unfit to be the High Priest (( Apocrypha: Authorized (King James) Version (Cambridge, MA: 2004), 2 Maccabees 4:7-16. )). The priests that served under him did not even perform the services needed in the temple. Jason also had a gymnasium installed in Jerusalem. This was the first true tangible sign that the Hellenists were now firmly rooted into Jewish life. While many Jewish youths went to the gymnasium and practiced athletics nude, a slap in the face to the traditions of their forefathers, there rose a faction within the Jewish population called the Hasidim, or the “pious” (( Pfeiffer, 80. )). This split would only continue to grow as the next few events inflamed the situation.

After three years of rule, Jason was undercut by a Benjamite named Menelaus. Menelaus was not even of the tribe of Levi, the Isrealite tribe from which priests came. His bribing of Antiochus was enough to have Jason ousted and Menelaus installed as new High Priest under Syrian guard. A few years after, a false rumor began to circulate that Antiochus had died in battle while subduing Egypt. Seeking his power back after fleeing to Ammon, Jason rose an army and assaulted Jerusalem (( 2 Maccabees 5:5-7. )). Jason was defeated and driven back into Ammon, but the damage had been done. Antiochus had seen this as an act of rebellion and took out his anger on the city by launching an attack on the Sabbath knowing the orthodox Jews would not resist, and slaughtering large numbers of Menelaus’ opponents. The city walls were leveled and a fortress named the Akra was put in the citadel to keep the population under control (( Pfeiffer, 81. )). He himself then returned to his own land by way of Jerusalem. While there, he plundered the temple of its treasures and took the bounty back with him to Syria.

After his leave, Greek soldiers and the Jewish youth took part in Hellenistic rites in the temple courtyards which included the sacrificing of unclean animals and orgies. Circumcision, the keeping of the Sabbath, and Jewish feasts were outlawed and all copies of the Torah were destroyed. The Hellenists were converting the nation under force now and not under persuasion as it had been under Alexander and Ptolemy. However, there were those faithful to the Jewish law who refused to follow the new ways. One man, Eleazar, was flogged to death when he refused to eat pork. A mother and her seven children were killed for not paying homage to a Greek god. Another two women and their children were marched through the streets and thrown from a wall for performing circumcision (( Pfeiffer, 82. )).

As a result the split between the old way and the new way was becoming wider and more hostile. These hostilities and pent up angers finally reached and broke the boiling point when the Jews in the town of Modin were instructed to show their allegiance to Antiochus by sacrificing to pagan gods. The emissaries told the elder priest of the town, Mattathias, to set the example by going first. Mattathais though was not going to go along with it and refused. Through fear of the punishment refusal might bring, and unnamed Jew went forward to partake in the ceremony. Outraged at the unfaithfulness of the Jew, Mattathias went foreword and killed the Jew as well as the emissaries of Antiochus. Then he and his five sons destroyed the pagan altar and fled to the surrounding hill country fearing swift repercussions of their actions from Antiochus (( Pfeiffer, 91. )).

The early days of the revolt saw the inclusion of many who viewed Mattathias’ action as pious retribution for the hardships and infidelities the Syrians and Hellenists had put on them. In the early days of the revolt, victories came swiftly and in great numbers. However, one problem lay in their way, that was the Sabbath. One Sabbath, a Syrian garrison lay waste to an encampment of Jewish rebels who refused to even lift a finger to defend themselves. Seeing this as a huge impediment, Mattathias told his men that the defense of one’s body should be permissible on the Sabbath (( 1 Maccabees 2:32-41. )).

Soon after the beginning of the revolt, Mattathias died and his son Judas Maccabee took his place as leader of the rebellion. Using the same guerrilla tactics as his father had done, Judas amassed great victories. Antiochus had underestimated his opponents at first, thinking that it was merely a small skirmish. However, upon the annihilation of his detachments to the area, he realized his mistake and sent his general Lysias to secure Palestine as it was a vital stretch of land in the governing of Egypt. Judas was ready for them though and in a surprise night attack destroyed the entire army taking all the booty for themselves. This victory, near the town of Emmaus, cleared the way for Judas to march on Jerusalem.

On arriving there, Menelaus and his followers fled and Judas and his followers took every bit of the city excepting the fort of Akra, and destroyed all the pagan symbols. They cleared the temple and rededicated it to their God in an eight day ceremony now known as Hanukkah thus ending the three year use of the temple as a sanctuary to the Hellenistic gods. Soon after, Antiochus VI died and the war was continued by his son. Lysias had besieged Jerusalem after a small victory over a Maccabean faction trying to starve out the rebels. However, during the siege he learned of an assault on the Syrian capitol and wanted to head there to defend it as soon as possible. He offered Judas terms of peace which included the voiding of all the laws which outlawed Jewish practices, Menelaus would be removed and a less extreme Hellenistic named Alcimus would take his place, and Judas and his men would not be punished. Judas was wary of this peace because of the hold Syria would still hold over the political powers of Judah, but the Hasidim had only wanted religious freedom, not total autonomy, and so they voted him down at a council and accepted Lysias’ terms. Judas and a small band of men left Jerusalem as a result (( Pfeiffer, 91-92. )).

Not long after, Alcimus turned around and executed many of the anti-Hellenists in the city contrary to the agreement. Judas was forced to fight him with a now smaller army and was crushed from sheer number differences. He was killed in battle and followed in power by his brother, Jonathan. Jonathan fled into the desert with his men and grew a new army. However, being a better orator than a soldier, Jonathan formed alliances with Sparta and Rome which both had hostilities towards Syria. Jonathan was assassinated soon after he had taken Alcimus’ title as Head Priest and the job fell to his brother Simon. Simon played politics with the new Syrian king Demetrius who was trying to get his throne back from an impostor. In return for acknowledging him as king of Syria, Demetrius granted Judea full immunity from taxation, which in effect finally freed them from Syrian rule and ended the forcing of Hellenism onto the Jewish people (( Jordan, 303. )).

At the end of the Maccabean revolt, the direct threat of Hellenism subverting the Jewish traditions was over. However, the damage had already been done. The Hellenistic traditions and thoughts had already found their way into Jewish life whether they had been wanted or not. The way in which Hellenism had its effects was twofold. On the one hand, Hellenism had immediate effects on the Jewish population and on their culture. On the other, it had left and indelible mark on the philosophy and way of life of the region.

Hellenism’s immediate effects on Judah are not very hard to understand. These range from the obvious suppression by force of the Jewish traditional laws to the building of gymnasiums and the willingness of the population to be involved in the outsiders’ way of life. At the beginning of the Hellenistic influence, soon after the Babylonian exile, a majority of the people of Israel did not live in Palestine at all. Most had remained in communities in the area of Babylon. Others had moved into greater Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, while a great number formed large communities in Syria. It is true that they never forgot their Jewish roots, since many still made pilgrimages to Jerusalem to pay dues to the temple. However, the dispersed Jewish people began to take on the traits and customs of the areas in which they lived. In particular, the Jews which had settled in Alexandria in Egypt were prone to taking on the traditions of their city. In so doing, they began to assimilate into the Hellenistic communities (( Pfeiffer, 84-85. )).

The temptation to join into the newer Greek society was not difficult to comprehend. The Greek way of life was easy and was more apt to have citizens consider their own pleasures instead of adhering to many laws and regulations to which the Jews were accustomed. Herein lay one of the greatest dangers to the orthodox law. With Hellenism focusing so much emphasis on the self, the old law of performing rites and conforming to codes of conduct did not appeal to the Jewish youth, not only in Alexandria and the rest of the dispersed peoples, but also in the land of Palestine.

For others, who did not perhaps find the ideal of an easy life appealing, there lay the new found occupation of being merchants, students, and artisans. The bustling trade centers in which the dispersed nation of Israel lived was a far cry from the shepherd life their fathers had known. Many Jews found great wealth in the trading of goods with foreign powers. Others found the allure of the great libraries that Alexander had formed places of great knowledge and they soaked up the ideas and literature of other cultures, in some cases displacing their own in the process. And still others went to the new Greek schools to learn from the great philosophers and take up the arts. In doing all of this, Judaism and Hellenism began to merge into a single entity for the dispersed Jews.

This synthesis was not all bad as some might think. In Alexandria, perhaps one of the most monumental feats of literature was accomplished. The Torah and subsequent Hebrew texts were translated into Greek, a work known as the Septuagint. Certainly this was done so it too could be added to the great storehouse of culture known as the Library of Alexandria, but also for the Jews of the region who had lost touch with the language of their ancestors. Having been so far removed, geographically and culturally, from their homeland, the Jews of the dispersed regions had began using the major languages of the areas instead of Hebrew which was fast becoming a dead language. Not only Jews benefited from this translation. Non-Jews as well were now freely able to learn about the Jewish traditions. In fact, most of the Septuagint is now part of the Christian Bible.

Hellenism’s immediate effects were not the most important that it brought to the Jewish community at large however. Perhaps the largest significant change the Hellenization of the Jewish people was their overall philosophy. As stated before, the difference was between a relaxed, easy going culture and one based on strict adherence to laws. However, the underlying foundation being the easygoing atmosphere of the Greek philosophy was that of the allegory. The allegory was the taking of the old texts and reading new interpretations into them. For example, the Greeks thought that the Hebrew Bible was too vulgar when read in the literal form, so they viewed the stories of the patriarchs as lessons of life instead of actual fact. This distinction was pleasing to Jews who did not want to abandon their faith per sea., but also wanted to see their texts reflected in a Hellenistic light (( Pfeiffer, 87. )).

The departure from strict interpretation of law to one much more lax and open to meaning may have seemed innocent enough to them at the time, but the wide interpretations had begun to allow the diversion of meanings to all equally be true (( Marth Himmelfarb, “Judaism and Hellenism in 2 Maccabees,” Poetics Today (Vol. 19.1. (Spring 1998), 27. )). Since allegorical interpretation by its very definition is a subjective truth, no one group or personage may hold that their idea of truth is any higher than any other. As a result the Jewish tradition began to buckle under the weight of truths other than the one held as law. This social and philosophical collapse into submission to Hellenistic teaching may well be the reason so many Jews were unopposed to the building of the gymnasium in Jerusalem and the installation of non-traditionalist High Priests by the Syrian government.

Some Jews of course stayed orthodox throughout this process, all the while becoming more and more agitated at the increasingly liberal views of their kin. This opened a split in the Jewish community that would never heal properly. Even after the Maccabean revolt and expulsion of the Syrian influences that had brought Hellenism into the Jewish homeland, the split and the ideologies behind it remained.

The result of the split in the Jewish community between those who stayed loyal to the law and those who were willing to bend to the philosophies and religions of outsider nations was the formation of Jewish sects. This formation was something new and troubling the Jews who had until then lead a, for the most part, life of seamless integration into the tabernacle and Temple codes of law. There had been a unity among the Jewish people, but now there were only sects and division. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the formation of the two main Jewish sects: the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

The Sadducees were a group of mainly priests and their followers who, while at the beginning were more apt to stay loyal to the law, where ready and willing to integrate with the Romans, who had by then taken control of the region of Judah from the Syrians. The Sadducees were men who would exchange the law for any philosophical view that would coincide with their own personal views. They could have been called Hellenistic sympathizers even though by the time they emerged, the direct Hellenistic threat to Judah was over. They were more sympathetic to pleasing the Romans than the orthodox sect of their own people (( Lawrence H. Schiffman, “At the Crossroads: The Jewish-Christian Schism,” Jewish-Christian Relations. (Apr. 12, 2005. ), 3. )).

In contrast, the other group to emerge was that of the Pharisees, a group who played a major role in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The Pharisees were the remnants of the Hasidim from the Anitochus IV period who were now even more apt to strictly interpret law as literal word from God. Their piousness was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they were trying very hard to direct the nation of Israel back into the fold of their forefathers’ laws, and for that they gained great respect from the orthodox. However, by the same token, their sometimes over zealous adherence to the law meant ostracizing important groups of Jews from their rule. Most importantly, their piousness became one of the chief arguments of Jesus of Nazareth for “abandoning” the old law in favor of one that expressed personal accountability rather than the pharisaical treatment of law as a list of things that must be followed.

The fact that Jesus’ following gained so much ground in the early years CE, especially in terms of a Jewish following, is a direct result of the split that occurred earlier. The Pharisees had been so busy trying to keep the people focused on the law that they forgot about the meaning behind the law. In the same way the Sadducees had spent so much time reinterpreting the law over and over, the law itself became something lost to them. The Christian movement then can be traced back directly to the influence of Hellenism and the rift it cause in the Jewish people.

Jewish literature also shows the fact that Hellenism had leaked into Jewish loyalists’ philosophy whether they knew it or not. II Maccabees is a good example of this. Written some time after I Maccabees and by a different author, the style of writing is Hellenistic in its nature rather than the Jewish nature I Maccabees had been written with. I Maccabees compares and contrasts the heros of the Maccabean revolt with the heros of Israel’s path. In some way, the writer could have been trying to equate the acts of God in the lives of the patriarchs and so forth of the past with the actions of the heros of the revolt. Perhaps this was a way of lending credibility to their actions. II Maccabees, however, speaks of the nobility and piousness of the heros of the revolt. These concepts were not of Jewish construction, they were brought in by Hellenism and were Greek in origin. The author of the second book looks at the actions of the heros themselves to lend credibility to the revolt. The author tried to show godliness through action and not action through God (( Himmelfarb, 21. )).

In the end, it can be argued that the introduction of Hellenism spelled the death of the biblical Jewish people. The ideological split in the Jewish faith, those for the Hellenistic takeover of Judah and those loyal to the traditional law of Moses, was one that the people would never recover. Even after the Maccabees had driven the originators of the influx of Hellenism out of their country and gained political and religious independence for the Jewish people, the imprint of Hellenism never left the minds of even the most pious and orthodox. The split caused further splits and sects arose from the crumbling Jewish traditional ways of life. The Christian sect arose out of these splits and also became somewhat Hellenistic in nature. The Jews were not ready for the Hellenistic influx into their land and because of this they ended up loosing their cohesion and their way of life.

Even today there are a multitude of Jewish sects and while they all identify with the temple as the Babylonian Jews had they still all have different ways of seeing the truth behind the scriptures. In the same way perhaps it could be said the same Hellenistic views which split the Jewish people into factions are doing the same to the Christian church. With the ideology that interpretation yields truth and each truth is equally valid, the Church is heading down the same road as did the Jews of the Maccabean and Roman eras.

The Hellenization did yield some good benefits for the Jews though. Their Holy Scripture was translated so that all peoples could have access to it and learn from it. Through war against it, the nation of Judah gained its independence, however short lived it was, from any other kingdoms and became autonomous. It forced them to be recognized as a nation with ties to Rome and Sparta. It can also be argued that the integration of new ideas into Jewish tradition lead to the Jewish people being accepted more in the world than they had previously. Before, they had been a backwater people whom most had never heard of and by the end of the Roman occupation and after Hellenization had taken place, they were a recognized people.

Hellenism and the Maccabean revolt mark a major event in the world’s history even though it is scarcely remembered today. From them, the Jews rallied around a central power which united them in purifying the temple. They are responsible for many of the sects which arose afterwards and which are still around today. They are even partly responsible for the rise of the Christian movement. Indeed, the events of the few centuries BCE shaped the world even though it all took place because a small group of religious people went to ideological war with a foreign religion.

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