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Texts Contexts and Cultures

Essays on Biblical Topics

Author(s): Sean Freyne

ISBN13: 9781853906268

ISBN10: 1853906263

Publisher: Veritas

Extent: 264 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 23.4 x 16 x 2.3 cm

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  • The title of this collection of essays by well-known Irish biblical scholar, Sean Freyne , Texts, Contexts and Cultures , aptly describes its contents, since it reflects the authors interest in and approach to the study of the Bible over the past thirty-five years. This collection of seventeen articles, most of them not previously published, brings together a number of his concerns over a long writing and teaching career in Ireland, the USA and Australia.

    His training as biblical scholar coincided with the Second Vatican Council and in an illuminating introductory article Freyne describes the impression this event made on him, his subsequent development, and the circumstances that have given rise to the different emphases in his work. For example, he was the first holder of the Chair of Theology and Head of the School in Trinity College, Dublin, and several chapters in this collection originated as contributions to the highly successful series of public lectures that have become a feature of Trinitys School of Biblical and Theological Studies over the past twenty years.

    Despite his academic achievements Freyne has always put a great emphasis on his teaching and has been in high demand as lecturer both in Ireland and overseas. Enthusiasm for his subject, as well as a lively and engaging style, have been the hallmarks of his lecturing and teaching. These same qualities mark his writing, even when dealing with technical topics, and are much in evidence throughout this book.
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  • CHAPTER 1: East meets west: early Judaism and early Christianity as places of encounter
    This paper was delivered as one of a series dealing with the United Nations proposal for Civilisations in Dialogue. It is indeed a sad fact, as true for the modern as for the ancient world, that when civilisations or cultural realms do encounter each other, it is generally not for dialogue, but for destruction. This perception of conflict is reflected even in the manner in which academic disciplines have traditionally been organised into Departments of Classics on the one hand, and Departments of Biblical Studies or Near Eastern Studies on the other, simply mirroring the perceived endemic conflict between East and West. However, as the title of Jonathan Z. Smiths book, Map is not Territory, (1978), pithily suggests, when it comes to cultural allegiances and cultural borrowings, our politically motivated divisions do not always hold good. It is all the more important, therefore, to identify those moments in human history where things appear to have been different, and where genuine reciprocity and receptivity were achieved.

    The Hellenistic Age, that is, the period initiated by the extraordinary achievements of Alexander the Great in the decade from 333-323 b.c.e up to and including the period of the early Roman empire (first century c.e.), has often been seen as one such epochal moment in human history. While this period was certainly not without its wars of aggression and military conquest, it is more often judged as having laid the foundations of what we today describe loosely as western civilisation. It gave rise not only to the spread of Greek culture and technical skills over a vast territory, but also to the development of Roman legal and political institutions and the stability that they achieved. Furthermore, this period saw the emergence of two world religions from the region, Judaism and its young offshoot, Christianity, as well as providing the underpinning for a third, Islam, each in their different ways living examples of the east/west exchanges that our series is addressing.

    Alexander the Great has captured the imagination of scholars, schoolboys and other starry-eyed savants as the initiator of a Golden Age in which dreams of a one-world culture were set in motion by the power and indefatigable nature of one man and his vision. (1) This picture is, to some extent at least, a myth of modern consciousness, one that expresses the enduring dreams of humankind and is increasingly in vogue in some versions of our modern, global culture. The very fact that Hellenism and Hellenisation have been appealed to for purposes of supporting various modern, and often conflicting ideologies is a clear indication of the significance of this legacy from the past for the modern period. It should also put us on our guard against any simplistic descriptions of the process of Hellenisation itself, either positive or negative, especially in an age when notions of a global culture are rampant.

    At the outset it is good to be reminded that the Hellenistic Age was not the first cultural encounter between east and west. Indeed, the more one explores the issue, the more the question arises when is east, east and west, west? Where are we to draw the imaginary line between the two cultural realms? In our current state of knowledge it is not possible to trace all the details of the evolution of the system of writing from the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians and the cuneiform pattern of the Mesopotamians, through the cuneiform-syllabic script of Ugarith, to the development of the North West Semitic alphabets, of which the Phoenician one is the best known. Herodotus, the father of Greek history, writing in the fifth century, spoke of the Greek alphabet as grammata phoinikeia Phoenician letters (Hist. 5, 58), thus acknowledging their indebtedness to the Phoenician alphabet. Nevertheless, in adopting, the Greeks also adapted the Phoenician system. This latter, like all Semitic systems of writing, had no signs for the vowel sounds, but only for consonants, twenty-two in all. To this the Greeks added separate notations for the vowels, and in addition added several consonants not found in the Phoenician system. This development meant that a more complete description of a word according to Greek pronunciation and phonetics was possible, since the absence of notations for vowel sounds made the reading and understanding of the Semitic languages more problematic.

    It was scribes, not military conquerors, who were responsible for these developments, thereby leaving a legacy of great significance for future generations. As long as writing was essentially pictographic, as in cuneiform and hieroglyphics, writing (and reading) remained confined to a very small elite, since mastery of over six hundred signs made huge demands on memory. Abstract thought was impossible and communication difficult and cumbersome with so many signs to be learned. The reduction of this number to twenty-two characters in Phoenician and twenty-nine in Greek meant that far more people could master writing and reading, even though illiteracy was to remain high in all ancient cultures for a very long time. Thus the development of the shorter alphabet by the Phoenicians and the Greeks has rightly been hailed as a democratisation of learning, and this in turn lead to a greater democratisation of political life.

    From the possibilities for expression that this development offered, the great Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey emerged, usually dated to the eight century b.c.e. Much has been written about these works as the product of an oral culture. While there may be some element of truth in these claims, anyone who is vaguely familiar with the imaginative power of the similes and descriptions, the subtlety of the characterisations and the narrative skill of the various episodes can scarcely doubt that there is a creative authorial genius, probably the same person, behind both works. In this regard, certain sections of the Hebrew Bible, such as the narratives about the Patriarchs, the accounts of the exploits of various Judges and the Court Succession Story make for highly interesting comparisons in terms of narrative techniques, characterisation and plot development. Yet both are heirs to a much older mythological and epic tradition from the Ancient Near East, which provides the context within which this literature should be judged, even when one must allow for the creative geniuses lying behind both the Homeric and the Biblical traditions also. Such epics as Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh have long been studied as backgrounds for the creation and flood stories in Genesis, but their possible relationship with Hesiod and Homer has not got the recognition it deserves. (2) Just as some Biblical scholars, had, for theological reasons, felt uneasy with regard to any external comparisons with their texts, Classical scholars, too, considered that comparisons with Semitic antecedents might impugn the originality and creativity of the Greek authors. Once this modern bias of racial superiority is ignored, however, many detailed points of comparison between the two traditions emerge.

    A well-known account by the Jewish historian, Josephus, claims that Alexander marched on Jerusalem on his way to Egypt, but was met outside the city by the Jewish high-priest and the populace wearing white robes. On seeing them Alexander reputedly recalled a dream he had had that he should invade Asia, and now declared himself to be under the protection of the God of the Jews, entering the city in triumph. He offered sacrifice under the direction of the priests at the temple and gave permission for the Jews to continue to practise their laws, promising the same treatment for the Jews of Babylon and Media (Jewish Antiquities 11, 329-40). Versions of this story circulated in other Jewish writings also, indicating that in all probability it was a piece of later Jewish propaganda, based on the fact that unlike the coastal cities of Tyre and Gaza that resisted Alexanders advance to Egypt, Jerusalem remained untouched. Even so, it is of considerable interest for our discussion, since it suggests that from a Jewish perspective there was nothing essentially incompatible between Judaism and Hellenism, and that indeed each could be mutually beneficial to the other. Alexanders main objective was to pursue the Persian king, Darius, whom he had previously defeated at the Issus river in Asia Minor, to the very heart of his empire. He traveled first by the coast to Egypt, where he visited the shrine of the Egyptian god, Ammon, at Siwa, and was crowned as Pharoah and given the title Son of Ammon. He then established the city of Alexandria in the Nile Delta, a city that was to become the outstanding statement of the wedding of Greek and Oriental cultures. From Egypt he travelled through modern day Jordan and Syria. Having routed Darius for a second time at the river Tigris, he marched on to the important Persian cities of Babylon, Susa, Persepolis and Ecbatana. Eventually, he caught up with the retreating Persian forces, and the deposed Darius surrendered to him. Alexander was now the undisputed king of the vast Persian territories. Imperceptibly, he had also become orientalised in terms of dress and manner, much to the disgust of the closest of his Macedonian troops. His eventual marriage to Roxana, the daughter of Darius, was a symbolic statement of his desire to join east and west together in one empire.

    Given the vast scale of Alexanders journeys that brought him to the borders of India, as well as his daring character, it is easy to see how the so-called Alexander legend developed. The various extant Lives of Alexander are, in part at least, based on contemporary records, some of which had been compiled by members of his travelling retinue. In time, however, there arose an idealised picture of the philosopher-king who had a vision of creating a one-world culture, an account that may well have begun already in his own life-time. The reality, however, was in all probability much less high-minded. One of his ancient biographers speaks of his pothos or desire constantly to go further, but this was undoubtedly a combination of military pragmatism and a sense of adventure in exploring the (to the Greeks) very strange world of the Orient. It is difficult to separate fact from legend in the various accounts, but it must be remembered that even if the idea of a one-world culture did not originate with Alexander, his younger contemporary, the Stoic philosopher, Zeno, could speak about the whole inhabited world (oikumene) as being like a city state where law reigns supreme. In other words, the idea of the ideal human society as described by Plato and Aristotle, the polis or city state with its constitution encompassing the demos or body of free-born citizens, now became the symbol for the total human family, all sharing in the same law of nature, thereby nullifying local laws and customs, which must have struck the Greeks as very strange as they heard reports from the troops on the eastern front.

    It is against this larger backthat we can best assess the encounter between Greek and Jewish culture in the centuries after Alexander. Apart from one brief period in the mid-second century b.c.e., it must be said that the Jewish encounter, though distinctive when compared with their near neighbours - the Phoenicians, the Itureans and the Nabateans, for example - was not at all as hostile as modern scholarship has tended to portray the situation. (3) The brief interlude, in the reign of one of the successors of Alexander, Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, the king of Syria, was a short-lived attempt to outlaw distinctive Jewish practices altogether, identifying the cult of Yahweh with that of Zeus and Dionysus. It is debatable to what extent this episode was instigated by some Jewish aristocrats who had wanted to assimilate totally to Greek culture (1 Macc 1, 11), or whether it was due to Antiochus ambitions to emulate Alexanders one-world culture. At any rate, the Jerusalem temple was profaned by the erection of an altar to Zeus in the temple area - the abomination of desolation of which the Book of Daniel (9, 27) speaks , and the active persecution of those observing Jewish practises throughout the country. This gave rise to the Maccabean resistance movement and the rededication of the temple after three and a half years, a moment of Jewish history that has ever since been seen as the paradigm of Jewish refusal to succumb to political pressures, no matter how severe. As Jewish historian Tessa Rajak notes: What has happened is that the militant Judaism depicted in the Books of Maccabees has, by extension, been attached to the entire history of the dynasty ... And the view of Palestine as deeply polarised between Greek and Jew is only a step away. (4)

    Archaeological evidence from this very period of emerging Jewish nationalism, points to commercial contacts even in Jerusalem with the Greek world - imported fine ware, Greek coins, jar handles for import of wine, mostly officially stamped from the island of Rhodes. This evidence suggests not just passing contacts, but more permanent associations that were part of an ongoing process over centuries. Thus a much more complex situation than that of simple polarity has to be envisaged, one that points both to changing attitudes on the Jewish side and the changing nature of Hellenism itself, as it encountered various near eastern cultures, including Judaism. The acid test will always be changes in the religious realm, especially in the ancient world. Just to take one pertinent example, one of the most sacred realities of Jewish belief was, and is, attachment to the ancestral land as God-given. The Maccabean wars of conquest are portrayed in 1 Macc as the re-acquisition of this national territory that had been unjustly taken from them. Yet, despite this deep attachment to the land one finds that in the very same period the Jewish population of Egypt, of all places, given the Exodus story, increased dramatically. This emigration did not mean any diminution of loyalty to the homeland and its religious attachment, since we hear from Josephus of disputes as to which of the native sanctuaries - that of Jerusalem and the Samaritan one on Gerazim - should receive the offerings from the Egyptian Jewish community.

    There had been a long history of Jews in Egypt since the time of the Babylonian captivity, and it was natural that other Jews might gravitate there with the increased opportunities and contacts of the Hellenistic Age in terms of travel and commerce. In the century immediately following Alexander, for example, the Bible was translated into Greek in Egypt (the LXX) c. 250 b.c.e., presumably to deal with the needs of pious Jews there who could not deal with the Hebrew original, despite the status of that language as the holy tongue. Increasingly, a body of literature from Alexandrian Jewry in particular begins to emerge, as well as the ongoing process of translation of books written in the homeland in Hebrew such as 2 Macc and the Wisdom of Ben Sirach. However, it is with the first-century Greco-Jewish philosopher, Philo, that one finds the most complete synthesis of the two worlds of Greece and the east. Much has been written about his Jewish identity and his philosophy, as though it were necessary to choose between them. Philo himself had no difficulty in achieving a thoroughly Platonic reading of his own tradition in a number of commentaries, based on Moses insights as the true philosopher-ruler. Thus, in the Life of Moses he puts flesh on the standard Jewish apologetic claim that Moses was the first philosopher. In Philos hands, as distinct from the Pentateuchal account, Moses was the wise ruler whose insights were based on his intimate knowledge of the divine, sharing in the very darkness where God is. One can detect here a conscious contrast with some of the current Lives of Alexander in which he was treated in similar terms as the son of Ammon-Zeus. A narrative pattern of a Life or Bios was thus at hand for the early Christians to adapt in writing their Gospel Lives of Jesus of Nazareth.

    The intellectual achievements of Philo and other Jewish apologists had the effect of winning many adherents to Judaism from the various pagan mystery religions then flooding the empire. We hear of an increasing numbers of god-fearers attached to Jewish diaspora synagogues, attracted by Jewish ethical as well as religious claims, it would seem. (5) In the homeland also the encounter of Jewish faith with the Hellenistic zeitgeist took on many different expressions, so that the image of a monolithic and monochromic Jewish identity, implacably opposed to the evil of Hellenism is a modern stereotype. It is based on the much later image of the European Jewish ghetto, which refused to assimilate, that is, abandon the Jewish faith and practises for the Enlightenment culture of reason, which was supposed to bring about the brotherhood of all. Many nineteenth-century German-Jews were rightly suspicious of such claims, since behind them lay the doctrine of the super-race, which eventually gave rise to the policy of Jewish genocide in Nazi Germany.

    The reality of the Hellenistic age was different and more complex. Greek had gradually replaced Aramaic as the lingua franca of trade, commerce and administration with the demise of the Persian Empire. This meant that Jews who participated in the administrative life of the various kingdoms that emerged after Alexanders untimely death, and were, therefore, city-dwellers, were likely to be more Hellenised. Yet this did not necessarily mean abandoning their Jewish belief system. We know from Egypt and elsewhere that the native elites were able to maintain their positions side by side with the Greek administrative officials, and indeed after a few generations the two classes were likely to be merged, as we see with the Jewish priestly aristocracy, for example, in the first century c.e. It is no surprise that we hear of a Greek school in Jerusalem and a Greek-style education that cultivated the body as well as the mind. It is a moot point whether this school should be regarded as an outright attack on Jewish life and belief, as portrayed in the Books of Maccabees, or whether it should not rather be seen as a development similar to that of the Jews in Alexandria taking place also in the mother city of all Jews. (6)

    Two writers from the third and second centuries b.c.e. can illustrate the battle for Jewish identity that was being waged in the encounter with Hellenism. The author of the Book of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) would appear to have been attracted to the Greek, Epicurean philosophy eat drink and make merry - since life is an unfathomable mystery that makes the future uncertain. There is nothing in this book to enliven the picture with a hope for the future according to Jewish messianic expectations. The author of this work and the circles of Jewish aristocrats that he represents has thoroughly assimilated to the extent that it is difficult to see how his book came to be included in the Hebrew canon, were it not for the fiction that it is the work of Solomon, and a few more orthodox aphorisms became attached to it in time. The Wisdom of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) represents another voice from the literature. He is the self-confessed member of the Jerusalem leisured classes, who has therefore, time to study. He contrasts his own life as a professional scribe with that of others whose work makes up the fabric of the city life - the potter, the smith, the glass-blower, the seal maker, the farmer (Sir 38,24 - 39, 11). The picture is that of the typical Greek city and the social stratification within it. Sirach sees himself as belonging in the company of kings and rulers, and hence a member of the elite rather than the retainer class, and yet, theologically, he is far removed from Qoheleths scepticism. While there are echoes of Greek philosophical and moral teaching in the work, he sees the law as a special gift to Israel that marks it off from other nations (ch 24). He delights in the temple and its worship (ch 50) and he prays for the restoration of Israel to its former glory (ch 36). While both of these writers pre-date the attack of Antiochus Epiphanes on Jewish religion, they do represent two contrasting strands that can be documented into the later period also, when a more normal situation was restored again. Thus the encounter of Hellenism and Judaism should be seen more in terms of shades of assimilation and resistance rather than a downright polarity.

    It is this plurality that was to continue into the early Roman period (first century b.c.e. - first century c.e.), manifesting itself in the phenomenon of Jewish sectarianism, as the different groups known as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots, have been labelled in modern scholarship, thus perpetuating the stereotype of an isolated and isolationist Jewish identity. Undoubtedly, there were real tensions between various elements in regard to the administration of the temple and the interpretation of Torah, and these can be attributed, in part at least to different responses to the reality of Jewish life within a thoroughly Hellenised environment for all Jews. In identifying these differences it is useful to examine them in the context of various trends in the Hellenistic world more generally, as Jewish historian, Josephus, suggests.

    At one end of the continuum are the Essenes, who had opted for life away from the cities, including Jerusalem, with their thoroughly Greek ethos. They are best known to us from the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the region of Qumran in the Judean desert. Yet even there it was impossible to escape all aspects of the new cultural matrix within which Judaism of all hues was refashioning its identity. In fact, all the distinctive aspects of the groups philosophy and lifestyle - dualistic determinism, the solar calendar, communal property, belief in a spirit world, celibacy, utopian ideas and communal structures - are not to be found in earlier Jewish tradition, but can be matched from various parts of the Greco-Roman and eastern worlds. Little wonder that of all the Jewish groups this one proved to be of great interest to Roman writers such as Pliny.

    The zealots, or extreme nationalists, of the Roman period may also be judged as outright rejectionists, but from another perspective. Their roots were not in the Jerusalem clergy but in the country peasant class and the urban poor. As mentioned already, in addition to generating the idea of a one-world culture, Alexanders conquests also gave rise to a lively interest in ethnography, or the study of other peoples, their characteristics and their territories, since peoplehood and territory went together. Jewish ethnography was based on the account of the emerging peoples from the sons of Noah (Shem, Japheth and Ham) to each of whom and their descendants were attributed different territories within the oikumene or inhabited world. It is within this understanding of the ideal world of new beginnings after the flood, that Jewish nationalism and territorial claims are to be understood. The Jews were not the only people to have resisted Romes imperialistic ambitions, but it was the zealots combination of religious fervour and ethnic identity that made them such doughty opponents. It is necessary to take account of both aspects of their make-up if one is to avoid the stereotypes of the recalcitrant and xenophobic Jew in discussing what Josephus describes as the Fourth Philosophy. (7)

    The Pharisees, despite their name, which suggests separatism, were in many respects the most attuned of all the Jewish groups to the spirit of the Hellenistic world. (8) For them, as for Zenos Stoics, law reigned supreme, except that in their case it was the Jewish Torah, not the law of nature that was paramount. Thus the Pharisees developed a philosophy of law as the maintenance of an order, which had been established at the beginning. The human task was to bring ones life into conformity with that pattern, and by formulating as comprehensive a system as possible the Pharisees guaranteed their adherents divine blessings wherever they went. For their Greek neighbours, familiar with the idea of different charters sanctioned by the patron gods of different cities, there was nothing strange or hypocritical about the Pharisees or their attitudes, provided they did not seek to propagate them among non-Jews. They were merely different, as the Athenians, the Spartans or the Thebans had different customs, while all were also Greeks. Only if the Jewish law was declared to be the universal law, thereby sanctioning rejection of Romes universal rule, would Pharisaic Judaism run into difficulties, since the right to follow ones ancestral customs was enshrined in Hellenistic and Roman legal practice. Thus, the Pharisees were the only ones of the various Jewish groups to survive the calamities of two defeats at the hands of the Romans in the revolts of 66-70 and 132-5 c.e., passing over eventually into what we today call Rabbinic Judaism.

    On the other hand the Sadducees were the priestly aristocratic class, whom Josephus likens to the Epicureans. He also characterises them as boorish and unpopular with the common people. Qoheleth, it has already been suggested, represented an early Jewish example of the aristocratic lifestyle of the Hellenistic age. While the later Sadducees may not have been as assimilated as this third-century b.c.e. character, they nevertheless represented that class of Jewish aristocrats who had emerged around the native ruling Hasmonean house following the success of the Maccabean revolt and the collapse of Greek rule in Palestine. While less is known about them than the other groups, in all probability they were mainly represented by the Jerusalem priestly elite, espousing a theologically conservative position on such issues as the after-life, while maintaining a luxurious lifestyle in comparison with the peasants whose offerings supported them.

    Christianity and the reception of Hellenism
    Writing towards the end of the second century c.e. the Christian apologist Tertullian defiantly asks: What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? implying that Christian faith had no need to engage with Greek philosophy, since its certainty came from elsewhere. Away with all attempts to produce a Stoic, Platonic and dialectic Christianity, he declares, with a splendid sense of the uniqueness of Christian claims (De Praescriptione Haereticorum 7). In the light of the discussion thus far, a Jewish apologist such as Philo or Josephus would have given a very different answer to the same question. An answer from a Christian perspective would call for a paper in its own right. Suffice to say that despite his confident assertions, other Christian apologists saw the need for, but also the opportunities of, dialogue with Greek culture. (9) Indeed, so well did the early Christians adapt to the Greek culture as preserved by the Romans, that some one hundred and fifty years after Tertullian it behoved the empire to embrace it as its official religion. Overnight it had been transformed from outlawed to legitimate, providing the new emperor, Constantine, with the best available option for reuniting a divided empire. Thus, according to the standard account, the triumph of Christianity was the result of its ability to shed its Jewish past and embrace wholeheartedly the universalist, Hellenistic spirit of the age. Such a portrayal requires a critical evaluation, since it operates with stereotypes of both Judaism and Hellenism that ignore the complexity of the relationship.

    Any account of the origins of Christianity that seeks to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul, seeing the latter as the real or second founder of Christianity, because of his alleged openness to the Hellenistic spirit, is deeply flawed. Equally, depictions of Jesus as a Galilean Hellenist breaking with the narrow confines of Jerusalem, are also grossly distorted. Yet both versions - the Hellenist Paul as the true founder of Christianity and the Galilean Jesus abandoning his own tradition - are still frequently advanced for the success of the early Christian movement, in order to free that movement from its mooring within Judaism. The evidence will not support either contention: first-century Galilee was Jewish, and Jesus did not, nor could not bypass Jerusalem as the spiritual centre of that religion. Likewise, Paul was, and remained, deeply rooted in his own Jewish identity, despite his acceptance of the claims of Jesus to messianic status. (10) It is all too easily forgotten that the Hellenists mentioned in Acts of the Apostles (ch 6) as the first Christian missionaries, and Paul likewise, were Jewish Hellenists from various parts of the Diaspora, but for whom Jerusalem, not Athens, was their cultural and spiritual home. Jewish prophets such as Isaiah and Ezechiel had articulated a Jewish version of the one-world culture long before Alexander in terms of the coming messianic age. The second century b.c.e. Book of Jubilees, drawing on Jewish universalist ideas and in order to counteract the claims of extreme Hellenists, had developed a picture of the seventy nations of the earth being descended from the three surviving sons of Noah in the aftermath of the flood. Thus, Shem had inherited Asia, Japheth Asia Minor and Europe and Ham Africa. Jerusalem stood at the centre of this map, a veritable garden of Eden around which the nations of the earth were located. The universalism of Isaiah, which envisaged the nations coming on pilgrimage to receive wisdom from a restored Zion, received a new and nuanced treatment in line with Hellenistic ethnographic ideas. It was these actualisations of their own ancient texts in the light of the new context of the Hellenistic world, rather than one-world ideas attributed to Alexander or his successors, that in my opinion prompted the universalism of the early Christian missionaries. (11)

    As those Christian missionaries moved out from Jerusalem and beyond the confines of Palestine they were indeed able to communicate with a range of diverse audiences, east and west, because of the wide diffusion of Greek as the lingua franca, as already mentioned. The Roman provincial structures provided some protection, and the increased commercial activity of the eastern Mediterranean made for the relative ease of travel. These aspects of the Hellenistic world and its benefits were not lost on Luke as he depicts the movement of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome in Acts of the Apostles. Yet despite all the benefits it had to offer, Hellenism as adopted and adapted by the Romans had not succeeded in obliterating ethnic differences among the peoples of the east. In a brilliant study entitled The Roman Near East 31 BC- AD 337 (1993) the Oxford Ancient Historian, Fergus Millar, has shown that despite the veneer of Greek culture everywhere, the older cultures of the east have all left various traces of their past in terms of bilingual inscriptions, Semitic customs and religious practises that continued on into the Byzantine period in some instances. Religious practises have a capacity to endure and survive changes in other areas of life. Very often what has taken place is an interpretatio Graeca by which an old Semitic deity or custom is retained, but in a Greek dress. However, many examples show that the Greek equivalents were not randomly taken over, but were chosen with special reference to the god or goddess in question and his or her perceived characteristics, as, for example, when the god of Tyre, Melqart is named Heracles, since both were know as travellers and founders of cities, and Eshmun, the god of Sidon, was identified as Asclepios, since both were venerated as healing deities. (12)

    This was the world that Christian missionaries encountered as they moved in the direction of the four points of the compass - north to Syria, east to Arabia and Mesopotamia, south to Egypt and North Africa and west to Asia Minor and Europe. Lukes highly graphic account of Pauls movements to the west can give the impression that that was the totality of Chris
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