The New Testament's Non-Hebraic, Hellenistic Greek Presuppositions
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If you are a Christian this article is my "Second-most important article" which identifies the Hellenistic Greek (non-Hebraic) concepts and motifs appearing in the New Testament, said concepts being "the reason" why the New Testament _challenges, denies and refutes_ Judaism's interpretations of the Old Testament regarding God's relationship with man.
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02 November 2000
As many are aware, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is looked upon as an important source of beliefs for both Judaism and Christianity. What is most remarkable is that these two monolithic faiths of the Western World draw different interpretations from the same body of literature. This article seeks to account for this difference, utilizing the findings of generations of Humanist scholars. In essence, I understand that Christianity is a syncretistic religion, that is, to some degree, the Early Christians were imbued with ideals and notions drawn from Hellenistic Greek metaphysics, which accounts for their reinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible in the books we now call the New Testament. Some of these Greek concepts had probably been absorbed in the course of the 3rd, 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. by by various forms of Hellenistic Judaism, before the rise of Christianity. Other Greek concepts may have been drawn from the cultural environment of the 1st century A.D.
Scholars have noted that a composition reflects the age in which it was created. Certain presuppositions exist in the author's mind that can be linked to certain beliefs current in his lifetime that he is unconsciously drawing from in his presentation. Given that Christianity arose in the 1st century A.D., in a Hellenistic world, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, that certain beliefs which were current at that time might be what the Christian authors are drawing from in their understanding and presentation of their religious ideas about the Old Testament's message contra mainstream Jewish (Hebraic) perceptions.
"Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that any belief must carry the stamp of the age which fashioned it or conceived it..." (p. 242, "Religious Life," Georges Contenau. Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria. New York. St. Martin's Press. 1954)
Death (Hebraic vs. Platonic and Christian notions):
The Hebrew Bible presents a picture of man fearing death and not looking forward to it. Many psalms ask Yahweh to rescue an individual from Sheol, that is, don't let his enemies prevail in accomplishing his death. The "Primary History" (Genesis to 2 Kings) knows of no rewards for the righteous dead, an unrighteous King Saul dwells with a righteous prophet, Samuel in Sheol (1 Samuel 28:11-15; 31).
Psalm 6:5 RSV
"Yahweh, relent and save my life rescue me because of your faithful love, for in death there is no rememberance of you; who could sing your praises in Sheol?"
Plato stressed that Philosophers look forward to death and do not fear it, for they believe that at last they will attain the answers they have been seeking all their lives from God. Plato noted that Philosophers deny the lusts of the flesh to attain virtue and wisdom and union with God. They eschew accumulating wealth and property and satisfying fleshly pleasures. Plato understood that the body is a prison of the soul, interfering in the soul's attempt to attain wisdom and virtue and knowledge of God. This negative view of the corrupt fleshly body and the need to deny the lusts of the flesh to attain to virtue and purity so that one can achieve union with God after death, is mirrored in later Christian beliefs as found in the New Testament.
"For what the flesh desires is opposed to the spirit...to prevent you from doing what you want."
(Galatians 5:17 RSV)
Plato has Socrates saying:
"And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world...For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?...our people at home will agree with them in saying that the life which philosophers desire is truly death, and that they have found them out to be deserving of the death they desire...Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of the opinon that a life which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having; but that he who thinks nothing of bodily pleasures is almost as though he were dead...while we are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to disease which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us as full of loves, lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body: and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination towards philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth; and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then, I suppose, that we shall attain that which we desire, of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom; not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow- either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom can not help saying to one another and thinking...Then Simmias, as the true philosophers are ever studying death, to them, of all men, death is the least terrible...And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely, he will my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there only, and nowhere else, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were to fear death. He would indeed replied Simmias. And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom, but a lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money or power, or both?" (pp. 495-500, "Phaedo," Benjamin Jowett, Translator, Plato: The Republic and Other Works. Anchor Books. Doubleday. New York. 1989. ISBN 0-385-09497-3)
Plato understands that the "pure" soul of the philosopher will dwell with the gods while the unrighteous soul is compelled to wander and is denied the company of the gods:
"That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods? Is not this true, Cebes? Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt...the souls, not of the good, but of the evil,...are compelled to wander about such places in payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life...But he who is a philosopher or lover of learning, and is entirely pure at departing, is alone permitted to reach the gods. And this is the reason, Simmias and Cebes, why the true votaries of philosophy abstain from all fleshly lusts, and endure and refuse to give themselves up to them- not because they fear poverty or the ruin of their families, like the lovers of money, and the world in general; nor like the lovers of power and honor, because they dread the dishonor or disgrace of evil deeds." (pp. 514-516, "Phaedo," Jowett)
Christians who endure and keep the faith till death, will be rewarded in a life after death, by being "allowed to dwell in the presence of the Gods" (God the Father and God the Son), just like Plato's philosophers.
Plato, via Socrates, speaks of jewels of adornment, like "temperance," for the philosopher's soul, most of these qualities appear to be echoed in the later Christian writings:
"Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him, and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after the pleasures of knowledge in this life; who has adorned the soul in her own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth- in these arrayed she is ready to go on her journey to the world below, when her time comes." (p. 549, "Phaedo," Jowett)
Plato has Socrates espousing that one should not return "evil for evil," but always seek after righteousness and virtue. Christianity also embraces similar views in its notion of "turning the other cheek" instead of striking back, giving evil for evil:
"Now you [Socrates] depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements...wronging those whom you ought least to wrong...the laws in the world below will receive you as an enemy..." (p. 484, "Crito," Jowett)
Paul and Christ as well as the apostles are all portrayed giving up wealth, honor, fame and other pursuits of the flesh to lead men to a better life of righteousness, rather like Plato's philosophers:
"Socrates: "Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength, I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy...O my friend, why do you...care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this? (p. 459, "Apology," Jowett)
Hebraic vs Hellenistic Greek and Christian Notions about Wealth:
The Christian exhortation to give away or sell all of one's possessions and take up Christ's cross and a life of poverty in pursuit of righteousness, seems to be reflected in Plato's earlier concept of the ideal philosopher which is, for him, Socrates:
"Socrates: "For this is the command to God, as I would have you know; and I believe that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul...And that I am given to you by God is proved by this: -that if I had been like other men, I should not have neglected all my own concerns or patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years...And I have a witness of the truth of what I say; my poverty is a sufficient witness." (pp. 459-461, "Apology," Jowett)
"Matter was looked upon as evil or as the seat of the evil principle; the whole business of life was to release the soul from the contact and pollution of matter, from the body, its bane. The tenure of property for private use was discouraged; communism was practised by the Essenes and by the Neo-Pythagoreans, who traced the practice back to Pythagoras himself, and attempted by the Christians." (p. 222, S. Angus, The Mystery Religions. Dover Publications. , 1975. ISBN 0-486-23124-0)
"Since the days of Plato, the idea of the ascent of the soul to a higher spiritual world had become prevalent, an idea which gave a relative insignificance to the affairs of this world. The whole business of man was to imitate God in order to increase in likeness to him, who was conceived as as the absolute or as pure spirit. This process of imitation involved the suppression of the natural and physical in the interests of the intellectual and spiritual." (pp. 223-224, Angus)
Hebraic notions are the antithesis of the Platonic and Christian notions. Wealth is a sign of favor from God (as in the book of Job), the righteous will enjoy the bounty of nature and the land, fertility of animals, and healthy children, if Torah (the Law) is adhered to (Leviticus 26:3-12).
Abraham's blessings were that he would have descendants beyond counting, like the stars of heaven, and that the land of Canaan with all its bounty would be theirs (Ge 16:18; 17:5-8; 22:18); later, Moses qualified Abraham's blessing, noting it was conditional, only if the Nation observed the Torah, would Abraham's blessings be theirs (De 30:9-10). The blessings were not about being drawn to "the bosom of Abraham" in life after death, and dwelling in the presence of God in a heavenly paradise of some sort. Abraham's blessings were for the living, not the dead. Christianity sees blessings "as deferred," to be attained after a righteous life culminating in death. Instead of blessings to be enjoyed in this life, Christianity offers only suffering, a test of endurance, to prove one's love for Christ. The story of the rich man (who called upon the righteous beggar, Lazarus), who suffers the heat and thirst of Hell, is a parade example that wealth and riches enjoyed in this life, mean deprivation in the life after death (Luke 16:24). I suspect the Early Christians are imbued with Plato's ideals of the goals of the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, knowledge and truth, attained through denial of the pleasures of the flesh and spurning the bounties of life.
Salvation, Hebraic vs. Hellenistic Greek and Christian:
The Hebraic notion of "Salvation" was for the nation or community of Israel. This contrasts with the Christian emphasis on "personal salvation." Hebraic salvation was deliverance of the nation from its physical enemies (Lev.26:7-8). Christian salvation is deliverance of souls from the power of the Devil and his demons, as well as the power of death, being eventually resurrected to a life of bliss.
Sins are forgiven by repentence, baptism, and faith in a Messiah-Christ and the Christian gospel. These are alien notions for Jews. God forgives sins all the time, he is portrayed as long-suffering, slow to anger, and merciful.
"Why should any person need a saviour? The Pharisees, and indeed the generality of Jews, would consider the idea to be veering on the blasphemous...For a Jew, however, the Scriptures make it apparent again and again that God is a God of mercy, who forgives sins. 'He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.'...anyone who turned to God in penitence and faith would be forgiven." (p. 122, Wilson, citing Ps 103:10-12)
God is envisioned by Isaiah and Ezekiel as pouring out his spirit upon his people upon the return from the Babylonian Captivity, without the requirement of a Messiah being killed and shedding his blood in atonement (Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:24-28):
"For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a NEW SPIRIT I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people and I will be your God." (Ezek 36:24-28 RSV)
Of course, it is quite clear from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that Ezekiel's prophecy was a failed one, as the returnees are portrayed violating the Torah and the Sabbath; still later the nation lost its land under the Romans in rebellions put down by the Roman emperors Vespasian and then Hadrian.
Christianity declares itself to be a "mystery" in several verses (Mk 4:11; Rom 11:25 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 3:4,9; Col 1:26; Rev 10:7). The development of Mystery religions in the Hellenistic era (which includes for our purposes, the 1st century A.D.) has attracted numerous studies by several scholars. They have noted that with the breakdown of the Greek Polis in the Hellenistic era, men began to seek solace and salvation from new gods, called Savior gods, who died and were resurrected or restored back to life. The initiates of these mysteries, were assured that they would enjoy a life of bliss after death, which was denied to non-initiates. This concept, denial of bliss after death to mankind at large, except for initiates, is a concept embraced by Christianity.
"Mysteries were native to Greece, but many of the eastern cults adopted mystery initiations when they entered the Greek world...We may define 'Mystery' as used here as a secret rite by which selected individuals were brought into a special relationship with a deity and assured of certain benefits. An initiate was given the special protection of the divinity by means of ceremonies themselves, which worked automatically, and these ceremonies and their priveleges were the exclusive property of a small group." (pp. 235-236, Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity.)
The two most widely known and famous Greek mysteries were of Demeter and Dionysus. Demeter's mysteries took place only in Greece at Eleusis, 15 miles west of Athens. By contrast, the Dionysiac mysteries were celebrated not just in Greece but also in southern Italy were Greek colonies existed ("Magna Grecia") and Asia Minor.
The Dionysian mystery has drawn a lot of scholarly interest because it posited that man possessed two natures, evil and divine/good. The explanation given was that Dionysus-Zagreus as a child had been murdered by the Titans and eaten. They in turn were vaporized by Zeus' thunderbolts and from their ashes mankind was created. Thus through the Titans' eating of a god, man possessed a god's divine, holy and good nature, which constantly warred with his flesh which was evil and Titanic. Dionysus-Zagreus was the son of the supreme god, Zeus, and his mother is alternately Semele or Persephone (mortal women), the latter being impregnated by Zeus in the form of a snake while hiding from him in a cave. Hera (Zeus' wife) hated Dionysus-Zagreus and sought the child's life. Zeus intended to make him ruler of all the earth and in some art forms the child is shown on a throne, but the Titans on Hera's urging killed him. In one episode Zagreus is hidden in the form a kid (goat) and in another as a bull. Both animals were sacrifcied in his honor, he being, according to some scholars, the sacrifical animal. Dionysus' followers, the Meneads, tore apart living animals and ate their flesh raw, enacting his death at the hands of the Titans according to some. Dionysus was also the god of wine and is shown holding vines with grape clusters. He was believed to be "in the wine," and when it was drunk, a mania overtook his followers, "his spirit being in them," inducing ecstasy.
"According to Olympiodoros, after Ouranos, Kronos, and Zeus, Dionysos became the fourth ruler of the world." (p. 242, Kerenyi)
The parallels with Christ are noteworthy. Both Christ and Dionysus as children are sought by enemies who want them killed because their divine heavenly father intends them to be a future king of the whole world. Dionysus takes on the form of a kid, Christ takes on the form a lamb, both animals being sacrifical surrogates of the respective savior gods. Hera seeks Dionysus' life, Herod seeks Christ's life. Dionysus is conceived in a cave and later hides in one as a child, while Christ in Greek Orthodox traditions is understood to have been born in a cave. Dionysus visits Egypt in his wanderings; Christ, another wanderer, appears in stories associated with Egypt. The Titans devour Dionysus, tearing him apart (other accounts have him being carved up with a knife and put in a stew) while Christ, tearing apart bread with his hands, hands the torn pieces to his apostles instructing to eat his body and then drink a cup of wine which is his blood. 12 apostles devour Christ and 12 Titans devour Dionysus-Zagreus. A marriage ceremony was part of the initation rites in the Dionysiac mysteries, Christians speak of Christ as a bridegroom (Dionysus was a bridegroom in the mysteries). Dionysus is killed and his body flung into the depths of Lake Lerna (believed to be an entry point into the underworld). Later his followers appear, tossing a sacrifical "kid" into the lake to Hades as a surrogate for Dionysus, he is then summoned up in a type of resurrection from his watery grave by a trumpet blast. Christianity has the notion of a trumpet blast calling forth the dead to a resurrection. Some Christian sects understand emersion in water (baptism) to be a type of "watery grave" that the born-again initiate arises from. I am of the persuasion that some Dionysiac concepts were probably utilized (the Eucharist) by the early Christians in their portrayal of Christ (cf. Carl Kerenyi's Dionysos work listed below in my bibliography for the details on the conflicting Dionysus myths). Please click here for some Roman mosaics showing the nude infant Dionysus being borne by Hermes in a manner similar to later Christian renderings of Christ as a child held by the Madonna, and Saint Christopher bearing him.
I suspect that the New Testament is then, borrowing some of its imagery from Dionysus and applying it to Christ. Scholars have determined that the best known of all the competing Mystery religions of the Hellenized world was the Mysteries of Demeter and Kore and that of Dionysus. Dionysus had the wider following, initiations into the Demeter mystery being limited to Eleusis and Athens in Greece, while Dionysus was open to initiations in southern Italy (Magna Grecia) and Asia Minor. Paul's major ministry was Asia Minor, and thus his imagery of Christ (specifically the importance of the Eucharist, the eating of a God's torn body as torn bread and drinking his blood as wine) would be familiar to the Hellenized peoples of that world. The Eucharist, was then, something familiar, that these peoples could relate to. Perhaps Christ's body as bread may relate to the Demeter mystery, where an ear of grain was a symbol of death and resurrection (such imagery being used in the New Testament, cf. John 12:24). Bread being made of grain, which is cut down, then planted, arises from the earth (a type of underworld resurrection), and nourishes mankind, so, Christ as the bread or grain dwells in us. Wine as his blood is drawn from the Dionysiac mysteries, where the god was believed to be in the wine, and his being "possessed" the drinker, bringing on an intoxicated state.
"...the Athenians celebrated the great autumn festival, the Mysteria; the procession went from Athens to Eleusis and culminated in a nocturnal celebration...There were two gifts that Demeter bestowed on Eleusis, so people said: grain as the basis of civilized life, and the mysteries that held the promise of 'better hopes' for a happy afterlife. These mysteries took place exclusively at Eleusis and nowhere else.
Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, was worshipped everywhere; every drinker in fact could claim to be a servant of this god. The existence of mysteries proper, of personal and secret initiations with the promise of eternal bliss in the beyond, has recently been confirmed by the gold tablet of Hipponion, mentioning the mystai and bakchoi on their 'sacred way' in the netherworld. Yet there is no local center for Bacchic mysteries, in contrast to Eleusis; they seem to have appeared everywhere from the Black Sea to Egypt and from Asia Minor to southern Italy." (p.5, Burkert)
Dickinson notes that Plato mentions that the Mysteries can redeem man from the pains of Hell:
"That the Greek was not unacquainted with the fear of hell we know from a passage of Plato...in speaking of the mendicant prophets who professed to make atonement for sin he says that their ministrations 'are equally at the service of the living and the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them no one knows what awaits us." (p. 30, Dickinson, citing Plato, Republic 2.364e, Jowett)
In speaking of the Greek mysteries of Demeter and Kore and of Dionysus-Zagreus, Dickinson notes that a blissful after-life was assured the initiated:
"...hopes were held out to the initiated not only of a happy life on earth, but of a happy immortality beyond. 'Blessed,' says Pindar, 'blessed is he who has seen these things before he goes under the hollow earth. He knows the end of life, and he knows its god-given origin." (p. 40, Dickinson)
Dickinson on Dionysus-Zagreus and the concept of "original sin" for the Orphics:
"...Zagreus was the son of Zeus and Persephone. Hera, in her jealousy, sent the Titans to destroy him; after a struggle they managed to kill him, cut him up and devoured all but the heart, which was saved by Athene and carried to Zeus. Zeus swallowed it, and produced therefrom a second Dionysus. The Titans he destoyed by lightning, and from their ashes created man. Man is thus composed of two elements, one bad, the Titanic, the other good, the Dionysiac; the latter being derived from the body of Dionysus which the Titans had devoured. This fundamental dualism, according to the doctrine founded on the myth, is the perpetual tragedy of man's existence; and his perpetual struggle is to purify himself of the Titanic element. The process extends over many incarnations, but an ultimate deliverance is promised by the aid of the redeemer Dionysus-Lysius...Here, in the tenets of these Orphic sects, we have the doctrine of "original sin," the conception of life as a struggle between two opposing principles, and the promise of an ultimate redemption by the help of the divine power." (p. 32, Dickinson)
The Hermetic notion of Law as punishment and Paul's notion of Torah:
"Human souls that are not governed by Nous suffer the same as the souls of irrational creature, for Nous merely powers these souls and gives them up to desires...nor can they have enough of these evils. For anger and desires are evils without reason, without limit; and it is for these souls that God set up the law as a punishment and a test." (p. 59, Salaman)
Could Paul's views about Torah being a "stumbling block" in attaining to righteousness, salvation and reconciliation with God, be drawn from the above Hermetic notions ? In contrast to Paul, there are two Hebraic notions about Righteousness: via faith, as in Abraham's believing God's word (Ge. 15:6), and by his people's adherence to Torah (Law) :
"...and he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Ge. 15:6 RSV)
"And it will be RIGHTEOUSNESS for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us." (De 6:25)
"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the ordinances which the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over to possess it; that you may fear the Lord your God...by keeping all his statutes and his commandments...that your days may be prolonged. Hear therefore O Israel, and be careful to do them; that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey."
(De 6:1-3, RSV)
Individualism and Withdrawal, the Historical Pre-conditions to Christianity:
"Incease of Individualism...The breaking of traditional patterns of inherited conduct in the enlarged world of the Hellenistic Age threw people back upon themselves and gave opportunity for individual expression. Chosen things became more important than inherited things. As one example, personal religion stems from the philosophical individualism of Socrates. It is hard to imagine Christianity suceeding in any other environment than that which resulted from the conquests of Alexander the Great." (p. 14, Ferguson)
"Diogenes, the most famous of the Cynics...rejected all official and traditional religions...He ridiculed the prestige that was associated with wealth, power, and reputation and honored instead the simple life of courage, reason and honesty- a life of virtue...the man of integrity, the wise and honest man, should live like a dog, without pretensions and uncluttered by worldly possessions. Indeed, the very word cynic originally meant canine or 'doglike'...He was a colorful symbol of the great Hellenistic withdrawal from the polis into the individual soul." (p. 138, Hollister)
Christ, according to the gospels, out does Diogenes, for while Diogenes has a barrel outside the walls of Athens to call home, the son of man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20):
"And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matt 8:20)
"The same withdrawal is evident in the two religio-ethical systems that emerged in the fourth century [BCE] and influenced human thought and conduct for centuries thereafter: Stoicism and Epicureanism. Both were philosophies that taught men to fortify their souls against the harshness of life. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, stressed, as the Cynics did, the vanity of worldly things and the supreme importance of individual virtue...Since virtue was all-important, the good Stoic was immune to the vicissitudes of life. He might lose his property; he might be imprisoned and tortured, but except by his own will he could not be deprived of his virtue which was his only really precious possession. By rejecting the world the Stoic created an impenetrable citadel within his own soul. Out of this doctrine there emerged a sense not only of individualism but of cosmopolitanism; the idea of the polis faded before the wider concept of a brotherhood of men...the God of the universe cared about mankind, and the stern nobility of Stoic ethics was tempered and humanized by this optimistic assurance...Epicureanism even more than Stoicism was a philosophy of withdrawal." (pp.138-139, Hollister)
"What profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?" This Christian notion appears to be drawn from Hellenistic Greek philosophy: Platonic, Cynic, Stoic and Epicurean, all of whom argued that a man's virtue was more important than possessions. Christianity, like the above Greek philosophies, which preceeded it by some 300 years, emphasized withdrawal from the world and contempt for worldly possessions, virtue and righteousness was all-important. Wealth was synonomous with evil, in antithesis to the Hebraic notion that wealth was a sign of God's favor and blessings for his righteous peoples.
Christ is portrayed much like a Greek Philosopher, without any possessions, or a home to lay his head down in, exhorting people to practice virtue and not to give any thoughts to acquiring possession or wealth. Satan offers him all the kingdoms of the world and their treasure, fame, and power, but like a good Greek philosopher, he spurns the offer.
"Philo had shown...in his philosophical writings, a great assimilation between Jewish and Graeco-Roman ways of looking at the world." (p. 91, Wilson)
"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (p. 218, Wilson, citing Philippians 3:7-11)
Paul and the other apostles were salesmen of a sort, trying to sell the Gentiles on Christ as the means to salvation and bliss after death. A good salesman learns the art of the sales pitch and how to size up a prospect or potential customer. He has to know the fears and desires and how to manipulate them. Paul's success was his mastery of Greek and his understanding of the Greek mindset, and his product was tailored to meet the needs of his prospects. They would object to painful circumcision, taboo food laws, and other Torah restrictions. All these objections were eliminated by abolishing Torah and circumcision.
"The centuries after Augustus witnessed a slow but fundamental shift in Roman religious attitudes, from the veneration of the traditional gods of household, clan and city to the worship of transcendental deities imported from the Near East. The gods of Old Rome, like those of the Greek Olympus, had safeguarded the welfare of social and political groups; the new gods cared little for such things but offered instead the hope of individual redemption, salvation, and eternal life. As the Roman imperial age progressed, the allegiance of the people slowly shifted from Jupiter and Minerva to...dieties who offered solace and eternal joy to people for whom the world was not enough- even the world of the Roman peace.
This surge of mysticism was actually a continuation and expansion of a trend we have already observed among the Hellenistic Greeks. The same forces that had encouraged widespread rootlessness and disorientation of the Hellenistic world were now at work throughout the Roman empire; cosmopolitansm, gradually-increasing autocracy, and, among the underprivilileged masses, grinding poverty and loss of hope. The shift from civic god to savior god, from this world to the next, constitutes a profound transformation in mood- a repudiation of traditional Greco-Roman humanism." (pp. 185-186, "The Spiritual Metamorphosis-The Mystery Cults," Hollister)
"Two fundamental trends characterized religious development in the Roman Empire: the growing impulse toward mysticism that we examined, and the interpenetration and fusion of doctrines and practices between one cult and another- a process known as syncretism. The syncretic quality of Christianity itself has often been observed, for in numerous instances its beliefs and rituals were similar to those of earlier religions. Obviously, Christianity drew heavily from Judaism- nearly all the earliest Christians were Jews- but it was also anticipated in various particulars by Zoroasterianism, Mithraism, the Isis-Osiris cult, the Greek mysteries of Dinonysus and Demeter, and even Stoicism. Many Christian doctrines had long pre-christian histories: the concept of death and resurrection, the sacramental meal, baptism, personal salvation, and the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, to name but a few." (pp. 187-188, "The Spiritual Metamorphosis-The Emergence of Christianity," Hollister)
"Medieval and modern Christian theology is a product of both the Hebrew and the Greek traditions. The synthesis of these two intellectual worlds began not among the Christians but among the Jews themselves, especially those who had migrated in large numbers to Alexandria. Here Jewish scholars- in particular a religious philosopher of the early first century AD named Philo Judaeus- worked toward the reconciliation of Jewish revelation and Greek philosophy, drawing heavily from Aristotle, the Stoics, and particularly Plato, and developing a symbolic interpretation of the Old Testament that was to influence Christian thought over the centuries." (p. 191, "The Spiritual Metamorphosis- Christianity and Hellenism," C. Warren Hollister, Roots of the Western Tradition: A Short History of the Ancient World. 2nd edition, John Wiley & Son. Inc., New York. , 1972. ISBN 0-471-40688-0)
Hollister on a "Hellenized" Christianity (3rd-4th centuries A.D.):
"At the very time that Christian theology was being Hellenized, pagan thought itself was shifting increasingly toward otherworldliness...the poor, humble, and underprivileged made up the bulk of its early converts, and it was to them that Jesus directed much of his message. Intellectuals were drawn by its Hellenized theology, men of feeling were captivated by its mysticism..." (p. 194, Hollister)
"Increase of Individualism...The breaking of traditional patterns of inherited conduct in the enlarged world of the Hellenistic age threw people back upon themselves and gave opportunity for individual expression. Chosen things became more important than inherited things. As one example, personal religion stems from the philosophical individualism of Socrates. It is hard to imagine Christianity suceeding in any other environment than that which resulted from the conquests of Alexander the Great." (p. 14, Everett Ferguson)
"Christianity is destined for an intellectual history which is, to say the least, eclectic and which will owe as much to Plato as it does to Moses...Christianity itself, as a doctrinal entity with all its esoteric formulations about the nature of the Deity, and of the soul, and of the self (divine and human) of Christ, and the heavens and the earth, derives largely from late Platonism." (pp. 155-156, Wilson)
"The revived Platonism of the first century A.D. can best be appreciated in the writings of the Jewish Alexandrian Philo, who made Moses's encounters with the Deity compatible with the quest for the Good in Plato's dialogues. Ammonius was the head of the Academy at Athens in Paul's day, and he was an exponent of what could be termed the Platonist revival. We have no evidence that Paul ever read Plato, though by focusing on the use made by both writers of certain words and concepts, we can make up our own minds about the degree to which the Apostle had absorbed the philosopher. Four hundred years after The Republic was written, Paul would in any event not have been exposed to undiluted Platonism so much as to Plato filtered through recent writers-perhaps through his contemporary Seneca or through Cicero." (p.153, Wilson)
The Flesh at War with the Holy Spirit (The Orphic and Platonic notions):
"...Plato, the deepest thinker of the Greeks, was also among the farthest removed from the popular faith. The principle from which he derives the World is the absolute Good, or God, of whose ideas the phenomena of sense are imperfect copies. To the divine intelligence man by virtue of his reason is akin. But the reason in him has fallen into bondage of the flesh; and it is the task of his life on earth, or rather of a series of lives (for Plato believed in successive re-incarnations), to deliver this diviner element of his soul, and set it free to reunite with God. To the description of the divine life thus prepared for the soul, Plato devoted some of his finest passages..." (pp. 62-63, Dickinson)
Hebraic vs. Hellenistic Greek and Christian notions of Divine beings being apparitions of "LIGHT":
Dickinson noted that Plato understood that in the beginning, souls were in the company of the gods, and beheld them as apparitions of shining pure light. But, eventually the souls fell to earth where they were united in a fleshly body which interferes with the soul's desire to reunite with God:
"But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world...or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and having had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw...There was a time when, with the rest of the happy band, they saw beauty shining in brightness- we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining in pure light, pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell. Let me linger over the memory of scenes which have passed away." (p. 64, Dickinson, citing Plato, Phaedrus. 249 d; B. Jowett's translation)
It is interesting to note here that Plato is describing the supreme god, Zeus (alternately called "The Good") and other gods, as apparitions of shining pure light. The Apostle Paul describes his vision of Christ in similar terms, that is, Christ appears to him as a "blinding light." We are told an angel set free the Apostle Peter from a prison, the angel being described as a "light," Paul thinking he was having a vision. This "Light" terminology in describing divine beings or gods (Christ being called God is other passages) is not to be found in the Hebrew Bible, it is not Hebraic terminology. I must conclude that Paul is using Platonic Greek metaphysical language to describe a God (Christ) and a divine being (angel), language which his pagan, Greek-educated Gentile audience would be familiar with.
The Alexandrian Hermetic literature, evidently under Platonic influence, also comprehends the Supreme Good (Plato's Good), as Light (Nous meaning variously, Soul, God, God's Spirit, or Mind) :
"...the supreme god, who is Nous and pure, endless and incoporeal light." (p. 102, Salaman)
"Wher(ever) Nous (is), there is light; for Nous is light and light (is) Nous. Who(ever) has Nous is enlightened, and who(ever) has not Nous is deprived of light." (p.115, Salaman)
"That light...is I, Nous, your God..." (p.18, Salaman)
"Because the Father of all is constituted out of light and life, whence man has been begotten...Light and life is God and Father, whence man is begotten...By a life full of love they win the favor of the Father..." (p. 22, Salaman)
By contrast, the Hebrew Bible portrays God not as Light, but as a being possessing a human-like body. God appears before Abraham in human form accompanied by two angels who also possess human form (Ge.18). Moses sees God's backsides (Ex 33:23). The prophets describe God in visions as possessing a human-like form, seated upon a throne, not as some great blinding Light, as in Christ's apparition that appears to Paul (Acts 22:6-11) or the angel who appears as a Light to release Peter from prison
(Acts 12:7). Christ is repeatedly called the Light or Light of the world (John 1:7, 3:19, 8:12, 9:5). I suspect that the New Testament is using Hellenistic Platonic "Light imagery" for divine beings, not the archaic Hebraic anthropomorphic imagery of the Hebrew Bible.
The Holy Spirit as Tongues of Fire and Hellenistic notions of a Fiery Nous:
The Hermetic literature suggests that Nous, the spirit or mind of/from God, is composed of light and of fire. I suspect that the New Testament's portrayal of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire over the heads of the Apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2:3), is drawing from Hermetic Greek imagery of Nous (Nous being variously interpreted as mind, spirit, soul, God ) being fire:
"This happens to those leaving the body. When the soul returns to itself, the breath withdraws, into the blood and the soul into the breath; but Nous, being freed from covers [the fleshly body] and being godlike by nature, takes on a body of fire and ranging everywhere leaves the soul to the judgement and justice it deserves." (p. 19, Salaman)
"The soul is of a fiery nature and by fighting against the body strives to return to the Father, the fire from which it came." (p. 296, "Chaldean Oracles," Ferguson. Backgrounds of Early Christianity)
Eternal Punishment and Demonology (Hebraic vs. Hellenistic Greek and Christian notions):
The Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings) does not know of punishments awaiting sinners in the underworld or Sheol. An unrighteous King Saul dwells there with a righteous Samuel the Prophet. There are apparently no rewards or punishments in Sheol in the Primary History. By the second century B.C. when Daniel is believed to have been composed by most Humanist scholars, mention is made of a resurrection in which the unrighteous will be shamed and held in contempt but nothing is said of torture or torments (Dan 12:2).
Greek myths however stress that the unrighteous will be tormented in the underworld. The book of Revelation's imagery appears to be drawing on current Greek notions of torture and torment for the ungodly (cf. my paper titled "Hell's Pre-Christian Origins"). The Christian notion that all the earth is under Satan (the Devil) and his Demon's control also appears to be drawing upon Hellenistic Greek notions. Plato understood that the supreme god had appointed "Daimones" to watch over mankind and the earth, to foster justice and fairness. He also posited that evil should not be attributed to God. So, in Post-Platonic times the notion arose that "some" Daimones were evil. Eventually it was posited that all the evil in the world was caused by evil Daimones, absolving the supreme Platonic God of all blame. Christians simply accepted this Greek myth or fiction, and accordingly portrayed Christ as coming to the earth to liberate man from the power of Satan and his Demons (Greek Daimon being rendered in English, as Demon). So, the Christians did not invent the notion that all the earth and mankind is under Daimonic control, it is Post-Platonic Greek fiction (cf. my paper titled "The Pre-Christian Origins of the New Testament's Demons/Daemones/Daimones" for details).
Platonic Notions of only God being GOOD and Christian indebtedness:
Platonic thought postulated God was Good, he wanted/lacked nothing, wasn't envious, and he was incapable of evil. Plato derided Homer and Hesiod for portraying the gods as sources of good AND EVIL and for being lusters after women, quarreling and fighting amongst themeselves. As a result of Plato's new image of God as being only THE GOOD, later Greek speculation sought to place blame for evil on the daimones.
Plato, on God being only Good, and incapable of evil:
"...for the good we must assume no other cause than God, but the cause of evil we must look for in other things and not in God...we must not accept from Homer or any other poet the folly of such error as this about the gods...Zeus is dispensor alike of good and evil to mortals." (Republic 2.379d,e, p. 626, Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns, Editors, The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters. Bollingen Series LXXI. Princeton University Press.  1996, ISBN 0-691-09718-6)
"But as to saying that God, who is good, becomes the cause of evil to anyone, we must contend in every way that neither should anyone assert this..." (Republic 2.380b, p. 627, Hamilton)
The Greek Hermetics further developed Plato's idea of God as being THE GOOD or SUPREME GOOD personified:
"No other beings spoken of as gods, men or divine powers can be even in the slightest degree good, but God alone. God is this alone and nothing else. All other things are contained within the nature of the Supreme Good, for they are body and soul, but themselves have no place to contain the Supreme Good. The greatness of this good is such that it is the reality of all beings; of the bodily and of the bodiless, of the sensory and of the subtle. This is the Supreme Good, this is God. Therefore, do not call anything else good since then you blaspheme, and do not ever call God anything but good since again you blaspheme...For the nature of God is One: Supreme goodness; God and goodness are one generative power, from which come all generations. He who gives all and takes nothing is good. God gives all and takes nothing. So God is the Supreme Good and the Supreme Good is God. The other name is that of the Father, by virtue of him being the author of all things; for the Father's nature is to create." (pp. 28-29, Salaman)
I note that Christ rebuked an admirer who called him "GOOD Master," claiming that only God is GOOD. Is this Platonic thought being assimilated into and preserved within Early Christianity?
"And, behold, one came and said unto him, GOOD Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life ?" And he said unto him, "Why callest thou me GOOD? There is NONE GOOD BUT ONE, THAT IS, GOD; but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."(Matthew 19:17-21 KJV)
"Someone came to Jesus with this question: GOOD Master, what must I do to have eternal life? When you call be GOOD you are calling me God," Jesus replied, "For God alone is truly GOOD." (Matthew 19:17-21, The Living Bible, Paraphrased)
Jesus' reply is in stark contrast to Job's assertion that Evil comes from God, not just Good (Job's view of God is more Homeric, which Plato criticized):
"Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips." (Job 2:10 RSV)
Scholars on the New Testament's Hellenistic Greek indebtedness:
"The Pauline conception of faith has proved even more epoch-making than that of Philo in that it more effectively combined the Hebraic and the Hellenistic elements in a unity which has been a new dynamic in the religious life of mankind. The emotional, the noetic, the ethical, and the religious elements are commingled." (p. 294, Angus)
"As a Hellenist, who had absorbed much Greek wisdom as Jewish, he rejected the Jewish idea of yetzer, two impulses, and believed that flesh and spirit were fundamentally opposed: a completely unjewish idea. "For that the flesh desires is opposed to the spirit, and what the spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are oppossed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want." (p. 124, Wilson, citing Romans 5:20)
"In Judaism, there is the idea of the yetzer, the two impulses. Everyone has two impulses, to do good or to evil. The authentic Jewish idea survives in the New Testament in the letter of James: "One is tempted by one's own desire; it is our own selfishness which creates evil; to do good, we must turn to God's will."
(p. 122, Wilson)
Wilson on Paul's familiarity with Greek mysteries, their concepts and terminology:
"No need to imagine that Paul had attended such rites himself, though in his language about the inner life of the Christian he often borrows mystery-terminology. He describes the life in Christ as a mystery. In baptism, the Christian has passed from death into life. In Eucharist, the Christian drinks the blood of the Lord. These are all rituals and fashions of speech which would have been recognisable to Paul's contemporaries as mystery-talk...he uses with a boldness lacking in other New Testament writers, tropes and figures from paganism. He made the converts feel at home. They had brought the old pagan luggage into the new abode." (p. 174, Wilson)
"The gradual conquest of the Hellenistic world flooded Rome and Italy with Greek ideas, Greek works of Art and Greek-speaking slaves. Thereafter, in most fields of endeavor (with the notable exceptions of law, the army and political administration) it is impossible to discuss Roman ideas apart from their Greek models or inspiration. The eastern part of the Empire, indeed, was in many ways still Greek- Hellenistic Greek- to the end. There is no more important witness than early Christianity. Beginning with Saint Paul, the newest of the mystery religions was preached to the Greeks, Hellenized Jews and other Hellenized peoples of the eastern provinces in the language, and with the techniques, of the Greek rhetoricians. The Old Testament was normally quoted not from the Hebrew text, which relatively few Christians or their prospective proselytes could read, but from the Septuagint, the Greek translation prepared in the third century B.C. Christian theology first received a systematic philosophical cast from men who were steeped in the traditions of Greek philosophy from Plato to later Stoicism." (p. 156, "The Hellenistic Age," M. I. Finley. The Ancient Greeks, An Introduction to Their Life and Thought. Viking Press. New York. 1963, 1964 )
Greek Allegory and the Christian reinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible:
Angus on Greek Allegory:
"Allegory was the application of philosophy to mythology, which sought in the myths, however crude, a hidden spiritual meaning. Allegory was probably developed earlier among the Greeks than among the Jews. The Stoics, deriving this method from the Cynics, brought it to perfection as a theological weapon, by means of which they were able to conserve the form of popular religion while transforming the content...How early the allegorical method was adopted by the Jews it is difficult to determine with certainty. It certainly would be in demand as early as the translation of the Septuagint in Egypt. Aristobulus used it freely in his exposition on the Pentateuch, and Schurer believes that allegoric exegesis was in vogue in Palestine a considerable time before the days of Philo, who applied it wholesale to the Hebrew scriptures. He was followed by Paul, through whom allegory entered upon its long career in Christian theology.
The allegorical method enabled writers to link the present with the past; it could bring any ritual or drama into line with current ethics. It utterly ignored the intention of the writer of the original and obvious significance of a mystery ceremonial, and replaced these by the reader's or observer's own interpretation. It idealized what was said into what should have been intended. Abundant scope was offered to this prevalent allegorism by the symbolism of the mysteries." (pp. 49-50, Angus)
Finally, Flusser, a Jewish scholar, bemoans the fact that many Christian scholars are apparently unaware of Jewish scholars' research on the origins of Christianity, noting it arose from Hellenistic Judaism, NOT directly from the Old Testament-
"It has been largely forgotten by Christian scholars and believers that the New Testament is not a direct heir of the religious and moral attitude of the Old Testament. Between the compilation of the Old Testament and time of Jesus, many centuries elapsed and the very nature of the Jewish approach to God and man had been transformed. Christianity arose on the basis of these fresh new Jewish achievements...On the other hand, there seems to be a kind of inhibition in the mind of 'gentile' scholars who still hesitate to consider the results of studies about the origins of Christianity written by Jewish born human beings. Strangely enough this restraint in regards to Jewish scholarship can also often be observed even in the field of the research of Jewish sources. Seldom are the Jewish contributions in this area of scholarship utilized by Christian scholars. Often these works are not even known to them." (pp. xvii, xxviii, "Introduction." David Flusser. Judaism and the Origins of Christianity. Jerusalem. The Magnes Press. The Hebrew University. 1988. ISBN 965-233-627-6 pp. 725)
The New Testament's non-Hebraic presuppositions appear to be for the most part drawn from Platonic Greek Metaphysics and its Hellenistic Era related spin-offs. Concepts from the Dionysiac and Demeter Greek Mysteries also appear to have been incorporated as well (the Eucharist portraying Christ's blood and body as Wine and Bread/Grain).
Deutero-Isaiah's "Messiah" appears to have been recast, by Paul and the Early Christians into an idealized Greek Philosopher along the lines of Socrates, Plato, Diogenes the Cynic, as well as Stoics and Epicureans. It was via the vehicle of Greek allegory, that Paul and the Early Christians reinterpreted the Hebraic Messiah, and via Greek inspired allegory of assorted and sundry passages from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible verses were "reinterpreted" to support their presentation of Christ as fulfilling Scripture as the "Messiah."
Christianity's growth and very birth is predicated upon the notion that individuals may decide for themselves what religious beliefs are worthwhile and valid, and that it is permissable to abandon one's traditional religion in the search for meaning and purpose in life. Paul's individualism, a spin off of Greek philosophical individualism (traced back to Socrates by some scholars) made possible the birth of Christianity and the New Testament. Just as Philo of Alexandria utilized Greek allegory to read new meanings into the ancient Hebraic texts harmonizing them with Greek philosophical thought, so Paul and the Early Christians used the same allegorical techniques to derive from the Old Testament new meanings in support of a new concept about the life and purpose of the Messiah; he had come not to save the nation from its enemies, he had come to save the world from sin and reconcile man via his death to God the Father.
The New Testament is then, Hebraic thought and concepts recast in a Hellenistic Greek mold, and the Messiah has become a Greek Philosopher and the redeemer Dionysus-Lysius.
The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) made a penetrating appraisal of Christianity, he dubbed it "Platonism for the masses." (For the quote cf. the beginning of paragraph 5 in Nietzsche's preface. Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Translated and edited, with commentary, by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books. 1966)
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A. N. Wilson. Paul, The Mind of the Apostle. W.W. Norton & Co. New York & London. 1997. ISBN 0-393-04066-6.