Old Turmoil and New Belief

It was not until about 300 BCE, in the Hellenistic period, that foreign observers began to write extensively about the laws, traditions and customs of the Jewish people.  The Greek skeptic, historian and philosopher Hecataeus of Abdera (4th century BCE) recorded observations of Jewish life in his work Peri Hyperborean.  Hecataeus noted with some wonderment the Jewish traditions which then lavished their priests with highest prestige, and he pondered over the Laws of Deuteronomy which prevailed over social legislation.  Indeed, the monarchy which had crystallized with King Josiah (d. 608? BCE) had been completely overshadowed by this 300 timeframe.  He sensed the irony in the fact that it had been during the reign of King Josiah that the book of Deuteronomy happened to have been “discovered” in the Temple wall in Jerusalem.

 Jews were more fanatically devoted to their God than most Pagan cultures that Hecataeus had encountered.  That difference was due principally to the Pagans having closer affiliations with nature in which they recognized the interlocking aspects at work within nature and respected those aspects as godlike in their own right.  The Jews, on the other hand, long dominated by priest-organizers, had been conditioned for generations through use of priestly writings from the time of King Josiah and so shared the belief in a composed history that starred Abraham as their God-blessed progenitor.  The priest-written history assured them that from the time of Abraham a whole string of Israelite ancestors could be claimed, all of whom had spoken directly with God.  The “history” of Exodus, for example, and the asserted inheritance of the Promised Land provided the elements for a shared identity for the people in a psychological manner that the mythologies of other cultures could not.  Thus conditioned for generations, the Jews shared law codes attributed to Moses—a whole battery of laws (613) which, strangely, as noted, had not been found until the time of King Josiah.  The unity of the Judean people was strongly anchored upon the priests’ holy narratives that provided the illusion of their faith’s historic past.

The priests of Yahweh, accomplished story-tellers, borrowed from extremely ancient cosmological teachings as the source from which they constructed Israelite “history.”  Mesopotamian and Persian religious epics, for instance, offered ancient cosmic secrets also, but these were not presented in a manner that seemed to be linked to a people’ personal history.  Neither did those epical myths particularly inspire principles of moral responsibility.  Similarly, the Greek myths of deities and epics of heroes were presented in metaphorical fashion, and were meant only to inspire by example.

After the conquest of the Near East c. 332 BCE by Alexander the Great, there was a gradual and steady increase of awareness and recognition of the Judeans (Jews) throughout the Mediterranean world.  By the time of the second century BCE there had evolved a questioning spirit among the Judean people, which resulted from association with Syrian culture after being conquered by Antiochus the Great in 198 BCE.  There was mounting dissatisfaction with the excesses of Antiochus and it eventually lead to outright revolt by the Maccabees under Mattathias, a priest.  (Maccabees are more properly referred to as Hasmoneans, from Hasmon, a name of an ancestor.)  The priest-inspired revolt went on, led by the priest’s son Judas, to conquer a large part of the land traditionally regarded as the land of Israel, and the Judean’s Law was forced upon the conquered inhabitants.  In 165 BCE Judas regained possession of Jerusalem and immediately purified and rededicated the Temple.  (This is celebrated even today in the Jewish Feast of the Dedication.)  Judas was later slain in battle against the successor of Antiochus, and Judas was succeeded by his brother Jonathan.  With this, under sufferance of other powers, the Hasmonean line of priest-rulers was established. 

But by the first century BCE the Maccabean kingship had degenerated due to petty squabbles.  The Roman Senate, at the insistence of Marcus Antonius and annoyed at the Jews’ narrow patriotism and self-righteousness, installed Herod as King of Judea in 39 BCE.  The Herodians were more of a political party than a priest-led religious sect.  Of course the Judeans were not particularly happy with that either.

It was this distinctive prickly characteristic of God’s chosen ones that apparently grew wearisome even to God, and so he made arrangements forthwith for his only begotten son to manifest into the troublesome little region on planet Earth.  Evidently nowhere else on Earth was there dire need of such a direct intrusion and supervision.  Thus in the incensed environment around one group of people in the world—a people troubled by resentful and unspiritual religious controversies and manipulated through elaborate religious ritual—Jesus came upon the local Near-East scene to bring holy adjustment to the entire world.

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One Response to “Old Turmoil and New Belief”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by C.M. Houck, C.M. Houck. C.M. Houck said: Old Turmoil and New Belief: http://wp.me/psfRa-ni […]

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