A consideration of the impact of the civilisations of Israel, Greece and Rome.
The Hebrews were the first historic peoples to attain the belief in one God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, and the Father of all mankind. The influence of Greece and Rome on the growth of Christianity has obscured its Hebrew origin.
The Greeks influenced modern religion through their philosophy. Greek religion afforded a rich field for art and poetry, but could not satisfy the intellectual or the moral aspirations of a more reflective age. Hence a breach between the reasoned conclusions of the few and the religious beliefs of the many. There was freedom and individuality – bold experiments in thought and practice (especially in the 5th and 4th centuries) – ruled by self-knowledge and clear judgment – striving to understand the nature of man and the world in which he lives – and to use the world as a field for the realisation of their ideals of life. But the freedom and individuality proved the ruin of their political independence. There was restless ambition, jealousy, factions . . . a lack of national unity.
The Romans were the empire builders. Their religion was subordinate to the political authority – initially they had little appreciation of either art or science. A nation of lawgivers and administrators – subjection of individuality – the history of a people! The nations of today owe a great part of their law, language and their institutions to the genius of Imperial Rome.
The history of civilisation has been the history of the Mediterranean area. The Greeks were the first to realise the worth of individual liberty as the soil in which man’s intellect and imagination can flourish and bear fruit. But there was a need for external authority and government. But it would seem that man is doomed to anarchy and bondage unless inspired by the knowledge of an ideal goal. The Hebrews had a vision – a faith that had its roots in the spiritual life of Israel
Freedom, law and the kingdom of God form the threefold legacy of antiquity to the modern world – with its ongoing changes! Greece provided the ‘thought’; Rome provided the ‘action’. These developments were quite separate from those taking place in India and the Far East (while Christian mystics aspire after direct communion, Hindus aspire to fusion of being with God?).
History has been the story of the rise and fall of empires – early civilisations were centred on the Middle East – archaeology and history suggest that in these valleys man appeared rather suddenly, with a well developed civilisation right from the start.
The Persian Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great (334-323) and the subsequent history of the Middle East becomes part of that Hellenistic culture and civilisation. Little that had passed before was really of great significance for the future, apart from the religion of Israel. The religion of Israel did not seriously influence the West until Greece and Rome had fashioned the structure of their civilisation. Hellenism was the original creation of the Greek genius – a culture which arose, as if by magic, amid an alien world. The originality of Greek science!
(taken from the book by W G De Burgh)