Thursday, October 3, 2013

Alexander's Dream

There have been many attempts to equate this man of sorrows with all kinds of figures. Early on, Yeshua’s followers saw Yeshua as the suffering servant of Yahweh in Isaiah. New Testament writers specifically borrowed passages from Isaiah, particularly in chapter 53, when constructing their narratives of Yeshua, taking those verses and using them in describing his story.

So Yeshua is depicted as the innocent and righteous servant who suffered for the sins of others. In the teachings of Paul, however, you have a different use of these verses. Christians, generally, are identified as the servant who suffers with and for Yeshua. Isaiah chapter 53 wasn’t talking about a remote Nazarene teacher and charismatic healer who would live more than five centuries later.

The servant is Israel herself, the punishment that Israel suffered even if excessive-that punishment isn’t meaningless, it will lead to redemption. Israel will be healed by her wounds. Israel’s suffering is serving a purpose in the divine plan, it’s necessary. Israel needs purification and redemption and that will prepare her for a new role in world history.

The Babylonian Empire was itself defeated by the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus-Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus manages to establish the largest empire in the Ancient Near East to date, a huge empire. Unlike other ancient empires, the Persian empire espoused a policy of cultural and religious independence for its conquered subjects and Cyrus gave the Israelite exiles permission to return to Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple.

Many of the exiles returned to this now Persian province and they exercised a fair degree of self-determination. The building doesn’t proceed smoothly and that’s due largely to the hostilities of the surrounding communities. The Samaritans offer to assist in the project of reconstruction. Their offer is rejected, and as a result the Samaritans, insulted, persuade the Persians that this is a bad idea. Rebuilding a potentially rebellious city is a bad idea, and the Persians listen to them and they order the rebuilding stopped.

Along comes two prophets, they urge the continuation of the building. A Persian official objects, the Israelites appeal to the new Persian Emperor Darius. And they ask him to search through the court records, look for the original authorization by Cyrus-we have been authorized to do this. Cyrus’ edict is found. Darius agrees not only to enforce it, but to honor Cyrus’ obligation to supply money for the rebuilding.

This is under Persia imperial sponsorship, and Darius will honor the obligation to supply money for the rebuilding and to procure sacrifices as well. The temple is finally dedicated and a Passover celebration is celebrated in the sanctuary. The post-exilic period following is also known as the Persian period, at first, but the Persians won’t rule for long.

The prophet Ezra may have unified Israel around a common text, but he didn’t unify them around a common interpretation of the text. So that widely divergent groups now, in the Persian period and as history moved into the Hellenistic period, widely divergent groups will claim biblical warrant for their specific practices and beliefs.

Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Army, which at that time controlled all of Asia Minor, modern Turkey, and had even threatened to control Greece. Alexander defeated the Persian Army in Asia Minor at Granicus, the Battle of Granicus. That put Alexander and his Macedonian Army in charge of both Greece and Asia Minor. When Darius II died, who was the king of the Persians, Alexander himself took on Darius’s title, which was Great King.

After defeating the Persians again, Alexander pushed his army all the way to the Indus River in India, he wanted to go all the way to the Ganges River, but his army forced him to turn back. Alexander was not yet 33-years-old when he died in Babylon of a fever. Alexander had been educated by Aristotle, when he was young, and so he had adopted Greek language and Greek literature and a lot of other Greek ways.

What Alexander had wanted to do was to take all these different peoples, who spoke different languages and had different customs, and use a Greek layer to sort of unite his empire overall. Now Alexander didn’t really care about the lower class people so much. So they could just still live in their villages and out in the country and do their farming and speak their own local language.

But if one was going to be elite-Alexander wanted to establish cities throughout his empire that would be actually Greek cities, and he wanted to have the elite people all be able, at least, to speak Greek. In fact this whole dream of Alexander-and it was a very self-conscious, propaganda campaign and a cultural campaign on Alexander’s part. Alexander wanted to make one world; the first time in history, a dream of making all of his empire basically universal, a dream of a universal vision, for one world, under one kind of culture, one kind of language.

Basic structures are part of any kind of Greek city in the Ancient World. And what Alexander and his successors did was they took that basic Greek structure, and they transplanted it all over the Eastern Mediterranean, whether they were in Egypt or Syria or Asia Minor or anyplace else. One can travel right now to Turkey or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt, and one can see excavations of towns, and it’s remarkable how they all look so much alike, because they’re all inspired by this original Greek model of the city.

Alexander and his successors Hellenized the entire Eastern Mediterranean, and that meant, every major city would have a certain commonality to it. It would have a certain koine to it; that is, a Greek overlay, over what may also be there, the original indigenous kind of cultures and languages. Then a high priest named Jason, brought Alexander’s dream to Jerusalem in 175 B.C.

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