During Advent the readings recall the Old Testament events that led up to the birth of Jesus. In line with that, for homilies this week I have been giving a four part overview of the history of the Israelites. Today, coming to the fourth part, I want look at the influence of the Greeks on us.
From 530 B.C. down to 330 B.C. the Jews were part of the empire of the Persians, and they treated the Jews with respect. In 330 B.C. the Persians were conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, who also treated the Jews and their temple with respect.
After Alexander’s sudden death in 322 B.C. his General Ptolemy declared himself to be Egypt’s new pharaoh. (The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was a descendent of that Greek general.)
Another of Alexander’s generals, Seleucus, declared himself to be king of most of the Middle East; and for his capitol he constructed the new city of Antioch, a hundred and fifty miles north of Jerusalem. His government also treated the Jews honorably. And, over the next hundred and ten years, Greek became the language of the streets, and eventually of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
Antiochus the Great, the eighth in that dynasty, getting too big for his britches, decided on marching across Turkey to subdue Greece. But, with that, the next of our great empires came onto the stage. It was Rome. They had made a defense treaty with Greece, and honoring it, they sent their legions to surround the forces pf Antiochus.
Rome took the sons of Antiochus as hostages, demanding something like five gold bars a year to keep them alive. Antiochus the Great was killed in trying to rob a temple of its gold, and he
was followed by his son, a former hostage. He called himself Antiochus Epiphanus, implying that he was a god come in human form. He, to keep alive his brothers and sons, hostages in Rome, invaded Egypt, securing all of its gold.
Sorrow upon sorrows for him, the Roman legions appeared again, forcing him to return its wealth to Egypt. His wits at an end for paying the yearly tribute to Rome, Antiochus robed the temple in Jerusalem. Then, making things worse, to justify his robbery, he claimed that he was just doing away with the ignorance of Jewish worship. He put a statue of Zeus on the temple’s altar, and he began forcing Jewish young people to burn incense to the Roman gods
A holy old Jew named Mattathias, father of five boys, descended on a ceremony in which Jews were pressured into worship the gods. With his son, Judas Maccabeus being the hero of the revolt, the Jews won freedom from the forces of Antioch, and then in the year sixty the Romans came in, treating them well.