Monday, October 8, 2012

Paul and Classical Greek writers

When writing to the Romans and Corinthians, Paul is not shy to admit Greek thought into his epistles. We find the thoughts of Aristotle the Macedonian, Plato the Athenian, Epictetus the Stoic, and Epimenides the Athenian (whom many think was a Cretan but was not, and gave use the paradox "Cretans are always liars" which is really no paradox at all). Paul makes very little use of Epicurus though.

In Aristotle's 'Politics', Xenophon's 'Anabasis of Cyrus', Plato's works, Aristotle's 'De Anima', Epictetus' 'Encheiridion', and even Marcus Aurelius' only extant writing, we find many ideas similar to Paul. However, Epictetus and Aurelius proceed Paul. Since they are later in time, we cannot say they had any influence on Paul. Isho'dad of Merv in the 9th century wrote a commentary on Acts of the Apostles and is the only source for Epimenides' so-called 'Cretica':

"They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you lives and abides forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being."

The idea that there is one Supreme God is found in all the Pagan religions of antiquity from Sumer to Rome. In Sumer there was Anu, in Babylon there was Marduk, in Canaan there was El or Baal, in Egypt there was Amun-Ra, in Greece there was Zeus, in Rome there was Jupiter, the Jews had YHWH. The 'Cretica' is telling us that Cretans were stupid, evil, idle liars who thought Zeus was a mortal because he is made to seem mortal in writings. Epimenides is effectively saying that it is an evil lie to say Zeus could actually experience a human death so why fashion a tomb for him. His tomb is on Crete. "For in you we live and move and have our being" is very similar to how Paul describes Christ's relation to believers. Paul actually alludes to this in 1Corinthians and uses it for this reason, to say that Christ was a ransom and death could not hold him because he is divine and spirit and this is why he did not remain in a tomb.

Paul's ideas on the flesh and spirit and soul, as well as corruption and incorruption are found in Aristotle's 'Politics'. His ideas on believers being one body united to the head with differing functions among parts is also found in 'Politics'. The concept of 'parts' and a 'whole' is found in Platonic thought and Aristotelian thought. It is even likely that if Paul wrote the epistles to the Thessalonians in Macedonia, that the 'lawless one' or 'man of sin' is actually the man who opposes the State of Rome.

"1253a2 Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the 'Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,' whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts." (Aristotle 'Politics' Book 1, 1253a2)
There are wide implications in Paul's thinking if this is truly Paul writing. He is effectively calling the zealots who opposed Rome lawless warmongering animals and deserved outcasts. He is saying they are bad men who think they are above the rest of humanity. He is also applying it possibly to people living outside the assembly (church) who claim Jesus as their lord, etc.

Aristotle goes on further to say:

"The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god; he is no part of a state." (Aristotle 'Politics' Book 1, 1253a2) 
Paul is thus calling those who live outside the state structure of Rome or the Church (of which it seems more likely to be Rome) beasts or idolaters. If these men behave this way they think themselves Gods and commit idolatry. Romans 1-2 seems to give this suggestion that they are idolaters. Other places they are likened to animal men, natural in their ways. It seems they are beasts who have no rationality, thinking themselves gods, and self sufficient to the point that they recognize nothing above them but only in word, therefore, they are Atheists.

Phrases like "the plectrum touch (ing) the lyre" are common to Aristotle and Ignatius of Antioch as well. He follows Pauline thought quite a bit. When Paul went to Greece, he found much peace compared to Judea and the East which was always in turmoil and self-abandonment.

The Greeks were not foreigners to the concept of a savior God. In Xenophon's 'Anabasis of Cyrus' we find the following (keep in mind he was a student of Plato- in this account one finds why westerners say bless you when someone sneezes):

"As he was saying this, someone sneezed, and hearing it, all the soldiers prostrated themselves to the god with a single impulse, and Xenophon said, "Men, since an omen from Zeus the savior appeared when we were speaking about salvation, it seems to me that we should vow to sacrifice thank offerings for our salvation to this same god wherever we first arrive in a friendly land, and that we should vow as well to sacrifice also to the other gods to the extent of our power. Let whoever is so resolved raise his hand", he said. And all raised their hands. After this, they made their vows and sand the paean. When all was fine with what pertained to the gods, he began again as follows:
"I chanced to be saying that we have many noble hopes for salvation. For first, we are firm in our oath to the gods, while our enemies have both violated their oaths and, contrary to their oaths, broken the truce. This being so, it is likely that the gods are opposed to our enemies, and are allies for us; and the gods are the very ones who, whenever they wish, are competent swiftly to make the strong weak and easily to save the weak, even if they are in terrible dangers. Next, I shall remind you also of the dangers faced by our ancestors, so you may know both that it is fitting for you to be brave and that the brave are saved with the help of the gods even from very terrible dangers. For when the Persians and others along with them came in a vast expedition in order to obliterate Athens again, the Athenians dared to stand up to them and were victorius over them. Having vowed to Artemis that they would sacrifice to the goddess as many she-goats as they killed of the enemy, since they were not able to find enough, they resolved to sacrifice five hundred every year, and they are still performing this sacrifice even now." (Xenophon 'Anabasis of Cyrus' Book 3, Chapter 2, Lines 9-12)
In the above paragraph it is apparent that the sacrifice of goats was an offering to the feed the souls of the dead enemies, it was a merciful act. Zeus is the Savior and oaths are important to him. They only sacrificed to other gods out of respect for enemy nations and captured nations. Not because they truly believed in them but because they believed Zeus wanted this done to win people over!

These are just a few examples. More to come soon...

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