Sunday, May 24, 2009

AtF: Right in Geds' Wheelhouse...

I’m pretty sure that we begin today’s slog through After the Flood with a disingenuous attempt to say that the very thing Cooper denied in the previous paragraph is, in fact, the thing that actually happened. Remember, we’re talking about his theory that Jewish philosophy somehow informed Greek thought.
The Greeks, it appears, first made contact with Judaism as early as the year 587 BC, when Greek mercenaries assisted the armies of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the investing and destruction of Jerusalem. Along with the mercenaries, of course, would have been a smaller army of civil servants, spies and so on, many of whom during the long and enforced hours of leisure doubtless spent their time in philosophical discussion. But to suggest that this would have included the taking on board of Jewish thought is quite beyond the realms of probability.
I don’t actually understand the purpose of these sentences. I mean, his conclusion is correct. However, assuming Nebuchadnezzar actually used Greek mercenaries (which is entirely possible, I simply do not know. Greek mercenaries were rather common in the ancient world), one of the things we know is that mercenaries did not spend a lot of time interacting with the people they were attacking. From Xenophon’s Anabasis, in fact, we learn that the Greek mercenaries barely even interacted with the other nationalities in Cyrus’s force. So the idea of sitting around having a theological debate with the Jews is, at best, laughable. Moreover, it’s not like the Jews would have thought, “Oh, boy! Let’s go talk philosophy and theology with those guys over there with the spears.” So, again, we have to ask why this topic is being brought up at all. We already know that in Bill Cooper’s world the only way the Greeks could have had a simple, easily understandable philosophy is if it came from Jewish thought. Since the Jews didn’t interact with the Greeks, this means that the Greeks must have descended from Jews somewhere back in time. Isn’t that neat? Of course it also gives us that minor problem of trying to figure out why Hesiod and Epicurus existed, especially since they came in to the picture long before Chrysippus. But as long as we’re trying to maintain a completely unsupportable hypothesis it’s really best not to ask such questions. Anyway, Cooper does go on, as he’s wont to do:
The Jews were invariably viewed with a poorly disguised contempt by the Greeks throughout their centuries of contact with one another, to the extent that many Jews found it politic to become Greek, or Hellenized, in order to survive at all. (20) The persecution of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 BC), and his determined attempt to expunge the Jewish faith altogether, is perhaps the most telling episode regarding the often mutual hostility that existed between the orthodox of either side.
Um, everything about this is wrong. Like, completely wrong. It just so happens that I wrote a research paper on the Maccabean Revolt back in college, so I’m guessing that I’m actually significantly more qualified to talk on this subject than Cooper, even handicapped as I am by the fact that I really don’t remember much of my work. Fortunately, I do still have a copy of my paper. Go me. Anyway, to the first point of Greek contempt for Jews: do you know who else the Greeks viewed with contempt (poorly disguised or otherwise)? Everyone. The word “barbarian” comes to us from the Greeks. It’s root was in their mockery of the language of everyone who wasn’t Greek, which just sounded like “bar-bar-bar-bar” to them. Think of that episode of South Park where they mock Osama Bin Laden by constantly having him say, “Durka durka,” and you’ll get the point. Second, that thing about Antiochus IV Epiphanes didn’t exactly shake down like that. It didn’t shake down at all like that. Basically, after Alexander the Great took over and his kingdom crumbled upon his death the Seleucids took over the Middle East. The Ptolemies took over Egypt. For the next century or so both sides fought for territory. Not surprisingly, this territory was general around Israel. Under Seleucid III the Jews supported the king. After a ruinous war the king needed money. It just so happened that there was a large repository of gold in the Temple. So Antiochus took a bunch. His successor, Seleucus IV would do something similar. This was, of course, sacrilege to the Jews. Modern scholarship indicates things might not be so clear-cut, however. It turns out that Antiochus III and Seleucus IV were actually bankrolling at least part of the Temple. They could simply have seen it as getting a return on their investment in order to stave off defeat at the hands of their enemies. Either way, this caused a bit of resentment, which brings us to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. A4E, as I’ve randomly decided to call him, appointed a Jewish High Priest named Menelaus. Anyone familiar with the Illiad may well see that and think, “Gee, isn’t that a Greek name?” Yes. Yes it is. His given name was Onias, but he chose to be called Menelaus. His chief competitor was named Jesus (possibly Joshua/Yeshua, but the source I used for this was Josephus), who went by the name Jason. Again, Jason is a Greek name. Anyway, a rumor passed around that A4E died in a campaign against the Ptolemies. Jason decided it was a good time to get his position back and deposed Menelaus as high priest. Turned out A4E wasn’t actually dead and he was kind of pissed. So he marched on Jerusalem, leveled the Temple, outlawed Judaism, and ordered everyone to worship Zeus. This was a dumb move, as it basically kicked off the Maccabean Revolt. It would be like, say, Barack Obama deciding to solve all the problems in Iraq by saying, “No more Shi’a, no more Sunni. You’re all Christians now.” Not a good idea at all. Either way, Antiochus IV didn’t set out to exterminate Judaism. His arrangement with the Jews was similar to the one the Romans would set up later. The two sides coexisted until the Jews got all rebellion-y, then the iron fist descended. So, really, the main difference between the Maccabean Revolt and the Bar Kochba Revolt is that Antiochus IV simply didn’t have the power and resources of the Roman Empire. But, y’know, don’t tell anyone… Either way, in his quest for ever increasing sophistry, Cooper concludes today’s paragraph thusly:
It has to be admitted, of course, that the Jewish Torah, which naturally included the book of Genesis, was translated into Greek in the year 250 BC, some seventeen years before Chrysippus became head of the Stoic school in 233 BC. But even the remarkable translation of Genesis into Greek did not take place until fifty-eight years after the foundation of the Stoic school by Zeno in 308 BC. So clearly Stoicism as a philosophy owed nothing to the book of Genesis, and the philosophical path that the Stoics trod in order to arrive at their conclusions must therefore remain a mystery to us.
I just love that last clause. The path of the Stoics “must therefore remain a mystery to us.” Yeah. Because it wouldn’t make any sense that the Stoic philosophy actually came out of the larger strain of Greek philosophy or anything. There’s no chance that Zeno, say, followed Plato but added his own thoughts or took from a slightly different previous school or anything. Nope. If they couldn’t have read the Jewish Bible there’s no way of knowing how they figured all that stuff out about how there’s a god and stuff. It’s actually a little painful. My head hurts. Fortunately my head doesn’t hurt enough for me to stop. Well, kind of. I’m going to make two entries this week. I wasn’t quite expecting to go off on a Maccabean Revolt-related tangent. I wasn’t expecting to write about two and a half pages of text on a single, mind-numbingly obtuse paragraph.* But here we are. I also wasn’t expecting it to take only 45 minutes. These things usually take two or three hours. So this is kind of like Part 1 of a Memorial Day Weekend 2-fer. I'll get the second up tonight or tomorrow some time. Enjoy. -------------------------------- *You read that right. Every quote from today's entry comes from a single paragraph. Don't believe me? Go look.

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