The Rise and Division of Hellenic Empire

With Phillip II of Macedon’s (359–336 BC) son, Alexander the Great (356–323 BC), the Greeks established an empire vast enough to influence Palestine (see Ferguson 10, 13). When Thebes revolted after his father’s death, Alexander successfully re-unified the Greek city-states, albeit by conquest (Plutarch, Alex. 11.3–6; Ferguson 12), and Alexander was made head of the campaign against Persia in his father’s stead (Arrian, Anab. 1.1; cf. 1 Macc 1:1). In prosecuting this campaign, Alexander moved through Asia Minor (Plutarch, Alex. 24.1), Phoenicia (Plutarch, Alex. 24.1–25.2), Palestine (Plutarch, Alex. 25.3–5), Egypt (Plutarch, Alex. 26), Mesopotamia (Plutarch, Alex. 31), Iran (Plutarch, Alex. 37), and even as far as India (Plutarch, Alex. 55; cf. 1 Macc 1:3–4) before dying in Babylon from a fever (Plutarch, Alex. 75; cf. 1 Macc 1:5; see Ferguson 12). Yet, throughout these conquests, Alexander typically replaced neither the ruling class nor the religions in these conquered areas (Ferguson 12). Rather, instead of primarily intending and explicitly acting to spread Hellenism, Alexander concentrated on appointing governors, placing garrisons, and founding cities (Ferguson 12), things that eventually did indeed create and spread Hellenism.

After Alexander’s death, his major generals divided his empire among themselves (cf. 1 Macc 1:8–9). Ptolemy inherited Egypt and soon obtained Palestine also, winning it over from Antipater, also known as Antigonus, who had held Palestine for the first twenty years after Alexander’s death (Ferguson 403; Turner 118–23). Seleucus received Mesopotamia and briefly held Syria (Bosworth 210–45; Ferguson 404), and Antipater and Cassander ruled Macedonia and Greece (Ferguson 16; Walbank 221–56). Nevertheless, although the empire had become politically divided, its language and culture essentially remained Greek (Wright 157).


In this post:

Arrian
Arrian
A. B. Bosworth
A. B. Bosworth
Frank Walbank
Frank Walbank
Everett Ferguson
Everett Ferguson
Plutarch
Plutarch
N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright

All Grown Up

A third instance of ‘gospel’ language in the wider Greco-Roman context is the Gaius inscription (ca. 5 BC):

On the motion of the strategi Metrodorus son of Conon, Clinius, Musaeus, and Dionysius—

Whereas Gaius Julius Caesar, the eldest of the sons of Augustus has—as has been fervently prayed for—assumed in all its splendor the pure-white toga [of manhood] in place of the purple-bordered toga [of youth], and all men rejoice to see the prayers for his sons rising together to Augustus;

And whereas our city in view of so happy an event has decided to keep the day which raised him from a boy to a man as a holy day, on which annually all shall wear wreaths and festal garb, and the annual strategi shall offer sacrifices to the gods and render prayers through the sacred heralds for his preservation; to unite in consecrating an image of him set up in his father’s temple; also on which the city received the good news and the decree was ratified, to wear wreaths and perform most sumptuous sacrifices to the gods; and to send an embassy concerning these matters to go to Rome to congratulate him and Augustus;

Therefore it was resolved by the council and the people to dispatch envoys chosen from the most distinguished men for the purpose of bringing greetings from the city, of delivering to him the copy of this decree sealed with a public seal, and of discussing with Augustus the common interests of the province of Asia and of the city. . . (translated by Lewis and Reinhold 635; insertions and italics original).

When Gaius came of age, he had not performed such deeds as those that are recorded of Augustus at Priene. Yet, his inherent magnificence was in full view, and his person was a sufficient object for such praise upon this occasion because of his own connection to Augustus and quite probably also in view of the exploits that he was expected successfully to achieve.


In this post:

Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold
Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold

Happy Birthday

Another example of ‘gospel’ language in the Greco-Roman environment is the inscription found at Priene (ca. 9 BC) about Augustus:

It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: “Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior [σωτήρ], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war [= ποιῇ εἰρήνην] and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [ἐπιφανεῖν] (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him [ἦρξεν δὲ τῷ κόσμῳ τῶν δἰ αὐτὸν εὐαγγελίων ἡ γενέθλιος τοῦ θεοῦ],” which Asia resolved in Smyrna (text and translation cited from Evans 2–3).

The ‘gospel’ of Caesar from Priene is then that: (1) he splendidly brought salvation by ending war, and (2) he acted in such a way that all subsequent generations will look back at him in awe. Particularly during Augustus’s reign, the Roman military established pax et securitas (peace and security) through its various exploits (see Harrison 87; Horsley 30–31; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 7.245, 11.65). Quite naturally, therefore, as the ultimate head of the Roman military, the emperor, was eventually credited with these achievements (e.g., Josephus, Jewish Wars 3.143, 3.503, 4.656; cf. Friedrich, “εὐαγγελίζομαι, εὐαγγέλιον, κτλ” 722), and his birthday was celebrated as the first day of the life that brought these things.


In this post:

Flavius Josephus
Flavius Josephus
Gerhard Kittel
Gerhard Kittel

Good News . . . for Whom?

First century Christians were not unique in their use of ‘gospel’ language. In fact, this word group (which exhibits the εὐαγγελι- stem in Greek) actually comes into several connections in ancient literature. For instance, in his Jewish Wars, Josephus records the following:

So the men of power, perceiving that the sedition was too hard for them to subdue, and that the danger which would arise from the Romans would come upon them first of all, endeavored to save themselves, and sent ambassadors; some to Florus, the chief of whom was Simon the son of Ananias; and others to Agrippa, among whom the most eminent were Saul, and Antipas, and Costobarus, who were of the king’s kindred; and they desired of them both that they would come with an army to the city and cut off the sedition before it should be too hard to be subdued. Now this terrible message was good news [εὐαγγέλιον] to Florus; and because his design was to have a war kindled, he gave the ambassadors no answer at all (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.418–20).

This ‘good news’ was actually only ‘good’ for Florus. The emissaries and those who sent them would have had, to say the least, quite a different perspective on the matter. This usage, consequently, highlights a very general application of ‘gospel’ language to something with which someone happens to be pleased, irrespective of what other people’s assessments might be.


In this post:

Flavius Josephus
Flavius Josephus