Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece: Religion, Politics, and Culture

By John Pairman Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

The Complementarity
of Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece

It is not easy to keep in mind simultaneously a pair of correlative truths: (I) Two things contrasted must be comparable; (II) Two things compared can always be contrasted. For (I) things can be contrasted only with respect to some attribute, which constitutes a ground of comparison between them. And (II) when things are compared in their possession of some attribute, they must possess it in different and contrasted ways; otherwise they would be identical. The authors who contrast Israel and Hellas—Arnold, Boman, Havelock, Auerbach—lose sight of truth I, following Tertullian (Prescription against Heretics 7.9). For, when he asked, “What do Athens and Jerusalem have to do with each other?” he failed to answer his own question by noting that each city was the center of a free society generating a novel literature.

Children in a family create environmental niches, each claiming vacant territory: one is tidy, one messy; one loud, one quiet; one industrious, one lazy. The classical Hebrew and Greek worlds are a little more distant than that, cousins rather than siblings, in touch only at one or more removes, through trade by land and sea; wars of their allies; common subjection to imperialism; foreign princesses and mercenaries, colonists, artisans, exiles. But the principle of differentiation still holds. In their joint breakout from ancient Near Eastern absolutism, each develops its own version of newly emergent freedom. They fit neatly into each other, supplementing each other’s strengths, remedying each other’s defects, just as the bright masculine positive sun-principle or Yang fits into the dark feminine negative moon-principle or Yin.1 Partially

1. The Greek and Latin names of the luminaries follow the Chinese gender: hēlios with
selēnē, sol with luna. But both feminine moon-words are adjectives by etymology, not nouns.
The genders of the various Semitic names are fluctuating.

-1-

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