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November 15, 2015

5:18 PM

Part 19 The Son and the Saviour

This Son and Savior was not identified with a recent human man or placed in an earthly setting, much less given a ministry of teaching and miracle-working in Galilee. Instead, he was a heavenly deity who had done his redeeming work in the supernatural dimension, in the spiritual levels of the universe above the earth.

He bore strong resemblance to two important expressions of the time. One was a philosophical idea we may call "the intermediary Son," a spiritual emanation of God and a spirit channel between him and humanity; this was the dominant philosophical-religious concept of the Hellenistic age.

The second resemblance was to a wide range of pagan savior gods found in the "mysteries," the dominant form of popular religion in this period, going back to ancient roots. Like Paul's Christ, these savior gods were thought of as having performed acts in a mythical world, acts which brought sanctity and salvation to their believers. These cults had myths and rituals very much like those of the Christian movement.

Like the people who preached the kingdom of God in Galilee, the apostles who spread their faith in a redeeming Son of God, and the communities across the empire which formed in response to them, envisioned an imminent end or transformation of the world. It would come with the arrival of the Son from heaven. Such groups were thus sectarian in nature, and they too aroused hostility on the part of society around them. Even more so than the Galilean movement, and partly because it was so widely diffused, the Son of God faith was uncoordinated, with no central governing authority or set of doctrines.

In 334 BCE, when Alexander the Great led his army of Macedonians out of Greece and into Asia, he faced the ancient empire of the Persians and an even more ancient Oriental world with deep social and religious roots. Ten years later, when he reached Babylon after a path of conquest which swung as far east as India, the Persian empire lay in ruins and that ancient world was already being inundated by Greeks: Greek colonies, Greek ideas, Greek culture. The new ruling class formed a veneer which never fully integrated with the native populations, but the mix inevitably produced a new culture. Predominantly Greek, infused with the old still-vital bloods, the eastern Mediterranean world embarked on the Hellenistic age. Its spirit lasted even into the era of imperial Rome, whose own culture continued to borrow heavily from the Greek east.

Alexander's grand vision of a unified world of East and West was stillborn, for at the age of 33 in 323, weakened by wounds and exhaustion, he died of fever in Babylon after a drinking party. His generals fought for the spoils and the sprawling, short-lived empire broke up. The more easterly regions were almost immediately lost, but the rest solidified into three and eventually four kingdoms.

War between them was prevalent; areas frequently changed hands between one kingdom and another. Old social cohesions crumbled in the new unstable political situation. The Oriental temple-state form of nationalism gave way to one modeled on the Greek city-state, but without its former universal (male) democracy. Vast numbers of people felt lost and disenfranchised. Many had been displaced, and there was nothing familiar to return to. That ancient world was now bewilderingly multi-cultural. The individual was on his or her own.

To be continued ...

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