Monday, December 12, 2011

Jewish Mercenaries, Jewish Sybil, Agape

I have three items for my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume Two: The Hellenistic Age:

1. One article that I read in this book was Martin Hengel's "The interpenetration of Judaism and Hellenism in the pre-Maccabean period". On page 189, Hengel says that there were Jewish auxiliary troops in the Seleucid army, and he cites II Maccabees 8:20 as evidence that "they played a crucial role in a battle between Antiochus I and the Galatians." On page 196, Hengel says that a reason that the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Pentateuch) was created was because Ptolemy II of Egypt realized that he had to be sensitive to the religious concerns of "his mercenaries and military colonists", as ethnic groups of soldiers formed cultic communities. I wonder to what extent Jews could observe the Sabbath and dietary laws within the armies of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. I can imagine them being able to observe the dietary laws within their Jewish divisions, but the Sabbath may have been more of a problem, since soldiers usually have to fight when they are called upon to fight, whatever day of the week that might be. But I do not know the answer to my question offhand, though I vaguely recall that Louis Feldman addressed it in Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World.

2. I thought that Hengel's description of the "Jewish Sibyl", a work from the second century B.C.E., was pretty cool. According to this work, the daughter-in-law of Noah went to Greece and was the oldest Erythrean Sibyl. According to Hengel's summary, "The Titans and Olympic gods become primeval kings, who after the days of Noah brought war to the earth."

3. On page 105, James Barr says in a footnote that the Greek word agape is used in the Septuagint of II Samuel 13:1, 15 for "the pathological love of Amnon for his half-sister Tamar". Amnon initially loved Tamar, but he hated her after he raped her.

I've often heard evangelicals make a big deal about the different Greek words for love. C.S. Lewis (who wasn't exactly an evangelical, but who has inspired evangelicals) wrote a good book called The Four Loves. There is eros, which is romantic love. There is phileo, which is friendship. And there is agape, which is unconditional love for one's fellows----a love that desires the well-being of others. I once heard a sermon that said that the Greeks considered agape to be so special that they called it the love of the gods, or divine love.

I don't claim that this entire characterization of Greek words for love is spurious, for there might be something to it. But I do think that the issue may be more complex than many evangelical sermonizers present. Agape is unconditional love and concern for the well-being of one's fellow? Did Amnon have that kind of love for Tamar? I don't think so. Yet, the LXX refers to Amnon's love with the Greek word agape.

I did not read the entire entry on agape in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, but I read there how the word was used by the pre-biblical Greeks. The article said that agape often means "to be satisfied with something", "to receive", "to greet", and "to honor". It can refer to friendship among equals, to sympathy, or to preferring something (or someone) over something (or someone) else. The article acknowledges that agape can be used interchangeably with eros and phileo, yet it also affirms that there is a different nuance to the word agape. The article states that agape does not have the warmth of phileo, and it is more discriminating than eros. Whereas eros is "seeking satisfaction wherever it can", agape "is a free and decisive act determined by its subject" and "is a giving, active love on the other's behalf." Agape was also used for the love of God (which I take to mean God's love), as God lifts up the lower.

I suppose that this overlaps with how evangelicals have defined agape: as not a feeling, but as a decision to value the well-being of others. But I doubt that agape means that every single time that it appears, for consider Amnon. Plus, the TNDT indicates that agape does not always have a deep meaning. Often, it can simply mean to be satisfied with something.

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