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The Jews Among the Greeks and Romans

313 pages
Library of Alexandria
The Jew is presented to the modern world in the double aspect of a race and a religion. In a measure this has always been the case, but we shall not in the least understand what the statement of the fact means without a very close analysis of the concepts of race and religion formed by both Greeks and Romans. The word religion has a very definite meaning to us. It is the term applied to the body of beliefs that any group of men maintain about supernatural entities upon whom they consider themselves wholly dependent. The salient fact of modern religions is that for most men the group is very large indeed, that it vastly transcends all national limits. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, all profess the purpose of gaining the entire human race for their adherents, and have actively attempted to do so. The fact that the religions with which we are most familiar are “world-religions,” and the abstract character of the predicates of the Deity in them, would seem to make religion as such practically free from local limitation. However, that is not completely true even for our time. In the first place, the bulk of Christians, as of Muslims and Buddhists, are in all three cases bearers of a common culture, and have long believed themselves of common descent. They occupy further a continuous, even if very large, area. Religious maps of the world would show solid blocks of color, not spots scattered everywhere. Secondly, even within the limits of the religion itself national boundaries are not wholly expunged. The common Christianity of Spain and England presents such obvious differences that insistence upon them is unnecessary; nor does the fact that Southern Germany, Belgium, and Ireland are all Roman Catholic imply that all these sections have the same religious attitude. These are modern illustrations, and they represent survivals of a state of things which in the Greek world was fundamental. As it seems to us axiomatic that an abstractly conceived God cannot be the resident of a limited area on the surface of the earth, just so axiomatic it seemed, at one stage of Greek religious growth, that a god was locally limited, that his activities did not extend—or extended only in a weakened form—beyond a certain sharply circumscribed geographical area. That is probably the most fundamental and thoroughgoing of the differences between Greek religious feeling and that of our day. Opinions may differ widely about the degree of anthropomorphism present at the contrasted periods; and then, as now, the statements made about the nature and power of the Deity were contradictory, vague, and confusing. But one thing it is hard to question: the devoutly religious man of to-day feels himself everywhere, always, in the presence of his God. The Greek did not feel that his god was everywhere with him, certainly did not feel that he was everywhere approachable.