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AWAKE! MARCH 2011

A Book You Can Trust—Part 5

Greece in Bible History

A Book You Can Trust—Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of seven articles in consecutive issues of Awake! that discuss the seven world powers of Bible history. The objective is to show that the Bible is trustworthy and inspired of God and that its message is one of hope for an end to the suffering caused by man’s cruel domination of his fellow man.

IN THE fourth century B.C.E., a young Macedonian named Alexander propelled Greece * onto the world stage. In fact, he made Greece the fifth world power in Bible history and eventually came to be called Alexander the Great. The preceding empires were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia.

After Alexander’s death, his empire fragmented and began to wane. However, Greece’s influence by way of its culture, language, religion, and philosophy endured long after the political empire ceased.

Trustworthy History

The Bible record does not mention that any prophets of God were active during the era of Greek supremacy, nor were any inspired Bible books written then. Nevertheless, Greece is featured in Bible prophecy. Additionally, the Christian Greek Scriptures, commonly called the New Testament, often refer to Greek influence. In fact, mainly in Israel there was a group of ten Hellenistic cities called the Decapolis, from a Greek word meaning “ten cities.” (Matthew 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:31) The Bible mentions this region several times, and secular history and the impressive remains of theaters, amphitheaters, temples, and baths verify its existence.

The Bible also makes many references to Greek culture and religion, especially in the  book of Acts, which was written by the physician Luke. Consider a few examples:

Describing events that occurred during the apostle Paul’s visit to Athens in 50 C.E., the Bible states that the city was “full of idols.” (Acts 17:16) Historical evidence confirms that Athens and its suburbs were filled with religious idols and shrines.

Acts 17:21 says that “all Athenians and the foreigners sojourning there would spend their leisure time at nothing but telling something or listening to something new.” The writings of Thucydides and Demosthenes attest to the Athenian preoccupation with conversation and debate.

The Bible specifically states that “the Epicurean and the Stoic philosophers took to conversing with [Paul] controversially,” even taking him to the Areopagus to hear more of what he had to say. (Acts 17:18, 19) Athens was known for its many philosophers, including Epicureans and Stoics.

An altar dedicated to an unknown god

Paul refers to an Athenian altar inscribed “To an Unknown God.” (Acts 17:23) Altars dedicated to an unknown god were possibly erected by Epimenides of Crete.

In his speech to the Athenians, Paul quotes the words, “for we are also his progeny,” attributing the words, not to a single poet, but to “certain ones of the poets among you.” (Acts 17:28) These Greek poets evidently were Aratus and Cleanthes.

For good reason, one scholar concluded: “The account of Paul’s visit in Athens seems to me to have the flavor of an eye-witness account.” The same could be said of the Bible’s description of Paul’s experiences in Ephesus of Asia Minor. In the first century C.E., this city still retained its affinity for pagan Greek religion, most notably the worship of the goddess Artemis.

Statue of the Ephesian goddess Artemis

The temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is mentioned a number of times in the book of Acts. For  example, we are told that Paul’s ministry in Ephesus angered a silversmith named Demetrius, who had a flourishing business making silver shrines of Artemis. “This Paul,” said an angry Demetrius, “has persuaded a considerable crowd and turned them to another opinion, saying that the ones that are made by hands are not gods.” (Acts 19:23-28) Demetrius then stirred up an angry mob, who began to shout: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Today you can visit the ruins of Ephesus and the site of the temple of Artemis. Moreover, ancient inscriptions from Ephesus verify that idols were made in honor of the goddess and that a guild of silversmiths was active in the city.

Trustworthy Prophecy

About 200 years before the time of Alexander the Great, Jehovah God’s prophet Daniel wrote concerning world domination: “Look! there was a male of the goats coming from the sunset upon the surface of the whole earth, and it was not touching the earth. And as regards the he-goat, there was a conspicuous horn between its eyes. And it kept coming all the way to the ram possessing the two horns, . . . and it came running toward it in its powerful rage. And . . . it proceeded to strike down the ram and to break its two horns, and there proved to be no power in the ram to stand before it. So it threw it to the earth and trampled it down . . . And the male of the goats, for its part, put on great airs to an extreme; but as soon as it became mighty, the great horn was broken, and there proceeded to come up conspicuously four instead of it, toward the four winds of the heavens.”Daniel 8:5-8.

The Bible accurately foretold the conquests of Alexander the Great and the breakup of his empire

To whom did those words apply? Daniel himself answers: “The ram that you saw possessing the two horns stands for the kings of Media and Persia. And the hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece; and as for the great horn that was between its eyes, it stands for the first king.”Daniel 8:20-22.

Think about that! During the time of the Babylonian world power, the Bible foretold that the succeeding powers would be Medo-Persia and Greece. Moreover, as noted earlier, the Bible specifically stated that “as soon as it became mighty, the great horn”—Alexander—would be “broken” and would be replaced by four others, adding further that none of them would be Alexander’s posterity.Daniel 11:4.

That prophecy was fulfilled in detail. Alexander became king in 336 B.C.E., and within seven years he defeated the mighty Persian King Darius III. Thereafter, Alexander continued to expand his empire until his premature death in 323 B.C.E., at the age of 32. No single individual succeeded Alexander as absolute ruler, nor did any of his offspring. Rather, his four leading generals—Lysimachus, Cassander, Seleucus, and Ptolemy—“proclaimed themselves kings” and took over the empire, states the book The Hellenistic Age.

 During his campaigns, Alexander also fulfilled other Bible prophecies. For example, the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah, who lived in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E., foretold the destruction of the city of Tyre. (Ezekiel 26:3-5, 12; 27:32-36; Zechariah 9:3, 4) Ezekiel even wrote that her stones and dust would be placed “in the very midst of the water.” Were those words fulfilled?

Alexander fulfilled Bible prophecy when he used the rubble of the old mainland city of Tyre to build a causeway to the island city

Consider what Alexander’s troops did during their siege of Tyre in 332 B.C.E. They scraped up the ruins of the earlier mainland city of Tyre and cast the debris into the sea to build a causeway to the island city of Tyre. The strategy succeeded, and Tyre fell. “The prophecies against Tyre have been accomplished, even to the minutest details,” said a 19th-century explorer of the site. *

A Hope You Can Trust

Alexander’s conquests did not bring about a peaceful, secure world. After reviewing the ancient Greek period of rule, one scholar observed: “The essential condition of the common people . . . had changed little.” This situation is often repeated throughout history and confirms yet again the Bible statement that “man has dominated man to his injury.”Ecclesiastes 8:9.

Poor rulership, however, will not continue indefinitely, for God has established a government that is far superior to any conceived by man. Called the Kingdom of God, it will replace all human rulerships, and its subjects will enjoy true and lasting peace and security.Isaiah 25:6; 65:21, 22; Daniel 2:35, 44; Revelation 11:15.

The King of God’s Kingdom is none other than Jesus Christ. In contrast with power-hungry, aloof human rulers, Jesus is motivated by love for God and humankind. Concerning him, a psalmist foretold: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save. From oppression and from violence he will redeem their soul.”Psalm 72:12-14.

Is he the kind of Ruler you want? If so, you will do well to consider the sixth world power of Bible history—Rome. Indeed, it was during the Roman era that the foretold Savior was born and made his indelible imprint on human history. Please read the sixth article in this series, which you will find in the next issue of this magazine.

^ par. 4 The references to Greece in this article are to ancient Greece before the first century and do not relate to any modern-day national boundaries.

^ par. 23 As foretold by Ezekiel, the first conquest of Tyre occurred at the hands of Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar. (Ezekiel 26:7) Thereafter, the city was rebuilt. This rebuilt city was the one destroyed by Alexander, fulfilling in every detail the words of the prophets.