Thoughts from school

16 Nov

Greetings to all.  Things here in New Jersey have been rather normal lately, but maybe this will make you think…

I’m not sure that anyone will be particularly interested in this entry, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get what’s in my head onto the computer in a clear and/or concise manner, but I just need to share a few random thoughts from school. So bear with me. In my Old Testament class we’ve been discussing the Babylonian exile of the Jews and their subsequent release by the Persian Empire around 527BC. The discussion really got me thinking about perspective in history and who we think of as the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ (and not in some politically correct way). In fact, maybe the ‘good guys’ even fight each other.

As Christians, we look to the Jews and the Old Testament as the forbearers of our faith. The Jews were the first to worship the one true God and from their lineage came Jesus. The Old Testament tells the story of the Jewish people and God’s promises and in part portrays the Persians, and especially their king Cyrus, as a righteous instrument of the Lord (see Isaiah 45). God anoints Cyrus to free Israel and help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. From the Biblical portrayal he seems like a pretty good guy with a pretty good empire. Of course, Israel is still a vassal state, subservient to the greater empire, but is nonetheless in a much better position thanks to the Persians.

As Westerners, proud of our heritage, we hold up the Greeks as the fathers of democracy, history, and philosophy, among other things. But the Greek portrayal of the very same Persian Empire is remarkably different. There is a healthy respect between the Greeks and Persians, but generally in western history, we see the Persians as the bad guys. The Greeks aren’t exactly happy that the Persians want to take them over and in no way think they’re anointed by God. Basically, the Persians are the enemy.

The Persian Empire (including Israel) and Greece

The Persian Empire (including Israel) and Greece

So from the perspective of two of our historical ‘good guy’ groups, the Jews and Greeks, the Persians represent very different things. How do we treat those two perspectives? But here’s what I think is interesting. The Persians certainly used conscription to fill out their military, and although the Jews were exempted from military service by the Romans, it seems possible that there were at least some Jews conscripted into the Persian army. In 490BC, the Persians first attempted to invade the Greek mainland, while Israel was still firmly under their control. So is it possible that Israelites were fighting Greeks? Could it be that, as Western Christians, two of our historical ‘good guys’ were fighting each other? I’m not sure, but it makes me think, and it makes me wish my classes were more flexible so I could spend some time looking into this. I’m not sure this is that big of a deal, but I’ve never heard it discussed before. It certainly raises some questions and makes we wonder. If you care, let me know what you think.

Gratia vobiscum


Posted by on November 16, 2008 in nick's thoughts


3 responses to “Thoughts from school

  1. Justin

    November 16, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Sounds like you might have a thesis topic for an OT degree. By short answer: I think it was certainly possible, but I doubt there’s archaeological evidence to secure a definitive answer.

    Perhaps you’d have more luck finding out the following:

    – What is the plural of Cyrus…
    – If a Greek could chuck wood, how much wood could a Greek chuck?
    – Were Jews were used in the battle of Battle of Thermopylae? If so, were any depicted in the movie “300”?

  2. DMN

    November 16, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Good thoughts. My first thoughts are 1) that neither good nor bad “sides” are “pure” and 2) “bad guys” are often used for ultimately good purposes.

    Evidence of the first point is obvious. Perhaps the current Persian (Iranian) government and UNC-CH athletics will eventually be fine examples of the second point.

  3. geebee

    November 17, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    One of the most rewarding aspects of my years as a Great Books discussion leader was to hear people re-thinking their notions of “good guys” and “bad guys.” There was a Jewish couple in the group who were amazed and delighted when we read the Gospel according to Matthew. Similarly, most of the Christians experienced the same reactions when we read Maimonides. Would that all learning could help us understand each other better. . .


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