Hellenism and the Pax Romana

This novel is set amidst the swirling currents of bloody oppression and resistance, factionalism, and clashing cultures along the eastern shores of the Great Sea, stretching from the cosmopolitan Greco-Roman cities of Antioch in the north and Alexandria in the south.  Here, the first century world of the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful, and Hebrew culture and religion struggled for survival against the seductive influences of Hellenism.

In 332 BCE, the Greek armies of Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and swept swiftly through Palestine, destroying several cities, but Jerusalem surrendered peaceably.  For the next two centuries, the Greeks were the masters of the Hebrew lands and people, importing their culture of philosophers, gymnasiums, universities, and a plethora of Greek gods and goddesses.  From the ancient name for Greece, Hellen, this transplanted Greek culture was termed Hellenism.  Even the Hebrew language scrolls of the ancient Jewish holy writings were translated into Greek. 

Eventually, the Romans replaced the Greeks.  The Romans were soldiers--keepers of the Pax Romana-- who functioned as road builders, administrators and bureaucrats.  But they did not replace Greek culture, and the gymnasiums remained along with the Greek language as the lingua franca of the entire Mediterranean world, the language of commerce and the culturally elite.  The common spoken language of the Jews remained a Hebrew variant known as Aramaic.

Jesus would have called himself Yeshua in his spoken Aramaic tongue.  To the Greek-speaking, he was Iesou.  His brother, known as James in English language Bibles, would have understood himself to be Ya'akov according to the Aramaic.  Similarly, Simon Peter was Cephas in Aramaic and Petros in Greek.  Paul, who penned his papyrus scroll letters in Greek, was Saul in Aramaic and Paulos in Greek.

Hebrew reaction to Hellenism and the Pax Romana ranged from violence to complicity: assassinations by the secretive daggermen of the zealots: banditry and brigandage in the hills and countryside of the Galilee; messianic claimants, including the one called Yeshua of Nazareth; Pharisee schools where the Torah traditions of the elders were taught as a bulwark against Hellenistic assimilation; escape from foreign pollution to isolation in the desert sanctuary of Qumran; and collaboration by the aristocratic priests and Sadducees, only too happy to be propped up in positions of power and wealth by the occupying Roman legions.

Into this world appeared an outsider, a Jew from the Gentile city of Tarsos of Cilicia and a Roman citizen.  This is his story.

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