The Greeks and the Old Testament (Joel 3)

Image result for alexander the great

Illustration: Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great conquered the ancient Near East during the late fourth century B.C. and began a process of “Hellenizing” the region (spreading Greek language and culture). Unfortunately, this has wrongly given some modern interpreters the notion that any sign of a Greek presence in an Old Testament text is evidence that the text was not written until after the time of Alexander. Thus, for example, the book of Daniel is often dated to the second century B,C., partially on the ground that Daniel 3 includes a few Greek words (e.g. sumponia, analogous to the Greek sumphonia, perhaps referring to some wind instrument). However, Greek musicians were famous in the ancient world far earlier than the time of Alexander the Great, and no doubt some of the Greek musical terminology was adapted by other cultures.

An interesting case is Joel 3:6, where the prophet castigated the Philistines and Phoenicians for having taken Israelites as slaves and sold them to Greeks, thus removing Jews far from their homeland. Some have taken this to be an indication that the book of Joel is postexilic, but this is not necessarily the case. The Greeks were well known as a seafaring people, and undoubtedly preexilic Israelites had some contact with Greeks. It is significant in the Joel text, however, that Greece is perceived to be far away from the land of Israel. In preexilic times very few Israelites had ever ventured there, and most had never encountered a Greek. Thus they would have perceived Greece to be a remote and far-flung place. However, during the postexilic period, and certainly after Alexander’s time, contact with Greeks was frequent and the Greek language widely spoken. Travel to Greece was also more common during this era.

The perception of Greeks as a faraway people in 3:6, therefore, actually suggests a preexilic date for the book. In addition, in the seventh century B.C. Greece was in the midst of a great economic expansion and needed many slaves. This, too, fits well with what we see in Joel 3 if the book is dated to the seventh century B.C.


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