To understand the part the Jews were now to play, it is necessary first of all to look back upon the general character of the social and political struggles of those ancient centuries. At the time of Homer’s heroes, and, in a way, until that of Alexander the Great, states were small, generally a city or a group of cities. War was constant, and generally accompanied by destruction and slavery. As the centuries slipped by, the scale increased. Athens tried to create a colonial empire as did Carthage, and the great continental states, Macedon and Rome, followed close at their heels. In the last century or so before Christ, war was nearly continuous on a vast scale, and it was attended by at least one circumstance that demands special consideration.

Social inequality was a fundamental conception of the ancient world. The Greek cities in their origin had been communities ruled by a small caste of high-bred families. The social hierarchy proceeded down from them to the slave, and war was waged on a slave basis, the victor acquiring the vanquished. The great wars of the Roman Republic against the Greek monarchies were huge treasure-seeking and slave-driving enterprises that reduced to servitude the most able and most refined part of the population of the conquered countries. Rome had created a great Mediterranean state, but at a terrible price. The civilization she had set up had no religion save an empty formalism, and no heart at all. It was the Jews who were to remedy this defect.

All through the East and in some parts of the West the Jewish merchants formed conspicuous communities in the cities of the Empire, giving an example of spiritual faith, of seriousness and rectitude, that contrasted strongly with what prevailed in the community. For materialism and epicureanism were the natural outcome of a period of economic prosperity; religion was at its best formalistic, at its worst orgiastic; ethical elements were almost wholly lacking. Yet a revolt against the soullessness and iniquities of the times was proceeding and men were prepared to turn to whatever leaders could give them a system large enough to satisfy the cravings of long-outraged conscience, and large enough to fill the bounds of the Mediterranean Empire. Three Jews—Jesus, Paul, and Philo—came forward to do this work.

Jesus was the example, the man of conscience, the redeemer God. For in this last capacity he could readily be made to fit in with the Asiatic cults of the sun and of redemption which were at that time the most active and hopeful lines of religious thought. Paul was the Jew turned Roman, an imperialist, a statesman, of wide view and missionary fervor. Philo was the Jew turned Greek, the angel of the Alexandrian schools, who had infused Hebraic elements into the moribund philosophizing of the Egyptian Greeks, and thereby given it a renewed lease of life. That lease was to run just long enough to pour the Alexandrian thought into the Christian mold and give the new religion its peculiar dogmatic apparatus.

For three centuries, until A. D. 312, Christianity was nothing in the Mediterranean world save a curious sect differing widely from the hundreds of other sects that claimed the allegiance of the motley population sheltering under the ægis of the Emperors. During those three centuries the Mediterranean was a peaceful avenue of imperial administration, of trade, of civilizing intercourse. Its great ports teemed with a medley of people in whom the blood of all races from the Sahara to the German forests, and from Gibraltar to the valley of the Euphrates, was transfused. The little clans of high-bred men who had laid the foundations of this huge international empire had practically disappeared. The machine carried itself on by its own momentum, while wars remained on distant frontiers, the work of mercenaries, insufficient to stimulate military virtues in the heart of the Empire. It was, in fact, the economic vices that prevailed, materialism, irreligion, and cowardice.

The feeble constitution of the Empire was too slight a framework to support the vast edifice. Emperor succeeded emperor, good, bad, and indifferent, with now and again a monster, and now and again a saint. But the elements of decay were always present, and made steady progress. The army had to be recruited from the barbarians; the emperor’s crown became the chief reward of the universal struggle for spoils; the Empire became so unwieldy that it tended to fall apart, and many competitors sprang up to win it by force of arms.

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