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The Hebrew and the Greek Ideas of Life

The Hebrew and the Greek Ideas of Life

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The Hebrew and the Greek Ideas of Life
Author(s): Edward Chauncey Baldwin
Source: The Biblical World, Vol. 36, No. 5 (Nov., 1910), pp. 334-344
Published by:The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL:http://www.jstor.org/stable/3141791
Accessed: 09/11/2010 12:54
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THEHEBREWAND THEGREEK IDEAS OF LIFE
EDWARDCHAUNCEYBALDWIN,PH.D.
Urbana,Ill.
MatthewArnold'sfamous distinction between"Hebraismand
Hellenism"ismisleading,and restsuponafundamentalmiscon-
ceptionofthespirit of the ancientHebrews.In Culture and
Anarchy he discusses what he calls the "twopoints ofinfluence"
between which "movesour world." These he calls the forces of
HebraismandHellenism, theonerepresenting the effort to win
peaceby self-conquest,a moralimpulse;theother, the effortto
seethings as they reallyare,an intellectualimpulse. The essen-
tialdifference between Hebraism andHellenism, as Arnold dis-
tinguishesthem, is that "Hebraism hasalways beenseverely pre-
occupied withanawful sense oftheimpossibility ofbeing at ease
in Zion."Allthroughthe essay heimplies that the Hebrewspirit
wasoneof sombergloom, in contrast to thejoyousspontaneity
thathe attributes to theGreek.
Nowsuch a distinctionasthis, in order to bevalid, must be
basedupon conclusions drawn from acomparativeexamination
of the literaturesof the twopeoples,for literature is theonly
authenticrecordof the life of a race. Suchacomparative exam-
ination of Hebrew literature withthatof Hellasclearly demon-
strates thatthespiritofHebraism, at least before itnarrowed
intoJudaism,was in no sensethe antithesisof thatof Hellenism.
Intheattempt to testthevalidityof Arnold'sdistinction,it
was found advisable to limittheinvestigation to acomparison of
theGreek andthe Hebrewspirit as shownin the habitualattitude
of mind ofthetwopeoples towardlife, towardinanimatenature,
andtoward theSupreme Being. Obviouslyit willhardlybe
possible,withinthe limitsof suchan article asthis, to domore
thanstatethe results of theinvestigation withoutgivingin detail
the process bywhichtheconclusions werereached.
334
HEBREW AND GREEK IDEAS OFLIFE
335
Uponacomparison of the Greek withthe Hebrewattitude
towardlife, it was found that theGreeks,in contrastto theHebrews,
werenot aparticularly hopefulpeople. This statementdoesnot
refer totheir beliefin a futurelife, butmerely to theirattitude
toward what the future hadin store for them here on the earth.
Their senseof man'shelplessness in the hands of amysterious
fate accounts inpart forthepeculiar way inwhich theGreek
authorsspeak ofhope.They nearlyalways speak ofit as a delu-
sivephantom-anillusion born of anuncertainfuture. Thus
Theognis (637-38) speaks ofHope andPeril as deitiesclosely
associated,equallydangerous to men.To theGreek,hopes
were,asPindar is said to have calledthem, "the dreams of wak-
ingmen."To theGreek,hope might be "the poorman's wealth,"
but while it thusmightbecomethe consolation oftheweak, it
could not bea source of additionalstrength to thestrong.
Suchaprevalent distrust of the future isclearly reflected in
Greekhistory.AmongGreek historians of the classicalage there
isabsolutely no trace of the ideathatthe human race as awhole,
or any singlenation,isprogressing toward the fulfilmentof a
divinelyordered destiny.Herodotus'history,for example, seems
asifwritten toillustrate theinsecurity of mortalhappiness.
Throughoutthe history it is inthehour ofmen'simpioustriumph,
whenthey seemmostsecure in thepossessionof life andhappiness,
that Fatebrings them tomisery, or slits thethin-spun life. To
the Greekthefuture was full of direpossibilities-poverty,exile,
sickness, death.In the faceofsuchuncertainties, the virtue
oftheGreek wasresignationrather thanhope-a calmacceptance
ofthewill ofthegods,without any joyfulanticipations.Conse-
quently,thoughoften,andperhapsusually,aman ofcheerful
yesterdays,he was never a man of confidenttomorrows. Inthe
absenceofhope for the future theGreeks turned forinspiration
mainly to the past, to themythicalheroes ofsong andlegend,
andto the deeds of their ancestors inthefar-offGoldenAge.
Like theGreeks, theHebrews also looked backwardto aGolden
Age when Godhad walked and talkedwithmen,when men and
animals had livedatpeace.So well had menunderstoodtheir
poorrelations,theanimals, inthat far-off timethatthey had

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