More than 1500 years ago, the great Theologian Tertullian posed the question: What has Jerusalem have to do with Athens?
This is an interesting point of inquiry. On the surface, one might think that this is an inconsequential issue. However, perhaps it is not so much what the two cities of antiquity have in common that is important as much as it might be what they both represent.
Without the Jerusalem and Athens of antiquity there would not be modern Europe or the United States as we know them today. Each of those two cities have made invaluable contributions to both the moral and intellectual mosaic of what is known as Western Civilization.
Jerusalem takes on tremendous significance because it symbolizes our great Judeo-Christian heritage. Nearly 3,300 years ago the great Hebrew prophet Moses led the children out of 450 years of cruel Egyptian bondage. According to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, Moses is divinely chosen by GOD [literally the great “I AM”] to lead His people known as “Israel” out of Egypt and into a land that “flows with milk and honey.” As the children of Israel depart from Egypt, GOD commands them to stop at a mountain known as Sinai where he imparts to His people the “Divine Law” which is popularly known as “The Ten Commandments.”
GOD instructs Moses to tell the children of Israel that they are not to wander in the wilderness doing what is right in their own eyes [Deuteronomy 12.8], but they are accountable to GOD’S Law and to each other in a Covenant relationship.
What many people in the United States today may not realize is that in our colonial period, the great legal jurist Sir William Blackstone use to literally carry a copy of the Bible with him along with his law books as he handed down his legal decisions.
[One could only imagine the hollering that would take place by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union as they would accuse Blackstone of attempting to impose a “theocracy” on our land.]
The Old Testament law imparted to us the notion that neither King nor Queen has absolute power but that ultimately “the Law is King.” We later became a nation of “laws and not men.”
Athens is important to Western Civilization because it was here nearly 2,500 years ago that the ancient Greek itinerant philosophers began to ask questions such as: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” Where am I going” “How did I get here?” “What is the ultimate meaning of life?”
In our law schools today, professors employ a questioning method of teaching known as the “Socratic method.” The Socratic method has irritated many a law student! Professors continually ask their students why they hold a particular opinion or view on a legal case or issue. What many of the prospective law students may not realize is that Socrates use to walk around Athens asking disturbing questions that upset that the “status quo.” Socrates averred that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Where would Western Civilization be – and the United States in particular – if we did not possess a people with both the moral imagination and the philosophical moorings to question whether or not a particular action is just or unjust?
Great movements such as the American Revolution and the Abolitionists struggle and the fight for Women’s Suffrage would not have taken place were it not the legacy that was passed on to us from both Jerusalem and Athens of yesteryear.
The New Year is an excellent time to study the Holy Bible and the literary classics and to remind ourselves that Civilization is both a blessing and a trust that we must faithfully preserve for ourselves and for our posterity.
May GOD richly bless ALL of you with a great and joyous 2014.