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Israel Study Program Pt 11

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III.6…..and the bankruptcy of paganism

Changes were in the air also for the pagan society.

Already Alexander the Great had started the concept of “global village”. Wooden, metal or ceramic man-made gods were too small, too unimpressive, and unimportant. A god that could be smashed was simply not adequate any longer. People were looking for more meaningful philosophies which would be less immoral and hedonistic and more spiritual. Judaism seemed to have great answers to these questions. Millions converted therefore to Judaism. Queen Helena from Iraq came to Jerusalem and converted together with her son Mombaz.

The world was ready and ripe for a more spiritual life. Slowly but surely paganism went bankrupt.

The Jewish elite watched this development with mixed feelings; the Mishna tells of a mounting pressure regarding these conversions.

After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the world embraced Christianity which soon was to become the world religion.

III.7. Theatres in ancient times

Theories about the development of the theater generally begin with Greek drama; this is etymologically appropriate as well as historically correct, since the words theory and theater are related through their Greek sources. The Greek ancestor of theater is theātron, “a place for seeing, especially for dramatic representation, theater.” Theātron is derived from the verb theāsthai, “to gaze at, contemplate, view as spectators, especially in the theater,” from theā, “a viewing.” The Greek ancestor of theory is theōriā, which meant among other things “the sending of theōroi (state ambassadors sent to consult oracles or attend games),” “the act of being a spectator at the theater or games,” “viewing,” “contemplation by the mind,” and “theory or speculation.” It is thus fitting to elaborate theories about culture while seeing a play in a theater. (from “google”)

Theatres are a Greek invention. Greek culture knew theatres from the 5th century BC on. The Greeks were famous for their great tragedies and comedies which told the stories of the Greek mythology. (The MOIRA= is the fate that cannot be changed.)

In ancient Greece every person was given a free day, salary paid, in order for him to go to the theatre. It was a wonderful way to instruct a people, who did not have written sources, of their traditions, the stories of their gods. The theatre was therefore ideal for a “bible-less” people to get familiar with their tradition, making theatres a very important tool in Greek culture. The Romans adopted this culture and introduced their own versions to their citizens and people living in their cities. The Roman world was like a continuation of the Greek World and therefore Theatres became a fundamental characteristic of every Roman city as well. There were no cities without a theatre, sometimes a city would host several theatres.

(The Hellenistic Empire was not built on great cities but was more a rural society. Beside Athens there were very few cities in Greece itself.)

Greek was the main language spoken in the area and in these times in general, it was the common language, the lingua franca, comparable to English of today. It was the language spoken and used for every sector of life, be it commercial, cultural or political. Even the Jewish Sages used Greek as common dialect. Sometimes the Aramean language was spoken. Greek was spoken from the 7th century BC until the Byzantine time. Latin was spoken in Rome and in the western part of the Roman Empire. But Romans spoke Greek in Judea. 

There were Romans from a lot of different origins but ruled by one Empire and one king.

The characters in the dramas were mostly semi-gods, and they had the same petty life as man. The gods were very close to the people, and were also as petty as people who steal from one another, and with their own moods, without any values or morals.

The theatre fulfilled a very important role in educating and introducing the population with the sagas and mythologies of their culture. These plays are until today played in all theatres in the world, and are a great source of ancient traditions. 

There were no Greek theatres in Ancient Israel.

III.8. The Roman theatre

In the Roman culture theatres took on another dimension. Fights between animals, animals and humans, or humans against humans, seemed to be a great – and very bloody! – entertainment for the soldiers (and also the citizens) of the Roman Legions throughout the Roman Empire. Those fights took place either in the hippodrome or in the amphitheatre. The amphitheatre of Caesarea was not built by Herod

In every city there was at least one theatre. Caesarea had several Roman theatres, the amphitheatre and the two hippodromes. (Joseph Flavius mentioned the two hippodromes in his writings. Since for many years only the hippodrome next to the harbor had been found and excavated, readers of Josephus came to the conclusion that he probably never had been in Caesarea. But then the second hippodrome was discovered – proving him right.)

The idea of the theatre was adapted and adopted by Herod. For him it was a “mitzva” to build Roman theatres! Though building the first theatre in Judea was not a very Jewish thing and was quite opposed to Jewish thought.

In the 1st century BC the greatest theatre was in Caesarea, a city, who came with all Roman feature landmarks, crying out to all: “this is a Roman city”.

Diaries of a tour guide course

Undertaking a serious study of the Jewish promised land is no simple matter. It is one thing to just look at a map and decide where to go and visit famous sites. But, what about the history connected with those sites. There alone one can sub-divide knowledge of the past into several sectors. On the one hand it is possible to gain an understanding of the evolvement of the children of Israel through biblical studies, which is highly recommended. However, that alone doesn’t always satisfy a desire to bring such accounts to life. Extra biblical sources can provide sterling evidence of the neighbors that surrounded the early Hebrews.

Do you fancy taking a trip to Israel and maybe becoming a tour leader of your own group? The benefits are enormous and can include many free travel opportunities. A special course will be operated by qualified and experienced JTVC staff to enable you to learn more about such subjects as the history of Israel, its diverse people, its geological composition, and much more besides.

Amusing Note: In 2005, I had to present a sample tour to a panel of Israel Ministry of Tourism experts. Having sweated for days and nights for two years to thankfully pass the main exams, I was facing the last but nonetheless critical hurdle. To enhance my presentation, which included ancient theaters, I had spent considerable time building a clay model of an amphitheater. After carefully wrapping it, I took a bus to the government sector of Jerusalem where the ministry office was located. Unknown, until the last moment, a bus passenger accidentally damaged my model. It was only when I proudly brought it out to the waiting examiners that I noticed the full extent of the disaster. With nothing to lose I declared “a funny thing happened to the theatre on the way here!” (one normally says a funny thing happened to me on the way to the theater) Well, thankfully I did manage to get through that final presentation and get my license!

Feel free to get in touch with us for further details.


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