23 centuries ago, the army of Alexander the Great marched into Jerusalem. The ensuing occupation of the Jewish capital proceeded, at the outset, with unexpected smoothness and goodwill.
The Greeks had brought to the world the first secular culture aspiring to more than wealth, lust, and power. Guided by pure aestheticism, Greek art, architecture, and drama demonstrated an affinity for abstract pursuits and singular respect for cerebral engagement. The result was an asynchrony of mutual admiration and appreciation between the Jews and their new masters.
But the veneer of intellectual integrity projected by Greek culture was a sham. Socrates, the teacher of Plato and father of rational inquiry, was sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of Athens. His unpardonable sin: posing questions that made his students think by challenging the status quo of conventional wisdom.
Judaism thoroughly endorses Socrates’ famous dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, a philosophy that infuriated the Greek establishment. The foundational principle of Jewish tradition that human beings are not perfect creations, but perpetual works-in-progress, grated against the Greek notion that man is a divine creature in no need of improvement.
Recognizing that the theology of the Jews would never bend to accommodate the worldview of their masters, the Syrian-Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes issued edicts forbidding three religious practices: Sabbath observance, ritual circumcision, and the sanctification of the New Month. His assault on these specific institutions illustrates how our ideological enemies often understand us better than we understand ourselves.