Creation

Meditations from the Classics

Lucretius (c. 99 BC – c. 55 BC)
De rerum natura  (On the Nature of Things–1:150)
John 1:1-3

Let’s listen in on Lucretius’ thoughts to himself as he writes his poetry:

lucretius_rome

Let me tell you why the world is gripped by fear.  It’s because people think there is a god behind all the evils and mysteries of the universe.  That’s nonsense.  God had nothing to do with the creation of the world.  In fact, my starting point will be this principle:  Nothing can ever be created by divine power out of nothing…. Accordingly, when we have seen that nothing can be created out of nothing, we shall then have a clearer picture of the path ahead, the problem of how things are created and occasioned without the aid of the gods.




 

Well, I suppose Lucretius has the right to his opinion. But in all fairness, we ought to let another ancient luminary express a thought or two.  The apostle John felt this way about God’s role in creation:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him” (John 1:1-3).

Not long after Lucretius wrote his words, at age forty-four, he killed himself.  Jerome tells us he was driven mad by a love potion and took his own life.  His belief in a loving God was completely shattered by his own twisted logic.

Is it such an impossible thing to believe there is a mighty Monarch above who sifts the stars for pleasure and who rolls out the galaxies like a kid playing marbles?  Is it such an impossible thing to believe there is an Almighty God who once played in the dirt and made a man?

You choose.  Either Lucretius is right or the apostle John is.
I’ll stick with John.

David R. Denny  Ph.D.

 

Rope Dance

Terence

Meditations from the Classics

Rope Dance
Terence: Brothers 4:7 (160 B.C.)
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
rope

There was, in ancient times, a Greek dance that traced its roots back to the Trojan War.  In the dance, one person would lead off drawing a rope after him.  The rest of the company would take hold of it as they danced until like one giant writhing serpent they were all moving with joyous unity.

Terence mentioned this in his play The Brothers.  In one act (4:7), a wedding is anticipated and this dance of the rope was to be a part of the celebration.

Everyone wasn’t happy about this.  One sour character named Demea, the father of the groom, thought there was already too much excess in this joyous occasion and now a rope dance too?  That’s too much, he told them.  He spoke out against it saying:

“Having hold of the rope, you will be dancing with them…Ah me!  Are you not ashamed of this?”  (Terence: Brothers 4:7).


Well, in spite of Demea’s stuffiness, the rope dance is a joyous portrait of teamwork.  It reminds us that laboring together for God can be a cohesive process of joy and love.  Isn’t that what Paul means when he talks about “laborers together with God”? (1 Cor. 3:9).  In a way, all God’s people should be holding the rope and with spiritual ecstasy rope dancing into the future as a team.

So try this:  Next time you get to church, bring a rope with you.  Get your deacon chairman to take one end.  Grab a few choir members and a couple of Sunday school teachers.  Point them to the rope.  Start weaving through the pews.  Urge the members to take hold.  Don’t leave the pastor out.  Ask him to grab the end.  Then just celebrate.  Do the rope dance and feel the power of unity.

David R.Denny  Ph.D.
1  image: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2326079/Danakil-Depression-Incredible-pictures-vast-desert-basin-heart-Ethiopias-ancient-salt-trade.html

Sexual Aberrations

Meditations from the Classics

Apuleius (A.D. 170)
The Golden Ass (Metamorphoses) 10
Romans 1:21-32

225px-Lucius_Apuleius_Platonicus,_from_'Crabbes_Historical_Dictionary',_published_in_1825_(C19)

Depiction of Apuleius

 

Apuleius (A.D. 125-170), the early Latin writer, gives valuable insights into the daily habits of the populace of his day.  In one of his bizarre tales, he described how a rich and respected lady of Corinth desperately pursued a licentious relationship with a donkey.  Overcome by this unnatural urge, she bribed the donkey’s keeper for the privilege of a single night of undisturbed love.  She took great care in preparing the bedroom for her night of revelry:

…Four eunuchs strewed the ground with mattresses of down and air-filled bolsters.  The coverlet was of cloth of gold and broidery of Tyrian dye,and the pillows were small but wide enough for their purpose, and soft like those of which delicate ladies lay their lazy cheeks or necks.  The eunuchs, anxious not to delay the pleasures of their mistress a moment longer, closed the bedroom doors and went away; but there were tall wax candles that banished every shadow from the glowing room….The lady kept repeating these words of love: “You are the one I love…you are the one I desire…without you I cannot live…”
(“Amo” et “Cupio” et “Te solum diligo,” et “Sine te iam vivere nequeo.”

The lady and the donkey.  It was a tryst worthy of modern day Hollywood.  How many “X’s” can we put on this debauched scene?  And yet, Apuleius didn’t think anything about it.  To him, it was just business as usual.

What makes this so difficult to accept is that this story took place in Corinth in the second century, only a few generations after St. Paul had come through this very city with the gospel of purity and light.

Remember, though, that Paul himself encountered sexual aberrations in Corinth of such a nature he blushed to mention it:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1).

But I think even St. Paul would be caught by surprise over this story:  a lady of substance, of upbringing, of wealth, of high standing–in bed with a donkey.  Man!  It leaves you without words.

Sexual tension and temptation are everywhere in the modern world.  All disciples must be on guard.  Immorality can take you down.  The best policy is to adhere to Paul’s advice:  Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).

1 https://archive.org/stream/goldenassbeingme00apuliala/goldenassbeingme00apuliala_djvu.txt

David R.Denny  Ph.D.

 

 

 

Archery

Meditations from the Classics

Archery
Ephesians 6:16
Homer, Iliad 4:100-125  (762 BC)

Archery played a prominent part in the battles of the Bible.  Archers struck Saul multiple times in his final battle (1 Sam 31:3) and King Josiah likewise was mortally wounded on a battlefield littered with arrows (2 Kings 23).  It was the knowledge of archery that enabled Jonathan to secretly communicate with David during Saul’s reign of terror:

In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David.  He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot” (1 Sam. 20:35-36).

There is a valuable description of the art of archery in Homer’s Iliad.  Pandarus has just been convinced by the goddess Athene to shoot Menelaus:

archery

“…then and there he unsheathed his polished bow.  It was made from the horns of an ibex that he himself had shot in the breast…The horns on its head, measuring sixteen hands across, were worked up by a craftsman in horn, who fitted them together, made all smooth, and put a golden tip on the end.  Pandarus strung the bow, slanting it against the ground, and laid carefully down, while his gallant followers held their shields in front to protect him from attack by the fierce Achaeans…Then he took off the lid of his quiver and picked out an arrow, feathered but as yet unused, and fraught with agony.  He deftly fitted the sharp arrow to the string and offered up a prayer to the Archery King Apollo…And now, gripping the notched end and the ox-gut string, he drew them back together till the string was near his breast and the iron point was by the bow.  When he had bent the great bow to a circle, it gave a twang, the string sang out, and the sharp arrow leapt into the air, eager to wing its way into the enemy ranks.”

Satan possesses a powerful bow as well, one with nefarious intentions.  Can’t you see him groaning under the string of his taut bow before he unleashed another arrow at a faltering saint?

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith, ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked– τὰ  βέλη  τοῦ  πονηροῦ (Eph. 6:16).

So, keep your shields up and trust God for your daily protection.

David R. Denny  PhD.
1 Archery image: https://koryvantesstudies.org/studies-in-english-language/page210-2/

Answers to Prayer

Meditations from the Classics

Answers to Prayer
Virgil, Aeneid 6:42-76 (29 B.C.)
Luke 11:1-13

Cumae_Cave_of_the_Sibyl_AvL

Entrance to the Cave of the Sibyl (photo by Alexander Van Loon)

The Sibyl, that woman of prediction and prophecy, lived in a huge cave hollowed out from the flank of Cumae’s hill in southern Italy. The Sibyl was a woman with connections. She could see into the future. The voice of the gods spoke through her.

 The cave where her divine utterances could be heard had a hundred wide approaches:
         “a hundred mouths from which there issue a hundred voices, the Sibyl’s answers.”1

Many people would approach the cave hoping to get guidance or answers to their prayers as Aeneas did seeking guidance for his voyage to Italy.  But the doors were closed.  Answers could not be had unless the Sibyl was particularly moved by the gods.  If a seeker happened to be slow, for example, to pay certain vows or offer sacrifices, the doors would stay closed.

Occasionally, however, the spirits would fall upon the Sibyl.  She would turn wild as she struggled with the god. The deity would often shake her and ride her until she fell exhausted to the cave floor.

Or as Virgil phrases it, the god would torment her until he “mastered her wild heart, breaking her in with a firm hand.”

And then, when the god had broken the wild woman, the answer would come.  The hundred immense doors of the place would fly open of their own accord and her inspired responses would shriek forth from the manifold mouths of the sacred cave.


The prayer process is so different for the believer:

We face no cave with a hundred shut doors.
We don’t plead before a wild-eyed Sibyl.
We don’t toss coins or offer sacrifices on bloodied altars.

No, we just come simply and humbly to the one door of our heavenly Father.  We knock with quiet confidence.  And with kind assurances, He opens the door, greets us with love and answers our prayers.

“And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

David R. Denny Ph.D.
1 Translation by C. Day Lewis.  Original Latin text: “quo lati ducunt aditus centum, ostia centum” (www.perseus.tufts.edu).

Apostate

Meditations from the Classics

Apostate
Xenophon, Anabasis (370 B.C.)  Book 1:4
1 John 2:18
Anabasis
The mark of an apostate was flight.  John warned his church against those who would not sustain fellowship with the saints.  Their untimely exodus was proof of their apostasy, he said:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

Those who scorn the communal meal, the Christian kiss, the hand of fellowship, the joy of worship are none other than last day anti-Christs, according to John. They left, said the apostle because they never were one of us.

Xenophon told a similar tale of desertion in his history of the Persian Expedition:

“Cyrus had gathered a large army and was marching to take the Persian throne.  When his troops arrived at Myriandus, a city on the sea near Damascus, he camped for seven days.  During the night two of his captains, Xenias and Pasion, fled.  They got on board a ship, stowed away their most valuable property and sailed off.”

The soldiers wondered what Cyrus would do.  Rumors were spreading. Cyrus called his troops together and told them that he was well aware of the betrayal, but he saw no profit in pursuing them.

“No, let them go, with the knowledge that they have betrayed worse to us than we have to them”

And so in both cases, the camp of Cyrus and John’s church, those with no kindred heart left the family. And so it is today. AWOL captains on midnight schooners to safety are too abundant. John’s advice is succinct and practical. Remain in the fellowship. Be faithful disciples. Apostasy doesn’t pay.

David R. Denny Ph.D.

Girded

Meditations from the Classics

Girded
Plautus, Captives 4:1 (200 B.C.)
Ephesians 6:14

british-roman-costume-men-marb

Roman fashion

 Bible readers often hear the phrase “girding the loins.”  An example of this is found in Ephesians 6:14 where saints are urged to stand firm in faith:

“Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth (περιζωσάμενοι  τὴν  ὀσφὺν  ὑμῶν  ἐν  ἀληθείᾳ), and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.”

The Romans practiced this custom of gathering up the pallium (the Roman cloak they wore).  We see this in one of Plautus’ plays entitled Captives.  Although known for his comedies, in the instance the play has some somber moments.  The father in the story, Hegio, longs to reunite with his son Philipolemus, who has been captured in Elis. He decides he can stand it no longer and so he initiates a swap.  He sends one of his slaves to find Philipolemus hoping the captors will send him home.

Then not long after, an incredible thing happens.  A local slave saw Philipolemus getting off a boat in the harbor.  It must have worked!  The slave who saw this marvels that he is the one blessed with news and decides to rush to Hegio’s house to inform the old man.  It’s at this point that we see the custom.  The slave girds himself and races on his way.

“Now will I wend my way to this old gentleman Hegio, to whom I am carrying blessings as great as he himself prays for from the Gods, and even greater. Now, this is my determination, in the same fashion that the slaves of Comedy3 are wont, so will I throw my cloak around my neck, that from me, the first of all, he may learn this matter.”1

A girded servant usually meant that person was on an urgent mission.  Hegio, for example, when he saw the slave hustling toward him, noticed this:

“Surely he has got his cloak gathered up.  What, I wonder, is he going to do?”

So now we understand the practice a little better.  A girded Christian then is one visibly doing a task, visibly running an errand for the Master.  Are you girded?

David R. Denny  Ph.D.


1. Latin text: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0096%3Aact%3D4%3Ascene%3D1
2.  Roman fashion: http://www.fashion-era.com/ancient_costume/roman-costume-history-toga.htm