"You haven't. Nothing changes. You have just developed, gotten older……"
"Mm …… that was a very grownup thing to say. I just think it's all happened so very quickly."
Aristotle……a meticulous organizer who wanted to clarify our concepts …
While her mother was taking her afternoon nap, Sophie went down to the den. She had put a lump of sugar in the pink envelope and written "To Alberto" on the outside.
There was no new letter, but after a few minutes Sophie heard the dog approaching.
"Hermes!" she called, and the next moment he had pushed his way into the den with a big brown envelope in his mouth.
"Good boy!" Sophie put her arm around the dog, which was snorting and snuffling like a walrus. She took the pink envelope with the lump of sugar and put it in the dog's mouth. He crawled through the hedge and made off into the woods again.
Sophie opened the big envelope apprehensively, wondering whether it would contain anything about the cabin and the boat.
It contained the usual typed pages held together with a paperclip. But there was also a loose page inside. On it was written:
Dear Miss Sleuth, or, to be more exact, Miss Burglar. The case has already been handed over to the police.
Not really. No, I'm not angry. If you are just as curious when it comes to discovering answers to the riddles of philosophy, I'd say your adventure was very promising. It's just a little annoying that I'll have to move now. Still, I have no one to blame but myself, I suppose. I might have known you were a person who would always want to get to the bottom of things.
Sophie was relieved. So he was not angry after all. But why would he have to move?
She took the papers and ran up to her room. It would be prudent to be in the house when her mother woke up. Lying comfortably on her bed, she began to read about Aristotle.
PHILOSOPHER AND SCIENTIST
Dear Sophie: You were probably astonished by Plato's theory or ideas. You are not the only one! I do not know whether you swallowed the whole thing——hook, line, and sinker——or whether you had any critical comments. But if you did have, you can be sure that the self-same criticism was raised by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who was a pupil at Plato's Academy for almost twenty years.
Aristotle was not a native of Athens. He was born in Macedonia and came to Plato's Academy when Plato was 61. Aristotle's father was a respected physician—— and therefore a scientist. This background already tells us something about Aristotle's philosophic project. What he was most interested in was nature study. He was not only the last of the great Greek philosophers, he was Europe's first great biologist.
Taking it to extremes, we could say that Plato was so engrossed in his eternal forms, or "ideas," that he took very little notice of the changes in nature. Aristotle, on the other hand, was preoccupied with just these changes——or with what we nowadays describe as natural processes.
To exaggerate even more, we could say that Plato turned his back on the sensory world and shut his eyes to everything we see around us. (He wanted to escape from the cave and look out over the eternal world of ideas!) Aristotle did the opposite: he got down on all fours and studied frogs and fish, anemones and poppies.
While Plato used his reason, Aristotle used his senses as well.
We find decisive diffrences between the two, not least in their writing. Plato was a poet and mythologist; Aristotle's writings were as dry and precise as an encyclopedia. On the other hand, much of what he wrote was based on up-to-the-minute field studies.
Records from antiquity refer to 170 titles supposedly written by Aristotle. Of these, 47 are preserved. These are not complete books; they consist largely of lecture notes. In his time, philosophy was still mainly an oral activity.
The significance of Aristotle in European culture is due not least to the fact that he created the terminology that scientists use today. He was the great organizer who founded and classified the various sciences.
Since Aristotle wrote on all the sciences, I will limit myself to some of the most important areas. Now that I have told you such a lot about Plato, you must start by hearing how Aristotle refuted Plato's theory of ideas. Later we will look at the way he formulated his own natural philosophy, since it was Aristotle who summed up what the natural philosophers before him had said. We'll see how he categorizes our concepts and founds the discipline of Logic as a science. And finally I'll tell you a little about Aristotle's view of man and society.
No Innate Ideas
Like the philosophers before him, Plato wanted to find the eternal and immutable in the midst of all change. So he found the perfect ideas that were superior to the sensory world. Plato furthermore held that ideas were more real than all the phenomena of nature. First came the idea "horse," then came all the sensory world's horses trotting along like shadows on a cave wall. The idea "chicken" came before both the chicken and the egg.
Aristotle thought Plato had turned the whole thing upside down. He agreed with his teacher that the particular horse "flows" and that no horse lives forever. He also agreed that the actual form of the horse is eternal and immutable. But the "idea" horse was simply a concept that we humans had formed after seeing a certain number of horses. The "idea" or "form" horse thus had no existence of its own. To Aristotle, the "idea" or the "form" horse was made up of the horse's characteristics——which define what we today call the horse species.
To be more precise: by "form" horse, Aristotle meant that which is common to all horses. And here the metaphor of the gingerbread mold does not hold up because the mold exists independently of the particular gingerbread cookies. Aristotle did not believe in the existence of any such molds or forms that, as it were, lay on their own shelf beyond the natural world. On the contrary, to Aristotle the "forms" were in the things, because they were the particular characteristics of these things.
So Aristotle disagreed with Plato that the "idea" chicken came before the chicken. What Aristotle called the "form" chicken is present in every single chicken as the chicken's particular set characteristics——for one, that it lays eggs. The real chicken and the "form" chicken are thus just as inseparable as body and soul.
And that is really the essence of Aristotle's criticism of Plato's theory of ideas. But you should not ignore the fact that this was a dramatic turn of thought. The highest degree of reality, in Plato's theory, was that which we think with our reason. It was equally apparent to Aristotle that the highest degree of reality is that which we perceive with our senses. Plato thought that all the things we see in the natural world were purely reflections of things that existed in the higher reality of the world of ideas——and thereby in the human soul. Aristotle thought the opposite: things that are in the human soul were purely reflections of natural objects. So nature is the real world. According to Aristotle, Plato was trapped in a mythical world picture in which the human imagination was confused with the real world.
Aristotle pointed out that nothing exists in consciousness that has not first been experienced by the senses. Plato would have said that there is nothing in the natural world that has not first existed in the wold of ideas. Aristotle held that Plato was thus "doubling the number of things." He explained a horse by referring to the "idea" horse. But what kind of an explanation is that, Sophie? Where does the "idea" horse come from, is my question. Might there not even be a third horse, which the "idea" horse is just an imitation of?
Aristotle held that all our thoughts and ideas have come into our consciousness through what we have heard and seen. But we also have an innate power of reason. We have no innate ideas, as Plato held, but we have the innate faculty of organizing all sensory impressions into categories and classes. This is how concepts such as "stone," "plant," "animal," and "human" arise. Similarly there arise concepts like "horse," "lobster," and "canary."
Aristotle did not deny that humans have innate reason. On the contrary, it is precisely reason, according to Aristotle, that is man's most distinguishing characteristic. But our reason is completely empty until we have sensed something. So man has no innate "ideas."
The Form of a Thing Is Its Specific CharacteristicsHaving come to terms with Plato's theory of ideas, Aristotle decided that reality consisted of various separate things that constitute a unity of form and substance. The "substance" is what things are made of, while the "form" is each thing's specific characteristics.
A chicken is fluttering about in front of you, Sophie. The chicken's "form" is precisely that it flutters——and that it cackles and lays eggs. So by the "form" of a chicken, we mean the specific characteristics of its species——or in other words, what it does. When the chicken dies——and cackles no more——its "form" ceases to exist. The only thing that remains is the chicken's "substance" (sadly enough, So-phie), but then it is no longer a chicken.
As I said earlier, Aristotle was concerned with the changes in nature. "Substance" always contains the potentiality to realize a specific "form." We could say that "substance" always strives toward achieving an innate potentiality. Every change in nature, according to Aristotle, is a transformation of substance from the "potential" to the "actual."
Yes, I'll explain what I mean, Sophie. See if this funny story helps you. A sculptor is working on a large block of granite. He hacks away at the formless block every day. One day a little boy comes by and says, "What are you looking for?" "Wait and see," answers the sculptor. After a few days the little boy comes back, and now the sculptor has carved a beautiful horse out of the granite. The boy stares at it in amazement, then he turns to the sculptor and says, "How did you know it was in there?"
How indeed! In a sense, the sculptor had seen the horse's form in the block of granite, because that particular block of granite had the potentiality to be formed into the shape or a horse. Similarly Aristotle believed that everything in nature has the potentiality of realizing, or achieving, a specific "form."
Let us return to the chicken and the egg. A chicken's egg has the potentiality to become a chicken. This does not mean that all chicken's eggs become chickens——many of them end up on the breakfast table as fried eggs, omelettes, or scrambled eggs, without ever having realized their potentiality. But it is equally obvious that a chicken's egg cannot become a goose. That potentiality is not within a chicken's egg. The "form" of a thing, then, says something about its limitation as well as its potentiality.
When Aristotle talks about the "substance" and "form" of things, he does not only refer to living organisms. Just as it is the chicken's "form" to cackle, flutter its wings, and lay eggs, it is the form of the stone to fall to the ground. Just as the chicken cannot help cackling, the stone cannot help falling to the ground. You can, of course, lift a stone and hurl it high into the air, but because it is the stone's nature to fall to the ground, you cannot hurl it to the moon. (Take care when you perform this experiment, because the stone might take revenge and find the shortest route back to te earth!)
The Final Cause
Before we leave the subject of all living and dead things having a "form" that says something about their potential "action," I must add that Aristotle had a remarkable view of causality in nature.
Today when we talk about the "cause" of anything, we mean how it came to happen. The windowpane was smashed because Peter hurled a stone through it; a shoe is made because the shoemaker sews pieces of leather together. But Aristotle held that there were different types of cause in nature. Altogether he named four different causes. It is important to understand what he meant by what he called the "final cause."
In the case of window smashing, it is quite reasonable to ask why Peter threw the stone. We are thus asking what his purpose was. There can be no doubt that purpose played a role, also, in the matter of the shoe being made. But Aristotle also took into account a similar "purpose" when considering the purely lifeless processes in nature. Here's an example:
Why does it rain, Sophie? You have probably learned at school that it rains because the moisture in the clouds cools and condenses into raindrops that are drawn to the earth by the force of gravity. Aristotle would have nodded in agreement. But he would have added that so far you have only mentioned three of the causes. The "material cause" is that the moisture (the clouds) was there at the precise moment when the air cooled. The "efficient cause" is that the moisture cools, and the "formal cause" is that the "form," or nature of the water, is to fall to the earth. But if you stopped there, Aristotle would add that it rains because plants and animals need rainwater in order to grow. This he called the "final cause." Aristotle assigns the raindrops a life-task, or "purpose."
We would probably turn the whole thing upside down and say that plants grow because they find moisture. You can see the difference, can't you, Sophie? Aristotle believed that there is a purpose behind everything in nature. It rains so that plants can grow; oranges and grapes grow so that people can eat them.
That is not the nature of scientific reasoning today. We say that food and water are necessary conditions of life for man and beast. Had we not had these conditions we would not have existed. But it is not the purpose of water or oranges to be food for us.
In the question of causality then, we are tempted to say that Aristotle was wrong. But let us not be too hasty. Many people believe that God created the world as it is so that all His creatures could live in it. Viewed in this way, it can naturally be claimed that there is water in the rivers because animals and humans need water to live. But now we are talking about God's purpose. The raindrops and the waters of the river have no interest in our welfare.
The distinction between "form" and "substance" plays an important part in Aristotle's explanation of the way we discern things in the world.
When we discern things, we classify them in various groups or categories. I see a horse, then I see another horse, and another. The horses are not exactly alike, but they have something in common, and this common something is the horse's "form." Whatever might be distinctive, or individual, belongs to the horse's "substance."
So we go around pigeonholing everything. We put cows in cowsheds, horses in stables, pigs in pigsties, and chickens in chicken coops. The same happens when Sophie Amundsen tidies up her room. She puts her books on the bookshelf, her schoolbooks in her schoolbag, and her magazines in the drawer. Then she folds her clothes neatly and puts them in the closet——underwear on one shelf, sweaters on another, and socks in a drawer on their own. Notice that we do the same thing in our minds. We distinguish between things made of stone, things made of wool, and things made of rubber. We distinguish between things that are alive or dead, and we distinguish between vegetable, animal, and human.
Do you see, Sophie? Aristotle wanted to do a thorough clearing up in nature's "room." He tried to show that verything in nature belongs to different categories and subcategories. (Hermes is a live creature, more specifically an animal, more specifically a vertebrate, more specifically a mammal, more specifically a dog, more specifically a Labrador, more specifically a male Labrador.)
Go into your room, Sophie. Pick up something, anything, from the floor. Whatever you take, you will find that what you are holding belongs to a higher category The day you see something you are unable to classify you will get a shock. If, for example, you discover a small whatsit, and you can't really say whether it is animal, vegetable, or mineral——I don't think you would dare touch it.
Saying animal, vegetable, and mineral reminds me of that party game where the victim is sent outside the room, and when he comes in again he has to guess what everyone else is thinking of. Everyone has agreed to think of Fluffy, the cat, which at the moment is in the neighbor's garden. The victim comes in and begins to guess. The others must only answer "yes" or "no." If the victim is a good Aristotelian——and therefore no victim——the game could go pretty much as follows:
Is it concrete? (Yes!) Mineral? (No!) Is it alive? (Yes!) Vegetable? (No!) Animal? (Yes!) Is it a bird? (No!) Is it a mammal? (Yes!) Is it the whole animal? (Yes!) Is it a cat? (Yes!) Is it Fluffy? (Yeah! Laughter. . .)
So Aristotle invented that game. We ought to give Plato the credit for having invented hide-and-seek. Democritus has already been credited with having invented Lego.
Aristotle was a meticulous organizer who set out to clarify our concepts. In fact, he founded the science of Logic. He demonstrated a number of laws governing conclusions or proofs that were valid. One example will suffice. If I first establish that "all living creatures are mortal" (first premise), and then establish that "Hermes is a living creature" (second premise), I can then elegantly conclude that "Hermes is mortal."
The example demonstrates that Aristotle's logic was based on the correlation of terms, in this case "living creature" and "mortal." Even though one has to admit that the above conclusion is 100% valid, we may also add that it hardly tells us anything new. We already knew that Hermes was "mortal." (He is a "dog" and all dogs are "living creatures"——which are "mortal," unlike the rock of Mount Everest.) Certainly we knew that, Sophie. But the relationship between classes of things is not always so obvious. From time to time it can be necessary to clarify our concepts.
For example: Is it really possible that tiny little baby mice suckle just like lambs and piglets? Mice certainly do not lay eggs. (When did I last see a mouse's egg?) So they give birth to live young——just like pigs and sheep. But we call animals that bear live young mammals——and mammals are animals that feed on their mother's milk. So——we got there. We had the answer inside us but we had to think it through. We forgot for the moment that mice really do suckle from their mother. Perhaps it was because we have never seen a baby mouse being suckled, for the simple reason that mice are rather shy of humans when they suckle their young.
When Aristotle "clears up" in life, he first of all points out that everything in the natural world can be divided into two main categories. On the one hand there are nonliving things, such as stones, drops of water, or clumps of soil. These things have no potentiality for change. According to Aristotle, nonliving things can only change through external influence. Only living things have the potentiality for change.
Aristotle divides "living things" into two different categories. One comprises plants, and the other creatures. Finally, these "creatures" can also be divided into two subcategories, namely animals and humans.
You have to admit that Aristotle's categories are clear and simple. There is a decisive difference between a living and a nonliving thing, for example a rose and a stone, just as there is a decisive difference between a plant and an animal, for example a rose and ahorse. I would also claim that there definitely is a difference between a horse and a man. But what exactly does this difference consist of? Can you tell me that?
Unfortunately I do not have time to wait while you write the answer down and put it in a pink envelope with a lump of sugar, so I'll answer myself. When Aristotle divides natural phenomena into various categories, his criterion is the object's characteristics, or more specifically what it can do or what it does.
All living things (plants, animals, humans) have the ability to absorb nourishment, to grow, and to propagate. All "living creatures" (animals and humans) have in addition the ability to perceive the world around them and to move about. Moreover, all humans have the ability to think——or otherwise to order their perceptions into various categories and classes.
So there are in reality no sharp boundaries in the natural world. We observe a gradual transition from simple growths to more complicated plants, from simple animals to more complicated animals. At the top of this "scale" is man——who according to Aristotle lives the whole life of nature. Man grows and absorbs nourishment like plants, he has feelings and the ability to move like animals, but he also has a specific characteristic peculiar to humans, and that is the ability to think rationally.
Therefore, man has a spark of divine reason, Sophie. Yes, I did say divine. From time to time Aristotle reminds us that there must be a God who started all movement in the natural world. Therefore God must be at the very top of nature's scale.
Aristotle imagined the movement of the stars and the planets guiding all movement on Earth. But there had to e something causing the heavenly bodies to move. Aristotle called this the "first mover," or "God." The "first mover" is itself at rest, but it is the "formal cause" of the movement of the heavenly bodies, and thus of all movement in nature.
Let us go back to man, Sophie. According to Aristotle, man's "form" comprises a soul, which has a plant-like part, an animal part, and a rational part. And now he asks: How should we live? What does it require to live a good life? His answer: Man can only achieve happiness by using all his abilities and capabilities.
Aristotle held that there are three forms of happiness. The first form of happiness is a life of pleasure and enjoyment. The second form of happiness is a life as a free and responsible citizen. The third form of happiness is a life as thinker and philosopher.
Aristotle then emphasized that all three criteria must be present at the same time for man to find happiness and fulfillment. He rejected all forms of imbalance. Had he lived today he might have said that a person who only develops his body lives a life that is just as unbalanced as someone who only uses his head. Both extremes are an expression of a warped way of life.
The same applies in human relationships, where Aristotle advocated the "Golden Mean." We must be neither cowardly nor rash, but courageous (too little courage is cowardice, too much is rashness), neither miserly nor extravagant but liberal (not liberal enough is miserly, too liberal is extravagant). The same goes for eating. It is dangerous to eat too little, but also dangerous to eat too much. The ethics of both Plato and Aristotle contain echoes of Greek medicine: only by exercising balance and temperance will I achieve a happy or "harmonious" life.
The undesirability of cultivating extremes is also expressed in Aristotle's view of society. He says that man is by nature a "political animal." Without a society around us, we are not real people, he claimed. He pointed out that the family and the village satisfy our primary needs of food, warmth, marriage, and child rearing. But the highest form of human fellowship is only to be found in the state.
This leads to the question of how the state should be organized. (You remember Plato's "philosophic state"?) Aristotle describes three good forms of constitution.
One is monarchy, or kingship——which means there is only ne head of state. For this type of constitution to be good, it must not degenerate into "tyranny"——that is, when one ruler governs the state to his own advantage. Another good form of constitution is aristocracy, in which there is a larger or smaller group of rulers. This constitutional form must beware of degenerating into an "oligarchy"——when the government is run by a few people. An example of that would be a junta. The third good constitutional form is what Aristotle called polity, which means democracy. But this form also has its negative aspect. A democracy can quickly develop into mob rule. (Even if the tyrannic Hitler had not become head of state in Germany^ all the lesser Nazis could have formed a terrifying mob rule.)
Views on Women
Finally, let us look at Aristotle's views on women. His was unfortunately not as uplifting as Plato's. Aristotle was more inclined to believe that women were incomplete in some way. A woman was an "unfinished man." In reproduction, woman is passive and receptive whilst man is active and productive; for the child inherits only the male characteristics, claimed Aristotle. He believed that all the child's characteristics lay complete in the male sperm. The woman was the soil, receiving and bringing forth the seed, whilst the man was the "sower." Or, in Aristotelian language, the man provides the "form" and the woman contributes the "substance."
It is of course both astonishing and highly regrettable that an otherwise so intelligent man could be so wrong about the relationship of the sexes. But it demonstrates two things: first, that Aristotle could not have had much practical experience regarding the lives of women and children, and second, it shows how wrong things can go when men are allowed to reign supreme in the fields of philosophy and science.
Aristotle's erroneous view of the sexes was doubly harmful because it was his——rather than Plato's——view that held sway throughout the Middle Ages. The church thus inherited a view of women that is entirely without foundation in the Bible. Jesus was certainly no woman hater!
I'll say no more. But you will be hearing from me again.
When Sophie had read the chapter on Aristotle one and a half times, she returned it to the brown envelope and remained sitting, staring into space. She suddenly became aware of the mess surrounding her. Books and ring binders lay scattered on the floor. Socks and sweaters, tights and jeans hung half out of the closet. On the chair in front of the writing desk was a huge pile of dirty laundry.
Sophie had an irresistible desire to clear up. The first thing she did was to pull all the clothes out of the closet and onto the floor. It was necessary to start all over. Then she began folding her things very neatly and stacking them all tidily on the shelves. The closet had seven shelves. One was for underwear, one for socks and tights, and one for jeans. She gradually filled up each shelf. She never had any question about where to put anything. Dirty laundry went into a plastic bag she found on the bottom shelf. One thing she did have trouble with——a white knee-length stocking. The problem was that the other one of the pair was missing. What's more, it had never been Sophie's.
She examined it carefully. There was nothing to identify the owner, but Sophie had a strong suspicion about who the owner was. She threw it up onto the top shelf to join the Lego, the video cassette, and the red silk scarf.
Sophie turned her attention to the floor. She sorted books, ring binders, magazines, and posters——exactly as the philosophy teacher had described in the chapter on Aristotle. When she had done that, she made her bed and got started on her writing desk.
The last thing she did was to gather all the pages on Aristotle into a neat pile. She fished out an empty ring binder and a hole punch, made holes in the pages, and clipped them into the ring binder. This also went onto the top shelf. Later on in the day she would have to bring in the cookie tin from the den.
From now on things would be kept neat. And she didn't only ean in her room. After reading Aristotle, she realized it was just as important to keep her ideas orderly. She had reserved the top shelf of the closet especially for that kind of thing. It was the only place in the room that she did not yet have complete control over.
There had been no sign of life from her mother for over two hours. Sophie went downstairs. Before she woke her mother up she decided to feed her pets.
She bent over the goldfish bowl in the kitchen. One of the fishes was black, one orange, and one red and white. This was why she called them Black Jack, Gold-top, and Red Ridinghood.
As she sprinkled fish food into the water she said:
"You belong to Nature's living creatures, you can absorb nourishment, you can grow and reproduce yourselves. More specifically, you belong to the animal kingdom. So you can move around and look out at the world. To be precise, you are fish, and you breathe through your gills and can swim back and forth in the waters of life."
Sophie put the lid back on the fish food jar. She was quite satisfied with the way she had placed the goldfish in Nature's scale, and she was especially pleased with the expression "the waters of life." So now it was the budgerigars' turn.
Sophie poured a little birdseed in their feeding cup and said:
"Dear Smit and Smule. You have become dear little budgerigars because you grew out of dear little budgerigar eggs, and because these eggs had the form of being budgerigars, luckily you didn't grow into squawking parrots."
Sophie then went into the large bathroom, where the sluggish tortoise lay in a big box. Every now and then when her mother showered, she yelled that she would kill it one day. But so far it had been an empty threat. Sophie took a lettuce leaf from a large jam jar and laid it in the box.
"Dear Govinda," she said. "You are not one of the speediest animals, but you certainly are able to sense a tiny fraction of the great big world we live in. You'll have to content yourself with the fact that you are not the only one who can't exceed your own limits."
Sherekan was probably out catching mice——that was a cat's nature, after all. Sophie crossed the living room toward her mother's bedroom. A vase of daffodils stood on the coffee table. It was as if the yellow blooms bowed respectfully as Sophie went by. She stopped for a moment and let her fingers gently brush their smooth heads. "You belong to the living part of nature too," she said. "Actually, you are quite privileged compared to the vase you are in. But unfortunately you are not able to appreciate it."
Then Sophie tiptoed into her mother's bedroom. Although her mother was in a deep sleep, Sophie laid a hand on her forehead.
"You are one of the luckiest ones," she said, "because you are not only alive like the lilies of the field. And you are not only a living creature like Sherekan or Govinda. You are a human, and therefore have the rare capacity of thought."
"What on earth are you talking about, Sophie?"
Her mother had woken up more quickly than usual.
"I was just saying that you look like a lazy tortoise. I can otherwise inform you that I have tidied up my room, with philosophic thoroughness."
Her mother lifted her head.
"I'll be right there," she said. "Will you put the coffee on?"
Sophie did as she was asked, and they were soon sitting in the kitchen over coffee, juice, and chocolate.
Suddenly Sophie said, "Have you ever wondered why we are alive, Mom?"
"Oh, not again!"
"Yes, because now I know the answer. People live on this planet so that someone can go around giving names to everything."
"Is that right? I never thought of that."
"Then you have a big problem, because a human is a thinking animal. If you don't think, you're not really a human."
"Imagine if there were only vegetables and animals. Then there wouldn't have been anybody to tell the difference between 'cat' and 'dog,' or 'lily' and 'gooseberry.' Vegetables and animals are living too, but we are the only creatures that can categorize nature into different groups and classes."
"You really are he most peculiar girl I have ever had," said her mother.
"I should hope so," said Sophie. "Everybody is more or less peculiar. I am a person, so I am more or less peculiar. You have only one girl, so I am the most peculiar."
"What I meant was that you scare the living daylights out of me with all that new talk."
"You are easily scared, then."
Later that afternoon Sophie went back to the den. She managed to smuggle the big cookie tin up to her room without her mother noticing.
First she put all the pages in the right order. Then she punched holes in them and put them in the ring binder, before the chapter on Aristotle. Finally she numbered each page in the top right-hand corner. There were in all over fifty pages. Sophie was in the process of compiling her own book on philosophy. It was not by her, but written especially for her.
She had no time to do her homework for Monday. They were probably going to have a test in Religious Knowledge, but the teacher always said he valued personal commitment and value judgments. Sophie felt she was beginning to have a certain basis for both.
…… a spark from the fire…
Although the philosophy teacher had begun sending his letters directly to the old hedge, Sophie nevertheless looked in the mailbox on Monday morning, more out of habit than anything else.
It was empty, not surprisingly. She began to walk down Clover Close.
Suddenly she noticed a photograph lying on the sidewalk. It was a picture of a white jeep and a blue flag with the letters UN on it. Wasn't that the United Nations flag?
Sophie turned the picture over and saw that it was a regular postcard. To "Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen ……" It had a Norwegian stamp and was postmarked "UN Battalion" Friday June 15, 1990.
June 15! That was Sofie's birthday!
The card read:
Dear Hilde, I assume you are still celebrating your 15th birthday. Or is this the morning after? Anyway, it makes no difference to your present. In a sense, that will last a lifetime. But I'd like to wish you a happy birthday one more time. Perhaps you understand now why I send the cards to Sophie. I am sure she will pass them on to you.
P.S. Mom said you had lost your wallet. I hereby promise to reimburse you the 150 crowns. You will probably be able to get another school I.D. before they close for the summer vacation. Love from Dad.
Sophie stood glued to the spot. When was the previous card postmarked? She seemed to recall that the postcard of the beach was also postmarked June——even though it was a whole month off. She simply hadn't looked properly.
She glanced at her watch and then ran back to the house. She would just have to be late for school today!
Sophie let herself in and leaped upstairs to her room. She found the first postcard to Hilde under the red silk scarf. Yes! It was also postmarked June 15! Sophie's birthday and the day before the summer vacation.
Her mind was racing as she ran over to the supermarket to meet Joanna.
Who was Hilde? How could her father as good as take it for granted that Sophie would find her? In any case, it was senseless of him to send Sophie the cards instead of sending them directly to his daughter. It could not possibly be because he didn't know his own daughter's address. Was it a practical joke? Was he trying to surprise his daughter on her birthday by getting a perfect stranger to play detective and mailman? Was that why she was being given a month's headstart? And was using her as the go-between a way of giving his daughter a new girlfriend as a birthday present? Could she be the present that would "last a lifetime"?
If this joker really was in Lebanon, how had he gotten hold of Sophie's address? Also, Sophie and Hilde had at least two things in common. If Hilde's birthday was June 15, they were both born on the same day. And they both had fathers who were on the other side of the globe.
Sophie felt she was being drawn into an unnatural world. Maybe it was not so dumb after all to believe in fate. Still——she shouldn't be jumping to conclusions; it could all have a perfectly natral explanation. But how had Alberto Knox found Hilde's wallet when Hilde lived in Lillesand? Lillesand was hundreds of miles away. And why had Sophie found this postcard on her sidewalk? Did it fall out of the mailman's bag just as he got to Sophie's mailbox? If so, why should he drop this particular card?
"Are you completely insane?" Joanna burst out when Sophie finally made it to the supermarket.
Joanna frowned at her severely, like a schoolteacher.
"You'd better have a good explanation."
"It has to do with the UN," said Sophie. "I was detained by hostile troops in Lebanon."
"Sure …… You're just in love!"
They ran to school as fast as their legs could carry them.
The Religious Knowledge test that Sophie had not had time to prepare for was given out in the third period. The sheet read:
PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE AND TOLERANCE
1. Make a list of things we can know. Then make a list of things we can only believe.
2. Indicate some of the factors contributing to a person's philosophy of life.
3. What is meant by conscience? Do you think conscience is the same for everyone?
4. What is meant by priority of values?
Sophie sat thinking for a long time before she started to write. Could she use any of the ideas she had learned from Alberto Knox? She was going to have to, because she had not opened her Religious Knowledge book for days. Once she began to write, the words simply flowed from her pen.
She wrote that we know the moon is not made of green cheese and that there are also craters on the dark side of the moon, that both Socrates and Jesus were sentenced to death, that everybody has to die sooner or later, that the great temples on the Acropolis were built after the Persian wars in the fifth century B.C. and that the most important oracle in ancient Greece was the oracle at Delphi. As examples of what we can only believe, Sophie mentioned the questions of whether or not there is life on other planets, whether God exists or not, whether there is life after death, and whether Jesus was the son of God or merely a wise man. "We can certainly not know where the world came from," she wrote, completing her list. "The universe can be compared to a large rabbit pulled out of a top hat. Philosophers try to climb up one of the fine hairs of the rabbit's fur and stare straight into the eyes of the Great Magician. Whether they will ever succeed is an open question. But if each philosopher climbed onto another one's back, they would get even higher up in the rabbit's fur, and then, in my opinion, there would be some chance they would make it some day. P.S. In the Bible there is something that could have been one of the fine hairs of the rabbit's fur. The hair was called the Tower of Babel, and it was destroyed because the Magician didn't want the tiny human insects to crawl up that high out of the white rabbit he had just created."
Then there was the next question: "Indicate some of the factors contributing to a person's philosophy of life." Upbringing and environment were important here. People living at the time of Plato had a different philosophy of life than many people have today because they lived in a different age and a different environment. Another factor was the kind of experience people chose to get themselves. Common sense was not determined by environment. Everybody had that. Maybe one could compare environment and social situation with the conditions that existed deep down in Plato's cave. By using their intelligence individuals can start to drag themselves up from the darkness. But a journey like that requires personal courage. Socrates is a good example of a person who managed to free himself from the prevailing views of his time by his own intelligence. Finally, she wrote: "Nowadays, people of many lands and cultures are being intermingled more and more. Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists may live in the same apartment building. In which case it is more important to accept each other's beliefs than to ask why everyone does not believe the same thing."
Not bad, thought Sophie. She certainly felt she ad covered some ground with what she had learned from her philosophy teacher. And she could always supplement it with a dash of her own common sense and what she might have read and heard elsewhere.
She applied herself to the third question: "What is meant by conscience? Do you think conscience is the same for everyone?" This was something they had discussed a lot in class. Sophie wrote: Conscience is people's ability to respond to right and wrong. My personal opinion is that everyone is endowed with this ability, so in other words, conscience is innate. Socrates would have said the same. But just what conscience dictates can vary a lot from one person to the next. One could say that the Sophists had a point here. They thought that right and wrong is something mainly determined by the environment the individual grows up in. Socrates, on the other hand, believed that conscience is the same for everyone. Perhaps both views were right. Even if everybody doesn't feel guilty about showing themselves naked, most people will have a bad conscience if they are really mean to someone. Still, it must be remembered that having a conscience is not the same as using it. Sometimes it looks as if people act quite unscrupulously, but I believe they also have a kind of conscience somewhere, deep down. Just as it seems as if some people have no sense at all, but that's only because they are not using it. P.S. Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don't use a muscle, it gets weaker and weaker."
Now there was only one question left: "What is meant by priority of values?" This was another thing they had discussed a lot lately. For example, it could be of value to drive a car and get quickly from one place to another. But if driving led to deforestation and polluting the natural environment, you were facing a choice of values. After careful consideration Sophie felt she had come to the conclusion that healthy forests and a pure environment were more valuable than getting to work quickly. She gave several more examples. Finally she wrote: "Personally, I think Philosophy is a more important subject than English Grammar. It would therefore be a sensible priority of values to have Philosophy on the timetable and cut down a bit on English lessons."
In the last break the teacher drew Sophie aside.
"I have already read your Religion test," he said. "It was near the top of the pile."
"I hope it gave you some food for thought."
"That was exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. It was in many ways very mature. Surprisingly so. And self-reliant. But had you done your homework, Sophie?"
Sophie fidgeted a little.
"Well, you did say it was important to have a personal point of view."
"Well, yes I did …… but there are limits."
Sophie looked him straight in the eye. She felt she could permit herself this after all she had experienced lately.
"I have started studying philosophy," she said. "It gives one a good background for personal opinions."
"But it doesn't make it easy for me to grade your paper. It will either be a D or an A."
"Because I was either quite right or quite wrong? Is that what you're saying?"
"So let's say A," said the teacher. "But next time, do your homework!"
When Sophie got home from school that afternoon, she flung her schoolbag on the steps and ran down to the den. A brown envelope lay on top of the gnarled roots. It was quite dry around the edges, so it must have been a long time since Hermes had dropped it.
She took the envelope with her and let herself in the front door. She fed the animals and then went upstairs to her room. Lying on her bed, she opened Alberto's letter and read:
Here we are again, Sophie! Having read about the natural philosophers and Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, you are now familiar with the foundations of European philosophy. So from now on we will drop the introductory questions which you earlier received in white envelopes. I imagine you probably have plenty of other assignments and tests at school.
I shall now tell you about the long period frm Aristotle near the end of the fourth century B.C. right up to the early Middle Ages around A.D. 400. Notice that we can now write both B.C. and A.D. because Christianity was in fact one of the most important, and the most mysterious, factors of the period.
Aristotle died in the year 322 B.C., at the time when Athens had lost its dominant role. This was not least due to the political upheavals resulting from the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.).
Alexander the Great was the King of Macedonia. Aristotle was also from Macedonia, and for a time he was even the young Alexander's tutor. It was Alexander who won the final, decisive victory over the Persians. And moreover, Sophie, with his many conquests he linked both Egypt and the Orient as far east as India to the Greek civilization.
This marked the beginning of a new epoch in the history of mankind. A civilization sprang up in which Greek culture and the Greek language played a leading role. This period, which lasted for about 300 years, is known as Hellenism. The term Hellenism refers to both the period of time and the Greek-dominated culture that prevailed in the three Hellenistic kingdoms of Macedonia, Syria, and Egypt.
However, from about the year 50 B.C., Rome secured the upper hand in military and political affairs. The new superpower gradually conquered all the Hellenistic kingdoms, and from then on Roman culture and the Latin language were predominant from Spain in the west to far into Asia. This was the beginning of the Roman period, which we often refer to as Late Antiquity. But remember one thing——before the Romans managed to conquer the Hellenistic world, Rome itself was a province of Greek culture. So Greek culture and Greek philosophy came to play an important role long after the political influence of the Greeks was a thing of the past.
Religion, Philosophy and ScienceHellenism was characterized by the fact that the borders between the various countries and cultures became erased. Previously the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Syrians, and the Persians had worshipped their own gods within what we generally call a "national religion." Now the different cultures merged into one great witch's caldron of religious, philosophical, -and scientific ideas.
We could perhaps say that the town square was replaced by the world arena. The old town square had also buzzed with voices, bringing now different wares to market, now different thoughts and ideas. The new aspect was that town squares were being filled with wares and ideas from all over the world. The voices were buzzing in many different languages.
We have already mentioned that the Greek view of life was now much more widespread than it had been in the former Greek cultural areas. But as time went on, Oriental gods were also worshipped in all the Mediterranean countries. New religious formations arose that could draw on the gods and the beliefs of many of the old nations. This is called syncretism or the fusion of creeds.
Prior to this, people had felt a strong affinity with their own folk and their own city-state. But as the borders and boundaries became erased, many people began to experience doubt and uncertainty about their philosophy of life. Late Antiquity was generally characterized by religious doubts, cultural dissolution, and pessimism. It was said that "the world has grown old."
A common feature of the new religious formations during the Hellenistic period was that they frequently contained teachings about how mankind could attain salvation from death. These teachings were often secret. By accepting the teachings and performing certain rituals, a believer could hope for the immortality of the soul and eternal life. A certain insight into the true nature of the universe could be just as important for the salvation of the soul as religious rituals.
So much for the new religions, Sophie. But philosophy was also moving increasingly in the direction of "salvation" and serenity. Philosophic insight, it was now thought, did not only have its own reward; it shold also free mankind from pessimism and the fear of death. Thus the boundaries between religion and philosophy were gradually eliminated.
In general, the philosophy of Hellenism was not star-tlingly original. No new Plato or Aristotle appeared on the scene. On the contrary, the three great Athenian philosophers were a source of inspiration to a number of philosophic trends which I shall briefly describe in a moment.
Hellenistic science, too, was influenced by a blend of knowledge from the various cultures. The town of Alexandria played a key role here as a meeting place between East and West. While Athens remained the center of philosophy with still functioning schools of philosophy after Plato and Aristotle, Alexandria became the center for science. With its extensive library, it became the center for mathematics, astronomy, biology, and medicine.
Hellenistic culture could well be compared to the world of today. The twentieth century has also been influenced by an increasingly open civilization. In our own time, too, this opening out has resulted in tremendous upheavals for religion and philosophy. And just as in Rome around the beginning of the Christian era one could come across Greek, Egyptian, and Oriental religions, today, as we approach the end of the twentieth century, we can find in all European cities of any size religions from all parts of the world.
We also see nowadays how a conglomeration of old and new religions, philosophies, and sciences can form the basis of new offers on the "view-of-life" market. Much of this "new knowledge" is actually the flotsam of old thought, some of whose roots go back to Hellenism.
As I have said, Hellenistic philosophy continued to work with the problems raised by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Common to them all was their desire to discover how mankind should best live and die. They were concerned with ethics. In the new civilization, this became the central philosophical project. The main emphasis was on finding out what true happiness was and how it could be achieved. We are going to look at four of these philosophical trends.
The story goes that one day Socrates stood gazing at a stall that sold all kinds of wares. Finally he said, "What a lot of things I don't need!"
This statement could be the motto for the Cynic school of philosophy, founded by Antisthenes in Athens around 400 B.C.
Antisthenes had been a pupil of Socrates, and had become particularly interested in his frugality.
The Cynics emphasized that true happiness is not found in external advantages such as material luxury, political power, or good health. True happiness lies in not being dependent on such random and fleeting things. And because happiness does not consist in benefits of this kind, it is within everyone's reach. Moreover, having once been attained, it can never be lost.
The best known of the Cynics was Diogenes, a pupil of Antisthenes, who reputedly lived in a barrel and owned nothing but a cloak, a stick, and a bread bag. (So it wasn't easy to steal his happiness from him!) One day while he was sitting beside his barrel enjoying the sun, he was visited by Alexander the Great. The emperor stood before him and asked if there was anything he could do for him. Was there anything he desired? "Yes," Diogenes replied. "Stand to one side. You're blocking the sun." Thus Diogenes showed that he was no less happy and rich than the great man before him. He had everything he desired.
The Cynics believed that people did not need to be concerned about their own health. Even suffering and death should not disturb them. Nor should they let them-selves be tormented by concern for other people's woes. Nowadays the terms "cynical" and "cynicism" have come to mean a sneering disbelief in human sincerity, and they imply insensitivity to other people's suffering.
The Cynics were instrumental in the development of the Stoic school of philosophy, which grew up in Athens around 300 B.C. Its founder was Zeno, who came originally from Cyprus and joined the Cynics in Athens after being shpwrecked. He used to gather his followers under a portico. The name "Stoic" comes from the Greek word for portico (stoo). Stoicism was later to have great significance for Roman culture.
Like Heraclitus, the Stoics believed that everyone was a part of the same common sense——or "logos." They thought that each person was like a world in miniature, or "microcosmos," which is a reflection of the "macro-cosmos."
This led to the thought that there exists a universal right-ness, the so-called natural law. And because this natural law was based on timeless human and universal reason, it did not alter with time and place. In this, then, the Stoics sided with Socrates against the Sophists.
Natural law governed all mankind, even slaves. The Stoics considered the legal statutes of the various states merely as incomplete imitations of the "law" embedded in nature itself.
In the same way that the Stoics erased the difference between the individual and the universe, they also denied any conflict between "spirit" and "matter." There is only one nature, they averred. This kind of idea is called monism (in contrast to Plato's clear dualism or two-fold reality).
As true children of their time, the Stoics were distinctly "cosmopolitan," in that they were more receptive to contemporary culture than the "barrel philosophers" (the Cynics). They drew attention to human fellowship, they were preoccupied with politics, and many of them, notably the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180), were active statesmen. They encouraged Greek culture and philosophy in Rome, one of the most distinguished of them being the orator, philosopher, and statesman Cicero (106-43 B.C.). It was he who formed the very concept of "humanism"——that is, a view of life that has the individual as its central focus. Some years later, the Stoic Seneca (4 B.C.-A.D. 65) said that "to mankind, mankind is holy." This has remained a slogan for humanism ever since.
The Stoics, moreover, emphasized that all natural processes, such as sickness and death, follow the unbreakable laws of nature. Man must therefore learn to accept his destiny. Nothing happens accidentally. Everything happens through necessity, so it is of little use to complain when fate comes knocking at the door. One must also accept the happy events of life unperturbed, they thought. In this we see their kinship with the Cynics, who claimed that all external events were unimportant. Even today we use the term "stoic calm" about someone who does not let his feelings take over.
As we have seen, Socrates was concerned with finding out how man could live a good life. Both the Cynics and the Stoics interpreted his philosophy as meaning that man had to free himself from material luxuries. But Socrates also had a pupil named Aristippus. He believed that the aim of life was to attain the highest possible sensory enjoyment. "The highest good is pleasure," he said, "the greatest evil is pain." So he wished to develop a way of life whose aim was to avoid pain in all forms. (The Cynics and the Stoics believed in enduring pain of all kinds, which is not the same as setting out to avoid pain.)
Around the year 300 B.C., Epicurus (341-270) founded a school of philosophy in Athens. His followers were called Epicureans. He developed the pleasure ethic of Aristippus and combined it with the atom theory of Democritus.
The story goes that the Epicureans lived in a garden. They were therefore known as the "garden philosophers." Above the entrance to this garden there is said to have hung a notice saying, "Stranger, here you will live well. Here pleasure is the highest good."
Epicurus emphasized that the pleasurable results of an action must always be weighed against its possible side effects. If you have ever binged on chocolate you know what I mean. If you haven't, try this exercise: Take all your saved-up pocket money and buy two hundred crowns' worth of chocolate. (We'll assume you like chocolate.) It is essential to this exercise that you eat it all at one time. About half an hour later, when all that deicious chocolate is eaten, you will understand what Epicurus meant by side effects.
Epicurus also believed that a pleasurable result in the short term must be weighed against the possibility of a greater, more lasting, or more intense pleasure in the long term. (Maybe you abstain from eating chocolate for a whole year because you prefer to save up all your pocket money and buy a new bike or go on an expensive vacation abroad.) Unlike animals, we are able to plan our lives. We have the ability to make a "pleasure calculation." Chocolate is good, but a new bike or a trip to England is better.
Epicurus emphasized, though, that "pleasure" does not necessarily mean sensual pleasure——like eating chocolate, for instance. Values such as friendship and the appreciation of art also count. Moreover, the enjoyment of life required the old Greek ideals of self-control, temperance, and serenity. Desire must be curbed, and serenity will help us to endure pain.
Fear of the gods brought many people to the garden of Epicurus. In this connection, the atom theory of Democritus was a useful cure for religious superstitions. In order to live a good life it is not unimportant to overcome the fear of death. To this end Epicurus made use of Democritus's theory of the "soul atoms." You may perhaps remember that Democritus believed there was no life after death because when we die, the "soul atoms" disperse in all directions.
"Death does not concern us," Epicurus said quite simply, "because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist." (When you think about it, no one has ever been bothered by being dead.)
Epicurus summed up his liberating philosophy with what he called the four medicinal herbs:
The gods are not to be feared. Death is nothing to worry about. Good is easy to attain. The fearful is easy to endure.
From a Greek point of view, there was nothing new in comparing philosophical projects with those of medical science. The intention was simply that man should equip himself with a "philosophic medicine chest" containing the four ingredients I mentioned.
In contrast to the Stoics, the Epicureans showed little or no interest in politics and the community. "Live in seclusion!" was the advice of Epicurus. We could per-haps compare his "garden" with our present-day communes. There are many people in our own time who have sought a "safe harbor"——away from society.
After Epicurus, many Epicureans developed an overemphasis on self-indulgence. Their motto was "Live for the moment!" The word "epicurean" is used in a negative sense nowadays to describe someone who lives only for pleasure.
As I showed you, Cynicism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism all had their roots in the teaching of Socrates. They also made use of certain of the pre-Socratics like Heraclitus and Democritus.
But the most remarkable philosophic trend in the late Hellenistic period was first and foremost inspired by Plato's philosophy. We therefore call it Neoplatonism.
The most important figure in Neoplatonism was Plotinus (c. 205-270), who studied philosophy in Alexandria but later settled in Rome. It is interesting to note that he came from Alexandria, the city that had been the central meeting point for Greek philosophy and Oriental mysticism for several centuries. Plotinus brought with him to Rome a doctrine of salvation that was to compete seriously with Christianity when its time came. However, Neoplatonism also became a strong influence in mainstream Christian theology as well.
Remember Plato's doctrine of ideas, Sophie, and the way he distinguished between the world of ideas and the sensory world. This meant establishing a clear division between the soul and the body. Man thus became a dual creature: our body consisted of earth and dust like everything else in the sensory world, but we also had an immortal soul. This was widely believed by many Greeks long before Plato. Plotinus was also familiar with similar ideas from Asia.
Plotinus believed that the world is a span between two poles. At one end is the divine ligh which he calls the One. Sometimes he calls it God. At the other end is absolute darkness, which receives none of the light from the One. But Plotinus's point is that this darkness actually has no existence. It is simply the absence of light——in other words, it is not. All that exists is God, or the One, but in the same way that a beam of light grows progressively dimmer and is gradually extinguished, there is somewhere a point that the divine glow cannot reach.
According to Plotinus, the soul is illuminated by the light from the One, while matter is the darkness that has no real existence. But the forms in nature have a faint glow of the One.
Imagine a great burning bonfire in the night from which sparks fly in all directions. A wide radius of light from the bonfire turns night into day in the immediate area; but the glow from the fire is visible even from a distance of several miles. If we went even further away, we would be able to see a tiny speck of light like a far-off lantern in the dark, and if we went on moving away, at some point the light would not reach us. Somewhere the rays of light disappear into the night, and when it is completely dark we see nothing. There are neither shapes nor shadows.
Imagine now that reality is a bonfire like this. That which is burning is God——and the darkness beyond is the cold matter that man and animals are made of. Closest to God are the eternal ideas which are the primal forms of all creatures. The human soul, above all, is a "spark from the fire." Yet everywhere in nature some of the divine light is shining. We can see it in all living creatures; even a rose or a bluebell has its divine glow. Furthest away from the living God are earth and water and stone.
I am saying that there is something of the divine mystery in everything that exists. We can see it sparkle in a sunflower or a poppy. We sense more of this unfathomable mystery in a butterfly that flutters from a twig——or in a goldfish swimming in a bowl. But we are closest to God in our own soul. Only there can we become one with the great mystery of life. In truth, at very rare moments we can experience that we ourselves are that divine mystery.
Plotinus's metaphor is rather like Plato's myth of the cave: the closer we get to the mouth of the cave, the closer we get to that which all existence springs from. But in contrast to Plato's clear two-fold reality, Plotinus's doctrine is characterized by an experience of wholeness. Everything is one——for everything is God. Even the shadows deep down in Plato's cave have a faint glow of the One.
On rare occasions in his life, Plotinus experienced a fusion of his soul with God. We usually call this a mystical experience. Plotinus is not alone in having had such experiences. People have told of them at all times and in all cultures. The details might be different, but the essential features are the same. Let us take a look at some of these features.
A mystical experience is an experience of merging with God or the "cosmic spirit." Many religions emphasize the gulf between God and Creation, but the mystic experiences no such gulf. He or she has experienced being "one with God" or "merging" with Him.
The idea is that what we usually call "I" is not the true "I." In short glimpses we can experience an identification with a greater "I." Some mystics call it God, others call it the cosmic spirit, Nature, or the Universe. When the fusion happens, the mystic feels that he is "losing himself"; he disappears into God or is lost in God in the same way that a drop of water loses itself when it merges with the sea. An Indian mystic once expressed it in this way: "When I was, God was not. When God is, I am no more." The Christian mystic Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) put it another way: Every drop becomes the sea when it flows oceanward, just as at last the soul ascends and thus becomes the Lord.
Now you might feel that it cannot be particularly pleasant to "lose oneself." I know what you mean. But the point is that what you lose is so very much less than what you gain. You loe yourself only in the form you have at the moment, but at the same time you realize that you are something much bigger. You are the universe. In fact, you are the cosmic spirit itself, Sophie. It is you who are God. If you have to lose yourself as Sophie Amundsen, you can take comfort in the knowledge that this "everyday I" is something you will lose one day anyway. Your real "I"—— which you can only experience if you are able to lose yourself——is, according to the mystics, like a mysterious fire that goes on burning to all eternity.
But a mystical experience like this does not always come of itself. The mystic may have to seek the path of "purification and enlightenment" to his meeting with God. This path consists of the simple life and various meditation techniques. Then all at once the mystic achieves his goal, and can exclaim, "I am God" or "I am You."
Mystical trends are found in all the great world religions. And the descriptions of mystical experiences given by the mystics show a remarkable similarity across all cultural boundaries. It is in the mystic's attempt to provide a religious or philosophic interpretation of the mystical experience that his cultural background reveals itself.
In Western mysticism——that is, within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam——the mystic emphasizes that his meeting is with a personal God. Although God is present both in nature and in the human soul, he is also far above and beyond the world. In Eastern mysticism——that is, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese religion——it is more usual to emphasize that the mystic experiences a total fusion with God or the "cosmic spirit."
"I am the cosmic spirit," the mystic can exclaim, or "I am God." For God is not only present in the world; he has nowhere else to be.
In India, especially, there have been strong mystical movements since long before the time of Plato. Swami Vivekenanda, an Indian who was instrumental in bringing Hinduism to the west, once said, "Just as certain world religions say that people who do not believe in a personal God outside themselves are atheists, we say that a person who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the splendor of one's own soul is what we call atheism."
A mystical experience can also have ethical significance. A former president of India, Sarvepalli Radhak-rishnan, said once, "Love thy neighbor as thyself because you ore your neighbor. It is an illusion that makes you think that your neighbor is someone other than yourself."
People of our own time who do not adhere to a particular religion also tell of mystical experiences. They have suddenly experienced something they have called "cosmic consciousness" or an "oceanic feeling." They have felt themselves wrenched out of Time and have experienced the world "from the perspective of eternity."
Sophie sat up in bed. She had to feel whether she still had a body. As she read more and more about Plato and the mystics, she had begun to feel as though she were floating around in the room, out of the window and far off above the town. From there she had looked down on all the people in the square, and had floated on and on over the globe that was her home, over the North Sea and Europe, down over the Sahara and across the African savanna.
The whole world had become almost like a living person, and it felt as if that person were Sophie herself. The world is me, she thought. The great big universe that she had often felt to be unfathomable and terrifying——was her own "I." Now, too, the universe was enormous and majestic, but now it was herself who was so big.
The extraordinary feeling was fleeting, but Sophie was sure she would never forget it. It felt as if something inside her had burst through her forehead and become merged with everything else, the way a drop of color can tint a whole jug of water.
When it was all over, it was like waking up with a headache after a wonderful dream. Sophie registered with a touch of disillusionment that she had a body which was trying to sit up in bed. Lying on her stomach reading the pages from Alberto Knx had given her a backache. But she had experienced something unforgettable.
Eventually she pulled herself together and stood up. The first thing she did was to punch holes in the pages and file them in her ring binder together with the other lessons. Then she .went into the garden.
The birds were singing as if the world had just been born. The pale green of the birches behind the old rabbit hutches was so intense that it seemed as though the Creator had not yet finished blending the color.
Could she really believe that everything was one divine "I"? Could she believe that she carried within her a soul that was a "spark from the fire"? If it was true, then she was truly a divine creature.
…I'm imposing a severe censorship on myself…
Several days went by without any word from the philosophy teacher. Tomorrow was Thursday, May 17—— Norway's national day. School would be closed on the 18th as well. As they walked home after school Joanna suddenly exclaimed, "Let's go camping!"
Sophie's immediate reaction was that she couldn't be away from the house for long. But then she said, "Sure, why not?"
A couple of hours later Joanna arrived at Sophie's door with a large backpack. Sophie had packed hers as well, and she also had the tent. They both had bedrolls and sweaters, groundsheets and flashlights, large-size thermos bottles and plenty of their favorite food.
When Sophie's mother got home around five o'clock, she gave them a sermon about what they must and must not do. She also insisted on knowing where they were going to set up camp.
They told her they intended to make for Grouse Top. They might be lucky enough to hear the mating call of the grouse next morning.
Sophie had an ulterior motive for choosing that particular spot. She thought that Grouse Top must be pretty close to the major's cabin. Something was urging her to return to it, but she didn't dare go alone.
The two girls walked down the path that led from the little cul-de-sac just beyond Sophie's garden gate. They chatted about this and that, and Sophie enjoyed taking a little time off from everything having to do with philosophy.
By eight o'clock they had pitched their tent in a clearing by Grouse Top. They had prepared themselves for the night and their bedrolls were unfolded. When they had eaten their sandwiches, Sophie asked, "Have you ever heard of the major's cabin?"
"The major's cabin?"
"There's a hut in the woods somewhere near here …… by a little lake. A strange man lived there once, a major, that's why it's called the major's cabin."
"Does anyone live there now?"
"Do you want to go and see?"
"Where is it?"
Sophie pointed in among the trees.
Joanna was not particularly eager, but in the end they set out. The sun was low in the sky.
They walked in between the tall pine trees at first, but soon they were pushing their way through bush and thicket. Eventually they made their way down to a path. Could it be the path Sophie had followed that Sunday morning?
It must have been——almost at once she could point to something shining between the trees to the right of the path.
"It's in there," she said.
They were soon standing at the edge of the small lake. Sophie gazed at the cabin across the water. All the windows were now shuttered up. The red building was the most deserted place she had seen for ages.
Joanna turned toward her. "Do we have to walk on the water?"
"Of course not. We'll row."
Sophie pointed down into the reeds. There lay the rowboat, just as before.
"Have you been here before?"
Sophie shook her head. Trying to explain her previous visit would be far too complicated. And then she would have to tell her friend about Alberto Knox and the philosophy course as well.
They laughed and joked as they rowed across the water. When they reached the opposite bank, Sophie made sure they drew the boat well up on land.
They went to the front door. As there was obviously nobody in the cabin, Joanna tried the door handle.
"Locked…… you didn't expect it to be open, did you?"
"Maybe we can find a key," said Sophie.
She bgan to search in the crevices of the stonework foundation.
"Oh, let's go back to the tent instead," said Joanna after a few minutes.
But just then Sophie exclaimed, "Here it is! I found it!"
She held up the key triumphantly. She put it in the lock and the door swung open.
The two friends sneaked inside as if they were up to something criminal. It was cold and dark in the cabin.
"We can't see a thing!" said Joanna.
But Sophie had thought of that. She took a box of matches out of her pocket and struck one. They only had time to see that the cabin was deserted before the match went out. Sophie struck another, and this time she noticed a stump of candle in a wrought-iron candlestick on top of the stove. She lit it with the third match and the little room became light enough for them to look around.
"Isn't it odd that such a small candle can light up so much darkness?" said Sophie.
Her friend nodded.
"But somewhere the light disappears into the dark," Sophie went on. "Actually, darkness has no existence of its own. It's only a lack of light."
Joanna shivered. "That's creepy! Come on, let's go……"
"Not before we've looked in the mirror."
Sophie pointed to the brass mirror hanging above the chest of drawers, just as before.
"That's really pretty!" said Joanna.
"But it's a magic mirror."
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?"
"I'm not kidding, Joanna. I am sure you can look in it and see something on the other side."
"Are you sure you've never been here before? And why is it so amusing to scare me all the time?"
Sophie could not answer that one.
Now it was Joanna who suddenly discovered something lying on the floor in the corner. It was a small box. Joanna picked it up.
"Postcards," she said.
"Don't touch them! Do you hear——don't you dare touch them!"
Joanna jumped. She threw the box down as if she had burnt herself. The postcards were strewn all over the floor. The next second she began to laugh.
"They're only postcards!"
Joanna sat down on the floor and started to pick them up. After a while Sophie sat down beside her.
"Lebanon …… Lebanon …… Lebanon …… They are all postmarked in Lebanon," Joanna discovered.
"I know," said Sophie.
Joanna sat bolt upright and looked Sophie in the eye.
"So you have been here before!"
"Yes, I guess I have."
It suddenly struck her that it would have been a whole lot easier if she had just admitted she had been here before. It couldn't do any harm if she let her friend in on the mysterious things she had experienced during the last few days.
"I didn't want to tell you before we were here."
Joanna began to read the cards.
"They are all addressed to someone called Hilde Moller Knag."
Sophie had not touched the cards yet.
Joanna read: "Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Alberto Knox, Lillesand, Norway."
Sophie breathed a sigh of relief. She was afraid they would say c/o Sophie Amundsen.
She began to inspect them more closely.
"April 28 …… May 4 …… May 6 …… May 9 …… They were stamped a few days ago."
"But there's something else. All the postmarks are Norwegian! Look at that…… UN Battalion …… the stamps are Norwegian too!"
"I think that's the way they do it. They have to be sort of neutral, so they have their own Norwegian post office down there."
"But how do they get the mail home?"
"The air force, probably."
Sophie put the candlestick on the floor, and the two friends began to read the cards. Joanna arranged them in chronological order and read the first card:
Dear Hilde, I can't wait to come home to Lillesand. I expect to land at Kjevik airport early evening on Midsummer Eve. I would much rather have arrived in time for your 15th birthday but I'm under military command of course. To make up for it, I promise to devote all my loving care to the huge present you are getting for your birthday.
With love from someone who is always thinking about his daughter's future.
P.S. I'm sending a copy of this card to our mutual friend. I know you understand, Hilde. At the moment I'm being very secretive, bt you will understand.
Sophie picked up the next card:
Dear Hilde, Down here we take one day at a time. If there is one thing I'm going to remember from these months in Lebanon, it's all this waiting. But I'm doing what I can so you have as great a 15th birthday as possible. I can't say any more at the moment. I'm imposing a severe censorship on myself. Love, Dad.
The two friends sat breathless with excitement. Neither of them spoke, they just read what was written on the cards:
My dear child, What I would like best would be to send you my secret thoughts with a white dove. But they are all out of white doves in Lebanon. If there is anything this war-torn country needs, it is white doves. I pray the UN will truly manage to make peace in the world some day.
P.S. Maybe your birthday present can be shared with other people. Let's talk about that when I get home. But you still have no idea what I'm talking about, right? Love from someone who has plenty of time to think for the both of us.
When they had read six cards, there was only one left. It read:
Dear Hilde, I am now so bursting with all these secrets for your birthday that I have to stop myself several times a day from calling home and blowing the whole thing. It is something that simply grows and grows. And as you know, when a thing gets bigger and bigger it's more difficult to keep it to yourself. Love from Dad.
P.S. Some day you will meet a girl called Sophie. To give you both a chance to get to know more about each other before you meet, I have begun sending her copies of all the cards I send to you. I expect she will soon begin to catch on, Hilde. As yet she knows no more than you. She has a girlfriend called Joanna. Maybe site can be of help?
After reading the last card, Joanna and Sophie sat quite still staring wildly at each other. Joanna was holding Sophie's wrist in a tight grip.
"I'm scared," she said.
"So am I."
"When was the last card stamped?"
Sophie looked again at the card.
"May 16," she said. "That's today."
"It can't be!" cried Joanna, almost angrily.
They examined the postmark carefully, but there was no mistaking it…… 05-16-90.
"It's impossible," insisted Joanna. "And I can't imagine who could have written it. It must be someone who knows us. But how could they know we would come here on this particular day?"
Joanna was by far the more scared of the two. The business with Hilde and her father was nothing new to Sophie.
"I think it has something to do with the brass mirror."
Joanna jumped again.
"You don't actually think the cards come fluttering out of the mirror the minute they are stamped in Lebanon?"
"Do you have a better explanation?"
Sophie got to her feet and held the candle up in front of the two portraits on the wall. Joanna came over and peered at the pictures.
"Berkeley and Bjerkely. What does that mean?"
"I have no idea."
The candle was almost burnt down.
"Let's go," said Joanna. "Come on!"
"We must just take the mirror with us."
Sophie reached up and unhooked the large brass mirror from the wall above the chest of drawers. Joanna tried to stop her but Sophie would not be deterred.
When they got outside it was as dark as a May night can get. There was enough light in the sky for the clear outlines of bushes and trees to be visible. The small lake lay like a reflection of the sky above it. The two girls rowed pensively across to the other side.
Neither of them spoke much on the way back to the tent, but each knew that the other was thinking intensely about what they had seen. Now and then a frightened bird would start up, and a couple of times they heard the hooting of an owl.
As soon as they reached the tent, they crawled into their bedrolls. Joanna refused to have the mirror inside the tent. Before they fell asleep, they agreed that it was scary enough, knowing it was just outside the tent flap. Sophie had also taken the postcards and put them in one of the pockets of her backpack.
They woke early next morning. Sophie was up first. She put her boots on and went outside the tent. There lay the lage mirror in the grass, covered with dew.
Sophie wiped the dew off with her sweater and gazed down at her own reflection. It was as if she was looking down and up at herself at the same time. Luckily she found no early morning postcard from Lebanon.
Above the broad clearing behind the tent a ragged morning mist was drifting slowly into little wads of cotton. Small birds were chirping energetically but Sophie could neither see nor hear any grouse.
The girls put on extra sweaters and ate their breakfast outside the tent. Their conversation soon turned to the major's cabin and the mysterious cards.
After breakfast they folded up the tent and set off for home. Sophie carried the large mirror under her arm. From time to time she had to rest——Joanna refused to touch it.
As they approached the outskirts of the town they heard a few sporadic shots. Sophie recalled what Hilde's father had written about war-torn Lebanon, and she realized how lucky she was to have been born in a peaceful country. The "shots" they heard came from innocent fireworks celebrating the national holiday.
Sophie invited Joanna in for a cup of hot chocolate. Her mother was very curious to know where they had found the mirror. Sophie told her they had found it outside the major's cabin, and her mother repeated the story about nobody having lived there for many years.
When Joanna had gone, Sophie put on a red dress. The rest of the Norwegian national day passed quite normally. In the evening, the TV news had a feature on how the Norwegian UN battalion had celebrated the day in Lebanon. Sophie's eyes were glued to the screen. One of the men she was seeing could be Hilde's father.
The last thing Sophie did on May 17 was to hang the large mirror on the wall in her room. The following morning there was a new brown envelope in the den. She tore it open at once and began to read.
…… the only way to avoid floating in a vacuum …
It won't be long now before we meet, my dear Sophie. I thought you would return to the major's cabin——that's why I left all the cards from Hilde's father there. That was the only way they could be delivered to her. Don't worry about how she will get them. A lot can happen before June 15.
We have seen how the Hellenistic philosophers recycled the ideas of earlier philosophers. Some even attempted to turn their predecessors into religious prophets. Plotinus came close to acclaiming Plato as the savior of humanity.
But as we know, another savior was born during the period we have just been discussing——and that happened outside the Greco-Roman area. I refer to Jesus of Nazareth. In this chapter we will see how Christianity gradually began to permeate the Greco-Roman world——more or less the same way that Hilde's world has gradually begun to permeate ours.
Jesus was a jew, and the Jews belong to Semitic culture. The Greeks and the Romans belong to Indo-European culture. European civilization has its roots in both cultures. But before we take a closer look at the way Christianity influenced Greco-Roman culture, we must examine these roots.
By Indo-European we mean all the nations and cultures that use Indo-European languages. This covers all European nations except those whose inhabitants speak one of the Finno-Ugrian languages (Lapp, Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian) or Basque. In addition, most Indian and Iranian languages belong to the Indo-European family of languages.
About 4,000 years ago, the primitive Indo-Europeans lived in areas bordering on the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. From there, waves of these Indo-European tribes began to wander southeast into Iran and India, southwest to Greece, Italy, and Spain, westward through Central Europe to France and Britain, northwestward to Scandinavia and northward to Eastern Europe and Russia. Wherever they went, the Indo-Europeans assimilated with the local culture, although Indo-European languages and Indo-European religion came to play a dominant role.
The ancient Indian Veda scriptures and Greek philosophy, and for that matter Snorri Sturluson' mythology are all written in related languages. But it is not only the languages that are related. Related languages often lead to related ideas. This is why we usually speak of an Indo-European "culture."
The culture of the Indo-Europeans was influenced most of all by their belief in many gods. This is called polytheism. The names of these gods as well as much of the religious terminology recur throughout the whole Indo-European area. I'll give you a few examples:
The ancient Indians worshipped the celestial god Dyaus, which in Sanskrit means the sky, day, heaven/ Heaven. In Greek this god is called Zeus, in Latin, Jupiter (actually iov-pater, or "Father Heaven"), and in Old Norse, Tyr. So the names Dyaus, Zeus, lov, and Tyr are dialectal variants of the same word.
You probably learned that the old Vikings believed in gods which they called Aser. This is another word we find recurring all over the Indo-European area. In Sanskrit, the ancient classical language of India, the gods are called asura and in Persian Ahura. Another word for "god" is deva in Sanskrit, claeva in Persian, deus in Latin and tivurr in Old Norse.
In Viking times, people also believed in a special group of fertility gods (such as Niord, Freyr, and Freyja). These gods were referred to by a special collective name, vaner, a word that is related to the Latin name for the goddess of fertility, Venus. Sanskrit has the related word van/, which means "desire."
There is also a clear affinity to be observed in some of the Indo-European myths. In Snorri's stories of the Old Norse gods, some of the myths are similar to the myths of India that were handed down from two to three thousand years earlier. Although Snorri's myths reflect the Nordic environment and the Indian myths reflect the Indian, many of them retain traces of a common origin. We can see these traces most clearly in myths about immortal potions and the struggles of the gods against the monsters of chaos.
We can also see clear similarities in modes of thought across the Indo-European cultures. A typical likeness is the way the world is seen as being the subject of a drama in which the forces of Good and Evil confront each other in a relentless struggle. Indo-Europeans have therefore often tried to "predict" how the battles between Good and Evil will turn out.
One could say with some truth that it was no accident that Greek philosophy originated in the Indo-European sphere of culture. Indian, Greek, and Norse mythology all have obvious leanings toward a philosophic, or "speculative," view of the world.
The Indo-Europeans sought "insight" into the history of the world. We can even trace a particular word for "insight" or "knowledge" from one culture to another all over the Indo-European world. In Sanskrit it is vidya. The word is identical to the Greek word idea, which was so important in Plato's philosophy. From Latin, we have the word video, but on Roman ground the word simply means to see. For us, "I see" can mean "I understand," and in the cartoons, a light bulb can flash on above Woody Woodpecker's head when he gets a bright idea. (Not until our own day did "seeing" become synonymous with staring at the TV screen.) In English we know the words wise and wisdom——in German, wissen (to know). Norwegian has the word viten, which has the same root as the Indian word vidya, the Greek idea, and the Latin video.
All in all, we can establish that sight was the most important of the senses for Indo-Europeans. The literature of Indians, Greeks, Persians, and Teutons alike was characterized by great cosmic visions. (There is that word again: "vision" comes from the Latin verb "video."} It was also characteristic for Indo-European culture to make pictures and sculptures of the gods and of mythical events.
Lastly, the Indo-Europeans had a cyc//c view of history. This is the belief that history goes in circles, just like the seasons of the year. There is thus no beginning and no end to history, but there are different civilizations that rise and fall in an eternal interplay between birth and death. Both of the two great Oriental religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, are Indo-European in origin. So is Greek philosophy, and we can see a number of clear parallels between Hinduism and Buddhism on the one hand and Greek philosophy on the other. Even today, Hinduism and Buddhism are strongly imbued with philosophical reflection.
Not infrequently we find in Hinduism and Buddhism an emphasis on the fact that the deity is present in all things (pantheism) and that man can become one with God through religious insight. (Remember Plotinus, Sophie?) To achieve this requires the practice of deep self-communion or meditation. Therefore in the Orient, passivity and seclusion can be religious ideals. In ancient Greece, too, there were many people who believed in an ascetic, or religiously secluded, way of life for the salvation of the soul Many aspects of medieval monastic life can be traced back to beliefs dating from the Greco-Roman civilization.
Similarly, the transmigration of the soul, or the cycle of rebirth, is a fundamental belief in many Indo-European cultures. For more than 2,500 years, the ultimate purpose of life for every Indian has been the release from the cycle of rebirth. Plato also believed in the transmigration of the soul.
Let us now turn to the Semites, Sophie. They belong to a completely different culture with a completely different language. The Semites originated in the Arabian Peninsula, but they also migrated to different parts of the world. The Jews lived far from their home for more than 2,000 years. Semitic history and religion reached furthest away from its roots by way of Christendom, although Semitic culture also became widely spread via Islam.
All three Western religions——Judaism, Christianity, and Islam——share a Semitic background. The Muslims' holy scripture, the Koran, and the Old Testament were both written in the Semitic family of languages. One of the Old Testament words for "god" has the same semantic root as the Muslim Allah. (The word "allah" means, quite simply, "god.")
When we get to Christianity the picture becomes more complicated. Christianity also has a Semitic background, but the New Testament was written in Greek, and when the Christian theology or creed was formulated, it was influenced by Greek and Latin, and thus also by Hellenistic philosophy.
The Indo-Europeans believed in many different gods. It was just as characteristic for the Semites that from earliest times they were united in their belief in one God. This is called monotheism. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the same fundamental idea that there is only one God.
The Semites also had in common a linear view of history. In other words, history was seen as an ongoing line. In the beginning God created the world and that was the beginning of history. But one day history will end and that will be Judgment Day, when God judges the living and the dead.
The role played by history is an important feature of these three Western religions. The belief is that God intervenes in the course of history——even that history exists in order that God may manifest his will in the world, just as he once led Abraham to the "Promised Land," he leads mankind's steps through history to the Day of Judgment. When that day comes, all evil in the world will be destroyed.
With their strong emphasis on God's activity in the course of history, the Semites were preoccupied with the writing of history for many thousands of years. And these historical roots constitute the very core of their holy scriptures.
Even today the city of Jerusalem is a significant religious center for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. This indicates something of the common background of these three religions.
The city comprises prominent (Jewish) synagogues, (Christian) churches, and (Islamic) mosques. It is therefore deeply tragic that Jerusalem should have become a bone of contention——with people killing each other by the thousand because they cannot agree on who is to have ascendancy over this "Eternal City." May the UN one day succeed in makin Jerusalem a holy shrine for all three religions! (We shall not go any further into this more practical part of our philosophy course for the moment. We will leave it entirely to Hilde's father. You must have gathered by now that he is a UN observer in Lebanon. To be more precise, I can reveal that he is serving as a major. If you are beginning to see some connection, that's quite as it should be. On the other hand, let's not anticipate events!)
We said that the most important of the senses for Indo-Europeans was sight. How important hearing was to the Semitic cultures is just as interesting. It is no accident that the Jewish creed begins with the words: "Hear, O Israel!" In the Old Testament we read how the people "heard" the word of the Lord, and the Jewish prophets usually began their sermons with the words: "Thus spake Jehovah (God)." "Hearing" the word of God is also emphasized in Christianity. The religious ceremonies of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all characterized by reading aloud or "reciting."
I also mentioned that the Indo-Europeans always made pictorial representations or sculptures of their gods. It was just as characteristic for the Semites that they never did. They were not supposed to create pictures or sculptures of God or the "deity." The Old Testament commands that the people shall not make any image of God. This is still law today both for Judaism and Islam. Within Islam there is moreover a general aversion to both photography and art, because people should not compete with God in "creating" anything.
But the Christian churches are full of pictures of Jesus and God, you are probably thinking. True enough, Sophie, but this is just one example of how Christendom was influenced by the Greco-Roman world. (In the Greek Orthodox Church——that is, in Greece and in Russia—— "graven images," or sculptures and crucifixes, from Bible stories are still forbidden.)
In contrast to the great religions of the Orient, the three Western religions emphasize that there is a distance between God and his creation. The purpose is not to be released from the cycle of rebirth, but to be redeemed from sin and blame. Moreover, religious life is characterized more by prayer, sermons, and the study of the scriptures than by self-communion and meditation.
I have no intention of competing with your religion teacher, Sophie, but let us just make a quick summary of Christianity's Jewish background.
It all began when God created the world. You can read how that happened on the very first page of the Bible. Then mankind began to rebel against God. Their punishment was not only that Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden——Death also came into the world.
Man's disobedience to God is a theme that runs right through the Bible. If we go further on in the Book of Genesis we read about the Flood and Noah's Ark. Then we read that God made a covenant with Abraham and his seed. This covenant——or pact——was that Abraham and all his seed would keep the Lord's commandments. In exchange God promised to protect all the children of Abraham. This covenant was renewed when Moses was given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai around the year 1200 B.C. At that time the Israelites had long been held as slaves in Egypt, but with God's help they were led back to the land of Israel.
About 1,000 years before Christ——and therefore long before there was anything called Greek philosophy——we hear of three great kings of Israel. The first was Saul, then came David, and after him came Solomon. Now all the Israelites were united in one kingdom, and under King David, especially, they experienced a period of political, military, and cultural glory.