Middle East Travels (V)
Last time I wrote about a problem that the Roman and Greek Empires had. It was one thing to conquer a lot of territory; it was another to control it. Both of these empires did an amazing job of that. They used three methods to control the areas they conquered and we talked about the first two in my last post. The first method of control we mentioned was the obvious one—threats. Both of these empires threatened to destroy anyone who got out of line. But threats can only take one so far. The second method of control that was used, especially by the Roman Empire, was the promise that those who pledged allegiance to Rome would be wealthy and safe. And Rome delivered on that promise in a way that no other empire ever had. People wanted to become Roman citizens so they could make more money and be safer.
The third method of control was the most subtle—it was the method of using all the avenues of culture to push a certain agenda.
This is the one that the Greeks did really well. What Greece, and later Rome, would do was to establish cities that would be cultural centers. They would pick a city in an area and develop five things in that city: Education, Entertainment, Sports, Business, and Religion. Through these institutions they would push the Greek or Roman way of living. Through schools, plays, sporting events, the marketplace and religious festivals, they would communicate the Greek ideals of what it meant to be human, of what was important and of how we are supposed to live. They would consistently expose people to the Greek view of the good life and of right and wrong and pretty soon people would simply have changed their values and their worldview—and they wouldn’t even have really noticed. They would have become Greek or Roman without knowing it.
I mention all of this because the first day of our trip we stopped in one of these cities – Jerash. It is in Jordan and it’s a great example of a Roman city from around the time of Jesus. It’s mentioned in the Bible because it’s one of the ten cities (the Decapolis) talked about in Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20 and Mark 7:31. It was a beautiful city and the ruins were in really good shape (as far as ruins go—I mean, after all, they are ruins! ). There was a huge marketplace, several temples, a main street with water fountains, a couple of theaters and a sports stadium. It was all very impressive.
More importantly, it was very powerful.
These cities had a huge impact on the world of their day. And they were a huge challenge for Christians who were trying to teach their kids God’s ways. It was tough to raise your kids to have a Christ-centered world view when all these other parts of their world—education, entertainment, sports, business and religious festivals—were telling a different story.
Sound familiar? It does to me.
We live in a world of powerful cultural forces—movies and the internet and music and sports. And each one of these has a worldview—each one gives us a picture of what it means to be human and what is good and bad.
I wonder how much we may have been impacted by these forces without even knowing it.
Middle East Travels (V) – you’re here, my friend