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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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GREECE represents in English the Latin word Græscia , which is derived from GrÅ“ci . This name Græci properly belonged only to a small tribe of Greeks, who lived in the north-west of Greece; but as this tribe was apparently the first to attract the attention of Rome, dwelling as it did on the other side of the Adriatic from Italy, the name came to be applied by the Romans to the whole race. The term Græcia , when used by Romans, is equivalent to the Greek name Hellas , which is still used by the Greeks to describe their own country. In ancient times Hellas was frequently used in a wide sense to include not only Greece proper, but every settlement of Greeks outside their own country as well. Thus a portion of the Crimea, much of the west coast of Asia Minor, settlements in Cyrene, Sicily, Gaul, and Spain, and above all the southern half of Italy, were parts of Hellas in this wide sense. Southern Italy was so studded with Greek settlements that it became known as Magna Græcia . After the conquests of Alexander the Great, who died 323 b.c., all the territory annexed by him, such as the greater part of Asia Minor, as well as Syria and Egypt, could he regarded as in a sense Hellas . Alexander was the chief agent in the spread of the Greek civilization, manners, language, and culture over these countries. The dynasties founded by his generals, the Seleucids and Ptolemys for example, continued his work, and when Rome began to interfere in Eastern politics about the beginning of the 2nd cent. b.c., the Greek language was already firmly established in the East. When, about three centuries after Alexander’s death, practically all his former dominions had become Roman provinces, Greek was the one language which could carry the traveller from the Euphrates to Spain. The Empire had two official languages, Latin for Italy and all provinces north, south-west, and west of it; Greek for all east and south-east of Italy. The Romans wisely made no attempt to force Latin on the Eastern peoples, and were content to let Greek remain in undisputed sway there. All their officials understood and spoke it. Thus it came about that Christianity was preached in Greek, that our NT books were written in Greek, and that the language of the Church, according to all the available evidence, remained Greek till about the middle of the 2nd cent. a.d.

As Galilee was thickly planted with Greek towns, there can be little doubt that Jesus knew the language, and spoke it when necessary, though it is probable that He commonly used Aramaic, as He came first to ‘the lost tribes of Israel.’ With St. Paul the case was different. Most of the Jews of the Dispersion were probably unable to speak Aramaic, and used the OT in the Greek translation. These would naturally be addressed in Greek. It is true that he spoke Aramaic on one occasion (Acts 21:40 ) at least, but this occasion was exceptional. It was a piece of tact on his part, to secure the respectful attention of his audience. Probably only the inhabitants of the villages in the Eastern Roman provinces were unable to speak Greek, and even they could doubtless understand it when spoken. The Jews were amongst the chief spreaders of the language. Some of the successors of Alexander esteemed them highly as colonists, and they were to be found in large numbers over the Roman Empire, speaking in the first instance Greek (cf. Acts 2:9 ). When they wrote books, they wrote them in Greek: Philo and Josephus are examples. It is not meant that Greek killed the native languages of the provinces: these had their purpose and subsisted.

The name Hellas occurs only once in the NT ( Acts 20:2 ). There it is used in a narrow sense of the Greek peninsula, exclusive even of Macedonia: it is in fact used in the sense of Achaia (wh. see).

A. Souter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Greece'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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