Sunday, June 26, 2011

Alexandros Megos

I am fascinated by Alexander the Great, so fascinated that — one of these days — I am going to write a novel about him.  I know Mary Renault already did a fantastic job of this with her series, but it bothers me that Alexander died without having fulfilled his dream of reaching the ends of the earth.  So I plan a sequel.  It's all written out in my head already, and will appeal to sci-fi buffs (I hope).

No one has had a greater impact on history than Jesus, of course, but Alexander's contribution shouldn't be minimized.  Sadly, Alexander isn't really studied much nowadays, and although his exploits have been required reading in military academies for centuries, most people know very little about him.  (Oliver Stone's fanciful movie Alexander did little to enlighten the general population.)  Ignoring his battles and strategic genius for a while, I'd like to acquaint you with a few
other interesting truths about Alexander of Macedon.  His life is an amazing testimony to how God can use even an unbeliever to achieve His ends.

The prophet Daniel had a lot to say about Alexander.  Two hundred years before Alexander was born, Daniel wrote that the king of Greece would defeat the Medes and Persians to set up a great empire, but that it would be divided into four lesser kingdoms upon his death (Daniel 7:6, 8:5-8, and 8:20-22).  As Alexander marched south along the Mediterranean coast on his way to conquer Egypt, he destroyed the cities that opposed him, casting the very stones of Tyre into the sea in fulfillment of another ancient prophecy (Ezekiel 26:19).  The Jews refused to send troops to assist Alexander against Tyre, and he was incensed.  However, when Alexander's army approached Jerusalem to destroy it, the high priest of the city went out to meet with him, showing him the prophecies that had been written about him centuries before.  So impressed was Alexander that he offered up a sacrifice to God, spared Jerusalem, and promised the Jews that he would not interfere with their worship of the God who had promised him these victories. (This story is recorded by the first-century historian Josephus in his book Jewish Antiquities.)*

Alexander was not only a pioneer of religious tolerance, he was also one of the first to embrace multi-culturalism.  Rather than humiliating the people he conquered, he raised them to positions of prominence within his empire and adopted many of their customs as his own.  For this, he was harshly criticized by the older Macedonians, but he refused to back down, going so far as to provide for the mixed-race children of the men in his army and promising that they would form the backbone of his empire.  Taking the best that each of the conquered nations had to offer, Alexander blended elements of the Macedonian, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Bactrian, and Indian cultures together into a new culture known to historians as "Hellenism."

The Hellenistic world outlived Alexander by several centuries and formed the basis for the later Roman Empire.  Hellenism established a common language from India to Greece, which was one of the key elements for the spread of the Gospel.  It is the reason the most ancient manuscripts of the New Testament are written in Greek, and it is the reason — along with the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, of course — that the Apostle Paul was able to present the Gospel to non-Jews with some measure of understanding on their part.  Hellenism was the "common ground" on which the early evangelists reached out to their neighbors from around the world.

It has been said — and rightly so — that God can use anyone and anything to achieve His purposes in the world.  After all, He used a talking donkey (see Numbers 22:22-30), and He has frequently used unbelievers to advance the kingdom of heaven.  Some of those unbelievers later became believers, giving God the glory for their successes.  Others mocked Him and paid the penalty.  Later in his life, Alexander seems to have made the latter mistake, and that is tragic.  I wish he'd lived long enough to see the error of his ways and repent.

That's the great thing about being a novelist: in my world, he does.

*I am waiting for comments from history buffs tearing apart this story.  Some critics, including Jona Lendering of the Livius organization,  assert that the story in Josephus is a fake, that Josephus made it up because he was a Jew and wanted the Jews to look good.  This argument is based on the "fact" that the Book of Daniel was not written until two centuries after Alexander's birth and so could not have been shown to Alexander.  (One reason for this assertion is that most of Daniel's prophecies were fulfilled so perfectly that they "must" have been written after the fact.)  However, these same critics admit that the details of the account in Josephus are otherwise difficult to refute, since his story includes a number of factors that a Jew would not invent (see "Alexander Visits Jerusalem" at  In my opinion, it makes a lot more sense to believe the Josephus story and see it as evidence that Daniel's prophecies did indeed exist before Alexander fulfilled them, rather than assuming that Josephus is fake because Daniel is fake.  For a clearly-written refutation of the Livius position, see "Historical Dating of the Book of Daniel" at

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