I’ve always suspected that people give too much credit to ancient Greeks. They couldn’t have been as divinely original as we’re taught. Lynda Shaffer’s article “Southernization” (1994) and Martin Bernal’s famous book Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (of which I’m reading only a few dozen pages) validate my suspicions. Their broader points—perhaps watered down a bit—are fairly obvious, though. Greece was enormously influenced by the Semitic, Indian, and Egyptian peoples, and by the Near East in general. This was acknowledged by the Greeks themselves, who actually thought their culture was the result of colonization by Egyptians and Phoenicians around 1500 B.C. But let’s admit that the Greeks were indeed original in some respects; they’re not the only ones. Far from it. Think of the Sumerians, the Indus Valley civilization, the ancient Egyptians, the so-called Semitic peoples, the Chinese, the Indians, the Romans in a few ways, the medieval Arabs somewhat, later Europeans, and Americans. And those are only the most obvious examples. Anyway, it’s silly; all societies are original in their own way, though admittedly some make greater contributions than others (due largely to their integration in extensive economic networks, borrowing from other peoples, etc.). As for Europeans proudly seeing the Greeks as their ancestors, that is at best a half-truth. Even the Romans are not direct ancestors—or, insofar as they are, it is by the mediation of an un-Roman (and un-Hellenic) institution, the Church. [In fact, Christianity itself comes from the Near East!] In any case, Europeans who say that their civilization derives from the Greeks are also saying it derives from the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, Indians, the Orient in general. That happens to be true, by the way. Barbaric Europe had to be “southernized” and “easternized” (to an extent) before it could “westernize” the rest of the world. See Shaffer’s article, and common sense.
A long time ago I quoted W. W. Tarn on the Hellenistic origins of Christianity, how it was just one of many mystery religions proliferating in the time of Christ. Jerry Bentley, in Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (1993), adds some tidbits on how the Judaic tradition was influenced by Zoroastrianism. “Zoroastrian doctrine promised personal salvation and eternal life to individuals who observed the commandments to think good thoughts, speak good words, and perform good acts.” “Zoroastrianism was more a national or ethnic faith than a missionary religion. Even without benefit of active proselytization, though, Zoroastrian beliefs and values exercised a remarkably wide influence. Post-exilic Jews adopted and adapted many elements of Zoroastrian belief—including notions that a savior would arrive and aid mortal humans in their struggle against evil; that individual souls would survive death, experience resurrection, and face judgment and assignment to heaven or hell; and that the end of time would bring a monumental struggle between the supreme creator god and the forces of evil, culminating in the establishment of the kingdom of god on earth and the entry of the righteous into paradise. Many of these elements appear clearly in the Book of Daniel, composed about the middle of the second century B.C.E., and they all influenced the thought of the Jewish Pharisees. Indeed, in its original usage, the term Pharisee very likely meant ‘Persian’—that is, a Jew of the sect most open to Persian influence. It goes without saying that early Christians also reflected the influence of these same Zoroastrian beliefs. Some scholars hold that Zoroastrian appeal extended even into India, where the notion of personal salvation would have influenced the early development of the Mahayana school of Buddhism.” Fascinating! Zoroastrianism lives on through Judaism, Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam! The “Judeo-Christian tradition” is really, in some respects, the “Zoroastrian-Judeo-Christian tradition.” The “West” derives largely from the “East”—although in recent centuries the East has been remade by its contact with the West.