ALEXANDER THE GREAT: The Bible Accurately Foretold of His Conquests and the Breakup of His Empire, and Much More

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Parentage and Early Life

Alexander, of Macedon, commonly called “the Great” (born 356 BC), was the son of Philip, king of Macedon, and of Olympias, daughter of Neoptolemos, an Epeirote king. Although Alexander is not mentioned by name in the canonical Scriptures, in Dan he is designated by a transparent symbol (8:5,21). In 1 Macc 1:1 he is expressly named as the overthrower of the Persian empire, and the founder of that of the Greeks. As with Frederick the Great, the career of Alexander would have been impossible had his father been other than he was. Philip had been for some years a hostage in Thebes: while there he had learned to appreciate the changes introduced into military discipline and tactics by Epaminondas. Partly no doubt from the family claim to Heracleid descent, deepened by contact in earlier days with Athenians like Iphicrates, and the personal influence of Epaminondas, Philip seems to have united to his admiration for Greek tactics a tincture of Hellenistic culture, and something like a reverence for Athens, the great center of this culture. In military matters his admiration led him to introduce the Theban discipline to the rough peasant levies of Macedon, and the Macedonian phalanx proved the most formidable military weapon that had yet been devised. The veneer of Greek culture which he had taken on led him, on the one hand, laying stress on his Hellenistic descent, to claim admission to the comity of Hellas, and on the other, to appoint Aristotle to be a tutor to his son. By a combination of force and fraud, favored by circumstances, Philip got himself appointed generalissimo of the Hellenistic states; and further induced them to proclaim war against the “Great King.” In all this he was preparing the way for his son, so soon to be his successor.

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His Preparation for His Career

He was also preparing his son for his career. Alexander was, partly no doubt from being the pupil of Aristotle, yet more imbued with Greek feelings and ideas than was Preparation his father. He was early introduced into the cares of government and the practice of war. While Philip was engaged in the siege of Byzantium he sent his son to replace Antipater in the regency; during his occupancy of this post, Alexander, then only a youth of sixteen, had to undertake a campaign against the Illyrians, probably a punitive expedition. Two years later, at the decisive battle of Chaeroneia, which fixed the doom of the Greek autonomous city, Alexander commanded the feudal cavalry of Macedon, the “Companions.” He not only saved his father’s life but by his timely and vehement charge materially contributed to the victory.

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His Accession to the Hegemony of Greece

When all his plans for the invasion of Persia were complete, and a portion of his troops was already across the Hellespont, Philip was assassinated. Having secured his succession, Alexander proceeded to Corinth, where he was confirmed in his father’s position of leader of Hellas against Darius. Before he could cross into Asia he had to secure his northern frontier against possible raids of barbarian tribes. He invaded Thrace with his army and overthrew the Triballi, then crossed the Danube and inflicted a defeat on the Getae. During his absence in these but slightly known regions, the rumor spread that he had been killed, and Thebes began a movement to throw off the Macedonian yoke. On his return to Greece, he wreaked terrible vengeance on Thebes, not only as promoter of this revolt, but also as the most powerful of the Greek states.

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Campaign in Asia Minor

Having thus secured his rear, Alexander collected his army at Pella to cross the Hellespont, that he might exact the vengeance of Greece on Persia for indignities suffered at the hands of Xerxes, who “by his strength through his riches” had stirred, up “all against the realm of Grecia” (Dan. 11:2, the King James Version). Steeped as he was in the romance of the Iliad, Alexander, when he came to the site of Troy, honored Achilles, whom he claimed as his ancestor, with games and sacrifices. This may have been the outflow of his own romantic nature, but there was also wise policy in it; the Greeks were more readily reconciled to the loss of their freedom when it was yielded up to one who revived in his own person the heroes of the Iliad. It may be noted how exactly the point of Alexander’s invasion is indicated in Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 8:5). From Troy he advanced southward and encountered the Persian forces at the Granicus. While in the conflict Alexander exhibited all the reckless bravery of a Homeric hero. He at the same time showed the skill of a consummate general. The Persian army was dispersed with great slaughter. Before proceeding farther into Persia, by rapid marches and vigorously pressed sieges, he completed the conquest of Asia Minor. Here, too, he showed his knowledge of the sensitiveness of Asiatic peoples to omens, by visiting Gordium and cutting the knot on which, according to legend, depended the empire of Asia.

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Battle of Issus and March through Syria to Egypt

What he had done in symbol he had to make a reality; he had to settle the question of supremacy in Asia by the sword. He leaned that Darius had collected an immense army and was coming to meet him. Although the Persian host was estimated at a half-million men, Alexander hastened to encounter it. Rapidity of motion, as symbolized in Dan by the “he-goat” that “came from the west …. and touched not the ground” (Dan. 8:5), was Alexander’s great characteristic. The two armies met in the relatively narrow plain of Issus, where the Persians lost, to a great extent, the advantage of their numbers; they were defeated with tremendous slaughter, Darius himself setting the example of flight. Alexander only pursued the defeated army far enough to break it up utterly. He began his march southward along the seacoast of Syria toward Egypt, a country that had always impressed the Greek imagination. Though most of the cities, on his march, opened their gates to the conqueror, Tyre and Gaza only yielded after a prolonged siege. In the case of the latter of these, enraged at the delay occasioned by the resistance, and emulous of his ancestor, Alexander dragged its gallant defender Batis alive behind his chariot as Achilles had dragged the dead Hector. It ought to be noted that this episode does not appear in Arrian, usually regarded as the most authentic historian of Alexander. Josephus relates that after he had taken Gaza, Alexander went up to Jerusalem, and saw Jaddua the high priest, who showed him the prophecy of Daniel concerning him. The fact that none of the classic historians take any notice of such a detour renders the narrative doubtful: still, it contains no element of improbability that the pupil of Aristotle, in the pursuit of knowledge, might, during the prosecution of the siege of Gaza, with a small company press into the hill country of Judea, at once to secure the submission of Jerusalem which occupied a threatening position in regard to his communications, and to see something of that mysterious nation who worshipped one God and had no idols.

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Founding of Alexandria and Visit to the Shrine of Jupiter Ammon

When he entered Egypt, the whole country submitted without a struggle. Moved at once by the fact that Pharos is mentioned in the Odyssey, and that he could best rule Egypt from the seacoast, he founded Alexandria on the strip of land opposite Pharos, which separated Lake Mareotis from the Mediterranean. The island Pharos formed a natural breakwater which made possible a spacious double harbor; the lake, communicating with the Nile, opened the way for inland navigation. As usual with Alexander, romance and policy went hand in hand. The city thus founded became the capital of the Ptolemies and the largest city of the Hellenistic world. He spent his time visiting shrines, in the intervals of arranging for the government of the country. The most memorable event of his stay in Egypt was his expedition to the oracle or Jupiter Ammon (Amen-Ra) where he was declared the son of the god. To the Egyptians, this meant no more than that he was regarded a lawful monarch, but he pretended to take this declaration as assigning to him a Divine origin like so many Homeric heroes. Henceforward, there appeared on coins Alexander’s head adorned with the ram’s horn of Amen-Ra. This impressed the eastern imagination so deeply that Mohammed, a thousand years after, calls him in the Quran Iskander dhu al-qarnain, “Alexander the lord of the two horns.” It is impossible to believe that the writer of Dan could, in the face of the universal attribution of the two ram’s horns to Alexander, represent Persia, the power he overthrew, as a two-horned ram (Dan. 8:3,20), unless he had written before the expedition into Egypt.

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The Last Battle with Darius

Having arranged the affairs of Egypt, Alexander set out for his last encounter with Darius. In vain had Darius sent to Alexander offering to share the empire with him; the “king of Javan” (Revised Version margin) “was moved with anger against him” (Dan 8:7) and would have nothing but absolute submission. There was nothing left for Darius but to prepare for the final conflict. He collected a yet huger host than that he had had under him at Issus and assembled it on the plain east of the Tigris. Alexander hastened to meet him. Although the plain around Gaugamela was much more suitable for the movements of the Persian troops, which consisted largely of cavalry, and gave them better opportunity of making use of their great numerical superiority to outflank the small Greek army, the result was the same as at Issus–overwhelming defeat and immense slaughter. The consequence of this victory was the submission of the greater portion of the Persian empire.

After making some arrangements for the government of the new provinces, Alexander set out in the pursuit of Darius, who had fled in the care or custody of Bessus, satrap of Bactria. Bessus, at last, to gain the favor of Alexander, or, failing that, to maintain a more successful resistance, murdered Darius. Alexander hurried on to the conquest of Bactria and Sogdiana, in the course of his expedition capturing Bessus and putting him to death. In imitation of Bacchus, he proceeded now to invade India. He conquered all before him till he reached the Sutlej; at this point, his Macedonian veterans refused to follow him farther.

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Close of His Life

Thus compelled to give up hopes of conquests in the farther East, he returned to Babylon, which he purposed to make the supreme capital of his empire, and set himself, with all his superabundant energy, to organize his dominions, and fit Babylon for its new destiny. While engaged in this work he was seized with malaria, which, aggravated by his recklessness in eating and drinking, carried him off in his 33rd year.

His Influence

Alexander is not to be estimated merely as a military conqueror. If he had been only this, he would have left no deeper impression on the world than Tamerlane or Attila. While he conquered Asia, he endeavored also to Hellenize her. He everywhere founded Greek cities that enjoyed at all events a municipal autonomy. With these, Hellenistic thought and the Hellenistic language were spread all over southwestern Asia, so that philosophers from the banks of the Euphrates taught in the schools of Athens. It was through the conquests of Alexander that Greek became the language of literature and commerce from the shores of the Mediterranean to the banks of the Tigris. It is impossible to estimate the effect of this spread of Greek on the promulgation of the gospel.

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Trustworthy Prophecy

Some 200 years before the time of Alexander the Great, God’s prophet Daniel wrote about world domination that was coming:

Daniel 8:5-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful rage. And I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. Then the male goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

We need not wonder to whom do these words apply because Daniel gives us the answer in the same chapter. 

Daniel 8:20-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 As for the ram which you saw with the two horns, these stands for the kings of Media and Persia. 21 And the hairy male goat stands for the king of Greece; and the great horn that was between its eyes stands for the first king. 22 As for the horn that was broken, so that four stood up instead of it, there are four kingdoms from his[1] nation that will stand up, but not with his power.

1 year old son did not receive the throne. Empire divided by the generals. Egypt—Ptolemy. Persian area and India—Seleucus. Pergamum—Attalids. Greece, Asia Minor, Macedonia—4 generals. Ptolemy. Seleucus. Attalids. 4 Generals.

Ponder that for a moment. Two empires before, back in the day of the Babylonian Empire, God enable Daniel the prophet to foretell that the world powers that were coming would be Medo-Persia and Greece. Moreover, the Bible gets even more specific in that it refers to a specific leader, Alexander, and his four generals. the Bible specifically stated that “but when he was strong, the great horn [Alexander] was broken​ and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns [Alexander’s generals] toward the four winds of heaven [taken over four parts of the kingdom].​”

More on this below. For now, Daniel says elsewhere, 

Daniel 11:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
And as soon as he has stood up, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these.

This prophecy was fulfilled exactly as stated. Alexander became king in 336 B.C.E. Within seven short years, he would go on to defeat powerful Persian King Darius III. After that, Alexander proceeded to expand the Greecian Empire until he died prematurely in 323 B.C.E., at the age of 32. There would not be one person who would take the place of Alexander as the absolute ruler of Greece, not even his offspring. Instead, it would be his four leading generals: Lysimachus, Cassander, Seleucus, and Ptolemy who would “proclaimed themselves as kings, taking over the four corners of the Grecian Empire.

Other campaigns by Alexander the Great also fulfilled other prophecies. For example, the prophets Ezekiel, Writing about 590 B.C.E., and Zechariah, who wrote about 518 B.C.E., foretelling the destruction of the city of Tyre.

Ezekiel 26:3-5, 12; 27:32-36 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
therefore thus says the Lord Jehovah: Look, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea; for I have spoken it, says the Lord Jehovah; and she shall become a spoil to the nations. 12 And they shall make a spoil of your riches and make a prey of your merchandise, and they shall break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and they shall throw your stones and thy timber and your soil in the midst of the waters.

32 And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for you
    and lament over you:
‘Who is like Tyre,
    like her who is silent in the midst of the sea?
33 When your wares went out from the seas,
    you satisfied many peoples;
with the abundance of your wealth and merchandise
    you enriched the kings of the earth.
34 Now you are broken by seas,
    in the depths of the waters;
your merchandise and all your crew
    in your midst have sunk.
35 All the inhabitants of the coastlands
    are appalled at you,
and their kings will bristle with horror;
    their faces are troubled.
36 The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;
    Your end will become dreadful
    and you shall be no more forever.’”

Zechariah 9:3-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Tyre has built herself a fortress
    and heaped up silver like dust,
    and fine gold like the mud of the streets.
Look, Jehovah[2] will dispossess her of her possessions
    and he will strike down her power[3] into the sea,
    and she shall be devoured by fire.

Were the above words fulfilled?

Yes, when Alexander the Great and his troops laid siege to Tyre in 332 B.C.E, they scraped off the ruins that were leftover from the earlier mainland city of Tyre and then cast the rubble into the sea, which enabled them to build a road to the island city of Tyre. This enabled them to lay an offensive onslaught on the island and conquer it. The prophecies in the greatest of details were fulfilled.

What Ezekiel tells us is of the first conquering of the mainland city of Tyre, which befell them at the hands of Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar. (Ezekiel 26:7) After that, they rebuilt their city. The debris and rubble from the old city were used to build the road to the island, so Alexander could destroy the new city, fulfilling every aspect of the prophecies.

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Grammarian David Alan Black on Alexander and the Greek of the New Testament

The Greek of the New Testament

Starting in May of 334 b.c., Alexander, the 22-year-old king of Macedon, led his victorious army through four pitched battles, two sieges, and innumerable smaller engagements that enabled him to conquer territory that now goes under the names of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Reaching the banks of the Beas River in Pakistan, he reluctantly turned back as his exhausted troops threatened mutiny. Three years later, in 323 b.c., he died in Babylon, just as he was planning an expedition all the way from Egypt along the North African coast to the Atlantic.

Historians agree about the magnitude of his conquests and about one of its most important effects: the establishment of a city-based Greek colonial aristocracy that imposed its culture on the native peoples in what we know today as the Middle East. But about the motives and character of the young man who carried out this tremendous enterprise there has been continual controversy. On the one hand, he has been credited with a belief in and a policy of establishing “the brotherhood of mankind.” On the other hand, his expedition has been dismissed as utter folly, and scholars have compared him to a young Nazi let loose on the world, a visionary megalomaniac serving the needs of his own all-consuming ego.

In his short lifetime he defied the limits set on human achievement by the gods; after his death, he became the stuff of legend. Contrary to popular belief, Alexander did not burn the Persian king’s great palace at Persepolis during a drunken stupor. He did indeed burn the palace, but it was in retaliation for the Persian’s desecration of Greek temples during the Persian invasion of Greece, not as the result of a drunken escapade. On the other hand, the story of his taming of the wild horse Bucephalus, the horse he later rode all the way to Pakistan, is based on solid historical evidence.

There is, however, one aspect of Alexander’s saga on which all historians are in agreement: he had, as has been said of the Germans, a genius for warfare. From childhood he had been trained for it as a member of the corps of royal pages. Later, at the ripe old age of sixteen, he suppressed a tribal revolt in Macedon while his father Philip campaigned abroad. Two years later he led the famous cavalry charge that delivered the decisive blow to the Greek forces at Chaeronea, thus making Philip the master of Greece. And at the age of twenty-two, now king after Philip’s assassination, he moved with astounding speed to defeat the Getae on the Danube far to the north and then swept south to suppress a revolt of the Greek cities led by the city of Thebes, which he destroyed. In the great pitched battles that followed, in a swift maneuver through the awesome mountains of Afghanistan, and in the complicated siege operations at Tyre and Gaza, his courage in the vanguard of his troops (he was wounded six times) made him ἀνίκητος, “invincible,” the word the Sibyl at Delphi screamed at him and which he adopted as an official title.

After the defeat of the Persian king’s last army at Gaugamela in 331 in what is now Iraq, and after the death of Darius shortly afterward, Alexander faced a crucial choice between two policies. He could have called a halt there and established a defensible frontier that gave him control of the most fertile areas of the Persian Empire. Instead, he chose to press on into unknown and fearsomely difficult terrain, most of it mountain or desert. This decision was partly the result of his belief that the gods had decreed that he would be king of all Asia. He had been taught by his tutor Aristotle that the land mass of Asia met the encircling ocean not far east of where he was. Yet the sober political reality was that he and his Macedonians, in an age when communications were no faster than a horse could ride, could never effectively govern an empire as large as the one he had acquired. So he appointed more and more high-ranking Persian officials to positions of influence on his staff, encouraged intermarriage between Macedonians and Persians, and instituted a program for training Persian boys for eventual service in the army. Measures such as these did not sit well with some of his older generals, and growing resentment fueled conspiracies against him.

When Alexander died, his empire broke up into separate kingdoms headed by his disgruntled generals. But he had changed the world. In the old, now liberated cities of Asia Minor—Ephesus and Pergamum—as well as in the newly founded cities of the Middle East—Antioch and Alexandria—the culture and language of the colonial aristocracy was Greek. When three centuries after Alexander’s death the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth were written down, the language used was not Jesus’ native Aramaic but Greek, which, thanks to Alexander’s conquests, had become the cultural lingua franca of the Mediterranean world.

The Language of the New Testament

It would be outside the province of this book to discuss the detailed development of the Greek language from Homeric to modern Greek, but the lesson is plain that Greek, as it spread over the civilized world, developed into a language of abiding importance. The conclusion now universally accepted by philologists is that the Greek of the New Testament, in all essential respects, is the vernacular Koine of the first century a.d., the common language of the Roman imperial period.

Koine (κοινή) means “common” in the sense of pertaining to the public at large. Hence Koine Greek means the language commonly spoken everywhere—the basic means of communication of people throughout the Roman Empire. This dialect was basically the late Attic vernacular, spoken in Athens, with dialectical and provincial influences. The Koine has left, in addition to the Greek New Testament, other literary monuments that are invaluable sources of light on the sacred text, including the papyri, inscriptions, and above all the Septuagint, the ancient version of the Old Testament that became the Bible of the early church and was used extensively by the New Testament writers.

Koine Greek itself exhibits three important characteristics. The first, semantic change, is a natural feature of any living language. Often certain words simply weakened their meaning in the Koine period. For example, the verb λαλέω meant babble in Classical Greek, but in the New Testament it appears as the ordinary word for speak. In the New Testament the preposition εἰς can mean in as well as into. The conjunction ἵνα, as we have seen, has a much wider meaning than in order that (it is often used in content clauses). The tendency to use the comparative degree of the adjective for the superlative has also been noted.

In the second place, Koine Greek exhibits greater simplicity than Classical Greek. This is seen particularly in the composition of its sentences, which tend toward coordination rather than subordination of clauses. In morphology it has a clear tendency toward simplification. This is perhaps most noticeable in the fact that the old μι-verbs are steadily being replaced by ω-verbs (e.g., δεικνύω is competing with δείκνυμι). In addition, periphrastic tenses are on the rise, and the optative mood is disappearing. The future tense of infinitives and participles hardly occurs at all.

Finally, Koine Greek shows unmistakable traces of a tendency toward more explicit (some would say more redundant) expression. We see a preference for compound verbs over simplex verbs, the use of pronouns as subjects of verbs, the use of prepositional phrases to replace simple cases, a preference for ἵνα instead of the infinitive, and the use of direct rather than indirect discourse. Adverbs abound, as do parenthetical statements and emphatic expressions such as each and every and the very same.

For the most part, the men who wrote the New Testament employed this common language, and students of the New Testament would do well to study its characteristics in detail. Like a new alloy, the Koine powerfully blended together the various Greek dialects into a single language used by Greeks as well as non-Greeks. Even those who held tenaciously to their native tongues, like the Egyptians, knew Greek.

At the same time, Koine Greek was not entirely uniform. Various literary levels existed, depending on the writer’s background or education. In the first century a.d. some writers even attempted to turn the clock back by advocating a return to the old classical form of Greek, decrying the Koine as a debased form of the language. The artificial style they produced (called “Atticistic” Greek) contrasted with the dialect of everyday life.

The New Testament itself reveals several styles of Greek among its authors. The Epistle to the Hebrews, with its careful progression of argument and elevated diction, lies at one extreme. Luke and Acts also reveal good, literary style, though the author is able to vary his style considerably (cf. the colloquial Greek of Peter’s speech in Acts 15:7–11 with the rhetorical nature of Paul’s Areopagus speech in Acts 17:22–31). Paul’s Greek is more or less colloquial, but that may be partly due to his amanuenses, the secretaries who wrote from his dictation. At the other end of the spectrum lies the grammar of Revelation, which reflects the work of a Semitic-speaking person who is just learning Greek (though many of the idioms he uses have parallels in colloquial papyri texts).[4]

by J. E. H. Thomson and Edward D. Andrews

[1] LXX VG “his” MT SYR lack
[2] This is one of the 134 scribal changes from יהוה [JHVH] to אדני [Adonai]. The earliest MSS have the Tetragrammaton.
[3] Or possibly, “on the sea.” This is a reference to the defenses of Tyre, her army fortifications.
[4] David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 147–150.

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