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La Cañada High School

A common thread between Hinduism, Christianity and ancient Greece?

With a glance at the world’s ideas and philosophies, it can be concluded that many pinpoints and areas of interest on the subject of human behavior were derived from the way in which human conduct was described in many sacred and literary texts.

In particular, in the New Testament book of Matthew, a renowned religious text for Christians, ideas concerning human conduct are painted all throughout the text, specifically in chapter seven verse 3 to chapter eleven, and compare and juxtapose on the ideas on that in works including The Iliad, a Greek epic poem by Homer describing the two main battle warriors, Hector and Achilles, and their battle to achieve heroism for their states, and The Ramayana, an important literary story for Hindus exploring the tale of the glorious Rama and his battle with that of the evil Ravana.

The thoughts on human conduct greatly differ between the book of Matthew and Achilles’ character in “The Iliad.” Opening chapter five of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples and says, among many things, “Blessed are the gentle, because they shall inherit the earth.”

In this particular line, Jesus is praising those who are peaceful and calm, for those are the individuals who will achieve salvation. Achilles, the mighty military leader of the Achaeans in “The Iliad,” and the society surrounding him starkly contrast with this point about human conduct in the New Testament. In the tale, Achilles, filled with rage when speaking to his nemesis, Hector, voices that, “I wish my stomach would let me cut off your flesh in strips and eat is raw for what you’ve done to me.” (Book XXII. 377-379)

Considering the fact that Achilles is considered by many scholars to be the hero of the story, it shows it was believed by the Ancient Greeks that those who are strong fighters were to be rewarded. The ideas in Matthew greatly modify their argument by encouraging weakness and gentleness. Another contrasting point between The Iliad and the Beatitudes can be found in a section from Matthew that reads: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I tell you not to resist the wicked man, but if one strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him also…” (Matthew 5)

Jesus is telling his disciples to forgive who have wronged you in the past since one should always act in the footsteps of God, meaning that one must forgive as God forgives.  At one point in “The Iliad” when the Greater Ajax, one of Achilles’ allies, is trying to convince him to forgive Agamemnon and return to the war efforts, Achilles retorts his argument by saying, “But I swell with rage when I think of how the Son of Atreus treated me like dirt in public, as if I were some worthless tramp.” (Book IX. 668-670)

Achilles, by holding onto his anger directed towards Agamemnon, is not at all forgiving Agamemnon; therefore, this illustrates the fact that the ideas on forgiveness differ greatly between that in “The Iliad” (ancient Greeks) and that in the New Testament, specifically in the Book of Matthew. 

When comparing and contrasting The Ramayana and same Christian Bible segment, it can be concluded that the ideas displayed on how humans must act have similarities and differences. Jesus speaks to his disciples in Matthew by instructing them that, “You shall not commit adultery. I tell you that any man who looks at a woman so as to desire her has already committed adultery with his or her heart.” (Matthew, 5-7) When saying this, Jesus is informing his followers that having relations outside of marriage is sinful in the eyes of God.

In The Ramayana, the same idea is present; when Rama thinks that his wife, Sita, has been touched by another man, he tells her, “Your body was touched by Ravana: how then can I, claiming to belong to a noble family, accept you?” (Yuddha 118) Because both the New Testament and the Ramayana frown upon adultery, it shows a brief similarity between the two sacred texts. Rama, the leader of his kingdom and a divine being, would support this contention in Matthew. One difference between the works, though, can be found when Jesus shares, “You shall not murder. He who murders shall be liable to judgement”(Matthew 5-7) Ironically enough, Rama does exactly this by murdering Ravana with a great battle. These two juxtaposing views on human conduct highlight that, as there were similarities between the two works, there are also differences. 

Throughout the Beatitudes, The Ramayana, and The Iliad, many similar and different points on human conduct are expressed. Interestingly enough, all of these ideas on human conduct can be found in a modern day society. For example, the United States, and many other countries alike, have a law that forbids on to kill another. Even though there may be contrasting elements in these three works, the lessons about human conduct that we take away play a very important role in today’s society.

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