The sacred flame

As the Olympic torch leaves London for its long journey back to Beijing, we can reflect on what it signifies. One aspect is that it represents a victory of Hellenistic culture, since the adoration of the flame and of sports were central to that culture.
Much of the conflict in the ancient world pitted Greeks against Hebrews. The Greeks dominated the Syrian region and were also a majority in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. There was no great distinction between Greek and Roman civilization, and in fact the Romans adopted most of Greek theology, just Latinizing the names of the Gods. So the conflict with the Roman Empire was an extension of that between the Jews and the Greeks.
During the long centuries of Syrian Greek and then Roman Greek domination of the near east, the Rabbis argued vociferously against the Hellenization of the Jews. For example, it was forbidden for Jews to go to performances at Greek theaters and spectacles (although that did not stop many of them), often where licentious acts were performed or blood was spilled. Also, many of the ceremonies were designed to glorify the power of the imperial state.
The transit of the torch through London was exemplified by a clash between the Chinese supporters of the relay and the supporters of a free Tibet. As the Olympic Games are supposed to be purely about sport, it is understandable that many people want to keep politics out of sport and the Olympics. But, the two are irretrievably interwoven, think of the 1936 games, and of Hitler’s attempts to glorify German power thru sport and of Jesse Owens puncturing that pretense.
The fact is that the Olympic Games are a manifestation of State power, no more so than when phalanxes of police are required to protect the sacred flame, and it goes on airplanes criss-crossing the world, to be finally used as a symbol of Chinese State power. So it is not surprising that the Tibetan supporters would target this image as a means to draw attention to the plight of their people. The Chinese in the process of occupying Tibet have suppressed Tibetan culture and murdered thousands of people. Let the Games begin!


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