Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)

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The possibility of a link between the even earlier Minoan civilization and Jews, or at any rate Semites, suggested by the presence of Minoan pottery at Ugarit and supported by bilingual Greek and Northwest Semitic inscriptions in Crete dating from to B. It was not until the time of Alexander the Great , however, that the contacts between Greeks and Jews were revived and intensified.

The fact that for two centuries Palestine was part of Hellenistic kingdoms, first of Ptolemaic Egypt and then of Seleucid Syria, made Greek influence on Jewish thought and life inevitable. In the first third of the second century B. They were led by wealthy Jewish aristocrats such as Joseph son of Tobiah, and his son Hyrcanus, who were apparently attracted to the externals of Hellenism; their Hellenization was, at first, primarily social rather than cultural and religious.

Jason the high priest carried his Hellenizing to the extent of establishing Greek educational institutions, the gymnasium and ephebeion , and of founding Jerusalem as a Greek city, Antioch-at-Jerusalem. But Jason was only a moderate Hellenizer compared with Menelaus , whose succession as high priest occasioned a civil war between their factions, with the Tobiads supporting Menelaus and the masses of the people standing behind Jason. As the scholars Bickermann, Tcherikover, and Hengel have shown, it was the Hellenizers, notably Menelaus and his followers, who influenced Antiochus Epiphanes to undertake his persecutions of Judaism so as to put down the rebellion of the Hassideans , who were supported by the masses of Jerusalem and who rebelled against the Hellenizers.

Perhaps the account in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness reflects this struggle. In the following year the fight of the Maccabees against the Hellenizers began. This struggle highlights the antagonism between the rich and highborn in the towns, who believed in finding a modus vivendi with Hellenism, and the peasants and urban masses, who could brook no compromise with their religious traditions. In victory the Maccabees were particularly ruthless toward the Greek cities of Palestine of which there were 30 and their inhabitants, but their struggle was against the Greek cities as a political rather than as a cultural force.

It is a mistake to regard the Hellenization of the Palestinian Jews as so deep that they would have been absorbed had not Antiochus' persecution aroused a fanatic reaction. Similarly it is a mistake to look upon the Maccabees as despisers of Greek culture. In point of fact, Jonathan the Hasmonean, far from hating Greek culture, renewed the treaty of friendship with Sparta Jos.

Alexander Yannai employed Greek mercenaries in his army ibid. The very Aristobulus who forced the Itureans to become Jews called himself "philhellene" ibid. The rise of the Pharisees may be seen, to some degree, as a reaction against the Greco-Roman culture favored by the Sadducees, who were allied with the phil-Hellenic Hasmoneans.

The Hellenic influence increased under Herod, who built a Greek theater, an amphitheater where Jews wrestled naked with Greeks, and a hippodrome in or near Jerusalem. Even Agrippa I , who is so highly regarded in rabbinic sources Bik. Jews came to Egypt just before the end of the kingdom of Judah in the sixth century B. But large-scale emigration began with Ptolemy I after the death of Alexander. Philo In Flaccum , 43 reports that in his day the Jews in Egypt numbered a million. By that time there were large Jewish communities in Syria, especially Antioch Jos.

The Hellenization of the Jews, both in Palestine and the Diaspora, consists in the substitution of the Greek language for Hebrew and Aramaic, the adoption of Greek personal names, the adoption of Greek educational institutions, the growth of a Jewish Hellenistic literature and philosophy, and religious deviation and syncretism as seen in legal institutions and in art see Diaspora. In Palestine, the predominance of Greek in ossuary inscriptions the dates vary so that of , are in Greek only, the discovery of Greek papyri in the Dead Sea caves, and of Greek letters from leaders of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, and the presence of perhaps as many as 2,—3, Greek words in the talmudic corpus, especially in the homiletic Midrashim composed for popular consumption, testify to what degree the Greek language had gained currency see Rabbinical Knowledge of Greek and Latin.

The contact with Greek influenced, moreover, a number of developments in Hebrew phonology and syntax and led to the establishment of a number of Hebrew roots derived from Greek. Simeon b. Gamaliel went so far as to praise Greek as the only language into which the Torah could be perfectly translated Esth. Judah ha-Nasi remarked, "Why talk Syriac in Palestine?

Talk either Hebrew or Greek" Sot. In the next century R. Abbahu knew Greek so well that he was able to pun in it Gen. The fact that the Mishnah Sot. It can hardly be maintained that Greek was used only by the upper classes and was restricted to commerce, or that it was restricted to those who needed it to communicate with the governing authorities; the Christian Hellenizers Acts, , who apparently spoke Greek only and were thus more deeply affected by Hellenization, were not restricted to the higher classes.

Josephus Ant. However, his statement ibid. The knowledge of Greek possessed by Jewish Christians in Palestine, however, because of their closer contact with Diaspora Jews and with non-Jews outside Palestine, must have been better; and recent scholarship has concluded that it is probable that Jesus himself sometimes spoke Greek. In the Diaspora, the earliest Jewish inhabitants of Alexandria in the fourth century B. Similarly, of the Jewish inscriptions from Egypt only five are in Hebrew, and they are, it appears, of late date see Alexandria ; Egypt , Hellenistic Period; Zeno Papyri.

Even in the Jewish community of Rome, which seems to have had a stronger identification with Judaism, only five of the inscriptions are in Hebrew or Aramaic.

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Because the Septuagint was regarded as divinely inspired, there appeared to be no need to learn Hebrew. Indeed, there is a very real question as to whether Philo, by far the greatest of the Alexandrian Jewish writers, knew more than a modicum of Hebrew; it is surely significant that whereas he tells so much of his Greek education he tells nothing about his Hebrew education.

Another aspect of Hellenization is the choice of Greek personal names. In Palestine the percentage is much lower than in the Diaspora, but the names of rabbis such as Abtolemus, Alexander, Antigonus, Symmachus, and Theodosius indicate that the process was at work even there. The fact that at least three-fourths of the personal names of the Jews of Hellenistic Egypt are of Greek origin is striking.

The Jews often tried to choose Greek names similar in meaning or sound to their Hebrew names, but names derived from those of Greek or Egyptian deities are common. In Rome about half of the names of the Jews in inscriptions are of Latin origin, about a third are of Greek origin, and only about a sixth are derived from Hebrew or Aramaic. Education was a key area of Greek impact. After the establishment of the gymnasium and ephebeion by Jason the high priest in pre-Maccabean times, there is no further information on Greek educational institutions established by Jews.

However, in the first century Rabban Gamaliel had students of Greek wisdom in addition to students of Torah Sot. In Egypt the only known schools with Jewish content were the Sabbath schools, intended for adults, which, according to Philo Spec. On the other hand, there is mention of the eagerness of Jews to enroll their children of secondary school age in Greek gymnasia; and apparently, until they were excluded by the Emperor Claudius in 41, they had succeeded in their efforts. Such an education initiated youths into the Greek way of life, especially athletics, its most characteristic feature.

No Jew could have attended a Greek gymnasium without making serious compromises with his religion, for the gymnasia had numerous busts of deities, held religious processions, sponsored sacrifices, and participated in the athletic games associated with the festivals. Similarly, the fact that the 72 translators recommended that King Ptolemy watch plays Letter of Aristeas, and that Philo himself often attended the theater Ebr. It is not surprising that the rabbis Av.

The most obvious instances of Greek influence are to be seen in Jewish literature of the Hellenistic period. In Palestine, even Ben Sira , whose opposition to Hellenism before the Maccabean rebellion is manifest, has a number of aphorisms which seem to be derived from Aesop, Theognis, and Euripides. The Testament of Joseph and the Book of Judith show Greek influence in the introduction of erotic motifs found in Greek romances.

Aside from Justus of Tiberias and Josephus, no Palestinian author is known who definitely wrote in Greek, and indeed there is no apparent Greek influence in the first century B. But in his paraphrase of the Bible, Josephus, in his eagerness to answer antisemitic charges, makes numerous changes. Thus his Abraham is presented as worthy of Greek political and philosophical ideals: he possesses skill in persuasion, the power of logical deduction, and scientific knowledge, and, in a show of liberalism, he offers to be converted by the Egyptians if he fails to convince them.

Samson is an Aristotelian-like megalopsychos "great-souled man" ; Saul is a kind of Jewish Achilles; and Solomon a kind of Jewish Oedipus. Finally, Josephus' portraits of Moses and of Esther are in the tradition of Hellenistic romance, with emphasis on erotic elements. Indeed, the life of Moses used by Artapanus, Philo, and Josephus contained details borrowed from the legendary life of Pythagoras. There has been much debate on the degree of Hellenic influence on the rabbis themselves.

A number of tales about Hillel recall Socratic and Cynic anecdotes. Joshua b. Hananiah's discussions with Athenians, Alexandrians, and Roman philosophers Bek. We know of only one rabbi, however, Elisha b. Avuyah , upon whom Greek influence was so great that he actually became a Gnostic heretic.

It has been suggested that Platonism influenced the rabbis with its theory of ideas, the notion that the soul possesses perfect knowledge before birth, and, above all, the method of dialectic. Moreover, a number of striking parallels in content and form between the Epicureans and the rabbis have been noted. The Stoic ideal of the sage, as well as Stoic techniques of allegorizing and expounding law, influenced Philo, but it is doubtful to what extent they influenced the rabbis. The rabbis mention only two philosophers — Epicurus and Oenomaus — by name, and they do not use any Greek philosophical terms.

The fact that they never mention Plato, Aristotle, or Philo would indicate that their information was probably drawn second-hand. Similarly the proverbs in rabbinic literature which have classical parallels probably represent contact not with Greek literature but with Greek speakers. The alleged influence of Hellenistic rhetoric upon rabbinic methods of interpretation is in the realm of terminology rather than of substance. The "fence" which the rabbis created around the Torah see Avot succeeded, on the whole, in keeping the masses of the Jews from succumbing to Greek culture, as the complaints about Jewish religious and social separateness cf.

As to sectarian groups, it has been argued, with some degree of probability, that the communal organization and the strict rules for the administration of the Essenes and the Dead Sea brotherhood were directly influenced by Pythagoreanism and its revival, neo-Pythagoreanism. Recent investigators, on the whole, agree that there is no systematic pattern of Hellenizing, and that the Greek elements tend to be superficial and decorative rather than deep-seated and significant.

Again, it was formerly thought that the language of the Septuagint was a kind of Jewish Greek which would be unintelligible to non-Jews; but the papyri show that the language is that of Hellenistic Egypt. Hence Paul could preach antinomianism to an audience that looked upon the Torah as a law which could be repealed rather than as a way of life, and when the injunction Elohim lo tekalel Ex.

Apparently because they saw the danger in the adulation of the Septuagint by the Hellenistic Jews, the rabbis changed their initially favorable reaction to the translation Meg. The stature of the Septuagint is obvious in the fragments of the Greco-Jewish historian Demetrius , who already in the latter part of the third century B.

The Letter of Aristeas , supposedly written in the third century B. The 72 elders to whom the translation of the Torah was entrusted are depicted as having had a good Greek education, and engage with the king in a symposium on ethics and politics reminiscent of those described by Plato, Xenophon, Athenaeus, Plutarch, and Macrobius. Social isolation is not a corollary of Judaism in his view. Other Alexandrian Jewish writers attempted to show that the Greeks had borrowed from the Jews.

Thus the Jewish Peripatetic philosopher Aristobulus, in the second century B. The historian Eupolemus c. The historian Artapanus c. Cleodemus or Malchus , perhaps a Jewish historian, boasts that two of the sons of Abraham accompanied Heracles in his campaign against Libya and that Heracles married the daughter of one of them Jos. Ezekiel the poet, at about the same time, composed tragedies, of which a portion of one, The Exodus , is extant, a veritable exercise in Euripidean trimeters.

Furthermore, the latter shows Greek influence in its presentation of the Torah as teaching the four cardinal virtues; the arguments are pervasively Stoic, and the form of the disputation is modeled on Plato's Gorgias. His Egyptian instructors are said to have taught him arithmetic, geometry, harmonics, and philosophy De Vita Mosis , —24 , the very subjects which constitute the higher education of Plato's philosopher-king Republic , c—a , while his Greek teachers are said to have taught him the rest of the regular school course — presumably, grammar, rhetoric, and logic.

In his profound debt to Platonism Philo is similar to the author of IV Maccabees, his presumed contemporary. Evidence of Greek influence on Jews of the middle and lower classes is largely dependent upon papyri and art objects that have been discovered. The papyri show many instances of Jews using common Hellenistic law in their business life. The documents are drawn up as Hellenistic documents in a government notary's office.

The most obvious violations of halakhah are seen in the loan documents: of the 11 that have come down only two do not charge direct interest. The one divorce document follows non-Jewish formulas completely; and, in direct violation of halakhah , there is no statement that it is the husband who is divorcing the wife. Greek influence, as Goodenough has amply shown, is clearly to be seen in Hellenistic Jewish art and architecture.

Thus Josephus tells that the courts and colonnades of the Temple built by Herod in Jerusalem were in the Greek style. Pagan and syncretistic art has been discovered in the synagogues of both Palestine and the Diaspora especially at Dura-Europos in Mesopotamia , in direct violation of stringent biblical and rabbinic prohibitions.

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It cannot be argued that these motifs were merely decorative, since they were employed in a similar way by earlier and contemporary pagans and by contemporary and later Christians. Goodenough has concluded that these figures had meaning as symbols; that these symbols constituted a sub-rational lingua franca among Jews and non-Jews alike, just as the Greek language provided a rational bond among them; and that they represented a kind of allegorization through art, of the sort that Philo had attempted through philosophy. Additional evidence that some Jews adopted certain pagan elements can be seen in the charms that is, verbal incantations and apotropaic amulets or the material objects themselves containing graphic symbols used to ward off evil which Goodenough has collected.

It is not surprising that contact with Hellenism should have produced deviations from Jewish observance. Philo Post. Others relaxed their Jewish observance in order to become citizens of Alexandria, an act that involved worship of the city gods. Actual apostasy was apparently rare, though there is mention of the case of Philo's nephew, Tiberius Julius Alexander , as well as those of Dositheos and Helicon, all of whom pursued careers at the imperial court.

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Philo on one occasion Spec. A more common reaction to the challenge of secularism was for Jews to cease religious observance except on the Day of Atonement Philo, Spec. Finally, there is some evidence that the one city where Christianity seems to have made real inroads in converting Jews was the one most deeply influenced by Hellenism, Alexandria. One aspect of the contact between Hellenism and Rome and Judaism deserves special treatment, the spiritual resistance against their rule.

The struggle of the Jewish people against Greek and Roman domination was accompanied by a literature which encouraged and intensified resistance. After military defeat it became frequently the only weapon, an important instrument of hope and survival. A significant trend in recent scholarship considers much of Jewish literature between Alexander the Great and the conquest of Islam as spiritual or religious resistance. Resistance of this type was found among all the larger nations of the ancient Near East: the Babylonians and Egyptians under the Persians and the Egyptians and Persians under the Greeks who, in turn, developed a preponderantly cultural resistance under the Romans.

The eastern pattern, however, was religious: foreign conquest destroys the sacred and just world order by which native king, cult, nature, and people function under the ruling god, a belief which was strengthened by the frequent misrule of the conqueror. A future cataclysmic reestablishment under a kingly redeemer must therefore right all wrongs. Meanwhile, a hereafter would punish or reward the individual. This apocalyptic scheme existed throughout the Near East: e. Archaizing styles e.

Coins , Dead Sea Scrolls , clerical organization, and proselytism were also aspects of resistance. Jewish spiritual resistance differed in some respects from this general pattern; here it was the weapon of a small people lacking the glory of an imperial past. It differed, further, in its intensity and perpetuity, its monotheism though dangerously attenuated in the apocalypse and, at times, its appeal to all classes from aristocracy to peasantry.

It differed in a stronger stress on social justice inherited from biblical prophecy and the constant reference to past liberations in sacred scriptures.

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In his glorification of the Augustan restoration Virgil may have combined classical concepts with eastern "Empire" apocalyptic ones Eclogue 4; cf. Horace, Epode 16; Dan. Oppression created obscure allusions to Antiochus, Pompey, Nero, etc. Finally, Jewish resistance created an incomparably greater variety of literary sources and forms. Alongside the detailed apocalypse, with its violent cosmic vision, the psalm remained popular as a vehicle of resistance Dan.

Martyrology emerged, and many of its features were borrowed by emerging Christianity II Macc. Alongside Diaspora historiographies, Palestinian works treated both biblical and contemporary history in the spirit of religious resistance I Macc. Hananiah , Alexander legends Tam. Spiritual resistance is also manifest in the Hebrew examples of the erotic Greco-Oriental romance Esth. The talmudic sermon interpreted biblical passages, such as those of the unclean animals, as referring to Greece and Rome Lev. The resistance aspects of liturgy, still little explored, may be considerable. Resistance is obvious and probably intentional in the symposiastic seder ritual cf.

Stein, in JJS , 8 [], 13— The resistant writer freely added materials from foreign literature. Judith, some details of the Greek Lindus chronicle and Daniel and the Sibylline Oracle Oriental prophecies are among prominent examples. Similarly, the Midrash seems to have been acquainted with the Hellenistic critique of Rome's materialism and cruelty cf.

Occasionally, resistance consisted in quietism, and the talmudic sage resembled and was acquainted with the Greco-Roman philosopher-rhetor who also often had to choose between martyrdom and withdrawal. The rabbis created much halakhah of decisive resistance value, especially legislation against emperor worship, later used by Tertullian among others.

Naturally, resistance never excluded periods of accommodation, objective insights into the virtues of Greece and Rome Avot 3, 2; Av. Strangely enough, much earlier non-Jewish scholarship condemns Jewish resistance, totally oblivious to the fact that without it there would be no Western civilization as we know it. Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. All Rights Reserved. Tarn, Hellenistic Civilization 3 ; M. Hadas, Hellenistic Culture ; V. Hengel, Judentum und Hellenismus ; N. Bentwich, Hellenism Sevenster, Do You Know Greek?

Baer, Yisrael ba-Ammim ; E. Bickermann, Der Gott der Makkabaeer ; R. Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel ; S. Fuchs, Geistige Widerstand gegen Rom … ; R. Collins, Between Athens and Jerusalem ; L. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian , 2 vols. Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism , 2 vols.

Levine, Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity ; A. Gruen, "Hellenistic Judaism," in: D. Biale ed. Download our mobile app for on-the-go access to the Jewish Virtual Library. Jewish Links to the Holy Land. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Academies in Babylonia and Erez Israel. Jews of the Middle East. The Administration of Judaea. After the Exile. Judges of Israel. Phoenicia, Phoenicians. The Age of the Patriarchs. Kedemites or Easterners.

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Akkadian Language. Pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. Kings of Israel. Polish Literature. Kings of Judah. Portraits of Jews.

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Two Kingdoms. Cotton in Hebrew. Katzoff, Jerusalem , Deroux, Paris , Lewin, Florence , Oppenheimer, M. Mor, J.

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Pastor and D. Schwartz, Jerusalem , Elman, E. Halivni and Z. Steinfeld, Jerusalem , appendix to article by Shlomo Naeh in Hebrew. Sievers and G. Lembi, Leiden-Boston , Pastor, I. Ronen, Y. Perani, Berlin , Tomson, S. Safrai, Z. Safrai and J. Schwartz, Assen , with H. Cotton, R. Hoyland, J. Price and D. Wasserstein, Cambridge , with S. Geiger, H. Cotton and G. Haskel Lookstein , ed. Medoff, Jersey City , Feldherr and G. Hardy, Oxford , History and its Representations , edd. Rechenauer and V. Thareani, Jerusalem , Popovic, Leiden: Brill , Isaac and Y.

Tsakmakis and M. Tamiolaki, Berlin , Rozenberg and D. Mevorah, Jerusalem , Charlesworth, Grand Rapids, Michigan , Eck and P. Funke, Berlin , Welch, Swansea , Jonathan Price and Katell Berthelot. Bohrmann, Flavius Josephus, the Zealots and Yavne. Lang, , in Journal of Roman Studies 85, , Studies in Early Jewish Epigraphy , edd. Susan E. City of the Great King.


Jerusalem from David to the Present , ed. Isaac and A. John W. Humphrey, John P. Oleson and Andrew N. John D. Mikalson, Religion in Hellenistic Athens Berkeley, etc. Volume I: Eastern Europe, edited by D. Noy, A.

Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50) Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)
Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50) Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)
Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50) Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)
Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50) Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)
Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50) Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)
Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50) Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (Hellenistic Culture and Society vol. 50)
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