Make your own free website on Tripod.com

LE FastCounter
Mesage Board Chat Room

Previous Article List Home Page Summary Next

Judaism and Hellenism: The Encounter

Bibliography End Notes Glossary

by Clare Goldfarb

On the eve of the invasion of the Persian Empire by Alexander of Macedon, Judaea was a small insignificant province within Darius' domain. As with other states in the empire, Judaea was allowed to conduct its own cultural and religious affairs. However, change was coming. Like a juggernaut, Alexander and his Macedonians marched across the Hellespont, defeated Darius' army at Issus and marched south along the coast to Egypt. Along the way, those towns which did not acquiesce to the conqueror were laid siege to and destroyed. After destroying Tire and Gaza all towns sent delegations to the young King, Jerusalem included. This was the first official encounter between the Jews and the Greeks, between Judaism and Hellenism, an encounter that eventually changed the course of Western civilization.

Alexander never went to Jerusalem, nor did he spend much time in Judaea. But such was the myth of the young conqueror, that even Jews created a legend regarding the Macedonian--a legend that is uniquely Jewish--one that has Alexander going to Jerusalem and recognizing the power of the One God and he himself bowing down before Him. This story was told by Josephus1 indicating that the first encounters between Jews and Macedonians were uneventful.2 Alexander continued on his way. At Memphis he honored Apis, the sacred bull of Egypt and held Greek athletic contests without knowing the significance of introducing such Greek sports in an alien culture. Thus, for the first time, there was a fusion of the Orient with the rites of Greece.3 Before he left Egypt, Alexander laid out a new town, a town destined to become one of the greatest in the ancient world, Alexadria-by-Egypt. Traditions say that the Jews were invited to settle in the new city.

When Alexander defeated the Persians at Gaugamela, the Macedonian became undisputed Emperor of the Persian Empire. By destroying the Persian Kingdom, Alexander had abolished the frontier between East and West. He opened the countries of the Orient to the Greeks from the Mediterranean Sea--merging the East and the West into one cultural body. The resulting mixture of culture was to be known as Hellenism. Tush, the Hellenistic Era was born. In the remote hills of Judaea Hellenism came face to face with deeply rooted Jewish traditions. Inevitably, the two cultures clashed.

The Jews inherited from their ancestors a faith in one God. They clung tenaciously to their prophets and to their stern biblical laws. The new ways, and above all, the new religion came as something alien to their ancient customs. It would have been easy to succumb to the more prosperous, more attractive way of living and many Jews did. But others would not yield and, instead they stood firm against efforts to change them.

Since the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians (586 B.C.E.), and the deportation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jews have been living in all quarters of the Empire. They prospered and were not only farmers but successful men of commerce and international trade. The Babylonian trade routes had taken them to all corners of the Near East. When Cyrus defeated the Babylonians in 539 B.C.E., the King of Kings allowed the Jews to return to Judaea and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews chose not to return. Papyri, found on the island of Elephantine near Aswan, revealed the presence of a Jewish garrison settlement from the sixth century to the fifth century B.C.E.4

During the Babylonian dispersion or Diaspora, the religion underwent an evolution. The Temple had been tied by law to Jerusalem and sacrifice had to be offered in accordance with a rigid ritual and formula. Because there no longer was a Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifice, the Jews built synagogues for religious assemblies. Instead of rituals for God, Jews offered prayers to God. The faith was no longer tied to a specific priesthood, temple or country. The Jew could practice his religion anywhere and still be in communication with God. The Jewish religion became an exportable commodity. The religion was now freed from constraints of time and place. Survival of the Jew in captivity and in the Diaspora was now assured.5

Even in exile, the Temple held a place in the religious hearts of the Jew. A remnant of people still lived near the ruins, and along with those Jews that did return to Judaea, rebuilt the Sanctuary. Again the High Priest became the most important official in Jerusalem. Although many turned to commerce and trade, the majority of the population was engaged in agriculture. Judaeans prospered and multiplied. Diodorus tells us that "Jews were from the start a populous nation."6 Being devoted to their own traditions, the Jews, at first, were not affected by the Hellenic civilization.

Before Alexander, there was little contact between the the cultures. There is no mention of the Jews in Greek literature; perhaps a stray remark by Herodotus, regarding the practice of circumcision among the Syrians refers to Jewish practice, but the reference could also refer to the Egyptians. Certainly the Jews, being traders, did have contact with the Greeks, but the uniformity of the language, Aramaic, concealed national differences. We must bear in mind that barbarian mean 'non-Greek speaking' and that Greeks considered anyone not speaking their language as uncivilized. To the Greek visitor both the Jew and the Iranian in Asia Minor were equally Babylonian.7 It was only after the conquest that the Greeks became aware of the Jews. When Alexander led his army out to Tyre against Darius, he had some Jewish auxiliaries among his troops. After he defeated Darius at Gaugamela and was proclaimed King of kings, he ordered the restoration of the temple in Babylon. For the first time, the Greeks learned of the Jewish aversion to idolatry; "neither corporal punishment nor heavy fines could compel Alexander's Jewish soldiers to work on rebuilding a heathen temple."8

It was in the third century, that Greek writers began to notice the Jews. Theophrastus, Aristotle's successor, regarded the Jews as "philosophers."9 Clearches believed that philosophers in Syria are called "Ioudaoi became the inhabit the territory called 'Ioudaoi.'"10 It was Hecataeus of Abdera, an advisor to Ptolemy I, who wrote an extensive history of the Jews which may have been part of a larger history of Egypt.11 It became a standard book on the subject and three centuries later it was incorporated into Diodorus' book, Universal History. Hecataeus relied on Egyptian priests for his report on Jewish origins and from their point of view the Jews were emigrants from Egypt. He tells us that a "pestilence arose in Egypt"12 and that the people ascribe their trouble to strangers living in the midst practicing different rites of religion. These aliens were driven from their country. He writes,

 

The colony was headed by a man called, Moses, outstanding both for his wisdom and for his courage. On taking possession of the land he founded, besides other cities, on that is now most reknown of all, called Jerusalem. In addition he established the temple that they hold in chief veneration, instituted their forms of worship and ritual, drew laws and ordered their political institution.

Diodorus XL 3:3-6

 

This was the first mention of the Torah in Greek literature. Hecataeus tells us the population of Jerusalem was 120,000. Possibly the figures were exaggerated, but Jews were already a numerous people and the frontiers of their country too narrow to hold them.13 Soon after 300 B.C.E. Greek intellectuals lost interest in the Judaeans and it wasn't until the Maccabean revolt that the Jews attracted attention once again.

Were the Jews aware of the Greeks before the Macedonians invaded? Of course they were. In the book of Genesis, the Table of Nations mentions, 'Yavan,' meaning "Ionians," the name all "barbarians" gave to the Greeks.14 Myceanaean pottery was found on both sides of the Jordan River.15 The Second Samuel tells us King David apparently employed mercenaries from Crete.16 After the Babylonian exile, Jewish merchants traveled to all parts of the Persian empire. Greek mercenaries fought in Palestine in the pay of Egyptian pharaohs.17 Papyri, discovered both in Egypt and the Dead Sea caves, are shedding considerable light on a period that was lacking in sources.

After the death of Alexander, his empire was divided up between his generals, among whom were Ptolemy and Seleucus. Palestine, an important trade route between Egypt and Asia Minor, was hotly contested, but ultimately Ptolemy controlled Egypt and Palestine, while Seleucus controlled Syria. Under the Ptolemaic kings, life was relatively benign. Ptolemy and his heirs continued the Persian custom of allowing each province to run its own cultural and religious affairs with the proviso that all takes go to Alexandria instead of Antioch. Hectaeus tells us that Jerusalem was ruled by an aristocratic hereditary priesthood appointed for life.18 With one hundred years of relative peace, the Jews prospered both in Judaea and in the Diaspora.

From 321 B.C.E. to 30 B.C.E., Asia and Egypt obeyed different masters. For the Diaspora Jews this meant they were not only politically divided, but they were also culturally divided. The Near East from Sinai to the Himalayas continued to think and speak in Aramaic, but the language of the Persian empire disappeared in Ptolemaic Egypt.19 Here a non-Egyptian had to speak Greek. But it also meant that foreigner could not only become a Greek in soul, but could become a citizen of a Greek city.20

Alexander's new city needed workers and immigrants streamed in from all parts of the empire. The King had already transferred Jews from Samaria to Egypt and the Palestine campaigns of Ptolemy I brought more Jews as captives and slaves. In the first century B.C.E., Philo estimated the Jewish population of Alexandria as more than one million, outnumbering Judaea.21 The figures are probably exaggerated. Modern historians estimate the total population to be about 300,000 and it grew to one million in Roman times.

It is amazing how quickly the Jews in Ptolemaic Egypt gave up their familiar Aramaic and adopted Greek.22 The Hellenization of the Jews began inconspicuously. First it infected their language, manners and customs and eventually encroached on their morals, ethics and religion. Greek games were popular and nude wrestling commonplace among Jewish youths.23 I Maccabees tells us, "They built a sports-stadium in the gentile style in Jerusalem."24 It was during this period, that the Torah was translated into Greek.

In Palestine and Babylonia Hebrew remained a literary language. Oral tradition in Aramaic was sufficient to keep the uneducated informed. But in Egypt knowledge of Hebrew became exceptional while there were all the attractions of Greek literature. The Torah had to be made accessible in Greek, both for the religious services and for private reading.

The story of the Septuagint (LXX) as the Greek translation of the Holy Scriptures is called, is told to us in the Letters of Aristeas as preserved in The Antiquities of the Jews. An Egyptian Jew, Aristeas, tells us that Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.E.) invited a group of seventy-two scholars to translate the Law of the Jews for inclusion in the Alexandria Library. Josephus relates the tale,

 

If then it please thee, O King, thou mayst write to the high priest of the Jews, to send six elders of every tribe, and those such as are most skillful of the law, that by their means we may learn the clear and agreeing sense of these books, and may obtain an accurate interpretation of their contents, and so may have such a collection of these as may be suitable to their desire.

Josephus, II:4-5

 

It is unlikely that this tale is true. The 'LXX' reaimed an exclusive "Jewish possession until the Christians too it over.26 We don't even know whether it was deposited in the great Ptolemaic Library of Alexandria. But in any case, the Old Testament was now available to the Greek speaking world, Jewish and Gentile alike.

Confronted with Greek ideas, the Jews attempted to combine Greek intellectual values with Hebrew moral concerns. Jewish literature of this period--Apocrypha and Apocalyptic--characterizes it as one of transition. Certainty has been lost, doubt and skepticism has taken its place.27 It's major themes include an emphasis on "personal piety, reward and punishment, resurrection, immortality and the Messiah."28 The biblical book, Ecclesiates (Greek for the Hebrew Koheleth, meaning teacher), written between 250 and 200 B.C.E., is far closer in spirit to Greek Epicurian and Skeptic philosophies than to the God-intoxicated earlier writings of the Bible. The author writes that "he searched in wisdom and pleasure for the solution to the riddles of life"29 and came to the conclusion that "all is vanity."30 The Koheleth says that the solution to the problem of life is man's relation to God. He concludes, "Fear god and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man."31

Because of the extreme suppression of the Jews under the Seleucids during the second century B.C.E., a type of literature known as apocalyptic (Greek for revelation) arose. The hopes of the faithful were fortified by visions of a glorious future and in such beliefs as a last judgment, the resurrection of the dead and that the Messiah will come and rescue His people.

The Book of Daniel, which was written around 160 B.C.E. is full of such prophecy. The Book is basically an account of a young man who clings to his faith in spite of extreme pressures. The author had no intention of writing history and anyone desiring using it as a historical source must decipher the allusions.32 Tcherikover maintains that we have to compare events with each individual verse in order to use Daniel properly. Daniel takes "refuge in apocalyptic revelation of God's Justice."33 The Book is set in the time of the Babylonian exile. Daniel is the prophet who interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dreams. After one such dream, the author writes,

 

there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.

Daniel 12:1-2

 

 

Resurrection is mentioned for the first time in Jewish canonical literature. Most of the Jewish writers wrote anonymously and made few references to the historical events of the day.34

Jewish philosophers tried to reconcile Jewish morality and ethics with Hellenistic logic and rationality. Philo Judaeus (aka. Philo of Alexandria) was a Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher from one of the wealthiest families in Egypt. He received a thorough education in the Holy Scriptures and in Greek literature and philosophy. His output included metaphysics, ethics and Biblical commentary. Philo believed the divinity of Jewish Law was the basis of all true philosophy. He believed Judaism to be a universal religion and that it did not achieve this universality by any abandonment of its believes or practices. "The Law of Moses was enshrined in his soul."35 Many of his works are concerned with the allegorical interpretation of Genesis and with the exposition of the Law of Moses for Gentiles.

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote an extensive history of the Jews call, The Antiquities of the Jews. The first half of the book is retelling biblical history, with some condensation and embellishment,36 but when he writes about the Hellenistic period, he relies on official records and various Hellenistic writers such as Berosus and Manetho,37 and for the Maccabean revolt he relies on the First Book of the Maccabees.

The First and Second Book of the Maccabees, which are now part of the Apocrypha (Greek for hidden), are our main sources for the period both before and during the Hasmonean rebellion. Both I and II Maccabees are accounts of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid state. I Maccabees opens with a brief summary of the history of the Greek empire from Alexander the Great to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The remainder of the book covers the period of the Maccabean Revolt to the death of Simon (135 B.C.E.). II Maccabees is made up of glorious accounts of the victories of Judah Maccabee-The Hammer. It includes supernatural ailments, angels, miracles and resurrection of the dead.38 But it also relates events prior to the revolt. It is the only source furnishing the "historian with ...orderly material on the period of the Hellenizer's rule in Jerusalem."39

Another account that is significant for the explanation of the events in Judaea is The Wisdom of Ben Sira, or as it is known in the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus. Ecclesiasticus is the only book that we have knowledge of the author. His grandson translated the Book into Greek in about 132 B.C.E. some fifty years after Ben Sira wrote it, and that is the version that had been preserved. Ben Sira was a scholar who dedicated his life to education the young and preaching morality.40 His book contains hints and allusions to the great tribulations that were occurring in Judaea in 180 B.C.E. He hints of the growing dissatisfaction of the poor and of the great schism between rich and poor. He understood the danger threatening Judaism from Hellenization and fought against it.41 He writes, "Seek not (to understand) what is too wonderful for thee, and search not out that which is hid from thee."42 Ben Sira declares the "fear of God is the foundation of all wisdom."43

Modern historians looking at these writings wonder, how Hellenized were the Jews? Unfortunately the works of the great historians of the Hellenistic Age are lost and those that do survive are fragmentary. Most of the sources that modern historians rely on are written by Jews who were either interested in retelling biblical history or recounting events in terms of whether "he did evil--or good--in the eyes of God."44 If it was not part of Jewish canonical literature, the Rabbis were no interested in keeping it. For the period between the fourth century and the early Christian Era, the scholars rely on the Apocrypha, which had been preserved in Greek and Latin translations by the early Christian fathers and is now part of the Old Testament in the Catholic and Greek Bibles.

All the historians agree that the process of Hellenization is not a simple one,45 and most agree that the sources are scanty. Study of Greek influence on Judaism developed into a special branch of research, with each scholar staking out different claims. Some view Hellenization as profound--Bickerman and Hengel. Some view Hellenization as superficial--Tcherikover.46 Others say there is truth in both positions. In the rural areas that had minimal contact with the Greek world, the impact was negligible. Life continued unchanged. Maximum impact was found in the large cities where the Greek influence was great. Every Greek city had its gymnasium, a school of physical training and rhetoric (which mean literature, art, and politics.). They gymnasium was the social center and main place of entertainment for the polis, especially for young men. Pious Jews were offended by the sight of naked athletes and by the Greek plays and the poetry recited in these gymnasiums. Nevertheless, Hellenism spread, at least among the wealthy Jews and the young aristocrats. Unfortunately, political history is hampered by the fragmentary nature of the surviving sources. The First and Second Book of the Maccabees are are main sources.

After one hundred years, Palestine again changed hands. The Seleucid king, Antiochus III, took control of Palestine c. 200 B.C.E. Soon after he took control, he promulgated an edict granting privileges to Jerusalem. He gave Jews permission to live "according to their ancestral laws."47 Another question arises, What was the nature of these ancestral laws? Bickerman says that the "Law of Moses" is meant.48 Tcherikover maintains that the concept is broader, it not only contains elements of the Jewish religion, but also the maintaining of political institutions.49

Josephus records the chronicle of the Hellenized Tobiad family in Jerusalem. The most significant political event to occur was the transfer of responsibility event to occur was the transfer of responsibility for tax collections from the High Priest to a member of the Tobiad family. The High priest, Onias, refused to pay Ptolemy III (246-221 B.C.E.) the 20 talents of silver due annually on his own private property, thus endangering the safety of Judaea. He remained unmoved by Ptolemy's threat to sequester land and settle soldiers on it. Joseph, son of Tobiah, went to the King and offered to collect the taxes. A dichotomy was produced in Judean administration. The Temple administration remained entirely in priestly hands, as did all religious authority. But everything concerned with the king's taxes was now handled by Joseph and his kinsmen. Their influence and prestige rose considerably. They became very wealthy and influential. The young men became Hellenized. They adopted Greek names, manners and lifestyle.50 To succeed they broke any "Mosaic Law in the line of duty.51 Joseph and his sons emerged as the leaders in the Hellenizing movement.

A change of policy occurred under Antiochus IV Epiphanesa (187-175 B.C.E..). Reasons for the change are complex. II Maccabees relates what happened next. Jason, Onias' brother, obtained the high-priesthood by corrupt means.52 He petitioned the king and promised him 360 talents in silver coin immediately and 80 talents from future revenues.53 He promised to build a sports-stadium and to arrange for the education of young men. The king agreed and, as soon as he seized the priesthood, Jason made the Jews conform to the Greek way of life.54 Hellenism reached a high point with the introduction of foreign customs. Was Jerusalem becoming a Greek polis? The High Priest still controlled religious affairs and as yet there was no interference with religious practices.55 Green claims that Jason envisioned a privileged enclave; a Greek-style politeuma within the Jewish theocracy. It is interesting to note, Bickerman, in The God of the Maccabees, says, "alien communities in the midst of a foreign population are frequently found also in other places in the Hellenistic Orient."56

After three years of peace Antiochus again wanted to invade Egypt and was in need of money. Menelaus outbid Jason and so diverted the high priesthood to himself.57 Jason was forced to flee the city. When Onias, the rightful priest, who had fled to sanctuary at Daphne, heard that Menelaus had sold gold plate belonging to the Temple to Tyre, the old priest denounced him. Menelaus had Onias killed. This killing angered the people. When the king came to Tyre, a delegation was sent to the king and Menelaus was called to Tyre to stand before the king. Leaving his brother, Lysimachus in charge, he went before the king and through bribery, Menelaus was acquitted and remained in office. This event angered the people and a riot broke out in Jerusalem, in the course of which, Lysimachus was killed.

Meanwhile, Antiochus undertook his second invasion of Egypt. Upon a false report of Antiochus' death, the deposed High Priest, Jason, raised an army and attacked Jerusalem. Menelaus took refuge in the citadel, and Jason continued to massacre 'his fellow citizens.'58 But, he did not gain control of the government. When news reached Antiochus, whose Egyptian campaign had been stopped by the growing power of Rome, it was clear to him that Judaea was in a state of rebellion. So he set out in a 'savage mood,'59 took Jerusalem by storm and, without mercy, told his troops to slaughter everyone they met. Because he needed money to pay the heavy fine imposes by Rome, he stripped the temple of its golden altar and all of its sacred vessels.60 The king issued a decree throughout his empire: "his subjects were to become one people throughout his empire and abandon their own laws and religion."61 The citizens of Judaea were forbidden to practice their religion.

 

sabbath and feast days were to be profaned; the temple and its ministers to be defiled. Altars, idols, and sacred precincts were to be established; swine and other unclean beasts to be offered in sacrifice. They must leave their sons uncircumcised; they must make themselves in every way abominable, unclean, and profane and so forget the law and change all their statues. The penalty for disobedience is death.

I Maccabees 1:45-50

 

Pagan altars were built throughout the towns of Judaea. All the scrolls of law which were found were torn up and burned. Many found the strength to resist.62 The Second Book of Maccabees relates tales of martyrs who preferred to die rather than to obey Antiochus' law. The First Book of the Maccabees takes up the narrative. When Mattathias, a priest of the Joarib family from Jerusalem, saw the desecreation of the temple, he said, "We shall not obey the command of the king, nor will we deviate one step from our forms of worship."63 With those words, he killed the Jew who had stepped forward and was going to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. He and his sons fled to the hills and set up secret centers of resistance.

The Maccabean revolt can be divided up into four periods,64 by years. From 166 to 164 B.C.E., there was guerrilla warfare under the command of Juda Maccabeaus, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem. II Maccabees records what happened. In 164 B.C.E. Judah marched into Jerusalem at the head of his armed forces. After three years of pollution, the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. The festival lasted eight days. "A measure was passed by the public assembly, with the approval of Judah Maccabeaus, to the effect that the entire Jewish race should keep these days every year."65 By this act of the assembly, Judah and his people "declared themselves the true Israel."66 It had far reaching significance. All previous festivals had been declared by the people.67 This measure was without precedent in Judaea. But, it was in complete accord with the practices of the Greeks. When an event was considered important, the Greeks believed it should be commemorated for all time. Thus Judah "initiated a practice of his enemies, but at the same time incorporated it into Judaism."68 This was the first step along the path, that "introduced Hellenic usages into Judaism without making a sacrifice of Judaism."69 Now that he was master of Jerusalem, Judah built high wall and strong tower to protect the Temple, and fortified the town around Jerusalem. He was now the master of Jerusalem.

From 164-160 B.C.E., after purifying the Temple, Judah proceeded to avenge the Jews who had been attacked by their Gentile neighbors. Epiphanes died in 163 B.C.E. leaving a young boy, Antiochus V Eupator, as king. His guardian, Lysias, who as regent controlled the who empire, set out to make a final end and to the irritating Judaeans. Lysias, along with his elephants, the tanks of the ancient world, marched on Judaea. Lysias captured the Maccabean fortress of Beth-Zur, south of Jerusalem. He then defeated Judah at Beth-Zechariah, which left the way open to Jerusalem. But his victory was never followed up. Lysias heard that Philip, a rival general, was marching on Antioch from eastern Syria. He, therefore, hastily concluded a peace treaty with Judah, so that he could return home and deal with affairs there.

The Maccabeans were victorious. As a condition of peace, Antiochus' decrees against the Jewish religion, were officially annulled. Judah's conquest of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple restored religious freedom. Jerusalem was again the capital of as self-governing Jewish province. The Hellenistic reforms aimed against the ancient traditions were repulsed. The first religious war in history ended in victory for the Judeans. But the Hasmoneans wanted more. They desired complete freedom from Seleucid rule. The majority of the people were happy with the peach treaty and few wanted to follow Judah and his brothers as they fled the city.

But Judah's fortunes changed. He was able to enlist a large force and defeated the Greek general Nicanor in a major battle.70 A year later, Judah was killed fighting a new Syrian army under the leadership of Baccides. Hasmonean hopes for political power were dashed. 160-152 B.C.E. was a period of declining fortunes for the Hasmoneans. They fled from Jerusalem and settled in Michmash, removed from the center of power. But change was coming.

Luck was with them and the period from 152 to 141 B.C.E. was one of ascendancy for the family. The Seleucid throne was up for grabs again. Both Alexander Balas and Demetrius wanted Hasmonean support. Jonathan, the leader since Judah's death, played one against the other. Finally, Jonathan supported Demetrius and for this he was "richly rewarded."71

In 152 B.C.E. he appeared for the first time as High Priest, shortly afterwards the Seleucids appointed him viceroy over a now wider Judaea. He not only consolidated his rule over Judaea, but also extended the territory. He was in firm control and was recognized as the sole representative of the Seleucids in Judaea. There is irony here. Twenty-five years ago, "Jason and Menelaus, acquired the high priesthood by bribing the gentile king, now the Hasmoneans followed suit; instead of bribes, they paid with services rendered."72 Simon, the last Maccabean brother, declared Judaea's independence (141 B.C.E. ) from Seleucid rule. He drove out the remnants of the Syrian garrison and the last of the Hellenizers from Acre.

Jewish progress was closely bound up with the slow decline of the Seleucid dynasty. The Hasmonean dynasty lasted until Pompey decided to annex Syria and Roman intervention in Judaea became inevitable. In 63 B.C.E. Pompey conquered Jerusalem and with one stroke dismembered the Hasmonean state and Judaea became one more province under the jurisdiction of Rome.

What were the achievements of the Hasmonean Dynasty? Not since the tenth century, under David and Solomon, had there been an independent Jewish state. The small state had been expanded under the dynasty. It became a major political entity embracing parts of Lebanon and Jordan.73 A basic policy of the Hasmonean was religious purification74 and whole populations were converted--Idumeans by John Hyrcanus and Itureans by Aristobulus I.

This most important achievement was the synthesis of Hellenism and Judaism. Bickerman calls it "moderate Hellenism."75 The leaders adopted Greek names, coins minted were bilingual, both in Greek and Hebrew.76 It was during this period that the religious community divided itself into three religious sects or parties, the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Saducees.

The Essenes were an ascetic sect that withdrew for a life of religious contemplation. They formed their own communities and developed a messianic religion. The Saducees were members of the priestly class, who formed an alliance with the Hasmonean ruling party. They were the wealthy and aristocratic class and were considered pro-Hellenizers. But in religious matters, they were conservative. The Saducees believed in the strict interpretation of the Torah--the Temple, priest and sacrifice were sacrosanct.

Their rivals, the Pharisees, were the opposite--very conservative in their politics, but liberal in their interpretation of the law. It is their view that prevailed. They stressed Oral Law along with the written law. They stood for the synagogue, the rabbi and prayer. It was they who introduced elasticity into Judaism which made it possible for the religion to survive in times of stress. The Pharisees introduced the concept of retribution and resurrection, "when the righteous would be rewarded to new life."77 They were against Hellenism because it represented an alien culture.

Modern historian have been asking the question, Why did Antiochus act as he did? Religious persecution had been unheard of in the pagan world. A ruler might impost his gods on the populous but would never stamp out the native gods. Antiochus was an educated Greek in the best Hellenic traditions. Religious persecution was not part of his cultural and political heritage. Elias Bickerman in The God of the Maccabees, proposed the theory that it was the Hellenized Jews, under Menelaus, who invited Antiochus into the city and allowed him to desecrate the Temple. Although he admits the evidence is scanty, he nevertheless tells us that Antiochus IV, acted as his father did. He had been invited in and he asked to revoke the charter his father proclaimed, namely that ancestral laws were to be observed. He further states that the Maccabean movement was a civil war, "a religious struggle between reformers and orthodox."78

Victor Tcherikover counters Bickerman's assumption. He tells us that the sources are scanty. The persecution is associated with Antiochus' name alone. No where in the sources are Jason or Menelaus mentioned as religious persecutes. He looks for reasons in the rebellion that preceded the persecutions. Antiochus' persecution was part of an attempt to suppress a revolt that had broken out in Jerusalem and that had a clear cut religious character to it. The rebellion was a civil war between the aristocracy and the people, between the Tobiads and the Oniads, the followers of the assassinated High Priest.79

Samuel K. Eddy, in The King is Dead, claims that Hellenization was profound in Judaea as well as in the Diaspora. Hellenization had been proceeding down to the reign of Antiochus IV.80 There were two principle complaints throughout the third century writings: hatred for foreign kingship and loathing for the hard conditions faced by the poverty ridden people in Judaea.81 While Antiochus was fighting in Egypt, the revolt broke out. Unfortunately, we are deprived of the Seleucid view of events. 82 According to Eddy, the King was furious and he interpreted it as revolt against his rule. Antiochus did not abolish the practice of Judaism, he only forbade it. His decree did not apply to Jews in the Diaspora. From Antiochus' point of view, he did not carry out a religious persecution, he only took political action. He just set up new laws. He was acting as any Hellenist king would.

Oriental resistance was an effort to maintain a native way of life, whose continuity was threatened by Hellenism. Reaction was directed only at those Greek institutions which were actually against Oriental institutions.84 There was no opposition to Hellenism in its totality. One fact remains, against all odds, the Jewish people took up arms against a mighty empire in defense of their own ways and their own religion. When the time came they found a leader in Judah Maccabeaus. He and his band of warriors won national independence for their people. Their fight consolidated Judaism and made possible all the later developments of Jewish and European history. "The almost complete fusion of religion and nationalism...prevented assimilation."85


GLOSSARY

APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE. A type of writing that flourished in Judaism and early Christian thought (165 B.C.E. to 120 C.E.), with the purpose of encouraging the faithful to stand firm under persecution. The encouragement was in the form of a promise of speedy deliverance from current evils by the intervention of God, which would bring about the end of the present world order, the resurrection, and the eternal reward of the righteous and damnation of the unrighteous.

APOCRYPHA. Greek: "hidden, stored away." The Apocrypha refers to fourteen books found in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) but not in canonical Hebrew Scriptures. These books are important for the development of Jewish religious thought in the Second Temple period.

ARAMAIC. The language spoken by various northwest Semitic peoples from the eight century B.C.E. up through the first few centuries of the present era. Large portions of Daniel, Ezra, the Talmud, and the Midrash are written in Aramaic. Also the Lingua Franca of the ancient Near East.

BABYLONIAN EXILE. A period of time between the destruction of the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. During this epoch, a small group of Jews remained in Palestine, although the majority of the Jews were exiled in Mesopotamia. The Babylonian Exile is important for the development of the synagogue and the beginnings of the organized prayer book and canonization of the Scriptures. In 538 B.C.E. the Persian king, Cyrus, permitted the Jews to return to Palestine.

DIASPORA. This word, which is derived from the Greek word meaning "dispersion," has referred to all Jewish settlements outside the land of Israel or Palestine. Jews began to live outside the Holy Land during the decline of the First Temple period. After the first large exile residents of Judah by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C.E., many Jews did not return to Palestine when they were permitted to do so in subsequent centuries. They became scattered throughout the existing kingdoms.

ESSENES. A Jewish sect which flourished during the Hasmonean dynasty and whose members lived an ascetic and sometimes mystical life in monastic communities.

PHARISEES. Emerged as a distinct group during and after the Maccabean Revolt (c. 165 B.C.E.). They believed in the authority of the Written Law, along with the Saducees; but they also held the Oral Law to be authoritative. As the latter was an interpretation of the Written Law from viewpoint of each successive generation, the Pharisees represented the mass of Jewish people in religious and social outlook, and Pharisaism became the foundation of later rabbinical Judaism.

SADDUCEES. Tracing their ancestry back to Zadok, high priest during the time of David, this Jewish sect, in the Hasmonean period, was composed of the Jewish aristocracy, prosperous merchants, and Temple priesthood. In their conservatism, they accepted as religiously authoritative only the Written Law, refusing the Oral tradition of the Pharisees.


END NOTES


WORKS CITED

Bartlett, James R. Jews in the Hellenistic World: Josephus, Aristeas, the Sibylline Oracles, Eupolemus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Bickerman, Elias. The God of the Maccabees: Studies on the meaning and Origin of the Maccabean Revolt. Trans. Horst R. Moehring. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1979. Orig. Published as Der Gott Der Makkabaer. Berlin: Schocken Verlag/Judoscher Bichverlag, 1937.

---------The Jews in a Greek Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

---------The Maccabees, An Account of their History from the Beginnings to the Fall of the House of Hasmoneans. New York: Shocken Books, 1947.

Dimont, Max. Jews, God, and History. New York: The New American Library, 1962.

Diodorus Sculus. Universal History, 12 vols. Trans. C. Oldfather. The Loeb Classical Library, ed. T.E. Page. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1967.

Eddy, Samuel K. The King is Dead, Studies in the Near Eastern Resistance to Hellenism 334-31 B.C. Lincoln, University of Nebraska, 1961.

Green, Peter. Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Hengel, Martin. Jews, Greeks and Barbarians: Aspects of Hellenization of Judaism in the Pre-Christian Period. Trans. John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980

---------Judaism and Hellenism, Studies in their Encounter in Palestine During the Early Hellenistic Period. 2 vols. Trans. John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.

Levine, Lee I. A. "The Age of Hellenism." Ancient Israel, A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Ed. Hershel Shanks. Englewood, Cliffs: Prentiss Hall, 1995.

Mansoor, Menhem. Jewish History and Thought, An Introduction. Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1991.

Momigliano, Arnaldo. Alien Wisdom The Limits of Hellenization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

I and II Maccabees, The New English Bible with the Apocrypha. Oxford Study Edition. Gen. ed. Samuel Sandmel, ed. Apocrypha, Arnold J. Tracik. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Peters, F. E. The Harvest of Hellenism, A History of the New East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity. New York, Simon Schuster, 1970.

Strabo. The Geography of Strabo 8 Vols. Trans. Horace Leonard Jones, Ph.D. LL.D., The Loeb Classical Library, ed. T.E. Page. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1961

Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. Trans. S. Applebaum. New York: Atheneum, 1970. reprinted by arrangement with the Jewish Publication Society of America, 1959.

Williamson, Ronald. Jews in the Hellenistic World, Philo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Whiston, William. The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus: New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. No date.

 


Previous Article List Home Page Summary Next