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3. Hellenistic Judaism (4th century BCE-2nd century CE)


i) Hellenism and Judaism.

Actual contact between Greeks and Semites goes back to Minoan and Mycenaean times and is reflected in certain terms in Homer and in other early Greek authors. It is not until the end of the 4th century, however, that Jews are first mentioned by Greek writers, who praise the Jews as brave, self-disciplined, and philosophical.

Important historical sites of Hellenistic and medieval Judaism.

After being conquered by Alexander the Great (332 BCE), Palestine became part of the Hellenistic kingdom of Ptolemaic Egypt, the policy of which was to permit the Jews considerable cultural and religious freedom. (see also Index: Hellenistic religion)

When in 198 BCE Palestine was conquered by King Antiochus III (247-187 BCE), of the Syrian Seleucid dynasty, the Jews were treated even more liberally, being granted a charter to govern themselves by their own constitution, namely, the Torah. Greek influence, however, was already becoming manifest. Some of the 29 Greek cities of Palestine attained a high level of culture. The mid-3rd century-BCE Zenon papyri--containing the correspondence of a business manager of a high Ptolemaic official--present the picture of a wealthy Jew, Tobiah, who through commercial contact with the Ptolemies acquired a veneer of Hellenism, to judge at least from the pagan and religious expressions in his Greek letters. His son and especially his grandsons became ardent Hellenists. It has been argued that the Hellenic influence was so strong among the Jews of Judaea by the beginning of the 2nd century that if the process had continued without the forcible intervention of the Seleucids in Jewish affairs (see below) Judaean Judaism would have become even more syncretistic than that of Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria (c. 15 BCE-c. 40 CE). The apocryphal writer Jesus ben Sirach so bitterly denounced the Hellenizers in Jerusalem (c. 180 BCE) that he was forced by the authorities to temper his words.

In the early part of the 2nd century BCE, Hellenizing Jews came into control of the high priesthood itself. Jason as high priest (175-172 BCE) established Jerusalem as a Greek city, Antioch-at-Jerusalem, with Greek educational institutions. His ouster by an even more extreme Hellenizing faction, which established Menelaus (died 162 BCE) as high priest, occasioned a civil war, with the wealthy aristocrats supporting Menelaus and the masses Jason. The Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had initially bestowed exemptions and privileges upon the Jews, intervened upon the request of Menelaus' party. Antiochus' promulgation of decrees against the practice of Judaism and the offensive and cruel measures to enforce them led to the revolt of an old priest, Mattathias, and his five sons--the so-called Maccabees or Hasmoneans. It has been conjectured that one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, mirrors the fierceness of this struggle. In any case, the figure of the martyr, as known in Judaism and Christianity--the person who bears witness to the faith through his suffering and death--dates from this event.

The tactics employed both in the countryside and in Jerusalem by the Hasmoneans in their counterattack against Hellenizing Jews, whose children they forcibly circumcised, indicate the inroads that Hellenism had already made. On the whole, however, the chief strength of the Hellenizers lay among the wealthy urban population, while the Maccabees derived their strength from the peasants and urban masses. Yet, there is evidence that the ruthlessness exhibited by the Hasmoneans toward the Greek cities of Palestine had political rather than cultural origins, and that, in fact, they were fighting for personal power no less than for the Torah. In any case, some of those who fought on the side of the Maccabees were idol-worshipping Jews. The Maccabees soon found a modus vivendi with Hellenism: Jonathan (160-142), according to the Jewish historian Josephus (c. 38-c. 100 CE), negotiated a treaty of friendship with Sparta; Aristobulus (104-103 BCE) actually called himself Philhellene (a lover of Hellenism); Alexander Jannaeus (103-76) hired Greek mercenaries and inscribed his coins with Greek as well as with Hebrew. The Greek influence reached its height under King Herod I of Judaea (37-4 BCE), who built a Greek theatre, amphitheatre, and hippodrome in or near Jerusalem.

ii) Social, political, and religious divisions.

During the Hellenistic period the priests were both the wealthiest class and the strongest political group among the Jews of Jerusalem. The wealthiest of all were the Oniad family, who held the hereditary office of high priest until they were replaced by the Hasmoneans; the Temple that they supervised was, in effect, a bank, where the Temple wealth was kept and where private individuals also deposited their money. Hence, from a social and economic point of view, Josephus is justified in calling the government of Judaea a theocracy (rule by those having religious authority). Opposition to the priests' oppression arose among an urban middle class group known as scribes (soferim), who were interpreters and instructors of the Torah on the basis of an oral tradition probably going back to the time of the return from the Babylonian Exile (538 BCE and after). A special group of the scribes known as Hasidim (Greek, Hasideans), or "Pietists," became the forerunners of the Pharisees (middle-class liberal Jews who reinterpreted the Torah and the prophetic writings to meet the needs of their times) and joined the Hasmoneans in the struggle against the Hellenists, though on religious rather than on political grounds.

Josephus held that the Pharisees and the other Jewish parties were philosophical schools, and some modern scholars have argued that the groupings were primarily along economic and social lines; but the chief distinctions among them were religious and go back well before the Maccabean revolt. The equation of Pharisaic with "normative" Judaism can no longer be supported, at any rate not before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The fact that in 70 CE, according to the Palestinian Talmud (see below Rabbinic Judaism [2nd-18th century] ), there were 24 types of "heretics" in Palestine indicates that there was, in fact, much divergence among Jews; and this picture is confirmed by Josephus, who notes numerous instances of religious leaders who claimed to be prophets and who obtained considerable followings.

Some other modern scholars have sought to interpret the Pharisees' opposition to the Sadducees--wealthy, conservative Jews who accepted the Torah alone as authoritative--as based on an urban-rural dichotomy; but a very large share of Pharisaic concern was with agricultural matters. To associate the rabbis with urbanization seems a distortion. The chief support for the Pharisees came from the lower classes, whether in the country or in the city.

The chief doctrine of the Pharisees (literally "Separatists") was that the Oral Law had been revealed to Moses at the same time as the Written Law. In their exegesis and interpretation of this oral tradition, particularly under the rabbi Hillel at the end of the 1st century BCE, the Pharisees were liberal, and their regard for the public won them considerable support. That the Maccabean ruler John Hyrcanus I broke with them and that Josephus set their number at merely "more than 6,000" at the time of King Herod indicates that they were less numerous and influential than Josephus would have his readers believe. The Pharisees stressed the importance of performing all the commandments, including those that appeared to be of only minor significance; those who were particularly strict in their observance of the Levitical rules were known as haverim ("companions"). They believed in the providential guidance of the universe, in angels, in reward and punishment in the world to come, and in resurrection of the dead, in all of which beliefs they were opposed by the Sadducees. In finding a modus vivendi with Hellenism, at least in form and in terminology, however, the Pharisees did not differ greatly from the Sadducees. Indeed, the supreme council of the Great Synagogue (or Great Assembly) of the Pharisees was modelled in its organization on Hellenistic religious and social associations. Because they did not take an active role in fostering the rebellion against Rome in 66-70 CE, they were able, through their leader Johanan ben Zakkai, to obtain Roman permission to establish an academy at Jabneh (Jamnia), where, in effect, they replaced the cult of the Temple with study and prayer.

The Sadducees and their subsidiary group, the Boethusians (Boethosaeans), who were identified with the great landowners and priestly families, were more deeply influenced by Hellenization. The rise of the Pharisees may thus be seen, in a sense, as a reaction against the more profound Hellenization favoured by the Sadducees, who were allied with the philhellenic Hasmoneans. From the time of John Hyrcanus (135-104 BCE) the Sadducees generally held a higher position in comparison with the Pharisees and were in favour with the Jewish rulers. Religiously more conservative than the Pharisees, they rejected the idea of a revealed oral interpretation of the Torah, though, to be sure, they had their own tradition, the sefer gezerot ("book of decrees" or "decisions"). They similarly rejected the inspiration of the prophetic books of the Bible, as well as the Pharisaic beliefs in angels, rewards, and punishments in the world to come, providential governance of human events, and resurrection of the dead. For them Judaism centred on the Temple; but about 10 years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Sadducees in effect disappeared from Jewish life when the Pharisees excluded them from entering the Temple.

Not constituting any particular party were the unlearned rural masses known as 'amme ha-aretz ("people of the land"), who were to be found among both the Pharisees and Sadducees and even among the Samaritans, descendants of the northern Israelites who had their own Torah and their own sanctuary. The 'amme ha-aretz did not give the prescribed tithes, did not observe the laws of purity, and were neglectful of the laws of prayer; and so great was the antagonism between them and the learned Pharisees that to their daughters was applied the biblical verse, "Cursed be he who lies with any kind of beast." The antipathy was reciprocated, for in the same passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim) are added the words, "Greater is the hatred wherewith the 'amme ha-aretz hate the scholar than the hatred wherewith the heathens hate Israel." That there was, however, social mobility is clear from the Talmudic dictum, "Heed the sons of the 'am ha-aretzfor they will be the living source of the Torah." That there is little evidence that the early Christian church was particularly successful in converting 'amme ha-aretz suggests that their position was not unbearable.

Proselytes (converts) to Judaism, though not constituting a class, became increasingly numerous both in Palestine and especially in the Diaspora (the Jews living beyond Palestine). Scholarly estimates of the Jewish population of this era range from 700,000 to 5,000,000 in Palestine and from 2,000,000 to 5,000,000 in the Diaspora, with the prevailing opinion being that about one-tenth of the population of the Mediterranean world at the beginning of the Christian Era was Jewish. Such numbers represent a considerable increase from previous eras and must have included large numbers of proselytes. Already in 139 BCE the Jews of Rome were charged by the praetor (civil administrator) with attempting to contaminate Roman morals with their religion, presumably an allusion to proselytism. The first large-scale conversions were by John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who, in 130 and 103 BCE, respectively, forced the people of Idumaea in southern Palestine and of Ituraea in northern Palestine to become Jews. The eagerness of the Pharisees to win converts is seen in a statement in Matthew that the Pharisees would "traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte." To be sure, some of the proselytes, according to Josephus, did return to their pagan ways, but the majority apparently remained true to their new religion. In addition, there were many "sympathizers" with Judaism who observed one or more Jewish practices without being fully converted.

Outside the pale of Judaism in most, though not all, respects were the Samaritans, who, like the Sadducees, refused to recognize the validity of the Oral Law; and, in fact, the break between the Sadducees and the Samaritans did not occur until the conquest of Shechem by John Hyrcanus (128 BCE). Like the later so-called Qumran covenanters (the monastic group with whom are associated the Dead Sea Scrolls), they were opposed to the Jewish priesthood and the cult of the Temple, regarded Moses as a messianic figure, and forbade the revelation of esoteric doctrines to outsiders. (see also Index: Qumran community)

Scholars have recently revised an older conception of a "normative" Pharisaic Judaism dominant in Palestine and a deviant Judaism dominant in the Diaspora. On the one hand, the picture of "normative" Judaism is broader than at first believed, and it is clear that there were many differences of emphasis within the Pharisaic party; and, on the other hand, supposed differences between Alexandrian and Palestinian Judaism were not as great as had been formerly thought. In Palestine, no less than in the Diaspora, there were then deviations from Pharisaic standards.

Despite the attempts of the Pharisaic leaders to restrain the wave of Greek influence, they themselves showed at least a surface Hellenization. In the first place, as many as 2,500-3,000 words of Greek origin are to be found in the Talmudic corpus, and they supply important terms in the fields of law, government, science, religion, technology, and everyday life, especially in the popular sermons preached by the rabbis. When preaching, the Talmudic rabbis often gave the Greek translation of biblical verses for the benefit of those who understood Greek only. The prevalence of Greek in ossuary (burial) inscriptions and the discovery of Greek papyri in the Dead Sea caves confirm the widespread use of the language, though few Jews, it seems, really mastered Greek. Again, there was a surface Hellenization in the frequent adoption of Greek names, even by the rabbis; and there is evidence (Talmud, Sota) of a school at the beginning of the 2nd century that had 500 students of "Greek wisdom." Even after 117 CE, when it was prohibited by the rabbis to teach one's son Greek, Rabbi Judah the Prince, the editor of the Mishna (authoritative compilation of the Oral Law) at the end of the 2nd century, remarked, "Why talk Syriac in Palestine? Talk either Hebrew or Greek." Even the synagogues of the period have the form of Hellenistic-Roman basilicas, have frequent inscriptions in Greek, and often have pagan motifs. Many of the anecdotes told about the rabbis have Socratic and Cynic parallels. There is evidence of discussions of rabbis with Athenians, Alexandrians, and Roman philosophers, and even with the emperor Antoninus; but in all of these discussions there is evidence of only one rabbi, Elisha ben Abuyah, who became a Gnostic heretic, accepting certain esoteric religious dualistic views. The rabbis never mention the Greek philosophers Plato or Aristotle or the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo, and they never use any Greek philosophical terms; the only Greek author whom they name is Homer. Again, the parallels between Hellenistic rhetoric and rabbinic hermeneutics are in the realm of terminology rather than of substance, and those between Roman and Talmudic law are inconclusive. Part of the explanation of this may be that, although there were 29 Greek cities in Palestine, none was in Judaea, the real stronghold of the Jews.

iii) Religious rites and customs in Palestine: Temple and synagogues.

The most important religious institution of the Jews until its destruction in 70 was the Temple in Jerusalem--the Second Temple, erected 538-516 BCE. Though services were interrupted for three years by Antiochus Epiphanes (167-164 BCE) and though the Roman general Pompey desecrated the Temple (63 BCE), Herod lavished great expense in rebuilding it. The high priesthood itself became degraded by the extreme Hellenism of such high priests as Jason and Menelaus; and the institution declined when Herod began the custom of appointing the high priests for political and financial considerations. That not only the multitude of Jews but the priesthood itself suffered from sharp divisions is clear from the bitter class warfare that ultimately erupted in 59 CE between the high priests on the one hand and the ordinary priests and the leaders of the populace of Jerusalem on the other. (see also Index: Jerusalem, Temple of)

Though the Temple remained central in Jewish worship, synagogues may already have emerged during the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BCE. In any case, in the following century, Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood and read from the Torah to the people (Nehemiah). According to the interpretation of some scholars, a synagogue existed even within the precincts of the Temple; and certainly by the time of Jesus, to judge from the references to Galilean synagogues in the New Testament, synagogues were common in Palestine. Hence, when the Temple was destroyed in 70, the spiritual vacuum was hardly as great as it had been after the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE).

The chief legislative, judicial, and educational body of the Palestinian Jews during the period of the Second Temple was the Great Sanhedrin (council court), consisting of 71 members, among whom the Sadducees were an important party. The members shared the government with the king during the early years of the Hasmonean dynasty, but beginning with Herod's reign their authority was restricted to religious matters. In addition, there was another Sanhedrin, set up by the high priest, which served as a court of political council, as well as a kind of grand jury.

iv) Religious and cultural life in the Diaspora.

During the Hellenistic-Roman period the chief centres of Jewish population outside Palestine were in Syria, Asia Minor, Babylonia, and Egypt, each of which is estimated to have had at least 1,000,000 Jews. The large Jewish community of Antioch--which, according to Josephus, had been given all the rights of citizenship by the Seleucid founder-king, Seleucus Nicator (died 280 BCE)--attracted a particularly large number of converts to Judaism. It was in Antioch that the apocryphal book of Tobit was probably composed in the 2nd century BCE to encourage wayward Diaspora Jews to return to their Judaism. As for the Jews of Asia Minor, whose large numbers were mentioned by Cicero (1st century BCE), their not joining in the Jewish revolts against the Roman emperors Nero, Trajan, and Hadrian would indicate that they had sunk deep roots into their environment. In Babylonia, in the early part of the 1st century CE, two Jewish brothers, Asinaeus and Anilaeus, were able to establish an independent minor state; their followers were so meticulous in observing the Sabbath that they assumed that it would not be possible to violate the Sabbath even in order to save themselves from a Parthian attack. In the early part of the 1st century CE, according to Josephus, the royal house and many of their entourage in the district of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia were converted to Judaism; some of the Adiabenian Jews distinguished themselves in the revolt against Rome in 66 (see below Judaism under Roman rule ).

The largest and most important Jewish settlement in the Diaspora was in Egypt. There is evidence (papyri) of a Jewish military colony at Elephantine (Yeb), Upper Egypt, as early as the 6th century BCE. These papyri reveal the existence of a Jewish temple--which most certainly would be considered heterodox--and some syncretism (mixture) with pagan cults. Alexandria, the most populous and most influential Hellenistic Jewish community in the Diaspora, had its origin when Alexander the Great assigned a quarter of the city to the Jews. Until about the 3rd century BCE the papyri of the Egyptian Jewish community were written in Aramaic; after that, with the exception of the Nash papyrus in Hebrew, all papyri until 400 CE were in Greek. Similarly, of the 116 Jewish inscriptions from Egypt, all but five are written in Greek. The process of Hellenistic acculturation is, thus, obvious. (see also Index: Egypt, ancient)

The most important work of the early Hellenistic period, dating, according to tradition, from the 3rd century BCE, is the Septuagint, a translation of the Pentateuch into Greek. (The translation of the whole Hebrew Bible was completed during the next two centuries.) The fact that, in the Letter of Aristeasand the works of Philo and Josephus, this translation was itself regarded as divinely inspired led to the neglect of the Hebrew original. The translation shows some knowledge of Palestinian exegesis and the tradition of Halakha (the Oral Law); but the rabbis themselves, noting that the translation diverged from the Hebrew text, apparently had ambivalent feelings about it, as is evidenced in their alternate praise and condemnation of it. The fact that such a concept as Torah was translated as nomos ("law") and tzedaqa as dikaiosyne ("justice") opened the way to antilegalism in early Christianity and to Platonic interpretations; and the introduction of such Greek mythological terms as "Titans" and "Sirens" helped to pave the way for the syncretism of Judaism and paganism.

The establishment of a temple at Leontopolis in Egypt (c. 145 BCE) by a deposed high priest, Onias IV, indicates that the temple was clearly heterodox; but this temple never really offered a challenge to the one in Jerusalem and was merely the temple of the military colony of Leontopolis. It is significant that the Palestinian rabbis ruled that a sacrifice intended for the temple of Onias might be offered in Jerusalem. That the temple of Onias made little impact upon Egyptian Jewry can be seen from the silence about it on the part of Philo, who often mentions the Temple in Jerusalem. The temple of Onias, however, continued until it was closed by the Roman emperor Vespasian in 73 CE.

The chief religious institutions of the Egyptian Diaspora were synagogues. As early as the 3rd century BCE there were inscriptions mentioning two proseuchai, Jewish prayerhouses. In Alexandria there were numerous synagogues throughout the city, of which the largest was so famous that it is said in the Talmud that he who has not seen it has never seen the glory of Israel.

1. Egyptian Jewish literature.

In Egypt the Jews produced a considerable literature (most of it now lost), intended to inculcate in Greek-speaking Jews a pride in their past and to counteract an inferiority complex that some of them felt about Jewish cultural achievements. In the field of history, Demetrius, near the end of the 3rd century BCE, wrote a work On the Kings in Judaea--perhaps intended to refute an anti-Semitic Egyptian priest and author--showing considerable concern for chronology. In the 2nd century BCE a Jew who used the name of Hecataeus wrote On the Jews. Another, Eupolemus (c. 150 BCE), like Demetrius, wrote On the Kings in Judaea; an indication of its apologetic nature may be seen from the fragment asserting that Moses taught the alphabet not only to the Jews but also to the Phoenicians and to the Greeks. Artapanus (c. 100 BCE), in his book On the Jews, went even further in romanticizing Moses by identifying him with the Greek Musaeus and the Egyptian Hermes-Thoth (god of Egyptian writing and culture) and by asserting that Moses was the real originator of Egyptian civilization and that he even taught the Egyptians the worship of the deity Apis (the sacred bull) and the ibis (sacred bird). In his history, Cleodemus (or Malchus), in an obvious attempt to win for the Jews the regard of the Greeks, asserted that two sons of Abraham had joined Heracles in his expedition in Africa and that the Greek hero had married the daughter of one of them. On the other hand, Jason of Cyrene (c. 100 BCE) wrote a history, of which II Maccabees is a summary, glorifying the Temple and violently attacking the Jewish Hellenizers; but his manner of writing history is typically Hellenistic, with emphasis on pathos. III Maccabees (1st century BCE) is a work of propaganda intended to counteract those Jews who sought to win citizenship in Alexandria. The Letter of Aristeas, though ascribed to a pagan courtier, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, was probably composed by an Alexandrian Jew about 100 BCE to defend Judaism and its practices against detractors. (see also Index: Maccabees, The Books of the)

Egyptian Jews also composed poems and plays, now extant only in fragments, to glorify their history. Philo the Elder (c. 100 BCE) wrote an epic On Jerusalem in Homeric hexameters. Theodotus (c. 100 BCE) wrote an epic On Shechem, quite clearly apologetic, to judge from the fragment connecting the name of Shechem with Sikimios, the son of the Greek god Hermes. At about the same time, a Jewish poet wrote a didactic poem, ascribing it to the pagan Phocylides, though closely following the Bible in some details; the author disguised his Jewish origin by omitting any attack against idolatry from his moralizing. A collection known as The Sibylline Oracles, containing Jewish and Christian prophecies in pagan disguise, includes some material composed by a 2nd-century-BCE Alexandrian Jew who intended to glorify the pious Jews and perhaps to win converts; it is possible that the Oracles were known to the Roman poet Virgil when he wrote his fourth Eclogue.

A Jewish dramatist of the period, Ezekiel (c. 100 BCE), composed tragedies in Greek. Fragments of one of them, The Exodus, show how deeply he was influenced by the Greek dramatist Euripides. Whether such plays were actually presented on the stage or not, they edified Jews and showed the pagans that the Jews had as much material for drama as they did.

The greatest achievement of Alexandrian Judaism was in the realm of wisdom literature and philosophy. In a work on the analogical interpretation of the Law of Moses, Aristobulus in the 2nd century BCE anticipated Philo in attempting to harmonize Greek philosophy and the Torah, in using the method of allegory to explain anthropomorphisms in the Bible, and in asserting that the Greek philosophers were indebted to Moses. The Wisdom of Solomon, dating from the 1st century BCE, shows an acquaintance with the Platonic doctrine of the preexistence of the soul and with a method of argument known as sorites that was favoured by the Stoics (Greek philosophers). During the same period the author of IV Maccabees showed an intimate knowledge of Greek philosophy, particularly of Stoicism.

By far the greatest figure in Alexandrian Jewish literature is Philo, who has come to be recognized as a major philosopher. His synthesis of Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato, and of the Torah, and his formulation of the Logos (Word, or Divine Reason) as an intermediary between God and the world, helped lay the groundwork for Neoplatonism (a philosophy dealing with levels of being), Gnosticism (a dualistic religious movement teaching that matter is evil and that spirit is good), and the philosophical framework of the early Church Fathers. Philo was a devotee of Judaism neither as a mystic cult nor as a collateral branch of Pharisaic Judaism; he was a Diaspora Jew with a profound knowledge of Greek literature who, though almost totally ignorant of Hebrew, tried to find a modus vivendi between Judaism and secular culture.

Mention may be made of the Jewish community of Rome. Numbering perhaps 50,000, it was, to judge from the inscriptions in the Jewish catacombs, predominantly Greek-speaking and almost totally ignorant of Hebrew. References in Roman writers, particularly Tacitus and the satirists, have led scholars to conclude that the community--which was influential, to judge from the pagan jibes--observed the Sabbath and the dietary laws and was active in seeking converts.

The Hellenization of the Diaspora Jews is, however, to be seen not merely in their literature but even more in the papyri and art objects that have recently been studied at great length. As early as 290 BCE, Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek non-Jew living in Egypt, had remarked that under the Persians and Macedonians the Jews had greatly modified the traditions of their fathers. The fact that--to judge from other papyri--at least three-fourths of the Egyptian Jews had personal names of Greek, rather than Hebrew, origin is significant. That the only schools of which mention is made are Sabbath schools intended for adults and that, on the contrary, Jews were extremely eager to gain admittance for their children to Greek gymnasia--where quite obviously they would have to make compromises with their Judaism--indicates their scale of values. Again, there are a number of violations from the norms of Halakha (which precluded the charging of interest for a loan), most notably in the fact that of 11 known extant loan documents only two are without interest. There are often striking similarities between the documents of sale, marriage, and divorce of the Jews and of the Greeks in Egypt, though some of this, as with the documents of the Elephantine Jewish community, may be due to a common origin in the cuneiform law of ancient Mesopotamia. The charms and apotropaic (designed to avert evil) amulets are often syncretistic, and the Jews can hardly have been unaware of the religious significance of symbols that were still very much filled with meaning in pagan cults. The fact that the Jewish community of Alexandria was preoccupied in the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE with obtaining rights as citizens--which certainly involved compromises with Judaism, including participation in pagan festivals and sacrifices--shows how far they were ready to deviate. Philo mentions Jews who scoffed at the Bible, which they insisted on interpreting literally, and of others who failed to adhere to the biblical laws that they regarded as mere allegory; he writes too of Jews who observed nothing of Judaism except the holiday of Yom Kippur. But despite such deviations, the pagan writers constantly accuse the Diaspora Jews of being "haters of mankind" and of being absurdly superstitious; and Christian writers later similarly attack the Jews for refusing to give up the Torah. At least they were loyal Jews in their contributions of the Temple tax and in pilgrimages to Jerusalem on the three festivals. Actual apostasy and intermarriage were apparently not common, but the virulent anti-Semitism and the pogroms perpetrated by the Egyptian non-Jews must have served as a deterrent.

2. Palestinian literature.

During this period literature was composed in Palestine in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, with the exact language still a subject of dispute among scholars in many cases and with the works often apparently composed by more than one author over a considerable period of time. Most of the works composed in Hebrew, many of them existing only in Greek--Ecclesiasticus, I Maccabees, Judith, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Baruch, Psalms of Solomon, Prayer of Manasseh--and many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are generally conscious imitations of biblical books, often reflecting the dramatic events of the Maccabean struggle and often with an apocalyptic tinge (involving the dramatic intervention of God in history). The literature in Aramaic consists of the following: (1) biblical or Bible-like legends or midrashic (interpretive) additions--Testament of Job, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, Paralipomena of Jeremiah, Life of Adam and Eve, the Dead Sea Genesis Apocryphon, Tobit, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon; and (2) apocalypses--Enoch (perhaps originally written in Hebrew), Assumption of Moses, the Syriac Baruch, II (IV) Esdras, and Apocalypse of Abraham. In Greek the chief works by Palestinians are histories of the Jewish War against Rome and of the Jewish kings by Justus of Tiberias (both are lost) and the history of the Jewish War, originally in Aramaic, and the Jewish Antiquities by Josephus (both written in Rome).

Of the wisdom literature composed in Hebrew, the book of the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus (c. 180-175 BCE), modelled on the book of Proverbs, identified Wisdom with the observance of the Torah. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, probably written in the latter half of the 2nd century BCE, patterned on Jacob's blessings to his sons, are now thought to belong to eschatological literature related to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The identification of Wisdom and Torah is stressed in the Mishnaic tract Pirqe Avot ("Sayings of the Fathers"), which, though edited 200 CE, contains the aphorisms of rabbis dating back to 300 BCE.

Books such as the Testament of Job, the Dead Sea Scroll Genesis Apocryphon, the Book of Jubilees(now known to have been composed in Hebrew, as seen by its appearance among the Dead Sea Scrolls), and Biblical Antiquities, falsely attributed to Philo (originally written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek, but now extant only in Latin), as well as the first half of Josephus' Jewish Antiquities, often show affinities with rabbinic Midrashim (interpretive works) in their legendary accretions of biblical details. Sometimes, as in Jubilees and in the Pseudo-Philo work, these accretions are intended to answer the questions of heretics, but often, particularly in the case of Josephus, they are apologetic in presenting biblical heroes in a guise that would appeal to a Hellenized audience.

Apocalyptic trends, given considerable impetus by the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, were not--as was formerly thought--restricted to Pharisaic circles. They were (as is clear from the Dead Sea Scrolls) found in other groups as well, and are of particular importance for their influence on both Jewish mysticism and early Christianity. These books, which have a close connection with the biblical Book of Daniel, stress the impossibility of a rational solution to the problem of theodicy--how to reconcile the righteousness of God with observable evil. They also stress the imminence of the day of salvation, which is to be preceded by terrible hardships, and presumably reflected the current historical setting. In the book of Enoch there is stress on the terrible punishment inflicted upon sinners in the Last Judgment, the imminent coming of the Messiah and of his kingdom, and the role of angels.

The sole Palestinian Jewish author writing in Greek whose works are preserved is Josephus. His account of the war against the Romans in his Life and, to a lesser degree, in the Jewish War are largely a defense of his own questionable behaviour as the commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee. But these works and more especially Against Apion and the Jewish Antiquities are largely defenses of Judaism against anti-Semitic attacks. Josephus' Jewish War is often quite deliberately parallel to Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War; and his Jewish Antiquities is quite deliberately parallel to Dionysius of Halicarnassus' Roman Antiquities, dating from earlier in the same century. (see also Index: "History of the Jewish War," , "Antiquities of the Jews, The," )


i) New parties and sects.

Under Roman rule a number of new groups, largely political, emerged in Palestine. Their common aim was to seek an independent Jewish state. All were zealous for, and strict in their observance of, the Torah.

The Herodians were a political group that after the death of Herod--whom they apparently regarded as the Messiah--sought the reestablishment of the rule of Herod's descendants over an independent Palestine as a prerequisite for Jewish preservation. Unlike the Zealots, however, they did not refuse to pay taxes to the Romans.

The Zealots' party, founded c. 6-9 CE, refused to pay tribute to the Romans and advocated overthrowing them on the ground that they should acknowledge God alone as their master. A priestly, eschatologically oriented resistance movement, the Zealots were particularly dedicated to keeping the Temple and its cult pure and used guerrilla tactics toward that end. The Sicarii (Assassins), so-called because of the dagger (sica) they carried, arose c. 54, according to Josephus, as a group of bandits who kidnapped or murdered those who had found a modus vivendi with the Romans. It was they who made a stand at the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea, committing suicide rather than be captured by the Romans (73).

A number of other parties--various types of Essenes, Damascus Covenanters, and the Qumran Dead Sea groups--were distinguished by their pursuit of an ascetic monastic life, disdain for material goods and sensual gratification, sharing of material possessions, concern for eschatology, strong apocalyptic views in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, practice of ablutions to attain greater sexual and ritual purity, prayer, contemplation, and study. The Essenes were like the Therapeutae, a Jewish religious group that had flourished in Egypt two centuries earlier, but the latter actively sought "wisdom" whereas the former were anti-intellectual. Only some of the Essenes were celibate. The Essenes have been termed Gnosticizing Pharisees because of their belief, shared with the Gnostics, that the world of matter was evil; some have seen in them the influence of a quasi-monasticism.

The Damascus sect (New Covenanters) were a group of Pharisees who went beyond the letter of the Pharisaic Halakha. Like the Essenes and the Dead Sea sect, they had a monastic type of organization and opposed the way in which sacrifices were offered in the Temple.

The continuing recent discoveries of scrolls in caves of the Dead Sea area have focussed attention on the groups that lived there. On the basis of paleography, carbon-14 testing, and the coins discovered there, most scholars accept a 1st-century date for them. A theoretical relationship of the communities with John the Baptist and the nascent Christian groups remains in dispute, however. The sectaries have been identified variously as Zealots, an unnamed anti-Roman group, and especially Essenes; but a major difference between the Qumran groups and the Essenes is that the former were militarily activist (the discovery of hymns and a calendar at Masada -- a stronghold of the Sicarii--that had previously been found at Qumran, may indicate a connection between the groups), while the latter were, for the most part, pacifist. That the groups had secret, presumably apocalyptic, teachings is clear from the fact that among the scrolls are some in cryptographic script and reversed writing; and yet, despite their extreme piety and legalistic conservatism, they apparently were not unaware of Hellenism, to judge from the presence of Greek books at Qumran. (see also Index: Dead Sea Scrolls)

It has long been debated whether the Gnostic systems of the 1st and 2nd centuries go back to the collapse of the apocalyptic strains in Judaism--which expected a final transforming catastrophic event--when the Temple was destroyed in 70. It is doubtful that there is any direct Jewish source for this Gnosticism, though some characteristic Gnostic doctrines are found in certain groups of particularly apocalyptic 1st-century Jews--the dichotomy of body and soul and a disdain for the material world, a notion of esoteric knowledge, and an intense interest in angels and in problems of creation.

ii) Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community.

Though it attracted little attention among pagans and Jews at the beginning, the rise of Christianity was by far the most important "sectarian" development of the Roman period. With the revision, largely due to the discoveries at Qumran, of the view that Pharisaic Judaism was to be considered normative, primitive Christianity, with its apocalyptic and eschatological interests, has come to be viewed by many scholars as no longer "sectarian" or peripheral to Jewish development but, at least initially, as part of a broad spectrum of attitudes within Judaism. Jesus himself, despite his criticisms of Pharisaic legalism, may now be classified as a Pharisee with strong apocalyptic inclinations; he proclaimed that he had no intention of abrogating the Torah, but of fulfilling it. It is possible to envision a direct line between Jewish currents, both in Palestine and the Diaspora in the Hellenistic Age, and Christianity, particularly in the traditions of martyrdom, proselytism, monasticism, mysticism, liturgy, and religious philosophy, especially the doctrine of the Logos (Word) as an intermediary between God and the world and the synthesis of faith and reason. The Septuagint, in particular, played an important role both theoretically, in the transformation of Greek philosophy into the theology of the Church Fathers, and practically, in converting Jews and Jewish "sympathizers" to Christianity. The connection of nascent Christianity with the Qumran groups may be seen in their dualism and apocalypticism; but there are differences, notably in the conception of the Incarnation, in the relationship of the Son and the Father, and in Jesus' vicarious suffering for sinners as against the direct suffering of the Qumran Teacher of Righteousness. Again, the Qumran group constituted an esoteric movement, militant, with enforced community of goods, concerned with strict observance of the Torah, especially with its calendar, whereas Christianity was pacifist, was open to all, and represented a New Covenant, with stress away from the Torah ritual and with voluntary community of possessions. In general, moreover, Christianity was more positively disposed toward Hellenism than was Pharisaism, particularly under the leadership of Paul, a thoroughly Hellenized Jew.

When Paul proclaimed his antinomianism (against Torah observance as a means of salvation) many Jewish followers of Jesus became Jewish Christians and continued to observe the Torah. Their two main groupings were the Ebionites--probably to be identified with those called minim, or "sectaries," in the Talmud--who accepted Jesus as the Messiah but denied his divinity, and the Nazarenes, who regarded Jesus as both Messiah and God, but regarded the Torah as binding upon Jews alone.

The percentage of Jews converted to any form of Christianity was extremely small, as can be seen from the frequent criticisms of Jews for their stubbornness by Christian writers. In the Diaspora, despite the strong influence of Hellenism, there were relatively few Jewish converts, though the Christian movement had some success in winning Alexandrian Jews.

There were four major stages in the final break between Christianity and Judaism: (1) the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem to Pella across the Jordan in 70 and their refusal to continue the struggle against the Romans; (2) the institution by the patriarch Gamaliel II of a prayer in the Eighteen Benedictions against such heretics (c. 100), and (3 and 4) the failure of the Christians to join the messianic leaders Lukuas-Andreas and Bar Kokhba in the revolts against Trajan (115-117) and Hadrian (132-135), respectively.

iii) Judaism under Roman rule.

Important historical sites of Hellenistic and medieval Judaism.

When Pompey entered the Temple in 63 BCE as an arbiter both in the civil war between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus and in the struggle of the Pharisees against both Jewish rulers, Judaea in effect became a puppet state of the Romans. During the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, the Idumaean Antipater had ingratiated himself with Caesar by aiding him and was rewarded by being made governor of Judaea; the Jews were rewarded through the promulgation of a number of decrees favourable to them, which were reaffirmed by Augustus and later emperors. His son Herod, king of Judaea, an admirer of Greek culture, supported a cult worshipping the Emperor and built temples to Augustus in non-Jewish cities. Since he was by origin an Idumaean, he was regarded by many Jews as a foreigner. (The Idumaeans, or Edomites, were forcibly converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus; see above.) On several occasions during and after his reign, Pharisaic delegations sought to convince the Romans to end the quasi-independent Jewish government. After the death of Herod's son and successor Archelaus in 6 CE, his realms were ruled by Roman procurators, the most famous or infamous of whom, Pontius Pilate (26-36), attempted to introduce busts of the Roman emperor into Jerusalem and discovered the intense religious zeal of the Jews in opposing this measure. When Caligula ordered the governor of Syria, Petronius, to install a statue of himself in the Temple, a large number of Jews proclaimed they would suffer death rather than to permit such a desecration. Petronius in response succeeded in getting the Emperor to delay. The procurators of Judaea, being of equestrian (knightly) rank and often of Oriental Greek stock, were more anti-Semitic than the governors of Syria, who were of the higher senatorial order. The last procurators in particular were indifferent to Jewish religious sensibilities; and various patriotic groups, to whom nationalism was an integral part of their religion, succeeded in polarizing the Jewish population and bringing on an extremely bloody war with Rome in 66-70. The climax of the war was the destruction of the Temple in 70, though, according to Josephus, the Roman general (and later emperor) Titus sought to spare it. The war was not ended, however, until 73, when the Sicarii at Masada committed suicide rather than submit to the Romans.

The papyri indicate that the war against Trajan (115-117), involving the Jews of Egypt, Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia (though only to a minor degree those of Palestine), was a widespread revolt under a Cyrenian king-messiah, Lukuas-Andreas, aimed at freeing Palestine from Roman rule. The same spirit of freedom impelled another messiah, Bar Kokhba, who had the support of the greatest rabbi of the time, Akiba, in his spontaneous uprising (132-135). The result was Hadrian's decrees prohibiting circumcision and public instruction in the Torah, though these were soon revoked by Antoninus Pius. Having suffered such tremendous losses on the field of battle, Judaism turned its dynamism to the continued development of the Talmud (see below Rabbinic Judaism [2nd-18th century] ). (L.H.F.)


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