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Hellenistic Judaism

Hellenistic Judaism

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Hellenistic Judaism was a movement which existed in the Jewish diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

 that sought to establish a Hebraic-Jewish religious tradition
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 within the culture and language of Hellenism
Hellenization
Hellenization is a term used to describe the spread of ancient Greek culture, and, to a lesser extent, language. It is mainly used to describe the spread of Hellenistic civilization during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon...

. The major literary product of the contact of Judaism and Hellenistic culture
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 is the Septuagint translation from Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic
Biblical Aramaic is the form of the Aramaic language that is used in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few other places in the Hebrew Bible and should not be confused with the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible known as targumim....

 to Koine Greek
Koine Greek
Koine Greek is the universal dialect of the Greek language spoken throughout post-Classical antiquity , developing from the Attic dialect, with admixture of elements especially from Ionic....

, which began in the 3rd century BCE in Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

. The decline of Hellenistic Judaism in the 2nd century CE is obscure. It may be that it was marginalized by, absorbed into or became Early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

.

Hellenism


The conquests of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BC spread Greek culture
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 and colonization – a process of cultural change called Hellenization
Hellenization
Hellenization is a term used to describe the spread of ancient Greek culture, and, to a lesser extent, language. It is mainly used to describe the spread of Hellenistic civilization during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon...

 – over non-Greek lands, including the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

. This gave rise to the Hellenistic age, which sought to create a common or universal culture
Melting pot
The melting pot is a metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements "melting together" into a harmonious whole with a common culture...

 in the Alexandrian empire based on that of 5th and 4th century BC Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 (see also Age of Pericles
Age of Pericles
Fifth-century Athens refers to the Greek city-state of Athens in the period of roughly 480 BC-404 BC. This was a period of Athenian political hegemony, economic growth and cultural flourishing formerly known as the Golden Age of Athens or The Age of Pericles. The period began in 480 BC when an...

), along with a fusion of Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

ern cultures. The period is characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization
Colonies in antiquity
Colonies in antiquity were city-states founded from a mother-city—its "metropolis"—, not from a territory-at-large. Bonds between a colony and its metropolis remained often close, and took specific forms...

 which established Greek cities and Kingdoms in Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, the most famous being Alexandria in Egypt
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

. New cities were established composed of colonists who came from different parts of the Greek world, and not from a specific "mother city" (literally metropolis, see also metropolis
Metropolis
A metropolis is a very large city or urban area which is a significant economic, political and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or international connections and communications...

) as before.

The inroads into Judaism gave rise to Hellenistic Judaism in the Jewish diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

 which sought to establish a Hebraic-Jewish religious tradition
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 within the culture and language of Hellenism
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

.

There was a general deterioration in relations between Hellenized Jews and other Jews, leading the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled the Seleucid Empire from 175 BC until his death in 164 BC. He was a son of King Antiochus III the Great. His original name was Mithridates; he assumed the name Antiochus after he ascended the throne....

 to ban certain Jewish religious rites and traditions
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

. Consequently, the orthodox Jews revolted against the Greek ruler leading to the formation of an independent Jewish kingdom, known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty, which lasted from 165 BC to 63 BC. The Hasmonean Dynasty eventually disintegrated in a civil war. The people, who did not want to continue to be governed by a Hellenized dynasty, appealed to Rome for intervention, leading to a total Roman conquest and annexation of the country, see Iudaea province
Iudaea Province
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

.

Nevertheless, the cultural issues remained unresolved. The main issue separating the Hellenistic and orthodox Jews was the application of biblical laws in a Hellenistic culture.

Impact of Hellenistic Judaism


The major literary product of the contact of Judaism and Hellenistic culture is the Septuagint, as well as the so-called apocrypha
Apocrypha
The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including "hidden", "esoteric", "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", ancient Chinese "revealed texts and objects" and "Christian texts that are not canonical"....

 and pseudepigraphic apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians....

 (such as the Assumption of Moses
Assumption of Moses
The Assumption of Moses is a Jewish apocryphal pseudepigraphical work. It is known from a single sixth-century incomplete manuscript in Latin that was discovered by Antonio Ceriani in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan in the mid-nineteenth century and published by him in 1861.-Identification:The...

, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is a constituent of the apocryphal scriptures connected with the Bible. It is a pseudepigraphical work comprising the dying commands of the twelve sons of Jacob. It is part of the Oscan Armenian Orthodox Bible of 1666. Fragments of similar writings were...

, the Book of Baruch
Book of Baruch
The Book of Baruch, occasionally referred to as 1 Baruch, is called a deuterocanonical book of the Bible. Although not in the Hebrew Bible, it is found in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate Bible, and also in Theodotion's version. It is grouped with the prophetical books which also include Isaiah,...

, the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch etc.) dating to the period. Important sources are Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus. Some scholars consider Paul of Tarsus
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

 a Hellenist as well.

Philo of Alexandria was an important apologete of Judaism, presenting it as a tradition of venerable antiquity that, far from being a barbarian cult of an oriental nomadic tribe, with its doctrine of monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 had anticipated tenets of Hellenistic philosophy
Hellenistic philosophy
Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic civilization following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.-Pythagoreanism:...

. Philo could draw on Jewish tradition to make metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

s of customs that Greeks thought primitive or exotic, such as "circumcision
Circumcision
Male circumcision is the surgical removal of some or all of the foreskin from the penis. The word "circumcision" comes from Latin and ....

 of the heart" in the pursuit of virtue. Consequently, Hellenistic Judaism emphasized monotheistic doctrine (heis theos), and represented reason (logos
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

) and wisdom (sophia) as emanations from God.

Decline



The decline of Hellenistic Judaism is obscure. It may be that it was marginalized by, absorbed into or became Early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 (see the Gospel according to the Hebrews). The Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

 at least report how Paul of Tarsus
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

 preferredly evangelized communities of proselytes and Godfearers, or circles sympathetic to Judaism
Judaizers
Judaizers is predominantly a Christian term, derived from the Greek verb ioudaïzō . This term is most widely known from the single use in the New Testament where Paul publicly challenges Peter for compelling Gentile believers to "judaize", also known as the Incident at Antioch.According to the...

: the Apostolic Decree allowing converts to forego circumcision
Circumcision in the Bible
Religious male circumcision generally occurs shortly after birth, during childhood or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is most prevalent in Muslim countries and Israel, and is most prevalent in the Jewish and Muslim faiths, although also common in the United States, the...

 made Christianity a more attractive option for interested pagans than Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

 which instituted a more stringent circumcision procedure in response, see Brit milah
Brit milah
The brit milah is a Jewish religious circumcision ceremony performed on 8-day old male infants by a mohel. The brit milah is followed by a celebratory meal .-Biblical references:...

. See also Circumcision controversy in early Christianity
Circumcision controversy in early Christianity
There is evidence of a controversy over religious male circumcision in Early Christianity. A Council of Jerusalem, possibly held in approximately 50 AD, decreed that male circumcision was not a requirement for Gentile converts. This became known as the "Apostolic Decree" and may be one of the...

. The attractiveness of Christianity may, however, have suffered a setback with its being explicitly outlawed in the 80s CE by Domitian
Domitian
Domitian was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96. Domitian was the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty.Domitian's youth and early career were largely spent in the shadow of his brother Titus, who gained military renown during the First Jewish-Roman War...

 as a "Jewish superstition", while Judaism retained its privileges as long as members paid the Fiscus Judaicus
Fiscus Judaicus
The Fiscus Iudaicus or Fiscus Judaicus was a tax collecting agency instituted to collect the tax imposed on Jews in the Roman Empire after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE in favor of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome.-Imposition:The tax was initially imposed by Roman...

. However, from a historical perspective, Persecution of Christians
Persecution of Christians
Persecution of Christians as a consequence of professing their faith can be traced both historically and in the current era. Early Christians were persecuted for their faith, at the hands of both Jews from whose religion Christianity arose, and the Roman Empire which controlled much of the land...

 seemed only to increase the number of Christian converts, leading eventually to the adoption of Christianity by the Roman emperor Constantine
Constantine I and Christianity
During the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great, Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine, also known as Constantine I, had a significant religious experience following his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312...

 and the subsequent development of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

.

On the other hand, mainstream Judaism began to reject Hellenistic currents by the 2nd or 3rd century AD, outlawing use of the Septuagint, see also Council of Jamnia
Council of Jamnia
The Council of Jamnia or Council of Yavne is a hypothetical late 1st-century council at which it is postulated the canon of the Hebrew Bible was finalized....

.

See also

  • Hellenistic philosophy
    Hellenistic philosophy
    Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic civilization following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.-Pythagoreanism:...

  • Hellenistic religion
    Hellenistic religion
    Hellenistic religion is any of the various systems of beliefs and practices of the people who lived under the influence of ancient Greek culture during the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire . There was much continuity in Hellenistic religion: the Greek gods continued to be worshiped, and the...

  • Hellenization
    Hellenization
    Hellenization is a term used to describe the spread of ancient Greek culture, and, to a lesser extent, language. It is mainly used to describe the spread of Hellenistic civilization during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon...

  • History of Judaism
  • Origins of Christianity
    Origins of Christianity
    For centuries, the traditional understanding has been that Judaism came before Christianity and that Christianity separated from Judaism some time after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE....

  • List of events in early Christianity
  • Jewish Christianity

Further reading

  • Jüdische Schriften aus hellenistisch römischer Zeit, hrsg. von W.G. Kümmel und H. Lichtenberger, Gütersloh 1973ff.
  • Gerhard Delling: Die Begegnung zwischen Hellenismus und Judentum, in: Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt
    Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt
    Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, commonly referred to by its German acronym, ANRW, or in English as Rise and Decline of the Roman World, is an extensive collection of books dealing with the history and culture of ancient Rome...

    , Bd. II 20.1 (1987).