Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Brief Discussion of Hellenism

Discuss the origins and influence of Hellenism in Israel during the Intertestamental Period.  Be sure to identify any problems this movement caused for the Jews and describe the Jewish response to these problems.  Which Hellenistic rulers most aggressively tried to influence Jews with Hellenism?  How did Hellenism positively and negatively impact the Jews?  What modern movement parallels the rise of Hellenism?
            For most of us who are studying some form of history when we hear the term Hellenism, I assume it brings to mind the reign of Alexander the Great. He is the person most often associated with the spread of the Hellenistic way of life. In fact that was his goal as he sought to conquer as many lands as possible and make them more Greek. According to Julius Scott, “Alexander deliberately set out spread Greek culture. His army was accompanied by city planners and architects, literary figures and philosophers, biologist and botanists, musicians and actors, and other purveyors of culture.”[1]
            With Hellenism coming into Jewish culture that posed a big problem because for the Jews the way they lived demonstrated their faithfulness to God and their status as his “chosen people.”[2] The Jewish people faced two major crises in the sixth and fourth centuries; one was military and political and the other was cultural. With the rise of Hellenism the way Juduaism was practiced changed dramatically, it went from being a religion built upon the temple and ceremonial worship to a religion of morality and ethics.[3] One of the biggest changes that was noticed is that in this period the temple is no longer the only place to worship because synagogues are becoming more prominent.
            In order for a town to establish a synagogue it need to have at least ten men. Another reaction that took place was a heavy defense of the authority of the Scriptures for their time. Because if they allowed those to be desecrated it would have vast implications on everything they understood about God, life and everything else.
            There were some very different reactions to the rise of Hellenism in the Jewish community. They ranged from those who were willing to completely dessert their Hebrew roots and adopt paganism even if it meant hurting their own people and culture.[4]  Scott emphasizes that,
At the other extreme were those who, like the original Maccabees, fought against the incursion of the new, or at least parts of it. Between the extremes were those who withstood but without violence, resorting to passive resistance or apathy toward Hellenism. Some groups and individuals seem to have emphasized, or maybe overemphasized, Hebraic distinctive against Greek influence. Hellenist Judaism represents the road of compromise, the attempt to be both a part of the new world order and a loyal Jew at the same time.[5]

Antiochus IV was more determined than some other that Judea was going to become Hellenized one way or another. The spread of Hellenism allowed the Jews to become more involved in trade because of the use of a common language throughout the region. It also allowed the books of the OT to be translated into Greek which would allow for the possibility of more proselytes.
            The only movement that I can think of for this time frame that would be anything like Hellenism would be Islam; I say that because of the way the laws are enforced and how when it consumes a region it changes everything around it.

[1] J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995)112.
[2] Ibid., 118.
[3] Ibid., 122.
[4] Ibid., 145.
[5] Ibid., 145.

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