Hellenistic Judaism was a form of Judaism in classical antiquity that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture. Until the early Muslim conquests of the eastern Mediterranean, the main centers of Hellenistic Judaism were Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria (now in southern Turkey), the two main Greek urban settlements of the Middle East and North Africa region, both founded at the end of the fourth century BCE in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Hellenistic Judaism also existed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, where there was conflict between Hellenizers and traditionalists.
[North African] Cyrenian Jews were of sufficient importance in those days to have their name associated with a synagogue at Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). And when the persecution arose about Stephen [a Hellenized Syrian-Cilician Jew], some of these Jews of Cyrene who had been converted at Jerusalem, were scattered abroad and came with others to Antioch and [initially] preached the word "unto the Jews only" (Acts 11:19, 20 the King James Version), and one of them, Lucius, became a prophet in the early church there [the nascent Greek 'Orthodox' community of Antioch].
The reasons for the decline of Hellenistic Judaism are obscure. It may be that it was marginalized by, absorbed into, or became Early Christianity (see the Gospel of the Hebrews). The Pauline epistles and the Acts of the Apostles report that, after his initial focus on the conversion of Hellenized Jews across Anatolia, Macedonia, Thrace and Northern Syria without criticizing their laws and traditions, Paul the Apostle eventually preferred to evangelize communities of Greek and Macedonian proselytes and Godfearers, or Greek circles sympathetic to Judaism: the Apostolic Decree allowing converts to forego circumcision made Christianity a more attractive option for interested pagans than Rabbinic Judaism, which required ritual circumcision for converts (see Brit milah). See also Circumcision controversy in early Christianity and the Abrogation of Old Covenant laws.
The word synagogue itself comes from Jewish Koiné Greek, a language spoken by Hellenized Jews across Southeastern Europe (Macedonia, Thrace, Northern Greece), North Africa and the Middle East after the 3rd century BCE. Many synagogues were built by the Hellenistai or adherents of Hellenistic Judaism in the Greek Isles, Cilicia, Northwestern and Eastern Syria and Northern Israel as early as the first century BCE- notably in Delos, Antioch, Alexandretta, Galilee and Dura-Europos: because of the mosaics and frescos representing heroic figures and Biblical characters (viewed as potentially conductive of "image worship" by later generations of Jewish scholars and rabbis), many of these early synagogues were at first mistaken for Greek temples or Antiochian Greek Orthodox churches.
Papers collected in this volume try to illuminate various aspects of philosophical theology dealt with by different Jewish and early Christian authors and texts (e.g. the Acts of the Apostles, Philo, Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus), rooted in and influenced by the Hellenistic religious, cultural, and philosophical context, and they also focus on the literary and cultural traditions of Hellenized Judaism and its reception (e.g. Sibylline Oracles, Prayer of Manasseh), including material culture ("Elephant Mosaic Panel" from Huqoq synagogue). By studying the Hellenistic influences on early Christianity, both in response to and in reaction against early Hellenized Judaism, the volume intends not only to better understand Christianity, as a religious and historical phenomenon with a profound impact on the development of European civilization, but also to better comprehend Hellenism and its consequences which have often been relegated to the realm of political history.
By the middle of the century we see someone like Justin Martyr, for instance, one of the early Christian apologists, that is, one of the people who was trying to explain Christianity to the Greco-Roman world and doing so in the context of and using the categories of Greco-Roman thought. We see this fellow Justin Martyr active in Rome around the middle of the century trying to explain the nature of Christ and the nature of his relationship to God in terms of certain philosophical theories, the philosophical theory that comes ultimately from stoicism that postulates a dichotomy between speech that is external and thought that's internal....
No problem has so stubbornly accompanied the investigation of Second Temple period Judaism and of early Christianity -- and the nature of the relationship between the two -- as that of "Hellenism". How deeply were both Judaism and Christianity in their formative stages influenced by the larger cultural and religious streams of the Greco-Roman age? To what extent did the phenomenon of "Hellenism" -- in its varied literary, social and political expression -- shape the defining characteristics of Jewish and Christian belief and practice in the period between Alexander and Constantine? What role did the medium of the Greek language and of Hellenistic cultural forms play in the translation of ideas and allegiances from Judaism to Christianity during the early centuries of the Common Era?
Our group will focus on precisely this problem and these questions, addressing the pendular tendency of modern scholarship to wholeheartedly affirm or passionately deny the hellenization of early Judaism and Christianity. The general orientation of recent research has been toward the Palestinian Jewish background of the early Church, with a clear proclivity for sources preserved in either Hebrew or Aramaic. In light of this trend, we will attempt to reassess the role of Greek-speaking, Hellenistic Judaism as a fertile context for Christian origins.
This subject explores the rise of Judaism following the Babylonian exile (mid-sixth century BCE) to the second century CE. It examines the influence of Hellenism, the Maccabean revolt, Judea under Herod and Rome, the two Jewish Wars, sectarian Judaism and Jewish beliefs and institutions in the first century CE. The rise of early Christianity within the context of formative Judaism and the competing responses of these two movements to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE are examined.
Through skillful application of social science theories to ancient Western thought, including Judaism, Hellenism, early Christianity, and a host of other sectarian beliefs, Segal reinterprets some of the most important events of Jewish and Christian life in the Roman world. For example, he finds:
It can hardly be maintained that Greek was used only by the upper classes and was restricted to commerce, or that it was restricted to those who needed it to communicate with the governing authorities; the Christian Hellenizers (Acts, 6:1), who apparently spoke Greek only and were thus more deeply affected by Hellenization, were not restricted to the higher classes. Josephus (Ant., 20:264) clearly indicates that ordinary freemen and even slaves in Palestine had learned many languages. However, his statement (ibid., 20:263) that it had proven difficult for him to master Greek, especially the pronunciation, and the faulty Greek in many inscriptions indicate that the level of knowledge of Greek was not high. Even Josephus (Apion, 1:50) had to employ assistants to polish the Greek of his De Bello Judaico. The knowledge of Greek possessed by Jewish Christians in Palestine, however, because of their closer contact with Diaspora Jews and with non-Jews outside Palestine, must have been better; and recent scholarship has concluded that it is probable that Jesus himself sometimes spoke Greek.
Greek influence, as Goodenough has amply shown, is clearly to be seen in Hellenistic Jewish art and architecture. Thus Josephus tells that the courts and colonnades of the Temple built by Herod in Jerusalem were in the Greek style. Pagan and syncretistic art has been discovered in the synagogues of both Palestine and the Diaspora (especially at Dura-Europos in Mesopotamia), in direct violation of stringent biblical and rabbinic prohibitions. It cannot be argued that these motifs were merely decorative, since they were employed in a similar way by earlier and contemporary pagans and by contemporary and later Christians. Goodenough has concluded that these figures had meaning as symbols; that these symbols constituted a sub-rational lingua franca among Jews and non-Jews alike, just as the Greek language provided a rational bond among them; and that they represented a kind of allegorization through art, of the sort that Philo had attempted through philosophy. Additional evidence that some Jews adopted certain pagan elements can be seen in the charms (that is, verbal incantations) and apotropaic amulets (or the material objects themselves containing graphic symbols used to ward off evil) which Goodenough has collected.
This article will review, in brief, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity between the AD second century and fifth century and how it formed the Christian community with lasting effects in the Orthodox Church. In this period the Jewish and Christian communities changed in their attitude towards each other, certainly both external without and internal pressures within Christianity moved Christians in a distinctive way not only spiritually but also sociologically. Literature from Christian, Jewish, and pagan sources will demonstrate what these pressures were and how they acted upon the early Christians.
Covering the following points would take a series of volumes to make good any thorough investigation. But the attempt here is to offer information in an evenhanded way to the layperson who is not conversant on the subject. In each topic the reader will discover how within the late Hellenistic and early Roman imperial periods the Jewish-Christian dialogue took on its own character and sometimes, unfortunately, in quite unpleasant ways for both groups at least rhetorically if not concretely. 781b155fdc