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Dictionary of Art and Artists







The history of Judaism

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Part II


Moses with the Torah, by Rembrandt van Rijn



see also:



The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"







Anthony van Dyck


Peter Paul Rubens


Lucas Cranach the Younger


John Rigaud


Matthias Stom


Andrea Mantegna


Lucas Cranach the Elder


Rembrandt van Rijn



The history of Judaism

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Part II


Part I

The history of Judaism
General observations
Nature and characteristics
Biblical Judaism (20th–4th century bce)
The ancient Middle Eastern setting
The pre-Mosaic period: the religion of the patriarchs
The Mosaic period: foundations of the Israelite religion
The Egyptian sojourn
Mosaic religion
The period of the conquest and settlement of Canaan
The period of the united monarchy
The religious and political problem
The Davidic monarchy
The period of the divided kingdom
The period of classical prophecy and cult reform
The emergence of the literary prophets
Prophecy in the southern kingdom
Reforms in the southern kingdom
The Babylonian Exile

The period of the restoration

Part II

Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce)
The Greek period (332–63 bce)
Hellenism and Judaism
Social, political, and religious divisions
Religious rites and customs in Palestine: the Temple and the synagogues
Religious and cultural life in the Diaspora
Egyptian Jewish literature
Palestinian literature
The Roman period (63 bce–135 ce)
New parties and sects
Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community
Judaism under Roman rule

Part III

Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century)
The age of the tannaim (135–c. 200)
The role of the rabbis
The making of the Mishna
The age of the amoraim: the making of the Talmuds (3rd–6th century)
Palestine (c. 220–c. 400)
Babylonia (200–650)
The age of the geonim (c. 640–1038)
Triumph of the Babylonian rabbinate
Anti-rabbinic reactions
The gaonate of Saladia ben Joseph
Medieval European Judaism (950–1750)
The two major branches
Sephardic developments
Ashkenazic developments
Marginalization and expulsion
Conflicts and new movements
Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present)
The new situation
The Haskala, or Enlightenment
In central Europe
In eastern Europe
Religious reform movements
Orthodox developments
In western and central Europe
In eastern Europe
Developments in scholarship
Jewish-Christian relations
American Judaism
Judaism in other lands
Contemporary Judaism


The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Greek period (332–63 bce) » Hellenism and Judaism
Contact between Greeks and Semites goes back to Minoan and Mycenaean times and is reflected in certain terms used by Homer and 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 them as brave, self-disciplined, and philosophical.

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. When in 198 Palestine was conquered by King Antiochus III (reigned 223–187 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 apparent. Some of the 29 Greek cities of Palestine attained a high level of Hellenistic culture. The mid-3rd century-bce Zenon papyri, which contain the correspondence of the business manager of a high Ptolemaic official, present a 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. By the beginning of the 2nd century, the influence of the Hellenistic Age in Judaea was quite strong; indeed, it has been argued that, if the Seleucids had not forcibly intervened in Jewish affairs, Judaean Judaism would have become even more syncretistic than Alexandrian Judaism. 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 took control of the high priesthood itself. As high priest from 175 to 172, Jason established Jerusalem as a Greek city, 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 in which Menelaus was supported by the wealthy aristocrats and Jason by the masses. The Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who initially granted exemptions and privileges to the Jews, intervened at the request of Menelaus’s party. Antiochus’s promulgation of decrees against the practice of Judaism led in 167 bce to the successful revolt of the priest Mattathias (died 166 bce) and his five sons—the Maccabees (Hasmoneans; see also Hasmonean dynasty). 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.

The extreme tactics employed by the Hasmoneans in their struggle with Hellenizing Jews, whose children they forcibly circumcised, indicate the inroads that Hellenism had already made. On the whole, the chief supporters of the Hellenizers were members of the wealthy urban population, while the Maccabees were supported by the peasants and the 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. Indeed, some of the Jews who fought on the side of the Maccabees were idol worshippers. In any event, the Maccabees soon reached a modus vivendi with Hellenism: thus, Jonathan (died 143/142 bce), according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (c. 38–c. 100 ce), negotiated a treaty of friendship with Sparta; Aristobulus I (died 103 bce) actually called himself Philhellene (a lover of Hellenism); and Alexander Jannaeus (died 76 bce) hired Greek mercenaries and inscribed his coins in Greek as well as in Hebrew. Greek influence reached its peak under King Herod I of Judaea (reigned 37–4 bce), who built a Greek theatre, amphitheatre, and hippodrome in or near Jerusalem.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Greek period (332–63 bce) » 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 the priests were the members of the Oniad family, who held the hereditary office of high priest until they were replaced by the Hasmoneans; the Temple that they supervised also functioned as a bank, where the wealth of the Temple was stored and where private individuals also deposited their money. From a social and economic point of view, therefore, Josephus is justified in calling the government of Judaea a theocracy. Opposition to the priests’ oppressive rule arose among an urban middle-class group known as scribes (soferim), who based their interpretation of and instruction in the Torah on an oral tradition probably going back to the time of the return from the Babylonian Exile (538 bce and after). A special group of scribes known as Hasidim, or “Pietists,” became the forerunners of the Pharisees, or “Separatists”—middle-class Jewish scholars who reinterpreted the Torah and the prophetic writings to meet the needs of their times. The Hasidim joined the Hasmoneans in the struggle against the Hellenizers, though on religious rather than 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. Some 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 equation of Pharisaic with “normative” Judaism can no longer be supported, at any rate not before the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce. According to the Palestinian Talmud (the annotations and interpretations of the Oral Law compiled by Palestinian Jewish scholars in the 3rd and 4th centuries ce), there were 24 types of “heretics” in Palestine in 70 ce, thus indicating much divergence among Jews; this picture is confirmed by Josephus, who notes numerous instances of religious leaders who claimed to be prophets and who obtained considerable followings.

The chief doctrine of the Pharisees 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 (1st century bce–1st century ce), the Pharisees were flexible, and their regard for the public won them considerable support. That the Maccabean ruler John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135–104 bce) 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 less 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 ḥaverim (“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, all of which were opposed by the Sadducees. However, in finding a modus vivendi with Hellenism, at least in form and in terminology, the Pharisees did not differ greatly from the Sadducees. Indeed, the supreme council of the Great Synagogue (or Great Assembly) of the Pharisees was modeled on Hellenistic religious and social associations. Because they did not take an active role in fostering the rebellion against Rome in 66–70 ce, their leader, Johanan ben Zakkai, obtained Roman permission to establish an academy at Yavneh (Jamnia), where in effect the Pharisees replaced the cult of the Temple with a regimen of 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 the Sadducees generally held a higher position than the Pharisees and were favoured by the Jewish rulers. Religiously more circumscribed than the Pharisees, they rejected the idea of a revealed oral interpretation of the Torah, even though 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 Temple’s destruction in 70 ce, the Pharisees prevented the Sadducees from entering it, and in effect the Sadducees disappeared from Jewish life.

Not constituting any particular party were the unlearned rural masses known as ʿamme ha-aretz (“people of the land”), who were found among both the Pharisees and the Sadducees and even among the Samaritans. The ʿamme ha-aretz did not give the prescribed tithes, did not observe the laws of purity, and were neglectful of the laws of prayer; so great was the antagonism between them and the learned Pharisees that the biblical verse “Cursed be he who lies with any kind of beast” was applied to their daughters. The antipathy was reciprocated, for in the same passage in the Babylonian Talmud (the annotations and interpretations of the Oral Law compiled by Babylonian Jewish scholars in the 5th century ce) are added the words, “Greater is the hatred wherewith the ʿamme ha-aretz hate the scholar than the hatred wherewith the heathens hate Israel.” That there was social mobility, however, is clear from the Talmudic dictum, “Heed the sons of the ʿamme ha-aretz, for they will be the living source of the Torah.”

Proselytes (converts) to Judaism, though not constituting a class, became increasingly numerous 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, 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. In a probable allusion to proselytism, in 139 bce the Jews of Rome were charged by the praetor with attempting to contaminate Roman morals with their religion. The first large-scale conversions were conducted by John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus I, who in 130 and 103 bce, respectively, forced the people of Idumaea in southern Palestine and the people of Ituraea in northern Palestine to become Jews. The eagerness of the Pharisees to win converts is attested in The Gospel According to Matthew (23:15), which states 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 (known as sebomenoi, “fearers of the Lord”), 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; 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 Qumrān covenanters (the monastic group associated with 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.

Scholars have revised the 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. On the other hand, supposed differences between Alexandrian and Palestinian Judaism are not as great as had been formerly thought. In Palestine, no less than in the Diaspora, there were deviations from Pharisaic standards.

Despite the attempts of the Pharisaic leaders to restrain the wave of Greek influence, they themselves showed at least superficial Hellenization. In the first place, as many as 2,500 to 3,000 words of Greek origin are 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 only Greek. The prevalence of Greek in ossuary (burial) inscriptions and the discovery of Greek papyri in the Dead Sea caves confirm the widespread use of Greek, though it seems few Jews really mastered it. Again, there was a superficial Hellenization in the frequent adoption of Greek names, even by the rabbis; and there is evidence (Talmud, Soṭa [a tractate in the Mishna]) of a school at the beginning of the 2nd century ce that had 500 students of “Greek wisdom.” At the end of the 2nd century, long after the rabbis prohibited the people from teaching their sons Greek (117), Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (135–220), the editor of the Mishna, the authoritative compilation of the Oral Law, could still remark, “Why talk Syriac in Palestine? Talk either Hebrew or Greek.” The synagogues of the period are modeled after Hellenistic-Roman basilicas, with inscriptions in Greek and even pagan motifs. Many of the anecdotes told about the rabbis have Socratic and Cynic parallels. There is evidence of discussions between rabbis and Athenians, Alexandrians, Roman philosophers, and even the emperor Antoninus Pius (reigned 138–161); despite all of these discussions, only one rabbi, Elisha ben Abuyah (early 2nd century), appears to have embraced gnosticism, accepting certain esoteric religious dualistic views. The rabbis never mention the Greek philosophers Plato (428/427–348/347 bce) and Aristotle (384–322 bce) or the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo Judaeus (c. 15 bce–c. 45 ce), 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.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Greek period (332–63 bce) » Religious rites and customs in Palestine: the Temple and the synagogues
Until its destruction in 70 ce, the most important religious institution of the Jews was the Temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple, erected 538–516 bce). Although services were interrupted for three years by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167–164 bce) and although the Roman general Pompey (106–48 bce) desecrated the Temple in 63 bce, Herod lavished great expense in rebuilding it. The high priesthood itself became degraded by the extreme Hellenism of high priests such as Jason and Menelaus, and the institution declined when Herod began the custom of appointing 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.

Although the Temple remained central in Jewish worship, synagogues had already emerged as places for Torah reading and communal prayer and worship during the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century bce, if not even earlier. In any case, in the following century Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood and read from the Torah to the people (Nehemiah). Some scholars maintain that a synagogue existed even within the precincts of the Temple; certainly by the time of Jesus, to judge from the references to Galilean synagogues in the Christian Scriptures, 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 seems to have been a Sanhedrin, set up by the high priest, which served as a court of political council, as well as a kind of grand jury.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Greek period (332–63 bce) » 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 one million 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 I Nicator (died 280 bce)—attracted a particularly large number of converts to Judaism. In Antioch 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 (106–43 bce), their not joining in the Jewish revolts against the Roman emperors Nero (reigned 54–68 ce), Trajan (reigned 98–117), and Hadrian (reigned 117–138) 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, established an independent minor state; their followers were so meticulous in observing the Sabbath that they assumed that it would not be possible to violate it even in order to save themselves from a Parthian attack. In the early 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.

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, originated 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 written 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.

The most important work of the early Hellenistic period—dating, according to tradition, from the 3rd century bce—is the Septuagint, a translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures, including some works not found in the traditional Hebrew canon. The name of the work (from the Latin septuaginta, “70”) derived from the belief that 72 translators, 6 from each of the 12 tribes, worked independently on the entire text and produced identical translations. As revealed in the Letter of Aristeas and the works of Philo and Josephus, the Septuagint was itself regarded by many Hellenized Jews as divinely inspired. The translation shows some knowledge of Palestinian exegesis and the tradition of Halakhah (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, as well as in their belief that another translation of the Scriptures into Greek was needed. The fact that “Torah” was translated as nomos (“law”) and tzedaqa as dikaiosynē (“justice”) indicates how deeply the authors of the Septuagint believed that Judaism could be accurately expressed using Greek concepts.

The fact that the temple at Leontopolis in Egypt was established (c. 145 bce) by a deposed high priest, Onias IV, clearly indicates that it was heterodox; as merely the temple of a military colony, it never really offered a challenge to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is significant that the Palestinian rabbis ruled that a sacrifice intended for the temple of Onias might be offered in Jerusalem. The temple of Onias made little impact upon Egyptian Jewry, as 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 (reigned 69–79 ce) in 73.

The chief religious institutions of the Egyptian Diaspora were synagogues. As early as the 3rd century bce, there were inscriptions mentioning two proseuchai, or Jewish prayer houses. 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.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Greek period (332–63 bce) » Religious and cultural life in the Diaspora » 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 a sense of inferiority 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 titled On the Kings in Judaea; perhaps intended to refute an anti-Semitic Egyptian priest and author, it shows considerable concern for chronology. In the 2nd century bce a Jew who used the name Hecataeus wrote On the Jews. Another, Eupolemus (c. 150 bce), like Demetrius, wrote a work titled 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 own book On the Jews, went even further in romanticizing Moses—by identifying him with Musaeus, the semi-mythical Greek poet, and Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and culture, by asserting that Moses was the real originator of Egyptian civilization, and by claiming that Moses taught the Egyptians the worship of Apis (the sacred bull) and the ibis (sacred bird). Cleodemus (Malchus), in an attempt to win for the Jews the regard of the Greeks, asserted in his history 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 2 Maccabees is a summary, glorifying the Temple and violently attacking the Jewish Hellenizers, but his manner of writing history is typically Hellenistic. In addition, 3 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 the Egyptian king Ptolemy II Philadelphus (308–246 bce), was probably composed by an Alexandrian Jew about 100 bce to defend Judaism and its practices against detractors.

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) also wrote an epic, On Shechem; it was 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 pious Jews and perhaps win converts.

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 (484–406 bce). Whether or not such plays were actually presented on the stage, they edified Jews and showed pagans that the Jews had as much material for drama as they did.

The greatest achievements of Alexandrian Judaism were in the realm of wisdom literature and philosophy. In a work on the analogical interpretation of the Law of Moses, Aristobulus of Paneas (2nd century bce) anticipated Philo in attempting to harmonize Greek philosophy and the Torah. He used allegory to explain anthropomorphisms in the Bible and asserted 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, which was favoured by the Stoics (see Stoicism). During the same period, the author of 4 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 the first Jewish theologian. His use of Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato, to explicate the ideas of the Torah and his formulation of the Logos (Word, or Divine Reason) as an intermediary between God and the world helped lay the foundations of Neoplatonism, gnosticism, and the philosophical outlook of the early Church Fathers. Philo was a devotee of Judaism neither as a mystic cult nor as a collateral branch of Pharisaic Judaism. With his profound knowledge of Greek literature—and despite his almost total ignorance of Hebrew—he tried to find a way in which Judaism could appropriate Hellenic thought.

There was also a Jewish community in Rome, which numbered perhaps 50,000. To judge from the inscriptions in the Jewish catacombs, it was predominantly Greek-speaking. References by Roman writers, particularly Tacitus (56–120 ce) and the satirists, have led scholars to conclude that the community was influential, that it observed the Sabbath and the dietary laws, and that it actively sought converts.

The Hellenization of the Diaspora Jews is reflected not merely in their literature but even more in various papyri and art objects. As early as 290 bce, Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek living in Egypt, had remarked that under the Persians and Macedonians the Jews had greatly modified the traditions of their fathers. Other papyri indicate that at least three-fourths of Egyptian Jews had personal names of Greek rather than Hebrew origin. The only schools mentioned are Sabbath schools intended for adults; this suggests that Jews were extremely eager to gain admittance for their children to Greek gymnasia, where quite obviously they would have had to make compromises with their Judaism. Again, there are a number of violations from the norms of Halakha (which precluded the charging of interest for a loan): most notably, 9 of 11 extant loan documents charge interest. There are often striking similarities between Jewish and Greek documents of sale, marriage, and divorce in Egypt, though some of this—as with the documents of the Elephantine Jewish community—may be due to a common origin in the law of ancient Mesopotamia. The charms and apotropaic 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 from earlier norms. Philo mentions Jews who scoffed at the Bible, which they insisted on interpreting literally, and others who failed to adhere to 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, pagan writers constantly accused the Diaspora Jews of being “haters of mankind” and of being absurdly superstitious. Christian writers later similarly attacked the Jews for refusing to give up the Torah. The Jews of Egypt were at least loyal in their contributions of the Temple tax and in their pilgrimages to Jerusalem on the three festivals. Virulent anti-Semitism and massacres perpetrated by non-Jews in Egypt apparently discouraged actual apostasy and intermarriage, which were not common.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Greek period (332–63 bce) » Religious and cultural life in the Diaspora » Palestinian literature
During this period, literature was composed in Palestine in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; the original language of many of these texts remains disputed by scholars, and the works that have survived were apparently composed by more than one author over a considerable period of time. Of the works originally composed in Hebrew, many—including Ecclesiasticus, 1 Maccabees, Judith, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Baruch, Psalms of Solomon—existed only in Greek during the remainder of the Hellenistic period. They 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 tinged with apocalyptic themes (involving the dramatic intervention of God in history). The literature in Aramaic consists of biblical or Bible-like legends or Midrashic (interpretive) additions (Testament of Job, Martyrdom of Isaiah [see Isaiah, Ascension of], Paralipomena of Jeremiah, Life of Adam and Eve, Genesis Apocryphon [from the Dead Sea Scrolls], book of Tobit, History of Susanna, and the story of Bel and the Dragon) and of apocalypses (the First Book of Enoch [perhaps originally written in Hebrew], Assumption of Moses, Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, Second Book of 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, by Josephus, History of the Jewish War, originally in Aramaic, and Jewish Antiquities (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), modeled 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, is 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 about 200 ce, contains the aphorisms of rabbis dating back to 300 bce.

Books such as the Testament of Job, 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’s 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. 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 First Book of Enoch there is stress on the terrible punishment inflicted upon sinners in the Last Judgment, the imminent coming of the messiah and 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—is largely a defense of his own questionable behaviour as the commander of Jewish forces in Galilee. But these works, especially Against Apion and Jewish Antiquities, are also defenses of Judaism against anti-Semitic attacks. The Jewish War often quite deliberately parallels the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (c. 460–c. 404 bce); and the Jewish Antiquities quite deliberately parallels the Roman Antiquities by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 20 bce), a work that dates from earlier in the same century.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Roman period (63 bce–135 ce) » 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. They were also zealous for, and strict in their observance of, the Torah.

After the death of King Herod, a political group known as the Herodians, who apparently regarded Herod as the messiah, sought to reestablish 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, whose appearance was traditionally dated to 6 ce, were one of five groups that emerged at the outset of the first Jewish war against Rome (66–73 ce), which began when the Jews expelled the Romans from Jerusalem, the client king Agrippa II fled the city, and a revolutionary government was established. The Zealots were a mixture of bandits, insurgents from Jerusalem, and priests, who advocated egalitarianism and independence from Rome. In 68 they overthrew the government established by the original leaders of the revolt and took control of the Temple during the civil war that followed; many of them perished in the sack of Jerusalem by the Roman general (and later emperor) Titus (reigned 79–81) or in fighting after the city’s fall. The Sicarii (Assassins), so-called because of the daggers (sica) they carried, arose about 54 ce, 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 allowing themselves to be captured by the Romans (73).

A number of other parties—various types of Essenes, Damascus covenanters, and the Qumrān–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 differed from the Therapeutae, a Jewish religious group that had flourished in Egypt two centuries earlier, in that 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 is evil.

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

The discoveries of scrolls in the caves of Qumrān, near the Dead Sea, beginning in 1947, focused attention on the groups that had lived there. On the basis of paleography, carbon-14 testing, and the coins discovered in the caves, 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. That the groups had secret, presumably apocalyptic teachings is clear from the fact that some of the scrolls are in cryptographic script and reversed writing; yet, despite the sectaries’ extreme piety and legalistic conservatism, they apparently were not unaware of Hellenism, to judge from the presence of Greek books at Qumrān.

It has long been debated whether gnosticism originated in the apocalyptic strains of Judaism that were prevalent when the Temple was destroyed in 70. Although it is doubtful that there is any direct Jewish source of gnosticism, 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.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Roman period (63 bce–135 ce) » Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community
Although it attracted little attention among pagans and Jews in its early years, the rise of Christianity was by far the most important “sectarian” development of the Roman period. Largely owing to the discoveries at Qumrān, many scholars now regard primitive Christianity, with its apocalyptic and eschatological interests, as part of a broad spectrum of attitudes within Judaism itself, rather than as peripheral to Jewish development or to the norm set by Pharisaic Judaism. Indeed, Jesus himself may now be classified as an apocalyptic prophet whose announced intentions were not to abrogate the Torah but to fulfill 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 theology and especially with the doctrine of the Logos (Word) as an intermediary between God and the world and as the connection 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. In general, moreover, Christianity was more positively disposed toward Hellenism than was Pharisaism, particularly under the leadership of Paul, a thoroughly Hellenized Jew.

Even after Paul proclaimed his opposition to observance of the Torah as a means of salvation, many Jewish Christians continued the practice. Among them were two main groups: the Ebionites—probably the people 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 yet still regarded the Torah as binding upon Jews.

The number 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 over 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 and Hadrian in 115–117 and 132–135, respectively.

The history of Judaism » Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce) » The Roman period (63 bce–135 ce) » Judaism under Roman rule
When Pompey entered the Temple in 63 bce as an arbiter both in the civil war between John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus I 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 (c. 49–45 bce), the Idumaean Antipater (died 43 bce) ingratiated himself with Caesar 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 (reigned 27 bce–14 ce) and later emperors. Antipater’s 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. Because he was by origin an Idumaean, he was regarded by many Jews as a foreigner. (The Idumaeans, or Edomites, had been forcibly converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus.) On several occasions during and after Herod’s 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, Herod’s realms were ruled by Roman procurators, the most famous (or infamous) of whom, Pontius Pilate (died 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 the emperor Caligula (reigned 37–41) ordered that a statue of himself be erected in the Temple, a large number of Jews proclaimed that they would suffer death rather than permit such a desecration. In response, the governor of Syria, Petronius, 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-Jewish 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 the first war with Rome in 66. The climax of the war, as noted earlier, was the destruction of the Temple in 70, though, according to Josephus, Titus sought to spare it.

The papyri indicate that the war against Trajan—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. In 132–135 the same spirit of freedom inspired another uprising, the Second Jewish Revolt, led by Bar Kokhba, who may have had the support of the greatest rabbi of the time, Akiba ben Joseph (40–c. 135). The result was Hadrian’s decrees prohibiting circumcision and public instruction in the Torah, though these were soon revoked by Antoninus Pius (reigned 138–161). Having suffered such tremendous losses on the field of battle, Judaism turned its dynamism to the continued development of the Talmud.

Louis H. Feldman



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