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Influence of Hellenistic World on Jewish Culture

Explore the impact of Hellenistic culture on Jewish life, from peaceful coexistence to resistance, through Deuterocanonical books and historical events. Learn about Alexander the Great, the emergence of Hellenistic culture, and the interactions with Judean society.

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Influence of Hellenistic World on Jewish Culture

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  1. Chapter 9 Books of the Second Canon: The Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books

  2. Reading: Ch. 9/8, “Books of the Second Canon/The Apocrypha”, pp. 284-307/262-281 in the Textbook.

  3. Books of the “Second Canon”: • The Hebrew Bible closes with the Books of Chronicles; • The Rabbis (ca. 90 A.D.) decided not to recognize as authoritative about 14 books that had been included in the Septuagint, that is, the Greek version of the Jewish scriptures; • The early Christian community, which used the Greek edition of the Hebrew Bible, regarded these 14 books as Deuterocanonical, i.e., belonging to a “Second Canon”;

  4. Books of the “Second Canon”: • Today, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox editions of the Bible place some of these books among the Prophets (Nevi’im) and Writings (Kethuvim); • See Textbook, pp. 4-5 and Table 9.1/8.1, p. 285/263. • Following the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, most Protestant editions of the Bible either omit Deuterocanonical books or relegate them to a separate unit between the Old and New Testaments; • Thus, in some Protestant editions of the Bible, these books are called the Apocrypha; • See your edition of the Bible.

  5. See The “New Revised Standard Version” of the Bible; • See Table 9.1/8.1: Deuterocanonical (Apocryphal Books) (p. 285/263 in Textbook).

  6. In the Writings (Kethuvim), books such as Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah give a generally favorable picture of Persian rule (see, Table 3.1: “Some Major Events …” pp. 42-44/40-42 in textbook); • Persian Emperors generally tended to support Judean causes; • during the period of the Persian Empire, the Jewish people enjoyed two centuries of peace and stability (from ca. 539-330 BC);

  7. Alexander’s Conquests and the Hellenistic World: • However, the situation changed in the fourth century B.C. when a new world conqueror burst onto the international scene; • This emperor was Alexander of Macedonia (356-323 B.C.) (See, Table 3.1, pp. 42-44/40-42 in textbook); • Alexander rapidly conquered the Persian empire; • He created the largest empire the world had yet known; • See Figure 9.1/8.1 (p. 286/264) “Map of the empire of Alexander the Great (323 BC).”

  8. 9

  9. Persepolis: Reconstructed area. 10

  10. Persepolis: Reconstructed area. 11

  11. The Empire of Alexander the Great

  12. Alexander the Great’s Defeat of Darius III (see textbook, fig. 9.2/8.2, p. 286/264).

  13. Alexander the Great

  14. Alexander the Great

  15. The Empire of Alexander the Great

  16. Alexander’s Conquests and the Hellenistic World (contd.): • Alexander brought Greek language, art, literature, philosophy, and social customs to the subjects of his vast empire; • For the first time in history, a European power dominated the older Near Eastern and Indian centers of civilization (see Figure 9.1/8.1, p. 286/264); • Alexander died before he could carry out his presumed goal…;

  17. Alexander’s most important successors: • Ptolemy I: he founded a dynasty that ruled Egypt for three centuries; capital at Alexandria; ruled Judea until 199 B.C.E; • Seleucus: his descendants ruled Syria. • See Figure 9.1/8.1 (p. 286/264, in Textbook). • Alexander’s successors presided over a new international culture known as Hellenistic, a mixture of the classical Greek (Hellenic) civilization with the older cultures of the Near East.

  18. The Hellenistic synthesis produced a creative flowering of Greek and oriental motifs in religion, philosophy, and the creative arts; • The Hellenistic epoch chronologically overlaps the period of Roman expansion and the early Christian centuries (see, Table 3.1, pp. 42-44/40-42 in Textbook).

  19. Judaism and Hellenistic Assimilation: • Israel’s religion had originally developed in a small arena; • After Alexander’s conquests, however, Judeans were forced to cope with life in a much larger and more culturally complex environment; • A cosmopolitan outlook emerged; • A breaking down of national barriers; • An integration of Greek with other ethnic customs; • As a result, many Jews became Hellenized.

  20. The Deuterocanonical Books and Covenant People’s Encounter with Hellenism: • For some authors, a peaceful coexistence between Hellenistic culture and the practice of authentic Jewish religion (see, e.g., The Book of Tobit and the Book of Wisdom); • In sharp contrast, the Books of Maccabees show faithful Jews heroically resisting the imposition of Hellenization; here, Hellenistic culture is seen as a threat to the covenant people’s religious identity and purpose;

  21. The Book of Daniel, an apocalyptic work, pictures human history as a series of Gentile empires that repeatedly attempt to compromise the faith of pious Jews; • (Why treat the Book of Daniel here? See, Textbook, p. 285/263 [Table 9.1/8.1].)

  22. Canonical and Deuterocanonical Books: • First, Antiochus IV, a Greek-Syrian king (see, Table 3.1, p. 43/42 and Table 9.2/8.2., p. 291/269 in Textbook); • He attempts to eradicate Judaism; • The Maccabean revolt begins; • 1 and 2 Maccabees depict Anthiochus’ attack on Judaism; • They record a major shift in Israel’s religious experience; • Jews find themselves battling a foreign power not to defend their state militarily but to defend their religion;

  23. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians had permitted the people of Judea to worship Yahweh and to keep the Torah; • Antiochus, on the other hand, deliberately set out to destroy Judaism; • He made loyalist Jews suffer for their faith; • Thus, the “great tribulation” of which the Book of Daniel speaks; • the first saints and martyrs in a line of Jewish and Christian religious heroes who kept their integrity unto death;

  24. The Book of Daniel depicts Antiochus’ persecution as marking the climatic consummation of history; • This depicted in Daniel’s eschatological visions;

  25. Books covering Antiochus’ persecution and the rise of Apocalyptic writing: • 1 Maccabees: a historical account of the Jewish revolt against the oppression of the Syrian King Antiochus IV; • 2 Maccabees: a vivid elaboration of the persecution and tortures that Antiochus IV inflicted on Jewish martyrs; • See Figure 9.3/8.3, p. 290/268: “Map of Palestine in the Maccabean period (c. 168-63 B.C.E)”;

  26. Map of Maccabean Period.

  27. Books covering Antiochus’ persecution and the rise of Apocalyptic writing (contd.): • Daniel: a canonical work, written during the persecution of Antiochus IV, that combines quasi-historical narrative and apocalyptic visions of end time; • Additions to Daniel;

  28. Other Deuterocanonical Writings (Books of the Apocrypha): • Tobit: a short story set at the time of the Assyrian empire but reflecting Jewish life in the later Diaspora; • Judith: a fictional romance that highlights dangers threatening Diaspora Jews; • Additions to Esther: prayers, etc. added to the Canonical Book; • Baruch: a narrative about Jews living in foreign realms;

  29. Other Deuterocanonical Writings (Books of the Apocrypha) (contd.): • Ecclesiasticus or Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach: proverbial wisdom and ethical advice to Jewish students, written by a Jewish sage ca. 180 B.C.E; • Wisdom of Solomon: a wisdom book combining traditional Jewish and Hellenistic ideas, composed during the first century B.C.E.

  30. Apocalyptic Literature and the Book of Daniel: • Apocalyptic: • From the Greek Apokalypsis; • Meaning “an unveiling, an uncovering, a stripping naked of what is normally hidden”; • As a literary category, an apocalypse means a revelation of dimensions or events ordinarily closed to human view, e.g., the invisible realm of heaven, or the future course of history; • In the Hebrew Bible, only Daniel is a fully apocalyptic work;

  31. Apocalyptic Literature and The Book Of Daniel (contd.): • Apocalyptic elements in Isaiah 6.1-12 and Zechariah 3.1-10; • See also, Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 30, 37-39, and Zechariah 9-14; • The New Testament (NT) Book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature; • Much of the NT is permeated with apocalyptic thought; • See, e.g., Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians.

  32. Eschatological Concerns: • Apocalyptic literature is typically concerned with eschatology: • Speculations about “last things”, such as the final consummation of history, the prophetic “day of Yahweh”; • The ultimate fate of individual persons, e.g., death, posthumous judgment, heaven, hell, and resurrection; • The belief in the resurrection of the body is a by-product of the apocalyptic movement (Dan 12.1-3).

  33. The authors of the Torah and the Former Prophets showed little or no interest in eschatological matters; • During the last three centuries B.C.E., the situation changed when apocalyptic speculation reached its height.

  34. Apocalyptic Writings: • Commonly arise during times of persecution and tension; • They are a response to severe persecution or to that which threaten a group’s welfare; • Daniel and Revelation composed to encourage their respective audience to remain faithful before the threat of state persecution; • They tell of the persecutors’ certain doom; • Rekindle hopes of future blessedness.

  35. Apocalyptic Literature and the Book Of Daniel (contd.): • The Book of Daniel: • Written to encourage Jewish Torah loyalists during the persecutions of Antiochus IV (mid-2nd century B.C.); • Assures readers that even though Israel is scattered and oppressed by Gentile powers, its God still controls all nations;

  36. The book is a two-part drama of supernatural deliverance: • Part 1 (Chs. 1-6): • The book portrays Daniel, one of Nebuchadnezzar’s court magicians, and his three young friends as scrupulous Torah observers whom God miraculously rescues from unjust punishment; • Part 2 (Chs. 7-12): • A series of apocalyptic visions surveying the rise and fall of Near Eastern empires, from Babylon to the Hellenistic states of Syria and Egypt, that dominated Palestine in the author’s day.

  37. Book Of Daniel (contd.): • Book ends by predicting public vindication and the physical resurrection of the wise who remained faithful under persecution (see 12.13; see also 12.2 – earliest clear enunciation of belief in the resurrection); • The book was written ca. 167-164 B.C.E. when Jews were suffering intense persecution by Antiochus IV; • It is chronologically the latest written book in the Hebrew Bible.

  38. Additions to the Book of Daniel: • The Greek version of Daniel contains three long poetic and narrative units not found in the Hebrew canon; • The Song of the Three Holy Children (3.24-90 in Catholic Bible Editions); • Susanna (The Jerusalem Bible includes it as Ch. 13); • Bel and the Dragon (usually appended as Ch. 14).

  39. Three Faithful Hebrew Youths: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel 3.1-30; see especially 3.25.

  40. Questions: 1. How does the canon of Hebrew Scripture end? By whom and when was the decision made as to what books were to be considered authoritative for Jews? 2. What was the practice of the early Christian community relative to a number of books that were contained in the Greek edition of the Hebrew Bible? What did the community call these books? Where are some of these books placed in Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles? 3. When did Protestants decide to omit from their editions of the Bible certain books that are contained in the Greek edition of the Hebrew Bible? Why? What do Protestants call these books and why?

  41. 4. Describe the situation of the Jewish people under the Persian Empire. How and when did this situation change? 5. Describe some of the changes that the conquests of Alexander the Great brought to the Near East and, in particular, to Palestine. 6. Describe the situation of the Jews of Palestine in the centuries immediately following the death of Alexander the Great. 7. What is meant by the expression “Hellenism”? 8. How do the Deuterocanonical books depict the covenant peoples’ encounters with Hellenism? 9. Describe how 1 and 2 Maccabees depict Antiochus’ attack on Judaism. How does the Book of Daniel depict the same attack?

  42. 10. List and give a short description of the Deuterocanonical books. 11. What is meant by apocalyptic literature? What is the best example in the Hebrew Bible of this type of literature? Where are other examples of apocalyptic literature found in the Hebrew Bible? What are examples of apocalyptic literature in the New Testament? 12. Apocalyptic literature is typically concerned with eschatology. What is meant by this statement? 13. Explain the origin of apocalyptic literature. 14. Describe the Book of Daniel under the headings: a) purpose; b) major divisions; c) time of writing; and d) additions that are not found in the Hebrew Bible. PEACE!

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