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It is a fact of common observation that the gospel of Jesus Christ, in becoming the religion of the European world, took up the inheritance of Greek philosophy and culture, to a greater or lesser extent, just as it took up the inheritance of Roman social and administrative order. It identified itself with the civilization which it overcame. How far, may it be asked, did the gospel yield ground in the process? How far was foreign matter taken up into the Christian movement? Was the Christian church 'secularized' in the process? When, and by what steps, did the process occur?
|3 In studying these questions it is well to remember that Christianity originated as a form of Judaism, and Judaism had already been subjected to the influence of Hellenism. The influence was therefore pre-natal.
There were Jews who had fallen under the spell of Hellenism even before the time of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C. Hecataeus of Abdera, who wrote a century before this date, stated that the Jews had abandoned many of their national customs, and Aristotle mentions a Jew of Asia Minor who was 'Hellenic' not only in speech but even in mentality. The conquests of Alexander, who was a pupil of Aristotle, spread the language, philosophy, politics, music, science, architecture and religion of the Greeks far and wide; and this expansion of Hellenic culture was eagerly welcomed and absorbed. Wherever it went there was an access of power in the cultural and intellectual life, and a number of new Hellenic, or more properly Hellenistic, forms of culture came into existence. There was a Persian Hellenism, a Babylonian Hellenism, a Syrian Hellenism and even an Indian Hellenism; there were also, in due course, a Jewish Hellenism, an Egyptian Hellenism and a Roman Hellenism; and this area of Hellenistic culture indicates at once the field of expansion of the gospel in the first two centuries of its existence. It was by no means conterminous with the Roman empire.
Nothing could prevent the free intercourse of ideas between these various forms of Hellenism, once they had all adopted the Greek language and literary tradition. It was an age of 'syncretism' or mixing. Yet this syncretism was not a new thing. It existed already on an Aramaic or Syrian basis.
The Persian empire, which Alexander and his successors had taken over, was itself the successor of the old oriental empire of the Babylonian and Assyrian monarchs. The Persians had been friendly to the old cults and systems of learning; they had been obliged to accept in part the Semitic culture which they found in possession; and they had carried on the government in the prevailing language, a west-Semitic form of speech known as Aramaic or 'Chaldee'. The Jews, who lived fairly happily under this empire, adopted the Aramaic language. It was a change which had enduring consequences; for it meant that the people could no longer understand the old Hebrew scriptures which were read to them in the synagogues, and required the services of an interpreter. The old Hebrew gradually became a sacred and learned language, which was known only to the priests and the scribes; on the other hand, the
|4 Aramaic language linked them with the culture of the other provinces of the Persian empire, and so they were strongly influenced by ' Babylonian' and Persian ideas, which reached them, no doubt, in the form of a Perso-Babylonian 'syncretism'.
After the death of Alexander, wars broke out between his leading generals. The old oriental empire of Babylon and Assyria, with its border states in Asia Minor, was reconstituted by Seleucus, who founded the city of Antioch on the Orontes River, and became the first of a line of kings, who are known by his name as the Seleucids. This city guarded the main highway of trade and warfare between east and west, a highway which becomes, in our period, the lifeline of the gospel. The era of the Seleucids began in September 312 B.C., and the Jews counted their years from this date, as we see in the Books of the Maccabees. It is an interesting coincidence that the Roman emperors, who were their conquerors and successors, dated their regnal years
The world-wide dispersion of the Jewish race had already begun. There were colonies of Jews south of the Caspian Sea, who had been placed there by Shalmaneser and Nebuchadnezzar, though no trace of their descendants remains in recorded history. They are often referred to as the 'lost ten tribes'. The Seleucids encouraged Jews to settle throughout their wide dominions. Seleucus I, 'the Conqueror', made them citizens of those cities which he founded, or refounded, in Asia Minor and Lower Syria, and in his metropolis of Antioch; in fact he gave them privileges equal to those of the Macedonians and Greeks; and Josephus, the Jewish historian, claims that these privileges were confirmed and continued by the Romans. Antiochus I, the successor of Seleucus, removed two thousand Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Babylon, and settled them in Lydia and Phrygia. The way was thus prepared, three hundred years beforehand, for the expansion of the gospel through Antioch into Asia Minor. Christianity had begun to express itself in terms of Syrian Hellenism before it invaded the Greco-Roman world.
These Jews must have gone through many changes before St Paul visited them with the gospel. There were orthodox and conservative |5 communities, like the circle in Tarsus in which he grew up himself; but in other cases there was a mixture with the local population which produced mixed cults like that of Sabazius in Apamea, a god who united some of the features of Jehovah with some of the features of a local deity who rather resembled the Greek god Dionysus. The resultant cult was connected with the story of Noah, and the community placed the emblems of this 'syncretist' cult on their coins. This is a most instructive example of what could and did happen outside the rigid enforcement of the Law of Moses. The cult of Sabazius spread to Rome and appears there side by side with Christianity in the evidence of the catacombs.
In many Jewish colonies, it may be, the Aramaic language prevailed, as it did in Palestine and the East. In others it gave way to Greek, and this must have occurred in Antioch itself. There must have been well-organized synagogues there, in which the Bible was read and the prayers offered in the Greek tongue. There was, in short, a Jewish Hellenism in Antioch, though our information about it is defective. We should expect that it would reflect in some degree the Syrian Hellenism of the Seleucid empire, which was the tutor of imperial Rome in the realms of Greek literature and philosophy; for Stoic philosophy, with its feeling for monotheism, and its ethic of self-discipline, may be looked on as in some degree the offspring of Syrianism.
The Hellenism of the Seleucid empire was probably little more than a screen behind which the old religions of the east continued their very lively existence. Antioch was nominally a Greek city with a Syrian substratum; but farther north and east there were little Syrian principalities in which Syriac or Aramaic was the native tongue, though the Greek culture would be welcomed and adopted as a civilizing influence. Among these were Commagene with its capital at Samosata; Osrhoene with its capital at Edessa across the Euphrates; and Adiabene with its capital at Arbela across the Tigris. There were cities like Nisibis and Nrhardea in the old Assyrian country; and Seleucia and Ctesiphon l.inlier south, not far from the ancient city of Babylon. Ctesiphon was the capital city of the Parthian monarch who was the principal rival i if i lie Roman emperor. These cities and kingdoms were all more or less |6 Hellenized, and they all had their Jewish colonies. The rabbinic schools of'Babylon' were said to be more learned and conservative than those of Judaea. They had produced the authorized version of the Law of Moses, and sent it to Jerusalem by the hand of Ezra the scribe. In the reign of Herod the Great they provided Jerusalem with a high priest in the person of Hananel, and a great scholar and teacher in the person of Hillel the Elder, who became the founder of the new Pharisaism.
The native Syrian religion seems to have been a worship of the forces of nature; the spirits who haunted the holy rocks or wells and mountains; or the spirit which animated the palm or the vine or the growing grain. The latter assumed mythical form in the legend of Tammuz, or Adonis, whose death was lamented at the time of harvest; and Ishtar, the wife of his youth, who descended into hell and rescued him from the goddess of the underworld. These local, agricultural, or mythical spirits could readily be incorporated into some sort of relation with a universal spirit or deity.
The old Persian empire had supplied such a deity in the high God of Zoroastrianism, who was thought of as eternal light and power, in ceaseless conflict with the forces of darkness and evil. Out of his eternal being proceeded various spiritual emanations which could assume mythical form. Among these was Mithras, the god of radiant light; and below them were the daevas or spirits. The ' Magian' religion of the Persian empire could thus find room for the polytheism which its prophet had denied.
Among the cults with which it could come to terms was' Chaldaism', the old Babylonian worship of the heavenly luminaries, especially the seven planets, revolving round the earth in their invisible spheres, and controlling the lives of men and nations. They too could be incorporated into a tolerant spiritual monotheism. The Persian sole God could be elevated far beyond space or time, to allow for this inclusiveness. When the Greeks took over the Persian empire, Zarvan, or endless time, was identified with Zeus or Apollo (whose symbol was the sun), and the Seleucid monarchs could become his earthly manifestation – Theos epiphanes, 'God made manifest'.
Or Judaism could be worked into the Syro-Hellenistic system, which was what Antiochus IV wanted to do. Jehovah could be the high God of endless time; the Ancient of Days; he who was and is and is to come. Or alternatively he could be the chief of the seven
|7 planetary deities who ruled over this unsatisfactory universe. A syncretism of this kind was effected and appears historically in the Christian gnosticism of the second century.
A priest from Babylon named Berosus, or Berossus, taught the Greeks about the motions of the heavenly bodies; and with this knowledge astrology or astral determinism began its long history in the west. Chaldean or Magian priests cast up horoscopes. The seven-day week was universally adopted, each day being assigned to a planet – the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn.
Greek philosophy had its own monotheism, of course, of which Socrates was the principal personal exponent. In Plato and Aristotle the deity was an eternal immaterial being, rather apart from the universe; Aristotle made him external to the planetary spheres of the Babylonian astronomy; Stoicism brought him back into the cosmos. He was the soul of the world; the breath which nourished it from within; the mind that moved the whole mass; the reason which made itself known in the human breast. This line of thought was not worked out without help from the East.
The empire of Seleucus was eventually divided between the Par-thians and the Romans, the Parthian kings patronizing the Magian priesthood with its predominantly Persian faith, the Roman emperors patronizing the Greek philosophers with their Stoic 'theology'. Judaism developed in this world of syncretism and rivalry, but it belonged to the oriental half of it rather than to the Hellenistic; though it had an oriental half which was mainly Aramaic-speaking, and a western half which was mainly Greek-speaking.
Another of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy by name, made himself master of Egypt. Alexandria, the new city on the Nile delta, had been built by Alexander himself, and called by his name; his body was buried there. Like Antioch, it became a great centre of trade, since Egypt had ports on the Red Sea from which ships sailed to the eastern coasts, including India and Ceylon. Under the Ptolemies, the ancient civilization of the Pharaohs came into touch with the newest Greek science and criticism, to form an Egyptian Hellenism which far outshone that of Antioch, or even that of Athens itself, in this formative period of our
|8 civilization. The tradition of Aristotle was carried on there, with its emphasis on exact knowledge and precise thinking; and we are not surprised to find that the savants of Alexandria led the world in mathematics, astronomy, and scientific discovery generally. They owed a great deal, however, to their Babylonian and Egyptian predecessors. The Egyptian character persisted in Alexandrian Hellenism, just as the Syrian character persisted in the Antiochene. The old religious and mystical traditions were civilized, and entered into the new world-culture in their Hellenized forms. This Egyptian tradition was more devoted to the abstract and the ideal than to the local or the historical, and it therefore proposed for worship the universalized and allegorized gods such as Serapis and Isis; the Syrian, with its more human touch, and its sentimental quality, turned the old myth of Adonis into an emotional and poetic romance with a more popular appeal. The Greeks in Greece had transformed their own cults in their own way, producing the dramatic forms known as the Eleusinian and Dionysian mysteries. The 'mystery religion', with its secret lore and its sacramental rites, soon spread throughout the Hellenistic world, including the cities of Asia Minor, taking in eventually the Persian Mithras, the lord of light and truth and glory. Would this movement be strong enough to engulf Judaism too? It would appear from the records that this very nearly happened.
It was Ptolemy I (305-285 B.C.) who founded the 'Museum' (or institute of the Muses) in Alexandria. His son Ptolemy II (285-246 B.C.) greatly enlarged it. It was said that his aim was to provide a home for the literature of the world. Egypt was the principal source of the supply of papyrus, which was the most suitable writing material of the period, and consequently it was the main centre of book production. The king of Pergamum in Asia Minor encouraged the production of parchment (pergamend) for the purpose, but papyrus continued to be the favourite material of the sort in the Hellenistic world. The literature and history of the older civilizations was not neglected in the Museum. Berosus, the priest of Babylon, wrote the history of that ancient empire, where sacred texts were still being produced on clay tablets. Manetho and others did the same for Egypt. The chronicles of Phoenicia were recorded by Menander of Ephesus or Pergamum. Their books, with |9 numerous others, were in use among scholars for three or four centuries, though they are no longer extant. We have to be content with a few extracts preserved in Jewish or Christian writers.
Among the older literatures which are said to have been preserved in this library was the literature of the Jews. The production of the Greek Bible is thought to have been undertaken, piece by piece, for synagogue purposes, in accordance with the needs of the Jewish population. There had been Jewish settlements in Egypt from at least the times of Jeremiah, six centuries before the time of Christ. The papyrus fragments discovered at Assouan are dated about a hundred and fifty years later (408 B.C.), and show that the Jewish colonists of that period, who were auxiliary troops in the Egyptian army, still spoke Aramaic, and practised a form of their religion which had never been purified and disciplined by the Law and the prophets. There were other gods, and even goddesses, worshipped in association with Jehovah. They had a temple of a sort, and corresponded with the priesthood in Jerusalem.
This would hardly be the case with the numerous settlers, many of them army veterans, who were encouraged by Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II to settle in Alexandria in the third century, and were given equal privileges with the Macedonians and the Greeks. On the other hand, their children and grandchildren would soon lose the use of Aramaic; Greek would be their daily speech, for they do not seem to have been at all interested in the native people, and looked down on their very archaic religion, with its worship of cats and crocodiles. The production of Greek texts for synagogue purposes would become a necessity. The use of interpreters in the service, if it was ever tried, would appear to have been found inadequate.
According to tradition, the production of the official authorized version was sponsored by Ptolemy II; and this is not at all impossible, since Palestine was part of his dominions. At a later date the Greek Bible was accompanied by a document called the Letter of Aristeas, just as the English Bible is accompanied by a letter addressed to King James I. The Letter of Aristeas is a romantic fiction, written about A.D. 100, but it may be based on a true historic tradition. It states that King Ptolemy II sent to Jerusalem for a copy of the Jewish Law, which was provided for him by the high priest Eleazar, written no doubt, according to the Jewish custom, on prepared skins. Seventy-two |10 'elders'were also sent to Egypt, who completed the work of translation in seventy-two days; it is interesting that these elders from Jerusalem should have been thought of as bilingual. In later forms of the story the seventy-two elders appear as seventy; and marvellous features are added to the story. They do their work in separate cells, and yet, when they are compared, the various versions exactly agree. Such stories were intended to enhance the divine inspiration of the translation, which was known as the Version of the Seventy or Septuaginta.
The Letter of Aristeas is only concerned with the translation of the Law, that is to say the first five books of the Bible. The collection known as the Prophets (which includes what we call the historical books) was probably not completed in Hebrew in the reign of Ptolemy II; but it was translated into Greek, probably piecemeal, the process being completed within another hundred years. Interesting variations in the text show that the process of editing was continuing during the period of translation. As for the other books of the Bible, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Daniel, and others, there was no authoritative list till after the time of Christ, and the Septuagint comprised many more books than were included in the Hebrew canon. This larger Bible constituted the original Bible of the Christian church, and a number of the extra books have been retained in the Apocrypha. We owe a great debt to Alexandrian Judaism for the preservation of this literature.
As Greek prose or poetry the Septuagint has few merits. It abounds in 'barbarous' words and constructions and figures of speech. It can only have been intended in the first place for use among Jews. Yet it carries into the Greek tongue something of the majesty and charm of the Hebrew originals. It may be said to have created a new form of Greek, which contributed to the formation of the idiom in which the gospel was preached, and the New Testament written, and the oldest Christian liturgy and theology worked out. The New Testament is a supplement to the Septuagint, not to the Hebrew Bible.
During the period from the death of Alexander to about 170 B.C. the Jewish state, which consisted only of the territory round Jerusalem, continued to be governed by the high priest, who was chosen from the |11 descendants of Solomon's high priest, Zadok, and was also acceptable to the Seleucid king in Antioch, to whose dominions Jerusalem belonged. Towards the beginning of the second century B.C. his suzerainty was challenged by the king of Egypt. In the year 169 B.C., the Syrian monarch, Antiochus IV, called Epiphanes, or '[God] made manifest', invaded Egypt, captured King Ptolemy VI, and asserted his authority. On his return journey to Antioch, he entered Jerusalem and plundered the Temple. In 168 he again invaded Egypt and was repulsed by the Romans. In 167 he again entered Jerusalem, and on this occasion he set up the worship of Olympian Zeus (which doubtless meant the universal God of Syrian Hellenism) in place of the worship of Jehovah. An altar of the Greek type was superimposed on the great altar of burnt-offering, and sacrifices of a pagan type were offered there on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month (Kislev). It is a very important date. The action was followed by an organized campaign to force a Hellenized form of religion upon the Jews; they were compelled, on pain of death, to surrender their copies of the Law, to abandon the customs of their race, and to sacrifice to the new universal deity, whose earthly representative was the king himself.
A close critical study of the documents shows that this was no act of foreign aggression. Antiochus was supported by the high priest Menahem, or Menelaus as he called himself, and also by other leading men. For a century or more the Greek influence had been at work in Jerusalem. Greek customs had been accepted; the young men had adopted the Greek dress; circumcision was unfashionable; a 'gymnasium' had been established. The time seemed fully ripe to bring this backward city into line with the rest.
There was a political background, too, which cannot be fully explained; for Menahem-Menelaus had evicted Jesus-Jeshua (also called Jason) from the priesthood, and he in his turn had ejected the legitimate high priest, Onias III, son of the great Simon who is glorified at the end of Ecclesiasticus as the model high priest. Onias had fled to Antioch, where he was murdered. His son, Onias IV, fled to Egypt and was given a grant of land at Leontopolis, where he built a temple which endured till A.D. 73. So Egyptian Jews had an actual temple, with what claimed to be the legitimate priesthood.
Jerusalem had come under the control of a family or group of families in the high-priestly line, who had felt the fascination and pressure of Syrian Hellenism, and relaxed their devotion to the Law sufficiently to enter into union with it. On the other hand, their temporary success only served to prove that there were parties in Israel who held to the Law with a devotion and tenacity unknown in Israel before. They found a leader in a village priest named Mattathias, 'the son of Simon, the son of Asmonaeus', whose five sons proved themselves remarkable generals and diplomats, the most famous of them being Judas, who was called Maccabaeus or 'the Hammer'. They were supported by groups of religious enthusiasts known as the Hasidim or pious. There were martyrdoms, heroic sufferings, desperate acts of courage, and devious political intrigues; but the worship of the God of Israel was restored in his Temple on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev in 164 B.C., the third anniversary of the profanation of the altar. The day became a festival in Israel, almost equal in importance to the sacred festivals of the Law of Moses; it is the feast of Hanukkah, the Renewal or Rededication, a midwinter festival.
There were further disastrous turns in the fighting, the danger reaching its worst point when the Syrian authorities appointed a new high priest, Jakin (or Alkimus), from the recognized priestly family, and some of the Hasidim joined his forces; but a sufficiently strong body among the loyalists was so dissatisfied with the old high priesthood that they decided to settle the succession in the family of Mattathias, though it was not descended from Zadok. Judas was dead, so that Jonathan was the first to receive this honour, and he was succeeded after his own death in battle by his brother Simon. This dynasty was known as the Hasmonaeans, after the grandfather of Mattathias, or more often the Maccabaeans, after the title given to Judas. In time they received the recognition of the successors of Antiochus, who found them valuable auxiliaries. They extended their power over the whole of Palestine, as the unfortunate Syrian empire succumbed to its inward dissensions and to the warlike pressure of Parthia and Rome. They devastated Samaria and destroyed the Samaritan temple at Shechem, which also had a legitimate Zadokite priesthood. They forcibly converted Galilee to Judaism.
It is not necessary to go into the intricacies of the Maccabaean succession, and tell of the orthodox John Hyrcanus (Hyrcanus I) who
|13 was priest and prophet and all but king; or his less orthodox successor Alexander Jannaeus (Jonathan) who reigned and warred after the manner of the Gentiles, and put on a royal 'diadem' which would seem to have been a Persian royal emblem, connected possibly with the sun-god. The widow of Alexander Jannaeus, Alexandra Salome (called in the Mishnah Shelom Zion), restored orthodoxy with the help of the Pharisee party. It is enough to say that the influence of Hellenistic culture and religion, which had been courageously resisted in the hour of crisis, had been felt by all, even by those who had resisted it; and though the national tradition was established and even extended, nevertheless there was more than one way of interpreting it.
The numerous sects into which the Jewish race was divided were probably all descended from this period of conflict, and were probably political in character as well as theological. There was the diehard devotion to the Law of the Hasidim, who are little more than a name; there was the ascetic communism of the Essenes, whose affiliation with some Zadokite group may be progressively clarified as we learn more from the 'Dead Sea Scrolls'; there were the Pharisees who were an offshoot from the Hasidim, and produced a rather artificial pedigree of teachers which seems to stem from the old high priest Simon III, who was the father of Onias III (or perhaps from an earlier Simon called Zaddik – the Just); and there were the Sadducees, the high priestly party of the time of Christ, whose name seems to show that they too claimed succession or descent from Zadok. But the significance of these names is still obscure.
We would like to have more information than we actually possess about these divisions in Israel; for the traditions preserved in the Talmud see everything through the eyes of the rabbinism of the second century A.D.; and the remarks of Josephus are singularly unconvincing. We know next to nothing of the Sadducees, whose theology was so archaic as not to have accepted the prophetic writings as fully canonical; like the Samaritans they based their faith on the Law of Moses only, to which the Samaritans added the book of Joshua; they rejected the Pharisee doctrines of the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels. The Sadducees were the aristocrats; the Pharisees |14 were the popular party; they had at times resisted the Hasmonaean rulers, and later on they resisted King Herod. The meaning of their name is disputed. It is said by some to come from the Hebrew word parash which means 'to separate'; but from whom they separated themselves is not known. It could simply be a popular nickname for a party which practised a strict piety based on laws of 'clean and unclean'; or it could be derived from some political cleavage.
It has been observed that the Pharisees were not immune from the Babylonian and Persian influences which had come in prior to the Greek period. They believed in a life to come and an angelic world of good and evil spirits, which the Sadducees rejected. We find too what is called an 'eschatology', an imaginatively conceived panorama of history, culminating in a divine judgement, and the coming of God, or of his Anointed, or of a 'Son of Man', with retribution for the evil and rewards for the good in a new phase of existence – ideas which are strange in Judaism before the Maccabaean period. It has been suggested that Persian influence has something to do with this type of thought. It has even been suggested that the name Pharisee really means' Persian' (Fharsi or Parsee).
The national tradition could not escape the Greek influence, at least in its external and social life. The Hebrew speech of the learned Pharisee tradition, even in its Mishnaic form, was enriched with a number of Greek loan-words, such as the word 'sanhedrin', which is simply the Greek word sunhedrion ('a sit-together'), and was adopted for the supreme council of seventy priests and elders which met in Jerusalem under the presidency of the ab-beth-din (' father of the house of justice') or of the high priest; thus making seventy-two in all. The great number of these Greek loan-words (and later on of Latin loan-words), is sufficient to prove the existence of a continuous Hellenistic pressure in the very heart of Judaism, to which it could not help yielding. It appears, too, in such everyday matters as clothes and meals.
'The dress of the Jew', says Dr Albright, 'consisted essentially of the same garments, including tunic and mantle, shoes or sandals, and a hat or cap of some kind to protect the head, that were worn by contemporary Greeks.' It is erroneous, therefore, to portray the twelve apostles in the costume of modern Arabs, as is so constantly done. In |15 the same way, the custom of reclining at meals, which was done even at the Passover, was in accordance with the Greek, not with the old Jewish custom. Ordinary daily life, we gather, especially in the towns, was assimilated to the universal culture of the day.
It has even been suggested that the calendar and round of festivals which governed the religious life had been influenced by foreign customs too. The Persian and Babylonian influence can hardly be doubted; it comes out clearly as early as Ezekiel and Zechariah, and culminates in the eschatological literature; and eschatological ideas were prominent in the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the climax of the whole ritual and agricultural year. It has been suggested that the processions at this festival, with songs and branches of trees, were adopted from Greek ceremonies like the revels of Dionysus, which took place at the same autumnal season, and were also vintage rites. The theory of Greek influence is more probable in the case of the new festival of the Dedication, which took place on Kislev 25 (November or December), and commemorated the very day on which Antiochus had established the Greek ritual in the Temple. The Maccabaeans may have been forced to substitute something for the attractive Greek ceremonies, and to continue such Greek rituals as the kindling of lights before the doors of the houses, which very likely gave it the name of the Feast of Lights which we find in Josephus.
The greatest document of the Maccabaean period is, of course, the Book of Daniel, in which the terrors of an age of war and persecution are mirrored in the stories of the den of lions and the burning fiery furnace. Its picture of the Ancient of Days, his angelic attendants, his fiery streams, and his heavenly assessor 'like a son of man', has a distinctly Persian look. It is a product of an Aramaic-speaking Judaism, which was acquainted with a Babylonian syncretism; its hero surpasses all the Chaldeans in their own art. It was written in Aramaic, and was adapted for use in the synagogue by translating its opening and closing passages into Hebrew.
The First Book of the Maccabees was originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew, from older sources, not long after the death of John Hyrcanus in 104/3 B.C. We possess it in a Greek translation which was |16 included in the Septuagint; a history of the high-priesthood of John Hyrcanus himself has failed to survive. The Second Book of the Maccabees had a rather different origin. Not long after the wars, a Jew of Cyrene, called Jason, wrote a history of them in the Greek style in five volumes; and what we have is an abridged form of Jason. Two letters addressed from Jerusalem to Alexandria were added to it at a later date; they urge the Alexandrians to keep the Feast of the Dedication.
We can distinguish three stages in the production of a Greek literature by the Jews. The first was the translation of Hebrew classics, or recent compositions in Hebrew or Aramaic; the second was the production of Greek books in the style established by these translations; the third was the production of Greek books in the Greek style. II Maccabees belongs to the second class, just as the gospels do. The same is true of III Maccabees, a weak production, which relates an imaginary, or largely imaginary, story of persecution in Egypt, for use on a festal occasion. IV Maccabees attempts to capture the style and spirit of Greek philosophy and rhetoric. It is a eulogy of the martyrs of the Maccabaean period, for use at the Feast of the Dedication, when such heroes seem to have been remembered; it describes the sufferings of a certain Eleazar, and of a mother who died on behalf of the Law, with her seven sons; it is lauded in the Stoic manner as a triumph of reason over passion. It is a precursor of the literary forms which were adopted by the Christians for what are called the Acts of the Martyrs.
Christians even took over the mother with her seven sons in the legends of St Symphorosa and St Felicitas. A commemoration of the Maccabees themselves remains in the Roman Breviary.
It would not be possible to give an account of all the Hebrew or Aramaic literature of this period, so far as it still survives in Greek translation. It would include such tales as Esther, Tobit, and Judith. But there is a group of books dating from the Maccabaean period, to which reference must be made. These are the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.
These books are amplifications of the Old Testament tradition with special ends in view, and doubtless a rather broader-than-average theology. Enoch reveals the secrets of the world above, narrates the |17 story of the fallen angels, and surveys the history of this world, which is to end with the appearance of a divine saviour or judge from heaven, who is called the Elect One, or Son of Man. It is an amalgamation of texts from different sources, and quotes a still earlier Book of Noah, which has not survived; its place of origin may have been in Galilee. Jubilees recounts the history of Israel from Abraham to Moses, arranging it in accordance with a revised calendar, which would simplify the calculation of the liturgical year. This new calendar and its basis in astronomical theory are also outlined in Enoch. In Patriarchs, each of the sons of Jacob gives ethical teaching to his descendants, foretelling what will happen in the last times. While Joseph is the pattern of perfect conduct and Judah is awarded the kingship, Levi is given the supremacy over the others as the inheritor of the priesthood.
The original text of these books has disappeared, but they were translated into Greek, and so passed into the library of the Christian church. Patriarchs, which had passed through several editings, was edited again for Christian use in the second century after Christ, and a number of Christian passages were inserted into it.
Before the time of the Maccabees, and not long after Berosus and Manetho, a Jewish writer who called himself Demetrius occupied himself with the chronology of the sacred books. No doubt he was a pioneer of the school of thought which tried to convince the Greeks that the Hebrew literature was the oldest in the world, a claim which was also made by Aristeas. This point of view was further developed in the writings of the Jewish philosopher Aristobulus, who addressed his works to King Ptolemy VI, and therefore nourished during the Macca-baean wars. He was a disciple of Aristotle and the Stoics, but he maintained that the Greek philosophers and poets derived their teaching from Moses, adding that the substance of the Law had been translated into Greek before the production of the Septuagint. Eupolemus, who was his contemporary, wrote a history, in which he asserted that Moses was the first of the sages, and that he had delivered the art of writing to the Jews, from whom it passed to the Phoenicians, who gave it to the Greeks. Other historians who cannot be dated with exactness were Artapanus, a second Aristeas, and Cleodemus (also called |18 Malchus). Artapanus carried the notion of Moses as the original source of pagan culture so far as to claim that he was the inaugurator of the Egyptian religion. In the Book of Jubilees a rather similar claim is made for Abraham, who is said to have passed on to the Gentile nations the art of writing and the science of astronomy.
The existence of a genuine Hellenistic literature shows that there were actual reading circles or academic institutes among the Greek-speaking Jews; for Greek literature was intended to be read aloud. No doubt sympathetic Greeks were invited to these seances. There were poets, too, in this tradition; for Philo the Elder wrote a poem on Jerusalem, and Theodotus, who must have been a Samaritan, wrote a poem on Shechem. Did a Hasmonaean monarch like Alexander Jannaeus enjoy listening to the recital of the historical glories of Israel, as Ahasuerus, in the Book of Esther, listened to the reading of his own warlike exploits? There was also a theatre; for a certain Ezekiel composed a number of tragedies in Greek verse, including one on the Exodus, of which considerable fragments survive. King Herod built a theatre in Jerusalem, close to the Temple, and we may conjecture that such works were performed in it.
We would have little notion of this literary activity but for a Greek writer named Alexander Polyhistor, who flourished about 80-40 B.C., and copied a number of extracts from these authors into his book Concerning the Jews. The book is lost, but it was used by Josephus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius of Caesarea, to whom we owe our knowledge of it.
In addition to this, there were Jews who composed verses in the style of Sophocles and other Greek poets, and these turn up in Christian writers, who believed that they were genuine. There is a long poem, ascribed to the sixth-century gnomic poet Phocylides, a good part of which is a versification of the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, a chapter which gives instruction in the elements of Jewish piety, and formed the basis of Judaeo-Christian catechisms.
The most important piece of imitative literature, however, was the Jewish 'Sibylline Oracles'. The Sibyl was a well-known figure in the Greek literary tradition. She was an imaginary prophetess of a legendary |19 character, who had uttered dooms on the nations in Homeric hexameters. Actually the verses which circulated in her name had been composed in various times and places; and this resulted in the theory of a Babylonian Sibyl, a Persian Sibyl, and so forth. As early as the Maccabaean period, perhaps about 145 B.C., some of the prophecies which are now contained in Book III of the Oracles were composed and circulated. Their Jewish material seems to be grafted on to a ' Babylonian' stock. They proclaim a pure monotheism; they denounce ungodliness and idolatry; they utter dooms upon the nations, referring particularly to the Seleucid monarch at Antioch; and they foretell a judgement upon the world.
We shall hear more of the Sibylline Oracles, which continued to be produced for four or five centuries by Jews and Christians alike.
We have found some traces of Greek philosophy in the Letter of Aristeas, the writings of Aristobulus, and IV Maccabees; but the influence was wider than that. It is doubtful whether it extended to the Book of Proverbs; but it is quite clear in Ecclesiastes. The figure of Solomon was beginning to be exalted as the exponent of a wisdom which was superior to that of the wise men of the East; and possibly even of the West; and a number of books were composed and circulated in his name. Just as all the Law appeared under the name of Moses, who was its originator, and all the Psalms under the name of David, so all the traditional wisdom was collected under the name of Solomon.
One of the most daring of these works of art was the Wisdom of Solomon, which was composed in Greek in Alexandria, not long before or after the birth of Christ. Its poetic beauty secured it a place in close proximity to the Greek Bible, into which it was admitted, at least by the Christians. It dramatized the Word of God as a warrior figure, leaping from his throne, and penetrating into this dark world. It dramatized his Wisdom as a female figure who co-operated in creation, preserved the righteous, and illuminated the wise. She was a pure spirit, poured out upon all creation, entering into holy souls, and making them friends of God and prophets. It was a view which had been anticipated by Aristobulus; indeed, it had been anticipated in the Book of Proverbs. Her mode of speech has been compared in some respects
|20 with the contemporary treatment of the Egyptian goddess Isis. It is interesting that this personified picture of God and his Word and his Wisdom should appear in Egypt, where Jehovah had once been worshipped with a goddess by his side.
The emphasis on the need for personal illumination by the divine spirit is also to be found in the Alexandrian Jewish writer Philo, who was contemporary with Jesus of Nazareth, and outlived him by one or two decades. This remarkable man came from a powerful and wealthy family. He read copiously in the Greek philosophers as well as in the Hebrew scriptures and the Jewish Hellenistic writers. He made great use of the accepted Alexandrian principle of allegorism, which was certainly not without precedent in Judaism. In this way he made the characters in Genesis into 'types' or patterns of general ideas or principles; and by this means Moses was found to be at one with the philosophers.
Philo is not only the climax of the long and rich story of Jewish Hellenism, he is an important figure in the general history of Western philosophy, because he is the forerunner of that revival of Platonism which became apparent in the second century after Christ, and gathered strength in the third. We shall see that Christian teachers, after making some use of Stoic philosophy in Athens and Rome, eventually adopted the new Platonism in its oriental form, as the best medium in which to interpret the gospel to the Hellenistic world; but this new Platonism had departed from the intellectualism of the master, in admitting more fully the doctrine of personal illumination by the universal deity or by a spiritual power proceeding from him.
The evidence given could easily be added to, but it is sufficient to show that the transition of the Jewish faith to the world of the Hellenistic culture had been accomplished, so far as it was possible, before ever the gospel appeared upon the scene of history. A worldwide Hellenistic Judaism, if not a Jewish Hellenism, everywhere existed, in intimate relation to the oriental world to which it historically belonged. This
|21 Hellenistic Judaism had its synagogues, its Bible, its liturgy, its catechisms, its learned literature, and even its philosophy of history. It stood ready, like others, to enter into its inheritance as a world-religion. Why then did it not do so?
The answer is very simple and instructive. It was the Pharisees, and later on the Zealots, with their political exclusiveness and their insistence on every detail of the Law, both oral and written, who were responsible. Every Greek synagogue with any pretensions to culture would have its circle of Gentile enquirers who were attracted by the life and worship, and almost persuaded by the propaganda. Even Capernaum in Galilee provides an example. What they could not accept was the national Law with its demand for circumcision, the keeping of Sabbaths, and so forth. The substitution of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the law of Moses as the supreme authority within Judaism broke down what St Paul called the middle wall of partition, and the fusion was immediate.
Is it true to say that this period of cosmopolitan Hellenism was stirred by a feeling of expectation that a Saviour was to come who would bring peace to the world? It was certainly so in Judaism itself, and it may have communicated itself to other races; but the religious feeling of the age seems to have expressed itself more characteristically in the temple inscriptions which give thanks for the Roman peace which had been brought by that efficient deity, the Emperor Augustus. At any rate, what expectations there were, even among the Jews, were strikingly different from what actually happened.
Judas Maccabaeus, 165 – 160.
Jonathan (high priest), 160-142.
Simon (high priest), 142-135.
John Hyrcanus I (high priest and king), 134-104.
Aristobulus I (high priest and king), 103.
Alexander Jannaeus, (high priest and king), 102-76.
Alexandra Salome, 75-67.
Hyrcanus II (high priest), 75-66 and 63-40.
Aristobulus II (high priest and king), 66-63.
Antigonus (high priest and king), 40-37.
Herod the Great (king), 37-4.
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