Daily Archives: October 17, 2020

10月17日-Influences on a Dispersed People/Hellenism and the Jews/Judaism under Roman Rule

对分散的民族/希腊文化和罗马统治下的犹太人/犹太教的影响-Influences on a Dispersed People/Hellenism and the Jews/Judaism under Roman Rule

对分散的民族/希腊文化和罗马统治下的犹太人/犹太教的影响-Influences on a Dispersed People/Hellenism and the Jews/Judaism under Roman Rule

It is easy to think that after the exile all the Jews in Babylonia return to Palestine. That is by no means the case. Many Jews choose not to return and are still living in Babylonia, Egypt, and other areas as well. Those who have been assimilated into other cultures have been influenced in a number of ways, including their religious beliefs and practices. With the Hebrew language rapidly giving way to Aramaic and other languages, there is waning interest in reading the Torah, as the Law of Moses has come to be known. Thus the law’s influence itself has diminished. That fact, combined with local eating habits, has led many Jews to ignore the strict dietary rules imposed on them by the law.

Of course local religious beliefs have a profound effect, as already seen when the Jews intermarried with those involved in idolatry and various pagan practices. Also of significant impact are the Persian beliefs in astrology and the occult. As a result, when many Jews read their Scriptures in this postexilic period, they attach special meanings to any passage dealing with demons and angels, or light and darkness. The Torah is gradually being mystified in the eyes of many. A good example is found in the apocryphal book of Tobit, in which Persian Zoroastrianism and pagan demons are promoted.

One of the most disastrous influences of Persian origin is the belief that God is an aloof, impersonal god. It does not take long for any Jew, or non-Jew for that matter, who accepts this notion to have difficulty with Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be called Immanuel—that is, God with us.

With these and other cultural threats becoming increasingly apparent, the more orthodox Jews take steps to combat the pagan influences. And yet, ironically, the steps they take are not particularly in the direction of the very law they are trying to preserve. They too are victims of their strange environment. Under the law, the temple is to be the center of their sacrificial form of worship, and priests have the responsibility of teaching the law to each generation. Yet during the exile, and even after its end in areas other than Palestine, there is no temple, and sacrificing is often politically impossible. Substituting as best they can, the faithful begin to emphasize prayer and the inward sacrifice of the heart. The temple is replaced by an institution known as the synagogue, where the people gather for singing, prayer, and discussion of God’s laws. Ezekiel’s house in Tel Aviv of Babylonia may have been a prototype, and Ezra’s assembly for the reading of the law may have given impetus to the synagogue movement even in the shadow of the reconstructed temple. And the further away from Jerusalem one might go at this time, the more synagogues he would find.

The synagogues themselves foster changes in the Jewish religion. First to be noticed is the declining role of the priest, and his replacement by those known as rabbis. The rabbis are men whose superior knowledge of the law has set them in positions of great respect as the teachers in the synagogues. The fact that they gain such respect, oddly enough, leads to a second, and most significant, link in the evolution of Judaism. That link is the rise of sectarianism. The synagogues lend themselves readily to both special-interest groups and different schools of thought which are no longer under the direct influence of the priestly line of authority.

Another extension of the rabbinical movement is the development of the many written interpretations of the rabbis and the often greater importance attached to these writings than to those of the Torah itself. The first collections of these writings, known as the Midrash, is closely linked to the Torah. However, later collections will begin to incorporate oral traditions without such direct ties.

One final important development at this time is the beginning of so-called remnant theology. With paganism and secularism bringing about a compromised theology, the more orthodox are beginning to think the unthinkable. Perhaps there are Jews who are “erring Jews”—which, when interpreted, really means they are not true Jews at all! Of course this radical idea hardly touches ground before the next logical question is asked: who then is the faithful remnant? Predictably enough, each of the sects believes that its own special teachings and understandings of the law qualify them—and perhaps only them. The irony of it all is that there are those in Palestine who also take up the faithful-remnant cry. They in turn condemn even the more orthodox Jews in Babylonia for not returning to the land of promise and, presumably, for abandoning temple worship in favor of these unauthorized synagogues!

As all these changes are starting to have their impact on Judaism, the Persian Empire is slowly crumbling around the Jews in Palestine and those who are dispersed. From the time of Artaxerxes’ death, in 424 B.C., the Persian throne is both shaky and bloodstained. Over the following century, intrigue, assassinations, and coup after coup will take place in Susa. The final fall of the empire will come in 330 B.C. at the hands of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Under Persian dominance they have had both relative peace and official cooperation—even encouragement. In the years to come they will not always be so blessed.

Even before the fall of the Persian forces under Darius III at the great Battle of Arbela, Alexander sweeps through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. It is during this time that he finally and completely destroys the city of Tyre, ending any doubt as to whether Ezekiel’s prophecy would be fulfilled. He also establishes a new city on the Nile to take its place. That city, appropriately named Alexandria, will become a significant center of Greek influence. And because a large number of Jews will eventually be citizens of Alexandria, the Greek Hellenistic culture will have a profound effect on both the Jewish people and their religion for centuries to come. Therefore, by 332 B.C. Jews in both Egypt and Palestine are feeling the effects of still another foreign dominance. Apparently Alexander permits the Jews in Palestine a measure of self-rule, and generally views them with favor.

In later centuries, Alexander’s military victories will become legendary. After crushing the Persians, Alexander pushes on as far as the Ganges River in India, thus linking together for the first time the cultures of both East and West. For a God who works through history, this may well be a providential step in the divine plan, because along with Alexander’s military dominance goes the Hellenistic culture, and along with the culture goes the koine Greek language. Its universality in future years will be of inestimable value in spreading to the known world the good news of the Messiah’s coming.

When Alexander dies, in 323 B.C., there is a classic power struggle and land grab among his generals. In brief, the Ptolemies take control over Egypt and the Seleucids end up with Syria. It does not take long to realize who is caught in the middle—the Jews in Palestine. Ptolemy I captures Jerusalem and takes a number of Jews to colonize Alexandria. He gives them full citizenship and encourages Jewish scholarship. Here for the first time many Jewish intellectuals come under the influence of Greek philosophy with its logic and abstract concepts. The effects will soon be seen. In addition, Alexandria becomes the source of several of the apocryphal writings. Perhaps the most significant outgrowth of this intellectual community comes during the reign of Ptolemy II, who commissions a Greek translation of the Old Testament for the great library at Alexandria. Over the next 300 years this Greek version, known as the Septuagint, will virtually replace the use of the Hebrew manuscripts.

While the Ptolemies and their Hellenism are proving to be in many ways advantageous to the Jews, the Seleucids have an altogether different view of how Hellenism ought to be used. And unfortunately they manage to take Palestine away from the Ptolemies, at least from time to time. Throughout the second century B.C. there is a tug-of-war over Palestine which gives the Seleucids on-again, off-again control over the Jews there. In 190 B.C. the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, is defeated by an emerging world power—Rome. Rome has just emerged from 65 years of Punic wars with Carthage and a magnificent victory in 201 B.C. over the famed General Hannibal. Now it has cast greedy eyes on Greece. In order to concentrate entirely on Greece itself, Rome makes a pact with Antiochus IV and permits continued rule over Syria and Palestine. This Seleucid ruler, whose name is Epiphanes, is one of the cruelest men ever to hold public office. His idea of extending Greek influence and paying the heavy tribute he owes the Roman emperor is not exactly the friendliest gesture to a conquered nation. He begins by selling the office of high priest, then builds a gymnasium for naked athletes, confiscates property, loots the temple, and haughtily sacrifices a pig on a pagan altar he has erected there.

The pig may have been the last straw for a group of Jews called Maccabeans, under the leadership of Mattathias. They begin a running guerilla warfare which lasts from 163 to 143 B.C. Ephiphanes’ response is to massacre 1000 Jewish soldiers in his army who refuse to fight on the Sabbath. With the help of the pious Hasidim sect, the Maccabeans finally achieve a Jewish dynasty under John Hyrcanus in 135 B.C. Of course they exercise a fairly tenuous self-rule under the watchful eye of Rome, but for the next three-quarters of a century at least it will be a refreshing break in the action for a beleaguered nation of Jews.

As they savor the temporary return to power which they have achieved, and reflect on some 50 years of brutal persecution, the Jews surely must be thinking more and more about their national destiny. At this point they have come a long way from the early days of restoration and its hope of a politically strong kingdom. If there were ever any doubts about what kind of Messiah is needed, they are all gone now. It is clear that what Israel needs now is a strong political and military leader—perhaps someone like Alexander the Great. After all, it is only a matter of time before the Romans are free to turn their attention to Palestine. And when they do, even the brave Maccabeans will be no match for the Roman legions. Without doubt, the Jews’ only hope is the coming of the conquering king they have been promised, and what better time than now? It may be this very thinking which, just over a century from now, will be a significant factor in how the Jews of that day react to an unassuming man of peace who claims to be their king.

In 63 B.C. the inevitable happens. Under General Pompey the Romans invade Palestine and capture Jerusalem. But a measure of self-rule remains while Pompey and his former ally, Julius Caesar, turn against each other in a power struggle. Pompey is defeated in 48 B.C. In the next year Caesar appoints Antipater as procurator over all Judea, as Palestine is now known, and is himself assassinated in 44 B.C. After Caesar’s friend Antony appoints Antipater’s son Herod as tetrarch of Galilee, the Hasmoneans briefly revolt and force Herod to his fortress at Masada, near the Dead Sea. When Herod manages to get to Rome, Antony names him king of Judea and proceeds to resubdue the province so that Herod can establish his rule.

Between 37 B.C. and 30 B.C. political intrigue and more wars will bring to the Egyptian stage the last and most famous of all the Ptolemies—Cleopatra. As a Greek ruler she poses the last real threat to Roman dominance. Her marriage to Antony is legendary, along with their battle of Actium in 31 B.C., where both lose their lives to Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, Octavian.

Judea is not greatly affected by these Roman infightings, and Herod retains his control of Judea under Octavian. In 27 B.C. the Roman Senate gives Octavian the title of Augustus, and it is this Augustus Caesar who gets credit for founding the Roman Empire with its Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. For the next two centuries the civilized world will enjoy unprecedented peace, prosperity, and, for the most part, good civil government under Roman rule. It causes one to think again of a God who is working through history to achieve his eternal purposes. A century later one would be able to look back and see what an ideal time this was for the divine events about to happen in Judea, and later throughout the whole empire.

Meanwhile, Herod curries Jewish favor by restoring the temple in Jerusalem, which had been virtually destroyed by King Epiphanes. Despite this, Herod will not prove to be a true friend to the Jews. In fact, he orders that when he dies a number of prominent Jews are to be killed so that there will be a time of national mourning! In the meantime he is so obsessed with the security of his throne that he virtually eliminates any possible contenders. He has his favorite wife executed, and “playfully” drowns his young brother-in-law, Aristobulus. It is no wonder, then, that news of the birth of a Jewish “king” will not be received with enthusiasm.

Herod will not be the only one to greet any such news with distress. Ironically, many of the Jews themselves will have serious doubts. To understand their doubts, it is necessary to understand who the Jews are religiously at this point in history. The sectarianism which began after the exile has increased and solidified at this time. The sects are as much political and cultural as they are religious.

The Pharisees have become masters of the oral traditions which have come down from the rabbis over the past four centuries. They are enamored with interpretations and legalistic hypotheticals which do not necessarily have to be answered with reference to the Torah. Although they probably would not acknowledge it, apparently for the Pharisees tradition is on a par with the law itself. That fact takes on added significance when it is coupled with the belief that one earns merit with God by scrupulously observing every technicality of law and tradition. And yet the Pharisees have broad support among the common people, particularly because they hold to a belief in life after death, which some of the other sects now deny. With this popular support, many Pharisees have been chosen for high government positions, including the Sanhedrin, which is the highest tribunal of the Jews.

The second major sect is known as the Sadducees. They are closely associated with the Greek intellectual movement arising earlier out of the Alexandrian community, and have adopted the Epicurean belief that the soul dies with the body. They do not believe in a resurrection. Somewhat curiously, the Sadducees reject oral tradition and accept only the written law, but they readily apply their Hellenistic logic to their understanding of the Torah.

Many more sects also have come into being, including the radically pious ones, called Essenes, the openly rebellious Zealots, the politically active Herodians, and the Samaritans, whose hybrid religion continues from centuries past. Found throughout several of the sects are traces of Persian mysticism, Greek humanism, patriotic Judaism, and time-honored ritualistic traditions. In their religious beliefs and practices, the Jews have come a long way from Mount Sinai.

By: Lydia ٩(●˙▿˙●)۶…⋆ฺ

No Bible Verse 🙂 莫有经文:)