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by Joseph Bentwich

Bibliographic information

AuthorJoseph Bentwich
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001


The book is concerned with the debasement of the culture that produced the brilliant civilization of Hellas. The interaction of Judaism and Hellenistic culture is one of the fundamental struggles in the march of civilization; and Hellenistic Judaism is, after the Bible, the most remarkable contribution of the Jewish genius to the worlds thought. The author tries to show the relation of Hellenistic Judaism to the idea of Catholic Judaism, and considers the Hellenistic Jewish literature and philosophy from a standpoint of rabbinical tradition. This book is intended for those interested in the conflict of Judaism with the culture of the ancient world and its impact on the Jewish life of today.

About the Author 

Joseph Bentwich ---

Coming of a well-known English-Jewish family, Joseph Bentwich read Mathematics at Cambridge, went out to Palestine in 1924, and has lived there serving successively as agricultural laborer, teacher, inspector, headmaster, University lecturer, and inspector once more.



I. Introduction

II. The Hellenistic Culture

III. Hellenism in Palestine Till the Destruction of the Temple

IV. Hellenism in the Diaspora

V. Hellenistic-Jewish Literature

VI. The Rabbis and Hellenism

VII. The Aftermath

VIII. Conclusion





Spiritually, one of the immediate effects of the Maccabean deliverance was to stimulate the proselytizing activity of the Jews wherever they were settled. We shall deal in the next chapter with the missionary movement in the diaspora, but the same feeling was manifested, though less strongly, in Palestine. Palestinian literature of the first century B.C.E., such as it is, has traces of the missionary ardor; and the universalistic consciousness appears repeatedly in the apocalyptic books, which at this period of seething hopes and fears gave expression to popular wishes. Of the Messiah it is said in the Psalms of Solomon: He shall make the peoples and the Gentiles serve him under his yoke, he shall glorify the Lord by submission of the Law which was given to lighten every man. We read in the fourth oracle of the Sibyl, which man scholars think to have sprung from Palestine, foretells the coming world-wide triumph of Israel: Every land and every sea shall be full of them. The Gospel of Matthew, in a later epoch, speaks of the Pharisees who scour sea and land to make a proselyte.

Moreover, the scanty rabbinic records of the times bear witness to the accession of converts; Shemaiah and Abtralion, the heads of the schools at the end of the second century, were such; and Schurer identifies them with the Sameas and Pollion mentioned by Josephus. Many of the sayings of Hillel, who was the head of the Sanhedrin after them, have reference to proselytes: his famous summary of the Law in the golden rule was evoked by the question of a would-be convert. The arrangement of the temple the central shrine of the whole people bore witness to the large hopes and the universal outlook of the Jews. The expectation that the prophecy of Isaiah would be realized, and all the nations would come up to pray on the mount of Jerusalem, was symbolized by the court of the Gentiles, which formed the outermost are of sanctuary. Josephus says that the altar was holy to all Greeks and barbarians as well as to Jews; and offerings were received from proselytes who were allowed to come up to the great festivals! While in some aspects the temple worship was national and exclusive, in others it was cosmopolitan and universal. Inscriptions and directions in the Greek language were called for by the presence at the festivals of embassies from the Jewish communities in the diaspora, for whom Greek was the native tongue. The seals presented to donors of the offerings were inscribed in the popular Aramaic; but the chests for the money contributions were marked in Greek, because only the officials who were conversant with the general language of civilization were concerned with them.

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