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Hellenized Jews - Maccabees175 BC to 6 AD
Jewish History Prior to Jesus:
Results of Hellenization
The Maccabean Revolt
The period of the Maccabees marks a critical and important movement in the ancient world because of the impact on both Israel's history and ultimately how it affected early Christianity. Firstly, the Maccabean revolt was a reaction to a secular ruler and government trying to force cultural/religious change on a religious people. It also reflected the frustration of a once great nation being occupied by a foreign government. Conservative Jews resented this and the Maccabees gave voice to the opposition.
The Impact of "Hellenization"
From the time of Alexander the Great through the New Testament era we see a major shift happening throughout Asia Minor, Palestine and, for the purposes of Christian history, a major shift in Judea among the Jewish people.
Points of Hellenization:
The synoptic gospels illustrate that Jesus supported the concept that the Jews needed to reach out beyond the cultural boundaries of Israel. Several passages show Him interacting with Gentiles, showing God's mercy and speaking positively towards them.
Jewish Push Against "Hellenization"
The rule of John Hyrcanus in 134 BC begins a backlash against "Hellenization." Israel sent troops against Samaria in 128 BC, destroying their Temple. In 107 BC the Samaritans are attacked again. This makes it far easier to understand the hatred of the Samaritans towards the Jews - for their part, the Law-abiding Jews of Judea hated the cultural assimilation of the Samaritans. They claimed to have been part of the tribes of Israel, but had married with other races - the Jews no longer viewed them as part of Israel.
The Maccabean Revolt
In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, "Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us." This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant....
After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned...He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took...the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures which he found. Taking them all, he departed to his own land. He committed deeds of murder, and spoke with great arrogance. - 1 Macc 1:11-15, 20-24
This marks the beginning of The Maccabean Revolt, a period of Jewish rebellion provoked by a Gentile ruler denying religious freedom and persecuting the Jewish nation. It was brutal on the part of the Seleucids, heroic on Israel's part, and the emotional/nationalistic effects of this conflict were felt into the time of Jesus and even the early Christians as they endured similar Roman persecution.
Not long after this the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the laws of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God, also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus...The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; they amused themselves with prostitutes and had intercourse with women even in the sacred courts. They also brought forbidden things into the temple...No one could keep the sabbath or celebrate the traditional feasts...and putting to death those who would not consent to adopt the customs of the Greeks ["Hellenika"]....two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall.
- 2 Macc 6:1-10
Chapter 7 gives us a gruesome story of a woman with seven sons who are brought before the king for refusing to eat pig meat in disobedience to the Law of Moses. One by one, the king had each son tortured to death in front of their mother. Finally, she was killed as well. This and other stories from Maccabees read very much like the reports of what the Romans did to the Christians in the second and third centuries AD.
Herod, the son of Antipater, who was of no more than a vulgar family, and of no eminent extraction, but one that was subject to other kings...And since Herod had now the government of all Judea put into his hands, he promoted such of the private men in the city as had been of his party, but never left off avenging and punishing every day those that had chosen to be of the party of his enemies....[he] carried off all the royal ornaments, and spoiled the wealthy men of what they had gotten; and when, by these means, he had heaped together a great quantity of silver and gold, he gave it all to...his friends - Antiquities 14.491-15.5
In 20 BC Herod begins a grand project of rebuilding the Temple. This gave Jerusalem added prestige to both the city and the ruling class, the Sadduccees. Somehow Herod was also able to stay on decent terms with the Pharisees. Other than the Temple, however, Herod pushed Hellenization: he had many Greek building projects all around his kingdom in Galilee, Samaria and in Jerusalem. Herod ruled until 4 BC and towards the end of his reign he became more and more willing to act rashly, punish and kill anyone who stood in his way and was perfectly willing to sacrifice family as well. All of this only inflamed the Jewish hatred for this Jewish pretender who ruled Judea.
...applause arises from them all as of men rejoicing together at what they have seen and heard; and then some one rising up sings a hymn which has been made in honour of God, either such as he has composed himself...and in psalms of thanksgiving and in hymns...then the young men bring in the table which was mentioned a little while ago, on which was placed that most holy food, the leavened bread...And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night...they all stand up together, and in...two choruses...the one of men and the other of women...they sing hymns which have been composed in honour of God...at one time all singing together, and at another moving their hands and dancing in corresponding harmony, and uttering in an inspired manner songs of thanksgiving... (I have used extensive ellipses to keep this citation from being quite lengthy) - On the Contemplative Life 10.79-81, 11.83-84
Although the Essenes shared many common points with early Christianity, the Essenes had a collection of writings known as the War Scrolls which describe the coming end of the era conflict with evil which would be violent. Fragments similar to these scrolls were found in the remains of Masada when the Zealots stood against, and all died, resisting the Romans after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
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