Is Hellenism Alive and Well Today?

The Sea of Galilee (The Kinnereit)

What is Hellenism?

When Alexander the Great was concurring the then known world, the typical practice was to take slaves from the concurred land or move a portion of the people to another location under your control. However Alexander the Great is not known for this practice. His objective upon concurring a land was not to forcefully suppress and dominate the people into submission, but rather introduce the Greek culture. They were free to continue with many of there customs, and to travel as they wished, only they were now under the Greek umbrella of control. The idea behind this was to unite all these various tribes and people into one common body thus making trade from one area to another much easier, especially with a common language and gradually accepting the Greek culture. The Greek language and many custom’s continue to this day.

Israel is important

Persia had already concurred Israel and the exile had ended with many of the Israelis returning to Israel. With Alexander concurring Persia, he also gets all the lands under Persian control, thus Israel is now under the Greek umbrella. There are many key trade routes that are important traveling east and west. But Israel not only intercepts some of the east and west trade routs, but also north and south. With Egypt and other areas to the south of Israel, they will need to pass through to travel north. This makes Israel a key for the trade to move effectively.

Introducing a new way of thinking

Introducing another culture into an existing one is difficult, just by itself. However trying to do this into a very strong religious environment that has some strong well established beliefs that may contradict some of the “new” ways may be a hard sell. Alexander entered into an agreement with Israel instead of subjugating them. Because of his teaching he had received from Aristotle when he was younger he had a respect for the Jews. They would remain autonomous in many ways, however yet they would be his loyal vasels and subject to paying taxes. Part of the agreement was a requirement to name every child Alexander or Sender for the next year, and a system of tax collection, which became corrupt.

These two concessions by themselves appear harmless, but just the opposite is true. Naming the children after Alexander lead to other Greek names, which in turn lead to the Greek language, then the cultural changes followed. The taxing system was very corrupt, to the belief that if your profession was a tax collector, it was assumed that you were a corrupt person.

Those Jews that accepted this new way of life were known as Hellenist. To be Hellenistic would be like being “forward thinking” is today. One may think, to follow those old traditions is “passe”, or “times have changed”, “its time to move on”.

In reality

Like the frog that sits in the pan of water while the water is at room temperature, and it is gradually heated, until the frog dies from the water that has been brought to a boil. He never new that he was being killed, because the process was so slow and gradual. Before the Hellenist knew it, the sacred Temple was becoming desecrated.

Eventually, under new Greek leadership, the laws of the land were changed. An example is that it was illegal to circumcise your baby boys on the eighth day. The penalty for circumcision, was to have the baby killed and strapped to the mothers back, while the child decays. But when the Temple was desecrated with the sacrificing of a pig on the alter, and the priests positions were given to the “highest bidder”, an Orthodox Jewish man called Judah the Hammer (Maccabee), who was a Levite rose up against these abomination’s.

Judah the Maccabee and his sons band together and rebelled against the Greek oppression. Others joined the “resistance” and became known as the Maccabees (the Hammers). They fought and won the battle, but the Hellenistic culture stayed. They won back the Temple and the freedom to keep Torah, but the pull that Hellenism had on the general Jewish population, had taken its toll.

This becomes evident when the Romans take control of Israel. They set up their garrison in Jerusalem next to the Temple Mount. The Priest and High Priest at this time were Sadducee’s, and have become Hellenists. To be Hellenistic is the path of least resistance, especially when having to deal with the leaders of Rome that have become your neighbors, on the Temple Mount.

Because of Hellenism, Judaism took on a new look while under Greek control, and now under Roman occupation. Before Hellenism there was only one form of Judaism. That form would be the keeping of Torah and the Prophets, and to be righteous, those continuing on this path would be known as the Pharisee’s (Orthodox). The Priests felt that only the Torah was Sacred and not the books of the Prophets, and the Writings. They were known as the Sadducee’s and became Hellenistic. The Eiseens were a group outside of the mainstream, they did not like what they saw happening at the Temple, and so they removed themselves from Jerusalem. The Eiseens were not Hellenistic and were quite Orthodox in their keeping of Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.

After the Romans under the leadership of Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, the Sadducee’s gradually disappeared, along with Hellenistic Judaism. After the destruction of the Temple, it was the Pharisee’s that gathered together and carried Orthodox Judaism to where it is today.

Hellenism Today

Today Hellenism is a topic that we only read about. But the concept of Hellenism is alive and well. We can justify our changes in beliefs very well, and base these changes on various conditions around us, just like the Israeli’s did during the Hellenistic period. In fact we have become very good at it. Going to the source by studying Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, along with other study material, like the Talmud, as a source for our belief in G-d, is foundational. I suggest before adjusting your beliefs, stop and reflect on what the Torah is saying to you. Does it agree with your adjustment in belief? Or are you compromising? Hellenism has taught us to not look at or be influenced by a suggestion of compromise with other beliefs, or changes in social norms that take us away from Torah. Perhaps the bottom line is to “stay true to the Torah”, and not be influenced by social/cultural norms!

by Jim Behnke,

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