The Historical Background
The conquests of Alexander the Great ushered in a new era in the political and cultural history of the Near East.1 In their wake, both the Jews of Judaea and their brethren in a rapidly expanding diaspora were subjected to radical forces of social and cultural change. These changes, effected by the introduction of Greek culture into the lands of the Near East that led to the emergence of the phenomenon commonly known as Hellenism,1a greatly transcended the purely political vicissitudes that were destined to envelop this part of the inhabited world.2 Moreover, the perception of Alexander’s military success as a major crossroads in the history of the region is not merely the product of modern historiographical hindsight, but apparently was already felt by Jews and non-Jews who experienced firsthand the far-reaching impact of the Greek conquest of, and assimilation into the East. Thus, for example, when the late second century B.C.E. author of 1 Maccabees set out to record the events leading up to the Hasmonean uprising, as well as that family’s emergence as the central Judaean authority, he chose to introduce the events of 175-135 B.C.E. with a preamble describing—however erroneously—what came to pass ‘after Alexander of Macedon, son of Philip … had completely defeated Darius, King of the Persians and the Medes’.3
The impact of Hellenism, and the reactions to that cultural phe
1 This article mainly covers Jewish history in Palestine. For the Diaspora see the first section of Compendia, especially chapters 3, 8,9 and 13. For the use of Greek by Jewish authors see ibid., chapter 22.
1a The earliest modern use of the term Hellenism is commonly attributed to Johann Gustav Droysen (1808-1884). It is noteworthy, however, that the term Hellenismos used to describe this particular manifestation of Greek culture and religion, was first employed by the author of 2 Maccabees (e.g. 4:13); similarly, he is the first known author to use the term Ioudaismos as signifying the religion of the Jewish people (e.g. 2 Mace 2:21). Cf. also Amir, ‘Ioudaismos.’
2 For a succinct overview of the period see Tarn-Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization; a highly readable account of Hellenistic culture is provided by Hadas, Hellenistic Culture.
3 Such scene-setting preambles are commmon in biblical narrative, and the opening of 1 Maccabees is yet a further example of the author’s conscious recourse to biblical style; cf. Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 190-1. For the unsubstantiated claim that Alexander divided his kingdom among his officers while still alive (1 Mace 1:6) cf. Goldstein, 197.