Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period

By O'Connell, Kevin G.; Aitken, J. K. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period


O'Connell, Kevin G., Aitken, J. K., Journal of Biblical Literature


[Editor's note: The first of the following two reviews, by Kevin G. O'Connell, S.J., was originally published in JBL 90 (1971): 228-31. A longer JBL review of Martin Hengel's Judaism and Hellenism, not reprinted here, came out six years later (see Louis H. Feldman, "Hengel's Judaism and Hellenism in Retrospect," JBL 96 [1977]: 371-82). The second review included here, by]. K. Aitken, represents a reassessment of Hengel's seminal work some thirty years later.]

Judentum und Hellenismus: Studien zu ihrer Begegnung unter besonderer Berucksichtigung Palastinas bis zur Mitte des 2. Jh.s v. Chr, by Martin Hengel. WUNT 10. Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1969; 2nd ed., 1973. ISBN 3161452704 (paper); 3161452712 (cloth).

Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period. 2 vols. Translated by J. Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974 (a onevolume, paperback edition was issued by Fortress in 1981). ISBN 0800602935.

This is a massive, detailed, and often complex study of Judaism's relation to Hellenism in Palestine during the third and the first half of the second centuries B.C.E. The book was prepared as a Habilitationsschrift, and its four chapters treat successively: the encounter of Judaism in Palestine with the civilization of early Hellenism as a technically determined political and economic force, Hellenism in Palestine as a cultural force and its influence on the Jews, Palestinian Judaism's encounter and struggle with the spirit of the Hellenistic age, the interpretatio graeca of Judaism and the reform efforts of the Hellenists in Jerusalem. The language is generally clear, but sentences are sometimes too cumbersome for effective communication. Most printing errors have been listed at the end of the book, but the following additional corrections are necessary: p. 262, line 9, bestritten for bestitten; p. 438, line 23, 7 for 6; p. 545, n. 242, line 19, [epsilon][kappa][tau][iota][sigma][theta][[eta]] for [epsilon][kappa][tau][iota][sigma][theta][[eta].

The book's main thesis is that all Judaism from about the mid-third century B.C.E. must be regarded as Hellenistic in the strict sense, because it had all received strong Hellenistic influence. The evidence amassed in support of this thesis should overwhelm the most hardened skeptic. To replace the customary distinction between Hellenistic and Palestinian Judaism, Hengel suggests a distinction between "the Greek-speaking Judaism oi the western diaspora and the Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Judaism of Palestine or of Babylonia" (p. 193). This distinction could also be misleading, he notes, since even in Jerusalem there was a strong and influential group of people who were genuinely bilingual.

According to Hengel, Hellenistic influence was practically all-pervasive in Palestinian Judaism, even in circles that decisively adopted an anti-Hellenistic stance. The hundred years of predominantly peaceful Ptolemaic rule gave an easily recognizable Hellenistic character to the life and interests of the Palestinian Jewish nobility and affluent class. Gradually, a critical attitude was developed toward traditional Jewish Law and practices, since they hindered further economic and cultural advancement. Hengel argues that this group's Hellenism led it to exercise decisive influence on the shape of Antiochus IV Epiphanes' persecution. The detailed knowledge of Jewish beliefs and practices evidenced in the persecution could not have been available to Antiochus IV or to his advisors. Only the hellenized Jewish upper classes, regarded as apostates by their fellow Jews, could or would have worked out such a thorough attempt to turn the Law inside out. In order to ensure their own survival and prosperity, the Hellenists sought to crush traditional Jewish observance in Jerusalem, break the power of the "pious," and remove the obstacles to total hellenization. The "reform" failed, but it had decisive effects on subsequent Palestinian Judaism.

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