The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period

The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period

The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period

The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period

Synopsis

This landmark contribution to ongoing debates about perceptions of the Jews in antiquity examines the attitudes of Greek writers of the Hellenistic period toward the Jewish people. Among the leading Greek intellectuals who devoted special attention to the Jews were Theophrastus (the successor of Aristotle), Hecataeus of Abdera (the father of "scientific" ethnography), and Apollonius Molon (probably the greatest rhetorician of the Hellenistic world). Bezalel Bar-Kochva examines the references of these writers and others to the Jews in light of their literary output and personal background; their religious, social, and political views; their literary and stylistic methods; ethnographic stereotypes current at the time; and more.

Excerpt

Ever since the triumph of Christianity, Jews have drawn much more attention in Western civilization than have most other ethnic groups, as a result of both their central place in the Christian tradition and their dispersal among nations. It is no wonder, then, that opinions about the Jews—whether expressed by Jews or by Gentiles—have rarely been objective or disinterested. the personal circumstances of scholars and current trends of thought and feelings concerning Jews and Judaism have also influenced research in the field of history. the well-known controversy between Theodor Mommsen and Heinrich Graetz, in nineteenthcentury Germany, as to the nature and function of the Jews in the Roman Empire, is but one example.

The vast literature on Greek and Roman attitudes toward the Jews produced by modern scholars is no exception. Very often, the conscious or subconscious attitude of the modern scholar—whether Jewish or Christian, philo-Semitic or anti-Semitic, religious or agnostic, Zionist or anti-Zionist—has influenced his or her interpretation of the ancient evidence. Treatment of the subject of ancient attitudes toward the Jews has indeed always been emotionally charged.

It is not easy—in fact, it is extremely difficult—to escape one’s background altogether, even for an Israeli born in Palestine, like myself, who has had no personal experience of anti-Semitism. Yet the traditional function of the historian, to describe things as nearly as possible wie es eigentlich gewesen, should make him attempt to analyze the material at his disposal with as much detachment as possible. I believe that, despite the inherent difficulties, a strict and consistent application of philological and historical methods to the study of the sources can still lead us toward a better understanding of ancient issues and problems.

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