Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities

By John R. Bartlett | Go to book overview

9

APOLOGETICS IN THE JEWISH DIASPORA

John Barclay


The problem of apologetics

Let us begin with a deceptively simple, terminological question: what do we mean by 'apologetics'? A survey of literature on the topic of 'Jewish apologetics' would reveal wide discrepancies in the use of this term, whose capacity to create confusion is correspondingly large. Moreover, careful attention to these varied uses would indicate that within such diversity there lurk different perceptions of the character and conditions of Jewish dialogue with the non-Jewish world. To discuss 'Jewish apologetics' in the Graeco-Roman world is to reveal how we perceive the problems and ambitions of Jews in antiquity.

A comparison between the old and the revised Schürer will serve to illustrate such differences in perception. In the old Schürer 1 the discussion of 'Graeco-Jewish literature' contained a special section entitled 'Apologetics' (1886:248-70) and another with the heading 'Jewish Propaganda under a Heathen Mask' (1886:270-320). 'Apologetics' is understood as a defensive strategy. Hellenistic Judaism, according to Schürer, found itself 'continually at war with the rest of the Hellenistic world', and so 'had ever to draw the sword in its own defence. Hence a large share of the entire Graeco-Jewish literature subserves apologetic purposes' (1886:248). In this section Schürer discussed those works which 'sought in a systematic manner to refute the reproaches with which Judaism was assailed' (1886:248), outlining first the 'literary opponents', then giving close attention to Josephus' Against Apion. However, he also indicated that much other 'historic and philosophic literature' (discussed in other sections of his work) was designed to show that 'the Jewish nation was, by reason of the greatness of its history and the purity

1 I cite from the English translation of the definitive second edition, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (1886-90); the work originated in 1874, was much expanded for the second edition and went through a further enlarged third/fourth edition in 1901-9. The translation here cited is from E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, division 2, volume 3; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886; the German second edition has not been available to me.

-129-

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