Hellenism in the Land of Israel

By Levine, Lee I. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Hellenism in the Land of Israel


Levine, Lee I., Journal of Biblical Literature


Hellenism in the Land of Israel, edited by John J. Collins and Gregory E. Sterling. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. Pp. ix + 343. $45.00/$18.95.

The twelve essays in this volume were originally presented at a conference held in 1999 at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. The conference and this publication were intended, at least in part, to celebrate the achievements of Martin Hengel in his pioneering works Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (2 vols. [1974]; first appeared in German in 1969) and The 'Hellenization' of Judaea in the First Century after Christ (1989). Hengel himself contributed the first article ("Judaism and Hellenism Revisited"), wherein he restated his theses originally expounded in the above-noted works.

Other contributors to this volume include J. J. Collins ("Cult and Culture: The Limits of Hellenization in Judea"), E. S. Gruen ("Jewish Perspectives on Greek Culture and Ethnicity"), R. Doran ("The High Cost of a Good Education"), J. W. van Renten ("The Honorary Decree for Simon the Maccabee [1 Mace 14:25-49] in Its Hellenistic Context"), E. Krentz ("The Honorary Decree for Simon the Maccabee"), P. W. van der Horst ("Greek in Jewish Palestine in Light of Jewish Epigraphy"), J. C. VanderKam ("Greek at Qumran"), S. Freyne ("Galileans, Phoenicians, and Itureans: A Study of Regional Contrasts in the Hellenistic Age"), S. J. D. Cohen ("Hellenism in Unexpected Places"), T. Rajak ("Greeks and Barbarians in Josephus"), and G. E. Sterling ("Judaism between Jerusalem and Alexandria"). The volume opens with an introduction by the editors and concludes with an epilogue by M. Goodman.

While it is certainly appropriate to acknowledge Hengel's remarkable achievements, it should not be forgotten, as Hengel himself recalled, that he was following an impressive line of scholars who had pioneered this field decades beforehand. One of the first historians to address this issue in a serious way was E. Bickerman (Der Gott der Makkabaer [1937; abridged Eng. trans. The God of the Maccabees, 1979]), who raised a revolutionary suggestion regarding the role of extreme Jewish hellenizers as instigators of Antiochus IVs persecutions in 167 B.C.E. This work was followed by his From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees (1962) and The Jews in the Greek Age (1988), both of which elaborated on the extensive influence of Greek culture on the Jews in the Hellenistic era. Soon after Bickerman's first publication, S. Lieberman presented a series of studies in two volumes, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942) and Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950), which demonstrated the extent to which the rabbis of the first centuries C.E. knew Greek and were familiar with many aspects of Hellenistic culture.

The above seminal works foreshadowed a surge of scholarly activity on the issue of hellenization. E. Goodenough's thirteen-volume Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period ( 1953-68) demonstrated, inter alia, the extent to which Jewish artistic expression was indebted to Greco-Roman culture. M. Smith's article, "Palestinian judaism in the First Century" (1956, appearing in Israel: Its Role in Civilization, ed. M. Davis) offered a trenchant statement regarding the impact of Hellenism on second Temple Jewish society in general and on the Pharisees in particular. In the following year, S. Stein's article on the relationship between the Passover seder and Haggadah and the Greco-Roman symposium ("The Influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah,"JJS 8 [1957]: 13-44) pointed to remarkable parallels between these two religio-social frameworks.

In the 1960s, a number of Israeli scholars shed new light on a wide variety of Hellenistic influences on Jewish society. A. Schalit's King Herod (1960, Hebrew; German translation [Konig Herodes: Der Mann und sein Werk], 1969) pointed to an Augustan context for a proper understanding of Herod and his rule, while V. …

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