EARLY CHRISTIAN ASCETICISM
Mervin M. Deems BANGOR THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
After the conquests of Alexander the Great the winds of religious and cultural syncretism blew across the peoples of those Near Eastern lands lying in the path of caravan or caravel. Palestine was the center of this crossroads traffic. The attempted hellenization of the Jews by Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), repulsed by an aroused nation under the Maccabeans, had in a subtler manner begun to penetrate through Sadducean leadership. Jews of the Diaspora (and Antiochus had forwarded the planting of Jewish colonies) became acquainted with the ways of the Gentiles by having to live in their midst. Yet the Jew at home and abroad protected fiercely his racial and religious characteristics. From the second century B. C. Jewish literature reflected the hope and expectation of the Day of Judgment and of the Lord when God, taking affairs into his own hands, would overthrow the oppressor and begin a new age. But for this objective the Jews in Palestine were neither united in purpose nor agreed in plan.
The Jews were not ascetic. God created the world and it was good and to be enjoyed. Man was to be fruitful and multiply. The body was not evil, nor was there contrast, as in Greek thought, between body and soul.1 Early practices of continence and fasting may reflect taboo. Later Judaism associated fasting and continence with the prayer season, and for the maintenance of chastity a light diet and abstinence from strong drink are advised.2 Tobit proclaims almsgiving a purge for sin (12:8). Sirach advocates the golden____________________