Paper on IV Maccabees: Hellenism and Local Culture

What follows are some quotes on the impact of Hellenism on local cultures. I may touch on this subject again in the future.

1. Elias Bickerman, The God of the Maccabees (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979).

“The ‘gymnasium,’ i.e., the sports-stadium, during the Hellenistic period formed the symbol and basis for the Greek way of life. Physical education was something alien to the Oriental, but a natural thing for the Greeks. Wherever Greeks came together, or people who wanted to be counted as Greeks, they started athletic exercises…That meant that when native people participated in the athletic contests, they were accepted into the ruling class, and they acknowledged the hegemony of the Greek way of life. The native language of the Sidonians was still Phoenician, and their organization still patriarchic, when in the year 200 B.C. the city in a Greek poem publicly honored the citizen who was the first to win the Nemeian chariot race and thus to prove that Sidon excelled not only through her ships, but also through a successful team of horses” (39).

2. Robert Doran, “The High Cost of a Jewish Education,” Hellenism in the Land of Israel, ed. John J. Collins and Gregory E. Sterling (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) 94-115.

“This sense of local pride in the culture and history of its city is what we need to keep in mind when looking at the gymnasium in Jerusalem. Unfortunately we do not have the curriculum followed at different cities. Clearly Homer was taught in many. But what of a city which already had a long and unique literary and legal history? What would happen there when an educational institution like the gymnasium was introduced? Would it abandon its ancestral heritage? One small piece of evidence to suggest otherwise is the number of local histories written for specific cities. E. Bickerman showed how Sidon maintained its own local institutions when hellenized. In the gymnasium library at Halicarnassus, copies were kept of the works of its two famous authors, Herodotus and the obscure C. Julius Longianus. At Lamia the poetess Aristodama was given citizenship in gratitude for the epic poem she had composed and performed on the history of Lamia (IG 9.2.62). Beyond that, Stanley Bonner has shown how, at Rome, young Romans were taught their own language, laws, and literature alongside being given an entree to Greek literature and rhetoric” (96-97).

3. Fergus Millar, “The Background to the Maccabean Revolution: Reflections on Martin Hengel’s ‘Judaism and Hellenism,'” Journal of Jewish Studies 29 (1978) 1-21 (see here).

“In Syria proper, notably at Hierapolis-Bambyce and at Heliopolis-Baalbek, it is notorious that there survived within Greek cities temples and cults which both were, and were perceived at the time to be, entirely non-Greek in origin and character” (4).

“…we have a considerable body of evidence, admittedly from varying regions of Syria and varying dates, which clearly shows that indigenous cults could be preserved and integrated with their now Hellenised environment without losing their identity or continuity. What is more, a recent study of the Semitic cults of the Syrian regision, and in particular of private dedications, whether in Greek or dialects of Aramaic, argues that the evidence reflects the growth of the conception of a single supreme god, addressed in various names” (6).

“Though it is possible to find parallels, in Syria and Egypt, for circumcision and the avoidance of pork, the existence of a complex set of observances binding (in principle) on the whole population has no parallel; nor do we yet know of any other Near Eastern people speaking a Semitic language who in a Hellenistic period generated a whole range of works in different genres in their own language (or languages, Hebrew and Aramaic). Finally, if slight traces reveal…that the Phoenicians still possessed a historical tradition of their own, nothing parallels the existence of a sacred book which was at the same time a national history, and which, as Ben Sira, Maccabees and the Qumran documents all show, was in active circulation among the people and was the primary agent in forming their consciousness” (12).

Tomorrow, I’ll be reading through A. Kuhrt and S. Sherwin White’s Hellenism in the East: The Interaction of Greek and Non-Greek Civilizations from Syria to Central Asia after Alexander (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987). I want to see what affect Hellenism had on local customs.

The above quotes say that Hellenism didn’t exactly abolish local customs. But I wonder if the areas were converted into official Greek cities. In any case, gymnasia could hold on to the ancestral traditions of a non-Greek area.

Also, Israel’s uniqueness is worth pointing out. If Israel was unique in institutionalizing customs that were contrary to Greek culture, then many Jews would perceive dramatic Hellenization to undermine their politeia.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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