We continue the shocking period in Jewish history when "Hellenism" spread. Here is how Egyptian tradition replaced the Law of Moses in the second century before Jesus' birth. LAST installment we discovered that the coming of the Egyptians and finally the Syrians, caused violent changes among the Jews in Palestine.
The authoritative Sopherim, the rightful teachers of the Law of Moses, were divested of all prerogatives. So thorough was the dissolution of the Sopherim as a corporate body that we hear nothing more of any of its members outside of Simon the Just, the High Priest who died in 270 B.C. (Aboth i, 2). Simon is described as the last remnant of the group. What happened to the remainder of these teachers is not known. It is obvious from the silence of history that the Sopherim, as the religious authority among the Jews, became extinct within about a score of years after the invasion of Alexander the Great (331 B.C.).
Wars Cause Political and Religious Disruptions The series of wars over the control of Palestine between the Egyptians on the south and the Syrians on the north — both under Greek domination — created great political and religious disorder within Palestine. The land was attacked by invading armies no less than four times between 330 B.C. and 301 B.C. In the latter year, the land finally succumbed to the rulership of Ptolemy of Egypt (M. Margolis, History of the Jewish People, p. 128). Palestine remained under the direct control of the Egyptian government until 198 B.C. — just over one hundred years.
Notice that it was during the early part of this period of Egyptian domination that Simon the Just, the last survivor of the Sopherim, died (270 B.C.). WITH HIS DEATH A DARK CLOUD PASSES OVER ALL THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE JEWS. We are informed by Lauterbach, the learned Jewish scholar, that Jewish tradition knows of no religious teacher who taught any form of religion from the death of Simon the Just until about the year 190 B.C. (Rabbinic Essays, p. 196).
"This [silence] would have been impossible," says Lauterbach, "if there had been any official activity of the teachers in those years" (ibid., p. 196).
Think of what this means! For a period of nearly one hundred years, approximating the time of Egyptian rule, there is no record of any religious activity among the Jews! This is the only period in the history of the Jews in Palestine of which NOTHING is recorded!
What all the factors were that caused the Jews to be in such a condition, cannot now be known. What we do know is that one of the major reasons was the influence of Hellenism — the culture of the Greeks — as propagated by the Egyptians.
This philosophy of life — Hellenism — was exerted upon all peoples subject to the Egyptians. It was taken for granted that all persons within Egyptian territory would follow the dictates of the government in this matter. If, however, any individual or group of people felt inclined to resist this Hellenistic culture, the government took matters into its own hands and compelled the people to do their bidding.
The Gift of Alexander the Great Alexander the Great had left, as a gift to his successors, the conception of Hellenizing the whole of his empire. His reason for this was strictly political. He fancied that all his subjects, being Hellenists, would represent a unified empire, not one of diverse ideas and philosophies constantly causing troubles with inevitable bickerings and strifes.
This same belief was existent in the subsequent divisions of Alexander's Empire. Alexander's successors saw that the continued dissemination of Hellenism would work to their advantage. This was certainly true in Egypt. Ptolemy — Alexander's successor in Egypt — carried on the campaign of preaching this Greek culture to his subjects — and the Jews did not escape its influence.
It was impossible to avoid its influence. The Greek language was the language of commerce and social intercourse generally, and it became a matter of necessity to acquire fluency in Greek (Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, p. 77).
By the constant hearing and speaking of Greek it was a natural consequence that the ideas which lay behind the language would become known, and in many cases, begin to be practiced. "There was no escape from that influence [Hellenism]. It was present everywhere, in the street and the market, in the everyday life and all phases of social intercourse" (ibid., p. 77).
The Jews, of all people conquered by Alexander the Great and his various successors, were seemingly the least likely to adopt the Greek culture. BUT THE VERY NOVELTY OF IT, THE VARIETY OF ITS NEW INTERESTS AND PLEASURES MADE IT EXCEEDINGLY ATTRACTIVE TO THE MAJORITY OF THE JEWS!
It is, of course, not to be supposed that every individual was naturally attracted to Hellenism. This was not the case. But, everyone was affected by it, some to a limited degree, while others became outright Hellenists.
"It is safe to say that NO ONE, high or low, who was living in Judea in the period which includes the whole of the third and the beginning of the second century B.C., WHOLLY ESCAPED the influence of Hellenism" (ibid., p. 77).
The ones especially affected by this new culture were, rather ironically, the leaders of the Jews — the chief priests themselves. Most of the other influential Jews, because of their positions, also fell under the sway of Hellenism. In effect, all the intellectually able individuals, who should have been leading the common people towards the observance of the Law of God, were following after this culture as preached by the Egyptians. This is the reason no religious teacher of the Law is mentioned by the Jewish histories as having existed during this period of Egyptian domination. There simply was none — except perhaps an insignificant individual here and there who had no real effect on the people.
You can imagine what such a condition did to the religious life of the people as a whole! They were completely surrounded by the influence of Hellenism, having to incorporate it into their lives in order to carry on normal daily living, having no real teaching in the Law of God and having their leaders completely devoted to Hellenism.
What was the natural result?
Lauterbach gives us the answer:
"There prevailed a state of RELIGIOUS ANARCHY, wherein the practical life of the people was not controlled by the law of the fathers as interpreted by the religious authorities, nor were the activities of the teachers carried on in an official way by an authoritative body. This chaotic state of affairs lasted for a period of about eighty years..." (Rabbinic Essays, p. 200).
See also Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, p. 57. But this is not all.
The Key to the Understanding of Judaism The recognition of this religious anarchy among the Jews during the Egyptian domination is the veritable KEY that explains the reason why the Judaism of Christ's day arose. Had this religious anarchy not occurred there would have been no JUDAISM for Christ to contend with. If conditions remained as they were under the Sopherim, then Christ would have come to a people who were fully obeying the Law of Moses! But instead, we find a people who were practicing Judaism — the religion of the Jews — not the religion of Moses!
The knowledge of this religious anarchy gives us a KEY to unlock the doctrines and teachings of Judaism. History proves that Judaism evolved out of, and was directly guided by, the inherited principles of pagan life acquired during that religious anarchy! The very foundations of Judaism, its underlying principles, though later covered with a veneer of the Law of Moses, have their origin within this period of religious chaos!
New Laws and Customs Inherited Now let's consider how this period of religious confusion under the influence of the Egyptians brought about these significant changes in the Jews' manner of living.
Being under the persuasion of an all-encompassing Hellenistic culture, and with no real teaching of the Law of Moses, even the most nationalistic Jew found himself of necessity practicing many of the customs and habits of the Hellenistic Egyptians. There was little the people could do about it under such environmental conditions. Hellenism was in all of Palestine, even in all the known world. There was no way of escaping it. Instead of openly protesting against the new culture, the majority of Jews had to accept it, in one way or another.
It is valuable now to quote two scholars who are recognized among Jews and others alike as pre-eminent historians, particularly for the period under discussion. Both of these men, Lauterbach and Herford, were fully aware of the chaotic conditions which existed in the Egyptian period.
Lauterbach mentions: "During the seventy or eighty years of RELIGIOUS ANARCHY, MANY NEW PRACTICES had been gradually adopted by the people" (Rabbinic Essays, p. 206).
Herford adds this: "In the absence of authoritative guidance, the people had gone their own way; new customs had found a place amongst old religious usages... new ideas had been formed under the influence of Hellenism which had permeated the land for more than a century, and there had been no one to point out the danger which thereby threatened the religious life of the people" (Talmud and Apocrypha, pp. 64, 65).
There must have been a few Jews endeavoring, in a limited way, to observe the Sabbath and perhaps the Sacred Festivals. But many of the Jews rejected the use of the Scripture and its teachings. It is even certain that the unknown few who attempted to keep some semblance of God's Word on their own, imbibed new customs "amongst old religious usages."
"The people who had now been in contact with Greek culture...ACQUIRED NEW IDEAS AND BECAME FAMILIAR WITH NEW VIEWS OF LIFE, other than those which they had been taught by their teachers in the name of the law of their fathers. The rich and influential classes accepted Greek ideas and followed Greek customs. The leaders of the people were no longer guided by the laws of the fathers, nor was the life of the people controlled solely by the laws and customs of the fathers as contained in the Torah" (Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays, p. 194).
Even Scattered Jews Affected This condition of general religious anarchy among the Jews was not limited to Palestine. The Hellenic culture had been spread WHEREVER THE JEWS LIVED — throughout all of civilized Asia and in many parts of Europe. It was especially thoroughly implanted in Egypt. Wherever Jews were, they encountered Hellenism, its philosophies, ways of life and its religious customs and beliefs. There was no way of escaping it!
New ideas and customs everywhere supplanted the ones they had been used to under the Sopherim. The new luxuries and the extravagant habits of the Hellenists were attractive to the rich and influential Jews and the acquiring of Hellenism's new manners for everyday living and public communication became an economic necessity for the common Jews.
Many Jews enjoyed the new culture, the new types of learning and philosophies of thought that came with it. The Greek philosopher, the Greek artist and the Greek man of letters became figures of great respect and admiration to the majority of Jews — especially of the learned classes. Almost everything that was Hellenistic became the object of imitation. The older customs were looked on as relics of antiquity that, if they were to be observed at all, had to be greatly modified according to the new methods of interpretation promoted by Hellenism.
"Greek culture, Greek literature, were thrown open to the peoples of Nearer Asia, and they pressed into its pale. They had native literatures [including the Scriptures], BUT THESE IN THE NEW DAYLIGHT LOOKED POOR AND UNFORMED: NOW THOSE WHO WROTE MUST WRITE GREEK, THOSE WHO THOUGHT MUST THINK ON THE LINES OF GREEK SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY" (Bevan, Jerusalem Under the High Priests, p. 37).
Virtually everything was changed to conform to this new way of life. EVEN THE SCRIPTURE, WHEN READ, WAS INTERPRETED IN THE NEW LIGHT OF HELLENISM (Lieberman, "Hellenism in Jewish Palestine," pp. 62-64). The people abandoned the simple teachings of Scripture and modified or disregarded them, and in its place substituted the new customs and practices of Hellenism.
It is not at all amazing that within the space of a short hundred years that such a change could take place. The same thing has happened in the Christian world in the century following 1850 with the introduction of evolution and higher criticism.
The Jews in Egypt At the beginning of Egyptian rule in Palestine, many thousands of Jews were carried captive to Egypt by Ptolemy I. These Jews were taken there as slaves to do menial tasks for the Egyptians or for garrison duty in Ptolemy's army. But under Ptolemy II these Jews gained their freedom. Ptolemy II was inclined to favor the Jews as a whole AND HIS KIND TREATMENT PROMPTED MANY JEWS TO ACCEPT HELLENISM EVEN THAT MUCH MORE. As a result of Ptolemy's clemency toward the Jews, many thousands of others voluntarily left Palestine for Egypt. The majority of these settled in Alexandria on the north coast of Egypt. In a very short time there were so many Jews in Alexandria that a full quarter of the city was Jewish!
Those Jews who went to Egypt abandoned the Hebrew language and completely adopted Greek. Alexandria became one of the centers of Hellenistic influence in the world at that time, and the Jews who resided in the city assimilated the Greek culture with even less inhibitions than their brethren in Palestine. In Alexandria there was virtual adherence to Hellenism's doctrines by all the populace.
The Septuagint Translation It was during this time of religious anarchy in Palestine and Egypt, that the Old Testament was corrupted and then translated into Greek. This first Greek translation is called the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament.
Tradition has it that Ptolemy II wanted to have a translation of the Jewish Scriptures made for his library. In the course of time, certain Jewish scholars were invited by Ptolemy II to accomplish the task. Thus, the Septuagint Version was born.
Needless to say, this translation abounds in Hellenistic interpretations. This Version was rejected by later Jews as totally unacceptable because of its variations from the original, inspired and authoritative Palestinian Hebrew Text and because of its inclination to improve" the text in order to please or displease as the case may be, its Gentile reading audience.
The translators of this Version thought nothing of adding to the text or of taking away from it whole verses and even whole chapters! No wonder the later Jews renounced this product of Egypt which was translated during the time of the religious anarchy.
Christ and Apostles Did NOT Use Septuagint It has often been assumed that the Septuagint Version, instead of the original Hebrew Text, was the Old Testament of the early Christian Church. This is decidedly not the case.
It can be shown quite plainly that Christ did not set the example of using the Septuagint Version. It was His custom to quote from the original Hebrew scrolls (Luke 4:16, 17). Also, Christ referred to the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible as THE SCRIPTURE (Luke 24:44, 45) — the Septuagint Version DID NOT contain these three divisional designations (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. I, p. 555). Christ NEVER referred to the Septuagint Version as the official Scripture to follow.
Some scholars have endeavored to maintain that the apostles used the Septuagint Version AS THEIR Old Testament, and that their Old Testament quotations in the New Testament were from the Septuagint. However, we are informed by Collett (The Scripture of Truth, pp. 142, 143), that of 263 direct quotations from the Old Testament, only 88 are verbal quotations that agree with the Septuagint. Does this prove the apostles used this Version? The answer should be obvious — it does NOT! And, out of 263 quotations, it is only rational to believe that 88 could have coincidentally agreed with the Septuagint Version. Both the translators of the Septuagint and the apostles used the Hebrew original from which they translated these quotations into Greek, and it is conceivable that once in a while the translations would agree. Instead of proving the apostles used the Septuagint as their Old Testament, this evidence proves just the opposite.
And, it is important to note that the Jews of Palestine, because of the variations in the Septuagint from the original Hebrew text, regarded the day the Septuagint was translated as a great calamity equal to the worship of the golden calf (Sopherim, i, 7). For an extensive discussion on these variations, (see Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. IX, pp. 533-554).
(To be continued in next issue - Is JUDAISM the Law of Moses? - Part 8)