Categories: Essays on Religion

Influence of Hellenism on Second Temple Judaism

When Alexander the Great Invaded the Persian Empire of King Darius, Judea was a small town of no importance in the kingdom of Darius. Like all other smaller states within the Kingdom of Darius, Judea was allowed to conduct its own cultural and religious affairs. When Alexander and his legions marched through the narrow straits in northwestern, known as the “Hellespont” which connected Turkey to the Aegean Sea to defeat Darius, this was the first historical encounter between the Jews and the Greeks, which changed Western Civilization.  The Jews being inspired and awed by Alexander created a unique Jewish legend regarding him.

The legend was that Alexander visited Jerusalem and recognized the power of the one God that the Jews worshiped, and bowed down before him.  This was done despite the fact that Alexander never set foot in Jerusalem, nor did he spend much time in Judea.  This tale was narrated by Josephus 1, depicting the initial contact between the Jews was uneventful. Alexander’s conquests and the destruction of the Persian Kingdom destroyed the barriers between East and West. He established contacts and connection between the Orient and the Greeks. This mixing of cultures came to be known as Hellenism, which came into contact with Judaism, which invariably resulted in a clash of the two cultures.

The Jews had inherited the perception of one God from their ancestors, and they clung resolutely to their faith and the strict biblical laws. The new religion was very alien to their beliefs. Some Jews did adopt the more attractive way of living, but for many Jews, it was unthinkable to believe in any faith but that of their forefathers and they stood firm in their beliefs. Since the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians 586 B.C. and the and they’re being forced to leave Judea Jews had been dispersed all over Empire They prospered and were not only farmers but successful men of commerce and international trade. The Babylonian trade routes had taken them to all corners of the Near East.

When Cyrus defeated the Babylonians in 539 B.C. he allowed the Jews to return to Judaea and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews chose not to return. During the Babylonian distribution, the religion Jewish underwent dramatic changes. The Temple had been in Jerusalem and sacrifices had to be offered in accordance with a rigid ritual and formula. After the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews built synagogues for religious meetings. Instead of rituals for God, Jews offered prayers to God. The faith no longer belonged to a single priesthood, temple or country.

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