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Posted on September 3rd, 2012, by

     The Hellenistic period of Jewish history started in 332 BCE when Alexander the Great vanquished Persian Empire. When Alexander the Great passed away in 323 BCE, the territories which were under the rule of Alexander were separated into parts among his military leaders. Ptolemy ruled Egypt, most of what would later be named Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea. He set up the Ptolemaic dynasty. Seleucid ruled Syria and most of the Northern half of Alexander’s territories. He set up the Seleucid dynasty. Seleucid ruler Antiochus took Judea away from Ptolemies in 198 BCE. The creation of state life in the Hellenistic Near East, under explicitly monarchical regimes, such as those of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, also assisted to this process, as it little by little and deliberately stressed the central, official rituals a driving force which, at the same time, had an accidentally unfavorable effect on the original religious customs, beliefs brought from Greek homeland. The time factor was also of great importance in this link, and had an important result on the disregard and abandonment of the old rites. These were little by little superseded by new customs, beliefs, instinctively and understandably referred to the idolatrous rites general in the Greek immigrants’ new dwelling places in the New East were somehow referred to well-established longstanding Eastern colonies, made it easier for the native population to affect the Greek settlers. I this context, let us also recollect the important fact, that the citizenry of most Hellenistic cities was consisted of three main groups: retired soldiers, an intermixture of immigrants from the Greek world, and a Hellenized Near Eastern urban population. Clearly, the first two groups could not brag of a very high cultural level, in many (if not most) examples, this level was much lower than that of their native neighbours. The most great of the Greek troops, at least in the first descendants following Alexander conquest, were Macedonians and Thessalians that is, descendants of simple peasants with no real Greek education. The great majority of the abiding immigrants were an admixture of disposed small peasants, unemployed workers, merchants, adventures, and various riff-raff, who had roamed eastward in try to shake off their distress and to turn an easy profit. There can be almost certainly that such a compound crowd neither received pleasure from a cultural level high enough to give immunity from external effect, nor even really portrayed the culture of Greece itself. On the contrary: they were extremely exposed to the cultural effect of their new surroundings, and thus fast picked up the new local religious customs, beliefs and rites. The inscrutable rites and ceremonies of the Near East are known to have enchanted the Greeks for many years previous to Alexander’s conquest. Once the lands of the Fertile Crescent had opened their gates to Greek immigration, direct knowledge and experience of the fascinating and secret rites of the Orient became an everyday business, accessible to any immigrant. If we bear in mind both this fact and the indirect effect influenced by other factors (detachment from the homeland, personal solitude, social and cultural uprooting, problems in adapting to the new world, and spiritual displeasure with the public, official worship alone), we will the better comprehend the effect wrought by the New East and its rites. The Greek immigrants evidently sought out individual religious experience in order to discover a fitting answer to the emotions of estrangement and spiritual embarrassment which resulted from their migration. Only a small, well-educated minority could ease its distress with philosophical meditation, which thus took the place of true religion. Some of these also became entranced by Eastern astrology, known to have been one of the more common intellectual fads in the early Hellenistic era, in the influence of that astrology; they also evolved very deterministic individual beliefs also a kind of substitute for religion. Yet the masses of lower-class immigrants were forced to show their embarrassment and distress in simple concrete and adaptable ritual. The miraculous and magnificent Eastern religious met their religious needs and anticipations admirably. In actual fact, the Greeks had evolved a religious procedure of identifying or comparing the deities of various nations with their own gods as early as the classical period-that is, long before the conquest of Alexander the Great. In the Hellenistic era, this procedure became a real necessity, continuously practiced; it became much more refined and improved. Jews had to wrestle with the merits of Hellenism and Hellenistic philosophy, which were frequently directly on bad terms with their own values and customs, beliefs. Broadly, Hellenistic culture characterized itself as a civilizer, carrying civilized ways to peoples they considered of as closed or degraded. For instance, the houses that were constructed in Greek style appeared near the church in Jerusalem. Many Jews, containing some of the more elegant and stylish in appearance clergymen, took up these establishments, although Jews who did so were frequently despised upon caused by their circumcision, which Jews characterized as the sign of their agreement with God, but which Hellenistic culture characterized as an aesthetic disfigurement of the body. Consequently, some Jews started to refuse the proceeding of circumcision (and in that way, their agreement with God), while others bristled at Greek control.

Political Struggles with Hellenism. Commonly, the Jews acknowledged foreign rule when they were only commanded to pay tribute, and differently permitted to control themselves inwardly. However, Jews were separated between those supporting hellenization and those fighting against it, and were separated over loyalty to the Ptolemies or Seleucids. When the High Clergyman Simon II passed away in 175 BCE, controversy began suddenly between followers of his son Onias III (who fought against hellenization, and supported the Ptolemies) and his son Jason (who supported hellenization, and supported the Seleucids). A period of political conspiracy supported, by clergymen such as Menelaus suborning the ruler to gain victory in the High Clergy, and charges of assassination of contending competitors for the title.

The consequence was a short open armed conflict. Great numbers of Jews gathered together to Jason’s side, and in 167 BCE the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV intruded Jewish Kingdom, came into the Temple, and robbed money and ceremonial objects. Jason escaped to Egypt, and Antiochus set a program of forced hellenization, commanding Jews to refuse their own laws and traditions under danger of murder.

The Revolt. After Antiochus issued his decrees prohibiting Jewish religious practice, a rural Jewish priest from Modiin, Mattathias the Hasmonean incited the rebellion against the Seleucid Empire by abandoning to adore the Greek gods. Mattathias killed a Hellenistic Jew who stepped forward to propose an oblation to an idol in Mattathias’ place. He and his five sons escaped to the wilderness of Judah. After Mattathias’ death about one year later in 166 BCE, his son Judah Maccabee guided an army of Jewish men who disagree with the government to victory over the Seleucid dynasty in guerrilla warfare, which at first was aimed against Jewish betrayers, of whom there were many. The Maccabees demolished pagan altars in the villages, circumcised children. The term Maccabees as used to portray the Jewish army is taken from its real use as Judah’s last name. The revolt itself included a lot of individual battles, in which the Maccabean forces got infamy among the Syrian army for their use of guerrilla tactics. After the victory, the Maccabees came into Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleaned the Temple, renewing traditional Jewish worship there and inducting Jonathan Maccabee as high priest. A large Syrian army was sent to put down the rebellion, but came back to Syria on the death of Antiochus IV. Its commanding officer Lysias, concentrated his attention on internal Syrian problems, gave consent to a political trade-off that returned religious freedom. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah solemnizes the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee’s victory over the Seleucids.

The Hasmonean Period. In 63 BCE John Hyrcanus II would have been a logical successor to the throne but his brother Aristobulus II took his place. Hyrcanus II wanted to return the throne. He asked for Romans to help him returning the throne. They were happy to help.

The throne was returned. John Hyrcanus II became a ruler. They named him High Priest. Then they let him know that he now worked for Rome. When John Hyrcanus II passed away the Romans had a little interest in going on Hasmonean dynasty. In 40 BCE they assigned the first of the Herods, who would be named Herod the Great. He and his successors worked for Rome under the power of the Roman Ruler of Syria.

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