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Is Judaism the Law of Moses? (part 6)

At last we come to that shocking period in Jewish history when "Judaism" commenced.
Here is how Greek tradition replaced the Law of Moses in the third century before Jesus' birth.


THE ONE hundred years following Ezra and Nehemiah can properly be described as a time of peace and prosperity for the Jews (Graetz, History of the Jews. vol. i, pp. 406, 407). The Jews had established themselves firmly in Palestine — in every section of the province of Judaea. They were observing the Law of Moses in its entirety. It was the constitutional law of the land.

The Great Assembly, established by Ezra and Nehemiah, was the head of Jewish state under the Persian governor. This great religious assembly of priests directed the people in observing the Laws of Scripture. The priests saw that the people had proper religious instruction every Sabbath in the local synagogues scattered throughout the land. The children were educated in the elementary schools that were attached to the synagogues.

As long as the Jews were under the authority of the Persian Empire, they were allowed to carry on their own religious customs without interference. The Persians seemed to care little how the Jews worshipped God as long as the tax was being paid and a respectable amount of loyalty was being shown to the governor and king. The Jews were disposed to keep the good graces of the Persians by submitting to their benevolent rulership.

The extraordinary goodwill that the Persians had for the Jews came to a sudden end in 332 B.C. At that time, Palestine — a part of the Persian Empire — was conquered by a rising young Empire in the West — the Empire of the Greeks!


Alexander the Great

Beyond the western frontier of the Persian Empire, while the Jews were enjoying their peaceful existence in Palestine, a young general was preparing an army for the conquest of Persia and the East. In 334 B.C., after amassing an army of considerable strength, Alexander the Great swept over the Hellespont and into Persian territory.

Moving with such rapidity, and with such remarkable successes, Alexander the Great in 10 short years conquered the Persian Empire and all of civilized Asia to the Indus River, as well as Egypt on the south. The Jews, because of this, came under the domination of the Greeks.


A New Way of Life — Hellenism

With the coming of the Greeks, a whole new manner of life was brought into Palestine and among the Jews. Under the Persians, the Jews had been allowed to observe the Law of Moses with the Great Assembly (the Sopherim) as their religious leaders. But this was all changed with the advent of the Greeks.

Alexander the Great was steeped in the belief that the Greek way of life was the only suitable one for mankind to follow. He was imbued with the enthusiasm of infusing the culture and society of the Greeks among all the nations he had conquered. And Palestine was no exception.

"Hellenism" is the term to describe the belief in practicing the manner of life of the Greeks — to imitate every phase of Greek society: its politics, domestic life, philosophies, religions, etc.


This philosophy — freedom of thought or individualism — which is seemingly altruistic in principle, resulted in myriads of confusing and contradictory beliefs among the Greeks in every phase of life. Every man was allowed his own ideas about the sciences, the arts, laws and about religion. So varied were the opinions among the Greek scholars in the various fields of study that individuals took pride in contending with one another over who could present the greatest "wisdom" and "knowledge" on any particular subject.

The Greeks sought wisdom in order to understand the world they lived in and the reasons for life. And their confusion of beliefs resulted from the fact that their ideas came from their own rationalizing — their philosophies represented almost every human idea.

Here was the beginning of the philosophy of individualism — a product of Hellenism. When the Greeks came to Palestine they brought all their conflicting secular teachings as well as their many religious doctrines, all of which were prompted by the individual philosophies of men.

It would be unfeasible to even attempt an adequate description of the manifold religious cults among the Greeks, or of their heathenistic doctrines. Their various religions and religious beliefs were the man-made products of the philosophy of individualism. Practically every religious belief capable of being devised by the human mind was found in pagan Greece. In their religious beliefs "we find ghosts and spirits and nature-gods, tribal religions, anthropomorphisms [gods in human form], the formation of a pantheon [a temple for the worship of many pagan gods], individual religion, magical rites, purifications, prayers, sacrifices [animal, vegetable and human] — all arising from the common stock and the successive phases of religious humanity" (Harrison, Religion of Ancient Greece, pp. 12, 13). Many of their doctrines and customs will be relevantly discussed in future pages of this thesis.


Hellenism Spread Throughout Alexander's Empire

Wherever Alexander or his successors went, they carried with them an intense desire to Hellenize all nations. They took with them Greek society and imposed it upon all their captive peoples. They spread Hellenism from one end of the new Empire to the other. Palestine was as much infused with the New Greek culture as any other nation.

The Greeks considered it their right to govern in the way they deemed most suitable. In consequence of this, the Greeks disbanded the official Sopherim, the religious guardians of the Law of Moses. They would not tolerate the Jews being taught a different way of life from their own. Hellenism was established throughout the whole of Palestine.


Sopherim No Longer in Authority

It is not known how the Greeks dismissed the Sopherim from their official capacity as teachers of the Law. But within a score of years after the coming of the Greeks, the Sopherim disappear from history as an organized body having religious control over the Jews. It is obvious that the Greeks took away the authority of the Sopherim and forbade them to teach. Whether this was done forcibly or by peaceful methods remains a mystery. But it is definitely known that their authority was very soon taken away.

Without the religious guidance of the Sopherim, many of the Jews began to imbibe the customs and ideas of the Greeks which were inundating the land. The Greeks were establishing their whole society firmly in Palestine and all the Empire.

"With the change from Persian to Greek rule, Hellenism made its influence felt, and came pouring like a flood into a country which had known nothing of it. There was no escape from its influence. It was present everywhere, in the street and the market, in the everyday life and all the phases of social intercourse" (Her-ford, Talmud and Apocrypha, p. 77).

When the Sopherim were removed from the scene, along with the teaching of the Law of Moses, and this new culture substituted for the Law, we can comprehend why the Jews began to absorb many elements of Hellenism. The Jews had no one to guide them in understanding the Law of Moses, except a few isolated teachers here and there who had no authority as the Sopherim.

It will soon be shown that after a few years of this influence, the people literally came to a state of religious confusion. Some were endeavoring to keep a form of the Scripture teachings, but with Hellenism everywhere, it became almost impossible to keep the true form of the Law of Moses. The Greek way of life was entirely different from that promulgated by the Scriptures, and the two were not compatible.

The human opinions of the Greek poets and philosophers, as well as the doctrines of the various heathen sects of the Greeks, were propagated among the Jews. Almost everything the Greeks brought to the Jews was antagonistic to the Laws of God and, without the religious guidance of the Sopherim, many of them began to tolerate these innovations and even, as time progressed, to take up many of the Greek ideas and customs themselves.


Alexander Recalls a Vision

Josephus, the Jewish historian, records an interesting incident concerning Alexander the Great when he had conquered the Palestine area and was about to enter the city of Jerusalem. He was met on the outskirts of the city by Jaddua, the High Priest, with many inhabitants of Jerusalem. The High Priest was bedecked in his priestly robes and leading the procession of people who met Alexander.

Upon seeing the High Priest and the procession following him, Josephus says that Alexander recalled a dream he had had previously in which such a procession was seen with a person dressed in exactly the same attire of the High Priest leading it. Alexander reckoned that his dream was a sign to leave the inhabitants of Jerusalem alone. He entered the city peaceably with the High Priest and offered a sacrifice to God. Afterward, he was shown the prophecy of Daniel 11:2-3, which revealed that a mighty king from Greece would conquer the Persian Empire. Josephus says that Alexander recognized that Daniel was writing of him. After reading this prophecy, Alexander became very glad and gave favors and gifts to many of the Jews. See Antiquities of the Jews, xi, 8, 5 & 6.

The prophecy of Daniel had more to say of Alexander and his Empire. In Daniel 11:4 we read: "And when he [Alexander] shall stand up [be in his power], his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided towards the four winds of heaven . . ." This is exactly what happened! Upon the death of Alexander, his Empire was divided into four sections. Each section was headed by one of Alexander's former generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Ptolemy.

The Palestine area fell to the Grecian Ptolemy of Egypt. However, the Seleucid kingdom on the north also laid claim to Palestine and had loyal troops stationed within the area. Neither kingdom was willing to concede that the other was the sole ruler of this territory.

In order to firmly secure Palestine to himself, Ptolemy of Egypt in 320 B.C. attacked the Seleucid garrisons stationed in it and conquered the country. However, the Seleucids took it back in 315 B.C. But again, the Battle of Gaza in 312 B.C. gave Palestine back to Ptolemy. There were many more skirmishes between these two kingdoms until the year 301 B.C. At that time, the Greek government of Egypt took final control of Palestine and maintained that control for a little over one hundred years — until 198 B.C.


Life Under Greek-Egyptian Control

This one hundred year period of Greek-Egyptian domination is very important as a period in the religious history of the Jews. This is the period that great and significant changes took place in the religious life of the Jews.

While in this period of Egyptian control, the effects of Hellenism upon the Jews were extremely great. What had been started by Alexander the Great was brought to its greatest degree of perfection among the Jews during this one-hundred-year period. The customs and traditions that had been handed down by the Sopherim were completely overshadowed by the Hellenistic culture of the Greeks as promulgated by the Egyptians. In plain language, the Jews during this period of Egyptian control, by the sheer force of environment and circumstance, surrendered themselves to Hellenistic ideas and ways of life.

"During the comparatively quiet rule of the Ptolemies [the Egyptians], Greek ideas, customs, and morality had been making peaceful conquests in Palestine. Their own inherent attractiveness, and the fact that they were supported by the authority of the dominant race, cast a glamour about them [the Jews] which made the severe religion of Jehovah [to Hellenistic minds], the simple customs and the strict morality of the Jews, seem barren and provincial. All the other peoples of Palestine . . . had set the example by imitating their conquerers. Hellenistic Greek was the language of commerce and polite society. Greek literature was widely studied. Greek manners were the standard throughout southeastern Palestine" (Kent, History of the Jewish People, pp. 320, 321).

Everyone in Palestine was affected by the new Hellenistic culture. The Ptolemies of Egypt were anxious, following the example of Alexander the Great, to see that manners of the Greeks were implanted throughout their Empire. All phases of life connected with Hellenism were being practiced in Palestine during this period.

"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. . ." (Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, p. 77).