Lecture 11 – (9.1) Hellenistic & (10.1) Hasmonean Jerusalem

(9.1) Hellenistic Jerusalem

In the first part of today’s lecture, Dr. Cargill discussed the rise of Hellenism in Jerusalem and its pervasive influence on seemingly all aspects of Jewish society and culture. We covered the prolific Josephus, the rise of Alexander and his taking of Jerusalem from the Persians, the rise of the high priest over the royal line, Alexander’s death and subsequent division of the kingdom under the Ptolemies (Egyptians) (320BCE) and Seleucids (Syrians) (201 BCE), as well as the type of rule and influence each group had on the people of Jerusalem, specifically the Jews. Due to the Seleucids’ interest in Hellenizing Jews and turning Jerusalem into a Polis (Greek City), we discussed this concept of the “center of Greek life”, as well as the rise of some attributes of the city that began to provide evidence Jerusalem truly was becoming “Hellenized”. The hellenization of Jerusalem (201-164 BCE) becomes evident in that almost every aspect of Jewish life was affected by Greek culture (Architecture, Art, Coinage, Education, Entertainment, House Wares, Language, Literature, Philosophy, Recreation, Religion, Rhetoric). We see this change reflected in Jewish burial tombs  and inscriptions that were clearly impacted by hellenistic tradition. A prime example was in the sepphoris Mosaic, which showed Greek art and its depicted events as the centerpiece of a Jewish home. Greek Gods were depicted in various art forms (scultupre, architecture) and greek symbols (such as the Zodiac) even began to appear in places of worship! The effect of the Greeks on religion became even more prominent when the Bible was translated into Greek. The Greek Bible, the Septuangnit, became the most widely used Jewish bible (further evidence that hellenization had now made greek the primary language understood by Jews). The lecture ended with a more in-depth look at Seleucid rule, noting particularly the various insensitivities paid by the Seleucid rulers upon the Jewish people in Jerusalem (e.g. sacrificing a pig on the temple altar). Hellenization brought about many different reactions, with some Jews embrancing it and others resisting.  However, it becomes clear, especially as the aforementioned insensitivities of the Seleucid rulers intensified, that the resistance would eventually grow strong and conflict in the form of uprisings and revolts were soon to come.

I really liked this lecture and thought it was well presented. Some high points were (1) the introduction of the term “Palestine” as having been derived from the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Philistine”, that began to be used with the territory. The etymology of this word in particular is interesting to know because it is heavily referenced in current talks of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and its definitely cool to know it had its origins in a Roman attempt to sort of punish the Jews. Also, to see (2) the way Greek culture became implanted into Jewish life I found very interesting. I especially found it interesting/slightly-disturbing to see that some Jews went all-out to the point of actually “reverse-circumsizing” themselves (epispasms performed). Last, I found it interesting to see how (3) insensitivity to Jewish culture served as a catalyst for increased tensions that would lead to uprisings/revolts. This theme of disrespect spurring conflict is a common one throughout history, and one I imagine we will encounter many more times as we continue our examination of Jerusalem and its people.

(10.1) Hasmonean Jerusalem

In the second part of today’s lecture, the Maccabean Revolt and the pros and cons of Jewish self rule under the Hasmonean kings was discussed. We discussed various important details of the revolt, such as the guerilla tactics employed by the conservative jews that started the revolt, the success of the revolt (by around 165/4 BCE) and the ensuing Jewish self-rule (as reflected in minted Jewish coins, the resuming of the sacrificial system, and the establishment of Hanukkah to commemorate their victory). We then covered the various details of Hasmonian rule (165/4-63 BCE), which becomes somewhat of an irony all together as the very Hellenization they revolted to oppose quickly becomes assimilated into the now Jewish rulers’ lives and imposed rule. This increased Hellenization of the Hasmonian rulers becomes evident in the assumption of the office of High Priest and King (which was completely contradictory to the Jewish idea of preventing meddling with the priestly line), insensitivity to Jewish religious tradition (the irony!), executing all opposition (the irony!), brutal territorial expansion (with nationalistic rather than religious motives), employment of mercenaries, and the forced “Judaizing” of surrounding gentile (“non-Jewish) regions (oh the irony!). The complete hypocrisy (in terms of the original motivation behind the revolt0 of much of rule under Hasmonean kings drove many Jews to break away and form their own sects and forms of Judaism separate from the new “Judaism” in Jerusalem under the Hasmonians (e.g. DSS sect that split off to form its own more “true” form of Judaism).  However, the population of people living in Jerusalem did rise significantly during this period as it was revived as a major urban center and became the center of religious life for the jewish community. The Hasmoneans also legitimized their ruling methods with the idea of restoring the priest and kingly lines as they were back in the time of David and Solomon.  Many commented that the Hasmonean priest-kings ruled Jerusalem like the time of David and Solomon, with all the same problems of that “Golden” Age. They also justified their rule with the idea that a messiah would one day come to replace them, but in the meantime they would resume their role, an ideology we see repeated throughout history as an excuse to remain in power. We then covered the changes in the erecting of walls that took place based on technological advances, such as brick and mortar, and how one can visibly discern the different eras of expansion on the walls of the Temple Mount. While the centrality of the Temple to faith and mindset was strengthened during this period, other practices of religious purity in life outside the Temple Mount began to develop, foreshadowing, in a way, the later break from Temple practices that would become necessity. This era of the strengthening of Judaism around the Temple and a growth of the priesthood that was the majority of the Hasmonean era came to a troublesome ending as the Sadducee and Pharisee split caused tensions that allowed an easy Roman conquest (by Pompey) in 63 BCE.

The most interesting part of this portion of the lecture for me was the talk of the increased centrality of the Temple for Jewish Identity. Because I am planning to write my paper about how the fall of both Temples altered the Jewish faith, I think to know why this destruction lead to so many differences requires this prior knowledge of how central the Temple became to the faith. Only with this knowledge can one understand why the loss of the Temple from Jewish reach could have spurred such large alterations to the faith. They had lost an arm of their previous faith and needed to restore it with something new to replace the gaping hole that resulted. I think its interesting to see how their dependence on the Temple early on may have been the reason the Temple was such a strong catalyst for so many significant changes in mindset after its loss.

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~ by Andru on February 27, 2011.

One Response to “Lecture 11 – (9.1) Hellenistic & (10.1) Hasmonean Jerusalem”

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