Foreign influence on Jews in the intertestamental period and its impact on contemporary society
What implications does the foreign influence on the Jews in the intertestamental period have for contemporary society, and what lessons does it provide?
The intertestamental period, sometimes known as the Second Temple or Late Hellenistic period, dates from the consecration of the Second Temple in 516 BC until the emergence of the Christian New Testament around 70 AD (Scott, 1995). The Jewish people, like many others in the Middle East, had experienced waves of invasion by Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians and were now faced with the sweeping influence of the Greeks. There was some military resistance to the Greeks, and many Jewish communities existed outside Palestine, where they encountered influences from Egypt, Rome and other cities and regions as well.
The Greek invasion was different from all the others because the political and economic administration of the Greek empire helped to spread Hellenistic culture in Jewish territories, and to diasporic Jewish communities living across the region. Grabbe (2008, p. 162) notes that this influence “worked both ways” and likens the situation to the Anglicisation of India in the nineteenth century, where there was a complex synthesis of the two cultures. Greek language and culture dominated the administration but the life of ordinary Jewish people, including the practice of their religion, carried on much as before.
The intercultural environment that characterised intertestamental Jewish life demonstrates that human cultures do not remain fixed and separate. They must co-exist, even though there are tensions between them. Greek philosophy and rhetoric were eagerly studied by Jewish intellectuals, as we can clearly see in Jewish writers such as Philo of Alexandria who quotes Homer even as he explains the Torah (Rios, 2015). This did not mean that the Jewish faith and its traditions were rejected. Contact between cultures in contemporary society is therefore something to be welcomed, as an enrichment to our faith and an opportunity for reflection, learning and renewal.
Grabbe, L. L. (2008) A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 2: The Coming of the Greeks: The Early Hellenistic Period. London: Continuum.
Rios, C. M. (2015) Philo of Alexandria: An introduction to the Jewish exegete and his intercultural condition. Scriptura 114, pp. 1-13.
Scott, J. Jr. (1995) Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.