Hellenism is a complex phenomenon and has left its mark on both Christianity and Judaism. For centuries the Hebrew religion had a minimal effect on the outside world. After the conquests of Alexander the Great there was a wide dissemination of Hellenism, which included its outlook, philosophy and language. Judaism absorbed a great deal from its contact with Hellenic culture and in turn impressed many non-Jews with its ethical monotheism. In fact, monotheism was also developing in Greece during the 6th century B.C. and assumed momentum with the teachings of philosophers like Anaxagoras, Protagoras and Socrates. Thus, both emerging Greek monotheism and the Hebrew religion had a synergistic effect in the development of early Christianity. Under Alexander, Persian domination was replaced in Palestine with Greek, however, the Jews were allowed to retain their religious autonomy. The process of Hellenization of Jewish culture began to take shape and accelerated. All this changed under the rule of Antiochus who issued decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice. This resulted in the successful revolt of Judah Maccabee and his followers, celebrated during the feast of Hanukkah. This revolt is often depicted as a great victory over repressive, debauched Greeks. Unfortunately, as with many villains in history, a few important facts get swept under the rug. The Hasmoneans who lead the struggle established a state that was modeled along Hellenistic lines, they too had been Hellenized, but they were able to draw a line in the sand when foreign ideas threatened sacred Jewish values and practices. In fact, this was more a civil war between Hellenized Jews, than a struggle against Greek occupiers. Hellenism was pervasive. Hebrew literature such as the Talmud and Midrash are filled with Greek words and reflect a familiarity with Greek customs and culture. The Old Testament was translated into Greek between the 3rd and 1st century B.C. Commonly called the Septuagint, some of the latter books were actually written in Greek originally. Numerous Jews adopted Greek names. By the time of Jesus, Greek was the dominant language of Judaism. His apostles, including St. Paul and the Evangelists who wrote the New Testament were all Hellenized Jews. Palestine, although a Roman province at the time of Christ, was heavily Hellenized after 350 years of Hellenic presence. In the words of Dr. Moses Hadas of Columbia University, "In the Near East, only a small segment of the Jewish people resisted the Hellenism which their neighbors welcomed."
The process of Hellenization was not all one sided and the merchants and soldiers who settled in Egyptian and Judean soil inter-married and assimilated, soaking up the local culture as well as contributing to it. Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria, sought to fuse Greek philosophy and Judaism. In so doing he, along with other diasporan Jews, helped transform the Jewish religion into a universal human ethic. The Jews and the Greeks converted by them, created a Judaism without ceremonial laws and a minimum of regulations. This brand of Judaism in turn prepared the soil for the Christianizing of the Greeks as well as the genesis of the early Church. The ultimate question we must ask is, if Hellenism was the enemy, why would so many loyal Jews be tainted by it?
Greek thought on the other hand served as a "protopadeia" or a preparation for Christian doctrines. The Church Fathers of the early Church used Greek philosophy to attack polytheism and in every aspect of doctrine, ethics and worship. Father Demetrios Constantelos, in his book entitled "Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church," writes the following: "As a result of the influence of ancient Greek thought and its concept of natural revelation, there is in Orthodox thought today no opposition between the human and the natural, no separating reason and faith, spirituality and materiality. The natural or secular is sanctified in the whole realm of God's creation. Thus, the Orthodox believe that human life and the Universe require unity and equilibrium, and they observe in their theology a balance between faith and reason, logic ahd sentiment and supernatural revelation, belief and conduct." In "The Closing of the Western Mind" by Charles Freeman, a Protestant humanist, argues that Christianity repressed rational classical thought and thereby arrested civilizational progress for a thousand years. Although Christians may have actively opposed pagan religions they were very interested in areas such as philosophy, science and medicine. That is why Christian scholars preserved through the laborious process of writing by hand, a great deal of what antiquity had to offer. Furthermore, Byzantines helped bring much of classical knowledge not only to the West after the Fall of Constantinople but many Byzantine Christian scholars under Islamic rule helped kickstart Arabic science and math.
Early Christianity accommodated itself to the Hellenistic culture that existed throughout most of the known world, in her effort to spread the gospel. Despite hostility to Greek philosophy, mostly by Western theologians such as Tertullian and Tatian, the Hellenized school of Christian theology and the synthesis achieve by the Cappadocian Fathers prevailed. St.John of Damascus created a synthesis of Greek and Christian thought. He actually wrote an entire book dedicated to philosophy and was not reluctant to utilize everything useful that he found. "First of all I shall set forth the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks, because whatever there is of good has been given to men from above by God, since every best gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. If however, there is anything that is contrary to the truth, then it is a dark invention of the deceit of Satan and a fiction of the mind of an evil spirit as that eminent theologian Gregory once said. In imitation of the the bee I shall make my composition from those things which are comfortable with the truth and from our enemies themselves gather the fruits of salvation. But I shall reject all that is worthless and falsely labeled as knowledge."
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