Friday, September 02, 2016

Martin Hengel and Ancient Greek-Speaking Cities of Palestine

In view of discussions we've had on this blog recently
concerning the possible influence that Hellenism had on
ancient Christianity, I thought some here might
enjoy knowing about Louis H. Feldman's article in JBL 96/3
(1977): 371-382 entitled "Hengel's Judaism and
Hellenism in Retrospect."

The Hengel that Feldman has in mind is, of course, the
author of Judentum und Hellenismus, Studien zu ihrer
Begegnung unter besonderer Berucksichtigung Palastinas
bis zur Mitte des 2 Jh.s v. Chr. otherwise known as
Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in
Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period

(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974).

Martin Hengel has essayed an influential historical
account of how ancient Judaism (more specifically,
Judaism from 330 BCE onward) was cross-fertilized
conceptually by the "inroads of Hellenism."
Hengel thus argues that we should not make a sharp
differentiation between Hellenistic and Palestinian
Judaism. Secondly, he maintains that Greek
influence on Judaism was much more pervasive (much
earlier) than has been previously thought. The upshot
of Hengel's suggestions are that "the background of
the NT in Palestine was a Judaism that had been
hellenized for the preceding 360 years." Feldman,
however, attempts to refute 22 points
put forward by Hengel; his retorts are definitely worthy of
consideration. Some may conclude that he has indeed
successfully confuted the arguments posited by Hengel.

In any event, Feldman rightfully points out:

"There is actually very little in Hengel that has not
been said before. It is, however, the sheer
accumulation and evaluation of evidence that is
impressive" (Feldman, page 371).

Here are some brief observations from Hengel's book
Judentum und Hellenismus concerning ancient
Greek-speaking communities in Palestine.

1. After the sixth century, Greek merchandise and
coins came to Palestine. See Ezek. 27:11-25a, which
Hengel thinks may apply to the 4th century BCE. Hengel
writes (1:32): "Both Isaeus and his pupil Demosthenes
mention a colony of Greek merchants some decades later
[[than 460 BCE] in Ake (Acco)."

2. In Gaza and Sidon, two long Greek verse
inscriptions (the epitaph of two Ptolemaic officers
and their families as well as the victory inscription
of Diotimus) dating from the period circa 200 BCE have
been discovered (1:83).

3. A graffito from tomb I of Marisa "with an erotic
poem" that basically contains the song of "a hETAIRA"
exulting over her lover, whose coat she has kept as a
pledge, also points to Greek speakers living in
Palestine around the pertinent time.

For detailed proofs of the foregoing, see Hengel, vol.

Here is a link for the single-volume edition of Hengel's work:


Duncan said...

The cross influence of indian ideas with Greek and Roman has been seriously underestimated. The influence of northern indian nations on Babylon post the time of Alexander's rule. To link more to Greek than any other culture in an era of open trade is unwise. Aside from Pagels other Jesus in India arguments she puts forth evidence of indian religious missionaries in Rome in the first cent. CE.

I believe it was Elaine Pagels that has made some interesting points about India's influence as far as Rome right up to the end of the first cent. CE.

On page 80 of your aforementioned study - "Simeon b Setah ordered all Jewish boys to go to school" , (as stated by Vermes) there is no evidence that this was ever inforced & the sub 6% literacy figure still stands. Finding evidence of something does not make it widespread in the general population.

This conflict between Hellenizers and traditionalists is overrated in comparison to the Persian influence.


I think there is a political bias generally in the scholarship.

Duncan said...


Edgar Foster said...

My experience with Pagels and those kinds of studies has been that not many place credence in her arguments, and historians normally operate on evidence of one kind or another, although they (we) like clever narratives or insightful suppositions too.

So no solid historian is going to be convinced by speculation or ideas that go completely off the beaten path. I can see that some Vedic and reco-Roman/Palestinian concepts and practices merge at certain points. However, this line of reasoning only goes so far based on the current evidence. Even Hengel's arguments have their limits.

Students want to tell me about Persian influence on Judaism; I hear it all the time. And certain scholarly works tout this view. Based on the evidence, I'm not all that convinced. While there might be some Persian influence on ancient Judaism, I question the degree to which it's there.

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said... has many good entries, and it's hard to deny that Indian/Persian thought has some relevance to our discussions here. However, one has to sort carefully through articles that try to make all these connections between Indian thought and Greco-Roman concepts or Jewish ideas.

Duncan said...

An old work but still interesting.

Duncan said...

I am just making the point that we do know connections exist but the direction of those connections is dictated more by politics than evidence. I agree that a great deal of sifting needs to be done. Yes, there are flights of fantasy out there but many are based on solid evidence. Evidence is one thing but it's interpretation is another.

There is evidence of brahmin in Rome in the first century CE. As there is for Romans in southern India 150 BCE. but what are we to conclude?

Edgar Foster said...

I don't necessarily disagree with you about the political side of matters, but I know from studying history that evidence also plays an important role in what is viewed as credible. We also have to interpret the evidence as you say, but I've often seen historians stretch the evidence beyond what it allows. It's hard work to do history like it should be done.

Edgar Foster said...

what historical evidence is there that Brahmin were ever in first-century Rome (CE)?

Duncan said...

I will have to track down the evidence again. I know it is referenced by pagel in one of here books.

Duncan said...

Many of the issues stated here have yet to be resolved.

Edgar Foster said...

Okay, thanks. Since school has began, I've got a lot on my plate, but I'll track down the work by Pagels when time permits.

Edgar Foster said...

I have Feldman's article in paper form, and it's been years since I read it. Many think Hengel and Feldman came to a stalemate on these issues. I have not thought about the whole debate since grad school; some of our recent discussions called the debate to mind.