- Hellenism in the Land of Israel
This book is volume 13 in the series Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity. It is a compilation of twelve essays under the rubric “Hellenism in the land of Israel,” which is also the title of the book. Some of the essays, however, traverse the borders of the land of Israel and venture into places like Phoenicia and cities like Alexandria. This is inevitable, since Jews inhabited other parts of the Roman empire and not merely Palestine during the Second Temple period.
The book commences with an essay by Martin Hengel entitled “Judaism and Hellenism Revisited.” In this essay he revisits (not revises!) his initial thesis formulated [End Page 147] in the late sixties of the previous century, that the expression “Hellenistic Judaism” can be used to describe not only Judaism of the diaspora but Judaism in Palestine as well. There was according to him, no major difference between Judaism of the diaspora and Judaism at home since both were equally influenced by the Hellenistic culture.
When I read the other chapters it dawned on me that Hengel’s presence looms everywhere. It is as if the book was planned as a Festschrift for Martin Hengel, but then I remembered the comments of Collins in the introduction: “The volume originated as papers at a conference on Hellenism in the Land of Israel” held in 1999 at the University of Notre Dame. The issue of Hengel’s presence should be explained as follows: He is one of two scholars who contributed immensely to our knowledge about the influence of the Hellenistic culture on Judaism and the importance of this for our understanding of early Judaism, Rabbinism, the New Testament, and early Christianity. The other scholar is Elias Bickerman (1897–1981). His presence is also felt throughout the book, and Hengel pays homage to this great Jewish scholar of the Second Temple period. It was Bickerman—Hengel confesses—who taught him the historical method and whose book Der Gott der Makkabäer made an everlasting impression on him.
The other eleven essays are a mixed bag, but one can learn much from them since all are well researched and well written. The scholars who contributed to the book are well-known scholars specializing in this field. I took special interest in the following essays:
• John J. Collins, “Cult and Culture: The Limits of Hellenization in Judea.”
• Ehrich S. Gruen, “Jewish Perspectives on Greek Culture and Ethnicity.”
• Robert Dotan, “The High Cost of a Good Education.”
• Jan Willem van Henten, “The Honorary Decree for Simon the Maccabee (1 Macc 14:25–49) in its Hellenistic Context.”
• James C. VanderKam, “Greek at Qumran.”
• Gregory E. Sterling, “Judaism between Jerusalem and Alexandria.”
Scholars specializing in the Second Temple period will also find the following four worthwhile reading material:
• Pieter W. Van der Horst, “Greek in Jewish Palestine in Light of Jewish Epigraphy.”
• Sean Freyne, “Galileans, Phoenicians, and Itureans: A study of Regional Contrasts in the Hellenistic Age.”
• Shaye J. D. Cohen, “Hellenism in Unexpected Places.”
• Tessa Rajak, “Greek and Barbarians in Josephus.”
Edgar Krentz’s essay entitled “The honorary Decree for Simon the Maccabee” is a response on the one by Jan Willem van Henten. It comments on some of the Greek words and phrases in 1 Macc 14:25–49.
Although the book originated as papers read at a conference, it is a fitting gesture of appreciation for Hengel’s contribution to the study of Hellenism and Judaism in the [End Page 148] twentieth century. The epilogue by Martin Goodman once again left me with the impression that both the conference and the book had succeeded in their aim to reflect on the influence of Hellenism on Jewish people and their culture in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean world.