Reform in the Holy Land

Topics: Judaism, Seleucid Empire, Jerusalem Pages: 8 (2793 words) Published: August 17, 2008
Reform in the Holy Land: The Decline of Judaism vis-à-vis Christianity Judaism has been a strong influence in religious and philosophical thought. However, out of it sprang Christianity, and in less than a century, had won over a billion converts. This was something that Judaism had failed to do. Considering their common roots, one is led to wonder why Christianity succeeded in such a phenomenal way. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, represented the common Christian belief that to the Jews, “were committed the oracles of God.” Yet even with these “oracles of God,” they were unable to make a relatively large impact on the Mediterranean world. What did they do wrong, and what did the Christians do right? Jacob Neusner, a scholar in Judaism, states, “to define Judaism in a way useful to the explanation of Christianity, we have also to answer the question: why Christianity, not Judaism?” This question is broad and in order to answer it exhaustively, one must address it from many different angles. However such an approach can be covered only in a large volume. Therefore, this paper undertakes the task of answering this question strictly from a historical point of view. Looking at the history of Palestine circa-first century, there can be identified at least three reasons to explain the failure of Judaism. First century Judaism was superseded by Christianity because of its change of focus from spiritual to political, its lack of social and theological unity, and its policy of isolation from other cultures. After the Babylonian captivity, the Jews returned to Palestine under the allowance and authority of the Persian Empire. The prophets Daniel and Jeremiah had told the people that God had allowed them to be carried away captive by other nations because of their unfaithfulness and turning away from the true God. Thus after returning to Palestine, the Jews were very keen in staying faithful to God and keeping His commandments. The post-captivity Jews rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and began to strictly observe the Torah. They also began to study the books of the prophets very diligently, lest they repeat the mistake their forefathers made. The book of Daniel was especially studied because it contained many prophecies about the Israel and the surrounding Kingdoms. For two centuries, Judah served as a vassal kingdom to the Persian Empire. Then came Alexander the Great, who quickly conquered Persia. Judah found itself now in Greek hands. Whereas the Persians had allowed their conquered lands to continue practicing their cultures and religions, the Greeks were bent on spreading their “superior” culture. The process was known Hellenization. Speaking of Alexander, D. S. Russell asserts, “It was the cherished desire of this ruler to found a world-wide Empire bound together in a unity of language, custom and civilization and, in his great military conquests, he did much to realize this idea.” After his death, his Empire was divided mainly into the Seleucids who were based in Syria, and the Ptolemies in Egypt. Judah, caught right in between these Greek kingdoms, could not escape the effect of Hellenization. Marcel Simon comments on the situation, “Certain Jews, impressed by the splendor of Hellenistic civilization, began to observe “the ordinances of the Gentiles” at Jerusalem.” Even still, many Jews resisted Hellenization. Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom, decided to use a more aggressive approach of Hellenizing the Jews. Calling the Jews ‘a nation of rebels,’ he began to punish those who would not comply. Jonathan A. Goldstein describes the scene: As [Antiochus Epiphanes] saw it, he was removing the unwholesome hatred of foreigners and hatred of idolatry which evil teachers had brought into an originally admirable cult of the God of Heaven. Accordingly, he set up the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ on the Temple altar, as a representation of the deities of the cult of the God of...

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