Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World

Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions from Alexander to Justinian

Louis H. Feldman
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 692
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sm2d
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    Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World
    Book Description:

    Relations between Jews and non-Jews in the Hellenistic-Roman period were marked by suspicion and hate, maintain most studies of that topic. But if such conjectures are true, asks Louis Feldman, how did Jews succeed in winning so many adherents, whether full-fledged proselytes or "sympathizers" who adopted one or more Jewish practices? Systematically evaluating attitudes toward Jews from the time of Alexander the Great to the fifth century A.D., Feldman finds that Judaism elicited strongly positive and not merely unfavorable responses from the non-Jewish population. Jews were a vigorous presence in the ancient world, and Judaism was strengthened substantially by the development of the Talmud. Although Jews in the Diaspora were deeply Hellenized, those who remained in Israel were able to resist the cultural inroads of Hellenism and even to initiate intellectual counterattacks.

    Feldman draws on a wide variety of material, from Philo, Josephus, and other Graeco-Jewish writers through the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Church Councils, Church Fathers, and imperial decrees to Talmudic and Midrashic writings and inscriptions and papyri. What emerges is a rich description of a long era to which conceptions of Jewish history as uninterrupted weakness and suffering do not apply.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2080-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. CHAPTER 1 CONTACTS BETWEEN JEWS AND NON-JEWS IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL
    (pp. 3-44)

    It always comes as a surprise—perhaps even a shock—that the two peoples who have most profoundly influenced Western civilization, the Jews and the Greeks, seem to have been just about unaware of each other, at least in a cultural sense, until the fifth century B.C.E. at the very earliest.

    Apparently, however, the Pentateuch is aware of a relationship between Semites and Greeks, because it declares that Shem, the ancestor of the Semites, and Japheth, almost certainly the ancestor of the Greeks, are brothers. The very name of Japheth reminds us strongly of the Greek Iapetos, the father of...

  5. CHAPTER 2 THE STRENGTH OF JUDAISM IN THE DIASPORA
    (pp. 45-83)

    If Judaism outside the Land of Israel was to maintain its numbers and even vastly increase, as apparently happened during the Hellenistic period (323 to 3I B.C.E.), the Jews living in the Diaspora had to be strong in their Jewish allegiance and had to prevent defections. Did this, in fact, happen?

    It is perhaps hazardous to judge from pagan writers, inasmuch as they are generally poorly informed and in many cases are guilty of exaggeration as satirists and rhetoricians. Moreover, we usually depend on fragments and lack their original literary context. As for Jewish writers, Philo is primarily a philosopher...

  6. CHAPTER 3 OFFICIAL ANTI-JEWISH BIGOTRY: THE RESPONSES OF GOVERNMENTS TO THE JEWS
    (pp. 84-106)

    The survival of the Jews would appear to depend not only on their inner strength and the degree to which they were able to resist the forces of assimilation, such as we have discussed above, but also on the degree to which their neighbors admired or hated or tolerated them.

    Has hatred of Jews been universally prevalent?¹ Perhaps it will be appropriate to start with a discussion of the very wordanti-Semitism.The wordSemiticis derived from Shem, the son of Noah in the Bible (Gen 7:13), but the term is commonly understood as a linguistic term referring to...

  7. CHAPTER 4 POPULAR PREJUDICE AGAINST JEWS
    (pp. 107-122)

    A major factor in explaining the persistence of the Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, in addition to their inherent strength and their resistance to assimilation to Hellenism, was, paradoxically, the hatred the masses apparently felt toward them. We do not, of course, possess any writings by ordinary people from antiquity except for a few thousand fragments of nonliterary papyri. The literary sources are all the work of the intelligentsia, who generally, if we may take Philo (Legatio ad Gaium 18.120) as an example, have the utmost contempt for the mob.

    We may wonder that our sources do not...

  8. CHAPTER 5 PREJUDICE AGAINST JEWS AMONG ANCIENT INTELLECTUALS
    (pp. 123-176)

    If, as we have contended, the vertical alliance of Jews in antiquity with governments was, with relatively few exceptions, successful in protecting the Jews from the often virulent anti-Jewish feelings of the masses of non-Jews, we may well ask what the attitude of non-Jewish intellectuals was toward the Jews and on what grounds those who opposed the Jews based their feelings. To what degree does the bitterness of some of these comments by the intellectuals indicate the success of Jews in maintaining themselves as Jews and even in influencing others to join the Jewish religion? What influence, if any, did...

  9. CHAPTER 6 THE ATTRACTIONS OF THE JEWS: THEIR ANTIQUITY
    (pp. 177-200)

    During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the general principle seems to have been that the older and more eastern things were, the more divine and the more credible they were, inasmuch as human beings were closest to the gods in the earliest times and in the East.¹

    One recalls the famous conversation of Solon, in the sixth century B.C.E., with an aged Egyptian priest (quoted in Plato,Timaeus 22B) who spoke of the Greeks as children because they had no immemorial past: “You ever remain children; in Greece there is no old man.” Likewise, Herodotus (2.143) in the fifth century...

  10. CHAPTER 7 THE ATTRACTIONS OF THE JEWS: THE CARDINAL VIRTUES
    (pp. 201-232)

    If the Jews were viewed in antiquity with the disdain and contempt that most scholars claim, we must somehow explain how during the very same period they attracted, as we shall see, so many proselytes and “sympathizers.” The attack on the Jews by later pagan intellectuals was, as we have noted, not merely on the ground of their exclusiveness but also their alleged failure to embody the cardinal virtues. And yet the early contacts between Greeks and Jews, prior to Manetho (ca. 270 B.C.E.), led to praise of the Jews for their espousal of the very same four cardinal virtues.¹...

  11. CHAPTER 8 THE ATTRACTIONS OF THE JEWS: THE IDEAL LEADER, MOSES
    (pp. 233-287)

    In the competition for followers, to a great degree the success of a movement, whether religious or philosophical, depended on the reputation of its founder or lawgiver. We may see this notably in Plutarch’s lives of such lawgivers as Lycurgus, Solon, and Numa Pompilius; in the portrayal of Rome’s founder, Aeneas, by Virgil; and in the hagiographic-like lives of such notable and seminal philosophers as Socrates, Plato, Zeno, and Diogenes the Cynic by Diogenes Laertius. We may see this also in the figure of Heracles, who was taken as a model by the Cynic-Stoic popular philosophy. Above all, we may...

  12. CHAPTER 9 THE SUCCESS OF PROSELYTISM BY JEWS IN THE HELLENISTIC AND EARLY ROMAN PERIODS
    (pp. 288-341)

    The only ancient religions with an idea of exclusionary “conversion” were Judaism and Christianity.¹ Polytheism, by definition, tolerates many gods. Moreover, the fact that Judaism is, in the first instance, not so much a religion as a peoplehood or a nation or a family (though, of course, it has all the qualities of a religion as well) meant that conversion to Judaism entailed denying not merely one’s ancestral gods but also one’s native land and one’s parents, brothers, and children.² In this respect, as Josephus (Against Apion2.209–I0) emphasized, the Jews differed from such ancient peoples as the Athenians...

  13. CHAPTER 10 THE SUCCESS OF JEWS IN WINNING “SYMPATHIZERS”
    (pp. 342-382)

    Judaism’s success in winning adherents during the Hellenistic and Roman periods is to be measured not merely in terms of the number of converts but also the number of so-called “G-d-fearers” or “sympathizers,”¹ those non-Jews who adopted certain Jewish practices without actually converting to Judaism. Among the many questions about this group is whether they actually existed as an entity.

    The discussion about the “sympathizers” usually begins with the eleven passages in Acts (10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26, 43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17;18:7) referring to φοβο μενοι ντ θε ν (“fearers of G-d”) and σεβ μενοι τ ν θε ν...

  14. CHAPTER 11 PROSELYTISM BY JEWS IN THE THIRD, FOURTH, AND FIFTH CENTURIES
    (pp. 383-415)

    Most scholars hold that for practical purposes, after the massive defeats of the Jews in the uprisings of 66–74, 115–17, and 132–35, proselytism by Jews ceased because of the penalty of death imposed by the Romans for proselytism and because of the Gentiles’ tremendous hatred owing to Jewish success in winning converts in the preceding centuries—hatred that drove the Jews into isolation. Moreover, these scholars look on Judaism as “declining” precisely to the extent that Christianity rose. This view has been contested by Simon,¹ but no one has made a systematic study of the evidence to...

  15. CHAPTER 12 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 416-446)

    Our question has been how to explain the apparent success of Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman period in winning so many converts and “sympathizers” at a time when, apparently, Jews were hated by the Gentile masses. Indeed, when Baron¹ counterposes the hatred of Israel and the love of Israel as the two pivots of Jewish history, his thesis, we may say, is particularly applicable to this period. Our answer, basically, is that Judaism was internally strong and was, for this reason, admired by many, even its detractors, especially at a time of general political and economic disarray. Judaism, moreover, took advantage...

  16. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 447-460)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 461-586)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 587-620)
  19. INDEXES
    (pp. 621-679)