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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

The word ‘Hellenism,’ which in Greek writers stands for Greek civilization, has now come to be used with a four-fold meaning. (1) Since Droysen, it describes a particular period of Greek history and civilization; (2) it is a name for the influence of this Greek civilization on the Oriental world; (3) it marks a certain stream in Judaism; and (4) it denotes a party in primitive Christianity. (1) and (2) are closely related to one another, and so are (3) and (4).

1. Hellenism as a period. -The reign of Alexander the Great marks a period in Greek history, not only by reason of the expansion of Greek influence but also owing to the rise of a new spirit which affected language, literature, art, philosophy, science, civilization in general, and religion.

See J. G. Droysen, Geschichte des Hellenismus 2, Gotha, 1877-78; J. Kaerst, Geschichte des hellenistischen Zeitalters , Leipzig, 1901-09; P. Corssen, ‘Über Begriff und Wesen des Hellenismus.’ Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft ix. (1908) 81-95.

( a ) Language .-The Greek tribes, hitherto separated by rivalry and difference of dialect and customs, became mixed. A common language, the so-called ‘Koine,’ combining in its vocabulary and its grammatical forms elements from various dialects, took the place of the local dialects, and succeeded even in robbing the Attic of its dominating position in literature. Words never used by Attic writers but found in Ionic poets or in Doric inscriptions became current: as, e.g. γογγύζω, κλίβανος, and so did forms like λαός, ναός, ἤμην instead of ἦν, οἴδαμεν instead of ἴσμεν. The formation of compounds went on; as the prepositions had lost somewhat of their meaning, two prepositions were combined: ἐξαποστέλλω, ἐπιδιατάσσω, ἐπισυνάγω; and again nouns were formed from these compound verbs: ἐξαποστολή, ἐπιδιάταγμα, ἐπισυναγωγή. On the other hand, there was a tendency to use the simple where in former times a compound would have been used. The grammar lost certain moods and tenses: the dual and the optative became almost obsolete; the pluperfect was rare. The syntax tended to become more simple; the beautiful periods constructed by the Attic classics by means of participles and infinitives used as nouns disappeared; the infinitive was generally expressed by ἵνα, or ὅπως used without a final sense.

Most of these changes can be explained from the point of view of the evolution of the Greek language itself. A language is always growing and changing, and the Koine marks only a step in a long process from the Greek of Homer’s time to modern Greek. Of course this development did not always follow a straight line: there was a constant reaction, on the part of certain authors, against the popular current, in favour of cultured literary forms; besides the rich and flowery Asianiam an artificial Atticism was cultivated by the writers of the Hellenistic period.

Moreover, it is evident that an admixture of Oriental elements also influenced the Greek language. The vocabulary of this period shows Persian words (παράδεισος, ἀγγαρεύειν), as well as Hebrew and Aramaic (πάσχα, σάββατον), Egyptian (πάπυρος, Φαραώ), and Roman (δηνάριον, κουστωδία). Many of the grammatical and syntactical phenomena may be explained more readily by reference to the parallels in these languages. One Hebraism is πρόσωπόν τινος λαμβάνειν, whence come προσωπολήπτωρ and προσωποληψία.

See H. A. A. Kennedy, Sources of NT Greek , Edinburgh, 1895; A. N. Jannaris, An Historical Greek Grammar , London, 1897; A. Deissmann, article‘Hellenistisches Griechisch’ in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 vii. 627-639, Philology of the Greek Bible , Eng. translation, London, 1908; A. Thumb, Die griechische Sprache im Zeitalter des Hellenismus , Strassburg, 1901; J. H. Moulton, Prolegomena to the Grammar of the NT 3, Edinburgh, 1908. See also next article.

( b ) Literature .-The period of Hellenism marks a decrease in skilful composition, and at the same time exhibits much artificiality. The writing becomes more popular in form as well as in contents: romance and novel attain to a large circulation; there is a demand for biography, special history, travellers’ guide-books, and the like; many subjects are treated in the form of letters. Pseudepigraphy, i.e. writing under an assumed name of some great authority of former times, is very common. By indulging in this practice, writers acknowledge their own lack of authority and originality. To imitate classical models well is the great aim of most of them, and this is what they are trained to do in the schools. As a matter of fact, they do their best work when writing in the ordinary style of popular talk; but they are not aware of this, and always aim at something more artistic, taking the artificial for the artistic. Many Hellenistic writers show a special interest in strange countries, peoples, languages, and customs.

See U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur 2 ( Kultur der Gegenwart , i. 8, Leipzig, 1907); F. Susemihl, Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur in der Alexandrinerzeit , do. 1891-92; W. Christ, Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur 3, ed. O. Stählin and W. Schmid. Munich, 1908-09.

( c ) Art .-The same holds true of the fine arts. It is a period of decadence, a natural decrease of physical and mental energy following on a period of highest achievement. In this special case the movement was determined by Oriental influences. The idealism of classic Greek art gave place to realism and symbolism; natural brightness was turned into austere solemnity, beauty into magnificence, charm into sensuality.

See Springer-Michaelis, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte , i. (= Das Altertum 9), Leipzig, 1911; L. von Sybel, Weltgeschichte der Kunst im Altertum 2, Marburg, 1903; S. Reinach, The Story of Art throughout the Ages , London, 1904; J. Strzygowski, Orient oder Rom , Leipzig, 1901; E. A. Gardner, article‘Art (Greek and Roman)’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics i. 870.

( d ) Philosophy .-The philosophers of Hellenism are mostly eclectics; the general tendency is towards the practical questions of life. Stoicism and Cynicism are the leading schools; their teaching is popular and, indeed, is very often a kind of preaching. Philosophy becomes a substitute for religion: it is moral education. Here again the lack of originality makes itself conspicuous by the fact that recent products appear either under old names or as commentaries on old books. There is a tendency to rely on the authority of the ancients. Homer and Plato are treated as the divine text-books from which one has to derive all doctrines by means of allegorical interpretation. Mythology is turned into metaphysics and physics, or psychology and morals. There is a particular interest in psychological analysis.

See Ed. Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen 4, Leipzig, 1909, vol. iii.

( e ) History and science .-The Hellenistic period is one of collecting: Aristotle’s work is continued, but the power of pervading the materials collected with a real constructive spirit is absent. Therefore history becomes a collection of single tales of various kinds and often of very different value, not sifted critically, but put together without even an effort to connect them. Similarly science is nothing but a vast pile of collected materials, all kinds of real observations being mixed up with the most ridiculous superstitions. Great store is set by what is extraordinary, and only the miraculous is regarded as of any importance.

See J. P. Mahaffy, Greek Life and Thought from the Death of Alexander to the Roman Conquest 2, London, 1896.

( f ) Civilization in general .-Hellenism marks a period of the highest civilization, in the sense that all the comforts of life were highly developed. Travelling had become fairly easy, and whatever luxuries a refined life required were brought by tradesmen from the remotest parts of the world. Houses were furnished in the most costly way, marbles, metals, ivory-carvings, and mural paintings being frequently used in decoration. Even the cheap furniture in daily use by poor people was seldom without decoration.

The social differences were enormous: there were a few very rich people while the majority of men were poor. Production was carried on by slaves, who were imported in great numbers from the East; although there was also room for the work of free labourers. Politics did not occupy the citizen much, for power had passed from the democracy to the monarchy. The free citizen devoted his time mostly to athletics, and the games were always attended by a large crowd. These people were accustomed to be fed and entertained by the government or by rich politicians. To musical and theatrical performances were added competitions between orators. The cruel and sometimes vulgar amusements of the circus came more and more into vogue, and the people even wanted criminals to be executed in the arena. Hellenistic civilization made people unfeeling and at the same time weak and effeminate; in spite of the humane doctrines of the Stoa, many people were cruel to their slaves and employees. Human life was not valued, and suicide was frequent.

See P. Wendland, Die hellenistisch-römische Kultur 2, 3 (in H. Lietzmann’s Handbuch zum NT , new ed., Tübingen, 1912); F. Baumgarten, F. Poland, R. Wagner, Die hellenische Kultur 3, Leipzig, 1913; J. P. Mahaffy, The Silver Age of the Greek World , Chicago, 1906.

( g ) Religion .-The old family-cults and State-cult were continued as a matter of course; but there was a notable reduction of local cults, the greater gods, so to speak, swallowing up the minor heroes. On the other hand, a tendency towards deification and hero-worship was always introducing new objects of worship. The most prominent was the worship of the kings, and, in the Roman period, of the Emperor.

As early as Plato the old Greek religion had changed from a more or less cheerful worship of Nature into a kind of gloomy mysticism. The influence of the Oriental cults strengthened this tendency. Man tried to get rid of his own mortal nature by entering into mystical union with the divine nature. Immortality, continuation of life, became the prominent notions, and this brought to the front the conceptions of the hereafter and of the judgment, of a life of bliss and of penalties in the other world. The feeling of guilt became stronger and stronger. Men tried by all means to get rid of sin, which, however, did not mean to them moral so much as physical evil. Thus the Oriental ritcs gained all the greater influence, because they promised to relieve men from sin and death by letting them share in the life of the deity. The means to this end were mostly sacramental, i.e. physical: communion with the god was effected by eating and drinking at certain sacred meals, with the use of certain sacred vessels, and certain sacred formulae, by going through a number of symbolical performances and keeping many rules, the reason of which nobody could explain. The individual rite ventured to give full assurance of life, but the faithful usually resorted to a variety of rites, and the priests could not object to this; their religion was tolerated and must be tolerant: this is implied in the system of polytheism. The important feature is not the individual rite, but the whole attitude of mind produced by these Mysteries.

See F. Cumont, Les Religions orientales dans le paganisme romain 2, Paris, 1909; R. Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen , Leipzig, 1910; L. R Farnell, article‘Greek Religion’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vi. 420-5.

2. Hellenism as hellenization of the Orient. -Alexander had conquered the Orient, i.e. Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Persia, etc., and his successors founded there several kingdoms. But his idea was not only to subdue the Orient by force for political purposes, but to pervade it with the spirit of Greek civilization, and at the same time to make Oriental and Greek culture a unity. A marriage between East and West, symbolized by his own wedding with Roxane at Persepolis, was his aim. In fact, the Greek dynasties of the Attalids, Seleucids, Ptolemys, etc., succeeded in imposing on their respective dominions a veneer of Greek culture: the Greek language was used at the court, in the army, on the coinage, in inscriptions, and as the common language in many of the colonies and towns founded by these kings; Greek law was used-with local modifications; Greek cults were officially introduced beside the native ones; Greek artists constructed the palaces and public buildings, and decorated them in the Greek style with sculptures and pictures.

This Greek culture, however, was but a veneer; it was only on the surface, and had only a temporary existence. Underneath, the old Oriental civilization still persisted, and came to the surface after a short time-more especially in the 3rd cent. a.d. We find many of the artificial Greek names of localities disappear and the old place-names reappear; we find the vernacular, so far spoken only by illiterate country folk,*[Note: When St. Paul arrived at Lystra, the people there spoke Λυκαονιστί ( Acts 14:11), but St. Paul preached in Greek and was understood.] recapture the cities and create a national literature. The cosmopolitan feeling of the Hellenistic period was replaced by an outburst of nationalistic enthusiasm, which made it easy for Muhammadanism to over-run all these Eastern provinces and sweep away the last remainders of the Hellenistic civilization.

In the meantime, Hellenism had not only assimilated many Oriental notions and beliefs: it had opened the West itself to Oriental influence. This is in fact what is usually called Hellenism-that mixture of Greek and Oriental civilization which characterizes the culture of the last centuries b.c. and the first centuries a.d. We have already seen how it influenced Greek language, literature, art, science, etc. The most significant feature was religious syncretism. Not only were the Oriental gods called by Greek names (Ammon and Baal became Zeus; Melkart, Herakles; Astarte, Aphrodite; Thoth, Hermes, etc.)-what is usually called theocrasy-but the Oriental gods themselves under their own names were introduced into the West and worshipped by Greeks and Romans with no less fervour than by their own countrymen. But it was not the plain Egyptian cult of Isis, or the Phœnician cult of Adonis, or the Phrygian cult of the Magna Mater and Attis, or the Persian cult of Mithra that made so many proselytes among the Greeks and Romans: on their way to the West these cults had been transformed into Greek Mysteries, and it was in this form that they proved so attractive. The Greek notion of a Mystery- i.e. the idea of a community of initiated believers who sought to enter into union with the god for the purpose of obtaining divine immortality-took hold of these Oriental cults, whose myths were excellently adapted for this purpose, and whose strange rites lent themselves to the sacramental methods of such a communion. Moreover, the Orient had produced a priestly wisdom which was easily transformed into a Greek gnosis  : Hellenism identified the objects of this speculation with its philosophical notions, hellenizing even their strange names into psychological terms.

It is the special character of this Oriental Hellenism that one can scarcely distinguish its separate elements: they are borrowed from all parts of the Eastern world, and so mixed up with Greek elements that the whole mass appears as a homogeneous unity in substance and form. Many of its features may be explained as readily from the Greek as from the Oriental point of view.

3. Jewish Hellenism. -Into this melting-pot of Oriental and Greek civilization Judaism was thrown in different ways.

( a ) Babylon , where the largest number of Jews was settled, felt the Greek influence, after the Persian period, but only for a comparatively short time. Thus some Greek elements, besides the Persian ones, may have been introduced even here.

( b ) Palestine itself, the native soil of Judaism, came under the political and cultural influence of the Ptolemys of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, and this influence became so strong that we find the religious leaders of the Jewish people, the priestly aristocracy, calling their sons by Greek names (Menelaus [Menahem] or Jason [Joshua, Jesus]), and making them practise athletics according to the Greek usage. They came very near to a hellenizing of their religion as well, until the ill-timed attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 b.c. to introduce Greek idol-worship in place of the Jewish cult caused a reaction, when the Maccabees revolted and succeeded in delivering their country from the political domination of the Seleucids. They were less successful, and probably less zealous, in their attempt at getting rid of Hellenistic civilization. To learn the Greek language, to be in touch with the Western culture, was still an aim of most cultured Jews. All the time, until the destruction of Jerusalem, two tendencies were at work side by side: the tendency to isolate Judaism by prohibiting all relations with Hellenistic surroundings, and the tendency to give Judaism more influence by encouraging Jewish boys to learn the Greek language and to assimilate Greek ideas. It is rather difficult to estimate the exact measure of the Hellenistic influence on this Palestinian Judaism; but that it was great there can be no doubt. We see it in the vocabulary of Rabbinical Aramaic which includes terms like διαθήκη, κατήγωρ, etc.,; we see it further in many notions of Jewish psychology and even eschatology: it is Hellenistic individualism which distinguishes later from earlier Jewish theories.

( c ) The Greek Diaspora .-The real Jewish Hellenism, however, was to be found among the colonies of Jews scattered all over the Graeco-Roman world, the so-called Diaspora.*[Note: Besides the Jewish Diaspora there was a smaller Samaritan one, which developed the same Hellenistic tendencies-a Greek translation of the Bible, a poem on the history of Sichem, chronicles, etc. (Schürer. GJV 4 iii. [Leipzig, 1909] 51, 481 ff.; P. Glaue and A. Rahlfs, Fragmente einer griech. Ubersetzung des Samaritan. Pentateuchs [NGG, 1911, 167 ff.]).] These Jews, who in some places-as, e.g. , Alexandria and the Cyrenaïca-formed a third of the population and had a powerful organization, had opened their minds to the spirit of Greek civilization. They not only spoke the Greek language in addition to their vernacular; it was their vernacular: they used it in Divine service, when they gathered in the synagogues to worship the God of Israel; they had the Holy Scriptures, the Law of their God, translated into Greek; they had writers among themselves who had as great a mastery of the Greek language as any Greek author; they produced poems on the history of the Jewish people in the style of Homer, and even dramatized the Scriptures after the model of Euripides. They made a real study of Greek philosophy, and themselves contributed to the development of philosophical thought. While the unknown author of the Book of Wisdom under the name of Solomon sets forth the Jewish wisdom as it was influenced by Greek ideas, Philo, the famous Jewish philosopher, finds in Greek philosophy the real meaning of the Jewish Scriptures. He is, of course, a Jew, and he remains so; his heart belongs to his people and to its religion, but his head is filled with Greek notions and speculations, and it is from the Greek philosophers that he derives what he sets forth as the teaching of the ideal law-giver, Moses.

This Jewish Hellenism of the Diaspora was in fact Judaism, akin to the true Palestinian Judaism in substance, but it was a special kind of Judaism. Its horizon was widened, and its strictness weakened. Starting from an earlier form of Judaism, it did not share in the specific Rabbinical development of later Palestinian Judaism; on the other hand, it developed in its own way. Many things were possible to these Hellenistic Jews which would have been intolerable to the Palestinian Rabbis; and many things were uncertain to the former regarding which there was no question among the latter.

Hellenistic Judaism, therefore, was regarded by pious Palestinians as a Judaism of lower rank, a semi-heretical second-class Judaism. Nevertheless, it was a very influential pioneer of Judaism among the Greeks and Romans. The broader views proved to be more attractive to the heathen. They took the moral injunctions from the Law without being compelled to take circumcision and other strange rites; they accepted these moral views, together with the great hope of the Jewish people, from the Greek Bible. They had thus the guarantee of an old revelation transmitted in a most venerable book, and yet it sounded quite modern when interpreted by men like Philo. The language of this book was, of course. Oriental, but was this not in itself a sign of something Divine or an evidence of venerable age? Thus many a heathen became an adherent of this broad Judaism, being admitted as a worshipper and supporting the Jewish congregation by means of his wealth, and lending it his influence. It was for the benefit of such faithful proselytes that the Jews composed a moral catechism in poetical form under the name of Phokylides, or wrote the Sibylline Oracles , embodying the hope of the Jewish people, or interpolated hints to Jewish believers into the works of the famous Greek authors. This Jewish propaganda succeeded in gathering around the synagogues of the Diaspora numbers of proselytes who approached Judaism in various degrees.

Comparatively few Jews were led by contact with Hellenism to apostasy, like Philo’s nephew Tiberius Alexander. For the most part the Jew remained a Jew, faithful to his people and its religion even amidst Hellenistic surroundings; and the hatred which the average Greek population felt for this strange element in their midst caused the Jews to cling together even more. The ideal of many Jews of the Diaspora was to go to Jerusalem, not only for a short pilgrimage, but with the purpose of staying there and being buried there at their death. Thus a considerable colony of Hellenistic Jews from all parts of the world settled in Jerusalem: they had their own synagogues; they retained the habit of speaking Greek, and nourished their peculiar notions about the Law and the universalism of salvation. It is from these circles of Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem that the name ‘Hellenist’ is derived ( Acts 6:1;  Acts 9:29).

See C. Siegfried, ‘Bedeutung und Schicksal des Hellenismus im jüdischen Volk,’ in JPTh [Note: PTh Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie.], 1886, p. 228ff.; E. Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]4 iii. [Leipzig, 1909]; W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums im neutest. Zeitalter 2, Berlin, 1906: O. Holtzmann, Neutest, Zeitgeschichte 2, Tübingen, 1906: W. Staerk, Neutest, Zeitgeschichte , Leipzig, 1907, also. ‘Judentum und Hellenismus,’ in Das Christentum , do. 1908; A. Deissmann, ‘Die Hellenisierung des semit. Monotheismus,’ in Neue Jahrbücher für das klass. Altertum , 1903, p. 161ff.; M. Friedländer, Die religiösen Bewegungen innerhalb des Judentums im Zeitalter Jesu , Berlin, 1905; F. Buhl, article‘Hellenisten’ in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 vii. 623-627; cf. articlePhilo.

4. Hellenism in primitive Christianity .-The gospel of Jesus was a Divine message to Israel; Jesus Himself had confined His ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; it was only occasionally that He dealt with pagans such as the centurion of Capernaum or the Syrophœnician woman; it is an exceptional case also when we read in  John 12:20 that there were certain Greeks who wished to see Jesus. The primitive community which arose in Jerusalem after Jesus’ Death and Resurrection was a purely Jewish one. But it is remarkable that very soon, if not from the very first, Hellenistic Jews joined this community of Galilaeans. The very tendency of the gospel, universalistic as it was, appealed to these broadminded people, and they were ready to deduce the consequences.

( a ) The Hellenists in Jerusalem .-The first time we hear of ‘Hellenists’ is on the occasion of a quarrel between the two sections of the Christian community in Jerusalem, the ‘Hellenists’ complaining against the ‘Hebrews’ that their widows were overlooked in the daily food-supply ( Acts 6:1). Here the term seems to point primarily to the difference of language, but we remark a feeling of solidarity, a certain party-spirit, among these Hellenists as opposed to the Hebrews. The leaders of the community deal with the matter, and, in order to satisfy the complaining party, elect seven prominent men from among the Hellenists to take care of the food-supply. The first officials of the Christian Church-except the apostles-were thus Hellenists.

It was the Hellenists that occasioned the first struggle of Christianity with the Jewish authorities; St. Stephen, one of the Seven, was accused of having spoken against the Temple and the Law, and by a sudden outbreak of popular hatred he was put to death (with no authorization on the part of the Romans). This was the signal for a general persecution of the Christians. Again, it was the Hellenists who spread the gospel, not only among the Samaritans (Philip the Deacon,  Acts 8:5-25) but also among the Greeks in Antioch ( Acts 11:20). This is the beginning of the Gentile mission: the nameless men from Cyprus and Cyrene who are mentioned here are the forerunners of St. Paul, in some sense the first apostles of the Gentiles, the founders of the Gentile Church. The beginnings were small, but the fact in itself is of great importance. Having seen the propaganda carried on by Jewish Hellenism among the Gentiles, we may readily understand the attitude of the Christian Hellenists. Their mission work was probably of rather an occasional kind, and they did not work systematically like St. Paul, but they were creative.

( b ) St. Paul himself, the Apostle of the Gentiles, was not a Hellenist strictly speaking. Born in the Diaspora, at Tarsus in Cilicia, he was nevertheless ‘a Hebrew of Hebrews’ ( Philippians 3:5); he had Pharisaic surroundings, and was brought up in the spirit of the Palestinian Rabbis: he even went to Jerusalem to complete his Rabbinical education. In spite of his writing Greek and using the Greek Bible, he thinks in the way of a trained Palestinian Rabbi. After a missionary period of about 25 years, he was able to address the people of Jerusalem in their own Hebrew ( i.e. Aramaic) language ( Acts 21:40;  Acts 22:2). Whether Hellenism-apart from general culture-had any notable influence upon him is an open question. From time to time the Hellenism of St. Paul is spoken of as a prominent feature in early Christian history; then again his predominantly Rabbinical training is insisted upon by another generation of scholars. The facts are that Hellenism, as we have seen, was in itself a mixture, which, in addition to the Greek element, included much that was Oriental; the Rabbinical education also comprehended a good many Greek notions; and the reasoning of the Jewish teachers was often very similar to the Stoic philosophy, as the popular Greek language of the Hellenistic period had a Semitic tinge. Parallels to most of the Pauline expressions may be adduced both from Rabbinical and from Greek writers, as was shown long ago by J. J. Wetstein (1751). It is, therefore, very difficult to tell exactly how far the influence of Hellenism may be traced in St. Paul. The one thing which seems certain, however, is that he did not borrow consciously from the Mystery religions. He is afraid of the demoniac influences in these; he tries to keep his faithful readers from any contaminating participation in idol-worship: for this is the sphere where the demons exercise their influence ( 1 Corinthians 10:14 ff.). Whatever may he said about St. Paul’s indebtedness to the Mysteries-and a good deal has recently been said by Percy Gardner, R. Reitzenstein, and others-this must always be borne in mind.

( c ) St. Paul’s companions .-There is, however, one point which has not hitherto received due attention. That is the fact that St. Paul’s companions belonged more or less to the Hellenists, and that he may thus have been unconsciously subjected to the influence of Hellenistic notions. Barnabas the Levite came from Cyprus ( Acts 4:36). Silas (Silvanus) also was evidently a Hellenist. Timothy was the son of a pagan father and a Jewish mother; he had not been circumcised before St. Paul took him into his company ( Acts 16:1 ff.). Titus was a Greek ( Galatians 2:3). Apollos was a Hellenistic Jew, born and trained at Alexandria ( Acts 18:24). Aquila and Priscilla were Jews from Rome, born in Pontus ( Acts 18:2). In none of these cases (except that of Apollos) can we make out exactly how far the Greek influence went; but it is probable that most of the people referred to were much more Hellenistic in their training than St. Paul himself, while Apollos was certainly an out-and-out Hellenist.

We see the difference when we turn from St. Paul’s letters to the Epistle to the Hebrews and the so-called Catholic Epistles. Hebrews certainly came from the pen of a Hellenist like Apollos: its language and style, its interpretation of the OT, its definition of faith ( Hebrews 11:1), its psychology (cf.  Hebrews 2:14;  Hebrews 2:18;  Hebrews 5:7;  Hebrews 5:14) are sufficient evidence of this. The same is proved for 1 Peter by the metaphorical language in  1 Peter 1:13;  1 Peter 1:22;  1 Peter 2:1, and the terminology taken over from the Mystery-cults ( 1 Peter 2:2 [different from  1 Corinthians 3:2,  Hebrews 5:12-13]  1 Peter 1:3;  1 Peter 1:23;  1 Peter 3:20-21). The language of  Judges 1:12 f,  Judges 1:16 points in the same direction. In  2 Peter 2:22 a proverb is quoted which goes back to Heraclitus (P. Wendland, Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie , 1898, pt. xlix.), and the eschatology is partly Stoic (this letter we should perhaps call Hellenistic in the wider sense). The Epistle of James also is Hellenistic in this broad sense, as may be seen in the psychological analysis of temptation ( James 1:14), in the description of God’s unchangeableness ( James 1:17), in the notion of regeneration ( James 1:18), in the parables (  James 1:24-25;  James 3:3-4); ἀποκύειν ( James 1:15; Jam_1:18) belongs to the terminology of the Hermetic literature; the ‘wheel of nature’ ( Hebrews 3:6) is a Stoic term, etc. 1 Clement uses the legend of the phœnix to demonstrate the Christian hope of resurrection.

The Johannine literature, on the other hand, originates in a Palestinian Judaism transplanted into the soil of Asia Minor. There are Hellenistic elements in it ( e.g. the notion of the Logos), but they belong to the latest stratum in the development of the Johannine doctrine.

Christianity was thus influenced by Hellenism in various ways: after the Jewish Hellenists of Jerusalem had started it on its world-mission, the Hellenism of the Jewish Diaspora came to their aid, and the Hellenism of the Greek-Roman world received it gladly, after having prepared a way for it. In receiving it, however, Hellenism turned the gospel into a Mystery as it had done with the other Oriental cults. From this point of view Gnosticism and Catholicism are to be understood respectively as a rapid and a slow hellenization of Christianity.

Literature.-In addition to the works already cited, see A. Harnack, Dogmengeschichte 4, i. [Tübingen, 1909]; E. von Dobschütz, Problems des apostolischen Zeitalters , Leipzig, 1904, p. 97ff.; The Apostolic Age , London, 1909; ‘Christentum und Griechentum,’ in Das Christentum , Leipzig, 1908; G. Hœnnicke, Das Judenchristentum , Berlin, 1908; C. F. G. Heinrici, ‘Hellenismus und Christentum,’ in Bibl. Zeit- und Streitfragen , Leipzig, 1909; W. Glawe, Die Hellenisierung des Christentums in der Geschichte der Theologie , Berlin, 1912. Cf. articles Stephen, Paul.

E. Von Dobschütz.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

The history of contact of Greek-speaking peoples with the Eastern Mediterranean is long. Mycenaean pottery dating from before 1400 B.C. has been found on both sides of the Jordan. David employed mercenaries from Crete ( 2 Samuel 8:18 ). Contacts increased dramatically after Alexander the Great conquered Palestine in 332 or 331 B.C.

Koine Beginning about 300 B.C., Jews wrote in Greek both in the diaspora and in Palestine. The writer might be a Hellenized aristocrat, diplomat, mercenary, merchant, or any Jew living in a Greek-speaking area of the diaspora. Beginning about 200 B.C., Jewish worship was conducted in Greek in Egypt. The use of the Greek term synagogue (assembly) for a Jewish congregation or place of worship is a continuing witness to Hellenization. The ready acceptance of Greek by Egyptian Jews is evidenced by the surviving synagogue inscriptions from Ptolemaic Egypt, all of which are in Greek. The Zenon correspondence (259 B.C.) demonstrates that Greek was the language of state business in Palestine under the Ptolomies.

Greek Names By 300 B.C. Egyptian Jews were using adopted names derived from names of Greek gods: Apollonius; Artimidorus; Diosdotus (gift of Zeus); Dionysius; Heracleia; and Hermaios. Before 200 B.C. the author of the “Epistle” of Aristeas assumed that the majority of the elders who came to Alexandria from Jerusalem to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek, producing eventually the Septuagint, would have had Greek names and access to Greek education. Greek names are found even among “conservative” Palestinian Jews before 100 B.C.

The envoys Judas Maccabee sent to Rome had Greek names: Eupolemus and Jason ( 1 Maccabees 8:17;  2 Maccabees 4:11 ). Both the envoys Jonathan Maccabee sent to Rome and Sparta and their fathers had Greek names: Numensius, son of Antiochus, and Antipater, son of Jason ( 1 Maccabees 12:16;  1 Maccabees 14:22 ).

Bilingual Palestine Part of the success of Jewish diplomatic missions to Rome and Sparta before 100 B.C. stemmed from the ability to speak and write proper koine Greek (  2 Maccabees 4:5-6;  2 Maccabees 14:4-5;  1 Maccabees 8:1;  1 Maccabees 12:1;  1 Maccabees 14:16 ). The high social standing of Egyptian Jews in relation to native Egyptians hinged in large part on the Jewish adoption of the Greek language. (Compare  Acts 21:37-38 where the commander of the Jerusalem cohort mistook Paul for an Egyptian agitator until he learned he spoke Greek.) Jesus, like most Galileans of His day, would have understood Greek. Jesus visited the Hellenistic cities of the Decapolis (  Mark 5:20;  Mark 7:31 ). One of these cities, Gadara, was home to the famous Cynic philosopher Menippus and the “Syrian” epigrammatist Meleager (about 60 B.C.). Damascus was home to the well-known historian and peripatetic philosopher Nicholas.

Literature In contrast to the sparse Hebrew literature which has survived from the time before A.D. 100, a remarkably large body of Jewish literature has survived in Greek. The most important representative of this literature is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which served as the Bible of the early church. Extensive works of both Philo and Josephus survive as well as numerous pseudepigrapha. Even the Qumran texts written in Hebrew witness the influence of Greek ideas.

Politics The polis (city-state with a Greek-type constitution) was one of the principle factors in the spread of Hellenism. The polis was composed of free citizens with some degree of political and economic autonomy. The polis made use of Greek forms of government: the boule (senate), the demos (citizens' assembly), and the archontes (elected rulers).

The Seleucid king Antiochus refounded Jerusalem as “Antioch” in Judea with the status of polis in 175 B.C. The Sanhedrin served as the city's boule  ; the Mosaic law, as its constitution. The Hellenized high priest Jason displaced his more conservative brother Onias III and functioned as archon . Jason constructed a gymnasium and introduced Greek secondary education, training the elite youths as ephebes or citizens in training. Jason was succeeded as high priest by the even more radical Hellenists: Menelaus, Lysimachus, and Simon. Resistance to Hellenism resulted in Antiocus' reducing Jerusalem's status to katoikia (garrison town), with Syrian troops stationed in the city in 169 or 168 B.C.

The Maccabean revolt was in part a class struggle of the pious poor who clung to the traditional ways and the aristocracy who embraced Hellenism as a means to get ahead. Though the Maccabees succeeded in gaining political autonomy for Palestine, they were unable to stem the tide of Hellenism. The new rulers (called Hasmoneans) grew increasingly Hellenized. Jonathan was recognized by the Seleucids as king and high priest (150 B.C.) becoming in effect a Seleucid official. The Maccabees opposed the religious syncretism of Hellenism but succumbed to the broader culture of Hellenism.

The following were founded or refounded as Hellenistic cities in Palestine by 200 B.C.: Philoteria on Gennesaret (Bet Yerah); Scythopolis (Beth Shean); Berenice (Pella); Arsinoe (Damascus); Philadelphia (Rabbat-Ammon); Heliopolis (Baalbek). Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) established Caesarea Maritima, Hebron, and Herodium. He began rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple in Hellenistic style. Herod Antipas (4 B.C.-A.D. 39) founded Tiberias on the sea of Galilee. John's Gospel refers to the sea as “the Sea of Tiberias” ( John 6:1;  John 21:1 ). Herod Philip raised Beth-saida to city-state status, renaming it Julias after the wife of Emperor Tiberias.

Religion/Philosophy Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Hellenistic religion was its syncretism. The gods of the Middle East were identified with the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Hellenistic religion was characterized by a new emphasis on the individual. Religious fraternities dedicated to the worship of eastern gods offered individuals immortality. Hellenistic religion was also characterized by the public worship of the older gods of the city states and the new ruler cults. In the case of the ruler cult, the practice spread from east to west as rulers saw the unifying possibilities of a state religion.

Synagogue worship in contrast to Temple worship was purely verbal, consisting in prayer, singing, the reading of the law, and its interpretation. Such worship gave the appearance of being a philosophy to pagan Greeks. This identification of Judaism with philosophy was likewise encouraged by the strong ethical emphasis of Judaism. See Intertestamental History and Literature.

Chris Church

Webster's Dictionary [3]

(1): ( n.) A phrase or form of speech in accordance with genius and construction or idioms of the Greek language; a Grecism.

(2): ( n.) The type of character of the ancient Greeks, who aimed at culture, grace, and amenity, as the chief elements in human well-being and perfection.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

HELLENISM . See Education, Greece.