Magness-the Hellenistic period

I have two thoughts today from The Archeology of the Holy Land by Jodi Magness.  These are from her chapter on the Hellenistic period.

First, the ancient Greeks did not ascribe divinity to their heads of state.  It was the Egyptians, especially, and some others in the Near East who did this.  In Egypt the Pharaoh was definitely a god.  When  Alexander the Great, a Macedonian, conquered Persia and Egypt, he spread Greek culture.  But the influence also went the other way.  Inscriptions and coins began to depict Alexander as a god or half-god.  Later, when his kingdom split between the Ptolomies and the Seleucids, the kings continued to show up with god-like characteristics.

There was no media to give the average person any idea what the king actually looked like.  There were just images, mostly on coins.  So the king could give any impression he wanted by tweeking his image to show divine characteristics. (I guess that political image-building today does something similar–only it is more complicated now.)

It seems to me likely that people interpreted this in different ways.  Some took the idea of divinity more seriously than others.  Many of the depictions had to do with the half-divine Hercules.  Today we take Hercules more as a superhero than a god.  I wonder just how religiously many ancients took their myth.

At any rate, the idea of the emperor as divine did enter the western world at that time.  It eventually led to the emperor cult in the Roman Empire.  But again, some of the Roman emperors took their divinity seriously while others did not.

The Biblical and apocryphal books of this era (Daniel and Maccabees) show that the Jews reacted strongly to the idea of the pagan emperor as a rival of YHWH.  This lies in the background of the familiar apocalyptic notion of the Antichrist, and is important background for the New Testament and struggle between the church and Rome.

The other thought has to do with the Jewish presence in Egypt.  We know from Jeremiah that that prophet and other Jews went to Egypt after the Babylonian conquest.  During the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the Jewish presence in Egypt grew.  In spite of the prohibition in Deuteronomy of temples outside of Jerusalem, the Jews built and maintained at least two temples in Egypt. From the island of Elephantine (Magness says to pronounce this el-uh-fan-TEEN-ee) on the Nile , we have over a hundred papyri detailing Jewish life in Egypt during the Hellenistic period.

We learn that there was a temple at Elephantine dedicated to YHWH and that animal sacrifices were offered there.  There was another Jewish temple at Leontopolis in the Nile Delta.  Sacrifices continued to be offered there until a few years after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.

Magness notes that we have found nothing to show that official Judaism ever tried to condemn these temples as illegitimate.  This stands in contrast to the condemnation of the Samaritan temple at Mount Gerizim.  These facts correspond with the theory that before and after Josiah’s reforms multiple temples seemed normal in Israelite worship, and that the prohibition in Deuteronomy is what was outside the norm.  Illegitimate temples were illegitimate because of aberrations in worship or because their priesthoods were deemed invalid, not just because they existed outside Jerusalem.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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