Influences on a Dispersed People

“It is easy to think that after the exile all the Jews in Babylonia return to Palestine.  Many Jews choose not to return and are still living in Babylonia, Egypt, and other areas as well.  Those who have been assimilated into other cultures have been influenced in a number of ways, including their religious beliefs and practices.  With the Hebrew language rapidly giving way to Aramaic and other languages, there is waning interest in reading the Torah, as the Law of Moses has become to be known.  Thus the law’s influence itself has diminished.

One of the most disastrous influences of Persian origin is the belief that God is an aloof, impersonal god.  It does not take long for any Jew, or non-Jew for that matter, who accepts this notion to have difficulty with Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be called Immanuel — that is, God with us.

With these and other cultural threats becoming increasingly apparent, the more orthodox Jews take steps to combat the pagan influences.  And yet, ironically, the steps they take are not particularly in the direction of the very law they are trying to preserve.  They too are victims of their strange environment.  Under the law, the temple is to be the center of their sacrificial form o worship, and priests have the responsibility of teaching the law to each generation.  Yet during the exile, and even after its end in areas other that Palestine, there is no temple, and sacrificing is often politically impossible.  Substituting as best they can, the faithful begin to emphasize prayer and the inward sacrifice of the heart.  The temple is replaced by an institution known as the synagogue, where the people gather for singing, prayer, and discussion of God’s laws.

The synagogues themselves foster changes in the Jewish religion.  First to be noticed is the declining role of the priest, and his replacement by those known as rabbis.  The rabbis are men whose superior knowledge of the law has set them in positions of great respect as the teachers in the synagogues.  The fact that they gain such respect, oddly enough, leads to a second, and most significant, link in the evolution of Judaism.  That link is the rise of sectarianism.

Another extension of the rabbinical movement is the development of the many written interpretations of the rabbis and the often greater importance attached to these writings than to those of the Torah itself.”

Hellenism and the Jews

“A new city on the Nile is established to take the place of the destroyed city of Tyre.  That city, appropriately named Alexandria, will become a significant center of Greek influence.  And because a large number of Jews will eventually become citizens, the Green Hellenistic culture will have a profound effect on both the Jewish people and their religion for centuries to come.”

Judaism Under Roman Rule

“The Pharisees have become masters of the oral traditions which have come down from the rabbis over the past four centuries.  They are enamored with interpretations and legalistic hypotheticals which do not necessarily have to be answered with reference to the Torah.  Although they probably would not acknowledge it, apparently for the Pharisees tradition is on a par with the law itself.  That fact takes on added significance when it is coupled with the belief that one earns merit with God by scrupulously observing every technicality of law and tradition.  With this popular support, many Pharisees have been chosen for high government positions, including the Sanhedrin, which is the highest tribunal of the Jews.

The second major sect is known as the Sadducess. They are closely associated with the Greek intellectual movement arising earlier out of the Alexandrian community, and have adopted the Epicurean belief that the soul dies with the body.  They do not believe in a resurrection.  Somewhat curiously, the Sadducees reject oral tradition and accept only the written law, but they readily apply their Hellenistic logic to their understanding of the Torah.

Many more sects also have come into being, and found throughout are traces of Persian mysticism, Greek humanism, patriotic Judaism, and time-honored ritualistic traditions.  In their religious beliefs and practices, the Jews have come a long way from Mount Sinai.”

All quotations taken from The Daily Bible.