Hellenistic world: Umbrella of civilization: Jerusalem began to take appearance of a Greek city

"Prophecy faded and died in Israel," noted Chaim Potok, renowned Jewish author, as he wrote of the period of time at the end of the Old Testament. (Wanderings - Chaim Potok's History of the Jews, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1978.) "Nehemiah had insisted upon the observance of the law of Moses, especially the Sabbath. Malachi was the last of the prophets. His closing words were `Remember the law of Moses My servant. . . .' YHWH Yahweh, or the Lord would one day break the silence between Himself and His people. Prophecy would revive. Until that time the law of Moses would be obeyed. It was the only link left between the people and their God.

"We know nothing of what went on in the land of Judah during the century after Nehemiah; there are no records. . . ."We can assume that exiled Jews continued to drift toward Jerusalem and the tiny district of Judah. There were Jewish communities scattered throughout the vast empire of Persia. . . . Each community retained its autonomy; at the same time, all communities looked to Jerusalem as central to the whole people."

Mr. Potok reviewed the conquests of King Alexander of Macedon, who conquered Judah in 332 B.C.E., or Before the Common Era. "Judea would soon be its (Judah's) name, a word that simply means the nation of Jews in Greek. That act of conquest removed Judah from the umbrella civilization of Fertile Crescent paganism. The Jewish world pivoted westward and entered the civilization of Europe. . . .

"At the time of Alexander's death all the world save Rome seemed tranquil and Greek. What the Greeks themselves had barely succeeded in doing, their warrior neighbors to the north accomplished splendidly: Greek customs, Greek language, Greek money, cities, and ideas had enveloped the lands conquered by Alexander. . . .

"Greek pottery, Phoenician amulets, and Egyptian idols have been found in Palestine dating to the fourth century B.C.E. Oedipus converses with the sphinx on a Greek cup. Six miles north of Jerusalem was found an Attic cup with a sphinx. A Jerusalemite shopping in a coastal city for pottery would return home carrying a drawing from Greek mythology on shaped glazed earth. Coins from Athens were the main currency for trade in fifth-century Palestine. They bore the figures of gods and sacred birds. But these were essentially the peripheral elements of Greek civilization. Neither Pythagoras nor Plato ever met Ezekiel; the Chronicler never met Herodotus; Ezra never met Aristotle; Euripides would have had no Jerusalem dramatist to converse with, for drama was an extension of pagan ritual and could have no place as yet in the sacred city. With the founding of a Greek city in the north and the settlement of Macedonian soldiery, there began the full shock of culture encounter between the worlds of Zeus and YHWH."

Jerusalem began to take on the appearance of a Greek city. Since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, Mr. Potok wrote, Jerusalem had remained "a backward mountain town," its people dedicated to the law of Moses as interpreted and taught by the prophets and Ezra. Then Jerusalem changed. "Jerusalem, city of David, was now host to Greek sports," Mr. Potok wrote as he described the Greek-style gymnasium in which Jewish youth tossed javelins, wrestled and ran races - sports typical of Greek youth. "The backward mountain city of Jerusalem entered the Hellenistic world, the umbrella civilization of that time."

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