Two takes on Hellenism

Subject: Famous Person
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 866
Topics: Alexander the Great, Ancient Greece, Identity

Hellenism is a term coined to describe how the Greek culture influenced the Greek people as well as areas which the Roman Empire controlled. During ancient times when Jews returned home from exile, they vowed to protect their national identity and the laws of their land hence creating a very conservative group of people known as the Pharisees. About a hundred years later, Alexander the Great embarked on an expansionist endeavor by sweeping across western Asia as he expanded the territory from his native Greece to the border of India and down to Egypt. He took along his Greek culture and influenced the people from the regions he conquered. Hellenism influenced the earliest ways of Christianity and the influence was felt indirectly or directly. The two most prominent ways of assessing the extent of Greek culture in the world include the Jewish revolt against the Greek during the war of Maccabees and the description of the life of Alexander the Great by Plutarch.

The Jewish revolt of the Greeks as exemplified in the war of Maccabees set a precedent in human history because it was the ideological and religious war. Jews believed that their only monotheistic religion was worth dying for. The Jews were very loyal to Judaism and this led to a civil war because they fought their fellow Jews who were already Hellenized and sided with Greeks (Goldstein n.p.). In the year 167 BCE a series of horrible persecution of Judaism by the Greeks took shape and Greek troops arrived at the town of Modi’in and demanded that the Jews sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. The Jewish Priest by the name Mattathias refused.  He was quoted resisting the Greek influence when he stated that “If all the nations that lived under the rule of the King obey him and choose the Kin’s commandments, he and his sons were not ready to obey any o the King’s commandment that departed from the religion of their forefathers. He also stated that he would not obey the King’s word by turning aside from their religion” (Maccabees 2:19-22). This development was a clear indication of the resistance that the Greek expansionism was rejected and resisted. Mattathias stabbed the Jew who tried to sacrifice the pig and also killed the Greek official, who was present at the scene and announced to the crowd to follow him in standing with the covenant of God.

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He fled to the wilderness with his supporters and five sons. The author of Maccabees identifies the initial supporters of Mattathias as Hasideans who happened to be a group of stalwarts from Israel who volunteered to offer armed resistance against the Greek sympathizer. After initiating the revolt, Mattathias lived only for one year and his son Judas took over the leadership and escalated the Greek resistance and captured the Jerusalem temple. He oversaw the purification of the temple and the annual eight day festival of Hanukkah. Maccabees affected the New Testament in the sense that their oral laws became a major point of contention while a few prominent individuals such as Nicodemus, Paul and Gamaliel were identified as members of Maccabees.

Plutarch’s argument about the Greek influence on other cultures is based on Alexander the Great’s military expeditions that brought many Macedonians and Greeks to the East and eventually to India through the Persian Empire.  Plutarch lived between 46 A.D and 120 A.D and attributed Alexander as a man who lived with philosophical virtues (Plutarch n.p.). Alexander the Great carried his western customs and made sure he placed the men in his armies in charge of the conquests along the way. As a result the eastern culture mixed with the western culture creating a new cultural phenomena u-in Alexander’s empire. Alexander facilitated the assimilation and integration and intended to create cultural syncretism by creating a unified empire comprised of Greeks and non-Greeks.

Archeological and literally evidence of Hellenistic period showed that Greco/Macedonian customs took root in Eastern regions as a result of Alexander’s expansionist initiatives. Hellenism influenced the architecture of cities, religion, education and new cultural norms that combined the elements of west and East. Alexander the great’s conquests and cultural assimilation of Hellenistic age facilitated a significant cultural transition. His death came with the split of his empire into three distinct kingdoms whereby one was in Egypt led by Ptolemy, another in Asia and was controlled by Seleucid and another in Greece and Macedonia led by Antipater. The three kingdoms became the spheres of influence over many years and as political landscape throughout Hellenistic period until the wake of Roman Empire. Plutarch’s explains the motivations behind Alexander the Great’s military conquest  and cultural assimilation and integration as originating from his desired to adapt himself to local habits of the people he wanted to influence. For instance” He started wearing a barbarian dress as he advanced to Parthia” Plutarch argues that the main aim of Alexander the great was to bring the Greek language to the barbarian cultures.

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  1. Goldstein, J. A. (1976). I Maccabees. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  2. Plutarch. (2004). The Life of Alexander the Great. New York: Modern Library.
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