Greeks versus the Jews

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´╗┐The Jews of Palestine and Syria, with those who lived on the Tigris and Euphrates, interpreted the Scriptures through the Targums or Chaldee paraphrases, and spoke kindred dialects of the language of Aram.

We have also had occasion to notice that other dispersion of the nation through those countries where the language of the Greeks was spoken. Their settlements began with Alexander's conquests, and were continued under the successors of those who partitioned his empire. Alexandria was their capital. They used the Septuagint translation of the Bible and they were commonly called Hellenists, or Jews who spoke the Greek language.

The mere difference of language would account in some degree for the mutual dislike with which we know that these two sections of the Jewish race, those who spoke the language of the Greeks versus Hebrew (Aramaean), regarded one another. We were all aware how closely the use of an hereditary dialect is bound up with the warmest feelings of the heart. And in this case the Aramaean language was the sacred tongue of Palestine. It is true that the tradition of the language of the Jews had been broken, as the continuity of their political life had been rudely interrupted.

The Hebrew of the time of Christ was not the oldest Hebrew of the Israelites, but it was a kindred dialect, and old enough to command a reverent affection. Though not the language of Moses and David, it was that of Ezra and Nehemiah. And it is not unnatural that the Aramaeans should have revolted from the speech of the Greek idolaters and the tyrant Antiochus, a speech which they associated moreover with innovating doctrines and dangerous speculations.

For the division went deeper than a mere superficial diversity of speech. It was not only a division, like the modern one of German and Spanish Jews, where those who hold substantially the same doctrines have accidentally been led to speak different languages. But there was a diversity of religious views and opinions. This is not the place for examining that system of mystic interpretation called the Cabala, and for determining how far its origin might be due to Alexandria or to Babylon. It is enough to say, generally, that in the Aramaean theology, Oriental elements prevailed rather than Greek, and that the subject of Babylonian influences has more connection with the life of Peter than that of Apostle Paul.


In the city of Alexandria, the emporium of commerce for the Greeks from the time of its foundation, where, since the earliest Ptolemies, literature, philosophy, and criticism had never ceased to excite the utmost intellectual activity. It is the place where the Septuagint translation of the Scripture had been made, and where a Jewish temple and ceremonial worship had been established in rivalry to that in Jerusalem. In Alexandria, there is no doubt that the Hellenistic (Greek) element largely prevailed. But although (strictly speaking) the Alexandrian Jews were nearly all Hellenists, it does not follow that they were all Hellenizers.

In other words, although the speech and the Scriptures of Alexandrian Jews were in Greek, the theological views of many among them undoubtedly remained Hebrew. There must have been many who were attached to the traditions of Palestine, and who looked suspiciously on their more speculative brethren. We have no difficulty in recognizing the picture presented in a pleasing German fiction, which describes the debates and struggles of the two tendencies in this city, to be very correct.

In Palestine itself, we have every reason to believe that the native population was entirely Aramaean, though there was no lack of Hellenistic (Greek language based) synagogues (Acts 6:9) in Jerusalem, which at the seasons of the festivals would be crowded with foreign pilgrims, and become the scene of animated discussions.

Syria was connected by the link of language with Palestine and Babylonia. Antioch, however, its metropolis, commercially and politically, resembled Alexandria. It is probable that, when Barnabas and Saul were establishing the great Christian community in that city (Acts 11:25, etc.) the majority of the Jews were "Greeks" rather than "Hebrews."

In Asia Minor we should at first sight be tempted to imagine that the tendencies of the Greeks would predominate. Antiochus, however, brought Babylonian Jews into Lydia and Phrygia. We, therefore, must not make too confident a conclusion in this direction. We have grounds for imagining that many Israelitish families in the remote districts (possibly that of Timothy at Lystra, Acts 16:1, 2Timothy 1:5, 3:15) may have cherished the forms of the traditional faith of the Eastern Jews, and lived uninfluenced by Hellenistic novelties.

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