Judaism and Hellenism by Paula Fredriksen


One of the common intellectual poles that scholars think with when they are trying to understand the lifetime of Jesus is comparing Judaism with Hellenism, Judaism being a Semitic language type of tradition, Hellenism, obviously being a Greek cultural form.

The point, however, historically is that Alexander the Great went through that neighborhood three centuries before Jesus’ lifetime and that means that even for the type of Judaisms that we find in the Jewish homeland, in the first century, those traditions have also already been affected by Greek thought—whether they’re using the Greek language or not. Hellenism is part of the cultural furniture of the period; there is no [alternative] option to Hellenism in the first century in Jesus’ lifetime.

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The dichotomy [between] Hellenism and Judaism is something that can give a moment of fleeting clarity to us as historians looking at this material, but the lived experience in the first century in Jesus’ own lifetime would have been a Judaism that is Hellenized because Hellenism was part of the cultural coin for three centuries before Jesus’ lifetime.


Paula Fredrikson

Paula Fredriksen
Professor, Hebrew University

Paula Fredriksen, Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University, now teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Paul features prominently in her books about Jesus (From Jesus to Christ, 1988/2000; Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, 1999) and about Augustine (Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, 2010). In Sin: The Early History of an Idea (2012), she compares the ways in which Jesus and Paul speak about sin, forgiveness, and redemption.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

A Macedonian (Greek) general who conquered the Persians and ruled over a vast empire, from Greece to the Indus River, in the 330s B.C.E.

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