Hellenistic influence on Christianity:
A study by Timothy M. Youngblood
Copyright © The Master's Table

Pythagorean mysticism influenced Christianity


The purpose of this study is to show that there was in fact pagan influence on the Sanhedrin before, during, and after Christ.
This pagan influence was Hellenistic influence and we can find scripture that reflects the early Christian church being persecuted by the Hellenist. Acts 9:29, "And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him." And we find in Acts 11:20-21, that some Hellenists were converted to Christianity. "But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus, and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord." Please see comments at the end of this study as I will reveal one of the most profound and destructive Hellenistic teachings that not only perverted the Jewish teachings but has done more damage to the true message that Jesus brought to mankind than any other. Regards: Author/Webmaster ~ Timothy M. Youngblood.

The influence of Hellenism:
The dominant feature of the decline of Hellenistic influence was the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, culminating in the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 313. In this period the various Hellenistic cults were persecuted and eventually extinguished, although their influence continued even within Christianity. Hellenistic philosophy (Stoicism, Cynicism, Neo-Aristotelianism, Neo-Pythagoreanism, and Neoplatonism) provided key formulations for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought through the 18th century. Hellenistic magic, theurgy, (A system of magic practiced by the Egyptian Platonists.) astrology, and alchemy (A form of chemistry.) remained influential until modern times in both East and West. And many formal aspects of Hellenistic religion; from art and architecture, to modes of worship, to forms of literature--persist in the Jewish and Christian traditions to this day. The information you will find in this study paper was gathered from various sources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, Josephus, Palestinian Talmud, Jewish Encyclopedia and writings such as the apocryphal writer Jesus ben Sirach. I will add - "Editor" - with my comments which should be few.

Any of various systems of beliefs and practices of eastern Mediterranean peoples from the period of the Greco-Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) to the period of Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor (d. AD 337). The empire that Alexander established constituted most of Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa, Persia, and the borderlands of India. The political and economic unification of such a vast territory opened the way for religious interchange between East and West. Almost every so-called Hellenistic religion occurred in both its homeland and in diasporic centres--the foreign cities in which its adherents lived in minority groups. For example, Isis (Egypt), Baal (Syria), the Great Mother (Phrygia), Yahweh (Palestine), and Mithra (Kurdistan) were worshipped in their native lands as well as in Rome and other cosmopolitan centers. In many cases, the imposition of Greco-Roman political and cultural forms in disparate regions prompted a conscious revival of ancient religious practices, which became linked to nationalistic or messianic movements seeking to overthrow the foreign oppressors (e.g., the Maccabean rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus against Jewish hellenizing parties and the Syrian overlords in 167-165 BC). Among the dispersed groups, however, ties to the homeland tended to weaken with successive generations, and religion shifted its focus from national prosperity to individual salvation. In terms of transmission, the diasporic groups may be seen as shifting from "birthright" to "convinced" religion.

The archaic religions of the Mediterranean world had been primarily religions of etiquette, in which the interrelationships among people, between the people and the gods, between individuals and the state, and between the living and the dead were all seen to mirror the divine order of the cosmos, which in turn was discernible through astrology, divination, oracles, and other occult practices. In the Hellenistic period, such an emphasis on conformity no longer spoke to the needs of displaced and subjugated peoples. The formerly revered law and order of the cosmos came to be viewed as an evil, perverse, and confining structure from which to be liberated. Most Hellenistic religions offered a highly dualistic cosmology in which the earthly realm in all its aspects--from despotic rulers to one's own body--constituted the imprisoning power of evil over the soul. Liberation was attainable through cultic activity, secret knowledge (gnosis), and divine intervention. The esotericism to which these changes led, emphasizing radical reinterpretation of the sacred texts and rigid codification of dogma, creeds, and means of admission, was met with deep suspicion by the Greco-Roman authorities. Attempts were made to expel foreigners or suppress foreign worship, and the emperor Augustus, among others, sought to revive traditional Roman religious practices. Externally, the heightened tension between Greco-Roman authority and the "new" Eastern religions expressed itself in wars, riots, and persecutions. The emergence of "emperor worship" with the deification of Augustus in AD 14 further escalated the animosity.

Hellenistic Judaism (4th century BCE-2nd century CE)
The Greek period (332-63 BCE) Hellenism and Judaism:
Actual contact between Greeks and Semites goes back to Minoan and Mycenaean times and is reflected in certain terms in Homer and in other early Greek authors. It is not until the end of the 4th century, however, that Jews are first mentioned by Greek writers, who praise the Jews as brave, self-disciplined, and philosophical. After being conquered by Alexander the Great (332 BCE), Palestine became part of the Hellenistic kingdom of Ptolemaic Egypt, the policy of which was to permit the Jews considerable cultural and religious freedom. When in 198 BCE Palestine was conquered by King Antiochus III (247-187 BCE), of the Syrian Seleucid dynasty, the Jews were treated even more liberally, being granted a charter to govern themselves by their own constitution, namely, the Torah. Greek influence, however, was already becoming manifest. Some of the 29 Greek cities of Palestine attained a high level of culture. The mid-3rd century-BCE Zenon papyri--containing the correspondence of a business manager of a high Ptolemaic official--present the picture of a wealthy Jew, Tobiah, who through commercial contact with the Ptolemies acquired a veneer of Hellenism, to judge at least from the pagan and religious expressions in his Greek letters. His son and especially his grandsons became ardent Hellenists. It has been argued that the Hellenic influence was so strong among the Jews of Judaea by the beginning of the 2nd century that if the process had continued without the forcible intervention of the Seleucids in Jewish affairs. Judaism would have become even more syncretistic than that of Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria (c. 15 BCE-c. 40 CE).

The apocryphal writer Jesus ben Sirach so bitterly denounced the Hellenizers in Jerusalem (c. 180 BCE) that he was forced by the authorities to temper his words. In the early part of the 2nd century BCE, Hellenizing Jews came into control of the high priesthood itself. Jason as high priest (175-172 BCE) established Jerusalem as a Greek city, Antioch-at-Jerusalem, with Greek educational institutions. His ouster by an even more extreme Hellenizing faction, which established Menelaus (died 162 BCE) as high priest, occasioned a civil war, with the wealthy aristocrats supporting Menelaus and the masses Jason. The Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had initially bestowed exemptions and privileges upon the Jews, intervened upon the request of Menelaus' party. Antiochus' promulgation of decrees against the practice of Judaism and the offensive and cruel measures to enforce them led to the revolt of an old priest, Mattathias, and his five sons--the so-called Maccabees, or Hasmoneans.

It has been conjectured that one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, mirrors the fierceness of this struggle. In any case, the figure of the martyr, as known in Judaism and Christianity--the person who bears witness to the faith through his suffering and death--dates from this event. The tactics employed both in the countryside and in Jerusalem by the Hasmoneans in their counterattack against Hellenizing Jews, whose children they forcibly circumcised, indicate the inroads that Hellenism had already made. On the whole, however, the chief strength of the Hellenizers lay among the wealthy urban population, while the Maccabees derived their strength from the peasants and urban masses. Yet, there is evidence that the ruthlessness exhibited by the Hasmoneans toward the Greek cities of Palestine had political rather than cultural origins, and that, in fact, they were fighting for personal power no less than for the Torah. In any case, some of those who fought on the side of the Maccabees were idol-worshipping Jews. The Maccabees soon found a modus vivendi with Hellenism. Jonathan (160-142), according to the Jewish historian Josephus (c. 38-c. 100 CE), negotiated a treaty of friendship with Sparta; Aristobulus (104-103 BCE) actually called himself Philhellene (a lover of Hellenism); Alexandra Jannaeus (103-76) hired Greek mercenaries and inscribed his coins with Greek as well as with Hebrew. The Greek influence reached its height under King Herod I of Judaea (37-4 BCE), who built a Greek theatre, amphitheatre, and hippodrome in or near Jerusalem.

Social, political, and religious divisions:
During the Hellenistic period the priests were both the wealthiest class and the strongest political group among the Jews of Jerusalem. The wealthiest of all were the Oniad family, who held the hereditary office of high priest until they were replaced by the Hasmoneans; the Temple that they supervised was, in effect, a bank, where the Temple wealth was kept and where private individuals also deposited their money. Hence, from a social and economic point of view, Josephus is justified in calling the government of Judaea a theocracy (Rule by those having religious authority. "Editor"). Opposition to the priests' oppression arose among an urban middle class group known as scribes who were interpreters and instructors of the Torah on the basis of an oral tradition probably going back to the time of the return from the Babylonian Exile (538 BCE and after). A special group of the scribes known as Hasidim (Greek, Hasideans), or "Pietists," became the forerunners of the Pharisees (middle-class liberal Jews who reinterpreted the Torah and the prophetic writings to meet the needs of their times) and joined the Hasmoneans in the struggle against the Hellenists, though on religious rather than on political grounds.

Josephus held that the Pharisees and the other Jewish parties were philosophical schools, and some modern scholars have argued that the groupings were primarily along economic and social lines; but the chief distinctions among them were religious and go back well before the Maccabean revolt. The equation of Pharisaic with "normative" Judaism can no longer be supported, at any rate not before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The fact that in 70 CE, according to the Palestinian Talmud there were 24 types of "heretics" in Palestine indicates that there was, in fact, much divergence among Jews; and this picture is confirmed by Josephus, who notes numerous instances of religious leaders who claimed to be prophets and who obtained considerable followings. Some other modern scholars have sought to interpret the Pharisees' opposition to the Sadducees --wealthy, conservative Jews who accepted the Torah alone as authoritative--as based on an urban-rural dichotomy; but a very large share of Pharisaic concern was with agricultural matters. To associate the rabbis with urbanization seems a distortion. The chief support for the Pharisees came from the lower classes, whether in the country or in the city. The chief doctrine of the Pharisees (literally "Separatists") was that the Oral Law had been revealed to Moses at the same time as the Written Law. In their exegesis and interpretation of this oral tradition, particularly under the rabbi Hillel at the end of the 1st century BCE, the Pharisees were liberal, and their regard for the public won them considerable support.

That the Maccabean ruler John Hyrcanus I, broke with them and that Josephus set their number at merely "more than 6,000" at the time of King Herod indicates that they were less numerous and influential than Josephus would have his readers believe. The Pharisees stressed the importance of performing all the commandments, including those that appeared to be of only minor significance; those who were particularly strict in their observance of the Levitical rules were known as haverim ("companions"). They believed in the providential guidance of the universe, in angels, in reward and punishment in the world to come, and in the resurrection of the dead, in all of which beliefs they were opposed by the Sadducees. In finding a modus vivendi with Hellenism, at least in form and in terminology, however, the Pharisees did not differ greatly from the Sadducees. Indeed, the supreme council of the Great Synagogue (or Great Assembly) of the Pharisees was modelled in its organization on Hellenistic religious and social associations. Because they did not take an active role in fostering the rebellion against Rome in 66-70 CE, they were able, through their leader Johanan ben Zakkai, to obtain Roman permission to establish an academy at Jabneh (Jamnia), where, in effect, they replaced the cult of the Temple with study and prayer.

The Sadducees and their subsidiary group, the Boethusians (Boethosaeans), who were identified with the great landowners and priestly families, were more deeply influenced by Hellenization. The rise of the Pharisees may thus be seen, in a sense, as a reaction against the more profound Hellenization favored by the Sadducees, who were allied with the philhellenic Hasmoneans. From the time of John Hyrcanus (135-104 BCE) the Sadducees generally held a higher position in comparison with the Pharisees and were in favor with the Jewish rulers. Religiously more conservative than the Pharisees, they rejected the idea of a revealed oral interpretation of the Torah, though, to be sure, they had their own tradition, the sefer gezerot ("book of decrees" or "decisions.")

Philosophical Background of the Hellenistic Age:
Hellenistic philosophy in contrast with the philosophy of Plato, which focused on the affairs of the polis, concentrated on the individual and his personal welfare. In general, Hellenistic philosophy recommended that the individual, in order to attain happiness, attempt to manage only what was for him personally manageable, his own character and thoughts. Man must become self-sufficient and not rely on anyone or anything outside himself for his well-being. Also, he must adopt an attitude toward external events which will result in attaining ataraxia 'imperturbability' (i.e., 'peace of mind'), the goal of most Hellenistic philosophies. The word "Hellenistic" comes from the verb hellenizein, which means 'to speak Greek' and also 'to Hellenize', that is, to make a non-Greek Greek. Because Alexander the Great had conquered the non-Greek East as far as India and had introduced Greek culture into that area, modern scholars have given the name 'Hellenistic' to the period of Greek history and culture following his death in 323 B.C. extending down to 146 B.C. when begins the period of Roman domination.

In the Hellenistic period various philosophies were devised in order to help man achieve happiness. The most popular was Stoicism. The founder of Stoicism was a Cypriot named Zeno (335-263 B.C.) who came to Athens in 313 and taught in a public colonnaded hall called the Stoa Poikile 'Painted Porch', from which his philosophy acquired its name. The doctrines of Zeno's philosophy aimed at the typically Hellenistic ideals of peace of mind and self-sufficiency and viewed man first and foremost as a member of the human race and secondarily a citizen of a particular polis. Stoicism adopted a physical theory of the universe in part derived from that of the Presocratic Heraclitus. The basic stuff of the universe is not inert matter, but a living creative fire, which contains the seeds of all creation. This fire pervades the whole universe in greater and smaller amounts. Higher forms of existence have more of it while lower forms, less. In its purest form it is identified with Reason and God, who is sometimes called Zeus, or Jupiter, his Roman counterpart. Although Stoicism uses these traditional names which usually designate an anthropomorphic divinity, its concept of divinity is entirely non-anthropomorphic. The existence of the other gods is not denied, but they are often interpreted symbolically as natural phenomena (e.g., Apollo = the sun), as natural substances (Hera [Juno] = air; Poseidon [Neptune] = the sea) or as human feelings (e.g., Aphrodite [Venus] = sexual urges).

The divine rational fire of the universe is also identified by the Stoics with Fate. Under the influence of Babylonian astrology Stoicism adopted the idea of the sympathy of the universe. According to astrology, what happens in one part of the universe affects what happens in another part. Man as a microcosm of the universe is affected by what happens in the heavens. This suited well the Stoic doctrine that man, whose soul consisted of a portion of the divine fire, was governed by the universal divine fire, which plotted out in advance human events. The most important difference between astrological fate and Stoic fate, however, is that the former is viewed pessimistically while the latter is seen optimistically as a rational and providential principle. Stoic providential fate is best summed up in the modern saying: "Everything turns out for the best". Thus, human events which seem bad are only apparent evils; if the ultimate purposes of God were known, they would be seen as leading to some good. Man must learn to adjust to and accept what happens; to resist divine providence (i.e., whatever happens) is wrong and useless. The only result of such resistance is loss of peace of mind. Willing cooperation with the Divine Will is the only sensible course of action and the essence of Stoic virtue.

The teachings of the early Stoics emphasized that man must learn to deal with whatever happens to him, whether good or bad, by eliminating the passions which disturb his soul, such as fear, greed, grief and joy. He must attain a state of apatheia 'a complete lack of feeling' in order to achieve peace of mind. This unrealistic demand on human nature was characteristic of the extreme idealism of early Stoicism, which aimed at creating a limited utopian community of perfect wise men who alone could achieve these high ideals. The Greek Stoic philosopher Panaetius (c.185-109 B.C.), however, made Stoicism a less exclusive philosophy embracing the whole human race by rejecting the doctrine of apatheia without diminishing the importance of self-control and by emphasizing the equality and brotherhood of all men on the basis that every man's soul is derived from the divine rational fire.

On a visit to Rome Panaetius became friendly with Publius Scipio Aemilianus, the conqueror of Carthage, who was at the head of a group of prominent philhellenic Romans known today as the Scipionic Circle. In this way the more humane values of Panaetius's version of Stoicism became popular among the Romans, who as a pragmatic people had little use for Greek philosophical idealism. Stoicism remained the dominant philosophy at Rome until the arrival of Christianity and even had a strong influence on the new religion. Second only to Stoicism in popularity was the philosophy of Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), the son of an Athenian schoolteacher, who established his school at Athens in a garden attached to his house. For this reason Epicureanism was often referred to as the philosophy of "the Garden". Epicurus's associates (including women and slaves) lived together in his house in a philosophical community linked by close friendships isolating themselves from civic affairs and sharing an almost ascetic way of life. Epicurus was a prolific writer, but most of his works are lost including his major work On Nature.

Epicureanism shared with other Hellenistic philosophies the emphasis on the individual rather than the state, peace of mind, and self-sufficiency, but what set it apart was its common-sense approach to life. Since man naturally seeks pleasure and avoids pain, Epicurus identified man's chief good as pleasure. This emphasis on pleasure earned Epicurus a bad reputation both in ancient and modern times, which survives in the archaic meaning of the word 'epicure' as a person devoted to the pleasures of the senses and to luxury. This is a misunderstanding of Epicurus's teachings; he was not a hedonist in the pejorative sense of the word. He saw pleasure as the absence of pain and pain as an unsatisfied desire for pleasure. But not every desire had to be satisfied.

Epicurus divided bodily pleasures into three categories: 1) physical and necessary (e.g., food, drink, clothing, shelter) 2) physical and not necessary (e.g., sex) 3) neither physical nor necessary (e.g., luxurious clothing or any luxury): #1 must be satisfied, #2 must be enjoyed prudently and #3 must be avoided. Pain, therefore, will only result when desires for pleasures of the first category are not satisfied. But perhaps even more critical to human happiness, according to Epicurus, is the avoidance of mental pains, which typically ruin human happiness: anxiety caused by involvement in public affairs, remorse brought about by a guilty conscience and the fear of the gods and of death. To avoid these pains is to experience pleasure of the mind and thus achieve ataraxia.

Epicurus supported his moral teachings with the physical theory of atomism, which he borrowed from the Presocratic philosopher Democritus of Abdera. His interest in atomism is not at all speculative but quite pragmatic. Epicurus saw in atomism an explanation of the origin of the universe that eliminated the gods from the world and proved that the soul was mortal. If man accepted atomism, then he would not be subject to those two great fears, which are most destructive of human happiness: the fear of the gods and of punishment in the afterlife. But this is not to say that Epicurus was an atheist. He believed that the gods exist in the interspaces between the innumerable worlds and, because they have no involvement with the world and the troublesome life of mankind, are models of Epicurean ataraxia.

Epicurus takes a purely utilitarian view of virtue, which he sees as secondary in importance to the avoidance of pain. Any virtue which brings pain is not to be practiced. On the other hand, we can most often avoid serious mental pain by being virtuous, because when we do wrong, we are tortured by remorse. In Epicurean ethics justice is not the all-encompassing moral principle presented by Plato, but a simple agreement among men not to harm or be harmed. In this light, justice is basically an effective means of diminishing the possibility of pain by agreeing not to inflict pain on others in return for not suffering pain.

Despite the Roman poet Lucretius's attempt in his poem On the Nature of the Universe to win his fellow citizens over to Epicureanism, this philosophy did not gain a large number of adherents at Rome. The Romans were a very religious people and religion was an essential part of the political structure at Rome. The political process with its extensive use of augury was predicated on the assumption that the gods were involved in the affairs of the Romans. The generally puritanical Romans also regarded with suspicion a philosophy which was so concerned with pleasure. Finally, Epicurus's recommendation of withdrawal from public life was not likely to earn his philosophy wide acceptance among an aristocracy which saw politics as a worthy and noble endeavor. With the advent of Christianity, Epicureanism met with even more hostility. Epicurus's teachings that the soul is mortal, that the world is the result of a chance combination of atoms, that there is no providential god and that the chief good is pleasure were totally at odds with Christian doctrine. ("Editor" ) With the exception of the soul being mortal, as the bible teaches that the soul can die. It is interesting to note that while the Old Testament has the concept of a human soul, the soul is never pre-existent or immortal but, instead the Old Testament teaches that the soul is the result of God as we find in Gen 2:7, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Notice that the man BECAME a LIVING soul.

Only under Persian and Greek influence was the Platonic notion of the divine pre-existence of the soul, its imprisonment in the human body, and its immortality taken up in Judaism. This occurred at a late stage and on the external boundarys of Judaism. Karl-Josef Kuschel, Born Before All Time? The Dispute over Christ’s Origin (Crossroads, New York, 1992), p. 184.

("Editor") As we see here in this study the influence of Hellenization among the Jews of Judaea also spilled over into the new Christian Church and influenced that Church so greatly that we find Hellenistic teachings in the Churches called Christian to this very day. To answer the big question about one major teaching that the Hellenist brought into first the Jewish teachings and then the Christian Church is that people go to heaven after they die. You see they (Hellenist) believed that all spirits in heaven are given the opportunity to enter into a human baby at birth and live using the flesh as the thing that needs to be overcome and after they died they go back into heaven and were judged on how they did. Then they could do it over and over sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a king and sometimes as a very poor man. This is also why some people believe that dreams they have are of their past lives.

The question many will ask is does it really matter to God if the Church accepts some teachings from those that are pagan? The answer is God will in His wrath destroy all pagan teachings and worship when He returns. Let's not just take my word for it. "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-- unless you repent. Rev 2:5. Also we find what He wants us to repent from in Rev 9:20-21 "But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts." We have on The Master's Table web site at the left column under Pagan Symbols many articles from our research showing the origin of many pagan symbols and false gods that have been accepted into the Christian religion. Is God troubled by this?

Regards:
Timothy M. Youngblood
WebMaster of:
The Master's Table

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