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A Nation of Philosophers

Who are the Jews? Vol. 2

Seymour W. Itzkoff

A nation of philosophers is the description given by the Hellenistic Greek thinkers to the Jews when the Greeks and Jews first encountered each other, c.300 BCE. By this era, after the destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem, 586 BCE, great changes had taken place in Judaism.
The Persians had allowed for the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple, 539-520 BCE. Thence, the people of the province of Yehud had to be reeducated in their faith. Priests, prophets, and scribes from the Diaspora, Ezra/Nehemiah, c.458 BCE and after, emerged to explain the meaning of the then-ancient and sacred books. Thus, the Oral Torah, derived from the Holy writings of a bygone era, gradually developed as a guide to the present.
By 300 BCE, Jewish belief and practice had been severely impacted by the spread of the dominant Greek civilization. Greek secularism and modernism created a revolution within the Mid-Eastern faiths similar to what has occurred in the twentieth century. A crisis developed in Second Temple Judaism.
A new nationalism, along with new sects, arose in response. As a result of the Jong evolving chaos of revolution and search for identity, the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by Rome, 175 BCE- 135 CE. At the end, only Christianity and pharisaical/rabbinical Judaism survived. The former rose to the internationalist challenge of Hellenism. The latter, now without sacral or national roots, returned to the Holy Writings. The Jews were once more an alien people.
A Nation of Philosophers probes this mysterious and controversial transition. At first flirting with the modern, the universal, then in rejection and renunciation, the Jews became the «People of the Book», turning inward to the moral roots of YHWH's teachings as given to Moses.
Hellenism disappeared; the Jews survived. Was it due to the rabbinical insistence that in the study of the Talmud a higher and deeper education would result in the creation of a nation chosen for its intellectual and moral purity in obedience to a Law far beyond the standards of modernity?
Great sacrifice and incredible suffering followed, all to make possible the destined appointment with redemption and immortality. Is there a lesson here, 586 BCE-1200 CE, for modern Judaism?