Two factors define the culture of any ethnic group: religion first but also language. When all these Hellenians moved east, they took their religion and language with them. Because they were successful conquerors, their religion, language, and other cultural meanings were widely adopted by local leaders and ambitious youth in the eastern Olympian lands controlled by them.
The Great Library of Alexandria hosted the translation of Jewish Scripture from Hebrew and Aramaic into Koiné Greek around 250. The Septuagint remains the version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church today. It was also the version of Jewish Scripture known by the apostle Paul and quoted by him. Paul's letters were also written in Koiné Greek as were the other books of the New Testament.
Alexandria grew continually following its founding by Alexander in 331. It replaced Tyre, destroyed by Alexander, as the most important port in the eastern Mediterranean and grew increasingly wealthy. By 280, it had become the largest city in Olympia.
To his eternal credit, Ptolemy 1st built the Great Library in Alexandria and purchased its first set of scrolls.
Ptolemy 2nd (r. 285-246), his son and successor, supported the library even more strongly. He hired as many as fifty men, highly-educated in Hellenian culture, to do research and to teach there. He also provided lavish funds for the purchase and copying of scrolls. By 240, the library had become the largest in Olympian with over 500,000 scrolls. By then Alexandria, with the generous support of the Ptolemies, its own commerical prosperity, and its Great Library, had replaced even Athens as the most creative center of Hellenian culture in all of Olympia.
As a center of Hellenian learning, the library supported the studies of men like Herophilos (335-280), the first scientific anatomist; Euclid (ca 325-265), whose book on geometry was the standard textbook in the Olympia on that subject for 2,000 years; Callimachus (310?-240), creator of the first library catalogue; Archimedes (287-212), mathematician and scientist; Eratosthenes (276-194), geographer and historian; and Hipparchus (ca 190-ca 120), astronomer.
In addition to being the Olympian center of Hellenian culture, Alexandria became home to the largest and richest Jewish community in Olympia between 250 BC and AD 115. It was this community that desired and financed the translation of Jewish Scripture from Hebrew and Aramaic into Koiné Greek. This community also provided the context for Philo of Alexandria (20 BC-AD 50) whose books blend Jewish religion with Hellenian philosophy.
By the first century AD, Antioch had grown to become the third largest city in Olympia after Rome and Alexandria. It was in this large and prosperous city that followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Peter the apostle personally knew these people. They were also the ones who had the insight to send the apostle Paul on his first and second missionary journeys. With Alexandria, Antioch remained a significant center of Christian creativity for centuries.
Jews living in Levantia, especially in Jerusalem, did not escape a confrontation with the new, widespread, and strongly enticing culture of Hellenia. Religious leaders in Jerusalem argued with one another about the degree to which one might adopt or adapt to this Hellenian culture while still remaining meaningfully Jewish. A Seleucid ruler named Antiochus (r. 175-164) pressed the issue by banning significant Jewish practices and triggering a major rebellion, led by the Maccabees, in response.
Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.