Christianity within the Context of Historical and Contemporary Expansionism (2)

A Brief History of Judaism

Judaism is the oldest surviving monotheistic religion, arising in the Eastern Mediterranean in the second millennium. Abraham is traditionally considered the first Jew to have made a covenant with God. There was a small community of Jews in historic Palestine, but in 73 A.D., the Roman Empire dispersed them after an insurrection against Roman authority. Most Jews later lived in Diaspora[1]as minorities in their communities until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. When Jews from all over the world came to settle in modern Israel, they found that various subcultures had developed in different areas with unique histories, languages, religious practices, customs, and cuisine. Judaism is more concerned with actions than dogma. In other words, observance of rules regulating human behavior has been of more concern than debates over beliefs in the Jewish tradition. According to Orthodox Judaism, Jewish law, or Halakhah, includes 613 commandments given by God in the Torah and rules and practices elaborated by scholars and custom. Jewish law covers prayer and ritual, diet, and rules regulating personal status (marriage, divorce, birth, death, inheritance, etc.). It also covers observance of holidays (like Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and Passover, the feast celebrating the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt). Jews do not believe in the prophets after the Jewish prophets, including Jesus and Muhammad. Therefore, they do not subscribe to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, nor do they believe in the teachings of Islam.


Expansion of Judaism and the Role in History:

There were much more Jews outside Palestine than there were in it. Deportations of prisoners of war, but especially the interest of commerce, spread Jews in all directions from Palestine. It is estimated that during the time of the early Roman Empire, there were about two and one-half million Jews in Palestine. There were one million in each of the areas of Egypt. Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and about one hundred thousand in Italy and North Africa. Smaller colonies were scattered throughout the empire. [1]. The New Testament reference to the Dispersion is impressive: John 7:35, Acts 2:5-11, with many other references throughout Acts, James 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1. Inseparable from the Dispersion was the Synagogue. Together they established a natural base outside Palestine for the missionary proclamation of the gospel. The most important center of the Dispersion was Alexandria, Egypt. There the Jews occupied whole quarters of the city. The Old Testament was translated into the Greek language in 250B.C, thus making it available to the Greek-speaking world. Several Levitical rules and regulations restricted the foreign intercourse of Judaism. It looked as if the heathen were to be excluded from having any share in the religious truth revealed to Israel and which Israel was so precious. On the one hand, the heirs of the prophets were not persuaded to share their holy inheritance with the unclean heathen. 


For centuries the Jews had been spreading beyond Palestine. There was a constant stream of emigrants overflowing its boundaries in all directions. Jews were in almost all cities of the world. There were significant numbers of them in the Tigris and Euphrates; and Asia Minor. Alexandria in Egypt was divided into five districts, two occupied by Jews. In the Nile Delta, it was estimated that there were more than a million Jews. [2]. The Jews were along the coast of North Africa. The towns and cities of Macedonia and Greece contained Jewish colonies. In Rome, there were about 30,000 Jews. They had undergone a substantial change in their wanderings and long residence in foreign lands. They produced a new culture, modern civilization, composed of the best elements of Judaism and Hellenism. Judaism’ Ideal was the knowledge and perfect obedience to the law of God in the O.T. It was monotheistic and intensely religious. The Greek civilization was far under and more varied than it. The new Hellenistic civilization was a union of the two. It got its religion from Judaism, its philosophy, and its learning from the Greeks. [3]. There was no difference between them and their brethren in Palestine, and they kept their ties with the Holy Land. They met every Sabbath to study their law. Synagogues were established wherever they were Jews. They upheld the truth of their religion. They tried to keep the law, but they couldn’t remain Pharisees. A liberal movement was started among the Jews in the Diaspora, which was different from the Phariseeism of Palestine. It was a movement from the letter to the spirit, from the form to the contents, of the religion of rites and ceremonies to a religion of the heart. [4] The zeal of the ‘Diaspora Jews’ for God led them to become missionaries to the heathen living around them. For some centuries, Judaism made earnest efforts to become a universal religion in an attempt to convert the world. But Christianity, which proved to be a powerful rival, drove Judaism from the mission field. Judaism drew back from the free movement and settled into a rigid, legal orthodoxy.


The desire to convert people led them to present only the most attractive features of Judaism to their hearers. They took from the O.T. a few great ideas and laid all emphasis on the essentials of their religion. They used all forms of literature to recommend Judaism and make its teachings known. They produced a rich and varied missionary literature for three centuries. They translated the O.T. from Hebrew into Greek. They omitted or altered some expressions that would have been offensive to Greek taste and conceptions. They made various changes because of their desire to make Judaism more attractive to the heathen. They wrote commentaries on the Scriptures, by the best teachings of the philosophers to please the Greeks. They also used epic poetry and drama to explain Judaism to the heathen and fill them with a keenness for Judea’s history and religion. The Sibyls were mysterious prophetesses at the time and were held in high reverence by the heathen. Judaism missionaries used the name of the Sibyl to propagate the Jewish Faith. In the 2nd Century BC, some religious Jews wrote work purported to be by a Sibyl. In the prologue, she was made to say that she was a daughter of Noah and had been with her father in the Ark at the time of the Flood. She had moved from Babylon, and the Greeks had given her a false name. Sibyls foretold many prophecies that were widely read and significantly influenced the people. 


Vergil and Tacitus knew the prophecy and used them in their writings. Under the names of the most celebrated Greek poets and philosophers, they were alleged to have forged poems and histories in which these are made to teach the purest Jewish Doctrines and sound forth the praises of the faithful people of God. [1]  It is indubitably enough to show that the Jews were severe in their efforts to convert the world. The influence of Judaism was far more significant than has been believed. Many heathens became proselytes. They were circumcised, observed the law, and lived entirely as Jews. More people were influenced by their religious teachings but wavered between taking the vital step. These people are willing to observe some of the laws but not in their entirety, which they found exacting and burdensome. One can establish that these people learned much from Judaism. They got the true religion from the Jews, receiving the truth and framing their lives by it. The ceremonial part of Judaism was repellent to many people, and they thought it was unnecessary.


The scattering of the Jews activated the expansionism of Judaism. Expansionism was a blessing, and it was instrumental in spreading a higher conception of God and Purer moral standards. Many people learned about God and His Character from Judaism and in religious education and the development of the world and reception of Christianity.


  [1] Oliver J. Thatcher, 106, 107

  [1] Harry R. Boer, A Short History of the Early Church, Daystar Press, Christian Council of Nigeria, 1976 Copyright, Michigan: Win B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976; Reprinted 1983, 2003, 7

[2] Oliver J. Thatcher, “The Expansion of Judaism,” The Biblical World, Vol.1, No.2 (Feb.1893), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press Stable, 99.

[3] Oliver J. Thatcher, 100

[4] Oliver J. Thatcher, 101

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