With Alexander’s conquests also came significant cultural change. In West Asia and North Africa, well-to-do tradesmen, intellectuals and aristocrats who were neither Greek nor Macedonian, including those who were Jews, had begun developing an interest in things Greek — to the annoyance of those who believed that the old ways were best. From Marseille to India, Greek became the language of intellectuals. The Greek gymnasium became popular. It was a place for bathing and physical exercise
Contact between the Jews in Judea and peoples around them had increased, beginning with the military colonies Alexander had established at Samaria and Gaza and the Greek bureaucrats and soldiers who filled Palestine. Alexander’s successors, Perdiccas, Antigonus, and Ptolemy from Egypt, also established cities in Palestine, and their armies frequently passed back and forth across Judah – called Judea by those speaking Greek. Some Jews were taken as slaves. Some of Judea’s young men joined the invading armies as mercenaries, and Jews became soldier-colonists – mainly for Ptolemy. After Judea came under the rule of Ptolemy, many Jews emigrated to Egypt, especially to Alexandria. Some other Jews migrated along the Mediterranean and Black Seas and settled in Asia Minor.
Ptolemy interfered in Judea’s affairs more than had the Persians. His tax collectors were more prevalent, but he allowed the Jews the freedom of worship and the same autonomy that they had enjoyed under the Persians. Judea’s Jews continued to be governed by their High Priest and Council of Elders, and most Jews continued to worship Yahweh.
Many Jews, especially in rural areas, preferred their old ways, while many Jewish merchants, aristocrats and intellectuals came to admire Greek education, Greek schools and libraries. Some of them found wisdom in Greek philosophy, significance in Greek logic, and beauty in Greek art. Many were attracted by the excitement of the athletic games and tournaments, and in Jerusalem a Greek-style amphitheater and gymnasium were built. Many Jews adopted Greek dress. Many who traveled had a Hebrew name for use within their community and a Greek name for contacts with others.
Influenced by Hellenism, Jews began giving titles and honors to women. They tolerated the mixed marriages that Ezra had forbidden, and some Jews abandoned circumcision, restrictions on foods and other laws that their Hellenized neighbors thought barbaric. A few Jews decided that people everywhere worshiped the same god under different names and that religions could therefore be united. Some others decided that Yahweh was not just the god of the Jews but the god of the whole world. Some of these Jews wanted to convert non-Jews to their god. And in places outside Judea, where Jews and gentiles spoke Greek, some curious gentiles came to Jewish synagogues, listened, and were converted to Judaism.
Some Jewish writers in Egypt wished to instill in their fellow Jews a pride in their Jewish heritage, to counter the feelings of cultural inferiority that many felt. Near the end of the 200s, a Jewish scribe named Demetrius wrote a work describing Judean kings, and he tried to prove that all of Jacob’s many children could have been born within seven years. Other Jewish writers attempted to describe Jewish culture as the oldest in the world and the Jews as teachers of other peoples rather than having been influenced by others.
Aramaic remained the language of most Jews — in Judea and Mesopotamia — and an effort was made to preserve Hebrew as the main language of literature and of religious gatherings. But Jewish scribes writing in Hebrew adopted Greek literary forms in their religious writings. Scholars believe that in these adoptions, Jewish scribes borrowed concepts that were not commonly known to Jews before Hellenization. And Greek translations of Persian also made Zoroastrian ideas more accessible to Jews.
Jewish writers continued an attempt to glorify Jewish culture, to defend it as the oldest in the world, to describe the Jews as teachers of other peoples rather than having been influenced by others. Around 150 BCE, a writer named Eupolemus wrote that Abraham was one of those who had survived the flood, that it was Abraham who had built Babylon, that Moses was the world’s first philosopher, and that Moses had invented letters and had taught the Greeks. Around 100 BCE, a Jew named Artapanus wrote a book entitled On the Jews in which he asserted that Moses had originated Egyptian civilization and had taught the Egyptians the worship of the bull-god, Apis, and the bird-god, Ibis. Another scribe, named Cleodemus (or Malchus), asserted that two sons of Abraham had joined the mythical Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) on his expedition into Africa and that Heracles had married the daughter of one of the sons.
A few Jews argued that if there were gods, the gods did not care. The devout countered with the claim that Yahweh cared but that he worked in ways that were mysterious to people because mortals were limited in their understanding of Yahweh’s labors, and they argued that eventually the righteous would be rewarded and the wicked punished.