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Chapter 11: Hanuka

2. The Greek Empire

As a result of the conquests, Greek culture spread throughout the world, consuming all other cultures and forming a single Hellenistic civilization


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Cheshvan 29 5782

Over the course of hundreds of years, an advanced culture developed in Greece and accomplished a great deal in the realms of science, philosophy, literature, art, architecture, military strategy, and politics. Its power increased gradually. In defeating his adversaries, King Philip II of Macedon united the Greek city-states under his rule. He invited the great Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle to tutor his son, Alexander III, later known as Alexander the Great. When Alexander ascended the throne, he began a campaign of conquests, and within three years (3426-3429/ 334-331 BCE), his army had conquered vast expanses of territory – Asia Minor, Eretz Yisrael, Egypt, and the entire mighty Persian Empire as far as India.

After Alexander died, the generals of the Macedonian army began fighting over the throne. In the end, they divided the vast territory under their control into several Greek kingdoms.

As a result of the conquests, Greek culture spread throughout the world, consuming all other cultures and forming a single Hellenistic civilization. The system of government, language, culture, and sporting competitions in every country were Hellenistic. The upper classes and the nobility of every land assimilated into Hellenistic culture imitated its ways.

Judea was among the areas ruled by the Greeks, and there, too, Hellenism spread. The Jews, however, were different from all the other nations, and the process of Hellenization proceeded relatively slowly in Judea. Nonetheless, over the course of 160 years of Greek rule, the influence of the Hellenists grew increasingly stronger, mostly over the affluent. It reached the point where the High Priests, Jason and Menelaus, were leading supporters of Hellenization, working to increase Greek influence in Judea. Jason built a gymnasium near the Holy Temple, which caused the priests to prefer watching wrestling matches rather than performing their sacrificial duties in the Temple.2

  1. Alexander the Great died in 3437 (323 BCE). At first, Ptolemy I and Seleucus I fought Antigonus I, defeating him in the Battle of Gaza in 3448 (312 BCE). The winners divided the spoils, with Ptolemy taking Egypt and Seleucus taking Syria and Babylonia. Later, the two fought each other over Eretz Yisrael, and the Ptolemaic dynasty prevailed, taking control of the Holy Land for over a hundred years, starting in 3458 (301 BCE). In the year 3562 (198 BCE), Antiochus III, a member of the Seleucid dynasty, conquered Eretz Yisrael, but his power waned toward the end of his life. He attempted to conquer the kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor, but the Romans intervened on their behalf and defeated Antiochus, who was forced to pay a steep war indemnity. His son Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the wicked king who enacted evil decrees against the Jews, took the reins of power after his father’s demise (3584-3596/ 176-164 BCE). (Most of the information in this and the following notes is taken from Dr. Mordechai Breuer’s Divrei Ha-yamim Le-Yisrael U-le’umot Ha-olam.)↩︎

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