Search the Site


Judaism and Hellenism

One of the common intellectual poles that scholars think with when they are trying to understand the lifetime of Jesus is comparing Judaism with Hellenism, Judaism being a Semitic language type of tradition, Hellenism, obviously being a Greek cultural form.

The point, however, historically is that Alexander the Great went through that neighborhood three centuries before Jesus’ lifetime and that means that even for the type of Judaisms that we find in the Jewish homeland, in the first century, those traditions have also already been affected by Greek thought—whether they’re using the Greek language or not. Hellenism is part of the cultural furniture of the period; there is no [alternative] option to Hellenism in the first century in Jesus’ lifetime.

The dichotomy [between] Hellenism and Judaism is something that can give a moment of fleeting clarity to us as historians looking at this material, but the lived experience in the first century in Jesus’ own lifetime would have been a Judaism that is Hellenized because Hellenism was part of the cultural coin for three centuries before Jesus’ lifetime.

  • Paula Fredriksen is the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She has authored seven books on Christian origins and on pagan-Jewish-Christian relations in the Roman empire and was a featured speaker in the PBS television special, From Jesus to Christ.