Hebrew and Hellenist

James Jordan’s work on the Jew-Gentile oikoumene set up in Daniel has far reaching implications.1 Peter Leithart writes:

“Yoder argues that from the time of the Babylonian captivity, the Jews developed a proto-”free church” model of community life. True in some respects. Jews didn’t have their own polity. But I’ve got doubts if that’s a fair characterization of Jews in and after the exile.

pjleithartWhy? The Bible for starters. Jews in exile are not isolated in their ghettos. They are seeking the peace of the city; Daniel, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Esther are the heroes of the time, and all fully integrated in imperial culture, whether Babylonian or Persian. They weren’t Amish.

Then there’s archeology. Jewish synagogues are everywhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they aren’t huddled off in some corner of the city. Some of them are right on the main drag.

If that’s right, it didn’t stay that way. Jews did retreat into more isolated communities over time. Which raises the question: What happened? Christian hostility to Jews is a big part of that story. But there’s perhaps something more fundamental: AD 70.

Robert Wilken wrote long ago that “the bond between Judaism and the Graeco-Roman culture was torn asunder by the Roman-Jewish wars. The epoch of Philo was the last in which the ideals of a brotherhood between Greeks and Jews could still be seriously envisaged.” AD 70 was the end of a world, the world that Jim Jordan calls the “oikoumene,” a cooperative between Jews and Gentiles that God set up at the time of the first fall of Jerusalem.

This has implications in several directions (perhaps). With regard to Yoder: The detached, free-church model comes late, not at the time of the exile. It’s a product of the Lord’s destruction of a unified Jew-and-Greco-Roman system. The “exilic” model that is found in the OT is a model that prominently includes Jews who are thoroughly engaged with the empire — even to the point of being civil servants, advisors, and prophets to the king.

More broadly: Wilken’s point challenges any simplistic Hebraic/Hellenistic dichotomy. Up until AD 70, there was no such dichotomy.

Finally, this also points to another of the ways in which AD 70 is the beginning of the Christian era. Through the Jewish wars, Judaism was isolated from Greco-Roman civilization, and gradually the church moved into the vacuum. As Tertullian claimed, the estrangement of Jews and Greeks meant that the church was the medium by which the antique wisdom and law of Judaism was brought into the Roman world.”

  1. See James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, for a full rundown on this important factor. Like so many things he has written or said in lectures, you might initially think it is odd, but then it plays out in the Bible hundreds of times and answers many niggling questions.

(Thanks to Dr Leithart for his kind permission to republish here. I actually asked him this time!)

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