02.01.08 Greeks. The Greek culture had spread throughout the Mediterranean world during the three centuries before Christ, primarily because of the military victories of Alexander the Great. They believed in a variety of gods who were quickly accepted by all conquered peoples with the exception of the Jews. The Greeks chose to represent their heroes and gods in the nude because they viewed the human body as beautiful and full of meaning. This was, of course, in direct conflict with the values of Judaism. The Greek cities along the Jordan River were originally Canaanite cities, who also accepted the Greek culture and religions, known as Hellenism. By the time Jesus was in His ministry, pagan thought and reason had made major inroads into Jewish life and theology.
Finally, the Greeks and Romans had great difficulty understanding the Jewish religion. They could not understand how anyone could worship a god they could not see, and that deity did not behave as they did. Their thoughts were expressed very well by Tacitus, a Roman historian who wrote Histories between the years A.D. 69 and 96. He made the following comments about the Jews.
The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to show compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies.
They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at naught parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal.
Tacitus, Histories 5.5
. Pasachoff & Littman, Jewish History in 100 Nutshells. 49-51; Blaiklock, “Greece” 2:824-25; Strange, “Greece.” 2:566-67.