The later Roman action stamping out two Jewish revolts in AD 70 and 135 sobered the Jewish people but did little to damage them insofar as their religious or intellectual vigor. One finds a lively Jewish community in most cities with [[synagogue]]s that were richly adorned if not also impressive in their architecture. Right on through to the end of the history of this investigation one finds a rich literature that addresses similar problems of current philosophy.
So by the time of the AD first century, Jewish literature in Greek was hardly uncommon. That the majority of Jewish inscriptions in the Roman catacombs were Greek, that Judean synagogues had names in Greek, that Jewish persons in the later works of the Talmud had Greek names; none of this is a surprise. The example of Philo of Alexandria, sometimes thought to be an extreme one, portrays a Jewish thinker who was both observant in his Judaism as well as conversant with Hellenistic philosophical idioms. Besides the well known Philo or Josephus, tracking down the Jewish literature of this time on the theme of Moses alone yields the following Jewish authors who wrote in Greek or with Hellenistic attitudes: Aristobolus, Artapanus, Eupolemus, Ezekiel the Tragedian, and Orphica. Hence, for the both the Judean and Diaspora Jew, [[Aramaic]] was important, Hebrew was the sacred language, but Greek was the ''lingua franca'' for Mediterranean urban intellectual Jews as much as it was for Mediterranean urban intellectual Gentiles. And reading the scripture in Greek, praying in Greek; these were Jewish activities before they were Christian ones.
Language, then, was not an impediment to Jewish understanding of the world through Hellenistic eyes. All the more so does one find Hellenism within religious ritual a similar approach. For instance, gilding the horns of a sacrifical animal may appear to be pagan in its source to the proverbial man from Mars although it was circumvented by noting it as the adornment of a commandment. Further, a question as to whether the ''Amidah'' was a civic prayer for Jerusalem just as the Greeks prayed for their cities is worthy of exploration. But the most fascinating example of Hellenistic custom in Jewish religious ritual is that of the [[Passover]] ''seder''.
The ''Pesach seder'' or Passover meal had, and has, many practices that one does not find so readily in Scripture of any canon. One must first note that many items of the Israelite and Jewish religion were provided and handed down through a robust teaching tradition (e.g., how to tie the ''tzitzit'' or "fringes" of Numbers 15). The veracity of oral tradition in Judaism as well as in other traditions has more merit than most moderns will allow. Nonetheless, more than one curious similarity among a few Passover meal traditions are simply not found in the Ancient Near East records but are so among the Hellenistic banquet symposiums.
Following customs current among their Gentile contemporaries at the Hellenistic symposium, the ''seder'' follows the order of these banquets along with the various customs. Nonetheless, not only the outline of the meal but also particulars as well follow. Reclining at times throughout the meal is well known. The recounting of the plagues with the dropping out of the wine on a plate is alike to the tossing of wine into a center bowl of the Hellenistic banquet. Even the use of wine, not required according to the Exodus account, does not occur in the known literature until the Book of Jubilees, chapter 49, which book is usually dated to the second century BC when the Jewish community was in the thick of the late Hellenistic world.
Questions and discussions about the menu itself, in the philosophical manner, were a part of the symposium ritual. That the earliest Jewish reference to the ''afikoman'' (Mishnaic tractate ''Pesahim'' 10.8) noted that one should not conclude the celebratory meal with it. Why so?
While later tradition took this to mean quite the opposite, the context of the Hellenistic symposium ''afikoman'' shows why it was rejected by the earlier Jewish communities. The ''afikoman'' or "dessert" of the banquet was a time for carousing and drunkenness. That it was later introduced into the ''seder'', and even used by some Christians in modern times as a "proof" of messianic significance about Jesus, only becomes an intellectual and historical twist.
Significant particulars differ between the Hellenistic banquet and the Jewish Passover meal, of course. For one, the latter was a family meal in celebration of the Exodus story and the liberation from Egypt. The specific selection over time by which the Jewish community allowed and rejected certain symposium customs demonstrated that the surrounding culture had not dulled their theistic sensitivity.
Nearly every one of these idioms have direct precedents in the Hebrew Bible; those that do not certainly have parallel imagery to an Old Testament institution or theological convention. The early Christians drew upon the OT as a foundational literature and it is no wonder that the same idioms found their place in the new group. This was not much different, insofar as the use of the OT was foundational, from that role in the synagogue.
Apostolic Fathers as [[Clement of Rome]]
uses several metaphors for the Church in a section of 2 Clement 14. He described it as "the first Church" (''ek tes ekklesias tes protes''), the "spiritual one, created before the sun and the moon." Further, he calls it the "church of life" that is also the "body of Christ," a body which is the female as Christ is the male. It is not for now, the present, but has existed since the beginning (''anothen'').
So the Christian literature reports of both an immanent and transcendent view of the Christian community. The Church is not only at work in the world but has a supernatural reality as well. Operating often in an hostile environment, the members endure for the mission of the divine body, the Christian community.
What, then, were the precise similarities and differences in the purpose of the Church and that of the synagogue?
The synagogue rose to significance
from the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. Upon return, the institution was not to give way to the Temple ritual but instead was a supplement to it. The synagogue, a place of religious gathering, was not so much a ritual cult as it was a place of reading and exhortation. Squarely in the Ancient Near East tradition of teaching wisdom, the syngagogue was a place to discuss not only the meaning of the Pentateuch but also its application. And such applications, as seen in the scripture itself (e.g., Proverbs), was often as secularly clever in its application as it was religious. Of course, one makes this dichotomy with a modern perspective but it should not be thought that it was determined as such in the past. And so it was that in this way the pagan writers saw the Jewish people of the Hellenistic era as another school of thought as much as it was a national religion.
As noted above, the interior of the synagogue was often that of the Roman basilica or "great hall." The various functions of the Jewish synagogue were several and ran the gamut from civic to religious activities. One such civic function was the freeing of a slave, the manumission procedure. And naturally education took place within, though surely it was not a secular education as we might think of it today. Of course, the same kind of attention given to memorizing, and apologizing for, the works of Homer among the Gentile students was the same kind of tasks designated for the synagogue student but concerning the sacred books of the Jewish community. Perhaps in one sense it was "secular" insofar as the acculturation of Jewish children to their own religion and religious perspective was consequential for them to recognize their place of the Jewish people in the Hellenistic culture; i.e., it gave them a way to grasp the world.
The Christian church, on the other hand, was not quite the same in its function. Granted, one may argue that certainly there were parallels between the church and the synagogue--what else did they have to use? And naturally the prayer offerings in the synagogue paralleled the offerings in the Temple cult ritual. But several items show how different as well as similar were the functions of the Christian church, whether a "house church" or a dedicated structure for that task. One can approach this particular subject through the archaeological and literary evidence of the early Christians and see if it is possible to bring both to help construct some kind of picture.
As an illicit religion, a group without national underpinnings to make it legitimate to Roman rule and, thus, protected under law, Christianity functioned as one more Oriental religious group.
Although one takes care to recall the confusion of pagan writers attempting to comprehend Christianity as another Jewish group. Concretely, however, it was not seen as such during times of persecution. Because of such attacks the Christians found it wise early on to prefer the confines of a private home rather than build separately as some governors permitted. Nonetheless, such gatherings hardly resembled what would be considered today as an informal meeting of friends chatting about their faith.
Unlike the synagogue, the Christians held their gatherings not only as a time of worship but also for ceremonial reasons. And what ceremony had more meaning to the Christians than the eucharist? The eucharist was practiced not so much as merely a memorial or ''agape'' meal but as much perceived as the divine strength given through Christ to his body, his people. Debate continues among Catholic and Protestant thinkers as to the meaning of the eucharist in the apostolic and apologetic literature. And yet, one finds a comprehension that goes
far beyond what would be professed of the eucharist by the reformers of the 16th century.
Without extending this section of the article (which needs be taken up in
the section on Theology), it is sufficient to say that as the Jewish pious had both the Temple and the synagogue, the Christian had them in the body of Christ; i.e., the Church. Certainly, then, it would be as wrong to say that the local church was either a "Christian synagogue" or a "Christian temple"; the ancient people in Christ saw themselves as both an assembled body and a temple of Christ.
This body had a stratification according to membership from the catechumenate to the fully-communing, and yet all were "one in Christ." As a temple, this leveling made sense in light of the eucharist. After all, the ''mysterion'', the eucharist of Christ, could not be given to anyone but only to a repentant convert who recognized the power of the resurrected Christ. From the earliest times as recorded in St. Paul, the Apostolic Fathers, and in the early Apologists a work of worship--a liturgy--was the course of the meeting.
The strains of the agape meal or the “Lord’s supper” and the eucharist combined by the mid-second century into one full ceremonial meal, simply called the eucharist. And surrounding that meal were the attendant ritual celebrated so as to insure the propriety, an issue that arose at least by the mid-first century as reflected in the Pauline correspondence with the Corinthian churches.
Hence, the Christian worship
was divided according to its body and to its work. The first part was the liturgy of the catechumenate involving the reading of the scripture with a sermon, the second part was the liturgy of the faithful and the giving of the eucharist. The dismissal of the catechumens after the first division holds to this day in Orthodoxy and is a vestige of the ancient liturgy. This is the division which is more alike to that of the synagogue worship. Profession of faith, reading of Scripture, a homily of encouragement; each of these finds its place of origin in the synagogue.
Nonetheless, the [[Divine Liturgy|liturgy]] of the faithful finds it necessary for the attendance of the bishop, the symbol of church unity. Of course, the Pauline emphasis on either the "one loaf" or on the "one cup" indicates a Christian unity in the people themselves. Also, it would be a mistake to think that the importance of the bishop excludes the members; indeed, all are a royal priesthood. Still, the celebratory nature of the eucharist does not diminish its importance as a "sacrament"; i.e., the ''mysterion''.
Of course, none of these questions were a problem for the Jewish people of the Hellenistic era. They did have their own problems with a large, dispersed population outside Judea and the occasional misunderstandings and rhetorical attacks. And among the Jewish people themselves there were many solutions given both political and religious. Still, despite their diversity when more severe situations came upon them they were, admirably, able to handle them. As the Maccabean uprising demonstrated, for instance, they were hardly without recourse to militia-like activity when the need arose. And as Philo's ''Embassy to Gaius'' attests, they were not without diplomatic means to try to make good their need to maintain their religious heritage.
But whether these responses came in literary, political, or military form one thing about the Jewish people
shines through in all these conflicts, and that is the adaptability within their limits to best their adversaries. Whereas some writers, past and present, may see a stubbornness in the Jewish people of this time, can we not see a higher quality of loyalty and devotion? The religious ethic was primarily an ethic of not just a community but of a people. Finally, it would be a caricature of either religion to state that Christianity is of the individual and Judaism is of a people, as if either there were no Church or there were no individual Jewish persons. True, out of Christianity came an assortment of individual thinkers on serious subjects, but Judaism had as many lively intellectuals. And while there were bad results of a misguided idealism in the rebellion of Bar-Kokva, there were enough Christian verbal assaults against both Jews and pagans given on behalf of the Church. Also, one may note that as the synagogue became a center for a people without a Temple, so the Church became the hope for Christians who had undergone persecution by both Jews and pagans right up to the [[Edict of Milan]] in AD 314.
* Elias Bickerman, ''The Maccabees'', 1947.
* Baruch Bokser, ''The Origins of the Seder'', 2002.
* William G. Braude, ''Jewish Proselytizing in the First Five Centuries'', 1940.
* John Bright, ''A History of Israel'', 1981.