Essay, Research Paper: Graeco Roman Society


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Christopher D. Stanley in one of the articles of Journal’s for the Study of
the New Testament titled ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ talks about the ethnical
conflict in Graeco-Roman society. He focuses his writing on four main periods of
conflict existence. Before I will go to the summary of the periods I will
introduce his definition of ethnicity and conflict. By term ‘ethnic’ he
means “not as fixed quality that inheres in some objectively identifiable
population group, but rather as a fluid aspect of individual and group
self-definition that can be either highlighted or ignored as circumstances
warrant’ (pg. 110). Boundaries that are used to distinguish ‘insiders from
outsiders’(111) are (1) a belief in shared history, (2) a common culture, (3)
some form of physical difference. The author describes conflict as a competition
“for scarce social, economics, or territorial resources; where there are
discrepancies or change in the political power; where one group has migrated
into territory of another; where there is a historical conflict; or where groups
in the same area possess discordant systems of personal and social
values”(115). The author identifies four main periods of conflict what I
already mentioned in the introduction. First period extends through the latter
half of the first century of BCE. Fifty years later we have the second conflict.
Third ones is dated through the Levant and at the time of the Jewish Revolt.
Finally, the forth one occurred in Diaspora revolt of 115-17 CE. Primary sources
for these conflicts can be found in the writings of Josephus. In most instances
the conflicts are resulted from tensions between the Jewish community and the
local citizen-body and their leaders. Writer concludes his introduction saying
that “religious differences lay at the heart of these disputes” It is also
true in this case. Jewish monotheism was incompatible with the religious demands
of life in Greek city, making conflict inevitable. While Greeks and other
ethical groups constituted polytheism. In that time population of Asia Minor
(where almost all of the conflicts took place) inhabitants divided themselves
into Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). “Those whom the Jews lumped together as
‘Gentiles’ would have defined themselves as ‘Greeks’, ‘Romans’,
‘Galatians’, and members of various other ethnic populations. There is broad
evidence to indicate that both ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ regarded themselves
as distinctive. Greeks who can be describes as people in western Asia Minor-home
of a highly diverse population “with varying degrees of exposure to Greek
culture”(108), Hellene culture. When Jews thought of themselves as “a single
people united by common history and set apart from their neighbors by the
physical mark of circumcision, people who followed Torah”(112). From at least
the third century BCE, members of Greek and Jewish ethnic lived together. No
conflicts were known until the late first century of BCE. As the author
describes, Greeks were the primary oppressors of the Jews in Asia Minor. Jews
were hindered from observing their laws, and forced to appear in the court on
the Sabbath (this is the day they could not according to religion). Their founds
they have collected for the Jerusalem Temple were confiscated. Their sons were
conscripted into military service. Some of them have even been forced to expend
their own founds for public services. According to Jews beliefs what they
possessed came from God and they could not unrestrained these practices that
were in conflict with the cultural prejudices of Greeks. Nor did Greeks see any
reason to stay aside those beliefs and practices that contradicted their
identity. Political relationship was also one of the reason for conflict growth.
They both migrated to Asia Minor, but when Greek population exceeded Jewish
population, they felt privileged, and growth of Jewish immigrants from Palestine
became a concern for Greeks, since “their residence and status was dependent
on the goodwill of the citizen body.”(117). Jewish community always required
permission from authorities to hold public meetings, to maintain food markets,
to own property and so on. Another reason that author talks about is shortage of
currency. “In that time when currency was scarce, exporting money from city
only increased the economic hardship…, that made civic officials to prohibit
such a transfers and to expropriate Jewish founds in other to resolve an
economic crisis”(119) That all was coincided with Roman Civil Wars. Greek
cities were forced to contribute massive resources to compete with Roman armies.
By shortage of money they had to cut practice of sending founds to Judea to
support Jerusalem Temple. Concluding, all of the above described reasons;
cultural and relational differences, political relationships and economical
situation constituted to arising ethical conflict in Greece-Roman society.
However we live in 20th century looking at political arena we still can note
that Jewish communities are still involved in ethnical conflicts and mainly in
Asian part of the world. After reading that article I was able to have better
understanding of the situations described in Gospels from historical
perspective. Chronology and reasons of ethnical conflict made me realize how
important was for Jews to have someone who would free them from their
oppressors. They were waiting for ‘Survivor’ or’ Messiah’ as gospel's
writers called Jesus. Having cultural, religion and political freedom would
relieve their pain. I can relate the topic of the article to almost all of the
readings from the Gospels. Ethical conflict created a source for biblical
especially New Testament writings.
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