Prof. Erich Gruen, Wood Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of California, Berkeley
On the face of it, Greek mythology should have little attraction for the Jews of antiquity. Gods and heroes whom Hellenic myths portrayed as deeply flawed figures of avarice, jealousy, deception, lust, violence, and a host of misdeeds - - not to mention their worship in the form of images and idols - - should have been abhorrent to the Jews. And indeed they were frequently denounced by Jewish writers of the Hellenistic period. Yet the picture is not so simple. Numerous Jewish intellectuals, far from rejecting Greek myths, brought them into the fabric of Israelite tradition, linking Herakles, for example, to the family of Abraham or making Moses the father of Orpheus. How do we account for the adoption of Greek legends and tall tales by a society that ought to have rejected them categorically? What does this paradox tell us about the nature of Judaism in the Greco-Roman period?
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