{Jewish Sects and Orders}

THE HELLENISTS.
The expression, "Hellenistic Jews," (Acts 6:1; 9:29) must be distinguished from Greeks, as John 12:20. The latter were of Gentile race, although they may have embraced the Jewish faith, the former were Greek-speaking Jews. In the early days of the Church in Jerusalem these "Grecians" are distinguished from the "Hebrews," as though denoting different classes, with much mutual rivalry. The "Dispersion" of "scattering" of the Jews helps to explain the distinction.

In the different countries where descendants of Israel had found their (often temporary) home, Greek was the general language of communication, and would largely supersede their ancestral Hebrew; besides which, the manners and customs of the several peoples would affect their beliefs and the habit of their lives. Hence, although still Jews, they were said to be Hellenists and were not called indeed "Greeks." Many of these would, after longer or shorter absence, return to Jerusalem, which therefore contained, besides pure Hebrews, a large number of Hellenists, who seem to have had "synagogues" of their own.

The jealousy between Hellenists and Hebrews led to the institution of "Deacons," and it is observable that all the "Seven" had Greek names, as though the first appointment were from this class (Acts 6:5). Saul of Tarsus on his first visit to Jerusalem, "was talking and arguing with the Hellenists," as especially akin to himself. In Antioch the Jews "of Cyrus and Cyrene," driven from Jerusalem by persecution, are said to have preached to the Hellenists (Acts 11:20); but there are good reasons for reading "Greeks" in this passage, the record being of preaching to the Gentiles. The Dispersion of the Jews through the Greek-speaking world liberated Christianity, and gave to the world the New Testament.

Three places were the chief rallying-points of the Dispersion - Syria, Babylonia, and Egypt (where in Alexandria the Greek influence was at its height). Two epistles at least were addressed to Christian Jews of the Dispersion: (1) 1 Peter, addressed from Babylonia to "those who reside as aliens" in the provinces of Asia Minor; (2) James, "to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad," a phrase which proves that Israel was regarded as already reconstituted (cf. Acts 26:7).

Hel"len*ist (?), n. [Gr. : cf. F. Hell'eniste.]

1.

One who affiliates with Greeks, or imitates Greek manners; esp., a person of Jewish extraction who used the Greek language as his mother tongue, as did the Jews of Asia Minor, Greece, Syria, and Egypt; distinguished from the Hebraists, or native Jews (Acts vi. 1).

2.

One skilled in the Greek language and literature; as, the critical Hellenist.

 

© Webster 1913.

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