Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Athens in Jerusalem

Classical Antiquity and Hellenism in the Making of the Modern Secular Jew
Yaacov Shavit
Translated by Chaya Naor and Niki Werner

'Ambitious, elaborately structured and wide-ranging . . . Shavit's book will be the fundamental work on Jewish Hellenism for a long time to come.'
Tessa Rajak, Times Literary Supplement

'Truly a fascinating and challenging study in Jewish intellectual history . . . The author has covered a spectrum of a dazzling array of writers and thinkers . . . in an extremely lively and readable style.'
Louis H. Feldman, Shofar

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'Shavit's exposition successfully depicts an impressive panorama of Jewish intellectual history . . . a pluralistic plea against any form of fundamentalism.'
Dan Diner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

'Remarkable achievement . . . This is going to be the major work on Jewish Hellenism for a long time to come . . . future scholars may supplement Shavit's narrative, but none will ignore it. It should be in every library and on every syllabus for classes in Jewish studies and the reception of antiquity . . . a must-read - but be prepared to burn a lot of oil while digesting its rich contents!'
Richard Armstrong, Classical & Modern Literature

'Judicious . . . Shavit's rich and lively study raises fundamental questions and issues that have to be addressed if Jewish and especially Israeli society is to make any sense of its heritage in the coming decades.'
Mordechai Beck, Jerusalem Post

From the eighteenth century on, Jews seeking to acquire a modern identity began to take a new interest in classical antiquity and Hellenistic civilization as a key to the secular Jewish culture they sought to develop. It was of course not the ‘real’ classical Greece to which they aspired but rather its idealized image as perceived through contemporary eyes, but this image became an important element in the search for a new Jewish self-awareness. For the modernizing Jew, ‘Greek’ became a metaphor for the secular culture of modern Europe in its various forms.

Yaacov Shavit’s study also provides an illuminating test-case in the realm of historical consciousness and the history of ideas. Those interested in the growth of secular and national Judaism will find that this wide-ranging book makes a significant contribution to an understanding of its development. Through discussion of many centuries of Jewish literature, the reader is given fresh insight into Jewish culture and shown how its development in the modern period has been influenced by the response to other cultures. Those who are interested in classical antiquity and Hellenism will welcome this book as a unique opportunity to see the worlds of both as Jews perceived them over many centuries.

 

About the author

Yaacov Shavit is Geza Roth Professor of Modern Jewish History, Tel Aviv University.

Contents

Translator’s Note
Introduction

PART I The First Mirror
1 Waking the Dead: Greece as an Ideal and an Exemplar
2 Hellenism and Hebraism: The Two Poles of the World
3 Israel and Greece: Reviving a Legendary Past
4 'Greek Wisdom' as Secular Knowledge and Science
5 Japheth in the Tents of Shem: The Reception of the Classical Heritage in Modern Hebrew Culture
6 The Moral Dimension: Commonality and Particularity
7 Worlds without Compromise: Reconstructing the Disparities
8 Have Jews Imagination? Jews and the Creative Arts
PART II The Second Mirror
9 The Nature of the Hellenistic Mirror
10 Judaism and Hellenism in Palestine and Alexandria: Two Models of a National and Cultural Encounter
11 Homeric Books and Hellenistic Culture in the World of the Sages
PART III Athens in Jerusalem
12 Back to History: The Secularization of the Ancient Jewish Past
13 The Children of Japheth (Aryans) and the Children of Shem (Semites): Race and Innate Nationalism
14 The People and its Land: Country, Landscape, and Culture
15 A 'Polis' in Jerusalem: The Jewish State
16 The New Jewish Culture: Ideal and Reality

Conclusion: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Bibliography
Index

 

Reviews

Yaakov Shavit is a leading Israeli scholar of intellectual and cultural history. This work expands upon his previous studies of the ways that modern Jewish and Israeli writers have negotiated foreign and native elements in their quest to forge a new secular culture . . . The book is an encyclopedic, if not exhaustive treatment of this subject, which, in its various permutations, is the subject of modern Jewish thought . . . the prodigious scope of the book cannot but elicit astonishment and admiration. The range of subjects and fields of citation . . . give the book the feel of a magnum opus. In an academic climate in which “small is beautiful”, Shavit’s book provides a stunning and welcome exception to the trend. It represents a study of modern Jewish culture encompassing the breadth of intellectual history characteristic of an earlier age of scholarship.
Elliott Rabin, AJS Review

'Remarkable achievement . . . This is going to be the major work on Jewish Hellenism for a long time to come . . . future scholars may supplement Shavit's narrative, but none will ignore it. It should be in every library and on every syllabus for classes in Jewish studies and the reception of antiquity; and hopefully, it will stimulate dialogue and further study among the various fields of reception and cultural studies, including the history of science . . . a must-read - but be prepared to burn a lot of oil while digesting its rich contents!' Richard Armstrong, Classical & Modern Literature

'Judicious . . . As a historical survey Shavit's book is both timely and suggestive. In any debate as central as this, it is crucial to have the historical data from which to draw conclusions. . . . Shavit's rich and lively study raises fundamental questions and issues that have to be addressed if Jewish and especially Israeli society is to make any sense of its heritage in the coming decades. The analysis presented here provides crucial material and perspectives that others will have to respond to in the years to come.'
Mordechai Beck, Jerusalem Post

'The book's subtitle misleads us into believing that its dominant focus will be the Greek roots of modern secular Judaism. In fact, much more can be learned about Jewish intellectual history . . . a useful reference book for researchers into such diverse fields of interest as Jewish attitudes towards sport, the role of archaeology, or the rediscovery of Jewish wisdom literature.'
Ayala Levin-Kruss, Jewish Book News & Reviews

'The greatest concern of secular Judaism is the definition of its function in modern life, and Shavit offers us an accurate sense of the difficulties with which the freethinking modern Jew was confronted . . . Shavit has undoubtedly shown the validity of the "Greek mirror" in reflecting on the historical path Judaism has followed over the past centuries.'
Wout Jac. van Bekkum, Journal of Jewish Studies

'Shavit's exposition successfully depicts an impressive panorama of Jewish intellectual history . . . a pluralistic plea against any form of fundamentalism.'
Dan Diner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

'The book itself originally appeared in Hebrew in 1992, but it has been considerably revised and modified. It is truly a fascinating and challenging study in Jewish intellectural history . . . The author has covered a spectrum of a dazzling array of writers and thinkers, and we are most grateful to him for seeking to do so sine ira et studio. The work is written in an extremely lively and readable style.'
Louis H. Feldman, Shofar

'Ambitious, elaborately structured and wide-ranging . . . Shavit's book will be the fundamental work on Jewish Hellenism for a long time to come . . . offers as powerful a case study as one might hope to find on the uses and abuses of classical antiquity. He also has much of interest to say on matters nearer the margins of his subject. He views history as a continuum, darting to and fro in time and taking in the Ancient World itself. Thus he analyses in some detail the Jewish-Greek literature of the period, or rather the small part of it which survives, teasing out its underlying assumptions. This is a worthwhile task . . . It is a curious, and indeed fascinating feature of this book that the writing seems at moments to come from within the debate itself.'
Tessa Rajak, Times Literary Supplement

ENDORSEMENTS

'An original work of scholarship shedding new light on a subject that has been studied and debated for generations. This is a rich, colourful, and moving tour de force taking us past different periods, from antiquity to the present. This profound and insightful work is a major contribution to the understanding of Jewish intellectual and cultural history.'
Jehuda Reinhartz

'With admirable clarity and verve Yaacov Shavit has performed an important service both to scholarship and to the public.'
David Vital

'This wide-ranging survey of the way that Jews have understood and misunderstood classical antiquity will bring home to modern students of the ancient world the role of theology in the interpretation of the past.'
Martin Goodman