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
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.
New Testament Journal, 1998
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