The Babylonian Origin of Greek Science Rationalism, the Greeks, and the Jews

Fact Paper 16

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

An archaeologist recovering a 3400-year-old glass ingot from a Canaanite vessel that foundered off the Anatolian (Turkish) coast in the 14th century BCE. The 65 tons of cargo laded on that vessel included scores of glass ingots and a huge load of copper and tin ingots, seen stacked up on the sea bottom. Also recovered was a dyptich, a hinged wooden writing pad. The cargo attests to the advanced state of Semitic literacy, pyrotechnology, and science seven centuries before the Greeks adopted the Aleph-Beth, and over eight centuries before Greek merchants such as Thales, Pythagorus, Leucippus, Democritus and others brought mathematical, astronomical and scientific knowledge gained in Judah and Babylonia to Greece. Photograph courtesy of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

Rationalism and the Jews

It is commonly assumed by historians, Judaic scholars among them, that the Jews obtained a knowledge of science as students and translators of ancient scientific Greek works into Arabic, Latin and other languages. It is true that Judaic savants such as Maimonides immersed themselves in the body of Greek scientific works, and became major transmitters of the hoard of knowledge contained in them to the Islamic and Christian worlds.

But that is not the whole story. A new dimension to the origin of rationalism unfolds when we seek the answer to the question: "From whom did the ancient Greeks get their literacy, mathematics, science, architecture, and, for that matter, democratic precepts?" We find that the translation of Greek works represents but the completion of a cycle in which the Jews and their Babylonian progenitors provided the fountain from which the Greeks obtained their knowledge.

The attribution of the birth of rationalism to the Greeks is a classic example of the propositions that:

  1. History is based essentially on what survived, and not necessarily on what actually existed.
  2. Surviving physical evidence is largely what conquerors allowed to survive or was unknown to or overlooked by them.
  3. Surviving recorded history was largely written by rulers, or was allowed to survive, or was unknown to or overlooked by them.

We are left, therefore to interpolate the truth of past events from surviving records, whether true or fabricated, and from archaeological artefacts.

In interpolating the birth and development of scientific rationalism from such records and relics, we should first take note that science can be said to have begun with the greatest intellectual leap the human mind ever took: the Biblical attribution of the creation of the universe to a single, undefinable force. Jews could no longer accept the existence of a multitude of mystical, supernatural beings, and therefore could not look to them for answers to the mysteries of natural processes. The Jews were empirically obliged to rely on reason. That revolutionary Judaic concept formed the foundation for the extraordinary magnitude of Judaic creativity throughout the ages.

The credit for this universal concept, and for the rationalism which stems from it, is often wrested from the Jews and credited to undeserving sources. For example, the commentators on two Public Broadcasting System programs, one on Einstein and the other on The Creation of the Universe, credited the concept that the universe was created by a single, universal force as the foundation of scientific thought. Each commentator repeated several times that that revolutionary view of existence originated as a Judeo-Christian and Moslem concept!

What gall! What right do the Christians and Moslems have to share credit for originating the most progressive precept that mankind ever produced? The Bible documented that uniquely Judaic principle at least eight hundred years before the advent of Christianity, and no less than fourteen hundred years before Mohammed launched his bloody march to fame.

The TV commentators quoted no Christian nor Islamic reference for the mental leap from primitive concepts of creation to that of modern science. Instead they quoted the distinctly Judaic Genesis, which begins: "And the earth was without form and void..." and goes on to describe how everything in existence evolved from the void in a cataclysmic event that took place on "The first day."

The Jews alone arrived at this proto-scientific concept of creation three thousand years before Maxwell, Einstein, and the modern theory of The Big Bang. Whether or not one believes that a supernatural intelligence was responsible for this incomprehensible event, that three thousand-year-old, fundamental concept is the one almost universally accepted by the scientific community.

Both PBS commentators went on to credit the Greeks with the atomic theory. They were repeating a standard rendition of ancient western history which, until recently, was almost entirely derived from Greek and Roman sources. Western historiography, limited by these parameters, commonly starts with Homer, who was illiterate.

Greek philosophers and their followers deserve the world's everlasting gratitude for gathering knowledge from savants in Babylonia, for codifying the information obtained, for employing the principles of reason to expand on the knowledge gained, and for making it available to posterity. But just as the subsequent translators of that body of works cannot be accredited with its origination, so must we recognize that the fountain of Greek science and reason lay to the East.

Literacy and the Greeks

The Greeks appear on the proscenium of history in the 12th century BCE. From the 12th to the 7th century BCE, they were a collection of disparate, contentious, illiterate, barbarian tribes. For the sake of brevity, the all-inclusive label "Greeks" is here being used to encompass the ancient peninsular and insular Aegean groups, including the Dorians who invaded the peninsula from the north and indigenous peoples such as the Achaeans, Aeolians, Pelasgians, Macedonians, Epirotes, and others.

The single, most important factor in the elevation of Greek culture was the adoption of the Semitic aleph-beth. Until then, Greek mythology (we should hardly classify Homerís tales of one-eyed monsters and sundry other fabulous creatures as history), was rendered orally. The only reference to writing in that mythology appears in one of Homerís recitations. It concerns a foreign device, a folded tablet, brought to him by a messenger. The tabletís message, Homer relates, directs the recipient to kill the messenger carrying the tablet!1

"The poet," notes the historian Arnold Toynbee, "was aware of the existence of writing, but he may have known of it only as a contemporary foreign technique."2

Homer was clearly referring to a diptych, a pair of hinged wooden panels hollowed out on the inner sides to contain wax upon which a message could be inscribed. Precisely such a dyptich was brought up by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology from a Canaanite ship which foundered off the Turkish coast in the 14th century BCE.3 The vessel sank several centuries before Homer made reference to such a writing instrument, and predated the Greek acquisition of the aleph-beth by some seven centuries.

Yet the very term by which this revolutionary, Semitic "abecedarian" system, the aleph-beth, is presently known is by the Greek transliteration, the "alphabet"!

Would it not be more accurate, and more fitting, to term it the Alephbeth?

image of wooden diptych
A wooden dyptich, recovered from an ill-fated Canaanite vessel of the 14th century BCE, the earliest ever found. The vessel was wrecked off the coast of Anotalia (Turkey). It probably had a Semitic merchant on board who used the dyptich for his notes and calculations, done on wax impressed into the hollowed leaves of the hinged "writing pad." Photograph courtesy of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology

Science and the Greeks

It has been said that the roots of the tree of knowledge which bore fruit in Athens lay in Jerusalem. The physikoi, the Greek secular philosophers among the idol-worshiping Greek masses, followed Judaic precepts. The demystification of pantheons of mythical Gods and demons, and the introduction of a universalist principle, were essential to enlightened philosophy.

Thales (fl. 580 BCE) was the first significant Ionian philosopher. Thales was not born in Greece but in Miletus, Anatolia, near the very coast upon which the Canaanite vessel carrying the dyptich had foundered eight hundred years earlier. Thales was a merchant. Long before he wrote the works that made him renowned as the father of Greek science, he pursued a mercantile career in Babylonia, where he traveled extensively, and became immersed in Babylonian mathematics and philosophy.

Babylonia, we should remember, was the very region to which, according to the Assyrian king Tiglith-Pileser, 13,750 of the wisest and most skilled of the Israelites had been deported by 733 BCE, the number given to us in an Assyrian inscription.4 Thereafter 27,290 more Israelite sages, musicians and artisans were brought to Babylonia by Sargon II in 727 BCE, as Sargon himself boastfully recorded.5 The exultant blusters of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings confirm the Biblical accounts, beginning with: "In the ninth year of Hosea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan and in the cities of the Medes."6

Thales sojourned in the very area to which additional tens of thousands of Judahite artisans and savants were deported by the Babylonian Nebuchadnasser in 598 and 596 BCE.7 The descendants of these tens of thousands of Israelite and Judahite deportees multiplied to a population of a million; they established the great Judaic universities of Pumbeditha, Mahoza, Nehardea, and Sura. Thales traded in the very region in which the great Jewish sages of these universities came to write the Babylonian Talmud.

Thales acquired land-surveying techniques in Babylonia. The mathematicians of Babylonia supplied Thales with the information and the formula that enabled him to calculate the heights of pyramids by measuring their shadows when a manís shadow equals his height. This knowledge earned Thales renown as "The Inventor of Geometry!" The recognition is accorded him notwithstanding that the height of ziggurats were measured the same way in Eshnunna, two thousand years earlier! Eshnunna was a neighboring city to Ur, the presumed birthplace of Abraham in Akkadian Shinar, the very region which was to become Babylonia!

Mathematics was not all Thales learned in Babylonia. Babylonian astronomers supplied Thales with tables which enabled him to predict an eclipse of the sun in 585 BCE. This prediction made Thales famous, and not the Babylonian savants who supplied him with the tables in which the ecliptic cycle was recorded.

The Greeks thereafter not only adopted the Judaic/Babylonian astronomical tables and records, but:

  • The Judaic/Babylonia systems of measurements.
  • The Judaic/Babylonian units of weight.
  • The Judaic/Babylonian division of the day into hours, minutes and seconds.
  • The Judaic/Babylonian formulas for land measurement.

Very late in life, Thales came to teach that "Everything is one."

Pythagoras (582 BCE) followed Thales. Like Thales, Pythagoras was not born in Greece, but on the island of Samos off the Anatolian coast, likewise near where the ill-fated Canaanite ship cited above had met its doom hundreds of years earlier. The ship was carrying ingots of glass, a material still strange to the Greeks a thousand years later in the time of Pythagoras. The vessel was also laded with copper and tin ingots, demonstrating how the Bronze Age was borne from its Mesopotamian milieu westward. The pyrotechnology of the Near East, evidenced particularly by the export of glass ingots, bespoke a technology and a science far in advance of that attained elsewhere.

Like Thales, Pythagoras was a merchant who spent the first part of his life trading in Judah and Babylonia, and he likewise absorbed eastern knowledge and wisdom during his travels. There is no question that Babylonian mathematics is the foundation of Pythagorean mathematical constructions. As much as two thousand years before Pythagoras set foot into Babylonia the circle had already been divided into 360 degrees and the day into twenty-four hours. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, recounts this history, and informs us that the Greeks thereafter adopted the Babylonian sun dial and water clock.

The famous "Pythagorean" theorem: "The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is the sum of the squares of the two sides," was anticipated in its basic form in Akkadian Eshnunna, the very area into which Abraham was born more than a thousand years earlier. The other Pythagorean theorems, later collected and codified by Euclid, are based on the then two thousand-year-old sexagesimal system practiced in Babylonia: the division of the circle and time by multiples of six, and the mathematics by which a circleís diameter and radius subtends it into four right angles at its center. The Greeks thereafter not only adopted the Judaic/Babylonian systems of weights and measures, they also adopted the Judaic/Babylonian monetary units of obol, mina and talent.

Thus, neither alephbethic writing, nor the systems of space, time and weight, nor the monetary systems employed by the Greeks were Greek in origin.

Nor was astronomical science original with the Greeks. Herodotus, referred to as "The First Historian," visited Babylonia about 450 BCE. He accurately reported that it was there that the Greeks had learned the science of astronomy. Herodotus was one of many ancient historians who testified to the Greek absorption of philosophy and, by inference, science, specifically from among the Jews of Babylonia.

Hermippus of Smyrna baldly accused Pythagoras of the "imitation of the doctrines of the Jews and the Thracians, which he transferred to his own philosophy."8

Josephus, in emphasis, added a pointed comment of his own, "For it is truly affirmed of Pythagoras that he took a great many of the laws of the Jews into his own philosophy."9

Aristoxus of Tarentum, a pupil of Aristotle, concurred, stating that Pythagoras had obtained his basic knowledge from the East.

The accusation was likewise made by another Aristotle follower, the Judaic writer Aristobolus, who stated further that "Pythagoras, when speaking of the Deity, followed Judaic books."

The philosophy referred to by these ancient scribes was pantheism, the doctrine that holds that God is not human-like, but is a pervasive manifestation of all the laws, forces and attributes of the natural universe, clearly a concept which evolved out of Judaic universalist principles. The strands from which pantheistic theory was woven were brought to Athens by Easterners and by those Greeks who traveled in the East. They are responsible for making the Athens school of philosophy and science what it became. Judaic/Babylonian science is preserved in the surviving writings of those individuals, the body of literature which formed the basis for ancient "Greek" science.

Leucippus (c.400 BCE) was one of those philosophers. Leucippus is purportedly the founder of the atomic school of Greek philosophy. He was born in Miletus, on the southern Anatolian coast, again near the area where the Canaanite vessel had foundered eight centuries earlier. In the arena at Miletus an inscription was found that designated that sector of the theater as "The Place of the Jews." And yes! Leucippus acknowledged that it was on his sojourn in Babylonia that he learned the basic principles from the "eastern" philosophers, which he outlined in his works, The Great World System, and On Mind. It was among those unnamed, and presumably Judaic philosophers that Leucippus learned the elements of the atomic theory.

Democritus followed Leucippus, and is commonly but mistakenly credited in place of Leucippus as the initial promulgator of the atomist theory. Democritus like all the "Greek" merchant/philosophers mentioned above, was likewise not born on the Grecian peninsula but in the town of Abdera in Thrace between 470-450 BCE. It should be recalled that Hermippus reported that Pythagoras learned his basics from the Thracians and the Jews.

But where did Democritus, the Thracian, obtain his education ? Not in his native land - but in Babylonia. The Chambers Biographical Dictionary records that "[Democritus] traveled in the East, showed ceaseless industry in collecting the works of other philosophers." In fact, we know about Democritus only from fragments of voluminous notes he took on physical, mathematical, ethical and musical subjects. They were collected and compiled by Mullach of Berlin in 1843. Mullach attributed these works to Democritus, but there is every reason to believe that these scraps were but parts of the journals Democritus had made of his encounters with the "eastern" philosophers, as Democritus himself noted. Neither he, nor any other Greek ever credited by name the eastern mentors whose works or teachings they collected. We may readily assume that the knowledge obtained by Greek merchants while conducting their business in the East was common wisdom in the Judaic/Babylonian society at the time.

Democritusí collection passed on to posterity under his name, and the scientific lore he had collected from the eastern savants became integral to "Greek" science.

The great Maimonides emphasized that the theory that the universe is but an aggregate of basic elements is in perfect accord with Judaic precepts: "Everything that is subject to generation and corruption, is generated from the elements, and being corrupted, passes away into them.... for the matter of the all is one."

Aristotle (384-322 BCE), considered in western eyes as the father of formal logic, credited "a Jew" and the "learned men" with whom the Jew associated as one important source of his wisdom. Josephus quotes from a book by Aristotleís disciple, Clearchus, who chronicled Aristotleís statement:

"This man [said Aristotle] was by birth a Jew, and came from Celesyria; these Jews are derived from the Indian philosophers; they are named by the Indians Calami, and by the Syrians Judaei; and took their name from the country they inhabit, which is called Judea; but for the name of their city it is a very awkward one, for they call it Jerusalem. Now this man, when he was hospitably treated by a great many, came down from the upper country to the places near the sea, and became a Grecian, not only in his language but in his soul also; insomuch that when we ourselves happened to be in Asia about the same places whither he came, he conversed with us and with other philosophical persons, and made a trial of our skill in philosophy; and as he lived with many learned men, he communicated more information than he received from us."10

The governorís palace and the attached temple of Shu-Shin at Tell Asmar (Eshnunna), constructed at the end of the third millennium BCE. The majesty and complexity of the buildings attest to the advanced state of mathematics and architecture in the Mesopotamian milieu had achieved at the time, two thousand years before the Greeks built the Parthenon. The Biblical patriarch, Abraham is said to have been nurtured in this environment. A drawing by Seton Lloyd in the book by Joan Oakes: Babylon, Thames and Hudson, N.Y.,1979 and 1986.

The Alexandrian/Ptolemaic Period

The Greeks plunged into Semitic culture with Alexanderís invasion of Asia. Alexander was Aristotleís prize pupil, yet Alexander was a devotee of the very superstitions rejected by the Greek philosophers who had been steeped in eastern rationalism among the Jews. Hecateus, the chronicler who accompanied Alexander on his bloody campaign, reported that among the Judaic members of Alexanderís entourage was a horseman, Mosollam, "a person of great courage, of strong body and the most skillful archer that was either among the Greeks or the Barbarians." Alexanderís army was stopped in its tracks by a mystic to whom Alexander sought advice. The mystic took his cue from a resting bird, and pronounced that if the bird did not move, neither should Alexanderís troops, but if the bird did fly away, that would be the sign that it was safe for Alexanderís army to proceed.

Thereupon Mossolam drew his bow and shot the bird. The Greek mystic and other of the entourage were enraged, and a great lament arose in which the Jew was cursed. The Jew calmly turned to them and asked, "Why are you so enraged...? Had this bird been able to foretell the future he would not have come here in the first place!"

Mosollam was merely following Biblical proscriptions against omens and soothsayers, the foundation for scientific reliance on demonstrable facts.

The antiquity and sophistication of eastern science came as news to the Greeks, reflecting their entrance into the civilized world as novices. Megasthenes, ambassador to India under Seleucus from 306-298 BCE stated unequivocally that concepts credited to the Greeks were revealed to them in their intercourse with eastern sages. "All that has been written on natural science by the old Greek philosophers," wrote Megasthenes, "may be found in philosophers outside of Greece, such as the Hindu Brahmans and the so-called Jews of Syria."

Berosus, a priest of the Babylonian chief God, Marduk, under Antiochus I (281-261 BCE), lauded Judaic erudition, albeit his religion was sharply at variance from that of the Jews. Berosus stretched scientific intelligence back to Abraham. "In the tenth generation after the flood," he wrote about Abraham, "there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science."

Josephus related how Abraham was welcomed into Egypt as a great scientist and was encouraged by the Pharaoh to metaphysical debate with the Egyptian sages. Abrahamís sagacity confounded the Egyptians; he introduced them to the complexities of eastern mathematics, "and delivered unto them the science of astronomy, for before Abram came to Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning, for that science also came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also."11

That scientific, mathematical and astronomic lore stemmed generally from the eastern milieu was repeated by Greek and Christian authors into the third century of the Common Era; they often attributed this wisdom to the Jews.

For example, we note the statement of the Christian apologist Origines (184-254 CE) probably born in Alexandria and considered one of the most, profound, and seminal of the early church fathers. "Pythagoras..." wrote Origines, "where he speaks of the nations that believe God to be incorporeal, he also included the Jews among them and did not hesitate to quote the sayings of the prophets in his book and to give them allegorical interpretation."

As late as c. 275 CE the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyrius (233-304 CE) quoted the prevalent opinion about the Jews that "... inasmuch as they are philosophers by race, they discuss the nature of the Deity among themselves, and spend the night observing the stars."

The Israelite Volute Capital

One of the ironies of classical historiography is the anachronistic assignment of Israelite architectural elements to the later classical period. The wide publicity given to "Aeolic" and "Ionic" capitals as examples of Greek creativity, leads even well-meaning scholars to feel justified in terming capitals employed by the Israelites six centuries earlier, and indubitably the precursor of the Hellenic versions, as "proto-Aeolic" or "proto-Ionic."

Volute of an Israelite "proto-Ionic" capital

Thus homage is paid to the architectural acuity of the Greeks, while the creators of the architectural motif are shunted aside. The Israelite volute capital, with a motif of a pair of scrolls spiraling out from a central triangle, harks back to the third millennium BCE; it is found throughout the Fertile Crescent on cylinder seals, ivories, reliefs, wall paintings, and amulets. The incorporation of the motif into the capital of a column, however, must be attributed to Israelite architects. The motifs were widely employed in the pre-Greek capitals of major edifices of Hazor, Megiddo, Samaria, Jerusalem, Gezer, and at Transjordan and Moab.

"One can hardly believe it coincidental," comments the renowned Israelite archaeologist Aharoni about this early period, "[that] not even one has been found in an adjacent land." The earliest appearance of an equivalent architectural feature occurs in Cyprus several hundreds of years later in the seventh century BCE.12

Egalitarianism, a Judaic Precept

The ontological approach of rationalists, that is, the investigation of the existence of a creative force in the very nature of being, stems directly from the Judaic precept of the universality of the Creator. The denial of the existence of superhuman beings and demons and, per force, the rejection of the possibility of their interdiction into human affairs in person or by representations, and, more profoundly, the substitution of the exercise of free will for immutable fate, were tenets basic to the scientific investigation of the nature of the physical universe. These iconoclastic concepts, however, scarcely touched the Greeks as a society. The Greeks continued to worship and believe in the pantheon of mythical Gods and half-Gods, and Christian literati continue to romanticize them to the present day despite the inherent contradictions to their own faith.

It is apparent that from Thales to Aristotle among the Greeks, and from St Augustine to Aquinas among the Christians, Judaic precepts were the foundation upon which every one of the unitary concepts of creation were based. As far as the late-coming Moslems are concerned, it should be pointed out that the Arabs arrived in North Africa as illiterate mercenaries, and that the Golden Age of Arab science was brought into being by the Jews who were there before them, and later by those Jews in their midst who were largely responsible for the translation of the ancient works from Aramaic, Greek and Latin into Arabic and Spanish.13 Thus Judaic scholars bridged the gap from pre-Greek, Israelite and Judahite times to their era and subsequently from that classic era to ours.

The doctrine that the Creator is not anthropomorphic, that he cannot be represented in physical form, and that no human being nor human institution is endowed with divine qualities, is essentially egalitarian. Under that doctrine no mortal can claim a status of inherent superiority over another.

Oligarchic power is most conveniently justified by claiming the interdiction of divinely ordered privilege. The successive Greek, Roman and Christian rulers pragmatically extended priestly sanctification of conquest and domination to the deification of the ruler himself, thus discarding the egalitarian principles of Judaic law. Only the stiff-necked Jews clung to primary principles by refusing to acknowledge the divine rights assumed by rulers. The Jews have suffered miserably thereby.

The Diadochi, the Macedonian generals who divided up the territory conquered by Alexander, began the process of deification by certifying Alexander as god after his death and setting up official cult centers in Egypt and Asia. A number of the Ptolemies erected statues in the temples of Egypt, consecrated altars to themselves and appointed priests to attend them. Some of the Seleucids assumed the names of gods; Seleucus I made himself known by the name of Zeus and Antiochus I assumed the mantle of Apollo. The Jews stubbornly continued to refuse to recognize divinity in any human, rulers included.

When rulers invoked divinity and demanded obeisance, the Jews were obliged to act counter to royal mandate. Ordinarily such a transgression would be ignored. The Jews, after all, were commonly granted the right to practice their own religion and often to govern themselves autonomously within their own communities. But Jewish egalitarian precepts were bound to affect the peoples surrounding them, and even worse, to corrupt members of the hierarchy with anarchistic principles. Many Greeks and Romans were indeed inspired by the revolutionary Judaic philosophy, acknowledging the infinite qualities of the Judaic concept of God.

The numbers of Greeks and Romans who accepted Judaic tenets burgeoned. They contributed to the synagogues and participated in synagogue activity. These pious Gentiles were termed sebomenoi, that is, "worshipping ones." The Encyclopedia Judaica states that "there was an increasing number, perhaps millions by the first century, of sebomenoi, Gentiles who had not gone the entire route toward conversion." Then there was an increasing number of phobomenoi, or "fearing ones" (i.e. "God-fearers").14 These followers of the Judaic universalist tenets considered themselves Jews, but did not necessarily circumcise themselves nor necessarily practice the 613 Mosaic laws. These "God-fearers" are distinct from the theosbeis, or "God-worshipers," a distinction that appears in divers literary contexts. In the New Testament we find Paul in Antioch addressing the crowd at the synagogue, among whom are "men of Israel and you that fear God." Again in Athens, Paul "argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons."

There was a large body of Gentiles who had a good financial reason to conceal their adherence to the Jewish faith, for special taxes were imposed on the Jews. Suetonius pointed out that there were two classes of people who were persecuted by the Emperor Domitian, "for evasion of the special tax on Jews, namely those that lived as Jews without acknowledging that faith... and those that concealed their origin."

Nonetheless, the Greek author of the Sibylline Chronicles recorded that a census taken by the Emperor Claudius in 42 CE registered "exactly" 6,944,000 Jews in the Roman Empire alone, a rise from, at most, a million Jews at the time of Alexanderís invasion of Asia.15 There was, in addition, upwards of another million Jews outside of Roman hegemony. The phenomenal increase within three centuries in the numbers of persons who counted themselves as Jews can only be attributed to a substantial, continuous influx of Gentile adherents to Judaic precepts. Orthodox Jews were distressed with the influence of "Hellenism." In fact, the movement of Gentiles in the other direction was many times greater, albeit these proselytes did not necessarily perform all the Mitzvahs (commandments) demanded by the Judaic priests.16

The Roman hierarchy and apologists looked askance at Jewish influence. The stoic, Epictetus, expressed his chagrin over the pervasive Judaic influences and the resultant Gentile indulgence in Jewish practices such as Sabbath observance. "Why," asks the distressed philosopher, "do you act the part of a Jew when you are a Greek?"17 The third-century Christian poet Commodianus proffers the same complaint, "What! Are you half Jew?"18 St. Augustine, much concerned about the mounting Judaic tide, quoted Seneca ("the younger" 5 BCE - 65 CE): "The custom [of observing the Sabbath] of this accursed race," Seneca complained, "has gained such influence that it has now been received throughout the world." "The vanquished," Seneca once more bitterly proclaimed, "have imposed their laws on the conquerors."19

Steps were taken to bend the Jews to conform. Jews that refused to assimilate were made to suffer severely. After Christianity endowed states with divine rights, repression of Jews and their egalitarian tenets took a most virulent form. A blanket descended on the glorious role of the Jews in the history of rationalism. For the next thousand years, science itself suffered no less than the Jews. When the Renaissance revived rationalism, it was to the surviving works of the Greeks that philosophers turned, and no attention has been paid to the fountain from which the Greek philosophers drew their science in the first place.


A much fuller and more detailed exposition of the subject can be found in chapters 14, 15 and 16 of The Eighth Day; The Hidden History of the Jewish Contribution to Civilization, by Samuel Kurinsky, Jason Aronson, 1994, from which much of the above material was taken.

  1. Homer, Iliad, 6.168-169.
  2. Arnold Toynbee, The Greeks and Their Heritages, Oxford Un. Press, 1981, 32.
  3. Samuel Kurinsky, Ibid., 145-146.
  4. Hayim Tadmor, "The decline, Rise and Destruction of the kingdom of Israel," A History of the Jewish People, ed. H.H. Ben-Sasson, Harvard Un. Press, 1969, 133-134.
  5. Hayim Tadmor, "The Campaigns of Sargon II of Assur," Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 121 (1958), 33-40.
  6. (2 Kings 17:6).
  7. (Jeremiah 52:28-30; 2 Kings 24:14).
  8. Flavius Josephus, "Against Apion," vol. 4, The Works of Flavius Josephus, tr. William Whiston, reprint, Baker Book House, 1983, 174.
  9. Josephus, idem.
  10. Josephus, ibid., 176.
  11. Josephus, ibid., 179-180.
  12. Yohanon Aharoni, Archaeology of the Land of Israel, trans. A.F .Rainey, Westminster Press, 1982, p 215.
  13. Samuel Kurinsky, "Jews in Africa - The Islamic Diaspora," Fact Paper 19-IV, Hebrew History Federation Ltd. New York, 1-6.
  14. Jewish Identity," Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter, Jerusalem, 1972, 10:55.
  15. Pococke, ed. and trans. "Bar Hebraeus," in Historia Compeniera Dynastiarum (1985), 73. 116.
  16. Samuel Kurinsky, The Eighth Day; The Hidden History of the Jewish Contribution to Civilization, Jason Aronson Inc., 1994 307-12.
  17. Commodianus, Instructiones, 1.24.11ff, 1.37.
  18. St. Augustine, The City of God, 6.11.
  19. Arrian, Dissertationes, 2.19-21.