Despite strong anti-Jewish prejudices in Greek and Roman society, the discussion about a philosophical understanding of God and his creation was profitable for both sides. Jewish missionaries won sympathisers and even made converts among thepagans alloverthe Mediterranean world. Afine example of the appreciation of the language of Genesis can be found in Pseudo-Longinus, an unidentified Greek author of the first century ce: Moses, he says, shows his adequate understanding of the power of God by making him bring forth light and earth merely by his word.4 A whole historical tradition is known to us describing the Jews as a nation of philosophers.5 However, more books were written by Jews about the agreement between Judaism and Greek philosophy than vice versa. The explanation is easy: it was more important for the Jews to be accepted as a 'philosophical' nation, while there existed no such necessity for the Greeks. Jewish teachers experienced what was virtually unavoidable in their situation: they adapted their own ideas to those of their opponents and so unconsciously changed their own views, producing tensions over the question how far Hellenisation might be pushed. Its high point is found in the work of Philo of Alexandria (of whom more later).
A hypothetical observer in the first centuries before and after Christ might have had the impression that Jewish and pagan doctrines of God were converging. The most influential philosophical school in the first two centuries after Christ was Stoicism. The Stoics were not only a group of specialised scholars, but, with their teaching and their literary work, they dominated their followers' world-view, particularly in the field of ethics. Their austerity in life appealed to seriously minded intellectuals. Although the Stoics fostered materialism, they could give a theistic turn to their language about God.6 By the end of the second century, however, Platonism was dominant, and confrontation with this philosophy was most important for the moulding of the Jewish/Christian doctrine of creation. The period of Middle Platonism (50 BCE-250 ce) saw a definite turn towards theology.7 God, the demiurge of the Timaeus, the favourite dialogue for Middle Platonism, was equated with the supreme God. From the cosmogony of the Timaeus, the characteristic 'three principles' doctrine was derived. Three principles of equal standing, God, ideas and matter, constitute the world. The eternity of matter, out of which the world is made, was generally accepted, but at the same time the question is debated whether the ordered cosmos had its origin in time. Cicero and Philo of Alexandria testify
5 For full documentation, see Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, vol. 2, 255-61.
6 Cleanthes, Hymn to Zeus [SVF1, p. 118, lines 24ff].
7 Dillon, Middle Platonists.
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