Philosophy and Religion
Studies of Greek and Roman philosophical schools shed light on biblical intellectual developments. Since philosophy is enquiry into the principles of reality and its ultimacy, it was natural for Jews such as Philo to refer to Judaism as philosophy. Josephus likened Jewish groups to philosophical schools, a tendency that still continues. Paul was compared to Stoics long ago; the most recent in a long line is a comparison of the early Jesus movement with Cynicism. It is common to depend on the formative philosophical studies of classical scholars to provide the insights against which the relevant biblical material is examined. Some documents of Judaism and Christianity can be fruitfully understood within a framework provided by the philosophical schools and their literary products: in the early Christian period, with Cynic–Stoic materials, with Middle Platonism, and with Neoplatonism.
Greek religion, and Roman religion following its lead, was tolerant of worship of a wide range of deities, including deities foreign to Graeco-Roman cultures, such as Isis or Mithra or the God of Israel. Worship of the Olympian deities did not ordinarily create much sense of a personal relationship with the god, though study of Greek and Roman religion has clarified the wide range of attachments possible. Except in general ways, investigation of Olympian religion has not influenced understandings of biblical religion very deeply. Three subsets of issues, however, have had a strong impact on biblical scholarship: mystery religions, new religions, and ruler cults. Ruler cults were particularly strong in the Greek East, in settings such as Macedonia, Persia, Pergamon, the Seleucid empire, and the Ptolemaic empire. Their features and challenges are essential elements in the interpretation of the Bible, influencing study of Hellenistic civilization in the Levant, perceived threats to the worship of Judaism, the rise of synagogues in Egypt, the setting of Paul, and the early church's spread. The Roman Imperial cult—worship of the Emperor alongside the goddess Roma, which Augustus allowed albeit without enthusiasm—advanced vigorously in areas where early Christianity first spread. It represented an important choice that early Christians had to make. Among the earliest competitors of belief in Jesus were such new religions as the worship of Mithra from Iran and the worship of Isis from Egypt, along with others such as Cybele from Phrygia in Asia Minor. Classical scholars have provided stunning amounts of detail in the last quarter-century, and some features of their cultic practices have had important effects on the conceptualizing of early Christianity. The cults of Dionysos and Demeter (and Kore) were ancient mystery religions with long histories and deep attractiveness. They have been less effectively examined and applied to the Bible, partly because their initiation rites were so important, and there were such severe penalties for revealing their secrets that almost no information has come down about their activities. All three sub-fields—mystery religions, new religions, and Imperial religion—had footholds in Palestine: Samaria/Sebaste, Sepphoris, Beth Shean, Caesarea Maritima, and Panias.
Oracles, Miracles, and Magic
Oracular cult sites, particularly those associated with Apollo (e.g. Delphi, Klaros, Didyma), offered more personalized ways of hearing the god's voice and applying it in one's own personal circumstances. Numerous inscriptions at the various sites have provided insight into just how important socially and politically and religiously oracles were. The same is true of healing activities associated with cult sites dedicated especially to Asklepios; again, inscriptions and artefacts show the deeply held convictions with which worshippers came to an Asklepieion and recorded their thanks for healing received. These too might be found in Palestine for example, in Kedesh and in Jerusalem. Someone who could influence healing, through magic spells or incantations or secret symbols, was, in the Graeco-Roman world, often thought of as a holy man, theios anēr, a directly relevant ancient religious model for interpreting Jesus and Paul, or even Moses.
Greek and Roman religion has had a substantial impact on the ways in which both Judaism and Christianity have been viewed, including such aspects as initiation, salvation, resurrection, healing, prophecy, dream interpretation, communal life, worship, settings for worship, and many more.