In Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It, Burton Visotzky provides us with both a sweeping and focused view of how Greco-Roman culture worked to mold rabbinical Judaism.
For example, the Passover Seder is quite purposefully designed after Greco-Roman style symposiums (with more decorum, no sex, and less drunkenness). In fact the classic Seder was celebrated reclining, in the Roman style.
But Visotzky explores far more than styles of eating. Roman culture permeated all areas of Jewish life, despite many Jews hostility to Rome. As the predominant culture, it was bound to impact all areas of Jewish life. The author explains an important point: after the destruction of the Second Temple, it took at least two or three centuries for rabbinical culture and authority to extend to most Jewish communities. This meant that certain Jewish communities, like the one in Dura-Europos in modern Syria, decorated their synagogue with human and other figures – something forbidden by rabbinical Judaism. Eventually, the rabbi’s version of Judaism would win.
But even their Judaism was permeated with Greco-Roman culture. The number of loan words in rabbinical Hebrew alone attests to that. This book throws light on an area of Jewish history that few ponder.