“Re-Hebraization” in the Graeco-Roman Period
In an earlier posting (which generated a number of energetic comments), I mentioned the widely shared view that in the earliest Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures (the “Old Greek,” from ca. 3rd century BCE and thereafter) the Greek term “Kyrios” was likely used as the translation-substitute for the divine name (YHWH, the “tetragrammaton”), and then subsequently the practice developed of writing the tetragrammaton in Hebrew characters in copies of the Greek OT writings. (My earlier posting is here. See esp. Martin Rösel, “The Reading and Translation of the Divine Name in the Massoretic Tradition and the Greek Pentateuch,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (2007): 411-28).
One of the things that makes this theory plausible is the evidence of a wider “re-Hebraization” in diaspora Jewish communities in the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods. One of the discussions of this that is based on a massive gathering of data is in the classic study by Victor A. Tcherikover, Alexander Fuks and Menahem Stern, Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (3 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957-1964). This 3-vol work gathers evidence especially from papyri connected to and or concerning the Jews living in Egypt in this period, and is a mine of information.
In vol. 1, there is an invaluable 110-page synthesis of the evidence that every scholar concerned with the ancient Jewish communities and/or the historical settings of earliest Christianity should study. They note “a spirit of national regeneration in Palestine” (among Jews) in the Roman period (p. 47). They point to a “steady increase in the use of Hebrew names from the Ptolemaic to the Roman period,” as “the best evidence of the gradual increase of national spirit among the Egyptian Jews.” [See Vol. 3, Appendix 2, “Prosopography of the Jews in Egypt”, on Jewish names on ostrace, papyri & inscriptions].
In the Ptolemaic period (ca. 3rd century BCE), Egyptian Jews seem to have been much more ready to use Greek names for their children and conduct their business (e.g., marriage agreements, burial inscriptions) in Greek. But as we move toward/into the Roman period, biblical names increase in frequency, and marriage agreements have codicils attached written in Hebrew, and Hebrew appears comparatively more often on burial inscriptions.
One of the factors that may have prompted this resurgence of ethnic and religious identity and distinctiveness was the attempt by Antiochus Ephiphanes to assimilate Jews culturally and religiously, leading to the Maccabean revolt in 167 BCE. That is, for many Jews the policy of Antiochus produced a sense of threat to their ethnic identity and integrity, and so a hardening of these things. This seems to have continued on under Roman rule too, leading to several disturbances, and finally two major revolts in 66-72 CE and then 115-117 CE.
So, it does appear that there was a resurgence of Hebraic identity among Jews, at least in the Egyptian diaspora communities from ca. the 2nd century BCE onward. And this makes the theory about the second-stage practice of writing the tetragrammaton in Hebrew characters cogent: It fits with these other developments.