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Are there records of there being Epicureans in Judea of the 1st-3rd centuries CE or in surrounding territories? And if so, were there any notable ones among them?

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    Seleucid emperor Antiochus was sympathetic to Epicureanism and founded a Greek-style Gymnasium in Jerusalem that promoted it in the 2nd century BC. It was much opposed by traditionalists and short lived. One major figure was Philonides of Laodicea, although he lived at the Seleucid court in Syria, and exerted some influence over Antiochus and his nephew. Life of Philonides was discovered among the scrolls buried under the ash in Herculaneum. – Conifold Aug 5 at 7:58
  • @Conifold, thank you, that's very interesting. – Harel13 Aug 5 at 8:06
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    Epicurean History site with a section "Epicureanism and the Judeans" faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Spinoza/Texts/… – sand1 Aug 5 at 8:30
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There were Epicureans in Judea, as we learn mostly, or entirely, from their opponents. As it turns out, Epicurus' name has the distinction of being the only1 philosopher named in the Mishnah (Avot 2:14), used to refer to a member of the school.

Henry Fischel (Rabbinic literature and Greco-Roman philosophy pp. 2-3) lists the following evidence for Epicureanism in Judea, later Palestine (I use his words where possible and omit mention of philosophers outside of Judea/Palestine):

  • The anti-Epicurean Nicolaus of Damascus, Aristotelian court historian of Herod (c. 73-4 B.C.) in Jerusalem.

  • Some time before 165 Justin Martyr of Palestinian Shechem (Nablus) had opened the patristic opposition continuing where Paul had left off.

  • Origen, head of the catechetic school of Caesarea of Palestine for approximately twenty years (c. 232-252), who had studied Hebrew under Hillel, brother of the Patriarch Judah II, accused his opponent throughout most of his contra Celsum as an Epicurean and in the more than twenty passages of this attack reveals a considerable knowledge of Epicureanism.

  • Eusebius of Caesarea of Palestine, fl. 300, who preserved important Epicurean materials in his works, quotes fragments and anti-Stoic polemics of an Epicurean Diogenianus (c. 200) of uncertain nationality.

If we include Epicureans from surrounding lands, Philodemus of Gadara and Zeno of Sidon would be most prominent.

Fischel also considers the legends about the four who entered Pardes (= Epicurus' Garden) and others to be about exposure to Epicureanism. If Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Avuyah, and Rabbi Akiva are presented as (former) Epicureans, this would attest at the very least to familiarity with Epicureanism in the milieu, if not also some involvement in Epicureanism by the named persons.

1 Not counting Avoda Zara 3:4, where Philosophos is either a personal name or a textual error, despite one very tentative opinion to the contrary.

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  • I've heard of the Pardes being equated to Epicurus' Garden. I was wondering whether there are actual records of there being Epicurean influence in the area of the time (1st-3rd centuries CE). It's one thing to say that some teachings are similar to a certain philosophy but have no actual connection and another to say that there's evidence of an actual connection. – Harel13 Aug 5 at 15:42
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    @Harel13 I think that that's demonstrated well enough by the other paragraphs in the answer – b a Aug 5 at 16:37
  • It's the first time I hear about an association between the Pardes and Epicurus's garden.. interesting. The Pardes is of course usually associated with the esoteric teachings - Sod - Kabbala. – Ram Tobolski Aug 8 at 10:00

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