The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History
Persians to Greeks
Alexander of Macedonia defeated Darius and conquered the mighty empire of Persia, briefly creating the greatest empire the west had ever known. Alexander saw the sense of winning over the Jews, who had remained loyal to the Persians who had founded them and favoured them as a loyal outpost of the Persian belief in the universal God of Heaven, and therefore of the Almighty’s king of kings on earth, the Persian king. The Jews of the Jerusalem temple had yielded peacefully to Alexander who then worshipped before the Jewish God. Later, the Jews of Babylon surrendered immediately to the conqueror, and other Babylonian Jews submitted too. Shortly, Alexander had a Jewish contingent in his Babylonian army.
Alexander aimed at unification by promoting cultural assimilation and set up Greek cities, administered in the Greek way and operating Greek schools, religions, gymnasia and theatres. The Jews adopted the Greek way of doing most things and incorporated them in their sacred writings. In the Hellenistic period the Jews adopted the Greek habit of teaching in schools in which they imparted the skills taught in Greek schools, poetry, philosophy, reading and copying, and began the habit of commentating on texts. When they came to writing a history of themselves they used many of these Greek arts and also the Persian concept of linear history.
Alexander had no thoughts of changing the Persian and Assyrian policy of pacification and continued to deport people. Thompson describes Judaism as “Asiatic Hellenism”. Jews were central to the life of Alexander’s new empire and many of his cities like Alexandria, Antioch and Babylon had large Jewish populations whether by deportation or by voluntary mercantilism. The Samaritans, on the other hand, rebelled against the Greeks and Alexander massacred whole sections of the population. Other Samaritans he moved into his new city, Alexandria, in Egypt and replaced them with Macedonians from his own country, organized as a military colony at the heart of Palestine.
But Alexander’s empire split into two main divisions after his death, a northern, Seleucid, branch and a southern, Ptolemaic, branch. Palestine initially was under the Egyptian kings, the Ptolemies, but later the Syrian Greeks, the Seleucids, took over. Samaria (Israel) tended to look to the Seleucids and Judah toward the Ptolemies, accentuating the differences between the two statelets.
Ptolemies and Seleucids
When Ptolemy seized Jerusalem against little opposition because it was the Sabbath day in 320 BC, he took many prisoners from Samaria as well as Judaea and settled them in Egypt. A few years later in 312 BC, Ptolemy was again campaigning in Palestine and razed several large towns to the ground, again forcing many people to emigrate to Egypt, a favourite place being the new city of Alexandria and another being Ptolemy’s Jewish colony in Cyrene. Besides the enforced moves of Jews to the new city, Ptolemy welcomed voluntary pioneers from Palestine. All of this movement from Palestine meant that, even as early as the reign of the first Ptolemy in Egypt, there were probably more Jews in Egypt than in Judaea.
The scriptural book of Jeremiah tells of a Jewish diaspora in Egypt (Jer 24:8; 26:22), and during the Persian period many Jews had settled in Egypt with the encouragement of the Persians, to act as military colonies. They did not therefore mix with the native population and preserved their Jewish character. The Egyptians resented the Jews as enemies or agents of their enemies the Persians but Josephus preferred to see it as envy:
The Egyptians were the first to cast reproach on us—when they saw us approved by many, they were moved with envy. (Against Apion)
A large district in the region of Heliopolis (On) became exclusively Jewish, a fact reflected in the romance of Joseph and Aseneth. Another large Jewish colony exited at Memphis. Documents related to the imposition of the royal taxation, from Thebes proves that a surprisingly large number of the government’s taxation officials were Jewish. The city of Alexandria was divided into different quarters, with the Greeks in the centre, the Egyptians in the west and the Jews to the north-east. So Judaism flourished in Alexandria, but it was of a peculiarly Hellenistic type.
Greek was the language of worship and the scriptures had to be translated into Greek, if the faithful were to be able to read them—they soon knew no Hebrew. Philo of Alexandria’s explanation of the divine names proves that he did not understand Hebrew. When Ecclesiasticus was translated into Greek, the translator’s preface proves that the Egyptian Jews used only the Greek bible. The considerable Greek additions to some of the, particularly later, books of the scriptures like Job, Proverbs, Esther and Daniel show that these Greek works had become partially independent of the Hebrew versions that were later taken by the Rabbis as canonical. The Wisdom of Solomon never had a Hebrew original, having been composed in Greek.
The Greek additions to Esther were written by a priest called Lysimmachus in excellent classical Greek. He supposedly wrote originally in Jerusalem but sent his script to Alexandria in the hands of a Levite called Ptolemy! The story suggests much about the writing of the Jewish scriptures generally, not merely Esther. The scripts were sent to Alexandria for Ptolemy’s library, and the latest additions were actually written in Greek. Cleoptra might have been taking manuscripts for her restoration of the library until near her death in 30 BC. In the first century BC, Simeaon Ben Shetah altared the Jewish Ketubah or wedding contract to make divorce more difficult, basing his revision on a third century BC Ptolemaic model.
In Palestine, the century of Egyptian Greek rule was mild so long as the requisite tribute was paid. Indeed, the Jews were allowed to rule themselves, or rather be ruled by a Jew—the High Priest.
The northern Greek empire began under Seleucus Nicator (312-281 BC) who had his capital at Babylon. The western edge of his empire, abutting the Mediterranean at Antioch and stretching to the northern Euphrates, became known as Syria, a lazy pronunciation of Assyria. In 198 BC, the king of the northern Greeks, Antiochus the Great (223-187 BC), drove off the southern Greeks and took Phoenicia and Judaea. The Ptolemies were never to regain it, but again many Jews deserted Judah for Egypt. Antiochus settled Jews from Babylon into Lydia and Phrygia where three centuries later Christianity was to take root.
The Ptolemies were always preferred by the leading Jews in Jerusalem to the Seleucids even though the Seleucids granted Jews full civil rights in all of their great cities and foundations (Josephus Antiquities 12:3). But the Ptolemies plotted and intrigued with the Jews against their Syrian rivals—later with the connivance of the advancing Romans. Josephus in Contra Apionem makes no attempt to disguise his preference for the Ptolemies, and they did generally treat the Jews well, Jonathan Maccabee being honoured by them in 1 Maccabees 10:57-60.
Hellenization in JudaeaThroughout the period from before 300 BC to the Maccabaean revolt, the Jews were under the domination of the Greeks and the spread of Greek culture and institutions profoundly influenced the tiny theocracy. The theatre, schools and gymnasia were introduced. New political institutions like a senate (gerusia) presided over by the High Priest but set up on Greek lines required a senate house. It was in this period that the Sanhedrin (Greek: synhedrion, a council) was created—about 190 BC, perhaps evolved from the senate, as a council of “rulers”. Greek social life required places to walk and talk and meditate, the Stoas, cool, cloister-like galleries for lounging and discussion (from which the word Stoic comes) and soon to be realized in the porticoes of Herod’s temple.
Whole areas were thoroughly Hellenized at this time. Not just Decapolis but apparently the whole of the east bank of the Jordan was Greek. Many cities on the west side, especially on the coast of the Mediterranean were entirely Greek in style and organization. Samaria and Panias had been settled by Alexander’s Macedonians from the outset, and were thoroughly Graecized. 1 Maccabees makes it quite explicit.
A new class of educated Jews spoke Greek and became the administrative and priestly class of “scribes”. “Scribe” in Hebrew is “Soferim” and properly means “bookmen” because they taught out of the Book of the Law, provided by Ezra—their tradition came down from the time of the Persian administrators. The law they taught was oral and not subject to exegesis, though they seem to have made their own modifications as needed. Apart from people interested specifically in religion like some priests, Pharisees, scribes and Essenes, the common people will have known no Hebrew. They spoke mainly Aramaic and some knew sufficient Greek to get by. Further east, the Babylonian Jews spoke a different dialect of Aramaic but no Greek.
Jerusalem and its immediate surrounding population of loyal Jews—since the edicts of Cyrus, those within a day’s march, say 25 miles of the temple—seemed an island among the Greek provinces. Polybius, at the beginning of the second century BC speaks of the Jews as “those who lie about the sanctuary called Jerusalem.” The city was little more than the temple and what was needed to service it, and later the Maccabees found Hebron, twenty miles south, a hostile Idumaean town. the Nabataean Arabs pressing north from the south of the Dead Sea had pushed the Idumaeans before them, squeezing places the Jews liked to think of as their own. To the east, the Jewish sphere extended to the Jewish town of Jericho.
The Seleucid ruler Antiochis III took over Jerusalem in about 200 BC, granting privileges to the Jews of the city. Since the Jews were privileged from Persian times, the new administration will perhaps have been restating traditional privileges, more than granting new ones, as priests and temple functionaries.
In 173 BC, a group of Jews called the Tobiads, who had apparently not been recognized as Jews by the founders of the religion under the Persian administrators, opposed the priesthood and the High Priest, Onias III, and invited Antiochus to depose him. Onias was probably murdered and his son Onias IV fled in 170 BC with a large body of Jews to set up an alternative temple at Leontopolis in Egypt that lasted until the Roman dispersion of the Jews in 73 AD. Its closure by the Romans shows that it was regarded as a legitimate Jewish temple! The Falashas, the Jews of Abyssinia, had the 24 books of the scriptures but knew nothing of the Talmud and did not observe the Feasts of Purim and Hanukkah, suggesting that they had split from mainstream Judaism before the victory of the Maccabees. Yet, their scriptures are based on the Septuagint, so perhaps these Jews descended from those who were founded by Onias at Leontopolis.
In 175 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was short of tribute money for his tribute to Rome, and accepted a proposal from an extremely wealthy Jew, a brother of Onias III called Jason, to buy the high priesthood. Jason was Hellenized and aimed to convert Jerusalem into a Greek polis with its standard institutions such as a gymnasium—effectively a Greek high school—theatre and so on. Jason was appointed and the ruling classes of Jerusalem took to wholesale Graecization. Antiochus visited the new polis, about 173 BC, and was greeted with an official torchlight procession, and the acclamation of large crowds. Soon after, Jason was soon succeeded by a rival, Menelaus, who made a bigger bid for the priesthood, bought the office for a large sum of money then raised it from the population via the temple making him unpopular. Mob violence broke out between the rival factions, and Antiochus had to suppress the Jason faction with bloodshed, and damage to the city and the temple. Antiochus had to build a fortress and man it with soldiers from Syria to keep order. It only created more tension.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes defeated the Ptolemies again in 170 as 1 Maccabees 1:18-20 describes, and would have gained control of Egypt if the Romans had not given him the hard word and obliged him to withdraw. By the time he returned from Egypt, the dislike between the Jews and Antiochus was fully developed.
Jewish propaganda is that Antiochus enforced Hellenization, but many scholars find this unlikely or even incredible. The truth is that, frustrated in his ambitions, seeing Judaism as an obstinate and prejudiced nuisance, riven with internecine strife, and annoyed by the scheming of the Jews against his plans against Egypt, Antiochus decided with the priests to present the Jewish religion to a variety of Zeus worship. He supposedly robbed the temple of its treasures and reinstated Menelaus, who had been deposed. In addition, Antiochus banned circumcision, imposed Pagan rites and, most notably, he burnt the sacred scriptures! You might wonder then what we have before us in the bible.
He removed the two cherubs of the Ark from the Holy Place, where supposedly there were no images, and set up an image of Zeus Olympiakos in the heart of the temple on the table of burnt offerings—“the Abomination of Desolation.” Since Olympiakos means “heaven,” Zeus was simply the Greek version of the God of Heaven, a Greek Yehouah, it cannot have seemed such a big deal to anyone.
Hellenization was the policy of the already Hellenized priests, and many, if not most, of the population concurred. Some Jews, though, favoured the Ptolemies and the Romans, rather than the Seleucids and the defence of the established religion was a good reason to cause trouble for the northern Greeks. Mattathias and his five sons, claiming to be religious purists, rebelled.
Doubtless as many Hellenizing Jews welcomed the move as traditionalists, called the Hasidim or Pious Ones, who preferred the religion as it had come down to them from the Persians, not the Greek innovations, but the latter were outraged. This was in 168 BC. A civil war broke out in which the Maccabees led the rebellion against the Seleucid kings for 25 years. They were supported as terrorists in this enterprise by the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Romans, who used both to weaken the northern Greeks before annexing them into the empire.
So, the outcome was the opposite of Antiochus’s intentions, if they were to promote peace and Greek culture. The immediate fashion for Hellenization evaporated and a reaction set in. The traditionalists rebelled and the country was rent with civil war. Eventually, the temple was rededicated in 165 BC and then the Jews had independence for the first time in history when Simon Maccabaeus, last of the five brothers Maccabee, finally settled with the Seleucids after a quarter of a century of struggle.
With Simon the Just, the surname “Just” appears for the first time associated with the Tobiads. Later it seemed to be particularly Essene and this might be when the precursors of the Essenes, the Hasidim, first entered the stage too. As conservatives attached to the traditional Persian forms of Judaism, they would have opposed the modernisation of the Greeks, but since the ruling class hitherto had favoured the Ptolemies, Simon and his allies favoured their enemies, the Seleucids, who also had the advantage of being in touch with their spiritual home, Babylon. Later, the Hasids came to regard any alliance with the heathen world as an affront to Yehouah.
Perhaps, Simon was the last of the traditional priesthood following Persian ways. His successor Onias III was deposed, but had meanwhile compromized and, thereafter, the priesthood were Hellenized. The Hellenized priests, the Sadducees, could follow the old law insofar as it insisted on temple worship and was a religious law of Judaism, and they were glad to use the power of Deuteronomy 17:12 to allow themselves the right to change the law if needed, but otherwise they were happy to follow Greek civil law.
The Hasidim would have none of this. The law would stand as it is—the “law of the fathers.” Only that law was of any consequence, but the later prophetic books were elaborated by parties like the Hasidim and the Essenes to protest, pseudepigraphically, against the modernisation of the Greek priesthood, and later their authors began to accept them as equal to the law. It seems the Sadducees were forced to concur that the law was fixed and they left administrative law then to the Pharisees. But they were unconcerned as long as they had the control of the temple. In Jerusalem that was the source of the wealth.
Later the Hasidim themselves split on the issue of the law. They realized that the law of Ezra was inadequate in changing circumstances and yet had decided that it alone had authority. They had to find a way of connecting everyday practical decisions to the law, and so used clever exegesis to extend it. The split was because the Pharisees began to develop an extensive oral law (that was nonetheless written down) to allow for modern circumstances, while the Essenes, though themselves using exegesis, refused to accept oral law and instead devised methods of their own. Pharisees became a body of lay teachers resisting Hellenization by exposition of Torah in public places. The ordinary Jew was indebted for his knowledge and justice to the Pharisees, while the Essenes looked to eschatology as the solution to all problems.
The Maccabees revolted against the Seleucids in 167 BC and eventually won independence from the weakening Greeks in 142 BC. The books of the Maccabees present the victory as a just war against oppression but really it was the result of Roman provocation to weaken the Seleucids who they had already defeated in 190 BC. Rome’s ally was Egypt to whom the southern Palestine hill people looked. The uprising is unlikely to have succeeded without external support, enfeebled though the Greeks were. So, cutting through the noble gloss put on it by the apocryphal books, the Maccabees were terrorists sponsored by the state’s enemies.
The Hasmonaeans, better known by their nickname, the Maccabees or Hammers, personal ambitions were veiled by their adoption of an apparent puritanism which gained the support of purist groups like the Hasidim. The pureness was for the Persian form of the religion rather than the Graecized form that was being introduced. Thus they took a strong view of idolatry, destroyed Pagan images, and evicted Pagan people, or forced them to convert and be circumcized to prove it. The people of Pella in the Transjordan were given the choice of circumcision or death. The reaction to all of this Hasmonaean “anti-Paganism” was the first recorded cases of “anti-Semitism” by non-Jews. Nor were the divisions in the country solved. In the late second century, under John Hyrcanus, the Sadduccees were formed, and the Pharisees, who may have been traditionalists were forced into joining the militant opposition.
Pharisees were persecuted, exiled and eventually 800 were executed by crucifixion—a possible origin of a myth that became the Jesus myth. The crucifixion of the Pharisees was probably chosen as a Persian punishment because they were the purist faction that supported the Persian stamp of the religion. The opposition invited the Seleucid king Demetrius III to depose the Hasmonaeans, and a curious war ensued with Jews and Pagans on both sides.
On the death of Alexander Jannaeus, his wife, Salome, came round to supporting the Pharisees, and reinstated them. They soon were taking their revenge against the Sadduccees. Another group, the Essenes, had been so disappointed by the Maccabees that they withdrew into the desert to avoid the impurities of the Jerusalem temple. Essenes and Pharisees seem likely to have been two varieties of the earlier puritans, the Hasidim. The reason for their disillusionment was that the Hasmonaeans, who claimed to be purists, actually were sponsored from abroad by Greeks and Romans and came to support Hellenization in practice, whether they began that way or not. If there was a difference, it was one of emphasis.
The earlier Hellenizers were happy to introduce Greek culture and practices, but the Hasmonaeans differed in wanting to introduce a Judaized variety of Hellenization, by keeping some characteristically Jewish features. Silver coins minted in Jerusalem for fifty years under the Ptolemies were not devoid of images, as the religion seemed to require. They carried pictures of Ptolemy I, his wife Berenice and an eagle. The Hasmonaeans also had no objection to having Pagan symbols on their coins, and only the last of them took to using the Jewish Menorah instead. The tombs of the priestly nobility were magnificently Greek in style, all except their lack of sculptured figures. This was apparently a puritanical fashion, or token, because figures, especially animals or legendary creatures, seemed not to have been proscribed so long as they were not God. The Jewish aversion to figures generally seemed to have been a puritanical fad of the civil war period of about 166-136 BC. The kings were not so fussy to judge by the coinage, but priests who seemed thoroughly acculturated to Hellenism, adhered to certain aspects of the purer Persian Judaism.
The Hasmonaeans set up a Jewish free state for the first time in history. Only then were they able to write a Jewish history, a mythical, fanciful and bowdlerized history that today is the word of God. The Beth Midrash, the Jewish Academy, was based on Greek philosophical schools in their type and organization, although not in their content. The relationship of student and teacher were similar, and so were methods of exegesis. The Greek model was the only possible one for these schools.
The discoveries in the Dead Sea caves show that the Essenes, at least, were still strongly influenced by Persian religion into New Testament times. Lee I A Levine persistently calls manifestly Iranian influences at Qumran, Hellenistic ones, and innocently writes that explaining these influences on the Essenes is “a formidable challenge,” especially as the Essenes had deliberately hidden themselves from all influences by living in the wilderness. Levine finds it all astounding. That in itself is astounding! It is astounding how blind “scholars” can be when they think they have to see for God!
The Hasmonmaean state was a product of Hellenism. It was, in the end, a typical Hegelian synthesis of Iranian Judaism and Greek culture, which sidelined the puritans—the Essenes—until they found fresh life as a gentile religion in the Roman empire.
Jerusalem was small from the Persian period until the Hasmonaeans, but with independence, it expanded rapidly from about 5,000 people to about 30,000. The citizens were Jews who were priests and attended the temple as various types of functionaries. With independence, they also became rulers, politicians and emissaries to Sparta, Rome and elsewhere. Josephus mentions the priests Hezekiah as leader in the time of Ptolemy I, Onias I, a priest who dealt with diplomacy with Sparta, Onias II who was an emissary to the Ptolemaic Greek court in Alexandria. Ben Sirach says that Simon the Just was a High Priest, and the Jason who bought the priesthood from Antiochus made sweeping changes in the city as its ruler.
Jason of Cyrene wrote a five volume acclamation of Hasmonaean victories about 150 BC. This was epitomized about 120 BC as 2 Maccabees. This period will be when the bible as we know it now was rewritten. It was the Hasmonaeans who gave the temple its pre-eminent importance, and it was the Hasmonaean family who sanctified it in 164 BC. This is a good time for speculating that the romances of David and Solomon were elaborated as they now are, giving a distant grand history to the Jewish state and temple that the Maccabees were restoring. No synagogues as a communal place or place of prayer are know as early as this, even though it is barely second century. The duties of the people included giving the first fruit of any produce, and of the flocks, to the temple, attending in Jerusalem for the three principal feativals, making offerings to the temple for several types of sin, vows, childbirth and purely voluntary reasons, as well as tithes. The Hasmonaeans also instituted the duty of paying a half shekel to the temple.
The Maccabees ruled for only a century from 165 BC to 63 BC, but for the first time in Jewish history, the worshippers of Yehouah at Jerusalem had their own free state and Jewish propaganda made Jews self-conscious and hostile to non-Jews. Their main hatred was, however, reserved for the Samaritans, also Jews, but Jews who did not worship at Jerusalem but at their own temple on Mount Gerizim. The fact that the Samaritans were Israelites living in Israel was embarrassing. A myth was invented, or extended, to explain that Samaritans were not Jews, even though they worshipped the god of the Jews.
Jewishness was declared to be an ethnic description of a purely Semitic race rather than a religious description of a mixed race of people that have become more mixed still in the diaspora. It has fed many racist theories culminating in the absurd theories of the Nazis, but evidently cannot be abandoned by Zionists because it remains the basis of their own claims.
Who then are the “Yehudim,” the “Jews”? By the second century AD, when the rabbis had successfully salvaged what they could from the wreckage of the Jewish war and the insurrection of Bar Kosiba and had withdrawn from proselytising, the term applied to a religious group. Thompson warns:
The geographical spread of people referred to as Yehudim is so great, it would be rash to assume that this name applies to their place of origin.
The truth is that Yehudim meant a religious group from the outset—people who worship the god, Yehouah. The temple at Elephantine in Egypt, according to the letter already mentioned written in 407 BC, existed before the Persian period—before the “return” from exile and so before the so-called second temple of Jerusalem. Yet the author writes on behalf of the “Yehudim,” asking for help to rebuild their temple, a building of stone with bronze doors fitted with silver and gold, which had been pulled down by Egyptians annoyed that the Jews were sacrificing rams, an animal sacred to their god, Khnum. These people mixed and intermarried with the Egyptians, and so were not subject to the exclusivity taught by the Persian administrators, though they remained Yehudin as we can tell from their names. But the Jerusalem priesthood were certain that they were the only priests of Yehouah and it seems they ignored the letter. However the author had also sent the letter to the governor of Samaria. They were, apparently not writing as Jews to the capital of Judah but as Yehudim to the centres where Yehouah was worshipped besides Elephantine.
Could they in any case regard themselves as nationals of the statelet of Judah when their ancestors had been in Egypt for up to 200 years? And was the state of Judah sufficiently big to be thought of as a nation. This letter from Yehudim in Egypt denotes nationality as Aramaean, and it seems far more likely that by then the region as a whole would be considered as the home of Aramaeans. In private letters, people described as Yehudim are denoted as Aramaean.
The Yehudim of Egypt did not worship only Yehouah, confirming that they were not of the same religion as those who the Persians had “returned” to restore Yehouah to his rightful glory. Greetings sent on behalf of gods and goddesses(!) in the letter are from Ishambethel, Anathbethel, Sati, Bel, Nabu, Shamash, Nergal, and Khnub as well as Yehouah.
Israel as well as Yehudim is a name of the religious group of people that worship Yehouah. Israelites are those who worship Yehouah in the biblical narratives, though they are shown as a nation, but in the Damascus Rule, Israel denotes those who worship Yehouah and, in fact, the Essenes narrowed it down to those who worshipped Yehouah in righteousness, meaning according to the law. The expression “All Israel” was used to cover those who were less than strict in their practices. So for Essenes, Israel was those who followed the way of perfect righteousness in worshipping Yehouah—they and no others were the children of Israel. When the New Testament speaks of children, these are the children it means, not babies still in nappies. Judah and Israel were therefore not nations but names for worshippers of Yehouah.
And the reason is simple. People of small tribes did not see themselves as members of nations but as followers of a god or members of a sect. It has been difficult for Christians reading the New Testament to figure out what was happening with Samaritans, Galilaeans, Pharisees, Sadducees, and such like, all wandering around freely. The point is that they were not ethnic or national groups but religious sects. They all worshipped Yehouah and therefore were all Yehudim, irrespective of their national or ethnic origins, but distinguished each other on the basis of sectarian differences.
The Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul make it clear that Jews were happy to accept proselytes or converts of any nation as long as they met the criteria laid down by the law. So, there is no reason to think that a Galilaean was someone from Galilee or a Samaritan someone from Samaria. In Antiquities (12:1:1), Josephus tells of a deportation of people from the highlands of Judaea and Samaria to Egypt. They squabbled about where they should send their contributions, to Mount Gerizim or the Jerusalem temple but Josephus happily calls them all Jews. Later he amends his position and calls the Samaritans, Phoenicians, Medes and Persians, though still admitting they considered themselves as Jews. Josephus says the Samaritans assisted people persecuted for breaking the food taboos but makes it clear that the accusation was unjustified, so here the Samaritans were guardians of Jewish justice not breakers of the law.
Many soldiers of Cleopatra’s armies and some of her main generals were Jewish but were accepted because they were Egyptians by nationality. Josephus speaks proudly of Jews as model citizens widely spread in the world. But he speaks of them as “those that worship God, even of Asia and Europe” making it plain that the distinguishing factor of the Jew is that they worship God, their God, Yehouah, who is the universal God of heaven! Philo of Alexandria makes the same distinction, calling himself a Greek by culture but a Jew by religion, in contrast to the godlessness of the Egyptians.
The Yehudim were neither the people of a small hilly state nor the worshippers of Yehouah specifically at the temple of Jerusalem but were simply worshippers of Yehouah. Samaritans and Essenes, not to mention the Egyptian Jews and many others who did not worship at the temple of Jerusalem, and indeed had a great lack of regard for its priesthood, were nonetheless Yehudim. It was the Maccabees who established a state, and thus were able to promote the idea of Yehudim as a national identity and an ethnic group.
Whoever the mixture of peoples were that returned to the city of Jerusalem after 500 BC, they were led to believe—and came to believe—that they were the remnant af ancient Israel returning to their rightful land to create a new Israel. Despite their intentions and the Elephantine letter, there is no other sign of activity until the period of the Maccabees when the temple was dedicated in 164 BC.
Much of the Old Testament saga is Persian propaganda. The ancestor of the Jews is from Mesopotamia, so, in the myth of Abraham, the Jews are shown to have an ethnic affinity with that region. The anachronism of calling it the Chaldees betrays its late composition. Immediately, the descendants of Abraham are enslaved by the Egyptians and have to undergo countless tribulations before they escape and set up in Israel. The propaganda purpose is plain—to dissociate the inhabitants of the Palestinian hill country from Egypt and paint the Egyptians as their enemies.
Certain proof from much nearer to the time than we are now is furnished by Philo of Alexandria:
Originally the laws were written in the Chaldaean language… (Vita Moysis)
The Chaldaean language was the language of Babylonia (Ezra 5:12) at the time of the project of Ezra to set up a new religion in Jerusalem. Why then would Moses, a Hebrew brought up in Egypt under some Pharaoh like Rameses, write in a language of a distant country 800 years later? Philo, an Egyptian Jew, effectively admits the Torah was written by Ezra, a Persian from Babylonia.
The Persians set up the temple to Yehouah and imported a new nobility of priests and Levites loyal to the Persian king to set up a buffer against Egypt. Though Egypt was in decline, it remained a rich and potentially dangerous country with a penchant for freedom from the Persians and an inclination to rebel and cause trouble in the south west of the empire. The Persians set up loyal outposts at such strategic points. Yehud was one of them and it explains the large amount of money spent on the small state and its grasping ruling class.
Though the imperial idea under the Persians and their predecessors had been to set up a universal god, they had introduced certain religious bans to assist the “returners” and this had remained associated with the Yehouah cult of Jerusalem. The Greeks had allowed greater genuine freedom of worship, expecting that the Greek way of life would naturally prevail as it threatened to do, as the Maccabees saw it. The privileged position of the Yehouah cult under the Persians was being undermined as Greek culture won people over.
Greek cities kept Greek municipal law and issued their own coinage. To legitimize these cities, a fashion arose of inventing spurious legends to tie them in with the Greek mainland and the mainstream of Greek history. The Jews of Jerusalem believed the Lacedemonians (Spartans) were fellow Jews and had an agreement with them (1 Maccabees 12:6-9; 20-23). G H Box comments in the Clarendon Bible OTV:
The danger of all this was that if this luxurious crop of legends was allowed to grow, all recollections of the earlier history would disappear.
Box, unable to consider the Old Testament as anything other than true, thinks this threat was “warded off” but the evidence is growing thick that it was not “warded off” but was realized by the scribes of the Maccabees as the Jewish scriptures—the Christian Old Testament—re-assembled nominally from those burnt by Antiochus but really re-written to give spurious validity to the Jewish state, a novel entity created by the Maccabees.
With the rising of the Maccabees, the Persian universal Yehouah was usurped by the local princes of Judah scared of the success of Hellenization. The Septuagint version of the scriptures and many of the apocryphal works date from this period or even later. The biblical mood of Israel and Yehouah at war with ungodly nations is not a symptom of God’s timeless plan against wickedness but is the singular expression of the state of the world as seen from the throne of the successful Maccabaean melchizedeks. For more than 200 years this god was a god of the Jewish nation in revolt.
In 1 Maccabees 1:56-57, apostate Jews rent in pieces and burn any books of the law they find, and anyone possessing one is liable to be murdered by order of the Greek king. 2 Maccabees implies that what survived of the documents of the law and of the library of Nehemiah were collected together again after the ravishes of the wars with the Greeks. The books must have been scattered and fragmented and the passage (2 Macc 2:14) suggests it was Judas Maccabee who put them back together again as best he could. He collected the fragmentary remains of Jewish tradition and, at some stage later, they were worked up by adding fictional accounts based on the recent Maccabean campaigns into the Jewish Scriptures. The alignment of the dates of Genesis is based on the Hellenistic idea of a Great Year of 4000 years. Since the Great Year was timed to conclude in the year 164 BC when the Maccabees dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, it is plain that the books could not have been written earlier.
One scriptural book is plainly written at this time and that is the Book of Daniel, purporting to have been written in Babylon in the sixth century, it is clearly written about 165 BC and speaks of such as the “Abomination of Desolation” and the start of the rebellion of Judas Maccabee. The effort is damned with faint praise. So, the book is cool toward the rebels, led as they were by practical political men of doubtful piety despite their supposed motives. Yet, it displays an apocalyptic spirit that was to be an important inspiration in the next 300 years, leading to the various Jewish wars and the beginning of Christianity. It was the spirit of martyrdom.
There is more evidence from the time of Simon Maccabee that the Jewish scriptures were re-written after their destruction by Antiochus. The Psalter was compiled at this time and contains Maccabaean psalms and many that have the clear stamp of Essenism. No clergyman can honestly think that the psalms were written by king David in about 1000 BC. King David is almost certain to be as historical as Frodo Baggins so cannot have written anything, but even supposing he indeed lived, few of his putative works will have survived until the Psalter was compiled toward the end of the second century BC.
In Genesis 15:12-16, the period of enslavement in Egypt is 4 generations but is 400 years showing that a Patriarchal generation was taken to be 100 years, accounting for the ages of the Patriarchs. There are twelve one hundred year generations from the birth of Abraham to the first temple (1200 years). At the time of the Maccabees, however, a Jewish generation was 40 years, so there are also 12 forty year generations from the Exodus to the first temple and another 12 forty year generations from the first temple to the edict of Cyrus the Persian that ended the exile. Potty Christians will take all this to be proof of God’s divine plan when it ought to be proof of human mythologising. The book of scriptures is shown to stem from the Hellenistic period because of the chronology in it.
This should have been clear from Justin Martyr. Justin enlightened us on the publication of the Septuagint He writes:
When Ptolemy king of Egypt formed a library, and endeavoured to collect the writings of all men, he sent to Herod, who was at that time king of the Jews, requesting that the books of the prophets be sent to him. And Herod the king did indeed send them, written, as they were, in the foresaid Hebrew language. And when their contents were found to be unintelligible to the Egyptians, he again sent and requested that men be commissioned to translate them into the Greek language.
Justin is saying that the Septuagint was written between 37 BC when Herod became king of Judaea and 30 BC when the Romans took formal rule of Egypt. Needless to say, this is 200 or more years after the date that biblicists want to accept, but it makes sense because Mark Antony had pledged to Cleopatra that he would repair the damage done to the Library of Alexandria during the wars of Caesar. Herod was a loyal supporter of Mark Antony and gained favour with Octavian by admitting it and promising to be no less loyal to the new emperor. Herod was therefore undoubtedly helping his friend. This then is when the Septuagint was translated, and the Jewish scriptures need not have been compiled much earlier.
This astoundingly means that the biblical scrolls found in the caves of the Judaean desert and dated to the second century BC were among the original texts of the scriptures that were still in the process of compilation and re-writing. It accounts for the textual variation found in some books, for differences between the Masoretic texts and the Septuagint, and for the frequent agreement between the scrolls and the Septuagint against the Masoretic texts. It accounts for the absence of the Book of Esther from the scrolls and fragments because Esther is arguably the last book written of the Jewish scriptures.
The scriptures, then, were collected in the second century and compiled around 100 BC from the preserved fragments of old traditions—especially from Mesopotamian and Syrian myths from elements of old records, perhaps Assyrian, from tall stories like those of Herodotus, often called the first historian, and from sectarian propaganda like that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and reflecting the religious exclusivity of the Maccabean revolt. The models for the stories of Saul, David and Solomon were the exploits of the Maccabees, and John Hyrcanus (135-105 BC) has been explicitly said to be a model for David. The stories are partial allegories in which the Philistines are the Syrian Greeks.
However, the original Persian aim of promoting Yehouah as a universal god still shines in some of the fragments of the scriptures obviously preserved from an earlier time. Thus much of Isaiah and the wisdom literature matches up to the Persian ideal of a god which inspired Plato and the Greeks to develop their highly refined theories of a transcendental god based on the Persian cosmological concept of the sun beyond the sun—the sun of intellect, the god of transcendence.
The fragmentary nature of the scriptures is plain to anyone familiar with them but might not be to modern Christians who do not read their bibles. Many stories are repeated in doublets and triplets which do not agree. There are no less than five stories of the death of Saul in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles.
Samuel also anoints Saul twice. In 1 Samuel 9:26-10:8 he anoints him as he leaves an unknown town. The two are alone, having met as Saul seeks the lost asses of Kish. In 1 Samuel 10:17-27, he does it again in Mitzpah, Samuel first making a divination from the assembled tribes and families while Saul hides among the baggage! In the first part, the question, “Is Saul among the Prophets?” enters the text awkwardly, and it appears again in 1 Samuel 19 with a different explanation. The authors have sought to give an explanation of a well known saying, but have had two different versions and have included both.
The meeting of Saul and Samuel is described as a fictional account would, with God’s private instructions to Samuel reported by the omniscient author, and events that happened to them in private carefully related. In historical accounts, context is the main element and dialogue is illustrative. Here the account is in dialogue, like fiction. Conversation is central and the detail is psychological rather than physical. God even joins the discussion. These passages do not meet normal historical criteria. The author does not give a proper time and setting, as a history would have. They read as fiction and cannot be assumed to have any historical substance.
Saul seems to have been set a typical mythical task—to find the missing asses—and while accomplishing it finds his destiny. This is the stuff of myths. The asses are the ceremonial mounts of kings before horses were introduced and remained the same for poor kingdoms in moutains where horses were less sure footed. Thus the finding of the asses is the mythical symbol of being made the king.
Whoever compiled the books of the bible had different scraps of tradition. Not wanting to risk getting it wrong by chosing, they put them all in, in different places. There are few whole or original bible stories. They are collections of fragments of traditions—mythical stories, songs, and poems, sayings, official lists and administrative records. From these fragments the authors have put together a library of books intended to give a history and pride to a new nation.
The scriptures are full of the theme of wandering in the wilderness and then crossing into a new land. It reflects the feeling of the authors and their time that the people at last had a home after many years of wandering in barren places. Linked to it is the idea of exile—that the people have been exiled for too long but God had provided a place for them. Christians have taken these themes as real historical proof of God’s unfolding plan over the millennia, but rational minds will take them as proof that the scriptures are a late literary form intended to show that Israel was meant to find nationhood by coming out of their metaphorical wilderness, crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. The scriptures were written as Jewish mythology, to provide the people with an identity, a history, a cause, and a warning that it all could be lost without vigilence.
The Old Testament story of Israel is one of the Chosen People failing to live up to God’s expectations. It is a story, not of obeying God’s will but of apostasy, the problem faced by the Maccabees. It is an extended version of the romance of Joseph and Aseneth, in which Aseneth is Israel shown as an apostate woman unsuitable as a bride for Joseph, a thinly disguised Yehouah. That romance ends happily but in the scriptures each wicked Israel is destroyed except for a “remnant,” which goes on to become a “new Israel.” It is this remnant that is the “children of Israel” not the Israelites in general. The children of Israel are therefore righteous Israelites, not all Israelites. In the romance Aseneth destroys her idols and returns to God while in the scriptures each righteous remnant tries to build up once more a righteous people.
It was the “re-dedication” of the temple that created the “new Israel”—in fact the only Israel that we are certain ever existed. The Samaritans of the Hellenistic period regarded themselves as the “new Israel” and the “children of Israel,” and their few survivors still do. The Essenes and the Christians both also regarded themselves as the “new Israel.” Each considered itself the surviving righteous remnant of the old Israel founding a reborn Israel.
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