Ancient Greek Rule over the Jews (334-164 B.C.)

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In the late Fourth century B.C., Judea fell under the control of the Hellenistic (Greek) world. The Greeks concentrated temporal as well as religious power in the hands of the high priest. To ensure their control, the Greeks also established colonies throughout the vast area they came to control after Alexander the Great's conquests. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s]

The Jews grew in strength throughout the 300 period after their exile, under the Persians and Greeks, despite their lands being ruled by foreign powers. At the same time they became more able to practice their faith freely, led by scribes and teachers who explained and interpreted the Bible.

333-63 B.C. Hellenistic (Greek) period.
333/331 B.C. Alexander the Great conquers the Land of Israel.
ca. 320-168 B.C. Judaism under Greek Ptolemies & Seleucids.
ca. 250 B.C. "Septuagint" translation of Torah into Greek.
ca. 230-146 B.C. Coming of Rome to the east Mediterranean.
ca. 201 B.C. Prophets (second division of Jewish Scriptures) recognized by some as Scripture
ca. 200 B.C.-135 C.E. Jewish Qumran community.
175 B.C. Selicid, king of Syria, plunders Jerusalem, murdering many.
166-160 B.C. Jewish Maccabean revolt against restrictions on practice of Judaism and desecration of the Temple.
142-129 B.C. Jewish autonomy under Hasmoneans.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; Bible and Biblical History: ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Bible History Online Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook

Conquest of the Persians by Alexander the Great

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-338) became king of Persia upon the death of his father Artaxerxes II, and secured his regime through a blood purge. Potential rivals in the rather large family of Artaxerxes II were eliminated.1 Revolts in Phoenicia and Palestine, which may have involved Judah, were rudely put down. For ten years the port city of Sidon withstood Artaxerxes III before petitioning for peace, but Artaxerxes had the envoys murdered. It was clear to the Sidonians how Artaxerxes would treat them should they surrender and, rather than suffer the barbarous cruelties of the Persians, the Sidonians fired their city and thousands perished in the holocaust.2 According to Josephus ( Antiquities 11:7:1), Judah also experienced Artaxerxes' anger. Heavy fines were imposed and the temple was profaned. By 342, Artaxerxes had invaded Egypt to end that country's brief period of independence. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“Artaxerxes was murdered by his son Arses (338-336), and Arses died by poison soon afterward. In 336, Darius III Codomannus (336-331) was crowned king, and in this same year Philip of Macedon, who had attempted to unify the Greeks, was murdered. Philip's twenty-year old son, Alexander, who was to be called "the Great," became king and almost immediately was embroiled in the Persian-Greek power struggle which had begun in Philip's time.

“The conquest of Persia was rapid. In 334, Alexander crossed the Hellespont and defeated Darius at the Granicus River. At Issus in North Syria, the Persians were beaten again in 333, and now Alexander controlled the western section of the Persian empire. Moving southward to possess Egypt, Alexander was detained seven months at the island of Tyre, which refused to capitulate until Alexander's men constructed a huge mole linking the mainland to the island and besieged the walls of the city. Gaza's resistance delayed the Greeks another two months, but the interior of Palestine yielded to hordes of Greek soldiers without struggle. In Egypt, Alexander, in accordance with Egyptian god-king political theology, was acknowledged as divine, the son of Zeus-Ammon. The city of Alexandria, which he founded, became a Greek center of learning and culture. In 331 Darius' forces were soundly defeated at the plain of Gaugamela. Alexander occupied Babylon, Susa and Persepolis without opposition, and then pursued the fleeing Darius to Ecbatana and on to Rhagae. Beyond Rhagae, Darius was murdered by his own disgruntled soldiers.

“Alexander's aim was world conquest and unification. As cities succumbed to his military might, the process of Hellenization began. Literary and athletic contests were introduced, festivals were held and building programs begun. Greek language became the language of the empire and Greek culture flourished.

Impact of Alexander the Great’s Conquests on the Jews

Alexander the Great during the Siege of Tyre

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire in 333 B.C. may have ousted another occupying power, but life in Israel was relatively peaceful under the Persians. They enjoyed relative political autonomy and were encouraged to construct and develop their religious institutions. The inauguration of the Hellenistic age brought Greek culture, language, art, architecture, theatre, athletics, education, religion, and politics to the region, and Alexander was and continues to be a beloved figure among many Jews. But he also brought increased foreign control and, later, more tyrannical administrations were able to capitalize on his particular brand of cultural colonialism. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, August 2, 2015 ]

In July 2015, the discovery of a non-Biblical mosaic on the floor of an ancient synagogue in Huqoq, Israel was announced. “The discovery of the mosaic was news not only because it was non-Biblical — almost unheard of synagogue mosaic — but also because of its subject. According to UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Jodi Magness, the exquisitely preserved three-part scene depicts a legendary story of a meeting between Alexander the Great, the conqueror of what was then the entire world, and the Jewish High Priest Jaddus.

According to Magness, the late Roman scene may show Alexander the Great meeting with Jewish leaders. This event, which is described in rabbinic literature, is probably fictional. The inclusion of this scene on the floor of a synagogue was likely intended to signal cooperation between Greeks and Jews and the deference of the great emperor to the God of the Jewish people. In the version of this story told by the Jewish historian Josephus, Alexander the Great “adored [the] name [of God], and … saluted the High Priest.”

After Alexander’s death, his empire was divided into smaller kingdoms, and ancient Israel became a point of contention between the Ptolemaic (roughly Egyptian) empire to the southwest and the Seleucid empire to the north and east (stretching from Turkey all the way to the border of India). In order to solidify his hold over the region, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV engaged in an aggressive Hellenization program that, among other things, outlawed circumcision and observance of the Sabbath and resulted ultimately in the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple around 168 BCE.

Hellenization may have been embraced under Alexander, but 150 years later people felt quite differently about becoming “Greekified.” The introduction of Greek language and culture turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. The same thing happened with the Persians. Cyrus the Great is proclaimed as the Messiah (anointed one) in the Hebrew Bible for conquering the Babylonians and returning the Jewish exiles to their homes, but a hundred years later this kind of a claim would likely have elicited some embarrassment. After all, a new monarchy and independence never actually emerged.

After Alexander the Great

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “When Alexander died in Babylon in 323 B.C. at the age of 33, his empire crumbled, but under the Diodochoi ("successors"), who divided the territory, Greek culture continued. Alexander's general Perdiccas attempted to hold the empire together for Alexander's son, born soon after his father's death, but the greed of those who hungered for power was too great. Perdiccas was murdered in 321, and potential heirs to Alexander were killed soon after: his weak-minded half-brother Arrhedaeus in 317, his son in 311, and another son by a mistress in 309. Alexander's brilliant general Ptolemy I Lagos (322-285 B.C.) seized Egypt and established a dynasty that lasted until A.D. 30. Lysimachus became ruler of Thrace, and Seleucis I ruled Babylon, including Palestine. Antipater, who was succeeded by his son Cassander, got Macedonia and Greece; Antigonus took Phrygia; and Eumenes controlled the area south of the Black Sea. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Antigonus I

“It was an uneasy partition. Antigonus was greedy and, having brought about Eumenes' death, took over his territory. Ptolemy, who wanted Palestine as a buffer state, seized that area. Out of fear of Antigonus, a coalition was formed by the other Diodochoi, and in the battle of Ipsus in Phrygia in 301 B.C., Antigonus died. His holdings were divided and Alexander's empire was now in four parts: Lysimachus controlled Thrace and a portion of Asia Minor; Cassander held Macedon and Greece; Seleucis controlled an area extending from northern Palestine to the Indus River; and Ptolemy ruled over Egypt and central and southern Palestine.

“Palestine, the buffer state between Seleucis and Ptolemy, was to shuttle between Syria and Egypt. During the period of Egyptian control, a Jewish colony was established in Alexandria, which under Ptolemy I was becoming one of the greatest cultural and educational centers of the ancient world. Taxes in Judah were heavy, but the Jewish high priest was governor.

“Ptolemy I was succeeded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.). The history of the Jews in this period is anything but clear, but it was under this monarch that the LXX was begun. During the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 B.C.), Egypt was strong financially and militarily. What burdens were placed upon the Jews in Palestine are not known, but perhaps the efforts of Ptolemy III to seize and hold parts of northern Palestine that had been under Seleucid control tended to make Palestine a military state subject to Near Eastern wartime controls. With Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204 B.C.), Egyptian strength waned, although he was able to defeat the Seleucids at Raphia. When he died, his five-year-old son Ptolemy V was in no position to give adequate leadership for control of Palestine.

“The Seleucid empire was now ruled by Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.) who, like many before him, was called "the Great." Antiochus defeated Ptolemy at Gaza in 200 and again at Paneus in 198, and Palestine came under Seleucid control. Many Jews welcomed Antiochus as a deliverer. Antiochus, for his part, appears to have treated the Jews with respect, showing consideration for their religious traditions despite his enthusiasm for Greek culture, an enthusiasm shared by the strong pro-Greek party that had risen among the Jews.

“In 187 B.C. Antiochus died. He had been defeated by Rome in the battle of Maknesia in 190 and had burdened his people with heavy taxation necessary to pay the indemnity demanded by Rome. The debt was inherited by his son Seleucis IV (187-175 B.C.) who appointed a certain Heliodorus as collector. When Seleucis was murdered by Heliodorus, Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.) became king.

Hellenization of the Jews

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The Hellenistic period in Palestine technically begins with the defeat of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great (334-323 B.C.). Greek influence had entered the Persian world much earlier, for Greek mercenaries fought in Persian armies and Greek traders introduced wares and ideas from the Hellenistic world. The period terminates with the conquest of Palestine in 63 B.C. by Pompey, the Roman. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Greek culture gradually penetrated the upper classes of the Jewish population. The process of Hellenization profoundly affected all aspects of Jewish culture. Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: “ Greek cities were established in Palestine (Jerusalem itself became a pollis in 175 B.C.); Greek temples were built and dedicated to non-Jewish deities; Greek was soon spoken througllout the Jewish world, along with the vernacular Aramaic and the increasingly less frequent Hebrew. Upon the death of Alexander in 323 B.C., his empire split into two major parts: the Seleucids in Syria to the north and the Ptolemies in Egypt to the south. During the third century B.C. the Seleucids and the Ptolemies fought no fewer than five major wars, with Judea as a battleground and a prize. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book: “The Meaning and Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Hershel Shanks (Random House, 1998) ]

“During this period in Judea, social tensions heightened — between the Hellenizers, who introduced Greek ideas and customs, and those traditionally inclined Jews who opposed Greek influence, between the sophisticated cities and the conservative villages, between urban aristocrats and rural farmers, and between rich and poor. Many Jews found their faith and the continuity of their world threatened by these Greek intrusions. The book of Ecclesiastes, with its theological skepticism and occasional praise of reckless hedonism, is an example of the profound effect this new culture had on traditional religious commitment.

Greeks Clampdown on the Jews

Hellenization intensified when Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164), the Seleucid ruler of Syria, claimed Judea and appointed Jason, a Hellenized Jew, to the office of high priest. Jason transformed Jerusalem into a Greek polis (city-state) named Antiochia, in honor of the Seleucid king. A sports arena was built to replace the Temple as the focus of the city's social and cultural life. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s]

Ultimately dissatisfied with Jason, Antiochus replaced him with Menelaus, another Hellenized Jew. In 175 B.C. they desecrated the Temple, plundered its Temple's treasures. and implemented a series of laws aimed at wiping out Judaism in favour of Zeus worship. There was a revolt led by Jason, [Source: BBC]

In the wake of a revolt, Antiochus took further measures to wipe out the Jewish character of Jerusalem. He forbade Jews to practice their religion and forced them to eat foods forbidden by the Torah and to participate in pagan rites. The Temple truned into place of Zeus worship. These draconian measures led to an uprising led by the Hasmoneans, a priestly family headed by Mattathias.

Jewish Response to Greek Rule

Punishment of Antiochus

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “It is almost impossible to evaluate the significance of Antiochus IV from Jewish sources, so bitterly did Jewish writers react to him. He assumed the name "Epiphanes," which may be translated "the illustrious" or "the revealer" or "the revealed one." The Jews called him "Epimanes," which means "the cracked one" or "the mad one," so vigorously did he pursue the policy of Hellenization and so often did he violate Jewish sensitivities. Antiochus was an activist, determined to redeem the loss of military, economic and territorial prestige and power. His capital city, Antioch in Syria, was enlarged to accommodate Greeks seeking freedom from the growing pressures of Rome. A large community of Jews also lived there. New buildings were erected, new business was encouraged and Antioch became a center of commerce, wealth and culture. To strengthen political, religious and societal bonds, Antiochus encouraged Hellenic religion and culture, and it was at this point that he came into violent conflict with the separatist attitudes of the anti-Greek Jews of Judah. To meet the expenses of his program he laid heavy taxes upon his subjects. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“Onias III the Jewish high priest, was pro-Egyptian. When Antiochus became king, Onias retired to Leontopolis, Egypt, to found a Jewish colony. Antiochus sold the high priest's office to the highest bidder and Joshua, who preferred the Greek form of his name, "Jason," bought the post. Now the pro-Syrian, pro-Hellenistic Jason entered into a conspiracy with Antiochus to bring the Jews into conformity with Greek culture. Greek garb and food were common. A gymnasium was built in Jerusalem and young men attended, including priests who left their altar duties for discus throwing and other athletics. Many gymnasium activities were performed in the nude, and some Jews underwent surgery to remove the distinguishing mark of circumcision-an act which, to the orthodox, was tantamount to rejection of the covenant.4

“In 171, a certain Menelaus offered more money for the high priesthood and Antiochus accepted. Jason fled to Transjordan and Menelaus robbed the temple treasury to pay his debt to the king. Now a new sect of Jews was formed from scribes and their followers, and these took the name "Hasidim," which means "pious" but which implies "loyalty." The Hasidim concentrated on the study of the Torah and observance of the Law, and when their religious customs were proscribed were among those who went passively to their death, rather than resist.

“War broke out between Syria and Egypt, and Antiochus marched against his enemies in 170. His plans for conquest failed and a rumor arose that Antiochus had been killed in battle, prompting Jason to return from exile. But Antiochus was not dead. On his return from Egypt, he quelled a revolt inspired by Jason and looted the temple. A Phrygian named Philip was appointed governor of the Jews. In 168, Antiochus returned, for Jewish nationalistic pressures had not diminished. This time Jerusalem was burned and its walls demolished. Thousands died in battle and many others were enslaved. Every expression of Judaism was proscribed, including Sabbath worship, Torah study and circumcision, and the most excruciating punishments were devised for violators. Worst of all, on December 15, 168, an altar to the Olympian Zeus was built upon the Jewish altar of sacrifice and pigs' flesh was sacrificed. All Jewish temple worship ceased for this was "the abomination that made desolate" as the writer of the book of Daniel was to describe the act that contaminated the holy altar. The situation had become intolerable for the faithful Jews and, as we shall see, they were faced with a choice: succumb or do battle.

Septuagint and the Letter of Aristeas

Septuagint manuscript

The Letter of Aristeas (3rd century B.C.) Is the main source of the story of the composition of the Septuagint (the earliest extant Greek translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew). The Septuagint is believed to have been made for the Jewish community in Egypt in was ruled by post-Akexander Greeks and Greek was the common language throughout the region. It is presumed that the Septuagint was made under Ptolemy II (ruled 283-246 B.C.). The authorship is disputed. The Septuagint is historically not much older than the Hebrew Bible and it seems to comes from the branch of Judaism that went on to develop Christianity, culturally speaking. When people in the New Testament refer back to the Old Testament they do so mainly to the Septuagint not the Hebrew Bible. [Source:]

Selections from the beginning of the Letter Of Aristeas: “Since I have collected Material for a memorable history of my visit to Eleazar the High priest of the Jews, and because you, Philocrates, as you lose no opportunity of reminding me, have set great store upon receiving an account of the motives and object of my mission.... It was my devotion to the pursuit of religious knowledge that led me to undertake the embassy to the man I have mentioned, who was held in the highest esteem by his own citizens and by others both for his virtue and his majesty and who had in his possession documents of the highest value to the Jews in his own country and in foreign lands for the interpretation of the divine law, for their laws are written on leather parchments in Jewish characters. This embassy then I undertook with enthusiasm, having first of all found an opportunity of pleading with the king on behalf of the Jewish captives who had been transported from Judea to Egypt by the king's father, when he first obtained possession of this city and conquered the land of Egypt. [Source: R.H. Charles-Editor, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1913]

“Demetrius of Phalerum, the president of the king's library, received vast sums of money, for the purpose of collecting together, as far as he possibly could, all the books in the world. By means of purchase and transcription, he carried out, to the best of his ability, the purpose of the king. On one occasion when I was present he was asked, How many thousand books are there in the library? and he replied, 'More than two hundred thousand, O king, and I shall make endeavour in the immediate future to gather together the remainder also, so that the total of five hundred thousand may be reached. I am told that the laws of the Jews are worth transcribing and deserve a place in your library.' 'What is to prevent you from doing this?' replied the king. 'Everything that is necessary has been placed at your disposal.' 'They need to be translated,' answered Demetrius, 'for in the country of the Jews they use a peculiar alphabet (just as the Egyptians, too, have a special form of letters) and speak a peculiar dialect. They are supposed to use the Syriac tongue, but this is not the case; their language is quite different.' And the king when he understood all the facts of the case ordered a letter to be written to the Jewish High Priest that his purpose (which has already been described) might be accomplished.

“Thinking that the time had come to press the demand, which I had often laid before Sosibius of Tarentum and Andreas, the chief of the bodyguard, for the emancipation of the Jews who had been transported from Judea by the king's father - for when by a combination of good fortune and courage he had brought his attack on the whole district of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia to a successful issue, in the process of terrorizing the country into subjection, he transported some of his foes and others he reduced to captivity. The number of those whom he transported from the country of the Jews to Egypt amounted to no less than a hundred thousand. Of these he armed thirty thousand picked men and settled them in garrisons in the country districts. (And even before this time large numbers of Jews had come into Egypt with the Persian, and in an earlier period still others had been sent to Egypt to help Psammetichus in his campaign against the king of the Ethiopians. But these were nothing like so numerous as the captives whom Ptolemy the son of Lagus transported.) As I have already said Ptolemy picked out the best of these, the men who were in the prime of life and distinguished for their courage, and armed them, but the great mass of the others, those who were too old or too young for this purpose, and the women too, he reduced to slavery, not that he wished to do this of his own free will, but he was compelled by his soldiers who claimed them as a reward for the services which they had rendered in war.

“I have been at pains to discover, the God who gave them their law is the God who maintains your kingdom. They worship the same God - the Lord and Creator of the Universe, as all other men, as we ourselves, O king, though we call him by different names, such as Zeus or Dis. This name was very appropriately bestowed upon him by our first ancestors, in order to signify that He through whom all things are endowed with life and come into being, is necessarily the ruler and lord of the Universe. Set all mankind an example of magnanimity by releasing those who are held in bondage.'

Letter Of Aristeas

“When the question was raised whether the sum of twenty talents was to be paid for these, the king ordered that it should be done, and thus he carried out his decision in the most comprehensive way. When this had been done, he ordered Demetrius to draw up a memorial with regard to the transcription of the Jewish books. For all affairs of state used to be carried out by means of decrees and with the most painstaking accuracy by these Egyptian kings, and nothing was done in a slipshod or haphazard fashion. And so I have inserted copies of the memorial and the letters, the number of the presents sent and the nature of each, since every one of them excelled in magnificence and technical skill. The following is a copy of the memorial.

“The Memorial of Demetrius to the great king. 'Since you have given me instructions, O king, that the books which are needed to complete your library should be collected together, and that those which are defective should be repaired, I have devoted myself with the utmost care to the fulfilment of your wishes, and I now have the following proposal to lay before you. The books of the law of the Jews (with some few others) are absent from the library. They are written in the Hebrew characters and language and have been carelessly interpreted, and do not represent the original text as I am informed by those who know; for they have never had a king's care to protect them. It is necessary that these should be made accurate for your library since the law which they contain, in as much as it is of divine origin, is full of wisdom and free from all blemish. For this reason literary men and poets and the mass of historical writers have held aloof from referring to these books and the men who have lived and are living in accordance with them, because their conception of life is so sacred and religious, as Hecataeus of Abdera says. If it please you, O king, a letter shall be written to the High Priest in Jerusalem, asking him to send six elders out of every tribe - men who have lived the noblest life and are most skilled in their law - that we may find out the points in which the majority of them are in agreement, and so having obtained an accurate translation may place it in a conspicuous place in a manner worthy of the work itself and your purpose. May continual prosperity be yours!'

“The following are the names of the elders: Of the first tribe, Joseph, Ezekiah, Zachariah, John, Ezekiah, Elisha. Of the second tribe, Judas, Simon, Samuel, Adaeus, Mattathias, Eschlemias. Of the third tribe, Nehemiah, Joseph, Theodosius, Baseas, Ornias, Dakis. Of the fourth tribe, Jonathan, Abraeus, Elisha, Ananias, Chabrias.... Of the fifth tribe, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, Sabbataeus, Simon, Levi. Of the sixth tribe, Judas, Joseph, Simon, Zacharias, Samuel, Selemias. Of the seventh tribe, Sabbataeus, Zedekiah, Jacob, Isaac, Jesias, Natthaeus. Of the eighth tribe Theodosius, Jason, Jesus, Theodotus, John, Jonathan. Of the ninth tribe, Theophilus, Abraham Arsamos, Jason, Endemias, Daniel. Of the tenth tribe, Jeremiah, Eleazar, Zachariah, Baneas, Elisha, Dathaeus. Of the eleventh tribe, Samuel, Joseph, Judas, Jonathes, Chabu, Dositheus. Of the twelfth tribe, Isaelus, John, Theodosius, Arsamos, Abietes, Ezekiel. They were seventy-two in all. Such was the answer which Eleazar and his friends gave to the king's letter.

Objects for the Jewish Temple in the 3rd century B.C.

On the table (altar) of the Jewish Temple, the Letter Of Aristeas says: “I will now proceed to redeem my promise and give a description of the works of art. They were wrought with exceptional skill, for the king spared no expense and personally superintended the workmen individually. They could not therefore scamp any part of the work or finish it off negligently. First of all I will give you a description of the table. The king was anxious that this piece of work should be of exceptionally large dimensions, and he caused enquiries to be made of the Jews in the locality with regard to the size of the table already in the temple at Jerusalem. And when they described the measurements, he proceeded to ask whether he might make a larger structure. And some of the priests and the other Jews replied that there was nothing to prevent him. And he said that he was anxious to make it five times the size, but he hesitated lest it should prove useless for the temple services. He was desirous that his gift should not merely be stationed in the temple, for it would afford him much greater pleasure if the men whose duty it was to offer the fitting sacrifices were able to do so appropriately on the table which he had made. [Source: R.H. Charles-Editor, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1913]

loot taken by the Romans during their sacking of Jerusalem

“They made the table two cubits long (one cubit broad) one and a half cubits high, fashioning it of pure solid gold. What I am describing was not thin gold laid over another foundation, but the whole structure was of massive gold welded together. And they made a border of a hand's breadth round about it. And there was a wreath of wave-work, engraved in relief in the form of ropes marvelously wrought on its three sides. For it was triangular in shape and the style of the work was exactly the same on each of the sides, so that whichever side they were turned, they presented the same appearance. Of the two sides under the border, the one which sloped down to the table was a very beautiful piece of work, but it was the outer side which attracted the gaze of the spectator. Now the upper edge of the two sides, being elevated, was sharp since, as we have said, the rim was three-sided, from whatever point of view one approached it. And there were layers of precious stones on it in the midst of the embossed cord-work, and they were interwoven with one another by an inimitable artistic device. For the sake of security they were all fixed by golden needles which were inserted in perforations in the stones. At the sides they were clamped together by fastenings to hold them firm.

“On the part of the border round the table which slanted upwards and met the eyes, there was wrought a pattern of eggs in precious stones, elaborately engraved by a continuous piece of fluted relief-work, closely connected together round the whole table. And under the stones which had been arranged to represent eggs the artists made a crown containing all kinds of fruits, having at its top clusters of grapes and ears of corn, dates also and apples, and pomegranates and the like, conspicuously arranged. These fruits were wrought out of precious stones, of the same colour as the fruits themselves and they fastened them edgeways round all the sides of the table with a band of gold. And after the crown of fruit had been put on, underneath there was inserted another pattern of eggs in precious stones, and other fluting and embossed work, that both sides of the table might be used, according to the wishes of the owners and for this reason the wave-work and the border were extended 65 down to the feet of the table. They made and fastened under the whole width of the table a massive plate four fingers thick, that the feet might be inserted into it, and clamped fast with linch-pins which fitted into sockets under the border, so that which ever side of the table people preferred, might be used. Thus it became manifestly clear that the work was intended to be used either way. On the table itself they engraved a 'maeander', having precious stones standing out in the middle of it, rubies and emeralds and an onyx too and many other kinds of stones which excel 67 in beauty.

“Of the mixing bowls, two were wrought (in gold), and from the base to the middle were engraved with relief work in the pattern of scales, and between the scales precious stones were inserted with great artistic skill. Then there was a 'maeander' a cubit in height, with its surface wrought out of precious stones of many colours, displaying great artistic effort and beauty. Upon this there was a mosaic, worked in the form of a rhombus, having a net-like appearance and reaching right up to the brim. ln the middle, small shields which were made of different precious stones, placed alternately and varying in kind, not less than four fingers broad enhanced the beauty of their appearance. On the top of the brim there was an ornament of lilies in bloom, and intertwining clusters of grapes were engraven all round. Such then was the construction of the golden bowls, and they held more than two firkins each. The silver bowls had a smooth surface, and were wonderfully made as if they were intended for looking-glasses, so that everything which was brought near to them was reflected even more clearly than in mirrors. But it is impossible to describe the real impression which these works of art produced upon the mind when they were finished. For, when these vessels had been completed and placed side by side, first a silver bowl and then a golden, then another silver, and then another golden, the appearance they presented is altogether indescribable, and those who came to see them were not able to tear themselves from the brilliant sight and entrancing, spectacle. The impressions produced by the spectacle were various in kind. When men looked at the golden vessels, and their minds made a complete survey of each detail of workmanship, their souls were thrilled with wonder. Again when a man wished to direct his gaze to the silver vessels, as they stood before him, everything seemed to flash with light round about the place where he was standing, and afforded a still greater delight to the onlookers. So that it is really impossible to describe the artistic beauty of the works. The golden vials they engraved in the centre with vine wreaths. And about the rims they wove a wreath of ivy and myrtle and olive in relief work and inserted precious stones in it.”

Land of the Jews in the 3rd Century B.C.

On the land of the Jews, the Letter Of Aristeas says: “ The next point in the narrative is an account of our journey to Eleazar, but I will first of all give you a description of the whole country. When we arrived in the land of the Jews we saw the city situated in the middle of the whole of Judea on the top of a mountain of considerable altitude. On the summit the temple had been built in all its splendour. It was surrounded by three walls more than seventy cubits high and in length and breadth corresponding to the structure of the edifice. [Source: R.H. Charles-Editor, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1913]

“All the buildings were characterized by a magnificence and costliness quite unprecedented. It was obvious that no expense had been spared on the door and the fastenings, which connected it with the door-posts, and the stability of the lintel. The style of the curtain too was thoroughly in proportion to that of the entrance. Its fabric owing to the draught of wind was in perpetual motion, and as this motion was communicated from the bottom and the curtain bulged out to its highest extent, it afforded a pleasant spectacle from which a man could scarcely tear himself away. The construction of the altar was in keeping with the place itself and with the burnt offerings which were consumed by fire upon it, and the approach to it was on a similar scale. There was a gradual slope up to it, conveniently arranged for the purpose of decency, and the ministering priests were robed in linen garments, down to their 88 ankles. The Temple faces the east and its back is toward the west. The whole of the floor is paved with stones and slopes down to the appointed places, that water may be conveyed to wash away the 89 blood from the sacrifices, for many thousand beasts are sacrificed there on the feast days.

“And there is an inexhaustible supply of water, because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the temple area. There are moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, as they pointed out to me, at a distance of five furlongs all round the site of the temple, and each of them has countless pipes 90 so that the different streams converge together. And all these were fastened with lead at the bottom and at the sidewalls, and over them a great quantity of plaster had been spread, and every part of the work had been most carefully carried out. There are many openings for water at the base of the altar which are invisible to all except to those who are engaged in the ministration, so that all the blood of the sacrifices which is collected in great quantities is washed away in the twinkling of an 91 eye. Such is my opinion with regard to the character of the reservoirs and I will now show you how it was confirmed. They led me more than four furlongs outside the city and bade me peer down towards a certain spot and listen to the noise that was made by the meeting of the waters, so that the great size of the reservoirs became manifest to me, as has already been pointed out.”

Joel and the Greek Locusts

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Joel is the work of an unknown prophet who conveys to his readers through dramatic imagery the immediacy of a frightful threat to national well-being, and the subsequent deliverance. The mood in the three chapters moves from concern, through terror, to desperate repentance and hope, to relief at salvation and exalted hopes for the future. The work appears to be a literary unity, the work of one writer. Because of the emphasis on Jerusalem and Judah, the author is, obviously, a Judaean. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“At one time Joel was listed among the earliest prophetic writings, but this view has been abandoned. The text lacks themes prominent in eighth century prophetic books: kings, Canaanite religion, idolatry, apostasy. Nor are there references to Assyrians, Babylonians or Persians. The specific mention of the Greeks (3:6) and the indication that the temple is standing and the cult operating (1:9, 13, 16; 2:17) points to the early Hellenistic period. The imminent destruction of Tyre, Sidon and Philistia reflected in 3:4-8 suggests that Joel may have been written after Alexander the Great had begun the siege of Tyre.

“The opening verses describe a plague of locusts sweeping over the land. It is usually assumed that subsequent passages describing the devastation of the land reflect the destructive activities of these insects. Such terms as "nation" in 1:6, "a great and powerful people" in 2:2 and the descriptions of the approaching hordes (2:4 ff.) are interpreted as symbols for the swarming locusts. But, if Joel is writing when Alexander's armies are moving through Palestine, it is possible that he is describing Greek armies. The initial swarm of locusts was, as in Amos, actually seen, but in the prophet's imagery the insects were symbolic of the waves of Greeks marching through the land. References to "the nation" and "the great and powerful people" were, therefore, historical.


“On this basis the book may be analyzed as follows:
1:1 The editorial superscription.
1:2-4 The initial vision of the swarm of locusts in which different kinds or stages of development of locusts are indicated.
1:5-14 The call to lamentation rites for the wasting of the land and the blending of locust imagery into a description of the invading enemy.
1:15-2:11 The interpretation of events as forewarnings of the Day of Yahweh, which is depicted as a day of gloom and destruction.
2:12-17 The nation is summoned to repentance rites in the hope that Yahweh will deliver the people.
2:18-29 Yahweh has saved his people. The Greeks did not destroy or plunder. There is promise of ample harvest and abundant blessing.
2:30-32 The second vision of the Day of Yahweh, now described as a day of salvation, blessing and restoration for the Jews and Judah.
3:1-3 The promise of judgment against Judah's oppressors.
3:4-8 The implication of the imminent fall of Tyre, Sidon and Philistia.
3:9-21 The third vision of the Day of Yahweh as a time of judgment for the people of the world, and a time of blessing for Judah.
Because a majority of scholars assume that the locusts represent a real plague8 and that there is no reference to foreign invaders, the following analysis is provided:
1:1 The editorial superscription.
1:2-20 The plague of locusts and a drought.
2:1:11 The locusts as a warning of the Day of Yahweh.
2:12-17 The call for repentance.
2:18-27 The restoration of the land.
2:28-32 The signs of the Day of Yahweh.
3:1-16 Judgment on the nations.
3:17-21 Blessings on Judah.

“For Joel, the locusts (or the Greeks) are signs of Yahweh's anger, and although there is no specification of evils, the nation is called to repent. As the danger passed, the penitential mood changed to thanksgiving. The concluding visions of the Day of Yahweh are quite distinct from the first (cf. 2:30-32; 3:9-21; and 1:5-2:11). In the first vision, judgment falls on Judah and the prospects are grim; in the last visions condemnation and threats are directed against Judah's enemies and hopes for the Jews are high. Clearly, the day of Yahweh concept was still strong in the Jewish community, and particularistic and nationalistic dreams for the future were undiminished. The last two visions of Yahweh's Day have an air of finality, as though the history of struggle for identity and the long hoped for period of blessing were to be realized. Once "that Day" had come, the future would be secure. This eschatological hope or idealistic doctrine of the end was soon to expand and develop new facets. The book reflects a liturgical framework which may have grown out of the close working relationship between the prophets and the cult.”


Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “One of the most delightful stories to come out of the late Hellenistic period is that of Tobit, which relates how God solved two unhappy human dilemmas with a single angel. The writing does not belong to the wisdom school, and the only justification for attaching it to the section on wisdom writing is that Tobit advises his son after the manner of the wisdom teachers. The tale is set in the eighth century in Nineveh and recounts the unfortunate blinding of a pious Jew, Tobit, and the desperate plight of the maiden Sarah whose seven bridegrooms had each been slain on their wedding night by the evil demon Asmodeus. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Tobit and the archangel Raphael by Titian

“There is ample evidence that the story is much later than its setting, and it fits best into the period between 200 and 180 B.C., or just before the period of Jewish independence. For example, in 14:5 Tobit speaks prophetically of events to come, but it is clear that he is describing the post-Exilic temple. He does not know of the beautification of this temple under the auspices of Herod the Great, which occurred in the Roman period (37-4), but idealistically envisions a future temple built by Jews of the dispersion on their return to Jerusalem.12 The author confused the order of Assyrian monarchs, which would be unlikely for one contemporary with the events. Sennacherib was not the son of Shalmaneser as Tobit 1:15 indicates, but of Sargon. Nor were Nebuchadrezzar and Ahasuerus involved in the sacking of Nineveh, as noted in Tobit 14:15, but rather Nabopolassar and Cyaxeres.13 According to II Kings 15:29, the tribe of Naphtali went into captivity in the time of Tiglath Pileser III, not in Shalmaneser's day as stated in Tobit 1:1. The reference to the Greek drachma (5:14) and to the book of Jonah (14:8) point to a Greek provenance, and because there is no hint of persecution of the Jews under Antiochus IV, a date between 200 and 180 is usually given to this story.

“The place of writing has been the subject of much discussion and scholars have proposed Mesopotamia, Egypt, Judaea and Antioch in Syria. The Mesopotamian setting may be rejected on the grounds of the author's confusion of geographical details, such as the implications that Nineveh was a day's journey from the Tigris (6:1), or that the trip from Ecbatana to Rages (or Rhagae) could be made in a single day.The argument against Egypt is based on the fact that in Egypt sheep and camels were neither common nor in the possession of the ordinary citizen, as is implied in Tobit 9:2 and 10:10. The choice of locale lies between Antioch and Jerusalem, with either city being a likely candidate.

“Certain motifs in Tobit may have been borrowed from earlier writings. Tobit shows affinities with The Tale of the Grateful Dead, which relates how the hero of the story gave up his possessions to pay the debts of a dead man whose creditor refused to permit burial of the debtor's body. The story of Ahikar is known to the writer. He is familiar with the Story of the Dangerous Bride, in which a bride continues to lose bridegrooms to a monster on the wedding night until rescued by a hero.

“The author's purpose in telling the story, beyond the recounting of an interesting tale, is probably to encourage almsgiving and proper care for the dead and to teach that God sustains the righteous. These may appear to be rather limited reasons, but in view of the development of Hellenized Judaism, a story designed to encourage adherence to traditional Jewish ways is of particular significance.. “Tobit represents a Jew loyal to Jewish religious beliefs and practices even when banished and persecuted (1:3, 6-12; 2:8; etc.). No other writing of this period provides a more intimate expression of the warm bonds existing between husband and wife and parents and child in a Jewish household (2:11-3:6; 4:3-4). No other account demonstrates better that strict adherence to the tenets of Jewish religious legalism brought into human relationships principles of concern and compassion (1:17-20; 2:2-5). When Tobit enjoyed good fortune, he sought to share it. He lent money in simple trust. His precepts were uncluttered (4:7, 14; 12:7) and included the "Golden Rule" in its negative form (4:15).

“The religious beliefs expressed throughout the story reveal the writer's reverence for the Torah and his strong faith in divine providence and the efficacy of prayer. Prayers did not go directly to the deity but, as the angel Raphael explained, were delivered to God by seven holy angels (12:15). The introduction of angelic intermediaries and the appellations used for God, depicting his majesty and glory (1:4; 12:12, 15; 13:6-7, 10-11, 15), acknowledge the transcendence of the deity and reveal how far Jewish theology had moved from the views of the J writer. References to the presence of God avoid any hint of anthropomorphism, and only the divine glory is mentioned (3:16; 12:15).

“Angels have appeared from time to time in Hebrew-Jewish literature (Gen. 22:11; 31:11; Exod. 3:3; Josh. 5:13-14; Judg. 13:3-5; I Kings 19:5; II Kings 19:35). Sometimes they are messengers of the deity; at other times they give protection (Ps. 91:11), support (Ps. 35:5-6) or succor (I Kings 19:5). In Tobit, angels are recognized as intercessors, and a specific angel, Raphael,23 was assigned to a special task. Persian influence may lie behind the seven angels of Tobit (12:15), for Ahura Mazda was said to be attended by six archangels, forces for good. The demon Asmodeus may be the Iranian demon of anger or lust, "Aeshma daeva." It has also been suggested that his name is derived from a Hebrew root shmd meaning "to destroy, hence he would be "The Destroyer." The banishing of Asmodeus and the healing of Tobit's blindness with the heart, liver and gall of a fish involve magic. Magicians have been referred to earlier in biblical writings (Isa. 3:2-3; Ezek. 13:18-20; II Chron. 33:6), and magic is prohibited in the Torah (Exod. 22:18; Lev. 19:26, 31; 20:6, 27). There is no condemnation of magic in Tobit, and the rites of expulsion and healing were taught and approved by the angel Raphael.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860 except first map Jewish Virtual Library

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, Live Science, Archaeology magazine, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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