A few books ago we learned how after the destruction of the First Temple and the deportation of the majority of the people to Babylonia, Nebuchadrezzar installed Gedaliah b. Aḥikam as the governor of Judah. All the Jews who had fled to neighbouring countries came back to live in Judah, but when Gedaliah was assassinated, they were afraid of repercussions from Nebuchadrezzar, and wanted to flee to Egypt.
Jeremiah was referring to the impending campaign by Nebuchadrezzar against Egypt; but what happened to these Jews in the longer run? Enslaved by the Persians, according to Antiquities XII.2.45, but there is a happy ending:
And now therefore hear the word of the Lord, ye remnant of Judah; Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; If you wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; Then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which you feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, of which you were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die. So shall it be with all the men that set their faces to go into Egypt to sojourn there; they shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: and none of them shall remain or escape from the evil that I will bring upon them. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; As mine anger and my fury has been poured forth upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so shall my fury be poured forth upon you, when you shall enter into Egypt: and you shall be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach; and you shall see this place no more. וְעַתָּה לָכֵן שִׁמְעוּ דְבַר־ה׳ שְׁאֵרִית יְהוּדָה כֹּה־אָמַר ה׳ צְבָאוֹת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִם־אַתֶּם שׂוֹם תְּשִׂמוּן פְּנֵיכֶם לָבֹא מִצְרַיִם וּבָאתֶם לָגוּר שָׁם׃ וְהָיְתָה הַחֶרֶב אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יְרֵאִים מִמֶּנָּה שָׁם תַּשִּׂיג אֶתְכֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְהָרָעָב אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּם דֹּאֲגִים מִמֶּנּוּ שָׁם יִדְבַּק אַחֲרֵיכֶם מִצְרַיִם וְשָׁם תָּמֻתוּ׃ וְיִהְיוּ כָל־הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר־שָׂמוּ אֶת־פְּנֵיהֶם לָבוֹא מִצְרַיִם לָגוּר שָׁם יָמוּתוּ בַּחֶרֶב בָּרָעָב וּבַדָּבֶר וְלֹא־יִהְיֶה לָהֶם שָׂרִיד וּפָלִיט מִפְּנֵי הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא עֲלֵיהֶם׃ כִּי כֹה אָמַר ה׳ צְבָאוֹת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּאֲשֶׁר נִתַּךְ אַפִּי וַחֲמָתִי עַל־יֹשְׁבֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם כֵּן תִּתַּךְ חֲמָתִי עֲלֵיכֶם בְּבֹאֲכֶם מִצְרָיִם וִהְיִיתֶם לְאָלָה וּלְשַׁמָּה וְלִקְלָלָה וּלְחֶרְפָּה וְלֹא־תִרְאוּ עוֹד אֶת־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה׃
"King Ptolemy to Eleazar the high priest, sendeth greeting. There are many Jews who now dwell in my kingdom, whom the Persians, when they were in power, carried captives. These were honoured by my father; some of them he placed in the army, and gave them greater pay than ordinary; to others of them, when they came with him into Egypt, he committed his garrisons, and the guarding of them, that they might be a terror to the Egyptians. And when I had taken the government, I treated all men with humanity, and especially those that are thy fellow citizens, of whom I have set free above a hundred thousand that were slaves, and paid the price of their redemption to their masters out of my own revenues; and those that are of a fit age, I have admitted into them number of my soldiers."This passage is embedded in a longer section, describing how the Septuagint, the first translation of the Torah, came to be written (which was: because the librarian of the Library of Alexandria wanted them in his collection, and couldn't read Hebrew). Later rabbinic thought held this to be a catastrophic event, but that wasn't how it was perceived at the time (XII.2.52):
"Eleazar the high priest to king Ptolemy, sendeth greeting. If thou and thy queen Arsinoe, and thy children, be well, we are entirely satisfied. When we received thy epistle, we greatly rejoiced at thy intentions; and when the multitude were gathered together, we read it to them, and thereby made them sensible of the piety thou hast towards God. We also showed them the twenty vials of gold, and thirty of silver, and the five large basons, and the table for the shew-bread; as also the hundred talents for the sacrifices, and for the making what shall be needful at the temple; which things Andreas and Aristeus, those most honoured friends of thine, have brought us; and truly they are persons of an excellent character, and of great learning, and worthy of thy virtue. Know then that we will gratify thee in what is for thy advantage, though we do what we used not to do before; for we ought to make a return for the numerous acts of kindness which thou hast done to our countrymen. We immediately, therefore, offered sacrifices for thee and thy sister, with thy children and friends; and the multitude made prayers, that thy affairs may be to thy mind, and that thy kingdom may be preserved in peace, and that the translation of our law may come to the conclusion thou desirest, and be for thy advantage. We have also chosen six elders out of every tribe, whom we have sent, and the law with them. It will be thy part, out of thy piety and justice, to send back the law, when it hath been translated, and to return those to us that bring it in safety. Farewell."
Have you spotted the difficulty with the above passage? The Septuagint is so called because it was translated by seventy-two elders. Josephus says this is six from every tribe, but ten of the tribes are supposed to have been assimilated and lost centuries ago by that point. Nor is this a casual error on behalf of Josephus: he knows who these seventy-two elders were, but, most annoyingly, continues:
But it does not seem to me to be necessary to set down the names of the seventy [two] elders who were sent by Eleazar, and carried the law, which yet were subjoined at the end of the epistle.
Aargh! Wikipedia informed me Josephus' source here is the Letter of Aristeas, which does name the elders (§47); however, their tribes are given by number rather than name.
Anyhow, back to the story: Eleazar sends the scholars to Alexandria along with gifts.
as the old men came in with the presents, which the high priest had given them to bring to the king, and with the membranes, upon which they had their laws written in golden letters he put questions to them concerning those books; and when they had taken off the covers wherein they were wrapt up, they showed him the membranes. So the king stood admiring the thinness of those membranes, and the exactness of the junctures, which could not be perceived; (so exactly were they connected one with another); and this he did for a considerable time.
Torah written in golden letters!? This is certainly not permitted nowadays (for since Talmudic times values of "nowadays")!
[King Ptolemy] bid Dorotheus to minister to all those that were come to him from Judaea, after the manner they used to be ministered to; for which cause he sent away their sacred heralds, and those that slew the sacrifices, and the rest that used to say grace; but called to one of those that were come to him, whose name was Eleazar, who was priest, and desired him to say grace; who then stood in the midst of them, and prayed, that all prosperity might attend the king, and those that were his subjects. Upon which an acclamation was made by the whole company, with joy and a great noise; and when that was over, they fell to eating their supper, and to the enjoyment of what was set before them.
"Areus, king of the Lacedaemonians, to Onias, sendeth greeting. We have met with a certain writing, whereby we have discovered that both the Jews and the Lacedaemonians are of one stock, and are derived from the kindred of Abraham. It is but just therefore that you, who are our brethren, should send to us about any of your concerns as you please. We will also do the same thing, and esteem your concerns as our own, and will look upon our concerns as in common with yours. Demoteles, who brings you this letter, will bring your answer back to us. This letter is four-square; and the seal is an eagle, with a dragon in his claws."
The Jews and the Spartans of the same stock!? Sadly, neither Josephus nor Areus cites what the evidence for this is supposed to be.
On to the Chanukah story, where the narrative fleshes out again, as Josephus is using 1 Maccabees as his source. There's a good summary of the Second Temple history leading to this point in a previous set of Limmud notes of mine.. XII.5.246:
King Antiochus returning out of Egypt for fear of the Romans, made an expedition against the city Jerusalem; and when he was there, in the hundred and forty-third year of the kingdom of the Seleucids, he took the city without fighting, those of his own party opening the gates to him. And when he had gotten possession of Jerusalem, he slew many of the opposite party; and when he had plundered it of a great deal of money, he returned to Antioch.
I wasn't expecting to see the Romans appearing in the narrative so early (167 BCE); they don't appear on the scene directly until over a hundred years later. But even this year apparently the fear of interfering with Roman protectorates had the nations of the Levant quaking in their boots.
Wikipedia informs me:
In 168 BC Antiochus led a second attack on Egypt and also sent a fleet to capture Cyprus. Before reaching Alexandria, his path was blocked by a single, old Roman ambassador named Gaius Popillius Laenas, who delivered a message from the Roman Senate directing Antiochus to withdraw his armies from Egypt and Cyprus, or consider themselves in a state of war with the Roman Republic. Antiochus said he would discuss it with his council, whereupon the Roman envoy drew a line in the sand around him and said, "Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate" – implying that Rome would declare war if the King stepped out of the circle without committing to leave Egypt immediately. Weighing his options, Antiochus decided to withdraw. Only then did Popillius agree to shake hands with him.
This is, apparently, where the expression "line in the sand" comes from. It further seems Antiochus' father, Antiochus III, got thrashed by the Romans at Thermopylae in 191 BCE, and had to sign a treaty with the Romans giving away lots of power.
We learn in Jewish education about Antiochus ransacking the Temple and sacrificing pigs on the altar; and forbidding study of the Torah, circumcision and observance of Jewish law. Turns out that wasn't all (XII.5.251):
And when he had pillaged the whole city, some of the inhabitants he slew, and some he carried captive, together with their wives and children, so that the multitude of those captives that were taken alive amounted to about ten thousand.
A large chunk of chapter 4 of Book XII concerns the Tobiad Romance, concerning another branch of the same family whose story we learn in the apocryphal book of Tobit. Aha, I think; I know this story from somewhere else. It's in that book, Ancient Jewish Novels, that I happened to stumble across in the bookshop outside Old Street station, and couldn't go past without buying.
So I go back to that book to see where it originally comes from, and it turns out that book had taken it from Antiquities of the Jews... (Though undoubtedly it originally had another source, now lost, from which Josephus excerpted it.)
When the Samaritans saw the Jews under these sufferings, they no longer confessed that they were of their kindred, nor that the temple on Mount Gerizzim belonged to Almighty God. This was according to their nature, as we have already shown. And they now said that they were a colony of Medes and Persians; and indeed they were a colony of theirs. So they sent ambassadors to Antiochus, and an epistle, whose contents are these: "To king Antiochus the god, Epiphanes, a memorial from the Sidonians, who live at Shechem. Our forefathers, upon certain frequent plagues, and as following a certain ancient superstition, had a custom of observing that day which by the Jews is called the Sabbath. And when they had erected a temple at the mountain called Gerrizzim, though without a name, they offered upon it the proper sacrifices. Now, upon the just treatment of these wicked Jews, those that manage their affairs, supposing that we were of kin to them, and practiced as they do, make us liable to the same accusations, although we be originally Sidonians, as is evident from the public records. We therefore beseech thee, our benefactor and Savior, to give order to Apollonius, the governor of this part of the country, and to Nicanor, the procurator of thy affairs, to give us no disturbance, nor to lay to our charge what the Jews are accused for, since we are aliens from their nation, and from their customs; but let our temple, which at present hath no name at all be named the Temple of Jupiter Hellenius. If this were once done, we should be no longer disturbed, but should be more intent on our own occupation with quietness, and so bring in a greater revenue to thee." When the Samaritans had petitioned for this, the king sent them back the following answer, in an epistle: "King Antiochus to Nicanor. The Sidonians, who live at Shechem, have sent me the memorial enclosed. When therefore we were advising with our friends about it, the messengers sent by them represented to us that they are no way concerned with accusations which belong to the Jews, but choose to live after the customs of the Greeks. Accordingly, we declare them free from such accusations, and order that, agreeable to their petition, their temple be named the Temple of Jupiter Hellenius." He also sent the like epistle to Apollonius, the governor of that part of the country, in the forty-sixth year, and the eighteenth day of the month Hecatombeon.XII.6.265:
Now at this time there was one whose name was Mattathias, who dwelt at Modin, the son of John, the son of Simeon, the son of Asamoneus, a priest of the order of Joarib, and a citizen of Jerusalem.
What's a priest of the order of Joarib? A little googling revealed this was the first of the twenty-four divisions (משמרות כהונה) of the Kohanim, which took turns ministering in the Temple.
You know, sometimes I look at old blog posts or emails, and I'm appalled by my ignorance of that period. I'm finally here putting together the pieces and discovering what was meant by the משמרת ידייע referred to in this talk I attended at Limmud 2005 and this post I made in 2007, and I'm surprised I hadn't put them together before. I knew of the משמרות כהונה, but not very well.
In a few years time I'll look at these Josephus notes, and be appalled at things I'll know then, and don't know now. Eventually, after the course of many years, I'll be well educated and no longer have to be ashamed of my ignorance. And then I'll die. What a waste. And all for nothing—none of this stuff I'm learning is anything that other people haven't learned and thrashed out in a lot more detail than me. All I can do of any originality is sometimes to put things together from having learned subjects at a relatively shallow level that people who know each individual one in depth might not have the breadth to do so themselves.
A few years ago, I first learned from liv how the principle of פיקוח נפש, saving life, taking precedence over everything but the three sins of idolatry, adultery and murder, was not originally established, and in Hasmonean times people died because they refused to fight on Shabbos. When I saw a session on this subject advertised for Limmud last year, I was interested to learn more. Unfortunately, I missed the first half of it, because the closing gala overran and there were no announcements as to whether following sessions would be delayed, as they had been after havdala at the start of the week. I was not at all pleased about this, but at least I get to learn part of the story by reading Antiquities of the Jews, starting with XII.5.274:
Many others did the same also, and fled with their children and wives into the desert, and dwelt in caves. But when the king's generals heard this, they took all the forces they then had in the citadel at Jerusalem, and pursued the Jews into the desert; and when they had overtaken them, they in the first place endeavored to persuade them to repent, and to choose what was most for their advantage, and not put them to the necessity of using them according to the law of war. But when they would not comply with their persuasions, but continued to be of a different mind, they fought against them on the sabbath day, and they burnt them as they were in the caves, without resistance, and without so much as stopping up the entrances of the caves. And they avoided to defend themselves on that day, because they were not willing to break in upon the honour they owed the sabbath, even in such distresses; for our law requires that we rest upon that day. There were about a thousand, with their wives and children, who were smothered and died in these caves; but many of those that escaped joined themselves to Mattathias, and appointed him to be their ruler, who taught them to fight, even on the sabbath day; and told them that unless they would do so, they would become their own enemies, by observing the law [so rigorously], while their adversaries would still assault them on this day, and they would not then defend themselves, and that nothing could then hinder but they must all perish without fighting. This speech persuaded them. And this rule continues among us to this day, that if there be a necessity, we may fight on sabbath days.
Jesus, who was the brother of Onias, was deprived of the high priesthood by the king, who was angry with him, and gave it to his younger brother, whose name also was Onias [...]. This Jesus changed his name to Jason, but Onias was called Menelaus. Now as the former high priest, Jesus, raised a sedition against Menelaus, who was ordained after him, the multitude were divided between them both. And the sons of Tobias took the part of Menelaus, but the greater part of the people assisted Jason; and by that means Menelaus and the sons of Tobias were distressed, and retired to Antiochus, and informed him that they were desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, and to follow the king's laws, and the Grecian way of living.
Shortly afterwards, Antiochus came to Jerusalem, killing and enslaving the people, plundered the Temple, and desecrated it, offering up pigs on the altar; then forbade the practice of Judaism. Matatthias and his sons rose up in revolt, and the rest is history. What's not readily apparent unless you read between the lines is that Menelaus, the Hellenising High Priest who started the whole business by telling Antiochus he wanted to give up Jewish practice, seems to have remained High Priest for the period after the Temple was recaptured, during which the Hasmoneans had not yet taken the High Priesthood upon themselves! They don't teach you about that in cheder! (See also my Limmud notes "Would you buy a cruse of oil from this High Priest".)
So he set them in their ancient order of battle used by their forefathers, under their captains of thousands, and other officers, and dismissed such as were newly married, as well as those that had newly gained possessions, that they might not fight in a cowardly manner, out of an inordinate love of life, in order to enjoy those blessings.
This despite the odds being ridiculously against them (3000 ill-armed men against forty thousand foot soldiers, seven thousand horsemen, Syrian auxiliaries and Hellenised Jews). I'm not surprised their military success was then later adjudged a miracle.
Quoting from my previous notes from Jeneration at Moishe House, XII.7.325:
And so Judah together with his fellow citizens celebrated the restoration of sacrifices in the Temple for eight days, omitting no form of pleasure; but feasting them on costly and splendid sacrifices, and while honoring God with songs of praise and the playing of harps, at the same time delighted them. So much pleasure did they find at the renewal of their customs, and in unexpectedly obtaining the right to have their own service after so long a time, that they made it a law that their descendants should celebrate the restoration of the Temple service for eight days. And from that time to the present we celebrate this festival, which we call the Festival of Lights, giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it.
Rabbi Shoshanna Boyd-Gelfand: Yeah, right. This is a really poor reason to call it the Festival of Lights. Josephus clearly knows more than he's telling—the story of the miracle of the oil might be too much for the Romans. But is it this story he's holding back on, given that it's not until a בָּרַייתָא [a Mishnaic-era (first to third century) source] quoted in the Gemara [fifth to seventh century] that we encounter the story of the lights? But if not, why were Jews lighting lights? Bear in mind, though, that lots of religions had winter solstice light festivals. Josephus clearly knew something beyond what he was telling, but what that something was we can't know. At any rate, see the above link for some more theories as to what the name Festival of Lights might originally have been referring to.
Now as for Judas Maccabeus, and his brother Jonathan, they passed over the river Jordan; and when they had gone three days journey, they lighted upon the Nabataeans, who came to meet them peaceably, and who told them how the affairs of those in the land of Gilead stood; and how many of them were in distress, and driven into garrisons, and into the cities of Galilee; and exhorted him to make haste to go against the foreigners, and to endeavor to save his own countrymen out of their hands. To this exhortation Judas hearkened, and returned to the wilderness; and in the first place fell upon the inhabitants of Bosor, and took the city, and beat the inhabitants, and destroyed all the males, and all that were able to fight, and burnt the city.A piece of good news in the wars (XII.8.349):
And going away hastily from thence, they came into Judea, singing psalms and hymns as they went, and indulging such tokens of mirth as are usual in triumphs upon victory. They also offered thank-offerings, both for their good success, and for the preservation of their army, for not one of the Jews was slain in these battles.Did you know that Antiochus admitted on his deathbed he had done wrong by the Jews (XXI.9.357)?
When he was grieving for this disappointment, some persons told him of the defeat of his commanders whom he had left behind him to fight against Judea, and what strength the Jews had already gotten. When this concern about these affairs was added to the former, he was confounded, and by the anxiety he was in fell into a distemper, which, as it lasted a great while, and as his pains increased upon him, so he at length perceived he should die in a little time; so he called his friends to him, and told them that his distemper was severe upon him; and confessed withal, that this calamity was sent upon him for the miseries he had brought upon the Jewish nation, while he plundered their temple, and contemned their God; and when he had said this, he gave up the ghost.
Whence one may wonder at Polybius of Megalopolis, who, though otherwise a good man, yet saith that "Antiochus died because he had a purpose to plunder the temple of Diana in Persia;" for the purposing to do a thing, but not actually doing it, is not worthy of punishment. But if Polybius could think that Antiochus thus lost his life on that account, it is much more probable that this king died on account of his sacrilegious plundering of the temple at Jerusalem. But we will not contend about this matter with those who may think that the cause assigned by this Polybius of Megalopolis is nearer the truth than that assigned by us.
But when [Judah Maccabeus's] brother Eleazar, whom they called Auran, saw the tallest of all the elephants armed with royal breastplates, and supposed that the king was upon him, he attacked him with great quickness and bravery. He also slew many of those that were about the elephant, and scattered the rest, and then went under the belly of the elephant, and smote him, and slew him; so the elephant fell upon Eleazar, and by his weight crushed him to death. And thus did this man come to his end, when he had first courageously destroyed many of his enemies.Wikipedia adds:
Eleazar's death was a popular subject for art in the Middle Ages, where it was given a typological significance as prefiguring Christ's sacrifice of himself for mankind. The chance to portray an elephant was also welcomed by artists, although as most had never seen one, the results are often very strange.
I'd vaguely heard about the Temple of Leontopolis in Egypt. Here's how it came to be (XII.9.387):
Now as to Onias, the son of the high priest, who, as we before informed you, was left a child when his father died, when he saw that the king had slain his uncle Menelaus, and given the high priesthood to Alcimus, who was not of the high priest stock, but was induced by Lysias to translate that dignity from his family to another house, he fled to Ptolemy, king of Egypt; and when he found he was in great esteem with him, and with his wife Cleopatra, he desired and obtained a place in the Nomus of Heliopolis, wherein he built a temple like to that at Jerusalem; of which therefore we shall hereafter give an account, in a place more proper for it.XIII.2.64 explains further:
When this Onias saw that Judea was oppressed by the Macedonians and their kings, out of a desire to purchase to himself a memorial and eternal fame he resolved to send to king Ptolemy and queen Cleopatra, to ask leave of them that he might build a temple in Egypt like to that at Jerusalem, and might ordain Levites and priests out of their own stock. The chief reason why he was desirous so to do, was, that he relied upon the prophet Isaiah, who lived above six hundred years before, and foretold that there certainly was to be a temple built to Almighty God in Egypt by a man that was a Jew.
Actually, it turns out this is not quite the case. The Temple was captured by the Hasmoneans on the 25th of Kislev of 164 BCE. In 161 BCE Bacchides was sent to Jerusalem and retook it; Wikipedia says "The peaceable Assideans credulously expected friendship from him; but, contrary to oath and covenant, he cruelly slew sixty of them (1 Macc. vii. 16). Leaving Jerusalem, he made a slaughter-house of Bezeth (Bethzecha), and after handing the country over to Alcimus, returned to the king (ib. vii. 19, 20)." The Temple was recaptured and Nicanor captured on 13th Adar 161 BCE.
Incidentally, this shows that in the Book of Maccabees there's yet another movement called the Chassidim, in addition to the spiritual descendants of the Ba`al Shem Tov today, the mystics of mediaeval Germany, and possibly also the חֲסִידִים רִאשׁוֹנִים (ḥasidim rishonim, early pious men) referred to by the Mishna or not. Regarding whether these "Assidaeans" are the same as these last, Wikipedia cites two views, one regarding them as the spiritual ancestors of the Pharisees (i.e. are the same as the Mishna's חֲסִידִים רִאשׁוֹנִים), and one regarding them as developing into the Essenes, based on the transcription into Greek of the Syriac translation of חָסִיד.
By the time of the Maccabees, the legend of the shamir was evidently in place, as the new altar was built of unhewn stone (XII.7.318):
He also took down the altar [of burnt-offering], and built a new one of stones that he gathered together, and not of such as were hewn with iron tools.
So on the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, which the Macedonians call Apeliens, they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar [of incense], and laid the loaves upon the table [of shew-bread], and offered burnt-offerings upon the new altar [of burnt-offering]. Now it so fell out, that these things were done on the very same day on which their Divine worship had fallen off, and was reduced to a profane and common use, after three years' time; for so it was, that the temple was made desolate by Antiochus, and so continued for three years.
I mentioned in an earlier post that the Hasmoneans were not actually High Priests in the early years of their rebellion. XII.10.414 describes how they became so:
But now as the high priest Alcimus, was resolving to pull down the wall of the sanctuary, which had been there of old time, and had been built by the holy prophets, he was smitten suddenly by God, and fell down. This stroke made him fall down speechless upon the ground; and undergoing torments for many days, he at length died, when he had been high priest four years. And when he was dead, the people bestowed the high priesthood on Judas
Though this page says this contradicts 1 Maccabees, which says Alcimus died after Judah ha-Maccabi (and does not mention the High Priesthood at all).