lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
[personal profile] lethargic_man
The miracle of Chanukah is normally regarded as the military victory over the Seleucids, winning Judea's independence. I've elsewhere heard it said that actually the Hasmoneans were able to take advantage of the fact the Seleucid empire was disintegrating. In the early stages of the Hasmonean revolt, that is clearly not the case; some years down the line (and after Yehudah ha-Maccabi has been killed) things are becoming different. Here, for example, is how Yehudah's brother Yonathan raised an army (XIII.12.39):
When therefore Demetrius heard that Alexander was in Ptolemais, he took his whole army, and led it against him; he also sent ambassadors to Jonathan about a league of mutual assistance and friendship, for he resolved to be beforehand with Alexander, lest the other should treat with him first, and gain assistance from him; and this he did out of the fear he had lest Jonathan should remember how ill Demetrius had formerly treated him, and should join with him in this war against him. He therefore gave orders that Jonathan should be allowed to raise an army, and should get armour made, and should receive back those hostages of the Jewish nation whom Bacchides had shut up in the citadel of Jerusalem.

Not only that, but in XIII.2.45, he writes him a letter beginning "King Alexander to his brother Jonathan, sendeth greeting," implying that he, Alexander, king of the Seleucid Empire, regarded this leader of a rebellious province, as his equal. Demetrius then also tries to curry Jonathan's favour, and sends him a letter pretty much granting him complete independence, but Demetrius is defeated by Alexander, so nothing comes of that.

More early influence of the Romans (XIII.4.113):

Ptolemy came then to Antioch, and was made king by its inhabitants, and by the army; so that he was forced to put on two diadems, the one of Asia, the other of Egypt: but being naturally a good and a righteous man, and not desirous of what belonged to others, and besides these dispositions, being also a wise man in reasoning about futurities, he determined to avoid the envy of the Romans; so he called the people of Antioch together to an assembly, and persuaded them to receive Demetrius; and assured them that he would not be mindful of what they did to his father in case he should he now obliged by them; and he undertook that he would himself be a good monitor and governor to him, and promised that he would not permit him to attempt any bad actions; but that, for his own part, he was contented with the kingdom of Egypt. By which discourse he persuaded the people of Antioch to receive Demetrius.


Now there was a certain commander of Alexander's forces, an Apanemian by birth, whose name was Diodotus, and was also called Trypho, took notice the ill-will of the soldiers bare to Demetrius, and went to Malchus the Arabian, who brought up Antiochus, the son of Alexander, and told him what ill-will the army bare Demetrius, and persuaded him to give him Antiochus, because he would make him king, and recover to him the kingdom of his father.

Letting the son of the king be brought up by an Arabian called Malchus (or "Malichus" in War)? Somehow, I suspect it'll all end in tears. (Malik is Arabic for "king"; the χ here probably reflects the old Greek pronunciation, as as aspirated K (/kh/) rather than a /kh/ sound as in כ.) [I don't think it did—I've fallen well behind in blogging, such that I'm writing up my notes on Book XIII whilst I'm reading Book XX—but I think there was a later Malchus who was king.]

XIII.5.167 follows up the earlier mention of the Jews' and Spartans' alleged relationship:

"Jonathan the high priest of the Jewish nation, and the senate, and body of the people of the Jews, to the ephori, and senate, and people of the Lacedemonians, send greeting. If you be well, and both your public and private affairs be agreeable to your mind, it is according to our wishes. We are well also. When in former times an epistle was brought to Onias, who was then our high priest, from Areus, who at that time was your king, by Demoteles, concerning the kindred that was between us and you, a copy of which is here subjoined, we both joyfully received the epistle, and were well pleased with Demoteles and Areus, although we did not need such a demonstration, because we were satisfied about it from the sacred writings yet did not we think fit first to begin the claim of this relation to you, lest we should seem too early in taking to ourselves the glory which is now given us by you. It is a long time since this relation of ours to you hath been renewed; and when we, upon holy and festival days, offer sacrifices to God, we pray to him for your preservation and victory. As to ourselves, although we have had many wars that have compassed us around, by reason of the covetousness of our neighbors, yet did not we determine to be troublesome either to you, or to others that were related to us; but since we have now overcome our enemies, and have occasion to send Numenius the son of Antiochus, and Antipater the son of Jason, who are both honorable men belonging to our senate, to the Romans, we gave them this epistle to you also, that they might renew that friendship which is between us. You will therefore do well yourselves to write to us, and send us an account of what you stand in need of from us, since we are in all things disposed to act according to your desires." So the Lacedemonians received the ambassadors kindly, and made a decree for friendship and mutual assistance, and sent it to them.
Still no idea what sacred writings are being referred to, though...

XIII.171.3 gives a somewhat odd definition of the three sects of Judaism at the time:

At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes. Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the causes of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly. However, I have given a more exact account of these opinions in the second book of the Jewish War.

Josephus later goes on to give other definitions of the differences between them. The view one traditionally hears is that the Sadducees rejected the Oral Law, and had support amongst the priestly aristocracy; the Pharisees by contrast not only supported the Oral Law, but introduced many radical innovations, ascribing them however to the ancientry to avoid seeming to change the Divine law. (This is the origin of the custom, in the Judaism of today, which is descended from Pharisaism, of referring to Moses as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Rabbi (when there were no rabbis until the late first century CE); or of the view that the Patriarchs instituted the three daily prayer services.)

I've also heard that at this time (the second century BCE) the Pharisees and Sadducees were more like political parties than the religious ideologies they later became. Certainly we read about each of them coming to power at different times (e.g. during the reign of Shlomtzion (Salome Alexandra)), and the other retreating into political exile.

As I mentioned beforehand, the Hasmonean leadership only gradually, over many years, made Judaea into an independent kingdom. XIII.6.213 tells us, about Matatthias's fifth son Simon (after Judah, John, Eleazar and Jonathan had all been killed):

But Simon, who was made high priest by the multitude, on the very first year of his high priesthood set his people free from their slavery under the Macedonians, and permitted them to pay tribute to them no longer; which liberty and freedom from tribute they obtained after a hundred and seventy years of the kingdom of the Assyrians, which was after Seleucus, who was called Nicator, got the dominion over Syria.

What it doesn't, unfortunately, tell us, is how he managed to get the power to do that.

[Simon] also took the citadel of Jerusalem by siege, and cast it down to the ground, that it might not be any more a place of refuge to their enemies when they took it, to do them a mischief, as it had been till now. And when he had done this, he thought it their best way, and most for their advantage, to level the very mountain itself upon which the citadel happened to stand, that so the temple might be higher than it. And indeed, when he had called the multitude to an assembly, he persuaded them to have it so demolished, and this by putting them in mind what miseries they had suffered by its garrison and the Jewish deserters, and what miseries they might hereafter suffer in case any foreigner should obtain the kingdom, and put a garrison into that citadel. This speech induced the multitude to a compliance, because he exhorted them to do nothing but what was for their own good: so they all set themselves to the work, and leveled the mountain, and in that work spent both day and night without any intermission, which cost them three whole years before it was removed, and brought to an entire level with the plain of the rest of the city. After which the temple was the highest of all the buildings, now the citadel, as well as the mountain whereon it stood, were demolished.

So where was this citadel? That's a good question.


Now [Simon] was the ruler of the Jews in all eight years; but at a feast came to his end. It was caused by the treachery of his son-in-law Ptolemy, who caught also his wife, and two of his sons, and kept them in bonds. He also sent some to kill John the third son, whose name was Hyrcanus; but the young man perceiving them coming, he avoided the danger he was in from them, and made haste into the city [ Jerusalem], as relying on the good-will of the multitude, because of the benefits they had received from his father, and because of the hatred the same multitude bare to Ptolemy; so that when Ptolemy was endeavoring to enter the city by another gate, they drove him away, as having already admitted Hyrcanus.

It's worth remembering at this point that the Hasmonean revolt had started with the Matatthias and his five sons arising to defend traditional Judaism, and not just waging war against the Seleucid Greeks, but also killing many Hellenised Jews. The Hasmoneans started out as religious fundamentalists, but after a century in power had become thoroughly hellenised themselves. Here, perhaps, is where the process started: John was the son of Simon, last survivor of the children of Matatthias who had started the revolt, yet he was known by the Greek name Hyrcanus ("wolf"). It's possible he was given the name by others, rather than being given it by his father or choosing it himself, yet it is by his Greek name Hyrcanus, not his Hebrew one Yoḥānān, that he is known to us.

XIII.8.242 tell how Antiochus VII attempted to reconquer Judaea by laying seige to Jerusalem, yet, unlike his forebear Antiochus IV, was friendly enough towards Judaism to grant a football match at Christmas truce over Succos so that the Jews might celebrate it, even donating bulls for the Jews to sacrifice, gaining him the name Antiochus the Pious:

But because Hyrcanus discerned the inconvenience of so great a number of men in the city, while the provisions were the sooner spent by them, and yet, as is natural to suppose, those great numbers did nothing, he separated the useless part, and excluded them out of the city, and retained that part only which were in the flower of their age, and fit for war. However, Antiochus would not let those that were excluded go away, who therefore wandering about between the wails, and consuming away by famine, died miserably; but when the feast of tabernacles was at hand, those that were within commiserated their condition, and received them in again. And when Hyrcanus sent to Antiochus, and desired there might be a truce for seven days, because of the festival, be gave way to this piety towards God, and made that truce accordingly. And besides that, he sent in a magnificent sacrifice, bulls with their horns gilded, with all sorts of sweet spices, and with cups of gold and silver. So those that were at the gates received the sacrifices from those that brought them, and led them to the temple, Antiochus the meanwhile feasting his army, which was a quite different conduct from Antiochus Epiphanes, who, when he had taken the city, offered swine upon the altar, and sprinkled the temple with the broth of their flesh, in order to violate the laws of the Jews, and the religion they derived from their forefathers; for which reason our nation made war with him, and would never be reconciled to him; but for this Antiochus, all men called him Antiochus the Pious, for the great zeal he had about religion.

In XIII.8.250, Josephus quotes Nicolaus of Damascus giving evidence that the prohibition on travelling beyond the teḥum on Shabbos was already present in the second century BCE:

"When Antiochus had erected a trophy at the river Lycus, upon his conquest of Indates, the general of the Parthians, he staid there two days. It was at the desire of Hyrcanus the Jew, because it was such a festival derived to them from their forefathers, whereon the law of the Jews did not allow them to travel." And truly he did not speak falsely in saying so; for that festival, which we call Pentecost, did then fall out to be the next day to the Sabbath. Nor is it lawful for us to journey, either on the Sabbath day, or on a festival day.

XIII.9.254 seems to say the Samaritan Temple was deserted in the time of Hyrcanus I:

After this he took Samega, and the neighboring places; and besides these, Shechem and Gerizzim, and the nation of the Cutheans, who dwelt at the temple which resembled that temple which was at Jerusalem, and which Alexander permitted Sanballat, the general of his army, to build for the sake of Manasseh, who was son-in-law to Jaddua the high priest, as we have formerly related; which temple was now deserted two hundred years after it was built.

However, a reading of Wikipedia suggests it was destroyed by Hyrcanus, i.e. was deserted afterwards, rather than Hyrcanus finding it deserted.

From time to time Josephus gives an explanation of the differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees; that in XIII.10.295 agrees with what I would have generally have thought to be their biggest difference:

What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers. And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.

The Pharisees, and their theological descendants the rabbis, claimed these traditions of their ancestors to go to back to Moses on Mt Sinai, and to be a Oral Law parallelling the Written Law of the Pentateuch. From an objective perspective, it is obvious some form of oral tradition paralleled the written tradition; without oral tradition there is no way of understanding, for example, what is meant by Deut. 11:18:

You shall put these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes.

Similarly, the Bible does not describe how a wedding is carried out (though it does for divorce!), but fairly obviously such knowledge did exist. The interesting question is to what extent the traditions of the Pharisees went back to antiquity. Some of them definitely did not: why else would the Sadducees reject them so thoroughly? This is why, as [personal profile] liv originally pointed out to me years ago, the Pharisees tried to justify them by referring to Moses as מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ "Moses our rabbi" despite that fact he lived well over a thousand years before there were any rabbis; and why they invented traditions of the Patriarchs inventing the daily services, attending yeshivos and so forth.

Further evidence for not all traditions going back to antiquity can be found in the Mishna where the halacha is decided from amongst variant traditions, or other places where it's evidently being worked out, possibly where the original tradition has been lost.

The question of to what extent the Oral Law goes back before the time of the Mishna is difficult to answer, because at the time there was a taboo against writing it down: It only got written down at the time of the Mishna because there was a risk of the knowledge being lost, due to persecutions of the Jews.

This is why I keep posting evidence from Josephus attesting Oral Law traditions from long before the time of the Mishna, for example this one from three and a half centuries before the Mishna was written down. At the beginning of Antiquities Josephus mentions his intention of writing a treatise on Jewish law; and it would have been fascinating to read this, but unfortunately it looks like he never did, or died with it incomplete (or he did, but it was not transmitted down to us), which is a shame.

XIII.11.308 reveals that Queen Shlomtzion (probably best known to my Jewish readers by having a street in Jerusalem named after her, and to my non-Jewish readers by her Greek name, Salome Alexandra) took part in the plot to have her own son killed:

Aristobulus yielded to these imputations, but took care both that his brother should not suspect him, and that he himself might not run the hazard of his own safety; so he ordered his guards to lie in a certain place that was under ground, and dark; (he himself then lying sick in the tower which was called Antonia*); and he commanded them, that in case Antigonus came in to him unarmed, they should not touch any body, but if armed, they should kill him; yet did he send to Antigonus, and desired that he would come unarmed; but the queen, and those that joined with her in the plot against Antigonus, persuaded the messenger to tell him the direct contrary: how his brother had heard that he had made himself a fine suit of armour for war, and desired him to come to him in that armour, that he might see how fine it was. So Antigonus suspecting no treachery, but depending on the good-will of his brother, came to Aristobulus armed, as he used to be, with his entire armour, in order to show it to him; but when he was come to a place which was called Strato's Tower, where the passage happened to be exceeding dark, the guards slew him; which death of his demonstrates that nothing is stronger than envy and calumny, and that nothing does more certainly divide the good-will and natural affections of men than those passions.

* Or would, at any rate, later be rebuilt and named after Mark Antony; the name here is an anachronism.

As the following passage reveals, this is not the town called Strato's Tower, but another place with the same name. Who's Tower, I hear you ask. This is the town you will be familiar with (if you're familiar at all with Israel) under the name Caesarea, the name it was given when it was refounded on a much larger scale by Herod the Great. I was then intrigued to know how far back the town went under it's old name, because I had never heard of it. The Jewish Encyclopaedia says:

Only the old name, "Strato's Tower," gives any clue to the earliest history of Cæsarea. Renan (Mission de la Phénicie, p. 790) and, after him, Hildesheimer connect Strato with the Phenician name Astarte. But D. Oppenheim and Neubauer have demonstrated the probability that "Strato" was the name of a person, indeed, that of the founder of the city; and it is a fact that Strato is named as such in Justinian's Novellæ (103 pref.). Stark (Gaza, p, 451) thinks that the Ptolemies founded Strato's Tower; but Schürer is of opinion that it was founded by the Sidonians in Persian times. In the fourth century B.C. there were two kings of Sidon by the name of Strato, one of whom probably founded the fort Strato's Tower. The first geographical writer who mentions the "Tower" is Artemidorus (about 100 B.C.; Stephen of Byzantium, s.v. Δῶρος). About the same time, Aristobulus I. caused his brother Antigonus to be murdered there (Ant xiii. 11, § 2 [309]). The "tyrant" Zoilus, who had usurped the government of Strato's Tower and of Dora, and had made common cause with the Cyprian king Ptolemy Lathyrus, drove Alexander Jannæus from the country, which he apportioned among the Jews (Ant. xiii. 12, §§ 2-4).

Caesarea would later go on to play a major role in the start of the First Jewish Revolt, which would lead to the Destruction of the Temple and the partial exile of the Jews from their land, due to the fact the town was originally Syrian (meaning: Seleucid Greek), and Jews were only later colonists there.

I talked beforehand about how the Hasmoneans started out as anti-Hellenic fundamentalists, but within three generations their leader had a Greek name. Josephus says of Aristobulus I, one generation later (XIII.11.318):

He was called a lover of the Grecians

Aristobulus was succeeded by his brother Alexander Yannai, about whom Josephus tells an amusing episode (XIII.13.372):

As to Alexander, his own people were seditious against him; for at a festival which was then celebrated, when he stood upon the altar, and was going to sacrifice, the nation rose upon him, and pelted him with citrons [which they then had in their hands, because] the law of the Jews required that at the feast of tabernacles every one should have branches of the palm tree and citron tree; which thing we have elsewhere related.

A similar story is told in the Mishna (Succah 4:9), in which the person carrying out the water libation poured the water of his feet instead of into the correct bowl (according to Rashi, he was a Sadducee and rejected the Pharisaic procedure), and got pelted with esrogs.

[pelted with citrons (well, lemons)]
Shamelessly including a picture (from here), as last time it got some people to read my post

Nowadays observant Jews in the diaspora spend lots of money to buy an esrog, and take good care of it, keeping it in a padded box so it can't get damaged; it's all a long way from pelting a speaker with them. But of course in Israel obtaining an esrog wasn't such a big deal; you could just go and pick another one off a tree. Unfortunately, the story with Alexander Yannai does not have a happy ending:

They also reviled him, as derived from a captive, and so unworthy of his dignity and of sacrificing. At this he was in a rage, and slew of them about six thousand.

Alexander Yannai was a bit of a bad egg; Josephus goes on to describe (376) how the Jews invited Demetrius III Eucaerus of the Seleucid Empire in to fight against him, and how Jews fought on both sides of the struggle. After Alexander had won a victory, Josephus related (XIII.14.380):

when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes.

One can see why Jesus fled from him, in the Talmudic story in which Jesus is misattributed to his time (possibly a confusion of Jesuses?). <checks Wikipedia> Ah, in BT Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107 it says:

What was the case of Rabbi Joshua ben Perahiah? When King Yannai put the Rabbis to death. [Shim'on ben Shetah was hidden by his sister and] Rabbi Joshua ben Perahiah and Yeshu fled to Alexandria in Egypt.

So, most definitely a bad egg, then. (If you're interested in the full story about Jesus, which is pretty much the only one in the Talmud in which Jesus is portrayed sympathetically, you can read it here.

[Josephus] Josephus notes


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