lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
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There's a famous story in the Talmud about Ḥoni HaMa'agel (Ḥoni the Circle-Maker). Quoting Wikipedia:

On one occasion when God did not send rain well into the winter (in the geographic regions of Israel, it rains mainly in the winter), he drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. When it began to drizzle, Honi told God that he was not satisfied and expected more rain; it then began to pour. He explained that he wanted a calm rain, at which point the rain calmed to a normal rain.

[Ḥoni HaMa'agel]

The Talmud goes on to relate how he saw someone planting a tree, and asked why he was planting the tree, when he would not gain the benefit from it. The man said "I won't, but my descendants will." Ḥoni then fell asleep for seventy years, and when he woke he saw the tree fully grown and the man's grandson picking fruit from the tree. There's a sad end to the story, though: Ḥoni can't get anyone to believe he is Ḥoni HaMa'agel, and he pines away and eventually dies.

The real ending of the story, though, is sadder, as I learned from Antiquities (XIV.2.22). The context: After Queen Shlomtzion's death, there was a protracted struggle for power between Hyrcanus, the elder of her sons, and Aristobulus, the younger.

Now there was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous man be was, and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and whose prayers God had heard, and had sent them rain. This man had hid himself, because he saw that this sedition would last a great while. However, they brought him to the Jewish camp, and desired, that as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he would in like manner make imprecations on Aristobulus and those of his faction. And when, upon his refusal, and the excuses that he made, he was still by the multitude compelled to speak, he stood up in the midst of them, and said, "O God, the King of the whole world! since those that stand now with me are thy people, and those that are besieged are also thy priests, I beseech thee, that thou wilt neither hearken to the prayers of those against these, nor bring to effect what these pray against those." Whereupon such wicked Jews as stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death.


In the mean time Pompey sent Scaurus into Syria, while he was himself in Armenia, and making war with Tigranes; but when Scaurus was come to Damascus, and found that Lollius and Metellus had newly taken the city, he came himself hastily into Judea. And when he was come thither, ambassadors came to him, both from Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, and both desired he would assist them.

Good grief; you idiots! Don't you read any history? Isn't it obvious that this is just going to lead to Pompey waltzing in, conquering the country and annexing the kingdom to the Roman not-yet-Empire? (It's reminiscent of how the Persian conquest of Ionia, and attempted conquest of mainland Greece, started with the two sides of a power struggle amongst the Ionians both approaching the Persians, as the neighbouring superpower, to intervene on their side, as I read last summer, and Aristobulus and Hyrcanus should have read for their own benefit, in Herodotus.)

In XIV.3.40 we learn Judaea was not the only place Jews were in charge of:

[Pompey] also conquered the place called Lysias, of which Silas a Jew was tyrant.

Later we will read of scions of Herod's family being appointed kings in Transjordan and (XVIII.5.139) Armenia:

Alexander had a son of the same name with his brother Tigranes, and was sent to take possession of the kingdom of Armenia by Nero; he had a son, Alexander, who married Jotape, the daughter of Antiochus, the king of Commagena; Vespasian made him king of an island in Cilicia. But these descendants of Alexander, soon after their birth, deserted the Jewish religion, and went over to that of the Greeks.
[onion]?  XIV.8.131:
But it happened that the Egyptian Jews, who dwelt in the country called Onion
Onion!? The Greek has "Ὀνίου", so it looks like it's not the English word "onion", but perhaps a land named after the temple established by Onias (חוֹנִיּוֹ)?

XIV.9.172 relates how when Hyrcanus II had brought Herod, as a fifteen year old, to trial before the Sanhedrin, Herod turned up with his own private bodyguard of men, and no one dared accuse him, except for one man named Sameas:

When affairs stood thus, one whose name was Sameas, a righteous man he was, and for that reason above all fear, rose up, and said, "O you that are assessors with me, and O thou that art our king, I neither have ever myself known such a case, nor do I suppose that any one of you can name its parallel, that one who is called to take his trial by us ever stood in such a manner before us; but every one, whosoever he be, that comes to be tried by this Sanhedrin, presents himself in a submissive manner, and like one that is in fear of himself, and that endeavors to move us to compassion, with his hair dishevelled, and in a black and mourning garment: but this admirable man Herod, who is accused of murder, and called to answer so heavy an accusation, stands here clothed in purple, and with the hair of his head finely trimmed, and with his armed men about him, that if we shall condemn him by our law, he may slay us, and by overbearing justice may himself escape death. Yet do not I make this complaint against Herod himself; he is to be sure more concerned for himself than for the laws; but my complaint is against yourselves, and your king, who gave him a license so to do. However, take you notice, that God is great, and that this very man, whom you are going to absolve and dismiss, for the sake of Hyrcanus, will one day punish both you and your king himself also." Nor did Sameas mistake in any part of this prediction; for when Herod had received the kingdom, he slew all the members of this Sanhedrin, and Hyrcanus himself also, excepting Sameas, for he had a great honour for him on account of his righteousness, and because, when the city was afterward besieged by Herod and Sosius, he persuaded the people to admit Herod into it; and told them that for their sins they would not be able to escape his hands: – which things will be related by us in their proper places.

As related here, Sameas is either the Shemaya of the Mishna, or the Shammai of a generation later.XV.1 refers to Sameas as being the disciple of Pollio the Pharisee. Wikipedia says Pollio[n] was the man named by the Mishna Avtalyon, and that the name was originally Ptollion (implying that the original pronunciation of the name in Hebrew was Abtalyon). Avtalyon was the spiritual leader of his generation along with Shemaya, being the generation before that of Hillel and Shammai.

Josephus spends the whole of Book XIV ch.10 relating the various decrees the Romans made giving the Jews rights. (XIX.5.287 also relates how the Emperor Claudius confirmed the rights of the Jews.) I suspect that, written after the Destruction of the Temple and the carrying off of the Jews into exile and slavery, and the wholesale abrogation of their national rights, the point of relating these was to try and engineer a movement amongst his readership to press for restoration of the Jews' national rights. If this was so, unfortunately it failed completely (except during the reign of Nerva); and in the long run things would only get worse, following the Bar Kochba revolt, and then the establishment of Christianity as state religion, with antisemitism hardwired into the Gospels (ironically, probably originally to try and distinguish between the Christians and Jews, so that Christians were not persecuted for being Jews in the period the Gospels were written, immediately after the putting down of the First Jewish Revolt).

In the conflict between Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, Hyrcanus had come out tops, with the help of Herod's father Antipater and the Romans; however Aristobulus's son Antigonus invited the Parthians in to try and install him as king, deceiving Hyrcanus and Herod's brother Phasael, who were taken hostage. Phasael having managed to get a message through to Herod, Herod fled from Jerusalem with his family, making his way southeast and then ultimately to Rome, where the Romans would proclaim him king, and send an army back with him to turn declaration into reality.

Before this happened, though, in the early stages of his flight, when at any moment it looks like he might have been overtaken and captured, Josephus tells us (XIV.13.356):

But for Herod himself, he raised his mind above the miserable state he was in, and was of good courage in the midst of his misfortunes; and as he passed along, he bid them every one to be of good cheer, and not to give themselves up to sorrow, because that would hinder them in their flight, which was now the only hope of safety that they had. Accordingly, they tried to bear with patience the calamity they were under, as he exhorted them to do; yet was he once almost going to kill himself, upon the overthrow of a waggon, and the danger his mother was then in of being killed; and this on two accounts, because of his great concern for her, and because he was afraid lest, by this delay, the enemy should overtake him in the pursuit: but as he was drawing his sword, and going to kill himself therewith, those that were present restrained him, and being so many in number, were too hard for him; and told him that he ought not to desert them, and leave them a prey to their enemies, for that it was not the part of a brave man to free himself from the distresses he was in, and to overlook his friends that were in the same distresses also. So he was compelled to let that horrid attempt alone, partly out of shame at what they said to him, and partly out of regard to the great number of those that would not permit him to do what he intended. So he encouraged his mother, and took all the care of her the time would allow, and proceeded on the way he proposed to go with the utmost haste, and that was to the fortress of Masada. And as he had many skirmishes with such of the Parthians as attacked him and pursued him, he was conqueror in them all.

Interesting to reflect on how different subsequent history would have been—and how much less bloody, in the next few decades—if Herod had succeeded in killing himself at that point.

Herod has a reputation as being extremely bloodthirsty, but it seems to me that in the earlier part of his reign, he only killed people when he was whipped up by others into paranoia, and then mostly only family members of his. Only in his latter years does he become a force of terror to the whole population. And, though he would go on to order something truly horrific on his deathbed, there is not a trace in Josephus of the Massacre of the Innocents referred to in the Gospel of Matthew; this story seems to be borrowed in its entirety from the similar episode at the beginning of Exodus.

XVII.6.175 describes what Herod ordered on his deathbed:

He came again to Jericho, where he grew so choleric, that it brought him to do all things like a madman; and though he were near his death, he contrived the following wicked designs. He commanded that all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived, should be called to him. Accordingly, they were a great number that came, because the whole nation was called, and all men heard of this call, and death was the penalty of such as should despise the epistles that were sent to call them. And now the king was in a wild rage against them all, the innocent as well as those that had afforded ground for accusations; and when they were come, he ordered them to be all shut up in the hyppodrome, and sent for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and spake thus to them: "I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king's death." For that he was not unacquainted with the temper of the Jews, that his death would be a thing very desirable, and exceedingly acceptable to them, because during his lifetime they were ready to revolt from him, and to abuse the donations he had dedicated to God that it therefore was their business to resolve to afford him some alleviation of his great sorrows on this occasion; for that if they do not refuse him their consent in what he desires, he shall have a great mourning at his funeral, and such as never had any king before him; for then the whole nation would mourn from their very soul, which otherwise would be done in sport and mockery only. He desired therefore, that as soon as they see he hath given up the ghost, they shall place soldiers round the hippodrome, while they do not know that he is dead; and that they shall not declare his death to the multitude till this is done, but that they shall give orders to have those that are in custody shot with their darts; and that this slaughter of them all will cause that he shall not miss to rejoice on a double account; that as he is dying, they will make him secure that his will shall be executed in what he charges them to do; and that he shall have the honor of a memorable mourning at his funeral. So he deplored his condition, with tears in his eyes, and obtested them by the kindness due from them, as of his kindred, and by the faith they owed to God, and begged of them that they would not hinder him of this honourable mourning at his funeral. So they promised him not to transgress his commands.
"King Herod rejecting the treacherous Embrace of his Son Antipater, who had formed a Conspiracy against his Life in order to Usurp his Throne"

Fortunately, Salome and Alexas had some humanity in them, and managed to get the people released before the soldiers guarding them found out Herod had died.

Herod's death also brought to a conclusion the long-running saga of his son Antipater, who had engineered the deaths of his step-brothers the sons of Mariamne who had stood in the way of his rise to the throne, and then eventually, out of patience for his father to go the way of all men, conspired against him himself. Herod found out, put Antipater on trial, then put him in jail whilst he waited to hear back from Augustus. But when Antipater wrongly thought that Herod, who was on his deathbed, had died, he instantly tried to bribe his way out of jail and back to power. Herod furious, instantly had him executed, which, frankly, was all he deserved.

[Josephus] Josephus notes

Date: 2012-04-25 02:06 pm (UTC)
pseudomonas: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pseudomonas
Off-topic That little cartoon up there has an odd hand - it looks like the letterforms of print characters but aiming for the spirit of cursive - the entire first word is as cursive (with a distinctive nun), then the second deviates. The lamed fits it quite well, by basically being a cursive zayin, but the ayin and gimel look very odd indeed. Or is it aiming for some other historical script?

Date: 2012-04-25 08:08 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
Why do you assume that the Talmudic account is necessarily fictional and Josephus' account is necessarily the "real" story? Just because Josephus claims to be writing history, doesn't mean everything he says actually happened.

Date: 2012-05-02 04:15 pm (UTC)
curious_reader: (American badger)
From: [personal profile] curious_reader
When I saw the onion I thought about the fruit of the earth sfardi or misrachi Jews have on their table at Pesach. I don't know why we can't just choose which one we prefer. Why do we have to have parsley as an ashkenasi custom. I prefer basil or coriander. You could also put carrots or cooked potatoes on the table and say the blessing over those. I wonder what the Iranian, Azerbadjani or the official Turkish Jews have. There are special green herbs in certain Iranian dishes. Maybe those are used.


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Lethargic Man (anag.)

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