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Alexander the Great
(3424 AM - 336 BCE)
Simon the Just
"The world looks like a ball"
(3429 AM - 332 BCE)
(3430 AM - 330 BCE)
(3437 AM - 323 BCE)
Death of Alexander
(3437 AM - 323 BCE)
(3437 AM - 323 BCE)
Hecataeus of Abdera
(3440 AM - 320 BCE)
(3448 AM - 312 BCE)
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Hebrew years 3360 to 3480 (400-280 BCE)
Alexander was the son of Philip, king of Macedonia, who was tutored until the age of 16 by the philosopher Aristotle. He succeeded to his father in 336 BCE and soon engaged in the conquest of the known world, starting with Asia Minor in 334 BCE.
In the Greek calendar system, which counted the years from the 1st Olympiad in 776 BCE, by intervals of 4 years, Alexander became king in the 1st year of the 111th Olympiad.
Alexander was not Greek but he endorsed the Greek culture, which is known as Hellenism. It was based on polytheism but the gods and the humans had their own separate world that had no direct influence one to the other, normally. This allowed Greek culture to free itself from religion and this gave root to intellectual investigations in all domains such as philosophy, sciences, art, sports, theatre, and so on.
Greek culture did not impose itself by force but it created two worlds: those who adopted Hellenism were "enlighted", and the other cultures were "barbarian". The adoption of Hellenism was thus fast, after one generation, among the people that were exposed to it. And to make things even clearer, the Hellenistic created new cities, called polis, were Hellenism was practised (and the inhabitants of a polis were called citizens), while the other existing cities were the barbarian world. Slowly but surely, many cities wanted to become a polis too, and therefore needed to change their ways of life. They had to build centers of Hellenistic culture such as theatre, gymnasium, and so on. In short, anybody who wanted to benefit from the "civilized" world had to live in a polis.
To increase the spread of Hellenism, every soldier who was released after his duties used to receive a lumpsum of money and a piece of land in the conquered territory. These soldiers were obviously interested in being citizens of a polis, and not live with Barbarians, and therefore a number of new cities were built across the empire of Alexander, such as Alexandria in Egypt (this name was used in other new cities of the empire), or Scythopolis which was built upon the ruins of former Beth-shean in Galilee. Scythopolis means the polis of the Scythians, so it supposed to have been built by Scythian mercenaries who served in Alexander's army.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~When he reached the Levant, he besieged Tyre in 332 BCE and then marched to Gaza which he destroyed. He advanced to Jerusalem and the Talmud gives the following account:
The twenty-fifth of Tebeth is the day of Mount Gerizim, on which no mourning is permitted. It is the day on which the Cutheans [Samaritans] demanded the House of our God from Alexander the Macedonian so as to destroy it, and he had given them the permission, whereupon some people came and informed Simeon the Just. What did the latter do? He put on his priestly garments, robed himself in priestly garments, some of the noblemen of Israel went with him carrying fiery torches in their hands, they walked all the night, some walking on one side and others on the other side, until the dawn rose. When the dawn rose he [Alexander] said to them [his officers]: Who are these? They answered: The Jews who rebelled against you. As he reached Antipatris,[1a] the sun having shone forth, they met. When he saw Simeon the Just, he descended from his carriage and bowed down before him. They said to him: A great king like yourself should bow down before this Jew? He answered: His image it is which wins for me in all my battles. He said to them: What have you come for? They said: Is it possible that star-worshippers should mislead you to destroy the House wherein prayers are said for you and your kingdom that it be never destroyed! He said to them: Who are these? They said to him: These are Cutheans who stand before you. He said: They are delivered into your hand. At once they perforated their heels, tied them to the tails of their horses and dragged them over thorns and thistles, until they came to Mount Gerizim, which they ploughed and planted with vetch, even as they had planned to do with the House of God. And that day they made a festive day.[1b] --- Talmud, Yoma, 69a
According to Josephus who wrote about 400 years after these events, the High Priest at this time was Jaddus, or Jaddua, the grand-father of Simon the Just. And he was right. But the Talmud was right too. Jaddua sent Simon (the Just) his grandson, and future High Priest, to meet with the Greek leader, because Jaddua was too old (he was born about Hebrew year 3333, the same year as Nehemiah's death, so he was 95 years old at the time of Alexander's arrival to Judea).[1c] The Talmud refers to Simon the Just as the "High Priest" in this text because he became High Priest later in life (so the talmudists recall people by their highest rank or function) and because Jaddua, his grand-father, did send him as his envoy in the capacity of High Priest.
The historian also considered that the destruction of the Samaritan temple occurred much later, at the time of one of the Hasmonean kings, John Hyrcanus. But we cannot exclude the possibility that there had been two destructions, at different periods.
Alexander has another encounter with the Jewish nation, this time with the so-called "Elders of the South". He asked them some philosophical questions to learn from their answers. This discussion is related in Talmud, Tamid, 31b-32a. This Talmudic book also relates the legend of the voyage of Alexander in the land of darkness and until the gate of the Garden of Eden. There is another legend regarding his "ascent into the air":
Rabbi Jonah said: Alexander of Macedon, when he wished to ascend into the air, used to rise higher and higher until he saw the world look like a ball and the sea like a dish. On account of this they depict him with an orb in his hand. Why not let them depict him with a dish in his hand? Because he has no dominion over the sea. The Holy One, blessed be He, however, has dominion on sea and has dominion on land . . . Accordingly they (the princes) brought a dish (as an offering) to symbolize the sea and a basin to symbolize the land. --- Talmud of Jerusalem, Abodah Zarah, ed. Krotoschin (1866), III, 1, 42c - cited in The Book of the Gests of Alexander of Macedon, by Israel J. Kazis, 1962, p.18
It is interesting to note in the above text that the Sages who wrote the Talmud were aware that the Earth was round like a ball. The diameter of the Earth was estimated by the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes around 200 BCE. This antique knowledge was however contradicted by the Church, when Christianity ruled over the Greco-Roman dominions, which considered that the Earth was flat. Yet, even in the Bible itself, there is mention that the Earth was a sphere, that the atmosphere around was thin and protective as a tent to the peoples on Earth:
Don't you know? Don't you hear? Have you not been told from the beginning? Have you not understood the foundations of the Earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the Earth, and where you sit like grasshoppers; He who stretches the skies thinly and spreads them like a tent to sit in.--- Isaiah 40:21-22
Alexander then went on conquering Babylon in 331 BCE then the Persian Empire. His last campaign took him further East until the Indus River when his generals opposed the decision to go further and rather forced Alexander to return to Babylon.
Alexander at the battle of Issus against Darius III, 331 BCE
The philosopher Aristotle, who had been tutor for Alexander, had encounters with the Jewish nation. In addition, through his special relation with Alexander, he collected all the archives that Nebuchadnezzar had confiscated from the kingdom of Judea and brought to Babylon. One of Aristotle's disciples had related the following in one of his publications (that Josephus read 400 years later):
For Clearchus [of Soli], who was the scholar of Aristotle, and inferior to no one of the Peripatetics whomsoever, in his first book concerning sleep, says that "Aristotle his master related what follows of a Jew," and sets down Aristotle's own discourse with him. The account is this, as written down by him: "Now, for a great part of what this Jew said, it would be too long to recite it; but what includes in it both wonder and philosophy it may not be amiss to discourse of. […] This man then, [answered Aristotle,] was by birth a Jew, and came from Coele-Syria [region being south from Syria]; these Jews are derived from the Indian philosophers; they are named by the Indians Calami, and by the Syrians Judaei, and took their name from the country they inhabit, which is called Judea; but for the name of their city, it is a very awkward one, for they call it Jerusalem. Now this man, when he was hospitably treated by a great many, came down from the upper country to the places near the sea, and became a Grecian, not only in his language, but in his soul also; insomuch that when we ourselves happened to be in Asia about the same places whither he came, he conversed with us, and with other philosophical persons, and made a trial of our skill in philosophy; and as he had lived with many learned men, he communicated to us more information than he received from us." This is Aristotle's account of the matter, as given us by Clearchus; which Aristotle discoursed also particularly of the great and wonderful fortitude of this Jew in his diet, and continent way of living, as those that please may learn more about him from Clearchus's book itself; for I avoid setting down any more than is sufficient for my purpose. --- Josephus, Against Apion, Book I, 22
Unfortunately, many of the Greek works have been lost, probably at the time of Christianity when censure or destruction of past cultures was common, and this includes the works of Clearchus of Soli that Josephus cited 400 years later.
It is interesting to note that the ancient Greeks found similarities between the Jews and some of the Indian people, especially the Brahman philosophy which formed the basis of Hinduism. It is possible that the two cultures came into contact one with the other at the time of Solomon when his kingdom stretched far east and when kings were courting him for a share of wisdom. The two cultures indeed share some themes together:
- rules of purity, and of impurity (for example women or men in impure state)
- ablutions in pool or river, especially before entering a temple or dealing with divine service
- special class of people for priesthood
- the concept of forbidden food
So it comes to no surprise that these rules made the Greeks believe that the two cultures had something in common.
Another Greek philosopher, Megasthenes, who was sent to India by Alexander as an ambassador and assessed the civilizations of the East, also compared the Jewish to Brahman cultures. His writings, which are lost today, had been recorded by the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) who had access to them in his time. They recorded the civilizations who had most influenced Greek philosophy:
Of all these, by far the oldest is the Jewish race; and that their philosophy committed to writing has the precedence of philosophy among the Greeks, the Pythagorean Philo shows at large; and, besides him, Aristobulus the Peripatetic, and several others, not to waste time, in going over them by name. Very clearly the author Megasthenes, the contemporary of Seleucus Nicanor, writes as follows in the third of his books, On Indian Affairs: “All that was said about nature by the ancients is said also by those who philosophise beyond Greece: some things by the Brahmins among the Indians, and others by those called Jews in Syria.”. --- Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, book XV, chapter 1
This is in fact a direct testimonial from a Greek philosopher in Alexander's time that Greek philosophy had “borrowed” from other civilizations who preceded them in intellectual speculations, among them the Jews.
Aristotle tutoring Young Alexander (J L G Ferris, 1895)
A few years later, Theophrastus, a disciple of Aristotle and the one who replaced him as the head of the Peripatetic school in Athens, confirmed the assessment of his predecessor by calling the Jews "philosophers by descent".
Alexander returned to Babylon from his last campaign in 326 BCE and settled there. He died in Babylon from either fever or poisoning in April or June 323 BCE. He left a vast empire to his military commanders:
And it happened, after that Alexander, son of Philip the Macedonian, who came out of the land of Chittim, had smitten Darius king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the first over Greece, and made many wars and won many strong holds, and slew the kings of the earth, and went through to the ends of the earth, and took spoils of many nations, insomuch that the earth was quiet before him ; whereupon he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. And he gathered a mighty strong host, and ruled over countries, and nations, and kings, and they became tributaries unto him. And after these things he fell sick, and perceived that he should die. Wherefore he called his servants such as were honourable, and had been brought up with him from his youth, and parted his kingdom among them, while he was yet alive. So Alexander reigned twelve 7 years, and then died. And his servants bear rule every one in his place. And after his death, they all put crowns upon themselves; so did their sons after them many years; and they multiplied evils in the earth. --- Maccabees, Book II, 1:1-9
The empire was thus divided between the army commanders during the so-called “Partition of Babylon”: the main benefactors were Ptolemy who took Egypt and the Levant, Seleucus with Mesopotamia and Syria, Antigonus with Asia Minor and Antipater received Greece and Macedonia.
Alexander’s coffin was sent to Macedonia but was diverted to Egypt by Ptolemy Soter. It has been lost in Alexandria after 200 CE.
Ptolemy Soter, one of Alexander’s generals, came to take possession of the land of Egypt and became the first Ptolemaic king. He took with him a very large number of Jews as captives, and employed them in duties around Egypt:
The number of those whom he [Ptolemy II Philadelphius] 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 Persians [when they defeated Psamtik III, the last pharaoh of Egypt], and in an earlier period still others had been sent to Egypt to help Psammetichus [Psamtik II, of the 26th Dynasty of Egypt] in his campaign against the king of the Ethiopians. But these were nothing like so numerous as the captives whom Ptolemy [I Soter] the son of Lagus transported. --- Letter of Aristeas, 12, translation by R.H. Charles, Clarendon Press, 1913
So they were many Jews in Egypt, mostly employed as merceneries in Pharaoh's campaigns, before the arrival of the first Ptolemy, Soter, who came with a very large number of Jewish captives. Then his son Ptolemy II "Philadelphius" brought in 100,000 Jewish captives after his campaign in Judea against the Seleucid kingdom. All these Jews were then emancipated in the reign of Ptolemy III "Benefactor", and formed the bulk of the very large Jewish community of Alexandria who spoke Greek rather than Hebrew.
Hecataeus was a Greek historian who explored Egypt at the time of the arrival of Ptolemy Soter. He wrote a history of Egypt which has been lost today but that was known to historians for several centuries after his death. In this account, dated of the 4th century BCE, and mentioned by the Greek historian Diodorus in the first century BCE, there is a clear allusion to the Exodus, but biaised by an Egyptian point of view and not devoid of mistakes and legends:
The colony [of the Jews “expulsed” from Egypt] was headed by a man called Moses, outstanding both for his wisdom and for his courage. On taking possession of the land he founded, beside other cities, one that is now the most renowned of all, called Hierosolyma. In addition he established the temple that they hold in chief veneration, instituted their forms of worship and ritual, drew up their laws and ordered their political institutions. He also divided them into twelve tribes, since this is regarded as the most perfect number and corresponds to the number of months that make up a year. But he had no images whatsoever of the gods made for them, being of the opinion that God is not in human form; rather the Heaven that surrounds the earth is alone divine, and rules the universe. The sacrifices that he established differ from those of other nations, as does their way of living, for as a result of their own expulsion from Egypt he introduced a kind of misanthropic and inhospitable way of life. --- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, 40:3, citing Hecataeus
This text is interesting because it relates the history and customs of the Jewish nation before anything was written in Greek on the subject. The later publication of the Septuagint would offer more material to later historians but Hecataeus did not have any source except probable oral tradition he had heard from Jews living in Egypt at the time of the hellenization of the country. The other possibility is that there was a first attempt to translate the Bible into Greek in these times. Talmudists believed it did happen at the time of Ptolemy Philadelphius, but the result was not considered a good translation. (Talmud, Megilah, 9a)
The mention of misanthropic and inhospitable way of life is probably the first “antisemitic” comment in History and is derived from the fact that the Jews did not generally mix with other people nor admitted foreigners among them.
One of Alexander’s commanders was Seleucus “Nicator”. He was given the Babylon heritage in 320 BCE at the Partition. But this was contested by another commander, Antigonus, and Seleucus was forced to flee Babylon. A war ensued between the Macedonian successors (“War of the Diadochi”) and Seleucus eventually won a battle in Gaza in 312 BCE which enabled him to return to Babylon and take control of the Near-East region as well. He founded the Seleucid dynasty in the same year and would later die in 281 BCE, being the last surviving general of Alexander’s army. He also restored the capital of his enemy, Antigoneia on the river Orontes, which he renamed Antioch and made it the capital of his Seleucid kingdom.
Seleucus Nicator (Naples Museum)
The Book of the Maccabees dates its chronology from the start of the reign of Nicator over the Judean province, thus in 312 BCE or the start of the 117th Olympiad (in the Greek chronology).
At that time, the high priest Onias was about 66 years old according to Josephus (Josephus, Against Apion, 1, 22; Onias is called Ezekiah in this text). In historical records, he is referred as Onias I son of Jaddua, and father of Simon the Just.
[1a] The location was called Antipatris at the time of the Talmud (some 300 years after this event), but it was Afeq at the time of Alexander; it was a fortress that the Philistines had used in their wars against the Israelites at the time of Eli the Priest and of King Saul, that King Herod restored later in his reign, and renamed Antipatris in memory of his father Antipater
[1b] This day was a day of celebration, noted at the 25th of month Tevet (about December-January); the siege of Gaza is recorded to have happened in October 332 BCE, which was in Tishri 3429; so the 25 Tevet of the same Hebrew year 3429 falls on 14 January 331 BCE; the meeting between Alexander and Simon the Just would have happened in Hebrew date Tevet 3429, either December 332 BCE or in January 331 BCE
[1c] An interesting article gives the various opinions about the identity of the High Priest in this encounter with Alexander; one Jewish scholar and historian of Jewish history, Halevy Rabinowicz (1845-1910), author of the Sefer haDorot haRishonim, also held the opinion expressed in this page that Jaddua was the High Priest but too old to go meet Alexander, so he had sent his grandson Simon the future High Priest; to read this article from Eliezer Abrahamson, click here and see Note 10
 Bar-Kochva, Bezalel, Theophrastus on Jewish Sacrificial Practices and the Jews as a Community of Philosophers, 2010, extract from Theophrastus' work Peri Eusebeias
 The Christian scholar Eusebius established a chronology of events, his Chronicles, written in Greek and later translated by Jerome; to check this chronology online, click here
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