Jewish History from Alexander to
the Death of Seleucus IV Eupator (333-175 BCE)

 

1. The Diadochan Period
2. The Beginnings of the Rise of Rome as a World Power

3. The Ptolemaic and Seleucid Kingdoms from 301 BCE to the Death of Antiochus III

4. Jewish Historical Sources for the Period between Alexander and Seleucus IV
   4.1.  Letter of Aristeas

      4.1.1.  Introduction to Letter of Aristeas
         A. General Description
         B. Authorship and Date
         C. Purpose
         D. Outline of Letter of Aristeas
      4.1.2. Historical Contribution of Letter of Aristeas
   
      A. Reading: Letter of Aristeas

         B. Questions

   4.2. Josephus

      4.2.1. Introduction to Josephus' Writings
         A. Biographical Sketch of Josephus
         B. Josephus’ Works and Purposes in Writing
         C. Josephus' Presuppositions that May Affect the Historical Reliability of His Works
      4.2.2. Josephus' Account of Jewish History from Alexander to the Death of Seleucus IV Eupator
         A. The Origin of the Samaritan Temple and Alexander's Conquest of Palestine
            1. Reading:  Ant. 11.8.1-7; 304-347
            2. Questions
         B. Ptolemy I Soter, Ptolemy II Philadelpheus and the Jews
            1.Reading: Ant. 12.1.1-3.2; 1-128
            2. Questions
         C. Ptolemy III Euergetes, Ptolemy IV Epiphanes, Antiochus III Megas and the Jews
            1. Reading:  Apion 2.5; 48; Ant. 12.3.3-4.1; 129-59
            2. Questions
         D. Joseph the Tobiad
            1. Reading: Ant. 12.4.2-11; 160-236
            2. Questions
   4.3. 3 Maccabees
      4.3.1. Introduction to 3 Maccabees

         A. General Description
         B. Authorship and Date
      
4.3.2. Historical Contribution of 3 Maccabees
         
A. Reading: 3 Maccabees
         B. Questions
   4.4. 2 Maccabees
      4.4.1. Introduction to 2 Maccabees
         A. Authorship and Sources
         B. Date and Provenance

         C. Purpose

         D. Religious Presuppositions of  2 Maccabees
      4.4.2. Historical Contribution of 2 Maccabees

         A. Reading:  2 Macc 3:1-40 (Heliodorus' Attempt to Plunder the Temple)
         
B. Questions

 

 

1. The Diadochan Period

After a seventh month siege, from January to August 332, Alexander took control of the city of Tyre; the city was burnt and some 30,000 survivors, mostly women and children, were sold into slavery, while another 2,000 men capable of bearing arms were crucified (Diod. 17.46.4; Arr. 2.24.5-6; Curt. Ruf. 4.4.17). With the exception of Josephus, nothing is said about the Jews by those ancient historians who wrote about Alexander (Ant. 11.8.1-7; 304-347). Arrian merely records, "The remainder of Syria known as Palestine had already come over to him" (see Anabasis 2.25.4; 20.4-5). This implies that the Jews and other peoples occupying Palestine had already allied themselves with the Macedonian invaders before the fall of Tyre, which Josephus' account contradicts. From Tyre Alexander and his army advanced along the coast unopposed until he arrived in Gaza, still held by the Persians. The city refused him entry, so that Alexander was forced to lay siege to it. Eventually, he took the city: he killed the male population of the city and sold the women and children as slaves (Arrian, Anabasis 2.25.4-27.7; Curt. Ruf. 4.6.7-30; Diod. 17.48.7; Plut. Alex. 25). Josephus records that, after taking Gaza, Alexander marched against the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea because High Priest Jaddus (Jaddua) refused to break his oath of allegiance to Darius. Jaddus managed to placate Alexander before he arrived in Jerusalem because of a prophetic dream that Alexander had (Ant. 11.8.1-7; 304-347) (see below). While Alexander and his army were in Egypt, in 331 BCE the Samaritans rebelled against the Macedonians, killing the governor of Coele-Syria, Andromachus. In response, Alexander returned to Samaria and suppressed the rebellion by executing its ringleaders; he appointed Menon as the new governor of Syria (Curt. Ruf. 4.8.10-11; Eusebius, Chronicle). There is no indication that the Jews in Judea were similarly disloyal to their new overlords while Alexander was in Egypt. Rather, Josephus quotes the Hellenistic historian Hecataeus of Abdera to the effect that Alexander rewarded the Jews with control of the land of Samaria, free from taxation, in exchange for their friendship and loyalty (Apion 2.43).

Alexander died prematurely and unexpectedly in 323 BCE at the age of thirty one. Although, after his conquests, Alexander appears to have relented somewhat in his goal of creating a unified Hellenistic empire and culture, his legacy lived on with his successors. After Alexander's death, there was a period of intense political infighting among the possible successors of Alexander, who did not name a successor before his death nor did he have a son who was a viable candidate for king. The events subsequent to Alexander's death are complicated; this is a simplified version of what is known as the Diadochan period (Gk ho diadochos = successor). Initially, the empire was divided into many territories with the idea of keeping the empire in tact under the headship of Philip of Arrhidaeus (Alexander's half-brother) and the infant Alexander IV, Alexander's son by Roxanne. The goal of a single empire had not been abandoned, but a provisional political arrangement was necessary owing to the incompetence of Alexander's half-brother and the fact that Alexander's son was only an infant. Craterus, the most experienced of Alexander's generals, was appointed "guardian of the royal interests," in charge of Philip of Arrhidaeus, Alexander IV, and Roxanne; he was commander-in-chief of the army.  Perdiccas, who had held the position of chiliarch (commander of the royal guard) was appointed regent of the Asian part of the empire; Antipater was appointed as strategos of Macedonia. The former Persian satrapies in the west were re-organized and redivided: Antigonus (Monophthalmus) received Phrygia, Pamphylia, and Lycia; Lysimachus received Thrace; Euemenes became satrap of Paphlogonia and Cappadocia; Ptolemy Lagid (son of Lagus) (also known as Ptolemy I Soter), formerly Alexander's bodyguard, received the satrapy of Egypt. The satrapy of Syria, which included Palestine, was given to Laomedon, one of Alexander's generals (Diod. 18.39.6; Appian, Syr. 52; Arrian, Events after Alexander 5).

Subsequent to these arrangements, Perdiccas, with the support of Eumenes, attempted to unify the empire with himself at the head centered in Babylon; he was defeated and killed by the other satraps. In his place, Antipater became regent, and Seleucus (I Nicator) received Babylonia as his satrapy in 321 BCE. Antigonus (Monophthalmus) became chiliarch, appointed the task of finishing the war with Eumenes (see Diod. 8.39.5-6; Arrian, Anabasis 1.34-38). After the defeat of Perdiccas, in 320 BCE, Ptolemy hoped to annex "Syria and Coele-Syria" in order to prevent this from being used as a base for launching a military offensive against Egypt by his rivals. (During the first Diodochan war, Perdiccas and Seleucus had invaded Egypt in order to take possession of the body of Alexander the Great, an important symbol of power.) For this reason he marched into Syria, took Laomedon prisoner and secured the allegiance of the cities of Phoenicia, thereby bring the region under his own authority (Diod. 18.43; Appian, Syr. 52). (According to Appian, Ptolemy first attempted to bribe Laomedon to cede Syria to him.) Although nothing is said about their reaction to this event in the extant sources, presumably the Jews in Judea acquiesced to Ptolemy's action.

Antipater died in 319 BCE, and appointed Polyperchon as his successor; but Antipater's son, Cassander, sought to assume this position. Cassander was supported by Antigonus (Monophthalmus) and members of Alexander's family, whereas Eumenes supported Polyperchon. A war ensued, during which Eumenes attempted to invade Phoenicia and Coele-Syria (generally the region of southern Syria), but was thwarted by Antigonus (Monophthalmus) (Diod. 18.73.2). (The term "Coele-Syria" lit. "hollow Syria" first appears in Arrian, Anabasis, 2.13.7). Eumenes had gone to Phoenicia in order to gather ships from all the cities in support of the cause of Polyperchon (Diod. 18.63.6). In the end, Polyperchon was expelled and Eumenes was taken captive by Antigonus (Monophthalmus), whom he executed (317-16 BCE). Now wielding the most power in Asia, Antigonus (Monophthalmus) sought to unify the fragmented empire of Alexander; he extended his rule over Mesopotamia, Persia, Media; he also wrested control of Phoenicia and Syria from Ptolemy. Seleucus fled to Ptolemy in Egypt because he was threatened by Antigonus (Monophthalmus). At this time, Alexander's mother, Olympias, had Alexander's half-brother, Philip of Arrhidaeus (and his wife, a granddaughter of Phillip II) executed, bringing his nominal kingship came to an end. While in Coele-Syria, Antigonus (Monophthalmus) was met by envoys from Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander, who insisted that Antigonus cede Cappadocia and Lycia to Cassander, Hellespontine Phrygia to Lysimachus, all of Syria to Ptolemy and Babylonia to Seleucus or else risk a war with these allied satraps (Diod. 19.55-59). The demand was refused and war began. Antigonus (Monophthalmus) left his son Demetrius Poliocretes in Coele-Syria to defend his father's interests there. On the advice of Seleucus, in 312 BCE, Ptolemy engaged Demetrius Poliocretes in battle south of Gaza and defeated him, thereby taking control of Coele-Syria and the Phoenician cities (Diod. 19.80-86). After Ptolemy's victory, Seleucus returns to his satrapy of Babylonia with a military presence in order to support his claim; this marked the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty (Diod. 19.80-86; Appian, Syr. 9.54). Sixth months after his victory, Ptolemy lost control of Syria to Demetrius Poliocretes (Diod. 19.93.2; Plutarch, Demetr. 6.3). Later Antigonus (Monophthalmus) returned to Coele-Syria and Ptolemy temporarily abandoned his claim on the disputed region for the next decade (Diod. 19.93.5-7). Hostilities ceased, when a peace agreement was reached in 311 BCE. Seleucus remained satrap of Babylonia and Antigonus (Monophthalmus) maintained control of his territory.  In the west, Cassander (son of Antipater) was in control of Macedonia and Greece, and Lysimachus controlled Thrace. Cassander executed both Alexander IV and his mother, Roxanne. During this conflict between Ptolemy and Antigonus (Monophthalmus) nothing is known of Jewish attitudes towards the two claimants on their territory or of any military alliance with either one.

Another conflict erupted when Demetrius Poliocretes, the son of Antigonus (Monophthalmus) and co-regent, took Athens, an independent city-state; he also defeated Ptolemy's fleet near Salamis on Cyprus (307 BCE) (Diod. 20.45-53). The subsequent attempt undertaken by Antigonus (Monophthalmus) in 306 BCE to attack Egypt by land and sea (using ships based in Palestine), however, failed (Diod. 20.73-76; Plutarch, Demetr. 2.1). Antigonus (Monophthalmus) named himself and his son king, in an attempt to re-establish Alexander's empire.  After this, Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander also claimed the title of king for themselves (rather than satrap). In 305/4 BCE, Demetrius Poliocretes besieged Rhodes, which was allied with Ptolemy's kingdom. After a year, the Rhodians made a peace treaty with Antigonus (Monophthalmus) and his son; one of the conditions of peace was that they become non-aligned. In 302 BCE, the other Diadochi banded together and waged war against Antigonus (Monophthalmus) and his son (Diod. 20.81-88, 91-100). Ptolemy invaded Coele-Syria, but retreated to Egypt when he heard the rumor, which proved to be false, that Antigonus (Monophthalmus) had been victorious and was on his way to Syria (Diod. 20.113). As a result, he played no further role in the war with Antigonus (Monophthalmus). The final encounter between the two sides was the battle of Ipsus in Phrygia (301 BCE), during which Antigonus (Monophthalmus) lost his life and his kingdom; Demetrius, his son, however, survived. After the battle of Ipsus, most of Antigonus' territory was divided among the victors, excluding Ptolemy (Appian, Syr. 9.55). Seleucus added the region from Coele-Syria to Babylon to his kingdom and Lysimachus gained control of western Asia Minor. (Cassander still controlled Macedonia and Greece). Ptolemy, however, seized control of Coele-Syria; a conflict erupted between Seleucus and Ptolemy, but, in the end, Seleucus allowed his former ally and friend to retain possession of the region (Diod. 21.1).


Obverse: Diademed head of Ptolemy I

Reverse: Eagle gripping thunderbolt with inscription PTOLEMAIOU BASILEÔS (Of King Ptolemy)


There is evidence that at some point Ptolemy marched into Jerusalem and took the city by force on the Sabbath, when no Jew would take up arms in resistance. Josephus quotes from the now lost work of Agatharchides, "There is a nation called the nation of the Jews, who inhabit a city strong and great, named Jerusalem. These men took no care, but let it come into the hands of Ptolemy, as not willing to take arms, and thereby they submitted to be under a hard master, by reason of their unseasonable superstition." Josephus adds that Ptolemy took many Jews as prisoners from Jerusalem and Judea (and Samaria also) and forcibly resettled them in Egypt (Ant. 12.1.1; 4-6; see Josephus, Apion 1.22; 205-12). Appian also alludes to this event (Syr. 50), as does Letter of Aristeas (23) (see below). Presumably, his action was for the purpose of consolidating his claim on his newly-won territory. It is difficult to date this event, since Ptolemy invaded Coele-Syria four times in 320, 312, 302 and 301 BCE (see Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews, 55-59). Another tradition, from Hecataeus of Abdera, a contemporary of Ptolemy, however, presents Ptolemy as a friend of Jews and claims that many Jews voluntarily emigrated from Judea to Egypt after Ptolemy's victory at Gaza in 312 BCE, which gave him control over Coele-Syria (Josephus, Apion 1.185-89). The same author also explains that the Jews were ruled, not by a king, but by a High Priest (Diod. 40.3.5).


2. The Beginnings of the Rise of Rome as a World Power

The history of Rome intersects with the histories of the post-275 BCE Hellenistic kingdoms. Rome had taken control of Italy by the middle of the third century BCE. During the latter half of the third century BCE, Rome engaged in a conflict for supremacy with Carthage; the resulting wars were known as the Punic wars.  (Punic was the word that the Romans used for the Cathaginians.) In the First Punic War (264-41 BCE), Rome fought Carthage for control of Sicily and won. In the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE), Rome and Carthage fought again, and Hannibal invaded Italy, fighting the Romans on their own territory. The Romans eventually prevailed, and in 201 BCE, Carthage surrendered to Rome and was forced to give over Spain to Roman control.  (In 151-146 BCE, Rome fought with Carthage again, and this time Rome devastated Carthage, eliminating it as a world power).

In the second century BCE, Rome also came into conflict with the Macedonian (or Antigonid) kingdom, which eventually led to its conquest by Rome. The Macedonian Kingdom had allied itself with Carthage during the First Punic War, thereby making enemies of the Romans. Between 215-206 BCE, Rome, allied with the Aetolian League, Sparta, and Pergamum, defeated Philip V, king of the Macedonian kingdom, and his ally, the Achaian League, forcing Philip to agree to peace on terms favorable to the Romans and its allies (First Macedonian War). The enemies of Philip V complained to Rome that Philip was infringing on their territory; the senate declared war (Second Macedonian War) (200-196 BCE), and Rome defeated Philip's forces. The decisive battle was at Cunoscephalae in Thessaly in 196 BCE.  Philip was to pay indemnity and divest himself of all Greek territory; the Greeks were granted freedom but allied themselves with Rome, following Rome’s direction. After the death of Philip death, Perseus, his son, rebelled against Rome, and Rome fought the Third Macedonian War (171-67 BCE), in which Rome was once again victorious. This marked the end of the Macedonian kingdom as a unified state, for the Romans re-organized it into four independent republics. In the years following, Macedonia revolted and some of the Greeks also began to resist Roman influence; Rome suppressed all rebellion.  Corinth, for example, was totally destroyed in 146 BCE by general Lucius Mummius. In 148 BCE, Macedonia became a Roman province, but it was not until a century later that Achaia became a Roman province.

3. The Ptolemaic and Seleucid Kingdoms from 301 BCE to the Death of Antiochus III

As indicated, after the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE, Ptolemy I Soter had taken control of Coele-Syria or what the Ptolemies called "the province of Syria and Phoenicia," which was abbreviated to Syria popularly (see Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, II 3 n. 4). Judea was one part of this administrative unit. By 286 BCE, Ptolemy had added Tyre and Sidon to the territories under his control, taken from Demetrius I Poliorcretes, surviving son of Antigonus. The Seleucid kings, however, never abandoned their claim on Coele-Syria and the Phoenician cities, which resulted in numerous military conflicts over this disputed territory, what is known as the Syrian Wars. Ptolemy I abdicated in favor of one of his sons, Ptolemy II Philadelpheus, who reigned from 283/2 until 246 BCE; the Ptolemaic kingdom flourished during his reign in spite of its being involved in two Syrian Wars (First Syrian War [274-71 BCE]; Second Syrian War [260-53 BCE]). After the Second Syrian War, in which the Macedonian Kingdom was involved, the Ptolemies lost substantial control of the Aegean Sea and, therefore access to Greece and Macedonia, to Antigonus II Gonatas, the son of Demetrius I Poliorcretes.

After the Second Syrian War, Ptolemy II Philadelpheus sought an alliance with his Seleucid rival, Antiochus II Theos. He convinced Antiochus II to ally himself with him through marriage to his daughter Berenice. This required that Antiochus II divorce his wife and disinherit his sons by her. Later, upon the death of Ptolemy II, however, Antiochus II took up again with his first wife and declared his son Seleucus II his heir. Berenice opposed this, insisting that her son by Antiochus II was heir; her brother Ptolemy III Euergetes intervened militarily to ensure the reversal of the decision of Antiochus II. This led to the Third Syrian War (246-41). But before Ptolemy III entered Antioch, his sister Berenice and her son were murdered. Although successful at first in his assault of the Seleucid Kingdom, Ptolemy III was forced to return to Egypt, whereupon Seleucus II Calinicus, who had succeeded his deceased father, Antiochus II, regained lost ground and even took control of Damascus and Orthosia. He was not able, however, to conquer the whole of Coele-Syria. Because of internal political problems, Seleucus II was forced to conclude a peace treaty with his enemy.

In 223 BCE, Antiochus III Megas ("the Great") succeeded his brother Seleucus II Calinicus as king; his first significant act as ruler was to begin a military campaign against the Ptolemaic Kingdom, known as the Fourth Syrian War (219-17 BCE). In 222 BCE, Ptolemy III Euergetes died, and was succeeded by his son, Ptolemy IV Philopator, who was only seventeen years old at the time. In spite of the fact that Ptolemy's military commander, Theodotus, betrayed his king and offered his services to the Seleucid cause, Antiochus III could not maintain possession of the territory that he conquered in Coele-Syria along with the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Ptolemais. Probably, Judea and Jerusalem were included as part of his territorial conquest. Antiochus III was defeated at Raphia, which is on the extreme southern border of Palestine; this forced his retreat to Antioch in Syria, where he sued Ptolemy IV for peace. The original borders were re-established, and Ptolemy IV toured his newly-regained territory, and visited the temples therein to pay his respects to the gods of the land and receive in return the reverence and homage of the local populations (Polyb. 5.45-86). According to 3 Maccabees, Ptolemy IV visited Jerusalem (see below).


Obverse: Diademed head of Antiochus III

Reverse: War Elephant Walking with Inscription BASILEÔS [A]NTIOCHOU (Of King Antiochus)


Having strengthened his position in his Kingdom, Antiochus III Megas ("the Great") renewed his goal of annexing Coele-Syria and the Phoenician cities to the Seleucid Kingdom. In 205 or 204 BCE, Ptolemy IV Philopator died, and was replaced by his Ptolemy V Epiphanes, who at that time was only five years old. After making a secret agreement with Philip V of Macedon in 202 BCE, Antiochus III attacked Coele-Syria, thus beginning the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BCE). Antiochus retook the territory that he had occupied some eighteen years previously. When Antiochus III withdrew for the winter, the Ptolemaic commander Scopas reconquered the southern portions of the territory lost, including Judea and Jerusalem. Later Scopas was decisively defeated at Paneas by the source of the Jordan River by the forces of Antiochus III. Scopas fled to Sidon, but surrendered in 199 BCE in exchange for safe passage out of the city back to Egypt. Antiochus III was now in control of Coele-Syria, Palestine and the Phoenician cities. Judea and Jerusalem had now passed from the Ptolemaic Kingdom to the Seleucid Kingdom (Polyb. 16, 18; see Livy 33.19). (See below for Josephus's account of this period.)

When Rome decided to wage against the Macedonian Kingdom, a Roman delegation was sent to the Seleucid king and obtained the promise to remain neutral in the coming conflict, the Second Macedonian War. Rome also demanded that Seleucid Kingdom grant freedom to all the Greek cities in Asia Minor under its control, which Antiochus III Megas ("the Great") rejected.  Rather, in 197-96, he took control of territories in Asia Minor and eastern Thrace, which the Ptolemaic kingdom controlled and to which Philip, King of Macedonia lay claim. He sought to strengthen his position by seeking an alliance with the Ptolemaic Kingdom through intermarriage. Ptolemy V Epiphanes married Cleopatra, the daughter of Antiochus III, in 194-93 BCE. Having established peace with his traditional rival to the south, Antiochus III, however, came into direct conflict with the Romans. After the Second Macedonia War, the Seleucids formed an alliance with Rome's former ally, the Aetolian League, which was disgruntled with Rome for not having been allowed to profit territorially from Philip's defeat. In 190 BCE, at the Battle of Magnesia, in Lydia, the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, was defeated by the Roman general Scipio, and was made to pay stiff tribute, 12,000 talents over a period of twelve years; all territory west of Tarsus was taken from the Seleucid kingdom and added to the Kingdom of Pergamum, and since the latter was a Roman ally, the conquered territory now came under Roman influence and protection. In addition, Antiochus III was forced to surrender most of his naval force and war-elephants. These conditions for peace were imposed on Antiochus III at Apamea in 188 BCE (Livy 34-38; Polyb. 16-21; Appian, Syr. 1-44). Antiochus III was killed in 187 BCE in the attempt to plunder a temple in Elymais. He was succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV Eupator, whose reign was relatively uneventful.
 

4. Jewish Historical Sources for the Period between Alexander and Seleucus IV

4.1.  Letter of Aristeas

4.1.1.  Introduction to Letter of Aristeas

H. T. Andrews, "The Letter Of Aristeas," The Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha of the Old Testament, (1918) 2.82-122; D.W. Gooding, "Aristeas and Septuagint Origins: A Review of Recent Articles," Vetus Testamentum 13 (1963) 357-79; M. Hadas, Aristeas to Philocrates (1951); id., "Aristeas and III Maccabees, Harvard Theological Review 42 (1949) 175-84; S. Jellicoe, The Septuagint and Modern Study (1968); id., Studies in the Septuagint (1974); id., "Aristeas, Philo, and the Septuagint Vorlage," Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 12 (1961) 261-71; H. G. Meecham, The Letter of Aristeas (1935); A. Pelletier, Lettre d'Aristée à Philocrate (1962); id., "Josephus, the Letter of Aristeas, and the Septuagint," in Josephus, the Bible, and History, ed. L. H. Feldman, G. Hata (1989); H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (1902); V. Tcherikover, "The Ideology of the Letter of Aristeas," Harvard Theological Review 51 (1958) 59-85; G. Zuntz, "Aristeas Studies I: 'The Seven Banquets,'" Journal of Semitic Studies 4 (1959); id., "Aristeas Studies II: Aristeas on the Translation of the Torah," Journal of Semitic Studies 4 (1959): 109-26.

A. General Description

The so-called Letter of Aristeas presents itself as an account written by Aristeas to his brother Philocrates (see 7, 120) on how the Jewish scriptures came to be translated into Greek in the third century BCE. (The text is not really a letter, but a narrative [diêgêsis]). Aristeas describes himself as an official in the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-46 BCE) (see 40, 43), a non-Jew who, with his brother, has developed an admiration for Judaism and the Jews as a people. He explains how it came to the attention of the librarian Demetrius of Phalerum that the library at Alexandria did not possess a copy of the Law of the Jews. Thus Ptolemy determined that a Greek translation of the Law of the Jews should be made and deposited in the library. He then sent Aristeas and Andreas, the captain of the bodyguard, to petition the High Priest Eleazar to send translators to Alexandria in order to translated the Law of the Jews into Greek. The Letter of Aristeas is an account of how that translation came to be, as told by Aristeas. 

B. Authorship and Date

Although the Letter of Aristeas purports to be the reminiscences of a certain Aristeas, an official in the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, it is generally held that he is a literary fiction (hence the usual appellation Pseudo-Aristeas). Thus, the true author has concealed his identity. He may, in fact, have borrowed his name from the Jewish historian Aristeas, a fragment of whose work is quoted in Eusebius' Praeparatio evangelica (9.25). Given the undeniable pro-Jewish bias of the text, however, the author was probably a Jew, even though "Aristeas" was supposed to be a Greek. In addition, since he betrays a good knowledge of Alexandria (see, for example, 301) and the Ptolemaic court, the author was probably a resident of Alexandria, where there were many Jewish inhabitants. (His apparent knowledge of Jerusalem and the surrounding region, as well the Temple, its operations and the raiment of the High Priest, however, suggests that the author was a visitor to Jerusalem [83-120].) Beyond the fact that he was an Alexandrian Jew, however, nothing more can be said about the author. It is also probable that the author used sources that date from earlier periods.  For example, Aristeas's conversation with the High Priest Eleazar during which Eleazar provides allegorical interpretations of the Torah (130-71) and the philosophical discussions during Ptolemy's seven-day feast  (187-292) could be originally independent source material.

Since the identity of the author is unknown, the date of Letter of Aristeas is difficult to determine with any certainty. The terminus a quo of Letter of Aristeas is the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelpheus (He is identified as such by a reference to his father, Ptolemy I Soter [Lagid, who abdicated in 285 BCE and died in 283 BCE] [13]). The terminus ad quem is c. 100, since Josephus quotes extensively from the text in his Jewish Antiquities (Philo may also makes use of Letter of Aristeas [Life of Moses, 2:25-40]). Narrowing down the date of composition, however, is difficult, and necessitates a certain among of conjecture (see Jelichoe, The Septuagint and Modern Study, 48-50). The most probable date of composition of Letter of Aristeas is the first half of the second century BCE.

Support for this position is as follows. First, the claim that Demetrius of Phalerum initiated and oversaw the plan to translate the Jewish Law is unhistorical (He was exiled by Ptolemy II Philadelpheus, as reported by Hermippus of Smyrna, who lived under Ptolemy III and IV, as cited by Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 5.48), but the Jewish apologist Aristobolus (c. 180-145 BCE) cites this as a historical fact (Eusebius, Praep. ev. 13.12.1-2) (see Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 3.1. 475, 680). This suggests that his source for this bit of misinformation was Letter of Aristeas, which requires that this text be in existence in the first half of the second century BCE. Second, the unqualified positive assessment of Greek culture in Letter of Aristeas ("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") could be taken to imply that the text was written before relations between Jews and Greek deteriorated under Antiochus IV Epiphanes beginning in 170 BCE  (16; see also 37). Surely, even Alexandrian Jews would feel sympathy for their compatriots in Judea and Jerusalem, and thereby put some distance between themselves and their Hellenistic environment. Or one could argue that the positive depiction of the relationship between Jews and Greeks is apologetic: in light of the problems experienced by Judean Jews with Antiochus IV c. 170, the author, fearing negative repercussion for Jews in Egypt, intended his work to show that good will had hitherto existed between Jews and Greeks.  In this case, Letter of Aristeas is designed to repaired the strained relations between Jews and Greeks in the Ptolemaic Kingdom.  On either hypothesis, however, Letter of Aristeas was written in the first half of the second century BCE.

C. Purpose

If it was written by a Alexandrian Jew, theLetter of Aristeas probably has the apologetic purpose of commending Jews and their distinctive religious belief and lifestyle to non-Jews in Egypt and perhaps beyond. When (the fictional) Aristeas commends the Jews for their monotheism and the reasonableness of the Law (128-72; see 171), it is clear that the author's aim is to inculcate in his readers a respect for Jews and their distinctive religion. The fact that Ptolemy II Philadelpheus, the alleged patron of the great library at Alexandrian, is depicted as marveling at "the genius of the Lawgiver" upon hearing the Law translated in Greek would likewise cause less illustrious gentiles to emulate him in his admiration for the Jews (312). A second purpose for the composition of Letter of Aristeas is evident in 310-11:

After the books had been read, the priests and the elders of the translators and the Jewish community and the leaders of the people stood up and said, that since so excellent and sacred and accurate a translation had been made, it was only right that it should remain as it was and no 311 alteration should be made in it. And when the whole company expressed their approval, they bade them pronounce a curse in accordance with their custom upon any one who should make any alteration either by adding anything or changing in any way whatever any of the words which had been written or making any omission. This was a very wise precaution to ensure that the book might be preserved for all the future time unchanged.

The decision, with the approval of the Ptolemaic king, to recognize only this translation of the Law as definitive is probably an an apology for the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew scriptures against other translations. (These other Greek translations may be alluded to in 29-32, but this presupposes that the verb sesêmantai be understood as "has been translated" rather than "has been transliterated.") That there were other earlier Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible is confirmed by the Jewish apologist Aristobolus, as quoted by Eusebius (Praep. ev. 13.12); he claims that Greeks translations existed before the time of Alexander the Great and that Pythagoras and Plato were influenced by these.) The view opposed by the pseudonymous author may be reflected in the Prologue to the Wisdom of Ben Sira, written by the grandson of Jesus ben Sira c. 130 BCE: "Not only this book but even the Law itself the prophecies and the rest of the books differ not a little when read in the original." His grandson was aware of translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek but seemed to be ambivalent towards these translations because the translations were not very accurate; he may have included the Septuagint (LXX) in his criticism.

 
It has been suggested that the grandson of Jesus ben Sira would hardly have criticized the Septuagint (assuming that he did) as a inaccurate Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible to Jews living in Egypt if it had enjoyed the high esteemed as a translation for several decades that the Letter of Aristeas presupposes. But, on the contrary, one would expect the grandson of Jesus ben Sira in 130 BCE subtly to criticize the LXX precisely because of its popularity and to do so as carefully and gently as he does in his prologue.



D. Outline of Letter of Aristeas

1-8: Prologue

9-11: The Ptolemaic king Ptolemy II Philadelpheus seeks to collect a copy of every book for the library at Alexandria. He permits Demetrius of Phalerum, the royal librarian, to arrange to have translations of the Jewish laws made for the library.

12-27: Aristeas convinces Ptolemy to release Jewish slaves dwelling in Egypt, many of whom were captured during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (Lagid).

28-34: Aristeas quotes from the letter sent by Demetrius to Ptolemy II in which the former suggests that a letter be to the Jewish High Priest, Eleazar, requesting that six translators from each of the twelve tribes (seventy-two in all) be sent to Egypt for this project. The king agrees to send the proposed letter and gifts for the use in the Temple.

35-40: Aristeas quotes from the letter sent from Ptolemy II Philadelpheus to Eleazar.

41-51a: A copy of the Eleazar's reply letter is included. In it, he describes the gifts sent by Ptolemy II. The letter concludes with a list of the seventy-two translators to be sent.

51b-82: The gifts sent by Ptolemy II Philadelpheus to Eleazar are described.

83-120: The city of Jerusalem and surrounding region is described, including the Temple, its operations and Eleazar's high priestly raiment.

121-27: The translators' qualifications and virtues are enumerated.

128-72: Eleazar explains to Aristeas the nature and purpose of the Jewish Law.

173-86: The translators travel to Alexandria and a banquet is given in their honor.

187-294: Ptolemy II Philadelpheus asks the translators many questions over the next seven days and they respond to these.

295-300: Aristeas apologizes to Philocrates for the length of the previous section and vouches for the veracity of what he has narrated.

301-307: The translators set to work on the island of Pharos, and in seventy-two days the translation is completed.

308-11: Demetrius reads the translation publicly, and it is decided that no revisions are to be made to it.

312-17: Ptolemy II Philadelpheus hears the translation and marvels at the wisdom of the lawgiver.

318-21: The seventy-two translators return to Judea laden with gifts, along with more gifts sent to Eleazar the High Priest..

322: Conclusion

4.1.2. Historical Contribution of Letter of Aristeas

A. Reading: Letter of Aristeas (Translated by H. T. Andrews in R. H. Charles, APOT, vol. 1, 1913)

B. Questions

1. Since its author was probably not Aristeas and since it was written long after the events that it purports to relate, in general, how much historical value do you judge Letter of Aristeas to have with respect to the events described?

2. Which events described in Letter of Aristeas in particular do you think should be judged to be historically accurate?

3. How, if at all, do the apologetic interests at work in Letter of Aristeas influence your judgment on the historical reliability of the text?

4. Apart from being a potential source of information for the events that it purports to describe, does Letter of Aristeas have any other historical value?

5. What is the view of the Law implicit in its allegorical interpretation in Letter of Aristeas (130-71)?

4.2. Josephus

4.2.1. Introduction to Josephus' Writings

H. W. Attridge, The Interpretation of Biblical History in the Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus (1976); J. Barclay, The Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora From Alexander to Trajan (1996) 346-368; P. Bilde, Flavius Josephus between Jerusalem and Rome (1988); S.J.D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome (1979); L. H. Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 1937-1980 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1984); L. Feldman and G. Hata, ed., Josephus, the Bible, and History (1988); M. Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judaea: the Origins of the Jewish Revolt Against Rome A. D. 66-70 (1987). S. Mason, Josephus on the Pharisees (1991); G. Mader, Josephus and the Politics of Historiography: Apologetic and Impression Management in the Bellum Judaicum (2000); J.S. McLaren, Turbulent Times? Josephus and Scholarship on Judaea in the First Century CE (1998); F. Parente, & J. Sievers, (ed.) Josephus and the History of the Greco-Roman Period (1994); T. Rajak, Josephus, the Historian and his Society (1983); R. Shutt, Studies in Josephus (1961); S. Schwartz, Josephus and Judaean Politics (1990); G. Sterling, Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephus, Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography (1992); H. St.J. Thackeray, Josephus: The Man and the Historian (1929); P. Villalba i Varneda, The Historical Method of Flavius Josephus (1986)

A. Biographical Sketch of Josephus

Unlike most ancient authors, Josephus has provided the reader with ample biographical information. In fact, his work Life of Josephus (Iosephou Bios) is his autobiography, focusing primarily on his role as the commander-in-chief of the Galilean revolutionary force and his association with Vespasian and his son Titus (the first two Flavian emperors). He also includes details of his life in History of the Jewish War with the Romans (Historia Ioudikou Polemou Pros Romaious) relating to his experience as the general of the Jewish defenders of the fortress of Jotapata in Galilee.

As one might expect, Josephus’ autobiographical accounts portrays him as pious and courageous, without fault in all that he did; his many detractors and enemies, on the other hand, are uniformly depicted as moral degenerates. Thus, the historian should be aware of Josephus’ pervasive vanity in using his accounts to reconstruct the Jewish war with the Romans, especially Josephus’ role in the war.

Josephus says that he was born in Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Caligula (37-38 CE). His father was from a distinguished priestly line, who could trace his lineage back to the Hasmonean Jonathan, the first of the line of Hasmonean High Priests. Josephus also claims that his mother had royal Hasmonean blood (Life, 1). As a child he claimed to be some sort of child prodigy, so that at the tender age of fourteen the chief priests and leading men of the city would consult him on matters of the Jewish laws (Life 8-9)  At the age of sixteen, Josephus says that he sampled the three “sects” into which his nation was divided—Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes—to determine which was the best. He even became a disciple of a Jewish hermit named Bannus for three years c. 53-56 CE (Life 9-12).  Finally, he settled upon the Pharisees, and began to live according to Pharisaic rules (Life, 2). In 62/3 CE, when he was twenty-six years old, Josephus went to Rome to make an appeal to Nero on behalf of some imprisoned priests; while there he gained the favor of Nero's wife, Poppaea (Life 13).

When the Jewish revolt against Rome began, Josephus claims to have resisted it at first. Upon seeing the irreversible road to war on which the revolutionaries had put the nation, however, he joined the movement for independence, and was made commander-in-chief of the revolutionary forces in Galilee in 66 CE. According to his own account, there were many who were not satisfied with his leadership—most significantly John of Gischala—so that many attempts were made on his life. When Vespasian began his campaign against the Jewish insurgents, Josephus served as general of the Jewish forces in the fortress of Jotapata; eventually he surrendered Jotapata to the Roman general Vespasian. He escaped from a suicide pact made with the other revolutionaries at Jotapata, and was then taken prisoner by Vespasian's troops. He was well-treated by Vespasian, and endeared himself to the Roman general by prophesying that he would become the next emperor, which would come to pass in the near future (Life 414). He was released as a prisoner in 69 CE when Vespasian actually assumed the position of emperor (Life 414). He was forced to accompany Titus during the second siege of Jerusalem; Titus compelled Josephus to call on the Jews within the city to surrender, which put him in considerable peril (Life 416). From 71 onwards, he lived in Rome first under imperial patronage and then under the patronage of a certain Epaphroditus, to whom his later works are dedicated. He also supported himself by means of the income from his own properties in Judea. He married three times after the fall of Jerusalem and had several children by these wives (Life 5, 427).

B. Josephus’ Works and Purposes in Writing

Josephus wrote the seven-volume History of the Jewish War with the Romans originally in Aramaic, and with the help of an translator published the Greek version between 75-79 CE (War 1.3). The terminus a quo, 75 CE, is derived from the fact that Josephus refers to the dedication of the Flavian Temple of Peace (War 7.158-60, which according to another source occurred in 75 CE (Dio Cassius, 66.15.1). The terminus ad quem is the fact that Vespasian must still be alive after Josephus has completed his work, since he claims to have presented Vespasian with a copy of it (Life 395-96; Apion 1.50-51). Thus, Josephus must have completed his work before or in 79 CE, since Vespasian died in that year. Josephus wrote History of the Jewish War with the Romans in order to demonstrate that the Romans acted justly and decisively in suppressing the Jewish revolutionary movement and also to allay any suspicion that the Jews as a people were inveterately seditious and ungovernable. In his interpretation of the Jewish war with Rome, the cause of the revolution was a few, low-bred malcontents, i.e., the Zealots and sicarii. (It is a very different perspective from the pro-revolutionary 1 & 2 Maccabees.)  What happened to the Jews would serve as a warning to any other nation considering rebellion against Rome. Apparently, there had been other accounts of the war written by non-Jewish historians who unjustly disparaged the Jews; this impression Josephus aimed to correct in his own account. He promises to be truthful about both the Romans and the Jews, though he asks the readers indulgence in his personal expressions of grief for his people's plight (War 1.1.1-5; 1-16; see Ant. 1.1.1; 4). In addition, a certain Justus of Tiberias had accused Josephus himself of having a part in starting the war, so that Josephus wanted to set the record straight about his own involvement in the war (Life 65; 336-67).

In 93-94 CE, Josephus finished writing the Jewish Antiquities (Iodaikes Archaiologias), which is a twenty-volume history of the Jewish people beginning with creation until the outbreak of the war with the Romans. It was in imitation of Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The purpose of this work was to portray to the Jews to the Roman world as an ancient and worthy people with distinctive and superior religious views and practices (see Ant. 1.1.2; 5-7 for his explicit statement of purpose). With this work, he hoped to convince the Flavian emperors to allow the Jews to continue to practice their ancestral religion and separate way of life in spite of the recent trouble in Palestine. (Josephus makes a point of quoting past decrees from Roman authorities that grant Jews freedom to live according to their laws.) Books 1-11 of the Jewish Antiquities is a paraphrase of the Septuagint. In Books 12-13, he tells of the events of the Maccabean period, using 1 Maccabees as his major source. The remainder of the Jewish Antiquities, Books 13-20, give an account of Jewish history during the Hasmonean and Roman periods; he uses several Greco-Roman histories as sources, including the now-lost work of Nicholas of Damascus, who wrote primarily about the Jews.

Josephus also wrote an apologetic work consisting of two books called Against Apion or On the Antiquity of the Jews. Book 1 demonstrates the antiquity of the Jews while Book 2 responds to the opponents and critics of the Jews. Finally, Josephus’ autobiography, Life of Josephus, was motivated by the charge leveled by another historian, Justus of Tiberias, that Josephus help foment revolution in Galilee. 

Unlike most ancient historians, Josephus writes about some of the events described from first-hand experience, which is invaluable to the modern historian.  In fact, were it not for Josephus’s works, the historian would know little about the Jewish war with Rome.  When he writes of events with which he was not a contemporary, Josephus relies upon literary and probably oral sources; unfortunately he does not consistently identify these sources.

C. Josephus' Presuppositions that May Affect the Historical Reliability of His Works

In Ant. 14.1.1; 1-3, Josephus expresses his view that the historian's primary obligation is to be accurate and set down the truth. He writes, "What the historian should make their chief aim is to be accurate and hold everything else of less importance than speaking the truth to those hwo must rely upn them in matters in which they themselves have no knowledge." Obviously he was aware of the difference between history and entertainment or propaganda (see War 1.1.5; 16). But, as with all historians, to aim for accuracy does not preclude being influenced in one's writing by certain presuppositions, as Josephus was.

1. Being Jewish

Josephus as a Jew has an obvious loyalty to his people and his ancestral religion; implicit in his writings is that the religion of the Jews is superior to various forms of paganism in the Roman world. In particular, Josephus has a Pharisaic allegiance, although he is respectful of the Essenes; he also has a negative view of the Samaritans typical of Jews in Palestine.

2. Political Purpose in Writing

The historian must take into consideration Josephus' historical context as historian and his political purposes in writing when using his writings for historical reconstruction. His political goal of portraying the Jews as good citizens of the Roman empire causes him to play down the messianic elements of Jewish belief, since this would belie his portrayal of Jews as willing to submit to Roman rule. Thus, it comes as no surprise that he portrays messianic movements negatively and their leaders as merely personally ambitious and/or deluded. At times he may even suppress the fact of the messianic root of Jewish revolutionary stirrings.

3. Accommodation to Non-Jewish Readership

Since he writes for a non-Jewish audience, when describing the Jewish religious groups and their religious beliefs and practices (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots), Josephus tends to accommodate his language to his non-Jewish readers.  First, he finds parallels for these Jewish groups (or "schools of philosophy")  to philosophical movements in the Greco-Roman world.  Second, he uses Hellenistic philosophical terms to describe the beliefs of these Jewish groups.

4. Anti-Herodian Bias

Josephus, being Hasmonean in descent, has a clear bias against Herod the Great. Although he uses the pro-Herod historical writings of Nicolas of Damascus, Josephus portrays Herod as a usurper and a generally lawless man who receives his just retribution at the end of his life. Jospehus even criticizes Nicolas for misrepresenting the facts about Herod, to the latter's advantage. He claims that Nicolas concealed the fact that Herod's father Antipater was descended from leading Jews who came from Babylon, when in fact he was an Idumean (Ant. 14.1.3; 8-10). He also charges that Nicolas suppressed the fact that Herod plundered the ancient royal tombs, falsely claimed that Mariamme was licentious and her sons Alexander and Aristobolus rebellious and generally that Nicolas exaggerated what good Herod did and wrote solely in order to glorify Herod (Ant. 16.7.1; 183-87). For more information, see Nicolas of Damascus. It is arguable, however, that Josephus is as anit-Herod as Nicolas is pro-Herod.

5. Possible Pharisaic Bias

Josephus holds the Pharisaic view that history is propelled forward both by necessity and by the free choices of  human beings (see Ant. 16.9.8; 395-98). He also believes that human beings, and Jews in particular, have an obligation to act righteously and the ability to do so, which leads him to censure historical figures, on the assumption that they could have done otherwise.  Likewise, he views God's retribution justice as manifesting itself in history, bringing reward to the righteous and punishment to the wicked (see Ant. 1.1.3; 14-15).

4.2.2. Josephus' Account of Jewish History from Alexander to the Death of Seleucus IV Eupator

A. The Origin of the Samaritan Temple and Alexander's Conquest of Palestine

In this section of Antiquities, Josephus intertwines two related narratives. One narrative concerns the Samaritans and how the temple on Mt. Gerizim came to be constructed. The other details Alexander's encounter with the Jews and the High Priest Jaddus during his conquest of Palestine. Alexander is said to have had a dream about the High Priest dressed in his high priestly raiment, who told him in the dream that it was God's will that he conquer the Persian empire.

1. Reading:  Ant. 11.8.1-7; 304-347 (Translated by. W. Whiston)

2. Questions

a. What does Josephus say about the origin of the Samaritan temple and of Alexander's conquest of Palestine?

b. Does Josephus give any indication as to the sources that he used?  If not, what do you think his sources were?

c. How much of what Josephus relates do you judge to be historically accurate? It should be noted that the non-Jewish sources say nothing about Alexander and the Jews; in fact, the non-Jewish sources imply that Alexander left for Egypt immediately after taking Gaza in 332 BCE (Arr. 3.1; Plut. Alex. 26; Diod. 17.49; Curt. Ruf. 4.7), and did not go to Jerusalem, as Josephus claims (Ant. 11.8.4; 325-26); Alexander remained in Egypt until the Spring of the following year, 331 BCE, and then returned to Tyre. Nevertheless, it is arguable that Alexander must have had some contact with the Jews and their leader, Jaddus, the High Priest.

B. Ptolemy I Soter, Ptolemy II Philadelpheus and the Jews

Josephus describes how Ptolemy I Soter conquered Syria, including Jerusalem; he entered the city during the Sabbath on the pretense of making a sacrifice in the Temple, but then, catching the Jews off-guard, who would not fight on the Sabbath anyway, took control of Jerusalem the Jews (12.1.1; 1-10). Josephus also some of the same events described in the Letter of Aristeas occuring during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (12.2.1-15; 11-118). He then includes examples of privileges granted to the Jews by various rulers (12.3.1-2; 119-28).

1. Reading: Ant. 12.1.1-3.2; 1-128 (Translated by. W. Whiston)

2. Questions

a.  Which events does Josephus claim to have occurred during the reigns of Ptolemy I Lagid (Soter) and Ptolemy II Philadelpheus?

b. What does Josephus say about the Jews in Ant. 12.3.1; 119 to 12.3.2; 128?

c. Does he give any indication of his sources for this period of Jewish history (see Ant. 12.1.1; 5 [see Apion 1.23; 205-12; 12.1.1; 9 [see Apion 1.22; 186]; 12.3.2; 126-27; 12.3.3; 135)? What is the unacknowledged source for the material from Ant. 12.2.1; 5 to 12.2.15; 118?

d. How much of what Josephus relates do you judge to be historically accurate?

C.  Ptolemy III Euergetes, Ptolemy IV Epiphanes, Antiochus III Megas and the Jews

In Apion 2.5; 48 Josephus claims that after the Third Syrian War (246-41), Josephus reports that Ptolemy III Euergetes went to Jerusalem to offer thanksgiving offering to the Jewish God for his success against his rival (Apion 2.48). In Ant. 12.3.3; 129-37, Josephus describes the Seleucid conquest of Coele-Syria, including Judea; he says that the Jews supported the Seleucids and were rewarded accordingly. Josephus includes a copy of a letter written by Antiochus III to a certain Ptolemy concerning the Jews (Ant. 12.3.3-4; 129-44) and another letter in which the Jews are commended (Ant. 12.3.4; 147-53). Josephus also includes a copy of a decree issued by Antiochus III concerning the Jews (Ant. 12.3.4; 145-46). He then relates accounts about Samaritan attacks against Jews and the High Priest Onias II (Ant. 12.4.1; 154-59).

called Euergetes Apion 2.5; 48

1. Reading:  Apion 2.5; 48; Ant. 12.3.3-4.1; 129-59 (Translated by. W. Whiston)

2. Questions

a. Which events relating to Jewish history does Josephus describe?

b. What was the contents of the letter sent by Antiochus III Megas to the Jews (12.3.3; 138-44)? What was the decree issued by Antiochus concerning the Jews (12.3.4; 145-46)? What was the contents of the letter written to Zeuxis, governor of Lydia, by Antiochus III on behalf of the Jews (12.3.4; 147-53)?

c. Does Josephus give any evidence of his sources for the information that he relates (12.3.3; 135-36)? What do you think Josephus' sources were for those events for which he does not identify his sources?

d. What of Josephus' accounts do you consider to be historically correct?

e. Are the official correspondences alleged to have come from Antiochus III Megas historical? If not what is or could be their origin? Does Polybius give any hint of such a positive estimation of the Jews on the part of Antiochus III Megas in the quotation in 12.3.3; 135-36? What might this imply for Josephus' use of Polybius and claims about Antiochus III Megas and his relations with the Jews?

D. Joseph the Tobiad

Josephus provides a history of the Tobiads and their rise to wealth and fame; he also quotes from a letter from King Areios of Lacedaenia (Ant. 12.4.10; 225-27). It should be noted that Josephus seems to have placed these events too late, during the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes (205-180 BCE), a contemporary of Antiochus III (223-187 BCE). Josephus explains this anomaly of having Joseph the Tobiad collecting taxes for the Ptolemaic kingdom, when Coele-Syria had already passed into the hands of Antiochus III, by saying that Antiochus III had given the tax revenue to Ptolemy V as the dowry for his daughter Cleopatra, who was married to the Ptolemaic king (Ant. 12.4.1;154). It is possible that the Tobiad narrative should be situated historically during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-21 BCE), a fact which Josephus may inadvertently confirm when he calls the Ptolemaic king in the Tobiad story Ptolemy Euergetes (Ant. 12.4.1; 158) (This assumes that the variant reading "Ptolemy Euergetes" is original.) (See Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews, 128-29).

1. Reading:  Ant. 12.4.2-11; 160-236 (Translated by. W. Whiston)

2. Questions

a. Who are the major figures in the narrative that Josephus relates and how are they related to one another?

b.  What relationships do the Tobiads have to the High Priest and the Ptolemaic Kingdom?

c. How did the Tobiads rise to such a position of wealth and power? What is related about Joseph and his son Hyrcanus?

d. What was the contents of the letter written from Areios, king of the Lacedaemonians (Ant. 12.4.10; 225-27)?

e. Does Josephus identify his sources for this information on the Tobiads?

f. What of Josephus' account do you judge to be historically accurate?  

Remains of the Fortress of
the Tobiad Hyrcanus, son of Joseph

According to Josephus, as a result of being forbidden from returning to Jerusalem, Hyrcanus the Tobiad began to build for himself a fortress in the Transjordan where he warred against the Arabs of the region (Ant. 12.4.11; 230-36). The structure is two-storied, ys, and is about 125 feet long, 62 feet wide, and 40 feet high. It is situated 17km west of Amman, Jordan. The fortress was composed of white marble, decorated with large images of animals, and surrounded by a moat. According to Josephus, Hyrcanus never completed the project, but committed suicide in 175 BCE because he feared retribution from Antiochus IV Epiphanes for his ill-treatment of the Arabs.

 

4.3. 3 Maccabees

4.3.1. Introduction to 3 Maccabees

H. Anderson, "3 Maccabees" Old Testament Pseuepigrapha 2.509-29; C. W. Emmet, "The Third Book of Maccabees," The Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha of the Old Testament; ed. R. H. Charles (1918) 1.156-73; M. Hadas, The Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees (1953); G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah, 169-72; E. Schürer, "The Third Book of Maccabees," The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar and M. Goodman) 3.537-42.

A. General Description

The text known as 3 Maccabees is a description of how Ptolemy IV Philopator was supernaturally prevented from desecrating the Jerusalem Temple and how Jews in the Ptolemaic Kingdom were rescued from Ptolemy's unjust reprisals. The theme of the text is that "The God of heaven surely defends the Jews, always taking their part as a father does for his children" (7:6b). After his defeat of the Seleucid King Antiochus III at Raphia, the Jews invite Ptolemy IV to visit the Temple at Jerusalem. He is so impressed by the structure that he insists on entering the sanctuary, which is forbidden to him, of course. The High Priest prays for God's deliverance from the king's madness, whereupon he is struck down and is forced to return to Egypt unable to accomplish his original sacrilegious intention. When he returns to Egypt, Ptolemy IV seeks to exact revenge on the Jews by stripping them of their civil rights and attempts to compel them to become participants in the cult of Dionysius. When the Jews collectively resist him, Ptolemy orders a mass execution: they are to be trampled to death by intoxicated elephants. Three times Ptolemy tries to carry out his design, but each time he is prevented from doing so. On the third attempt, two angels appear and cause the elephants to turn on the King's own troops. Ptolemy finally relents, and orders that a festival at his expense be instituted to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews. He also sends letters to governors of the provinces instructing them to grant protection to the Jews.

B. Authorship and Date

Internally, no author is identified for 3 Maccabees, nor is there any external evidence for authorship.  All that can be said is that the author was a Jew who may have resided in Egypt. The terminus a quo is the defeat of Antiochus III at Raphia during the 4rd Syrian War (219-17 BCE), since this event is the presupposition of the story related in 3 Maccabees (3 Macc 1:1-5).  In addition, 3 Macc 6:6 cites a tradition that probably derives from the Greek additions to Daniel 3 (The Song of the Three Men), which should be dated to the second century BCE, which would bring the date of composition forward somewhat. Some argue that the term used for "census" (laographia) (3 Macc 2:28) is a veiled reference to the Roman census for the sake of imposing a poll tax on Egypt by the Romans in 24/23 BCE.  (Allegedly, the author's reason for writing is to protect long-standing Jewish rights in the Roman period.)  (Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 3.540).  But this is inconclusive, since the term was used before the Roman period without the meaning of "census," but in a less specialized sense of registration of taxable people (Anderson, 3 Macc, 511).

4.3.2.  Historical Contribution of 3 Maccabees

A. Reading:  3 Maccabees

B. Questions

1. What is the event described in 3 Maccabees. Is the account believable? What evidence do you have for acceptance or rejection of the historicity of this account?

2. Josephus refers to a similar event to that described in 3 Maccabees, but dates this to the reign of Ptolemy IX Physcon (Apion 2.5). How do you explain the existence of this apparently variant tradition?

3. If you accept the basic historicity of 3 Maccabees are there particular elements of the narrative that are historically dubious? How do you interpret the "supernatural" elements in the story?

4. Apart from being a potential source of information for the events that it purports to describe, does 3 Maccabees have any additional historical value?  What does it indicate about the author's own historical period?

4.4. 2 Maccabees

4.4.1. Introduction to 2 Maccabees

F. M. Abel, Les livres des Maccabées (1949); M. Avi-Yonah, The Jews of Palestine (1976); J. R. Bartlett, The First and Second Books of Maccabees (1973); E. Bickerman, The Maccabees (Eng.1947); id., The God of the Maccabees (1979); S.J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (1987), ch. 1; J. Collins, Daniel, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees (1981); R. Doran, Temple Propaganda: The Purpose and Character of 2 Maccabees (1981); A Goldstein, 2 Maccabees (1983); L. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian, 2 vols (1992); D. J. Harrington, The Maccabean Revolt (1988); R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949); D S Russell, Between the Testaments (1960); A. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959); S. Tedesche and S. Zeitlin, The Second Book of Maccabees (1954)

(Note:  No consideration will be given to the two letters that are attached to the beginning of 2 Maccabees [1:1-2:18].)

A. Authorship and Sources

The author of 2 Maccabees is anonymous, but claims to have produced a condensation (epitome) of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene, written in Greek.  (A five volume work probably means a work written on five papyrus rolls (biblia) [Goldstein, 2 Maccabees, 5]; but how long each original book was is impossible to know.)  The epitomizer describes what he has done as follows,

The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, and the appearances that came from heaven to those who fought bravely for Judaism, so that though few in number they seized the whole land and pursued the barbarian hordes, and regained possession of the Temple famous throughout the world, and liberated the city, and re-established the laws that were about to be abolished, while the Lord with great kindness became gracious to them—all this has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, and we shall attempt to condense into a single book. (2:19-24)
He adds that his goal was for “brevity of expression and to forego an exhaustive treatment” (2:31). If one takes him as his word, the epitomizer has not change the nature of Jason’s work; rather, he has only condensed it into a single volume. What exactly he omitted from the original is unknowable, since Jason’s five-volume work is no longer extant.

Jason makes no attempt, at least in the condensed version of his work, to identify his sources. Where he obtained his information about the events described is ultimately unknowable. It is, nevertheless, obvious that Jason had access to official documents, in particular official letters written by Antiochus IV (9:19-29; 11:22-26, 27-33), Lysias (11:16-21) and the Roman senate (11:34-38).  But how he was able to obtain access to such documents is unknown. The many speeches in 2 Maccabees were likely Jason’s own literary creations, in keeping with the standard practice of Greek historiography. This does not mean, however, that these speeches are historical fictions, but could reflect the mind of the speaker on the occasion in which it is situated. Yet, it is possible (and probable) that such speeches reflect more the author’s own point of view than the historical figure who allegedly made the speech.

J. Goldstein argues that Jason (as well as the author of 1 Maccabees) drew upon a chronicle of the Selecucid empire, which provided information about each year of the lives of the Seleucid kings. According to Goldstein, Jason also made use of a memoir of Onias IV, a propagandistic work in which “he treated his own career and his ancestors, especially his father, Onias III; he touched upon their Tobiad kinsmen, and upon the kings who ruled the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires in the third and second centuries BCE” (2 Maccabees, 36). In addition, Jason made use a source that he shared in common with the author of 1 Maccabees (“Common Source”), which dealt with Judas and his brothers. The reason for postulating such a source is the agreement between 1 and 2 Maccabees at points. Although he must be commended for his interest in source criticism, the evidence for Goldstein’s hypothetical sources is insufficient.

 

B. Date and Provenance

The only indication of when the five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene was written is found in 2 Macc 15:37:  since Jerusalem is still under the control of the Jews at the time of writing, Jason’s work must have been written before 63 BCE, when Pompey brings the Hasmonean dynasty to a close. Presumably the epitomizer condensed Jason’s work before 63 BCE, or else he would not have included 2 Macc 15:37 in his text. Since there is no evidence that Jason used 1 Maccabees as a source or even that he was aware of the existence of 1 Maccabees, one cannot date 2 Maccabees after the composition of 1 Maccabees.

Probably, since it was written in Greek, 2 Maccabees was written outside of Palestine. Apart from this, there is no way of knowing for certain where Jason of Cyrene wrote his work. (Just because he was from Cyrene—a Greek city in Cyrenaica—does not mean that he wrote his five-volume work there.)  Since he gives such an panegyrical account of Onias III (who, after his death, even appears to Judas, along with the prophet Jeremiah [15:12-16]), who took refuge with the Ptolemies and whose son, Onias IV, built a rival temple in Leontopolis, it is arguable that Jason wrote his work in Egypt for a pro-Ptolemaic and pro-Oniad readership. Where the epitomizer condensed Jason’s work is unknown.

C. Purpose

As already indicated, 2 Maccabees is classified in terms of its literary genre as “pathetic history,” meaning that the intention is to evoke a reaction of pathos in the reader. As Goldstein explains, “The author of Greek pathetic history strove to entertain his reader by playing strongly upon the emotions, with vivid portrayals of atrocities and heroism and divine manifestations and with copious use of sensational language and rhetoric, especially when presenting the feelings of the characters” (1 Maccabees, 34). Jason’s purpose is to have his readers sympathize with the Jewish martyrs and admire Judas’ piety and courage. In 2 Maccabees, God is clearly on the side of the Jewish martyrs and Judas, so that the reader is left little option but to assume the narrator’s point of view (unless the reader is willing to reject the narrator as authoritative). In so doing, the Jewish reader will be inspired to repudiate Hellenistic syncretism and remain faithful to traditional Judaism.  2 Maccabees ends with Judas’s victory over Demetrius II; nothing is said of Judas’s death, because this would not be edifying for the reader.

Although he portrays Judas in a favorable light, as the instrument of God’s justice and mercy to Israel, Jason is not supportive of the Hasmoneans in general. There is no reference to Mattathias at all, the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty, which seems to be the rejection of the Hasmonean apologetic—no doubt well-known to Jason—to establish a claim to a dynasty (see 5:27). Jonathan is mentioned only once only in passing. Simon is mentioned twice, but both times he is placed in a negative light (10:20; 14:15-18).  (In 10:20 those who were with Simon took bribes; in 14:15-18, Simon is unable to halt the advance of Nicanor.)  It seems that Jason may be anti-Hasmonean in his politics, or or at least not a supporter of the Hasmoneans, although he does recognize Judas’ divinely-appointed role in rescuing Israel from the Seleucid oppression.

Jason’s pro-Oniad stance in 2 Maccabees may explain his anti-Hasmonean political stance. The High Priest Onias III is held up as a paragon of piety (see 2 Macc 3), whereas the wicked Menelaus, being motivated by greed, plotted with Andronicus to have Onias III murdered (4:33-50). (It was Jason, the brother of Onias III, who unlawfully displaced his brother from the High Priesthood.)  After his death, Onias III has such spiritual status that he is sent with the prophet Jeremiah to appear to Judas (15:12-16). It is probable that Jason intended 2 Maccabees to be a defense of the rights of the Oniad High-priestly line.  In critique of Jonathan and then Simon’s usurpation of the High Priesthood (who perhaps, like Menelaus, coveted the High Priesthood because of greed), it is Jason’s view that the position should have gone to Onias IV, son of Onias III.

D. Religious Presuppositions of  2 Maccabees

1. The Importance of the Laws (hoi nomoi) or the Law (ho nomos)

In 2 Maccabees, the idea of “the laws” (hoi nomoi) or “the Law” (ho nomos) is central to Jewish identity.  The laws are “holy and revered” (6:28), and were given by God through Moses (7:30; see 8:36). Jason holds Onias III in high regard, because he obeyed the laws (3:1), so much so that he is called a “zealot for the laws” (4:2).  Like the martyrs, a Jew should be prepared to be tortured and killed for “the laws” (6:28; 7:10-11, 23, 37; 8:21; 13:14).

Because they are referred to as the laws (or the Law) of the fathers (6:1; 7:2, 30, 37), to be obedient to the laws (or the Law) is to be loyal to one’s religious heritage. In other words, a commitment to Jewish nationalism is bound up with the resolution to obey the laws, so that one can be said both to fight or die for the laws and one’s homeland (patris) (8:21; 13:10-12; 14). Thus, since it has the effect of making the Jews indistinct from the nations, Hellenism is a bad thing; it leads to the introduction of new ways that are contrary to the law (4:11, 15) (see all of 1 Macc 4).  (Hellenistic cosmopolitanism is not desirable.) The ideal advocated by Jason is a cultural isolation of the Jews from the nations (14:38). This is why Menelaus is said to be a traitor both to the laws and his homeland (5:15). On the other hand, Judas is a hero, because he re-establishes the laws that were about to be abandoned (2:22). Interestingly, Razis is said to have risked body and soul for “Judaism” (Ioudaismos) (14:38), which seems to be a synonym for obedience to the law; similarly the epitomizer refers to “those who fought bravely for Judaism” (2:21).

2. The Centrality of the Temple

Three terms are used in 2 Maccabees for what we would call the Temple:  hieron, naos and neos. Unless otherwise indicated, one should interpret these terms as interchangeable (see, for example, 2 Macc 10:5). In 2 Maccabees, the Temple is central to Jewish life and identity. Jason writes disapprovingly of the priests who, despising the Temple (neos), abandoned their duties at the altar for Hellenistic pastimes (4:14). In 13:10-12, the three commitments central to being a Jew consist of law, holy Temple (hieron hagion) and homeland (patris) (13:10-12) (see 13:24, which includes, in addition to these three “city” and “commonwealth”).  In this passage, Judas petitions God on behalf of those who tragically are about to be deprived of the possibility of committing themselves to these three things. Later, in 15:17-18, it is said that the city, the holy things (hagia) and the Temple (hieron) were in danger from Nicanor’s forces and that Judas’ men were more concerned about the Temple (naos) than they were about their wives and children.  Not surprisingly, immediately upon taking control of Jerusalem, Judas cleanses and rededicates the Temple (10:1-5).

Jason has Onias III tell Heliodorus that the Jerusalem Temple is the most famous in the world (3:12). Jason himself says that the Jerusalem Temple is the greatest (14:13; 14:31) and the most holy (5:15) in the world. These statements may be taken to imply a relative validity of other temples. Yet in 14:35, when the priests pray for God to protect the Temple against Nicanor; they concede that that God needs nothing but has decreed, nonetheless, that there should be this Temple for His habitation “among us.” This could be taken to mean that the Jerusalem Temple is the only habitation of God in the world (us = all human beings) or that it is God’s habitation among the Jews (us = the Jewish people).

God protects the Temple against desecration (2 Macc 3), so long as the people have been obeying the law(s), as they did during the time when Onias III was High Priest (3:1-3; see 4:2). During the time of Onias III, Heliodorus was prevented from plundering the Temple treasury by supernatural means (3:24-40  Similarly, when Nicanor threatens the Temple, the priests plead with God to keep the Temple from becoming defiled (14:28-36); Nicanor’s defeat and death in battle was interpreted as God’s answer to the prayer of the priests (15:32-34). Only when God’s wrath was turned aside from Israel was Judas able to purify and rededicate the Temple (10:1-5).

3. Hellenism as Cause of the Antiochan Persecution and Innocent Suffering as the Cause of the Appeasement of God’s Wrath

Jason views the Antiochan persecution as being the result of the Jewish involvement with Hellenism. In 2 Macc 4, he describes how the people abandoned the laws, and then concludes that it was for this reason that disaster overtook the people (4:16). He then warns that “It is no light thing to show irreverence to the divine laws—a fact that later events will make clear” (4:17). In Jason’s interpretation of history, Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews and desecration of the Temple was God’s punishment on his disobedient people. Likewise, the youngest of the seven sons executed by Antiochus explains that the Jews are suffering because of their sins, but in a little while God’s anger will turn to mercy and God will take vengeance on Antiochus (7:32-36).

Only after the torture and death of the martyrs does God’s anger against His people turn to mercy (8:5; see 7:32-33); God has not forsaken his people (7:16-17). The reason that God turns in mercy to his people is on account of the destruction of the city and of innocent suffering (8:3-4).  This is why is able to defeat the superior Seleucid forces (see 8:13-15, 18, 24; 10:29-30; 12:14-16, 22, 28; 13:10-12, 14; 14:15, 34; 15:1-27). Thus, the Jewish martyrs, in part, play a causal role in bringing about the sudden reversal of fortunes under Judas’ leadership.

4. God’s Justice

Permeating 2 Maccabees is a belief in God’s retributive justice. Individuals who oppose God and violate the sanctity of the Temple eventually are punished (8:34; 14:28-15:37 [Nicanor]; 9 [Antiochus IV]; 13:7-8 [Menelaus]). This confidence in divine retributive justice is the basis for petitions for God’s assistance in 2 Maccabees (see 8:2-4; 10:16, 25; 15:20-24). On one occasion Judas cites the scriptural precedent of God’s protection of Judah before Sennacharib’s army (15:20-24). Judas also asks for mercy from God in light of Nicanor’s imminent invasion on the grounds of the covenant that God made with the fathers. Judas believes that God’s justice will compel him to keep his agreement with the fathers to restore and protect the nation after His discipline of it (8:15). Those who deserted Judas’ army before the threat of Nicanor’s invasion are described as “those who did not trust in the justice of God” (8:13).

5. Angels

Since, in 2 Maccabees, on several occasions angelic beings appear, protecting the Temple or assisting Judas and his followers, Jason must believe in the existence of angels (see 3:24-40; 5:2-4; 10:29-30; 11:8; in 15:11-16 Onias III and the prophet Jeremiah appear to Judas).

6. Atonement

On two occasions, atonement is made for sin. After his beating at the hands of the two angelic beings, Heliodorus repents. His friends beg Onias III to make a sacrifice for him as an atonement (hilasmon) (3:31-33a). The two angelic beings then inform Heliodorus that God has granted him life on account of the intercession of Onias III. On another occasion, Judas sends money to Jerusalem to make a sin offering for his fallen comrades, who died under the judgment of God because they were wearing amulets, which was forbidden by the law (12:39-44). Judas makes atonement (exilasmos) for the dead, in order that this sin may not be counted against them at the resurrection. In spite of his repentance and vow, however, Antiochus did not receive healing from God (2 Macc 9:18); presumably, in his case his sin was so great as to be unatoneable.

7. Resurrection and Final Judgment

Jason has the martyrs and Judas himself—though indirectly—give expression to their belief in some type of resurrection and final judgment. Eleazar says that whether he lives or dies he will not escape judgment, implying that there is a judgment after death (6:26). The mother and her seven sons also have a hope of the resurrection of the body and vindication against Antiochus at the final judgment (see 7:6, 9-10, 14, 20-23, 29). Razis calls upon the Lord to give him back his entrails—which he is throwing at the crowd—at the resurrection (14:37-46).  Finally, Jason points out that Judas and his men would not have made sin offerings for his fallen comrades, unless they believed that their fallen comrades would rise again (12:39-44).

8. Creation ex nihilo

In 13:14, Jason refers to God as the creator (ktisês).  In 7:28, moreover, Jason has the mother of the seven sons refer to God as having created everything in heaven and earth from nothing (literally “not from existing things”).

9. The Prohibition of Doing Battle on the Sabbath

Consistently in 2 Maccabees, Judas is portrayed as believing that it is unlawful to fight on the Sabbath. He gives up the pursuit of his enemies because the Sabbath is near (8:26), and he rests from fighting on the Sabbath (12:38). Even when attacked, Judas and his followers only fight with their bare hands—which apparently is lawful, since no work is being done; God honors their obedience by delivering them from their attackers (15:1-27). Regardless of whether Judas actually held this view or not, Jason at least believes that this is the proper interpretation of the Sabbath commandment.

4.4.2.  Historical Contribution of 2 Maccabees

At the beginning of 2 Maccabees, Jason of Cyrene includes an account of an event that occurs during the time when Onias III was High Priest. A man named Simon went to Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, and told him that there were funds on deposit in the Temple the origin of which was questionable. The decision was taken by Apollonius to send a certain Heliodorus to confiscate the excess funds. Heliodorus, however, was miraculously prevented from doing so.

A. Reading:  2 Maccabees 3:1-40 (Heliodorus' Attempt to Plunder the Temple)

B. Questions

1. What is the event described in 2 Macc 3:1-40? Is the account believable? What evidence do you have for acceptance or rejection of the historicity of this account?

2. Does the author's theological presuppositions affect the credibility of the account?

3. How do you interpret the "supernatural" elements in the story?

Heliodorus Stele

In the so-called Heiodorus Stele, purchased on the antiquities market and dated to 178 BCE, reference is made to a certain Heliodorus, who may be the same man mentioned in 2 Macc 3:1-40.

  • "The copy of the letter handed over to us by Heliodoros who is in charge of the affairs is enclosed."
  • "Heliodoros to Dorymenes his brother greetings"
  • "King Seleukos to Heliodoros his brother greetings"

   

 

 


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