Cultures > Jews

Jews

Background

Jews lived in Palestine aka Judea back in the last few centuries BC.In the 5th century BC, Jews were not mentioned at all by Herodotus who wrote extensively about the area of Phoenicia/Syria, but seems to have not considered the Jews to be a distinct tribe or ethnic group from the Phoenicians. It is not until somewhat later that we find ancient Greek and Roman writers making references to the Jews in their descriptions of the Levant.Writing of the Greek conquest over the Jews during the reign of the Hellenistic Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes who successfully put down a rebellion by a Jewish sect known as the Maccabees in 167 BC, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus states:“King Antiochus besieged Jerusalem. The Jews withstood the siege for some time; but when all their provisions were used up, they were forced to send ambassadors to him, to seek terms for a truce. Many of his friends urged him to storm the city, and to root out the whole nation of the Jews; for they only of all people hated to mix with any other nations, and treated them all as enemies. They suggested to him that the ancestors of the Jews were driven out of Egypt, as impious and hateful to the gods: for seeing that their bodies were infected with white marks and leprosy, by way of expiation the Egyptians gathered them all together, and expelled them out of their county, as profane and wicked wretches. After they were thus expelled, they settled around Jerusalem, and were afterwards united into one nation, called the nation of the Jews; but their hatred of all other men descended with their blood to their posterity. And therefore they made strange laws, and quite different from other people; they never will eat nor drink with any of other nations, or wish them any prosperity. His friends reminded him that Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes, after subduing the Jews, entered into the temple of God, into which none was allowed to enter by their law except the priest. When he found in there the image of a man with a long beard, carved in stone sitting upon an ass, he took it to be Moses, who built Jerusalem and brought the nation together, and who established by law all their wicked customs and practices, abounding in hatred and enmity to all other men. Antiochus therefore, abhorring their antagonism to all other people, tried his utmost to abolish their laws. To that end he sacrificed a great swine at the image of Moses, and at the altar of God that stood in the outward court, and sprinkled them with the blood of the sacrifice. He commanded likewise that the books, by which they were taught to hate all other nations, should be sprinkled with the broth made of the swine’s flesh. And he put out the lamp (called by them immortal) which burns continually in the temple. Lastly he forced the high priest and the other Jews to eat swine’s flesh. When Antiochus’ friends had spoken about all these things, they earnestly advised him to root out the whole nation, or at least to abolish their laws, and compel them to change their former manner of living. But the king, being of a generous spirit and mild disposition, received hostages and pardoned the Jews: but he demolished the walls of Jerusalem, and took the tribute that was due.”The Greek geographer Strabo, says of them:“The report most credited, among many things believed respecting the temple and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, is that the Egyptians were the ancestors of the present Jews. An Egyptian priest named Moses, who possessed a portion of the country called Lower Egypt, being dissatisfied with the established institutions there, left it and came to Judea with a large body of people who worshiped the Divinity. He declared and taught that the Egyptians and Africans entertained erroneous sentiments, in representing, the Divinity under the likeness of wild beasts and cattle of the field; that the Greeks also were error in making images of their gods after the human form. For God, said he, may be this one thing which encompasses us all, land and sea, which we call heaven, or the universe, or the nature of things. Who, then, of any understanding would venture to form an image of this Deity, resembling anything with which we are conversant? On the contrary, we ought not to carve any images, but to set apart some sacred ground as a shrine worthy of the Deity, and to worship Him without any similitude. He taught that those who made fortunate dreams were to be permitted to sleep in the temple, where they might dream both for themselves and others; that those who practiced temperance and justice, and none else, might expect good, or some gift or sign from the God, from time to time.By such doctrine Moses persuaded a large body of right-minded persons to accompany him to the place where Jerusalem now stands. He easily obtained possession of it as the spot was not such as to excite jealousy, nor for which there could be any fierce contention; for it is rocky, and, although well supplied with water, it is surrounded by a barren and waterless territory. The space within the city is 60 stadia in circumference, with rock underneath the surface. Instead of arms, he taught that their defense was in their sacred things and the Divinity, for whom he was desirous of finding a settled place, promising to the people to deliver such a kind of worship and religion as should not burden those who adopted it with great expense, nor molest them with so-called divine possessions, nor other absurd practices. Moses thus obtained their good opinion, and established no ordinary kind of government. All the nations around willingly united themselves to him, allured by his discourses and promises. His successors continued for some time to observe the same conduct, doing justly, and worshiping God with sincerity. Afterwards superstitious persons were appointed to the priesthood, and then tyrants. From superstition arose abstinence from flesh, from the eating of which it is now the custom to refrain, circumcision, clitorectomy, and other practices which the people observe. The tyrannical government produced robbery; for the rebels plundered both their own and the neighboring countries. Those also who shared in the government seized upon the property of others, and ravaged a large part of Syria and of Phoenicia. Respect, however, was paid to the Acropolis [Zion, or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem]; it was not abhorred as the seat of tyranny, but honored and venerated as a temple. . . .Such was Moses and his successors; their beginning was good, but they degenerated.”

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