Book I. Introductory. The Preparation for the Gospel: The Jewish World in the Days of Christ

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח

All the prophets prophesied not but of the days of the Messiah.’ – Sanh. 99a

לא אברי עלמא אלא למשיח

‘The world was not created but only for the Messiah.’ – Sanh. 98b

Chapter I. The Jewish World in the Days of Christ – The Jewish Dispersion in the East.

Among the outward means by which the religion of Israel was preserved, one of the most important was the centralisation and localisation of its worship in Jerusalem. If to some the ordinances of the Old Testament may in this respect seem narrow and exclusive, it is at least doubtful, whether without such a provision Monotheism itself could have continued as a creed or a worship. In view of the state of the ancient world, and of the tendencies of Israel during the earlier stages of their history, the strictest isolation was necessary in order to preserve the religion of the Old Testament from that mixture with foreign elements which would speedily have proved fatal to its existence. And if one source of that danger had ceased after the seventy years’ exile in Babylonia, the dispersion of the greater part of the nation among those whose manners and civilisation would necessarily influence them, rendered the continuance of this separation of as great importance as before. In this respect, even traditionalism had its mission and use, as a hedge around the Law to render its infringement or modification impossible.

Wherever a Roman, a Greek, or an Asiatic might wander, he could take his gods with him, or find rites kindred to his own. It was far otherwise with the Jew. He had only one Temple, that in Jerusalem; only one God, Him Who had once throned there between the Cherubim, and Who was still King over Zion. That Temple was the only place where a God-appointed, pure priesthood could offer acceptable sacrifices, whether for forgiveness of sin, or for fellowship with God. Here, in the impenetrable gloom of the innermost sanctuary, which the High-Priest alone might enter once a year for most solemn expiation, had stood the Ark, the leader of the people into the Land of Promise, and the footstool on which the Shechinah had rested. From that golden altar rose the sweet cloud of incense, symbol of Israel’s accepted prayers; that seven-branched candlestick shed its perpetual light, indicative of the brightness of God’s Covenant Presence; on that table, as it were before the face of Jehovah, was laid, week by week, ‘the Bread of the Face,’ a constant sacrificial meal which Israel offered unto God, and wherewith God in turn fed His chosen priesthood. On the great blood-sprinkled altar of sacrifice smoked the daily and festive burnt-offerings, brought by all Israel, and for all Israel, wherever scattered; while the vast courts of the Temple were thronged not only by native Palestinians, but literally by ‘Jews out of every nation under heaven.’ Around this Temple gathered the sacred memories of the past; to it clung the yet brighter hopes of the future. The history of Israel and all their prospects were intertwined with their religion; so that it may be said that without their religion they had no history, and without their history no religion. Thus, history, patriotism, religion, and hope alike pointed to Jerusalem and the Temple as the centre of Israel’s unity.

Nor could the depressed state of the nation alter their views or shake their confidence. What mattered it, that the Idumaean, Herod, had usurped the throne of David, except so far as his own guilt and their present subjection were concerned? Israel had passed through deeper waters, and stood triumphant on the other shore. For centuries seemingly hopeless bondsmen in Egypt, they had not only been delivered, but had raised the God-inspired morning-song of jubilee, as they looked back upon the sea cleft for them, and which had buried their oppressors in their might and pride. Again, for weary years had their captives hung Zion’s harps by the rivers of that city and empire whose colossal grandeur, wherever they turned, must have carried to the scattered strangers the desolate feeling of utter hopelessness. And yet that empire had crumbled into dust, while Israel had again taken root and sprung up. And now little more than a century and a half had passed, since a danger greater even than any of these had threatened the faith and the very existence of Israel. In his daring madness, the Syrian king, Antiochus IV. (Epiphanes) had forbidden their religion, sought to destroy their sacred books, with unsparing ferocity forced on them conformity to heathen rites, desecrated the Temple by dedicating it to Zeus Olympios, and even reared a heathen altar upon that of burnt-offering. Worst of all, his wicked schemes had been aided by two apostate High-Priests, who had outvied each other in buying and then prostituting the sacred office of God’s anointed. Yet far away in the mountains of Ephraim God had raised for them most unlooked-for and unlikely help. Only three years later, and, after a series of brilliant victories by undisciplined men over the flower of the Syrian army, Judas the Maccabee – truly God’s Hammer – had purified the Temple, and restored its altar on the very same day on which the I abomination of desolation’ had been set up in its place. In all their history the darkest hour of their night had ever preceded the dawn of a morning brighter than any that had yet broken. It was thus that with one voice all their prophets had bidden them wait and hope. Their sayings had been more than fulfilled as regarded the past. Would they not equally become true in reference to that far more glorious future for Zion and for Israel, which was to be ushered in by the coming of the Messiah?

Nor were such the feelings of the Palestinian Jews only. These indeed were now a minority. The majority of the nation constituted what was known as the dispersion; a term which, however, no longer expressed its original meaning of banishment by the judgment of God, since absence from Palestine was now entirely voluntary. But all the more that it referred not to outward suffering, did its continued use indicate a deep feeling of religious sorrow, of social isolation, and of political strangership in the midst of a heathen world. For although, as Josephus reminded his countrymen, there was ‘no nation in the world which had not among them part of the Jewish people,’ since it was ‘widely dispersed over all the world among its inhabitants,’ yet they had nowhere found a real home. A century and a half before our era comes to us from Egypt – where the Jews possessed exceptional privileges – professedly from the heathen, but really from the Jewish Sibyl, this lament of Israel: – 

Crowding with thy numbers every ocean and country – 

Yet an offense to all around thy presence and customs!

Sixty years later the Greek geographer and historian Strabo bears the like witness to their presence in every land, but in language that shows how true had been the complaint of the Sibyl. The reasons for this state of feeling will by-and-by appear. Suffice it for the present that, all unconsciously, Philo tells its deepest ground, and that of Israel’s loneliness in the heathen world, when speaking, like the others, of his countrymen as in ‘all the cities of Europe, in the provinces of Asia and in the islands,’ he describes them as, wherever sojourning, having but one metropolis – not Alexandria, Antioch, or Rome – but ‘the Holy City’ with its Temple, dedicated to the Most High God.’ A nation, the vast majority of which was dispersed over the whole inhabited earth, had ceased to be a special, and become a. world-nation. Yet its heart beat in Jerusalem, and thence the lifeblood passed to its most distant members. And this, indeed, if we rightly understand it, was the grand object of the ‘Jewish dispersion’ throughout the world.

What has been said applies, perhaps, in a special manner, to the Western, rather than to the Eastern ‘dispersion,’ The connection of the latter with Palestine was so close as almost to seem one of continuity. In the account of the truly representative gathering in Jerusalem on that ever-memorable Feast of Weeks, the division of the ‘dispersion’ into two grand sections – the Eastern or Trans-Euphratic, and the Western or Hellenist – seems clearly marked. In this arrangement the former would include ‘the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia,’ Judaea standing, so to speak, in the middle, while ‘the Cretes and Arabians’ would typically represent the farthest outrunners respectively of the Western and the Eastern Diaspora. The former, as we know from the New Testament, commonly bore in Palestine the name of the dispersion of the ‘Greeks,’ and of ‘Hellenists’ or ‘Grecians.’ On the other hand, the Trans-Euphratic Jews, who ‘inhabited Babylon and many of the other satrapies,’ were included with the Palestinians and the Syrians under the term ‘Hebrews,’ from the common language which they spoke.

But the difference between the ‘Grecians’ and the ‘Hebrews’ was far deeper than merely of language, and extended to the whole direction of thought. There were mental influences at work in the Greek world from which, in the nature of things, it was impossible even for Jews to withdraw themselves, and which, indeed, were as necessary for the fulfilment of their mission as their isolation from heathenism, and their connection with Jerusalem. At the same time it was only natural that the Hellenists, placed as they were in the midst of such hostile elements, should intensely wish to be Jews, equal to their Eastern brethren. On the other hand, Pharisaism, in its pride of legal purity and of the possession of traditional lore, with all that it involved, made no secret of its contempt for the Hellenists, and openly declared the Grecian far inferior to the Babylonian ‘dispersion.’ That such feelings, and the suspicions which they engendered, had struck deep into the popular mind, appears from the fact, that even in the Apostolic Church, and that in her earliest days, disputes could break out between the Hellenists and the Hebrews, arising from suspicion of unkind and unfair dealings grounded on these sectional prejudices.

Far other was the estimate in which the Babylonians were held by the leaders of Judaism. Indeed, according to one view of it, Babylonia, as well as ‘Syria’ as far north as Antioch, was regarded as forming part of the land of Israel. Every other country was considered outside ‘the land,’ as Palestine was called, with the exception of Babylonia, which was reckoned as part of it. For Syria and Mesopotamia, eastwards to the banks of the Tigris, were supposed to have been in the territory which King David had conquered, and this made them ideally for ever like the land of Israel. But it was just between the Euphrates and the Tigris that the largest and wealthiest settlements of the Jews were, to such extent that a later writer actually designated them ‘the land of Israel.’ Here Nebardaa, on the Nahar Malka, or royal canal, which passed from the Euphrates to the Tigris, was the oldest Jewish settlement. It boasted of a Synagogue, said to have been built by King Jechoniah with stones that had been brought from the Temple. In this fortified city the vast contributions intended for the Temple were deposited by the Eastern Jews, and thence conveyed to their destination under escort of thousands of armed men. Another of these Jewish treasure-cities was Nisibis, in northern Mesopotamia. Even the fact that wealth, which must have sorely tempted the cupidity of the heathen, could be safely stored in these cities and transported to Palestine, shows how large the Jewish population must have been, and how great their general influence.

In general, it is of the greatest importance to remember in regard to this Eastern dispersion, that only a minority of the Jews, consisting in all of about 50,000, originally returned from Babylon, first under Zerubbabel and afterwards under Ezra. Nor was their inferiority confined to numbers. The wealthiest an most influential of the Jews remained behind. According to Josephus, with whom Philo substantially agrees, vast numbers, estimated at millions, inhabited the Trans-Euphratic provinces. To judge even by the number of those slain in popular risings (50,000 in Seleucia alone), these figures do not seem greatly exaggerated. A later tradition had it, that so dense was the Jewish population in the Persian Empire, that Cyrus forbade the further return of the exiles, lest the country should be depopulated. So large and compact a body soon became a political power. Kindly treated under the Persian monarchy, they were, after the fall of that empire, favoured by the successors of Alexander. When in turn the Macedono-Syrian rule gave place to the Parthian Empire, the Jews formed, from their national opposition to Rome, an important element in the East. Such was their influence that, as late as the year 40a.d., the Roman legate shrank from provoking their hostility. At the same time it must not be thought that, even in these favoured regions, they were wholly without persecution. Here also history records more than one tale of bloody strife on the part of those among whom they dwelt.

To the Palestinians, their brethren of the East and of Syria – to which they had wandered under the fostering rule of the Macedono- Syrian monarchs (the Seleucidae) – were indeed pre-eminently the golah, or ‘dispersion.’ To them the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem intimated by fire-signals from mountain-top to mountain-top the commencement of each month for the regulation of the festive calendar, even, as they afterwards despatched messengers into Syria for the same purpose. In some respects the Eastern dispersion was placed on the same footing; in others, on even a higher level than the mother-country. Tithes and terumot, or first-fruits in a prepared condition, were due from them, while the bikurim, or first-fruits in a fresh state, were to be brought from Syria to Jerusalem. Unlike the heathen countries, whose very dust defiled, the soil of Syria was declared clean, like that of Palestine itself. So far as purity of descent was concerned, the Babylonians, indeed, considered themselves superior to their Palestinian brethren. They had it, that when Ezra took with him those who went to Palestine, he had left the land behind him as pure as fine flour. To express it in their own fashion: In regard to the genealogical purity of their Jewish inhabitants, all other countries were, compared to Palestine, like dough mixed with leaven; but Palestine itself was such by the side of Babylonia. It was even maintained, that the exact boundaries could be traced in a district, within which the Jewish population had preserved itself unmixed. Great merit was in this respect also ascribed to Ezra. In the usual mode of exaggeration, it was asserted, that, if all the genealogical studies and researches had been put together, they would have amounted to many hundred camel-loads. There was for it, however, at least this foundation in truth, that great care and labour were bestowed on preserving full and accurate records so as to establish purity of descent. What importance attached to it, we know from the action of Ezra in that respect, and from the stress which Josephus lays on this point. Official records of descent as regarded the priesthood were kept in the Temple. Besides, the Jewish authorities seem to have possessed a general official register, which Herod afterwards ordered to be burnt, from reasons which it is not difficult to infer. But from that day, laments a Rabbi, the glory of the Jews decreased!

Nor was it merely purity of descent of which the Eastern dispersion could boast. In truth, Palestine owed everything to Ezra, the Babylonian, a man so distinguished that, according to tradition, the Law would have been given by him, if Moses had not previously obtained that honor. Putting aside the various traditional ordinances which the Talmud ascribes to him, we know from the Scriptures what his activity for good had been. Altered circumstances had brought many changes to the now Jewish State. Even the language, spoken and written, was other than formerly. Instead of the characters anciently employed, the exiles brought with them, on their return, those now common, the so-called square Hebrew letters, which gradually came into general use.  The language spoken by the Jews was no longer Hebrew, but Aramaean, both in Palestine and in Babylonia in the former the Western, in the latter the Eastern dialect. In fact, the common people were ignorant of pure Hebrew, which henceforth became the language of students and of the Synagogue. Even there a meturgeman, or interpreter, had to be employed to translate into the vernacular the portions of Scripture read in the public services, and the addresses delivered by the Rabbis. This was the origin of the so-called Targumim, or paraphrases of Scripture. In earliest times, indeed, it was forbidden to the meturgeman to read his translation or to write down a Targum, lest the paraphrase should be regarded as of equal authority with the original. It was said that, when Jonathan brought out his Targum on the Prophets, a voice from heaven was heard to utter: ‘Who is this that has revealed My secrets to men?’ Still, such Targumim seem to have existed from a very early period, and, amid the varying and often incorrect renderings, their necessity must have made itself increasingly felt. Accordingly, their use was authoritatively sanctioned before the end of the second century after Christ. This is the origin of our two oldest extant Targumim: that of Onkelos (as it is called), on the Pentateuch; and that on the Prophets, attributed to Jonathan the son of Uzziel. These names do not, indeed, accurately represent the authorship of the oldest Targumim, which may more correctly be regarded as later and authoritative recensions of what, in some form, had existed before. But although these works had their origin in Palestine, it is noteworthy that, in the form in which at present we possess them, they are the outcome of the schools of Babylon.

But Palestine owed, if possible, a still greater debt to Babylonia. The new circumstances in which the Jews were placed on their return seemed to render necessary an adaptation of the Mosaic Law, if not new legislation. Besides, piety and zeal now attached themselves to the outward observance and study of the letter of the Law. This is the origin of the Mishnah, or Second Law, which was intended to explain and supplement the first. This constituted the only Jewish dogmatics, in the real sense, in the study of which the sage, Rabbi, scholar, scribe, and daršan, were engaged. The result of it was the Midrash, or investigation, a term which afterwards was popularly applied to commentaries on the Scriptures and preaching. From the outset, Jewish theology divided into two branches: the Halakhah and the Haggadah. The former (from halak, to go) was, so to speak, the Rule of the Spiritual Road, and, when fixed, had even greater authority than the Scriptures of the Old Testament, since it explained and applied them. On the other hand, the Haggadah (from nagad, to tell) was only the personal saying of the teacher, more or less valuable according to his learning and popularity, or the authorities which he could quote in his support. Unlike the Halakhah, the Haggadah had no absolute authority, either as to doctrine practice, or exegesis. But all the greater would be its popular influence, and all the more dangerous the doctrinal license which it allowed. In fact, strange as it may sound, almost all the doctrinal teaching of the Synagogue is to be derived from the Haggadah – and this also is characteristic of Jewish traditionalism. But, alike in Halakhah and Haggadah, Palestine was under the deepest obligation to Babylonia. For the father of Halakhic study was Hillel, the Babylonian, and among the popular Hagadists there is not a name better known than that of Eleazar the Mede, who flourished in the first century of our era.

After this, it seems almost idle to inquire whether, during the first period after the return of the exiles from Babylon, there were regular theological academies in Babylon. Although it is, of course, impossible to furnish historical proof, we can scarcely doubt that a community so large and so intensely Hebrew would not have been indifferent to that study, which constituted the main thought and engagement of their brethren in Palestine. We can understand that, since the great Sanhedrin in Palestine exercised supreme spiritual authority, and in that capacity ultimately settled all religious questions – at least for a time – the study and discussion of these subjects should also have been chiefly carried on in the schools of Palestine, and that even the great Hillel himself, when still a poor and unknown student, should have wandered thither to acquire the learning and authority, which at that period he could not have found in his own country. But even this circumstance implies, that such studies were at least carried on and encouraged in Babylonia. How rapidly soon afterwards the authority of the Babylonian schools increased till they not only overshadowed those of Palestine, but finally inherited their prerogatives, is well known. However, therefore, the Palestinians in their pride or jealousy might sneer, that the Babylonians were stupid, proud, and poor (‘they ate bread upon bread’), even they had to acknowledge that, ‘when the Law had fallen into oblivion, it was restored by Ezra of Babylon; when it was a second time forgotten, Hillel the Babylonian came and recovered it; and when yet a third time it fell into oblivion, Rabbi Chija came from Babylon and gave it back once more.’

Such then was that Hebrew dispersion which, from the first, constituted really the chief part and the strength of the Jewish nation, and with which its religious future was also to lie. For it is one of those strangely significant, almost symbolical, facts in history, that after the destruction of Jerusalem the spiritual supremacy of Palestine passed to Babylonia, and that Rabbinical Judaism, under the stress of political adversity, voluntarily transferred itself to the seats of Israel’s ancient dispersion, as if to ratify by its own act what the judgment of God had formerly executed. But long before that time the Babylonian ‘dispersion’ had already stretched out its hands in every direction. Northwards, it had spread through Armenia, the Caucasus, and to the shores of the Black Sea, and through Media to those of the Caspian. Southwards, it had extended to the Persian Gulf and through the vast extent of Arabia, although Arabia Felix and the land of the Homerites may have received their first Jewish colonies from the opposite shores of Ethiopia. Eastwards it had passed as far as India. Everywhere we have distinct notices of these wanderers, and everywhere they appear as in closest connection with the Rabbinical hierarchy of Palestine. Thus the Mishnah, in an extremely curious section, tells us how on Sabbaths the Jewesses of Arabia might wear their long veils, and those of India the kerchief round the head, customary in those countries, without incurring the guilt of desecrating the holy day by needlessly carrying what, in the eyes of the law, would be a burden; while in the rubric for the Day of Atonement we have it noted that the dress which the High-Priest wore ‘between the evenings’ of the great fast – that is, as afternoon darkened into evening – was of most costly ‘Indian’ stuff.

That among such a vast community there should have been poverty, and that at one time, as the Palestinians sneered, learning may have been left to pine in want, we can readily believe. For, as one of the Rabbis had it in explanation of Deu_30:13 : ‘Wisdom is not “beyond the sea” – that is, it will not be found among traders or merchants,’ whose mind must be engrossed by gain. And it was trade and commerce which procured to the Babylonians their wealth and influence, although agriculture was not neglected. Their caravans – of whose camel drivers, by the way, no very flattering account is given – carried the rich carpets and woven stuffs of the East, as well as its precious spices, to the West: generally through Palestine to the Phoenician harbours, where a fleet of merchantmen belonging to Jewish bankers and shippers lay ready to convey them to every quarter of the world. These merchant princes were keenly alive to all that passed, not only in the financial, but in the political world. We know that they were in possession of State secrets, and entrusted with the intricacies of diplomacy. Yet, whatever its condition, this Eastern Jewish community was intensely Hebrew. Only eight days’ journey – though, according to Philo’s western ideas of it, by a difficult road – separated them from Palestine – and every pulsation there vibrated in Babylonia. It was in the most outlying part of that colony, in the wide plains of Arabia, that Saul of Tarsus spent those three years of silent thought and unknown labour, which preceded his re-appearance in Jerusalem, when from the burning longing to labour among his brethren, kindled by long residence among these Hebrews of the Hebrews, he was directed to that strange work which was his life’s mission. And it was among the same community that Peter wrote and laboured, amidst discouragements of which we can form some conception from the sad boast of Nehardaa, that up to the end of the third century it had not numbered among its members any convert to Christianity.

In what has been said, no notice has been taken of those wanderers of the ten tribes, whose trackless footsteps seem as mysterious as their after-fate. The Talmudists name four countries as their seats. But, even if we were to attach historic credence to their value statements, at least two of these localities cannot with any certainty be identified. Only thus far all agree as to point us northwards, through India, Armenia, the Kurdish mountains, and the Caucasus. And with this tallies a curious reference in what is known as 4 Esdras, which locates them in a land called Arzareth, a term which has, with some probability, been identified with the land of Ararat. Josephus describes them as an innumerable multitude, and vaguely locates them beyond the Euphrates. The Mishnah is silent as to their seats, but discusses their future restoration, Rabbi Akiba denying and Rabbi Eliezer anticipating it.  Another Jewish tradition locates them by the fabled river Sabbatyon, which was supposed to cease its flow on the weekly Sabbath. This, of course, is an implied admission of ignorance of their seats. Similarly, the Talmud speaks of three localities whither they had been banished: the district around the Sabbatyon; Daphne, near Antioch; while the third was overshadowed and hidden by a cloud.

Later Jewish notices connect the final discovery and the return of the ‘lost tribes’ with their conversion under that second Messiah who, in contradistinction to ‘the Son of David,’ is styled ‘the Son of Joseph,’ to whom Jewish tradition ascribes what it cannot reconcile with the royal dignity of ‘the Son of David,’ and which, if applied to Him, would almost inevitably lead up to the most wide concessions in the Christian argument. As regards the ten tribes there is this truth underlying the strange hypothesis, that, as their persistent apostacy from the God of Israel and His worship had cut them off from his people, so the fulfilment of the Divine promises to them in the latter days would imply, as it were, a second birth to make them once more Israel. Beyond this we are travelling chiefly into the region of conjecture. Modern investigations have pointed to the Nestorians, and latterly with almost convincing evidence (so far as such is possible) to the Afghans, as descended from the lost tribes. Such mixture with, and lapse into, Gentile nationalities seems to have been before the minds of those Rabbis who ordered that, if at present a non-Jew weds a Jewess, such a union was to be respected, since the stranger might be a descendant of the ten tribes. Besides, there is reason to believe that part of them, at least, had coalesced with their brethren of the later exile; while we know that individuals who had settled in Palestine and, presumably, elsewhere, were able to trace descent from them. Still the great mass of the ten tribes was in the days of Christ, as in our own, lost to the Hebrew nation. 

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Book 1, Chapter 2. The Jewish Dispersion in the West – The Hellenists – Origin of Hellenist Literature in the Greek Translation of the Bible – Character of the Septuagint.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

When we turn from the Jewish ‘dispersion’ in the East to that in the West, we seem to breathe quite a different atmosphere. Despite their intense nationalism, all unconsciously to themselves, their mental characteristics and tendencies were in the opposite direction from those of their brethren. With those of the East rested the future of Judaism; with them of the West, in a sense, that of the world. The one represented old Israel groping back into the darkness of the past; the other young Israel, stretching forth its hands to where the dawn of a new day was about to break. These Jews of the West are known by the term Hellenists – from ἑλληνίζειν, to conform to the language and manners of the Greeks.

Whatever their religious and social isolation, it was, in the nature of things, impossible that the Jewish communities in the West should remain unaffected by Grecian culture and modes of thought; just as, on the other hand, the Greek world, despite popular hatred and the contempt of the higher classes, could not wholly withdraw itself from Jewish influences. Witness here the many converts to Judaism among the Gentiles; witness also the evident preparedness of the lands of this ‘dispersion’ for the new doctrine which was to come from Judaea. Many causes contributed to render the Jews of the West accessible to Greek influences. They had not a long local history to look back upon, nor did they form a compact body, like their brethren in the East. They were craftsmen, traders, merchants, settled for a time here or there – units which might combine into communities, but could not form one people. Then their position was not favourable to the sway of traditionalism. Their occupations, the very reasons for their being in a ‘strange land,’ were purely secular. That lofty absorption of thought and life in the study of the Law, written and oral, which characterised the East, was to them something in the dim distance, sacred, like the soil and the institutions of Palestine, but unattainable. In Palestine or Babylonia numberless influences from his earliest years, all that he saw and heard, the very force of circumstances, would tend to make an earnest Jew a disciple of the Rabbis; in the West it would lead him to ‘hellenise.’ It was, so to speak, ‘in the air;’ and he could no more shut his mind against Greek thought than he could withdraw his body from atmospheric influences. That restless, searching, subtle Greek intellect would penetrate everywhere, and flash its light into the innermost recesses of his home and Synagogue.

To be sure, they were intensely Jewish, these communities of strangers. Like our scattered colonists in distant lands, they would cling with double affection to the customs of their home, and invest with the halo of tender memories the sacred traditions of their faith. The Grecian Jew might well look with contempt, not unmingled with pity, on the idolatrous rites practised around, from which long ago the pitiless irony of Isaiah had torn the veil of beauty, to show the hideousness and unreality beneath. The dissoluteness of public and private life, the frivolity and aimlessness of their pursuits, political aspirations, popular assemblies, amusements – in short, the utter decay of society, in all its phases, would he open to his gaze. It is in terms of lofty scorn, not unmingled with indignation, which only occasionally gives way to the softer mood of warning, or even invitation, that Jewish Hellenistic literature, whether in the Apocrypha or in its Apocalyptic utterances, addresses heathenism.

From that spectacle the Grecian Jew would turn with infinite satisfaction – not to say, pride – to his own community, to think of its spiritual enlightenment, and to pass in review its exclusive privileges. It was with no uncertain steps that he would go past those splendid temples to his own humbler Synagogue, pleased to find himself there surrounded by those who shared his descent, his faith, his hopes; and gratified to see their number swelled by many who, heathens by birth, had learned the error of their ways, and now, so to speak, humbly stood as suppliant ‘strangers of the gate,’ to seek admission into his sanctuary. How different were the rites which he practised, hallowed in their Divine origin, rational in themselves, and at the same time deeply significant, from the absurd superstitions around. Who could have compared with the voiceless, meaningless, blasphemous heathen worship, if it deserved the name, that of the Synagogue, with its pathetic hymns, its sublime liturgy, its Divine Scriptures, and those ‘stated sermons’ which ‘instructed in virtue and piety,’ of which not only Philo, Agrippa, and Josephus, speak as a regular institution, but whose antiquity and general prevalence is attested in Jewish writings, and nowhere more strongly than in the book of the Acts of the Apostles?

And in these Synagogues, how would ‘brotherly love’ be called out, since, if one member suffered, all might soon be affected, and the danger which threatened one community would, unless averted, ere long overwhelm the rest. There was little need for the admonition not to ‘forget the love of strangers.’ To entertain them was not merely a virtue; in the Hellenist dispersion it was a religious necessity. And by such means not a few whom they would regard as ‘heavenly messengers’ might be welcomed. From the Acts of the Apostles we knew with what eagerness they would receive, and with what readiness they would invite, the passing Rabbi or teacher, who came from the home of their faith, to speak, if there were in them a word of comforting exhortation for the people. We can scarcely doubt, considering the state of things, that this often bore on ‘the consolation of Israel.’ But, indeed, all that came from Jerusalem, all that helped them to realise their living connection with it, or bound it more closely, was precious. ‘Letters out of Judaea,’ the tidings which some one might bring on his return from festive pilgrimage or business journey, especially about anything connected with that grand expectation – the star which was to rise on the Eastern sky – would soon spread, till the Jewish pedlar in his wanderings had carried the news to the most distant and isolated Jewish home, where he might find a Sabbath-welcome and Sabbath-rest.

Such undoubtedly was the case. And yet, when the Jew stepped out of the narrow circle which he had drawn around him, he was confronted on every side by Grecianism. It was in the forum, in the market, in the counting-house, in the street; in all that he saw, and in all to whom he spoke. It was refined; it was elegant; it was profound; it was supremely attractive. He might resist, but he could not push it aside. Even in resisting, he had already yielded to it. For, once open the door to the questions which it brought, if it were only to expel, or repel them, he must give up that principle of simple authority on which traditionalism as a system rested. Hellenic criticism could not so be silenced, nor its searching light be extinguished by the breath of a Rabbi. If he attempted this, the truth would not only be worsted before its enemies, but stiffer detriment in his own eyes. He must meet argument with argument, and that not only for those who were without, but in order to be himself quite sure of what he believed. He must be able to hold it, not only in controversy with others, where pride might bid him stand fast, but in that much more serious contest within, where a man meets the old adversary alone in the secret arena of his own mind, and has to sustain that terrible hand-to-hand fight, in which he is uncheered by outward help. But why should he shrink from the contest, when he was sure that his was Divine truth, and that therefore victory must be on his side? As in our modern conflicts against the one-sided inferences from physical investigations we are wont to say that the truths of nature cannot contradict those of revelation – both being of God – and as we are apt to regard as truths of nature what sometimes are only deductions from partially ascertained facts, and as truths of revelation what, after all, may be only our own inferences, sometimes from imperfectly apprehended premises, so the Hellenist would seek to conciliate the truths of divine revelation with those others which, he thought, he recognised in Hellenism. But what were the truths of Divine revelation? Was it only the substance of Scripture, or also its form – the truth itself which was conveyed, or the manner in which it was presented to the Jews; or, if both, then did the two stand on exactly the same footing? On the answer to these questions would depend how little or how much he would ‘hellenise.’

One thing at any rate was quite certain. The Old Testament, leastwise, the Law of Moses, was directly and wholly from God; and if so, then its form also – its letter – must be authentic and authoritative. Thus much on the surface, and for all. But the student must search deeper into it, his senses, as it were, quickened by Greek criticism; he must ‘meditate’ and penetrate into the Divine mysteries. The Palestinian also searched into them, and the result was the Midrash. But, whichever of his methods he had applied – the pešat, or simple criticism of the words, the deruš, or search into the possible applications of the text, what might be ‘trodden out’ of it; or the sod, the hidden, mystical, supranatural bearing of the words – it was still only the letter of the text that had been studied. There was, indeed, yet another understanding of the Scriptures, to which St. Paul directed his disciples: the spiritual bearing of its spiritual truths. But that needed another qualification, and tended in another direction from those of which the Jewish student knew. On the other hand, there was the intellectual view of the Scriptures – their Philosophical understanding, the application to them of the results of Grecian thought and criticism. It was this which was peculiarly Hellenistic. Apply that method, and the deeper the explorer proceeded in his search, the more would he feel himself alone, far from the outside crowd; but the brighter also would that light of criticism, which he carried, shine in the growing darkness, or, as he held it up, would the precious ore, which he laid bare, glitter and sparkle with a thousand varying hues of brilliancy. What was Jewish, Palestinian, individual, concrete in the Scriptures, was only the outside – true in itself, but not the truth. There were depths beneath. Strip these stories of their nationalism; idealise the individual of the persons introduced, and you came upon abstract ideas and realities, true to all time and to all nations. But this deep symbolism was Pythagorean; this pre-existence of ideas which were the types of all outward actuality, was Platonism! Broken rays in them, but the focus of truth in the Scriptures. Yet these were rays, and could only have come from the Sun. All truth was of God; hence theirs must have been of that origin. Then were the sages of the heathen also in a sense God-taught – and God-teaching, or inspiration, was rather a question of degree than of kind!

One step only remained; and that, as we imagine, if not the easiest, yet, as we reflect upon it, that which in practice would be most readily taken. It was simply to advance towards Grecianism; frankly to recognise truth in the results of Greek thought. There is that within us, name it mental consciousness, or as you will, which, all unbidden, rises to answer to the voice of intellectual truth, come whence it may, just as conscience answers to the cause or moral truth or duty. But in this case there was more. There was the mighty spell which Greek Philosophy exercised on all kindred minds, and the special adaptation of the Jewish intellect to such subtle, if not deep, thinking. And, in general, and more powerful than the rest, because penetrating everywhere, was the charm of Greek literature, with its brilliancy; of Greek civilisation and culture, with their polish and attractiveness; and of what, in one word, we may call the ‘time-spirit,’ that τυραννος, who rules all in their thinking, speaking, doing, whether they list or not.

Why, his sway extended even to Palestine itself, and was felt in the innermost circle of the most exclusive Rabbinism. We are not here referring to the fact that the very language spoken in Palestine came to be very largely charged with Greek, and even Latin, words Hebraised, since this is easily accounted for by the new circumstances, and the necessities of intercourse with the dominant or resident foreigners. Nor is it requisite to point out how impossible it would have been, in presence of so many from the Greek and Roman world, and after the long and persistent struggle of their rulers to Grecianise Palestine, nay, even in view of so many magnificent heathen temples on the very soil of Palestine, to exclude all knowledge of, or contact with Grecianism. But not to be able to exclude was to have in sight the dazzle of that unknown, which as such, and in itself, must have had peculiar attractions to the Jewish mind. It needed stern principle to repress the curiosity thus awakened. When a young Rabbi, Ben Dama, asked his uncle whether he might not study Greek Philosophy, since he had mastered the ‘Law’ in every aspect of it, the older Rabbi replied by a reference to Jos_1:8 : ‘Go and search what is the hour which is neither of the day nor of the night, and in it thou mayest study Greek Philosophy.’ Yet even the Jewish patriarch, Gamaliel II., who may have sat with Saul of Tarsus at the feet of his grandfather, was said to have busied himself with Greek, as he certainly held liberal views on many points connected with Grecianism. To be sure, tradition justified him on the ground that his position brought him into contact with the ruling powers, and, perhaps, to further vindicate him, ascribed similar pursuits to the elder Gamaliel, although groundlessly, to judge from the circumstance that he was so impressed even with the wrong of possessing a Targum on Job in Aramaean, that he had it buried deep in the ground.

But all these are indications of a tendency existing. How wide it must have spread, appears from the fact that the ban had to be pronounced on all who studied ‘Greek wisdom.’ One of the greatest Rabbis, Elisha ben Abujah, seems to have been actually led to apostacy by such studies. True, he appears as the ‘aḥer’ – the ‘other’ – in Talmudic writings, whom it was not proper even to name. But he was not yet an apostate from the Synagogue when those ‘Greek songs’ ever flowed from his lips; and it was in the very Beth-ha-Midrash, or theological academy, that a multitude of sip̱rē minim (heretical books) flew from his breast, where they had lain concealed. It may be so, that the expression ‘sip̱rē homeros’ (Homeric writings), which occur not only in the Talmud but even in the Mishnah referred preeminently, if not exclusively, to the a religious or semi-religious Jewish Hellenistic literature, outside even the Apocrypha. But its occurrence proves, at any rate, that the Hellenists were credited with the study of Greek literature, and that through them, if not more directly, the Palestinians had become acquainted with it.

This sketch will prepare us for a rapid survey of that Hellenistic literature which Judaea so much dreaded. Its importance, not only to the Hellenists but to the world at large, can scarcely be over-estimated. First and foremost, we have here the Greek translation of the Old Testament, venerable not only as the oldest, but as that which at the time of Jesus held the place of our ‘Authorized Version,’ and as such is so often, although freely, quoted, in the New Testament. Nor need we wonder that it should have been the people’s Bible, not merely among the Hellenists, but in Galilee, and even in Judaea. It was not only, as already explained, that Hebrew was no longer the ‘vulgar tongue’ in Palestine, and that written Targumim were prohibited. But most, if not all – at least in towns – would understand the Greek version; it might be quoted in intercourse with Hellenist brethren or with the Gentiles; and, what was perhaps equally, if not more important, it was the most readily procurable. From the extreme labour and care bestowed on them, Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible were enormously dear, as we infer from a curious Talmudical notice, where a common woollen wrap, which of course was very cheap, a copy of the Psalms, of Job, and torn pieces from Proverbs, are together valued at five maneh – say, about 191. Although this notice dates from the third or fourth century, it is not likely that the cost of Hebrew Biblical MSS. was much lower at the time of Jesus. This would, of course, put their possession well nigh out of common reach. On the other hand, we are able to form an idea of the cheapness of Greek manuscripts from what we know of the price of books in Rome at the beginning of our era. Hundreds of slaves were there engaged copying what one dictated. The result was not only the publication of as large editions as in our days, but their production at only about double the cost of what are now known as ‘cheap’ or ‘people’s editions.’ Probably it would be safe to compute, that as much matter as would cover sixteen pages of small print might, in such cases, be sold at the rate of about sixpence, and in that ratio. Accordingly, manuscripts in Greek or Latin, although often incorrect, must have been easily attainable, and this would have considerable influence on making the Greek version of the Old Testament the ‘people’s Bible.’

The Greek version, like the Targum of the Palestinians, originated, no doubt, in the first place, in a felt national want on the part of the Hellenists, who as a body were ignorant of Hebrew. Hence we find notices of very early Greek versions of at least parts of the Pentateuch. But this, of course, could not suffice. On the other hand, there existed, as we may suppose, a natural curiosity on the part of students, especially in Alexandria, which had so large a Jewish population, to know the sacred books on which the religion and history of Israel were founded. Even more than this, we must take into account the literary tastes of the first three Ptolemies (successors in Egypt of Alexander the Great), and the exceptional favour which the Jews for a time enjoyed. Ptolemy I. (Lagi) was a great patron of learning. He projected the Museum in Alexandria, which was a home for literature and study, and founded the great library. In these undertakings Demetrius Phalereus was his chief adviser. The tastes of the first Ptolemy were inherited by his son, Ptolemy II. (Philadelphus), who had for two years been co-regent. In fact, ultimately that monarch became literally book-mad, and the sums spent on rare MSS., which too often proved spurious, almost pass belief. The same may be said of the third of these monarchs, Ptolemy III. (Euergetes). It would have been strange, indeed, if these monarchs had not sought to enrich their library with an authentic rendering of the Jewish sacred books, or not encouraged such a translation.

These circumstances will account for the different elements which we can trace in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and explain the historical, or rather legendary, notices which we have of its composition. To begin with the latter. Josephus has preserved what, no doubt in its present form, is a spurious letter from one Aristeas to his brother Philocrates, in which we are told how, by the advice of his librarian (?), Demetrius Phalereus, Ptolemy II. had sent by him (Aristeas) and another officer, a letter, with rich presents, to Eleazar, the High-Priest at Jerusalem; who in turn had selected seventy-two translators (six out of each tribe), and furnished them with a most valuable manuscript of the Old Testament. The letter then gives further details of their splendid reception at the Egyptian court, and of their sojourn in the island of Pharos, where they accomplished their work in seventy-two days, when they returned to Jerusalem laden with rich presents, their translation having received the formal approval of the Jewish Sanhedrin at Alexandria. From this account we may at least derive as historical these facts: that the Pentateuch – for to it only the testimony refers – was translated into Greek, at the suggestion of Demetrius Phalereus, in the reign and under the patronage – if not by direction – of Ptolemy II. (Philadelphus). With this the Jewish accounts agree, which describe the translation of the Pentateuch under Ptolemy – the Jerusalem Talmud in a simpler narrative, the Babylonian with additions apparently derived from the Alexandrian legends; the former expressly noting thirteen, the latter marking fifteen, variations from the original text.

The Pentateuch once translated, whether by one, or more likely by several persons, the other books of the Old Testament would naturally soon receive the same treatment. They were evidently rendered by a number of persons, who possessed very different qualifications for their work – the translation of the Book of Daniel having been so defective, that in its place another by Theodotion was afterwards substituted. The version, as a whole, bears the name of the LXX. – as some have supposed from the number of its translators according to Aristeas’ account – only that in that case it should have been seventy-two; or from the approval of the Alexandrian Sanhedrin – although in that case it should have been seventy-one; or perhaps because, in the popular idea, the number of the Gentile nations, of which the Greek (Japheth) was regarded as typical, was seventy. We have, however, one fixed date by which to compute the completion of this translation. From the prologue to the Apocryphal ‘Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach,’ we learn that in his days the Canon of Scripture was closed; and that on his arrival, in his thirty-eighth year, in Egypt, which was then under the rule of Euergetes, he found the so-called LXX. version completed, when he set himself to a similar translation of the Hebrew work of his grandfather. But in the 50th chapter of that work we have a description of the High-Priest Simon, which is evidently written by an eye-witness. We have therefore as one term the pontificate of Simon, during which the earlier Jesus lived; and as the other, the reign of Euergetes, in which the grandson was at Alexandria. Now, although there were two High-Priests who bore the name Simon, and two Egyptian kings with the surname Euergetes, yet on purely historical grounds, and apart from critical prejudices, we conclude that the Simon of Ecclus. 50 was Simon I., the Just, one of the greatest names in Jewish traditional history; and similarly, that the Euergetes of the younger Jesus was the first of that name, Ptolemy III., who reigned from 247 to 221 b.c. In his reign, therefore, we must regard the LXX. version as, at least substantially, completed.

From this it would, of course, follow that the Canon of the Old Testament was then practically fixed in Palestine. That Canon was accepted by the Alexandrian translators, although the more loose views of the Hellenists on ‘inspiration,’ and the absence of that close watchfulness, exercised over the text in Palestine, led to additions and alterations, and ultimately even to the admission of the Apocrypha into the Greek Bible. Unlike the Hebrew arrangement of the text into the Law, the Prophets, and the (sacred) Writings, or Hagiographa, the LXX. arrange them into historical, prophetical, and poetic books, and count twenty-two, after the Hebrew alphabet, instead of twenty-four, as the Hebrews. But perhaps both these may have been later arrangements, since Philo evidently knew the Jewish order of the books. What text the translators may have used we can only conjecture. It differs in almost innumerable instances from our own, though the more important deviations are comparatively few. In the great majority of the lesser variations our Hebrew must be regarded as the correct text.

Putting aside clerical mistakes and misreadings, and making allowance for errors of translation, ignorance, and haste, we note certain outstanding facts as characteristic of the Greek version. It bears evident marks of its origin in Egypt in its use of Egyptian words and references, and equally evident traces of its Jewish composition. By the side of slavish and false literalism there is great liberty, if not licence, in handling the original; gross mistakes occur along with happy renderings of very difficult passages, suggesting the aid of some able scholars. Distinct Jewish elements are undeniably there, which can only be explained by reference to Jewish tradition, although they are much fewer than some critics have supposed. This we can easily understand, since only those traditions would find a place which at that early time were not only received, but in general circulation. The distinctively Grecian elements, however, are at present of chief interest to us. They consist of allusions to Greek mythological terms, and adaptations of Greek Philosophical ideas. However few, even one well-authenticated instance would lead us to suspect others, and in general give to the version the character of Jewish Hellenising. In the same class we reckon what constitutes the prominent characteristic of the LXX. version, which, for want of better terms, we would designate as rationalistic and apologetic. Difficulties – or what seemed such – are removed by the most bold methods, and by free handling of the text; it need scarcely be said, often very unsatisfactorily. More especially a strenuous effort is made to banish all anthropomorphisms, as inconsistent with their ideas of the Deity. The superficial observer might be tempted to regard this as not strictly Hellenistic, since the same may be noted, and indeed is much more consistently carried out, in the Targum of Onkelos. Perhaps such alterations had even been introduced into the Hebrew text itself. But there is this vital difference between Palestinianism and Alexandrianism, that, broadly speaking, the Hebrew avoidance of anthropomorphisms depends on objective – theological and dogmatic – the Hellenistic on subjective – Philosophical and apologetic – grounds. The Hebrew avoids them as he does what seems to him inconsistent with the dignity of Biblical heroes and of Israel. ‘Great is the power of the prophets,’ he writes, ‘who liken the Creator to the creature;’ or else ‘a thing is written only to break it to the ear’ – to adapt it to our human modes of speaking and understanding; and again, the ‘words of the Torah are like the speech of the children of men.’ But for this very purpose the words of Scripture may be presented in another form, if need be even modified, so as to obviate possible misunderstanding, or dogmatic error. The Alexandrians arrived at the same conclusion, but from an opposite direction. They had not theological but Philosophical axioms in their minds – truths which the highest truth could not, and, as they held, did not contravene. Only dig deeper; get beyond the letter to that to which it pointed; divest abstract truth of its concrete, national, Judaistic envelope – penetrate through the dim porch into the temple, and you were surrounded by a blaze of light, of which, as its portals had been thrown open, single rays had fallen into the night of heathendom. And so the truth would appear glorious – more than vindicated in their own sight, triumphant in that of others!

In such manner the LXX. version became really the people’s Bible to that large Jewish world through which Christianity was afterwards to address itself to mankind. It was part of the case, that this translation should be regarded by the Hellenists as inspired like the original. Otherwise it would have been impossible to make final appeal to the very words of the Greek; still less, to find in them a mystical and allegorical meaning. Only that we must not regard their views of inspiration – except as applying to Moses, and even there only partially – as identical with ours. To their minds inspiration differed quantitatively, not qualitatively, from what the rapt soul might at any time experience, so that even heathen philosophers might ultimately be regarded as at times inspired. So far as the version of the Bible was concerned (and probably on like grounds), similar views obtained at a later period even in Hebrew circles, where it was laid down that the Chaldee Targum on the Pentateuch had been originally spoken to Moses on Sinai, though afterwards forgotten, till restored and reintroduced.

Whether or not the LXX. was read in the Hellenist Synagogues, and the worship conducted, wholly or partly, in Greek, must be matter of conjecture. We find, however, a significant notice to the effect that among those who spoke a barbarous language (not Hebrew – the term referring specially to Greek), it was the custom for one person to read the whole parašah (or lesson for the day), while among the Hebrew-speaking Jews this was done by seven persons, successively called up. This seems to imply that either the Greek text alone was read, or that it followed a Hebrew reading, like the Targum of the Easterns. More probably, however, the former would be the case, since both Hebrew manuscripts, and persons qualified to read them, would be difficult to procure. At any rate, we know that the Greek Scriptures were authoritatively acknowledged in Palestine, and that the ordinary daily prayers might be said in Greek. The LXX. deserved this distinction from its general faithfulness – at least, in regard to the Pentateuch – and from its preservation of ancient doctrine. Thus, without further referring to its full acknowledgment of the doctrine of Angels (comp. Deu_32:8, Deu_33:2), we specially mark that it preserved the Messianic interpretation of Gen_49:10; Num_24:7; Num_24:17; and Num_24:23, bringing us evidence of what had been the generally received view two and a half centuries before the birth of Jesus. It must have been on the ground of the use made of the LXX. in argument, that later voices in the Synagogue declared this version to have been as great a calamity to Israel as the making of the golden calf, and that its completion had been followed by the terrible omen of an eclipse, that lasted three days. For the Rabbis declared that upon investigation it had been found that the Torah could be adequately translated only into Greek, and they are most extravagant in their praise of the Greek version of akulas, or Aquila, the proselyte, which was made to counteract the influence of the LXX.  But in Egypt the anniversary of the completion of the LXX. was celebrated by a feast in the island of Pharos, in which ultimately even heathens seem to have taken part. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 1, Chapter 3. The Old Faith Preparing for the New – Development of Hellenist Theology: The Apocrypha, Aristeas, Aristobulus, and the Pseud-Epigraphic Writings.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

The translation of the Old Testament into Greek may be regarded as the starting-point of Hellenism. It rendered possible the hope that what in its original form had been confined to the few, might become accessible to the world at large. But much yet remained to be done. If the religion of the Old Testament had been brought near to the Grecian world of thought, the latter had still to be brought near to Judaism. Some intermediate stage must be found; some common ground on which the two might meet; some original kindredness of spirit to which their later divergences might be carried back, and where they might finally be reconciled. As the first attempt in this direction – first in order, if not always in time – we mark the so-called Apocryphal literature, most of which was either written in Greek, or is the product of Hellenising Jews. Its general object was twofold. First, of course, it was apologetic – intended to fill gaps in Jewish history or thought, but especially to strengthen the Jewish mind against attacks from without, and generally to extol the dignity, of Israel. Thus, more withering sarcasm could scarcely be poured on heathenism than in the apocryphal story of ‘Bel and the Dragon,’ or in the so-called ‘Epistle of Jeremy,’ with which the Book of ‘Baruch’ closes. The same strain, only in more lofty tones, resounds through the Book of the ‘Wisdom of Solomon,’ along with the constantly implied contrast between the righteous, or Israel, and sinners or the heathen. But the next object was to show that the deeper and purer thinking of heathenism in its highest Philosophy supported – nay, in some respects, was identical with – the fundamental teaching of the Old Testament. This, of course, was apologetic of the Old Testament, but it also prepared the way for a reconciliation with Greek Philosophy. We notice this especially in the so-called Fourth Book of Maccabees, so long erroneously attributed to Josephus, and in the ‘Wisdom of Solomon.’ The first postulate here would be the acknowledgment of truth among the Gentiles, which was the outcome of Wisdom – and Wisdom was the revelation of God. This seems already implied in so thoroughly Jewish a book as that of Jesus the Son of Sirach. Of course there could be no alliance with Epicureanism, which was at the opposite pole of the Old Testament. But the brilliancy of Plato’s speculations would charm, while the stern self-abnegation of Stoicism would prove almost equally attractive. The one would show why they believed, the other why they lived, as they did. Thus the theology of the Old Testament would find a rational basis in the ontology of Plato, and its ethics in the moral Philosophy of the Stoics. Indeed, this is the very line of argument which Josephus follows in the conclusion of his treatise against Apion. This, then, was an unassailable position to take: contempt poured on heathenism as such, and a rational Philosophical basis for Judaism. They were not deep, only acute thinkers, these Alexandrians, and the result of their speculations was a curious Eclecticism, in which Platonism and Stoicism are found, often heterogeneously, side by side. Thus, without further details, it may be said that the Fourth Book of Maccabees is a Jewish Stoical treatise on the Stoical theme of ‘the supremacy of reason’ – the proposition, stated at the outset, that ‘pious reason bears absolute sway over the passions,’ being illustrated by the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar, and of the mother and her seven sons. On the other hand, that sublime work, the ‘Wisdom of Solomon,’ contains Platonic and Stoic elements – chiefly perhaps the latter – the two occurring side by side. Thus ‘Wisdom,’ which is so concretely presented as to be almost hypostatised, is first described in the language of Stoicism, and afterwards set forth, in that of Platonism, as ‘the breath of the power of God,’ as ‘a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness.’ Similarly, we have a Stoical enumeration of the four cardinal virtues, temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude, and close by it the Platonic idea of the soul’s pre-existence, and of earth and matter pressing it down. How such views would point in the direction of the need of a perfect revelation from on high, as in the Bible, and of its rational possibility, need scarcely be shown.

But how did Eastern Judaism bear itself towards this Apocryphal literature? We find it described by a term which seems to correspond to our ‘Apocrypha,’ as sep̱arim genuzim, ‘hidden books,’ i.e., either such whose origin was hidden, or, more likely, books withdrawn from common or congregational use. Although they were, of course, carefully distinguished from the canonical Scriptures, as not being sacred, their use was not only allowed, but many of them are quoted in Talmudical writings. In this respect they are placed on a very different footing from the so-called sep̱arim ḥiṣonim, or ‘outside books,’ which probably included both the products of a certain class of Jewish Hellenistic literature, and the sip̱rē minim, or writings of the heretics. Against these Rabbinism can scarcely find terms of sufficient violence, even debarring from share in the world to come those who read them. This, not only because they were used in controversy, but because their secret influence on orthodox Judaism was dreaded. For similar reasons, later Judaism forbade the use of the Apocrypha in the same manner as that of the sep̱arim ḥiṣonim. But their influence had already made itself felt. The Apocrypha, the more greedily perused, not only for their glorification of Judaism, but that they were, so to speak, doubtful reading, which yet afforded a glimpse into that forbidden Greek world, opened the way for other Hellenistic literature, of which unacknowledged but frequent traces occur in Talmudical writings.

To those who thus sought to weld Grecian thought with Hebrew revelation, two objects would naturally present themselves. They must try to connect their Greek philsophers with the Bible, and they must find beneath the letter of Scripture a deeper meaning, which would accord with philosophic truth. So far as the text of Scripture was concerned, they had a method ready to hand. The Stoic philsophers had busied themselves in finding a deeper allegorical meaning, especially in the writings of Homer. By applying it to mythical stories, or to the popular beliefs, and by tracing the supposed symbolical meaning of names, numbers, etc., it became easy to prove almost anything or to extract from these philosophical truths ethical principles, and even the later results of natural science. Such a process was peculiarly pleasing to the imagination, and the results alike astounding and satisfactory, since as they could not be proved, so neither could they be disproved. This allegorical method was the welcome key by which the Hellenists might unlock the hidden treasury of Scripture. In point of fact, we find it applied so early as in the ‘Wisdom of Solomon.’

But as yet Hellenism had scarcely left the domain of sober interpretation. It is otherwise in the letter of the Pseudo-Aristeas, to which reference has already been made. Here the wildest symbolism is put into the mouth of the High-Priest Eleazar, to convince Aristeas and his fellow-ambassador that the Mosaic ordinances concerning food had not only a political reason – to keep Israel separate from impious nations – and a sanitary one, but chiefly a mystical meaning. The birds allowed for food were all tame and pure, and they fed on corn or vegetable products, the opposite being the case with those forbidden. The first lesson which this was intended to teach was, that Israel must be just, and not seek to obtain aught from others by violence; but, so to speak, imitate the habits of those birds which were allowed them. The next lesson would be, that each must learn to govern his passions and inclinations. Similarly, the direction about cloven hoofs pointed to the need of making separation – that is, between good and evil; and that about chewing the cud to the need of remembering, viz. God and His will. In such manner, according to Aristeas, did the High Priest go through the catalogue of things forbidden, and of animals to be sacrificed, showing from their ‘hidden meaning’ the majesty and sanctity of the Law.

This was an important line to take, and it differed in principle from the allegorical method adopted by the Eastern Jews. Not only the doršē rešumot, or searchers out of the subtleties of Scripture, of their indications, but even the ordinary Haggadist employed, indeed, allegoric interpretations. Thereby Akiba vindicated for the ‘Song of Songs’ its place in the Canon. Did not Scripture say: ‘One thing spake God, twofold is what I heard,’ and did not this imply a twofold meaning; nay, could not the Torah be explained by many different methods? What, for example, was the water which Israel sought in the wilderness, or the bread and raiment which Jacob asked in Bethel, but the Torah and the dignity which it conferred? But in all these, and innumerable similar instances, the allegorical interpretation was only an application of Scripture for homiletical purposes, not a searching into a rationale beneath, such as that of the Hellenists. The latter the Rabbis would have utterly repudiated, on their express principle that ‘Scripture goes not beyond its plain meaning.’ They sternly insisted, that we ought not to search into the ulterior object and rationale of a law, but simply obey it. But it was this very rationale of the Law which the Alexandrians sought to find under its letter. It was in this sense that Aristobulus, a Hellenist Jew of Alexandria, sought to explain Scripture. Only a fragment of his work, which seems to have been a Commentary on the Pentateuch, dedicated to King Ptolemy (Philometor), has been preserved to us (by Clement of Alexandria, and by Eusebius). According to Clement of Alexandria, his aim was, ‘to bring the Peripatetic Philosophy out of the law of Moses, and out of the other prophets.’ Thus, when we read that God stood, it meant the stable order of the world; that He created the world in six days, the orderly succession of time; the rest of the Sabbath, the preservation of what was created. And in such manner could the whole system of Aristotle be found in the Bible. But how was this to be accounted for? Of course, the Bible had not learned from Aristotle, but he and all the other Philosophers had learned from the Bible. Thus, according to Aristobulus, Pythagoras, Plato, and all the other sages had really learned from Moses, and the broken rays found in their writings were united in all their glory in the Torah

It was a tempting path on which to enter, and one on which there was no standing still. It only remained to give fixedness to the allegorical method by reducing it to certain principles, or canons of criticism, and to form the heterogeneous mass of Grecian Philosophemes and Jewish theologumena into a compact, if not homogeneous system. This was the work of Philo of Alexandria, born about 20 b.c. It concerns us not here to inquire what were the intermediate links between Aristobulus and Philo. Another and more important point claims our attention. If ancient Greek Philosophy knew the teaching of Moses, where was the historic evidence for it? If such did not exist, it must somehow be invented. Orpheus was a name which had always lent itself to literary fraud, and so Aristobulus boldly produces (whether of his own or of others’ making) a number of spurious citations from Hesiod, Homer, Linus, but especially from Orpheus, all Biblical and Jewish in their cast. Aristobulus was neither the first nor the last to commit such fraud. The Jewish Sibyl boldly, and, as we shall see, successfully personated the heathen oracles. And this opens, generally, quite a vista of Jewish-Grecian literature. In the second, and even in the third century before Christ, there were Hellenist historians, such as Eupolemus, Artapanus, Demetrius, and Aristeas; tragic and epic poets, such as Ezekiel, Pseudo- Philo, and Theodotus, who, after the manner of the ancient classical writers, but for their own purposes, described certain periods of Jewish history, or sang of such themes as the Exodus, Jerusalem, or the rape of Dinah.

The mention of these spurious quotations naturally leads us to another class of spurious literature, which, although not Hellenistic, has many elements in common with it, and, even when originating with Palestinian Jews is not Palestinian, nor yet has been preserved in its language. We allude to what are known as the Pseudepigraphic, or Pseudonymic Writings, so called because, with one exception, they bear false names of authorship. It is difficult to arrange them otherwise than chronologically – and even here the greatest difference of opinions prevails. Their general character (with one exception) may be described as anti-heathen, perhaps missionary, but chiefly as Apocalyptic. They are attempts at taking up the key-note struck in the prophecies of Daniel; rather, we should say, to lift the veil only partially raised by him, and to point – alike as concerned Israel, and the kingdoms of the world – to the past, the present, and the future, in the light of the Kingship of the Messiah. Here, if anywhere, we might expect to find traces of New Testament teaching; and yet, side by side with frequent similarity of form, the greatest difference – we had almost said contrast – in spirit, prevails.

Many of these works must have perished. In one of the latest of them they are put down at seventy, probably a round number, having reference to the supposed number of the nations of the earth, or to every possible mode of interpreting Scripture. They are described as intended for ‘the wise among the people,’ probably those whom St. Paul, in the Christian sense, designates as ‘knowing the time,  of the Advent of the Messiah. Viewed in this light, they embody the ardent, aspirations and the inmost hopes of those who longed for the ‘consolation of Israel,’ as they understood it. Nor should we judge their personations of authorship according to our Western ideas Pseudonymic writings were common in that age and a Jew might perhaps plead that, even in the Old Testament, books had been headed by names which confessedly were not those of their authors (such as Samuel, Ru, Esther). If those inspired poets who sang in the spirit, and echoed the strains, of Asaph, adopted that designation, and the sons of Korah preferred to be known by that title, might not they, who could no longer claim the authority of inspiration seek attention for their utterances by adopting the names of those in whose spirit they professed to write?

The most interesting as well as the oldest of these books are those known as the Book of Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, the Psalter of Solomon, and the Book of Jubilees, or Little Genesis. Only the briefest notice of them can here find a place.

The Book of Enoch, the oldest parts of which date a century and a half before Christ, comes to us from Palestine. It professes to be a vision vouchsafed to that Patriarch, and tells of the fall of the Angels and its consequences, and of what he saw and heard in his rapt journeys through heaven and earth. Of deepest, though often sad, interest, is what it says of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the advent of Messiah and His Kingdom, and of the last things.

On the other hand, the Sibylline Oracles, of which the oldest portions date from about 160 b.c., come to us from Egypt. It is to the latter only that we here refer. Their most interesting parts are also the most characteristic. In them the ancient heathen myths of the first ages of man are welded together with Old Testament notices, while the heathen Theogony is recast in a Jewish mould. Thus Noah becomes Uranos, Shem Saturn, Ham Titan, and Japheth Japetus. Similarly, we have fragments of ancient heathen oracles, so to speak, recast in a Jewish edition. The strangest circumstance is, that the utterances of this Judaising and Jewish Sibyl seem to have passed as the oracles of the ancient Erythraean, which had predicted the fall of Troy, and as those of the Sibyl of Cumae, which, in the infancy of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus had deposited in the Capitol.

The collection of eighteen hymns known as the Psalter of Solomon dates from more than half a century before our era. No doubt the original was Hebrew, though they breathe a somewhat Hellenistic spirit. They express ardent Messianic aspirations, and a firm faith in the Resurrection, and in eternal rewards and punishments.

Different in character from the preceding works is The Book of Jubilees – so called from its chronological arrangement into ‘Jubilee-periods’ – or ‘Little Genesis.’ It is chiefly a kind of legendary supplement to the Book of Genesis, intended to explain some of its historic difficulties, and to fill up its historic lacunae. It was probably written about the time of Christ – and this gives it a special interest – by a Palestinian, and in Hebrew, or rather Aramaean. But, like the rest of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature which comes from Palestine, or was originally written in Hebrew, we possess it no longer in that language, but only in translation.

If from this brief review of Hellenist and Pseudepigraphic literature we turn to take a retrospect, we can scarcely fail to perceive, on the one hand, the development of the old, and on the other the preparation for the new – in other words, the grand expectancy awakened, and the grand preparation made. One step only remained to complete what Hellenism had already begun. That completion came through one who, although himself untouched by the Gospel, perhaps more than any other prepared alike his co-religionists the Jews, and his countrymen the Greeks, for the new teaching, which, indeed, was presented by many of its early advocates in the forms which they had learned from him. That man was Philo the Jew, of Alexandria. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 1, Chapter 4. Philo of Alexandria, the Rabbis, and the Gospels – The Final Development of Hellenism in its Relation to Rabbinism and the Gospel According to St. John.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

It is strange how little we know of the personal history of the greatest of uninspired Jewish writers of old, though he occupied so prominent a position in his time. Philo was born in Alexandria, about the year 20 before Christ. He was a descendant of Aaron, and belonged to one of the wealthiest and most influential families among the Jewish merchant-princes of Egypt. His brother was the political head of that community in Alexandria, and he himself on one occasion represented his co-religionists though unsuccessfully – at Rome, as the head of an embassy to entreat the Emperor Caligula for protection from the persecutions consequent on the Jewish resistance to placing statues of the Emperor in their Synagogues. But it is not with Philo, the wealthy aristocratic Jew of Alexandria, but with the great writer and thinker who, so to speak, completed Jewish Hellenism, that we have here to do. Let us see what was his relation alike to heathen Philosophy and to the Jewish faith, of both of which he was the ardent advocate, and how in his system he combined the teaching of the two.

To begin with, Philo united in rare measure Greek learning with Jewish enthusiasm. In his writings he very frequently uses classical modes of expression; he names not fewer than sixty-four Greek writers; and he either alludes to, or quotes frequently from, such sources as Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Solon, the great Greek tragedians, Plato, and others. But to him these men were scarcely ‘heathen.’ He had sat at their feet, and learned to weave a system from Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. The gatherings of these Philosophers were ‘holy,’ and Plato was ‘the great.’ But holier than all was the gathering of the true Israel; and incomparably greater than any, Moses. From him had all sages learned, and with him alone was all truth to be found – not, indeed, in the letter, but under the letter, of Holy Scripture. If in Num_23:19 we read ‘God is not a man,’ and in Deu_1:31 that the Lord was ‘as a man,’ did it not imply, on the one hand, the revelation of absolute truth by God, and, on the other, accommodation to those who were weak? Here, then, was the principle of a twofold interpretation of the Word of God – the literal and the allegorical. The letter of the text must be held fast; and Biblical personages and histories were real. But only narrow-minded slaves of the letter would stop here; the more so, as sometimes the literal meaning alone would be tame, even absurd; while the allegorical interpretation gave the true sense, even though it might occasionally run counter to the letter. Thus, the patriarchs represented states of the soul; and, whatever the letter might bear. Joseph represented one given to the fleshly, whom his brothers rightly hated; Simeon the soul aiming after the higher; the killing of the Egyptian by Moses, the subjugation of passion, and so on. But this allegorical interpretation – by the side of the literal (the pešat of the Palestinians) – though only for the few, was not arbitrary. It had its ‘laws,’ and ‘canons’ – some of which excluded the literal interpretation, while others admitted it by the side of the higher meaning.

To begin with the former: the literal sense must be wholly set aside, when it implied anything unworthy of the Deity, anything unmeaning, impossible, or contrary to reason. Manifestly, this canon, if strictly applied, would do away not only with all anthropomorphisms, but cut the knot wherever difficulties seemed insuperable. Again, Philo would find an allegorical, along with the literal, interpretation indicated in the reduplication of a word, and in seemingly superfluous words, particles, or expressions. These could, of course, only bear such a meaning on Philo’s assumption of the actual inspiration of the LXX. version. Similarly, in exact accordance with a Talmudical canon, any repetition of what had been already stated would point to something new. These were comparatively sober rules of exegesis. Not so the licence which he claimed of freely altering the punctuation of sentences, and his notion that, if one from among several synonymous words was chosen in a passage, this pointed to some special meaning attaching to it. Even more extravagant was the idea, that a word which occurred in the LXX. might be interpreted according to every shade of meaning which it bore in the Greek, and that even another meaning might be given it by slightly altering the letters. However, like other of Philo’s allegorical canons, these were also adopted by the Rabbis, and Haggadic interpretations were frequently prefaced by: ‘Read not thus – but thus.’ If such violence might be done to the text, we need not wonder at interpretations based on a play upon words, or even upon parts of a word. Of course, all seemingly strange or peculiar modes of expression, or of designation, occurring in Scripture, must have their special meaning, and so also every particle, adverb, or preposition. Again, the position of a verse, its succession by another, the apparently unaccountable presence or absence of a word, might furnish hints for some deeper meaning, and so would an unexpected singular for a plural, or vice versâ, the use of a tense, even the gender of a word. Most serious of all, an allegorical interpretation might be again employed as the basis of another.

We repeat, that these allegorical canons of Philo are essentially the same as those of Jewish traditionalism in the Haggadah, only the latter were not rationalising, and far more brilliant in their application. In another respect also the Palestinian had the advantage of the Alexandrian exegesis. Reverently and cautiously it indicated what might be omitted in public reading, and why; what expressions of the original might be modified by the Meturgeman, and how; so as to avoid alike one danger by giving a passage in its literality, and another by adding to the sacred text, or conveying a wrong impression of the Divine Being, or else giving occasion to the unlearned and unwary of becoming entangled in dangerous speculations. Jewish tradition here lays down some principles which would be of great practical use. Thus we are told, that Scripture uses the modes of expression common among men. This would, of course, include all anthropomorphisms. Again, sometimes with considerable ingenuity, a suggestion is taken from a word, such as that Moses knew the serpent was to be made of brass from the similarity of the two words (naḥaš, a serpent, and neḥošet, brass. Similarly, it is noted that Scripture uses euphemistic language, so as to preserve the greatest delicacy. These instances might be multiplied, but the above will suffice.

In his symbolical interpretations Philo only partially took the same road as the Rabbis. The symbolism of numbers and, so far as the Sanctuary was concerned, that of colours, and even materials, may, indeed, be said to have its foundation in the Old Testament itself. The same remark applies partially to that of names. The Rabbis certainly so interpreted them. But the application which Philo made of this symbolism was very different. Everything became symbolical in his hands, if it suited his purpose: numbers (in a very arbitrary manner), beasts, birds, fowls, creeping things, plants, stones, elements, substances, conditions, even sex – and so a term or an expression might even have several and contradictory meanings, from which the interpreter was at liberty to choose.

From the consideration of the method by which Philo derived from Scriptures his theological views, we turn to a brief analysis of these views.

1. Theology. – In reference to God, we find, side by side, the apparently contradictory views of the Platonic and the Stoic schools. Following the former, the sharpest distinction was drawn between God and the world. God existed neither in space, nor in time; He had neither human qualities nor affections; in fact, He was without any qualities (ἄποιος ), and even without any name (ἄῤῥητος ); hence, wholly uncognisable by man (ἀκατάληπτος ). Thus, changing the punctuation and the accents, the LXX. of Gen_3:9 was made to read: ‘Adam, thou art somewhere;’ but God had no somewhere, as Adam seemed to think when he hid himself from Him. In the above sense, also, Exo_3:14, and Exo_6:3, were explained, and the two names Elohim and Jehovah belonged really to the two supreme Divine ‘Potencies,’ while the fact of God’s being uncognisable appeared from Exo_20:21.

But side by side with this we have, to save the Jewish, or rather Old Testament, idea of creation and providence, the Stoic notion of God as immanent in the world – in fact, as that alone which is real in it, as always working: in short, to use his own Pantheistic expression, as ‘Himself one and the all’ (εἷς καὶ τὸ πᾶν). Chief in His Being is His goodness, the forthgoing of which was the ground of creation. Only the good comes from Him. With matter He can have nothing to do – hence the plural number in the account of creation. God only created the soul, and that only of the good. In the sense of being ‘immanent,’ God is everywhere – nay, all things are really only in Him, or rather He is the real in all. But chiefly is God the wellspring and the light of the soul – its ‘Saviour’ from the ‘Egypt’ of passion. Two things follow. With Philo’s ideas of the separation between God and matter, it was impossible always to account for miracles or interpositions. Accordingly, these are sometimes allegorised, sometimes rationalistically explained. Further, the God of Philo, whatever he might say to the contrary, was not the God of that Israel which was His chosen people.

2. Intermediary Beings. – Potencies (δυνάμεις, λόγοι). If, in what has preceded, we have once and again noticed a remarkable similarity between Philo and the Rabbis, there is a still more curious analogy between his teaching and that of Jewish Mysticism, as ultimately fully developed in the ‘Kabbalah,’ The very term Kabbalah (from qibel, to hand down) seems to point out not only its descent by oral tradition, but also its ascent to ancient sources. Its existence is presupposed, and its leading ideas are sketched in the Mishnah The Targums also bear at least one remarkable trace of it. May it not be, that as Philo frequently refers to ancient tradition, so both Eastern and Western Judaism may here have drawn from one and the same source – we will not venture to suggest, how high up – while each made such use of it as suited their distinctive tendencies? At any rate the Kabbalah also, likening Scripture to a person, compares those who study merely the letter, to them who attend only to the dress those who consider the moral of a fact, to them who attend to the body; while the initiated alone, who regard the hidden meaning, are those who attend to the soul. Again, as Philo, so the oldest part of the Mishnah designates God as maqom – ‘the place’ – the τόπος, the all-comprehending, what the Kabbalists called the en sop̱, ‘the boundless,’ that God, without any quality, Who becomes cognisable only by His manifestations.

The manifestations of God! But neither Eastern mystical Judaism, nor the Philosophy of Philo, could admit of any direct contact between God and creation. The Kabbalah solved the difficulty by their sep̱irot  or emanations from God, through which this contact was ultimately brought about, and of which the en sop̱, or crown, was the spring: ‘the source from which the infinite light issued.’ If Philo found greater difficulties, he had also more ready help from the Philosophical systems to hand. His sep̱irot were ‘Potencies’ (δυνάμεις), ‘Words’ (λόγοι), intermediate powers. ‘Potencies,’ as we imagine, when viewed Godwards; ‘Words,’ as viewed creationwards. They were not emanations, but, according to Plato, ‘archetypal ideas,’ on the model of which all that exists was formed; and also, according to the Stoic idea, the cause of all, pervading all, forming all, and sustaining all. Thus these ‘Potencies’ were wholly in God, and yet wholly out of God. If we divest all this of its Philosophical colouring, did not Eastern Judaism also teach that there was a distinction between the Unapproachable God, and God manifest?

Another remark will show the parallelism between Philo and Rabbinism. As the latter speaks of the two qualities (midot) of Mercy and Judgment in the Divine Being, and distinguishes between Elohim as the God of Justice, and Jehovah as the God of Mercy and Grace, so Philo places next to the Divine Word (θεῖος λόγος), Goodness (ἀγαθότης ), as the Creative Potency (ποιητικὴ δύναμις) and Power (ἑξουσία), as the Ruling Potency (βασιλικὴ δύναμις), proving this by a curious etymological derivation of the words for ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ (Θεός and κύριος) – apparently unconscious that the LXX., in direct contradiction, translated Jehovah by Lord (κύριος), and Elohim by God (Θέος)!. These two potencies of goodness and power, Philo sees in the two Cherubim, and in the two ‘Angels’ which accompanied God (the Divine Word), when on his way to destroy the cities of the plain. But there were more than these two Potencies. In one place Philo enumerates six, according to the number of the cities of refuge. The Potencies issued from God as the beams from the light, as the waters from the spring, as the breath from a person; they were immanent in God, and yet also without Him – motions on the part of God, and yet independent beings. They were the ideal world, which in its impulse outwards, meeting matter, produced this material world of ours. They were also the angels of God – His messengers to man, the media through whom He revealed Himself.

3. The Logos. – Viewed in its bearing on New Testament teaching, this part of Philo’s system raises the most interesting questions. But it is just here that our difficulties are greatest. We can understand the Platonic conception of the Logos as the ‘archetypal idea,’ and that of the Stoics as of the ‘world-reason’ pervading matter. Similarly, we can perceive, how the Apocrypha – especially the Book of Wisdom – following up the Old Testament typical truth concerning ‘Wisdom’ (as specially set forth in the Book of Proverbs) almost arrived so far as to present ‘Wisdom’ as a special ‘Subsistence’ (hypostatising it). More than this, in Talmudical writings, we find mention not only of the š̌em, or ‘Name,’ but also of the šekinah, God as manifest and present, which is sometimes also presented as the ruaḥ ha qodeš, or Holy Spirit. But in the Targumim we meet yet another expression, which, strange to say, never occurs in the Talmud. It is that of the memra, Logos, or ‘Word.’ Not that, the term is exclusively applied to the Divine Logos. But it stands out as perhaps the most remarkable fact in this literature, that God – not as in His permanent manifestation, or manifest Presence – but as revealing Himself, is designated memra. Altogether that term, as applied to God, occurs in the Targum Onkelos 179 times, in the so-called Jerusalem Targum 99 times, and in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 321 times. A critical analysis shows that in 82 instances in Onkelos, in 71 instances in the Jerusalem Targum, and in 213 instances in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, the designation memra is not only distinguished from God, but evidently refers to God as revealing Himself. But what does this imply? The distinction between God and the memra of Jehovah is marked in many passages. Similarly, the memra of Jehovah is distinguished from the šekinah. Nor is the term used instead of the sacred word Jehovah; nor for the well-known Old Testament expression ‘the Angel of the Lord;’ nor yet for the metatron of the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and of the Talmud. Does it then represent an older tradition underlying all these? Beyond this Rabbinic theology has not preserved to us the doctrine of Personal distinctions in the Godhead. And yet, if words have any meaning, the memra is a hypostasis, though the distinction of permanent, personal Subsistence is not marked. Nor yet, to complete this subject, is the memra identified with the Messiah. In the Targum Onkelos distinct mention is twice made of Him, while in the other Targumim no fewer than seventy-one Biblical passages are rendered with explicit reference to Him.

If we now turn to the views expressed by Philo about the Logos we find that they are hesitating and even contradictory. One thing, however, is plain: the Logos of Philo is not the memra of the Targumim. For, the expression memra ultimately rests on theological, that of Logos on Philosophical grounds. Again, the Logos of Philo approximates more closely to the metatron of the Talmud and Kabbalah. As they speak of him as the ‘Prince of the Face,’ who bore the name of his Lord, so Philo represents the Logos as ‘the eldest Angel,’ ‘the many-named Archangel,’ in accordance with the Jewish view that the name JeHoVaH unfolded its meaning in seventy names for the Godhead. As they speak of the ‘Adam Qadmon,’ so Philo of the Logos as the human reflection of the eternal God. And in both these respects, it is worthy of notice that he appeals to ancient teaching.

What, then, is the Logos of Philo? Not a concrete personality, and yet, from another point of view, not strictly impersonal, nor merely a property of the Deity, but the shadow, as it were, which the light of God casts – and if Himself light, only the manifested reflection of God, His spiritual, even as the world is His material, habitation. Moreover, the Logos is ‘the image of God’ (εἰκών), upon which man was made, or, to use the platonic term, ‘the archetypal idea,’ As regards the relation between the Logos and the two fundamental Potencies (from which all others issue), the latter are variously represented – on the one hand, as proceeding from the Logos; and on the other, as themselves constituting the Logos. As regards the world, the Logos is its real being. He is also its archetype; moreover the instrument (ὄργανον) through Whom God created all things. If the Logos separates between God and the world, it is rather as intermediary; He separates, but He also unites. But chiefly does this hold true as regards the relation between God and man. The Logos announces and interprets to man the will and mind of God (ἑρμηνεὺς καὶ προφήτης); He acts as mediator; He is the real High-Priest, and as such by His purity takes away the sins of man, and by His intercession procures for us the mercy of God. Hence Philo designates Him not only as the High-Priest, but as the ‘Paraclete.’ He is also the sun whose rays enlighten man, the medium of Divine revelation to the soul; the Manna, or support of spiritual life; He Who dwells in the soul. And so the Logos is, in the fullest sense, Melchisedek, the priest of the most high God, the king of righteousness (βασιλεὺς δίκαιος), and the king of Salem (βασιλεὺς εἰρήνης), Who brings righteousness and peace to the soul. But the Logos ‘does not come into any soul that is dead in sin.’ That there is close similarity of form between these Alexandrian views and much in the argumentation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, must be evident to all – no less than that there is the widest possible divergence in substance and spirit. The Logos of Philo is shadowy, unreal, not a Person; there is no need of an atonement; the High-Priest intercedes, but has no sacrifice to offer as the basis of His intercession, least of all that of Himself; the old Testament types are only typical ideas, not typical facts; they point to a Prototypal Idea in the eternal past, not to an Antitypal Person and Fact in history; there is no cleansing of the soul by blood, no sprinkling of the Mercy Seat, no access for all through the rent veil into the immediate Presence of God; nor yet a quickening of the soul from dead works to serve the living God. If the argumentation of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Alexandrian, it is an Alexandrianism which is overcome and past, which only furnishes the form, – not the substance, the vessel, not its contents. The closer therefore the outward similarity, the greater is the contrast in substance.

The vast difference between Alexandrianism and the New Testament will appear still more clearly in the views of Philo on Cosmology and Anthropology. In regard to the former, his results in some respects run parallel to those of the students of mysticism in the Talmud, and of the Kabbalists. Together with the Stoic view, which represented God as ‘the active cause’ of this world, and matter as ‘the passive,’ Philo holds the Platonic idea, that matter was something existent, and that it resisted God. Such speculations must have been current among the Jews long before, to judge by certain warnings given by the Son of Sirach.  And Stoic views of the origin of the world seem implied even in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon (1:7; 7:24; 8:1; 12:1). The mystics in the Talmud arrived at similar conclusions, not through Greek, but through Persian teaching. Their speculations boldly entered on the dangerous ground forbidden to the many, scarcely allowed to the few, where such deep questions as the origin of our world and its connection with God were discussed. It was, perhaps, only a beautiful poetic figure that God had taken of the dust under the throne of His glory, and cast it upon the waters, which thus became earth. But so far did isolated teachers become intoxicated by the new wine of these strange speculations, that they whispered it to one another that water was the original element of the world, which had successively been hardened into snow and then into earth.  Other and later teachers fixed upon the air or the fire as the original element, arguing the pre-existence of matter from the use of the word ‘made’ in Gen_1:7. instead of ‘created.’ Some modified this view, and suggested that God had originally created the three elements of water, air or spirit, and fire, from which all else was developed. Traces also occur of the doctrine of the pre-existence of things in a sense similar to that of Plato.

Like Plato and the Stoics, Philo regarded matter as devoid of all quality, and even form. Matter in itself was dead – more than that, it was evil. This matter, which was already existing, God formed (not made), like an architect who uses his materials according to a pre-existing plan – which in this case was the archetypal world.

This was creation, or rather formation, brought about not by God Himself, but by the Potencies, especially by the Logos, Who was the connecting bond of all. As for God, His only direct work was the soul, and that only of the good, not of the evil. Man’s immaterial part had a twofold aspect: earthwards, as Sensuousness (αἴσθησις); and heavenwards, as Reason (νοῦς). The sensuous part of the soul was connected with the body. It had no heavenly past, and would have no future. But ‘Reason’ (νοῦς) was that breath of true life which God had breathed into man (πνεῦμα) whereby the earthy became the higher, living spirit, with its various faculties. Before time began the soul was without body, an archetype, the ‘heavenly man,’ pure spirit in Paradise (virtue), yet even so longing after its ultimate archetype, God. Some of these pure spirits descended into bodies and so lost their purity. Or else, the union was brought about by God and by powers lower than God (daemons, δημιουργοί). To the latter is due our earthly part. God breathed on the formation, and the ‘earthly Reason’ became ‘intelligent’ ‘spiritual’ soul (ψυχὴ νοερά). Our earthly part alone is the seat of sin.

This leads us to the great question of Original Sin. Here the views of Philo are those of the Eastern Rabbis. But both are entirely different from those on which the argument in the Epistle to the Romans turns. It was neither at the feet of Gamaliel, nor yet from Jewish Hellenism, that Saul of Tarsus learned the doctrine of original sin. The statement that as in Adam all spiritually died, so in Messiah all should be made alive, finds absolutely no parallel in Jewish writings. What may be called the starting point of Christian theology, the doctrine of hereditary guilt and sin, through the fall of Adam, and of the consequent entire and helpless corruption of our nature, is entirely unknown to Rabbinical Judaism. The reign of physical death was indeed traced to the sin of our first parents. But the Talmud expressly teaches, that God originally created man with two propensities, one to good and one to evil (yeṣer tob, and yeṣer hara ). The evil impulse began immediately after birth.  But it was within the power of man to vanquish sin, and to attain perfect righteousness; in fact, this stage had actually been attained.

Similarly, Philo regarded the soul of the child as ‘naked’ (Adam and Eve), a sort of tabula rasa, as wax which God would fain form and mould. But this state ceased when ‘affection’ presented itself to reason, and thus sensuous lust arose, which was the spring of all sin. The grand task, then, was to get rid of the sensuous, and to rise to the spiritual. In this, the ethical part of his system, Philo was most under the influence of Stoic Philosophy. We might almost say, it is no longer the Hebrew who Hellenises, but the Hellene who Hebraises. And yet it is here also that the most ingenious and wide-reaching allegorisms of Scripture are introduced. It is scarcely possible to convey an idea of how brilliant this method becomes in the hands of Philo, how universal its application, or how captivating it must have proved. Philo describes man’s state as, first one of senstiousness, but also of unrest, misery and unsatisfied longing. If persisted in, it would end in complete spiritual insensibility. But from this state the soul must pass to one of devotion to reason. This change might be accomplished in one of three ways: first, by study – of which physical was the lowest; next, that which embraced the ordinary circle of knowledge; and lastly, the highest, that of Divine Philosophy. The second method was Askesis: discipline, or practice, when the soul turned from the lower to the higher. But the best of all was the third way: the free unfolding of that spiritual life which cometh neither from study nor discipline, but from a natural good disposition. And in that state the soul had true rest and joy.

Here we must for the present pause. Brief as this sketch of Hellenism has been, it must have brought the question vividly before the mind, whether and how far certain parts of the New Testament, especially the fourth Gospel, are connected with the direction of thought described in the preceding pages. Without yielding to that school of critics, whose perverse ingenuity discerns everywhere a sinister motive or tendency in the Evangelic writers, it is evident that each of them had a special object in view in constructing his narrative of the One Life; and primarily addressed himself to a special audience. If, without entering into elaborate discussion, we might, according to Luk_1:2, regard the narrative of St. Mark as the grand representative of that authentic ‘narration’ (διήγησις), though not by Apostles, which was in circulation, and the Gospel by St. Matthew as representing the ‘tradition’ handed down (the παράδοσις), by the Apostolic eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, we should reach the following results. Our oldest Gospel-narrative is that by St. Mark, which, addressing itself to no class in particular, sketches in rapid outlines the picture of Jesus as the Messiah, alike for all men. Next in order of time comes our present Gospel by St. Matthew. It goes a step further back than that by St. Mark, and gives not only the genealogy, but the history of the miraculous birth of Jesus. Even if we had not the consensus of tradition, every one must feel that this Gospel is Hebrew in its cast, in its citations from the Old Testament, and in its whole hearing. Taking its key-note from the Book of Daniel, that grand Messianic text-book of Eastern Judaism at the time, and as re-echoed in the Book of Enoch – which expresses the popular apprehension of Daniel’s Messianic idea – it presents the Messiah chiefly as ‘the Son of Man,’ ‘the Son of David,’ ‘the Son of God.’ We have here the fulfilment of Old Testament law and prophecy; the realisation of Old Testament life, faith, and hope. Third in point of time is the Gospel by St. Luke, which, passing back another step, gives us not only the history of the birth of Jesus, but also that of John, ‘the preparer of the way.’ It is Pauline, and addresses itself, or rather, we should say, presents the Person of the Messiah, it may be ‘to the Jew first,’ but certainly ‘also to the Greek.’ The term which St. Luke, alone of all Gospel writers, applies to Jesus, is that of the παῖς  or ‘servant’ of God, in the sense in which Isaiah has spoken of the Messiah as the ‘eḇed jehovah,’ ‘servant of the Lord,’ St. Luke’s is, so to speak, the Isaiah-Gospel, presenting the Christ in His bearing on the history of God’s Kingdom and of the world – as God’s Elect Servant in Whom He delighted. In the Old Testament, to adopt a beautiful figure, the idea of the Servant of the Lord is set before us like a pyramid: at its base it is all Israel, at its central section Israel after the Spirit (the circumcised in heart), represented by David, the man after God’s own heart; while at its apex it is the ‘Elect’ Servant, the Messiah. And these three ideas, with their sequences, are presented in the third Gospel as centring in Jesus the Messiah. By the side of this pyramid is the other: the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Son of God. The Servant of the Lord of Isaiah and of Luke is the Enlightener, the Consoler, the victorious Deliverer; the Messiah or Anointed: the Prophet, the Priest, the King.

Yet another tendency – shall we say, want? – remained, so to speak, unmet and unsatisfied. That large world of latest and most promising Jewish thought, whose task it seemed to bridge over the chasm between heathenism and Judaism – the Western Jewish world, must have the Christ presented to them. For in every direction is He the Christ. And not only they, but that larger Greek world, so far as Jewish Hellenism could bring it to the threshold of the Church. This Hellenistic and Hellenic world now stood in waiting to enter it, though as it were by its northern porch, and to be baptized at its font. All this must have forced itself on the mind of St. John, residing in the midst of them at Ephesus, even as St. Paul’s Epistles contain almost as many allusions to Hellenism as to Rabbinism. And so the fourth Gospel became, not the supplement, but the complement, of the other three. There is no other Gospel more Palestinian than this in its modes of expression, allusions, and references. Yet we must all feel how thoroughly Hellenistic it also is in its cast in what it reports and what it omits – in short, in its whole aim; how adapted to Hellenist wants its presentation of deep central truths; how suitably, in the report of His Discourses – even so far as their form is concerned – the promise was here fulfilled, of bringing all things to remembrance whatsoever He had said. It is the true Light which shineth, of which the full meridian-blaze lies on the Hellenist and Hellenic world. There is Alexandrian form of thought not only in the whole conception, but in the Logos, and in His presentation as the Light, the Life, the Wellspring of the world. But these forms are filled in the fourth Gospel with quite other substance. God is not afar off, uncognisable by man, without properties, without name. He is the Father. Instead of a nebulous reflection of the Deity we have the Person of the Logos; not a Logos with the two potencies of goodness and power, but full of grace and truth. The Gospel of St. John also begins with a ‘berešit’ – but it is the theological, not the cosmic berešit, when the Logos was with God and was God. Matter is not pre-existent; far less is it evil. St. John strikes the pen through Alexandrianism when he lays it down as the fundamental fact of New Testament history that ‘the Logos was made flesh,’ just as St. Paul does when he proclaims the great mystery of ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ Best of all, it is not by a long course of study, nor by wearing discipline, least of all by an inborn good disposition, that the soul attains the new life, but by a birth from above, by the Holy Ghost, and by simple faith which is brought within reach of the fallen and the lost.

Philo had no successor. In him Hellenism had completed its cycle. Its message and its mission were ended. Henceforth it needed, like Apollos, its great representative in the Christian Church, two things: the baptism of John to the knowledge of sin and need, and to have the way of God more perfectly expounded. On the other hand, Eastern Judaism had entered with Hillel on a new stage. This direction led farther and farther away from that which the New Testament had taken in following up and unfolding the spiritual elements of the Old. That development was incapable of transformation or renovation. It must go on to its final completion – and be either true, or else be swept away and destroyed. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 1, Chapter 5. Alexandria and Rome – The Jewish Communities in the Capitals of Western Civilisation.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

We have spoken of Alexandria as the capital of the Jewish world in the West. Antioch was, indeed, nearer to Palestine, and its Jewish population – including the floating part of it – as numerous as that of Alexandria. But the wealth, the thought, and the influence of Western Judaism centred in the modern capital of the land of the Pharaohs. In those days Greece was the land of the past, to which the student might resort as the home of beauty and of art, the time-hallowed temple of thought and of poetry. But it was also the land of desolateness and of ruins, where fields of corn waved over the remains of classic antiquity. The ancient Greeks had in great measure sunk to a nation of traders, in keen competition with the Jews. Indeed, Roman sway had levelled the ancient world, and buried its national characteristics. It was otherwise in the far East; it was otherwise also in Egypt. Egypt was not a land to be largely inhabited, or to be ‘civilised’ in the then sense of the term: soil, climate, history, nature forbade it. Still, as now, and even more than now, was it the dream-land of untold attractions to the traveller. The ancient, mysterious Nile still rolled its healing waters out into the blue sea, where (so it was supposed) they changed its taste within a radius farther than the eye could reach. To be gently borne in bark or ship on its waters, to watch the strange vegetation and fauna of its banks; to gaze beyond, where they merged into the trackless desert; to wander under the shade of its gigantic monuments, or within the wierd avenues of its colossal temples, to see the scroll of mysterious hieroglyphics; to note the sameness of manner and of people as of old, and to watch the unique rites of its ancient religion – this was indeed to be again in the old far-away world, and that amidst a dreaminess bewitching the senses, and a gorgeousness dazzling the imagination.

We are still far out at sea, making for the port of Alexandria the only safe shelter all along the coast of Asia and Africa. Quite thirty miles out the silver sheen of the lighthouse on the island of Pharos – connected by a mole with Alexandria – is burning like a star on the edge of the horizon. Now we catch sight of the palmgroves of Pharos; presently the anchor rattles and grates on the sand, and we are ashore. What a crowd of vessels of all sizes, shapes, and nationalities; what a multitude of busy people; what a very Babel of languages; what a commingling of old and new world civilisation; and what a variety of wares piled up, loading or unloading!

Alexandria itself was not an old Egyptian, but a comparatively modern city; in Egypt and yet not of Egypt. Everything was in character – the city, its inhabitants, public life, art, literature, study, amusements, the very aspect of the place. Nothing original anywhere, but combination of all that had been in the ancient world, or that was at the time – most fitting place therefore to be the capital of Jewish Hellenism.

As its name indicates, the city was founded by Alexander the Great. It was built in the form of an open fan, or rather, of the outspread cloak of a Macedonian horseman. Altogether, it measured (16,360 paces) 3,160 paces more than Rome; but its houses were neither so crowded nor so many-storied. It had been a large city when Rome was still inconsiderable, and to the last held the second place in the Empire. One of the five quarters into which the city was divided, and which were named according to the first letters of the alphabet, was wholly covered by the royal palaces, with their gardens, and similar buildings, including the royal mausoleum, where the body of Alexander the Great, preserved in honey, was kept in a glass coffin. But these, and its three miles of colonnades along the principal high-way, were only some of the magnificent architectural adornments of a city full of palaces. The population amounted, probably, to nearly a million, drawn from the East and West by trade, the attractions of wealth, the facilities for study, or the amusements of a singularly frivolous city. A strange mixture of elements among the people, combining the quickness and versatility of the Greek with the gravity, the conservatism, the dream-grandeur, and the luxury of the Eastern.

Three worlds met in Alexandria: Europe, Asia, and Africa; and brought to it, or fetched from it, their treasures. Above all, it was a commercial city, furnished with an excellent harbour – or rather with five harbours. A special fleet carried, as tribute, from Alexandria to Italy, two-tenths of the corn produce of Egypt, which sufficed to feed the capital for four months of the year. A magnificent fleet it was, from the light quick sailer to those immense corn-ships which hoisted a special flag, and whose early arrival was awaited at Puteoli with more eagerness than that of any modern ocean-steamer. The commerce of India was in the hands of the Alexandrian shippers. Since the days of the Ptolemies the Indian trade alone had increased six-fold. Nor was the native industry inconsiderable. Linen goods, to suit the tastes or costumes of all countries; woolen stuffs of every hue, some curiously wrought with figures, and even scenes; glass of every shade and in every shape; paper from the thinnest sheet to the coarsest packing paper; essences, perfumeries – such were the native products. However idly or luxuriously inclined, still every one seemed busy, in a city where (as the Emperor Hadrian expressed it) ‘money was the people’s god;’ and every one seemed well-to-do in his own way, from the waif in the streets, who with little trouble to himself could pick up sufficient to go to the restaurant and enjoy a comfortable dinner of fresh or smoked fish with garlic, and his pudding, washed down with the favourite Egyptian barley beer, up to the millionaire banker, who owned a palace in the city and a villa by the canal that connected Alexandria with Canobus. What a jostling crowd of all nations in the streets, in the market (where, according to the joke of a contemporary, anything might be got except snow), or by the harbours; what cool shades, delicious retreats, vast halls, magnificent libraries, where the savants of Alexandria assembled and taught every conceivable branch of learning, and its far-famed physicians prescribed for the poor consumptive patients sent thither from all parts of Italy! What bustle and noise among that ever excitable, chatty, conceited, vain, pleasure-loving multitude, whose highest enjoyment was the theatre and singers; what scenes on that long canal to Canobus, lined with luxurious inns, where barks full of pleasure-seekers revelled in the cool shade of the banks, or sped to Canobus, that scene of all dissipation and luxury, proverbial even in those days! And yet, close by, on the shores of Lake Mareotis, as if in grim contrast, were the chosen retreats of that sternly ascetic Jewish party, the Therapeutae, whose views and practices in so many points were kindred to those of the Essenes in Palestine!

This sketch of Alexandria will help us to understand the surroundings of the large mass of Jews settled in the Egyptian capital. Altogether more than an eighth of the population of the country (one million in 7,800,000) was Jewish. Whether or not a Jewish colony had gone into Egypt at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, or even earlier, the great mass of its residents had been attracted by Alexander the Great, who had granted the Jews equally exceptional privileges with the Macedonians. The later troubles of Palestine under the Syrian kings greatly swelled their number, the more so that the Ptolemies, with one exception, favoured them. Originally a special quarter had been assigned to the Jews in the city – the ‘Delta’ by the eastern harbour and the Canobus canal – probably alike to keep the community separate, and from its convenience for commercial purposes. The privileges which the Ptolemies had accorded to the Jews were confirmed, and even enlarged, by Julius Caesar. The export trade in grain was now in their hands, and the harbour and river police committed to their charge. Two quarters in the city are named as specially Jewish – not, however, in the sense of their being confined to them. Their Synagogues, surrounded by shady trees, stood in all parts of the city. But the chief glory of the Jewish community in Egypt, of which even the Palestinians boasted, was the great central Synagogue, built in the shape of a basilica, with double colonnade, and so large that it needed a signal for those most distant to know the proper moment for the responses. The different trade guilds sat there together, so that a stranger would at once know where to find Jewish employers or fellow-workmen. In the choir of this Jewish cathedral stood seventy chairs of state, encrusted with precious stones, for the seventy elders who constituted the eldership of Alexandria, on the model of the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.

It is a strange, almost inexplicable fact, that the Egyptian Jews had actually built a schismatic Temple. During the terrible Syrian persecutions in Palestine Onias, the son of the murdered High-Priest Onias III., had sought safety in Egypt. Ptolemy Philometor not only received him kindly, but gave a disused heathen temple in the town of Leontopolis for a Jewish sanctuary. Here a new Aaronic priesthood ministered, their support being derived from the revenues of the district around. The new Temple, however, resembled not that of Jerusalem either in outward appearance nor in all its internal fittings. At first the Egyptian Jews were very proud of their new sanctuary, and professed to see in it the fulfilment of the prediction, that five cities in the land of Egypt should speak the language of Canaan, of which one was to be called Ir-ha-Heres, which the LXX. (in their original form, or by some later emendation) altered into ‘the city of righteousness.’ This temple continued from about 160 b.c. to shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. It could scarcely be called a rival to that on Mount Moriah, since the Egyptian Jews also owned that of Jerusalem as their central sanctuary, to which they made pilgrimages and brought their contributions, while the priests at Leontopolis, before marrying, always consulted the official archives in Jerusalem to ascertain the purity of descent of their intended wives. The Palestinians designated it contemptuously as ‘the house of Chonyi’ (Onias), and declared the priesthood of Leontopolis incapable of serving in Jerusalem, although on a par with those who were disqualified only by some bodily defect. Offerings brought in Leontopolis were considered null, unless in the case of vows to which the name of this Temple had been expressly attached. This qualified condemnation seems, however, strangely mild, except on the supposition that the statements we have quoted only date from a time when both Temples had long passed away.

Nor were such feelings unreasonable. The Egyptian Jews had spread on all sides – southward to Abyssinia and Ethiopian, and westward to and beyond, the province of Cyrene. In the city of that name they formed one of the four classes into which its inhabitants were divided. A Jewish inscription at Berenice, apparently dating from the year 13 b.c., shows that the Cyrenian Jews formed a distinct community under nine ‘rulers’ of their own, who no doubt attended to the communal affairs – not always an easy matter, since the Cyrenian Jews were noted, if not for turbulence, yet for strong anti- Roman feeling, which more than once was cruelly quenched in blood. Other inscriptions prove, that in other places of their dispersion also the Jews had their own Archontes or ‘rulers,’ while the special direction of public worship was always entrusted to the Archisynagogos, or ‘chief ruler of the Synagogue,’ both titles occurring side by side. It is, to say the least, very doubtful, whether the High-Priest at Leontopolis was ever regarded as, in any real sense, the head of the Jewish community in Egypt. In Alexandria, the Jews were under the rule of a Jewish ethnarch, whose authority was similar to that of ‘the Archon’ of independent cities. But his authority was transferred, by Augustus, to the whole ‘eldership.’ Another, probably Roman, office, though for obvious reasons often filled by Jews, was that of the alabarch, or rather arabarch, who was set over the Arab population. Among others, Alexander, the brother of Philo, held this post. If we may judge of the position of the wealthy Jewish families in Alexandria by that of this alabarch, their influence must have been very great. The firm of Alexander was probably as rich as the great Jewish banking and shipping house of Saramalla in Antioch. Its chief was entrusted with the management of the affairs of Antonia, the much respected sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius. It was a small thing for such a man to lend King Agrippa, when his fortunes were very low, a sum of about 7,000l. with which to resort to Italy, since he advanced it on the guarantee of Agrippa’s wife, whom he highly esteemed, and at the same time made provision that the money should not be all spent before the Prince met the Emperor. Besides, he had his own plans in the matter. Two of his sons married daughters of King Agrippa; while a third, at the price of apostasy, rose successively to the posts of Procurator of Palestine, and finally of Governor of Egypt. The Temple at Jerusalem bore evidence of the wealth and munificence of this Jewish millionaire. The gold and silver with which the nine massive gates were covered, which led into the Temple, were the gift of the great Alexandrian banker.

The possession of such wealth, coupled no doubt with pride and self-assertion, and openly spoken contempt of the superstitions around, would naturally excite the hatred of the Alexandrian populace against the Jews. The greater number of those silly stories about the origin, early history, and religion of the Jews, which even the Philosophers and historians of Rome record as genuine, originated in Egypt. A whole series of writers, beginning with Manetho, made it their business to give a kind of historical travesty of the events recorded in the books of Moses. The boldest of these scribblers was Apion, to whom Josephus replied – a world-famed charlatan and liar, who wrote or lectured, with equal presumption and falseness, on every conceivable object. He was just the man to suit the Alexandrians, on whom his unblushing assurance imposed. In Rome he soon found his level, and the Emperor Tiberius well characterised the irrepressible boastful talker as the ‘tinkling cymbal of the world.’ He had studied, seen, and heard everything – even, on three occasions, the mysterious sound on the Colossus of Memnon, as the sun rose upon it! At least, so he graved upon the Colossus itself, for the information of all generations. Such was the man on whom the Alexandrians conferred the freedom of their city, to whom they entrusted their most important affairs, and whom they extolled as the victorious, the laborious, the new Homer. There can be little doubt, that the popular favour was partly due to Apion’s virulent attacks upon the Jews. His grotesque accounts of their history and religion held them up to contempt. But his real object was to rouse the fanaticism of the populace against the Jews. Every year, so he told them, it was the practice of the Jews to get hold of some unfortunate Hellene, whom ill-chance might bring into their hands, to fatten him for the year, and then to sacrifice him, partaking of his entrails, and burying the body, while during these horrible rites they took a fearful oath of perpetual enmity to the Greeks. These were the people who battened on the wealth of Alexandria, who had usurped quarters of the city to which they had no right, and claimed exceptional privileges; a people who had proved traitors to, and the ruin of every one who had trusted them. ‘If the Jews,’ he exclaimed, ‘are citizens of Alexandria, why do they not worship the same gods as the Alexandrians?’ And, if they wished to enjoy the protection of the Caesars, why did they not erect statues, and pay Divine honor to them? There is nothing strange in these appeals to the fanaticism of mankind. In one form or another, they have only too often been repeated in all lands and ages, and, alas! by the representatives of all creeds. Well might the Jews, as Philo mourns, wish no better for themselves than to be treated like other men!

We have already seen, that the ideas entertained in Rome about the Jews were chiefly derived from Alexandrian sources. But it is not easy to understand, how a Tacitus, Cicero, or Pliny could have credited such absurdities as that the Jews had come from Crete (Mount Ida – Idaei = Judaei), been expelled on account of leprosy from Egypt, and emigrated under an apostate priest, Moses; or that the Sabbath-rest originated in sores, which had obliged the wanderers to stop short on the seventh day; or that the Jews worshipped the head of an ass, or else Bacchus; that their abstinence from swine’s flesh was due to remembrance and fear of leprosy, or else to the worship of that animal – and other puerilities of the like kind. The educated Roman regarded the Jew with a mixture of contempt and anger, all the more keen that, according to his notions, the Jew had, since his subjection to Rome, no longer a right to his religion; and all the more bitter that, do what he might, that despised race confronted him everywhere, with a religion so uncompromising as to form a wall of separation, and with rites so exclusive as to make them not only strangers, but enemies. Such a phenomenon was nowhere else to be encountered. The Romans were intensely practical. In their view, political life and religion were not only intertwined, but the one formed part of the other. A religion apart from a political organisation, or which offered not, as a quid pro quo, some direct return from the Deity to his votaries, seemed utterly inconceivable. Every country has its own religion, argued Cicero, in his appeal for Flaccus. So long as Jerusalem was unvanquished, Judaism might claim toleration; but had not the immortal gods shown what they thought of it, when the Jewish race was conquered? This was a kind of logic that appealed to the humblest in the crowd, which thronged to hear the great orator defending his client, among others, against the charge of preventing the transport from Asia to Jerusalem of the annual Temple-tribute. This was not a popular accusation to bring against a man in such an assembly. And as the Jews – who, to create a disturbance, had (we are told) distributed themselves among the audience in such numbers, that Cicero somewhat rhetorically declared, he would fain have spoken with bated breath, so as to be only audible to the judges – listened to the great orator, they must have felt a keen pang shoot to their hearts while he held them up to the scorn of the heathen, and touched, with rough finger, their open sore, as he urged the ruin of their nation as the one unanswerable argument, which Materialism could bring against the religion of the Unseen.

And that religion – was it not, in the words of Cicero, ‘a barbarous superstition,’ and were not its adherents, as Pliny had it, a ‘race distinguished for its contempt of the gods?’ To begin with their theology. The Roman Philosopher would sympathise with disbelief of all spiritual realities, as, on the other hand, he could understand the popular modes of worship and superstition. But what was to be said for a worship of something quite unseen, an adoration, as it seemed to him, of the clouds and of the sky, without any visible symbol, conjoined with an utter rejection of every other form of religion – Asiatic, Egyptian, Greek, Roman – and the refusal even to pay the customary Divine honor to the Ceasars, as the incarnation of Roman power? Next, as to their rites. Foremost among them was the initiatory rite of circumcision, a constant subject for coarse jests. What could be the meaning of it; or of what seemed like some ancestral veneration for the pig, or dread of it, since they made it a religious duty not to partake of its flesh? Their Sabbath-observance, however it had originated, was merely an indulgence in idleness. The fast young Roman literati would find their amusement in wandering on the Sabbath-eve through the tangled, narrow streets of the Ghetto, watching how the dim lamp within shed its unsavory light, while the inmates mumbled prayers ‘with blanched lips;’ or they would, like Ovid, seek in the Synagogue occasion for their dissolute amusements. The Thursday fast was another target for their wit. In short, at the best, the Jew was a constant theme of popular merriment, and the theatre would resound with laughter as his religion was lampooned, no matter how absurd the stories, or how poor the punning.

And then, as the proud Roman passed on the Sabbath through the streets, Judaism would obtrude itself upon his notice, by the shops that were shut, and by the strange figures that idly moved about in holiday attire. They were strangers in a strange land, not only without sympathy with what passed around, but with marked contempt and abhorrence of it, while there was that about their whole bearing, which expressed the unspoken feeling, that the time of Rome’s fall, and of their own supremacy, was at hand. To put the general feeling in the words of Tacitus, the Jews kept close together, and were ever most liberal to one another; but they were filled with bitter hatred of all others. They would neither eat nor sleep with strangers; and the first thing which they taught their proselytes was to despise the gods, to renounce their own country, and to rend the bonds which had bound them to parents, children or kindred. To be sure, there was some ground of distorted truth in these charges. For, the Jew, as such, was only intended for Palestine. By a necessity, not of his own making, he was now, so to speak, the negative element in the heathen world; yet one which, do what he might, would always obtrude itself upon public notice. But the Roman satirists went further. They accused the Jews of such hatred of all other religionists, that they would not even show the way to any who worshipped otherwise, nor point out the cooling spring to the thirsty. According to Tacitus, there was a political and religious reason for this. In order to keep the Jews separate from all other nations, Moses had given them rites, contrary to those of any other race, that they might regard as unholy what was sacred to others, and as lawful what they held in abomination. Such a people deserved neither consideration nor pity; and when the historian tells how thousands of their number had been banished by Tiberius to Sardinia, he dismisses the probability of their perishing in that severe climate with the cynical remark, that it entailed a ‘poor loss’ (vile damnum).

Still, the Jew was there in the midst of them. It is impossible to fix the date when the first Jewish wanderers found their way to the capital of the world. We know, that in the wars under Pompey, Cassius, and Antonius, many were brought captive to Rome, and sold as slaves. In general, the Republican party was hostile, the Caesars were friendly, to the Jews. The Jewish slaves in Rome proved an unprofitable and troublesome acquisition. They clung so tenaciously to their ancestral customs, that it was impossible to make them conform to the ways of heathen households. How far they would carry their passive resistance, appears from a story told by Josephus, about some Jewish priests of his acquaintance, who, during their captivity in Rome, refused to eat anything but figs and nuts, so as to avoid the defilement of Gentile food. Their Roman masters deemed it prudent to give their Jewish slaves their freedom, either at a small ransom, or even without it. These freedmen (liberti) formed the nucleus of the Jewish community in Rome, and in great measure determined its social character. Of course they were, as always, industrious, sober, pushing. In course of time many of them acquired wealth. By-and-by Jewish immigrants of greater distinction swelled their number. Still their social position was inferior to that of their co-religionists in other lands. A Jewish population so large as 40,000 in the time of Augustus, and 60,000 in that of Tiberius, would naturally include all ranks – merchants, bankers, literati, even actors. In a city which offered such temptations, they would number among them those of every degree of religious profession; nay, some who would not only imitate the habits of those around, but try to outdo their gross licentiousness. Yet, even so, they would vainly endeavor to efface the hateful mark of being Jews.

Augustus had assigned to the Jews as their special quarter the ‘fourteenth region’ across the Tiber, which stretched from the slope of the Vatican onwards and across the Tiber-island, where the boats from Ostia were wont to unload. This seems to have been their poor quarter, chiefly inhabited by hawkers, sellers of matches, glass, old clothes and second-hand wares. The Jewish burying-ground in that quarter gives evidence of their condition. The whole appointments and the graves are mean. There is neither marble nor any trace of painting, unless it be a rough representation of the seven-branched candlestick in red coloring. Another Jewish quarter was by the Porta Capena, where the Appian Way entered the city. Close by, the ancient sanctuary of Egeria was utilized at the time of Juvenal as a Jewish hawking place. But there must have been richer Jews also in that neighborhood, since the burying-place there discovered has paintings – some even of mythological figures, of which the meaning has not yet been ascertained. A third Jewish burying-ground was near the ancient Christian catacombs.

But indeed, the Jewish residents in Rome must have spread over every quarter of the city – even the best-to judge by the location of their Synagogues. From inscriptions, we have been made acquainted not only with the existence, but with the names, of not fewer than seven of these Synagogues. Three of them respectively bear the names of Augustus, Agrippa, and Volumnius, either as their patrons, or because the worshippers were chiefly their attendants and clients; while two of them derived their names from the Campus Martius, and the quarter Subura in which they stood. The ‘Synagoge Elaias’ may have been so called from bearing on its front the device of an olive-tree, a favourite, and in Rome specially significant, emblem of Israel, whose fruit, crushed beneath heavy weight, would yield the precious oil by which the Divine light would shed its brightness through the night of heathendom. Of course, there must have been other Synagogues besides those whose names have been discovered.

One other mode of tracking the footsteps of Israel’s wanderings seems strangely significant. It is by tracing their records among the dead, reading them on broken tombstones, and in ruined monuments. They are rude, and the inscriptions – most of them in bad Greek, or still worse Latin, none in Hebrew – are like the stammering of strangers. Yet what a contrast between the simple faith and earnest hope which they express, and the grim proclamation of utter disbelief in any future to the soul, not unmixed with language of coarsest materialism, on the graves of so many of the polished Romans! Truly the pen of God in history has, as so often, ratified the sentence which a nation had pronounced upon itself. That civilisation was doomed which could inscribe over its dead such words as: ‘To eternal sleep;’ ‘To perpetual rest;’ or more coarsely express it thus, ‘I was not, and I became; I was, and am no more. Thus much is true; who says other, lies; for I shall not be,’ adding, as it were by way of moral, ‘And thou who livest, drink, play, come.’ Not so did God teach His people; and, as we pick our way among these broken stones, we can understand how a religion, which proclaimed a hope so different, must have spoken to the hearts of many even at Rome, and much more, how that blessed assurance of life and immortality, which Christianity afterwards brought, could win its thousands, though it were at the cost of poverty, shame, torture, and the arena.

Wandering from graveyard to graveyard, and deciphering the records of the dead, we can almost read the history of Israel in the days of the Caesars, or when Paul the prisoner set foot on the soil of Italy. When St. Paul, on the journey of the ‘Castor and Pollux,’ touched at Syracuse, he would, during his stay of three days, find himself in the midst of a Jewish community, as we learn from an inscription. When he disembarked at Puteoli, he was in the oldest Jewish settlement next to that of Rome, where the loving hospitality of Christian Israelites constrained him to tarry over a Sabbath. As he ‘went towards Rome,’ and reached Capua, he would meet Jews there, as we infer from the tombstone of one ‘Alfius Juda,’ who had been ‘Archon’ of the Jews, and ‘Archisynagogus’ in Capua. As he neared the city, he found in Anxur (Terracina) a Synagogue. In Rome itself the Jewish community was organized as in other places. It sounds strange, as after these many centuries we again read the names of the Archons of their various Synagogues, all Roman, such as Claudius, Asteris, Julian (who was Archon alike of the Campesian and the Agrippesian Synagogue priest, the son of Julian the Archisynagogus, or chief of the eldership of the Augustesian Synagogue). And so in other places. On these tombstones we find names of Jewish Synagogue-dignitaries, in every centre of population – in Pompeii, in Venusia, the birthplace of Horace; in Jewish catacombs; and similarly Jewish inscriptions in Africa, in Asia, in the islands of the Mediterranean, in Aegina, in Patrae, in Athens. Even where as yet records of their early settlements have not been discovered, we still infer their presence, as we remember the almost incredible extent of Roman commerce, which led to such large settlements in Britain, or as we discover among the tombstones those of ‘Syrian’ merchants, as in Spain (where St. Paul hoped to preach, no doubt, also to his own countrymen), throughout Gaul, and even in the remotest parts of Germany. Thus the statements of Josephus and of Philo, as to the dispersion of Israel throughout all lands of the known world, are fully borne out.

But the special importance of the Jewish community in Rome lay in its contiguity to the seat of the government of the world, where every movement could be watched and influenced, and where it could lend support to the wants and wishes of that compact body which, however widely scattered, was one in heart and feeling, in thought and purpose, in faith and practice, in suffering and in prosperity. Thus, when upon the death of Herod a deputation from Palestine appeared in the capital to seek the restoration of their Theocracy under a Roman protectorate, no less than 8,000 of the Roman Jews joined it. And in case of need they could find powerful friends, not only among the Herodian princes, but among court favourites who were Jews, like the actor of whom Josephus speaks; among those who were inclined towards Judaism, like Poppaea, the dissolute wife of Nero whose coffin as that of a Jewess was laid among the urns of the emperors; or among real proselytes, like those of all ranks who, from superstition or conviction, had identified themselves with the Synagogue.

In truth, there was no law to prevent the spread of Judaism. Excepting the brief period when Tiberius banished the Jews from Rome and sent 4,000 of their number to fight the banditti in Sardinia, the Jews enjoyed not only perfect liberty, but exceptional privileges. In the reign of Caesar and of Augustus we have quite a series of edicts, which secured the full exercise of their religion and their communal rights. In virtue of these they were not to be disturbed in their religious ceremonies, nor in the observance of their sabbaths and feasts. The annual Temple-tribute was allowed, to be transported to Jerusalem, and the alienation of these funds by the civil magistrates treated as sacrilege. As the Jews objected to bear arms, or march, on the Sabbath, they were freed from military service. On similar grounds, they were not obliged to appear in courts of law on their holy days. Augustus even ordered that, when the public distribution of corn or of money among the citizens fell on a Sabbath, the Jews were to receive their share on the following day. In a similar spirit the Roman authorities confirmed a decree by which the founder of Antioch, Seleucus I. (Nicator), had granted the Jews the right of citizenship in all the cities of Asia Minor and Syria which he had built, and the privilege of receiving, instead of the oil that was distributed, which their religion forbade them to use, an equivalent in money. These rights were maintained by Vespasian and Titus even after the last Jewish war, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of these cities. No wonder, that at the death of Caesar the Jews of Rome gathered for many nights, waking strange feelings of awe in the city, as they chanted in mournful melodies their Ps around the pyre on which the body of their benefactor had been burnt, and raised their pathetic dirges. The measures of Tiberius against them were due to the influence of his favourite Sejanus, and ceased with his sway. Besides, they were the outcome of public feeling at the time against all foreign rites, which had been roused by the vile conduct of the priests of Isis towards a Roman matron, and was again provoked by a gross imposture upon Fulvia, a noble Roman proselyte, on the part of some vagabond Rabbis. But even so, there is no reason to believe that literally all Jews had left Rome. Many would find means to remain secretly behind. At any rate, twenty years afterwards Philo found a large community there, ready to support him in his mission on behalf of his Egyptian countrymen. Any temporary measures against the Jews can, therefore, scarcely be regarded as a serious interference with their privileges, or a cessation of the Imperial favour shown to them. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 1, Chapter 6. Political and Religious Life of the Jewish Dispersion in the West – Their Union in the Great Hope of the Coming Deliverer.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

It was not only in the capital of the Empire that the Jews enjoyed the rights of Roman citizenship. Many in Asia Minor could boast of the same privileged. The Seleucidic rulers of Syria had previously bestowed kindred privileges on the Jews in many places. Thus, they possessed in some cities twofold rights: the status of Roman and the privileges of Asiatic, citizenship. Those who enjoyed the former were entitled to a civil government of their own, under archons of their choosing, quite independent of the rule and tribunals of the cities in which they lived. As instances, we may mention the Jews of Sardis, Ephesus, Delos, and apparently also of Antioch. But, whether legally entitled to it or not, they probably everywhere claimed the right of self-government, and exercised it, except in times of persecution. But, as already stated, they also possessed, besides this, at least in many places, the privileges of Asiatic citizenship, to the same extent as their heathen fellow-citizens. This twofold status and jurisdiction might have led to serious complications, if the Archons had not confined their authority to strictly communal interests, without interfering with the ordinary administration of justice, and the Jews willingly submitted to the sentences pronounced by their own tribunals.

But, in truth, they enjoyed even more than religious liberty and communal privileges. It was quite in the spirit of the times, that potentates friendly to Israel bestowed largesses alike on the Temple in Jerusalem, and on the Synagogues in the provinces. The magnificent porch of the Temple was ‘adorned’ with many such ‘dedicated gifts.’ Thus, we read of repeated costly offerings by the Ptolemies, of a golden wreath which Sosius offered after he had taken Jerusalem in conjunction with Herod, and of rich flagons which Augustus and his wife had given to the Sanctuary. And, although this same Emperor praised his grandson for leaving Jerusalem unvisited on his journey from Egypt to Syria, yet he himself made provision for a daily sacrifice on his behalf, which only ceased when the last war against Rome was proclaimed. Even the circumstance that there was a ‘Court of the Gentiles,’ with marble screen beautifully ornamented, bearing tablets which, in Latin and Greek, warned Gentiles not to proceed further, proves that the Sanctuary was largely attended by others than Jews, or, in the words of Josephus, that ‘it was held in reverence by nations from the ends of the earth.’

In Syria also, where, according to Josephus, the largest number of Jews lived, they experienced special favour. In Antioch their rights and immunities were recorded on tables of brass.

But, indeed, the capital of Syria was one of their favourite resorts. It will be remembered what importance attached to it in the early history of the Christian Church. Antioch was the third city of the Empire, and lay just outside what the Rabbinists designated as ‘Syria’ and still regarded as holy ground. Thus it formed, so to speak, an advanced post between the Palestinian and the Gentile world. Its chief Synagogue was a magnificent building, to which the successors of Antiochus Epiphanes had given the spoils which that monarch had brought from the Temple. The connection between Jerusalem and Antioch was very close. All that occurred in that city was eagerly watched in the Jewish capital. The spread of Christianity there must have excited deep concern. Careful as the Talmud is not to afford unwelcome information, which might have led to further mischief, we know that three of the principal Rabbis went thither on a mission – we can scarcely doubt for the purpose of arresting the progress of Christianity. Again, we find at a later period a record of religious controversy in Antioch between Rabbis and Christians. Yet the Jews of Antioch were strictly Hellenistic, and on one occasion a great Rabbi was unable to find among them a copy of even the Book of Es in Hebrew, which, accordingly, he had to write out from memory for his use in their Synagogue. A fit place this great border-city, crowded by Hellenists, in close connection with Jerusalem, to be the birthplace of the name ‘Christian,’ to send forth a Paul on his mission to the Gentile world, and to obtain for it a charter of citizenship far nobler than that of which the record was graven on tablets of brass.

But, whatever privileges Israel might enjoy, history records an almost continuous series of attempts, on the part of the communities among whom they lived, to deprive them not only of their immunities, but even of their common rights. Foremost among the reasons of this antagonism we place the absolute contrariety between heathenism and the Synagogue, and the social isolation which Judaism rendered necessary. It was avowedly unlawful for the Jew even ‘to keep company, or come unto one of another nation.’ To quarrel with this, was to find fault with the law and the religion which made him a Jew. But besides, there was that pride of descent, creed, enlightenment, and national privileges, which St. Paul so graphically sums up as ‘making boast of God and of the law.’ However differently they might have expressed it, Philo and Hillel would have been at one as to the absolute superiority of the Jew as such. Pretensions of this kind must have been the more provocative, that the populace at any rate envied the prosperity which Jewish industry, talent, and capital everywhere secured. Why should that close, foreign corporation possess every civic right, and yet be free from many of its burdens? Why should their meetings be excepted from the ‘collegia illicita’? Why should they alone be allowed to export part of the national wealth, to dedicate it to their superstition in Jerusalem? The Jew could not well feign any real interest in what gave its greatness to Ephesus, its attractiveness to Corinth, its influence to Athens. He was ready to profit by it; but his inmost thought must have been contempt, and all he wanted was quietness and protection in his own pursuits. What concern had he with those petty squabbles, ambitions, or designs, which agitated the turbulent populace in those Grecian cities? What cared he for their popular meetings and noisy discussions? The recognition of the fact that, as Jews, they were strangers in a strange land, made them so loyal to the ruling powers, and procured them the protection of kings and Caesars. But it also roused the hatred of the populace.

That such should have been the case, and these widely scattered members have been united in one body, is a unique fact in history. Its only true explanation must be sought in a higher Divine impulse. The links which bound them together were: a common creed, a common life, a common centre, and a common hope.

Wherever the Jew sojourned, or however he might differ from his brethren, Monotheism, the Divine mission of Moses, and the authority of the Old Testament, were equally to all unquestioned articles of belief. It may well have been that the Hellenistic Jew, living in the midst of a hostile, curious, and scurrilous population, did not, care to exhibit over his house and doorposts, at the right of the entrance, the mezuzah, which enclosed the folded parchment that, on twenty-two lines, bore the words from Deu_4:4-9 and Deu_11:13-21, or to call attention by their breadth to the tepilin, or phylacteries on his left arm and forehead, or even to make observable the šišit, or fringes on the borders of his garments. Perhaps, indeed, all these observances may at that time not have been deemed incumbent on every Jew. At any rate, we do not find mention of them in heathen writers. Similarly, they could easily keep out of view, or they may not have had conveniences for, their prescribed purifications. But in every place, as we have abundant evidence, where there were at least ten baṭlanim – male householders who had leisure to give themselves to regular attendance – they had, from ancient times, one, and, if possible, more Synagogues. Where there was no Synagogue there was at least a Proseuche,  or meeting-place, under the open sky, after the form of a theatre generally outside the town, near a river or the sea, for the sake of lustrations. These, as we know from classical writers, were well known to the heathen, and even frequented by them. Their Sabbath observance, their fasting on Thursdays, their Day of Atonement, their laws relating to food, and their pilgrimages to Jerusalem – all found sympathisers among Judaising Gentiles. They even watched to see, how the Sabbath lamp was kindled, and the solemn prayers spoken which marked the beginning of the Sabbath. But to the Jew the Synagogue was the bond of union throughout the world. There, on Sabbath and feast days they met to read, from the same Lectionary, the same Scripture-lessons which their brethren read throughout the world, and to say, in the words of the same liturgy, their common prayers, catching echoes of the gorgeous Temple-services in Jerusalem. The heathen must have been struck with awe as they listened, and watched in the gloom of the Synagogue the mysterious light at the far curtained end, where the sacred oracles were reverently kept, wrapped in costly coverings. Here the stranger Jew also would find himself at home: the same arrangements as in his own land, and the well-known services and prayers. A hospitable welcome at the Sabbath-meal, and in many a home, would be pressed on him, and ready aid be proffered in work or trial.

For, deepest of all convictions was that of their common centre; strongest of all feelings was the love which bound them to Palestine and to Jerusalem, the city of God, the joy of all the earth, the glory of His people Israel. ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.’ Hellenist and Eastern equally realised this. As the soil of his native land, the deeds of his people, or the graves of his fathers draw the far-off wanderer to the home of his childhood, or fill the mountaineer in his exile with irrepressible longing, so the sounds which the Jew heard in his Synagogue, and the observances which he kept. Nor was it with him merely matter of patriotism, of history, or of association. It was a religious principle, a spiritual hope. No truth more firmly rooted in the consciousness of all, than that in Jerusalem alone men could truly worship. As Daniel of old had in his hour of worship turned towards the Holy City, so in the Synagogue and in his prayers every Jew turned towards Jerusalem; and anything that might imply want of reverence, when looking in that direction, was considered a grievous sin. From every Synagogue in the Diaspora the annual Temple-tribute went up to Jerusalem, no doubt often accompanied by rich votive offerings. Few, who could undertake or afford the journey, but had at some time or other gone up to the Holy City to attend one of the great feasts. Philo, who was held by the same spell as the most bigoted Rabbinist, had himself been one of those deputed by his fellow-citizens to offer prayers and sacrifices in the great Sanctuary. Views and feelings of this kind help us to understand, how, on some great feast, as Josephus states on sufficient authority, the population of Jerusalem – within its ecclesiastical boundaries – could have swelled to the enormous number of nearly three millions.

And still, there was an even stronger bond in their common hope. That hope pointed them all, wherever scattered, back to Palestine. To them the coming of the Messiah undoubtedly implied the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, and, as a first part in it, the return of ‘the dispersed.’ Indeed, every devout Jew prayed, day by day: ‘Proclaim by Thy loud trumpet our deliverance, and raise up a banner to gather our dispersed, and gather us together from the four ends of the earth. Blessed be Thou, O Lord! Who gatherest the outcasts of Thy people Israel.’ That prayer included in its generality also the lost ten tribes. So, for example, the prophecy was rendered: ‘They hasten hither, like a bird out of Egypt,’ – referring to Israel of old; ‘and like a dove out of the land of Assyria’ – referring to the ten tribes.  And thus even these wanderers, so long lost, were to be reckoned in the field of the Good Shepherd.

It is worth while to trace, how universally and warmly both Eastern and Western Judaism cherished this hope of all Israel’s return to their own land. The Targumim bear repeated reference to it; and although there may be question as to the exact date of these paraphrases, it cannot be doubted, that in this respect they represented the views of the Synagogue at the time of Jesus. For the same reason we may gather from the Talmud and earliest commentaries, what Israel’s hope was in regard to the return of the ‘dispersed.’ It was a beautiful idea to liken Israel to the olive-tree, which is never stripped of its leaves. The storm of trial that had swept over it was, indeed, sent in judgment, but not to destroy, only to purify. Even so, Israel’s persecutions had served to keep them from becoming mixed with the Gentiles. Heaven and earth might be destroyed, but not Israel; and their final deliverance would far out-strip in marvellousness that from Egypt. The winds would blow to bring together the dispersed; nay, if there were a single Israelite in a land, however distant, he would be restored. With every honour would the nations bring them back. The patriarchs and all the just would rise to share in the joys of the new possession of their land; new hymns as well as the old ones would rise to the praise of God. Nay, the bounds of the land would be extended far beyond what they had ever been, and made as wide as originally promised to Abraham. Nor would that possession be ever taken from them, nor those joys be ever succeeded by sorrows. In view of such general expectations we cannot fail to mark with what wonderful sobriety the Apostles put the question to Jesus: ‘Wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’

Hopes and expectations such as these are expressed not only in Talmudical writings. We find them throughout that very interesting Apocalyptic class of literature, the Pseudepigrapha, to which reference has already been made. The two earliest of them, the Book of Enoch and the Sibylline Oracles, are equally emphatic on this subject. The seer in the Book of Enoch beholds Israel in the Messianic time as coming in carriages, and as borne on the wings of the wind from East, and West, and South. Fuller details of that happy event are furnished by the Jewish Sibyl. In her utterances these three events are connected together: the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the restoration of the dispersed, when all nations would bring their wealth to the House of God.  The latter trait specially reminds us of their Hellenistic origin. A century later the same joyous confidence, only perhaps more clearly worded appears in the so-called ‘Psalter of Solomon.’ Thus the seventeenth Ps bursts into this strain: ‘Blessed are they who shall live in those days – in the reunion of the tribes, which God brings about.’ And no wonder, since they are the days when ‘the King, the Son of David,’ having purged Jerusalem and destroyed the heathen by the word of His mouth, would gather together a holy people which He would rule with justice, and judge the tribes of His people, ‘dividing them over the land according to tribes;’ when ‘no stranger would any longer dwell among them.’

Another pause, and we reach the time when Jesus the Messiah appeared. Knowing the characteristics of that time, we scarcely wonder that the Book of Jubilees, which dates from that period, should have been Rabbinic in its cast rather than Apocalyptic. Yet even there the reference to the future glory is distinct. Thus we are told, that, though for its wickedness Israel had been scattered, God would ‘gather them all from the midst of the heathen,’ ‘build among them His Sanctuary, and dwell with them.’ That Sanctuary was to ‘be for ever and ever, and God would appear to the eye of every one, and every one acknowledge that He was the God of Israel, and the Father of all the Children of Jacob, and King upon Mount Zion, from everlasting to everlasting. And Zion and Jerusalem shall be holy.’ When listening to this language of, perhaps, a contemporary of Jesus, we can in some measure understand the popular indignation which such a charge would call forth, as that the Man of Nazareth had proposed to destroy the Temple or that he thought merely of the children of Jacob.

There is an ominous pause of a century before we come to the next work of this class, which bears the title of the Fourth Book of Esdras. That century had been decisive in the history of Israel. Jesus had lived and died; His Apostles had gone forth to bear the tidings of the new Kingdom of God; the Church had been founded and separated from the Synagogue; and the Temple had been destroyed, the Holy City laid waste, and Israel undergone sufferings, compared with which the former troubles might almost be forgotten. But already the new doctrine had struck its roots deep alike in Eastern and in Hellenistic soil. It were strange indeed if, in such circumstances, this book should not have been different from any that had preceded it; stranger still, if earnest Jewish minds and ardent Jewish hearts had remained wholly unaffected by the new teaching, even though the doctrine of the Cross still continued a stumbling-block, and the Gospel announcement a rock of offence. But perhaps we could scarcely have been prepared to find, as in the Fourth Book of Esdras, doctrinal views which were wholly foreign to Judaism, and evidently derived from the New Testament, and which, in logical consistency, would seem to lead up to it. The greater part of the book may be described as restless tossing, the seer being agitated by the problem and the consequences of sin, which here for the first and only time is presented as in the New Testament; by the question, why there are so few who are saved; and especially by what to a Jew must have seemed the inscrutable, terrible mystery of Israel’s sufferings and banishment. Yet, so far as we can see, no other way of salvation is indicated than that by works and personal righteousness. Throughout there is a tone of deep sadness and intense earnestness. It almost seems sometimes, as if one heard the wind of the new dispensation sweeping before it the withered leaves of Israel’s autumn. Thus far for the principal portion of the book. The second, or Apocalyptic, part, endeavors to solve the mystery of Israel’s state by foretelling their future. Here also there are echoes of New Testament utterances. What the end is to be, we are told in unmistakable language. His ‘Son,’ Whom the Highest has for a long time preserved, to deliver ‘the creature’ by Him, is suddenly to appear in the form of a Man. From His mouth shall proceed alike woe, fire, and storm, which are the tribulations of the last days. And as they shall gather for war against Him, He shall stand on Mount Zion, and the Holy City shall come down from heaven, prepared and ready, and He shall destroy all His enemies. But a peaceable multitude shall now be gathered to Him. These are the ten tribes, who, to separate themselves from the ways of the heathen, had wandered far away, miraculously helped, a journey of one and a half years, and who were now similarly restored by God to their own land. But as for the ‘Son,’ or those who accompanied him, no one on earth would be able to see or know them, till the day of His appearing. 

It seems scarcely necessary to complete the series of testimony by referring in detail to a book, called ‘The Prophecy and Assumption of Moses,’ and to what is known as the Apocalypse of Baruch, the servant of Jeremiah. Both date from probably a somewhat later period than the Fourth Book of Esdras, and both are fragmentary. The one distinctly anticipates the return of the ten tribes; the other, in the letter to the nine and a half tribes, far beyond the Euphrates, with which the book closes, preserves an ominous silence on that point, or rather alludes to it in language which so strongly reminds us of the adverse opinion expressed in the Talmud, that we cannot help suspecting some internal connection between the two.

The writings to which we have referred have all a decidedly Hellenistic tinge of thought. Still they are not the outcome of pure Hellenism. It is therefore with peculiar interest that we turn to Philo, the great representative of that direction, to see whether he would admit an idea so purely national and, as it might seem, exclusive. Nor are we here left in doubt. So universal was this belief, so deep-seated the conviction, not only in the mind, but in the heart of Israel, that we could scarcely find it more distinctly expressed than by the great Alexandrian. However low the condition of Israel might be, he tells us, or however scattered the people to the ends of the earth. the banished would, on a given sign, be set free in one day. In consistency with his system, he traces this wondrous event to their sudden conversion to virtue, which would make their masters ashamed to hold any longer in bondage those who were so much better than themselves. Then, gathering as by one impulse, the dispersed would return from Hellas, from the lands of the barbarians, from the isles, and from the continents, led by a Divine, superhuman apparition invisible to others, and visible only to themselves. On their arrival in Palestine the waste places and the wilderness would be inhabited, and the barren land transformed into fruitfulness.

Whatever shades of difference, then, we may note in the expression of these views, all anticipate the deliverance of Israel, their restoration, and future pre-eminent glory, and they all connect these events with the coming of the Messiah. This was ‘the promise’ unto which, in their ‘instant service night and day, the twelve tribes,’ however grievously oppressed, hoped to come. To this ‘sure word of prophecy’ ‘the strangers scattered’ throughout all lands would ‘take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place,’ until the day dawned, and the day-star rose in their hearts. It was this which gave meaning to their worship, filled them with patience in suffering, kept them separate from the nations around, and ever fixed their hearts and thoughts upon Jerusalem. For the ‘Jerusalem’ which was above was ‘the mother’ of them all. Yet a little while, and He that would come should come, and not tarry – and then all the blessing and glory would be theirs. At any moment the gladsome tidings might burst upon them, that He had come, when their glory would shine out from one end of the heavens to the other. All the signs of His Advent had come to pass. Perhaps, indeed, the Messiah might even now be there, ready to manifest Himself, so soon as the voice of Israel’s repentance called Him from His hiding. Any hour might that banner be planted on the top of the mountains that glittering sword be unsheathed; that trumpet sound. Close, then, and still closer, must be their connection with Jerusalem, as their salvation drew nigh; more earnest their longing, and more eager their gaze, till the dawn of that long expected day tinged the Eastern sky with its brightness. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 1, Chapter 7. Chapter VII. In Palestine – Jews and Gentiles in ‘the Land’ – Their Mutual Relations and Feelings – ‘The Wall of Separation.’

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

The pilgrim who, leaving other countries, entered Palestine, must have felt as if he had crossed the threshold of another world. Manners, customs, institutions, law, life, nay, the very intercourse between man and man, were quite different. All was dominated by the one all-absorbing idea of religion. It penetrated every relation of life. Moreover, it was inseparably connected with the soil, as well as the people of Palestine, at least so long as the Temple stood. Nowhere else could the šekihah dwell or manifest itself; nor could, unless under exceptional circumstances, and for ‘the merit of the fathers,’ the spirit of prophecy be granted outside its bounds. To the orthodox Jew the mental and spiritual horizon was bounded by Palestine. It was ‘the land;’ all the rest of the world, except Babylonia, was ‘outside the land.’ No need to designate it specially as ‘holy’; for all here bore the impress of sanctity, as he understood it. Not that the soil itself, irrespective of the people, was holy; it was Israel that made it such. For, had not God given so many commandments and ordinances, some of them apparently needless, simply to call forth the righteousness of Israel; did not Israel possess the merits of ‘the fathers’ and specially that of Abraham, itself so valuable that, even if his descendants had, morally speaking, been as a dead body, his merit would have been imputed to them? More than that, God had created the world on account of Israel, and for their merit, making preparation for them long before their appearance on the scene, just as a king who foresees the birth of his son; nay, Israel had been in God’s thoughts not only before anything had actually been created, but even before every other creative thought. If these distinctions seem excessive, they were, at least, not out of proportion to the estimate formed of Israel’s merits. In theory, the latter might be supposed to flow from ‘good works,’ of course, including the strict practice of legal piety, and from ‘study of the law.’ But in reality it was ‘study’ alone to which such supreme merit attached. Practice required knowledge for its direction; such as the amhaareṣ (‘country people,’ plebeians, in the Jewish sense of being unlearned) could not possess, who had bartered away the highest crown for a spade with which to dig. And ‘the school of Arum’ – the sages – the ‘great ones of the world’ had long settled it, that study was before works. And how could it well be otherwise since the studies, which engaged His chosen children on earth, equally occupied their Almighty Father in heaven? Could anything, then, be higher than the peculiar calling of Israel, or better qualify them for being the sons of God?

It is necessary to transport oneself into this atmosphere to understand the views entertained at the time of Jesus, or to form any conception of their infinite contrast in spirit to the new doctrine. The abhorrence, not unmingled with contempt, of all Gentile ways, thoughts and associations; the worship of the letter of the Law; the self-righteousness, and pride of descent, and still more of knowledge, become thus intelligible to us, and, equally so, the absolute antagonism to the claims of a Messiah, so unlike themselves, and their own ideal. His first announcement might, indeed, excite hope, soon felt to have been vain; and His miracles might startle for a time. But the boundary lines of the Kingdom which He traced were essentially different from those which they had fixed, and within which they had arranged everything, alike for the present and the future. Had He been content to step within them, to complete and realise what they had indicated, it might have been different. Nay, once admit their fundamental ideas, and there was much that was beautiful, true, and even grand in the details. But it was exactly in the former that the divergence lay. Nor was there any possibility of reform or progress here. The past, the present, and the future, alike as regarded the Gentile world and Israel, were irrevocably fixed; or rather, it might almost be said, there were not such – all continuing as they had been from the creation of the world, nay, long before it. The Torah had really existed 2,000 years before Creation; the patriarchs had had their Academies of study, and they had known and observed all the ordinances; and traditionalism had the same origin, both as to time and authority, as the Law itself. As for the heathen nations, the Law had been offered by God to them, but refused, and even their after repentance would prove hypocritical, as all their excuses would be shown to be futile. But as for Israel, even though their good deeds should be few, yet, by cumulating them from among all the people, they would appear great in the end, and God would exact payment for their sins as a man does from his friends, taking little sums at a time. It was in this sense, that the Rabbis employed that sublime figure, representing the Church as one body, of which all the members suffered and joyed together, which St. Paul adopted and applied in a vastly different and spiritual sense.

If, on the one hand, the pre-eminence of Israel depended on the Land, and, on the other, that of the Land on the presence of Israel in it, the Rabbinical complaint was, indeed, well grounded, that its boundaries were becoming narrow.’ We can scarcely expect any accurate demarcation of them, since the question, what belonged to it, was determined by ritual and theological, not by geographical considerations. Not only the immediate neighborhood (as in the case of Ascalon), but the very wall of a city (as of Acco and of Caesarea) might be Palestinian, and yet the city itself be regarded as ‘outside’ the sacred limits. All depended on who had originally possessed, and now held a place, and hence what ritual obligations lay upon it. Ideally, as we may say, ‘the land of promise’ included all which God had covenanted to give to Israel, although never yet actually possessed by them. Then, in a more restricted sense, the ‘land’ comprised what ‘they who came up from Egypt took possession of, from Chezib [about three hours north of Acre] and unto the river [Euphrates], and unto Amanah.’ This included, of course, the conquests made by David in the most prosperous times of the Jewish commonwealth, supposed to have extended over Mesopotamia, Syria, Zobali, Achlah, etc. To all these districts the general name of Soria, or Syria, was afterwards given. This formed, at the time of which we write, a sort of inner band around ‘the land,’ in its narrowest and only real sense; just as the countries in which Israel was specially interested, such as Egypt, Babylon, Ammon, and Moab, formed an outer band. These lands were heathen, and yet not quite heathen, since the dedication of the so-called terumot, or first-fruits in a prepared state, was expected from them, while Soria shared almost all the obligations of Palestine, except those of the ‘second tithes,’ and the fourth year’s product of plants. But the wavesheaf at the Paschal Feast, and the two loaves at Pentecost, could only be brought from what had grown on the holy soil itself. This latter was roughly defined, as ‘all which they who came up from Babylon took possession of, in the land of Israel, and unto Chezib.’ Viewed in this light, there was a special significance in the fact that Antioch, where the name ‘Christian’ first marked the new ‘Sect’ which had sprung up in Palestine, and where the first Gentile Church was formed, lay just outside the northern boundary of ‘the land.’ Similarly, we understand, why those Jewish zealots who would fain have imposed on the new Church the yoke of the Law, concentrated their first efforts on that Soria which was regarded as a kind of outer Palestine.

But, even so, there was a gradation of sanctity in the Holy Land itself, in accordance with ritual distinctions. Ten degrees are here enumerated, beginning with the bare soil of Palestine, and culminating in the Most Holy Place in the Temple – each implying some ritual distinction, which did not attach to a lower degree. And yet, although the very dust of heathen soil was supposed to carry defilement, like corruption or the grave, the spots most sacred were everywhere surrounded by heathenism; nay, its traces were visible in Jerusalem itself. The reasons of this are to be sought in the political circumstances of Palestine, and in the persistent endeavour of its rulers – with the exception of a very brief period under the Maccabees – to Grecianise the country, so as to eradicate that Jewish particularism which must always be antagonistic to every foreign element. In general, Palestine might be divided into the strictly Jewish territory, and the so-called Hellenic cities. The latter had been built at different periods, and were politically constituted after the model of the Greek cities, having their own senates (generally consisting of several hundred persons) and magistrates, each city with its adjoining territory forming a sort of commonwealth of its own. But it must not be imagined, that these districts were inhabited exclusively, or even chiefly, by Greeks. One of these groups, that towards Peraea, was really Syrian, and formed part of Syria Decapolis; while the other, along the coast of the Mediterranean, was Phoenician. Thus ‘the land’ was hemmed in, east and west, within its own borders, while south and north stretched heathen or semi-heathen districts. The strictly Jewish territory consisted of Judaea proper, to which Galilee, Samaria and Peraea were joined as Toparchies. These Toparchies consisted of a group of townships, under a Metropolis. The villages and townships themselves had neither magistrates of their own, nor civic constitution, nor lawful popular assemblies. Such civil administration as they required devolved on ‘Scribes’ (the so-called κωμογραμματεῖς or τοπογραμματεῖς). Thus Jerusalem was really, as well as nominally, the capital of the whole land. Judaea itself was arranged into eleven, or rather, more exactly, into nine Toparchies, of which Jerusalem was the chief. While, therefore, the Hellenic cities were each independent of the other, the whole Jewish territory formed only one ‘Civitas.’ Rule, government, tribute – in short, political life – centred in Jerusalem.

But this is not all. From motives similar to those which led to the founding of other Hellenic cities, Herod the Great and his immediate successors built a number of towns, which were inhabited chiefly by Gentiles, and had independent constitutions, like those of the Hellenic cities. Thus, Herod himself built Sebaste (Samaria), in the centre of the country; Caesarea in the west, commanding the sea-coast; Gaba in Galilee, close to the great plain of Esdraelon; and Esbonitis in Peraea. Similarly, Philip the Tetrarch built Caesarea Philippi and Julias (Bethsaida-Julias, on the western shore of the lake); and Herod Antipas another Julias, and Tiberias. The object of these cities was twofold. As Herod, well knowing his unpopularity, surrounded himself by foreign mercenaries, and reared fortresses around his palace and the Temple which he built, so he erected these fortified posts, which he populated with strangers, as so many outworks, to surround and command Jerusalem and the Jews on all sides. Again, as, despite his profession of Judaism, he reared magnificent heathen temples in honour of Augustus at Sebaste and Caesarea, so those cities were really intended to form centres of Grecian influence within the sacred territory itself. At the same time, the Herodian cities enjoyed not the same amount of liberty as the ‘Hellenic,’ which, with the exception of certain imposts, were entirely self-governed, while in the former there were representatives of the Herodian rulers.

Although each of these towns and districts had its special deities and rites, some being determined by local traditions, their prevailing character may be described as a mixture of Greek and Syrian worship, the former preponderating, as might be expected. On the other hand, Herod and his successors encouraged the worship of the Emperor and of Rome, which, characteristically, was chiefly practised in the East. Thus, in the temple which Herod built to Augustus in Caesarea, there were statues of the Emperor as Olympian Zeus, and of Rome as Hera. He was wont to excuse this conformity to heathenism before his own people on the ground of political necessity. Yet, even if his religious inclinations had not been in that direction, he would have earnestly striven to Grecianise the people. Not only in Caesarea, but even in Jerusalem, he built a theatre and amphitheatre, where at great expense games were held every four years in honour of Augustus. Nay, he placed over the great gate of the Temple at Jerusalem a massive golden eagle, the symbol of Roman dominion, as a sort of counterpart to that gigantic golden vine, the symbol of Israel, which hung above the entrance to the Holy Place. These measures, indeed led to popular indignation, and even to conspiracies and tumults, though not of the same general and intense character, as when, at a later period, Pilate sought to introduce into Jerusalem images of the Emperor, or when the statue of Caligula was to be placed in the Temple. In connection with this, it is curious to notice that the Talmud, while on the whole disapproving of attendance at theatres and amphitheatres – chiefly on the ground that it implies sitting in the seat of scorners,’ and might involve contributions to the maintenance of idol-worship – does not expressly prohibit it, nor indeed speak very decidedly on the subject.

The views of the Rabbis in regard to pictorial representations are still more interesting, as illustrating their abhorrence of all contact with idolatry. We mark here differences at two, if not at three periods, according to the outward circumstances of the people. The earliest and strictest opinions absolutely forbade any representation of things in heaven, on earth, or in the waters. But the Mishnah seems to relax these prohibitions by subtle distinctions, which are still further carried out in the Talmud.

To those who held such stringent views, it must have been peculiarly galling to see their most sacred feelings openly outraged by their own rulers. Thus, the Asmonean princess, Alexandra, the mother-in-law of Herod, could so far forget the traditions of her house, as to send portraits of her son and daughter to Mark Antony for infamous purposes, in hope of thereby winning him for her ambitious plans. One would be curious to know who painted these pictures, for, when the statue of Caligula was to be made for the Temple at Jerusalem, no native artist could be found, and the work was entrusted to Phoenicians. It must have been these foreigners also who made the ‘figures,’ with which Herod adorned his palace at Jerusalem, and ‘the brazen statues’ in the gardens ‘through which the water ran out,’ as well as the colossal statues at Caesarea, and those of the three daughters of Agrippa, which after his death were so shamefully abused by the soldiery at Sebaste and Caesarea.

This abhorrence of all connected with idolatry, and the contempt entertained for all that was non-Jewish, will in great measure explain the code of legislation intended to keep the Jew and Gentile apart. If Judaea had to submit to the power of Rome, it could at least avenge itself in the Academies of its sages. Almost innumerable stories are told in which Jewish sages, always easily, confute Roman and Greek Philosophers; and others, in which even a certain Emperor (Antoninus) is represented as constantly in the most menial relation of self-abasement before a Rabbi. Rome, which was the fourth beast of Daniel, would in the age to come, when Jerusalem would be the metropolis of all lands, be the first to excuse herself on false though vain pleas for her wrongs to Israel. But on worldly grounds also, Rome was contemptible, having derived her language and writing from the Greeks, and not possessing even a hereditary succession in her empire. If such was the estimate of dreaded Rome, it may be imagined in what contempt other nations were held. Well might ‘the earth tremble,’ for, if Israel had not accepted the Law at Sinai, the whole world would have been destroyed, while it once more ‘was still’ when that happy event took place, although God in a manner forced Israel to it. And so Israel was purified at Mount Sinai from the impurity which clung to our race in consequence of the unclean union between Eve and the serpent, and which still adhered to all other nations!

To begin with, every Gentile child, so soon as born, was to be regarded as unclean. Those who actually worshipped mountains, hills, bushes, etc. – in short, gross idolaters – should be cut down with the sword. But as it was impossible to exterminate heathenism, Rabbinic legislation kept certain definite objects in view, which may be thus summarised: To prevent Jews from being inadvertently led into idolatry; to avoid all participation in idolatry; not to do anything which might aid the heathen in their worship; and, beyond all this, not to give pleasure, nor even help, to heathens. The latter involved a most dangerous principle, capable of almost indefinite application by fanaticism. Even the Mishnah goes so far as to forbid aid to a mother in the hour of her need, or nourishment to her babe, in order not to bring up a child for idolatry! But this is not all. Heathens were, indeed, not to be precipitated into danger, but yet not to be delivered from it. Indeed, an isolated teacher ventures even upon this statement: ‘The best among the Gentiles, kill; the best among serpents, crush its head.’ Still more terrible was the fanaticism which directed, that heretics, traitors, and those who had left the Jewish faith should be thrown into actual danger, and, if they were in it, all means for their escape removed. No intercourse of any kind was to be had with such – not even to invoke their medical aid in case of danger to life, since it was deemed, that he who had to do with heretics was in imminent peril of becoming one himself, and that, if a heretic returned to the true faith, he should die at once – partly, probably, to expiate his guilt, and partly from fear of relapse. Terrible as all this sounds, it was probably not worse than the fanaticism displayed in what are called more enlightened times. Impartial history must chronicle it, however painful, to show the circumstances in which teaching so far different was propounded by Christ.

In truth, the bitter hatred which the Jew bore to the Gentile can only be explained from the estimate entertained of his character. The most vile, and even unnatural, crimes were imputed to them. It was not safe to leave cattle in their charge, to allow their women to nurse infants, or their physicians to attend the sick, nor to walk in their company, without taking precautions against sudden and unprovoked attacks. They should, so far as possible, be altogether avoided, except in cases of necessity or for the sake of business. They and theirs were defiled; their houses unclean, as containing idols or things dedicated to them; their feasts, their joyous occasions, their very contact, was polluted by idolatry; and there was no security, if a heathen were left alone in a room, that he might not, in wantonness or by carelessness, defile the wine or meat on the table, or the oil and wheat in the store. Under such circumstances, therefore, everything must be regarded as having been rendered unclean. Three days before a heathen festival (according to some, also three days after) every business transaction with them was prohibited, for fear of giving either help or pleasure. Jews were to avoid passing through a city where there was an idolatrous feast – nay, they were not even to sit down within the shadow of a tree dedicated to idol-worship. Its wood was polluted; if used in baking, the bread was unclean; if a shuttle had been made of it, not only was all cloth woven on it forbidden, but if such had been inadvertently mixed with other pieces of cloth, or a garment made from it placed with other garments, the whole became unclean. Jewish workmen were not to assist in building basilicas, nor stadia, nor places where judicial sentences were pronounced by the heathen. Of course, it was not lawful to let houses or fields, nor to sell cattle to them. Milk drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not been present to watch it, bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was wholly interdicted – the mere touch of a heathen polluted a whole cask; nay, even to put one’s nose to heathen wine was strictly prohibited!

Painful as these details are, they might be multiplied. And yet the bigotry of these Rabbis was, perhaps, not worse than that of other sectaries. It was a painful logical necessity of their system, against which their heart, no doubt, often rebelled; and, it must be truthfully added, it was in measure accounted for by the terrible history of Israel. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 1, Chapter 8.Traditionalism, its Origin, Character, and Literature – The Mishnah and Talmud – The Gospel of Christ – The Dawn of a New Day.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Chapter VIII: 

In trying to picture to ourselves New Testament scenes, the figure most prominent, next to those of the chief actors, is that of the Scribe (סופר, γραμματεύς, literatus). He seems ubiquitous; we meet him in Jerusalem, in Judaea, and even in Galilee. Indeed, he is indispensable, not only in Babylon, which may have been the birthplace of his order, but among the ‘dispersion’ also. Everywhere he appears as the mouthpiece and representative of the people; he pushes to the front, the crowd respectfully giving way, and eagerly hanging on his utterances, as those of a recognised authority. He has been solemnly ordained by the laying on of hands; and is the Rabbi, ‘my great one, Master, amplitudo. He puts questions; he urges objections; he expects full explanations and respectful demeanour. Indeed, his hyper-ingenuity in questioning has become a proverb. There is no measure of his dignity, nor yet limit to his importance. He is the ‘lawyer’ the ‘well-plastered pit,’ filled with the water of knowledge out of which not a drop can escape, in opposition to the weeds of untilled soil’ (כורים) of ignorance. He is the Divine aristocrat, among the vulgar herd of rude and profane ‘country-people,’ who ‘know not the Law’ and are ‘cursed.’ More than that, his order constitutes the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and practice; he is ‘the Exegete of the Laws,’ the ‘teacher of the Law,’ and along with ‘the chief priests’ and ‘elders’ a judge in the ecclesiastical tribunals, whether of the capital or in ‘the provinces.’ Although generally appearing in company with ‘the Pharisees,’ he is not necessarily one of them – for they represent a religious party, while he has a status, and holds an office. In short, he is the talmid or learned student, the ḥakam or sage, whose honour is to be great in the future world. Each Scribe outweighed all the common people, who must accordingly pay him every honour. Nay, they were honoured of God Himself, and their praises proclaimed by the angels; and in heaven also, each of them would hold the same rank and distinction as on earth. Such was to be the respect paid to their sayings, that they were to be absolutely believed, even if they were to declare that to be at the right hand which was at the left, or vice versa.

An institution which had attained such proportions, and wielded such power, could not have been of recent growth. In point of fact, its rise was very gradual, and stretched back to the time of Nehemiah, if not beyond it. Although from the utter confusion of historical notices in Rabbinic writings and their constant practice of antedating events, it is impossible to furnish satisfactory details, the general development of the institution can be traced with sufficient precision. If Ezra is described in Holy Writ as ‘a ready (expertus) Scribe,’ who had ‘set his heart to seek (seek out the full meaning of) the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel,’ this might indicate to his successors, the soperim (Scribes), the threefold direction which their studies afterwards took: the Midrash, the Halakhah, and the Haggadah,  of which the one pointed to Scriptural investigation, the other to what was to be observed, and the third to oral teaching in the widest sense. But Ezra left his work uncompleted. On Nehemiah’s second arrival in Palestine, he found matters again in a state of utmost confusion. He must have felt the need of establishing some permanent authority to watch over religious affairs. This we take to have been ‘the Great Assembly,’ or, as it is commonly called, the ‘Great Synagogue.’ It is impossible with certainty to determine, either who composed this assembly, or of how many members it consisted. Probably it comprised the leading men in Church and State, the chief priests, elders, and ‘judges’ – the latter two classes including ‘the Scribes,’ if, indeed, that order was already separately organised. Probably also the term ‘Great Assembly’ refers rather to a succession of men than to one Synod; the ingenuity of later times filling such parts of the historical canvas as had been left blank with fictitious notices. In the nature of things such an assembly could not exercise permanent sway in a sparsely populated country, without a strong central authority. Nor could they have wielded real power during the political difficulties and troubles of foreign domination. The oldest tradition sums up the result of their activity in this sentence ascribed to them: ‘Be careful in judgment, set up many talmidim, and make a hedge about the Torah (Law).’

In the course of time this rope of sand dissolved. The High-Priest, Simon the Just, is already designated as ‘of the remnants of the Great Assembly.’ But even this expression does not necessarily imply that he actually belonged to it. In the troublous times which followed his Pontificate, the sacred study seems to have been left to solitary individuals. The Mishnic tractate Aboth, which records ‘the sayings of the Fathers,’ here gives us only the name of Antigonus of Socho. It is significant, that for the first time we now meet a Greek name among Rabbinic authorities, together with an indistinct allusion to his disciples.  The long interval between Simon the Just and Antigonus and his disciples, brings us to the terrible time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the great Syrian persecution. The very sayings attributed to these two sound like an echo of the political state of the country. On three things, Simon was wont to say, the permanency of the (Jewish?) world depends: on the Torah (faithfulness to the Law and its pursuit), on worship (the non-participation in Grecianism), and on works of righteousness. They were dark times, when God’s persecuted people were tempted to think, that it might be vain to serve Him, in which Antigonus had it: ‘Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of reward, but be like servants who serve their lord without a view to the getting of reward, and let the fear of heaven be upon you.’ After these two names come those of the so-called five zugot, or ‘couples,’ of whom Hillel and Shammai are the last. Later tradition has represented these successive couples as, respectively, the nasi (president), and abetdin (vice-president, of the Sanhedrin). Of the first three of these ‘couples’ it may be said that, except significant allusions to the circumstances and dangers of their times, their recorded utterances clearly point to the development of the purely Sopheric teaching, that is, to the Rabbinistic part of their functions. From the fourth ‘couple,’ which consists of Simon ben Shetach, who figured so largely in the political history of the later Maccabees (as abetdin), and his superior in learning and judgment, Jehudah ben Tabbai (as nasi), we have again utterances which show, in harmony with the political history of the time, that judicial functions had been once more restored to the Rabbis. The last of the five couples brings us to the time of Herod and of Christ.

We have seen that, during the period of severe domestic troubles, beginning with the persecutions under the Seleucidae, which marked the mortal struggle between Judaism and Grecianism, the ‘Great Assembly’ had disappeared from the scene. The soperim had ceased to be a party in power. They had become the zeqenim, ‘Elders,’ whose task was purely ecclesiastical – the preservation of their religion, such as the dogmatic labours of their predecessors had made it. Yet another period opened with the advent of the Maccabees. These had been raised into power by the enthusiasm of the ḥasidim, or ‘pious ones,’ who formed the nationalist party in the land, and who had gathered around the liberators of their faith and country. But the later bearing of the Maccabees had alienated the nationalists. Henceforth they sink out of view, or, rather, the extreme section of them merged in the extreme section of the Pharisees, till fresh national calamities awakened a new nationalist party. Instead of the ḥasidim, we see now two religious parties within the Synagogue – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The latter originally represented a reaction from the Pharisees – the moderate men, who sympathised with the later tendencies of the Maccabees. Josephus places the origin of these two schools in the time of Jonathan, the successor of Judas Maccabee, and with this other Jewish notices agree. Jonathan accepted from the foreigner (the Syrian) the High-Priestly dignity, and combined with it that of secular ruler. But this is not all. The earlier Maccabees surrounded themselves with a governing eldership.  On the coins of their reigns this is designated as the ḥeber, or eldership (association) of the Jews. Thus, theirs was what Josephus designates as an aristocratic government, and of which he somewhat vaguely says, that it lasted ‘from the Captivity until the descendants of the Asmoneans set up kingly government.’ In this aristocratic government the High-Priest would rather be the chief of a representative ecclesiastical body of rulers. This state of things continued until the great breach between Hyrcanus, the fourth from Judas Maccabee, and the Pharisaical party, which is equally recorded by Josephus and the Talmud, with only variations of names and details. The dispute apparently arose from the desire of the Pharisees, that Hyrcanus should be content with the secular power, and resign the Pontificate. But it ended in the persecution, and removal from power, of the Pharisees. Very significantly, Jewish tradition introduces again at this time those purely ecclesiastical authorities which are designated as ‘the couples.’ In accordance with this, altered state of things, the name ‘ḥeḇer’ now disappears from the coins of the Maccabees, and the Rabbinical celebrities (‘the couples’ or zugot) are only teachers of traditionalism, and ecclesiastical authorities. The ‘eldership,’ which under the earlier Maccabees was called ‘the tribunal of the Asmoneans,’  now passed into the Sanhedrin.  Thus we place the origin of this institution about the time of Hyrcanus. With this Jewish tradition fully agree. The power of the Sanhedrin would, of course, vary with political circumstances being at times almost absolute, as in the reign of the Pharisaic devotee – Queen, Alexandra, while at others it was shorn of all but ecclesiastical authority. But as the Sanhedrin was in full force at the time of Jesus, its organisation will claim our attention in the sequel.

After this brief outline of the origin and development of an institution which exerted such decisive influence on the future of Israel, it seems necessary similarly to trace the growth of the ‘traditions of the Elders,’ so as to understand what, alas! so effectually, opposed the new doctrine of the Kingdom. The first place must here be assigned to those legal determinations, which traditionalism declared absolutely binding on all – not only of equal, but even greater obligation than Scripture itself. And this not illogically, since tradition was equally of Divine origin with Holy Scripture, and authoritatively explained its meaning; supplemented it; gave it application to cases not expressly provided for, perhaps not even foreseen in Biblical times; and generally guarded its sanctity by extending and adding to its provisions, drawing ‘a hedge,’ around its ‘garden enclosed.’ Thus, in new and dangerous circumstances, would the full meaning of God’s Law, to its every tittle and iota, be elicited and obeyed. Thus also would their feet be arrested, who might stray from within, or break in from without. Accordingly, so important was tradition, that the greatest merit a Rabbi could claim was the strictest adherence to the traditions, which he had received from his teacher. Nor might one Sanhedrin annul, or set aside, the decrees of its predecessors. To such length did they go in this worship of the letter, that the great Hillel was actually wont to mispronounce a word, because his teacher before him had done so.

These traditional ordinances, as already stated, bear the general name of the Halakhah, as indicating alike the way in which the fathers had walked, and that which their children were bound to follow. These halakot were either simply the laws laid down in Scripture; or else derived from, or traced to it by some ingenious and artificial method of exegesis; or added to it, by way of amplification and for safety’s sake; or, finally, legalised customs. They provided for every possible and impossible case, entered into every detail of private, family, and public life; and with iron logic, unbending rigour, and most minute analysis pursued and dominated man, turn whither he might, laying on him a yoke which was truly unbearable. The return which it offered was the pleasure and distinction of knowledge, the acquisition of righteousness, and the final attainment of rewards; one of its chief advantages over our modern traditionalism, that it was expressly forbidden to draw inferences from these traditions, which should have the force of fresh legal determinations.

In describing the historical growth of the Halakhah, we may dismiss in a few sentences the legends of Jewish tradition about patriarchal times. They assure us, that there was an Academy and a Rabbinic tribunal of Shem, and they speak of traditions delivered by that Patriarch to Jacob; of diligent attendance by the latter on the Rabbinic College; of a tractate (in 400 sections) on idolatry by Abraham, and of his observance of the whole traditional law; of the introduction of the three daily times of prayer, successively by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of the three benedictions in the customary ‘grace at meat,’ as propounded by Moses, Joshua, and David and Solomon; of the Mosaic introduction of the practice of reading lessons from the law on Sabbaths, New Moons, and Feast Days, and even on the Mondays and Thursdays; and of that, by the same authority, of preaching on the three great festivals about those feasts. Further, they ascribe to Moses the arrangement of the priesthood into eight courses (that into sixteen to Samuel, and that into twenty-four to David), as also, the duration of the time for marriage festivities, and for mourning. But evidently these are vague statements, with the object of tracing traditionalism and its observances to primeval times, even as legend had it, that Adam was born circumcised, and later writers that he had kept all the ordinances.

But other principles apply to the traditions, from Moses downwards. According to the Jewish view, God had given Moses on Mount Sinai alike the oral and the written Law, that is, the Law with all its interpretations and applications. From Exo_20:1, it was inferred, that God had communicated to Moses the Bible, the Mishnah, and Talmud, and the Haggadah, even to that which scholars would in latest times propound. In answer to the somewhat natural objection, why the Bible alone had been written, it was said that Moses had proposed to write down all the teaching entrusted to him, but the Almighty had refused, on account of the future subjection of Israel to the nations, who would take from them the written Law. Then the unwritten traditions would remain to separate between Israel and the Gentiles. Popular exegesis found this indicated even in the language of prophecy.

But traditionalism went further, and placed the oral actually above the written Law. The expression, ‘After the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel,’ was explained as meaning, that God’s covenant was founded on the spoken, in opposition to the written words. If the written was thus placed below the oral Law, we can scarcely wonder that the reading of the Hagiographa was actually prohibited to the people on the Sabbath, from fear that it might divert attention from the learned discourses of the Rabbis. The study of them on that day was only allowed for the purpose of learned investigation and discussions. 

But if traditionalism was not to be committed to writing by Moses, measures had been taken to prevent oblivion or inaccuracy. Moses had always repeated a traditional law successively to Aaron, to his sons, and to the elders of the people, and they again in turn to each other, in such wise, that Aaron heard the Mishnah four times, his sons three times, the Elders twice, and the people once. But even this was not all, for by successive repetitions (of Aaron, his sons, and the Elders) the people also heard it four times. And, before his death, Moses had summoned any one to come forward, if he had forgotten aught of what he had heard and learned. But these ‘Halakhoth of Moses from Sinai’ do not make up the whole of traditionalism. According to Maimonides, it consists of five, but more critically of three classes. The first of these comprises both such ordinances as are found in the Bible itself, and the so-called halakot of Moses from Sinai- that is, such laws and usages as prevailed from time immemorial, and which, according to the Jewish view, had been orally delivered to, but not written down by Moses. For these, therefore, no proof was to be sought in Scripture – at most support, or confirmatory allusion (asmaktu). Nor were these open to discussion. The second class formed the ‘oral law,’ or the ‘traditional teaching’ in the stricter sense. To this class belonged all that was supposed to be implied in, or that could be deduced from, the Law of Moses. The latter contained, indeed, in substance or germ, everything; but it had not been brought out, till circumstances successfully evolved what from the first had been provided in principle. For this class of ordinances reference to, and proof from, Scripture was required. Not so for the third class of ordinances, which were ‘the hedge’ drawn by the Rabbis around the Law, to prevent any breach of the Law or customs, to ensure their exact observance, or to meet peculiar circumstances and dangers. These ordinances constituted ‘the sayings of the Scribes’ or ‘of the Rabbis’  – and were either positive in their character (teqanot), or else negative (gezerot from gazar to cut off). Perhaps the distinction of these two cannot always be strictly carried out. But it was probably to this third class especially, confessedly unsupported by Scripture, that these words of Christ referred: ‘All therefore whatsoever they tell you, that do and observe; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with their finger they will not move them away (set in motion).’ This view hast two-fold confirmation. For, this third class of Halakhic ordinances was the only one open to the discussion of the learned, the ultimate decision being according to the majority. Yet it possessed practically (though not theoretically) the same authority as the other two classes. In further confirmation of our view the following may be quoted: ‘A gezerah (i.e. this third class of ordinances) is not to be laid on the congregation, unless the majority of the congregation is able to bear it’ – words which read like a commentary on those of Jesus, and show that these burdens could be laid on, or moved away, according to the varying judgment or severity of a Rabbinic College.

This body of traditional ordinances forms the subject of the Mishnah, or second, repeated law. We have here to place on one side the Law of Moses as recorded in the Pentateuch, as standing by itself. All else – even the teaching of the Prophets and of the Hagiographa, as well as the oral traditions – bore the general name of qabalah – ‘that which has been received.’ The sacred study – or Midrash, in the original application of the term – concerned either the Halakhah, traditional ordinance, which was always ‘that which had been heard’ (šemata), or else the Haggadah, ‘that which was said’ upon the authority of individuals, not as legal ordinance. It was illustration, commentary, anecdote, clever or learned saying, etc. At first the Halakhah remained unwritten, probably owing to the disputes between Pharisees and Sadducees. But the necessity of fixedness and order led in course of time to more or less complete collections of the halakot. The oldest of these is ascribed to R. Akiba, in the time of the Emperor Hadrian.  But the authoritative collection in the so-called Mishnah is the work of Jehudah the Holy, who died about the end of the second century of our era.

Altogether, the Mishnah comprises six ‘Orders’ (sedarim), each devoted to a special class of subjects. These ‘Orders’ are divided into tractates (masiktot masektiyot, ‘textures, webs’), of which there are sixty-three (or else sixty-two) in all. These tractates are again subdivided into chapters (peraqim) – in all 525, which severally consist of a certain number of verses, or Mishnahs, (miš nayot, in all 4,187). Considering the variety and complexity of the subjects treated, the Mishnah is arranged with remarkable logical perspicuity. The language is Hebrew, though of course not that of the Old Testament. The words rendered necessary by the new circumstances are chiefly derived from the Greek, the Syriac, and the Latin, with Hebrew terminations. But all connected with social intercourse, or ordinary life (such as contracts), is written, not in Hebrew, but in Aramaean, as the language of the people.

But the traditional law embodied other materials than the halakot collected in the Mishnah Some that had not been recorded there, found a place in the works of certain Rabbis, or were derived from their schools. These are called boraitas – that is, traditions external to the Mishnah Finally, there were ‘additions’ (or toseptot), dating after the completion of the Mishnah, but probably not later than the third century of our era. Such there are to not fewer than fifty-two out of the sixty-three Mishnic tractates. When speaking of the Halakhah as distinguished from the Haggadah, we must not, however, suppose that the latter could be entirely separated from it. In point of fact, one whole tractate in the Mishnah (abot: The Sayings of the ‘Fathers’) is entirely Haggadah; a second (midot: the ‘Measurements of the Temple’) has Halakhah in only fourteen places; while in the rest of the tractates Haggadah occurs in not fewer than 207 places. Only thirteen out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah are entirely free from Haggadah.

Hitherto we have only spoken of the Mishnah. But this comprises only a very small part of traditionalism. In course of time the discussions, illustrations, explanations, and additions to which the Mishnah gave rise, whether in its application, or in the Academies of the Rabbis, were authoritatively collected and edited in what are known as the two Talmuds or Gemaras. If we imagine something combining law reports, a Rabbinical ‘Hansard,’ and notes of a theological debating club – all thoroughly Oriental, full of digressions, anecdotes, quaint sayings, fancies, legends, and too often of what, from its profanity, superstition, and even obscenity, could scarcely be quoted, we may form some general idea of what the Talmud is. The oldest of these two Talmuds dates from about the close of the fourth century of our era. It is the product of the Palestinian Academies, and hence called the Jerusalem Talmud. The second is about a century younger, and the outcome of the Babylonian schools, hence called the Babylon (afterwards also ‘our’) Talmud. We do not possess either of these works complete. The most defective is the Jerusalem Talmud, which is also much briefer, and contains far fewer discussions than that of Babylon. The Babylon Talmud, which in its present form extends over thirty-six out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah, is about ten or eleven times the size of the latter, and more than four times that of the Jerusalem Talmud. It occupies (in our editions), with marginal commentations, 2,947 folio leaves (pages a and b). Both Talmuds are written in Aramaean; the one in its western, the other in its eastern dialect, and in both the Mishnah is discussed seriatim, and clause by clause. Of the character of these discussions it would be impossible to convey an adequate idea. When we bear in mind the many sparkling, beautiful, and occasionally almost sublime passages in the Talmud, but especially that its forms of thought and expression so often recall those of the New Testament, only prejudice and hatred could indulge in indiscriminate vituperation. On the other hand, it seems unaccountable how any one who has read a Talmudic tractate, or even part of one, could compare the Talmud with the New Testament, or find in the one the origin of the other.

To complete our brief survey, it should be added that our editions of the Babylon Talmud contain (at the close of vol. ix. and after the fourth ‘Order’) certain Boraithas. Of these there were originally nine, but two of the smaller tractates (on ‘the memorial fringes,’ and on ‘non-Israelites’) have not been preserved. The first of these boraitas is entitled Aboth de Rabbi Nathan, and partially corresponds with a tractate of a similar name in the Mishnah Next follow six minor tractates. These are respectively entitled Mishnah (Scribes), detailing the ordinances about copying the Scriptures, the ritual of the Lectionary, and festive prayers; ebel rabati or semakot, containing Halakhah and Haggadah about funeral and mourning observances; kalah, on the married relationship; derek ereṣ, embodying moral directions and the rules and customs of social intercourse; derek eretz zuta, treating of similar subjects, but as regards learned students; and, lastly, the pereq ha šalom  which is a eulogy on peace. All these tractates date, at least in their present form, later than the Talmudic period.

But when the Halakhah, however varied in its application, was something fixed and stable, the utmost latitude was claimed and given in the Haggadah. It is sadly characteristic, that, practically the main body of Jewish dogmatic and moral theology is really only Haggadah, and hence of no absolute authority. The Halakhah indicated with the most minute and painful punctiliousness every legal ordinance as to outward observances, and it explained every bearing of the Law of Moses. But beyond this it left the inner man, the spring of actions, untouched. What he was to believe and what to feel, was chiefly matter of the Haggadah. Of course the laws of morality, and religion, as laid down in the Pentateuch, were fixed principles, but there was the greatest divergence and latitude in the explanation and application of many of them. A man might hold or propound almost any views, so long as he contravened not the Law of Moses, as it was understood, and adhered in teaching and practice to the traditional ordinances. In principle it was the same liberty which the Romish Church accords to its professing members – only with much wider application, since the debatable ground embraced so many matters of faith, and the liberty given was not only that of private opinion but of public utterance. We emphasise this, because the absence of authoritative direction and the latitude in matters of faith and inner feeling stand side by side, and in such sharp contrast, with the most minute punctiliousness in all matters of outward observance. And here we may mark the fundamental distinction between the teaching of Jesus and Rabbinism. He left the Halakhah untouched, putting it, as it were, on one side, as something quite secondary, while He insisted as primary on that which to them was chiefly matter of Haggadah. And this rightly so, for, in His own words, ‘Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth,’ since ‘those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man.’ The difference was one of fundamental principle, and not merely of development, form, or detail. The one developed the Law in its outward direction as ordinances and commandments; the other in its inward application as life and liberty. Thus Rabbinism occupied one pole – and the outcome of its tendency to pure externalism was the Halakhah, all that was internal and higher being merely Haggadic. The teaching of Jesus occupied the opposite pole. Its starting-point was the inner sanctuary in which God was known and worshipped, and it might well leave the Rabbinic Halakhoth aside, as not worth controversy, to be in the meantime ‘done and observed,’ in the firm assurance that, in the course of its development, the spirit would create its own appropriate forms, or, to use a New Testament figure, the new wine burst the old bottles. And, lastly, as closely connected with all this, and marking the climax of contrariety: Rabbinism started with demand of outward obedience and righteousness, and pointed to sonship as its goal; the Gospel started with the free gift of forgiveness through faith and of sonship, and pointed to obedience and righteousness as its goal.

In truth, Rabbinism, as such, had no system of theology; only what ideas, conjectures, or fancies the Haggadah yielded concerning God, Angels, demons, man, his future destiny and present position, and Israel, with its past history and coming glory. Accordingly, by the side of what is noble and pure, what a terrible mass of utter incongruities, of conflicting statements and too often debasing superstitions, the outcome of ignorance and narrow nationalism; of legendary colouring of Biblical narratives and scenes, profane, coarse, and degrading to them; the Almighty Himself and His Angels taking part in the conversations of Rabbis, and the discussions of Academies; nay, forming a kind of heavenly Sanhedrin, which occasionally requires the aid of an earthly Rabbi. The miraculous merges into the ridiculous, and even the revolting. Miraculous cures, miraculous supplies, miraculous help, all for the glory of great Rabbis, who by a look or word can kill, and restore to life. At their bidding the eyes of a rival fall out, and are again inserted. Nay, such was the veneration due to Rabbis, that R. Joshua used to kiss the stone on which R. Eliezer had sat and lectured, saying: ‘This stone is like Mount Sinai, and he who sat on it like the Ark.’ Modern ingenuity has, indeed, striven to suggest deeper symbolical meaning for such stories. It should own the terrible contrast existing side by side: Hebrewism and Judaism, the Old Testament and traditionalism; and it should recognise its deeper cause in the absence of that element of spiritual and inner life which Christ has brought. Thus as between the two – the old and the new – it may be fearlessly asserted that, as regards their substance and spirit, there is not a difference, but a total divergence, of fundamental principle between Rabbinism and the New Testament, so that comparison between them is not possible. Here there is absolute contrariety.

The painful fact just referred to is only too clearly illustrated by the relation in which traditionalism places itself to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, even though it acknowledges their inspiration and authority. The Talmud has it, that he who busies himself with Scripture only (i.e. without either the Mishnah or Mishnah) has merit, and yet no merit. Even the comparative paucity of references to the Bible in the Mishnah is significant. Israel had made void the Law by its traditions. Under a load of outward ordinances and observances its spirit had been crushed. The religion as well as the grand hope of the Old Testament had become externalized. And so alike Heathenism and Judaism – for it was no longer the pure religion of the Old Testament – each following its own direction, had reached its goal. All was prepared and waiting. The very porch had been built, through which the new, and yet old, religion was to pass into the ancient world, and the ancient world into the new religion. Only one thing was needed: the Coming of the Christ. As yet darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness lay upon the people. But far away the golden light of the new day was already tingeing the edge of the horizon. Presently would the Lord arise upon Zion, and His glory be seen upon her. Presently would the Voice from out the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; presently would it herald the Coming of His Christ to Jew and Gentile, and that Kingdom of heaven, which, established upon earth, is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 2, Chapter 1. From the Manger in Bethlehem to the Baptism in Jordan.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

‘Fortitudo infirmatur,

Parva fit immensitas;

Liberator alligatur,

Nascitur aeternitas.

O quam mira perpetrasti

Jesu propter hominem!

Tam ardenter quem amasti

Paradiso exulem.’ – Ancient Latin Hymn.

Chapter I. In Jerusalem When Herod Reigned.

If the dust of ten centuries could have been wiped from the eyelids of those sleepers, and one of them who thronged Jerusalem in the highday of its glory, during the reign of King Solomon, had returned to its streets, he would scarcely have recognised the once familiar city. Then, as now, a Jewish king reigned, who bore undivided rule over the whole land; then, as now, the city was filled with riches and adorned with palaces and architectural monuments; then, as now, Jerusalem was crowded with strangers from all lands. Solomon and Herod were each the last Jewish king over the Land of Promise; Solomon and Herod, each, built the Temple. But with the son of David began, and with the Idumaean ended, ‘the kingdom;’ or rather, having fulfilled its mission, it gave place to the spiritual world-kingdom of ‘David’s greater Son.’ The sceptre departed from Judah to where the nations were to gather under its sway. And the Temple which Solomon built was the first. In it the shekhinah dwelt visibly. The Temple which Herod reared was the last. The ruins of its burning, which the torch of the Romans had kindled, were never to be restored. Herod was not the antitype, he was, the Barabbas, of David’s Royal Son.

In other respects, also, the difference was almost equally great. The four ‘companion-like’ hills on which the city was built, the deep clefts by which it was surrounded, the Mount of Olives rising in the east, were the same as a thousand years ago. There, as of old were the Pool of Siloam and the royal gardens – nay, the very wall that had then surrounded the city. And yet all was so altered as to be scarcely recognisable. The ancient Jebusite fort, the City of David, Mount Zion, was now the priests’ quarter, Ophel, and the old royal palace and stables had been thrown into the Temple area – now completely levelled – where they formed the magnificent treble colonnade, known as the Royal Porch. Passing through it, and out by the Western Gate of the Temple, we stand on the immense bridge which spans the ‘Valley of the Cheesemongers,’ or the Tyropoeon, and connects the Eastern with the Western hills of the city. It is perhaps here that we can best mark the outstanding features, and note the changes. On the right, as we look northward, are (on the Eastern hill) Ophel, the Priest-quarter, and the Temple – oh, how wondrously beautiful and enlarged, and rising terrace upon terrace, surrounded by massive walls: a palace, a fortress, a Sanctuary of shining marble and glittering gold. And beyond it frowns the old fortress of Baris, rebuilt by Herod, and named after his patron, Antonia. This is the Hill of Zion. Right below us is the cleft of the Tyropoeon – and here creeps up northwards the ‘Lower City’ or Acra, in the form of a crescent, widening into an almost square ‘suburb.’ Across the Tyropoeon, westward, rises the ‘Upper City.’ If the Lower City and suburb form the business-quarter with its markets, bazaars, and streets of trades and guilds, the ‘Upper City’ is that of palaces. Here, at the other end of the great bridge which connects the Temple with the ‘Upper City,’ is the palace of the Maccabees; beyond it, the Xystos, or vast colonnaded enclosure, where popular assemblies are held: then the Palace of Ananias the High-Priest, and nearest to the Temple, ‘the Council Chamber’ and public Archives. Behind it, westwards, rise, terrace upon terrace, the stately mansions of the Upper City, till, quite in the north-west corner of the old city, we reach the Palace which Herod had built for himself – almost a city and fortress, flanked by three high towers, and enclosing spacious gardens. Beyond it again, and outside the city walls, both of the first and the second, stretches all north of the city the new suburb of Bezetha. Here on every side are gardens and villas; here passes the great northern road; out there must they have laid hold on Simon the Cyrenian, and here must have led the way to the place of the Crucifixion.

Changes that marked the chequered course of Israel’s history had come even over the city walls. The first and oldest – that of David and Solomon – ran round the west side of the Upper City, then crossed south to the Pool of Siloam, and ran up east, round Ophel, till it reached the eastern enclosure of the Temple, whence it passed in a straight line to the point from which it had started, forming the northern boundary of the ancient city. But although this wall still existed, there was now a marked addition to it. When the Maccabee Jonathan finally cleared Jerusalem of the Syrian garrison that lay in Fort Acra, he built a wall right ‘through the middle of the city,’ so as to shut out the foe. This wall probably ran from the western angle of the Temple southwards, to near the pool of Siloam, following the winding course of the Tyropoeon, but on the other side of it, where the declivity of the Upper City merged in the valley. Another monument of the Syrian Wars, of the Maccabees, and of Herod, was the fortress Antonia. Part of it had, probably, been formerly occupied by what was known as Fort Acra, of such unhappy prominence in the wars that preceded and marked the early Maccabean period. It had passed from the Ptolemies to the Syrians, and always formed the central spot round which the fight for the city turned. Judas Maccabee had not been able to take it. Jonathan had laid siege to it, and built the wall, to which reference has just been made, so as to isolate its garrison. It was at last taken by Simon, the brother and successor of Jonathan, and levelled with the ground. Fort Baris, which was constructed by his successor Hyrcanus I., covered a much wider space. It lay on the northwestern angle of the Temple, slightly jutting beyond it in the west, but not covering the whole northern area of the Temple. The rock on which it stood was higher than the Temple, although lower than the hill up which the new suburb Bezetha crept, which, accordingly, was cut off by a deep ditch, for the safety of the fortress. Herod greatly enlarged and strengthened it. Within encircling walls the fort rose to a height of sixty feet, and was flanked by four towers, of which three had a height of seventy, the fourth (S.E.), which jutted into the Temple area, of 105 feet, so as to command the sacred enclosure. A subterranean passage led into the Temple itself which was also connected with it by colonnades and stairs. Herod had adorned as well as strengthened and enlarged, this fort (now Antonia), and made it a palace, an armed camp, and almost a city.

Hitherto we have only spoken of the first or old wall, which was fortified by sixty towers. The second wall, which had only fourteen towers, began at some point in the northern wall at the Gate Gennath, whence it ran north, and then east, so as to enclose Acra and the Suburb. It terminated at Fort Antonia. Beyond, and all around this second wall stretched, as, already noticed, the new, as yet unenclosed suburb Bezetha, rising towards the northeast. But these changes were as nothing compared with those within the city itself. First and foremost was the great transformation in the Temple itself, which, from a small building, little larger than an ordinary church, in the time of Solomon, had become that great and glorious House which excited the admiration of the foreigner, and kindled the enthusiasm of every son of Israel. At the time of Christ it had been already forty-six years in building, and workmen were still, and for a long time, engaged on it. But what a heterogeneous crowd thronged its porches and courts! Hellenists; scattered wanderers from the most distant parts of the earth – east, west, north, and south; Galileans, quick of temper and uncouth of Jewish speech; Judaeans and Jerusalemites; white-robed Priests and Levites; Temple officials; broad-phylacteried, wide-fringed Pharisees, and courtly, ironical Sadducees; and, in the outer court, curious Gentiles! Some had come to worship; others to pay vows, or bring offerings, or to seek purification; some to meet friends, and discourse on religious subjects in those colonnaded porches, which ran round the Sanctuary; or else to have their questions answered, or their causes heard and decided, by the smaller Sanhedrin of twenty-three, that sat in the entering of the gate or by the Great Sanhedrin. The latter no longer occupied the Hall of Hewn Stones, Gazith, but met in some chamber attached to those ‘shops,’ or booths, on the Temple Mount, which belonged to the High-Priestly family of Ananias, and where such profitable trade was driven by those who, in their cupidity and covetousness, were worthy successors of the sons of Eli. In the Court of the Gentiles (or in its porches) sat the official money-changers, who for a fixed discount changed all foreign coins into those of the Sanctuary. Here also was that great mart for sacrificial animals, and all that was requisite for offerings. How the simple, earnest country people, who came to pay vows, or bring offerings for purifying, must have wondered, and felt oppressed in that atmosphere of strangely blended religious rigorism and utter worldliness; and how they must have been taxed, imposed upon, and treated with utmost curtness, nay, rudeness, by those who laughed at their boorishness, and despised them as cursed, ignorant country people, little better than heathens, or, for that matter, than brute beasts. Here also there lay about a crowd of noisy beggars, unsightly from disease, and clamorous for help. And close by passed the luxurious scion of the High-Priestly families; the proud, intensely self-conscious Teacher of the Law, respectfully followed by his disciples; and the quick-witted, subtle Scribe. These were men who, on Sabbaths and feast-days, would come out on the Temple-terrace to teach the people, or condescend to answer their questions; who in the Synagogues would hold their puzzled hearers spell-bound by their traditional lore and subtle argumentation, or tickle the fancy of the entranced multitude, that thronged every available space, by their ingenious frivolities, their marvellous legends, or their clever sayings; but who would, if occasion required, quell an opponent by well-poised questions, or crush him beneath the sheer weight of authority. Yet others were there who, despite the utterly lowering influence which the frivolities of the prevalent religion, and the elaborate trifling of its endless observances, must have exercised on the moral and religious feelings of all – perhaps, because of them – turned aside, and looked back with loving gaze to the spiritual promises of the past, and forward with longing expectancy to the near ‘consolation of Israel,’ waiting for it in prayerful fellowship, and with bright, heaven-granted gleams of its dawning light amidst the encircling gloom.

Descending from the Temple into the city, there was more than enlargement, due to the increased population. Altogether, Jerusalem covered, at its greatest, about 300 acres. As of old there were still the same narrow streets in the business quarters; but in close contiguity to bazaars and shops rose stately mansions of wealthy merchants, and palaces of princes. And what a change in the aspect of these streets, in the character of those shops, and, above all, in the appearance of the restless Eastern crowd that surged to and fro! Outside their shops in the streets, or at least in sight of the passers, and within reach of their talk, was the shoemaker hammering his sandals, the tailor plying his needle, the carpenter, or the worker in iron and brass. Those who were less busy, or more enterprising, passed along, wearing some emblem of their trade: the dyer, variously coloured threads; the carpenter, a rule: the writer, a reed behind his ear; the tailor, with a needle prominently stuck in his dress. In the side streets the less attractive occupations of the butcher, the wool-comber, or the flax-spinner were carried on. In these large, shady halls, artistic trades were pursued: the elegant workmanship of the goldsmith and jeweller; the various articles de luxe, that adorned the houses of the rich; the work of the designer, the moulder, or the artificer in iron or brass. In these streets and lanes everything might be purchased: the production of Palestine, or imported from foreign lands – nay, the rarest articles from the remotest parts. Exquisitely shaped, curiously designed and jewelled cups, rings and other workmanship of precious metals; glass, silks, fine linen, woollen stuffs, purple, and costly hangings; essences, ointments, and perfumes, as precious as gold; articles of food and drink from foreign lands – in short, what India, Persia, Arabia, Media, Egypt, Italy, Greece, and even the far-off lands of the Gentiles yielded, might be had in these bazaars.

Ancient Jewish writings enable us to identify no fewer than 118 different articles of import from foreign lands, covering more than even modern luxury has devised. Articles of luxury, especially from abroad, fetched indeed enormous prices; and a lady might spend 36l. on a cloak; silk would be paid by its weight in gold; purple wool at 3l. 5s. the pound, or, if double-dyed, at almost ten times that amount; while the price of the best balsam and nard was most exorbitant. On the other hand, the cost of common living was very low. In the bazaars you might get a complete suit for your slave for eighteen or nineteen shillings, and a tolerable outfit for yourself from 3l. to 6l. For the same sum you might purchase an ass, an ox, or a cow, and, for little more a horse. A calf might be had for less than fifteen shillings, a goat for five or six. Sheep were dearer, and fetched from four to fifteen or sixteen shillings, while a lamb might sometimes be had as low as two pence. No wonder living and labour were so cheap. Corn of all kinds, fruit, wine, and oil, cost very little. Meat was about a penny a pound; a man might get himself a small, of course unfurnished, lodging for about sixpence a week. A day labourer was paid about 7½d. a day, though skilled labour would fetch a good deal more. Indeed, the great Hillel was popularly supposed to have supported his family on less than twopence a day, while property to the amount of about 6l., or trade with 2l. or 3l. of goods, was supposed to exclude a person from charity, or a claim on what was left in the corners of fields and to the gleaners.

To these many like details might be added. Sufficient has been said to show the two ends of society: the exceeding dearness of luxuries, and the corresponding cheapness of necessaries. Such extremes would meet especially at Jerusalem. Its population, computed at from 200,000 to 250,000, was enormously swelled by travellers, and by pilgrims during the great festivals. The great Palace was the residence of King and Court, with all their following and luxury; in Antonia lay afterwards the Roman garrison. The Temple called thousands of priests, many of them with their families, to Jerusalem; while the learned Academies were filled with hundreds, though it may have been mostly poor, scholars and students. In Jerusalem must have been many of the large warehouses for the near commercial harbour of Joppa; and thence, as from the industrial centres of busy Galilee, would the pedlar go forth to carry his wares over the land. More especially would the markets of Jerusalem, held, however, in bazaars and streets rather than in squares, be thronged with noisy sellers and bargaining buyers. Thither would Galilee send not only its manufactures, but its provisions: fish (fresh or salted), fruit known for its lusciousness, oil, grape-syrup, and wine. There were special inspectors for these markets – the Agardemis or Agronimos – who tested weights and measures, and officially stamped them, tried the soundness of food or drink, and occasionally fixed or lowered the market-prices, enforcing their decision, if need were, even with the stick.  Not only was there an upper and a lower market in Jerusalem, but we read of at least seven special markets: those for cattle, wool, iron-ware, clothes, wood, bread, and fruit and vegetables. The original market-days were Monday and Tuesday, afterwards Friday. The large fairs (yeridin) were naturally confined to the centres of import and export – the borders of Egypt (Gaza), the ancient Phoenician maritime towns (Tyre and Acco), and the Emporium across the Jordan (Botnah). Besides, every caravansary, or khan (qatlis atlis, κατάλυσις), was a sort of mart, where goods were unloaded, and especially cattle set out for sale, and purchases made. But in Jerusalem one may suppose the sellers to have been every day in the market; and the magazines, in which greengrocery and all kinds of meat were sold (the beṯ hashevaqim), must have been always open. Besides, there were the many shops (ḥanuyoṯ) either fronting the streets, or in courtyards, or else movable wooden booths in the streets. Strangely enough, occasionally Jewish women were employed in selling. Business was also done in the restaurants and wineshops, of which there were many; where you might be served with some dish: fresh or salted fish, fried locusts, a mess of vegetables, a dish of soup, pastry, sweetmeats, or a piece of a fruit-cake, to be washed down with Judaean or Galilean wine, Idumaean vinegar, or foreign beer.

If from these busy scenes we turn to the more aristocratic quarters of the Upper City, we still see the same narrow streets, but tenanted by another class. First, we pass the High-Priest’s palace on the slope of the hill, with a lower story under the principal apartments, and a porch in front. Here, on the night of the Betrayal, Peter was ‘beneath in the Palace.’ Next, we come to Xystos, and then pause for a moment at the Palace of the Maccabees. It lies higher up the hill, and westward from the Xystos. From its halls you can look into the city, and even into the Temple. We know not which of the Maccabees had built this palace. But it was occupied, not by the actually reigning prince, who always resided in the fortress (Baris, afterwards Antonia), but by some other member of the family. From them it passed into the possession of Herod. There Herod Antipas was when, on that terrible Passover, Pilate sent Jesus from the old palace of Herod to be examined by the Ruler of Galilee. If these buildings pointed to the difference between the past and present, two structures of Herod’s were, perhaps, more eloquent than any words in their accusations of the Idumaean. One of these, at least, would come in sight in passing along the slopes of the Upper City. The Maccabean rule had been preceded by that of corrupt High-Priests, who had prostituted their office to the vilest purposes. One of them, who had changed his Jewish name of Joshua into Jason, had gone so far, in his attempts to Grecianise the people, as to build a Hippodrome and Gymnasium for heathen games. We infer, it stood where the Western hill sloped into the Tyropoeon, to the south-west of the Temple. It was probably this which Herod afterwards enlarged and beautified, and turned into a theatre. No expense was spared on the great games held there. The theatre itself was magnificently adorned with gold, silver, precious stones, and trophies of arms and records of the victories of Augustus. But to the Jews this essentially heathen place, over against their Temple, was cause of deep indignation and plots. Besides this theatre, Herod also built an immense amphitheatre, which we must locate somewhere in the north-west, and outside the second city wall.

All this was Jerusalem above ground. But there was an under-ground Jerusalem also, which burrowed everywhere under the city – under the Upper City, under the Temple, beyond the city walls. Its extent may be gathered from the circumstance that, after the capture of the city, besides the living who had sought shelter there, no fewer than 2,000 dead bodies were found in those subterranean streets.

Close by the tracks of heathenism in Jerusalem, and in sharp contrast, was what gave to Jerusalem its intensely Jewish character. It was not only the Temple, nor the festive pilgrims to its feasts and services. But there were hundreds of Synagogues, some for different nationalities – such as the Alexandrians, or the Cyrenians; some for, or perhaps founded by, certain trade-guilds. If possible, the Jewish schools were even more numerous than the Synagogues. Then there were the many Rabbinic Academies; and, besides, you might also see in Jerusalem that mysterious sect, the Essenes, of which the members were easily recognized by their white dress. Essenes, Pharisees, stranger Jews of all hues, and of many dresses and languages! One could have imagined himself almost in another world, a sort of enchanted land, in this Jewish metropolis, and metropolis of Judaism. When the silver trumpets of the Priests woke the city to prayer, or the strain of Levite music swept over it, or the smoke of the sacrifices hung like another shekhinah over the Temple, against the green background of Olivet; or when in every street, court, and housetop rose the booths at the Feast of Tabernacles, and at night the sheen of the Temple illumination threw long fantastic shadows over the city; or when, at the Passover, tens of thousands crowded up the Mount with their Paschal lambs, and hundreds of thousands sat down to the Paschal supper – it would be almost difficult to believe, that heathenism was so near, that the Roman was virtually, and would soon be really, master of the land, or that a Herod occupied the Jewish throne.

Yet there he was; in the pride of his power, and the reckless cruelty of his ever-watchful tyranny. Everywhere was his mark. Temples to the gods and to Caesar, magnificent, and magnificently adorned, outside Palestine and in its non-Jewish cities; towns rebuilt or built: Sebaste for the ancient Samaria, the splendid city and harbour of Caesarea in the west, Antipatris (after his father) in the north, Kypros and Phasaelis (after his mother and brother), and Agrippeion; unconquerable fortresses, such as Essebonitis and Machaerus in Peraea, Alexandreion, Herodeion, Hyrcania, and Masada in Judaea – proclaimed his name and sway. But in Jerusalem it seemed as if he had gathered up all his strength. The theatre and amphitheatre spoke of his Grecianism; Antonia was the representative fortress; for his religion he had built that glorious Temple, and for his residence the noblest of palaces, at the north-western angle of the Upper City, close by where Milo had been in the days of David. It seems almost incredible, that a Herod should have reared the Temple, and yet we can understand his motives. Jewish tradition had it, that a Rabbi (Baba ben Buta) had advised him in this manner to conciliate the people, or else thereby to expiate the slaughter of so many Rabbis.  Probably a desire to gain popularity, and superstition, may alike have contributed, as also the wish to gratify his love for splendour and building. At the same time, he may have wished to show himself a better Jew than that rabble of Pharisees and Rabbis, who perpetually would cast it in his teeth, that he was an Idumaean. Whatever his origin, he was a true king of the Jews – as great, nay greater, than Solomon himself. Certainly, neither labour nor money had been spared on the Temple. A thousand vehicles carried up the stone; 10,000 workmen, under the guidance of 1,000 priests, wrought all the costly material gathered into that house, of which Jewish tradition could say, ‘He that has not seen the Temple of Herod, has never known what beauty is.’ And yet Israel despised and abhorred the builder! Nor could his apparent work for the God of Israel have deceived the most credulous. In youth he had browbeaten the venerable Sanhedrin, and threatened the city with slaughter and destruction; again and again had he murdered her venerable sages; he had shed like water the blood of her Asmonean princes, and of every one who dared to be free; had stifled every national aspiration in the groans of the torture, and quenched it in the gore of his victims. Not once, nor twice, but six times did he change the High-Priesthood, to bestow it at last on one who bears no good name in Jewish theology, a foreigner in Judaea, an Alexandrian. And yet the power of that Idumaean was but of yesterday, and of mushroom growth! 

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Book 2, Chapter 2. The Personal History of Herod – The Two Worlds in Jerusalem.

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

It is an intensely painful history, in the course of which Herod made his way to the throne. We look back nearly two and a half centuries to where, with the empire of Alexander, Palestine fell to his successors. For nearly a century and a half it continued the battle-field of the Egyptian and Syrian kings (the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae). At last it was a corrupt High-Priesthood – with which virtually the government of the land had all along lain – that betrayed Israel’s precious trust. The great-grandson of so noble a figure in Jewish history as Simon the Just (compare Ecclus. 1.) bought from the Syrians the High-Priestly office of his brother, adopted the heathen name Jason, and sought to Grecianise the people. The sacred office fell, if possible, even lower when, through bribery, it was transferred to his brother Menelaus. Then followed the brief period of the terrible persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, when Judaism was all but exterminated in Palestine. The glorious uprising of the Maccabees called forth all the national elements left in Israel, and kindled afresh the smouldering religious feeling. It seemed like a revival of Old Testament times. And when Judas the Maccabee, with a band so inferior in numbers and discipline, defeated the best of the Syrian soldiery, led by its ablest generals, and, on the anniversary of its desecration by heathen rites, set up again the great altar of burnt-offering, it appeared as if a new Theocracy were to be inaugurated. The ceremonial of that feast of the new ‘dedication of the Temple,’ when each night the number of lights grew larger in the winter’s darkness, seemed symbolic of what was before Israel. But the Maccabees were not the Messiah; nor yet the Kingdom, which their sword would have restored – that of Heaven, with its blessings and peace. If ever, Israel might then have learned what Saviour to look for.

The period even of promise was more brief than might have been expected. The fervour and purity of the movement ceased almost with its success. It was certainly never the golden age of Israel – not even among those who remained faithful to its God – which those seem to imagine who, forgetful of its history and contests, would trace to it so much that is most precious and spiritual in the Old Testament. It may have been the pressure of circumstances, but it was anything but a pious, or even a ‘happy’ thought of Judas the Maccabee, to seek the alliance of the Romans. From their entrance on the scene dates the decline of Israel’s national cause. For a time, indeed – though after varying fortunes of war – all seemed prosperous. The Maccabees became both High-Priests and Kings. But party-strife and worldliness, ambition and corruption, and Grecianism on the throne, soon brought their sequel in the decline of morale and vigour, and led to the decay and decadence of the Maccabean house. It is a story as old as the Old Testament, and as wide as the history of the world. Contention for the throne among the Maccabees led to the interference of the foreigner. When, after capturing Jerusalem, and violating the sanctity of the Temple, although not plundering its treasures, Pompey placed Hyrcanus II. in possession of the High-Priesthood, the last of the Maccabean rulers was virtually shorn of power. The country was now tributary to Rome, and subject to the Governor of Syria. Even the shadow of political power passed from the feeble hands of Hyrcanus when, shortly afterwards, Gabinius (one of the Roman governors) divided the land into five districts, independent of each other.

But already a person had appeared on the stage of Jewish affairs, who was to give them their last decisive turn. About fifty years before this, the district of Idumaea had been conquered by the Maccabean King Hyrcanus I., and its inhabitants forced to adopt Judaism. By this Idumaea we are not, however, to understand the ancient or Eastern Edom, which was now in the hands of the Nabataeans, but parts of Southern Palestine which the Edomites had occupied since the Babylonian Exile, and especially a small district on the northern and eastern boundary of Judaea, and below Samaria. After it became Judaean, its administration was entrusted to a governor. In the reign of the last of the Maccabees this office devolved on one Antipater, a man of equal cunning and determination. He successfully interfered in the unhappy dispute for the crown, which was at last decided by the sword of Pompey. Antipater took the part of the utterly weak Hyrcanus in that contest with his energetic brother Aristobulus. He soon became the virtual ruler, and Hyrcanus II. only a puppet in his hands. From the accession of Judas Maccabaeus, in 166 b.c., to the year 63 b.c., when Jerusalem was taken by Pompey, only about a century had elapsed. Another twenty-four years, and the last of the Maccabees had given place to the son of Antipater: Herod, surnamed the Great.

The settlement of Pompey did not prove lasting. Aristobulus, the brother and defeated rival of Hyrcanus, was still alive, and his sons were even more energetic than he. The risings attempted by them, the interference of the Parthians on behalf of those who were hostile to Rome, and, lastly, the contentions for supremacy in Rome itself, made this period one of confusion, turmoil, and constant warfare in Palestine. When Pompey was finally defeated by Caesar, the prospects of Antipater and Hyrcanus seemed dark. But they quickly changed sides; and timely help given to Caesar in Egypt brought to Antipater the title of Procurator of Judaea, while Hyrcanus was left in the High-Priesthood, and, at least, nominal head of the people. The two sons of Antipater were now made governors: the elder, Phasaelus, of Jerusalem; the younger, Herod, only twenty-five years old, of Galilee. Here he displayed the energy and determination which were his characteristics, in crushing a guerilla warfare, of which the deeper springs were probably nationalist. The execution of its leader brought Herod a summons to appear before the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, for having arrogated to himself the power of life and death. He came, but arrayed in purple, surrounded by a body-guard, and supported by the express direction of the Roman Governor to Hyrcanus, that he was to be acquitted. Even so he would have fallen a victim to the apprehensions of the Sanhedrin – only too well grounded – had he not been persuaded to withdraw from the city. He returned at the head of an army, and was with difficulty persuaded by his father to spare Jerusalem. Meantime Caesar had named him Governor of Coelesyria.

On the murder of Caesar, and the possession of Syria by Cassius, Antipater and Herod again changed sides. But they rendered such substantial service as to secure favour, and Herod was continued in the position conferred on him by Caesar. Antipater was, indeed, poisoned by a rival, but his sons Herod and Phasaelus repressed and extinguished all opposition. When the battle of Philippi placed the Roman world in the hands of Antony and Octavius, the former obtained Asia. Once more the Idumaeans knew how to gain the new ruler, and Phasaelus and Herod were named Tetrarchs of Judaea. Afterwards, when Antony was held in the toils of Cleopatra, matters seemed, indeed, to assume a different aspect. The Parthians entered the land, in support of the rival Maccabean prince Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus. By treachery, Phasaelus and Hyrcanus were induced to go to the Parthian camp, and made captives. Phasaelus shortly afterwards destroyed himself in his prison, while Hyrcanus was deprived of his ears, to unfit him for the High-Priestly office. And so Antigonus for a short time succeeded both to the High-Priesthood and royalty in Jerusalem. Meantime Herod, who had in vain warned his brother and Hyrcanus against the Parthian, had been able to make his escape from Jerusalem. His family he left to the defence of his brother Joseph, in the inaccessible fortress of Masada; himself fled into Arabia, and finally made his way to Rome. There he succeeded, not only with Antony, but obtained the consent of Octavius, and was proclaimed by the Senate King of Judaea. A sacrifice on the Capitol, and a banquet by Antony, celebrated the accession of the new successor of David.

But he had yet to conquer his kingdom. At first he made way by the help of the Romans. Such success, however, as he had gained, was more than lost during his brief absence on a visit to Antony. Joseph, the brother of Herod, was defeated and slain, and Galilee, which had been subdued,. revolted again. But the aid which the Romans rendered, after Herod’s return from Antony, was much more hearty, and his losses were more than retrieved. Soon all Palestine, with the exception of Jerusalem, was in his hands. While laying siege to it, he went to Samaria, there to wed the beautiful Maccabean princess Mariamne, who had been betrothed to him five years before. That ill-fated Queen, and her elder brother Aristobulus, united in themselves the two rival branches of the Maccabean family. Their father was Alexander, the eldest son of Aristobulus, and brother of that Antigonus whom Herod now besieged in Jerusalem; and their mother, Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus II. The uncle of Mariamne was not long able to hold out against the combined forces of Rome and Herod. The carnage was terrible. When Herod, by rich presents, at length induced the Romans to leave Jerusalem, they took Antigonus with them. By desire of Herod he was executed.

This was the first of the Maccabees who fell victim to his jealousy and cruelty. The history which now follows is one of sickening carnage. The next to experience his vengeance were the principal adherents in Jerusalem of his rival Antigonus. Forty-five of the noblest and richest were executed. His next step was to appoint an obscure Babylonian to the High-Priesthood. This awakened the active hostility of Alexandra, the mother of Mariamne, Herod’s wife. The Maccabean princess claimed the High-Priesthood for her son Aristobulus. Her intrigues with Cleopatra – and through her with Antony – and the entreaties of Mariamne, the only being whom Herod loved, though in his own mad way, prevailed. At the age of seventeen Aristobulus was made High-Priest. But Herod, who well knew the hatred and contempt of the Maccabean members of his family, had his mother-in-law watched, a precaution increased after the vain attempt of Alexandra to have herself and her son removed in coffins from Jerusalem, to flee to Cleopatra. Soon the jealousy and suspicions of Herod were raised to murderous madness, by the acclamations which greeted the young Aristobulus at the Feast of Tabernacles. So dangerous a Maccabean rival must be got rid of; and, by secret order of Herod, Aristobulus was drowned while bathing. His mother denounced the murderer, and her influence with Cleopatra, who also hated Herod, led to his being summoned before Antony. Once more bribery, indeed, prevailed; but other troubles awaited Herod.

When obeying the summons of Antony, Herod had committed the government to his uncle Joseph, who was also his brother-in-law, having wedded Salome, the sister of Herod. His mad jealousy had prompted him to direct that, in case of his condemnation, Mariamne was to be killed, that she might not become the wife of another. Unfortunately, Joseph told this to Mariamne, to show how much she was loved. But on the return of Herod, the infamous Salome accused her old husband of impropriety with Mariamne. When it appeared that Joseph had told the Queen of his commission, Herod, regarding it as confirming his sister’s charge, ordered him to be executed, without even a hearing. External complications of the gravest kind now supervened. Herod had to cede to Cleopatra the districts of Phoenice and Philistia, and that of Jericho with its rich balsam plantations. Then the dissensions between Antony and Octavius involved him, in the cause of the former, in a war with Arabia, whose king had failed to pay tribute to Cleopatra. Herod was victorious; but he had now to reckon with another master. The battle of Actium decided the fate of Antony, and Herod had to make his peace with Octavius. Happily, he was able to do good service to the new cause, ere presenting himself before Augustus. But, in order to be secure from all possible rivals, he had the aged Hyrcanus II. executed, on pretence of intrigues with the Arabs. Herod was successful with Augustus; and when, in the following summer he furnished him supplies on his march to Egypt, he was rewarded by a substantial addition of territory.

When about to appear before Augustus, Herod had entrusted to one Soëmus the charge of Mariamne, with the same fatal directions as formerly to Joseph. Again Mariamne learnt the secret; again the old calumnies were raised – this time not only by Salome, but also by Kypros, Herod’s mother; and again Herod imagined he had found corroborative evidence. Soëmus was slain without a hearing, and the beautiful Mariamne executed after a mock trial. The most fearful paroxysm of remorse, passion, and longing for his murdered wife now seized the tyrant, and brought him to the brink of the grave. Alexandra, the mother of Mariamne, deemed the moment favorable for her plots – but she was discovered, and executed. Of the Maccabean race there now remained only distant members, the sons of Babas, who had found an asylum with Costobarus, the Governor of Idumaea, who had wedded Salome after the death of her first husband. Tired of him, as she had been of Joseph, Salome denounced her second husband; and Costobarus, as well as the sons of Babas, fell victims to Herod. Thus perished the family of the Maccabees.

The hand of the maddened tyrant was next turned against his own family. Of his ten wives, we mention only those whose children occupy a place in this history. The son of Doris was Antipater; those of the Maccabean Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus; another Mariamne, whose father Herod had made High-Priest, bore him a son named Herod (a name which other of the sons shared); Malthake, a Samaritan, was the mother of Archelaus and Herod Antipas; and, lastly, Cleopatra of Jerusalem bore Philip. The sons of the Maccabean princess, as heirs presumptive, were sent to Rome for their education. On this occasion Herod received, as reward for many services, the country east of the Jordan, and was allowed to appoint his still remaining brother, Pheroras, Tetrarch of Peraea. On their return from Rome the young princes were married: Alexander to a daughter of the King of Cappadocia, and Aristobulus to his cousin Berenice, the daughter of Salome. But neither kinship, nor the yet nearer relation in which Aristobulus now stood to her, could extinguish the hatred of Salome towards the dead Maccabean princess or her children. Nor did the young princes, in their pride of descent, disguise their feelings towards the house of their father. At first, Herod gave no heed to the denunciations of his sister. Presently he yielded to vague apprehensions. As a first step, Antipater, the son of Doris, was recalled from exile, and sent to Rome for education. So the breach became open; and Herod took his sons to Italy, to lay formal accusation against them before Augustus. The wise counsels of the Emperor restored peace for a time. But Antipater now returned to Palestine, and joined his calumnies to those of Salome. Once more the King of Cappadocia succeeded in reconciling Herod and his sons. But in the end the intrigues of Salome, Antipater, and of an infamous foreigner who had made his way at Court, prevailed. Alexander and Aristobulus were imprisoned, and an accusation of high treason laid against them before the Emperor. Augustus gave Herod full powers, but advised the convocation of a mixed tribunal of Jews and Romans to try the case. As might have been expected, the two princes were condemned to death, and when some old soldiers ventured to intercede for them, 300 of the supposed adherents of the cause were cut down, and the two princes strangled in prison. This happened in Samaria, where, thirty years before, Herod had wedded their ill-fated mother.

Antipater was now the heir presumptive. But, impatient of the throne, he plotted with Herod’s brother, Pheroras, against his father. Again Salome denounced her nephew and her brother. Antipater withdrew to Rome; but when, after the death of Pheroras, Herod obtained indubitable evidence that his son had plotted against his life, he lured Antipater to Palestine, where on his arrival he was cast into prison. All that was needed was the permission of Augustus for his execution. It arrived, and was carried out only five days before the death of Herod himself. So ended a reign almost unparalleled for reckless cruelty and bloodshed, in which the murder of the Innocents in Bethlehem formed but so trifling an episode among the many deeds of blood, as to have seemed not deserving of record on the page of the Jewish historian.

But we can understand the feelings of the people towards such a King. They hated the Idumaean; they detested his semi-heathen reign; they abhorred his deeds of cruelty. The King had surrounded himself with foreign councillors, and was protected by foreign mercenaries from Thracia, Germany, and Gaul. So long as he lived, no woman’s honour was safe, no man’s life secure. An army of all-powerful spies pervaded Jerusalem – nay, the King himself was said to stoop to that office. If pique or private enmity led to denunciation, the torture would extract any confession from the most innocent. What his relation to Judaism had been, may easily be inferred. He would be a Jew – even build the Temple, advocate the cause of the Jews in other lands, and, in a certain sense, conform to the Law of Judaism. In building the Temple, he was so anxious to conciliate national prejudice, that the Sanctuary itself was entrusted to the workmanship of priests only. Nor did he ever intrude into the Holy Place, nor interfere with any functions of the priesthood. None of his coins bear devices which could have shocked popular feeling, nor did any of the buildings he erected in Jerusalem exhibit any forbidden emblems. The Sanhedrin did exist during his reign, though it must have been shorn of all real power, and its activity confined to ecclesiastical, or semi-ecclesiastical, causes. Strangest of all, he seems to have had at least the passive support of two of the greatest Rabbis – the Pollio and Sameas of Josephus – supposed to represent those great figures in Jewish tradition, Abtalion and Shemajah.  We can but conjecture, that they preferred even his rule to what had preceded; and hoped it might lead to a Roman Protectorate, which would leave Judaea practically independent, or rather under Rabbinic rule.

It was also under the government of Herod, that Hillel and Shammai lived and taught in Jerusalem: the two, whom tradition designates as ‘the fathers of old.’ Both gave their names to schools,’ whose direction was generally different – not unfrequently, it seems, chiefly for the sake of opposition. But it is not correct to describe the former as consistently the more liberal and mild. The teaching of both was supposed to have been declared by the ‘Voice from Heaven’ (the baṯqol) as ‘the words of the living God;’ yet the Law was to be henceforth according to the teaching of Hillel. But to us Hillel is so intensely interesting, not merely as the mild and gentle, nor only as the earnest student who came from Babylon to learn in the Academics of Jerusalem; who would support his family on a third of his scanty wages as a day labourer, that he might pay for entrance into the schools: and whose zeal and merits were only discovered when, after a severe night, in which, from poverty, he had been unable to gain admittance into the Academy, his benumbed form was taken down from the window-sill, to which he had crept up not to lose aught of the precious instruction. And for his sake did they gladly break on that Sabbath the sacred rest. Nor do we think of him, as tradition fables him – the descendant of David, possessed of every great quality of body, mind, and heart; nor yet as the second Ezra, whose learning placed him at the head of the Sanhedrin, who laid down the principles afterwards applied and developed by Rabbinism, and who was the real founder of traditionalism. Still less do we think of him, as he is falsely represented by some: as he whose principles closely resemble the teaching of Jesus, or, according to certain writers, were its source. By the side of Jesus we think of him otherwise than this. We remember that, in his extreme old age and near his end, he may have presided over that meeting of Sanhedrin which, in answer to Herod’s inquiry, pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.  We think of him also as the grandfather of that Gamaliel, at whose feet Saul of Tarsus sat. And to us he is the representative Jewish reformer, in the spirit of those times, and in the sense of restoring rather than removing; while we think of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, in the sense of bringing the Kingdom of God to all men, and opening it to all believers.

And so there were two worlds in Jerusalem, side by side. On the one hand, was Grecianism with its theatre and amphitheatre; foreigners filling the Court, and crowding the city; foreign tendencies and ways, from the foreign King downwards. On the other hand, was the old Jewish world, becoming now set and ossified in the Schools of Hillel and Shammai, and overshadowed by Temple and Synagogue. And each was pursuing its course, by the side of the other. If Herod had everywhere his spies, the Jewish law provided its two police magistrates in Jerusalem, the only judges who received remuneration.  If Herod judged cruelly and despotically, the Sanhedrin weighed most deliberately, the balance always inclining to mercy. If Greek was the language of the court and camp, and indeed must have been understood and spoken by most in the land, the language of the people, spoken also by Christ and His Apostles, was a dialect of the ancient Hebrew, the Western or Palestinian Aramaic. It seems strange, that this could ever have been doubted. A Jewish Messiah Who would urge His claim upon Israel in Greek, seems almost a contradiction in terms. We know, that the language of the Temple and the Synagogue was Hebrew, and that the addresses of the Rabbis had to be ‘targumed’ into the vernacular Aramaean – and can we believe that, in a Hebrew service, the Messiah could have risen to address the people in Greek, or that He would have argued with the Pharisees and Scribes in that tongue, especially remembering that its study was actually forbidden by the Rabbis?

Indeed, it was a peculiar mixture of two worlds in Jerusalem: not only of the Grecian and the Jewish, but of piety and frivolity also. The devotion of the people and the liberality of the rich were unbounded. Fortunes were lavished on the support of Jewish learning, the promotion of piety, or the advance of the national cause. Thousands of votive offerings, and the costly gifts in the Temple, bore evidence of this. If priestly avarice had artificially raised the price of sacrificial animals, a rich man would bring into the Temple at his own cost the number requisite for the poor. Charity was not only open-handed, but most delicate, and one who had been in good circumstances would actually be enabled to live according to his former station. Then these Jerusalemites – townspeople, as they called themselves – were so polished, so witty, so pleasant. There was a tact in their social intercourse, and a considerateness and delicacy in their public arrangements and provisions, nowhere else to be found. Their very language was different. There was a Jerusalem dialect, quicker, shorter, ‘lighter’ (lishna qalila). And their hospitality, especially at festive seasons, was unlimited. No one considered his house his own, and no stranger or pilgrim but found reception. And how much there was to be seen and heard in those luxuriously furnished houses, and at those sumptuous entertainments! In the women’s apartments, friends from the country would see every novelty in dress, adornment, and jewellery, and have the benefit of examining themselves in looking-glasses. To be sure, as being womanish vanity, their use was interdicted to men, except it were to the members of the family of the President of the Sanhedrin, on account of their intercourse with those in authority, just as for the same reason they were allowed to learn Greek. Nor might even women look in the glass on the Sabbath. But that could only apply to those carried in the hand, since one might be tempted, on the holy day, to do such servile work as to pull out a grey hair with the pincers attached to the end of the glass; but not to a glass fixed in the lid of a basket; nor to such as hung on the wall. And then the lady-visitor might get anything in Jerusalem; from a false tooth to an Arabian veil a Persian shawl, or an Indian dress!

While the women so learned Jerusalem manners in the inner apartments, the men would converse on the news of the day, or on politics. For the Jerusalemites had friends and correspondents in the most distant parts of the world, and letters were carried by special messengers, in a kind of post-bag. Nay, there seem to have been some sort of receiving-offices in towns, and even something resembling our parcel-post. And, strange as it may sound, even a species of newspapers, or broadsheets, appears to have been circulating (mikhtaḇin), not allowed, however, on the Sabbath, unless they treated of public affairs.

Of course, it is difficult accurately to determine which of these things were in use in the earliest times, or else introduced at a later period. Perhaps, however, it was safer to bring them into a picture of Jewish society. Undoubted, and, alas, too painful evidence comes to us of the luxuriousness of Jerusalem at that time, and of the moral corruption to which it led. It seems only too clear, that such commentations as the Talmud gives of Isa_3:16-24, in regard to the manners and modes of attraction practised by a certain class of the female population in Jerusalem, applied to a far later period than that of the prophet. With this agrees only too well the recorded covert lascivious expressions used by the men, which gives a lamentable picture of the state of morals of many in the city, and the notices of the indecent dress worn not only by women, but even by corrupt High-Priestly youths. Nor do the exaggerated descriptions of what the Midrash on Lamentations describes as the dignity of the Jerusalemites; of the wealth which they lavished on their marriages; of the ceremony which insisted on repeated invitations to the guests to a banquet, and that men inferior in rank should not be bidden to it; of the dress in which they appeared; the manner in which the dishes were served, the wine in white crystal vases; and the punishment of the cook who had failed in his duty, and which was to be commensurate to the dignity of the party – give a better impression of the great world in Jerusalem.

And yet it was the City of God, over whose destruction not only the Patriarch and Moses, but the Angelic hosts – nay, the Almighty Himself and His shekhinah – had made bitterest lamentation. The City of the Prophets, also – since each of them whose birthplace had not been mentioned, must be regarded as having sprung from it. Equally, even more, marked, but now for joy and triumph, would be the hour of Jerusalem’s uprising, when it would welcome its Messiah. Oh, when would He come? In the feverish excitement of expectancy they were only too ready to listen to the voice of any pretender, however coarse and clumsy the imposture. Yet He was at hand – even now coming: only quite other than the Messiah of their dreams. ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His Name.’

Worthy Christian Library » Alfred Edersheim » The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah