The Big Picture

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Alexander the Great in Jerusalem

The only historical event connecting Alexander the Great with the Jews is his visit to Jerusalem around 332 BC, which is recorded later by Josephus in a somewhat fantastic manner. According to "Ant." xi. 8, §§ 4-6, Alexander went to Jerusalem after having taken Gaza. Jaddua, the high priest, had a warning from God received in a dream, in which he saw himself vested in a purple robe, with his miter—that had the golden plate on which the name of God was engraved—on his head. Accordingly he went to meet Alexander at Sapha ("View" [of the Temple]). Followed by the priests, all clothed in fine linen, and by a multitude of citizens, Jaddua awaited the coming of the king. When Alexander saw the high priest, he reverenced God (Lev. R. xiii., end), and saluted Jaddua; while the Jews with one voice greeted Alexander. When Parmenio, the general, gave expression to the army's surprise at Alexander's extraordinary act—that one who ought to be adored by all as king should adore the high priest of the Jews—Alexander replied: "I did not adore him, but the God who hath honored him with this high-priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit, when I was at Dios in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea, promising that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians." Alexander then gave the high priest his right hand, and went into the Temple and "offered sacrifice to God according to the high priest's direction," treating the whole priesthood magnificently. "And when the Book of Daniel was shown him [see Dan. vii. 6, viii. 5-8, 20-22, xi. 3-4], wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks [] should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that he was the person intended, and rejoiced thereat. The following day Alexander asked the people what favors he should grant them; and, at the high priest's request, he accorded them the right to livein full enjoyment of the laws of their forefathers. He, furthermore, exempted them from the payment of tribute in the seventh year of release. To the Jews of Babylonia and Media also he granted like privileges; and to the Jews who were willing to enlist in his army he promised the right to live in accordance with their ancestral laws. Afterward the Samaritans, having learned of the favors granted the Jews by Alexander, asked for similar privileges; but Alexander declined to accede to their request. The historical character of this account is, however, doubted by many scholars (see Pauly-Wissowa, "Realencyklopädie," i. col. 1422). Although, according to Josephus ("Contra Ap." ii. 4, quoting Hecatæus), Alexander permitted the Jews to hold the country of Samaria free from tribute as a reward for their fidelity to him, it was he who Hellenized its capital (Schürer, "Gesch." ii. 108). The Sibylline Books (iii. 383) speak of Alexander—who claimed to be the son of Zeus Amon—as "of the progeny of the Kronides, though spurious."

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