(Minor Fulfillment of Matt. 24/25 or Revelation
Oswald T. Allis
John A. Broadus
Wilhelm De Wette
Charles Homer Giblin
Johann von Hug
J, F, and Brown
Jean Le Clerc
Jack P. Lewis
Sir Isaac Newton
Dr. John Owen
William W. Patton
Rudolph E. Stier
(Major Fulfillment of Matt. 24/25 or Revelation
John L. Bray
Dr. John Brown
Francis X. Gumerlock
J. Marcellus Kik
Ovid Need, Jr
Milton S. Terry
(Virtually No Fulfillment of Matt. 24/25 & Revelation in 1st
C. - Types Only ; Also Included are "Higher Critics" Not Associated With Any
Alan Patrick Boyd
John N. Darby
Charles G. Finney
J.P. Green Sr.
John N.D. Kelly
Dr. John Smith
George Fox |
Margaret Fell (Fox) |
PRETERIST UNIVERSALISM |
MODERN PRETERISM |
The subject of this study is the treatise On the Jews
ascribed to Hecataeus of Abdera, the great ethnographer of the early
Hellenistic age. The treatise itself has not survived. All we have are a
number of fragments and testimonia in Josephus's celebrated apologetic book
Against Apion (I.183-204, II.43). All the passages but one appear in the
context of Josephus's polemic against anti-Jewish authors of the Roman period,
who argued that the Jews were not mentioned by Greek historians and that they
were "newcomers" to the society of nations (Ap . I.2-5). The material
was selected by Josephus to prove, on the contrary, that early Hellenistic
authors had in fact referred to and even admired the Jews and their religion.
He was also trying to show that the Jewish people had already flourished at
least as early as the time of Alexander and the Successors (I.185).
Josephus seems to have believed sincerely that the passages
he quotes or summarizes were written by Hecataeus. He repeatedly states that
he is citing Hecataeus. In two places he explicitly mentions the latter's book
on the Jews (I.183, 205), and once he even advises his readers to consult the
book for further information, saying that it is "readily available" (I.205).
The existence of the treatise was mentioned by Herennius Philo (Origen, C.
Cels . I.15), a pagan author of the second century A.D.
, who seems to have been directly acquainted with it.
The surviving material describes the history and main
characteristics of the Jews. The passages open with a report of a voluntary
migration to Egypt of many Jews, led by Hezekiah the High Priest (186-89).
― 2 ―
is followed by passages referring to three subjects—(a)
religion: the Jews' loyalty and devotion to their religion, their readiness to
sacrifice themselves for their faith, and their intolerance toward pagan cults
in their country (190-93); (b) the Jewish land and Jerusalem: demographic,
military, political, administrative, and geographic information (194-97); (c)
the Temple: its location, defense, and construction, sacred objects, and cult
(198-99). Josephus closes the quotations with a poignant anecdote about an
Egyptian Jewish soldier named Mosollamus and bird omens, which illustrates
Jewish disdain for gentile divination (201-4). There is also an abbreviated
sentence from On the Jews in Book II of Against Apion (II.43)
stating that Alexander annexed the region of Samaria to Judea.
An enthusiastic tone permeates almost every paragraph of the
excerpts and paraphrases. The individual Jews mentioned are wise and competent
in various activities (I.187, 201); the Jews of Judea and Egypt are said to
have been greatly favored by Alexander and Ptolemy I, and to have enjoyed
special rewards (I.186, 189; II.43); the Jews demonstrated supreme courage,
endurance, and loyalty in the face of "tortures and horrible deaths" at the
hands of the Persians, who tried to force them to renounce their faith
(I.191); their country is beautiful and most fertile (I.195); the city of
Jerusalem excels in splendor and is well fortified, large, and populous
(I.196-97); the Jewish Temple is without any material representation of the
divine or anything that might be interpreted as such (I.199); the priests
maintain absolute purity and sobriety (I.199). The author even goes so far as
to state that the Jews deserved to be admired for destroying pagan altars and
temples (I.193). He further recounts with obvious delight how the clever Jew
Mosollamus once made a public mockery of gentile principles and practices of
divination (I.200-204). The passages neither criticize nor express
reservations about the Jewish way of life and religious convictions. The
author is evidently convinced of their superiority and perfection.
The treatise On the Jews was not the only monograph
on Jewish issues ascribed to Hecataeus of Abdera. Josephus once mentions such
a book entitled On Abraham (Ant . I.159). Several lines
preserved from this book (Clement, Strom . V.14.113) contain verses
― 3 ―
strong monotheistic and antipagan convictions. The author
claims to quote them from Sophocles. They are, of course, nowhere to be found
in Sophocles' extant works, and seem typically Jewish. It has therefore been
universally accepted that the book On Abraham is a Jewish forgery.
So in at least one case a Jew evidently tried to promote his ideas and lend
them authority and prestige by attributing his work to Hecataeus of Abdera.
Hecataeus's reputation and influence, and the famous account of the Jews
included in his Egyptian ethnography, could well have tempted Jewish authors
to use his name for their pseudonymous compositions.
Hecataeus of Abdera was the leading Alexandrian literary
figure at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, and served in the court of
Ptolemy I. Of his indisputably authentic writings, we are acquainted only with
his monumental ethnography of the Egyptians and the utopian book On the
Hyperboreans . The first work set an example for later Hellenistic
ethnographers. It has been preserved in an abridged paraphrase by Diodorus
Siculus in Book I of his Historical Library .
Hecataeus incorporated into his Egyptian ethnography an
excursus on the Jews. The excursus was recorded in another book of Diodorus's
historical work (XL.3.1-8). Diodorus explicitly stated that he had drawn on
Hecataeus (3.8), and this has rightly been accepted as true. This version of
Jewish history and practices was well known in antiquity, but there is no
trace of the treatise On the Jews in the gentile literary tradition,
except for the reference to it by Philo of Byblos. In the excursus, the
attitude toward the Jews is not particularly enthusiastic and even includes
one major reservation, characterizing the Jewish way of life as "unsocial to a
certain extent, and hostile to strangers" (3.4).
The evident difference in general tone between the excursus
and the treatise, as well as the apparent anachronisms in the latter, made the
passages in Josephus a bone of contention for many generations of scholars.
The authenticity of the treatise had already been challenged in the Roman
period by Philo of Byblos (ca. 50-130 A.D. ). The
discussion was renewed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and Josef
― 4 ―
Scaliger, the celebrated Dutch philologist, expressed the
view that the treatise was spurious.
In 1730 the German scholar Peter Zorn published a comprehensive book on all
the surviving material about Jews and Judaism ascribed to Hecataeus,
supporting the authenticity of On the Jews .
A number of classical scholars and theologians contributed some minor points
to the debate from the end of the eighteenth century, being divided over the
question of authenticity.
The controversy heated up in the late nineteenth century. An important
landmark was reached in 1900 with a detailed study by Hugo Willrich, who
summarized the previous arguments against authenticity and added a number of
his own. The discussion has been carried on into our century, with the weight
of scholarly opinion shifting from time to time in either direction.
In 1932 Hans Lewy published a widely acclaimed paper about
On the Jews , regarded as a watershed by the advocates of authenticity.
His arguments gained support with the discovery in the same year of the first
Lewy's article was rediscovered in the late 1950s, and gradually tilted the
balance. Increasingly; scholars have come out in favor of authenticity, the
opponents being reduced to a small (but prominent) minority.
The inherent difficulties appeared to be
― 5 ―
satisfactorily solved: as even the most ardent supporters
of authenticity have been puzzled by the contents of one or two sentences in
the passages, it has been suggested that Josephus inaccurately paraphrased the
material at his disposal or that he used a Jewish version that "slightly"
revised the original book by Hecataeus.
At the same time, despite this new trend and the multitude of contributions on
the subject, several scholars have recently expressed the feeling that
research on the question has not produced a definitive solution and is
actually at a stalemate, calling for a new breakthrough.
Modern questioning of the passages' authenticity seems to
have gained momentum because of its relevance to so-called scholarly
anti-Semitism. German scholars and publicists in the past stressed the
seemingly unbridgeable gap between Judaism and Greco-Roman culture (the
paradigm of the deutscher Geist ) as evidence of the inadaptability of
Jews to European surroundings. The notorious anti-Jewish excursus on the Jews
by Tacitus in his Histories was frequently quoted to this effect.
Jewish scholars, on the other hand, were eager to point out the apparent
admiration for Jews and Judaism expressed by Greek authors at the beginning of
the Hellenistic period, of which the passages ascribed to Hecataeus could
serve as a primary example. It can be said that with few exceptions, as from
the late nineteenth century, Jewish scholars tried very hard indeed to verify
the passages, while gentiles, especially Germans, endeavored to undermine
their authenticity. Only in the last generation has the discussion been freed
of bias, as scholars transcended the barriers of religion and nationality in
seeking to reach an objective conclusion.
― 6 ―
The question of authenticity is invaluable for
reconstructing Jewish history at the end of the Persian and the beginning of
the Hellenistic period. The available sources on these periods are extremely
meager. Consequently they are among the most obscure chapters in ancient
Jewish history. If the authenticity of the treatise is verified, we will have
a relatively detailed treatment of these two periods, written by a prominent
and reliable contemporary Greek historian who claimed even to have witnessed
some of the events described. Such a verification would shatter a number of
accepted views about the internal development of the Jewish community and
religion and the Jews' relations with the major powers of the time, as well as
with their pagan neighbors.
In addition, much data concerning the beginning of the Jewish Egyptian
Diaspora, the High Priesthood, the administration of Judea, and the defense of
the country would have to be revised. No less significant are the implications
for the evaluation of the attitudes of early Hellenistic intellectuals toward
Jews and Judaism and their reception by later authors. If, however, the
treatise was a fabrication by an Egyptian Jew, as quite a few scholars
maintain, it would provide an insight into some of the basic questions that
preoccupied the Jewish Hellenistic Diaspora and expand our acquaintance with
its internal division. This would also contribute to our understanding of the
major trends and ideologies in Jewish Hellenistic literature.
The discussion of the passages has so far been limited
mainly to the historical examination of certain references suspected of being
anachronistic. In the present monograph I have tried to combine a historical
examination of all the details included in the passages with an analysis of
philological, literary, and ideological aspects relevant to the understanding
of the original work. A combined study may help to elucidate the question of
authorship and the book's political, cultural, and religious background, and
Hecataeus, His Work, and the Jewish Excursus
Before turning to examine the treatise On the Jews
, it would be of advantage to introduce the man Hecataeus, his life and
literary work, the genre he specialized in, and, especially, his Jewish
excursus. This may help to place the treatise in the right perspective and
make it easier to follow arguments and considerations that will be raised in
the course of the discussion. The following survey will not try to exhaust all
the material and questions involved but will present only information relevant
to the subject of this monograph.
1. The Man, the Ethnographic Genre, and Hecataeus's
Our knowledge about Hecataeus's life is rather patchy.
From the few testimonia, the following résumé can be drawn:
Hecataeus was born in Abdera, a prosperous Greek colony on the Thracian coast,
around the middle of the fourth century. He reached maturity, and perhaps
already had some reputation, by the time of Alexander the Great. In these
years he seems to have received good philosophical training. In
― 8 ―
the period of the Successors Hecataeus was occupied in the
service of Ptolemy I. His precise position in the court was not recorded. It
can only be said that he was close to the satrap-king, took part in military
expeditions, and went on diplomatic missions abroad.
At least one of his works, the Egyptian ethnography, served, in its special
way, political goals of Ptolemy I.
The ancient sources describe Hecataeus as a "philosopher"
and critical grammatikos , and refer to his ethnographical works as
Diogenes Laertius, the biographer-compiler of the Greek philosophers, lists
Hecataeus among the people who were taught by Pyrrho and includes him among
the "Pyrrhoneans" (IX.69). However, it is doubtful whether Hecataeus was
indeed Pyrrho's disciple, or that he adhered to his teaching.
Another testimonium mentions him as one of the
― 9 ―
"Abderites," between Democritus and Apollodorus of Cyzicus
(Clem. Strom . II.130.4), which inspired some speculations about
Hecataeus's philosophical conceptions.
No name of a philosophical work by him is known, but there is little doubt
that he indeed wrote philosophical works.
The situation with his contribution as a "grammarian" is not much different:
we know that he wrote two books, on Homer and Hesiod (Suda , s.v. ),
but nothing of them has survived.
Hecataeus's major contribution was his ethnographical work.
It was called history because in antiquity there was no generic name for this
sort of writing, and it was included in the framework of history.
We know of two monographs: an Egyptian ethnography named On the Egyptians
or Egyptian Matters ( ),
and another on the legendary Hyperboreans (On the Hyperboreans ). A
review of Hellenistic ethnographical literature indicates that Hecataeus's
achievements in his monographs were used as a model for imitation by later
This applies also to
― 10 ―
later ethnographic accounts on the Jews.
In order to understand the importance of Hecataeus as an ethnographer, we have
to preface here a brief survey of the genre.
Although it did not have a generic name, there is no doubt
that Greek ethnographical writing was a genre in its own right, with definite
structure, rules, and purposes. Its beginning in the sixth century is
connected with Greek colonization and the advance of the Persian empire, which
raised the interest of the Hellenes in the surrounding world. Hecataeus of
Miletus is regarded as the father of ethnography. His Periegesis , a
geographical tour or survey around the Mediterranean, included a number of
geographical accounts of the peoples of these countries. It seems that
ethnographical writing at that time was not limited to excursuses in works
belonging to other genres. There is some information about monographs by
Hellanicus of Lesbos and Charon of Lampsacus that may have been predominantly
The features of the new genre can be defined according to
the ethnographical excursuses of Herodotus, especially the comprehensive
accounts on the Egyptians and the Scythians. They were composed of the
(a) origo-archaeologia , the beginning of the nation; (b) geography;
(c) customs; and (d) history. The origo-archaeologia described the
descent of the people concerned either from their autochthonous beginnings or
with their migration, and their early life as a nation. The geography referred
to borders, rivers, fertility of soil, flora, and fauna, and elaborated on,
among other things, thaumasia (marvels and curiosities). The customs
section was the most important, and was designed to present the main features
of the nation. Attention was given to beliefs and cult, social structure,
institutions, and everyday practices. The last section, history, included
mainly dynastic records with stories of the major achievements of outstanding
rulers, usually concerning monumental buildings and successful military
― 11 ―
The ethnography of the classical period can be described
as nonscientific, resembling Herodotus's historiographical methods:
unselective accumulation of material, without an attempt to arrive at the
factual truth. There is no causal connection between the various sections of
the ethnography or between the details in each section, and there is no
reasoning to the mass of material. The sources of information were personal
impressions of the author (who in some cases visited the countries described
and interviewed local people), together with rumors and hearsay, tourist
reports, and references in previous Greek literature. No use was made,
directly or indirectly, of the literature or written records of foreign
The first ethnographers did not write their works in the
service of rulers or cities. They were, by and large, travelers, amateur
geographers, seamen, merchants, or historians who had a keen interest in
foreign countries and their inhabitants, and wrote at leisure. Their
geographical horizon was limited to neighboring countries and the main
divisions of the Persian empire. No clear ideology or pragmatic purpose is
visible in these accounts. It can be said that they were basically written to
satisfy the curiosity of Greeks who came across foreigners or heard about
them. The rise of the genre just at the end of the age of colonization and the
rather general character of the accounts rule out the possibility that Greek
ethnography was initially meant as a guide to planned colonizations. In the
case of excursuses incorporated in works belonging to another genre such as
history or geography, the ethnographical accounts were introduced as a
necessary preface to historical events or geographical descriptions relating
to the nation concerned. They also had a literary role—to diversify the
writing and provide some relief in the course of a long and monotonous
A new impetus in the development of the ethnographical genre
naturally arose with the conquests of Alexander and Greco-Macedonian
settlement in the newly occupied countries.
Interest in foreign nations grew immensely, and increased knowledge carried
with it practical implications. The authors were no longer residents of the
old Greek world, and in many cases lived in the countries they described. They
could, therefore, consult local written sources, thoroughly interview people
― 12 ―
all ranks of society, and gain firsthand acquaintance and
understanding of the subjects referred to. Unlike their predecessors,
Hellenistic ethnographers were personally involved with their subject, had
definite didactic purposes in presenting their material, and frequently served
Greco-Macedonian rulers. Consequently the new writing was no longer a casual
accumulation of material arranged into schematized thematic rubrics: its
information was carefully selected to fit with Greek literary models, or with
premeditated political purposes or philosophical conceptions, or both. The
information was not left unprocessed: it received some Greek touches and
coloring, and reasoning was provided for the facts. The explanations often
disclose the purposes of the writers; in other cases they were just borrowed
from Greek tradition. As a result of all these, the final picture may have
deviated considerably from the historical truth. By and large, the genre can
be described as an interpretatio Graeca of the Orient. The more an
author adhered to premeditated purposes, the more he departed from the
original information. In some cases the outcome was an odd mixture of realism
with sheer fantasy.
As far as the structure is concerned, there was no change in
the basic scheme of ethnographical works: the same sections appear in
Hellenistic ethnographical monographs and excursuses as in their classical
counterparts, although in certain cases one or two sections may be missing.
However, in contrast to the old ethnography, the various sections did not
remain isolated from each other. Authors stress the causal connection between
them: customs result from the special circumstances and conditions of the
origo, or the geography, or both; and history arises from all these. The
various subjects in each section are also connected by causal reasoning. As a
result, there is more flexibility in the order and sequence of the traditional
four sections of the ethnographical work.
The philosophical and political character prevailing in many
works of the new ethnography motivated the rise of a subgenre, the utopian
ethnography. Utopian features in Greek literature were as old as Homer, and
were integrated in various genres.
Undertaking to describe remote or legendary peoples, utopian ethnographies
were planned and constructed according to the rules of Hellenistic
ethnography; but the material was entirely fictitious, designed to illustrate
an ideal, nonexistent society. The best-known example is Euhemerus's utopia
― 13 ―
Panchaeans, set on an imaginary island in the Indian
Ocean. It included the celebrated Euhemerist religious conception, according
to which the gods were actually deified kings and heroes of the past. Less
well known is that this idea was expressed earlier by Hecataeus of Abdera with
regard to "terrestrial" gods in his Egyptian ethnography (Diod. I.13ff.).
We can now turn again to Hecataeus of Abdera.
The general scheme of his works will be discussed below in Chapter VI.3.
It will be shown that Hecataeus followed the basic scheme of his Greek
predecessors. However, apart from this structural similarity, all other
features differed substantially, marking a new phase in the development of the
genre. There is an obvious expansion of scope. Hecataeus increased the sources
of information, the geographical horizon, and the types of the genre, and
expanded its literary framework. He consulted, directly or indirectly, old
Egyptian writings (Diod. 1.69.7, 96.2) and had access to a variety of oral
sources. He wrote two comprehensive monographs, one on the Egyptians, the
other on the Hyperboreans. The first described the nation among whom he was
residing; the second, legendary people imagined to live on the northern
outskirts of the inhabited world. The first work was an idealized version of
Egyptian history, institutions, and way of life; the second, an imaginary
utopia. In addition to monographs, Hecataeus wrote miniature ethnographies of
nations believed to have originated from Egypt. These were incorporated as
excursuses in the Egyptian ethnography. The nations described were neighboring
peoples such as the Jews, or the Babylonians (whose country was then the
center of the rising Seleucid empire), and even Hellenic tribes or cities,
such as Athens (Diod. I.28-29).
The great contributions of Hecataeus, however, to the
development of the genre were the selection of material according to Greek
literary and ideological conceptions, the creation of a causal connection
― 14 ―
the sections of the work and between the subjects within
each section, and the reasoning provided for many statements. Thus, for
instance, in the case of an emigrating nation, its experiences in the country
of origin and the circumstances of its emigration would influence its everyday
life, institutions, language, and attitude toward other nations. The life,
history, and character of autochthonous peoples would be dictated, to a great
extent, by geography, especially soil, water, climate, and fauna. Cult and
beliefs, which were referred to without comment by earlier ethnographers,
received rational explanations. Even the notorious Egyptian animal cult was
given a detailed rationalization, pointing out the benefits brought by the
animals to the Egyptians (Diod. I.86ff.). The like applies to other subjects.
The reasoning often drew on Greek experience and thinking. In this respect
Hecataeus's ethnography may appear to strive for scientific presentation, but
the selection of the material, its coloring, and its reasoning were not
necessarily guided by a wish to record absolute historical truth.
This loss to political history and ethnography was a gain
for the history of ideas. It would be rather speculative to reconstruct the
utopian model envisaged by Hecataeus in his Hyperborean ethnography. The scant
surviving material allows only a few conclusions with regard to Hecataeus's
religious stance. He seems to have adhered to the traditional cult of
classical Greece and was evidently highly tolerant.
The state of preservation of the Egyptian ethnography is
much better Apart from some fragments and testimonia,
its contents are to be found in Book I of Diodorus's Historical Library
, which is devoted to Egyptian ethnography. Following the studies of Eduard
Schwartz and Felix Jacoby it has been accepted that Book I of Diodorus (from
I.10 onward) is basically an abbreviated paraphrase of Hecataeus's Egyptian
ethnography, though it also contains a long section taken from Agatharcides of
Cnidus (the description of the Nile, I.32-41) as well as notes and additions
by Diodorus himself.
This conclusion has been challenged from time to time; arguments have been
raised against the attribution of certain passages to Hecataeus, and there
― 15 ―
been those who have tried to minimize Hecataeus's share in
These attempts have been rightly refuted, and one has to note especially the
contribution of Oswyn Murray, who reestablished the old, accepted theory.
The dating of Hecataeus's Egyptian ethnography has been
disputed. While some have suggested the early years of Ptolemy's independent
satrapy (320-315) others have preferred the first years of his monarchy
The arguments in favor of the first possibility are not decisive. On the other
hand the year 306/5 as a terminus post quem appears from the
introduction to the account of the borders of Egypt (Diod. I.30.1):
Egypt lies mainly toward the south, and, in natural
strength and beauty of land, seems to excel those places that have been
separated off [each] into a kingdom.
A comparison is obviously being made with the regions
occupied by the other satraps who declared themselves kings after the naval
battle of Cyprian Salamis in 306. Given the general context, an account of
pharaonic Egypt, the sentence seems to have been written by a contemporary of
the Successors, and certainly not by Diodorus, in the days of Augustus. It
stands in fact at the head of two definitely Hecataean chapters (30-31.8),
and this would appear to clinch the argument. The year 302/1 (not 300) as
terminus ante quem is suggested by the unbiased attitude toward Jews and
Judaism manifested in the Jewish excursus incorporated in the Egyptian
after the confrontation between Ptolemy I and the Jews in that year, the
subsequent harsh treatment of the population, the banishment of scores
― 16 ―
of thousands to Egypt, and the sale of many into slavery,
a positive account of the Jews without any reference to these developments is
hardly to be expected of an author serving in the court.
The very writing of the work and its main message were
dictated by the circumstances of the hour: the official end of provincial rule
and the establishment of new kingdoms in oriental countries with long
monarchic traditions. Ptolemy saw himself as the successor of the pharaohs, a
legitimate king of the Egyptians. The predominant feature of the Egyptian
ethnography was, therefore, the glorification of Egypt. The country is
described as the land of human origins, the cradle of civilization, and of
wisdom. Useful inventions such as fire, agriculture, language, and writing, as
well as most of the arts, originated on Egyptian soil (I.13ff., 69.5-6). Many
nations came from Egypt and were deeply influenced by its culture. The most
outstanding of these were the Greeks (including the Athenians) and the
Babylonians (I.28-29). Mythical cult figures, lawgivers, poets, and
philosophers, such as Orpheus, Musaeus, Solon, Lycurgus, Homer, Protagoras,
Democritus, and Plato, visited Egypt, explored its laws and institutions, and
drew substantially from them (I.69.3-4, 96ff.). Pharaonic rule appears as a
law-abiding monarchy, guided by priests, with the king maintaining virtues
like justice, magnanimity, and piety (I.70-71, 73.4). The Egyptian judicial
system and its procedures are said to have been planned in a way that
facilitated reaching the absolute truth with the utmost objectivity (I.75ff.).
Egyptian gods are equated with Greek ones and rationalized: two are explained
as representing the great celestial bodies; five others, the basic elements
(fire, spirit, etc.); and the rest, renowned mortal heroes and inventors of
the past. The rehabilitation of practices deplored by Greeks included not only
animal cult (I.86-90) but also incest (I.27.1-2). These were toned down and
given rational explanations that made them acceptable to Greek ears.
The tribute paid to the greatness of Egypt was meant to help
in establishing the image of the Ptolemaic regime. It raised the prestige of
Ptolemy, the new king of this great, old civilization, in the eyes of
Greco-Macedonians living under other Hellenistic rulers. This in turn helped
to attract to Egypt competent European manpower and the intellectual elite of
the Greek world. As for the Greco-Macedonians settled in
― 17 ―
Egypt, the enthusiastic account of the pharaonic past
brought home the royal policy of respecting Egyptian traditions, including
superstitions, in order to avoid ugly confrontations with the natives and
their strong priesthood.
It has been suggested that the work was also intended to flatter the Egyptians
themselves. This is quite doubtful: the language barrier was still too high at
the end of the fourth century to expect the book to circulate among Egyptians,
let alone influence them. Moreover, the glorification of the pharaonic past
could have sparked off Egyptian nationalism, and the recurring references to
the role of the priests as advisers of the king would only have encouraged the
Egyptian priests not to be content with their religious duties. Other
suggestions offered for the purpose of the book, such as to establish a
general model of government and society for the developing Hellenistic world,
or to present an idealized version of the Ptolemaic regime, do not stand up to
The role of the priests is not the only feature refuting these suggestions.
Various points in the book have evident didactic purposes, but they do not
carry its main message.
It would take us far afield to refer to every thematic
aspect of this fascinating ethnography. It is a mine of theological,
philosophical, political, and social ideas. I shall restrict myself to noting
a number of points that have some relevance to an understanding of the Jewish
1. The information is based by and large on Egyptian
priestly oral and written sources.
2. In certain cases it reflects not historical facts but
ideals circulating among those priests.
― 18 ―
3. The interpretation of the facts is Hecataean, and is
inspired by Greek tradition and modes of thinking, apart from a few cases
where the author explicitly says that an explanation is Egyptian.
4. The interpretation is frequently complimentary, and
apologetic in some cases. It includes explicit expressions of praise. The
tendency to idealize is evident.
5. The author himself divides the customs recorded in the
book into two categories: "extremely strange [paradoxotata ] customs,"
and those that might be "most useful" to the reader (I.69.2; cf. 30.4). He
introduces customs of the first type in order to provide reasoning for
well-known curiosities and to arouse interest in others. The "useful" customs
are brought in to serve as models for imitation, to point out their
superiority over existing Greek practices, or just for the sake of comparison.
6. Despite his desire to present an appealing, favorable
picture of Egyptian life, Hecataeus does not refrain from expressing
reservations about Egyptian hostility toward strangers, although he tries to
"soften" it (Diod. I.67.10-11, 69.4, 88.5)
2. The Jewish Excursus
Hecataeus's Jewish excursus was much discussed in the last
century. Being actually the first comprehensive account of Jews and Judaism in
Greek literature, it was used by later gentile authors as a basic source of
information on the subject. Some features of this account, especially the
attribution to Moses of the settlement in Judea and the establishment of basic
Jewish institutions and practices, became a vulgate in Greco-Roman literature.
In the present monograph, a review of the excursus and its problems is
relevant not only to the question of the authenticity of On the Jews ,
but also to the shaping of one of its sections. Be that treatise a forgery or
not, its author was certainly acquainted with the excursus.
Like his major works, Hecataeus's original ethnographic
account on Jews and Judaism has not been preserved. Diodorus incorporated an
abbreviated paraphrase of it in Book XL of the Historical Library
― 19 ―
(3.1-8), which is itself now lost, but his version of
Hecataeus's Jewish ethnography is preserved by Photius, the Byzantine
patriarch of the ninth century. Photius attacks Diodorus for "telling lies"
about the Jews. To illustrate this accusation, he cites two extracts. The
first is a story about the siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus VII Sidetes (in 134
or 132 B.C. ) and the anti-Jewish libels and
accusations voiced on that occasion by the king's advisers (cod. 244,
379a-380a = Diod. XXXIV-XXXV.1.1-5). Then comes the Jewish ethnography. The
text of Photius runs as follows (cod. 244, 380a-381a):
From the fortieth book [of Diodorus], about the middle:
[3.1] Now that we intend to record the war against the
Jews, we consider it appropriate to give first an outline [ ]
of the foundation [ktisis ] from its beginning, and of the customs [nomima
] practiced among them.
When in ancient times a pestilence arose in Egypt, the
ordinary people ascribed their troubles to the working of a divine power [ ];
for indeed with many strangers of all sorts dwelling in their midst and
practicing different habits of rites and sacrifice, their own traditional
observances in honor of the gods had fallen into disuse. [3.2] Hence the
natives of the land surmised that unless they removed the foreigners, their
troubles would never be resolved. At once, therefore, the aliens were driven
from the country, and the most outstanding [ ]
and active among them banded together and, as some say, were cast ashore in
Greece and certain other regions; their leaders were notable men, chief
among them being Danaus and Cadmus. But the greater number were driven into
what is now called Judea, which is not far distant from Egypt and was at
that time utterly desolate [ ].
[3.3] The colony [apoikia ] was headed by a man called Moses,
outstanding both for his wisdom and courage. On taking possession of the
land, he founded [ ],
besides other cities, one that is now the most renowned of all, called
Jerusalem. In addition he established the temple that they hold in chief
veneration, instituted their forms of worship and ritual, drew up the laws
relating to their political institutions, and ordered [ ]
them. He also divided the people into twelve tribes, since this is regarded
as the most perfect number and corresponds to the number of months that make
up a year [3.4] But he had no images whatsoever of the Gods made for them,
being of the opinion that God
― 20 ―
is not in human form [ ];
rather the heaven that encompasses [ ]
the Earth is alone divine, and rules everything [ ].
The sacrifices that he established differ from those of other nations, as
does their way of living, for as a result of their own expulsion [ ]
from Egypt he introduced a [way of] life which is somewhat unsocial and
hostile to strangers [ ].
He picked out the men of most refinement and with the greatest ability to
head the entire nation, and appointed them priests; and he ordained that
they should occupy themselves with the temple and the honors and sacrifices
offered to their God. [3.5] These same men he appointed to be judges in all
major disputes, and entrusted to them the guardianship [ ]
of the laws and customs. For this reason the Jews never [ ]
have a king, and the leadership [ ]
of the multitude [ ]
is regularly vested in whichever priest is regarded as superior to his
colleagues in wisdom and virtue. They call this man high priest [ ],
and believe that he acts as a messenger [ ]
to them of God's commandments. [3.6] It is he, they say, who in their
assemblies and other gatherings announces what is ordained, and the Jews are
so docile in such matters that straightway they fall to the ground and do
reverence [ ]
to the high priest when he expounds the commandments to them. There is even
appended to the laws, at the end, the statement: "These are the words that
Moses heard from God and declares unto the Jews." Their lawgiver was careful
also to make provision for warfare, and required the young men to cultivate
manliness, steadfastness, and, generally, the endurance of every hardship.
[3.7] He led out military expeditions against the neighbouring tribes, and
after annexing much land apportioned it out, assigning equal allotments to
private citizens and greater ones to the priests in order that they, by
virtue of receiving more ample revenues, might be undistracted and apply
themselves continually to the worship of God. The common people were
forbidden to sell their individual plots [ ],
lest there be some who for their own advantage should buy them up, and by
oppressing the poorer classes bring on a scarcity of manpower [ ].
[3.8] He required those who dwelt in the land to rear their children, and
since offspring could be cared for at little cost, the Jews were from the
start a populous nation. As to marriage and the burial of the dead, he saw
to it that their customs should differ widely from those of other men.
But later, when they became subject to foreign rule, as a result of their
mingling with men of other nations—both under Persian rule and
― 21 ―
under that of the Macedonians who overthrew the
Persians—many of their traditional practices were disturbed.
So he [Diodorus] says also here about customs and laws
common among Jews, and about the departure of those same people from Egypt,
and about the holy Moses, telling lies about most things, and going through
the [possible] counter arguments, he again distorted the truth, and using
cunning devices as a refuge for himself, he attributes to another [author]
the abovesaid things which are contrary to history. For he [Diodorus] adds:
"As concerns the Jews, this is what Hecataeus of Miletus narrated."
First of all, some comments on the transmission of the text,
its preservation, and its original location. Photius explicitly says that the
extract was taken from Diodorus's fortieth book. In view of his declared
purpose to expose Diodorus's "lies" and considering the typically Diodorean
style and turn of phrase, it has rightly been assumed that Photius faithfully
transmitted the text of Diodorus.
As noted by Diodorus at the head of the extract (3.1), he incorporated the
excursus on the Jews at that point to serve as an introduction to his account
of the confrontation between the Romans and the Jews, that is, the events
surrounding the Roman occupation of Judea in the year 63 B.C.
It followed the appeal alleged to have been made by a Jewish delegation to
Pompey to dispose of the Hasmonean rulers and restore the Jewish "ancestral
constitution" (XL.1a). The extract indeed provides background material for
this claim: it elaborates on a Jewish patrios politeia , stressing its
theocratic character and categorically stating that the Jews "never have a
The excursus also deals with the military preparation of
― 22 ―
the younger generation for war, the motivation of the
Jewish farmers to fight, and their abundance of manpower, which obviously are
relevant for the coming military confrontation.
Diodorus's extract closes with the statement "this is what
Hecataeus of Miletus narrated." "Miletus" instead of "Abdera" is certainly a
slip of Photius or a copyist.
The original ethnography by Hecataeus was not an independent monograph, but an
excursus. It was included in his great ethnographical work on Egypt, most
probably as an appendix at the end of the origo-archaeologia section,
the first of the four sections of the Ae-gyptiaca (Diod. I.28-29).
The Jewish excursus was just one of a number of miniature ethnographies of
nations, tribes, and cities supposed to have originated from Egypt that were
treated in the same context.
Diodorus states in the preface to the excursus that he
intends to report on the "founding" (ktisis ) and "customs" (nomima
) of the Jews. The excursus indeed contains these two sections; it opens with
the founding, namely the origo : the expulsion of the Jews together
with other aliens (XL.3.1-2), the settlement of the Jews in Judea and
Jerusalem under the leadership of Moses (2-3), and the establishment of
political and religious institutions (3). Then follows the section on customs:
Jewish faith (4), sacrifices (4), attitude toward strangers (4), the duties of
the priests (4-5), the role of the High Priest and his authority (5-6), the
organization of the army and military expeditions (6-7), the distribution of
land (7-8), child rearing and demography (8), marriage and burial (8).
These were also the components of Hecataeus's original
excursus. It included only ktisis and nomima , without
geographical and historical sections, which were common in Greek
ethnographies. These sections were also absent from the other minor
ethnographies in the appendix to the Egyptian archaeologia-origo .
Hecataeus was primarily concerned in that context to illustrate the origin of
certain nations in Egypt, with the evidence of Egyptian influences on their
customs to prove it. Geography and history of the new lands would have been
quite out of place.
― 23 ―
At the same time, it is clear that the original content of
the nomima section was not preserved by Diodorus in its entirety:
the account of the daily customs was omitted. This is evident with regard to
circumcision (Diod. 1.28.2), sacrifice (XL.3.4),
and marriage and burial customs (XL.3.8),
and may also have happened to explicit references about Jewish exclusiveness
(XL.3.4). The first four were omitted because they could not contribute to the
aforementioned purposes for which the excursus was incorporated. Illustrations
of the Jewish attitude toward strangers were left out, probably because they
were very moderate in comparison with the sharp accusations and libels quoted
by Diodorus from another source in a previous book (XXXIV-XXXV.1.1-3). Left in
the nomima section are statements about Jewish institutions and remarks
pertaining to Jewish military potential (training, motivation, manpower).
The account of Jewish belief was recorded not only because of its uniqueness,
but chiefly owing to its relevance for understanding the Jewish theocratical
system of government as described by the delegation to Pompey.
Hecataeus's original excursus thus opened with the origo
, in this case the alleged expulsion of Jews from Egypt. Then came the
nomima section, which seems to have comprised two main subjects:
institutions and provisions made by Moses, and a collection of daily customs.
As became customary in the new, Hellenistic, ethnography, the author uses one
section to explain another. Here he stresses the influence of the origo
on the creation and development of Jewish customs. The expulsion explains the
"hatred of strangers" (XL.3.4). Daily customs
― 24 ―
are compared with those of the Egyptians, with some, like
circumcision, being described as originating in Egypt (1.28.3). Others, like
marriage and burial customs, were contrasted with those of the Egyptians.
Jewish beliefs, governmental institutions, and social provisions were not just
listed but were given a causal reasoning.
Apart from the omission of the customs mentioned above, the
references to the Jewish origo and nomima seem to represent the
contents of the original text. In three cases there is a striking similarity
between the excursus and references to Egyptians and Jews in Hecataeus's
They indicate that even if some of the statements and explanations were
abbreviated by Diodorus, the original meaning was not distorted.
Significantly, Diodorus was not tempted by the vicious libels about Jewish
origins and attitude toward strangers included elsewhere in his work
(XXXIV-XXXV.1.1-4), nor by his own prejudice (XL.2.2, "lawless behavior of the
Jews"): the Jews are not described as lepers, and the reason given for their
expulsion is not in-suiting; the reference to Jewish hostility toward
strangers expresses just some reservation. These passages certainly reflect
the original Hecataean text.
The question whether Diodorus adhered to Hecataeus's
vocabulary and syntax is more problematic. It can only be said that there is
much of the Diodorean style in the excursus.
One sentence, however, is clearly an addition by Diodorus: it is agreed that
the statement "but later, when they became subject to foreign rule, ... many
of their traditional practices were disturbed" (XL.3.8) could not have been
written by Hecataeus. It records changes in the Hasmonean period and is
connected with the alleged complaints of the Jewish notables to Pompey. The
reference to the "rule ... of the Macedonians who overthrew the Persians"
indicates that it was written long after the end of Macedonian rule in Judea.
A similar note was supplemented by Diodorus at the end of his epitome
of Hecataeus's Egyptian ethnography (I.95.6).
― 25 ―
The contents of the excursus raise a number of questions
that have continually attracted the attention of scholars.
Did Hecataeus have real knowledge about Jewish antiquities? What were his
sources of information? What were Hecataeus's guidelines in selecting the
material? Does the account reflect Jewish life in the period of Hecataeus? To
what extent was the account inspired by Greek practices, conceptions, and
literary traditions? Does the excursus carry certain messages or didactic
purposes? Did Hecataeus intend to idealize the life of the Jewish people or
certain customs? How should Hecataeus's note about Jewish separatism and
"hatred of strangers" be understood? Is it complimentary, or does it express
reservation? And finally: what was, after all, Hecataeus's basic attitude
toward Jews and Judaism? All these questions are relevant, in one way or
another, to various points in the discussion on the treatise On the Jews
. However, as they cannot decide the major issues,
and the purpose of this chapter is simply to introduce the reader to
Hecataeus's work and references to the Jews, I shall refrain from examining in
detail the numerous suggestions offered so far concerning these and related
questions, and shall not attempt to exhaust all the points involved. The
following discussion will try to sort out and define the significant problems,
survey the relevant source material, and present what seem to me to be the
right solutions. Of most interest to us will be the process by which the
excursus was composed, and the considerations behind the selection,
arrangement, and shaping of the material.
Do the accounts of the Jewish origo and nomima
accord with Jewish tradition and history? At first sight the answer is firmly
negative. Almost every clause, as it stands, can easily be refuted or found
inaccurate. This, however, is a hasty conclusion. One has to distinguish
― 26 ―
between the facts and their reasoning. The explanations
were provided by Hecataeus himself, and are typically Greek. The facts, except
one or two, are based on Jewish tradition and history. What is mistaken is the
dating and sequence. Hecataeus conflates three periods of Jewish history: (a)
the time of the Exodus and the wandering in the desert; (b) the period of the
settlement in Canaan; and (c) the Restoration, the Persian rule, and the days
of the Diadochs. The three periods are telescoped into one, under the
leadership of Moses, the founder. The account fails to distinguish between
periods and stages of development, and ignores other long periods. Such
telescoping, centering around the personality of the "founder" (ktistes
, oikistes ), was quite common in Greek foundation legends and stories
relating to the age of colonization, and even to later colonization
Events and developments that occurred during long periods, under different
individuals, were conflated into one period and attributed to one person, the
We shall see later that both the collection and the arrangement of the
material were indeed strongly influenced by Greek foundation legends. The
Judea portrayed is consequently not historical but mythological. It is
difficult to know whether Hecataeus had consciously ignored the real sequence,
or whether he had received the information sporadically and unsystematically,
and presented it the way Greeks were accustomed to record foundation stories.
Disregarding inaccuracies that result from the conflation
and the tendency to attribute everything to Moses, the following data reflect
the tradition (as distinct from history) about Moses and his period: the Jews
were once aliens in Egypt (Diod. XL.3.2); Moses was their leader and great
lawgiver (3); they were divided into twelve tribes (3); their cult avoided
images and sculptures (4); they believed in the divine origin of the law (5-6;
cf. 1.94.2); the High Priest and priests were in charge of
― 27 ―
sacrifices and cult (XL.3.4), and were appointed to handle
major judicial cases (5; cf. Deut. 17.8-12); the Jews reared their children,
and therefore were from the beginning a "populous nation" (Diod. XL.3.8; cf.
Exod. 1.7, 11). There is even a paraphrased quotation of a formula that recurs
in the Pentateuch (Diod. XL.3.6).
The second period provided the following data: the Jews settled in their
country (3); they went to war against their neighbors and annexed lands (7).
The statements that the lots were evenly distributed and were inalienable (7)
also have biblical parallels.
Other data and features recall Jewish life and institutions
after the Babylonian exile and in the days of Hecataeus:
Jews were concentrated in Judea and Jerusalem (3); the Jewish deity was named
the High Priest was the leader of the nation (5-6); the priests were, in
addition to their cult duties, guides and guardians of the Torah (4-5);
there was no king (5); the Temple stood at the center of Jewish life (3, 5-6);
the congregation was occasionally assembled in Jerusalem, and the Pentateuch
was then publicly read by priests (5-6; cf. Neh. 8.1-8); the kneeling before
the High Priest may be an inaccurate reflection of the practice to fall upon
the ground and bow before the Lord on such occasions (Neh. 8.6);
the belief that the High Priest is a "messenger of
― 28 ―
God" (Diod. XL.3.5) is identical to a statement by the
prophet Malachi, referring to the "priest" (Mal. 2.7);
certain priestly families seem to possess great estates, which may account for
the statement that the priests were allotted greater lots than common people (Diod.
the stress laid on the inalienability of lands may record a tightening-up of
the Torah restrictions on selling lands, a likely feature of Nehemiah's social
in addition to the Exodus traditions, the reference to the rearing of children
may also record the situation in a Judea small at that time, and apparently
These pieces of information were certainly provided by
Egyptian Jews, probably of priestly descent.
Given such sources, what is the reason for the absence of any reference to the
period of the Israelite and Judean kings (and the statement that "the Jews
never have a king," 3.5)? Hecataeus, who served an absolute ruler and
illustrated an ideal monarchy in the Aegyptiaca , had no motive for
concealing that major period of Jewish history. The reason seems to be
structural and literary: as was already mentioned, the Jewish excursus, like
other miniature ethnographies incorporated in the same context, was planned to
include just the origo and contemporary customs. It stands to reason
that in interviewing his Jewish informants, Hecataeus was interested in
collecting material for these sections alone. Consequently he was not informed
about (or did not take notes about) matters relating to a historical section.
The period of the Israelite and Judean kingdoms, as well as the Babylonian
exile, had no place in the excursus. Summing up the implications of the
account for the Jewish governmental system, it occurred to Hecataeus that the
"Jews never have a king."
In addition to the Jewish informants, the use of Egyptian
sources, oral or written, is evident in the statement concerning the expulsion
of the Jews from Egypt.
Hecataeus seems to have preferred a moderate
― 29 ―
version of the expulsion story,
and perhaps even to have "softened" it: to judge from other sources, the
Egyptian versions related that the Jews were banished because they suffered
from pestilence—leprosy and other diseases—or that they were loathed by the
Egyptian gods, or both. In addition, in at least one source the Jews are also
accused of impiety.
From Hecataeus's version it appears that the whole population in Egypt
suffered from the plague, because the Egyptians themselves neglected the
worship of their gods. They put the blame on the influence of foreigners who
worshipped their own deities, and consequently expelled them. The inclusion of
Danaus and Cadmus in the account, which did belong to the original Egyptian
by itself demanded a "softening" of the original tradition. Another
"softening" is evident in the reference to Jewish hatred of strangers
which may be based on comments of Egyptians or Greek settlers, but could also
reflect Hecataeus's personal impression.
There are, however, other references that could not have
been based on Jewish or Egyptian sources, namely the explanations given for
Jewish practices. There are also data that do not accord with Jewish
traditions known to us: that the Jews settled in an "utterly desolate" land
(3.2), that the first priests and all the High Priests were appointed
according to merit (4-5), and that Moses made provisions for military training
of the younger generation (6). This brings us to the much-discussed question
of Greek influence.
It was suggested long ago, and has been repeated since by
many scholars, that the excursus is an imaginary account of Jewish history and
life based on Greek practices and conceptions. Thus, for instance, it
― 30 ―
has been argued that a good number of details actually
record Platonic ideals. These statements are too general and sweeping. The
whole question of Greek influence requires qualification and more precise
definitions. In the great variety of governmental systems, institutions, and
political ideas current in Greek civilization, it is not difficult to find a
counterpart to almost every clause in Hecataeus's excursus, although these
might represent different political models and conceptions. It should be
emphasized once more, however, that almost all the data (as distinct from
their reasoning) originate in Jewish tradition and history, and that the
statements about the dominant role of the priests and High Priests do not
accord with Hecataeus's political commitment. The latter references are also
specifically Jewish, and the "quotation" from the Pentateuch is the best
example for this.
Greek influence can be detected in: (a) the literary
structure and sequence; (b) a few details that are absent from or are
contradictory to Jewish tradition; (c) the terminology used for the factual
material; (d) the explanations provided by the author for Jewish nomima
. As far as the literary structure is concerned, we have already mentioned the
application of the rules of the ethnographical genre: the division of the
excursus into a ktisis (origo ) section and a nomima
section, the causal connection between the two, and the reasoning of the
facts. No less important was the structural influence of foundation stories.
The conflation of three periods into one and the centering of the major
historical developments and institutions around the personality of Moses were
explained above by reference to the literary tradition of foundation stories.
The influence of this tradition, noticed first by Werner Jaeger,
also dictated the selection and arrangement of the material for the two
sections of the excursus.
That Hecataeus treated Moses as a ktistes (founder
and builder) and Jerusalem as his colony also appears from the terminology:
the first section of the excursus is called ktisis (3.1), which may
record Hecataeus's wording. The verb ktizein is explicitly used with
regard to the alleged foundation of Jerusalem by Moses (3); Moses is said to
have been leading ( )
the new settlement, called apoikia (3). The latter term (literally,
"settlement far from home") is usual for a
― 31 ―
Greek settlement initiated by a mother city. Hecataeus
uses this term even though he describes the Jews in the ktisis-origo as
foreigners who were expelled from Egypt. Moreover, this is certainly not how
Jewish informants would have termed resettlement in the land of the Israelite
Patriarchs. Moses is described as a leader who excelled in wisdom and bravery
(3), two virtues that are required of and attributed to founders (cf. Dion.
Hal. II.7.1). He is not praised for "piety" (eusebeia ),
which Jewish informants might have been expected to stress. Here we have an
indication of the selection technique.
Turning to the structure, the similarity with foundation
stories is indeed striking. The events and processes recorded in the ktisis
section (3.1-3) are known from foundation stories and follow their basic
the rise (usually by appointment) of a leader-founder, the emigration,
foundation of the city (in foundation stories, building of a wall and then
houses), building of a temple, drawing up laws, forming political
institutions, and dividing the population into tribes. The nomima
section opens with three references that deviate from the usual sequence: they
relate to everyday customs unique to Jews (faith, sacrifice, and attitude
toward strangers). It may well be that these references were originally
located by Hecataeus at the end of the excursus, and were brought forward by
Diodorus because of some association. These are followed by an elaboration of
some of the institutions and laws founded by Moses that were only generally
referred to at the end of the ktisis section. The sequence again
principally follows that of foundation stories: establishment of judiciary and
governmental system (3.4-6), preparation of the younger generation for war
(6), expansion through military expeditions (7), distribution of agricultural
lands and prohibition against selling them (7).
Even the final demand to rear children to increase the population (8) has its
parallels in traditional foundation stories.
― 32 ―
The excursus closes with a number of daily customs that
are compared with those of the Egyptians (3.8). This may have been the
original location of the references to Jewish faith, sacrifices, and attitude
toward strangers (4), but they may well have been attached by Hecataeus
himself to the ktisis-origo by way of association
(temple-sacrifice-[dietary laws]-apanthropia and misoxenia ).
The inclusion of an account of daily customs is not typical of foundation
stories, but is an essential component of ethnographies. This indicates that
the basic structure of the excursus as a whole is that of a miniature
ethnography, not of a ktisis . The distinction made by Diodorus between
the first section (ktisis ) and the second (nomima ) may derive
from Hecataeus himself, and reinforces this conclusion.
It must be admitted that the variety of subjects and their
sequence in foundation stories were not so rigid as it might appear, and there
were local variations according to the circumstances. The main features and
basic order, however, are common to many foundation traditions. Naturally,
some of them contained subjects not referred to in the Jewish excursus, since
this local variation had no place for them. Most conspicuous is the absence of
any consultation of an oracle by the founder before embarking on the
expedition. Parallel Jewish information drawn from the Book of Exodus was
available, but, Hecataeus having chosen the expulsion story, a consultation,
which usually centered upon the question whether to emigrate or not, was
The influence of foundation stories may help to understand
the origin of data that contradict or do not appear in Jewish tradition. The
statement that Judea was "utterly desolate" (
) at the time of the settlement (3.2) can be explained as a confusion with the
information about Moses' long activity in the desert.
The conflation of the periods and the concentration of all the information
around the personality of Moses seem to have contributed to this confusion.
But this explanation cannot stand alone, since Hecataeus's Jewish informants
presumably referred in one way or another to the conquest of Canaan. There
must be an additional factor that caused the author to forget or disregard
this information. I would suggest that it was the influence of foundation
stories, mainly those relating to the settlement of "barbaric" nations in the
archaic age. Traditions
― 33 ―
concerning the age of colonization mention settlement in
both inhabited and uninhabited regions. The latter situation seems to have
been the more common, especially in such destinations as the Black Sea area.
On some occasions, emigrants were invited by local rulers and did not have to
occupy a place by force.
However, when referring to barbarian emigrations in the archaic age, Greeks
tended to describe them as settling desolate lands.
Another statement, which is not contradictory to but is
absent from Jewish tradition, attributes to Moses the making of special
provisions for war, especially with regard to the training of the younger
generation (3.6). It is followed by the statement that Moses led the nation in
wars against neighbors (7), which probably echoes some hazy information about
the wars of Joshua. Such wars were frequently mentioned in Greek foundation
stories as well. They were preceded by references to intensive military
training, especially of the young, as one of the first steps taken in Greek
colonies. Having described the Jewish settlement in Judea as a peaceful one,
Hecataeus felt it necessary to introduce a stage of military preparations,
before the wars of expansion, following the Greek model. We shall see later
that Hecataeus also had a special didactic aim in making this point, and that
in his Egyptian ethnography he emphasized the need to train the younger
generation from childhood (Diod. I.73.9).
The requirements from the young, "manliness, steadfastness, ... endurance of
every hardship," are typical of the Greek paideia .
More problematic is the statement about the appointment of
priests and High Priests. Jewish priesthood and High Priesthood were
hereditary. Hecataeus seems to be unaware of this fact. He says that the first
priests were appointed by Moses on merit (XL.3.4) but does not refer to later
generations. With regard to the High Priesthood he states that it is always
conferred upon the priest who excels in "wisdom and virtue" (5). It is hardly
believable that the Jewish informants
― 34 ―
deliberately misled Hecataeus on these matters. He may
instead have misinterpreted certain complimentary references to the qualities
of the priests and the High Priests. In addition, as the position of High
Priest was sometimes conferred upon the brother of the legal heir,
some process of formal ratification must have existed. This being reported to
him, it may have contributed to the misunderstanding. Hecataeus may also have
had parallels in Plato's Laws (759a-b, 947a-b) at the back of his mind.
The Greek coloring of the facts (as distinct from their
explanations) was also achieved by the application of classical political and
philosophical terminology to Jewish institutions and practices. We have noted
above the terms borrowed from foundation stories. To mention just a few more
examples: the Jewish settlements are called poleis (Diod. XL.3.3), the
position of the High Priest is defined as
("the leadership of the multitude," 5),
the priests are described as
("the most refined men," 4),
and the High Priest as the one "superior... in wisdom and virtue " (5).
As far as the explanations provided by Hecataeus are
concerned, here the Greek influence is very much in evidence: the nation is
divided into twelve tribes "since this is regarded as the most perfect number
and corresponds to the number of months" (3.3; cf. Plato, Laws ,
745b-d; Philo, De Fug . 184ff.);
the Jews are said to deify "Heaven" because it "encompasses the Earth... and
rules everything [ ]"
and to have no images because they think that "God is
― 35 ―
not in human form" (4);
the priests receive greater lots to provide them enough leisure for performing
their public duties (7; cf. Arist. Pol . 1269a 35, 1273a
34); the lands are inalienable to avoid the creation of great estates and
consequent oppression of the poor classes and scarcity of manpower (Diod.
a community of landowning farmers can easily rear children, and this secures
the necessary manpower for the nation (8).
The attitude of Jews to strangers is called apanthropia and
misoxenia and is explained by their xenelasia from Egypt, which is
the term used exclusively for Spartan banishment of strangers.
Some inspiration was also drawn from Egyptian tradition to explain Jewish
practices: the priests are given greater lots to enable them to be free to
perform their public duties (7; cf. 1.72.2-3).
It has frequently been argued that the excursus is an
idealization of the Jewish people, and was meant to present a model of an
― 36 ―
The model, however, has been variously described as a
"theocracy" or "aristocracy," inspired to a great extent by Plato's Laws
and Republic respectively, a "Spartan oligarchy," and even an "Egyptian
It has also been suggested that the account describes a "mixed constitution"
made of all these. As a matter of fact, none of these conceptions, singly or
in combination, perfectly concurs with the contents of the excursus.
What should really be asked is whether Hecataeus actually aspired at the
outset to idealize the account, and present all of it as a model. The answer
must be that he did not. Hecataeus, who served Ptolemy I, would hardly have
advocated a society without kings, with the power being entrusted entirely to
priests. This also stands in contrast with the government presented in his
Egyptian ethnography. It should be reiterated that, by and large, Hecataeus
recorded the information provided by his Jewish informants. The interpretation
is basically what one would expect to be made of the facts by a Greek
intellectual who had a good philosophical education, if he was not himself an
original philosopher. The account does not include superlatives or even
praises, and it is difficult to see features that could be admired or
advocated by Hecataeus, except for those pertaining to military manpower.
The latter features were emphasized, supplemented, and
explained with much elaboration, having in mind the Greco-Macedonian reader in
Egypt. Much stress was laid on military training of the younger generation,
allocation of equal lots, inalienability of land, and the great
― 37 ―
rate of natural increase that was implicitly praised. A
close look at the explanations provided reveals the message: farmers should
have viable lots and a sound economic position so that there will be no
"scarcity of manpower." The agrarian arrangements are also the way to
encourage rearing children. As a result, the Jews are a "populous nation"
(3.8). The causal connection in the first point is not made clear, and the
advantage of the second is not explained. Hecataeus's original reasoning may
well have been cut short by Diodorus. To understand it, we have to turn to the
corresponding passages concerning the Egyptian warrior class in Hecataeus's
Aegyptiaca . The main features and their explanation are actually
The last part [of the land] is held by the warriors [machimoi
], who are subject to call for all military duties, the purpose being that
those who hazard their life may be loyal to the country because of this
allotment of land [klerouchia ] and may thereby eagerly face the
perils of war. For it would be absurd to entrust the safety of the entire
nation to these men and yet have them possess in the country no property to
fight for valuable enough to arouse their ardour. But the most important
consideration is the fact that, if they are well-to-do, they will readily
beget children and thus so increase the population that the country will not
need to call in any mercenary troops. And since their calling, like that of
the priests, is hereditary, the warriors are incited to bravery by the
distinguished record of their fathers and, inasmuch as they become zealous
[students] of warfare from their boyhood up, they turn out to be invincible
by reason of their daring and skill.
The distribution of land and the efforts made for the
welfare of the settlers are thus intended to provide them with a good
motivation to fight. This is the meaning of the argument of the Jewish
excursus that economic hardships "bring on a scarcity of manpower." Even more
important is the second purpose: to encourage and enable the settlers to rear
children and thus "increase the population." The aim is to secure a situation
in which "the country will not need to call in any mercenary troops." Here we
find what is missing in the Jewish excursus: rearing many children and
becoming a "populous
― 38 ―
nation" confers a military advantage (cf. Polyb.
XXXVI.17.5-11). Just as with the Jews in the excursus, the younger generation
of Egyptian warriors was trained for war from childhood. The terminology
applied in the passage should also be noticed: machimoi and
klerouchiai were the official Hellenistic terms for military settlers of
Egyptian descent serving under the Ptolemies, and their settlements,
respectively. In the third century, the term klerouchiai
was also used for settlements of Greco-Macedonian soldiers.
The correspondence of these data and explanations with the
situation of the Greco-Macedonian settlers in Ptolemaic Egypt cannot be
coincidental. Scarcity of European manpower was the most acute problem facing
the young Ptolemaic empire. The Greco-Macedonian conquerors of Egypt were a
tiny minority amid the native population, and the possibility of recruiting
Greco-Macedonian mercenaries was rather limited, these being divided between
the armies of the Successors. In the first generation of the occupation,
Ptolemy recruited Egyptians to the army as light troops (e.g., Diod.
XIX.80.4), making sure not to provide them with heavy weapons.
Hecataeus, who was considering the future of the kingdom, must have realized
that even this solution could only be temporary. In the long run, arming and
training the natives at all might prove dangerous to the very existence of the
Macedonian regime in Egypt. Hecataeus, therefore, suggests measures that will
invest in the younger generation of Greco-Macedonian settlers: encouraging the
birth and raising of children (contrary to the traditional practice in the
motherland), allocating equal and sufficient lots to the settlers to enable
each one to raise a large family, prohibiting the sale of lands to secure the
continuity of this class of farmer-soldiers, and constantly training the
descendants of the first generation of settlers. Ptolemaic military settlement
was indeed organized along such lines, but gradually deteriorated, neglecting
the preparation of the younger generation for war. As a result, in 217, on the
eve of the battle of Raphia, Ptolemy IV was
― 39 ―
forced to recruit thousands of Egyptians and to train them
as phalanx warriors. The success of these troops in the battle of Raphia
raised the self-confidence of the local population and generated a revolt that
lasted thirty years, leaving the Ptolemaic kingdom at the mercy of its
The assumption that the excursus is a highly idealized
account intended to be a model has led a number of scholars to suggest that
the reference to the Jewish attitude toward strangers (3-4) was meant to
express not reservation but praise.
However, in addition to the connotations of apanthropia and
misoxenia in Greek culture, which could not be favorable, the qualifier
("somewhat," 4), which is certainly original,
makes it evident that the sentence was not written as a compliment. Moreover,
in his Egyptian ethnography, Hecataeus praises King Psammeticus for his
hospitality toward foreigners, in contrast to the hostility of his
predecessors (Diod. I.67.8-11; cf. 69.4, 88.5). Hecataeus was then ready to
express his negative attitude toward separatism, even in an idealizing
context. Praise for hospitality toward Greeks is also voiced in the utopian On
the Hyperboreans (Diod. II.47.4).
How then should the attitude of Hecataeus toward the Jews be
evaluated? Having a basically unbiased attitude, Hecataeus presented the
information available to him while interpreting certain features
― 40 ―
according to Greek experience and conceptions. This is
just how a Greek author-philosopher would have dealt with the facts; it does
not mean that the excursus is an idealization or a "model." The account of the
preparation of reliable manpower (including the strict agrarian arrangements)
is the only part intended for emulation. However, even this is still not a
deliberate idealization: the information given by the Jews is presented in the
way Hecataeus, as a Greek, understood it.
One should not exaggerate the significance of the excursus.
Hecataeus did not attach so much importance to it as might appear from modern
scholarly interpretations. The Jewish excursus was just one of a number of
minor ethnographies incorporated into the Aegyptiaca. They each
presented a different system of government and society. In the way many Greeks
viewed most oriental nations at the beginning of the encounter between the two
great cultures, so Hecataeus viewed the Jews: he was curious and impartial,
attempting to understand the information according to his education and way of
thinking. He was indifferent on most topics, but appreciated some features and
expressed reservations about others. This discerning evaluation is expressed
in a factual style, combined with elaborate reasoning, without explicit
compliments, exclamations, or superlatives, and avoiding rhetorical-emotional
expressions. Despite the philosophical interpretation of their faith, the Jews
are not described as a nation of philosophers, although this appears in
contemporary Hellenistic literature.
After all, even in referring to Egyptian religion, Hecataeus describes their
"first god" as being "the same as the universe [ ]
... invisible and concealed" (Plut. De Is. et Os. 354d). The author
does not forget to make clear that the Jews are inferior to the immigrants who
landed in Greece and Asia Minor (Diod. XL.3.2). Such a comment is not made
about the Egyptians, who are constantly praised for their decisive
contributions to civilization.
To sum up the discussion: How can the process of composition
be imagined? Hecataeus planned an excursus that would include an origo
section and a nomima section, to be incorporated among other
― 41 ―
miniature ethnographies put together as an appendix to the
Egyptian origo-archaeologia. The initial purpose was to show that the
Jews, like other nations, originated from Egypt, and that this descent
influenced their nomima. For this purpose, in interviewing his Jewish
informants, he concentrated on the personality of Moses, the settlement in
Canaan, and contemporary Jewish institutions and practices. Consequently, the
information related to three periods in Jewish history: the Exodus, the
settlement, and the time of Hecataeus himself (i.e., the Persian and early
Hellenistic periods). However, he disregarded the Jewish Exodus story, perhaps
because it appeared to insult the Egyptians whom he praised so much, or
because he wanted to equate the background of the Jewish emigration to that of
other nations. For the origo section Hecataeus consulted, therefore,
Egyptian stories circulating in his time, preferring a more moderate one,
possibly even "softening" it. In addition he did not refrain from expressing
his reservations about Jewish exclusiveness and hatred of strangers.
In composing the excursus, Hecataeus had to sort out,
select, and arrange the information into the origo and nomima,
the two planned sections. His basic editorial conception was to follow the
accepted model of a foundation story and supplement it with a number of daily
customs illustrating the similarities and differences between Jews and
Egyptians. The pieces of information selected were mainly those known from
foundation stories. They were arranged and conflated according to the accepted
sequence and conception of these stories. Moses was described as the founder
of the nation as well as of the country, and all Jewish institutions and
practices were attributed to him. The historical development was thus
distorted, three distinct periods of Jewish history being conflated into one.
The foundation story was divided between the origo and nomima.
The origo included the story of the expulsion and the headlines of a
typical foundation story. The nomima comprised two parts: the first
elaborated on the institution and the provisions indicated in the origo;
the second, on a number of everyday customs.
Forming the framework and filling it with information,
Hecataeus found it appropriate to complete the picture by adding one or two
important statements drawn from foundation traditions, which were not reported
by his Jewish informants. Then came the addition of causations and reasoning,
according to the rules of the new ethnographical writing. Some customs were
explained by the Jewish origo, especially the bad
― 42 ―
memories of the expulsion. Others were interpreted
according to the Greek cultural and philosophical heritage. Special emphasis
was laid on statements referring to provisions made for securing manpower, by
which means Hecataeus tried to indicate how he envisaged the organization of
the newly established military settlements in Ptolemaic Egypt, just as he had
done in his Egyptian ethnography in the account of the pharaonic warriors.
Finally, it would be helpful to emphasize the points that
are directly relevant to various questions concerning the treatise On the
1. An analysis and comparison of the original style and
vocabulary of the excursus is precluded by the modifications they have
undergone at the hands of Diodorus.
2. The origo section opens the excursus, occupies a
major role in it, and is used to explain a number of Jewish practices.
3. The excursus is centered around the personality of Moses,
with Jewish institutions and practices being attributed exclusively to him.
4. Moses is not only the leader of the emigration, but also
the founder of the new settlements.
5. Allowing for inaccuracies resulting from the literary
model, it can be said that Hecataeus collected important, reliable information
about the life of the Jews in his time. He deleted details that were redundant
or did not fit into the framework he had set for himself.
6. Especially important are the references to the High
Priest. Hecataeus knew that there was just one High Priest at a time, and was
well acquainted with his unique status in the Jewish community.
7. The priests are said to have earned their living from the
greater lots granted to them. There is no reference to tithes of agricultural
8. The account sounds unbiased, certainly not enthusiastic,
and was not intended to idealize the Jewish people.
9. Hecataeus did not advocate Jewish misoxenia and
apanthropia , but expressed his reservation explicitly.
10. Hecataeus's Jewish ethnography was not meant to portray
a model society, although one part of it, the provisions for a competent and
sufficient source of military manpower, was emphasized in order to serve as an
― 43CR ―
11. The excursus consistently provides causal reasoning as
well as social and philosophical explanations for Jewish institutions and
12. As in the Egyptian ethnography, the reasoning in the
Jewish excursus is based on Greek tradition, literature, and modes of
thinking. As some scholars have put it, the excursus is, by and large, an
interpretatio Graeca of Jewish history and life.
The Question of Authenticity
Scholars contesting the authenticity of On the Jews
have put forward more than a dozen different arguments. Some fail to prove the
case. For example, the facts that Hecataeus was credited with the forged book
On Abraham and that Philo of Byblos had doubted whether Hecataeus wrote
the treatise On the Jews only illustrate the general problem, but
cannot be used as evidence.
The enthusiastic description of the Jewish people was, as one might expect,
also introduced as an argument against authenticity, but this was rejected in
light of certain general parallels to idealized accounts of oriental peoples
known from Hellenistic ethnographical literature, and the description of the
Jews as "philosophers" by early Hellenistic authors.
The evident idealization of Mosaic Judaism in Strabo's ethnographical excursus
(XVI.2.36-39) is even more relevant here.
Two other arguments, based on a sentence ascribed to Hecataeus by Pseudo-Aristeas
(31) and a reference to the Jewish tithes in one of the fragments (Jos. Ap.
I.188), are by themselves inconclusive and have been rightly rejected.
It has also been pointed out that there is no quotation from the book ascribed
to Hecataeus in the collection of Hellenistic writings on the Jews compiled by
― 55 ―
Polyhistor (first century B.C. ),
but this argument from silence is even less significant for the debate.
The difference in general tone and attitude toward the Jews
between the treatise and Hecataeus's Jewish excursus in the Egyptian
ethnography, as well as the contradictory references to the priests' income (Diod.
XL.3.7, Jos. Ap. I.188), deserves more attention. It has been argued in
defense that On the Jews was written by Hecataeus at a later date,
after he had become better acquainted with Jews and Judaism, or had made a
special study in preparation for his treatise on the Jews.
Unfortunately these assumptions can be neither proved nor disproved: if On
the Jews is authentic, it must have been written after the battle of Gaza
(312 B.C. ), which is explicitly mentioned (Ap.
I.184, 186), and before the final reconquest of Judea by Ptolemy I (302
B.C. ), in which the king treated the Jews harshly and
deported many of them to Egypt.
As far as Hecataeus's Egyptian ethnography is concerned, it seems to have been
written between 305 and 302.
There is thus still some room for dating the composition of the Jewish
excursus earlier than the Jewish treatise.
The positive evidence brought forward so far to support
authenticity is quite meager It has been argued that the author must have been
a gentile, since, while demonstrating an apparently thorough acquaintance with
Greek culture, he seems to make a basic mistake concerning the Jewish
deportation to Babylonia (Ap. I.194). This, however, could well be
expected of a Hellenized Jew; we know of such cases in Jewish Hellenistic
literature. But, as a matter of fact, the statement about the deportation has
already been shown to be reliable,
and a close examination of the passages proves that the author had only a
partial and inaccurate knowledge of Greek heritage and practices.
On the other hand, a number of arguments against
authenticity based on a historical analysis of statements in the fragments
themselves still seem in principle to be valid. All of them were mentioned in
one way or
― 56 ―
another by Willrich in his Judaica (1900), and have
since been repeated or elaborated on by other scholars. Nevertheless, the
analysis has not always been sufficiently convincing and has also frequently
been accompanied, especially in the case of Willrich, by mistaken assumptions
and inexactitude. The older arguments, therefore, need far more evidence and
elucidation. It is also necessary to scrutinize the counterarguments and
solutions offered by the proponents of authenticity.
In discussing the various passages, the following
considerations will concern us:
1. Do the views expressed or implied in the passages accord
with the conceptions and convictions of Hecataeus?
2. Are the data about Greek practices incorporated in the
treatise confirmed by extant knowledge, meaning that they could have been
written by Hecataeus?
3. In view of his position in the court, Hecataeus must have
been acquainted with, or striven to know, the truth about certain details
relating to the Jews (e.g., information having a military significance, Jewish
leadership, and the like); can these be verified? We may observe that had
Hecataeus not served in the Ptolemaic court, and had he actually resided on
the Greek mainland, as one scholar (unjustifiably) maintains,
the whole issue of authenticity would have been decided at the outset:
Hecataeus's position in the Ptolemaic court is emphasized in the passages (in
addition to Josephus's introductory notes).
4. Does the presentation of major events that took place in
the time of Hecataeus agree with hard evidence from other sources concerning
that time? And if not, could it be that Hecataeus was interested in distorting
the real facts?
5. Could all the described historical events and
developments relating to Jewish history have taken place before or during the
lifetime of Hecataeus?
Unfortunately, a stylistic comparison with Hecataeus's
Egyptian ethnography and the Jewish excursus would not be of much help:
Diodorus's involvement in shaping the vocabulary and style of the epitome
was too great to allow a reliable basis for comparison.
One should also be cautious in applying arguments from silence and the like.
― 57 ―
Thus the absence from the passages of any reference to
Moses as well as of philosophical and social reasonings, which are so
predominant in the excursus, may support the claim of forgery, but can be used
only as a second line of evidence. On the other hand, caution should also be
exercised regarding the detailed and astonishingly accurate knowledge of the
Temple and its cult objects demonstrated by the author, which in itself need
not necessarily indicate that he was Jewish.
The discussion of this chapter will examine one by one the
passages that have appeared suspect to previous scholars, and two additional
fragments that have been virtually neglected in the scholarly debate but
furnish new evidence. These are Ap. I.195-99 and 201-4, containing the
geographical account of Judea and Jerusalem, and the Mosollamus story (see
sections III.1, 8). We shall keep to the order of the passages as they appear
in Against Apion, with one exception, the Mosollamus story: though it
is the last of the fragments quoted in the first book of Against Apion
(201-4), it will be placed at the start of the discussion. Being the most
complete and comprehensive fragment, it provides a wider range of
considerations for evaluating the question of authenticity.
1. Mosollamus the Jew and Bird Omens
The author claims to have participated personally in a
Ptolemaic military march to the Red Sea, and to be recording an event that
took place in the course of the advance. Among the Jewish horsemen who took
part in the expedition there was a certain archer, called Mosollamus. He is
described as a man with a robust mind and "as agreed by all, the best archer
among the Greeks and barbarians" (Ap. I.201). At a certain point, the
whole force halted because a bird was seen flying about nearby and the seer (mantis
) wanted to observe its motions. When Mosollamus inquired as to the reason for
the halt, the seer pointed to the bird and explained the rules of
If it [the bird] stays there, it is expedient for all to
wait still longer, and if it rises and flies ahead, to advance, but if [it
flies] behind, to withdraw at once.
Then Mosollamus, without uttering a word, shot and killed
the bird. When the angry seer and certain others cursed him, he took the bird
in his hand and retorted (I.204):
― 58 ―
How, then, could this [bird], which did not provide for
its own safety, say anything sound about our march? For had it been able to
know the future, it would not have come to this place, fearing that
Mosollamus the Jew would draw his bow and kill it.
The episode already seemed questionable to Philo of Byblos.
According to Origen, Philo doubted the authenticity of the book because it
stressed the "wisdom" of the Jews (C. Cels. I.15). Philo was certainly
referring to the Mosollamus story, and most probably also to other pieces of
information, which were not preserved by Josephus.
The description of the wise Jew who mocks the foolish, superstitious gentiles
also convinced some modern scholars that the story was written by a Jew.
This, however, is still not enough to establish a forgery.
Other scholars have argued, to the contrary, that the
scornful attitude toward omens accords with that of "contemporary educated
Greeks" and may therefore represent Hecataeus's own views.
The available evidence does not, however, justify such a sweeping statement.
To say that educated Greeks had a negative attitude toward omens is an
exaggerated generalization, even more so than the rhetorical statement of the
supporters of divination in the Ciceronian dialogue that divination had been
"the unwavering belief of all ages, the greatest philosophers, the poets, the
wisest men, the builders of cities, the founders of republics" (Div.
I.84; cf. 5, 86).
In any case, the main question is not whether an educated Greek would have
praised the negative Jewish attitude toward gentile divination and bird omens,
but what Hecataeus's personal view was.
― 59 ―
The tradition about the affiliation of Hecataeus with the
disciples and "successors" of Pyrrho (Diog. Laert. IX.69), if accepted, could
have provided a clue as to Hecataeus's position: certain contemporary
testimonia about Pyrrho indicate at least a tolerant, if not a favorable,
attitude toward religious ceremonies and divination.
However, this tradition is rather doubtful.
Hecataeus's stand with regard to divination should therefore be deduced only
from his ethnographical works.
The surviving material does not contain a thematic
discussion of the reliability of divination and bird omens. There are,
however, quite a number of relevant references. In his Egyptian ethnography,
preserved by Diodorus in an abridged version,
Hecataeus refers more than a dozen times to Egyptian and Greek divination in a
generally positive way. Hecataeus mentions incubation in temples (Diod I.25.3,
53.8), oracles (23.5, 25.7, 66.10; cf. 98.5), inspection of the entrails of
sacrifices (53.8, 70.9), dream interpretation (65.5-7), divination in general
(73.4), and astrology (73.4, 81.4-6, 98.3-4). One passage reports that hawks
and eagles were regarded by the Egyptians as "birds of omen" (87.7-9).
Most of the allusions are preceded, as customarily throughout his Egyptian
ethnography, by such phrases as "they say" ( ),
which point to the use of Egyptian and Greek sources. But this does not mean
that Hecataeus distances himself from the assertions. He expresses disapproval
only once, when referring to the contents
― 60 ―
of an oracle recorded by Herodotus (66.10; cf. Hdt.
II.151ff.). His criticism in this case stems not from a rejection in principle
of oracles, but from the evident improbability of the story (the circumstances
of the rise of Psammeticus to sole rule in Egypt; cf. Diod. I.69.7). On
another occasion he even states that the Egyptian sources support their
statements with facts, unlike the Greeks, who rely on legends (25.3). There
are no reservations with regard to the other references, although Hecataeus
does not refrain from criticizing his Egyptian sources when he finds their
accounts unreliable (e.g., 23.2; 24.2, 5; 25.2-3). One story recounted by him
about divination does not mention sources, and the information given is
recorded as objective fact (65.5-7). Above all, Hecataeus precedes three other
allusions to divination and astrology (73.4, 81.4-6, 98.3-4) with the
statement that he refrained from quoting imaginary tales by Herodotus and
other Greek authors, and selected from the records of the Egyptian priests
only information "that passed our scrupulous examination" (69.7).
When evaluating this material, it should also be borne in
mind that Hecataeus's Egyptian ethnography is, to a great extent, an
idealization of Egyptian life and practices.
It is therefore hardly credible that the same author would reject or even
ridicule pagan divination techniques. The same conclusion is also suggested by
Hecataeus's highly tolerant and sympathetic treatment of religious beliefs in
the Egyptian ethnography. He even goes so far as to provide explanations for
and make favorable comments on the animal cult,
which was regarded by the Greeks and Romans as bizarre and contemptible.
Examination of the few fragments of Hecataeus's utopian
On the Hyperboreans supports this conclusion.
The god Apollo plays a central role in the treatise (as in almost all other
literary references to
― 61 ―
Although the material at our disposal elaborates only on his contribution (and
that of his cult) to the musical life of the Hyperboreans (Diod. II.47.6;
Aelian, Nat. Anim. XI.1), one may assume that Apollo's second main
role, as god of divination, was not neglected. Furthermore, Hecataeus
enthusiastically describes the regular arrival of "clouds of swans" from afar
at the time of the services in the Hyperborean temple. They always join the
chorus chanting hymns in honor of Apollo. All is performed in perfect harmony
(Ael. NA XI.1):
Never once do they sing a discordant note or out of
tune, but as though they had been given the key by the leader they chant in
unison with the natives, who are skilled in the sacred melodies.
That nothing in their behavior is accidental attests to
divine inspiration. Hecataeus accordingly accepted the belief that swans were
Apollo's sacred birds and messengers,
and in Greek tradition this also entailed prophetic as well as musical gifts.
This survey of Hecataeus's direct and indirect references to
the techniques of ancient mantics, as well as his attitude toward Egyptian
cults (including those viewed by the Greeks as superstitious), seems to
suggest that Hecataeus could not have written a derogatory story about bird
omens. And it cannot be argued that the author merely quotes the view of
Mosollamus the Jew. He clearly enjoys telling the story, without reservation,
and praises Mosollamus's "robust mind." The story was probably understood in a
similar manner by Herennius Philo, who, therefore, suspected the authenticity
of the treatise.
Analysis of the various details of the Mosollamus story
further shows that it was not written by a knowledgeable Greek, certainly not
by an author of the caliber of Hecataeus. The story either lacks or distorts
all the basic facts about Greek bird divination. And it must be
recalled that the author presents himself as an eyewitness (Ap. I.200).
But before any discussion of the details, an important clarification must be
made. It might be argued that the episode is just a joke, and that,
consequently, the author was not concerned with accuracy and even deliberately
distorted all technical details. This, however, can
― 62 ―
be expected of a satire, not of a story—even if it is told
as a joke—the whole purpose of which is "to point a moral, or adorn a tale."
The last paragraph (204) points the moral. Had the real Hecataeus distorted
all the basic facts, he would have spoiled the whole didactic impact of the
story. An author who knew his facts would not have done this.
Besides, the surviving material of Hecataeus's works (and there is enough of
it to judge) does not show any traces of satiric writing.
When we turn to the Mosollamus story, the first conspicuous
fact is that the episode does not accord with the Greek theological conception
underlying bird omens. Mosollamus says that had the bird indeed been able to
"know the future" ( )
it would have taken care not to be shot (I.204). But educated Greeks did not
believe that a bird could know the future. This was at best a common belief
held by ignorant people of the sort found in every society.
Xenophon, who in his books frequently described omens and portents, expressed
the accepted Greek conception about bird divination in a celebrated passage
that refers to the views held by Athenian citizens about various divination
techniques (Mem. I.1.3-4):
He [Socrates] was introducing nothing newer than were
those believers in divination who rely on bird omens, oracles, coincidences,
and sacrifices. For they do not believe that the birds or those met by
accident know what will happen to the inquirer, but that the gods indicate
what will happen to him through them.
The same explanation for omens, sometimes with specific
reference to birds, is known from quite a number of sources.
― 63 ―
gave rise to a number of theological problems. Cicero thus
records the deliberations of the Stoics (Div. I.118):
But it seems necessary to determine the way [by which
these signs are given]. For the Stoics do not believe that god is involved
in every fissure of the liver or in every song of a bird; quite obviously
that would be neither seemly nor proper for a god and furthermore would be
impossible. But, in the beginning, the world was so created that certain
results would be preceded by certain signs, which are given sometimes by
entrails and by birds, sometimes by lightning, by portents and by stars,
sometimes by dreams, and sometimes by utterances of persons in a frenzy.
The philosophers who rejected belief in omens did not ignore
these explanations. Some even tried to refute them point by point. Thus
Cicero, in the second book of a long dialogue, examined all aspects of
Others expressed their negative view
― 64 ―
inter alia by short notes, like the rhetorical
question of Carneades and Panaetius preserved by Cicero (Div. I.12):
Therefore let Carneades cease to press the question,
which Panaetius also used to urge, whether Jupiter had ordered the crow to
croak on the left side and the raven on the right.
Even in this rather cynical remark, the question is not
whether the bird "knows" or not, but whether the deity reveals his will to
mankind in this way.
The Mosollamus story, however, does not indicate any familiarity with the
accepted Greek conception of bird omens. It has already been explained above
why it cannot be argued that Hecataeus simply recorded the Jewish perception.
In this context it would be worth referring to two Greek
anecdotes that carry a seemingly similar lesson. Hans Lewy compared the
Mosollamus episode with a story in one of the spurious letters attributed to
Diogenes of Sinope. The letter relates how, at the time of the Olympic games,
Diogenes ridiculed a seer (mantis: either an ecstatic prophet or a
soothsayer who interprets signs or dreams). Diogenes lifted his stick and
asked the man whether he would strike him or not. When the seer answered in
the negative, Diogenes, much to the amusement of the bystanders, struck him
with his stick.
The same motif appears in a fable related by Aesop: a mantis who earned
his living from prophesying in the market was alarmed by the news that his
house had been broken into. A passerby rebuked him, saying: "While announcing
that you knew beforehand the affairs of others, you did not predict your own"
(no. 170, ed. A. Hausrath [Leipzig, 1970]).
There is, however, an essential difference between the
Mosollamus episode and the two anecdotes: Mosollamus ridicules the
"foreknowledge" of the bird; that is, he denies the capability of the mantic
"instrument" itself to know the future. However, Greeks did not need to
challenge this. The two anecdotes, on the other hand, mock the ability of a
dilettante to foretell the future or interpret signs. The argument
― 65 ―
is quite different, and was frequently employed against
quack prophets, especially streetcorner soothsayers.
No less instructive than the theological conception are both
the terminology of the story and the mantic techniques described by the
gentile seer himself. The very reliance on bird omens for military purposes is
indeed known not only from the history of the Roman army and from other
cultures, but is also found in Greek tradition,
although it did not take the form of regular, systematic ornithoscopy, but
rather of the interpretation of the chance appearance of certain less common
Such bird omens were occasionally encountered by armies in the course of their
So far there is nothing exceptional in the Mosollamus story. However, when the
minute technical details are reviewed, one finds it difficult to believe that
the story was written
― 66 ―
by a Greek. Curiously enough, the author does not specify
the bird, although the general term ornis is repeated four times, and
the story is devoted to bird divination.
The Greeks regarded some ten or twelve species as birds of omen, but others
In the words of the poet: "Many birds fly to and fro under the sun's rays, but
not all are [birds] of omen" (Od. II.181). When it came to military
affairs, the usual birds of omen were the eagle, Zeus's sacred bird and "the
surest bird of augury" (Il. VIII.247),
the hawk, consecrated to Apollo (Ael. NA VII.9, X.14, XII.4), and
occasionally (especially for Athenian troops) the owl.
Hecataeus himself elaborates in his Egyptian ethnography on the hawk and eagle
as birds of omen (Diod. I.87.7-9). The absence of any specification and the
repetition of the word ornis indicate, therefore, a lack of exact
knowledge about Greek practice. Furthermore, the author does not use the term
oionos even once, although it is the more common designation for a bird
It may be responded that the author wishes to stress that
the soothsayer's source of information was just a bird. But one would expect
an author—who claims to be an eyewitness—to specify at least once the exact
bird he saw; a specific reference to an eagle or a hawk would only have
strengthened the didactic effect of the story. Had Mosollamus been able to
shoot such a bird, well known for speed, this would have emphasized the whole
point of the story. The author would then still have had a few opportunities
to express the idea that the bird was just a bird.
As for the rules of interpretation: like the Roman augurs,
Greek diviners also had a disciplina auguralis, a set of rules for the
interpretation of omens, which differed slightly from place to place. It was a
rather complicated "science," the rules defining the meaning of a variety
― 67 ―
of movements and their combinations. Thus an inscription
found in Ephesus, from the time of the Persian Wars, which contains a sacred
law code, elaborates on the meaning of bird movements (SIG
[(If) the bird is flying from right to left:] if it
disappears—fortunate. But if it raises the left wing: whether it (only)
rises or disappears—ill. And (if) it is flying from left to right: if it
disappears in a straight (course)—ill, but if after raising the right
These were not all the rules. The code is only partially
preserved, and the complete set must have made decision rather difficult. The
seer had thus to set in order and balance conflicting signs and rules. The
Ephesian code may indeed represent only a local tradition, as some scholars
but there is no doubt that the overall rules applied in the Greek world were
quite complicated, as can be deduced from a fair number of sources.
Then again, the very clarification of the basic facts
demanded much effort. Even the simplest question, common throughout the Greek
world, whether the bird came from the right or the left, was not easy to
establish. The flight of an eagle or a hawk near an army usually came as a
surprise and happened very quickly. The reports on the direction of the
arrival were consequently often contradictory, and whatever evidence there was
had to be sorted out and clarified by the seer In
― 68 ―
this context there was also the question of defining and
determining right and left. If this was to be resolved in relation to the
direction faced by the seer himself, the problem arose as to how the latter
could be sure of his own exact position at the moment of the bird's arrival.
And if it was accepted that the seer always faced the residence of the gods,
was that north or east? Or was there perhaps another rule, referring, for
instance, to the general direction of the army's advance? The knowledge and
experience of a professional seer were thus indispensable.
But this was just the beginning. The remaining considerations relating to the
bird's overall motions and more particular details could give rise to even
greater uncertainties. And there was still the necessity of balancing all the
different and complicated instructions.
The seer of the Mosollamus story, however, refers to just
three basic positions: flight forward, retreat, and landing. So far as I know,
there is no parallel in Greek literature for the application of such rules.
These elementary positions could well be regarded as accidental and were
therefore discounted as divine signs. Such an interpretation could occur, at
most, only to ignorant people unaware of the theological background of bird
mantics, not to an official seer, as suggested by the story. In any case, it
does not take the expertise of a professional seer to offer this sort of
On the other hand, there is no reference to the traditional rules accepted by
the Greek world, not even to the basic question regarding right and left. We
thus see that the author could not have been an eyewitness, nor could he have
been a knowledgeable Greek—certainly not one who wanted to win the trust of
his Greek readers. Even if one ignores the concluding moral and its necessary
effects on the shaping of the story, in order to argue that the intention of
the author was to ridicule bird omens at any cost, reference to one
― 69 ―
or two of the real rules (e.g., raising the right or left
wing) would have made the episode even more amusing. Thus Philo, wanting to
ridicule pagan mantics, refers to reliance on wing motions (Spec. Leg.
The same appears from the derisive question of Carneades and Panaetius on
croaking from right or left. The author's acquaintance with the practice of
interpreting bird omens is, then, superficial and vague indeed.
To conclude the discussion: in view of what appears from his
writings, Hecataeus's attitude toward bird omens could not have been negative;
the punch line of the story betrays the author's unfamiliarity with the
theological doctrine of bird divination; the author neither specifies the bird
nor uses the proper term for a bird of omen; and he is ignorant of the rules
of interpretation, even of the most basic ones current in the Greek world. All
these factors make an attribution of the episode to Hecataeus of Abdera
― 70 ―
In two of the following sections (III.4, 9), I shall refer
to explanations offered by the proponents of authenticity for the presence of
certain sentences that evidently could not have been written by Hecataeus.
These scholars have postulated various ways in which the original text may
have subsequently been altered. The validity of the proposed explanations for
those passages will be discussed in due course.
As far as the Mosollamus story is concerned, they are certainly not
applicable. To suggest that the original Hecataean story underwent a "slight"
adaptation by an anonymous Jewish author would not resolve the difficulties: a
"slight" alteration would not have made all the basic details of the story
unreliable. Moreover, Hecataeus had a favorable opinion of Greek mantics; the
essence of the story—deriding gentile reliance on omens and divination and
praising the wise Jew—could not have been much different in the original. The
argument for this interpretation also seems to be supported by the reference
of Herennius Philo to Jewish "wisdom." In addition, a Jewish adapter would
have had no reason to deviate significantly from the details of the pro-Jewish
report; quoting just a few genuine rules of interpretation and specifying the
type of bird involved would have been a more effective way of ridiculing
The same arguments also apply against the suggestion that
Josephus altered the original text. Furthermore, Josephus twice stresses that
he is going to quote Hecataeus (Ap . I.200, ;
and at the end of the episode he refers the reader to further information
about the Jews in the book attributed to Hecataeus, saying
― 71 ―
that it is easily available (205). It is hardly possible
that Josephus would have repeatedly stressed in this way the authenticity of
the passage, even exposing it to comparison, while at the same time
significantly diverging from the original text. Given the polemic context,
this would have undermined his credibility with the readers. It should also be
added that the episode is quoted in direct speech; that the author describes
his impressions of the expedition in the first person; and that the story
forms a complete and independent literary unit. All these further serve to
undermine the possibility of a Josephan adaptation of the original story.
Another recurring explanation for the mistakes in the
fragments is that Hecataeus had been misled by Hezekiah the High Priest, who
figures in Josephus's quotations (Ap . I.187-89), or by other Jewish
sources. This is equally untenable: the author presents himself as an
eyewitness, and, in any case, Hecataeus would not have been misled concerning
Greek practices, nor would he have been convinced by such sources to change
his mind about Greek divination. The only remaining alternative is that the
story in its entirety is a Jewish fabrication.
2. Ptolemy I and the Jews
Josephus opens the quotations with the celebrated Hezekiah
story (Ap . I. 186-89). Despite the fragmentary transmission of the
text, its basic outline can be determined with a high degree of certainty. The
background is the period after the battle of Gaza (312 B.C.
) when Ptolemy I became, temporarily, master of Syria. Hezekiah the High
Priest and many Jews were so impressed by the "kindliness" and
philanthropia of Ptolemy that they decided to emigrate to Egypt. Their
purpose was to "take part in the affairs [of the kingdom]." Upon arriving in
Egypt, Hezekiah is said to have kept close connections with the Ptolemaic
authority and to have served as the leader of the immigrants.
This ideal picture does not accord with the available
information on Ptolemy's treatment of the Jews and other nations and cities in
his realm. Consequently a number of scholars have doubted the reliability
― 72 ―
of the Hezekiah story and its attribution to Hecataeus.
However, their analyses do not consider all the possibilities, leaving much
scope for attempts to harmonize the story with the historical information. In
the following pages I shall present the source material and try to clarify the
origin of the information, the mutual relationships and reliability of the
sources, and the chronology of the events. The conclusions will aid our
examination of the story itself.
First, the information about occupied populations in the
Ptolemaic realm: according to Diodorus, Ptolemy son of Lagus had in 312 taken
severe measures against the native populations in Cyprus and northern Syria.
These included the destruction of cities and deportations (Diod. XIX.79.4-6).
The inhabitants of Mallus in Cilicia were even sold into slavery, and the
region was pillaged (79.6). The concurrent violent struggle in Cyrene (79.1-3)
indicates that the occupied population was outraged over its treatment by
Ptolemy. As to Coile Syria and Phoenicia, it is reported that immediately
after the battle of Gaza Ptolemy won over the Phoenician cities, partly by
persuasion, partly by besieging them (85.5). On his retreat a few months
later, in 311, he razed the four "most important cities'—Acre, Jaffa, Samaria,
and Gaza (93.7). Of the reoccupation of Coile Syria in 302 it is said only
that Ptolemy besieged Sidon and that the remaining cities were subjugated,
garrisons being stationed in them (XX.113.1-2). In reporting the reoccupation
of the cities, Diodorus uses words that imply reluctance, if not resistance,
on the part of the local population.
This information can be trusted. It was paraphrased with
considerable accuracy by Diodorus from the work of Hieronymus of Cardia.
From 317 or 316 on, Hieronymus belonged to the staff of Demetrius,
who was operating in Coile Syria and Phoenicia and the surrounding area in
312-311 and reoccupied the region after the withdrawal of Ptolemy. Although at
that point Hieronymus served the family of Antigonus, he is known to have been
impartial in his writing, and occasionally even criticized Antigonus sharply.
The Ptolemaic "satrap
― 73 ―
stele" of 312/11 B.C. indeed
confirms the general lines of Ptolemy's policy in the occupied territories as
reported by Diodorus-Hieronymus.
It records, for example, the deportation of soldiers, men, and women from a
place whose name is illegible (lines 5-6).
The handling of the population in the region by Ptolemy is correctly
summarized in Josephus's Antiquities as follows (Ant . XII.3):
The cities suffered ill and lost many of their
inhabitants in the struggles, so that Syria at the hands of Ptolemy son of
Lagus, then called Soter ["Savior"], suffered the opposite of [what
is indicated by] his surname.
These statements may be based on the detailed accounts of
the period in the books of Hieronymus of Cardia and Agatharcides, which were
well known to Josephus (Ap . I.205-11, 213-14; Ant . XII.5), but
the author may also have drawn on an additional source.
Parallel to this explicit information on Ptolemy's harsh
treatment of the occupied population, Diodorus provides an especially
favorable evaluation of Ptolemy's character, which recalls the enthusiastic
account of the Hezekiah story. The term philanthropia is repeated with
some variations. Diodorus praises Ptolemy's treatment of the Greco-Macedonian
commanders and captives from other Hellenistic armies (Diod. XIX.55.6, 56.1,
85.3, 86.3). The same applies to the measures taken against the
native Egyptians at the beginning of his reign (XVIII.14.1) and the
Greco-Macedonian immigrants (XVIII.28.5-6). These references have misled some
scholars who utilized them to support the statement in the Hezekiah story
about Ptolemy I's philanthropia .
However, the practical and political considerations behind
― 74 ―
this "philanthropy" toward the Greco-Macedonians are quite
obvious, and as far as the Egyptian natives were concerned, Ptolemy's attitude
changed after he had consolidated his rule.
The handling of the occupied populations outside Egypt was from the start
quite different. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful whether contemporary
sources applied the epithet philanthropos to Ptolemy I, and it seems to
have been supplemented by Diodorus himself.
The term was current in Hellenistic Egypt and was one of the main features of
ideal monarchy in Hellenistic (and Jewish Hellenistic) literature.
Diodorus does not refer to the policy toward the Jews in the
days of Gaza and Ipsus, and Josephus notes in Against Apion that
Hieronymus of Cardia did not mention the Jews at all in his work (Ap .
I.213-14). Since in that context Josephus strives to prove that the first
Hellenistic authors did mention the Jews and deplores Hieronymus's silence, we
may well believe that he took the trouble to read Hieronymus's writings with
We can therefore accept that Diodorus merely followed Hieronymus in his
silence about the relations between Ptolemy I and the Jews.
The fate of the Jews is recorded by a number of other
sources. They recount severe treatment of the Jews by Ptolemy I. The sources
are gentile, Jewish Hellenistic, and Jewish Palestinian. The most detailed of
them, Pseudo-Aristeas, states in brief that the land of the Jews was despoiled
(23) and elaborates on the deportation of a hundred thousand Jews from Judea
to Egypt, the enslavement of many of these, and the stationing of thirty
thousand men in fortresses (12, 22-23, 36-37). The second source is
Agatharcides of Cnidus, the celebrated geographer and historian who was
employed at the Ptolemaic court in the middle of the second century
B.C. In a passage preserved by Josephus (Ap .
I.205-11) he reports that Ptolemy entered Jerusalem on the seventh
― 75 ―
day, on which the Jews refrained from any work, taking
advantage of the failure of the inhabitants to take up arms and defend the
city on this day (209-10). Agatharcides concludes by stating: "The ancestral
land [of the Jews] was delivered into the hands of a harsh master [ ,
210]." Almost the same had probably been reported in an internal Jewish
source, probably Palestinian, used by Josephus (Ant . XII.4). This
source contains an important addition: Ptolemy cunningly occupied Jerusalem on
the Sabbath, pretending that he wanted to make a sacrifice, and for this
reason the Jews did not prevent him from entering the city. It may well be
that the same source provided Josephus with additional information about the
transfer of captives from Samaria and Mount Gerizim to Egypt (Ant .
XII.7), which is not reported by Pseudo-Aristeas, one of his main sources for
The latest source, Appian in his Syriake , says briefly in the context
of the occupation of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 B.C.
that Ptolemy destroyed ( )
the city of Jerusalem (Ap. Syr . 50 ).
A brief look at these sources shows that they are mutually
The information is transmitted from the viewpoint of the various parties
involved: a Palestinian Jew, a gentile from the Ptolemaic
― 76 ―
court, and a Jewish Hellenistic author from Egypt. Each
recorded the piece of information that concerned him most. Their later date
(with the possible exception of the Palestinian Jewish source) does not
detract from their general reliability. Although they represent opposing
interests and positions, they agree in regard to the essence of the events:
Ptolemy I treated the Jews unfairly and cruelly. The story gains special
credibility from its recording by Agatharcides: being close to the Ptolemaic
court, Agatharcides had access to royal sources. The expression "harsh master"
applied by him to Ptolemy I despite his commitment to the court, further
strengthens its reliability. As for Pseudo-Aristeas, despite his exaggerated
figures (usual in Hellenistic literature), one cannot imagine that an author
who so admired the Ptolemaic dynasty and strove to prove its favorable
attitude toward the Jews would have included in his book a story about their
deportation and enslavement unless the event was indeed deeply rooted in the
memory of his contemporaries. His contrived efforts to excuse Ptolemy's
behavior (23) reveal more than anything else how genuine he considered the
story to be.
The sources do not date precisely the confrontation between
Ptolemy and the Jews. Three invasions of Coile Syria are known, in 320,
312-311, and 302/1. It has been established that the year 320 must be
discounted: in that year Ptolemy personally led the naval expedition, while
the land invasion was entrusted to his supreme commander, Nicanor (Diod.
XVIII.43; Ap. Syr . 52 ).However, the various accounts indicate
the personal involvement of Ptolemy in the events in Jerusalem (esp. Jos.
Ant . XII.4, Ap . I.210).
The choice between the invasions of 312-311 and 302/1 is more difficult. In
view of the historical circumstances and indications in the sources, the
events could have taken place in either invasion. Those who prefer that of
302/1 point out that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the list of cities
destroyed by Ptolemy in 312-311 (Diod.
― 77 ―
The occupation of 302/1 is, on the other hand, only briefly reported (XX.113),
which may account for the absence of a reference to the confrontation with the
Jews. This argument is not decisive: the destruction of the cities named by
Diodorus in 311 was carried out on the eve of Ptolemy's withdrawal from Coile
Syria. The events that followed the battle of Gaza, half a year earlier, are,
however, recorded only in general terms (an occupation of cities in Phoenicia,
XIX.85.5). One may therefore suggest that the capture of Jerusalem took place
in the earlier stage of the occupation of 312-311.
Nevertheless, I tend to date the confrontation with the Jews
to the year 302/1. What really counts here is the evident absence of any
reference to the Jews in the work of Hieronymus of Cardia. Had the event taken
place at the time of the battle of Gaza, Hieronymus, who was then nearby at
the headquarters of Demetrius, would certainly have mentioned it in one way or
another. The drastic measures taken against the Jews by Ptolemy I were no less
severe than those taken by him against other natives of the region, actions
that were recorded by Hieronymus. The only acceptable explanation for
Hieronymus's failure to mention the Jews in the course of his narrative for
the years 312 and 311 is that no exceptional events occurred in Jerusalem.
However, his silence on such an event in 302/1 is understandable. In that year
he was staying with Demetrius in the Aegean and did not return to Coile Syria
after its reconquest by Ptolemy I. The account by Diodorus of the occupation
of the region in 302 is indeed exceptionally short, probably because he could
not find more detailed information in Hieronymus's work,
and his text for the year 301 has not been preserved. If the Ptolemaic-Jewish
crisis did occur in the days of Ipsus, this would seem to place it rather in
the year 302/1, before the decision on the battlefield. After the death of
Antigonus at Ipsus and the collapse of his army in 301 there was no point in
Jewish opposition to Ptolemy.
― 78 ―
Does the last conclusion lend credibility to the
information about the cordial relationship between the Jews and Ptolemy in the
days of Gaza? Taking a number of considerations into account, the answer is in
The account of the attitude of the occupied populations outside Egypt in
312-311 indicates a generally hard-line policy. Had the Jews been favored
vis-à-vis other nations, this would have given them a strong motivation to
support Ptolemy in 302/1. I do not see how relations between the two sides
could have deteriorated to such an extent in the decade before Ipsus, after
the great "philanthropy" attributed to Ptolemy in 312, and the alleged
enthusiastic response of the Jews, many of whom are even said to have followed
Ptolemy to Egypt in order to assist him in state affairs. It should also be
kept in mind that Judea was reoccupied by Antigonus half a year after the
battle of Gaza, and consequently in the eleven years preceding the violent
events of 302/1 Judea was not under Ptolemaic rule, so that there was no
opportunity for a buildup of tension. Ptolemy's hostile measures at the time
of Ipsus must have been a natural continuation and result of the relationship
between ruler and subjects in the previous periods of Ptolemy's reign in
No less significant than the evidence for harsh treatment of
the Jews by Ptolemy I is the absence of any reference to good relations
between Ptolemy I and the Jews in Pseudo-Aristeas. It has already been
mentioned that the author admired the Ptolemaic dynasty and strove to
demonstrate its favorable attitude toward the Jews. He even tried to excuse
Ptolemy's role in their deportation and enslavement. Such an author would not
have missed an opportunity to prove his case and put the personality of
Ptolemy in a better light if he had been acquainted with the Hezekiah story.
The story would even have offered him a most attractive demonstration of
Jewish good will toward the dynasty and a flattering explanation for the
development of the Jewish community in Egypt: a voluntary immigration headed
by the High Priest, aimed
― 79 ―
at making a contribution to the building of the Ptolemaic
kingdom. Would this author, who fabricated the involvement of the Jerusalem
High Priest and Ptolemy II in the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek, an
entirely internal matter of the Alexandrian community, have passed over such a
story? The conclusion from these observations must be that the collective
memory and written records of Alexandrian Jewry in the generation of the
Letter of Aristeas (whatever its exact date may be) did not contain any
tradition of friendly relations between Ptolemy I and the Jews, nor of a
voluntary immigration in his day.
Another difficulty inherent in the story brings us one step
further toward correctly understanding it: Would Hezekiah, who is described as
the Jerusalem High Priest, have emigrated to Egypt of his own free will and
brought with him many other Jews besides? All this at the age of sixty-six
(Jos. Ap . I.187), despite the explicit biblical prohibition and
warnings not to emigrate to Egypt,
and when Judea had come under the control of a ruler said by the author to
have demonstrated his good will to the inhabitants? Any migration from the
Holy Land to Egypt was usually brought about by some compelling circumstances
such as severe drought, deportation, or invasion by a northern enemy.
When this last consideration is combined with the other data
that prove Ptolemy I's hard line toward the populations outside Egypt and his
maltreatment of the Jews, the only way any historical value may be conceded to
the Hezekiah story is to suggest that in reality the move was a forced
deportation and not a voluntary emigration. And if this was indeed the case,
it should rather be dated to the days of Ipsus. The author, then, transformed
an exile into an emigration. Why did he do this? The question will be answered
later on, after we have become acquainted with other aspects of his book. But
why did he change even the background of the event and date it to the days of
Gaza? Presumably he was well aware that because the traumatic experiences of
the exile and enslavement in 302/1 B.C. were deeply
rooted in the memory of the Jewish community in Egypt, dating his false
version of the events to the days of Ipsus would discredit him at the outset.
We thus see that the information attributed to Hecataeus
about the relationship between Ptolemy and the Jews in 312-311
B.C. and the voluntary migration of Hezekiah and his
people does not stand up to
― 80 ―
historical criticism: it contradicts information from
other sources, as well as historical circumstances and Jewish tradition, and
was unknown in Jewish Hellenistic circles in the time of Pseudo-Aristeas. This
conclusion does not permit us to believe that the Hezekiah story was recorded
by Hecataeus of Abdera.
As Hecataeus was close to the court, it might naturally be
suggested that he sought to color events in a positive way. But the drastic
measures taken by Ptolemy I against the Jews indicate a particularly virulent
animosity between the two sides in his time. Why and for whom, then, should
Hecataeus have wished to fabricate such a fanciful story about kind treatment
of the Jews by Ptolemy and their enthusiastic response? This was not the
practice of Ptolemaic courtiers and court historians in such cases, certainly
not of authors of his standing. Even the court chroniclers, who lauded the
occupation of Coile Syria in 312-311 and 217 in panegyrical terms, did not
fail to emphasize the strong opposition the Ptolemaic rulers had to face from
the local population after their victory over their Hellenistic rivals, and
the severe retaliatory measures taken by them.
Be that as it may, the absence of any reference to the
Hezekiah story in Pseudo-Aristeas comes up here again and decides the issue:
the author of Pseudo-Aristeas was well versed in Alexandrian literature and
familiar with Hecataeus's works.
He even quotes a reference to the Jewish Holy Scriptures from one of them (para.
which indicates that he indeed took great interest in Hecataeus's attitude
toward the Jews. A monograph on the Jews by Hecataeus, especially one so
enthusiastic, would surely have been known to him, and the Hezekiah story
Would not have escaped his notice.
To close the discussion, a recently suggested interpretation
of the Hezekiah story deserves attention. According to this, in the days of
Gaza the Jewish community in Judea was divided on the issue of political
orientation, and Hezekiah the High Priest supported Ptolemy. When
― 81 ―
the latter withdrew, Hezekiah, fearful of Antigonus's
punishment, chose to leave the country with his followers.
This reconstruction still assumes a deliberate "inaccuracy" on the part of
Hecataeus in describing Ptolemy's general attitude toward the occupied
population and the position of the Jewish community as a whole—which, in view
of what has been said above on Hecataeus, is a rather remote possibility. It
also implies a chronological mistake in the story: the Jewish High Priest and
many Jews are said to have migrated to Egypt when "Ptolemy became master of
Syria" (Ap . I.186), and not at the time of the withdrawal to Egypt.
Such a mistake can hardly be attributed to a contemporary author so close to
the court. Furthermore, this theory does not provide an explanation for the
absence of any mention of the story in Pseudo-Aristeas. In addition, the
numismatic material indicates that Hezekiah remained in office in Judea after
the Ptolemaic withdrawal, and still held his position close to the time of the
Ptolemaic reoccupation on the eve of the battle of Ipsus.
Besides, there is no reference in the sources to a political
division in the Jewish community in the period of the Diadochs. The later
divisions known from the Ptolemaic and Seleucid periods are no evidence: they
developed during generations of daily contact with the Ptolemaic regime and
were the result of conflicting personal, economic, cultural, and political
interests. But even in those periods, except for the days of the religious
persecutions by Antiochus IV, High Priests did not leave the country when the
balance of power tilted the other way.
― 82 ―
the policy of Antigonus toward the local populations in
his realm was not of a sort that would have driven an opportunistic High
Priest to flee for his life.
This policy was well known in Judea in 312 B.C. after
three years under Antigonus. The appearance of the name Antigonus in Jewish
Orthodox circles already in the third century B.C. (Avot
1.3) indicates at least that Antigonus Monophthalmus did not leave hostile
memories in Judea. The strong Jewish opposition to Ptolemy in 302/1 reinforces
the impression that Antigonus's policy toward the occupied population, here as
elsewhere in his realm, was favorable.
3. Hezekiah the High Priest
Hezekiah, the leader of the alleged Jewish migration to
Egypt, is described as High Priest (Ap . I.187-89). As was pointed out
already in the eighteenth century, no High Priest named Hezekiah is known from
He is not mentioned in Josephus's historical account of the period surrounding
the battle of Gaza, nor in his narrative of the Persian and Hellenistic
periods as a whole.
Josephus records the names Johanan, Iaddous (Jaddua), and
Onias as the High Priests in the late Persian age and in the days of Alexander
and the Successors (Ant . XI.297, 302-3, 347). Quite a number of
scholars have tried to disqualify the first two names, claiming that they are
just duplicates of the names of two High Priests who served two generations
earlier, at the end of the fourth century (Neh. 12.22).
However, E M. Cross, in a celebrated article, has shown the paponymic
principle current among the ruling families in Judea and Samaria in the
The authenticity of the name Johanan in Josephus
― 83 ―
has recently been decisively established by the coin of
Johanan the Priest, which, on clear numismatic grounds, must be dated close to
the Macedonian occupation.
This also lends credence to the name of Iaddous, described as Johanan's
successor, who held office in the time of Alexander's conquest.
The possibility that the name Hezekiah escaped Josephus's
notice or was accidentally omitted from the sources at his disposal is highly
unlikely. Josephus is proud of his precise rendering of the line of descent (diadoche
) of the High Priests, and regards it as one of his greatest achievements (Ant
. XX.261). He testifies to the existence of the pedigrees of the priestly
families in the public archives and to their use in practical matters like
marriage (Ap . I.31-36), and says that he himself used such
a pedigree (Vit . 6). According to rabbinic sources the pedigree lists
of all the priests were kept in a chamber behind the Holy of Holies, and in
cases of doubt final decision was passed by the High Court in the Temple.
Furthermore, in Book XX of his Jewish Antiquities ,
Josephus gives the number of High Priests in the various stages of Jewish
history up to the destruction of the Second Temple (Ant . XX.227ff.).
It has been proved that these numbers were based on an authoritative list of
the High Priests and not on information scattered in the books of the
The number quoted for the High Priests from the time of the Restoration until
Antiochus Epiphanes (fifteen in all, XX.234)
― 84 ―
is identical to that which appears from the chronistic and
narrative material in Books XI and XII of the Antiquities , thus
rendering the inclusion of Hezekiah impossible.
Significantly enough, Josephus himself, who not only cited the Hezekiah story
in Against Apion , but also inserted a sentence based on it in his
account of the Ptolemaic era in the Antiquities (XII.9),
refrained from integrating Hezekiah in the sequence of his account of the
historical events and of the chronistic information on the High Priests.
Josephus did not usually apply sophisticated critical methods to his sources,
and if he chose to ignore the name of Hezekiah in this case, it must have been
only because he was convinced of the authoritativeness of the commonly
accepted tradition and of the list of the High Priests of the House of Zadok
available to him.
A number of scholars have suggested that the High Priest
Hezekiah was merely the leading member of a priestly family or an influential
priest, as the title is known to have been applied in the later generations of
the Second Temple.
Other scholars have tried to reinforce this view by arguing that the term
appears without the article, which may imply that Hezekiah was only one of the
important priests who were active at that time.
However, in the Persian and Hellenistic periods, "High Priest" designated only
the head of the priestly hierarchy, and there is not a single case in which it
was applied to other priests. The loosening of the strict meaning of the term
in the Roman period resulted from changes in the appointment procedures and
status of the chief priest. The right of just one family to the office was
rescinded. High Priests were appointed by Herod, Agrippa I, Agrippa II, and
― 85 ―
the Roman governors, and deposed in their lifetimes, the
office even being occasionally sold for money. Consequently, deposed High
Priests continued to bear their former title, and it was even applied to heads
of rich, influential families, whose practical power was frequently equal, if
not superior, to that of the officiating High Priest.
As for the absence of the article, this also occurs in Pseudo-Aristeas (35,
41) and the Mishna,
when referring to the Hasmonean High Priest. The matter is clinched by
Hecataeus's Jewish excursus, which describes in detail the qualities and
authority of the Jewish High Priest, stating that he was chosen by the people,
and designating him without the article (Diod. XL.3.5-6).
If Hecataeus had been the author of the Hezekiah story, he would certainly
have to be interpreted as saying that Hezekiah was the presiding Jewish High
Priest. The flexible use of the title "High Priest" in the Roman period can
explain why Josephus, who was acquainted with the lists of the officiating
High Priests, did not delete the title attached to Hezekiah.
A new dimension to the question of Hezekiah was introduced
by the discovery of the Hezekiah coins. The appearance of Hezekiah's name on
those coins encouraged the supporters of the authenticity of the Hezekiah
story and brought about a new wave of scholarly contributions in that
direction, claiming that the information in Josephus's Antiquities was
mistaken or incomplete, and that the coins proved that there was indeed a High
Priest named Hezekiah at the beginning of the Hellenistic period.
This deduction, however, is unjustified. To show why, the
chronological framework of the Hezekiah coins must first be clarified. These
coins are divided into two groups, each including a number of variations. The
― 86 ―
legend on the first group reads
(Hezekiah the pehah [governor]); that on the second, only
(Hezekiah). The two groups differ in design, on the obverse as well as on the
reverse. Appendix A at the end of this monograph discusses in detail the
dating of the two groups.
The numismatic analysis shows that the first group of coins was struck in the
last years of the Persian period, probably from 340 to 338, and the second in
the days of Alexander and under the rule of the Successors. Production of the
second group seems to have ceased shortly before the Ptolemaic occupation in
302 B.C. , on the eve of the battle of Ipsus.
This dating means that a man named Hezekiah served as the
Persian governor in Judea in the late Persian period, and continued as head of
the administration of Judea under Alexander and the Successors. This Hezekiah
held his leading position in Judea for thirty-six to thirty-eight years. His
title in the Persian period was pehah , but under the Macedonian
occupation the official oriental title was probably replaced by a Greek one,
which does not appear on the coins.
These data not only do not bolster the claim that Hezekiah
served as High Priest; they even contribute to its refutation.
Hezekiah figures in the first group of coins from the end of the Persian
period not as High Priest but as pehah ,
and it cannot be accepted that he also served concurrently as High Priest.
The Persians, who usually appointed Jewish governors, refrained from placing
full authority in the hands of one man. The High Priest was in charge of
religious matters that, because of the character of Jewish law and tradition,
― 87 ―
areas of life. The Temple treasures also gave him
considerable economic power The rivalry and competition between the Jewish
governor and the High Priest saved the Persian authorities from too great an
assertion of independence on the part of the pehah and facilitated
early exposure of such ambitions. In two cases we have evidence of tension and
even a rift between these two officials that certainly served the interests of
the Persians, and a similar state of affairs is indicated in a third case.
Furthermore, we know the names of another seven or eight Jewish governors,
not one of whom served as High Priest, and none of them seems to have belonged
to the Zadok family. It is difficult to imagine a change in the traditional
appointment policy in the fourth century, when the Persians suffered from
recurring Egyptian revolts—certainly not just a few years after Tennes's
rebellion in Phoenicia (348 B.C. ), which spread to
Judea as well, and was possibly the cause of the recorded banishment of Jews
to Babylonia and Hyrcania.
Direct numismatic evidence can be found in the coin of
Johanan the High Priest, mentioned earlier The numismatic data show clearly
that it was struck concurrently with the first group of Hezekiah coins.
Hence we may deduce that the office of High Priest was indeed separate from
that of governor, at least in the late Persian period, and that accordingly
Hezekiah could not have been the High Priest at that time.
But could Hezekiah the Governor have served concurrently as
High Priest later, in the Macedonian age, or, as has been suggested,
first as governor and later as High Priest? This would have to mean that he
belonged to the line of succession of the Zadok family and that during the
Persian period, when he was governor, his father or brother
― 88 ―
would have served as High Priest. For the reasons given
above, such a concentration of power in the hands of one family is extremely
unlikely. Moreover, as appears from the numismatic evidence, Hezekiah governed
Judea for a long period, about thirty-six years. He must, then, have been an
especially dominant figure. If at a certain period he was concurrently (or
only) the High Priest, it does not seem credible that he would have
disappeared from the authoritative record of the High Priests, and would also
be absent from Josephus's Antiquities (or rather, from its sources).
Let us turn back now to the main question of our discussion:
Can the statement that Hezekiah was High Priest be attributed to Hecataeus of
Abdera? Hecataeus knew perfectly well the meaning of the title "High Priest,"
and elaborated in his Jewish excursus on the preeminence and functions of this
position. If he had indeed written a monograph on the Jews, he would have been
eager to obtain precise information on the identity of the High Priest of his
time. As a prominent figure in the Ptolemaic court he could easily have
acquired this information. Is it possible that Hecataeus could have collected
so much information about the personality of Hezekiah (character, age,
connections with the court, purpose of emigration, influence on the community,
and public appearances: Ap . I.187-89) but failed to know or to verify
the most important point, the exact position and title of the hero of his
story? All this, if, as the story has it, Hezekiah kept close connections with
the court and settled in Egypt?
For these reasons, the various attempts to explain the
statement that Hezekiah was High Priest as merely a "mistake" of Hecataeus do
not hold water Similarly it has been suggested that Hezekiah was a
― 89 ―
Samaritan High Priest,
or the "High Priest" of the Jews in Egypt.
Even less acceptable is the explanation that Hecataeus exaggerated in
describing the position of Hezekiah because of the "tendency to idealization"
of the treatise, the wish to ascribe great importance to his subject, and his
tendency to rely on "priestly traditions."
Which "priestly traditions" would have described as High Priest a man who was
not? Even from a Greek point of view, how could the Jewish leaders, country,
and Temple have been idealized by attributing to the High Priest, whose duty
it was to serve in the Jerusalem Temple, initiative for and participation in a
migration to Egypt? And would naming Hezekiah as the civil governor of Judea
have detracted from the importance of the subject? Finally, how could a
Ptolemaic court official attribute to a Jewish secular leader in Egypt a
religious position to which he had no claim, with all the implications that
that involved for the latter's relations with the authorities?
At the same time, I do not believe that the name Hezekiah in
the story is a fabrication by the author of the treatise. As it does not
appear among the recurring names of High Priests in the Persian period and is
not known even from the biblical name lists of the Zadok family as a whole,
the choice of the same name as that of the contemporary governor, who served
for such a long period, can hardly be accidental. This suggests that the
author was inspired by the name and personality of that governor, but
transformed Hezekiah from governor into High Priest, just as he transformed
the forced exile to Egypt into a voluntary migration, the harsh treatment of
the local population by Ptolemy into "philanthropy," and probably also the
time of Ipsus into the time of Gaza. He had good reasons for doing so, and
― 90 ―
may help us later to bring to light the purpose of the
book. At this stage, suffice it to say that there are quite a few examples of
important personalities whom later Jewish and Christian authors turn into High
Priests: Moses, Jeremiah, Ezra, Judas Maccabaeus, Eleazar the Martyr, and even
Notwithstanding these transformations, the Hezekiah story
may contain a kernel of truth. There seems no reason not to accept that
Hezekiah, the former governor, was indeed among the people banished to Egypt
in the year 302/1. The purpose of the forced exile was to deprive Judea of its
political leadership and of its potential military manpower. In view of
Hezekiah's personality and former position, it stands to reason that he was
soon recognized as the leader of the captives, the new settlers in Egypt. But
even if one does not accept this attempt at a historical reconstruction and
regards the story as complete fiction, the principal conclusions remain valid:
Hezekiah the Governor was transformed into the High Priest; and the forced
exile, into a voluntary migration.
Finally, Willrich's interpretation of the Hezekiah story
should be mentioned. He suggested that it is just an anachronistic version of
the emigration of Onias IV and his followers to Egypt and their settlement in
Leontopolis at the time of the religious persecutions by Antiochus IV, and
that Hezekiah is only a pseudonym for Onias IV. Willrich even went so far as
to suggest that the author was one of the settlers of Leontopolis and the
"supporters of the Oniad temple."
Despite some resemblance between Hezekiah's deportation, Onias's flight, and
their settlement, this hypothesis cannot be accepted as it stands. The
arguments considered above against regarding the name of Hezekiah and the
entire Hezekiah story as complete fabrications are equally applicable against
Willrich's suggestion. Even more telling, though, is the implied criticism
voiced by the author against certain practices known to have taken place in
the Leontopolis temple (Ap . I.199).
At the same time it is highly probable that the migration
― 91 ―
and settlement of Onias had some influence on the shaping
of the Hezekiah story
4. Religious Persecutions and Martyrdom
Turning to Jewish customs, we find, first of all, that the
author praises the Jews for their adherence to Jewish laws, saying that they
"prefer to suffer everything in order not to transgress against them" (Ap
. I.190). Illustrating this statement he adds (Ap . I.191):
So for example ... all being insulted by their neighbors
and by those who came into [the country], and being frequently abused by the
Persian kings and satraps, they could not be persuaded to change their way
of thinking [dianoia ], but being exposed because of [their adherence
to] them [the laws], they faced tortures and the most horrible deaths rather
than deny their ancestral [laws].
The phrasing of the passage is unequivocal. Its beginning
definitely indicates that it applies to Palestinian Jews. They are said to
have suffered frequently, not just once, from the "Persian kings and satraps,"
and not just from a local mob. The suffering is described as "tortures and the
most horrible deaths," suggesting recurrent large-scale attempts to force a
certain course on the Jews, rather than occasional punishment. The purpose of
these measures is indicated by the Jewish readiness to undergo all the
sufferings in order not to "deny their ancestral [laws]," and by the failure
of the rulers to convince them to "change their way of thinking." These must
have been religious persecutions par excellence . The Persians
accordingly tried in vain to force the Jews to change their religious
practices and perhaps also their beliefs. Thus the reference cannot be to
retaliatory measures against cultic centers, which in the Persian period were
occasionally employed to subdue a revolt or unrest. Nor can the text, as it
stands, be interpreted as referring to isolated episodes in which Diaspora
Jews in royal service may have been punished for refusing to carry out orders
contradicting their laws. Similarly it cannot refer just to possible early
cases where Jewish adherence to certain laws, such as the Sabbath (and perhaps
― 92 ―
dietary) laws, weakened their defensive capabilities and
paved the way for their occupation by an enemy, with all the ensuing
The passage does not accord with our knowledge of the Jews
in the Persian period. Nor does it coincide with the abundant material about
the liberal Achaemenid policy toward local religions in the occupied
It was therefore suggested long ago that the account is a reflection of the
religious persecutions of Antiochus IV.
The sentence about the attitude of the neighbors and newcomers should in that
case refer to the hostility of the population of the Hellenized oriental
cities and the Greco-Macedonian settlers in those days, which is reiterated by
the Books of the Maccabees. "Being exposed because of [their adherence to]
them [the laws]" may possibly be interpreted as referring to cases where
certain Jewish groups refrained from defending themselves on the Sabbath
against Seleucid troops trying to force them to violate the holy day (I Macc.
Scholars urging the authenticity of the passage have,
however, argued that there may have been cases of religious persecution under
Persian rule. They refer to Josephus's report of the fratricide in the Temple
and its punishment by the satrap Bagoses (Bagoas) toward the end of the
Persian period (Ant . XI.297,301), the story of Esther, and the
narrative section of the Book of Daniel. They also note that the sources for
our knowledge of the history of the Jews in the Persian period are too scanty
to allow us to eliminate the possibility of more occurrences of religious
― 93 ―
A closer examination of the sources mentioned foils the
attempt to trace persecutions and martyrdoms before Antiochus Epiphanes. The
Bagoses incident has nothing to do with religious persecution. The Temple is
said to have been profaned by the very entrance of the satrap and his men into
the holy precinct. Bagoses had done this either to carry out inquiries about
the unprecedented murder committed by Johanan the High Priest in the Temple,
or to avenge the death of Joshua, his favorite, and prepare punitive measures
(Ant . XI.298-99). He did not impose any prohibition on the cult or
service in the Temple, only a special tax on sacrifices (XI.297), probably for
seven years (XI.301). And there is not even an indication that the High Priest
was deposed, a fact corroborated by numismatic evidence.
The Book of Esther (regardless of its historicity and time
of composition) is also irrelevant to our question: as has been cogently
argued by Kaufmann in his monumental History of the Israelite Religion
the Jews in the book were not persecuted because of their religion, they were
not accused of disparaging the gods of the gentiles, and they were not
enjoined to worship other gods. The edict for their annihilation was
unconditional: there was no suggestion of pardon for conversion or for
adoption of local rites. Moreover, the name of the Jewish God is not
mentioned, and there is no explicit reference to the Jews' adherence to His
faith, or rejection of pagan cults. The direct cause for the persecution was
the struggle for power in the court between an influential Jew and a gentile
vizier. The general objection to the Jews arose out of typical xenophobia and
ethnic prejudices. The Jews were scattered among the nations and had different
customs (esp. Esther 3.8). They were successful and climbed the social and
bureaucratic royal ladder. All these factors aroused jealousy and hatred. All
in all, the Esther story does not record religious persecution or anything
similar to it.
As to the Book of Daniel: the story that may be seen as
martyrological is the legend about the three men in the fiery furnace (chap.
3). Its relevance to the passage under discussion depends, first of all, on
the solution of the complicated questions that have stood for many years at
the center of the study of this book: the unity of the book and its
authorship; the connection between its two parts, the narrative section
(chaps. 1-6) and the vision section (chaps. 7-12); the dating
― 94 ―
of the original composition of the stories, their
adaptations, and their redactions; the involvement of the redactor (or author)
of the book in the shaping of the stories; and so on. Thus if we accept that
the stories as a whole were written by the Hassidic author who (as is
universally accepted) composed the vision section, or that they were adapted
by him according to a well-calculated plan, this would discount, if not
eliminate, the fiery-furnace story as evidence for persecutions in the Persian
period. However, as these questions are highly controversial,
it is also advisable to isolate the story and examine it on its own merits.
Does the story, as it stands, correspond to the statements ascribed to
The contents of the story differ substantially from the
historical indications provided by the passage under discussion. It records
what is said to have been an exceptional event and not a recurring one; it
refers to a few high-ranking courtiers and not to the Jewish people as a
the cause of the confrontation is an arbitrary order by the king that is not
directed at the outset against the Jewish people, but is exploited by jealous
courtiers against their Jewish rivals; there are no tortures, no Jew actually
suffers, and the Jewish courtiers emerge from the fiery furnace unharmed; at
the end the king even publicly proclaims the greatness of the Jewish God. The
event occurs (and can take place only) in the Diaspora, and not in Judea,
where according to the passage Jews were persecuted.
The story in Daniel, an early version of it, or ones based
on it could not, therefore, have inspired Hecataeus, directly or indirectly,
to write the passage.
One may still argue that the story reflects in a legendary, optimistic way
events of the Persian period similar to those indicated in the passage.
However, what count are the motifs of the legend. Had the fiery-furnace story
been a reaction to religious persecution and martyrdom, this would be
discernible from its motifs. But the story was
― 95 ―
not designed to tell the reader about martyrdom. After
all, there are no real martyrs in it. It was not meant to describe religious
persecutions either. The scope of the story is too limited for such a purpose,
and the Jewish courtiers are not at the outset persecuted because of their
religion: the gentile courtiers only exploit Jewish adherence to certain
religious restrictions to get rid of their Jewish competitors.
The story contains three motifs: the natural animosity of
gentile courtiers to high-ranking Jewish officials, the dilemma facing
Diaspora Jews in royal service with regard to official cults and obligations
that stand in contradiction to their faith, and the ordeal by fire by which
the truth may be decisively proved.
The first motif can be discerned even more clearly in the parallel story about
Daniel in the lions' den (Dan. 6): the temporary royal prohibition on making a
request to anyone save the king is a result of a cunning plot of the gentile
courtiers to impede Daniel (6.6-8), and the king himself deeply regrets it
upon discovering its implications for Daniel, his favorite (6.15-16).
The first two motifs do indeed fit into the circumstances of
Jewish life in the Persian period: Jews served in the administration and the
army, and a few of them (like Nehemiah) even reached high-ranking court
positions. These courtiers must have been confronted quite often with the
difficulty of reconciling their official commitments with their religious
convictions. Outbursts of jealousy by gentile (especially Persian) colleagues
would also have been only natural, and differing Jewish religious prohibitions
and practices would have been utilized against Jewish courtiers by their
rivals. The third motif was borrowed from the Zoroastrian tradition, where
tests seem to have been carried out by fire,
the symbol of truth; and it may also have been inspired by certain biblical
verses (Is. 43.2, Ps. 66.10-12).
Could a courtiers' struggle have developed into official
religious persecution sometime in the Persian period, and reached the
dimensions indicated in the passage attributed to Hecataeus? This must be
ruled out in view of the evidence for the policy of the Achaemenids and their
treatment of foreign religions.
Furthermore, religious persecutions of the form, scale, and frequency recorded
in the passage could not
― 96 ―
have escaped notice in the historiography and literature
of the period, however scantily and fragmentarily it has been preserved. One
would expect references to such experiences at least in the oratory of the
Maccabean martyrs, or in the battle orations in the Books of the Maccabees,
which are replete with allusions to the nation's past. More than that,
religious persecutions are bound to provoke extensive literary reactions. The
essence of martyrdom (as the word also indicates) is, after all, the desire to
leave sound witness for the enlightenment of subsequent generations. The
passage attributed to Hecataeus remains the only testimony. This is simply not
enough, and casts a heavy shadow of suspicion on the authenticity of the work
as a whole.
Other advocates of authenticity have raised the possibility
of some mistake by Hecataeus. Thus it has been suggested that Hecataeus
confused the Persians with the Babylonians.
This is hardly acceptable for a historian who lived at the end of the Persian
era; and in any case there were no religious persecutions under the
Babylonians, just deportation (which is not mentioned). Another suggestion:
since the Jews were described as descendants of the kalanoi , the
Indian philosophers (so Clearchus of Soli; see Ap . I.179), some of
their features were also attributed to the Jews.
The reference to Jewish martyrology is accordingly only a reflection of the
tradition about Calanus, who is said to have preached endurance in the face of
death, and even to have burned himself to death. However, neither the passages
ascribed to Hecataeus as a whole nor the genuine Hecatean Jewish excursus
indicate any connection between the Jews and Indian philosophers, or attribute
to the Jews any other "Indian" feature. Of itself, the tradition about
Calanus's death has nothing to do with religious persecutions and martyrology.
On the contrary, he is said to have received much honor from the rulers. The
burning was just an appropriate way he chose to end a happy life, and to set
an example of self-control.
Furthermore, the explanation does not take into account the abundant data on
the identity of the persecutors of the Jews (the Persian kings and satraps;
the neighbors; the newcomers to the country), which exclude any such
deduction. Besides, Clearchus's reference to the Jews cannot have preceded the
― 97 ―
year 300 B.C. ,
while if one takes the book On the Jews as authentic, it cannot be
dated after the year 302.
Any influence from Clearchus is, therefore, out of question. Clearchus does
indeed put the reference to the Jews in the mouth of Aristotle, but this is
5. The Destruction of Pagan Temples and Altars
After elaborating on the readiness of the Jews to
sacrifice themselves for the preservation of their laws, the author refers to
Jewish intolerance toward other religions (Ap . I.193):
They destroyed all the temples and altars constructed by
those coming to the land against them, for some of which they paid a fine to
the satraps, and for others they obtained forgiveness. And he adds that it
is just to admire them for these [actions].
Such acts of violence against foreign cults could not have
been perpetrated by the Jewish community in Judea under Persian rule. They
are, however, well known from the period of the Hasmonean state.
Interestingly, the reference to the rather lenient reaction of the Persian
satraps does not accord with the preceding statement about the frequent harsh
measures against the Jewish religion by the Persian authorities.
What is even more decisive for evaluating the authenticity
of the treatise is the note that the Jews deserve to be admired for these
A Greco-Hellenistic writer brought up in a spirit of religious tolerance and
on the sacred principle of immunity and asylum for temples and holy precincts
would not have praised such barbarous acts of defilement and sacrilege. To
counter this argument it has been suggested that admiration for Jewish
opposition to polytheism and to material representation of the divine can be
expected of a Greek intellectual at the end of the fourth century
However, this would not have been expressed by lauding the violation of the
elementary Greek principle of absolute immunity for sacred places. One may
― 98 ―
whether even Xenophanes or Zeno of Citium would have
subscribed to such statements.
In any case, this explanation does not agree with what can
be deduced about Hecataeus's stance. Hecataeus's interpretation of Egyptian
beliefs and cult, being evidently an idealization, is indicative of his
attitude toward paganism. In a fragment quoted by Plutarch, Hecataeus says
that the Egyptians believe that the "first god" is identical with the universe
and that it is "invisible and concealed" (De Is. et Os . 354d). At the
same time Hecataeus describes Egyptian religion as functional: the Egyptians
first deified the two great celestial bodies that regulate, generate, and
nourish the universe, as well as the five elements (spirit-pneuma ,
fire, dry, wet, and airlike), which are "supplied" by the two celestial bodies
(Diod. I.11.5-6). Hecataeus further states that to these were later added
kings and heroes of the past who made a significant contribution to the
development of civilization (I.13.1ff.).
As for the Egyptian cult, Hecataeus explains the material
representation of the celestial gods by their special appearance in nature
(11.2, 4; 12.9) and refers without any reservation to the Egyptian traditions
about the beginning of the sculpting of the gods and the building of temples
(15.3-5, 26.6-7, 45.2-4, 49.5, 56.2). He justifies the deification of rulers
(90.2-3; cf. 13.1), and even gives sense to the Egyptian animal cult, which
was despised and ridiculed by the Greeks,
using expressions of approval and praise (12.9, 89.4, 90.2-4).
― 99 ―
favorable attitude toward pagan divination, in all its
manifestations, was discussed above in detail.
Hecataeus's Egyptian ethnography is thus a monument of religious tolerance.
The same religious position appears in the few surviving
fragments of his utopia on the legendary Hyperboreans.
The Hyperboreans seem to deify the celestial bodies;
Apollo, their most respected god, is worshipped in "a magnificent sacred
precinct and remarkable temple adorned with many votive offerings" (Diod.
II.47.2; cf. Ael. NA XI.1),
and is evidently anthropomorphic and visible, appearing among his admirers
once in nineteen years, dancing and playing the cithara (Diod. II.47.6).
In the Egyptian ethnography Hecataeus describes favorably the Egyptian
influence on the statue of the Pythian Apollo in Samos (II.98.5-9). We may
therefore assume that an author who made such an effort to accommodate popular
polytheistic beliefs with the philosophers' conception of the divine, and
bothered to justify even cults deplored by the Greeks, would not have
"admired" the destruction of temples and cult centers by the Jews.
And finally: in his original, undisputed excursus on the
Jews, Hecataeus describes the Jewish way of life as being "somewhat unsocial
and hostile to strangers [ ]"
(Diod. XL.3.4). The expressions apanthropia and misoxenia in a
Greek author cannot, under any circumstances, be interpreted as positive or
Hecataeus's explicit reservation obviously cannot be reconciled with an
enthusiastic justification of the destruction of temples and altars by the
One may perhaps argue that the praise at the end of
Against Apion I.193, following the sentence about the destruction of pagan
― 100 ―
concludes a section that begins at I.190 about the Jews'
devotion to their religion. The praise must, however, refer particularly to
I.193, which is closest to it. Even if the praise referred just to the Jews'
adherence to their laws, Greek authors—certainly Hecataeus—would not have
included a reference to the destruction of temples and altars in the context
of laudable religious behavior.
Some proponents of authenticity, aware of the inherent
difficulties of the statement under discussion, have suggested that Josephus
used a Jewish adaptation of Hecataeus's treatise that "slightly altered" the
original sentence, or that Josephus himself modified the text.
To attribute the sentence to Josephus would be impossible:
he prefaces it with the words " and he [Hecataeus] adds that," and at the end
of the quotations he advises readers who want to know more about the subject
to consult the book itself, "which is readily available" (Ap. I.205).
Furthermore, in his Jewish Antiquities Josephus omits biblical accounts
of violence against pagan cults committed by the Israelites at the time of the
conquest of Canaan, and in Against Apion he bitterly contests Manetho's
allegations about profanation and destruction of Egyptian holy places at the
time of the Exodus (I.269-70). He even ascribes to Moses a commandment not to
plunder temples and not to insult other gods (Ant. IV.207, Ap.
II.237-46), which contradicts the recurrent imperatives of Deuteronomy.
An adaptation of Hecataeus by a Jewish author is in itself a
very remote possibility. There is, indeed, no parallel for an adaptation of a
Hellenistic treatise on the Jews by a Jewish author.
Before even considering, then, such a remote possibility with regard to the
passages quoted by Josephus, one should really have some positive evidence
that these passages ultimately originated with Hecataeus or from his period,
or were at least written by a gentile. But none is
― 101 ―
while too many statements and pieces of information sound anachronistic, or
contradict the information at our disposal. In the case of the Mosollamus
episode, none of its main details could have been written by Hecataeus. Even
to suggest that the story was considerably altered, not just "slightly," would
still not help to support the claim for a Hecataean origin.
In practical terms, suggesting that Josephus used a Jewish
adaptation of Hecataeus is tantamount to denying the authenticity of the book:
an adapter who has gone so far as to have Hecataeus enthusing about Jewish
intolerance and ridiculing Greek divination to such an extent may also be
suspected of falsifying other reports and statements according to his
convictions, purposes, and experiences. The odds are that such an adaptation
would have departed considerably from the original. In any case, the passages
as they stand are basically a Jewish forgery, and the question whether
Hecataeus wrote an account of the Jews in addition to that included in his
Egyptian ethnography thus remains one of marginal importance.
6. Jewish Emigration to Phoenicia
Illustrating the overpopulation of the Jews in Judea, the
author mentions the deportation of "many tens of thousands" of Jews to
Babylonia by the Persians,
and adds that after Alexander's death "no fewer emigrated to Egypt and
Phoenicia because of the disturbance [stasis ] in Syria" (Ap.
I.194). The context obviously allows for many thousands emigrating to
Phoenicia alone. The sentence explains that the Jews moved from Judea to
Phoenicia because their country was suffering from the recurring wars in the
region in the time of the Successors. This means that Phoenicia was not
affected by the "disturbance."
― 102 ―
Phoenicia, the coastal plain, and the regions of the
interior in the Hellenistic period.
― 103 ―
Before commenting on the statement itself, the meaning of
"Phoenicia" in this context should be elucidated. There was no substantial
Jewish settlement in Phoenicia proper—that is, in the area of Tyre and Sidon—nor
even on the coast north of Mount Carmel, at any period in the days of the
At the same time we have ample evidence for a great concentration of Jews in
the coastal plain south of the Carmel during certain periods.
Greeks indeed had applied the term "Phoenicia" as a geographical name to the
coast of the Holy Land since the late Persian period,
a usage that was also preserved under Hasmonean
rule. It was also the official administrative
― 104 ―
designation under the Successors,
and possibly also in the late Persian period,
but under the Hasmoneans and the Romans the political-administrative border
was pushed northward to the Carmel coast.
Whether a geographical or an administrative term, the author refers to the
coastal plain to the west and northwest of the Judean Hills.
Turning back to the sentence under consideration, the
explanation provided for the Jewish emigration to Phoenicia seems rather odd.
― 105 ―
must have been much safer for Jews to stay in the Judean
Hills than to move nearer the sea.
The struggle between the Successors, like the later one between the Ptolemies
and the Seleucids for control of Syria and the Land of Israel, was mainly
concentrated on the coastal plain (including the area of Tyre and Sidon). That
strip of land was most important for the Successors because of its position on
the road leading to Egypt and because of the Phoenician naval tradition.
Almost all the military confrontations took place along the coast. The Jewish
population was clustered mainly in the Judean Hills, which were isolated and
relatively remote from the main arena. The statement that the Jews left for
Phoenicia to escape the "disturbance" just proves that the author was not
properly cognizant of the circumstances in the area after Alexander's death.
This certainly would not be expected of Hecataeus.
Even without this observation, the very statement about a
massive migration of Jews to Phoenicia in the time of the Successors is
unacceptable. The available information indicates that Jewish settlements on
the coastal plain at the time preceding the Hasmonean state were few and
The statement is thus anachronistic, reflecting later developments in the
7. "Many Fortresses of the Jews"
After the passages on Jewish religious devotion and
fanaticism and the Jews' great natural increase, Josephus quotes a number of
passages dealing with the geography of the Jewish land (Ap. I.194-99).
One of the passages refers to the defense of the country (Ap. I.197):
There are many fortresses of the Jews [ ]
throughout the country, as well as villages, but only one fortified city,
... called by them Jerusalem.
― 106 ―
Willrich argued that neither the Persians nor the
Successors had any reason for building many fortresses in Judea, since it was
situated off the main road to Egypt.
It has rightly been added that only with the foundation of the chain of
fortresses by Bacchides, the Seleucid commander, after the death of Judas
Maccabaeus in 160 B.C. (I Macc. 9.50-52), were there
relatively "many fortresses" in the small territory of Judea.
The only fortresses in the country before that were the Jerusalem Akra,
Beth Zur on the southern border, and Gezer in the west,
this last being then probably still outside the borders of Judea.
But there is much more in the sentence. The fortresses are
said to have belonged to the Jews, which means that at that time the Jews had
sovereignty over them. Yet a foreign ruler naturally would not have allowed
the Jews to maintain "many fortresses" in their territory, a sure prescription
for rebellion, and certainly not amid the delicate situation in the region
during the struggle of the Successors.
The sentence could not have been written before the Jews gained their
independence, and thus possessed fortresses of their own.
A similar anachronistic statement with regard to the Jerusalem citadel appears
in Pseudo-Aristeas (102-4).
This anachronistic information cannot be excused by saying
that Hecataeus was not familiar with the country.
The existence of
― 107 ―
many fortresses held by the local population is a
politico-military fact of vital importance, and Hecataeus, who served in the
court during the period of Ptolemaic rule in the region, could not have been
misinformed on that basic subject. The sentence itself seems to have been
taken as it stands from the treatise On the Jews, and not paraphrased
by Josephus: it opens a long quotation cited in direct speech.
8. The Geography of Judea and Jerusalem
The account of the Jewish land includes many details about
Judea (Ap. I.194-95), the city of Jerusalem (196-97), and especially
the Temple (198-99). Most of the geographical information is either entirely
inaccurate or does not reflect the early Hellenistic period. This is not
exceptional: a number of Hellenistic and Roman authors, notably Strabo, the
celebrated Hellenistic geographer, report inaccurate information on the Jewish
land. Geographical accounts of the neighboring countries were not much better.
However, the author included in his account geographical
assertions of the sort that obviously would have had important military
implications for the planning and execution of the Ptolemaic reconquest of the
country and its day-to-day administration. One of these assertions, referring
to the fortresses in the country, was discussed in the previous section. The
remaining assertions include the following topics: the size of the country,
its fertility and water supply, the circumference of Jerusalem's walls, the
population of the city, the location of its Temple, and the size of its wall.
All these are instructive for the question of authenticity: the author claims
to have written the book sometime after the battle of Gaza (I.187). At that
time, after two intervals of Ptolemaic rule in Judea (320-325, 322-311), the
Ptolemaic authorities were certainly well informed on these matters, and
Hecataeus would not have had any difficulty in acquiring this information.
Whatever the purpose of such a treatise, he must have been aware that as the
only extant monograph on Judea by a prominent courtier and ethnographer, it
would be accepted as authoritative and would mislead his Ptolemaic patrons in
the future. For this reason, the explanation that in the absence of accurate
information Hecataeus tried to idealize the country
― 108 ―
and its capital, or that he relied on idealized accounts
of Egyptian Jews,
cannot be accepted.
According to the account, the Jews possessed "almost three
hundred myriad [i.e., three million] arourae.... Such is the extent of
Judea" (I.195). This means approximately 8,300 square kilometers. The borders
of Yehud (Judea) at the end of the Persian and beginning of the Hellenistic
period extended from Beth Zur in the south to Beth El in the north, and from
Jericho in the east to the Ayalon Valley in the west,
all in all only about 1,600 square kilometers, which is just a fifth of the
above estimate. Even if one accepts the assumption (which is unwarranted) that
in the time of the Successors Judea also included the southern toparchies of
Samaria (Aphairema, Lydda, and Ramathaim),
the territory of Judea would have amounted to no more than one-quarter of that
figure. It is noteworthy that this estimate more or less recalls the extent of
the Jewish territory at a certain point in the last years of John Hyrcanus
(the years 107-104 B.C. ), after the attachment to the
Jewish state of Samaria, Idumea, and part of the coastal plain, and before the
occupation of Galilee.
Nevertheless, this correspondence must not be utilized for a precise dating of
the book. In view of the numerous mistakes in other statements referring to
Judea and Jerusalem, it may well be coincidental.
The three million arourae are described as the "best
and most fertile land for all products" (I.195). However, the soil of Judea
proper in the early Hellenistic period was for the most part rocky, and of its
1,600 square kilometers, 600 were desert. Only the narrow strip of the Jericho
Valley accords with this description. An enthusiastic report also appears in
the detailed account of the country in Pseudo-Aristeas (107, 112), and is
based on the idealization of the Holy Land in the Pentateuch and the ideal
city-state in Greek utopias.
― 109 ―
The image of Judea proper in Hellenistic and Roman
literature was not that of a fertile land. On the contrary, it was customary
to stress the scarcity of water, and the rocky soil. Timochares, who describes
Judea in the period preceding the great Hasmonean expansion,
even writes that the region of Jerusalem is completely dry and barren for a
radius of 40 or 60 stadia (7.5 or 11.2 km) from the city (Eusebius, PE
IX.35). This account is twice paraphrased by Strabo (XVI.2.36, 40),
who uses it on one occasion to illustrate his statement that Moses easily took
possession of Jerusalem and its surrounding region, since "it was not a place
that would be looked on with envy, nor yet one for which anyone would make a
serious fight" (XVI.2.36).
Only the Jericho Valley, one of the districts of Judea
proper, was singled out in the Hellenistic and Roman periods for its
fertility. We have the account of Diodorus, drawing on Hieronymus of Cardia,
the contemporary of the Successors (II.48.9, XIX.98); Strabo, who based his
version on Posidonius of Apamea (XVI.2.41); Pompeius Trogus in the generation
of Augustus (epitomized in Justin XXXVI.3.1), and historians of the Roman
period—Josephus (Bell. IV.456-75), Pliny (NH V.70), and Tacitus
(Hist. V.6). All mention only palm trees and balsam, but no other
plants. It is interesting that Josephus's detailed geographic excursus on the
enlarged Jewish territory on the eve of the Great Revolt (Bell.
III.35-58) elaborates on the agricultural qualities of Galilee (41-43),
Samaria (48-50), and even the Peraea (44-47). Though he grossly
exaggerates the fertility and population density of these regions in order to
demonstrate the importance of Vespasian's achievements, he avoids any
reference to agriculture in his detailed account of Judea proper (51-58). By
and large, Hellenistic and Roman accounts do not even speak favorably of the
agricultural features of the enlarged Judea. Apart from the Jericho Valley,
Pompeius Trogus praises only the area of Tarichea on the shores of the Sea of
Galilee (Justin XVI.2.45). Tacitus, who mentions in a general statement the
― 110 ―
fertility of the land, refers specifically only to the
vegetation of the Jericho region (Hist. V.6.1). He may have used the
book of Antonius Julius, the last governor of Judea before the Great Revolt,
or drawn (directly or indirectly) on Josephus.
Having alluded to the extent and agriculture of Judea, the
author turns to a description of Jerusalem. According to the passage (Ap.
I.197), the circumference of the city was more than 50 stadia (9.3 km).
However, in the days of Hecataeus, when the city was limited to the
southeastern hill (the "City of David"), the Ophel, and the Temple Mount, its
circumference stood at no more than 12 stadia (2.2 km). At the peak of the
Hasmonean state, when it included also the Upper City, the circumference stood
at about 27 stadia (5 kin), and even on the eve of the Great Revolt, when the
city reached its greatest extent, being protected by the "Third Wall," its
circumference did not exceed 33 stadia (about 6 km).
The statement attributed to Hecataeus is thus highly exaggerated and does not
accord with any period in the history of the city. The figure is even higher
than that quoted by Pseudo-Aristeas. The latter lauds the holy city, but
apologizes for its small size—only 40 stadia (105)—and even tries to explain
why it was not larger (107, 108-9). It stands to reason that what actually
bothered Pseudo-Aristeas was the comparison of Jerusalem to Alexandria, his
native city. The circumference of Alexandria was about 76 stadia.
He had to admit that Jerusalem was smaller, for which he offered his original
explanation. But despite the apology, an accurate estimate would have
considerably detracted from the importance of the city in the eyes of his
readers: hence a figure that is more than half the circumference of
Alexandria. Pseudo-Aristeas, who was well versed in Hellenistic literature,
could also have been acquainted with the figure 40 quoted by Timochares (Eus.
PE IX.35). Direct influence by Pseudo-Aristeas,
― 111 ―
Jerusalem in the period of the Second Temple.
or similar considerations, may have inspired the figure in
the treatise On the Jews .
― 112 ―
The number of the city's inhabitants—120,000 persons (Ap.
I.197 )—is even more inflated. At the beginning of the Hellenistic period,
the inhabited area of the city extended over no more than 30 acres.
The maximum estimate of population density for urban areas in the ancient Near
East and the Hellenistic Orient stands at 250 persons per acre.
Jerusalem in Hecataeus's days could thus not have numbered more than 7,500
The figure of 120,000 does not accord with that of Hasmonean Jerusalem (160
acres; about 40,000 persons at the most), nor with that of the period of the
Great Revolt against the Romans (450 acres; about 100,000).
This great exaggeration is
― 113 ―
well in line with the tendency to magnify the importance
of the city, reflected in the estimate of its circumference. It also accords
with the author's earlier note on the overpopulation of the Jews in their land
The account of the Temple, which has been preserved at
relatively great length, includes information about its location, as well as
on its cult and vessels. The topographical details have military significance.
The Temple is said to have been located "nearly in the center of the city,"
being surrounded by "a stone wall" (I.198). The author goes on to give
impressive measurements for the wall: "five plethra long, and a hundred cubits
wide" (ca. 154 x 51 m). In the absence of any information on the very
existence of a wall around the Temple before the days of Judas Maccabaeus (I
Macc. 4.59-60), these figures cannot be verified.
One thing is sure: the Temple was not located "nearly in the center of the
city," but to the north of the residential areas. It was built on a hill
separate from the "City of David," where most of the population was
concentrated. If the Temple was indeed protected at that period by such a
wall, as claimed by the author, it was a fortress of formidable magnitude. Its
location would not have been described so erroneously by Hecataeus.
9. The Annexation of Samaria to Judea by Alexander
Separately from the passages discussed so far, which all
appear in Book I of Against Apion, Josephus attributes to Hecataeus in
Book II the following sentence (Ap. II.43):
― 114 ―
Because of the fairness and loyalty shown to him
[Alexander the Great] by the Jews, he annexed the land of Samaria [Samareitis
to them free of tribute [aphorologetos ].
Before discussing the historical reliability of the
statement, its context and source should be clarified. The sentence is quoted
in the context of Josephus's campaign for the rights of the Jews in
Alexandria. He states that Alexander settled the Jews in the city and granted
them civil rights (II.12). The reference to the assignment of Samaria to the
Jews appears as the only evidence to that effect, indicating Alexander's
favorable treatment of the Jews.
It is thus evident that the quotation was taken from a work in which there was
no intimation of Alexander's involvement in settling the Jews in Alexandria.
As for the source of the sentence, the suggestion has been
made that it was taken from another lost work, which had been ascribed to
However, no valid reason has been put forward to
― 115 ―
substantiate this suggestion,
and one would have expected that if such a work did indeed exist, Josephus
would have indicated its name or contents, to distinguish it from the treatise
of Hecataeus from which he quoted earlier in great detail. This was especially
required as the title of the latter treatise is implied by Josephus, if not
explicitly named (I.183).
The content of the sentence under discussion does not contain anything that
could not have been included in On the Jews. 194 Quite
clearly, the book did not include any information directly relevant to the
relationship between Alexander and the Jews of Alexandria.
― 116 ―
Now to the question of authenticity. Some scholars have
gone so far as to regard this quotation as clinching evidence for the
inauthenticity of the book.
It has generally been argued that the information does not make sense
historically and politically. At the same time various attempts have been made
to explain the sentence in one way or another according to the circumstances
of the period, although even the advocates of authenticity admit that it
cannot be accepted as it stands.
The alleged annexation of Samaria to Judea is not confirmed
by any of the relatively abundant sources on Alexander's period. Even the
anti-Samaritan stories in Josephus, which elaborate on the triangular
relations Alexander-Jews-Samaritans (Ant. XI.302-46), do not mention an
annexation of Samaria to Judea. Nor does the sentence agree with available
knowledge on the administrative divisions of the region in the Ptolemaic and
Seleucid eras. Judea and Samaria/Samareitis were separate eparchies, each
having its own governor. This is clearly indicated for the Ptolemaic period (Polyb.
V.71.11, XVI.39; Jos. Ant. XII.133, 154) and is explicitly stated for
the Seleucid reign (Ant. XIII.264, II Macc. 14.12).
The first change known in the territorial arrangements occurred at the time of
Jonathan (152/1 B.C. ): the Seleucid rulers approved
the annexation to Judea of Aphairema, Lydda, and Ramathaim, three toparchies
in southern Samaria, settled by many Jews (I Macc. 10.38; cf. 11.34). A more
drastic political change took place late in the reign of John Hyrcanus, when
all of Samaria was occupied by the Jews in two military campaigns and
integrated in one way or another into the expanding Jewish state.
The first campaign (112/111 B.C. ) was directed at the
south of the region centering around Shechem and Mount Gerizim (Ant.
The second (108/7 B.C. ) was launched against the
north and against the city of Samaria (Ant. XIII.275-83).
― 117 ―
A number of scholars have called attention to the
reference in Curtius Rufus (IV. 8.9-11) to the Samaritan revolt against
Alexander and the severe punishment that ensued (corroborated by the findings
from the Wadi Dâliyeh caves), and have argued that the Samaritans were also
punished by having their territory given to the Jews.
However, this does not make much sense from the military and administrative
point of view: an effective measure to counter further unrest would be to
tighten direct control over the rebellious region, certainly not loosening it
by appending the region to a neighboring semiautonomous nation or district.
Such a step would have slowed down and complicated any direct intervention by
the central authorities. One would envisage measures such as increasing the
military forces stationed in the region, splitting it into small
administrative units under military governors, appointing a high-ranking
military officer as governor-in-chief, and the like. These principles and
practices of imperial rule were demonstrated by Alexander himself, as well as
by later Hellenistic kings and governors, and are well known in later times
from the provincial policy of Roman emperors.
Other scholars, describing the sentence as "exaggerated,"
have claimed that the original information referred to an annexation of the
three toparchies in southern Samaria. The phrasing of one paragraph in the
royal document of Demetrius I, declaring their annexation in the days of
Jonathan (I Macc. 10.38), may indicate that the Seleucid king simply restored
former arrangements. It has therefore been suggested that these toparchies
were annexed by Alexander to Judea mainly because they were populated by Jews,
and were later severed from it either by the Seleucids as a punitive measure
for the Maccabean Revolt, or perhaps even earlier, by the Ptolemies. Hence
their subsequent annexation to Judea in the time of Jonathan.
However, the phrasing of another paragraph in the same document (I Macc.
10.30) suggests that the attachment of the three toparchies to Judea was an
established fact already
― 118 ―
Southern Samaria and the three districts in the time of Jonathan.
by the time of that document. Accordingly it has been
assumed that the document recognizes a situation that was earlier created by
actual Jewish domination of the three toparchies.
But it is even more likely that the document refers to privileges bestowed by
Alexander Balas that preceded the proclamation of the concessions by Demetrius
I, his rival for the throne.
In the absence of real evidence to the contrary, it seems
― 119 ―
rather that the three southern toparchies were annexed to
Judea for the first time only in the days of Jonathan. The new territorial
division came in the wake of demographic change: the constant infiltration of
Jewish settlers into the border areas during the pre-Hasmonean period
gradually created a Jewish majority in the three toparchies.
Be that as it may, what matters is that an author like
Hecataeus, who was well acquainted with court and state affairs, would not
have confused the administrative-political status of a relatively large region
like Samaria (which also included Galilee)
with that of three small toparchies on its southern fringe. He certainly would
have been careful not to inflate the territory, thereby providing a precedent
that might commit the Ptolemaic administration in the future, especially with
the annexation attributed to Alexander.
What is even more instructive is the second part of the
sentence under discussion, stating that Samaria was given to the Jews
aphorologetos , which means "exempt from tribute [photos ]" and
possibly other payments. In the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the annual
collective photos symbolized the submission of ethnic groups and
― 120 ―
the ruling state or empire. To free them from the
phoros meant actually granting independence. Would Hecataeus have
indicated that Alexander recognized the Jewish right to independent rule of
Samaria, with all its implications for Ptolemy I? Even if Josephus was not
accurate in transmitting the text, and the original in fact only referred to
exemption from taxes and duties, such a total and permanent exemption of a
nation or a province, or even of a polis, was quite rare and was granted only
under very special circumstances or when imperial rule was only nominal.
In the case of the Jews it was granted only by Seleucid kings who already had
lost control over the Jews and badly needed their help against internal
More common was a temporary exemption after a devastating war,
or to help a military settlement establish itself.
With regard to the days of Alexander, Josephus states in the story of the
reception of Alexander by the High Priest that the Jews were freed from taxes
in the sabbatical year (Ant. XI.338; cf. XIV.202, 206). The
enthusiastic tone of this dubious legend merely indicates that an exemption in
the fallow year was the most the Jews in Judea could expect from and ascribe
to Alexander and other Hellenistic rulers who were in real control of the
country. And if Judea proper was not totally exempted from these taxes, such
exemption is even less likely for an annexed territory, much larger and more
fruitful than Judea itself. Hecataeus would not have confused remission from
taxes in the fallow year (which in itself is still doubtful) with an
unprecedented permanent exemption, thus committing his notoriously greedy
patrons to such a major economic concession. The sentence is thus a later
The two components of the sentence have indeed seemed
unacceptable even to some supporters of the authenticity of On the Jews.
They have therefore suggested that Josephus or a Jewish adapter greatly
― 121 ―
distorted an original text by Hecataeus.
It is true that the structure of the passage may suggest that the sentence was
shortened and rephrased by Josephus himself. However, imputing to Josephus
such gross errors, both in the definition of the annexed territory and in the
exemption, makes efforts to verify the general authenticity of the sentence
extremely labored. And after all, it is just one of a fair number of
anachronistic and unreliable statements, most of which could not have been
invented by Josephus.
Similarly, the theory that the text underwent a slight adaptation by an
unknown Jew cannot resolve all the difficulties.
To assume that it was a consistent adaptation is to deny the value of the
passages as a reliable source for Jewish history in the early Hellenistic
In conclusion, at the risk of repeating myself: there are
too many statements and pieces of information which sound anachronistic, or
contradict the information at our disposal, or cannot be attributed to
Hecataeus; there is hardly one piece of real, positive evidence that the
passages originated with Hecataeus or from his period, or were at least
written by a gentile.
Date of Composition
The scholars who regard On the Jews as a forgery
have put forward various dates for its composition, ranging from the end of
the fourth century B.C. to the first century
The following discussion suggests dating the book between the years 107, or
rather 103/2, and 93, that is, during the last years of John Hyrcanus and/or
the first decade of Alexander Jannaeus's reign.
1. The Anachronistic References
A terminus post quem for the dating of the book can
be provided by five anachronistic references: the religious persecutions and
Jewish martyrdom, the destruction of the pagan cult, the Jewish expansion to
Phoenicia, the existence of many Jewish fortresses, and the annexation of
Samaria to Judea (Chap. III.4-7, 9, above). The first reference proves that
the book could not have been composed before the religious persecutions of
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (168 B.C. ). The other four
point to the time of the Hasmonean state (142/1-63 B.C.
). In order to be more precise in determining a post quem
― 123 ―
date, a short survey of these major developments in the
Hasmonean state is necessary.
The statement that there are "many fortresses of the Jews"
in the country (I.197) may reflect the situation found from the later days of
Simeon, the last of the Hasmonean brothers.
In the time of Judas Maccabaeus, after the purification of the Temple
(164-160), Beth Zur was the only fortress controlled by the rebels, and even
this only intermittently.
His brother Jonathan (160-143) is said to have fortified Beth Basi, near
Bethlehem, in 159 (I Macc. 9.62ff.). Seven of the fortresses established in
the Judean Hills by Bacchides in 160/59 (I Macc. 9.50-52) were deserted by
their garrisons in 152/1 (I Macc. 10.12, 11.41). They may well have been
regarrisoned by Jonathan's standing army.
A comprehensive fortification project was launched by Simeon
(143-135). He is reported to have fortified the Temple Mount (I Macc. 13.53),
Beth Zur (14.33), Adida on the fringe of the Shephela (11.38), Gezer (13.48,
14.34), Jaffa, on the sea (13.11, 14.34), and Dok, near Jericho (14.16). He
also positioned Jewish soldiers in the former Seleucid Akra in
Jerusalem (14.36-37) shortly before totally demolishing it.
The covenant between Simeon and the people (Sept. 140) praises him for
fortifying the "cities of Judea" (14.33; cf. 13.33, 38; 15.7). Apparently this
also refers to other fortresses, perhaps to those deserted by Bacchides'
garrisons. The later territorial expansion in the time of Simeon's successors
added to Jewish control more Hellenistic fortresses.
Their number considerably grew under his successors.
― 124 ―
Jewish fortresses in the time of Simeon.
The paragraph about the great settlement drive of the Jews
in Phoenicia (I.194) brings us to the days of John Hyrcanus, Simeon's son
(135-104). In the period preceding the Hasmonean conquests there were just a
few small Jewish enclaves on the coastal plain.
Massive Jewish settlement of the region could have started only after its
occupation by the Hasmonean rulers. The conquest was carried out in several
― 125 ―
stages. Simeon opened a narrow corridor to the sea via
Gezer to Jaffa, and expelled the local population (143-142).
There is no direct reference to the precise date and extent of Hyrcanus's
westward expansion. However, the information about the early conquests of
Alexander Jannaeus, Hyrcanus's son, indicates that by the late days of John
Hyrcanus, the coast between Strato's Tower in the north and Ascalon to the
south was in Jewish hands.
This means that the Hellenistic cities of the region, Apollonia, Iamnia
(Jabneh), and Azotos (Ashdod), mentioned in the general summary list of the
Hasmonean occupations (Ant. XIII.395), were conquered by Hyrcanus.
Notably, in summing up Hyrcanus's achievements, Georgius Syncellus, the
Byzantine chronographer, states (I.548, ed. Dindorf):
He distinguished himself by many successes and victories
against the neighboring Arabs, the Idumeans, the coastland of Phoenicia [ ]
The sentence, like two others on the days of Alexander
Jannaeus, may well have been drawn from a knowledgeable source.
The reference to the region as "Phoenicia" is also instructive for
interpreting the sentence in Pseudo-Hecataeus.
― 126 ―
The Hasmonean expansion.
The chronology of Hyrcanus's conquests in the region can be
established on the basis of two Roman documents and the general background. At
the same time, without additional archaeological evidence we may not yet
determine which parts of the region were occupied in the various phases. It
seems that at least some parts had already fallen
― 127 ―
into Jewish hands in the early days of Hyrcanus's reign,
probably in the years 135-132. They were temporarily lost with the invasion of
Antiochus VII Sidetes in 132. Hyrcanus regained his territorial conquests and
seems to have expanded them between 127 and 125. In 113 the Jews again lost
control of the area when Antiochus IX Cyzicenus made his brief drive to the
south. It was soon restored, in 112, and Hyrcanus may have made some new
encroachments in that year, as well as taken further steps to consolidate
Jewish control of the region.
Alexander Jannaeus (103-76) expanded Jewish dominance in the
north during the first year of his reign,
occupying the cities of Strato's Tower and Dora on the Carmel coast (Ant.
XIII.326, 335; Bell. I.61). In 102, Jannaeus turned to the area south
He conquered Anthedon, Raphia, and Gaza, the later flourishing city being
thoroughly destroyed (Ant. XIII.357-64, Bell. I.87). Ascalon was
the only gentile city on the coast south of Mount Carmel to retain its
The pace of Jewish settlement in the region cannot be
ascertained. It can only be said that in the time of the Hasmonean state the
demography of the region changed decisively in favor of the Jews. This is well
attested by Strabo (XVI.2.28), who drew on a Hellenistic source from the time
of the Hasmoneans,
and is evident from Josephus's accounts of the occurrences in the region at
the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans.
The Jewish community in the Judean Hills in the period of the Maccabean
uprising suffered from overpopulation and
― 128 ―
The newly occupied fertile plains near the sea obviously offered new
possibilities. Determining the chronology and development of the settlement
drive would involve a number of unanswerable questions. Which areas and cities
of the region were occupied in each of the above-mentioned phases? Were the
Hellenistic cities destroyed? And if so, when?
And what happened to the local inhabitants? Were they deported as were the
inhabitants of Jaffa in the time of Simeon, or the people dwelling in the
Scythopolis Valley in the later days of Hyrcanus and elsewhere in the time of
And if so, were they driven out immediately after the occupation? Or were all
these drastic measures taken only after the year 112, when Hyrcanus became
more confident of himself in view of growing crises in the Seleucid kingdom?
Whatever the answers to such questions, the settlement of "many tens of
thousands" as per Pseudo-Hecataeus (Jos. Ap. I.194) could not have
taken place overnight. This reference could indeed reflect the demographical
situation in the coastal plain as early as the middle of John Hyrcanus's reign
(ca. 120 B.C. ), but it may also indicate a later
post quem date.
A later date does in fact appear from the statement about
pagan cults. The Jews are said to have destroyed all ( )
temples and altars constructed by "those coming to the land" ( Ap.
I.193). The sentence indicates an organized, comprehensive campaign against
pagan religious monuments and the destruction of a significant number of
temples. The reference in the paragraph to "newcomers" and the "satraps," as
well as the evident restriction of the scope of the treatise to the Persian
and Hellenistic periods, excludes the possibility that the Israelite invaders
of Canaan and Joshua son of Nun are actually meant (cf. Deut. 12.2-3). As
there were no pagan temples in Judea proper, the sentence refers either to the
― 129 ―
enlarged borders of the Hasmonean state or to the Holy
Land as a whole. Such a campaign is indeed known from the time of the
Hasmonean state and has been referred to in one way or another by modern
scholars. However, its chronology and development have yet to be clarified.
Acts of violence against the cults of the gentile population
became increasingly common after the death of Antiochus IV (end of 164
B.C. ). In his expedition to rescue Jews in the
enclaves outside Judea (163 B.C. ), Judas Maccabaeus
punished the city of Azotos by destroying its altars and idols (I Macc. 5.68),
and burned the temple of Karnayim, in Trans-Jordan, because the enemy found
refuge there (5.43-44). For the same reason Jonathan, his brother (160-143),
destroyed the temple of Dagon in Azotos in the year 148/7 (10.84, 11.4). All
these acts, however, do not seem to have been motivated by a preconceived
policy, but were a response to special, local circumstances. They were
launched outside the Jewish-controlled area and certainly would not be
described as the destruction of "all temples" in the Holy Land.
A systematic destruction of foreign cults was first carried
out by Simeon, who is explicitly said to have "cleared out" the idolatry,
probably statues and cult objects, of Gezer (Gazara) and the Akra, the
Jerusalem citadel (I Macc. 13.47-48, 50). The same certainly happened in
Jaffa, where the local population was expelled, and Jews settled in their
place (I Macc. 13.11). However, since the "corridor" occupied by Simeon was
rather small, the scale of these operations was still rather limited. And what
is more important, there is no reference to the destruction of temples in his
time. As the achievements of Simeon were comprehensively recorded by his
contemporary admirer the author of I Maccabees,
and his operations against pagan cult especially lauded (14.7), the absence of
such a reference cannot be accidental. It seems, therefore, that there were no
impressive temples in the rural areas of the "corridor" As for Jaffa, Simeon,
who actually recognized Seleucid
― 130 ―
supremacy over the city (15.35), was perhaps careful
enough not to provoke too much antagonism at that stage and therefore
refrained from demolishing the temple or temples of that celebrated harbor
city. This may have taken place sometime later, in the days of John Hyrcanus.
Much more extensive was the destruction of pagan cults by
his successors John Hyrcanus (135-104), Aristobulus I (104/3), and Alexander
Jannaeus (103-76), covering more regions of the Holy Land. In contrast to the
abundant information on the days of the Hasmonean brothers, our knowledge of
the days of these later rulers is mainly based on excerpts from secondhand
sources, which were badly adapted and arranged by Josephus.
Consequently not all the conquests are reported, and the destruction of
temples is only occasionally mentioned. However, as appears from a number of
references, the general policy of the Hasmonean rulers toward pagan cults is
quite clear, and we can accordingly assume that after becoming confident of
their ability to face possible Seleucid retaliation, they did not spare pagan
temples and cults in the occupied territories. This was certainly done in the
Hellenized cities reported to have been partly or utterly demolished or whose
populations were sent into exile. The same obviously applies to regions whose
inhabitants were forced to convert to Judaism.
Hyrcanus's expansion took place in the early and later days
of his reign. His campaigns on the coastal plain (in the years 135-132,
127-125, 112) have been referred to above.
The occupied stretch of land between Ascalon and Strato's Tower included three
Hellenistic cities—Apollonia, Azotos, and Iamnia. At least in the first two
there were respectable temples of considerable magnitude.
However, it could be that Hyrcanus was careful, like his father, Simeon, and
refrained from destroying temples as long as there was an immediate danger of
a Seleucid reaction. The opportunity may have come in the year 112/11, when
the Seleucid kingdom sank ever deeper into its longest internal
― 131 ―
crisis, the struggle between Antiochus IX Cyzicenus and
Antiochus VIII Gryphus.
For this reason, the second stage of his campaigns, which
covered a larger area, was launched at about the same time (112/11-107). At
that stage Hyrcanus turned to the regions south and north of the Judean Hills.
He first conquered Idumea, totally destroying Marisa and Adora, its main
cities, and converting the Idumeans to Judaism (Ant. XIII.257-58,
This campaign was followed by an expedition against the Samaritans (in the
year 112/111). Hyrcanus occupied southern Samaria, demolishing the Samaritan
temple at Mount Gerizim (Ant. XIII.254-58).
In 108/7, Hyrcanus carried out the second phase
― 132 ―
of his northern campaign.
He first laid siege to the city of Samaria and at the same time occupied
northern Samaria as well as Scythopolis. The inhabitants of Scythopolis and
"its valley" are said to have gone into exile (Scroll of Fasting, 15-16
Sivan), and Jewish settlers were presumably introduced.
The temple of Zeus in the city (SEG VIII.33) and other cult monuments
were certainly destroyed. After a year of siege, the Hellenistic city of
Samaria was conquered, and Josephus reports in detail how the Jews obliterated
all traces of this great city by flooding it (Ant. XIII.281). The
nearby Esdralon (Jezreel) Valley and probably also Lower Galilee may well have
been occupied shortly afterwards.
Hyrcanus's son, Aristobulus I, expanded to the north in his
single year as ruler (104/3). He launched a campaign in Galilee (Bell.
I.76), probably Upper Galilee, and forcibly converted the Itureans (Ant.
XIII.318-19), Arabs residing mainly in the Lebanon Valley.
Alexander Jannaeus (103-76), the great Hasmonean conqueror,
pursued the antipagan policy with much vigor In the year 102 he occupied
Strato's Tower and Dora (Ant. XIII.324, 335, 395), the Hellenized
Phoenician cities on the Carmel coast, treating the inhabitants harshly
(Syncellus I.558, Jos. Ant. XIV.76).
Shortly afterwards (in the year 102/1) came the turn of Anthedon, Gaza, and
Raphia, the coastal cities south of Ascalon (Ant. XIII.357-64, Bell.
I.87). The detailed account of the Gaza siege records the killing of the city
councilors in the temple
― 133 ―
of Apollo and the destruction of the temple itself (Ant.
XIII.364). The Hellenistic temple at Beer Sheva may have been destroyed
In the next stage, which took place between the years 96-93 and 83-76,
Alexander Jannaeus occupied almost all the gentile territories in
Trans-Jordan. A fair number of Hellenized cities, as well as Moabite sites,
are listed as being destroyed or having their inhabitants deported (Ant.
XIII.395-97, XIV.74-76, 87-88), and massacres of the entire population are
recorded for most of them (Sync. I.558). In the case of Pella, it is
explicitly asserted that the city was destroyed because its inhabitants
refused to convert to Judaism (Ant. XIII.397). Excavations at Tel
Anafa, an unidentified Hellenistic city on the slopes of the Golan Heights,
show that the site was completely destroyed in the year 80.
This suggests that more Hellenistic cities than those listed in the sources
suffered the same fate (perhaps also implied in Ant. XIV.76).
The campaign against pagan witchcraft conducted by Jews in Ascalon (which was
never occupied by them), at the time of Alexander Jannaeus,
indicates that certain manifestations of idolatry in the Holy Land were
persecuted on private or royal initiative even outside the borders of the
The above survey suggests that the statement of
Pseudo-Hecataeus, reporting systematic and total destruction of temples, can
record events already in the time of John Hyrcanus. A terminus post quem
would seem to be provided by his later major campaigns in Idumea and Samaria
(112/11-107), rather than by his early conquests on the coastal plain. We do
not know whether all the Hellenistic cities between Ascalon and Strato's Tower
were already occupied during the early expeditions, and one cannot be sure
that their temples were demolished immediately after the conquest. In any
case, just a few temples were involved, and such an operation affected only a
small part of the Holy Land. However, the total number of temples destroyed by
the Jews in 112/11-107 during the conquest of Marisa, Adora, Shechem and Mount
― 134 ―
Scythopolis, and their chorai, and the size of the newly
occupied areas, which was twice as large as Judea proper, are more likely to
have inspired the statement of Pseudo-Hecataeus.
The last and perhaps most instructive anachronistic
reference is the statement that Samaria was annexed to Judea by Alexander
"free of tribute" (Ap. II.43). For its historical background, some
scholars have suggested that the sentence reflects, in exaggerated form, the
territorial changes in the later years of Jonathan's leadership (from 152
B.C. ), when the Seleucids certified the annexation of
the three southern toparchies to Judea, free from many taxes.
However, the exaggeration is too great, the three toparchies occupying no more
than a quarter of the Samaritan Hills and less than 15 percent of the district
of Samaria as a whole.
Moreover, Pseudo-Hecataeus uses the term aphorologetos, which refers to
exemption from the phoros, the symbol of foreign rule, while the
Seleucids waived only duties and income taxes. Jonathan even offers to pay the
phoros when asking for exemption from other taxes (I Macc. 11.28).
― 135 ―
It remains therefore to accept the assumption of other
scholars that the sentence was written under the influence of the occupation
of the districts of Samaria by John Hyrcanus, that is, in 112/11-107B.C.
An instructive typological parallel can be found in the famous Talmudic legend
that attributes to Alexander the Great the destruction of the Samaritan
temple, although it was actually carried out by John Hyrcanus concurrently
with the annexation of Samaria.
The purpose of Against Apion II.43 is obviously to
legitimize the occupation of Samaria by implying that the Jews only restored
rights granted to them by Alexander the Great. The principle of precedent
played a major role in Hellenistic diplomacy and literary polemics, and had
its effects also on Jewish literature. The tendency among Jews and Samaritans
to relate some of their later achievements to Alexander can be observed in the
series of stories in Josephus on Jewish and Samaritan relations with Alexander
(Ant. XI.313-46) and the above-mentioned Talmudic parallel. At the same
time one should not rule out the possibility that the author was also inspired
by at least some general knowledge of the hostility between the great
Macedonian conqueror and the Samaritans.
The occupation of northern Samaria, or rather the end of the
siege of the city of Samaria in the year 107, which completed the conquest of
the region, should thus be taken as a post quem date. We could go one
step further and ask where and when such a legitimation of the conquest was
asked for. The author, an Egyptian Jew,
was certainly aware of the grievances harbored by the Samaritans against the
Jews for destroying the Samaritan temple and annexing their land. The
inhabitants of Coile Syria, including the Samaritans, were used to appealing
to Hellenistic rulers to spare them from Hasmonean oppression,
and disputes between Jews and Samaritans in Egypt arising out of events that
occurred in the Holy Land are recorded to have been brought before and decided
― 136 ―
by the Ptolemaic king (Ant. XII.10, XIII.74).
In the year 107, at the time of the siege of Samaria, Antiochus IX Cyzicenus
applied for help on behalf of the Samaritans to Ptolemy Lathyrus, who was
still co-regent with his mother, Cleopatra III (Ant. XIII.278).
Though Cleopatra was against any intervention, Lathyrus dispatched six
thousand troops to support the Syrian king. This was one of the reasons for
the breach with his mother (ibid.). It stands to reason that Samaritans as
well as Jews would have presented their arguments on that occasion.
Another opportunity for the Samaritans to appeal to the
Ptolemaic queen came immediately before and during her expedition to Palestine
in the year 103/2 (Ant. XIII.348ff.).
The expedition was indeed meant to counter the advancing troops of Lathyrus,
who from his base in Cyprus invaded Judea, but she also considered deposing
Alexander Jannaeus and renewing direct Ptolemaic rule in Judea. It is told
that Cleopatra's counselors advised her not to allow the accumulation of too
much power in the hands of Alexander Jannaeus and recommended that she occupy
his kingdom, though the Jewish commanders of the Ptolemaic army warned that in
doing so she might lose the support of her Jewish soldiers (Ant.
XIII.353-54). Egyptian Jews thus played a major role in the discussions about
the future of Judea (and Samaria). One would assume that deputations of the
local populations, including the Samaritans, were also allowed to present
their case. A legitimation of the conquest of Samaria was badly needed for
Egyptian Jews in the year 103/2, even more than it was in 107. Year 103/2 as a
terminus post quem will also appear from an analysis of the sources of
― 137 ―
the unique explanation provided by the author of
Pseudo-Hecataeus as to the purpose of Jewish residence in the Egyptian
2. Terminus Ante Quem
An approximate ante quem date can be determined in
light of the absence of any echo of the conquests and annexation of districts
in Trans-Jordan by Alexander Jannaeus. This cannot be accidental: the
Trans-Jordanian campaigns added a new, imperial dimension to the Hasmonean
expansion and required far more justification than did the former, much
smaller territorial achievements, the annexation of Samaria and the expansion
in the coastal plain (Ap. I.194, II.43). All the more so with regard to
Moabitis, which had never previously been Jewish or Israelite (apart from a
short period of occupation in the tenth century B.C.
), and which the Bible itself does not consider part of the Promised Land. In
the case of Ammonitis, likewise not included in the Promised Land, it was even
easy to prove former rights by referring to the settlements of Tobias there,
which had strong ties with Ptolemaic Egypt and its Jewry.
An author like Pseudo-Hecataeus would certainly have striven to legitimize
these occupations by inventing a precedent or the like. Such a reference would
not have escaped Josephus's notice in his persistent polemical effort in
Against Apion to demonstrate the good will of Hellenistic rulers toward
the Jews and the antiquity of the Jewish nation.
It is true that the occupation of Hebron Hills-Idumea was
not recorded either, but that annexation did not require legitimization. It
was known in the Hellenistic world that the Idumeans were newcomers to the
Hebron Hills (e.g., Strabo XVI.2.34). There is no indication that they ever
claimed to be autochthonous, and even Jews who were not well versed in the
Bible hardly needed to be reminded of this.
Hasmonean penetration into Trans-Jordan commenced probably
in the time of Jonathan, who may have gained official control over the
Peraea, the Jewish-inhabited district in the central Jordan Valley and the
western slopes of Ammonitis (perhaps according to I Macc. 11.57).
― 138 ―
Late in his reign, John Hyrcanus obtained a further
foothold, occupying the north of Moabitis (Medeba and Samaga, Ant.
Alexander Jannaeus carried out his campaigns in the region in three stages.
Shortly after year 102/1 or so, he occupied Gadara (Ant. XIII.356,
which provided him with a bridgehead for further operations in northern
The second stage was the most significant: it consisted of the conquest of
Ammonitis (Syncellus I.558-59), Moabitis, and Galaditis, as well as the
uprooting of the gentile strongholds in the Peraea, the old Jewish
enclave east of the Jordan (Ant. XIII.374, Bell. I.89). This
stage took place sometime in the years 96-93.
Most of these territorial gains were given away by Jannaeus in about the year
87, toward the end of the long internal upheaval in Judea (Ant.
― 139 ―
Jannaeus succeeded in restoring his achievements in the
third stage of his Trans-Jordanian campaigns, which seem to have started in
the year 83, and even strengthened his hold by occupying Gaulanitis and the
remaining independent cities in Galaditis (Ant. XIII.393-94, Bell.
I.104-5; Syncellus I.558-59).
We can therefore say that the terminus ante quem for the composition of
Pseudo-Hecataeus is to be found in the years 96-93.
This conclusion finds support in the Egyptian background: in
the year 88 Ptolemy Lathyrus deposed his brother and gained control over
Egypt. He seems to have taken revenge on the Jews, who consistently supported
his mother, Cleopatra III, and his brother, Ptolemy X Alexander There is
indeed some evidence for persecutions in the same year.
The favorable account of the Ptolemaic regime and the general atmosphere of
Jewish-Ptolemaic cooperation reflected in the passages could hardly be
imagined under Ptolemy Lathyrus.
3. Pseudo-Aristeas and Pseudo-Hecataeus
Further evidence for the dating of Pseudo-Hecataeus can be
provided by comparing his book with that of Pseudo-Aristeas and elucidating
the sequence of each. In the discussion of the relations between Ptolemy I and
the Jews (Chap. III.2) it was pointed out that the Hezekiah story was unknown
The story opened the treatise On the Jews and played a major role in
This suggests that Pseudo-Aristeas was the earlier of the two.
Pseudo-Aristeas, who was au courant with the daily problems and
literature of Alexandria and Egyptian Jewry, would have been familiar with
Pseudo-Hecataeus's treatise, one of the few literary works composed by an
Egyptian Jew, if Pseudo-Hecataeus had preceded the composition of his book. At
the very least, he would have become aware indirectly of the Hezekiah story,
which would have served his account very well.
― 140 ―
This conclusion seems at first sight to be contradicted by
a quotation said by Pseudo-Aristeas to have been taken from Hecataeus (para.
31). It has been assumed by many scholars that the citation originated in the
treatise On the Jews ,
and its contents were adduced to deny the authenticity of the book. In order
to examine its implications for the dating of Pseudo-Hecataeus, a close look
at this text is required. The passage in Pseudo-Aristeas raises and answers
the question why Greek authors did not mention the Jewish holy books:
It is for this reason that authors and poets and the
mass of historians have abstained from mentioning these aforesaid books and
the men who have lived and are living in accordance with them, because the
conception presented in them is somewhat pure and exalted [ ],
as Hecataeus of Abdera said.
Had the passage as a whole been ascribed by Pseudo-Aristeas
to Hecataeus, one could indeed relate it only to a forged book. But even so,
that could hardly be the treatise On the Jews : Josephus would not have
missed the opportunity to include such an enthusiastic comment in his
citations, especially as the passages he does quote do not contain any
reference to the Jewish holy books.
Moreover, in the preface to Against Apion Josephus says that the
absence of any reference to biblical history in Greek literature was the main
argument raised by anti-Jewish authors against the antiquity of the Jewish
people (I.2). As it is, Hans Lewy has decisively proved on comparative and
philological grounds that the implicit question in the passage was asked by
Pseudo-Aristeas himself, and the quotation comprises only the last sentence.
The quotation from Hecataeus thus reads: "The conception presented in
― 141 ―
them is somewhat pure and exalted." It should be added to
Lewy's arguments that the cautious language of the sentence ("somewhat") at
the outset discounts the possibility that it was originally an answer to the
preceding questions. Pseudo-Aristeas obviously utilized a statement that
appeared in his source in a different context.
A quotation of this nature is even less likely to have been
taken from the treatise On the Jews. An enthusiastic Jewish forger
would not have used this cautious language in appreciating the Jewish Holy
Scriptures. Besides, Josephus would not have missed the sentence, even in this
form, in his quotations,
as nothing he does quote or paraphrase contains any reference to the Jewish
holy books. The first argument also applies to the possibility that the
sentence was taken from the book On Abraham (if it were composed so
early) or from another forged book that may have been attributed to Hecataeus,
or that it is a free invention of Pseudo-Aristeas.
On the other hand, the sentence accords with the general tone of the genuine
excursus on the Jews in Hecataeus's Egyptian ethnography,
which adheres to an unbiased and detached presentation.
Moreover, its phrasing recalls the style of Hecataeus in his moderate
criticism of Jewish customs, which used the same diminutive adjective: "He
[Moses] introduced a [way of] life that is somewhat unsocial and hostile to
The sentence could well have been added to Hecataeus's reference to the Jewish
laws: "There is even appended to the laws, at the end, the statement 'These
are the words that Moses heard from God and declares unto the Jews'" (XL.3.6),
or elsewhere. The sentence is indeed not included in the Jewish ethnography as
recorded by Diodorus, but Diodorus evidently abbreviated the original
Nor is there anything in the contents of the excursus as it stands now that
requires us to reject the attribution
― 142 ―
of the quotation to Hecataeus. The statement by itself
does not necessarily express Hecataeus's own attitude but may reflect in his
own words Jewish explanations either for their reverent handling of their
Scriptures (cf. Ap. I.42),
or for the restrictions imposed on gentiles wishing to gain access to them, or
There is thus no reason to date Pseudo-Hecataeus before Pseudo-Aristeas.
Returning to the question of the date of Pseudo-Hecataeus:
in Appendix B at the end of this monograph it is suggested that
Pseudo-Aristeas's book was written between the years 116 (or 118) and 113.
This sets another post quem date for Pseudo-Hecataeus, and shows that
the author of the Letter of Aristeas was his elder contemporary.
Accordingly, one to two decades separated the composition of the two books.
Writing in the same generation and in the same community,
it stands to reason that Pseudo-Hecataeus was acquainted with Pseudo-Aristeas.
After all, only few literary works were by then written by Egyptian Jews, and
as Pseudo-Aristeas was occupied with the legitimacy of the Septuagint, one of
the most controversial issues in the life of Egyptian Jewry, one would suppose
that the book gained fame among his contemporaries. There are indeed some
striking similarities between Pseudo-Hecataeus and Pseudo-Aristeas.
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