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clever, cunning, and unscrupulous, the son of Tobiah
seemed born to govern. Unfortunately for himself,


Onias, the high-priest and ruler of the State, stood
in his path. But now was the moment, as he thought,
to remove the obstacle. As soon as Joseph was
told of the arrival of the Ptolemaic envoy in Jerusa-
lem, and of his threatening message, he hastened
from his birth-place to that city, loaded his uncle
Onias with reproaches for having led his people into
danger, and finding the high-priest determined in
his resistance, he offered to go himself to Alexandria,
there to commence negotiations with the king of
Egypt. As soon as Onias had empowered him to
do so, Joseph assembled the people in the court of
the Temple, soothed their excited feelings, and
made them understand that they were to place
entire confidence in his ability to avert the danger
that threatened them. The whole assembly offered
him their thanks, and made him leader of the
people (about 230). From that moment, Joseph
displayed so much decision that it \vas evident
a plan had long been ripening in his brain.
He was well aware of the weakness of the Greeks,
and knew that they were not indifferent to flat-
tery and to the luxuries of the table. So he pre-
pared tempting- banquets for Athenion, fascinating
I , i . , & n r . . , . , &

mm by his charm ot manner, making him costly

presents, and assuring him that he might return to
Egypt, secure of the tribute money, which he
promised should be paid to the king. As soon as
the envoy had left Jerusalem, Joseph entered into
negotiations with some Samaritan friends, or money-
lenders, to obtain a loan for his necessary expenses.
In order to appear with dignity at the Egyptian
court, he required splendid apparel, brilliant equip-
ages, and money to defray the cost of his entertain-
ments. Joseph had no means of his own, and in all
Judaea there was no one who could advance him
large sums of money. The people, at that time, sup-
porting themselves by agriculture, and not being
engaged in commerce, had had no opportunity of
amassing wealth.


Furnished with the means of making a great dis-
play at court, Joseph hurried to Alexandria, where
the envoy Athenion had already prepared a favour-
able reception for him. Ptolemy Euergetes was
anxiously expecting him, and was not disappointed
when he arrived. He was enchanted with Joseph's
bearing and address, and invited him to be his guest
at the royal table. The envoys from the Palestinean
and Phoenician cities, who formerly had derided his
simple appearance, now remarked with envy upon
his presence at court. He soon gave them occasion
not only to envy but also to hate him. For by a
crafty stroke, he managed to obtain a position of
great trust, that of head tax-gatherer of Coelesyria
and Phoenicia. The king gave him a force of two
thousand soldiers, who were, if necessary, to lend
their aid in the fulfilment of his duties, and Joseph
became in reality the governor of all the districts
that went by the name of Palestine. He was re-
spected and feared as a favourite of the king, and
he therefore did not hesitate to use extreme severity
in levying taxes. In the cities of Gaza and Beth-Shean
(Scythopolis), the Greek inhabitants ventured to load
him with insults, and to offer resistance. In return
he beheaded the noblest and richest of the citizens,
and confiscated their possessions for the Egyptian
crown. For twenty-two years, Joseph held the post
of satrap, and spent that time in amassing extraor-
dinary wealth and attaining great power.

After the death of Euergetes (223), his successor,
Ptolemy VI., Philopator (222-206), retained him in
office. He continued to act in the same heartless
way, causing the following remark to be made in the
presence of Philopator : " Joseph is stripping the
flesh from Syria, and is leaving only the bones."

At one time, his lucky star seemed to wane ;
for the Seleucidaean king, Antiochus, called by his
flatterers The Great (223-187), attempted to wrest
the province of Coelesyria from Egypt (218). The


commencement of the attack augured success. The
Egyptian commanders were treacherous, they went
over to the enemy, and betrayed the garrisons into
their hands. Judaea and Jerusalem, under the con-
trol of Joseph, remained true to Egypt. But how
long would they be able to resist an attack of the
Seleucidaean army? And, if such an attack was
made, which side should Joseph take ? He must
have lived through that time in the most painful
anxiety. At last the decisive hour struck. In the
spring of 217, Antiochus appeared on the sea-coast
near Gaza. He was at the head of a large army,
composed of various nationalities. His route lay
to the south, towards Egypt. Meanwhile, Philopa-
tor had roused himself from his life of ease and self-
indulgence, and was advancing to Raphia to meet
his enemy. Antiochus, over-confident of success,
sustained a severe defeat, and was obliged to return
to Antioch, and give up the possession of Ccelesyria.
All the cities and communities that had been under
his rule outbade one another in flattery and adu-
lation of the conqueror, Philopator. Joseph re-
mained in his position of trust, and continued to be
the favourite of the Egyptian king. Through him,
and through his connection with the court life of
Philopator, a complete change had taken place in
the Judaean nation, hardly visible indeed in the prov-
inces, but most striking in the capital.

By means of the immense riches that Joseph had
accumulated, a veritable shower of gold fell upon the
country; "he raised the people out of poverty
and needy circumstances into ease and comfort."
In order to collect the taxes of so many different
towns, he was obliged to have responsible agents,
and he preferred choosing them from amongst his
own people. These agents enriched themselves in
their own way, and bore themselves proudly. The
consideration which Joseph enjoyed at the Egyptian
court, his quickly-gained wealth, and the troop of


soldiers always at his command, by whose help he
held in check the people of various nationalities in
Palestine, the remnant of the Philistines, the Phcenu
cians, Idumaeans, and even the Greco-Macedonian
colonists all this had the effect not only of lending
him and his surroundings a certain air of self-impor-
tance, but also of raising the people in general from
the abject, submissive position they had occupied
towards the neighbouring- nations. The horizon of
the Judaeans, particularly of those who lived in Jeru-
salem, widened as they came into contact with the
Greeks. Their taste became more refined, their dwell-
ings more beautiful, and they began to introduce the
art of painting. The Judaeans of Alexandria, who
had been for a century under Greek influence, and
had, to a certain extent, become Hellenised, now
brought their influence to bear upon their fellow-
countrymen, but the simplicity of the Judsean habits
and customs suffered in consequence.

A shower of gold not only fails to have a fructify-
ing effect, it often causes desolation and ruin ; and
so it was in this case. The rich upstarts lost their
balance ; they attached undue importance to the pos-
session of riches, and preferred money-making to
every other occupation, but the most unfortunate
feature was that they became blind admirers of the
Greeks, whose extravagant habits and frivolous


customs they soon acquired, to the deterioration
of their own national virtues. The Greeks loved
conviviality, gave public banquets, and indulged in
most unruly merrymaking at their repasts. The
Judaeans imported the custom of dining in com-
pany, reclining on couches whilst they ate and drank,
and indulging in wine, music, and song at their enter-
tainments. All this was innocent enough ; but unfor-
tunately it led to more than merely making life
brighter. Greek frivolity and extravagance drew
their imitators rapidly into a vortex of dissipation.
Joseph was constantly at the court of Ptolemy


Philopator, when business took him to Alexandria.
This court was a hot-bed of depravity. The days were
spent in revelry, and the nights in shameless de-
bauchery ; the prevailing depravity led astray both
the people and the army.

Philopator entertained the absurd belief that his
ancestors were descended from the God of Wine,
Dionysus (Bacchus); and he considered himself
obliged to introduce bacchanalian revelries into his
kingdom. Any one wishing to ingratiate himself
with the king and his boon companions was forced
to belong to the fraternity of Dionysus. Whenever
Joseph was called to Alexandria, he enjoyed the
doubtful honour of being invited to the king's orgies,
and of being received by the followers of the God of
Wine. It was at such a feast that he contracted a
violent passion for one of those dissolute dancing-
women who never failed to be present upon these

Jerusalem did not long remain untainted by this
social impurity. Joseph, from friendship, let us
suppose, for his royal patron, introduced Dionysian
festivals into Judaea. At the turning-point of the
year, when winter makes way for spring, when the
vine bursts into blossom, and the wine in the bar-
rels ferments a second time, then the Greeks held
their great festival in honour of Dionysus: "the
festival of the barrel-openings." Two days were
devoted to intoxicating orgies, when friends in-
terchanged pitchers of wine as presents. He who
drank most was most honoured. This festival of the
" barrel-opening" was now to be celebrated in much
the same way in Judaea. But, in order to clothe
this festival in a Judaean garb, the rich made it an
occasion for dispensing alms to the poor. Revelry
is always the attendant of excessive indulgence in
wine. The rich Judaeans soon copied the Greek
customs, and, callous to the promptings of shame
and honour, they introduced singers, dancers, and


dissolute women at these festivals. A poetical writer
raises a warning voice against the growing unchastity
of the age:

"Meet not with an harlot, lest thou fall into her snares. Use not
much the company of the songstress, lest thou be taken with her

attempts Give not thy soul unto harlots, that thou lose not

thine inheritance." (ECCLUS. ix. 3, seq.)

The love of art and beauty which Joseph intro-
duced into Judaea did not compensate for this loss of
chastity and morality. Even earnest men, under
Greek influence, began to cast doubts upon their
old traditional belief. They questioned whether the
teachings of Judaism were correct and true through-
out, whether God really demanded from man the
denial of all self-gratification, and whether the Deity
in any way concerned itself about the great universe
and the small world of mankind.

The teachings of Epicurus, inculcating the impo-
tence of the gods, and recommending self-indul-
gence to man, were well received by the degenerate
Grseco-Macedonians, and particularly by the upper
circles of the Alexandrians. It was from that city that
the poison spread to Judsea. In Jerusalem also
doubters arose, who disregarded the teachings of
Judaism. These doubts might have led to increased
mental activity, had not discord been added to the
corruption of manners. Feelings of jealousy sprang
up between the seven sons of Joseph by his first mar-
riage, and the youngest, Hyrcanus, the son of his
second wife. The latter was distinguished in youth
by his quick intellect, his ability, and his craftiness,
characteristics that endeared him to his father. In
the year 210, a son was born to the king Philo-
pator. The different representatives of the cities of
Ccelesyria were anxious to express, by presents and
congratulations, their devotion to the Egyptian king.
Joseph felt that he ought not to absent himself upon
such an occasion. But his growing infirmities not


allowing him to undertake such a journey, he asked
one of his sons to represent him. Hyrcanus was
the only one who felt equal to the task, and his
brothers unanimously requested their father to accept
his services. At the same time they suggested to
their friends in Alexandria to put him out of the way.
But Joseph's young son instantly gained favour at
court. His extravagant gifts upon the great day of
public congratulation one hundred handsome slaves
to the king, and one hundred beautiful female slaves
to the queen, in the hands of each a gift of a talent
threw the presents of all others into the shade. His
ready wit and adroit tongue soon made him a
favoured guest at Philopator's table. He returned
to Jerusalem filled with pride. But his perfidious
brothers were lying in wait for him on the road, and
determined to accomplish what the Alexandrians had
failed to do. Hyrcanus and his companions de-
fended themselves, and in the combat which ensued
killed two of his brothers. His father received him
sternly on account of his extravagance in Egypt, being
perhaps also jealous of his extraordinary popularity.
Hyrcanus dared not remain in Jerusalem, and prob-
ably returned to Alexandria.

Thus far, this discord was confined only to the family
of Joseph, and seemed not to affect the people at
large or the inhabitants of Jerusalem. No one could
have imagined that the violent dissensions among
the members of that house, and its Greek proclivi-
ties, would end by bringing misery upon the whole
nation. The present seemed bright and sunny ;
prosperity w r as widespread in the land, and offered
the means for beautifying life. The neighbouring
peoples acknowledged the supremacy of the Judaean
governor, and none ventured to attack the nation,
or to treat it with contempt. Judaea had not known
so peaceful a state of things since the age of Ne-

It was, therefore, not unnatural that a poem in the


form of a love song should have appeared at that
time, shedding a rosy flush over the age, and reflect-
ing happy and joyous days.

A cloudless sky, green meadows, fragrant flowers,
and, above all things, careless light-heartedness are
mirrored in it, as though there were no more serious
occupation in life than to wander over hills of myrrh,
to repose among lilies, to whisper words of love, and
to revel in the ecstasy of the moment. In this period
of calm which preceded the storm, the " Song of
Songs" (Shir-ha-shirim) was written. It was the
offspring of untroubled, joyous days. In it the
Hebrew language proved its capability of expressing
tenderness and depth of sentiment, exquisite dia-
logue and picturesque poetry of nature. The author
of this poem had seen the life of Greece, had felt the
charm of its literature, and learned the cunning of its
art. But beneath the veil of poetry he reprovingly
pointed out the evils of the time.

In contrast to the impure and unchaste love of the
Greek world, our poet's ideal is a shepherdess,
Shulamit, the beautiful daughter of Aminadab. She
bears in her heart a deep, ardent, unquenchable love
for a shepherd who pastures his flock among the
lilies, and with and through this love, she remains
pure and innocent. Her beauty is enhanced by her
grace of movement, by her soft voice and gentle
speech. As her eyes are like the dove's, so is her
heart full of dove-like innocence. In the flowery
language of the most exquisite poetry, the author
of the Song of Songs denounces the debauchery
of the times, the lewdness of the public dancers and
singers, the voluptuousness of town life, and the
enervating effects of riotous living.

Joseph, the grandson of Simon the Just, died in
the year 208, leaving his family torn by dissen-
sion. His office was to be transferred to one of
his sons; but Hyrcanus, the youngest, being the
only one known at the Egyptian court, and a


favourite of the king, the preference was no doubt
given to him. This fired the hatred of his brothers.
They assumed a hostile position towards him upon
his arrival in Jerusalem, and as Hyrcanus had a large
number of followers, civil war seemed imminent.
The action of the high-priest, Simon II., who sided
with the elder brothers, turned the scale, and Hyr-
canus was again compelled to flee the city. If he
intended pleading his cause in Alexandria, as he
probably did, he was disappointed, for he could
obtain no hearing at the Egyptian court, as his patron
Philopator had just died (206), and Egypt was a
prey to disorder.

Two ambitious kings, tempted by the weakness of
the house of Ptolemy, seized upon Egypt and her
provinces, and divided them. These were Antiochus
the Great, of Syria, and Philip of Macedon.

Joseph's elder sons, or, as they were generally
called, the Tobiades, out of hatred to their younger
brother, Hyrcanus, determined to side with Anti-
ochus against Egypt. They raised a Seleucidsean
party. They are described as scoffers and reprobates,
and, as matters went on, they showed themselves to
be unprincipled men, who sacrificed their country's
weal to their thirst for revenge and the gratification
of their lusts. They opened the gates of Jerusalem to
the Syrian king, and did homage to him. The adhe-
rents of the Ptolemies and of Hyrcanus yielded or
were crushed.

Thus Judaea came under the rule of the Seleu-
cidsean kings (203-202). But an yEtolian comman-
der of hired troops, Scopas, undertook to oppose the
Syrian conqueror. He soon overran the Jordanic
and trans-Jordanic territories, causing terror amongst
the Tobiades and their followers. Desperately but
in vain they struggled against their impending doom.
Scopas took Jerusalem by storm, laid waste the city
and the Temple, and put to the sword those who were
pointed out as hostile to him. Numbers sought safety
in flight.


In order to secure the allegiance of the conquered
people, Scopas left a contingent in the fortress of
Baris or Acra. But the re-conquest of Judaea and
Ccelesyria for the son of Ptolemy, the child Epiphanes,
was not to be lasting. The Syrians now re-appeared
on the scene. In the beautiful valley at the foot of
Mount Herrnon, near the mountain city of Panion, at
the source of the Jordan, a terrible battle was fought,
in which Scopas and his troops were entirely routed.
Judaea once again became a prey to the horrors of
war and internal dissensions; she resembled a storm-
tossed ship, flung violently from side to side. Both
parties inflicted unsparing blows on her.

Antiochus succeeded in re-conquering the greater
part of the land, and then marched upon Jerusalem.
The people, headed by the Synhedrin and the
priests, came out to meet him, bringing provisions
for his troops and elephants. But the yfeolian con-
tingent still held the fortress of Acra. Antiochus or
one of his commanders, with the help of the Judse-
ans, undertook the siege of the fortress. The Seleu-
cidaean king, it appears, greatly valued the friend-
ship of the Judaeans, for he gave orders to rebuild
their ruined city and repair their Temple. They
were treated with much consideration, and were
allowed to govern themselves according to their own
laws. None but Judaeans had the right of entering
the Temple; no impurities were suffered to pollute
it, and no unclean animals were to be bred in Jeru-

Antiochus remained in undisputed possession of
Ccelesyria, and therefore also of Judaea. But he cast
a greedy eye upon Egypt and her neighbouring
provinces, of whose conquest, since they were under
the rule of a boy-king, he felt assured. But the Ro-
mans, free for action since the downfall of Carthage,
formed a stumbling-block to his progress. Com-
pelled to abandon his plans on Egypt, Antiochus
conceived the idea of making war upon the Romans,


and after having conquered them, of seizing upon
Asia Minor and Greece and also Egypt. But his fool-
hardiness and over-confidence led to his humilia-
tion. He suffered so crushing a defeat at the hands
of the Romans (190), that he was obliged to give up
his conquests in Greece and in a part of Asia Minor,
surrender the whole of his fleet, and pay 15,000
talents annually, for twelve years, to the victor. He
was constrained to send to Rome as hostage his
son, Antiochus Epiphanes, who was destined to leave
a bloody mark upon the annals of Judsean history.
Severe was the penalty that Antiochus paid for hav-
ing over-estimated the strength of the Seleucidaeans.
In order to be able to pay the heavy indemnity, the
Syrian kings robbed temples; this sacrilege made
them odious, and stirred up the hatred of the most
patient nationalities. Antiochus, surnamed the Great,
met his death through one of these acts of rapine

1 he sacrileges continued by his son became the
cause of the rise to new strength of the Judaean na-
tion, as well as of the humiliation and decadence of
the Seleucidsean kingdom.

The disintegration of the Judcean community,
which began under Joseph's administration, increased
rapidly during the constant struggle between the
Seleucidaeans and the Ptolemies for the possession
of Ccelesyria. The leaders of the two parties were
not particular as to the means they employed to
forward their own cause, or to injure that of their
antagonists. The friends of the Seleucidaeans were
above all things determined to find allies amongst the
foreign nationalities in and around Judaea. The
Greeks living in Palestinean places, as well as the
native Gentiles, hated the Judseans, on account of
the humiliations they had suffered at the hands of
the tax-collector Joseph. There were other antago-
nistic races besides ; the old names of the enemies
of the Judaeans still existed, recalling the warlike


days of the Judges and of David's reign. The
Idumaeans and the Philistines were in possession of
Judaean territory, and the former occupied even the
ancient city of Hebron. Both hated the Judaeans,
and made them feel this hatred upon every occasion,
whilst in the north the Samaritans did the same.

The Judaean settlers in the provinces of the Seleu-
cidsean kingdom looked up to the Graeco-Macedonian
rulers, commanders and officers for protection from
their numerous foes. But in order to curry favour
with the Greeks, it was necessary to endeavour to
become like them in manners, customs and observ-
ances. As to Jerusalem, those who had Hellenised
themselves in outward appearance, determined upon
educating the Judaean youth according to the Greek
model. Thus they established races and contests in
wrestling. The richest and most distinguished among
the Judaeans belonged to this Greek faction, amongst
others, Jesus (Joshua), the son of the high-priest, who
called himself Jason, and who was followed by many
Aaronides. The party was led by the Tobiades, or
sons and grandsons of Joseph the tax-collector. But
as Jewish law and custom were sternly opposed to
such innovations, and held in especial abhorrence
Greek shamelessness, these factions determined to
abolish the faith of the fathers, that the people might
be Hellenised without let or hindrance.

Complete incorporation with the pagan Greeks
was their aim. Of what use was the fence erected
by Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Synhedrin round Juda-
ism? The Hellenists pulled down the fence, and
showed a desire to fell the primeval trees of the
forest too.

As has repeatedly occurred in the history of think-
ing nations, lack of moderation on the one side
brought forth exaggeration on the other. Those Ju-
daeans who saw with pain and rage the attempts of
the Hellenists grouped themselves into a party which
clung desperately to the Law and the customs of


their fathers, and cherished them as the apple of
their eye. They were " the community of the pious,"
or Chasidim, a development of the Nazarites. Every
religious custom was to them of inviolable sanctity.
A more complete contrast than was presented by
these two parties can hardly be imagined. They
understood each other as little as if they had not
been sons of the same tribe, people of the same
nation. That which was the dearest wish of the
Hellenists, the Chasidim condemned as a fearful sin ;
they called its authors " breakers of the Law," " tres-
passers of the Covenant." Again, what was dear and
sacred to the Chasidim, the Hellenists looked upon
as folly, and denounced as a hindrance to the welfare

Online LibraryHeinrich GraetzHistory of the Jews (Volume 1) → online text (page 35 of 46)