Why all the inaction? Three reasons why the Seleucid Empire failed to defeat the Maccabees

51To one who knows the historical happenings concerning the war between the dreaded Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes IV and Judah Maccabee (story of Hanukkah), they must be always struck with a sense of awe and monumental surprise, for when we take a step back and examine the situation on the eve of the rebellion, the odds were clearly stacked in the Seleucids favour. This earth shattering story, intimately recorded in 1st and 2nd Maccabees of the Apocrypha and celebrated at the winter festival of Hanukkah, has all the colour and depth of any literary masterpiece: friendship, loyalty, faith, love, war, torture, betrayal, triumph, honour, courage, wisdom, virility, and standing against all odds. The small, seemingly insignificant Jewish people, surrounded by the behemoth empire of the Greek Seleucids with their vast armies and endless resources, are victorious over their brutal adversary following decades of war. This Seleucid defeat, eventually led to the weakening and collapse of the proud Seleucid Empire. For the Jews of Judea among the conquered nations which made up the Greek empire, a proper comparison would be to liken Judea to a single white dot on a chalkboard. Yet, it was the Jews who would triumph in battle and not the Seleucids. It was a rabble of Jews who became seasoned warriors, defeating massive armies three to four times their number. How could these Jews, who started out as simple masons, carpenters, priests, scribes, shepherds, butchers, vinedressers, farmers, weavers, and potters even have a chance at success? How could they seize victory over a professional, battle-hardened enemy? One may ask, how was this even possible? Well, let’s examine three clear facts which we know to be true. This examination is not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully will shed light on how Judah Maccabee, the son of a priest, managed to lead the Jews of Judea in open revolt, staging one of the most incredible, daring, military feats in human history.

Number One: The subservient shall never rise!

The fact of the matter is simple, the idea of Jews rebelling in armed response against their Greek overlords never entered Seleucid thinking. Nobody on the Greek-Seleucid side saw it coming. Either they didn’t believe it at first, chose to out rightly ignore it, never thought it possible, or scoffed at the very idea. To say the Seleucids had a low opinion of the Jews would be a huge understatement. To Seleucid kings, nobles, and generals, the subservient never rebelled. History demonstrated that typically kings and generals led rebellions, amassing militias to their side, (i.e. Xenophon’s 10,000, Caesar and Pompey, or the Greeks versus the Persians) so why would Antiochus Epiphanes IV have treated this any differently?

Stattler-Machabeusze1Obviously communication was much slower than. The record shows that out of a result from the intense competitive lifestyle among Greek officers, information was suppressed and not properly passed on, yet still the Seleucids failed to treat the Maccabee uprising as a genuine rebellion for nearly a year since the initial outbreak, thus giving it time to strengthen and morph into a real problem. But at the grassroots of it all, the Seleucids thought they had no reason to worry. They suspected that they were dealing with nothing more than a gang of cut-throats and treasonous thieves. Even when a modern-day student of history looks back over time, the amount of conflicts started by “nobodies” and “peasants” are barely a fraction of a percentage when weighed against the wars and conflicts started by generals, kings, politicians, and warlords.

In the Seleucid opinion, the Jews were a backwater people, with no combat experience possessing strong religious roots. The Jews were divided among themselves, many adopting the Hellenism of the Greeks. Those who rejected Hellas, clung to their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this category was where the Maccabees would arise from. So, when the rebellion was burning bright and the Maccabees were organizing their campaign to crush the Seleucids, the Greeks were making other plans to invade Parthia (a neighbouring superpower). Around the same time, Antiochus passed strict edicts, forcing all the inhabitants of his realm to adopt Greek customs and worship their gods in an effort to strengthen his western borders, due to his fear of the rising power of Rome. While all of this was going on, Antiochus, who saw himself as the next Alexander the Great, hardly paid any attention to the Jews as a result from his ego, overconfidence, and what history told him in regards to dominated, suppressed people.

Number Two: Bad tactics equal a bloody mess!

The harsh edicts in which Antiochus Epiphanes IV issued to all his subjects, were edicts that made it mandatory for all inhabitants to observe and participate inb878eleazar and the macabees attack seleucid Hellenistic activities, which included pagan rituals. This was Antiochus’ attempt to unify the subjects of his kingdom, in a two-pronged effort to guard against the rise of Parthia in the east and the might of Rome in the west. Rome was becoming more of an expansionist empire, having already defeated Carthage in two wars for supremacy of the Mediterranean Sea and now held Sicily, Sardina and Corsica, parts of west Africa, and swathes of provinces expanding into Europe. So Antiochus, intimately familiar with the Roman mindset from his days as a hostage, feared that the Roman eye would gaze upon his kingdom. Thus, he took swift action to strengthen his western borders. Antiochus also had to guard against his old rival, the Ptolemaic Empire, which had been a splinter kingdom, ruling out of Egypt, since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Since the Jews had fallen under Seleucid rule (190’s B.C.) with the suppression of the Ptolemaic influence, they continued to remain as staunch monotheists in the God of Israel, observing Torah (Bible) and the traditions of their forefathers.

As a result of Jewish refusal to obey his new Hellas laws, Antiochus launched a campaign of persecution, targeting the Jews of Judea which made up the faithful majority who refused to compromise the commandments of Torah and their beliefs in one God. Thus, Judea became divided, with one side making up a significant percentage of Jews (known as Hellenists or Antiochians) who obeyed the king and forsook the Torah, and the other side being compiled of Jews who would rather die then break the commandments. Against overwhelming Seleucid persecution, the Maccabees, led by Judah and his brothers from the village of Modiin, launched a guerilla-style rebellion.

The commander of Jerusalem, Philip of the Phyrgians, failed to take the rebellion seriously, ostracized the Jews and branded them as nothing more than ‘murderers and thieves.’ Meanwhile, Antiochus was rallying a huge army in his capital of Antioch, to invade the lands of Parthia and expand his kingdom. As a result of his inaction, Philip allowed the Maccabees to gain intimate knowledge of the land, establish a system of bases among the friendly villages, create a network of recruiting soldiers to trai them, and settled in the hills around Gophna where they established a base. From here, nearly a year went by in which the Maccabees raided and ambushed Seleucid patrols, slaughtering them, seizing their weapons and armour. After Philip had lost substantial troops, he finally attempted to launch his own campaign into the wilderness, but was quickly destroyed, thereby realizing the threat that faced him. Thus, he had no alternative but to turn to the governor of Samaria for help, Apollonius.

In all his pomp, Apollonius marched 2,500 troops along the Samaritan Road, a road which runs north and south to Jerusalem. This was the easiest and quickest road to take but Apollonius failed to treat the Maccabee threat seriously. Marching his men through the Judean Hills, overcome by heavy armour and cumbersome weapons, they were ambushed by the Maccabees (numbering around 600 men) and massacred…including Apollonius who was decapitated. After this solid victory, Jews flocked to the Maccabee ranks and they went on to win another outstanding victory against Seleucid general, Seron. Seron made almost the identical mistake as Apollonius, except this time taking 4,000 men along a different route, only to be ambushed and slaughtered. Next came Seleucid generals Nicanor and Gorgias, who were commissioned by Seleucid Viceroy Lysias who was governing the capital of Antioch in the king’s absence on his Parthian campaign. Nicanor and Gorgias took an army of 25,000 troops, sought to establish a base camp in Emmaus and chose to divide their forces to launch a double attack against the Jews. However, through Maccabee genius, the Jews dodged Gorgias’ men, leading them on a wild goose chase, and closed in against Nicanor’s 15,000, striking the main base camp at Emmaus with force. In a desperate battle, Judah’s army of 6,000 managed to put to flight Nicanor’s host and capture the camp. Upon Gorgias’ return, he found the camp in ruins, the Maccabees waiting for round-two, and decided to retreat.

Jerusalem_Israel1When word reached Antioch, Lysias felt he had no choice but to lead his own army. So, he assembled 45,000 men, marched them down the coast, and struck inland for Hebron with plans of reaching Jerusalem from the south. Meanwhile, the Maccabees had been shadowing his advance, and assembling their men outside of Beit Zur, they attacked the marching columns of Lysias’ army and slaughtered 4,000 of them before putting them to flight. Lysias vowed his revenge, and like a dog with its tail between its legs, he withdrew back to Antioch. The Maccabees, unopposed, marched to Jerusalem and captured the city.

The series of Seleucid defeats can only be summed up by stating the obvious: they were unprepared for a guerrilla war, arrogant in their methods, never suspecting what awaited them, unorganized in their tactics, failed to share vital information or treat the threat as credible. The Maccabees on the other hand, capitalized on the Seleucid weaknesses, used their strengths against them, and constantly changed their tactics. They managed to unite the people of Judea, drive out the enemy, and establish an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonean Kingdom, after the family line of Judah Maccabee.

 

Number Three: Did anyone mention anything about divine intervention?

“Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping and praising the God of heaven, who had given them good success. And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise.” 1st Maccabees 5

To say that the Maccabees did not believe that God had intervened on their behalf would simply be a untrue. The Maccabees were pious men, with scribes, priests, and teachers of Torah amidst their ranks, and they fervently believed that God would deliver them, sustain them, and rescue them from the wrath of Antiochus’ Seleucid war machine. A strong contingent of the Maccabee ranks, were made up of the Hasidim, or ‘pious ones’, who were be the descendents of the Pharisees and Zealots. These men were fiercely loyal to the Torah, the commandments and traditions of their forefathers and would gladly die in order to preserve their faith. The Hasidim guarded the Torah, building a fence of protection around it (as stated in Pirke Avot- Ethics of the Fathers), and were true men of faith in the God of Israel.

Upon the outbreak of the revolt, the Maccabees refused to bow the knee to Seleucid pressure which demanded that they cease: the practice and study of Torah, circumcision of their sons on the eighth day, gathering to worship in houses of prayer or the temple, prayer, and other elements of traditional, biblical Jewish faith. History clearly shows us that many Jews were intimidated and therefore compromised their faith in an effort to “fit in”, but the Jews of Judea, including the Hasidim and Maccabees, out rightly refused. The historical accounts of 1st and 2nd Maccabees demonstrate this refusal to obey Seleucid law as the Maccabees smashed down pagan altars, continued to study Torah, circumcised sons in the villages, and prayed openly as Jews.

david-goliathOver and over in the Apocryphal accounts of the Maccabees we see prayer to the God of Israel and a genuine faith that He will not abandon them, plastered across it’s pages. We especially see this character of God clearly defined in the Bible throughout the history of Israel. From Moses to King David, to the righteous kings of Judah or the Jews exiled in Babylon, the yearning hope that God will defend His people and avenge them is a strong tone. In the Bible, we see divine intervention, at times, strike down the enemies of Israel, such as the account in the book of Isaiah concerning the plague that wiped out most of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s army in the year 701 B.C.. However, most of the conflicts and happenings in the Bible, pertaining to the enemies of Israel, are displayed with God encouraging Israel to physically march to war through actions of divine judgement or self-defense. We see generals, prophets, prophetesses, and kings of Israel praying to God and seeking wisdom. Whether this is Moses against the Amalekites, Joshua on the eve of battle with Jericho, King David’s war against the Philistines, or King Hezekiah pleading to God about the Assyrian threat, the belief that God would never abandon His covenant people is not something to take lightly. This in no way should paint the picture of ancient Israel being a warmongering nation, as it is clear in the Scriptures that special service was to be given to strangers in the land or other nations who did not provoke them to war, but it should reveal the reality of those days and the hostile nations of the ancient world.

In the historical accounts of the Bible, we see a clear picture in which the ancient people of Israel invaded a hostile land (by the direct word of God) which was made up of wicked nations. Israel was to be at times a tool of judgement by God who had given these nations centuries of time to repent. Thus, the Maccabees viewed themselves as cut from the same cloth. These men and women, who were firmly educated in the Torah and history of their people, recognized the commonalities and dangers they now faced, as seen in past generations. They were a tiny fragment of righteous people, surrounded in a sea of paganism which sought to obliterate them. The Maccabees had no choice but to trust in the promises that God would uphold the covenant, see their righteous cause, and give them victory. The faith of the Maccabees, and the reflection of their strong biblical conviction, already cemented into their hearts, cannot be ignored when weighing out their actions against the Greek armies who marched against them.

By, Peter J. Fast

Like what you read? Keep an eye out for my second novel, 164 B.C. A War of the Jews – to be published this summer 2014 (click on the “Novels” link on my webpage for more info)

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Artifacts discovered from First Century A.D. Siege of Jerusalem

ShowImage.ashxRecently, artifacts have been unearthed near Robinson’s Arch which is located at the south-western end of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. The artifacts, which contained three cooking pots and a ceramic oil lamp, were discovered in a hidden cistern beneath the ground near where the famous arch once stood 2,000 years ago. This testifies to the extreme conditions during the siege where Jews found themselves with limited food and in desperate situations. The discovery of the cistern and the cooking pots also confirms the evidence Josephus gives in his “Jewish Wars” where he describes the starvation of the people and how many would hide out in cisterns built beneath their homes in order to eat what little food remained. The discovery of the cistern, also confirms that people could not trust their fellow neighbors or the rebels for fear that their food would be seized, and so they would eat in secret.

The period of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. is a dark period in Jewish history and culminated in the city being destroyed and the Temple burned.IMG_0057 Today, this destruction can be viewed at the Davidson Archaeological Center with the massive stones that lay at the foot of the Temple Mount having been hurled onto the streets below by the Romans who pried them apart in search for melting gold from the Temple. One can also view the burnt foundations of a priestly home in the “Burnt House Museum” which is located in the Jewish Quarter not far from the Kotel (Western Wall). Both of these archaeological discoveries, including the cistern with the cooking pots, attest to the desperate struggle between the Jews and Romans in the first century A.D.

By, Peter J. Fast

To read more of the recent discovery click on the link below.

http://www.jpost.com/National-News/Evidence-found-of-2000-year-old-siege-of-Jerusalem-318002

2,750-year-old temple discovered in Israel

IsraelArtifact1Recently, during construction on Israel’s Highway #1 another stunning archaeological site has been discovered west of Jerusalem at the site Tel Motza. The foundations of a temple dating back 2,750 years (Iron Age) has unearthed many findings which include: pottery, figurines of both male and female likeness, and other artifacts, many of which still remain unknown in regards to their significance or the role they played.

Having personally lived in Israel now for a couple of years, and having kept up with the news in the archaeological world, it is safe to say that Israel is like one huge archaeological playground as the Israel Antiquity Authority discovers more and more every year. I have heard it said that despite all the current excavations and archaeological parks an individual can visit or read about, Israel has hardly scratched the surface with only having uncovered somewhere in the neighbourhood of between 5-10%. In another decade or so it would not surprise me if Israel constructs another major archaeological museum to accompany the Rockefeller, Bible Lands, Shrine of the Book, Davidson Center, Israel Museum, and so on and so on. There is just so much out there to be unearthed. I had the privilege to work on a dig for a short-term volunteer term at the Ramat Rachel dig on the outskirts of Jerusalem and it was incredible.

The world of archaeology almost always is exciting (counting on the fact that some digs are complete flops). Even amidst the grueling, intense work, and despite the frustrations and unexpected expenses, it is always incredible to dig in the sands of the past. One thing that constantly makes me smile even further living here in Israel, is in relation to how many of these “tels” are stumbled upon. It is not uncommon to hear of a major find during regular infrastructure made on behalf of government contractors (roads, plumbing, housing, etc) and this has given rise to many jokes and sarcastic remarks, but it is wonderful nonetheless, perhaps annoying for the contractors but hey, this is Israel! However, with this finding, it is incredibly special as it dates back to the First Temple period and contains ritual altars, temple courtyards, and cult objects performed in ceremonies. More details are expected to come from the further excavations and this upcoming spring and summer should be filled with a lot of action.

By, Peter J. Fast

If you would like to read the official article just click on the link and enjoy! http://alturl.com/24ycy

Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem: Jesus Heals the Paralytic

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

John 5:2-9 (NKJV)

The Pool of Bethesda is located in the city of Jerusalem in the Hill Country of Judah which is in the central part of Israel. In the first century, Jerusalem was part of the Roman province of Judea and was built upon a mountain with two valleys wrapping around it on either side (Hinnom Valley to the west and Kidron Valley to the east) and a valley cutting through the center of the city called the Tyropoeon. Across the Kidron Valley is the Mount of Olives which rises above the heights of the city, and to the north of this mountain, it dips into a saddle and rises to form another ridge called Mount Scopus. The region in and around Jerusalem is dry most of the year with annual rainfall between 28-36 inches during the winter months. Throughout the spring (May to mid-June) the temperature is mild, yet it gradually increases as summer is a dry, hot, and dusty time, especially with its locality with the Negev desert to the south. During the summer, it is common for winds to blow in from the eastern and southern deserts to form a thick brown haze around the city called a sharav where the temperature spikes and the humidity can drop forty percent. The sharav dries everything and leaves a blanket of dust on the land, but in the area of Jerusalem and to the north the sharav also helps ripen the grains of barley and wheat for harvest. Finally, by mid-September to mid-October, the end of summer approaches, which ushers in the fruit harvest and the rainy season.

For the Jewish people, Jerusalem has always been the spiritual heart beat. It was in this city that David established his capital, Solomon reigned, the first and second temple stood, and where it is believed the Messiah will return. Jerusalem is a city over 3,000 years old, but is a place that has been identified as Jewish for almost all of its history. It was where Jesus of Nazareth was dedicated in the temple as a boy, would have attended the feasts, spent his last days teaching, observed the Last Supper with his disciples, was crucified, and then was resurrected from the dead to ascend into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem was the pulse of religious Jews, and the birth of the Church, yet it was also a hotbed for ideals and under strict Roman control with the Fortress Antonia dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.

The geography of Jerusalem played a direct role in the events that transpired during the final days before Jesus was arrested and crucified. Everything He did, He did for a reason as Jesus challenged social norms, called for repentance, and preached. After His arrival into the city upon the donkey where He was celebrated as a triumphant king, Jesus entered into the Pool of Bethesda, which is located slightly northeast from the Fortress Antonia and in close proximity to the Temple Mount. The central place of the pools was a prominent Gentile area where people who were ill and diseased gathered near the waters to be healed. The Gospel of John gives a brief description of this pool, mentioning that it has five porches; archaeology has shown this site to be a temple to Serapis (Greek: Asclepius), who was the god of healing.

           Serapis was a conglomeration of deities, created by Ptolemy I who was one of the successors of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Serapis was believed to have a unique set of powers and was identified with sacred snakes as he took on the embodiment of Asclepius, a Greek deity of healing. Serapis was an appellation of Greek and Orient qualities that appealed to the Romans and, therefore, we find a temple set up with twin pools near the Fortress Antonia. Most likely the five porches also possessed a military chapel for the soldiers near the pools where people came to be healed. At the pools themselves, history reveals to us that the priests would send a snake into the waters and proclaim healing for anyone who could step in. Excavations have also shown pipes leading into the pools so that air could be sent through to create bubbling and a stirring motion which John also attributes to the angel (Asclepius could sometimes be pictured with wings).

At the pool, Jesus found a lame man who had been stricken with disease for thirty-eight years, had been unable to crawl to the pool for healing, and was abandoned as there was no one to assist him. This shows the character of Hellenism which venerates the body and, therefore, a sick or diseased man would have no place in Hedonistic thinking. Rather, the people most likely to be healed would be those with hardly any ailments at all who could reach the water easily. However, Jesus deliberately went to this place to declare war on Serapis, to show to everyone who the real Healer is, to rescue a man, and unlike Serapis, Jesus did not choose favourites. Therefore, this geographical place had a direct result in what Jesus wanted to do and what He wished to declare. He simply asked the man if he wished to be healed, the man declares his frustration and misery, and the man is healed. Jesus demonstrated who He was and declared to all the deception of Serapis and the priests. He did this without any doubt in the presence of many other sick and crippled people who were waiting for the water to stir.

By: Peter J. Fast

A Tale of Two Cities: Firenze and Roma

My trip to Italy and visiting Florence and Rome

Let’s take a different spin from my usual articles to a more relaxed, adventure state of mind…

I have always been fascinated by the history of ancient Rome which can be attributed I think, to two incredible epic movies which I saw as a young boy, Ben-Hur and Spartacus. There the viewer sees fast paced chariot races, gladiators, Roman sea battles, and legions of soldiers deploying for battle. To so many people today the Romans appear as distant, almost mythical individuals who lived so long ago, yet when I was young, I could imagine the roars of the mob in the Coliseum, hear the beat of marching feet, and gaze at their inspiring Temples and architecture. The Romans venerated both the human body and pleasure which is called Hedonism, and yet they were people who shaped the world as we know it, instituted a style of government most Western powers today are built upon, and still capture the imagination of everyone who ever reads about them or climbs the Palatine Hill. Even today legionaries from ancient history patrol the streets, threatening anyone they perceive to be a barbarian (as demonstrated in the picture.)

For a break from the hectic life of work, my wife Deanna and I fulfilled a long desire to see Italy, and we did so by visiting two of the most incredible cities in the country, Firenze and Roma. Besides being the hub of world fashion, and awesome cars, Italy is a beautiful country of rolling green hills, snow capped mountains, vineyards, and winding roads. It is both enchanting and ancient. It speaks of a long, rich history and at the same time reminds us of the dark corridors of barbaric cruelty that remain (i.e. the Coliseum and past civil wars).

Our visit to Firenze instantly immersed us into the world of art, Hellenism, beautiful cathedrals, and famous museums. For the first time in our lives we could cast our eyes upon original paintings and statues that we had only looked at in books. We could study the Baroque architecture, climb the high steps of the Sainta Novella Cathedral, and taste the wonders of Italian piazza, cheese, wine, ice cream and salami. We walked the halls of the Uffizi and Academia Museums, saw the illustrious David of Michelangelo, visited the Piazza dell Republicca (which had been the ancient Roman Forum) and sauntered through streets and courtyards that had existed since Medieval times. As a fashion guru, it was great to see all the designers, and frustrating to drool over the incredible suits, shirts, and shoes and not be able to purchase any of them as they were all so expensive. For example: I saw a beautiful silk scarf to match a suit attire and its price was a wapping 460euro…and then to my agony I saw a man about ten minutes later in a cafe wearing that exact scarf! Argh! Anyway, we spent three days in Firenze exploring much of the city and then caught a train to travel through Tuscany, south to Roma.We planned to spend four days in Roma, which still wasn’t enough. Roma is like one big museum with literally hundreds of sights to take in all at once. The other problem is everywhere you look is a “picture worthy” shot. From the piazza’s with their gorgeous statues (i.e. Trevi Fountain and Novona) to the incredible beauty of Ancient Rome and the Forum was spectacular. We were able to see Trajan’s Pillar, the Arch of Constantine and Titus, tour the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, walk through the Forum, see the Temple of Mithras, visit the ruins of Nero’s palace, the baths of Septimus Severus, or Hadrian’s Palace was like a dream for a historian as myself. It was also wonderful to tour the Capitoline Museum for over four hours, and see the Pantheon which houses the remains of the oldest Temple to Minerva. Also, I could not get enough of the wonderful Italian coffee, did I mention the pizza,:) the pasta, and all the other delights. It was not as romantic as Firenze, but the feel of Roma is one both bustling and modern but still clinging to its ancient heritage. This was clear in the “SPQR” emblazoned on everything from buses to police uniforms to sewer grates. Also the Capitoline She-Wolf was everywhere, which is the ancient myth of the beginning of Rome with the twins Romulous and Remus suckling at the wolf.

Now, I must say a few things about the Capitoline Museum before I conclude. This is a must see if you ever visit Roma and you enjoy history and art. It is housed in three incredible buildings from the 16th century, and is filled with thousands upon thousands of amazing statues. From the remains of the giant statue of Constantine, to the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, to the Dying Gaul, it was a treat and a labyrinth of constant “oos” and “ahhs”. When we left we were speechless and appreciative. We felt as if we had journeyed back in time and witnessed the art and ingenuity of the Roman age.

So…go to Firenze and Roma and see for yourself, and if you are not as much into history, enjoy the food and wine. 🙂

By, Peter J. Fast

An Ancient People Seen Today

The Jewish People: An Ancient People

A glimpse into the past:

The ancient east, in particular the Levant and Mesopotamia regions, have always been viewed as the the highway between the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. Lands of desert, mountains, hills, lowlands, fertile valleys, oasis’ and bodies of water both fresh and salt brought with it tribes, clans, and kingdoms of peoples. Nations contested for power and empires rose and fell to be replaced by other kings and people.

Archaeology has been one of the greatest tools at our disposal in the present age, to grasp a meager understanding of how life was like, how these nations came to be and from where they were birthed. Ancient manuscripts, reliefs, mosaics, frescoes, writings, and so on also has opened our eyes to worlds of gods and goddesses, agricultural pursuits, warfare, trade routes, city locations, monotheism and polytheism.

The study of ancient history has literally shaped our worldview today, and has played a part in the building of modern governments, political systems, religious expression, faith, and much more. However, nearly all of the ancient people groups that we see through the annals of history are either extinct today (Canaanites, Hittites, Philistines, etc) or have changed so drastically, they would never have been recognized should they travel back in time for a visit (i.e. Egyptians, Romans, Indians, Greeks, Arabs, etc). Few remain today that still resemble their ancient ancestral heritage dating back into the B.C. days. Of those, most likely the Jewish race would be the most reliable group to stand alone as a people that have changed very little in the greater scheme of things.  When you scrape away all the modern pursuits and trappings of the Jewish race and take a look at their land (modern day State of Israel), language (Hebrew) and faith (Judaism), you will see the ancient connections spring to life.

Jews returning to ancient homeland:

The Jewish people are returning to their homeland like the ancient prophets predicted in the Bible. Isaiah prophesied, “He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12). The prophet Ezekiel stated, ” For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36:24). These are just two examples of many that show prophecies declared by men who were the mouth pieces of God over 2,500 years ago and have now come true in the last century! This is evidence of ancient history being restored before our very eyes by the one who writes history, the God of the Bible, who declares in Zechariah 8:2, ““Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘ I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; With great fervor I am zealous for her.’”

The land of Israel has always had a Jewish presence within her borders. The Bible confirms this connection through the names of regions, cities, and people. History also shows this as well through land deeds, maps, genealogies, explorers, conquering armies, and manifests compiled by credited historians and writers. Today, one can travel the land and view the names of cities and towns that were from the ancient times, places such as: Jerusalem, Dan, Beer’sheva, Hebron, Joppa, Meggido, Hazor, Beit She’an, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Jericho, Modiin, Bethlehem, Masada, etc. These places align with geographical names such as: Jordan River, Dead Sea (Salt Sea), Mount Nebo, Mount Gerrizim, Mount Tabor, Carmel Mountains, Valley of Jezreel, Valley of Sharon, Yamulk and Yarduk rivers, Negev, Red Sea, etc. The Bible also confirms the proper flora and fauna found in the ancient world and still found today (such as pomegranates, wheat, date palms, lilies, etc). The importance of such biblical evidence, even foods eaten in ancient times and recorded in scripture, is tantamount in proving the Bible’s validity. Even with accounts in scripture attesting to the presence of things no longer found in Israel today (such as wild lions and ostriches), historians and extra-biblical eye witnesses of the past have confirmed such things to be true and once existing in this land.

Language:

Since the scattering of most of the Jews throughout the world through war and exiles, much of the ancient spoken Hebrew had diminished so that it was only used in the synagogue as a part of worship, prayer, and reading the sacred books of the TaNaK (Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible). Other dialects of languages evolved, such as Yiddish or Aramaic, that had roots in Hebrew. But as a language, Hebrew died out as an everyday spoken tongue, reserved for religious services. With Jews living abroad in the nations of the world, they assimilated, to the extent that they adopted the languages of the societies in which they lived in (i.e. Polish, German, English, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian.) However, when Jews started to return to Israel, which was called Palestine at the time of the British Mandate, a young man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) reworked the Hebrew, took what was being used in the synagogues, and introduced it to Jewish natives of the land and immigrants as they set up settlements (moshavim and kibbutzim). He also was able to implement it into the schools which resulted in the creation of the first Hebrew schools in Tel Aviv, the Hebrew University, and other such associations. The Hebrew language was concurrent with the major two Aliyah movements of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, as well as during the time of the British Mandate. Thus, in a short while, the Hebrew language that had been nearly dead for 2,000 years was miraculously revived, an act never done before to this scale!

Faith:

Since the destruction of the Second Temple under the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian (70 A.D), Judaism was faced with a terrifying reality. With the Temple removed from their faith, and the end of the sacrificial system, as well as dispersion and the annihilation of much of the Jewish religious elite apart from many of the Pharisees who survived, Judaism would either have to adapt and change or dwindle and die out. In the coastal town of Yavnah (Jamnia), Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai worked with a newly elected Sanhedrin in reforming Judaism so it would survive. Through this, Judaism would center around the synagogue, rather then as it had around the Temple. Synagogues were already in use throughout the ancient world, but mainly as a place of prayer, study, and congregational meetings. Now, it would take center stage as the main structure to knit the Jewish community together. Judaism would also write out principals of faith, outline new expressions of worship, and the role of the rabbi would become the major player as a religious leader. This new form of Rabbinic Judaism, would borrow more insight and inspiration from the Pharisaic stream then any other ancient expressions of the Jewish faith, for groups such as the Essene’s or the Sadducee’s had been wiped out.

Judaism would remove the blood sacrifice and focus on scripture, prayer, rabbinic literature (Talmud and Mishnah), synagogue setting, living out ones faith through the law, shabbat, the feasts, and kosher laws. Judaism would also look at day to day life and examine the steps for holiness and right living, as dictated and outlined through the Torah. The Yeshiva or (religious classroom) would become stationary rather then the typical traveling talmidim who would be lectured by a rabbi or teacher. In the Yeshiva, a rabbi would be the head teacher, to instruct the students to follow his example and direct them in right living. They would grapple with the scripture, argue, and sort out differences attempting to breakdown and discover the meanings of scripture (hermeneutics) whether literal, allegorical or mystical. The rabbi would become the voice of biblical interpretation, and set a standard for the community to live their lives by. With the Temple destroyed, there would no longer be an active priesthood to conduct  offerings, ceremonies, libations, or other Temple procedures that had been attached to its order and purpose.

Under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, following the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 A.D., he outlawed Jews from Jerusalem, decreeing that they could only enter to pray and mourn upon the day of Tisha ba’Av (9th of Av) which was the day in the Jewish month believed to be when the First and Second Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans. Jerusalem, seen as the very pulse of the Jewish heart had now been shut to Jews and such a law had prevented a people with the chance to restore their Temple in their Holy City. Instead, Hadrian would rename Jerusalem, Aliea Capitolina and build a temple to Jupiter upon the Temple Mount. This decree would later be reversed after Hadrian’s death, but the damage had been done. Jews therefore, dispersed to other major centers where Judaism increased and strengthened. These places included: Tiberias, Sepphoris, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and many others. Judaism would continue to survive as the faithful Jewish people breathed the breath of life into its nostrils and refused to give up the ancient commandments in the Torah. They would preserve their identity, culture, faith and language as a unique people group chosen by God.

By: Peter J. Fast

(All scripture is taken from New King James Version)