Sunday, September 18, 2016

  • Sunday, September 18, 2016
  • Elder of Ziyon

From National Geographic:

After several years of digging and study, archaeologists are revealing an extraordinary—and enigmatic—mosaic discovered among the ruins of a Roman-era synagogue at a site in Israel known as Huqoq. Nothing like it has come to light in any other building yet known from the ancient world, experts say.
Dated to the fifth century A.D., the mosaic depicts a meeting between two high-ranking male figures, one of whom appears to be a great general leading his troops. A major challenge to interpreting the scene is a total lack of identifying inscriptions.
“It’s very frequent in late antique and early Byzantine art to have figures in mosaics and other media that are labeled,” says Karen Britt, an art historian at Western Carolina University and the excavation’s mosaic expert. “The fact that these are not labeled makes it confounding for the modern viewer.”
The scene includes elephants outfitted for battle—a detail that immediately suggests the story of the Maccabees, Judean leaders who mounted a revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the mid-second century B.C. The Seleucids, who were descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s generals, are famed for including elephants in their armies.
But excavation director Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has a different interpretation. She believes the leader of the army is none other than Alexander the Great himself. His meeting with the high priest of Jerusalem never happened, but it was a piece of historical fiction that would have been very familiar to the residents of ancient Huqoq. (Learn more about the excavation at Huqoq here and here.)
“After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., when his fame spread and his importance became clear because of the way that he changed the face of the Near East, the Jews—like other ancient people—sought to associate themselves with him and his greatness,” Magness explains. “That’s why stories like this legend began to circulate.”
Magness believes the mosaic should be read from bottom to top. In her view, the lowest tier, or register, depicts one of the many battles that Alexander the Great fought as he expanded his empire into the eastern Mediterranean.
The middle register shows Jerusalem’s high priest—the older, bearded man in the center—accompanied by nobles or other priests. All are at the city’s gates, presumably as Alexander approaches.
The importance of those men dressed in white is clearly shown by the symbol that looks like an H, the Greek letter eta. Experts don’t know what that stands for, but it often appears on garments as a sign of high status in the art of this period.
In the top register the high priest and his companions meet Alexander and his troops. Alexander has all of the attributes of a Greek king and military commander, such as a purple cloak and a ribbon around his head, called a diadem. The latter insignia was first taken up by Alexander and then worn by all his successors.
As expected for a leader on the march, this figure is accompanied by soldiers as well as battle elephants, which are also associated with Alexander and his successors.
For Magness, the fact that the figures in this mosaic aren’t identified by inscriptions is a key piece of evidence in favor of Alexander. “There was only one Greek king in antiquity who was so great that he didn’t need a label,” she says.
In her interpretation, the mosaic would have delivered a message of affirmation. “The whole point of the Alexander legend is to show that even Alexander the Great, the greatest of the Greek kings, acknowledged the greatness of the god of Israel,” says Magness, whose research is supported in part by the National Geographic Society. “He’s so awed by the appearance of the high priest that he bows down before him and brings a sacrifice to offer at the temple. If even Alexander the Great himself acknowledged the greatness of the god of Israel, then surely the god of Israel must be great.”

The legend goes like this, as  mentioned in the Talmud:
"When the Samaritans had obtained permission from Alexander to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest Simon the Just, arrayed in his pontifical garments and followed by a number of distinguished Jews, went out to meet the conqueror, and joined him at Antipatris, on the northern frontier. At sight of Simon, Alexander fell prostrate at his feet, and explained to his astonished companions that the image of the Jewish high priest was always with him in battle, fighting for him and leading him to victory. Simon took the opportunity to justify the attitude of his countrymen, declaring that, far from being rebels, they offered prayers in the Temple for the welfare of the king and his dominions. So impressed was Alexander that he delivered up all the Samaritans in his train into the hands of the Jews...

Far more details of the legend come from Josephus:
Now Alexander, when he had taken Gaza, made haste to go up to Jerusalem; and Jaddus the high-priest, when he heard that, was in an agony, and under terror, as not knowing how he should meet the Macedonians, since the king was displeased at his foregoing disobedience. He therefore ordained that the people should make supplications, and should join with him in offering sacrifice to God, whom he besought to protect that nation, and to deliver them from the perils that were coming upon them; whereupon God warned him in a dream, which came upon him after he had offered sacrifice, that he should take courage, and adorn the city, and open the gates; that the rest should appear in white garments, but that he and the priests should meet the king in the habits proper to their order, without the dread of any ill consequences, which the providence of God would prevent. Upon which, when he rose from his sleep, he greatly rejoiced, and declared to all the warning he had received from God. According to which dream he acted entirely, and so waited for the coming of the king.

And when Jaddus understood that Alexander was not far from the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable, and the manner of it different from that of other nations. It reached to a place called Sapha, which name, translated into Greek, signifies a prospect, for you have thence a prospect both of Jerusalem and of the temple. And when the Phoenicians and the Samarians that followed him thought they should have liberty to plunder the city, and torment the high-priest to death, which the king's displeasure fairly promised them, the very reverse of it happened; for Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high-priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head, having the golden plate whereon the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high-priest.

The Jews also did all together, with one voice, salute Alexander, and encompass him about; whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind. However, Parmenion alone went up to him, and asked him how it came to pass that, when all others adored him, he should adore the high-priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, 'I did not adore him, but that God who has honored him with his highpriesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit, when I was at Dion in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain the dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; whence it is that, having seen no other in that habit, and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision, and the exhortation which I had in my dream, I believe that I bring this army under the Divine conduct, and shall therewith conquer Darius, and destroy the power of the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind.'

And when he had said this to Parmenion, and had given the high-priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city. And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high-priest's direction, and magnificently treated both the high-priest and the priests. And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. [3] And as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present.
But the next day he called them to him, and bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high-priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year.[4] He granted all they desired. And when they asked him that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired. And when he said to the multitude, that if any of them would enlist themselves in his army, on this condition, that they should continue under the laws of their forefathers, and live according to them, he was willing to take them with him, many were ready to accompany him in his wars.
This explains why Alexander is giving the bull to the High Priest in the mosaic, as a sacrifice.

There is a further extension of this legend that Jews vowed to name their sons Alexander in honor of his sparing the Temple. Indeed, it is one of the very few Hebrew names that have been used through the centuries that did not have a Biblical or Hebrew language origin.

(h/t Yoel)



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