|October 1st, 2012||#1|
The Epitome of Evil
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: The Unseen University of New York
Apion of Alexandria on the Jews
Apion of Alexandria on the Jews
Apion of Alexandria; or Apion the Grammarian as Josephus calls him, (1) is one of the best known of all historical critics of jews and Judaism, but yet conversely we know next to nothing about the man himself and have no work of his that has come down to us. We do know that Josephus heaped a large amount of odium on him and referred to him as a parasite and man with no morality. (2)
That said we must understand that Josephus was a jew who refused to credit any other argument other than his own and effectively sought to place the jews among the most ancient of people and thus tacitly suggest to his readers that the jews were superior to the Greeks and Romans who were their military, political, social and religious conquerors. Indeed Josephus devotes most of the first book of 'Against Apion' to arguing the tacit superiority of the jews based on their alleged religious antiquity.
The object of this is clear if we understand that Josephus was a religious hard-liner who had sided with the Romans when faced with the imminent prospect of a very limited morality in the near future while the entire contingent of jewish rebels that were under his command had committed ritual suicide. (3) It it unclear how Josephus emerged alive from this situation (as he is vague about it in his 'Jewish War' and 'Life'), but emerge alive he did.
His living while all his comrades lay dead and his nation smashed by the exercise of sheer Roman political and military power seems to have been the motivational source for much of Josephus' later intellectual activity. This motivation appears to us in the form of Josephus' need to assert the primacy of the jews in being an ancient and/or original religion or as he puts it himself. Josephus claims to have: 'made it evident to those who peruse them [his books], that our Jewish nation is of very great antiquity, and had a distinct subsistence of its own originally.' (4)
Now what Josephus is saying here may not be readily apparent to the modern reader in our increasingly secular age, but we can readily comprehend his meaning if we but understand that the Greeks and Romans in particular placed a large amount of emphasis in their religious thought on the historical origins of their religion. In essence the Greeks and Romans were searching for the original religion of man and their most frequent identification of that oldest religion was that of Egypt and occasionally Mesopotamian polytheism. (5)
If we understand that the Greeks and Romans were engaged in a Kant-like quest for the 'pure religion' or the origin of religious thought: then we can begin to see Josephus' intellectual game which is evident throughout his writing. That game is very simple. Josephus is doing two things at once: he seeks to belittle the religious beliefs of the conquerors of Judea using their own search against them (6) and additionally seeks to raise Judaism to the status of ancient primacy that Egyptian polytheism then enjoyed in Greek and Roman thought. (7)
In other words Josephus was trying to provide the intellectual basis for asserting that Judaism was the origin of religion and that as such the Greeks and Romans should be the servants and not the rulers of the jews.
From that we can see that Josephus may have surrendered himself to Vespasian and 'rendered unto Caesar', but at the same time he still carried the burning zeal of a puritanical jewish religious fanatic in his heart. A zeal which required that the jews were the chosen people of the omnipresent, omnipotent creator of the universe and that as such they were born to rule over the non-jews of the world. It was the jews who; in Josephus' unquestioned and uncritical opinion, were bearers of the original religion and as such Josephus set out to prove it by means fair or foul.
Josephus was; in the light of the failure of the first jewish revolt, seeking to open up a new; intellectual, war against Greek and Roman civilisation by subverting it where it was in many ways weakest: the thirst for an unquestionably authentic religion, which could drive those who sought it into the arms of the jewish religious fanatics and rabble-rousers who we know existed in Rome at this time. (8)
Josephus' rabid religious fanaticism explains his own need to consciously distort quotations from such figures as Clearchus of Soli, (9) Theophrastus of Eresos, (10) and Pythagoras of Samos (11) to name but a few of those who Josephus seems to have intentionally misinterpreted and/or misquoted. The reason for doing so is very simple in so far as in order to convince Greeks and Romans that the jews really were the ancient religion and the force for good that Josephus made them out to be: he would have to find respected Greek and Roman authorities who believed as such.
That he could not find such authors and had to settle for misinterpreting and/or misquoting those who mentioned the jews he did find is strong evidence for the fact that the Torah's historical claims are not be taken literally, but rather are best take allegorically unless we have independent evidential confirmation of them. The reason for that is simple in that there are remarkably few references about jews in the ancient world before the rise of a jewish kingdom: something which makes the Judeocentric history told in the Torah look remarkably like an imaginatively dressed up; and occasionally outright fictitious, version of their history as one frequently sees in mythological tales written down after being transmitted orally for generations.
Indeed Josephus' quest to establish the antique nature of the worship of Yahweh consumed most of his later life as a Roman subject and the scarcity of the evidence is evident even in so large a tome as his 'Jewish Antiquities'. That long-term research project and the emotional need to prove the superiority of the jews in all things is what lies at the base of Josephus'; often personal, attacks in 'Against Apion' on Greek and Roman critics of the jews. Apion; after who the two books are named, only really appears in the first half of the second book, but he is mentioned more than any other author; with the possible exception of Manetho, (12) by Josephus.
To understand what Apion was arguing we have to remove what Josephus claims; as already he stated he is rather unreliable but unfortunately our only source for Apion's thought, and see what lies behind them. The first thing which Josephus tells us about Apion's argument against the jews is that:
'For some of his writings contain much the same accusations which the others have laid against us, some things that he has added are very frigid and contemptible, and for the greatest part of what he says, it is utterly scurrilous.' (13)
We may derive from the above that Apion was consciously writing as part of a Graeco-Roman anti-jewish intellectual tradition; very likely including Manetho, Chaeremon and Lysimachus, that had had sufficient time to develop a set of standard charges that it laid at the door of the jews. Further we may say that while Apion did cite previous charges: he added new ones to the list as Josephus clearly says that one of his reasons for writing against Apion is that he has come up with new arguments rather than just repeating the established anti-jewish tradition in which he was writing.
Indeed Josephus splits Apion's case against the jews down to three separate sections, which are as follows:
'However, it is not a very easy thing to go over this man's discourse, nor to know plainly what he means; yet does he seem, amidst a great confusion and disorder in his falsehoods, to produce, in the first place, such things as resemble what we have examined already, and relate to the departure of our forefathers out of Egypt; and, in the second place, he accuses those Jews that are inhabitants of Alexandria; as, in the third place, he mixes with those things such accusations as concern the sacred purifications, with the other legal rites used in the temple.' (14)
From the above we can firstly see that the anti-jewish intellectual tradition; in which Apion was writing, appears to be centred on Alexandria given that nearly all of those Josephus mentions as principle critics of the jews; and on whom we may presume Apion drew at least in part, came from or spent a lot of time in Alexandria. This is confirmed by Josephus' comment that Apion 'accuses those Jews that are inhabitants of Alexandria' and when we combine this with Josephus' assertion that Apion came up with both new charges and restated older ones: then tells us that the charges against the jews of Alexandria must have been a staple of this anti-jewish school of thought.
Indeed we can note that this school of thought mirrors what we know about Alexandria at the time in that the jews were consciously striving to best the Greeks and Egyptians of the city and that rioting, violence and intellectual brawls were not uncommon among the two warring parties. This was after all the city in which the normally pro-jewish and rather docile Emperor Claudius had to intervene in with threats to prosecute the jews wholesale if they kept regarding themselves as a specially-appointed nation (able to send ambassadors directly to the Emperor himself) and continued their war against the Greek and Egyptian inhabitants of Alexandria.
This conflict is mentioned by Josephus himself when he declares that Apion contrived his arguments against the jews to benefit the Alexandrians who hated the jews of that city. (15) What is perhaps surprising; considering that Josephus has told us that Apion's argument were based on experience with the jews (i.e. he was no stranger to them and obviously interacted with them regularly) and that these arguments covered a considerable amount of intellectual ground from charges against the jews of Alexandria plus charges about the origin of the jews and further charges in and around jewish rituals, is just how little Josephus actually tries to rebut. Instead he spends the best part of his time attacking Apion personally and trying to attack Apion's chronology not the multifaceted argument structure that he; as quoted above, stated that Apion made.
This informs us of two principle facts: that Apion made a wide-range of arguments based on first-hand information as well as an established Alexandrian intellectual tradition and that Josephus tried to pick the arguments he felt he could handle as opposed to rebutting Apion and the Alexandrian anti-jewish intellectual school of thought en toto as he suggests he was doing. (16)
I have dealt with Josephus' arguments against Manetho's chronology; as well as what we can extract of Manetho's actual thought about it, elsewhere, (17) that said it is worth restating; for the benefit of the reader, Apion's chronology concerning the origin of the jews in the Exodus.
If we read Josephus' account carefully we can see that there are a couple of problems in it; which Josephus sometimes does and sometimes doesn't pick up, firstly is the reason why Osarseph (usually read as referring to Moses) suddenly became the leader of the 'lepers' and how on earth; after becoming their leader, he was able to pass draconian religious laws, rebuild a deserted city, establish international contact with Jerusalem and convince them to send a large army into Egypt (because he asked them to). We may also wonder why Pharaoh decided to send the 'lepers' to the stone-quarries (probably at Tura) rather than expel them body and soul as was originally required by the seer Amenophis.
If we understand the 'lepers' to be those literally afflicted with leprosy; as has traditionally been the case (although German language scholarship has tended; correctly in my view, to see in this an allegory), then it is very difficult to explain this passage without simple high-handed dismissal. It is however simply explained once we; as I have said, understand that 'lepers' is probably an allegory for simply being diseased in some way.
That this is a religious disease is indicated by the participation of Egyptian priests; i.e. they had formed or been seduced into following a new cult, as well as the unity of 'lepers' throughout their ordeal as well as why Moses could take and promulgate numerous radical religious laws against the Egyptian system of worship (as well as the oath of absolute obedience) in addition to why Pharaoh sent the 'lepers' to the mines rather than simply banish them from his borders.
This latter point; in regard to the use of the mines rather than simple banishment beyond Egypt's borders, is indicative of a religious cult; which as the Pharaoh was a god-king would have direct political implications if the established religion was substantially challenged, precisely because if you have group of religious subversives then if you banish them they could very easily return to haunt you; as is indeed what happens in Apion's account, as well as maintain their influence by a network of hidden cult members (which is also what Apion hints was the case). If on the other hand you reduce them to the status of slaves and send them to place; like the stone-quarries, where they can be worked to death and their outside contact can be easily limited: then it is the ideal way; in many respects, to be rid of subversives of every kind.
This explanation is also directly pointed to by Manetho's phrase: 'there to work segregated from the rest of the Egyptians'. Meaning; of course, that the Egyptian labourers and slaves who were working at the stone-quarries were potential candidates for religious conversion and as such the 'lepers' had to be separated from them to prevent a possible eventual cult-inspired uprising. Further a later passage from Apion directly suggests this when it states that when the jews from Jerusalem invaded Egypt with 200,000 men: Pharaoh instructed that the sacred animals be gathered and protected as well as the religious sanctuaries shut down and their sacred objects hidden before he fled with his army to Ethiopia.
This; of course, means that Pharaoh had some special religious reason to be worried about the temples during a 'leper' invasion.
Further the description of the desire of Pharaoh to see the gods and for the seer Amenophis to state that this required a purification of the diseased from the kingdom reads like the message of an established state religion, which is being challenged by a new populist cult that is spreading rapidly (hence the allegorical use of the term 'disease').
This passage could then be read as Pharaoh desiring to see the gods as one of his ancestors had (although I must admit it sounds like the use of hallucinogenic substances as opposed to an allegory here) to which his religious adviser declares that this would be impossible until the new populist cult and its followers had been purged from Egypt by Pharaoh. Who would then have purified Egypt from the highly contagious religious disease that was threatening it (leprosy being simply a prime example as well as a disfiguring disease to boot which gives the allegory even more force) and would thus be rewarded by the Egyptian gods; whom the established priesthood represented, with a sighting/meeting with those that he had served so well.
Further the fact that Moses knew about the jews in Jerusalem and was able to quickly win them to his side suggests that in Apion's view: those who were doing the invading were of the same religious persuasion as Moses, which suggests the view that the jews were invading from both without and within. Or put more bluntly: the religious subversion was the worship of Yahweh and that the 'lepers' acted as harbingers of the jewish armies, which were to desecrate the temples of any other god they came across as well as kill or enslave those non-jews they came across.
Having reminded ourselves of what Apion argues and a more likely interpretation of it as opposed to the jews ruling Egypt as a warrior people; which is what Josephus is trying to argue was the case using both Apion and Manetho, we should note that essentially what Apion is doing here is offering a counter-interpretation based on Egyptian records and oral tradition as well as their jewish opposites.
He gives us the very probable scenario that the jews started life as essentially religious rebels; a fact that could be used to reinforce the possible Atenist origin for the worship of Yahweh (which would plausibly explain the jewish tribal elite's tendency to focus on one god alone which was unusual for the time), and then graduated over centuries into the puritanical religious zealots that they became. Josephus by contrast asserts that they had always been said puritanical religious zealots that they were in his time: by simplifying the positions down to their lowest common denominator we can see that Apion is actually being the more reasonable, while Josephus is just simply being a dogmatic holy man with an axe to grind.
We can further see this irrational axe grinding when we note that Josephus at one point accuses Apion of 'contriving to have the very same number as Lysimachus' (18) however just a few lines earlier he attacks Apion for not agreeing with his fellow anti-jewish scholars in relation to the dating of his chronology.
Josephus states as follows:
'Manetho says that the Jews departed out of Egypt, in the reign of Tethmosis, three hundred ninety-three years before Danaus fled to Argos; Lysimachus says it was under king Bocchoris, that is, one thousand seven hundred years ago; Molon and some others determined it as every one pleased: but this Apion of ours, as deserving to be believed before them, has determined it exactly to have been in the seventh Olympiad, and the first year of that Olympiad; the very same year in which he says that Carthage was built by the Phoenicians.' (19)
In other words we can see here that Josephus is trying to have his intellectual cake and eat it at the same time by declaring that on the one hand that if Apion disagrees with his fellow anti-jewish scholars then he is ipso facto wrong and making up libels against the jews, while when Apion agrees with his fellow anti-jewish scholars then he is actively conspiring against the jews by making his argument agree with his fellows.
It boils down to Josephus acting a little like an ancient Alan Dershowitz and believing in the supremacy of the jews so absolutely that he; to use a modern example to illustrate the contradiction in Josephus' argument, is demanding that the Palestinians stop attacking Israel, while demanding that the Israelis continue attacking the Palestinians.
In other words: Josephus' argument doesn't make sense unless you acknowledge that his argument is a simply a heuristic device to rationalize and justify his underlying belief system in a particular situational context.
(1) Joseph. Cont. Ap. 2:1
(3) Kiddush Hashem (lit. 'Sanctification the Name') or the concept of martyrdom in Judaism, which can be achieved; but unlike in Christianity, through suicide or self-sacrifice.
(4) Joseph. Cont. Ap. 1:1
(5) For example Ibid, 1:6
(6) Ibid, 1:22
(7) Ibid, 2:16
(8) Suet. Tib. 35, Claud. 25 ; Tac. Hist. 5:5
(12) On Manetho's case against the jews see: http://semiticcontroversies.blogspot...o-on-jews.html
(13) Joseph. Cont. Ap. 2:1
(15) Ibid, 2:3-4
(16) Ibid, 1:2; 2:1
(18) Joseph. Cont. Ap. 2:2
This was originally published at the following address: http://semiticcontroversies.blogspot...a-on-jews.html
|October 2nd, 2012||#2|
The Epitome of Evil
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: The Unseen University of New York
The next aspect of Apion's argument that we should consider is that which Josephus mentions in relation to his claims about the Egyptians and that Apion considers that the term 'Egyptian' is one of reproach.
Josephus states thus:
'This is that novel account which the Egyptian Apion gives us concerning the Jews' departure out of Egypt, and is no better than a contrivance of his own. But why should we wonder at the lies he tells about our forefathers, when he affirms them to be of Egyptian origins, when he lies also about himself? For although he was born at Oasis in Egypt, he pretends to be, as a man may say, the top man of all the Egyptians; yet does he forswear his real country and progenitors, and by falsely pretending to be born at Alexandria, cannot deny the depravity of his family; for you see how justly he calls those Egyptians whom he hates, and endeavours to reproach; for had he not deemed Egyptians to be a name of great reproach, he would not have avoided the name of an Egyptian himself; as we know that those who brag of their own countries value themselves upon the denomination they acquire thereby, and reprove such as unjustly lay claim thereto. As for the Egyptians' claim to be of our kindred, they do it on one of the following accounts; I mean, either as they value themselves upon it, and pretend to bear that relation to us; or else as they would draw us in to be partakers of their own infamy. But this fine fellow Apion seems to broach this reproachful appellation against us, that we were originally Egyptians, in order to bestow it on the Alexandrians, as a reward for the privilege they had given him of being a fellow citizen with them: he also is apprised of the ill-will the Alexandrians bear to those Jews who are their fellow citizens, and so proposes to himself to reproach them, although he must thereby include all the other Egyptians also; while in both cases he is no better than an impudent liar.' (20)
It is at first difficult to divine what precisely Josephus is arguing here as the way he phrases his argument is not clear and is meant more to insult Apion than as a serious point against him. That said it does throw some light on what Apion was likely actually arguing.
We may simplify Josephus' argument thus: Apion necessarily argued that the jews were Egyptian religious rebels and Apion hated the Egyptians because the Jews were; according to him, Egyptians and that he instead took the title of Egyptian away from the jews and gave it to the non-jewish inhabitants of Egypt and Alexandria.
In other words Josephus argues that because Apion viewed the jews as having been of Egyptian origin, but did not regard the jews of Alexandria at the time he was writing as Egyptian citizens. Thus Josephus believes he has caught Apion out by finding an apparent inconsistency in his argument.
In fact I would point out that Josephus' counter-argument actually mirrors a common modern jewish argument in relation to anti-Semites and critics of the jews in so far as jews assert that opponents of the jews believe that the jews are not part of the national community and yet critics of the jews take offence when jews are not loyal to the country they inhabit.
Like Josephus many modern jewish and skeptical authors believe this is a contradiction in terms when it; in fact, is not. In so far as jews may not be part of the national community; like a Mexican immigrant in Canada, but at the same time the Mexican in Canada could potentially be loyal to the country that he inhabits, while jews very rarely are historically or currently.
In essence they are complimentary not contradictory positions.
Much the same is true of Josephus' counter-argument in so far as while Apion asserts the jews have their origin in a subversive Egyptian religious cult which was expelled by Pharaoh: he also argues that jews are not Egyptians, but rather a separate entity. This is quite logical if we but recall that according to Apion and Manetho's chronology of events (which Josephus seeks to use for his own argument about the Hyskos) the jews under Moses were in close contact with the jews in Jerusalem who sent armies to invade Egypt in support of their religious brethren.
Thus to Apion's apparently quite subtle mind: the jews of Alexandria were essentially the religious harbingers and political agents of the jewish rulers of Judea and operated according to their particular and general instructions from afar. Or put more simply: Apion asserted that the jews were a fifth column in Egypt and were not actually Egyptians; as they had no loyalty to Egypt, its gods or its customs, but rather were religious fanatics who had originally come from Egypt bent on destroying it. (21)
In essence Apion was arguing that the jews were religious and political subversives who sought to undermine and replace the established Egyptian, Greek and Roman order with their own domination. This is what Josephus takes such strong objection to and as he cannot disprove Apion's case (after he himself admits it is so in later in 'Against Apion') he simply attacks an absurd caricature of it and argues that because Apion was; allegedly, born somewhere less auspicious than Alexandria then he himself isn't Egyptian and thus is an immoral lying toad.
We should further take notice that once again Josephus immediately resorts to claiming that Apion was actively conspiring with his non-jewish Alexandrian fellow citizens; suggesting once again an Alexandrian school of anti-jewish thought, to libel the jews for his and their own benefit. This almost Pavlovian rhetorical thrust on Josephus' part is indicative of the lack of concrete arguments and evidence that Josephus actually possessed given that he; in all his works, is at great pains to cite any kind of documentation which he thinks will prove his case. That he cannot provide any suggests to us that Josephus didn't have much in the way of response, but instead spat empty rhetorical venom and ad hominem at Apion in the hope that some of the slime would stick to his opponent.
We may further observe in the next section of 'Against Apion'; which contains a more detailed repeat of Josephus' argument about the loyalty of the jews to the Empire that Apion as above stated had clearly and justifiably assailed, that Josephus brings up one of the better known legends that he helped to spread about the jews in so far as that Alexander the Great specially honoured them.
Josephus states thus:
'For Alexander did not therefore get some of our nation to Alexandria, because he wanted inhabitants for this his city, on whose building he had bestowed so much pains; but this was given to our people as a reward, because he had, upon a careful trial, found them all to have been men of virtue and fidelity to him; for, as Hecateus says concerning us, "Alexander honoured our nation to such a degree, that, for the equity and the fidelity which the Jews exhibited to him, he permitted them to hold the country of Samaria free from tribute. Of the same mind also was Ptolemy the son of Lagus, as to those Jews who dwelt at Alexandria." For he entrusted the fortresses of Egypt into their hands, as believing they would keep them faithfully and valiantly for him; and when he was desirous to secure the government of Cyrene, and the other cities of Libya, to himself, he sent a party of Jews to inhabit in them.' (22)
Here we can see that Josephus is again trying to use arguments based on the fallacy of authority to make his case (after all Alexander could and did make mistakes so why is what Alexander supposedly did the right thing to do): what is particularly interesting is that the legend of Alexander and his partiality for the jews only really sees the light of day in jewish texts of which Josephus is the principle source. We do not know who Hecateus was or whether he actually said what Josephus claims he did (Josephus not being the most credible of sources), but we do know that the various more contemporary sources on Alexander the Great are silent on any relationship between him and the jews.
It also extremely unlikely that Alexander would have paid any attention what-so-ever to a small tribe; or series of tribes, in a remote corner of his Empire devoted as he was to military conquest and the glory attached to it in his relatively short life. The reason such a legend is brought up by Josephus is simply because it fits his Judeocentric vision of history that puts the jews as an ancient and wise religion at the centre of well-known events as well as styling the jews as the beloved counselors of the great heroes of history (thus making them in theory more respectable to his Greek and Roman overlords).
Further Josephus' amusing belief that Aristotle admired and gleaned some of his teachings from the jews likely fed into his crediting the legend of Alexander the Great's supposed partiality in regards to Yahweh's holy horrors. The reason for this is simply that because Alexander the Great's tutor and the inspiration of his campaigns was Aristotle: so thus; to Josephus' mind, Alexander must have picked up his supposed great partiality for the jews from Aristotle.
In other words Josephus here is mythologizing the jewish past to fit his preconceived religious world view, which places the jews at the centre of all events and seeks to indicate that all great deeds in history can; in some way, be credited directly or indirectly to the jews. A theme I might add that has been repeatedly picked up by jewish nationalists and partisans though out the centuries and which received one of its more cogent and learned; if often hilariously wrong, expressions in Cecil Roth's work on the so-called 'jewish contribution to civilization' (23) and more recently by such intellectual cretins as Thomas Cahill. (24)
We should further note precisely what Josephus is saying about Alexander's alleged policy in regards to the jews however, because it tells us that the jews; a small and obscure group of people at the time by any standard, exerted; according to their own principle defender in ancient times, an amount of influence on public and economic affairs massively disproportionate to their numbers.
A fact that; as I have elsewhere argued, that well-known Greek and Roman authors not infrequently commented on and despaired at.
(20) Ibid, 2:3
(21) Such an argument is suggested by Ibid, 2:4
(23) Cecil Roth, 1938, 'The Jewish Contribution to Civilisation', 1st Edition, MacMillan: London
(24) Thomas Cahill, 1998, 'The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels', Doubleday: New York
This was originally published at the following address: http://semiticcontroversies.blogspot...s-part-ii.html
|October 4th, 2012||#3|
The Epitome of Evil
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: The Unseen University of New York
Josephus continues his abuse of Apion thus:
'As for Ptolemy Philometer and his wife Cleopatra, they committed their whole kingdom to the Jews, when Onias and Dositheus, both Jews, whose names are laughed at by Apion, were the generals of their whole army. But certainly, instead of reproaching them, he ought to admire their actions, and return them thanks for saving Alexandria, whose citizen he pretends to be; for when these Alexandrians were making war with Cleopatra the queen, and were in danger of being utterly ruined, these Jews brought them to terms of agreement, and freed them from the miseries of a civil war. "But then (says Apion) Onias brought a small army afterwards upon the city at the time when Thorruns the Roman ambassador was there present." Yes, do I venture to say, and that he did rightly and very justly in so doing; for that Ptolemy who was called Physco, upon the death of his brother Philometer, came from Cyrene, and would have ejected Cleopatra as well as her sons out of their kingdom, that he might obtain it for himself unjustly. For this cause then it was that Onias undertook a war against him on Cleopatra's account; nor would he desert that trust the royal family had reposed in him in their distress. Accordingly, God gave a remarkable attestation to his righteous procedure; for when Ptolemy Physco had the presumption to fight against Onias' army, and had caught all the Jews that were in the city of Alexandria, with their children and wives, and exposed them naked and in bonds to his elephants, that they might be trodden upon and destroyed, and when he had made those elephants drunk for that purpose, the event proved contrary to his preparations; for these elephants left the Jews who were exposed to them, and fell violently upon Physco's friends, and slew a great number of them; nay, after this Ptolemy saw a terrible ghost, which prohibited his hurting those men; his very concubine, whom he loved so well, (some call her Ithaca, and others Irene,) making supplication to him, that he would not perpetrate so great a wickedness. So he complied with her request, and repented of what he either had already done, or was about to do; whence it is well known that the Alexandrian Jews do with good reason celebrate this day, on the account that they had thereon been vouchsafed such an evident deliverance from God. However, Apion, the common calumniator of men, has the presumption to accuse the Jews for making this war against Physco, when he ought to have commended them for the same. This man also makes mention of Cleopatra, the last queen of Alexandria, and abuses us, because she was ungrateful to us; whereas he ought to have reproved her, who indulged herself in all kinds of injustice and wicked practices, both with regard to her nearest relations and husbands who had loved her, and, indeed, in general with regard to all the Romans, and those emperors that were her benefactors; who also had her sister Arsinoe slain in a temple, when she had done her no harm: moreover, she had her brother slain by private treachery, and she destroyed the gods of her country and the sepulchres of her progenitors; and while she had received her kingdom from the first Caesar, she had the impudence to rebel against his son and successor and she corrupted Antony with her love-tricks as well as rendered him an enemy to his country, and made him treacherous to his friends, and by these means despoiled some of their royal authority, and forced others in her madness to act wickedly.' (25)
Once again this passage from Josephus at first glance is difficult to extract meaningful information from, but if we but review what it is actually telling us then we can learn something of both Apion's argument and Josephus' attempts to combat it.
Now the ostensible narrative of this passage is to chart the infighting of the Egyptian royal family between the famous Cleopatra, her sister Arsinoe and her brother Ptolemy Physco. In it we learn that the Alexandrians had sided with Physco in that struggle and that two of Cleopatra's principle commanders; Onias and Dositheus, were; according to Josephus, jewish. Further part of Cleopatra's army had been lead north by the jew Onias (after having deserted Ptolemy Physco's service for Cleopatra's) to besiege that city and that Ptolemy Physco having lead his army from Cyrene had defeated Onias and saved the city.
Further we are told that Ptolemy Physco targeted the jews as his enemies; as supporters of Cleopatra (remember Josephus tells us that the jews of Alexandria made a compact with Cleopatra while the rest of the population supported Ptolemy Physco), and lead them from Alexandria to a place to execution where they were stripped naked and were to have their heads crushed by drunken elephants (per the famous Indian method of execution). Now something obviously panicked or enraged the elephants at this point and elephants; as they were notorious for doing when they deployed by the armies of Carthage against Rome, and they rampaged through Ptolemy Physco's army rather than performing the executions as planned.
Josephus naturally interprets this as a miracle wrought by Yahweh to save the jews and further Ptolemy Physco's mistress; Irene, was allegedly much disturbed by a dream she had had; dreams at this time were believed to be one of the principle mediums through which the gods communicated their intentions and wishes to their worshippers and further a nightmare could forewarn a person of disaster on horizon, and she; by her relation to Ptolemy Physco, managed to persuade him to commute the death sentence of the jews. Josephus does not say precisely what Ptolemy Physco did with the jews afterwards, but it may reasonably suggested that he probably heavily fined them or confined himself to just executing the open partisans of Cleopatra rather than the whole jewish community as originally intended.
Now the reader may notice a similarity between this tale that Josephus tells and the Book of Esther as in it a gallows is erected by non-jewish minister Haman to kill the jews of Persia; lead by Mordechai, and the Persian king; at the insistence of his jewish mistress Esther, hangs Haman on those gallows and the jews massacre thousands of anti-jewish Persians in open reprisal.
If we compare this biblical archetype to the story that Josephus is peddling we can see that it fits it quite closely with Ptolemy Physco's (Haman's) plan to execute Onias (Mordechai) and the jews of Alexandria (Persia) is stayed at the point of execution and the intervention of Ptolemy Physco's mistress Irene (Esther), which then saves the jews from execution and kills many of the prosecutors of the jews by the means of execution they had set up for the jews in the form of the elephants (Haman's gallows). The execution of Ptolemy Physco is then performed by the ruler of Egypt (the Persian king) Cleopatra some years later.
As we can see while the story line is not exactly the same it does closely mirror the archetype laid out by the book of Esther. The parallel is made even more obvious when Josephus tells us that down to the day he wrote the jews of Alexandria celebrate a religious festival to honour this deliverance and the execution of their enemies, which of course can be taken as allusion to a form of the Purim festival that is celebrated to mark the jewish victory of Haman in Persia.
This intellectual convergence tells us two things.
Firstly that the story which Josephus is spinning about the episode with the jews of Alexandria is very likely contrived out of thin air by him; as he cites no actual sources for it, in order to give him an avenue to attack Apion's comment about the jews of Alexandria betraying the city to its enemies in this conflict.
Secondly that Josephus was a pious fraudster as he is using jewish religious stories from a completely different era and transliterating them into a time closer to his own as 'historical fact' in order to cover up and defend the behaviour of the jews of Alexandria.
We can see what Josephus is up to when we note that he doesn't deny the power of the jews in Egypt and in fact goes as far as to openly state the jews were integral to Cleopatra's campaign of succession as well as later noting that they were key supporters of the tyranny of Julius Caesar, (26) which is also confirmed by Suetonius (27) and suggested by the conduct of his nephew Augustus (or Octavian). (28)
This tells us that what I have termed the 'Ancient Israel Lobby' may have been in significant operation as early as the later years of the Roman Republic and that it may have learned its craft in Egyptian power politics and migrated; with the gradual shift in the balance of power in the Mediterranean, to Rome.
Apion seems to have argued something like this as Josephus clearly tells us that Apion charged that the jews worked in the interests of pointless factionalism at the Egyptian royal court and that as such they supported the weakest claim; that of Cleopatra, in the hope of causing the maximum amount of chaos and dissension in Egypt forcing both factions to increasingly rely upon them as mediators and leaders; which Josephus also explicitly states, and thus place them in a powerful position to exert influence upon Egyptian policy-making for their own benefit.
This is further illustrated by Josephus' assertion that Apion; correctly in his view, argued that the jews then betrayed Cleopatra when it suited them causing her ire to fall upon them as well. This nicely demonstrates that the jews did not 'believe' per se in any particular faction and were not engaging in the normal run-of-the-mill political factionalism; which dominates most societies and governmental systems, but rather were deliberately manipulating the political situation to their perceived benefit and trying; by supporting the weaker faction at any given time, to prolong the civil war and maximize their political and economic gain from it.
That Apion argued this seems all the more likely once we recall that Josephus tells us that Apion argued that the jews were a fifth column inside Alexandria and Egypt and worked not its interests, but rather their own and followed the commands and dictates of their religious leaders who were still; at this time, based in Jerusalem, but who had local representatives in Alexandria.
So thus we can see that Apion was arguing that the jews were exerting a disproportionate amount of political and social influence in relation to their numbers in the Egyptian kingdom and that further they were not interested in the welfare of the Egyptians or Greeks who lived there, but only in the welfare and furtherance of jews and international jewish interests.
Now before we leave this section of Josephus' text we have one more point that needs to be brought in Josephus' contradictory argument against Apion, which helps indicate the desperation of this jewish religious fanatic in his attacks on the anti-jewish intellectual school of thought emanating from Alexandria. This is to be found in what precisely Josephus says about Apion's argument that the jews worked against Ptolemy Physco and supported Cleopatra and then what he says about the jewish involvement with Cleopatra.
Now Josephus snorts in reply to Apion that the Greeks of Alexandria should be commending the jews for supporting Cleopatra as Ptolemy Physco was; due to the story of the miraculous escape of the jews from execution at his hands, the worst kind of tyrant (suggesting that the Greeks of Alexandria supported tyranny rather democracy, which is a snide and fairly vicious political dig at them).
Josephus then moves on to Cleopatra and again snorts derisively at Apion's contention about how the jews then proceeded to work against Cleopatra and she; understandably, became irate in regards to their activities and took unspecified actions against them in her kingdom. Josephus proceeds to claim that once again Apion should commend the jews as Cleopatra; per the Roman political propaganda about her put out later by Augustus, had deceived Anthony by her love-tricks (much like the goddess Circe tried to do with Homer's Machiavellian hero Odysseus in 'The Odyssey') and was an example of the listless and unmanly decadence of the East.
Now the reader will quickly notice that Josephus is trying to have his cake and eat it here as he suggests that the jews supported the tyrannical 'temptress of the East' Cleopatra against another Egyptian tyrant Ptolemy Physco and this should be to their credit, but then as soon as Ptolemy Physco had been defeated the jews turned on Cleopatra as well.
Now this clearly means that the jews supported tyranny as long as they felt it was in their interest to do so and not; as Josephus would have it, that the jews were supporters of democratic ideas (which Josephus; we should remember, falsely believed Aristotle had gleaned from a study of the jews). Further the jews can and should be seen here; as I have previously argued, as supporting the less powerful faction in a civil war in order to prolong that civil war and thus place themselves in the most favourable political and economic situation as; essentially, king-makers.
Josephus is clearly trying to nitpick his way out of a blind alley into which Apion's argument has forced him and in doing so he cannot escape without taking some intellectual damage. His method of doing this is simply to try to use the bÍte noire of Greek and Roman political theory; the concept of tyranny, to suggest that the jews fought against Eastern tyrants (i.e. those Greeks and Romans commonly believed were manifestly decadent and despotic in equal measure), but in doing so he tacitly concedes that the jews had sided with the tyranny of one ruler against the tyranny of another (i.e. they clearly were not actually opposed to the concept of tyranny as the Greeks and Romans were).
To do this he tries to maximise the revulsion of his Greek and Roman audience with the contrived story based on the Esther literary archetype to illustrate the Eastern despotism of Ptolemy Physco, while he quickly glosses over the Eastern despotism of Cleopatra only stopping to mention the widely-accepted political slanders laid at her door by Augustan political propaganda before moving on to Julius Caesar's philo-Semitic policy-making.
Thus we can see both that Josephus is truly the ancient archetype for the modern Zionist propagandist as a fanatical and often highly contradictory partisan of the jews and that Apion was able to confound even so able an opponent as Josephus into making very damaging admissions when the latter tried to counter the anti-jewish intellectual school of thought that emanated from Alexandria.
Josephus continues thus:
'And if Germanicus was not able to make a distribution of corn to all the inhabitants of Alexandria, that only shows what a barren time it was, and how great a want there was then of corn, but tends nothing to the accusation of the Jews; for what all the emperors have thought of the Alexandrian Jews is well known, for this distribution of wheat was no otherwise omitted with regard to the Jews, than it was with regard to the other inhabitants of Alexandria. But they still were desirous to preserve what the kings had formerly entrusted to their care, I mean the custody of the river; nor did those kings think them unworthy of having the entire custody thereof, upon all occasions.' (29)
Now here we can see another of Josephus' rhetorical tactics on graphic display in so far as he seeks to imply that because Germanicus; the brother of Tiberius and stepson of Augustus, did not only distribute corn to the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans of Alexandria, but to the jews as well. This means that the jews could not have been a fifth column; as Apion argues they are, as if they were or were judged by Germanicus in any way to disloyal to the Empire then they would have not been allocated corn by him.
This argument is obviously fallacious as it presupposes the superior judgement of Germanicus and that he could not have made a mistake; being unfamiliar with the situation in Alexandria, or could have decided to allocate corn evenly to Roman subjects irrespective of their status in order o prevent any potential revolts caused by food shortages (i.e. a reason external to the preponderance or lack of virtue among the jews).
However the reason Josephus makes this claim is of interest to us in so far as it clearly indicates that he was having an extraordinary amount of difficulty in rebutting the argument that Apion had made against the jews in relation to their being a fifth column in every empire in which they have resided. In making his rhetorical counter using Germanicus Josephus is once trying to use Roman historical prejudices and common beliefs to his intellectual advantage in order to make up for the massive intellectual disadvantage he is facing in the lack of evidence he has to rebut the actual arguments of Apion and the anti-jewish intellectual school of thought emanating from Alexandria.
Germanicus; for those unacquainted with Roman history, was largely regarded as the superior brother of the two in relation to Tiberius and was held to embody the virtues that Tiberius was held to have lacked and while the latter was held to be a tyrant: the former was held to be a true Roman 'man of people' so-to-speak.
In essence it is rather like Josephus' claims about Aristotle in so far as its intention is that whether true or not: it would suggest to his contemporary Greek and Roman readership that the jews were a virtuous and much maligned people who had only been prosecuted by tyrants and those lacking in virtue. And that as such the jews were the direct or indirect source of all; or at least much, of what was good in the world and thus should be treated as social equals and religious betters.
(25) Joseph. Cont. Ap. 2:5
(27) Suet. Jul. 84
(28) Harry Leon, 1960, 'The Jews of Ancient Rome', 1st Edition, Jewish Publication Society of America: Philadelphia, pp. 9-10
(29) Joseph. Cont. Ap. 2:5
This was originally published at the following address: http://semiticcontroversies.blogspot...-part-iii.html
|October 16th, 2012||#4|
Join Date: Aug 2010
Thanks for these articles on the Ancients and Jews, and for your site.
I'd like to offer that this "Ancient Israel Lobby" eventually gave rise to Christianity, and that it didn't begin with the Romans. It goes back at least as far as the Greek conquest; they gave both the Romans and the Jews the needed intellectual tools. The Jews used these tools to produce historiographies and ethno-propaganda in line with their beliefs about their purported superiority and ancientness aimed at their goyische occupiers, as you rightly point out. I'd also like to observe that some Biblical Minimalist scholars argue that what we know as "Bible Stories," which includes Exodus, were created after Alexander conquered them.
But only a few hundred years later, by the Roman period, Josephus can defend the "Slaves in Egypt" tale as if it were given and historical with an ancient pedigree. But there's every possibility that it is a fiction, one that itself arose as Jewish propaganda within the Greek milieu. Some argue that the Patriarch stories, which are essentially Greek Romances, were invented for the "translation" of the Septuagint; when Ptolemny II Philadelphius (allegedly) requested a copy of the Jewish scriptures for the Library at Alexandria, much of the "Books of Moses" were concocted and not simply "translated."
By the time Josephus is contra Apion, the pseudo-history of the Jews, with respect to their supposed Egyptian origins, has effectively already triumphed; the odious Josephus, and Hellenized Jewish intellectuals like him, are taking the game Jews just like themselves had played against the Greeks a couple of centuries earlier to the next level, building new propagandistic fictions on top of the old ones.