Lonesome Road: Diaspora Judaism
and again in this course, I've talked to you about "world" religions as
faiths can transcend a particular social and political
environment. Most of these faiths have had and still have many
millions and even billions of followers. There are more than two
billion Christians in the world today, more than a billion Moslems, and
nearly a billion Hindus. Judaism would seem a very minor faith:
14 or 15 million followers--hardly a world religion at all. Yet
Judaism does persist, and Judaism wields an influence on the world
completely disproportionate to the relatively small number of
of you perhaps know Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song:
you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree
Heres a list of people who are Jewish, just like you and me
David Lee Roth lights the menorrah
So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah
Guess who eats together at the Karnickey Deli
Bowzer from Sha-na-na, and Arthur Fonzerrelli
Paul Newman's half Jewish, Goldie Hawn's half too
Put them together, what a fine lookin' Jew!
You dont need Deck the Halls or Jingle Bell Rock
Cause you can spin the dreidl with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, both
Put on your yalmulka, its time for Hanukkah
The owner of the Seattle Supersonic-ahs celebrates Hanukkah
O.J. Simpson, not a Jew!
But guess who is, Hall of Famer Rod Carew, he converted!
We got Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby
Harrison Ford's a quarter Jewish, not too shabby!
Some people think that Ebeneezer Scrooge is
Well, he's not, but guess who is, all three stooges
more serious treatment of the phenonoma of Judaism's disproportional
influence on the world is Max Dimont's Jews, God, and History.
And then there are the many books less sympathetic to Judaism that
emphasisize the Jewish faith as part of a vast conspiracy to dominate
how are we to understand Jewish survival and influence?
helps some to see what happened to the Jews during the Babylonian
captivity and after their return from exile.
It's 587 BC.
The Judaean king Zedekiah rebels against
Nebuchadnezzar, the man who had put him on the throne.
It was a foolish
move. Nebuchadnezzar moved against him like a
winged lion, and the city of Jerusalsem soon had to capitulate.
Zedekiah had to watch while his sons were killed--and that's the last
thing he saw. Nebuchadnezzar's men gouged out his eyes, and made
him their captive. They then destory Jerusalem and the
temple. The deport the leaders and members of prominent
famililies, leaving only some of the poor to till the land.
civilization came to an end. Like the Hittites, the
Mittani, and so many other peoples, the Hebrews disappeared from
history, never to reise again. At least, that's how it should
have been. Without a homeland, without leaders, and with a long
tendency of blending into surrounding cultures anyway, the Jews should
simply have been assimilated into the dominent Babylyonian culture.
But that's not what
happened. Instead, among the Jews in
Babylon there arose a determination to go back and start again,
to re-establish their nation, to rebuild the city and the
sanctuary. And, amazingly enought, they
succeeded. Later Jews concluded their Passover celebrations
with the words, "hashana ha ba'a b'yeroshaliem," next year in
Jerusalem. That kind of sentiment was strong among
Babylonian-exile Jews as well.
For the Jews of the
exile and for the post-exilic Jewish community,
nothing seemed more important that the Jerusalem and the temple.
And in the long struggle to rebuild and maintain the city and the
sanctuary, something happend that transformed the jewish community and
made it possibel for the Jewish people to survive without either.
III. Factors helping Jews keep
their identity during exile
One key to Jewish
survival: the prophetic messages that preceded the
destruction of Jerusalem. Isaiah had predicted both the captivity
and eventual restoration. Jeremiah and Ezekiel had likewise
foretold both captivity and restoration. This meant that, first
of all, when Jerusalem was destroyed it was a confirmation of the
prophetic message, not a suggestion that God had somehow failed and was
weaker than the Babylonian gods. Also, the prophetic message mean
tthat a core group was commited to the promise of eventual return.
The story of Danieal
and his three friends tells us one important
way Jewish identity survived in Babylon. These four young men
determined to keep Jewish dietary law and (apparently) other ritual
observences. This would help a lot in keeping them a distinct
people even while dwelling in a land not their own, and the distinctive
Jewish diet is one of those factors that, thoughout Jewish history, has
helped them maintain their identify as a people.
It probably also
helped that Babylonian civilization itself was on
the brink of a great collapse--and the Jews could see the handwriting
on the wall. The *original* handwriting on the wall! Mene,
Mene, Tekel Uparsin. Sure enough, in 538 Babylon fell to the
IV. Cyrus and the Persians
The Persian king
Cyrus created the greates empire the world had yet
seen. It remained to be seen if Cyrus could hold that empire
together. The Persians were outnumbered 10 to 1 by subject
peoples, and it was important for them to secure the cooperation of
these people. They did so partly be force, putting down revolts
as swiftly as the Babylonians had. But the Persians also adopted
the wise strategy of using representatives of their many subject
peoples in the actual governance of their terrtiories. Further,
Cyrus claimed to be (and to a certain extent was) a better ruler for
the average person than the old "native" rulers he had replaced.
Cyrus got extra
Jewish support by allowing the Jews to go back and
restore Jerusalem and to begin the rebuilding ot the temple.
Cyrus seems to have favored the Jews in part because their worship of
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was similar to his worship of
Ahura Mazda, the wise Lord.
V. Zerubbabel and the beginnings of reconstruction
In 538 BC, a group
of Jews returned to start the work of
rebuilding. Among the leaders were Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
The former was appointed governor, the later high priest.
Zerubbabel was a descendent of David, and Jeshua a descendent of
Aaron. The right ruling family, and the right priestly family: a
good start. After some setbacks, the temple was rebuilt, and the
sacrifices and feasts commanded in the Torah could be kept once
VI. Ezra and Nehemiah
This whole episode
(Ezra 8-10) is disturbing to us, and seems
counter to the general Biblical idea of the permanence of
marriage. But maybe this was necessary to avoid the problem of
the reintroduction of idol worship. Note the problems
intermarriage had created for Israel during the time of the judges and
during the reign of Solomon. In any case, we see a key to lasting
Jewish survival: a reluctance to marry outside the faith.
the most important key to Jewish survival is the synagogue
tradition. Malachi notes (3:16-18) that those who fear the Lord
spoke often to
one another. What he seems to be talking about is those who
really care about serving God making the study of scripture together a
high priority. This almost certainly refers to synagogue-type
makes Ezra the head of the "Great Synagogue" a
group of 120 men who focused on scripture study in Babylon, then came
to Jerusalem and studied the scriptures there. In Babylon, the
scripture had had to be the focus of worship: no temple for
sacrifice! But the habit of meeting to study scripture together
continued even after temple sacrifice had begun again.
The priests are,
theoretically, the official teachers of the law,
but the priest now is rivaled by the rabbi. And the prophets?
Gone altogether. Malachi begins in the typical prophetic fashion,
"The burden of the word of the Lord to Malachi." But the end of the
book is an exhortation to study the law and to wait for the day of
Elijah the prophet. The hint is that there will be no more
prophetic word until the time of Elijah's return, and the coming of
(part of the Talmud) says specifically that the
spirit departed with the last of the prophets, and that the prophetic
voice was silenced. The inter-testamental books (like Maccabbees)
also reflect the idea that God, for at time at least, was no longer
speaking through prophets. I Maccabbees 14:41, for instance, "The
Jewish people and their priests have made the following decision.
Simon shall be their permanent teacher and high priest until a true
prophet arises." The writer says this was inscribed on a bronze
plaque and put on pillar on Mt. Zion. So, without a prophetic
voice, where do you turn to learn God's will? I Mac. 3:48 says
the Jews, "Unrolled a scroll of the law to learn about things for whom
the Gentiles consult images of their gods."
Around 330 BC,
Alexander the Great destroyed the Persian empire and
created an even larger empire of his own. The empire didn't
last: Alexander's successors split the empire among themselves.
The Ptolemies took over in Egypt, while the Seleucids took over
Syria. The kings of each of these dynasties all dreamed of
being like Alexander with a universal empire. Of course, that
meant taking out their rivals, and for the Ptolemies and Seleucids
their conflicts would take place--in Palestine!
Now both Ptolemies
and Seleucids wanted Jewish support, and were
willing to cut deals with the Jews. But it was a really tricky
business to decide which alliance to make. And, since their were
palace rivalries in both Syrian and Egypt, one had to be careful not
only to choose Ptolemies or Seleucids, but to choose which of the
factions within each dynasty was the best to support--if any.
with Greeks was, in some ways, more dangerous to
Jewish survival than enmity.
Well, Greek culture
was enormously attractive. Plays, poetry,
art, history, philosophy--lots to admire and love. And, on top of
all this, sports! The Greeks built gymnasiums wherever they went,
and for Jewish young men the temptation to want to go hang out at the
gym was tremendous. The problem was, though, the the gymnasium
dress code. "Gymnos" means naked--and Greek athletics were done
in the nude. That meant that, in the gym, a Jewish young man was
markedly different--circumcision was obvious. And it was
certainly easier to fit in if one wasn't circumcised or if one
underwent the painful process of having the circumcision reversed.
The temptation to
assimilate was a tough one not to succumb
to. But an even greater danger occurred with the rise of a
Seleucid king particularly eager to make himself a 2nd Alexander:
Antiochus IV, better known by his nickname, Antiochus Epiphanes.
Great Tribulation I: Antiochus Ephiphanes
manifestation, and it was a nickname chosen by
Antiochus because he considered himself to be a manifestation of the
god Zeus. Jews (and others) changed this to Antiochus Epimanes,
Antiochus the Madman.
At first, Antiochus'
major target was the Ptolemies, and he launched
a semi-successful invasion of Egypt to try to cripple has main rivals
to supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean. But the campaign
proved very expensive, and so Antiochus launched a totally unprovoked
attack on the temple in Jerusalem, plundering its treasures just so he
could finance his military campaigns.
Two years later,
still short of money, Antiochus decided to put
Judea under tribute. Once in control, Antiochus decided to crush the
Jewish faith. He set up an image of himself as Zeus in the temple
at Jerusalem, and sacrificed a pig on the altar. He set out to
destroy every copy of the scripture he could fine, and possessing any
of the Jewish holy books became a capital offense. If a mother
had a baby boy circumcised, both mother and child would be killed, the
dead baby hung around her neck.
Many Jews gave in
easily--even enthusiastically. But others
resisted, including the family of the priest Mattathias.
Maccabees (Hasmoneans) and the struggle for
Mattathias was a priest in the town of Modin. Antiochus had sent his representative to compel all to make pagan sacrifice. Mattathias himself killed the first Jew who started to comply with this order, kills Antiochus' messenger, and prepares Modin for resistence. Elsewhere, there is similar resistence to Antiochus' demands.
Antiochus adopted the strategy of attacking on the sabbath, in one instance killing 1000 Jews who, since it was the Sabbath, felt they would have been breaking God's law if they defended themselves.
concede this advantage: if they had to fight on
the Sabbath to save their lives, they would.
Mattathias sons each in their turns become leaders of their people. It is well worth your time to read of the heroism of Judah, Jonathan, John, and Simon. Judah leads the way to the first great victories over the Syrians. He captures Jerusalem, takes back the temple, tears down the polluted altar (where the abomination of desolation, i.e., pig slaughter to Antiochus, had been made) and redidicates the temple. The Jews set up an annual feast to commemorate the victory over Antiochus and the cleansing of the temple--Hanukkah.
combined political and spiritual leadership.
They served as priests, but also as "ethnarchs" and, later, as
kings. Unfortunately, they didn't get complete support--and they
didn't deserve it either. Alexander Jannaeus was particularly
ruthless. In 95 BC, he crucified 800 of his Jewish opponents,
killing their wives and children in front of them while they died
agonizing deaths--and while he and his concubines held a big party!
for control in Judea meant a constant search for
allies, and various Jewish groups made alliance with Syrians,
Egyptians, and even Spartans! But the most sought after ally
eventually was Rome. Rome was powerful (a big advantage) and too
far away (so the Jews thought) to actually want to control Judea
themselves. The trouble was that gaining support from Rome was a
tricky, tricky guessing game. This was the period of the Roman
Revolution, and a Jewish leader who wanted Roman support had to guess
which Roman faction was going to win out. Do you support Caesar
or Pompey? Later, do you support Antony or Octavian?
Well, to make a long
and fascinating story short and dull [nicely
summarized here], I'll just say that the Hasmoneans ended up
guessing wrong. Who guessed right? Not a Jewish family at
all, but one of the despised Edomites.
In 63 BC, Pompey the
Great annexed much of the eastern
Mediterranean. During his campaign, he besieged and took
Pompey didn't want
to control Judaea directly, and he was willing to
let the Hasmoneans continue as "ethnarchs," i.e., leaders of the
people. But factional strife continued...and a new problem.
In 40 BC the Parthians took Jerusalem. When the Romans took the
city back, they put in power a clever but ruthless politician,
Herod the Great.
As an Edomite, Herod
had potential problems getting the Jews to
accept his leadership. He married into a Jewish priestly family,
and added greatly to the temple to try to gain popularity. But he was
an extremely cruel man, and not much liked by his subjects. He
served Roman interests well enough, though, and, at his death, the
Romans divided his kingdom among his sons.
particularly successful in Judea, and the Romans ended
up using Roman governors (e.g., Pilate, Felix, and Festus) to try to
bring a bit more stability. It didn't work: the particular men
sent were below average in ability and insensitive to Jewish popular
sentiment. Tension increased, and it was clear that
something was going to give.
Different strategies for survival
The Jews adopted
several different strategies for dealing with their
A. The Sadducees (who included most of the priests and particularly the high priests) favored cooperation with whatever power happened to be on the throne, whether it be a Herodian or a Roman governor. As long as temple-sacrifice continued (and they maintained their own privileges and wealth) that was good enough.
B. The Pharisees (who dominated the synagogues) stressed adherence to the law in one's personal life: proper diet and rigid following of the sabbath law were essential to keeping the faith. Separate yourself by lifestyle, and that's good enough.
Essenes, who regarded the temple priesthood as
hopelessly corrupt, went out into the wilderness areas and set up
communes where they could live their lives free from interference by
either Roman or Jewish authorities.
D. The Zealots thought armed revolt the only answer, and were determined to drive out the Romans by force. Assassination and terrorist attacks, not just on Romans, but on Jews too, were the ticket. Stir things up enough, provoke a war, and hope for the best.
Great Tribulation II: The Destruction of Jerusalem
In AD 66, things
reached crisis stage. The zealot types did
succeed in provoking a war with Rome. In the midst of this war,
there was essentially a civil war among the Jews themselves.
Disunited, and doing horrible things to each other, the Jews couldn't
hold out against the Romans despite the advantages of a magnificently
fortified Jerusalem. Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 AD, and,
within a few years, the Romans had subdued all other pockets of Jewish
resistance. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, and we have
the beginnings of the great diaspora, the great dispersion of the
Jewish people After one last desperate revolt (the Bar Kochbar
Rebellion in 135 AD), the Romans, fed up, turned Jerusalem into Aelia
Capitolina, an entirely pagan city. Jews weren't permitted to
even set foot there or anywhere in Judea. The diaspora was
to an end. Like the Hittites, the
Mittani, and so many other peoples, the Hebrews disappeared from
history, never to rise again. At least, that's how it could have
been. Without a homeland, without leaders, and with a long
blending into surrounding cultures anyway, the Jews should simply have
been assimilated into the dominent Roman culture.