25 May 2015

Fuck you very much

(Written for Memorial Day 2015.)

to strifemongers
to chickenhawks
to war profiteers
to all those whose idea of patriotism
is sending out young people to die
trying to kill other young people
trying to kill them: 


to all those more concerned
with  the profits and interests of corporations
than the cost of permanent war
on individual humans and societies,
including our own: 


to all those who sow strife and dissension
to divide humans from each other
within artificial invisible boundaries
created for the sole purpose
of dividing turf
between wealthy and powerful elites
who then turn those same humans
against other humans on the "other side"
of those artificial boundaries
at the mercy of wealthy and powerful elites
more similar to the elites on the other side
than to their own humans,
including how they manipulate those humans:


to all who believe corporations are people
whose money is speech
and whose rights to religious freedom
trump that of actual humans:


To all whose ideology
trumps concern for human welfare,
for liberty, equality, and social justice:


And the horse you rode in on.

23 May 2015

The One (poem)

The only shrine
In which I worship
Is the temple
Of your body
Your soul
My supreme being
Supreme not superior
My one and only deity
Seal of my heart
Flesh of my flesh
My breath
My life

20 May 2015

Holy Land, Holy Frauds

The story of the “holy frauds” that dot the “holy land” begins with the end of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.

The Jewish War in short

The leaders of the Jewish side in the war included:

Ananus ben Ananus, former high priest, killed in Temple siege by Judean Zealots, 68 CE
John ben Levi of Giscala, leader of the Galilean Zealots
Eleazar ben Simon, leader of the  Judean Zealots
Simon bar Giora, peasant leader in Judea
Eleazar ben Hanania, leader of Temple forces after Ananus
Menachem ben Yehuda, leader of the Sikarii
Eliezer ben Ya’ir, leader of the Sikarii in Masada
Matthias, leader of the 20,000 Idumeans
500 Adiabene (Jewish kingdom in northern Mesopotamia) troops, fight mostly with Bar Giora

The Zealots were not simply “freedom fighters”, but ideological theocratist fanatics who would today be called “terrorists”.  The modern equivalent would be the Taliban.  The Sikarii were even worse, more comparable to Al Qaida or ISIS.

Regarding the fractiousness, the Judean Zealots the Galilean Zealots fought each other, and both fought the Sikarii.  The Judean Zealots were at enmity with the Temple Guard, and carried out the siege of the temple in which Ananus ben Ananus was killed.  The Idumeans showed up answering a plea from high priest Ananus to support the Temple Guard, but arrived too late.  They then turned around and fought with the Judean Zealots against the Galilean Zealots and the Sikarii.  Simon bar Giora’s peasants and Adiabene troops tried to stay out of the fighting.

The Siege of Jerusalem was a disaster for its defenders for two reasons.  First, the leaders of the various factions were more interested in fighting amongst themselves than preparing to defend against the Roman army, much like the leaders of the “Northern Alliance” in Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet army until the Taliban threw them out.  Second, the craziest group of fanatics, the Sikarii, burned the city’s massive stores of food supplies hoping to give the populace no choice but to fight.

Those caught by the Romans trying to escape were crucified around the city walls.  After the city fell, those not crucified were deported to western North Africa, where they became the ancestors of today’s Maghrebim.

In the aftermath

The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE after the end of the siege was total.  According to Josephus, who was there, the only structures of the city left standing were three towers and the western wall of the city.  Not of the temple mound, which was on the eastern side, but the western wall of the city.  As for the temple mound itself, that had been completely dismantled, by captives, in order for the Romans to recover the gold melted and seeped through the cracks in the stone floor when the temple was immolated.  Not only had the temple been the rebellion’s headquarters, it had served as the putative state’s treasury, and the Romans wanted the gold.

The Fortress Antonia remained, of course, as did the shrine of Serapis and the Asclepieon next to it.  The Asclepieion was the five-sided “pool of Bethezda” mentioned in the Gospel of John.

Hadrian’s new city

In about 122, Hadrian began building a new city where Jerusalem had once been, a “colonia” for retired soldiers that he named Aelia, dedicating it the the triad of deities at the top of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, Juno, and Minverva, for which the full name became Aelia Capitolina.

A decade after the building had begun, a messianic pretender named Simon bar Kokhba rose up with his ideologist Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph at his side.  Akiva confirmed Simon’s status as the Messiah ben David and urged Jews to follow him.  After the rebels’ defeat three years later, the leaders, including Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva, suffered hideously torturous deaths.

While we are on the subject of holy frauds, the supposed martyr Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel, one of the alleged Ten Martyrs of the Roman honored every year on Yom Kippur, really died during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and at the hands of the Zealots, not the Romans.  At the time, he was the Nasi, the head of the Great Sanhedrin.  The poem read on Yom Kippur places him in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba War and portrays him as being beheaded by his captors.  There was another Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel who was at the last stand fortress of Betar, but he escaped to become Nasi himself in 142 CE when the Sanhedrian was reinstated.

Aftermath of Bar Kokhba’s revolt

The provinces of Syria (which included Phoenicia, Iturea, and Galilee as well) and Judea (which also took in Samaria, Idumea, and Philistia) were merged together as Syria-Palestina.

After the Bar Kokhba War, Hadrian finished the city in Roman style, its walls those now considered part of the Old City. 

In place of the former temple mound and temple, he constructed a Capitolina acropolis surrounded by an impressive wall of massive stones.  On its summit, he built a temple to Jupiter and another to, jointly, Juno and Minerva. 

The shrine to Serapis adjacent to Fortress Antonia expanded into a full-scale temple dedicated to Serapis (who was syncretistically also Asclepius), Isis, and Harpocrates.  The Asclepieion was expanded and embellished, and pools dedicated to Serapis and Fortuna added.

Meanwhile, in the northwest of the city, there was a temple to Venus above a grotto that also served for Adonis worship (and Tammuz before that) and a temple to Mercury in the Upper City in the southwest.

In nearby Bethlehem, a cave that had been honored as the birthplace of Tammuz-Adonis became the birthplace for the protagonist of the fairly new mystery cult of Mithras, hugely popular with large numbers of Roman soldiers.

Enter Empress Mother Helena

Helena was Constantine’s mother and one of the major influences in his decision to issue the Edict of Milan in 313 that granted official toleration to Christianity.  Not long afterward, she fulfilled her devout wish to tour the holy land.

At her visit, the temple of Jupiter became the site of the Jewish Temple, the temple of Juno and Minerva became the site of the Royal Stoa, the temple of Venus and grotto of Adonis became the site of the Holy Sepulchre, and the temple of Mercury became the site of the Upper Room.  In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Mithras became the birthplace of Jesus.

The temple of Jupiter became a Christian basilica then Al Aqsa Mosque, while the temple of Juno and Minerva became a church also, then the Dome of the Rock, supposed site of the near sacrifice of Isaac by his own father Abraham to get in good with the Almighty.

Enter the Ari

In the fifteenth century, the Ari (Isaac Luria) declared that the western wall the Hadrian built for the compound of the temples of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva was the western wall of the Jewish temple compound, even though that had been entirely dismantled.  This despite the fact that Josephus’ eyewitness testimony.  Now known as the Wailing Wall.

In summary

All the holy sites in the holy land are holy frauds.  The Christian sites are all former pagan temples and shrines, and the Wailing Wall is in reality that supporting a former Roman pagan temple compound.  Even the supposed makeshift altar at the Dome of the Rock, since Abraham and Isaac are mythological.  Holy sites, relics, and pilgrimages are all about tourist dollars and feeding the local economy, whether in Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Salt Lake City, Canterbury, or any other such attraction.  Those who imagine themselves sanctified by such tripe already have their reward.  It’s all but a chimera, and in time will be dust in the wind.

19 May 2015

Palestine and the Jews in the days of Jesus the Nazorean

Political events during the Hellenistic era

The politics of Judea, Samaria, Egypt, Syria, Rome, and surrounding kingdoms set the stage for the events of the First Century CE.

The so-called Oniad dynasty began with the ascension to the high priesthood at Jerusalem of Onias I ben Jaddua in 320 BCE, just over after Alexander’s conquest.  Onias was, in fact, the son of his predecessor, who was the scion of a ling unbroken since Joshua ben Jehozadak, who became high priest about 515 BCE.  But Onias I opened up the door to Hellenizing ideas and practices which later factions used as wedge issues.

In 242 BCE, Joseph ben Tobiah was appointed tax collector for the entire region of Palestina and founded the Tobiad dynasty, which became rivals to the Oniads for political control. 

Political divisions in Iudeia, as the province was known to the Diadochi successors of Alexander, revolved around pro- versus anti- camps on the subject of Hellenism and over being pro-Ptolemaic versus pro-Seleucid.  While Samareia shared the latter dispute amongst themselves, as a whole they embraced Hellenism and its cosmopolitan culture with open arms, its land and people being traditionally more liberal, with the Jews were generally more conservative.

The Great Sanhedrin, the deliberative body of Iudeia, separated the post of its head, called the Nasi (literally, Prince) from that of the high priesthood in 191 BCE.

After the First Judean Civil War, 159-153 BCE, the Hasmoneans came to power as nativists and anti-Hellenists, but they ended up even more Hellenist than their Oniad predecessors or even their Samaritan cousins.

By 116 BCE, Seleucid power in the region had weakened to the point where the current high priest, John Hyrcanus, was able to proclaim himself Basileus (King).

Just to review, Hyrcanus conquered Idumea in 110 BCE and Samaria in 108 BCE.  Aristobolus I what became Galilee in 104 BCE.  Alexander Janneus conquered Perea in 90 BCE and formally annexed Galilee in 81 BCE.

Ethnic groups in Palestine in the first century CE

Jews and Samaritans had a rough parity in at the time of Isho the Nazarene, alias Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  There were about 2 million of each.  Each of the two major groups also had a rough parity in Palestine, at around half a million each. 

The half million Jews in Palestine were divided into three ethnic subgroups: Jews proper, Idumeans, and Galileans.  In first century Palestine, the term “Jews” had two meanings: first, it meant the followers of the Israelite religion who were not Samaritans; second, it meant the “racially pure” Jews who were neither converts nor descendants of converts.

Jews proper were the second group, the “racially pure” descendants of those who had always lived in Yehud/Iudeia or who returned from exile in the east.  Idumeans were descendants of those in Idumea conquered in 110 BCE.  Galileans descended from Itureans and exiles from Judea.  Pereans descended from Nabateans.  To everyone outside Palestine, or in Palestine but outside the Jewish community, all four of these groups were simply Jews.

The Samaritans, the descendants of those who had always lived in or were originally from Samerina/Samareia, either had no such subgroups or they have gone unrecorded.  They also descended to some small degree from central Mesopotamians and Macedonians who had been imported as colonists by one imperial power or another.

The Diaspora

In the Diaspora, Jews had no such divisions, or if they did their common links were more important outside Palestine.  And while some disparity between Jews and Samaritans was noted in Alexandria, elsewhere in the Diaspora the two seem to have been intertwined. 

The largest Diaspora community of Jews was in Egypt, where the number of Israelites was equal to that in Palestine, one million, centered on Alexandria, its population allotted two of the city’s five sections.  Those one million almost certainly included a number of Samaritans.  The second largest expat community was in Syria, with the two biggest centers in Antioch and Damascus. 

To the east, there were large groups in Babylonia and in Iran, particularly in Hyrcania, the northern satrapy made up of modern Gilan, Mazandaran, and part of northern Khorasan.  There were communities in every major city across Anatolia, in Cyprus, Cyrenaica, Greece, Italy, and the coastal regions of France and Spain.

Both Jews and Samaritans had substantial presences in Rome, and later Constantinople, the population in Rome estimated at 10% of the total.  At the time of Octavius Augustus, the population of the city was about 1,250,000, of which 10% would be 125,000.

The Samaritan Diaspora followed much the same pattern as that of the Jews.

In 15 CE, the royal family of Adiabene (Arbil), a client kingdom of the Arsacid (Parthian) Empire of Iran gained full independence, and declared their realm officially Jewish.  Adiabene supported the rebels in the Great Jewish Revolt with money and supplies, and even sent an armed contingent to break the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE that arrived too late.  The kingdom led the struggle against Trajan when he invaded northern Mesopotamia in 115 CE, which coincided with the Kitos War in which the Jewish populations of Cyrenaica, Cyprus, Egypt, and Mesopotamia (the Roman province in the south) rose against Rome.  For Adiabene, the war ended in 117 CE with it as part of the new Roman province of Assyria.

The survivors of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73 CE became the founders of the Jewish communities in western North Africa later known as the Maghrebim.  The Bar Kokhba War of 132-135 spurred emigration of Jews from Palestine into the Arabian Peninsula, where they begat the Temanim in Yemen, Aden, Habban, Hadramaut, and Oman in southern Arabia as well as the three Jewish tribes of Medina and the ten Jewish tribes in the Hejaz.

Jews and Samaritans

Both Jews and Samaritans worshipped at local synagogues, which in the Diaspora were called proseuches from the third century BCE through the first century CE.  Both used the same lunar calendar.  Both observed the Sabbath and the three great festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Booths), as well as Yom Kippur.

One of their main differences was how membership in each group was inherited.  Jews were mostly matrilineal, while Samaritans were entirely patrilineal.  The change for the Jews dates back to a prescription of the Mishna in the second century BCE.  Jews also accused Samaritans of not being racially pure enough, while Samaritans accused Jews of corrupting the religion of Yahuweh with innovation.

Jewish sects

At the top of Jewish society under the Roman Empire were the Temple and the Great Sanhedrin, the High Priest being top official at the former, the Nasi over the latter.  The Temple shared the top of Mount Moriah with the Royal Stoa, where the Great Sanhedrin met and where the banking and law courts were located. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that male Jews, at least in Palestine, wore their tefillin and tzitzit as part of their daily attire.

The Sadducees were the religious faction mostly of the wealthy and powerful.  They held sacred only the five books of the Torah, like the Samaritans.  They were matrilineal, and either believed there was no afterlife or taught that it was irrelevant to conduct on Earth.  Their power base was the Temple in Jerusalem, where they held the high priesthood.

The Boethusians were either a splinter of the Sadducees or the latter’s leading family, because their doctrines were the same, Torah-only, no afterlife, etc.

The Pharisees were by far the largest sect of the Jews in Palestine.  In addition to the Torah, they accepted the Prophets and the Writings, though these were not yet codified.  In addition, they followed the Mishna, or Oral Torah.  They also framed the Jewish doctrine of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, or Holy Spirit.  They fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and they definitely wore their tefillin and tzitzit daily. 

Of the main sects, the Pharisees were the ones most eager to convert Gentiles.  They had members in several communities of the Diaspora.  Two major factions developed in the early first century CE, Bet Hillel (House of Hillel) and Bet Shammai (House of Shammai), that became almost separate sects. 

The power base of the Pharisees was in the Great Sanhedrin, where they held the seat of Nasi (its head) exclusively.  By maintaining the Great Sanhedrin and the Palestinian Patriachate after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Pharisees gave birth to modern Rabbinic Judaism.

The Essenes differed from other Jews in Palestine in a number of respects.  First, they may have been patrilineal.  They also followed a solar rather than lunar calendar.  They had a highly developed astrology and an elaborate angelology.  They valued celibacy, though they did not require it, and they were mostly vegetarians.  They forbade oaths and animal sacrifice.  They practiced voluntary poverty and daily immersion.  In addition to the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, they had several others works, some unique to their sect, as scriptures, such as Manual of Discipline, the Damascus Document, and the War of the Sons of Light and Sons of Darkness.  They lived in common where possible, in cities throughout the Near East, and their most important center was the community at Qumran.  

Documents found at the site show that their autonym was Ebionim (“Poor Ones”).  They also called themselves followers of the Way, the Holy Ones (“saints”), Children of Light, and a few other monikers.  Collectively they called themselves the Yahad (“community”).

The Bene Sedeq were a small sect claimed by some Karaites as their forerunners.  Many argue that the latter (Karaites) have to have such antecedents as they have remain patrilineal while the rest of Jews have been matrilineal since the second century BCE.  The Karaites also do not wear tefillin, though they do wear tzitzit, and do not accept the Mishna.

The Hemerobaptists were a sect that believed daily baptism was necessary to be cleansed of sin, but on the other hand they did not believe in an afterlife.

The Nasareans were forerunners of the Mandeans.  This sect, found mostly in Perea, was strictly vegetarian.  They followed the same calendar and observed the Sabbath.  They believed in all the Patriarchs, but they shunned the Torah.  The Mandeans of today reject Jesus the Nazarene for John the Baptist.

The Therapeutae of Philo lived communally in the desert near Alexandria and were widespread across the Mediterranean world, doubtlessly including Palestine.  They used the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, and some writings unique to themselves.  They assembled weekly for worship and sermons in synagogues divided by sex, and every seven weeks held communal meals serving each other.

The Herodians believed Herod the Great was the long-awaited Messiah.

The Hellenistai used Greek instead of Hebrew in their Scriptures and worship.  They produced the Septuagint as their Tanakh, and it contains more books than the Hebrew canon.  They were more cosmopolitan and syncretistic to varying degrees, and very liberal in their iconography in their synagogues.  By far the largest group, they were overwhelmingly in the Diaspora, but there were some in Palestine also.  The Diaspora counterpart to the synagogue from the third century BCE thru the first century CE was the proseuche; after that the name synagogue took over.

The additional books to the Hebrew canon contained in the Septuagint include: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus or Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira), Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, additions to Esther, and additions to Daniel (Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon).  Some copies also include III Maccabees, IV Maccabees, Odes of Solomon, Prayer of Manasseh, and I Enoch.

Converts and followers

Most Jewish sects, but especially the Pharisees, eagerly converted Gentiles.  Inside Palestine, a full convert was called a ger tzedek, and in the Diaspora a proselyte.  A worshipper of Yahuweh who followed the seven Noahide Laws without fully converting was called a ger toshav in Palestine and a theophobe (God-fearer) in the Diaspora.  The latter in modern times are referred to in English as a righteous Gentile.

Noahide Laws

There were seven of these: 1. Do not commit idolatry; 2. Do not blaspheme; 3. Do not murder; 4. Do not engage in sexual immorality; 5. Do not steal; 6. Do not eat of a live animal; 7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure justice.

Samaritans and their sects

The four important points of the Samaritan version of the Israelite religion were One God (Yahuweh), the Torah, the prophet Moses, and Mount Gerizim as the chosen place for the center of Yahuweh worship.  They have the Samaritan Chronicle, much of which corresponds to the Book of Joshua, but they do not consider it sacred.

The Sebuaeans observed Pesach and the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread) in late summer, Shavuot in the fall, and Sukkot in the spring.

The Dositheans, named for their founder, Dositheus, reputed to be the teacher of Simon Magus, believed in the afterlife and practiced asceticism, vegetarianism, and celibacy.

The Gorothenes are given in a couple of sources as a sect, but nothing is said about that which makes them separate.


The Hypsistarians, “worshippers of God Most High”, were a group of strict monotheists who lived and practiced across Anatolia and the southern shores of the Black Sea from 200 BCE to 400 CE.  They called the deity they worshipped Hypsistos, a term found for the Hebrew deity in the Septuagint, and their beliefs may have originated from the conflation of Zeus Sabazios with Yahweh Tzevaot.  They did not follow the Torah, much less the Mishna.

Jewish Christian sects

Although these sects are certainly post-Jesus, they originated in Palestine shortly after his departure from the scene, basing themselves on how they perceived his teachings.  These are included as a footnote to the description of first century Judaism.

The Ebionites were circumcised, observed the Sabbath, celebrated the three festivals, considered Jerusalem their holy city, and would only accept at their tables Gentiles who had converted to Judaism.  Some practiced vegetarianism.  They rejected Jesus’ pre-existence, virgin birth (most but not all), divinity, and the atoning nature of his death.  Many Ebionite rejected his physical resurrection.  They accepted the Torah, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Gospel of the Ebionites in Hebrew, which was very similar to the Gospel of Matthew.  They also produced the Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies.

The Nazarenes were very close to the Ebionites, but they accepted the virgin birth.  They had their own gospel, the Gospel of the Nazarenes.

The Hebrews believed in the pre-existence of Jesus, the incarnation, and the virgin birth.  They had their own gospel, the Gospel of the Hebrews, written in Greek.  It spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Divine Mother and portrayed Jesus as appearing first to James the Just, his brother, after the resurrection.  This sect was probably based in Egypt.

The Osseans, or Elchasaites, were from Perea.  Among them, celibacy was forbidden, marriage mandated.  They reject the writings of Paul, the Apostles, and the Prophets, and followed instead the Book of Elchasai as their primary source.

The Cerintheans were a quasi-Gnostic sect in the Roman province of Asia (formerly Phrygia in western Anatolia) who believed the universe was created by a demiurge who was good (as opposed to the evil demiurge of Valentius), distinguished between Jesus and the Christ (which they said descended on him at the baptism), had their own gospel similar to Matthew, accepted all the Jewish scriptures, worshipped the same god of the Jews from the Tanakh, and instructed his followers to follow the halakha of the Torah.


The Gnostics were extremely diverse, in several sects mostly originating among Jews and Samaritans from the late first century.  They are included here because they worshipped in synagogues, even though most of their sects rejected both the Tanakh and the Jewish god.  Often the various sects were a blend of Judaism in the negative and of various Hellenistic philosophies, such as Platonism, Stoicism, and Pythagoreanism.  Creation of the world by a demiurge was a primary feature, and matter was usually considered evil.  The sect called the Simonians are of particular interest since they were supposedly founded by the Samaritan figure in the Acts of the Apostles called Simon Magus.

Apocalyptic and popular Judaism

Palestine and much of Judaism was under the influence of apocalyptic visions of utopian and dystopian futures.  Much of this came out in the forms of literature imitating scriptures.

The apocalyptic, of which the Daniel is a prime example, and pseudepigraphic, of which Daniel is also a prime example, literature of this period provides additional insight into the true ideas of the religion of the Jews at the time.  Some of the more prominent examples include the Assumption of Moses, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, Jubilees, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Martyrdom of Isaiah.  These books were widely popular at the time, some quoted directly or referenced implicitly in the New Testament as well as being found at Qumran.

Others found or mentioned by Church Fathers include: 3 Enoch, 2 Baruch, 3 Baruch, 4 Baruch, 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, 5 Ezra, 6 Ezra,  5 Maccabees, 6 Maccabees, 7 Maccabees, 8 Maccabees, 1 Meqabyan, 2 Meqabyan, 3 Meqabyan, Adam Octipartite, Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Adam, Apocalypse of Elijah, Apocalypse of Sedrach, Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Apochryphon of Jacob and Joseph, Apocryphon of Melchizedek, Apocryphon of the Ten Tribes, Ascension of Moses, Book of Asaf, Book of Noah, Cave of Treasures, Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, Apocyphon of Jeremiah, Eldad and Modad, Enochic book of Giants, Epistle of Rehoboam, Apocalypse of Daniel, Apocalypse of Ezra, History of Joseph, History of the Rechabites, Jannes and Jambres, Joseph and Aseneth, Ladder of Jacob, Letter of Aristeas, Life of Adam and Eve, Lives of the Prophets, Prayer of Jacob, Prayer of Joseph, Psalms of Solomon, Questions of Ezra, Revelation of Ezra, Rule of the Congregation, Rule of the Blessing, Signs of the Judgment, Sword of Moses, Testament of Abraham, Testament of Isaac, Testament of Jacob, Testament of Job, Testament of Solomon, Treatise of Shem, Vision of Ezra, Visions of Heaven and Hell, and Words of Gad the Seer.

The point of sharing all these names is to demonstrate just how much first century Judaism was nothing like the picture we get from the New Testament or from the Talmud.

Paganism in first century Palestine

Palestine in the first century was not the haven of heaven as it is often portrayed in movies, theology courses, sermons, popular religion, etc.  According to Josephus, the “haven of heaven” was anything but; he coining of the word “theocracy” to describe the state under which he lived (and suffered) until 70 CE was not a compliment.

There was very much paganism, some syncretistic, some purely pagan, even at the heart of Judea in Jerusalem. 

For example, Plutarch and Tacitus describe Jews engaging in Dionysus worship as portrayed in II Maccabees.

As in the past, Tammuz was worshipped in widely in Palestine, mostly in the syncretistic form of Adonis.  In fact, the cave in Bethlehem now celebrated as the birthplace of Jesus served that function for Adonis-Tammuz in the first century, and later for Mithras.

In the city of Sebaste (Samaria), there was a temple dedicated to Serapis and Isis from the second century BCE; keep in mind that the Samaritans holy site was Mount Gerizim.  In the early second century, it was rededicated to Demeter and Persephone.  It also hosted an Augustaeum, a temple to the divine Augustus, and a temple to Kore, the maiden form of Persephone.

The capital city of Iudaea province, Caesarea Maritimi, sported a Mithraeum, a temple complex to the god Mithras.  Mithras was a Mediterranean mystery deity, only partially based on the Iranian god Mitra.

The five-sided pool of Bethesda depicted the Gospel of John was actually an Asclepieion, a healing pool dedicated to the god of healing, Asclepius.  It was adjacent to the Fortress Antonia, which abutted the Temple Mount.  Asclepius, as the healer, was often given the title “Soter”, or Savior.  Herod Agrippa I, King of the Jews 41-44 CE, constructed a shrine to Asclepius there.

After the Bar Kokhba War, Hadrian constructed a full scale Temple of Asclepius and Serapis at the site, which included the small healing pools of the Asclepieion, a large pool dedicated to Serapis and another to Fortuna. 

This Serapeum was included in his new, entirely pagan, city of Aelia Capitolina.  He also rebuilt the former Temple Mount, but with temples to Jupiter on one hand and to Juno and Minerva on the other on its top.  There was a temple to Venus above a grotto that also served for Asclepius worship, and a temple to Mercury in the Upper City.

At the visit of the empress mother Helena in the fourth century, these became, respectively, the sites of the Jewish Temple, the Royal Stoa, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Upper Room.  In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Mithras became the birthplace of Jesus.

In the fifteenth century, the Ari (Isaac Luria) declared that the western wall the Hadrian built for the compound of the temples of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva was the western wall of the Jewish temple compound, even though that had been entirely dismantled.  According to Josephus, who was there and saw it happen, the only structures left standing, besides Fortress Antonia, were the western wall OF THE CITY (the former temple was in the east of the city) and three towers.

The synagogue in the capital of Galilaea province, Autocratis (formerly Sepphoris, later—post Bar Kokhba War—Diocaesarea), displayed the zodiac on its floor.  Scores of synagogues around Galilee, in fact, picked up that design for their own floors.  These may be signs of the survival of the Essenes, or other Jews and Samaritans may have picked it up from them.

Medusa and winged cherubim are depicted in the synagogue of Capernaum, the very one in which Jesus visited so often.  As is the Seal of Solomon (now called the Star of David).

The Samaritan synagogue at Scythopolis (Beth Shean) includes a depiction of Leda and the Swan who raped her (Zeus metamorphosized).

The second century synagogue at a the border city of Dura Europos in far eastern Syria had frescoes showing fifty-eight scenes from the Tanakh, including Moses as the Lawgiver, the sacrifice of Isaac, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, the visions of Ezekial, and many others.  There were also depictions of Moses with three nymphs, Ares supervising the Exodus, Aphrodite, and Victory bringing laurel wreaths.

Orpheus is depicted in synagogues not only around the Mediterranean, but in Palestine itself, in Judea as well as Galilee.  In some of these depictions, he is portrayed as King David.  Later, Christians borrowed the motif for Jesus.

In several synagogues both in Palestine and around the Mediterranean, God is depicted as Helios in his chariot, apparently at that time considered the ultimate motif for that.

Other motifs in synagogues of the first through seventh centuries included the Ark of the Covenant, menorahs, horns, vines (symbol of Dionysus), palm branches, peacocks, centaurs, griffins, the Four Seasons, Ares, Fortuna, a gorgon head, Pegasus, Amazons, Queen Penthesilea, King Lycomedes, Odysseus, Achilles, Atalanta, and Meleagros.  Not just in the Diaspora, not just in Palestine, but wherever Jews and Samaritans lived.

From Josephus, we learn that atop the gate to the Temple courtyard itself stood a Roman eagle, which first century Jews no doubt despised as a pagan symbol.  We have graphic evidence of that being the case, in fact.  In 4 BCE, but before the death of Herod the Great, two religious teachers, Judas son of Sepphoraeus and Matthias son of Margalus, were crucified after their students, inspired by their exhortations, cut down the eagle and burned it.  After it was replaced, there were no more attempts at redecoration.

Mystery Cults

As can be seen from the list of pagan sites above, the Hellenistic mystery cults of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world were well-represented in Palestine.  In some cases, there was even a past connection to former local religious practices.  Most pagan worship in first century Palestine was, in fact, of the mystery cults: Orpheus, Mithras, Demeter and Persephone, Dionysus, Kore, Venus-Astarte and Adonis-Tammuz, and Serapis and Isis and Harpocrates.

Tammuz, of course, had a long history in Palestine, and among Israelites.  He was identified with Adonis, which was the Greek version of him.  In some places, Adonis-Tammuz was equated with Asclepius, who was equated in the southern Levant, including Palestine, with Eshmun, the ancient Canaanite-Phoenician god of healing.

The Serapian mysteries were quite ancient, dating back to very old Egypt, where they began as the mysteries of Osiris.  Osiris, in turn, was the foundation for Serapis, a syncretistic deity introduced by Ptolemy after he took control of Egypt in the late fourth century BCE.  The name Serapis derives from Aser-Apis, the merging of Osiris (Aser) with Apis, god of grains, herds, and the dead.  By the first centuries BCE/CE, Serapis was further merged with Asclepius.  Isis was such a popular figure already that her name didn’t change, but Horus became Harpocrates.

Merkava mysticism

The mystical themes which gave birth to the full Qabbalah began in the first century BCE, with the Merkabah school.  The basis of the Merkabah was the Vision of the Chariot (merkabah literally means “chariot”) in Ezekial 1:4-26.  Two other passages in Ezekial, 3:12-15 and all of chapter 10, are of particular interest, but so is the entire book.  The vision in Daniel 7 and the Vision of the Throne in Isaiah 6:1-8 also played a role.  A passage in the noncanonical, but  widely popular in the first century, 1 Enoch 14, also influenced Merkabah mysticism.  Traces of it in the New Testament include the “third heaven” vision of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-5; much of the Epistle to the Hebrews; and the entire Revelation of John the Divine.

16 May 2015

A brief history of the Abrahamic God

This is a brief account of how the god of the Israelites metamorphosed from his original form as one of several deities in the Levantine  polytheistic pantheon into the sole monotheistic One True God of the Samaritans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims of today.

Southern Levantine deities

The first Israelites were polytheists.  Their first chief god was not Yahuweh but El.  That this was the case is evident from their name, Yisrael in Hebrew, which means “triumphant with El”.  El was the chief god of the Levantine pantheon, those deities known collectively as the Elohim, who were worshipped by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Amorites, and other West Semitic peoples, including the Israelites.

El was the father of all the gods and their chief.  In the Tanakh, El is often referred to with an epithet, such as El Shaddai (translated Almighty; means Destroyer), El Berith (of the Covenant), El Roi (the Omnisicent), El Olam (the Eternal), El Tzevaot (of Hosts), El Elyon (Most High), Toru El (Bull El), El Qaniyunu (the Creator), El Gibbon (the Warrior), El Elehe Yisrael (of the gods of Israel). 

Use of El referring to the god of Israel is almost entirely confined to the Book of Genesis, with the exceptions being twice in the Book of Psalms.

His consort was Athirat (Asherah).  El had seventy sons, known as the “sons (or children) of El”.  To each of these was allotted one of the seventy nations of humans on Earth.  Israel was given to Yahu (Yah earlier, later Yahuweh) just as Edom was given to Qaws, Moab to Chemosh, Ammon to Milcom, Tyre to Melqart, Sidon to Eshmun, Byblos to El, Shechem to Resheph, Jerusalem to Shalim, Philistia to Dagon, Carthage to Hammon, the Nabateans to Dushara, etc.

A triad of gods comparable to the Greek triad of Zeus-Poseidon-Hades at the apex of the Bene El:  Hadad, a sky god of storm; Yam, god of the sea; and Mot, god of death and the underworld.  As for goddesses, the two most prominent after Asherah were Anath and Ashtart (Ishtar).

Shachar and Shalim were the twin gods of dawn and dusk, respectively; Jerusalem is named for the latter (it does not mean “city of peace”).  Attar was the god of the morning star.  There was the group of divine midwives who were only known collectively as the Kotharat.  Shapash was goddess of the sun, while Yarikh was god of the moon.  Eshmun was the god of healing.  Resheph was protector against plague and war. 

Dagon was imported early on from Mesopotamia and became integrated into the Levantine pantheon as the father of Hadad.  Tammuz (Dumuzi in Sumer) was a later import whom the Phoenicians called Adoni, or Lord; to the Greeks he became Adonis, and in that guise returned to the Levant, particularly during the era of the Mystery Cults.

The preeminent human cultural hero of the stories that have survived is Danel, a generous king famous for his wisdom, whose popular stories gave flesh to the also mythical Solomon and whose name in somewhat corrupted form became Daniel, the exile in Babylon.

The central story of Levantine mythology is the rivalry between Hadad and Yam, whose name in some sources is Yaw.  When El decides to step down as king of the gods, he makes Hadad king in his place after the latter defeats Yam.  In a later conflict with Mot, Hadad dies, and Yam is resurrected to become king. 

During Yam’s kingship, Attar attempts to take the throne, but fails, and falls from heaven to Earth, much the same as “Lucifer, thou son of the morning” in Isaiah 14.  Most High, Elyon in Hebrew, was a title of El when he was king of the gods, then of Hadad when he ascended, and, of course, Yam during the brief time he was king.

Although Baal could be a title for any of the gods, if used alone it almost always meant Hadad (its literal definition is “master”).  In fact, Baal in later centuries was the only way in which the lay people were permitted to refer to Hadad, his priests keeping his name to themselves, exactly like the Jewish (and presumably Samaritan) priests of Yahuweh did.

Another deity imported into the Levant, at least by the city-state of Ebla, was Ia, a Levantine form of the Akkadian-Babylonian god Ea, who in turn was borrowed from the Sumerian original, Enki.  Many tablets of religious writings from the city replace El with Ia atop their pantheon.  Some claim that “Ia” should be transliterated as “Yah” instead, but they are in a minority, and even those who did were not suggesting that Yah was the same as Yahuweh.  If not, it is still quite possible that Ia later morphed into Yah, which became Yahu, then Yahuweh.

Interestingly, the Egyptian pantheon included a lunar deity whose name was Yah.

The god Dagon came to Ugarit, where inscriptions to him were first identified, via the city of Ebla, where he served the same role as Hadad did among the West Semitic peoples.

Regardless of who their early god was or from whence the later one derived, by the ninth century BCE when the Israelites were a major power in north Palestine, their chief god was Yahuweh.  And alongside him, they worshipped a divine consort, Asherah.  Asherah’s chief epithet was Qadesh, the Holy One, by which name she entered the Egyptian pantheon in the eighteenth century BCE.  Presumably by this time, El had been reduced to functioning merely as a generic word for “god”.  Tammuz is another deity whom we know had a popular cult among the Israelites of that era.

 “Houses of Yahuweh” and cult motifs

Archaeologically, three pre-Babylonian Conquest temples to their national god, each termed “House of Yahuweh”, have been found in Palestine.  The largest and most opulent is that at Samaria, where Yahuweh and Asherah were worshipped side-by-side.  Omri and his son Ahab also built temples there to Hadad, and several other deities, undoubtedly the major deities of the local pantheon and many imports, such as Tammuz.  It was built in 878 BCE.

The other two known places called “House of Yahuweh”, both rather small, have been found in the south, one a shrine in a citadel at Tel Arad, near the modern city on the border of the Judean and Negev deserts, and the other a temple at Tel Motza, on the western outskirts of modern Jerusalem.  The shrine at Tel Arad dates from about 820 BCE; the temple at Tel Motza about the same date.

Archaeologists have concluded almost universally that Jerusalem was uninhabited until the return after the exile to Babylon, so there is no “first temple” to find.

Horned altars identified as Israelite have been discovered at Dan, Megiddo, Beersheba, and Ekron, indicating outdoor shrines, but no temples in those cities.

There was a fourth House of David, though not in Palestine.  It was in Egypt, at the military colony of Elephantine, built in about the year 650 BCE.  From surviving papyri, we known that Yahuweh was worshipped there along with his consort Anath-Yahuweh, plus Bethel, Haram, Eshem, Nabu, and Anath-Bethel, as well as Khnum (whose temple was adjacent), his consort Satet, and his daughter Anuket.

Three inscriptions and images at Kuntillet Arjud, c. 800 BCE, depict Yahuweh, Asherah, El, and Baal (presumably Hadad).  Two inscriptions mention “Yahuweh of Samaria and Asherah” and “Yahuweh of Teman and Asherah”.  Teman, of course, need not refer to a city as its literal meaning is “the South”, just like “Samaria” could refer to the kingdom based out of the city.

Again, inscriptions at a tomb in Khirbet al-Qom in the Har Yehuda west of Hebron dating to about 750 BCE mention “Yahuweh and Asherah”.

Given this preponderance of evidence, there is no other conclusion but that before the Persian period (and well into it) the Yahuweh cult among the Israelites north, south, and in Egypt was polytheist, though almost certainly the henotheist variety.  That this is the undeniable case does not preclude the existence of Yahwist fanatics pursuing monotheist worship of their deity.

The “House of Yahuweh” at Samaria was destroyed, along with the other temples, in the Assyrian conquest of 722 BCE.  Both in the South fell to Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE.

That left the House of Yahuweh at Elephantine as the only remaining temple of the Israelite religion to the Israelite national god.  A temple which he shared with several other deities, including his consort.

Beginnings of monotheism

The change in Israelite religion from henotheism to monotheism came with the arrival of their new Iranian overlords. 

Iranians were the original monotheists.  They were monotheists centuries before the Israelites, or any other peoples for that matter.  The fact that the Israelites became monotheists because of the Iranians may be why Koroush Kabir, aka Cyrus the Great, is the first person referred to as a “messiah” in the sense of “savior”.

The deity of the Iranians, revealed to them by the prophet Zartosht (Zarathustra, Zoroaster) was called Ahura Mazda in ancient Persian, “Ahura” being a title, and Assara Mazas in the Aramaic language that became the official language of the empire.  The name “Mazas” looks suspiciously like “Moses”, which could very well be its Greek form.  One of the phrases recurring throughout the teachings of Zartosht is the “law of Mazda”, which would be “law of Mazas” in Aramaic.

When the change came about, no record shows, but when the new temples called House of Yahuweh were constructed in Palestine in the fifth century BCE, there was only one deity worshipped there, Yahuweh.  Under the influence of their overlords, the Israelites both north (in Samerina) and south (in Yehud) became firmly monotheist.  The temple in Samerina was built in 450 BCE at the newly reoccupied Bronze Age site of Shechem, where it was placed atop the adjacent height of Mount Gerizim.  The temple of Yehud was built in 425 BCE on Mount Moriah in the eastern part of the newly reoccupied Bronze Age site of Jerusalem. 

The temple at Elephantine remained until it was burned down in 411 BCE by the priests of Khnum, the most likely explanation being that the priests of Yahuweh had recently ceased to sacrifice to Khunm also, which pinpoints their switch to monotheism.  The temple was rebuilt four years later, but there is no record, written or archaeological, of how long it remained in use.

Turn of the era dualism

At the three centuries at the turn of the Common Era (2nd-1st centuries BCE and 1st century CE), there was a strain or strains of Judaism that had crossed the line into dualism, but a dualism the mirrors more the variety expressed in Mazdaism, the modern form of Zoroastrianism, which began to develop in this time period, in opposition to the then dominant strain, Zurvanism.  In Mazdaism, Ahura Mazda is the supreme creator, with the Spenta Mainyu over Asha, basicially the "light side of the Force", and Angra Mainyu over Druj, or the "dark side of the Force".  In the Jewish version, Yahweh is the supreme creator, with the good angel Michael over the Way of Light or the Way of Life and the evil angel Beliar over the Way of Darkness or the Way of Death.

One of the most notable examples of this occurs in the Essene War Scroll, which describes the War of the Son of Light and the Sons of Darkness.  But it is not just an Essene phenomenon, as the same dichotomy appears in several apocalyptic works of the era, and even in the Christian Didache.  Another apocalyptic work in this period featuring the "Two Ways" was the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Allegory of the Golden Calf

Many have suggested that the “golden calf” portrayed in Aaron and Miriam making for the Israelites at the foot of Mount Horeb/Sinai/Paran was be an image of Hathor, Egyptian goddess of fertility, inebriation, and musics (i.e., sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll).  Her usual icon, after all, was of a cow.  Of course, even while reiterating that the whole Exodus is a myth, I suggest that this particular part of the myth is an allegory of a return to worship of El, whose usual icon was a bull, as supreme god rather than Yahuweh.

Use of “The Name”

In the first century CE, Jews still used the name Yahuweh, at least in their worship at the temple in Jerusalem, and perhaps also at the one in Leontopolis in Egypt.  Elsewhere, it was used, but not as commonly.  One of the complaints of first century  Samaritans about the Jews was, in fact, that they still did this.  By 200 CE, the Jews had likewise ceased its use entirely.

The most common reference in the Tanakh to the Supreme (or only) Deity is “Elohim”, a plural version often used as a singular.  What’s tricky about its use is that at various points in the Tanakh, “elohim” clearly refers to “the gods”, though this has been retconned out in other places.

Yahuweh is not the only god

It is a widespread misconception that the Tanakh holds that there is only one deity.  In truth, several passages allude to other deities or mention them explicitly, some by name, and not in a way to suggest other deities do not exist. One of the latest examples is found in Micah 4:5, following the messianic passage in the preceding verses: “For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of Yahuweh our God forever and ever.”

As late as the first century CE, Paul of Tarsus affirmed the existence of other deities in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (8:5), “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords…”.

The Name

In this case, I mean specifically the one represented by the four Hebrew letters transliterated as YHVH.  Earlier forms of The Name were Yah and Yahu, both of which can still be found in personal names and in words like Halleluyah.  When the Masoretes of Babylonia were putting the Tanakh into its current from the seventh thru the eleventh centuries BCE.  By the time, superstition about saying the Name aloud was throughly engrained in Jewish culture, even that of the non-Rabbanate Masoretes, who were Karaites.  In order that no one pronounce The Name accidentally, when pointing the Tetragrammaton, the Masoretes substituted the vowels for the word Adonai, which means 'Lord', which is how we get 'Jehovah', which too many evangelicals (and other for that matter) forget was pronounced 'Yehowah'.  The actual Name, if transliterated into English, would be Yahuweh, but most seem more comfortable with the modern form, Yahweh.

12 May 2015

History of Palestine to the end of the Roman period, in brief

The Tanakh, or Old Testament, is not a history book.  The greater part of it, in fact, represents only a minority of Israelites and their descendants.  The only books of the Tanakh held in common among all the Israelites (Pharisee Jews, Sadducee Jews, Essene Jews, Hellenist Jews, Samaritans, etc.) at the turn of the era, for instance, were the five of the Torah.  The Torah is a collection of religious laws and rules of practice collected over hundreds of years combined with a number of myths and legends woven into a single story.  In other words, a foundation myth.

The Prophets and the Writings come solely from the point-of-view of the Jews, as opposed to the Samaritans, sometimes specifically opposed to the Samaritans, and are therefore not reliable as a witness to the body of Israelites as a whole.

Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekkah, Hagar, Esau, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Ishmael, and the twelve sons of Jacob are purely mythological.  So are Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, Caleb, and everyone else mentioned by name therein.  The central action driving the story in the Torah, the Exodus, never happened.  The “children of Israel” never went down into Egypt and became slaves, though the ancestor of the nation of Israel probably was a “wandering Aramean”, as we will find.  The following is their true story, in brief, at least to the end of Roman rule over the Levant.

Pre-Israel history of Canaan

People of Canaan, especially craftsmen, artisans, soldiers, and farmers, began migrating to Egypt in great numbers about 1800 BCE.  By 1725 BCE, their numbers were large enough to establish the Fourteenth Dynasty, of Canaanite origin, ruling Lower Egypt.

In 1650 BCE, the Fourteenth Dynasty fell to the invading Hyksos, a multi-ethnic horde ruled by its own Canaanite dynasty, which replaced the deposed Canaanite dynasty at Avaris.  The Hyksos’ Fifteenth Dynasty was followed by the Sixteenth, then the Seventeenth.  The forces of Pharoah Ahmose I of the Eighteenth Dynasty in Upper Egypt expelled the foreigners back to the northeast in 1530, besieging the bulk of them in the city of Shahuren in the Negev, which he destroyed after a three-year siege.  In other campaign, he destroyed the city of Jericho, which was not inhabited again until the ninth century BCE.

To protect his line of supply, he established a line of forts known as the Way of Horus from Lower Egypt to Gaza.  Gaza became the seat of Egyptian holdings in Retenu, the Egyptian name for the Levant, which in twenty-five years reached into southeastern Anatolia.  After the Battle of Megiddo in 1457 BCE, the Egyptians moved their capital to what is now Beth Shean and was Scythopolis under the Roman Empire.  Beth Shean is at the conjunction of the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys in northern Palestine.

The rise of the Mitanni, then of the Hittites, reduced the northern territory of the Egyptian empire, but only as far south as Kadesh in central Syria, which traded hands more than once.

Egyptian domination and often direct rule of all Palestine and southern Syria continued until the advent of the Sea Peoples and the invasion of Palestine by the Philistines in 1175.  Even then, it wasn’t until the Philistines destroyed the city of Megiddo, a stronghold of Egyptian imperial rule, in 1130 that Egyptian control left Palestine entirely.  After that date, southern and central Palestine were all but deserted except for the Philistine cities of Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza, and northern Palestine was only lightly populated.

Where did everyone go?  Well, there is a clue in the autonym of the Phoenicians who ruled most of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea: “Kananayim”.

Israel in Canaan

So, when did the Israelites arrive?  Many point to inscriptions on the Merneptah Stele and the Great Karnak Temple depicting a campaign in 1207 BCE against the Canaanite city-states of Gezer, Yanoam, and Ashkelon allied with a nomadic tribe of people called the Isiriar.  They identify “Isiriar” with Israel, much the same way some scholars once mistakenly equated the “Habiru” with the Hebrews.  This identification because of the similarity of the two names is probably just as flawed.  In fact, Isiriar is closer to Assyrians than to Israel.

By the beginning of the ninth century BCE, the hold of the Philistines over northern Palestine had slipped, and a group of Arameans known as Israel (“My father was a wandering Aramean”, Deuteronomy 26:5) had managed to infiltrate from the Aramean kingdom at Damascus founded around 1115 BCE.  In 883, Omri, king of Israel, made himself king over the northern and central regions of Palestine.  Five years later, Omri founded the city of Samaria as his capital, and began to rebuild Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo.

Among the surrounding kingdoms and empires, the kingdom Omri founded was known as Samerina in the Aramaic which was then the lingua franca of Southwest Asia, and was also called Bit Humria, or House of Omri, and its people called Samaritans.  Not long after Omri founded Samerina, another kingdom to the south, at first known as Bit Dawid, or House of David, came into being, probably in the central highlands.  In certain inscriptions, it was also called Teman, meaning “the South”.

Hazael, king of Damascus, destroyed the city of Gath in 830 BCE, opening up the south for immigration and settlement.

Independence of the kingdom of Samerina/Bit-Humria lasted until Assyria finally imposed direct rule in 740, making Megiddo their provincial capital.  The Samaritans, as Sargon’s records refer to them, rose up against Assyrian rule along with the Arameans and Philistine in 722 BCE, only to have their capital at Samaria destroyed, its citizens, at least the elite, deported.

This left Teman/Bit-Dawid, now more commonly called Yehud, as the only free, though tributary, client kingdom of the Israelites.  In fact, Yehud was probably the name of the kingdom’s capital city; Jerusalem, once a major Canaanite city and regional power, was uninhabited in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages.

In 650, refugees from Samaria, and perhaps some of their cousins from Yehud, established a military colony on the island of Elephantine on the border of Egypt with Nubia.  It was the chief of a group of military colonies which included settlements in Migdol, Tahpanhes-Daphnae, Pathros, Noph, and the capital at Memphis.  The Egyptian papyri refer to the new inhabitants as Arameans, as they undoubtedly spoke that language.

The Chaldean dynasty of Babylonia conquered Assyria in 626 BCE, and did the same with Palestine in 597 BCE.  After Yehud rose up in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed the “city of Yehud”, deported its population, and attached it to Samerina as a sub-province.


Koroush Kabir (Cyrus the Great) of the Achmaenid Empire of Iran overthrew the Chaldean Empire in 539 BCE, gaining with that its imperial territories, including those in Palestine.  The territories of the Levant became the satrapy of Abar Nahara.  Yehud remained a sub-province of its northern cousins.  Many of the exiles and dependents began to trickle back to the west.

The Samaritans built a large and elaborate temple to Yahuweh atop Mount Gerizim near Shechem around the year 450 BCE.  The Iudeians followed suit in Jerusalem atop Mount Moriah in Jerusalem in 425 BCE, but it was much smaller.

Sidon rebelled against its Iranian overlords in 343 BCE, and a large portion of the people of Yehud, though not its governing majority, supported it.  After the revolt failed, Artaxerses III removed the survivors from the Yehud contingent to the satrapy of Hyrcania, roughly modern Gilan, Mazandaran, and North Khorasan (i.e., Media).

Egypt and the Levant fell to the Macedonian and Greek armies of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.  The Jews, residents of Yehud (Iudeia in Greek), assisted in the conquest of Tyre, and were rewarded with two sections out of the five in the new city of Alexandria in Egypt.  The Samaritans rebelled the next year, and found Samerina (Samareia in Greek) occupied by Macedonian troops.

After Alexander’s death, both Samareia and Iudeia fell at first under the Antigonid dynasty based in Macedonia, but were under the Ptolemaic dynasty by 301 BCE.  Onias I ben Jaddua had been high priest since about 320 BCE, founding the Oniad dynasty.  Samareia adopted a cosmopolitan stance, and prospers, while Iudeia remained more conservative.

Samareia passed to the Seleucids out of Damascus in 208 BCE, at the beginning of the Fourth Syrian War.  Ten years later, Iudeia followed suit.

The Great Sanhedrin separated the office of Nasi (its head) from the high priesthood in 191 BCE.  Prior to that date, the two had been held simultaneously.

In 168 BCE, the Aramaic-speaking Nabateans established a kingdom in Transjordan with their capital at Petra.  The displaced Idumeans moved to the Negev.  The same year, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV attempted to conquer Egypt but was turned back by the armies of the Roman Republic which had allied with the Ptolemaic Empire.

Here the record gets a little murky about what happened next.  According to Hasmonean propaganda (enshrined in the Books of the Maccabees), Antiochus invaded the temple compound, robbed the treasury, and erected an idol of himself in the Holy of Holies.  This was the purported “abomination of desolation”. 

According to another account, Menelaus the high priest robbed the treasury himself to pay off debts accrued from bribing Antiochus to replace his brother Jason with himself.  In this version, Antiochus’ invasion was to put down a revolt.

The Maccabees

The actual First Judean Civil War of 159-153 BCE, referred to by some as the Maccabean Revolt, was not a revolt against the Seleucids but a largely internal civil war between factions in Iudeia.  The civil war coincided and was intertwined with internal strife among the Seleucid dynasty.  It ended with the Hasmoneans in the seat of high priest.

In the midst of the fighting, the would-be Onias IV fled to Egypt in 154 BCE, where he was allowed to build a temple in Leontopolis.

The Seleucid Empire’s power in Palestine collapsed in 116 BCE, and the ruling Hasmonean high priest, John Hyrcanus, took the title of Basileus, or King.  He conquered the Idumeans in 110 BCE and forced them to convert to Judaism.  Two years later, he conquered Samareia, destroyed the city of Samaria, and burned the temple atop Mt. Gerizim.

His successor, Aristobolus I, conquered the southern part of the kingdom of the Iturean Arabs in 104 BCE and forced its inhabitants to convert.  He also began exiling political undesirables there from his own kingdom.  The area was called Galil ha-Goyim (District of the Gentiles).

The Second Judean Civil War of 93-87 BCE began with Pharisee-supported rebels taking advantage of a war between Alexander Jannaeus and the Nabateans.  After he lost that war, Jannaeus returned to defeat the rebels, then crucified 800 of them and slitting the throats of their families in front of them.

In 81 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus formally annexed Galilee (Galil ha-Goyim).  After the Roman conquest and the rise of Herod the Great, Samaritans too began to migrate there.

The Third Judean Civil War of 66-63 BCE ended with the conquest of the Levant by forces of the Roman Republic under Pompey.

Client of the Roman Empire

In 63 BCE, Pompey restored the losing pretender, Hyrcanus II, as high priest, but not as king.  Instead, he installed Antipater the Idumean as procurator.

Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, rebuilt the city of Samaria in 57 BCE.

In 47 BCE, Hezekiah ben Garon declared himself King of the Jews and began a revolt in Galilee which was put down by Herod, son of Antipater.  Afterwards, Antipater made Hyrcanus ethnarch, while his son Herod became ruler of Galilee and his son Phasael ruler of Jerusalem.

At the end of the Fourth Judean Civil War which lasted 40-37 BCE, Herod son of Antipater became King of the Jews.

Because of his support during Anthony’s Civil War, the victorious Octavius, now Caesar Augustus, grants the city of Samaria to Herod, who renames is Sebaste, in 30 BCE.

In 13 BCE, Herod moved into the newly built capital city of Caesarea Maritimi.  In 10 BCE, he rebuilt the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim.

In 4 BCE, the students of two Jewish teachers, Judas ben Sepphoraeus and Matthias ben Margalus, cut down the Roman eagle over the gate into the temple in an act of rebellion intended to provoke a revolt.  It only gets their teachers crucified.

Herod died later that year, and revolts broke out in Perea, Iudaea, Galilaea (led by Jacob ben Hezekiah), and Idumaea (led by Herod’s cousin Achiab).  In the aftermath, Sepphoris lies in ruins, its populace is sold into slavery, and over two thousand rebels are crucified.

When the dust settles, Archelaus inherits Judaea, Samaraea, and Idumaea as ethnarch, Antipas inherits Galilaea, Peraea, and Decapolis, Philippos inherits Ituraea (Arabs), Trachonitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis, and Panaeas, and Salome I inherits Paralia (Philistia).

Direct Roman rule

Ten years later, in 6 CE, Octavius Augustus removed Archelaus and made Iudaea into a Roman entity, a sub-province of Syria.  Publius Suplicius Quirinius, proconsul of Syria, ordered a registration of citizens for the new territory, and Judas the Galilean, probably related to Hezekiah ben Garon, rose in revolt.

The former province of Assyria called Adiabene, centered on Arbela (Arbil in modern Iraq), exists as an independent kingdom that is officially Jewish in religion from 15 CE to 116 CE, when it is conquered by Rome.

The Samaritan Prophet and his followers occupied the summit of Mt. Gerizim in a bid to form a province of the empire separate from Iudaea in 36 CE.  The prefect, Pontius Pilatus, put down the relatively mild revolt so brutally that he was recalled to Rome.

Around 45 CE, Theudas.  The minor revolt was easily dispatched. 

Theudas the prophet, probably of Judea, led his followers to the wilderness around the Jordan River, claiming to be the Messiah in 45 CE.  Cuspius Fadus, procurator of Iudaea, easily put down the minor revolt. 

Another revolt, against procurator Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Jew from Alexandria, followed the next year, under Jacob and Simon, sons of Judas the Galilean.  It lasted until 48, when both sons were captured and crucified.

Rumors of the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem at Passover in 49 CE led to widespread rioting that ended in the death of thousands under procurator Ventidius Cumanus.  Sympathetic riots in the Jewish section of Rome led to the expulsion of the entire community, at the time some ten percent of the city’s populace.

Serious warfare between Galileans and Samaritans broke out in 52 CE, under Cumanus again, when extremists led by Alexander and Eleazar ben Dinaeus invaded Samaria in supposed revenge for an alleged transgression leading to the crucifixion and beheading of several of the leaders on both sides.

A charismatic individual known to history only as the Egyptian Prophet led an uprising in 58 CE that ended in a climactic battle on the Mount of Olives.

The Sikarii rose up against procurator Porcius Festus in 59 CE.

The Great Jewish War began in 66 CE.  The violence of the uprising caught the Roman completely by surprise, and the rebels swept them from the region.  There were six major factions of rebels, often fighting each other more than the Romans: the Temple Guard and priests, Galilean Zealots, Judean peasants, Judean Zealots, Sikarii, and Idumeans.  They had significant help from the kingdom of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia, modern Arbil.

The Samaritans joined the revolt in 67 CE, but their effort was swiftly put down by Syrian legate Sextus Vettulenus Cerealis, who destroyed their temple and the city of Sebaste.  Galilee was retaken in 69 CE.  Jerusalem fell in 70 CE after a lengthy siege exacerbated by infighting among the various factions.  The final holdout, Masada, to which the bulk of the Sikarii had relocated after seeing Jerusalem was to be surrounded, fell in 73 CE.

Jerusalem was utterly destroyed.  The only parts left standing were the western wall of the city (NOT the western wall of the temple) and three towers.  The temple mound in particular was singled out for complete dismantling as the gold in the temple had melted and some fallen through the cracks when the temple was burned.

Captives not crucified or enslaved were exiled to North Africa, becoming the ancestors to the Maghrebim.

After finishing the campaign at Masada, where he was Titus’ second in command, Tiberius Alexander, now prefect of Egypt, destroyed the Temple of Onias to prevent it becoming a focal point for revolt.

Later centuries under Rome

The Kitos War of 115-117 was a revolt of the Jews in Cyrenaica, Aegyptus, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia, supported by Adiabene, quelled by Lusius Quietus, procurator of Iudaea.  Libya was virtually depopulated by slaughter and evacuation, and the Jewish quarter in Alexandria completely destroyed.

In 122, Hadrian established Colonia Aelia Capitolina on the former site of Jerusalem, largely for veterans of the Tenth Fretensis Legion, stationed in Palestine since the Great Jewish Revolt.  Ten years later, Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva led an uprising that lasted until 135.

After the war, Hadrian merged all the provinces in the area as Syria-Palestina and finished Aelia Capitolina.  It included a freshly rebuilt mount with a wall around it and temples to Jupiter and of Juno and Minerva atop it.  Nearby was a grotto to Venus, a shrine to Asclepius (later claimed as the pool of Bethesda), and a temple of Mercury.

The refugees from this war became the first Jews of Arabia, later growing into some thirteen tribes in western central Arabia and four groups in the south.

The remaining Jews in Judea were largely evacuated to Galilee.

The province of Syria-Palestina is divided into Syria Coele (essentially Syria as we have it today), Syria Phoenice (Phoenicia), and Syria Palestina (the remainder) in 193.

From 260 to 273, Syria-Palestina was part of the secessionist Palmyrene Empire.

The Jews of Galilaea revolted from 351 to 352, led by a messianic pretender.

Prior to a series of revolts by the Samaritans in Palestine against Rome in the later fifth and early sixth centuries, Samaritans had a rough parity with Jews both inside Palestine and across the Diaspora. 

The first of these was the Justa Uprising of 484, which ended with their temple atop Mt. Gerizim destroyed.

Next was the Uprising of 495 in which they destroyed the Christian basilica atop the mountain and slaughtered the monks.

Lastly, there was the Ben Sabar Revolt of 529, which had the goal of creating an independent state and which Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinius put down with the help of Christian Ghassanids, slaughtering and enslaving tens of thousands.  Afterwards, Justinian outlawed the practice of Samaritanism.

Yet another revolt, this time of Jews and Samaritans together, lasted 556-572, and began with a wholesale slaughter of Christians in Caesarea.

The Jews in Palestine rose up against the Imperium Romanum as allies of the Sassanids under Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias, Nehemiah being killed by Christians in Jerusalem the same year.  The revolt spread to include the Jews of Tyre, Damascus, Cyprus, and Edessa.  After the fall of Jerusalem in 614, the area becomes a Commonwealth under the Sassanid Empire.

The Jews of the Levant rose against the empire as allies of the Sassanids of Iran, and became a commonwealth of the Sassanid Empire in 614, led by Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias.  The revolt spread to include the Jews of Tyre, Damascus, Cyprus, and Edessa.  The commonwealth established by the rebels held out until a year after the final defeat of the Sassanids by Rome which ended the seven centuries of wars between the two great powers.  Palestine became Roman again in 629.

Eight years later, the region fell to the armies of the Caliphate, and, except for the interregnum of the Crusader states, remained until Islamic rule until 1919.