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How the Jews in Elephantine, Egypt Celebrated Passover in 419 BCE. DO YOU HAVE TO BURN YOUR HAMETZ? IS WINE CHAMETZ?

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The papyrus known as THE PASSOVER LETTER from the Jewish military colony  at Elephantine 1 (yeb), ancient Egypt, circa 419 BCE.

According to Dan Adler:

In 1907, a german professor by the name of Eduard Sachau discovered the Passover Papyrus at Elephantine. The papyrus is written in Aramaic using Hebrew letters, and has been scientifically dated back to 419 BCE. This is the oldest archeological document found to date (outside of the Bible) which proves that Jews celebrated Passover during the period which coincides with the Return to Zion of Ezra and Nehemiah (from the Babylonian exile), and provides independent historical evidence that:

  1. A small Jewish community existed in Egypt (as described in the book of Jeremiah)
  2. They worshipped a God named Yahu (יהו which is similar to יהוה)
  3. They considered Judah (the land of Israel) as their religious authority
  4. They wrote to Judah to ask how to celebrate Passover (maybe they had no Torah scroll, or maybe Torah scrolls didn’t exist yet)
  5. One of the other Elephantine papyri mentions Sanballat who is also mentioned in the Bible
  6. The Passover Papyrus is the response the Elephantine community received from Judah outlining the Passover rituals
  7. The timing of Passover in the papyrus and most of the rituals match what we would expect

Here are the contents of the letter:

In the month of Nisan, let there be a Passover for the Judahite garrison. Now accordingly count fourteen days of the month Nisan and keep the Passover, and from the 15th day to the 21st day of Nisan are seven days of Unleavend Bread. Be clean and take heed. Do not work on the 15th day and on the 21st day. ALSO DRINK NO INTOXICANTS; and anything in which there is leaven…

אל אחי
ידניה וכנותה חילא יהודיא אחוכם חנניה שלם אחי אלהיא ישאלו
וכעת שנתא זא שנת \\/\/ דריוהוש מלכא מן מלכא שליחעל ארשם לאמר
בירח ניסן יהוי פסח לחילא יהודיא כעת אנתם כן מנו ארבעתעשר
יומן לירח ניסן ופסחא עבדו ומן יום —||\|\ עד יום \ לניסן
שבעת יומן זי פתירן אנתם דכין הוו ואזדהרוע בירח אל תעבדו
ביום —\\\ \/ וביום / אף שכר אל תשתו וכל מנדעם זט חמיר איתי בה
אל תאכלו מן יום —\\\ \/ מן מערב שמשא עד יום / לניסן שבעת
יומן אל יתחזי בכם אל תהנעלו בתוניכם וחתמו בין יומיא אלה
כן יתעבד כזי אמר דריוהוש מלכא
אל אחי ידניה וכנותה חילא יהודיא אחוכם חנני

Translation and transliteration from here:

‘L ‘HY 1 To my brothers,
YDNYH WKNWTH HYL’ YHWDY’ ‘HWKM HNNYH ŠLM ‘HY ‘LHY’ YŠ’LW 2 Yedaniah and his colleagues of the Judahite garrison, (from) your brother Hananiah. May the gods seek the welfare of my brothers.
WKcT ŠNT’ Z’ ŠNT \\/\/ DRYWHWŠ MLK’ MN MLK’ ŠLYH cL ‘RŠM L’MR 3 Now this year, the 5th year of King Darius, word was sent from the king to Arsames, saying:
BYRH NYSN YHWY PSH LHYL’ YHWDY’ KcT ‘NTM KN MNW ‘RBcT c ŠR 4 In the month of Nisan, let there be a Passover for the Judahite garrison. Now accordingly count fourteen
YWMN LYRH NYSN WPSHc BDW WMN YWM —||\|\ cD YWM ¶\ LNYSN 5 days of the month Nisan and keep the Passover, and from the 15th day to the 21st day of Nisan
ŠBcT YWMN ZY PTYRN ‘NTM DKYN HWW W’ZDHRW cBYRH ‘LTcBDW 6 are seven days of Unleavend Bread. Be clean and take heed. Do not work
BYWM —\\\ \/ WBYWM ¶ / ‘P ŠKR ‘L TŠTW WKL MNDcM ZYHMYR ‘YTY BH 7 on the 15th day and on the 21st day. Also, drink no intoxicants; and anything in which there is leaven,
‘LT’KLW MN YWM —\\\ \/ MN Mc RB ŠMŠ’ cD YWM ¶/ LNYSN ŠBcT 8 do not eat, from the 15th day from sunset until the 21st day of Nisan, seven
YWMN ‘L YTHZY BKM ‘L THNcLW BTWNYKM WHTMW BYN YWMY’ ‘LH 9 days, let it not be seen among you; do not bring it into your houses, but seal it up during those days.
KN YTcBD KZY ‘MR DRYWHWŠ MLK’ 10 Let this be done as King Darius commanded.
‘L ‘HY YDNYH WKNWTH HYL’ YHWDY’ ‘HWKM HNNYH


Transliteration of special characters

  • ‘ = ‘Aleph
  • H = Heth
  • T = Teth
  • c = cAyin
  • S = Sadê
  • Š = Šin
11 To my brethren, Yedaniah and his colleagues of the Judahite garrison, (from) your brother Hananiah.

Some contemporary Karaites (like Hakham Avraham Qanai) maintain that this is clear proof ” documentary evidence that at the time of the last Nevi’im that alcoholic wine (שכר) ‘was considered Hames (חמיר in Aramaic).” He also adds: “This puts to rest the argument that the Karaite prohibition on alcoholic wine during Hagh HaMassot was an invention of the Middle Ages” (although in a different place Qanai maintains that: “The word Shekhar refers to all types of intoxicating beverages. Wine can also be Shekhar, but, since the commandment already mentioned wine and forbids the consumption of Shekhar as well as wine, it is obviously referring to other types of Shekhar. Also since it list wine vinegar separately from Shekhar vinegar, the reference to Shekhar is obviously not to wine. The word Shekhar is found in other Semitic languages as well and almost always refers to other intoxicating beverages. In Jewish Aramaic Shkikra means intoxicating drink; in Imperial Aramaic it means beer, ale, mead; in Akkadian it is beer, fermented alcoholic beverage; in Syriac it is intoxicating drink, as also in Christian Palestininan Aramaic; in Mandæan it is intoxicating drink; in Arabic Sakar [سكر] intoxicating drink, wine, which developed into the loan-word in Greek σικερα [Síkera] meaning intoxicating drink, beer, which would have been made primarily from barley in contrast to Sove’ [סבא] which is beer made from wheat”.

Some have also theorized that the custom of taking four cups of wine was instituted with the Sadducees (the alleged spiritual forbears of the Karaites) in mind. In Rabbinic parlance: להוציא מלבן של צדוקים

Scholars are of different opinions as to what exactly -s-k-r שכר refers to. Some contend that it refers only to alcoholic wine, others contend that all intoxicating beverages fall under this category. Today most Karaite Jews 2 refrain from consuming wine on Passover because they consider it as falling under the prohibition against fermented foods.

The second interesting aspect about this remarkable document is the attitude towards keeping hametz. Out of sight and out of mind (In keeping with the Biblical injunction of ‘it shall neither be seen nor found’) seemed to have been the order of the day. Neither burning nor selling is mentioned:

“let it not be seen among you; do not bring it into your houses, but seal it up during those days.”

Qanai maintains: the Aramaic word HTM does not only mean “seal” but also “cut off”/“end”. The Torah command WeLo’ Yera’eh Lekha Hames WeLo’ Yera’eh Kekh Se’or BeKhol Gevulekha, i.e., anywhere within the boundaries of the land of Israel, whether in your house or outside of it. The term Lo Yera’eh Lekha does not mean just “it shall not be seen” but “it shall not be found”/“it shall not be present” with you. See Shemot 34:3.

According to his understanding giving away your hamess to a gentile can only work outside the Land of Israel but not in the land since the verse says “in all your boundaries”.

However, others understand it to have meant that it is simply an injunction to keep them completely out of sight. The Papyrus seems to support the latter understanding of the verse, i.e. get the hamess out of your houses and seal them away somewhere so they won’t be seen for the duration of the holiday.

NOTES:

1. For more on the Elephantine Colony see here. The Hebrew Wikipedia erroneously attributes the destruction of the Yeb Temple by local Egyptians, due to their abhorrence of animal sacrifices. It cites the verse וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, לֹא נָכוֹן לַעֲשׂוֹת כֵּן, כִּי תּוֹעֲבַת מִצְרַיִם, נִזְבַּח לַה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ: הֵן נִזְבַּח אֶת-תּוֹעֲבַת מִצְרַיִם, לְעֵינֵיהֶם–וְלֹא יִסְקְלֻנוּ” (שמות ח’ כב) in order to back up that contention. But it is patently wrong because Egyptians did engage in animal sacrifice during and after that period. see here and here and here

Herodotus however writes:

Now all who have a temple set up to the Theban Zeus or who are of the district of Thebes, these, I say, all sacrifice goats and abstain from sheep: for not all the Egyptians equally reverence the same gods, except only Isis and Osiris (who they say is Dionysos), these they all reverence alike: but they who have a temple of Mendes or belong to the Mendesian district, these abstain from goats and sacrifice sheep. Now the men of Thebes and those who after their example abstain from sheep, say that this custom was established among them

2. The Crimean Karaites do consume wine. The relaxation of a prohibition that was apparently uniform among Karaites is claimed (by Hakham Qanai and others) to stem from Hakham Elijah Bashyatzi, a Byzantine Karaite who instituted far-reaching reforms that were very controversial for his time (although nowhere in his magnum opus: Aderet Eliyahu does he explicitly permit the consumption of wine).

Reading Shir Hashirim in the (Karaite) Synagogue


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bab

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Hakham Tobias Babovich was the last of the true Karaite Hakhamim. Born in Crimea to a prominent family of Karaite Hakhamim he was invited to serve the large Karaite community in Cairo until his passing in the 1950s.

In this excursus on the Song of Songs (excerpted from R’ Yosef El-Gamil’s תולדות היהדות הקראית, חלק ב), Babovich relates the general Karaite consensus- which is unsurprisingly the same as the Rabbanite one; Song of Songs is an allegorical work that portrays the intimate love between God and his people.

In the excerpted footnote he relates a somewhat humorous episode wherein he reminisces about the time he spent among Russian Sabbatarian peasants who had recently converted to Karaite Judaism. The custom among the Karaites is to recite Song of Songs on the seventh day of the holiday of Passover (referred to as שביעי עצרת) Yet the aforementioned community refused to carry out this custom, aghast that a book containing such profane content could be recited in a sacred place. No amount of cajoling could switch their resolve.

I personally experienced something similar several years ago when I attended the Shebi’i Aseret prayers at the Anan Ben David synagogue in the old city of Jerusalem. As we sat down in the traditional manner and began reading Shir Hashirim, I noticed the then caretaker of the synagogue (who was a fairly recent returnee to the faith-of Egyptian Karaite extraction) become increasingly uncomfortable until he could hold back no longer. “I can’t read this!” he exclaimed. “Reading about breasts and kisses in the Synagogue?! No!”. The others (including a fairly learned member of the community) relented and so it was, that year Song of Songs was not recited in the Jerusalem Karaite Synagogue.

הערות

וויקיפדיה:

בקהילות אשכנז נקראת מגילת שיר השירים בבתי הכנסת בשבת החלה במהלך שבעת ימי הפסח, בהתאם למנהג הכללי במסורת האשכנזית לקרוא בכל אחת משלוש הרגלים מגילה המתאימה לאווירת החג. תיאורי האביב המופיעים בשיר השירים הם הסיבה לקריאת המגילה בפסח, הוא חג האביב. מאותו טעם נהוג בקהילות אחרות לקרוא את מגילת שיר השירים בשביעי של פסח,

היום האחרון של החג נקרא שביעי של פסח, ועל פי חז”ל הוא נחוג כיום טוב כיון שבאותו יום נקרע ים סוף. מסיבה זו יש שקוראים ביום זה את שירת הים. הקראים קוראים ליום השביעי שביעי עצרת, על פי הפסוק “שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצּוֹת וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עֲצֶרֶת לַה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה מְלָאכָה”‏

NOTES:

*For more on Tobias Levi-Babovich see the 2 volume biography on him by Yusef El-Gamil here

*On the canonicity of Shir Hashirim, the Rabbis were not one of one mind until the 2nd Century CE. Opinions wereput forth both pro and con famous among them is the proclamation by Rabbi Akiva in defense of the work:

“God forbid! […] For all of eternity in its entirety is not as worthy as the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”

~Tractate Yadayim

How Archaeology Illuminates the Parsha; Parashat Mishpatim, The Case of the Poor Man’s Cloak

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אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ לֹא תִהְיֶה לוֹ כְּנֹשֶׁה לֹא תְשִׂימוּן עָלָיו נֶשֶׁךְ.  אִם חָבֹל תַּחְבֹּל

שַׂלְמַת רֵעֶךָ עַד בֹּא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לוֹ. כו כִּי הִוא כסותה [כְסוּתוֹ] לְבַדָּהּ הִוא שִׂמְלָתוֹ לְעֹרוֹ בַּמֶּה יִשְׁכָּב וְהָיָה כִּי יִצְעַק אֵלַי וְשָׁמַעְתִּי כִּי חַנּוּן אָנִי.

25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Exodus Chapter 22 שְׁמוֹת~

These verses come life in a remarkable ostracon discovered at the remnants of a Judean fortress in Southern Israel (ancient Kingdom of Judah) called Mezad Hashavyahu.

It is dated to the period of Josiah, King of Judah circa 7th c. BCE

It contains a written appeal by a field worker to the fortress’s governor regarding the confiscation of his cloak, which the writer considers to have been unjust. The worker makes his appeal to the governor on the basis of both the garment’s undeserved confiscation and by implication, the biblical law regarding holding past sundown a person’s cloak as collateral for a debt

This is a remarkable find that hasn’t been getting the attention that I humbly think it deserves. Aside from actualizing a theoretical situation described in the bible, it also seems to bear the first mention of Sabbath outside of Tanakh! (although that is disputed by some scholars).

The text:

ישמע אדני השר
את דבר עבדה. עבדך
קצר. היה. עבדך. בחצר אסם. ויקצר עבדך
ויכל ואסם כימם. לפני שב
ת כאשר כל {ע}בדך את קצר וא
סם כימם ויבא הושעיהו בן שב
י. ויקח. את בגד עבדך כאשר כלת
את קצרי זה ימם לקח את בגד עבדך
וכל אחי. יענו. לי. הקצרם אתי בחם.
{ה}ש {מש} אחי. יענו. לי אמן נקתי מא
{שם}………בגדי ואמלא. לשר להש
{יב} ……….עב{דך}…..אלו. רח
{מם. והש}בת את {בגד. ע}בדך ולא תדהמ נ

English translation (from Klaas Smelik, Writings from Ancient Israel, Westminster John Knox Press, 1991):

“Let my lord, the governor, hear the word of his servant! Your servant is a reaper. Your servant was in Hazar Asam, and your servant reaped, and he finished, and he has stored (the grain) during these days before the Sabbath. When your servant had finished the harvest, and had stored (the grain) during these days, Hoshavyahu came, the son of Shobi, and he seized the garment of your servant, when I had finished my harvest. It (is already now some) days (since) he took the garment of your servant. And all my companions can bear witness for me – they who reaped with me in the heat of the harvest – yes, my companions can bear witness for me. Amen! I am innocent from guilt. And he stole my garment! It is for the governor to give back the garment of his servant. So grant him mercy in that you return the garment of your servant and do not be displeased.”

Scans are from:

אסופת כתובות עבריות, מימי בית-ראשון וראשית ימי בית-שני.

אחיטוב, שמואל

ירושלים : מוסד ביאליק, תשנ”ג-1992
ספרית האנציקלופדיה המקראית

Who Are the Rechabites And Why Are They So Often Linked to Cohanim?

George Fischer writing in Brill:

The Rechabites (Heb. רֵכָבִים/rekābîm) are mentioned only in Jer 35. They traced their descent to Jehonadab, son of Rechab (2 Kgs 10:15, 23), who played a supporting role in Jehu’s revolt (9th cent. bce). The etymology of the name is unexplained.

The Rechabites’ lifestyle was unusual: they drank no wine and built no houses, living only in tents; they never sowed seeds or planted vineyards. They ascribed these restrictions to the command of Jehonadab ( Jer 35:6f.), which they followed faithfully. God contrasted them in their absolute obedience to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, who refused to listen to him and obey (vv. 13–17), and gave them a promise that they would stand before him for all time modeled on Jer 33:17f. The incident with Jeremiah, whom God had commanded to attempt to seduce them into drinking wine (for the motif of testing by God, Gen 22:1; Exod 15:25; etc.) is dated in the reign of Jehoiakim, around 600 bce (v. 11, based on 2 Kgs 24:1–2), but it could possibly reflect the formation of the book of Jeremiah in the 4th century; the existence of such a group in that period is attested by Jewish sources (W.L. Holladay, Jeremiah, II [Hermeneia, 1989, 246 with n. 5]).

Attempts to identify the Rechabites with other groups like the Nazirites are extremely precarious; G.L. Keown ( Jeremiah 26–52 [WBC 27, 1995, excursus 195f.]) rightly cautions against them and similar speculations. The significance of the Rechabites is that they modeled in their lives the obedient listening expected of the people of Israel.

There is a strange book in the Pseudepigrapha called The Story of Zosimus. Most scholars agree that it’s a hodgepodge; a composite work that combined several different works, composed at various different times by various different authors.

One of the works that were used is ‘A History of the Rechabites’ which Ronit Nikolsky believes to be a product of 5th c. Judean desert monasticism see here 

Arguments for and against a Jewish composition of the entirety or parts of The Story of Zosimus are cited by the noted Bible scholar James Davila here and here

Here is an  excerpt from the article that caught my attention:

Hegesippus tells us that when James the brother of Jesus was being stoned to death, one of the Rechabites, who are identified as a priestly family to which Jeremiah testified, objected and told the attackers to stop (Eusebius, Hist. eccl . 2.23).

Rekhabites? Priestly?

I have noticed this strange linkage too many times, in too many places, for it to be mere coincidence.

Here are several examples from Jewish sources:

The 11th c. Karaite sage Sahl b. Mazliah Hakohen is referred to as a ‘descendant of the rekhabites’  in Yisrael Eisenstein’s popular Ozar Yisrael see here

The Tanna, Rabi Yose B. Halafta (who was also a Kohen) is described as a descendant of Jonadab b Rekhab in The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Taanit:

תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת תענית פרק ד דף סח טור א /ה”ב  אמר רבי לוי מגילת יוחסין מצאו בירושלם וכתוב בה .. רבי יוסי בי רבי חלפתא מבני יונדב בן רכב

For the Karaite Sahl, perhaps he styled himself a ‘spiritual descendant’ of Yehonadab ben Rekhab, who, as we know according to the Biblical account, abstained from wine (and meat?). Sahl offered sharp rebuke to those who drink wine (and eat meat) while the Temple lies in ruins.

The early church fathers heaped praise upon the Rekhabites. They were held up as a perfect model of obedience and monasticism. Is it possible that some medieval Jews shared a similar view to the point where they made rekhabite a byword for righteous?

Davila:

The early Christian writers had a positive view of the Rechabites and referred to them several more times… the Rechabites are held up as an example by John Chrysostom for not disobeying their father’s command (Hom. Acts 5:34) and as people approved by the prophets (Hom. Matt. 12:38-29 4); and Jerome extols the asceticism of the Rechabites in Jov. II.3.15) and calls them “holy men” in Epist. 52.3.

More notable excerpts from Davila’s article:

References in these chapters to the Rechabites being commanded to go naked (8:3-5; 9:9) are probably secondary insertions, since nudity was frowned upon in ancient Judaism, the nudity of the Blessed Ones is mentioned elsewhere in the work, and some passages in 8-10 which should mention the nudity do not (9:8; 10:2).

Perhaps the nudity is a reference to their pure innocent state a la Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The Biblical Jonadab ben Rekhab does not seem to have been a Jew in the proper sense of the term.

From Chronicles, it seems that they were Kenites (and indeed in Aggadic sources they are referred to as descendants of Jethro):

וּמִשְׁפְּחוֹת סֹפְרִים ישבו (יֹשְׁבֵי) יַעְבֵּץ, תִּרְעָתִים שִׁמְעָתִים שׂוּכָתִים; הֵמָּה הַקִּינִים הַבָּאִים, מֵחַמַּת אֲבִי בֵית-רֵכָב

דברי הימים א ב כ”ב

According to the Sifri, the Children of Yitro (which may or may not include the Rechabites) settled in the fat portions of the city of Jericho. When Joshua b Nun apportioned the land, he granted it to the tribe of Binyamin.

Could the Cohanic connection be a result of a phonetic confusion between kenite and cohanite?

Or perhaps they married into the families of prominent cohanim and in so doing became intertwined with them?

The Mishna in Taanit 4, 5  lists the Sons of Rekhab as one of the prominent families who had  a designated day to collect firewood:

ד,ה  זמן עצי הכוהנים והעם, תשע:  באחד בניסן, בני ארח בן יהודה; בעשרים בתמוז, בני דויד בן יהודה; בחמישה באב, בני פרעוש בן יהודה; בשבעה בו, בני יונדב בן רכב; בעשרה בו, בני סנאה בן בנימין; בחמישה עשר בו, בני זתואל בן יהודה–ועימהם הכוהנים והלויים, וכל מי שטעה שבטו, ובני גונבי עלי, ובני קוצעי קציעות; בעשרים בו, בני פחת מואב בן יהודה; בעשרים באלול, בני עדין בן יהודה; באחד בטבת, שבו בני פרעוש שנייה.  באחד בטבת, לא היה בו מעמד, שהיה בו הלל, וקרבן מוסף וקרבן עצים.

Beit Al Maqdas, The House of Prayer for All Nations that Omar Built– Part I

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BACKGROUND AND SOME RABBINIC PRE-ARAB SOURCES

We have learned in Seder Eliyahu Rabbah (Chapter 28, ed. Friedman, p. 149):

Once Rabbi Zadok (late 1st c.) entered the Temple and saw it destroyed. He said: My father who is in heaven, You destroyed Your city and burned Your Temple and yet you sat by tranquilly and remained silent…on another occasion, Rabbi Natan (early 2nd c.) entered the Temple and found the Temple destroyed but for one wall still standing.

Tosefta Berakhot (6:2, ed. Lieberman, p. 33 and parallels):

Ben Zoma (early 2nd c.), when he saw a large mass of Jews on the Temple Mount, used to say: Blessed is He who created all the people to serve me….”

Yerushalmi (Pesahim 7:11, ed. Venice 35b):

Said R Yohanan ben Maryah (4th c. Israel) in the name of R Pinhas : From the fact that we see the sages removing their sandals under the portals of the wall (surrounding the) Temple Mount, we can drive that under the portal was not sanctified.

R Pinhas is saying that since the sages took off their sandals under the portal according to the law that it is forbidden to enter the Mount wearing shoes (Berakhot 9:5), the portal is therefore not part of the Temple Mount. From here we can deduce that the sages of that period did indeed enter the Temple Mount on a regular basis.

 

The Christian Pilgrim of Bordeaux, who was in Jerusalem around the year 333 CE, relates that the Jews used to come to the Temple Mount every year on the Ninth of Av in order to recite lamentations over the Temple ruins and to rend their garments. He adds that next to two monuments of Hadrian there was a perforated stone upon which the Jews used to pour oil 1].

—–

The Muslim Conquest of Palestine

At the time of the Muslim conquest of the Levant, a large Jewish population still lived in Palestine (see for instance the question posed in JT Demai 22c on whether  most of Eretz Yisrael is in the hands of the gentiles  or whether the greater part is in the hands of Israel). We do not know whether they formed a majority but we may assume with some certainty that they did so when grouped with the Samaritans. Significant Jewish population in places like Acre, Haifa, Sephoris  and Eilat (Ayla) are attested to directly and indirectly by Christian and Muslim sources such as Procopius and the anonymous tract “The Didaskalia of Jacob, the Recently Baptized”  (On Sephorris, there is the famous statement that Muhammed is said to have made to Uqba b. Ali, a descendant of Umaya: “You are a Jew from the Jews of Sephoris”).

In the biography of the monk-soldier Bar Sawma who was active in the area in the 5th c., it is told that the Jews and Samaritans virtually governed the land and they persecuted the Christians. Bar Sawma led a campaign against this Jewish-Samaritan front, presumably with the assistance of a Byzantine army. The Jewish-Samaritan forces were said to have consisted of 15,000 armed men. The Jews were defeated and Bar Sawma describes the ensuing destruction on the Jewish towns and villages. On one Synagogue in the city of Reqem of Gaya (Petra) he remarks “it could bear comparison only to Solomon’s Temple”.

In about the year 425, the Jews of the Galilee and its surroundings applied to the empress Eudocia to permit them to pray on the ruins of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, as they had forbidden to do so since Constantine. The empress relented. The author of the aforementioned biography cites a letter purportedly written by the Jews of Galilee to the Jewish communities in Rome and Persia:

To the great and elevated nation of the Jews, from the Priest and Head of Galilee, many greetings. Ye shall know that the time of the dispersion of our people is at an end, and from now onwards the say of our congregation and salvation has come, for the Roman kings have written a decree to hand over our city of Jerusalem to us. Therefore come quickly to Jerusalem for the coming holiday of Sukkot, for our kingdom is established in Jerusalem.

And indeed 103,000 Jews came and gathered in Jerusalem but they were struck by calamity where –in the biographer’s version ‘big stones rained from the sky’ whereas the Jews complained to the empress that they were attacked by hostile monks.

Some historians have understandably cast doubt on the version of events cited there. Some have cast serious doubt on the stories relating to the Jews since he lived a century after the events described. Moshe Gil retorts that “this is a facile way of dismissing ancient sources. We must not disregard or refute their contents even if they appear legendary in character, they still retain a germ of historical truth” 2].

There were no less then four Samaritan revolts against Byzantine rule from the year 484 to 555.

The period preceding the Arab conquest was undoubtedly a period of decline and internal disintegration of the Byzantine Empire. After a series of assassinations and wars with Persians and Longobards, a new Emperor gained the throne of Byzantium in 610, Heraclius. But the longed for peace would be short-lived as the Persians renewed their campaign against the Empire. In this the Persians were aided in no small part by their Jews as well as the Jews they encountered along the way. Jews fought in the Persian army and according to one contemporary chronicle, they were so influential as to gain exemption from fighting on the Sabbath.

The Jews, both the locals and the ones who joined the Persians in the conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE, did not treat the city’s Christians with magnanimity. According to Christian accounts Jews destroyed churches and put to death Christians who would not convert to Judaism. One of the more famous Jewish personages of that time and place was a certain wealthy Jews named Benjamin of Tiberias. The Jews exulted at the liberation of the city from Byzantine hands. A trove of artifacts were recently discovered dating back from that period. A verse from Isaiah was found scrawled on a stone on the mount. Jews cautiously celebrated their victory and as mentioned may have resumed Temple sacrifices for the first time since the Bar Kokhba revolt– but alas it was to be short-lived.

Heraclius eventually regrouped, forming powerful alliances with the sworn enemies of the Persians (such as the Khazars). A bloody battle ensued. It lasted from 622 to 628 with Byzantium once again in control of the Holy Land.

Revenge was swift and bloody. Heraclius’s edict of apostasy resulted in a wave of conversions and martyrdom (the Samaritan Chronicle The Tolida- a Samaritan Chronicle records a great number of people crucified among the Samaritans as well). Interestingly enough, Heraclius’ persecution of the Jews is still commemorated to this day by the Coptic Church which holds an official fast day of the carnival (that is the great fast before Easter). It is intended to beg God’s pardon for the Emperor Heraclius for having permitted the slaughter of the Jews in 628.

But the Byzantine sun was setting as the crescent  was ascending from the south.

DID THE ‘NATIVES’ OF PALESTINE WELCOME THE ARAB INVADER?

It is erroneous to think that the natives of the levant in particular welcomed the Arabs with open arms as kindred brothers. Gil takes pains to point out that arguments as to racial affinity are exaggerated at best: “there are some among contemporary arab savants (although fanciful tales which clearly attempt to respresent this sentiment appear early, see for instance Baladhuri who relates that the Jews of Homs swore an oath on the Torah scrolls that they would not let Heraclius back into the city and pledged their loyalty to the Muslim forces) who see an ethnic motivation behind the conquests. They see Arabs everywhere…the Cannanites and Phillistines are Arabs according to their theories. This applies to an even greater degree to the population of Syria and Palestine in the seventh century, who were certainly Semites. Thus, according to their claims, the conquering Arab forces, in the course of their battles, actually encountered their own people or at least members of their own race who spoke the same language (see for instance Hitti, History, 143). This is of couse a very distorted view: Semitism is not a race and relates to the sphere of language. The populations in the cities and countryside along the route of battle were not arabs and neither did they speak Arabic. We do know of Bedouin tribes who inhabited the southern desert of Palestine, west of the Eurphrates in the Syrian desert, Palmyra and elsewhere, But the cultivated inner regions were inhabited by Jews and Christians who spoke Aramaic. They did not sense any special ties to the Beduin; of anything the opposite was true. The proximity and danger of an invasion from that quarter disturbed their peace of mind and this is amply reflected both in the writings of the Church Fathers and in Talmudic sources (on early Rabbinic attitudes towards Arabs, see BT Kettubot 66b and 72b; Taaniot ii 69b and Lamentations Rabba [Buber]108).

The first incursion commenced in 629. While in Arabia Muhammed often pursued a brutal policy of dispossession and wholesale slaughter against the ‘non-believers’ he quickly learned that it would do him well to adopt a wiser policy. He made treaties with towns in the south of Palestine. His treaty with the people of Maqna (a town near Eilat) explicitly references the Jews:

To the sons of Hanina, who are Jews of Maqna…your security is ensured and you are granted God’s protection and that of his messenger..no one will do you injustice and harm.. you will owe a quarter of your date harvest and quarter of your fishing yield..if you will listen and obey, the messenger of God will respect the honorable amongst you…there will be no chief over you other than one of you or one of the messengers of God’s people. And peace.

At Mohammed’s death in June of 632, the campaign as continued by Abu Bakr and the leader of the forces Usama b Zayd.

In 638, the city of Jerusalem fell. The commander of the armies was the Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab who ascended to the throne four years earlier.

On who stood at the helm of the Muslim forces and why it may not have been Umar after all but rather an underling. Professor Moshe Sharon of Hebrew University writes in his work The Shape of the Holy:

Islamic tradition ascribes the conquest of Jerusalem to a number of glorified Muslim rulers, but in all likelihood this to be a fabrication, saying Jerusalem capitulated to a minor commander out of choice rather than necessity.

The tradition about its conquest was shaped at least a century after the event took place and it was no longer possible for the first association of Islam with Jerusalem to remain mundane.
On Jewish ascription of the fall of Jerusalem to a mighty ruler,  see BT gittin 56b

In Tabari, Umar is said to have granted the residents of Jerusalem (who were all Christians) a writ of protection which included the proviso continuing the ban on Jewish residence in Jerusalem. Goiten casts doubt on the veracity of that covenant (as we shall soon see).

Ibn Asaqir quotes a strange version from Waqidi, according to which an agreement was made with the Jews who were in Jerusalem, 20 in number, and their leader being Joseph bin Nun (?). The number 20 is interesting as it figures later with the number of Jews assigned for work on the Temple Mount. Other sources mention the clause in the treaty concluded between the conquering forces and the Christians, namely that no Jews should be able to reside in the city.

NOTES:

1.] All pre-Arab Rabbinic quotes are reproduced from Rabbi David Golinkin, A Responsum Regarding Entering the Temple Mount in Our Day, CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM, Volume XLVII, Number 3, Spring 1966

2] Moshe Gil, Palestine p. 3

That Time When The Kohen Gadol Was Pelted With Etrogim (to death?)

At my other blog

http://ha-historion.blogspot.com/2014/10/that-time-when-cohen-gadol-was-pelted.html

Sukkot, Bar Kokhba’s Favorite Holiday

elazarbarco coin  0 R kaysh

The coin on the right is of special interest and historical value. It was minted during the third and last year of the Jewish revolt against Rome (year 134/135 CE). Lulav holder with 3 Minim and Etrog on his left. Hebrew inscription around – For the Freedom of Jerusalem.

This arrangement follows (unsurprisingly) the opinion of Rabbi Akiva in the Mishna (1.

Also interesting to note, the sort of basket that is meant for holding all the species together. This is still followed by Ashkenazim.

The first coin depicts a palm tree and the legend: Elazar the High Priest. Many scholars identify him with Elazar Hamodai who was, according to the Talmud, an uncle of Bar Kokhba.

What’s interesting about this coin is that the writing is in Paleo-Hebrew while R’ Elazar championed the superiority of the ‘modern’ Assyrian script (2.

It seems that Jewish nationalists (this is evident from Maccabean coins as well) actually deemed the older script to be more authentic –and the reintroduction of this script, at such a late date, may have been part of a nationalist revival on the part of Bar Kokhba.

The fragment is part of a letter written by Bar Kokhba to a district commander requesting the immediate delivery of four species to supply his troops for the  upcoming Sukkot holiday.

This is the text of the letter:

ליהודה בר מנשה לקרית ערביה. שלחת לך תרי חמרין די תשלח עמהן תרי גברין לות יהונתן בר בעין ולות מסבלה די יעמרן, וישלחן למחניה לותך ללבין ואתרגין. ואת שלח אחרנין מלותך וימטון לך הדסין וערבין. ותקן יתהן ושלח יתהן למחניה בדיל די אכלסה סגי. הוא שלם.

וזה תרגומה העברי:

שורה א: ליהודה בר מנשה מקריית ערביה. שלחתי לך שני חמורים כדי שתשלח
שורה ב: עמהם שני אנשים אצל יהונתן בן בעיה ואצל מסבלה כדי שיעמיסו
שורה ג: וישלחו למחנה אצלך לולבים ואתרוגים. ואתה שלח אחרים מאצלך
שורה ד: ויביאו לך הדסים וערבות והתקן אותם ושלח אותם למחנה מפני
שורה ה: שהצבא רב(.) היה שלום

English:

Shimeon to Yehudah bar Menashe in Qiryath ‘Arabaya.
I have sent to you two donkeys, and you must send with them two men to Yehonathan, son of Be’ayan and to Masabala, in order that they shall pack and send to the camp, towards you, palm branches and citrons. And you, from your place, send others who will bring you myrtles and willows. See that they are tithed and sent them to the camp. The request is made because the army is big. Be well.

הערות:

1)
במשנה סוכה פרק ג משנה ד אומר רבי ישמעאל שיש לקחת למצווה זו אתרוג אחד, לולב אחד, שלושה הדסים ושתי ערבות. רבי עקיבא חולק עליו וסובר שמכל מין יש לקחת אחד, אך דעתו של רבי ישמעאל נפסקה להלכה. מטבע עתיק מימי בר כוכבא מראה את ארבעת המינים לפי שיטתו של רבי עקיבא, שכנראה רווחה בזמנו

2)
רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר משום רבי אליעזר בן פרטא שאמר משום רבי אלעזר המודעי: כתב זה לא נשתנה כל עיקר, שנאמר )שמות כ”ז( ווי העמודים; מה עמודים לא נשתנו – אף ווים לא נשתנו.
סנהדרין כב א

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