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Tuesday, 17 February 2015 11:52

THE ENCOUNTER OF SIMON THE JUST WITH ANTIOCHUS THE GREAT: FROM ZENON OF RHODES TO JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS AND THE TALMUD

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The story of the encounter of Alexander Macedon with the Jewish nation, reported by Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud, was a favorite topic of many generations of Judaica scholars but fell in complete disrepute in the last century due to several inconsistencies. To account for some of them, Solomon Zeitlin (1924) suggested that the Greek king of the encounter was King Antiochus III, not Alexander, however his idea did not receive the recognition it deserves. Here I enrich Zeitlin’s idea with several new insights.

As Antiochus was accompanied by a historian of note, Zenon of Rhodes, the encounter story is likely a fragment from non-extant history writings by Zenon, known to us through Polybius. I conjecture that it was dessiminated by Timagenes of Alexandria who changed the king’s name to Alexander Macedon. In this form, through Strabo, the story became known to Josephus who made further amendments changing the high priest’s name to Yaddua.

Developing my earlier (2005) insight, I give a rational explanation to a seemingly fabulous detail of the story, the king’s alleged ‘recognition’ of the high priest, and also resolve several other discrepancies between Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud related to ‘Parmenio’ and ‘Antipatris’. Summing up, I claim the encounter story describes a genuine historical episode, which can be dated according to the historical context to January 9, 198 BC.

This reading may provide new bounds on the timing of Septuagint, explain a cryptic episode in the Talmud Yerushalmi and shed light on the circumstances of creating the ‘Alexander Romance.’ 

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