250 BC to 230 BC, Psalm 35: Deceptive calm.

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Mount Griezim ruins, holy place for the Samaritan community, IsraelThis generation is that of the years between 250 BC and 230 BC.

This generation is still marked by the Lagide domination even if the Seleucids begin to show themselves.
And more particularly, this generation is under the imprint of King Lagide Ptolemy III Evergete I (246 BC, 221 BC).

Octadrachm_Ptolemy_III_BM_CMBMC103At the level of the striking and known events of this generation, we can quote again Flavius Josephus:

  • Onias [1], son of Simon the Righteous and nephew of Eleazar (who was contacted by the Lagide power, following « The letter of Aristea » to provide translators of the Jewish law, which gave the Septuagint), had succeeded as high priest to Manasseh, who had had him after the death of Eleazar. Ptolemy, nicknamed Evergette, father of Philopator, was irritated. He sent Athenion, who was in great favor with him, to Jerusalem, to threaten him with delivering the country in prey to his troops, if he did not satisfy him. He was the only one of the Jews who was not frightened by it, so much did his love for money make him insensitive to all the rest.
  • Joseph, the son of Tobias and a sister of Onias, although very young, was so wise and so virtuous that everyone honored him in Jerusalem. Having learned from his mother, in the place of his birth named Phicola, that a man had arrived from the king for the subject of which we spoke, he at once went to find Onias, his uncle. He told him that it was strange that, having been brought up by the people in honor of the sovereign priesthood, he was so little touched by the public good that he was not afraid to put all his fellow-citizens in such danger rather than to pay what he owed. He also told him that his passion for money was so great that it made him despise the interest of his country, he had to at least go to the king to beg him to hand over all or part of it. He cared so little about the great priesthood that he was ready to give it up if it could, rather than go to the king. Joseph therefore begged him to allow him to go there from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and having no difficulty in obtaining it, he assembled all the people in the Temple. Where he told them that his uncle’s negligence should not throw them into so great a fear, and that he offered to go and find the king from them to let him know that they had done nothing he could not please.
From this passage which initializes the history of the Tobiades in the work of Flavius Josephus, we can quote the following comment:
  • We [2] have the chance to follow the story of an important family, the « Tobiades », throughout the confrontation between the Lagids and the Seleucids. Flavius Josephus has traced the adventures. The Jewish community was divided into pro-lagos and pro-Seleucids. During the reign of Ptolemy III, it seems that Onias II, high priest of Jerusalem, refused to pay the tribute of twenty talents, as opposed to Pharaoh. The priestly rebellion comes at a time when the Seleucid power, during the « Third Syrian War », begins to appear in the Holy City. His attitude shows that he was hoping for a change of power in Palestine Lagide, in favor of the Seleucid rival.
Pierre Lebeau’s analysis is realistic, however Flavius Josephus, who lived under Roman rule after the war between Rome and the Jewish people, could not take the risk of describing the high priest’s decision as a political decision of resistance to the occupier.
It is simpler, for Flavius Josephus who always hopes to strengthen the bonds between Romans and Jews, to present to the Romans, the Jewish people as a people faithful to his commitments and to justify the attitude of the high priest as that of a victim of his old age rather than an act of resistance and insubordination.
Since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple, the Jewish people lost their sovereignty.
If he has found his land, the Jewish people live as vassals of an empire that dominates him. But if the Jewish people are eternal, the empires on which they depend are not. Thus to give allegiance to the dominant empire of the moment, or of a generation, it is automatically to put oneself in port with false compared to the empire which will succeed to him.
Navigating politically in these conditions can only be dangerous for a submissive people without real military power, so many nations have disappeared for not having made the right choices at the right time. However, for the people of Israel, all the empires that have dominated it, if they have been able to obtain its submission, have never been able to eliminate it completely. Empires pass, and thanks to God’s protection, the people of Israel cross the ages.
It is this supernatural resistance of the people of Israel that the beginning of the Psalm evokes:

(extract of the psalm 35 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 10 )

  • Of David. O Lord, strive with those who strive against me, battle my foes.
  • Grasp a shield and encircling armor, and rise to my assistance.
  • And arm Yourself with a spear and bar the way before my pursuers; say to my soul, « I am your salvation. »
  • May those who seek my life be shamed and embarrassed; may those who plan my harm draw backward and be abashed.
  • Let them be as chaff before the wind, with an angel of the Lord thrusting them.
  • May their way be dark and slippery, with an angel of the Lord pursuing them.
  • For without cause they have hidden for me a pit, yea a net; without cause they have dug it for my soul.
  • May darkness that he does not know come upon him, and his net that he hid shall ensnare him; in the darkness may he fall into it.
  • And my soul shall exult in the Lord; it shall rejoice in His salvation.
  • All my bones shall say, O Lord, who is like You, Who saves a poor man from one stronger than he and a poor man and a needy one from one who robs him.
In addition to the threat of other peoples, there is also that of the elders of the people of Israel, who believed they were taking a distance with the common destiny of the Jewish people during this long night full of bitterness and tears.
In order to show clearly that they have nothing to do with the chosen people, their perseverance towards the Jewish people is often much more prejudicial than the attacks of other peoples.
Thus, during the generation that interests us, the Samaritans, who are a mixture between the rest of the ten tribes of Israel and the peoples imported by Sennacherib, in addition to having built a temple competing with that of Jerusalem on Mount Gazirim, harshly attack the people of Israel, whom they should nevertheless consider as their brotherly people.
Thus Flavius Josephus tells us:
  • In [3] the same time (corresponds to the generation that interests us), the Samaritans, who were then very powerful, did great evils to the Jews, both by ravages in the countryside that because they made several prisoners on them .
The people of Jerusalem had mourned when the kingdom of Israel fell into the hands of Sennacherib. It is all the more difficult to bear the attacks of the brother people even if they are less deadly than those of other peoples.
This is what is expressed in the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 35 associated to this generation, verses 11 to 16 )

  • False witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I know not.
  • They recompense me with evil instead of good, death to my soul.
  • But, as for me, when they were ill, my attire was sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting, and may my prayer return upon my bosom.
  • I walked about as though it were a friend or as though it were my own brother; I was bowed with gloom as the mourning of a mother.
  • And, when I limped, they rejoiced and gathered; lame people gathered about me, [why,] I do not know. Were they to tear, they would not draw blood.
  • Because of the flattery of scorn for food, they gnash their teeth at me.
Having opened the divine word to other peoples, Israel’s emerging dependence on other peoples brings David’s final prayer to God. In the face of its dangers, the only salvation can come only from God. David expresses it as danger only dawns on the horizon, the lions of tomorrow, those we have already mentioned in the previous psalm are still only lion cubs. But the passing of time only strengthens their strength and confirms the strength they will later unleash against Israel.
It is this prayer of David that we find at the end of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 35 associated to this generation, verses 17 to 28 )

  • O Lord, how long will You look on? Return my soul from their darkness, my only one from young lions.
  • I will thank You in a large assembly; in a mighty people I will praise You.
  • Let them not rejoice over me, those who are my enemies for an unjust cause, neither shall those who hate me for nought wink their eyes.
  • For they do not speak peace, and against the crushed people of the earth they think words of deceit.
  • And they opened their mouth wide against me and they said, « Aha! Aha! Our eyes have seen [what we desired]. »
  • You saw, O Lord, do not be silent; O Lord, do not distance Yourself from me.
  • Arouse Yourself and awaken to my judgment, my God and my Lord, to my cause.
  • Judge me according to Your righteousness, O Lord, my God, and let them not rejoice over me.
  • Let them not say in their hearts, « Our soul rejoices. » Let them not say, « We have swallowed him up. »
  • Let them be ashamed and abashed together, those who rejoice at my misfortune; let them be clothed in shame and disgrace, those who raise themselves haughtily over me.
  • Let those who desire my vindication sing praises and rejoice, and let them constantly say, « May the Lord, Who desires the peace of His servant, be magnified. »
  • And my tongue shall utter Your righteousness, Your praise all day long.

 

 

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[1] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Twelfth book / end of chapter 3 and beginning of chapter 4.

[2] Richard Lebeau / A History of the Hebrews / Chapter: Israel versus Hellenism. (French: Richard Lebeau/Une histoire des Hébreux/Chapitre : Israël face à l’hellénisme).

[3] Josephus Flavius / Jewish Antiquities / Twelfth Book / End of Chapter 3