330 BC to 310 BC, Psalm 31: Esau’s track.

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1024px-Plato_Aristotle_della_Robbia_OPA_FlorenceThis generation is that of the years between 330 BC and 310 BC.

The previous generation was marked by the reign of Alexander the Great.
He dies at the beginning of this generation after making new conquests. These military campaigns make him master of an empire that starts from Greece encompassing Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and the Gateway of India. If Alexander does not spare the first cities that resist his conquest like Thebes or Tire, the fragility of his army and especially the small population of Macedonia push him to seek alliances with the vanquished.
Thus, if through Alexander, the West began to make its mark in the East, the East did the same on the West. It is rather on the bringing into contact of these two worlds, that on the empire itself that it will be dislocated, that the mark of Alexander is predominant.
Let us recall that Alexander the Great, according to Tabari, is mentioned under the name of Dsul-Qarnaïn in the Koran. Tabari gives the following explanation:
  • Alexander [1] is called Dsul-Qarnain for this reason that he went from one end of the world to the other. The word « qarn » means horn, and at the ends of the world, we give the name « horns ». He, having gone to both ends of the world, both east and west, is called Dsul-Qarnaïn.

World_of_Ptolemy_as_shown_by_Johannes_de_Armsshein_-_Ulm_1482

The representation in the form of horns of the east and the west can be justified especially if we consider as central point Jerusalem. Then, Athens and Babylon the two ancient capitals of these entities that are the west and the east then form the end of two horns that originate in Jerusalem. Horns that will really take shape when the West will create its center of gravity in Rome and the East in Mecca.
In any case, Jerusalem is at the center of this new world opened by Alexander.
Alexander is indeed a builder, the legend attributes to him the foundation of seventy cities « Alexandria » as much as the number of nations of the earth following Genesis. Many of these Alexandria are in fact old renamed cities. But at least seven are from Alexander’s initiative: Alexandria of Egypt (331 BC) which will have a major role in the history of the Jews for the next centuries, Alexandria of the « Caucasus » (330 BC), Alexandria of Oxiane (329 BC), Alexandria of the Sogdes, or of the Indus (325 BC), Alexandria of the Orites (325 BC) and Alexandria of Susiana (324 BC).
It is by wanting to found a new Alexandria on the site of Babylon, that Alexander finds death. He was born at the end of the first horn (Macedonia is near Athens), he died at the end of the second (Babylon).
If the constructed empire will not last, the union of the East and West of the time within the same authority will leave indelible traces still detectable in the world today.
Many Jews will settle voluntarily or under duress in the new Greek colonies and will be confronted with this new culture.

Stich, Abbildung, gravure, engraving : 1880Let us recall that the preceptor of Alexander the Great was a certain Aristotle, disciple of Plato. Aristotle dies in exile a year after Alexander is during the generation that interests us. The confrontation between the two cultures is in fact initiated by Alexander the Great:

  • The dichotomy [2] between Western philosophy and Jewish (or Judeo-Christian) tradition has often been expressed metaphorically as a rivalry between Athens and Jerusalem, the first embodying rational truth, and the second, revealing truth. In fierce competition in their cognitive pursuit of truth, their tension seems never to be able to be solved.
If Greek culture has undeniable intellectual contributions, Hellenism will be a permanent danger for Jews who, confronted with the rationality of Greek science, and the wealth and cosmopolitanism of new Greek cities, will tend to lose Jewish tradition, even to hide it.
Already at this time there is the question of assimilation to the Jews confronted with the promises of the new empire.
Should we adhere completely to Greek culture and abandon its tradition?
It is against this lure that David expresses himself at the beginning of this psalm where he reaffirms the fidelity of his people to the Lord and asks him to strengthen it in this choice against the temptations of the new Greek era. :

(extract of the psalm 31 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 7 )

  • To the conductor, a song of David.
  • I took refuge in You, O Lord; let me not be shamed forever; rescue me with Your righteousness.
  • Incline Your ear to me, quickly rescue me; be a rock of strength to me, a stronghold to save me. 
    • David reaffirms his choice of faithfulness to God but knows that Greek temptation (« philosophy ») is already a dangerous stumbling block for Jews and Judaism (« save me« ).
  • For You are my Rock and my Stronghold, and for Your name’s sake, You shall lead me and guide me.
  • You shall free me from this net which they have hidden for me, for You are my stronghold.
    • Tempting assimilation into the new Greek culture is a more pernicious danger than wars, 
  • In Your hand I entrust my spirit;
    • This affirmation states the nature of the danger, it is not that of an army but rather that related to ideas.
  • You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.
  • I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the Lord.
    • The Greeks, despite the acuteness of his philosophers, remain an idolatrous people and civilization. It will take several centuries for their successors, the Romans, to extricate themselves from this cult in favor of Christian monotheism. In response to the temptation of idolatry, David reaffirms his adherence to the « revelatory truth », that related to the divine message delivered to Sinai.
This Greek civilization includes the Roman succession. The next civilization, in which the Jewish people will be sucked, will initiate a long period of more than two thousand years, alternating between periods of hope and periods of disillusionment for the Jewish people. Periods of opulence in which the people of Israel live in symbiosis within this new empire and periods of misery and oppression of the people of Israel by the peoples of this empire.

balance of powerThis civilization will give birth to Christianity and Islam, religions that alternate periods of brotherhood with Judaism and periods of confrontation.

Alexander was once so popular with Jews that his name became one of the most popular Jewish names. A few generations later, the record, or at least that of the successors of Alexander, is presented much differently by the editor of the Maccabees books.
It is the whole of this confrontation that David depicts in the following of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 31 associated to this generation, verses 8 to 25 )

  • I will exult and rejoice in Your kindness, for You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul.
  • And you did not deliver me into the hands of an enemy; You have placed my feet in a broad place.
    • In spite of the temptations of assimilation, the Jewish people will go through the ages until the present era without ever really yielding to the renunciation of their faith even if each generation of many Jews will end individually by moving away from the ancestral faith.
  • Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.
  • For my life is spent in grief and my years in sighing; my strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my bones have decayed.
  • From all my tormentors I have become a reproach-and very much so to my neighbors-and fright to my acquaintances; 
    • The generations that will pass under the Western domination will be so many trials for the people of Israel who will see succeed many enemies wanting its loss on the physical (my body) and moral (my soul). None will succeed, but the blows will be terrible each time. To the point that the people who will rub shoulders with the Jewish people during these long generations, will consider with disdain the people of Israel, considering that his fate is due to a well-deserved curse of which they will nevertheless be the actors.
  • those who see me outside avoid me.
  • I was forgotten like a dead person, out of mind; I was like a lost utensil.
  • For I heard the gossip of many, terror from all sides when they take counsel together against me; they plotted to take my soul.
    • During all these generations, Christians will consider the Jewish people as a fossil people, witness of the life of Jesus. Witness also the decay due to the non-adherence of the Jewish people to the new theses. Christianity will not be content with this, on many occasions, it will try to permanently eliminate Judaism, again without success, even if the wounds generated will be painful. Islam from Christianity will resume these theories on its own.
  • But I trusted in You, O Lord; I said, « You are my God. »
  • My times are in Your hands; rescue me from the hands of my enemies and from my pursuers.
  • Cause Your countenance to shine upon Your servant; save me with Your kindness.
  • O Lord, let me not be shamed because I called out to You; let the wicked be shamed, let them be silenced to the grave.
  • Let lying lips become mute, those that speak against a righteous man falsely, with haughtiness and disdain. 
    • Despite the attacks, the Jewish people will not abdicate whatever the conditions of life imposed and will maintain their full trust in the Lord even during the hardest periods of persecution. Verbal violence being more murderous than physical violence.
  • How great is Your goodness that You have laid away for those who fear You, that You have worked for those who take refuge in You, in the presence of the sons of men!
  • You shall hide them in the secrecy of Your countenance, from bands of men; protect them in a shelter from the strife of tongues. 
    • The first generations of the night were the occasion for the Jewish people to go astray many times at the level of the faith. At the end of these, faith is now well anchored (« protect them in a shelter ») and can withstand external attacks (« from the strife of tongues »). This resistance will be effective even when the temple is gone and the people of Israel will return to exile.
  • You shall hide them in the secrecy of Your countenance, from bands of men; protect them in a shelter from the strife of tongues.
  • Blessed is the Lord for He has been wondrously kind to me in a besieged city.
  • But I said in my haste, « I have been cut off from before Your eyes, » but You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You.
  • Love the Lord, all His pious ones. The Lord guards those who believe [in Him] and He pays with a bowstring him who works with haughtiness.
  • Strengthen yourselves, and He will give your heart courage, all who hope to the Lord.
    • This confidence will not be in vain. God will eventually remember his people and finally intervene when the last thrusts are brought to the Jewish people then back on his land. The Jewish people will shine again on the world enlightened by the divine light. At that very moment the enemies of Israel will be put on trial.

 

 

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[1] TABARI « From Solomon to the fall of the Sassanids », Chapter: « History of Dsul-Qarnaïn and construction of the Yadjudj and Mdjudj wall ». (French: TABARI « De Salomon à la chute des Sassanides », Chapitre Histoire de Dsoul-Qarnaïn et construction du mur de Yâdjoudj et Mâdjoudj ).

[2] (under the direction of) Jean Baumgarten and Julien Darmon: « To the origins of Judaism ». Frederek Musall’s Chapter: « Bringing Philosophy into Tradition ». (French: « Aux origines du judaïsme ». Chapitre de Frederek Musall : « Faire entrer la philosophie dans la tradition ». (p. 128) ).