350 BC to 330 BC, Psalm 30: Alexander.

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alexandre composition

This generation is that of the years between 350 BC and 330 BC.

Before dwelling on the psalm proper, we must first look at its introduction.
(extract of the psalm 30 associated to this generation, verse 1  )
  • A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the Temple. Of David.
Indeed, since Ezra, we can consider that the Temple of Jerusalem is functioning normally again. Why then speak of dedication or inauguration for the generation that interests us?
For this, we must be interested in the major events that occur for this generation. Indeed this generation sees the confrontation between the Jews of Jerusalem and Alexander the Great, representative of the Western world which has not yet been confronted by the Jewish people.
Western world often assimilated to Esau that will be fatal to the nascent kingdom of Israel, since the Roman successors of the Greeks will destroy the second Temple and will lead to a new exile of the Jewish people that will last this time well over seventy years.
Regarding our generation, the confrontation with Alexander finally takes place better than expected in any case without the dreaded destruction.

A first event is told by Flavius Josephus. He places it at the same time as the death [1] of Philip of Macedonia (Philip of Macedonia is assassinated in 336 BC):

  • After [2] the death of Eliasib, high priest, Judas, his son succeeded him. And when Judas was dead, John his son succeeded him, and caused the people of Bagose, the general of the army of Artaxerxes, to profane the temple. He imposed upon the Jews a tribute of fifty drachmas payable at the public’s expense for each lamb they sacrificed; what happened by the cause that I (it is Flavius Josephus who expresses himself) will say. Bagose was very fond of Jesus, John’s brother, and had promised to make him a high priest. One day when the two brothers were in the Temple, they entered on this subject in such a contest that John, transported with anger, killed his brother in this holy place, and thus committed a crime so abominable that there is no for example, of a similar impiety, neither among the Greeks nor among the most barbarous peoples. God did not let this sacrilege go unpunished; it was the cause that the Jews lost their liberty, and that the Temple was profaned by the Persians; for as soon as Bagose heard of it, he came, shouting furiously, « What! Miserable as you are, you have not feared to commit in your own Temple such a dreadful crime. He then wished to enter it, and on what was being done to prevent him from doing so, he said in a still stronger voice: « Do you think me more impure than this dead body, which I see here extended? ? As he finished these words, he entered the Temple, and used this opportunity to persecute the Jews for seven years.

Eliasib probably corresponds to Eliashib found in the book of Ezra [3]. On the other hand, the son Johanan is more likely to correspond to John (Jean is Johanan’s true Greek correspondence) Eliasib’s grandson than to Judas his son. Twenty to forty years separate the generation of Ezra from the one we are interested in. The probability that Elyachib is Johanan’s father to whom he is the grandfather is equal but does not change the event that interests us.
On the other hand, in Nehemiah, the filiation of Eliashib is indicated.
Recall that the book of Nehemiah is probably not limited to the episode of Nehemiah himself, since Ezra is quoted while he probably did not live at the same time as Nehemiah. On the other hand, the parentage that we quote belongs to several generations and is therefore defined much later than the very time of Nehemiah.
The desecration of the Temple by the murder perpetrated then by the intrusion of Bagose probably interrupted the normal service of the Temple. The latter was probably able to resume after the seven years mentioned by Flavius Josephus under the direction of Jaddus the son of John who succeeds him as high priest (high priest). We find this same Jaddus in a new confrontation with the Persians again justified by internal tensions within the Jewish people of Jerusalem.
These tumultuous relations of Jerusalem with Persia, its former protector, are deteriorating.

Alexandre_le_Grand,_vainqueur_de_Darius_à_la_bataille_d'Arbelles

The time of Cyrus, compared to the Messiah, is now very far. The decline of the Persian empire is announced. At the same time, Alexander the Great, the successor of Philip of Macedonia inflicts a first defeat to the Persians.
It was then that Sanabaleth the Perse undertook to establish in Samaria a competing temple in the Temple of Jerusalem. Where Manasseh his son-in-law must become the High Priest in compensation for the loss of the priesthood in Jerusalem.
Dessin_Siège_de_Tyr_(-332)As the Persian power interferes dangerously in the affairs of Jerusalem, the Greek threat is confirmed. The Greek troops after defeating the Persians continue their offensive and move closer to Judea.

Thus Alexander defeated Tire (in 332 BC), and of course, in accordance with the promise he had made beforehand, the worst was waiting for the Jews of Jerusalem.

As for Thebes, also defeated earlier, and Gaza to be defeated a few months after Tire, Alexander is not lenient with the vanquished of these cities. The city is razed, the people are massacred or reduced to slavery. This is clearly the fate that Jerusalem can expect.
This is why the Jews of Jerusalem rely on God.

1024px-Alexander_the_Great_in_the_Temple_of_Jerusalem

These prayers are not vain, because the announced disaster did not take place:
  • God Him (Jaddus) appeared in a dream the following night, and told him to spread flowers in the city, to open all the doors and to go in his pontifical clothes with all the priests also dressed in theirs and all others dressed in white in front of Alexander, without apprehending anything of this prince, because he would protect them. Jaddus made it known with great joy to all the people the revelation he had had; and all prepared to wait in this state for the coming of the king. When it was known that he was near, the high priest accompanied by the other priests and all the people, went to meet him in this great pomp, so holy and so different from the other nations, to the place named Sopha. Sopha, which means in Greek Guerite, because one can from there to see the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Phoenicians and Chaldeans who were in the army of Alexander did not doubt that, in the wrath he was against the Jews, he did not allow Castaigne_Siege_of_Gazathem to sack Jerusalem and did an exemplary punishment of the High Priest. But it happened quite the opposite: for this prince had no sooner seen this great multitude of men dressed in white, this troop of priests dressed in linen, tiara on the head; with a blade of gold on which the name of God was written, which he drew near to him alone, adored that august name, and saluted the high priest whom no one had yet saluted. Then the Jews gathered around Alexander, and raised their voices to wish him every kind of prosperity.
Afterwards, Flavius Josephus explains that Alexander had seen before in a dream, God address him to promise him victory in the same dress as that of priests. As a result, Alexander offers sacrifices to the Temple. These accounts of Flavius Josephus concerning the « miraculous » coming of Alexander in Jerusalem are questioned by some historians.

However, the miraculous character of the preservation of Jerusalem, under Persia, vis-à-vis the Greek threat is very real: Jerusalem did not follow the fate of Tire and Gaza.

Thus, after many vicissitudes due to the fratricidal assassination inside the Temple and to the ambiguous position of the Persian power towards the Jews of Jerusalem, the arrival of Alexander promises a renewal of Jerusalem and Temple worship. As if it were inaugurated again, which justifies the title of the psalm of this generation: « A song. For the dedication of the Temple.« .
On the other hand, the beginning of the psalm of this generation illustrates the events related to Alexander’s breakthrough:

(extract of the psalm 30 associated to this generation, verses 2 to 8 )

  • I will exalt You, O Lord, for You have raised me up, and You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me. 
    • The allies of the Persians did not succeed. Alexander, and especially the different peoples who constituted his armies, did not sack Jerusalem.
  • O Lord, I have cried out to You, and You have healed me.
  • O Lord, You have brought my soul from the grave; You have revived me from my descent into the Pit.
    • Faced with the arrival of Alexander, Jerusalem should have been like Tire or Gaza to be removed from the map and its population would have definitely perished. This would have been the end of David’s descendants comparable to « his descent into the pit« .
  • Sing to the Lord, His pious ones, and give thanks to His holy name.
  • For His wrath lasts but a moment; life results from His favor; in the evening, weeping may tarry, but in the morning there is joyful singing. 
    • The fratricidal crime will have had only limited effects, because at the end of seven years the Persian domination that followed stopped. Seven years compared to the duration of the night it is indeed only a moment. However, David continues to evoke the night that continues the generations of Israel before finally reaching the dawn, the final resurrection marking the end of the curses that must suffer the people of Israel. This is all the more important to this generation where Esau (the Greeks then the West) enters the scene.
  • And I said in my tranquility, « I will never falter. »
  • O Lord, with Your will, You set up my mountain to be might, You hid Your countenance and I became frightened.
David’s supplication to the LORD recalls the few years under Persian rule during which the Temple was not « inhabited » for want of legal offerings. Period which at the same time saw the danger that Alexander represents in the survival of Israel. David evokes this unfavorable outcome and the consequence it would have on his people who could no longer honor God. This plea is evidently in the spirit of the conclusion of the book of Jonah that we have evoked for the previous generation.

0_Le_Prophète_Joël_-_P.P._Rubens_-_Louvre_(INV_20230)Joel’s book is hard to date. However, its content seems to be equally adapted to the generation we are talking about. This book also mentions a fatal fate for Tire and Sidon as well as the districts of the Philistines. Recall that Tire and Sidon together represent the region of Tire and that Gaza was the most important city of the Philistines. Tire and Gaza were razed by Alexander and his inhabitants killed or sold as slaves, as Joel says.

Joel evokes a famine that deprives the Temple of offerings. It is likely that this was probably also enough for the Persians to abandon Jerusalem after seven years. The mourning of the priests is then evoked by the book of Joel, provoked by the lack of offerings but also by the events cited by Flavius Josephus.
  • Gird [4] yourselves and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar; come, lodge in sackcloth, you ministers of my God, for the meal offering and the libations have been withheld from the house of your God.
  • Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; assemble, you elders, all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
  • Woe is to the day, for the day of the Lord is near, and like plunder, it will come from the Almighty.
  • Is not the food cut off from before our eyes? From the house of our God joy and jubilation?
The pleas that God demands, to appease his anger, illustrate the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 30 associated to this generation, verses 9 to 11 )

  • To You, O Lord, I would call, and to the Lord I would supplicate.
  • « What gain is there in my blood, in my descent to the grave? Will dust thank You; will it recite Your truth?
  • Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper. »
    • The divine forgiveness already mentioned in the beginning of the psalm is recalled in the following of Joel. Repentance will not be in vain, because God then redirects his face to his people.
The change of mourning announced in thanksgiving for divine clemency illustrates the end of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 30 associated to this generation, verses 12 and 13 )

  • You have turned my lament into dancing for me; You loosened my sackcloth and girded me with joy.
  • So that my soul will sing praises to You and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will thank You forever.

 

 

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[1] See: Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book Eleventh / Beginning of Chapter 8

[2] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book Eleventh / Chapter 7

[3] See: EZRA, Chapter 10, verse 6

[4] Yoel – Joel – Chapter 1, verses 13 to 16