90 BC At 70 BC JC, Psalm 43: Return to the altar.

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WillemSwiddeAlexanderJannaeusThis generation is that of the years between 90 BC. JC and 70 BC JC.

The previous generation had been largely marked by the beginning of reign of Alexander Janneus (103 BC / 76 BC), this generation sees the end of this long reign.
It is in this context, as indicated in the previous psalm, that the psalm of this generation has no title because it marks a certain historical continuity with the previous one.
In this logic, the present psalm must therefore be attributed again to the sons of Korah. This generation ends with the regency period of Queen Alexandra.
The misdeeds of Ptolemy to the people of Judea stop thanks to the intervention of Cleopatra, his mother and queen of Egypt, thus causing a change of situation a priori favorable to the Jews of Judea.
Alexander Janneus was not content with this favorable setback and continued his military operations by showing himself pitiless to the vanquished and in particular to the inhabitants of Gaza with whom he had promised peace.

Fruit Market, Amalfi Coast, Citrons, (Citrus Medica)He returned to Jerusalem where his return did not attract the sympathy of his people:

  • At [1] the same time, Alexander, King of the Jews, saw disturbing his reign by the hatred that the people had for him. On the day of the Feast of Tabernacles, when palm and lemon branches were being brought, he was preparing to offer sacrifices. Some were not content to throw lemons at his head, but he was outraged by words, saying that being a captive he did not deserve to be honored and unworthy to offer sacrifices to God. He set himself in such fury that he had six thousand killed, and then repulsed the effort of this multitude irritated by a wooden fence which he had made around the Temple and the altar, and which went up to where the only priests are allowed to enter. He took on his pay Pisidian and cicilian soldiers, because, being enemies of the Syrians, he did not use them. He then defeated the Arabs, then imposed tribute to the Moabites and Galaatids, and ruined Amath without Theodore daring to come to blows with him. He also fought against Obed, king of the Arabs; but having fallen near Gadara in Galilee, in an ambush, and being driven by a great number of camels in a narrow and very difficult strait, he had great difficulty in escaping to Jerusalem. This bad success was followed by a war which his subjects made for six years. He killed not less than fifty thousand; and although he did not forget anything to try to recover well with them, their hatred was so violent that what seemed to be the duty to soften him increased it still more. So, one day asking them what they wanted him to do to satisfy them, they all cried out that he had only to kill himself; and they sent to Demetrius Euerus to ask for help.
Even if the political choices of Alexander Janneus first brought the bloody revenge of Ptolemy on Judea, the recovery in hand of the situation by Queen Cleopatra finally prove him right.
The animosity of the people of Israel is clearly unjust to Alexander Jannée who seeks only the good of his people.
It is this situation, where the people of Jerusalem do not hesitate to profane the solemnity of the feasts to attack their king, which the beginning of the psalm summarizes:

(extract of the psalm 43 associated to this generation, verse 1 and first part of verse 2 )

  • Avenge me, O God, and plead my cause against an unkind nation, from a man of deceit and injustice You shall rescue me.
  • For You are the God of my strength
The decision of the people of Jerusalem to call for help Demetrius Eucerus pushes Alexander Jannée to flee:
  • Demetrius Eucerus [2], fstrengthened by those who called him to their aid, came with an army of three thousand horses and forty thousand foot soldiers. Alexander marched against him with six thousand two hundred foreign soldiers whom he had taken in his pay, and twenty thousand Jews who had remained faithful to him. These two claws made all their efforts, Demetrius to win those foreigners who were Greek, and Alexander to bring back into his party the Jews who had sided with Demetrius. But neither of them succeeds in his plan. Thus it was necessary to come to a battle. Demetrius was victorious, and those strangers who were on Alexander’s side pointed out their worth and their fidelity, for they were all killed without excepting one. Demetrius, on the other hand, lost many people. Alexander fled to the mountains.
This situation is illustrated by the continuation of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 43 associated to this generation, end of verse 2 )

  • why have You abandoned me? Why should I walk in gloom under the oppression of the enemy.
In his flight, Alexander is joined by six thousand Jews, which allowed him to resume the situation to his advantage after the withdrawal of Demetrius. Fratricidal struggles continued, ending with savage repression by Alexander in Jerusalem, which provoked reproofs in his own camp, but it had the indirect effect that the rest of Alexander’s reign would be peaceful.
Alexander took advantage of this lull to extend the domination of Judea over the region. In spite of this, the ferocity of fighting between partisans and opponents of Alexander was not conducive to a healthy harmony in Judea and to a serene divine worship.
This situation justifies the prayer that closes the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 43 associated to this generation, verses 3 to 5 )

  • Send Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me; they shall bring me to Your Holy Mount and to Your dwellings.
  • And I will come to the altar of God, to the God of the joy of my exultation, and I will thank You with a lyre, O God, My God.
  • Why are you downcast, my soul, and why do you stir within me? Hope to God, for I will yet thank Him for the salvations of my countenance and my God.

 

 

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[1] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 21 (French: Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre treizième/chapitre 21).

[2] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 22 (French: Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre treizième/chapitre 22).