Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

Alexander and the High Priest

When the Jews came back from captivity, they were under the rule of the high priest Jeshua, and although later on a Persian governor was sent to collect tribute, etc., the government was still a theocracy as of old. Shortly after Nehemiah’s death, Judah, or Judea, was placed under the rule of a governor of Syria; but the Jews revolted before long, and then their land was again overrun by armies, and many of them were carried off into captivity.

It was during the time of the high priest Jaddua the Sixth, after the return from captivity under Cyrus the Great, that Alexander, King of Macedon, crossed over into Asia Minor. He defeated the Persians in the battles of Granicus and Issus, and conquered all Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenicia. Then he marched into Judea, where he wanted to punish the people for supplying his enemies with food and refusing to help him.

Warned in a dream, Jaddua, instead of getting ready to fight, opened wide the city gates, and clothed all the people in white. Then heading a long procession of priests in full dress, he went forth to meet the coming host.

Jaddua met Alexander at the head of his army; and, to the surprise of all present, the proud young conqueror jumped down from his horse and paid respectful homage to the high priest. When asked why he had thus suddenly forgotten his anger against the Jews, Alexander said that before he had set out from home he had been favored by a vision, in which Jaddua had appeared to him, inviting him to cross over into Asia, and foretelling his victory over the Persians.

Hand in hand, Alexander and Jaddua now went up to the temple, where the young conqueror asked the high priest to offer a sacrifice in his name. Alexander examined the temple with wonder, and heard the priests read out of their sacred books. The one he liked best was that of Daniel, where the high priest showed him how his coming had been foretold in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue.

When Alexander the Great died at Babylon, a few years later, the vast empire which he had conquered was divided between his generals. The first ruler of Palestine, however, did not long keep it; for Ptolemy, King of Egypt, another of Alexander’s generals, soon took possession of it by force.

As the Jews refused to obey him, Ptolemy marched against them; and, by attacking them only on the Sabbath Day, when they were forbidden by law to fight, he soon became their master. To punish them, he carried off one hundred thousand Jews into Egypt, where they formed the bulk of the population in some of the recently founded Cities, among which was Alexandria.

Six years later, another claimant wrested Judea away from Ptolemy, but the Egyptians soon recovered possession of it. When peace was restored, Ptolemy II. asked the high priest to send seventy learned men to Alexandria, to make a Greek translation of the books of the Old Testament. These men performed their task with the utmost care, and produced a beautiful translation. From the number of men who worked at it, this version of the Old Testament is known as the Septuagint.

The King of Syria and his successors kept up a long and bloody warfare with the Kings of Egypt, for the possession of Judea; and after many ups and downs Ptolemy IV. entered Jerusalem, and tried to force his way into the temple’s inmost sanctuary. Simon, the high priest, courageously forbade this desecration, and thereby so angered Ptolemy that he treated the conquered Jews with the greatest cruelty.

A few years later, the King of Syria was master of the Jews, and had to raise some money; so he sent one of his officers, named Heliodorus, to strip the temple of its gold and silver.

The people were terrified by the danger which threatened them; for they knew that they were not strong enough to defend this treasure. They groaned and prayed aloud, and it is said that when Heliodorus entered the temple, he was met by an angel of the Lord, mounted upon a fiery steed. This rider trampled him under foot, while two other angels, armed with whips, chastised him severely.

Heliodorus did not dare to make any further attempt to take the treasure; but at last it fell into the hands of the enemy.

Some years later, another general also desecrated the temple, by driving a herd of swine into its sacred courts. This was "the abomination of desolation" which the faithful Jews could neither forgive nor forget, and they gladly rallied around a bold leader, Mattathias, determined to make a brave stand for their religion, which the enemy would fain have stamped out for good.