Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Today’s post concerns an archeological find at the Hellenistic port of Tel Dor, about 19 miles south of Haifa, Israel. Megan Webb, from Philadelphia, was digging in an area that had once held a large public building when her trowel unearthed a gemstone shown above with an etched portrait of Alexander the Great. It is a partial setting from a ring. 

Dor was a major port city on the Mediterranean shore until the establishment of Caesarea by Herod the Great during the Roman period. Alexander the Great passed through Dor in 332 BC, following the occupation of Tyre, on his way to Egypt. It seems the city submitted to Alexander without resistance. Dor then remained a center of Hellenization in the land of Israel until it was conquered by Alexander Janneus, Hasmonean king of Judah, in 100 BC. 

“Despite its miniature dimensions – the stone is less than a centimeter high and its width is less than half a centimeter – the engraver was able to depict the bust of Alexander on the gem without omitting any of the ruler's characteristics,” notes Dr. Gilboa, Chair of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. “The emperor is portrayed as young and forceful, with a strong chin, straight nose and long curly hair held in place by a diadem.” 

The Tel Dor researchers have noted that it is surprising that such a work of art would be found in Israel, on the periphery of the Hellenistic world. “It is generally assumed that the master artists – such as the one who engraved the image of Alexander on this particular gemstone – were mainly employed by the leading courts in the capital cities, such as those in Alexandria in Egypt and Seleucia in Syria. This new discovery is evidence that local elites in secondary centers, such as Tel Dor, appreciated superior objects of art and could afford ownership of such items,” the researchers stated. One wonders who the ring in question belonged to.

Right about now you may be saying to yourself, “All this is quite interesting, but where does Alexander the Great fit in with Early Christianity?” Well, he doesn’t…and yet he sort of does. Let’s look at some of the facts. Alexander died in 323 BC, the same year he passed through Dor. Following his death the empire he’d just created was broken into pieces by his generals, the Diadochi (plural of Latin Diadochus, from Greek: Διάδοχοι, Diadokhoi, successors). 

Coin Featuring Portrait of Seleucus I

Two of the important Diadokhoi were Ptolemy I, founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt and progenitor of Cleopatra, and Seleucus I, founder of the Seleucid Dynasty which, at its peak, controlled over 1.2 million square miles from the Near East to Mesopotamia, Persia and today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan and India. Seleucus named multiple cities in his kingdom after his father Antiochus. He established two capitals. One was Seleucia on the Tigris River and the other was Antioch of Syria. A series of wars between later Ptolemaic and Seleucid rulers weakened both empires to such an extent that the Romans defeated the Ptolemy’s and Parthia eventually overthrew the Seleucids.  

But before the Roman and Parthians came onto the scene, another interesting event occurred. Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, decided to destroy all worship of the one true God in Israel. To accomplish this end he slaughtered many thousands of tpeople. Women who had their babies circumcised were executed and their dead babies hung around their necks (I Maccabees 1:60-61). Antiochus believed that such visible acts of extreme cruelty would discourage the Jews from worshipping their God. However, he underestimated the enduring faith of the Israelites and this miscalculation cost him dearly. Not long after he defiled the Temple, the first stirrings of a revolt surfaced in an unexpected part of the empire, led by a relatively unknown Jewish family. It would grow into a bloody struggle for Jewish independence which has come to be known by several names…The Maccabean Revolt, The Hasmonean Period, or simply The Period of Independence 

It began in the little village of Modein, which was 17 miles NW of Jerusalem. An aged priest named Mattathias, lived there with his five sons: John, Simon, Judas, Eleazer, and Jonathan. Antiochus sent some of his officers to the village in 167 BC to force the Jews living there to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Mattathias, as a leader in the city, was commanded by the officers to be the first person to offer a sacrifice as an example to the rest of the people. He refused with a noble speech reminiscent of the words of Joshua in Joshua 24:14-15 (I Maccabees 2:15-22).  

Fearing bloody reprisals against the people, a certain Jew stepped forward and volunteered to offer the sacrifices in the place of the priest. Mattathias, overcome with zeal to defend his God, killed the man as well as the officers of the king. He then tore down the altar to the pagan gods and ran through the village shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the Law and who stands by the covenant follow me!”  

Matthias’ son, Judas, was possibly one of the greatest military minds in all of Jewish history. Even though greatly outnumbered, Judas and his rebels defeated general after general in battle. He overpowered General Appolonius near Samaria, routed General Seron in the valley of Beth-horan, and in a tremendous victory south of Mizpah, he conquered three generals and a combined army of 50,000 troops with only 6000 poorly equipped Jewish rebels. The people of Israel began to call him Judas Maccabeus (Judas the Hammer) because of his great daring and success in hammering the enemy forces into the ground.  

Anyone wishing to read the complete story of their revolt can find it in I and II Maccabees in the Bible. The Hasmoneans ruled independently for the next 100 years. During this time they reasserted the Jewish religion, and expanded the boundaries and influence of Israel. In 63 BC the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem and Israel became a client state of Rome under the Hasmoneans. Their dynasty ended in 37 BC when Herod the Great, with Roman backing, overthrew the Hasmoneans and thus set the stage for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the subsequent rise of Christianity.  

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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