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greatly distracted with their wars. At first it was held by Laomedon, one of Alexander's captains. He was soon subdued by Ptolemy. The Jews however would not violate their engagements to him. They therefore drew upon them the wrath of Ptolemy, who not being able easily to subdue so strong a place as Jerusalem, took advantage of their regard for the Sabbath, entered the city unresisted on that holy day, and carried one hundred thousand of the inhabitants with him into Egypt. Their firm character and sacred regard to their oath attracted his favor, and he placed many of them in stations of power and trust. Some he settled in Lybia and Cyrene. From these descended the Cyrenian Jews, of whom mention is made in the Acts of the Apostles.
In the year 292 B. C. died Simon, called the just, High Priest of the Jews. He was a man of distinguished uprightness and purity of character. He was an ardent patriot, who repaired and fortified the city and Temple. By him, it is supposed, the canon of the scriptures of the Old Testament was perfected and settled in the Jewish Church. The genealogy in the book of Chronicles is evidently carried down to about this period, and some books, especially Malachi, were written after Ezra had copied out the sacred writings. No one, it is certain, later than Simon, ventured to perfect the holy oracles ; for he was the last of the grand synagogue—a council of 120 elders, who, in regular succession, from the time of Ezra, labored to restore the Jewish state and extend a correct knowledge of the Scriptures.
The whole of the sacred books thus collected and arranged, is called the Old Testament, simply because it contains the former covenant, or the Mosaic dispensation; though that in reality occupies but a very small part of it—the historical books, the book of Job, the Psalms and the prophets having no particular connexion with it. In the arrangement which was made, a strict order of time was not observed. A division of the books into chapters and verses, was not made until the thirteenth century of the Christian era. Even a division of letters into words was then unknown. A whole line was written as though it was one word.
Ptolemy Philadelphus, who succeeded Soter, 285 B. C. was very favorable to the Jews. He ransomed many of those who had been brought captive into Egypt, and established others on favorable foundations in his own dominions. He was a great patron of learning, and collected a library of seven hundred thousand volumes or manuscripts. During his reign the Jewish Scriptures were translated from the Hebrew into the Greek language-forming the Septuagint version. It was formerly the popular belief from the tradition of one Aristeas, that, desirous of forming a perfect library, and hearing of the books of Moses, Ptolemy sent to Jerusalem for seventy elders, who came to Alexandria, where they were shut up in the island of Pharos, in separate cells, until each one had translated a particular portion; that these translations all being compared and found to agree, were approved; when the elders were sent back with magni. ficent presents. But this opinion is now exploded, and it is commonly supposed that this Greek version was made privately at Alexandria, by learned Jews, who had been carried thither by Ptolemy Soter, and who retained the Hebrew, and had become conversant with the Greek language. But in whatever way the Septuagint was formed, the translation was a great event. The Scriptures had hitherto been locked up in a language, known only to a small, obscure and despised people. And not only so, but even among the Jews, the Hebrew ceased to be spoken as a living language, soon after the Babylonish captivity. The sacred books were now put into the popular language of the age, the language of courts, of armies and of literature. The Jews who were scattered over the earth, and who were fast changing their language for the Greek, found the Scriptures following them, and legible by them. This version was soon brought into universal and common use. Christ and his Evangelists and Apostles quoted from it, though they lived in Judea. From this all the early versions were made—the Illyrian, the Gothic, the Arabic, the Ethiopic, the Armenian and the Syriac. It was in common use in the churches for several centuries after Christ, and is to this day, in the Greek and most of the oriental churches. It generally expresses the same sentiments with the Hebrew, though often in very different terms.
Such Jews as mingled with the Greeks after the conquests of Alexander, spoke their language and used the Septuagint version, were called Hellenist Jews.
Though the Jews remained subject to the Egyptians, yet other nations, beholding their diligence and fidelity, were very favorable to them, and granted them many privileges. This was particularly the case with Seleucus Nicator, king
of Macedon, who allowed them the same privileges with his own subjects.
About the year 217 B. C. Antiochus the great, king of Syria, resolved to conquer Jerusalem. But Ptolemy Philopater, king of Egypt, resisted him and drove him back to his own territories. The Jews, in consequence of this, paid him great homage, and cordially welcomed him to their city. Coming into the Temple, Ptolemy offered sacrifices to the God of heaven, and made many gifts to the people. But he would not leave the place until he had seen the Holy of holies. Against this the priests and people solemnly remonstrated as an awful profanation, which would bring upon him and them the Divine vengeance. But the more he was opposed, the more determined he became; and pressing into the most holy place, he was smitten with inexpressible terror, and carried out by his attendants.
He returned to Egypt in great wrath with the Jews, and bitterly persecuted all who were in his dominions. He first forbade every man access to him who did not sacrifice to his gods. He next directed that the Jews, who, by the favor of Alexander, had held the first rank, should be enrolled in the third or lowest, and that when enrolled they should be stamped with a hot iron, with the mark of his god Bacchus; and that if any refused enrolment they should be put to death. He then ordained that as many as would renounce their religion and become heathen, should be restored to their former privileges; but only three hundred out of the many thousands in Alexandria, were seduced to apostacy. He finally resolved upon the destruction of the whole nation. And first gathering together the Jews in Egypt, and binding them in chains, he let loose upon them his elephants; but these, having been made drunk with wine and frankincense, turned upon the spectators and made dreadful havoc among them. Ptolemy, fearing the vengeance of heaven, turned from all his wicked purposes, and restored the Jews to their former privileges.
The Samaritans improved every opportunity which was afforded, to show their enmity to the Jews. They often plundered and ravaged parts of their country, and carried many of the inhabitants into captivity, selling them for slaves. This was particularly the case during the reign of Ptolemy Philopater.
This oppressed people saw again, at the death of Ptolemy, (B. C. 204,) days of prosperity; for wearied with allegi
ance to Egypt, they placed themselves under the protection of Antiochus the great king of Syria, and offered him their assistance. Antiochus rewarded them by a restoration of Jerusalem to its ancient privileges. He also liberated all who were slaves in captivity; exempted all the Jews who should return to their capital from taxes, for three years; and presented a large sum from his own private purse, for repairing the Temple. Antiochus was assassinated 187 B. C. for robbing the temple of Belus of its treasures. He was called the Great, because of his valor, prudence, industry and success. The transactions of his life, and the wars in which he was engaged with Ptolemy, were accurately delineated in the eleventh chapter of the prophecy of Daniel, from the tenth to the nineteenth verse.
Under his son and successor Seleucus, the Jews enjoyed the privileges and immunities which had been granted them by Antiochus; and might have enjoyed many years of peace and quietness, had it not been for a bitter contention between Simon the governor of the Temple, and Onias, the High Priest. The former proving unsuccessful, fled to Apollonius, governor of Palestine, and gave him an exaggerated account of the treasures in the Temple. When Seleucus heard it, he resolved to possess them, and sent his treasurer to bring them away. But, while in the act of robbery, Heliodorus, the treasurer, was suddenly struck with awful terror, by a vision, which caused him instantly to quit the city, fearing the power and wrath of God. The whole of the reign of Seleucus is expressed in the twentieth verse of the eleventh chapter of Daniel. He was little besides " a raiser of taxes.”
Desolations of Jerusalem under Antiochus Epiphanes. Jason erects a Gymnasium.
Temple shut up for three years. Bold and artful plot of Antiochus to extirpate the Church. The Temple consecrated to Jupiter Olympus. Jewish martyrdoms. General revolt under Mattathias. Wars of the Maccabees. Death of Antiochus. Prophe cies fulfilled in him. Destruction of the Grecian, and establishment of the Roman Empire, the legs and feet of Nebuchadnezzar's image. Prosperous state of the Jews under Jonathan and Simon. Apocryphal books.
We have hitherto contemplated the Jews in favorable circumstances. They had had some internal conflicts and outward oppressions, but they had also enjoyed the protection of mighty monarchs, and had become a populous and weal
thy nation. Vital piety had exceedingly declined, especially after the death of Simon the Just ; but the Temple stood in its glory, and its service was strictly observed. But we are now to contemplate an awful and melancholy reverse. We are to behold the whole nation nearly destroyed; their religion almost extirpated, and the Temple of Jehovah dedicated to Jupiter Olympus.
The successor of Seleucus in the Syrian monarchy, was Antiochus Epiphanes. · He took the throne 175 B. C. The prophet Daniet predicted that he should be a “ vile person."* Such he proved himself, by all his private and public conduct. The first of his acts which seriously affected the Jews, was his selling the High Priesthood to Jason, brother to Onias, the reigning High Priest, for 360 talents, about 90,000 pounds sterling; and issuing an order for the removal of Onias, a person worthy of this sacred trust, to Antioch; there to be confined for life. Jason, despising the religion of his ancestors, and resolved to make himself popular with the unprincipled youth of his nation, procured also a royal decree for the erection of a Gymnasium, or place for games and amusements, similar to those established in Grecian cities; and by example and rewards, encouraged the people to attend upon it, and conform to the manners and customs of the heathen. The flood gates of vice being set open, all respect for the law of Moses and the Temple, was soon swept away; the very priests mingled in the amusements of the Gymnasium; the altar of God was forsaken, and vice, immorality and infidelity stalked forth triumphant.
Jason, however, enjoyed his power but a short period. After a reign of three years, he was supplanted by Menelaus, his brother, a greater monster in wickedness than himself, B. C. 174. Such men sought the office, first because it was hereditary in their family; but chiefly, because it now embraced the temporal government of Jerusalem. Menelaus publicly apostatized to the religion of the Greeks, and drew as many as possible in his train. He sold the sacred vessels from the sanctuary, to pay the enormous sum of three hundred talents, by which he had supplanted his brother; and caused Onias, who had reproved him for his sacrilege, to be put to death. But some virtue remained with the people, for they resented this sacrilege, put to
* Daniel xi. 1.