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CHAPTER VII EGYPT
In the relations that subsisted between Jews and Greeks after Alexander, Egypt plays an important part, so that particular attention must be directed to that country.

The influence of Egypt upon Palestine is no new thing in its history. For century after century the mighty empire across Sinai had been the huge and determining fact in the political destiny of all Palestinian nations. Indeed Palestine is much more properly within the Egyptian sphere of culture than the Babylonian. The glamor lasted even when the Pharaoh had become a broken reed. Men’s minds instinctively turned in that direction, and the vigor of the relatively youthful Assyria could not hold imaginations with half the force of the remembered glories of Thutmose and Ramses.

Egypt had been in Persian times a turbulent province, subdued with difficulty and demanding constantly renewed subjugation. Shortly before Alexander’s conquest, Artaxerxes Ochus had reconquered it with brutal severity. It offered no resistance to the victorious Macedonians. Upon Alexander himself it exercised an undoubted attraction. The ancient gods of this most ancient of countries were those best fitted to confirm his 91rather raw divinity. From none else than Amon himself, in his isolated shrine in the desert, he claimed to have received revelation of his divine lineage. And at the mouth of the Nile he laid the foundation of the greatest monument he was destined to have, the city of Alexandria.

When Alexander’s satraps proceeded to carve out portions for themselves, Egypt was seized by Ptolemy, whose quick brain had grasped at once the advantages accruing from the possession of an inexhaustible granary and from the relative remoteness of his position. The first contests would have to be fought in Asia. To attack Egypt meant a costly and carefully planned expedition, with the hazards of a rear attack. It was attempted, and it failed. Egypt might, as far as the country itself was concerned, breathe freely for a while, and give itself the opportunity of developing its extraordinary resources.

One of Ptolemy’s first aggressive campaigns was the seizure of Palestine, the natural geographical extension. Judea and Jerusalem fell into his hands. It is probable, as will be later discussed, that the story of the capture of the city on the Sabbath is apocryphal. But there can be no doubt that one of the immediate consequences of the annexation of Palestine was a greatly increased emigration of Jews, and doubtless of Palestinians generally, to Egypt. There is the tradition of a deportation, but it is feebly supported. However, the emigration was unquestionably vigorously encouraged and stimulated by the king. The new city needed 92inhabitants, and Egyptians were as yet looked at askance by their Macedonian rulers.

From the beginning, a great number of Greeks, Jews, Persians, Syrians, and Egyptians dwelt side by side in Alexandria. Greeks who now spoke of Jews could do so at first hand, and they could also obtain at first hand accounts of Jews from other nations, especially from the Egyptians. When, therefore, at about this time, Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek living in Egypt, wrote a history of that country, he had more to say of the Jews than that they were a Syrian caste of strange ritual. Indeed his account of them is so important that it will be briefly summarized.

A pestilence broke out in Egypt, which was popularly attributed to the neglect of the national cult owing to the presence of foreign elements in the population. To propitiate the gods, the strangers (?λλ?φυλλοι) were expelled. The most distinguished and energetic, as some say, arrived in Greece led by famous chieftains, of whom Danaus and Cadmus are the best known. The mass of the population settled in the neighboring Palestine, which was then a desert.

This colony (?ποικ?α) was led by a certain Moses, famous for his wisdom and valor. He founded several cities, of which Ierosolyma is now the best-known. Having organized cult and government, he divided the people into twelve tribes, because he considered that number the absolutely perfect one, and because it corresponded to the number of months in the year.

93He made no statues of gods, because he regarded as God and Ruler of all things the heavens that encircled the earth, and accordingly did not believe that the Deity resembled man in form. The sacrifices he instituted, the manner of life he prescribed, were different from those of surrounding nations. This was due to the expulsion they had suffered, which induced Moses to ordain an inhospitable (μισ?ξενον) and inhuman (?π?νθρωπον) form of living.

Since the nation was to be directed by priests, he chose for that purpose men of the highest character and ability. These he instructed, not merely for their sacerdotal functions, but also for their judicial and governmental duties. They were to be the guardians of law and morality.

It is for this reason that the Jews have never had a king, but appoint as ruler the wisest and ablest of their priests. They call him high priest (?ρχιερε??), and regard him as bearer of the divine commands, which he announces at the public assemblies and other meetings. In this matter the Jews are so credulous that they fall to the ground and adore (προσκυνε?ν) the high priest when he interprets the divine message. At the end of their laws is written, “These words, which Moses heard from God, he states to the Jews.”

Moses showed much foresight in military matters, since he compelled the young men to train themselves by exercises that involved courage and daring and endurance of privations. In his campaigns he conquered most of the surrounding territory, which was 94divided equally among all citizens, except that the priests received larger shares, so that they might enjoy greater leisure for their public duties. These allotments the possessors were forbidden to sell, in order to prevent depopulation by the creation of great estates. As an additional means to that end he compelled every one to rear his children, an arrangement that involved little expense and made the Jews at all times a very populous nation. Marriage and funeral rites were likewise quite different from those of their neighbors.

However, many of these ancient customs were modified under Persian, and more recently under Macedonian, supremacy.[94]

So far Hecataeus of Abdera. The fragment is interesting, not merely as the first connected account of Jews by a Greek, but also from a number of facts that are contained implicitly in his narrative.

We have seen, in the previous chapter, what general knowledge of the Jews educated Greeks had in the latter half of the fourth century. Hecataeus could scarcely avoid being familiar with that version before he came to Egypt. That he ever was in Judea there is no evidence. If he followed his master Ptolemy, he might easily have been there. But the information he gives was almost certainly obtained in Egypt, and the sources of that information will be more closely examined.

It is evident at once that some of his facts must have come from contemporary Jewish sources. His statement of conditions among the Jews is markedly accurate 95for the time in which he wrote, although to be sure these conditions do not date to Moses. The absence of a king, the presence of a priestly nobility, the judicial functions of the priests, the compulsory military service, the supremacy of the high priest, and the veneration accorded to him, are all matters of which only a resident of Judea can have been cognizant.

Was the source a literary one? Did Hecataeus, writing at about 300 B.C.E., have before him a translation of the Bible or of the Pentateuch or a part of it? In the first place there is very little reason to believe that such a translation was current or was needed at this time. Secondly, the matters mentioned are just those that do not stand out at all in such a rapid reading of the Bible as a curious Greek might have given it. To obtain even approximate parallels, single verses of the Bible must be cited. But the statements of Hecataeus do correspond to actual conditions in the Judea of his time. We may therefore plausibly suppose that Hecataeus’ informant was a Greek-speaking Jew, perhaps a soldier. Certain inaccuracies in the account would not militate against such a supposition. Whoever it was from whom the information came, cannot himself have been especially conversant with his national history. The glorious period of Jewish history was that of the kings, of David and Solomon. For any Jew to have asserted that no king ever reigned over them is scarcely conceivable. But that may be an inference of the Greek and not a statement of the Jew, and that in Egypt there 96were Jews crassly ignorant of everything but the facts of their own time, we can readily enough imagine.[95]

Was there any other source of information? Obviously no Jew told Hecataeus that his people were descendants of Egyptian outcasts, at least in the way in which they are here described; no Jew qualified the institutions of his people as “inhospitable and inhuman”; no Jew represented his kinsmen as credulous dupes. Plainly these stories are told from the Egyptian point of view. The first almost surely is. It constitutes in outline what has often been called the “Egyptian version of the Exodus.”

As to that version this question at once arises: What are its sources? Is it a malicious distortion of the Biblical story, or has it an independent origin in Egyptian traditions?

The former supposition is the one generally accepted. We have seen that there is little likelihood that a Greek translation of the Pentateuch existed as early as 300 B.C.E. If then the Egyptian version is consciously based upon the Jewish story, that story must have been known to the Egyptians by oral transmission only. Until recently, imagined difficulties in the way of assuming such a transmission seemed weighty objections, but all these difficulties have disappeared in the light of the Assuan and Elephantine papyri. The existence of Jewish communities in Egypt from pre-Persian times is established by them, and particular interest centers upon one of them, which alludes to the Passover celebration 97and represents the Egyptian Jewries as referring certain questions to the Palestinian community.[96]

It must be clear that if Passover had been celebrated in Egyptian surroundings for two centuries, the Egyptian neighbors of the Jews knew of the feast’s existence and of the occasion it was intended to celebrate. In those two centuries the elements that make this version an Egyptian one may easily have arisen. Indeed, it would have been strange if stories representing the Exodus as anything but the Jewish triumph it is depicted in the Pentateuch had not circulated widely among Egyptians.

The mere celebration of Passover was apt to make permanent a certain hostility between the two nations. When we compare Deut. xxiii. 7, “Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian,” with Ezra ix. 1, where the customs of the Egyptians are classed as abominations, and where Egyptian, Moabite, and Edomite are added to the list of peoples (Deut. vii. 1) to be shunned and avoided, it is plain that the attitude toward Egyptians had undergone considerable change in the intervening centuries. It requires a long period of antagonism to explain the later Alexandrian anti-Semitism.

At the same time the papyri show other phases of life as well. They offer instances of amicable relations, even of intermarriage, as well as instances of hostility, such as that which resulted in the destruction of the shrine of Yahu at Elephantine. The latter incident is too obscure to permit us to draw inferences from it. But it is clear that it can no more be considered typical 98than the other examples, which show perfectly free and friendly intercourse.

The story as it appears in Hecataeus, however, does not imply, even in its unflattering aspects, hostility on the part of the Egyptians. It may be remembered that the founders of several Greek nations as well as the Jews were expelled from Egypt on the occasion mentioned. It is easy to see how Egyptians, learning of Greek and Jewish legends that ascribed the origin of those nations to themselves, would accept the ascription, and make it a part of their own stories in a way to flatter the national vanity.

While therefore the supposition that Egyptians based their version on the Jewish story of the Exodus as it became known to them is much the more probable view, the possibility of an independent Egyptian tradition on the subject is not to be dismissed cavalierly.

The Egyptian records that have come down to us do not often mention Jews. Careful study has made it plain that the Pharaoh of the oppression or the Exodus cannot be identified so readily as was formerly done, but they have shown that the popular traditions about the Hyksos had at least so much foundation in fact, that about 1580 B.C.E. Ahmose I did actually drive out the Semitic or half-Semitic conquerors of the country, and these conquerors are quite plausibly identified with the Hyksos. Now during the Hyksos period we hear of a ruler named Jacob-Her, or Jacob-El, and a few centuries after the inscriptions of Mer-ne-ptah show Israel already established in Palestine. If, in the casual selection 99of inscriptions that has been made by the lapse of thirty-five centuries, these facts appear, it is surely not impossible that in 300 B.C.E. a great many more facts were known. It is not likely that every Egyptian priest could read the hieroglyphics, but some could, and the knowledge of a few could easily become common possession.

When Greeks came to Egypt in the train of Alexander and Ptolemy, they not only brought Jews there, but they found them, as well as the story just discussed, whether two hundred or twelve hundred years old.

When we meet the Egyptian version again, it is in a form unmistakably malevolent. A very few years after Hecataeus, an Egyptian priest named Manetho wrote the history of his people in Greek. His sources were popular traditions much more than the monuments, but they were at least partly documentary. Manetho’s book has been lost, and its “fragments,” as usual, appear in the form of quotations in much later books, where we must estimate the probabilities of wilful and careless error.

The fragments of especial interest to us are contained in Josephus’ apologetic work known as Contra Apionem (§1, 26-27), where unfortunately one cannot always distinguish between the statements of Josephus and those of Manetho.

The essential part of Manetho’s story, as far as we can piece it together, is that the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt was nothing more nor less than the defeat and expulsion of certain rebellious Egyptians. These 100latter had been isolated from their fellow-men as lepers and criminals, and had treasonably summoned to their aid the Bedouin Hyksos from Jerusalem. The Egyptian outcasts were led by a Heliopolitan priest named Osarsiph, who afterwards changed his name to Moses. After a short domination over Egypt, they were defeated and expelled, and pursued to the frontiers of Syria.

If the very indefinite words of Josephus are to be trusted (Contra Apionem, i. 26), Manetho expressly asserts that this account is based upon what is popularly told of the Jews (τ? μυθευ?μενα κα? λεγ?μενα περ? τ?ν ?ουδα?ων). Whether Manetho really said so or not, it is extremely unlikely that it was the case. The account seems too finished and detailed to have such an origin. It is much more likely that it is a deliberate invention of Manetho himself, following the Jewish story with a certain amount of care. As has been suggested, the name Osarsiph is simply an Egyptian version of Joseph, the name of Osiris (which often appears as Osar- or Osor- in names)[97] being substituted for the assumed theophoric element Jo-, a syllable that would be familiar to all Egyptians in such very common Jewish names as Johanan and Jonathan.

The “Egyptian version” as we found it in Hecataeus is far from malevolent. In Manetho it is plainly inspired by hatred. The Jews are represented as the mongrel offspring of Egyptian outcasts and half-civilized Bedouins. The vice of unsociability is reasserted, coupled with a charge of “atheism,” a term we shall 101have to deal with later in detail. Moses, or Osarsiph, forbade the Jews “to have any dealings with anyone whatsoever except their confederates” (συνωμοσμ?νοι). That is, of course, more precise than the words “inhospitable and inhuman manner of life” of Hecataeus, and formed in ancient times a more serious indictment than in our own.

Now Josephus, of course, is roused to considerable heat by the “silly lies” of Manetho, although as testimony to the antiquity of his people the story is grist to his mill. He points out very clearly and correctly that many of the incidents are admissions that the corresponding incidents of the Jewish story are essentially true. These admissions do not prove that Manetho read these matters from the hieroglyphic records, but merely that he knew the Jewish story, and, except for the confusion of Moses and Joseph, that he knew it well.

Nearly all Manetho’s details are suggested in some way by the Biblical story. The leprosy of Osarsiph is probably derived from the story of Moses (Exodus iv. 7); the convicts in the quarries (ο? ?ν τα?? λ?οτομ?αι?), from the bondage which the Jews acknowledged of themselves (Exodus i. 12-14). Manetho cannot accept Joseph’s rule nor Pharaoh’s discomfiture at the Red Sea, but, as many other ancient and modern writers did, he will not absolutely deny what he wishes to avoid, but prefers to present it in a form less galling to his pride. Osarsiph did rule over Egypt, but his rule was a chastisement of the Egyptians for the impiety of King 102Amenophis, and was effected only by the aid of foreign mercenaries. Pharaoh did advance to “the river” with a picked army and then withdraw before the enemy, but it was a voluntary withdrawal, impelled by his fear of the offended gods.[98]

It is by no means impossible that all the facts implied may have been learned by Manetho through oral acquaintance with the Jewish story of the Exodus. But if Manetho acquired his information so, we should expect confusion in the sequence of events. We should find anachronisms of various sorts. It is therefore more likely that he had an actual book before him. Tradition of strong intrinsic probability assigns the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek to the reign of Philadelphus. Writing at about 270 B.C.E., Manetho may well have read the Pentateuch, at least cursorily. Indeed it would be easy to suppose that it was the circulation in Greek of stories so offensive to Egyptians that specially moved him to publish his own interpretation of those stories. He was hardly likely to have made so much of them, if they were merely legends, scarcely known except to the Jews themselves and their closest neighbors.

The “Egyptian version” may be said to have been the more successful. The leprosy of Moses, the founder of the nation, was constantly girded at by later writers. Tacitus repeats Manetho faithfully in the matter,[99] and one of the latest pagan writers of whom we have fragments concerning the Jews, Helladius, makes allusion to the same thing.[100] The point does not seem to us of capital importance, but among peoples that regarded 103bodily defects as obvious signs of divine displeasure in the person afflicted, it was likely to have weight.

It may, however, be well to remember that both versions were in equal circulation. To many the Jewish story seemed the more probable. But it is significant that at the very beginning of the period when the Jews took a larger share in the life of the Mediterranean world we find Jews and Egyptians distinctly in conflict. That conflict was destined to become embittered, but it must not be taken as an epitome of Jewish relations generally with other nations.


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