Ptolemaic Dynasty, the Maccabees & the Bible

Ptolemaic Dynasty, the Maccabees & the Bible

H. Abdul Al-Dahir

The Books of Maccabees appear in the Septuagint or LXX version of the Bible and they are all written in Greek. However, according to Wikipedia, it is thought that the 1 Maccabees was originally written in “Hebrew by a Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom by the Hasmonean dynasty, about the latter part of the 2nd century BC.” The Septuagint or the Greek version survives and the text gives the Greek spelling of Ptolemy or Ptolemaios. However, the original Hebrew text of 1 Maccabees most probably contained the Hebraized version of the name Ptolemaios or Talmai. The Septuagint Book of Numbers pronounces the name Talmai as T(h)elamin. In the LXX Book of Joshua 15:14, this same name is written as T(h)olmi. (The ancient pronunciation of the Greek theta was T(h) where the ‘h’ is pronounced like the ‘h’ in ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and not as the phoneme ‘th’). So, one can assume that the either the LXX authors had access to the Hebrew version of the first Book of Maccabees or the pronunciation ‘Talmai’ was the Koine Greek pronunciation used by the Jews in Alexandria or the negative reference to the name Talmai was interpolated into the Book of Numbers 13:22, the Book of Joshua 15:14 and the Book of Judges 1:10 (where he and his goddess patroness, Seshat are portrayed as evil giants) by an author who favored the Hasmonean negative view of the Ptolemies as cruel oppressors and persecutors of the Jews. Another interpolation of the name Talmai occurs in 2nd Samuel 3:3, 13:13 and I Chron 3:2 which mentions that David’s wife, Maacah was the daughter of a king of Geshur also named Talmai. Ptolemy was a very popular name especially among those Jews who favored the Ptolemaic Dynasty. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article entitled Ptolemy I:

“It was Ptolemy I. who brought Palestine and the Jews under the dominion of the Ptolemies. After the death of Alexander the Great Cœle-Syria and Judea were apportioned to Laomedon, but Ptolemy I. took them from this weak prince—as Josephus maintains, at least as regards Jerusalem by deception as well as by persuasion. Ptolemy appeared before the city (320 B.C.), pretending that he wished to sacrifice, and seized it on a Sabbath, a day on which the Jews did not fight. As authority for this statement Agatharchides of Cnidus, a Greek author, is cited by Josephus (“Contra Ap.” i., § 22; more briefly in “Ant.” xii. 1, § 1; comp. Müller, “Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum,” iii. 196; T. Reinach,” Textes d’ Auteurs Grecs et Romains Relatifs au Judaïsme,” i. 42). On this occasion Ptolemy I. is said to have taken many captives from Jerusalem and from the rest of Judea as well as from Samaria, and to have settled them in Egypt. Futhermore, since he knew how sacred an oath was for the Jews, he is said to have used them to garrison important strongholds (“Ant.” l.c.). Josephus adds that thereafter many Jews went voluntarily to Egypt to live, partly on account of the excellence of the land and partly on account of the kind treatment accorded them by Ptolemy (ib.).

Kindness to the Jews.
Elsewhere also the kindness of the Ptolemies toward the Jews is highly praised by Josephus (“Contra Ap.” ii., §§ 4, 5); and this especially in comparison with the cruel persecutions which the Jews suffered later at the hands of the Seleucidæ in Syria. In fact, the policy of the leading circles in Jerusalem was always to rely on the Ptolemies in opposition to the Seleucidæ. But that manifested itself only in the course of time. As regards the early period the statements of Josephus are very doubtful, since both the early settlement of Jews in Egypt—which, at least in the case of Alexandria, is said to have taken place under Alexander the Great—and their military virtues seem to have been assumed for apologetic reasons when the hatred of the Jews, proceeding from Alexandria, made an apology desirable. According to a later authority, no less than 30,000 Jewish soldiers were placed in Egyptian forts (Aristeas Letter, ed. Wendland, § 13). Something similar must at any rate have happened later; for a “camp of the Jews” is explicitly mentioned, and military achievements of the Jews are certainly spoken of. It is positive that the legal organization of the Egyptian Jews, as in fact the whole legal organization of the Ptolemaic state, was instituted by Ptolemy I. It can hardly be doubted that he gave the Jews at Alexandria equal rights with the incoming Macedonians.

Many Jews Follow Ptolemy to Egypt.
Ptolemy went to Palestine several times on military expeditions, e.g., in the campaign of the year 320, and in that of 312, which ended with the battle of Gaza. Although he was victorious, he found it expedient to evacuate Palestine for the time being; and on his departure he caused the strongholds of Acre (Acco), Joppa, Gaza, Samaria, and Jerusalemto be razed to the ground (see Appian, “Syriaca,” § 50). According to the testimony of Hecatæus of Abdera, whom Josephus (“Contra Ap.” i., § 22) cites, many Jews felt impelled on this occasion to move to Egypt, and the generally respected high priest Hezekiah also attached himself to Ptolemy. It was, in truth, difficult for Egypt to retain Palestine in opposition to the newly arisen Syrian kingdom, but Ptolemy I. and his successors never relinquished their claim to the cities of Gaza, Joppa, and Jerusalem. The wars which were waged for these places between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ, and the sufferings which ensued therefrom for the Jews, are graphically described in Dan. xi.; the “king of the south” in verse 5 of that chapter referring to Ptolemy I. (see Jerome in the name of Porphyrius ad loc.).”

So, the negative view of Ptolemy IV was a Hasmonean view perpetrated by the author of 3 Maccabees and it must have been an LXX author who interpolated the biblical texts with Ptolemy IV and his patroness Seshat transformed into evil giants that were defeated by Caleb in the Book of Joshua and Judah in the Book of Judges. In any case, because of the reference to Ptolemy, the Books of Numbers, Joshua, and Judges can be partially dated to between 205 and 117 BCE.

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