Donate

The Christian Monks Who Saved the Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Era

While some of the late books of the Hebrew Bible were composed after the building of the Second Temple in the 5th century BCE, much of what Jews wrote from around 200 BCE to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE has been ignored by Jewish tradition. These centuries, however, were a period of significant Jewish literary creativity, the products of which have been preserved in part thanks to Orthodox Christian monks. Malka Simkovich writes:

Some of the most popular Jewish documents that were highly circulated among Jews in the ancient world were preserved in monasteries that thrive to this day: St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai Desert, and the twenty monasteries on the Greek peninsula of Mount Athos. Both St. Catherine’s and Mount Athos were settled by Orthodox Christians in the early medieval period, and both are geographically isolated: St. Catherine’s is surrounded by desert, and Mount Athos’s rugged mountainous terrain, with its sharp cliffs that give way to the sea, is difficult to access. . . .

The manuscripts preserved in the library of St. Catherine’s include three copies of the ancient Jewish novel Joseph and Aseneth. . . . In the first half [of the novel], the lovely Egyptian maiden Aseneth, a daughter of the priest Pentephres [Potiphera], falls in love with Joseph. This section builds off of the passing reference to the marriage of Joseph and Aseneth in Genesis 41:50–52. . . . When Pentephres [first] mentions to Aseneth that he is considering giving her to Joseph as a wife, Aseneth, who has not yet met Joseph, reacts with disgust that she would have to marry a lowly Israelite. But when Joseph comes to visit Pentephres’ household and Aseneth meets Joseph for the first time, she is immediately smitten and renounces her idols. . . .

Joseph and Aseneth touches on a number of themes that readers in the late Second Temple period would have found pertinent to their own lives. [Along with] Daniel, Joseph was the consummate Diaspora Jew. He lived in Egypt (like hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived there in the late Second Temple period), was widely respected among Gentiles, and never renounced his ancestral faith. Readers of this story would have appreciated Joseph’s effective balancing of his tradition with being a modern man of his times. They also would have appreciated the typically Hellenistic features of the story: an unlikely romantic pairing, threats against the hero’s life by a wicked antagonist, and a story that climaxes in a battle between good and evil forces.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Hellenism, History & Ideas, Monasticism, Orthodox Christianity

The Threats Posed to Israel by a Palestinian State

Oct. 23 2017

To the IDF reserve general Gershon Hacohen, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would, given the current circumstances of the Middle East, create a graver danger for the Jewish state than either Iran or Hizballah. More damaging still, he argues, is the attitude among many Israelis that the two-state solution is a necessity for Israel. He writes:

Since the Oslo process began in the fall of 1993, dramatic changes have occurred in the international arena. . . . For then-Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, Oslo was based on the superpower status of the U.S. . . . At the time, the Arabs were in a state of crisis and aware of their weakness—all the more so after the U.S. vanquished Iraq in the First Gulf War in the winter of 1991. . . . It was that awareness of weakness, along with the PLO leadership’s state of strategic inadequacy, that paved the way for the Oslo process.

[But] over the [intervening] years, the America’s hegemonic power has declined while Russia has returned to play an active and very influential role. . . .

Something essential has changed, too, with regard to expectations in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. At first, in the early days of Oslo, the expectations were of mutual goodwill and reconciliation. Over the years, however, as the cycle of blood has continued, the belief in Palestinian acceptance of Israel in return for Israeli concessions has been transformed in the Israeli discourse into nothing more than the need to separate from the Palestinians—“They’re there, we’re here”—solely on our own behalf.

The more the proponents of separation have honed their efforts to explain to Israeli society that separation is mandated by reality, enabling Israel to preserve its identity as Jewish and democratic, the more the Palestinians’ bargaining power has grown. If a withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state is a clear-cut Israeli interest, if the Israelis must retreat in any case for the sake of their own future, why should the Palestinians give something in return? . . . Hence the risk is increasing that a withdrawal from the West Bank will not only fail to end the conflict but will in fact lead to its intensification.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Oslo Accords, Russia, Two-State Solution