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.

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

The U.S. Should Recognize Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan Heights

July 19 2018

Since the 1970s, American governments have sporadically pressured Jerusalem to negotiate the return of the Golan to Syria in exchange for peace. Had Israel given up this territory, Iranian forces would now be preparing to establish themselves on its strategically advantageous high ground. Michael Doran, testifying before the House of Representatives, argues that for this and other reasons, Congress should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. (Video is available at the link below.)

Between 1949 and 1967, [the period during which Syria held the Golan], thousands of clashes erupted [there]. By contrast, ever since Israel took control of the Golan Heights in June 1967, they have served as a natural buffer between the two belligerents. The last 70 years serve as a laboratory of real life, and the results [of the experiment conducted therein] are incontrovertible: when in the hands of Syria, the Golan Heights promoted conflict. When in the hands of Israel, they have promoted stability. . . .

From the outbreak of the [Syrian] civil war, Iran and Russia have worked aggressively to shape the conflict so as to serve their interests. The influence of Iran is particularly worrisome because, in the division of labor between Moscow and Tehran, Russia provides the air power while Iran provides much of the ground forces. . . . Thanks to Iran’s newfound ground presence [in Syria], it is well on the way to completing a so-called “land bridge” stretching from Tehran to Beirut. There can be no doubt that a major aim of the land bridge is to increase the military pressure on Israel (and Jordan, too). . . .

Would Americans ever consciously choose to place Iranian soldiers on the Golan Heights, so that they could peer down their riflescopes at Jewish civilians below? Is there any American interest that would be served by allowing Iran to have direct access to the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary water reservoir? Would it ever be wise to place Iranian troops [where they could] serve as a wedge between Jordan and Israel? The answer to all of these questions, obviously, is no. And the clearest way to send that message to the world is to pass a law recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

As for the claim that the Jewish state’s seizure of the Golan in 1967 violates international law, Doran notes that Washington undermined this claim with its attempts in the 1990s to broker a deal between Jerusalem and Damascus:

The ready American (and Israeli) acceptance of the June 4, 1967 cease-fire line [as the basis for such a deal] is nothing short of startling. That line . . . leaves Syria in possession of territory along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and elsewhere that it acquired by force in 1948. In other words, to win over its enemy, [Syria], the Clinton administration dispensed with the principle of the impermissibility of the acquisition of territory by force—the very principle that the United States has remained ever-vigilant in applying to its ally, Israel.

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More about: Congress, Golan Heights, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy