Extreme preservation from national threats, even Alexander the Great

Dec 17 2020

As Jesus’ story continues, the plot thickens. On one side, the religious leaders’ work to preserve their nation. On the opposing side, the unpredictable popularity of an obscure teacher threatens the status quo.

The leaders in Jerusalem had a great heritage of national preservation. Their ancestors had survived invasions by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Syrians.

Josephus, the Jewish historian from the latter half of the first century, relates in detail the miraculous delivery of Jerusalem from Alexander the Great.

As Alexander approached the city, the high priest Jaddua dreamed instructions from God to go out and meet the conqueror (Ant 11.326ff. **). When Alexander saw the procession, he greeted Jaddua peacefully. For Alexander, too, had seen a vision of the scene many years before (Ant 11.331ff.).

After Alexander entered the city, the priests showed him the scroll of Daniel (possibly  Dan. 7:6; 8:3–8, 20–22; or 11:3). Josephus writes, “Wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that [he] was the person intended.” (Ant 11.337)

National preservation and national participation in the Law converged in the next scene. When Alexander asked how he might favor the people, Jaddua replied that they wished to follow the Mosaic law, the people in Jerusalem as well as those scattered among the nations.

Jesus collided with Jerusalem leaders committed to political and legal preservation within a world of foreign dominance. And as Jesus’ last year passed, it was becoming clearer to the authorities that Jesus threatened the gentle balance of peace.

** Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged ed. and trans. by William Whiston (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).


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