This segment is taken from Pirkei Avot, one of the most famous Jewish literary classics. The version I use is the translation of the Soncino Talmud, which is a specific edition. This is where the ethics of the elders (“avot” means “fathers” or “ancestors”) and their sayings are recorded. In a way, it’s how we should meet Hillel in person, since the first chapter of Pirkei Avot records the way the Oral Law was transmitted from the moment it was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, down the centuries. It also records a couple of Hillel's most famous sayings. It is not the first book of the Talmud – it is just one of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah – but the Talmud, it is said, has no beginning and no end. It’s a magical book – no matter where you open it for the first time you encounter it, it’s the beginning. Like the Internet, perhaps?
Fertility rites, which are basically ceremonies that are meant to ensure good crops, productive domestic animals, and even many children, existed in almost all ancient societies. In Babylon, the cult of the goddess Ishtar presents a good example. She was a highly complex deity, since she inherited the Sumerian and the Assyrian traits as well. Personifying the planet Venus, it would seem logical that she was the goddess of love and sex, but strangely enough, she was also the goddess of war. Even stranger was the fact that the Arabs turned her into a male god, named Athtar. Probably that happened since the Arabs were Semitic, and a goddess could not be as influential as a god in their patriarchal view of the world. As the goddess of love, Ishtar was described as “Goddess of the Morning and Goddess of the Evening,” and as the goddess of war, as “Lady of Battles, Valiant Among Goddesses.”
In this segment, I would like to explain the way this book is going to be constructed when it reaches its final form, and to introduce part of the structure that I did not as yet make available until today. The book will be done in three separate parts.
The first part is history. You have seen it in the way I described the Hasmonean Dynasty, the lifestyle of the Babylonians, and the personalities, such as Salome Alexandra or Judas Maccabee. There are extremely interesting characters that belong to the story, such as Herod, the mad king, Mariamne, the beautiful princess he loved and murdered, and even Cleopatra, who was not at all like her Hollywood persona. The material is taken from well-established sources such as Josephus, the ancient historian, Jewish sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and modern archaeological research.
Between Easter, Passover and the beautiful sunshine, Hillel and I are taking a week off. Hillel is very fond of Passover. It is said that he invented the very first sandwich – putting the bitter herbs between two pieces of matzo and eating it together. There are plenty of variations for this ancient sandwich, however, and they are all good! Enjoy your holiday, and see you next week with a new segment.
Slavery in Babylonia was a part of the society, and it will be mentioned in this book again and again. It is a controversial subject, but I hope the readers will realize that it was entirely different from what we know of slavery in the modern world. Most of the slaves were Babylonians of the same race and nationality as their masters, spoke the same language, and worshipped the same gods. The slave was regarded as a member of the family and was educated at the same level, so many slaves were skilled artisans and even had literary or scientific knowledge. Many times slaves were adopted by their owners and thus became free citizens. The lines separating slavery and freedom were fuzzy anyway, since a man or a woman could sell themselves to settle a debt, and later acquire their freedom by various means. Parents could sell their children, and in certain circumstances brothers could sell their sisters if they were minors and the parents were dead.