What do you do when your entire world collapses around you? Since this happens to many of us, it is always interesting to study the way people try to recover – if they do. Herod, young as he was, had a large number of people depending on him when it happened, and his reactions were well documented by Josephus; they showed him as he was, but also gave a hint of the future.
Phasael, the brother he loved and relied on, had killed himself, as mentioned in the previous segment. Herod did not know it, but he was certain that death would come to Phasael sooner or later, and there was probably no way he could save him. Hyrcanus was also in the hands of the enemy, and the Parthians were debating whether to attack Herod immediately, or postpone the attack to the next day. The situation was desperate. His future mother-in-law, Alexandra (daughter of Hyrcanus and mother of Herod’s fiancé, Mariamne) was an intelligent woman, to whose advice Herod often listened, and she suggested immediate escape; she knew Herod could not defeat the Parthians, and he agreed.
As mentioned in the last segment, Herod and Phasael were made tetrarchs by Antony. By now, it should have been clear to any thinking person that any attempt of revolt against them would be futile. But the faction that hated Herod must have lost the power of reasoning, because they continued to fight against his rapid rise to power. The fact that he intervened and saved fifteen of the rebels from certain death in the hands of Antony did not make a difference, their hatred of Herod was too strong.
As Antony, Herod, Phasael and Hyrcanus were going to Tyre, the rebels incited the population and about a thousand men waited for them on the beach, ready for a fight. A thousand men against the trained Roman army who had an inexhaustible supply of weapons as well as manpower… it is impossible to understand these acts of desperation. Herod and Hyrcanus, hearing about it, went to the beach and begged the men to return home. Herod emphasized that great harm would come upon them if they insisted on fighting, that Antony would not put up with it, and that they were condemning not only themselves but countless others in Judea. The speech made no difference whatsoever, and the rebels refused to disperse.
At this time, Josephus claims, Antony had already met Cleopatra, and was so smitten with her that other matters became less important. Certainly he was not in the mood to listen to internal squabbling among the citizens of Judea. Unfortunately, the Jews felt that the fate of a country was more pressing than an illicit, scandalous romance between the respectably married Roman nobleman and the queen they rather feared and disliked. Possibly they would be less susceptible to the mental image that must have haunted Antony. Who can blame him? He expected her to come and defend herself in an official and unpleasant matter of treason they needed to clear up. Instead, he met a femme fatal. Josephus has little to say about her at this stage, but what Plutarch says about Cleopatra is extremely interesting. Apparently, she was no great beauty – which the coins with her image prove – but nevertheless, she was irresistible because of the power of her charm, personality, and intellect. Here is a quotation from Plutarch’s Life of Antony.
“For Caesar and Pompey had known her when she was still a girl and inexperienced in affairs, but she was going to visit Antony at the very time when women have the most brilliant beauty and are at the acme of intellectual power. Therefore she provided herself with many gifts, much money, and such ornaments as high position and prosperous kingdom made it natural for her to take; but she went putting her greatest confidence in herself, and in the charms and sorceries of
her own person.
Ladies everywhere, Hillel and I wish you the happiest Mother’s Day. And this is meant for all women – biological/adoptive/foster mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, sisters, teachers, nurses, pediatricians, nannies, pet mothers, and dear family friends – all of you give so much to our children, and have always done so. If I missed anyone, be sure to let me know in a comment… And gentlemen – please don’t feel excluded. Hillel and I will properly thank you on Father’s Day for all the wonderful things you do.
For mother’s day, I’d like to jump a little into the Talmudic future ahead of Hillel and tell about a wonderful woman who became the foster mother of the great Talmudic Scholar, Abbaye. She presents a glowing example of the respect and love Jewish women received throughout ancient times. It is a common misconception that women were treated as chattels at worst, and as second class citizens at best. In fact, women were very highly regarded. It is true that men and women did not have the same duties and the same lifestyle. At a time when the community as a whole was much more important than the individual, and each person, male and female, young and old, knew that serving the community and the deity was their first goal, life was arranged on different rules than the life we lead. However, each individual valued his or her dignity, and experienced considerable satisfaction as a part of something greater than himself or herself. Division of labor does not necessarily designate a higher or lower value of the labor involved. Is a Biblical presiding judge like Deborah less valuable than a Talmudic rabbi? I doubt it. Queen Esther, saving her people at a risk to her own life, is much more respected than several Biblical kings who had betrayed their people, like, say, King Ahab.
We remember him as the handsome Richard Burton, swept off his feet by the glorious beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, playing the equally immortal Cleopatra. We remember him as the fascinating Marlon Brando, glowering at the camera, and pronouncing "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” in his best Brando voice. But Marc Antony was nothing like that. He was reasonably attractive, but not a sex symbol of the caliber of either of these two stunning gentlemen. And, let’s remember that he was not an actor. He was, through and through, a Roman nobleman, military man, and politician, with all the callous indifference to human life, including his own, the practical approach to money, and the realistic views of humanity in general that such a Roman would have. Personally I find him much more interesting than any movie star, but that is, of course, a matter of taste.
It is not surprising that disturbances rose in Judea. Helix, a trusted member of Hyrcanus' court, was left behind in Jerusalem when Hyrcanus was away, with an army, intending that he would defend Jerusalem should anyone threaten it. Unfortunately, Helix had other ideas, and decided that the time was ripe to seize power for himself. He took his army and marched against Phasael. Herod was on his way to visit Fabius, a new governor in Damascus, when he heard about it. Naturally he intended to turn back and go to his brother's aid, but he fell ill. Phasael, however, did quite well on his own, won the battle against Helix, and shut him up in a prison tower. The whole affair was temporary, since a truce was made between Helix and Phasael, and he let him out of prison. However, Phasael was most bitter against Hyrcanus, who was not only supportive of Helix, but allowed Malichus' brother to guard several fortresses, including Masada, which was considered the strongest of them all. Phasael felt that he could not trust Hyrcanus, and for good reason. So he contacted Herod, and as soon as Herod healed from his illness, he came to Judea and between the two of them they removed Malichus' brother's army from all the fortresses.
Names meant a lot in the ancient world. I have mentioned this subje before, but only as a footnote, and I think it is important enough to present it as a regular post. A person’s name and genealogy were of the utmost importance. The name represented the individual's spiritual identity, almost the alter ego of the person, and the genealogy was essential to prove his or her identity when it came to matters of property, inheritance, and other practical matters. These genealogical lists were kept for generations. When temporarily interrupted when a large number of people were exiled to Babylon, it caused turmoil similar to serious identity theft these days. They were carefully reconstructed and maintained. Since in those days surnames did not exist, an additional precaution was necessary and people were identified by their father’s name. Deborah bat Ehud means Deborah, daughter of Ehud. Aaron ben Menahem means Aaron, son of Menahem. The level of importance of names extended to the name of God – with a strong taboo
on pronouncing it. (See the post Yahweh, http://ililarbel.weebly.com/1/post/2011/09/yahweh.html)
I dislike the concept of Karma. Often it is the easy way out when a moral dilemma is presented. When a person commits a crime, be it against humanity or against an individual, often he or she manages to escape punishment. This is bad in itself, but I feel that people add insult to injury when they say, “Never mind that he/she escaped. Karma will get all criminals in the end.” To me, this is cheapening the trauma of the victims, trivializing their suffering.
I am not interested in punishment in another life. First of all, I am not at all persuaded that reincarnation exists. Perhaps it does, and then again, perhaps it doesn’t; there is no proof either way. Most of the believers in Karma don’t even consider such ambiguity with proper seriousness, and it becomes a catch word, a cliché. But supposing Karma does exist, what of it? I am not really interested in the punishment of someone who is no longer the criminal, who has clothed his soul in a totally innocent body.
There is a general assumption that no one is irreplaceable. Possibly it is true, but nevertheless there are people whose departure creates a pivotal point in the history of a nation, and Antipater’s
murder undoubtedly changed the history of Judea.
The first order of the day, for both Herod and Phasael, was revenging their father’s death. Typically, Phasael wanted to get Malichus, the murderer, by “cunning” as Josephus puts it, while Herod wanted to lead his army against Malichus right away. Herod reluctantly agreed with his brother, because Phasael persuaded him that a civil war could easily erupt as a result of a military
action. So Herod went to Samaria, and occupied himself in straightening the affairs there, while Phasael remained in Jerusalem, attending to his own tasks.
Almost two thousand years before the Earl of Sandwich supposedly invented the Sandwich, and had it named after him, Hillel the Elder was the real inventor. At that time, the Jews were commanded to eat a piece of the meat prepared for the Seder and representing the “Paschal lamb,” which was sacrificed in the Temple. In addition, they had to eat the bitter herbs, to remind them of their troubles in Egypt, and of course the matzah, to remind them of the hastily baked bread they took with them during the Exodus.
Hillel combined the three items, putting the meat and the bitter herbs between pieces of matzah, and ate them together. The reasoning was that life presents us with both good things and bad things, and we must accept them all and treat them positively. So the meat, representing abundance, the bitter herbs, representing the difficulties of life, and the matzah, representing liberation and freedom, should be taken together.
These days we do not have a temple and we don’t sacrifice a lamb there. Instead, we eat the charoset, which is a sweet mix of apples, wine, and nuts to remind us of the good things we all share. So the two thousand years old sandwich is still with us. Happy Passover to anyone who celebrates it, and a wonderful holiday to everyone who celebrates the other spring festivals, be it Easter, the Equinox, or any other holiday I am not familiar with. Spring is here!