The Jewish Holdout Against Idolatry
The time prior to the fall of Jerusalem in C.E. 70 was a very prosperous one for Judaea and consequently for all the lands surrounding this central region of Palestine. But after the destruction of Jewish society and the Temple, with no Jewish monies from around the world coming into the area, the whole of the region went into an economic depression. This was only intensified at the end of the Bar Kohkba period in 135 C.E. with the final defeat of the Jews. The area of Judaea, along with the other areas contiguous to it, were turned into a desert type of economy. Peoples left the areas by the droves and most went north or into the west.
For all practical purposes the nationalities of the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites (Idumaeans), ceased to be reckoned as distinct peoples any longer in the Middle East. Their areas were, as we have explained earlier, reverted into a type of desert environment and peoples from the peripheral lands (the desert Arabs) came into these unpopulated regions. This is when the Idumaeans and other nations around Palestine disappear from history and become a part of that group of races who blended in with The People That History Forgot.
That does not end the matter, however, especially with the Idumaeans (or Edomites). This is because the Jewish authorities kept up with the migrations of their brethren the Edomites (Edom or Esau was a twin brother to Jacob and their descendants were kin to the Jews). The Jews reckoned that many of the Edomites migrated west, even into North Africa and Rome.
To understand this matter from the Jewish point of view, a few historical indications have to be taken into account. It was reckoned that in early times, even before the time of David, descendants of the Edomites (or a portion of them) moved from their area south and east of Jerusalem into the northern coastal towns of Sidon, and then to Tyre where they made their northern capital. Early history shows that the original city of Tyre was formerly located on an island just off the coast, until Alexander created a causeway to it, turning the island into a peninsula.
The city of Tyre was colonized by a king with the name of "Erythras" (meaning "King Red") who came from an area on the Red Sea. Indeed, even the "Red Sea" itself which included all of what we call the Indian Ocean today (and the Persian Gulf too) was named after this "King Erythras." This "King Red" (or in Hebrew, "Edom") was supposed to be the first to sail rafts on the waters of the Red Sea for trading purposes. The first references to him show him in the Persian Gulf part of the "Red Sea." Justin Martyr, however, in his garnering of early Tyrian historical events (Justin Martyr, Dialogues with Trypho, xviii.3) said that the original Tyrians came to Tyre from the "Assyrian Sea" (which many actually feel was the Dead Sea). This, indeed, was the original territory where Edom first resided. But Edom expanded. Trading colonies were established on the Mediterranean coast, in the Red Sea at Akaba and on the Persian Gulf. These people were the first "Phoenicians" (the word also meaning "Red") and in Roman times the name became "Punic."
One of the chief gods of the early Phoenicians, according to Sanchaniathon who was the first historian to write about them, was "Ousoos," who is clearly identified with Esau, whose other name was "Edom" ("Red"). These people were called "Red" after their first king who was probably red-headed (not because they had red in their complexions). They established trading colonies all along the North African coast and in several areas of Spain. Strabo said that the chief city of Spain called "Gades" (the Holy), or Cadiz today, was established by the first king "Erythra" ("Red") (Geography, III.5,4). They also built the famous Carthage that gave rise to Hannibal who gave the early Latins such trouble. To the Jews, they reckoned that these Phoenicians (or Tyrians) were descendants of Esau (or Edom). Rashi in his commentary on Genesis 25:23 states that "Tyre was colonized by Esau." There is the prophetic statement by the prophet Amos which seems to show a strong affinity between Tyre and Edom (Amos 1:9–10).
And in the 1st century, when it was expected by most Jews and even Gentiles that the Bible was prophesying the end of the age, the Jewish authorities saw in the prophecy of Isaiah 34 that the last prophetic kingdom to rule the world was that of Edom. And since Daniel’s last Iron Kingdom was not identified racially, it was common for the Jews at the time to state that this last Kingdom of mankind was the Edomite kingdom of prophecy. Since the world was then expected to be succeeded by the Kingdom of God, the Jews looked at the political environment and found only the Roman Empire capable, as they saw it, of filling the demands of the prophecies. Thus, it became common in the 1st century to equate Rome with the final empire of Edom. How did Rome become "Edom"?
There is no doubt that the Jews recognized Rome as the prophetic Edom as early as the 1st century. Note the statements of Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish scholar, in his discourse "On the Unchangeableness of God." He started a major section on what he called "the earthly Edom" (sect.XXX). He continued his survey of this "earthly Edom" through to section XXXVI where he then began to talk about "whole countries and nations." He mentioned Greece succeeded by Macedon, then Persia succeeded by Parthia, then Egypt, Ethiopia and then Carthage. He then stated that now the "whole of the inhabited world has been conquered." This is clearly a reference to the Roman Empire. He did not mention Rome by name. But he then stated that even that great world power will also be destroyed by God. Philo then abruptly returns to his discussion about the "earthly Edom" (section XXXVII). Cryptically, but clearly, Philo disguised the Empire of Rome with that of "Edom."
The identification did not stop there. When "The Rabbi" (Judah ha-Nasi) compiled the Mishnah about C.E. 200, it became common to refer to those in charge of the Roman government as Edomites. The identification was especially appropriate at the time when the Severide Dynasty of emperors were in control of Rome (from C.E. 193 to 235).
The first of these emperors was Septimus Severus. He had the significance of being the first Roman Emperor who was not of Roman extraction. Note where he was from. He was actually a Phoenician from their former trading colony in North Africa. As a matter of fact, he was so completely Phoenician that he never learned Latin until being taught the language in school. Later, when his sister visited him in Rome, her Latin was so "Phoenician" that he was ashamed for her to talk in public. He was not, however, ashamed of his Phoenician ancestry, far from it, he gloried in it.
After becoming emperor, to show his independence of the old Roman institutions and to bring a thoroughly eastern flavor into his government, Septimus Severus went to Syria and there married the daughter of the high priest of Emesa, the priest of the Babylonian Sun-god. Her name was Julia Domna. Why was this marriage concluded? Simply in order to make a Syro-Phoenician hierarchy to rule the Empire.
"That Septimus now chose to ally himself with Julia Domna is the clearest possible indication that his authority should depend on his own race. Rome had defeated Carthage, Rome had dominated Syria. Now, Carthage would unite with Syria to dominate Rome."
Perowne, Caesars and Saints, p.51
This union was highly propitious to the spread of Babylonian religious beliefs on a large scale throughout the Roman Empire. Now the gates were wide open. In fact, Severus was told by his priestly advisors to marry Julia. He was informed that great things were awaiting him and his race by marrying her (see Williams, Historians’ History, vol.6. p.388). Julia was a sagacious and domineering woman. She had two desires: one, was the elevation of her two sons by Septimus Severus to the emperorship; and secondly, to glorify her own race. It was to be Phoenicians and Syrians who were now to rule the Empire, and under the Severides it came to that very thing.
"Severus and Julia now wished to demonstrate that it was from Africa and from Asia that the life and leadership of the Roman Empire had sprung. Phoenician Syria still spoke and wrote the Phoencian language, just as Severus’ own Africa did. Syria, therefore, was to be the scene of a magnificent rulership, of the revival of an ancient race."
Perowne, Caesars and Saints, p.77
And indeed, Syria and the Syro-Phoenician races became the top peoples in the Empire for the forty odd years that the Severides ruled. Severus even made Antioch the capital of the Empire for over five years, and when he was asked about his estimation of Rome, retorted that it was just one more province like the rest. However, many benefits came to the inhabitants of Italy as they conformed to his policies, and in most cases they were completely willing to do so.
Severus was followed to the throne by his two sons, who reigned for awhile together then successively. The throne later came to two grandsons. In all, the Syro-Phoenicians dominated the Roman Empire from C.E. 193 to 235. And during this period, Rome underwent a revolution in society. This begins the time of the open easternization and the eastern domination of the Roman Empire.
The two sons of Septimus Severus carried on their father’s policies, but for our present study let us look at the reign of his grandson, Emperor Elagabalus (C.E. 218–222). This young man was a full-fledged priest of the Sun-god in his native country of Syria. As Gibbon describes him, he was,
"… consecrated to the honorable ministry of the high priest of the Sun; and this holy vocation contributed to raise the Syrian youth to the empire of Rome."
Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 6
Actually, he was a member of the priesthood in the temple of the Sun-god that brought him to the throne. Gibbon continues telling how this came about and how he was supposed to resemble the former emperor Caracalla.
[the recently deposed emperor of Rome], whose memory they now adored."
"The soldiers, who resorted in crowds to the temple of the Sun, beheld with veneration and delight the elegant dress and figure of a young Pontiff. They recognized or they thought that they recognized, the features of Caracalla
Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 6
His artful mother noticed the awe of the soldiers as they beheld her son performing the rituals, and then she proclaimed him to be the natural son of the murdered Caracalla. With this knowledge, the eastern army proclaimed him emperor and very soon he legally mounted the throne of the Empire. Thus, for the first time, a Syrian pontiff assumed the emperorship. We can imagine what such an ascendancy did to Roman civilization. He brought in many religious changes in worship throughout the Empire.
Let us again read Gibbon’s account of emperor Elagabalus’ reforms. One would think that a modern day Pope were being enthroned.
[in Syria] under the name of Elagabalus, under the form of a black conical stone, which, as it was universally believed, had fallen from heaven on that sacred place. To this protecting deity, Emperor Elagabalus, not without some reason, ascribed his elevation to the throne. The display of superstitious gratitude was the only serious business of his reign. The triumph of the god of Emesa over all religions of the earth, was the great object of his zeal and vanity: and the appellation of Elagabalus (for he presumed as pontiff and favorite to adopt that sacred name) was dearer to him than all the titles of imperial greatness. In a solemn procession through the streets of Rome, the way was strewed with gold dust; the black stone, set in precious gems, was placed on a chariot drawn by six milk-white horses richly caparisoned. The pious emperor held the reins, and, supported by his ministers, moved slowly backwards, that he might perpetually enjoy the felicity of the divine presence. In a magnificent temple raised on the Palatine Mount, the sacrifices of the god Elagabalus were celebrated with every circumstance of cost and solemnity. Around the altar a chorus of Syrian damsels performed their lascivious dances to the sound of barbarian music, while the gravest personages of the state and the army, clothed in long Phoenician tunics, officiated in the meanest functions, with affected zeal."
"The Sun was worshiped at Emesa
Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 6
The whole government at Rome was becoming, literally, an eastern court. The people were dressing in long robe-like Syro-Phoenician garb. The Emperor himself dressed like a Babylonian pontiff with full regalia. Or, as Gibbon puts it:
"He was drawn in his sacerdotal robes of silk and gold, after the loose flowing fashion of the Medes and Phoenicians: his head was covered with a lofty tiara, his numerous collars and bracelets were adorned with gems of an inestimable value."
Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 6
What a description. Here was an emperor (a pontiff himself) dressed almost precisely like the Popes today: tiara on the head, richly flowing robes and precious jewels, carried about from place to place. This is what Babylonianism brought to the Roman world, and this happening just under two centuries after Jesus and the apostles were on earth. And this emperor did not stop with elevating his own priesthood, he also promoted the Syrian priests to the official priesthood at Rome. What is interesting, he commanded everyone to address him as Sardanapolis (Asshurbanipal), the ancient Assyrian king who was responsible for bringing the Samaritans and others into Samaria and Syria over 800 years before. He further claimed that the Roman Empire was, under him, a revival of the Assyro-Babylonian Empire (Williams, Historians’ History, vol.6, p.378). He was surnamed "the Assyrian" because of his pretensions (ibid., p.398). This was the recreation of Babylon in the west. These incidents are historically important, for they show that this priest-emperor was thoroughly eastern in his politics, religion and everything else of a societal nature. This was "Babylonianism" on a grand scale becoming the religion of Rome and the rest of the Empire.
The next reign was that of Elagabalus’ cousin, Alexander Severus. His nature was not as extreme in religion as was his predecessor, even though he was likewise a pontiff of the Sun-god. Alexander sought to conciliate some of the peoples in the Empire who were upset over Elagabalus’ abruptness in endeavoring to change the character of the state religion. Alexander did away with the most odious forms of Elagabalus’ religious fervor, but he nevertheless retained some of the essential elements of Sun-worship. It is said that he, endeavoring to appease all the religions in the Empire, erected in his private chapel the images of Jupiter, Solon, Plato, Abraham and even Christ. He was the first emperor who tried to syncretize all the religions in his realm. Jews and regular Christians, however, would not allow these things.
In viewing the five reigns of the Phoenician and Syrian emperors, the Historians’ History of the World says,
[the mothers or wives of the emperors], beautiful, intelligent, venturous to the point of utopianism, are hampered by no Roman tradition or conventionality. They dared to do what no Roman woman had ever done; they entered the senate, took part in deliberations, and practically governed the Empire, dreaming of Semiramis and Nitocris."
"The Syrian emperors, as far as political traditions are concerned, inasmuch as they were not Romans and had none of the Roman prejudices, often give proof of an openness of mind which would have been impossible to the great emperors of the second century, all of whom were intensely conservative. They flung the doors of the empire wide open. It was in religion above all that these Syrian emperors inaugurated a liberality of mind and a tolerance unknown before. The Syrian women of Emesa, Julia Domina, Julia Maesa, Julia Mamaea, Julia Soaemias
Williams, Historians’ History, Vol.6, p.404
Those forty odd years of rule when the Phoenician/Syrian emperors reigned over the Roman Empire like the ancient kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon, was the very time that the Jews came back into favor with the Roman authorities. The precise reason why the Jewish people were esteemed is not known, but it may well be that the emperors were shown by "The Rabbi" that they were the last power of Daniel’s image which would finally usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. That last power in the Book of Isaiah, though unidentified by Daniel, is revealed to be the one in which Edom (the twin brother of Jacob) would have world rule ― he would govern all the nations (Isaiah 34). Besides this, “The Rabbi” could also show from the records that the Phoenicians (who bore the name “Red”) were in fact descended from Edom (“Red”) whose other name was Esau. It was also easy to show the emperors that the chief god of the early Phoenicians at Tyre was in fact "Ousoos" or the patriarch "Esau."
Combining these historical factors together could have convinced the Phoenician emperors that it was the former Romans who had persecuted the Jews and the Edomites (Idumaeans) at the time when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and now it was time for their "brother Edom" to come to their rescue and protect them. Whatever the case, the Phoenician emperors who were so keen to introduce Babylonianism into the Empire, left the Jews alone. All they required was that they not proselytize, and the Jews agreed. The Samaritans were not so honored and did not recover power until the time of Baba Rabban in the 4th century.
When these things are properly understood, the statements by "The Rabbi" Judah about the Severide emperors can now make sense. He knew that the Phoenicians even from the historical records could be shown to be "Edomites." The Encyclopedia Judaica has a comment regarding "The Rabbi" and his dealings with the Roman emperors.
[Genesis 32:5]: Thus shall ye say unto my lord Esau: Thus saith thy servant Jacob’?"
"Circumspection marked Judah ha-Nasi’s relations with the Roman authorities. In contrast to the Samaritans, the Jews adopted a policy of nonintervention in the civil war which broke out after the murder of Clodius in 192 C.E. between Septimus Severus and his rival Pescennius Niger. Judah was also careful not to flaunt his position outside Eretz Israel, as is illustrated in the following story: ‘Rabbi said to R. Afes: "Write a letter in my name to our Lord the emperor Antoninus."’ He wrote: ‘From Judah ha-Nasi to our Lord, the emperor Antoninus.’ Judah took and read it, tore it up, and wrote: ‘To our Lord the emperor from your servant Judah.’ R. Afes said, ‘Rabbi, why do you lower your dignity?’ He answered him: ‘Am I then better than my ancestor? Did he not declare
And indeed, those emperors of Phoenician extraction were historically reckoned to be from Edom. All Jews from then onward (and even the Samaritans in their literature) refer to the Romans as "Edomites." Both the Jewish authorities and those of the Samaritans considered that Roman civilization was being governed by the descendants of the twin brother of Jacob. They were actually Edomites.
And what is interesting as well as instructive, it seems as though the "two twin brothers" (that is, their descendants) had now made up with one another. And truly, the Jewish people were indeed blessed within that 40 years when the Severide emperors ruled over the Roman Empire. It is no accident that "The Rabbi" when he had the Mishnah compiled assiduously avoided any mention of past hatred to the Romans. There is no tractate of the Mishnah devoted to the destruction of the Temple some 130 years before and no complete chapter detailing the events of the war of Bar Kokhba with the Romans some 65 years before. (For more information on this interesting period of time, see Neusner, The Christian and Judaic Invention of History, pp.3–15.) This was a time of reconciliation between "Jacob" and "Esau" (Edom) and these good times for the two people allowed the real development of the Rabbinic Judaism in a sense of solidarity and purity which has lasted until our modern times.
After the Phoenician emperors came to an end in C.E. 235, the next group of emperors that followed until the rise of Constantine, were soldiers and not one of them was Roman. In fact, not a single one was even from Italy. Most came from humble origins in the Balkans (by the way, the Balkan region was a strong-hold of Mithraic Sun-worship which can be proved to have come out of Babylon). One emperor in this period was a Moor, and at the celebration for Rome’s 1,000th anniversary, it was Philip the Arab who was emperor. The Jews even felt that this rulership of Philip was allowed by God to give Ishmael a part in the rulership of the world. Because of this, the Roman Empire was even called "Ishmael" on some occasions (though more often they use it to designate the Arabs who later developed and nurtured Islam). I will have more to say on Islam in the next chapter.
The truth is, Rome by this time in history had become a Semitic Empire for all practical purposes. The Jewish historians and scholars saw these things happening in front of their eyes and they called attention to them in various ways in their later writings.
These emperors who followed the Severides were all keenly interested in the new eastern religions which were now completely infiltrated into the Empire. One of them was Aurelian, who reigned from C.E. 270 to 275. He was from the Balkans. His father was a farmer while his mother, like the Syro-Phoenician emperors’ mothers, was a priestess of the Sun (Williams, Historians’ History, vol.6, p.421). He grew up as an adherent of the Sun-god cult. And indeed, when Constantine came to power, and before his conversion to Christianity, he was also a worshiper of the Sun-god, just like most emperors in the previous 150 years.
With all this Babylonian Sun-god ritual in evidence, we can well imagine how the Roman world was turning into an Babylonian and Assyrian type of society. It was progressively getting more eastern all the time. The complete transformation, however, came with Diocletian, the predecessor of Constantine. The Historians’ History of the World says:
[Constantine] introduced the remaining eastern regal ornaments. The emperor Aurelian had, indeed, set them the example here."
"Diocletian permanently introduced eastern forms of government. Until his time the outward appearance of the emperor had only a passing air of easternism, but with Diocletian this character of government was established for all time to come. From Diocletian the white bandeau or diadem, borrowed from the east, became the distinctive sign of the ruler, whilst formerly the purple raiment had been the sole sign. Diocletian and his next successor
Williams, Historians’ History, vol.6, p.435
"The Asiatic pomp, which had been adopted by Diocletian, assumed as air of softness and effeminacy in the person of Constantine."
Williams, Historians’ History, vol.6, p.456
Indeed, the whole court by the time of Constantine was now completely "Babylonian." Constantine’s rule was an eastern monarchy now in the west. This point, though vitally important in understanding the history of late antiquity, is hardly emphasized by historians in our late 20th century. Scholars in the first part of this century were different. Dr. Shotwell of Columbia University, speaking of Diocletian and Constantine’s day, said,
[that is, the thought of Syria and Egypt]. If Rome conquered the ancient world, it was made captive in return. The Roman government and society were no longer Roman in anything but name. The administration of the Empire had become a Persian absolutism [inherited from Babylon], and its society was verging towards eastern caste."
"The tongue of Greece gave free access to the philosophy of the east, and its pantheon was filled with all the gods of the world. Rome’s thought became the reflex of that of the hellenized east
Williams, Historians’ History, vol.7, pp.XIII, XIV
With Constantine we find the real completion of the Babylonian and the diasporaic Samaritan movements to Rome and to Italy, and to the rest of the western parts of the Empire. By now, not only the people, but the religion, philosophy and even the government of old Babylon had been transferred to the west. And, with an acceptance of the Constantinian form of Christianity (the type which introduced Babylonian idolatry and pagan teachings into the bosom of the Christian Church), the power had now arisen which was to govern the future western world, a force which is still influencing us today.
And note this carefully. Professing Christianity today has more idolatrous images, pictures, icons and other symbols and designs that violate the clear text of the second commandment than any other pagan religion on earth today. The use of images dominates our type of Christianity. The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics shows that modern day Christianity is far and away the greatest violator of the second of the Ten Commandments.
"No religion can rival Christianity in the multiplicity of its images. In some large churches, such as the French cathedrals of Paris, Chartres, Reims, and Amiens, there are as many as two, three, or four thousand statues; and in the cathedrals of Chartres, Bourges, and Le Mans, three, four, or five thousand figures on stained-glass. Although quite a number of these are figures of unimportant personages, nevertheless we have here what has been called a whole bible for use of the unlettered. Next to Christianity comes Buddhism, which has covered India, Ceylon, and the Malay Archipelago with its bas-reliefs, and flooded Tibet, China, and Japan with its painted images; in this it has been imitated by the other religions of the Far East, including Hinduism. It is superfluous to mention here the service rendered to art by the mythological compositions of Graeco-Roman sculpture. Of less importance from an aesthetic point of views but nonetheless interesting, are the bas-reliefs and paintings of Egypt, and the sculptures of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It may be said that the region where religious images are found forms a belt on the surface of the globe which includes the northern hemisphere from Japan to Mexico, while in the Southern hemisphere there are only some rudiments of art."
Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion & Ethics, vol.VII, p.111
Is it not interesting that Christianity out performs all of Buddhism and Hinduism in the use of religious images in their worship services today? Not only that, we also far out distance ancient Egypt, and even more revealing is the fact that modern Christianity even out produces ancient Mesopotamia in idolatry (where the biblical prophets said idolatry began). And yes, our indulgence is greater even than that of Greece and Rome.
The truth is, the eastern peoples who came from Babylon, Syria, Asia Minor, Samaria, Edom, Phoenicia, etc. were very successful indeed in depositing and cultivating the use of images in their worship right in the heart of Rome and the west. What is even more interesting (despite the teaching of the second commandment) is the fact that Christians have accepted these eastern Babylonian idolatrous practices even into the bosom of the Christian Church, and that Christianity is now the chief propagator in the world of image making and worship.
We are an idolatrous society, yet we claim to be Christian at the same time. This is precisely what Simon Magus intended to introduce to the west. He and his successors were very successful. This is what Eusebius and Epiphanius in the 4th century saw was occurring among the people even in the highest echelons of government.
These early Christian fathers abhorred the trend. They even tried to persuade the rulers not to make pictures or images of Jesus even if the images were true depictions (which, of course, they were not). Making them and placing them in homes and churches was illegal according to them. It was to them a violation of the second commandment. It also made no difference if people worshiped before the pictures or images or not. Indeed, even the possession of them was illegal according to Eusebius and Epiphanius (and all the previous fathers of the Christian community back to the time of the apostles). Such pictures and images were not allowed even for simple decoration.
But today, we witness those idolatrous images, idols and pictures in profusion within most Christian circles. For the past 1600 years (since the time of Constantine) they have been perpetuated by our traditional Christianity. And remarkably, this has been done, in spite of the express teaching of the apostle Paul: "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14).
The whole of Europe in the 6th century could be said to have become an idolatrous and image-making society which called itself Christian. It is this very thing that caused a major reaction in the Middle East in the 7th century when a young man from the Koreish tribe of Mecca looked on all the idolatry around him both among the pagan Arabs and the Christians and decided to do something about it. In the next chapter, I wish to make some comments about Muhammad himself which many people may not have realized and also about the original source of our world religions. It may be a surprise to people, but The People That History Forgot are involved in these historical events too.
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