HISTORY 5.2-5: THEORIES OF JEWISH ORIGINS
Moses Hadas, translation
HISTORY 5.2-5: THEORIES OF JEWISH
Moses Hadas, translation
Evidence of this is sought in the name [for the origin of the Hebrew people]. There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida; the neighbouring tribe, the Idæi, came to be called Judæi
by a barbarous lengthening of the national name. Others assert that in the reign
of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Judas, discharged itself into the neighbouring countries. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin, who in the time of king
Cepheus were driven by fear and hatred of their neighbours to seek a new dwelling-place. Others describe them as an
Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt, and founded cities of their own in
what is called the Hebrew country, lying on the borders of Syria. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the
Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded
Hierosolyma after their own name.
3. Most writers,
however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris,
seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land
this race detested by the gods. The people, who had been collected after diligent
search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moyses by
name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking
for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing,
however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all I directions over the
plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of
water. This furnished relief. After
a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they
expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.
Moyses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed
to all that practised by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no
sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal
by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings. They slay the ram, seemingly in derision
of Hammon, and they sacrifice the ox, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis. They abstain from swines flesh, in consideration
of what they suffered when they were infected by the leprosy to which this animal is liable. By their frequent fasts they
still bear witness to the long hunger of former days, and the Jewish bread, made without leaven, is retained as a memorial
of their hurried seizure of corn. We are told that the rest of the seventh day was adopted, because this day brought with
it a termination of their toils; after a while the charm of indolence beguiled them into giving up the seventh year also to
inaction. But others say that it is an observance in honour of Saturn,
either from the primitive elements of their faith having been transmitted from the Ideai, who are said to have shared the
flight of that God, and to have founded the race, or from the circumstance that of the seven stars which rule the destinies
of men, for Saturn moves in the highest orbit and with the mightiest power, and that many of the heavenly bodies complete
their revolutions and courses in multiples of seven.
5. This worship, however introduced, is upheld
by it's antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very
badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and
presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest
and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at
meals, they sleep apart. and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign
women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those
who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into despise all gods, to disown
their country, and set at naught parents, children, and brethren. Still they
provide for increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of
perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are mortal; hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt
for death. They are wont to bury rather burn their dead, following in this the Egyptian custom, bestow the same care on the
dead, and they hold the belief about the lower world. Quite different is their faith about things divine. The Egyptians worship
many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane
who make representations of God in human shape of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal,
neither capable of representation or decay. They therefore do not allow any images to their cities: much less in their temples.
This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperors. From the fact, however, that their priests used
to chant to music of flutes and cymbals, and to wear garlands of and that a golden vine was found in the temple, some thought
that they worshipped Father Liber, the conqueror of the East, though their institutions do not by any means harmonize with
the theory; for Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean.
6. Eastward the country is bounded by
Arabia; to the south lies Egypt; on the west are Phcenicia and the Mediterranean. Northward it commands an extensive prospect
over Syria. The inhabitants are healthy and able to bear fatigue. Rain is uncommon,
but the soil is fertile. Its products resemble our own. They have, besides, the balsam and the palm. The palm-groves are tall
and graceful. The balsam is a shrub; each branch, as it fills with sap, may pierced
with a fragment of stone or pottery. If steel is employed, the veins shrink up.
The sap is used by physicians. Libanus is the principal mountain, and has, strange
to say, amidst these burning heats, a summit shaded with trees and never deserted by its snows. The same range supplies and
sends forth the stream of the Jordan. This river does not discharge itself into the sea, but flows entire through two
lakes, and is lost in the third. This is a lake of vast circumference; it resembles the sea, but is more nauseous in taste;
it breeds pestilence among those who live near by its noisome odour; it cannot be moved by the wind, and it affords no home
either to fish or water-birds. These strange waters support what is thrown upon
them, as on a solid surface, and all persons, whether they can swim or no, are equally buoyed up by the waves. At a certain
season of the year the lake throws up bitumen, and the method of collecting it has been taught by that experience which teaches
all other arts. It is naturally a fluid of dark colour; when vinegar is sprinkled upon it, it coagulates and floats upon the
surface. Those whose business it is take it with the hand, and draw it on to the deck of the boat; it then continues of itself
to flow in and lade the vessel till the stream is cut off; nor can this be done by any instrument of brass or iron. It shrinks
from blood or any cloth stained by the menstrual of women. Such is the account
of old authors; but those who know the country say that the bitumen moves in heaving masses on the water, that it is drawn
by hand to the shore, and that there, when dried by the evaporation of the earth and the power of the sun, it is cut into
pieces with axes and wedges just as timber or stone would be.
7. Not far from this
lake lies a plain, once fertile, they say, and the site of great cities, but afterwards struck by lightning and consumed.
Of this event, they declare, traces still remain, for the soil, which is scorched in appearance, has lost its productive power.
This part of Tacitus history is insightful. First, it expresses what the
educated Roman felt of the religious Jews--the same would apply to all religious zealots.[i] These fanatics were more animal than rational: reason did not control
their religious (and other) passions. This lack of control led in the lifetime of Tacitus to riots in Rome,
for which the Jews were expelled. They rioted in Alexandria. And they revolted in Jerusalem, for which
they were expelled from that city, after many were slain. They were thus held in low opinion for their violence
against mother Rome and for their religious fanaticism. (The Christians were thought of by the education--which
were those who listened to readings of Tacitus--no better).
This passage is an example of the power of expression of Tacitus and his Jewish translator, Moses Hadas.
Since the Egyptians were offended by a tale which belittled their pharaoh and their gods, it is only fitting that they
tell a tale belittling the chief God of the Hebrews, their leader in the Exodus tale, and the Hebrews. The Egyptian tale, repeated by Tacitus, is no more anti-Semitic than Exodus is anti-Egyptian. Tacitus treating the Egyptian tale as history is far less a slight on the profession of historian than
the current Christians and Jews treating the Exodus tale (with its far greater supernatural content) as history. Tacitus is good reading, and he is an historian.
More on this account, the surviving Egyptian source.
[i] The majority of the educated Romans though giving lip service to the traditional
gods, found compelling the principal philosophiesEpicurism, Stoicism, and other scientific prospective of the nature of things. To them religion was inconsistent with their beliefs, a dangerous and frightful folly,
and a demonstration of defects in the practitioners rational process.