Thursday, October 15, 2009

H) Opposing forces in the Persian Court

The benevolent attitude of the Persian kings was not shared by all their subjects. In fact, the throne was often threatened by opponents. Many of them pretended to act on behalf of ideological considerations, but mere coveting the throne was as common as in other empires. Both motives often intertwined. While the Achaemenian kings, naturally so, saw the Jews as partners in their endeavor to reign as "Friends of Man", those of their subjects who could not bring themselves to this attitude, and revolted to re-establish the previous system, hit often at the weaker of those two partners first. This, besides hostilities directed against the Court only and, on the other hand, those directed against the Jews only. We ought to reflect on some of them.

Perhaps the most known revolt of that kind was that of the Smerdis towards the end of Cambysos' reign. The revolt broke out while the king, after conquering Egypt, campaigned against Luv (Libya) and Cush (Ethiopia). It affected Western Asia (Near East, in modern language), and also Babylonia joined in.

It is interesting to note that Greek historians as well as Darius I in his still existing wall inscription of Behistun, describe the Smerdis1 pointedly as Mogh (mogos, Magi). That means to say that Smerdis as a member of the priestly class of the ancient Mithra cult2 who were known as Magi3, tried to resist the stance of the Achaemenians, overthrow them, and restore the previous order.

In this resistance of theirs, they might have felt warranted by Cambysos' odd behaviors. Anyway plagued by the "holy disease" (as Herodot says, probably meaning epilepsy), he was apparently not up to the true meaning of monotheism. In contrast to his father Cyrus, he showed no tolerance towards those subjects who clung still to their polytheistic traditions. He rather behaved like an iconoclast. In Egypt for instance, he personally smashed idols, pierced an Apis (holy bull of theirs), and called its priests fools and evildoers who want to make peoples believe that there are gods of flesh and blood, gods one could get one's hands on. On top, he transgressed even Persian laws by marrying his two sisters, and then killing one of them. On his death bed, however, he repented, and warned the Persian nobility of the impending dangers menacing from the Medes and the Magis.

It is only logic to conclude that these opposing forces targeted both the Achaemenians and the Jews. As already mentioned briefly, in the wake of this revolt, the building of the Temple in Jerusalem came to a halt, either on order of Cambysos in an attempt to neutralize one of the bones of content; or, more likely, due to the attacks of hostile neighbors who took advantage of the Smerdis revolt4. It raged for eight months till Darius I (the Great) could quell it.

The story told in Daniel chpt. 6, known as "Daniel in the lion's den", should be seen before this background. When Daniel was made the chief of the presidents appointed by King Darius I, the Great, they immediately plotted against him, bringing accusations "concerning the law of his [=Daniel’s} God". They tricked the king who was apparently still scared and suspicious of detrimental forces, into issuing a decree which should show that Daniel by his observation of the Law of Moses would by necessity become disloyal to the Court. When the king became aware of the falsity of the accusations, he put the plotters to the kind of death they had thought to bring upon Daniel. Most likely it was only then that he allowed the continuation of the work in Jerusalem5.

However, the opponents did not give up. Court intrigues by treasurer Mithradat6; the slandering of the Jews by hostile Samaritans, Ammonites, and Arabs7 who caused impediments8 of the building of the Temple; and many others not mentioned in the Tanakh, continued till the end of the Persian Empire.

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