Thursday, October 15, 2009

I) The Samaritans' rivalry

Mentioned already several times, we ought now to look closer into their hostile stance and its origin.

We are told1 that the victorious Assyrians settled displaced peoples also in the territory of the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel, and put some Levites of the exiled Israelites over them to teach them law and order. The people which evolved, were called Samaritans (Hebrew: Shomronim) as they lived in the territory of Samaria2 (Shomron, in Hebrew). They followed partly pagan rites and partly Divine orders "till our days"3, and were for this reason not recognized by the Jewish people of the (Southern) Kingdom of Judah as Israelites.

When King Cyrus issued his edict allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and build the Temple, the Samaritans who had not been exiled by Nebukadnezzar, and who had so far no central sanctuary of their own, may have felt it is a favorable time to form one people with the returning Jews. They may have been motivated by two thoughts:

a) Jerusalem, now confirmed by Cyrus' edict, would certainly gain importance; and forming one people with the returning exiles might give them more weight, this the more so as they would outnumber the Jews;

b) the phrase in Cyrus' edict, "...who among you is of his people, whose God is with him, let him go up", seemed to be tailored perfectly for their aspirations. The Samaritans considered themselves as Israelites, "of his people"; and as those "whose God is with him" (them), they would be entitled "to go up" to Jerusalem, take an active role in building the Temple; and form the new people of Israel.

In deed, a Samaritan delegation, coming up to Jerusalem, approached Zerubabel and the Jewish Elders, and said: "We want to build with you; for we are searching for your God as you do. We bring sacrifices unto him since the days of Ezzar Haddon, the King of Assyria, who brought us here"4.

But Zerubabel and Yeshua the High Priest and the Elders rejected their plea, and told them: "It is not fit for you to build with us the House of the Lord, for, we alone ought to build unto the Lord, the God of Israel, as we were commanded by Cyrus the King of Persia"5.

In this answer of theirs, the Jewish representatives rejected the two motives of the Samaritans: "It is not fit for you..." tells them that the mixture of pagan practices with Jewish rites deprives them of the required ritual purity, makes them unfit for taking part in the building of the Temple. And, "as we were commanded by Cyrus", tells them that from the political perspective, too, the Jews felt not entitled to make whole nations partners of the enterprise. Doing so, would certainly arouse Persian suspicions that the Jews were out to (re)build an empire of their own.

The Samaritans, anyway termed "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" in Ezra 1:1, turned actively hostile. First, they stirred up other local peoples against the Jews, then bribed counselors against them, and slandered them at the Court:

"And the peoples of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah and troubled them in building [of the Temple]. And they hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus, King of Persia, even until the reign of Darius, King of Persia"6.

The term "until the reign of Darius, King of Persia", mentioned here, refers apparently to King Darius II as we may gather from verse 23 which says that a copy of the letter of accusation was brought to the attention of King Artaxerxes I who preceded Darius II.

This understanding of the Scripture being correct, would mean that the controversy lasted till the reign of King Darius II, that is, from the return of the first group of exiles approximately 535 B.C.E. "in the days of King Cyrus", until King Darius II issued his edict7, quoted above, approximately in 420 B.C.E.

King Cyrus must have been stunned and deeply shocked when the hostilities of an "Israelite" people against the Jews, also an Israelite people, were recorded to him. True, he was aware that also in his own nation not all the tribes and peoples shared his stance of tolerance, nor did all of them accept Zarathustra's teachings. But the case here was somewhat different. Both the Jews and the Samaritans claimed to be followers of the Law of Moses, and both claimed Jerusalem as the city of their sanctuary. Was he, Cyrus, King of Kings and Messiah of the Lord, in a position to play the role of a judge between them? To decide who is ritually pure enough to take part in the building of the House of the Lord of Heavens? To find out "whose God is with him - let him go up"? At most he could quell riots, and see to it that his edict would be implemented. The edict itself, as we saw, did not infringe on the right of the Jewish authorities to decide whom to accept into the fold.

Perhaps the hostilities were brought to his notice while he was engaged in his war of defense against the invading Massagetes. As mentioned, he fell in battle against them in 529 B.C.E.

Unfortunately, there are no records which would tell us how Cyrus, and after him Cambysos, handled this odd situation. The latter, busy in his conquest of Egypt, may have halted the building in Jerusalem in order to eliminate the cause of the trouble and to have his rear undisturbed. Since no worldly power, not even the rulers of the huge Persian Empire, has a mandate to adjudicate a religious dispute like that of the Jews and the Samaritans, we may well conceive a stance of theirs, especially of Darius I, of "wait and see" whether these two claimants would settle their religious dispute without Persian interference. Such an attitude may well have encouraged the Samaritans to intensify their hostility. It reached a peak in the days of Haman:

"And under the reign of Ahasverus (Xerxes), at the beginning of his rule, did they write an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and of Jerusalem"8.

It is most revealing to notice that the accusations which the Samaritans brought up against the Jews, are identical in their content with those brought by Haman before Ahasverus/Xerxes. They wrote in their letter of accusation, addressed to the Court:

"... if this city [Jerusalem] be built and the walls set up again, they [the Jews] will not toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings... this city [Jerusalem] is a rebellious city and hurtful unto kings and their lands... for which cause was this city destroyed"9.

In comparison, Haman said to King Ahasverus/Xerxes: "There is a people dispersed and scattered among the nations ... their laws are different from those of each other nation, they do not obey the laws of the King and the King will not derive any profit from them if he lets them have their ways"10. This indicates the Samaritans joined Haman's plot, and provided the "ideological" reason with which to impress upon the king. He so-to-speak lobbied for them, using their hostility to further his own ends. Perhaps they even provided the money, "ten thousand Kikar silver", which he offered to put into the king's treasury as an incentive11.

In the above quoted verse: "And under the reign of Ahasverus (Xerxes) … we should see the mentioning "at the beginning of his rule" in that historic context. Xerxes, in contrast to his predecessors Cyrus and Darius I, reigned as a despot, causing right away big revolts in Egypt and Babylonia. He crushed them cruelly, with an iron fist. Being suspicious, it may well be that he stopped the building in Jerusalem as a means of precaution and in an attempt to neutralize this trouble spot. Not unlikely, the local enemies, taking advantage thereof, undertook to hinder any activity in Jerusalem. They could do so with the consent of the King12.

When Nehemiah got later on permission to go up to Jerusalem and to rebuild her13, he, too, was opposed by Samaritans, and by Ammonites and Arabs who followed the lead of Sanballat the Horonite14. That means to say the Samaritans did, even after the failure of Haman's plot, not refrain from their intrigues; nor did King Artaxerxes' confirmation of the rights of the Jews to build Jerusalem15, deter them from continuing their hostlities16. As a consequence, the Jews had to split their work force: Half of the men worked, protected by the other half who held spears, lances, and bows; and the builders had swords girded to their loins17. The hostilities continued, as we saw, till the reign of Darius II.

Before this background, we should see the marriage of the daughter of Sanballat, then the leading figure in the Samaritan community, with one of the sons of Joiada18, the High Priest of the Jewish community of then. The Jews, apparently tired by the endless hostilities, and burdened by the high taxes19, tried to achieve "peace" by intermarriages, and by arranging a special chamber in the court of the Temple for Tobiah the Ammonite20.

Nehemiah who had told Sanballat the Samaritan, and Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab, that they had no part in Jerusalem, nor any right or claim on her21, stopped these practices and sent these hostile foreigners off22.

The Samaritans built then, in 420 B.C.E., their Temple on Mount Gerizim, next to Sichem, interpreting the Law of Moses as pointing to that spot as the place where the Name of the Lord was to dwell23. We may assume that they could do so only with the consent of Darius II who must have been interested in diffusing the rivalry and hostilities of the two communities. To make sure that this permit of his would not be interpreted as infringing on the rights of the Jews laid down in Cyrus' edict, he confirmed the latter, as we saw.

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