Alexander to Constantine

Alexander to Constantine

by Eric M. Meyers, Mark A. Chancey

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Drawing on the most recent, groundbreaking archaeological research, Eric M. Meyers and Mark A. Chancey re-narrate the history of ancient Palestine in this richly illustrated and expertly integrated book.  Spanning from the conquest of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE until the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century CE, they

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Drawing on the most recent, groundbreaking archaeological research, Eric M. Meyers and Mark A. Chancey re-narrate the history of ancient Palestine in this richly illustrated and expertly integrated book.  Spanning from the conquest of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE until the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century CE, they synthesize archaeological evidence with ancient literary sources (including the Bible) to offer a sustained overview of the tumultuous intellectual and religious changes that impacted world history during the Greco-Roman period.

The authors demonstrate how the transformation of the ancient Near East under the influence of the Greeks and then the Romans led to foundational changes in both the material and intellectual worlds of the Levant. Palestine's subjection to Hellenistic kingdoms, its rule by the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties, the two disastrous Jewish revolts against Rome, and its full incorporation into the Roman Empire provide a background for the emergence of Christianity.  The authors observe in the archaeological record how Judaism and Christianity were virtually undistinguishable for centuries, until the rise of imperial Christianity with Emperor Constantine.

The only book-length overview available that focuses on the archaeology of Palestine in this period, this comprehensive and powerfully illuminating work sheds new light on the lands of the Bible.

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Alexander to Constantine

Archaeology of the Land of the Bible
By Eric M. Meyers Mark A. Chancey


Copyright © 2012 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-17483-0

Chapter One

The Persian Period and the Transition to Hellenism

Since the completion of Ephraim Stern's significant volume in 2001 on the archaeology of the land of the Bible, ending with the Persian period, there has been a serious reengagement with the material culture of that period and a renewed interest in its history. The events that are assigned to these years had a major influence on the development of Second Temple Judaism as it was to emerge. Among those are the loss of Judean independence; the return of many Judeans from Exile to the homeland; the rebuilding of the Temple; and the writing, editing, and promulgation of large portions of the Hebrew Bible, all under the oversight of a small, elite community of priests and leaders in the city of Jerusalem.

One of the major new developments since Stern's work has been the interest in and focus on demographics and in particular the size of the Persian province of Yehud and the size and population of Jerusalem. While some of this work had been done earlier and was available to Stern, more recent studies have shown that both the size and population numbers are much smaller than previously thought. Most of the new evidence has been arrived at from new archaeological surveys and excavations, utilizing standard norms of measurement derived from allied fields of research, especially anthropology. Estimates from the 1970s in respect to the population of Jerusalem already had begun to drop by at least half of previous ones. The lower population numbers were found also to carry over into the early Hellenistic period when the city was occupied only on the Southeastern Hill where the so-called City of David is located. The older view adhered to by many scholars held that Jerusalem had approximately 15,000 inhabitants after the return from Exile, whereas from the late 1990s that figure had dropped by one estimate to as low as circa 750 in the time of Nehemiah (fig. 1.1). The majority of scholars until that time, however, still adhered to a figure around 5,000–7,000. In the light of recent excavations in Jerusalem and new survey methods, however, Israel Finkelstein has estimated the population of Jerusalem in the time of Nehemiah (fifth century B.C.E.) to be only about 400 people, including women and children, and just 100 men. In arriving at this estimate, Finkelstein assesses the size of the Southeastern Hill at 20–25 dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 square meters, or a quarter acre). He estimates the entire population of Yehud in the Persian period at around 12,000 people, growing to about 40,000 in the early Hellenistic period, in the 160s B.C.E.; he argues that the population explosion of Judea came only after the Maccabean Revolt, especially in the 140s, by which time the population had doubled. Even Oded Lipschits's more moderate view of the size and population of Jerusalem, 20–30 dunams in the City of David and 20 dunams on the Ophel, and using a population coefficient of either 20 or 25 people per built-up area, brings the population of Jerusalem in the Persian period only to either 1,000 or 1,250, a factor of two or three times higher than Finkelstein.

The implications of this kind of research are far reaching despite the kind of differences in the estimates. In view of the fact that so much literary activity—the Deuteronomic history, the last of the prophets, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles, and so on—is attributed to the Judean leadership at this time, the material data suggest that we need to think more about how so few could do so much even though we know that the leadership was drawn from elite groups of individuals such as priests, scribes, and the like. Moreover, the smaller population numbers that carry over into the early Hellenistic period by all accounts allow us to assess better the accomplishments of the Maccabean rebellion and of the post-Hasmonean era and Roman period when an entirely different demographic took hold and a major population expansion occurred. However, even for the later periods, the kind of research described here has had a major impact on population estimates, and the new, low estimates of the size and population of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, for example, call into question much of the older research into the matter (discussed in more detail in Chapter 5).

Material Culture

One of the more surprising features of the Persian period that is reported fully by Stern but which bears repeating is that despite the more than two centuries of Persian oversight and control of the Levant and Yehud in particular, and the devastating wars between Greece and Persia in the fifth century, Greek cultural influence rose steadily at the same time, as reflected in the import of Greek Attic pottery. W. F. Albright noted this many years ago and attributed it to the establishment of Greek trading emporia along the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, and Phoenicia in the sixth century. Albright put it this way in his revised edition of The Archaeology of Palestine in 1961 (originally published in 1949): "Excavations at these sites have brought quantities of Ionian and Attic black-figured pottery to light.... After the beginning of the fifth century Attic red-figured ware replaced Ionian and black-figured ware and soon became one of the most popular imports into the country; vases and sherds turn up in every excavated site of this period.... Attic currency ... became the standard medium of exchange in Palestine more than a century and a quarter before the Macedonian conquest." So popular were these imports from the west that it did not take long for local potters to imitate those fine wares, though they could not duplicate the high quality of manufacture for which the Greeks were known, mainly the products from eastern Greece, Rhodes, Cyprus, and Athens. Others have also pointed out that although the Persians controlled Palestine there were numerous Greek traders in the area who had probably arrived, as argued, as early as the sixth century, when we first begin to note the presence of Attic black ware at numerous archaeological sites.

Several archaeologists have been successful in identifying and locating Greek trading posts within the Phoenician cities. Even in inland Galilee at Sepphoris, located less than twenty kilometers from the coastal port of Akko, later Ptolemais, we have discovered significant finds from the Persian period where we believe there was a Greek lookout post presumably related to the activities of Greek traders. Given the site's location just south of a major east–west road, an alternative interpretation is that a Persian garrison was stationed there to control the highway. Such troops could well have included soldiers from a variety of ethnicities, including Greek mercenaries. Among the finds from Sepphoris were an Attic black-ware rhyton, or drinking or pouring goblet, dated to the late fifth century B.C.E., a jar fragment with an Achaemenid royal inscription in four languages, a small group of limestone-footed incense altars, and hundreds of Attic sherds, all from the fifth to the fourth century B.C.E. (fig. 1.2). From a purely contemporary point of view we find it curious to say the least that at the height of the Persian period at Sepphoris the use and sale of luxury items of Greek manufacture and style are attested at a time when the Greeks and the Persians were at war. Despite these hostilities, the overall impression from the country and indeed the Levant at this time is of the growing influence of Greek culture. We need only point to Tel Dor on the coast to find the best example of a city built on the Hippodamian plan whose closest parallel is Olynthus in Macedonia, which Stern calls a "Phoenician-Greek polis" in the Hellenistic period. The Hippodamian plan divides the residential areas into symmetrical blocks separated by streets that cross one another at right angles. Recently, however, a few scholars have challenged the view that the Greeks were the first to organize the urban layout in such a manner, suggesting that it could even have been a Persian innovation.

Both Phoenicians and Greeks carried out trade in Attic ware imports simultaneously from the beginning. The first Athenian imports to be identified included perfumed oil flasks, lekythoi and amphoriskoi, drinking vessels such as skyphoi and the rhyton mentioned above, and kraters for mixing wine. An excavation at Akko, for example, has uncovered a large assemblage of Greek imported pottery that its excavator has associated with part of a merchant's quarter occupied by Greeks in an otherwise Semitic, probably Phoenician environment. The same is true for Jaa, where a large group of red-figured ware has been found and interpreted as coming from a Greek merchant warehouse. In addition we may point to Greek settlements at Al-Mina, Tel Sukas, and Ras el-Basit in Phoenicia and Tel Dor, Mezad Hashavyahu, and Migdol in Palestine, all of which no doubt served as merchant outposts. Greek tombs have been found at Tel el-Hesi and Atlit. These discoveries, however, only demonstrate the fact that there were Greek traders living in mixed population centers, none of which can be identified as being Jewish in this period, though we have every reason to believe that there were Jews in some of these places.

The adoption of the Athenian owl on coins of the province of Yehud from the early Persian period, along with other symbols or motifs familiar from Athenian coins, indicates the orientation of the Jewish leadership on the eve of the Hellenistic period (fig. 1.3). Dated by consensus to the fourth century B.C.E., the tiny coins that have been discovered so far come mainly from the Jerusalem area and Jericho and were clearly minted in Yehud. In recent years, however, many more coins of this type have turned up in the market and at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shefelah between Socho and Azekah. The word yhd is stamped in paleo-Hebrew and had the secondary meaning of Jerusalem (see 2 Chr 2:26, 28). Other symbols include bearded men's heads with helmets, crowns, or turbans; women's heads; falcons; the lily; and the "god's ear" (fig. 1.4). A smaller group of coins with the yehud stamp on them in Aramaic along with the title of "governor," or peha, and the personal name of yhzqyh (Ezekias) often have the owl on one side and the Greek goddess Athena on the other side. In addition, many coins have been found with motifs of various griffin heads, and the head of a young man with or without a crown. This corpus of coins is dated to the end of the Persian period as well. Also, several coins of Yehud with the names of priests on them have been found, such as yehohanan hakohen, or "Yochanan the priest." One very large Yehud coin has been understood to come from the Persian satrap Bagoas, and is dated to the mid–fourth century, the only Yehud coin thus far known to be minted from an authority higher than the local governor. The numismatic evidence from the late Persian period thus accords with the familiar picture, namely, of a province administered by governor and priest and reporting to a higher authority—in the case of this last coin, the satrap of the province of Beyond the River. The introduction of the Attic standard and the Athenian owl along with the image of Athena attests to the growing appeal and influence of Greek culture, which as we have noted was the case also in architectural planning and in imported pottery.

To the corpus of Yehud coins we may add the growing array of Yehud seals and bullae that have been identified and dated to the Persian period (fig. 1.5). We mention the archive published by Nahman Avigad, which has helped greatly to resolve the debate over the so-called governor gap after Zerubbabel. Among those seals was the important black scaraboid one mentioning Shelomit, amah or "maidservant" or official of Elnathan, governor circa 510–490 B.C.E. Shelomit is apparently the last of the Davidic descendants to serve in a high-ranking office and was probably the daughter of Zerubbabel (1 Chr 3:19). Most of the corpus of seals has been discovered from sites in Judah and Benjamin and is supplemented from Avigad's postexilic hoard, presumably from Judah. All have Aramaic on them and mention either "governor" or a personal name along with the name of the province, yhwd. However, there has been and continues to be a debate over the date and sequence of many of these items, with a number of scholars suggesting to lower the dating of some items to as late as the second century B.C.E. Hopefully, the publication of the recent excavations at Ramat Rahel by Oded Lipschits will shed further light on these items and settle some of the paleographical issues. We already know that the excavation produced 302 new Yehud stamps dated to the Persian period, and we may infer from the expansion of the site at that time that Ramat Rahel functioned as an administrative center especially for the collection of taxes.

On the Eve of the Hellenistic Period

The last years of Persian rule in Palestine and in the provinces were as chaotic as ever. The fourth century was dominated by the reign of Artaxerxes II Memnon (404–358 B.C.E.), during whose tenure in office the Persian Empire began its final decline. First Artaxerxes fought with his younger brother, Cyrus, over the succession, the war being described in Xenophon's Anabasis. During this time the Egyptians rebelled and sent an expeditionary force to Palestine to pursue the Persians, taking control of the northern part of the coastal plain and for a short time part of the Phoenician coast including Akko and Sidon as well. By 397 B.C.E. the Egyptians were no longer part of the Persian Empire, but by 385 B.C.E. the Persians had repelled their forces and expelled them from these coastal areas along with their allies from Cyprus. From 366 to 360 B.C.E., however, another rebellion, called "the revolt of the satraps," had broken out, which brought back the Egyptians to Palestine along with many Greek mercenaries. Artaxerxes III Ochus (358–336 B.C.E.) had helped to put down the satrapal revolt but soon was faced with another rebellion led by Tennes, king of Sidon, who was allied with Pharaoh Nectanebo (359–341 B.C.E.). Artaxerxes III's failure to win back Egypt led him to pursue Tennes with all the strength he had, and subsequently he marched to Sidon with a large army in 345 B.C.E. Sidon was ultimately razed to the ground; subsequently the Persians led by Bagoas marched to Egypt and recovered it in 343 B.C.E. However, Persian hegemony came to an end only eleven years later, when Alexander the Great conquered the region in 332 B.C.E. (fig. 1.6).

The main question for our readers now is did Judah take part in the Tennes Rebellion along with the Phoenician cities? Supporting an answer of yes, the Jews did participate in the revolt, are Ephraim Stern and Dan Barag, who note ancient allusions to a revolt in the time of Artaxerxes III and the punitive expulsion of a certain number of Jews to the Caspian Sea. Who these Jews were and if the report is true we cannot say. Whatever the reliability of such claims, it is clear that Alexander met strong resistance to his armies only at Tyre and Gaza, though in 332 B.C.E. he met very limited resistance in the form of a revolt by the Samaritans, traces of which have been found in caves in the Wadi ed-Daliyeh where fleeing rebels took refuge and died. Papyri found in the caves indicate that the Samaritans were indeed a very mixed population, with numerous foreign deities included in the names mentioned. Samaria proper, however, along with Judea/Yehud shows no evidence of destruction, giving some credence to the legend that Alexander was welcomed with open arms into Jerusalem without a struggle of any sort. The highly embellished account in Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, cited here as Ant., 11.329–39) adds that Alexander prostrated himself before the High Priest (333) and even sacrificed at the Jerusalem Temple (336). These exaggerations of Alexander's actions led later generations of rabbis to accord him a place of special recognition in their literature. A Greek version of Alexander's legendary pursuits coalesced into what is known as the Alexander Romance, attributed to Pseudo-Callisthenes (2.24), in the third century C.E., which formed the basis of the medieval version. The Greek version was most likely based on more ancient accounts of Alexandrian Jews who wished to bolster their standing in the Hellenistic city.

We should also note that it was on the eve of Alexander's entry to Palestine that the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim was built, around 332 B.C.E., apparently by Sanballat III, grandson of the Sanballat who had opposed Nehemiah's rebuilding of Jerusalem. Though modeled on the Temple in Jerusalem, it was nonetheless an expression of the Samaritans' own national identity. It was undertaken partly as a result of difficulties in getting along with their Judean neighbors, difficulties that eventually led to a final break when the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus (134–104 B.C.E.) destroyed the temple in 128 B.C.E. Alexander is reported to have settled Macedonians in Samaria as a result of their opposition to him. The rebuilding of Shechem just a few kilometers from Mount Gerizim at this time after a long abandonment and the construction of the Hellenistic round towers at Samaria around this time also may well be related to these tumultuous events and lend further credence to the ancient reports of Macedonian settlers being introduced to shore up support for Alexander after his experience with the Samaritan rebels (fig. 1.7).


Excerpted from Alexander to Constantine by Eric M. Meyers Mark A. Chancey Copyright © 2012 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission of YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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