By April 8, 2008 Read More →

Josephus, Against Apion I, 195-99: Hecateus of Abdera on Jerusalem

AbderaHecateus of Abdera, ca. 360-290 B.C.E., was a historian and ethnographer. Josephus quotes this description of the city of Jerusalem and its Temple from him. Some scholars, however, believe that this description was written by another author who wrote under the name of Hecateus in the first half of second century B.C.E. The selection contrasts the religion of Israel to that of paganism in singling out the lack of images and the prohibition of alcohol to the priests of the Jewish Temple.

(195) The same person 79 takes notice in his history of how large the country is which we inhabit as well as of its excellent character and says that “the land which the Jews inhabit contains three millionarourae 80 and is generally of a most excellent and most fertile soil. Such is the extent of Judea.” (196) The same man describes our city Jerusalem itself also as of a most excellent structure and very large, and inhabited from most ancient times. He also discourses about the multitude of people in it and of the construction of our temple in the following manner- (197) “There are many strong places and villages in the country of Judea, but there is one strong city, about fifty furlongs in circumference, which is inhabited by a hundred and twenty thousand people or thereabouts; they call it Jerusalem. (198) There is in the middle of the city a wall of stone, the length of which is five hundred feet and the breadth a hundred cubits, 81 approached by a pair of gates. Inside there is a square altar, not made of hewn stone, 82 but composed of stones gathered together, each side of which is twenty cubits long, and its height is ten cubits. Beside it is a large edifice within which is an altar and a lampstand, both of gold, weighing two talents. (199) Upon these there is a light that is never extinguished, neither by night nor by day. There is no image, nor statue, nor votive offering therein; nothing at all is planted there, neither a grove nor anything of that sort. The priests abide therein both nights and days, performing certain purification rites, and drinking not the least drop of wine while they are in the temple-” 83

79. Hecateus of Abdera.

80. An Egyptian measure of land, approximately half an acre.

81. A cubit is approximately 18 inches.

82. Cf. Ex. 20-22-23.

83. Cf. Lev. 10-9 and Ezek. 44-21 which state that the priests are forbidden to drink wine.

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