Josephus FlaviusJosephus repeats the “calumnies” and “fables” that he asserts were perpetrated for political reasons. In this selection, he disputes what appears to be the earliest evidence for the blood libel—the false accusation that Jewish ritual requires the killing of a Gentile.

(80) For Apion has the impudence to pretend that “the Jews placed an ass’s head in their holy place,” and he affirms that this was discovered when Antiochus Epiphanes 117 despoiled our temple 118 and found that ass’s head there made of gold, and worth a great deal of money….

(89) He adds another fable of Greek origin in order to reproach us. In reply to which, it would be enough to say that they who presume to speak about divine worship ought not to be ignorant of this plain truth, that it is a lesser degree of impurity to pass through the temple precincts than to forge wicked calumnies about its priests.

(90) Now, such men as he are more zealous to justify a sacrilegious king than to write what is just and what is true about us and about our Temple. For when they are desirous of gratifying Antiochus, and of concealing that perfidiousness and sacrilege of which he was guilty with regard to our nation, when he wanted money, they endeavor to disgrace us and tell fictitious lies as follows-

(91) Apion becomes other men’s spokesman on this occasion, and says that “Antiochus found in our temple a bed and a man lying upon it with a small table before him, full of delicacies from the [fishes of the] sea and the fowls of the dry land. This man was amazed at these delicacies thus set before him.

(92) He immediately adored the king upon his coming in, hoping that he would afford him all possible assistance. Falling down upon his knees, he stretched his right hand out to him and begged to be released. When the king bade him sit down and tell him who he was, why he dwelled there, and what was the meaning of those various sorts of food that were set before him, the man made a lamentable complaint, and with sighs and tears in his eyes, gave him this account of the distress he was in.

(93) “He said that he was a Greek, and that as he traveled through this province in order to make his living, he was suddenly seized by foreigners, brought to this temple, and shut up therein, and was seen by nobody, but was fattened by these curious provisions thus set before him.

(94) At first such unexpected advantages seemed to him a matter of great joy. But after a while they led him to suspicion and at length astonishment as to what their meaning might be. At last he inquired of the servants who came to him, and was informed by them that it was in order to fulfill a law of the Jews, which they must not tell him, that he was thus fed. They did the same at a set time every year.

(95) They used to catch a Greek foreigner and fatten him up thus every year, then lead him to a certain forest, kill him, sacrifice with their customary rituals, taste of his entrails, and take an oath upon sacrificing this Greek that they would always be in enmity with the Greeks; and that then they threw the remaining parts of the miserable wretch into a certain pit.”

(96) Apion adds further, “The man said that there were but a few days to come until he was to be killed, and he implored Antiochus that, out of the reverence he bore to the Greek gods, he would disappoint the snares the Jews had laid for his blood and would deliver him from his miserable predicament.”

(97) Now this is a most tragic fable and is full of nothing but cruelty and impudence. Yet it does not excuse Antiochus for his sacrilegious attempts, as those who wrote to vindicate him are willing to suppose.

(98) For he could not presume beforehand that he would meet with any such thing in coming to the Temple but must have found it unexpectedly. He was therefore still an impious person who was given to unlawful pleasures and had no regard for God in his actions. But [as for Apion], he did whatever his extravagant love of lying dictated to him, as it is most easy to discover by a consideration of his writings.

(99) The conflict of our laws is known not to concern the Greeks alone, but they are principally against the Egyptians and some other nations also. While it so happens that men of all countries come sometimes and sojourn among us,
how would it come about that we take an oath and conspire only against the Greeks by the shedding of their blood?

(100) Again, how is it possible that all the Jews should get together to partake of these sacrifices, and the entrails of one man should be sufficient for so many thousands, as Apion pretends? Further, why did the king not carry this man, whoever he was and whatever his name was (which is not set down in Apion’s book),

(101) with great pomp back to his own country; when he might thereby have been esteemed a religions person himself and a great lover of the Greeks, and might thereby have procured himself great assistance from all men against that hatred the Jews bore to him.

(102) But I leave this matter, for the proper way of confuting fools in not to use just words, but to appeal to the facts themselves…

(109)…What then can we say of Apion, except that he examined nothing that concerned these things, while he still uttered incredible words about them! But it is a great shame for a grammarian not to be able to write true history.

(110) Now he knew the purity of our Temple, yet he entirely failed to take notice of it; but he forged a story about the seizing of a Greek; an unmentionable banquet of the richest and most sumptuous foods; and pretends that strangers could go into a place into which the noblest men among the Jews are not allowed to enter unless they are priests.

(111) This, therefore, is the utmost degree of impiety and a lie in order to mislead those who will not investigate the facts. For the one purpose of the inventors of the unspeakable horrors to which I have referred is to raise calumny against us.

117. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruled 175-164 B.C.E., was the Seleucid king against whom the Maccabees revolted.

118. Ca. 170 B.C.E., cf. Ant.XII, 248-50, where there is no mention of an ass’s head.