Alexander the Great°

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ALEXANDER THE GREAT ° (356–323 b.c.e.), king of Macedonia who conquered most of the Near East and Asia. A legend preserved in Josephus (Ant., 11:329 ff.) tells that when Alexander was besieging Tyre, Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans, came to him at the head of 8,000 men. Alexander received him in a friendly manner and acceded to his request that he be allowed to build a temple on Mount Gerizim, where Sanballat's son-in-law Manasseh would serve as high priest. According to this legend, Alexander demanded of the high priest, Jaddus (Jaddua), the surrender of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people, and when the latter refused on the grounds that he had sworn loyalty to Darius, Alexander marched on Jerusalem at the head of his army to punish the panic-stricken Jews. However, Jaddus succeeded in calming the Jews by making it known that he had a revelation in a dream that no harm would befall the city and the Temple. On the following day Jaddus set out with the chief priests, the elders, and the leading citizens, and awaited Alexander's arrival at Ẓofim, to the north of Jerusalem. When Alexander saw the high priest he prostrated himself before him, telling his men that Jaddus had appeared to him in a dream and informed him that he would defeat the Persian king. Alexander then went up to the Temple, offered a sacrifice, and granted the Jews extensive privileges. When the Samaritans heard of the success of the Jews they invited Alexander to visit their temple on Mount Gerizim on his return from Egypt. Their efforts, however, proved unsuccessful.

A similar story, but with different names for the high priest and the meeting place, occurs in the Talmud: "The twenty-fifth [of Tevet] is the day of Mount Gerizim, on which no public mourning is permitted, it being the day on which the Cutheans [i.e., the Samaritans] requested the House of our God from Alexander of Macedonia in order to destroy it and he granted it to them. People came and informed Simeon the Just. What did he do? He put on his priestly garments, and he and some of the nobles of Israel who carried burning torches in their hands walked all night, some on one side, others on the other, until dawn. When dawn rose he [Alexander] said to them: 'Who are these?'

They answered: 'The Jews who rebelled against you.' When he reached Antipatris and the sun shone, they met. On seeing Simeon the Just, Alexander descended from his chariot and prostrated himself.

[They] said to him: 'Should a great king like you prostrate yourself before this Jew?'

He answered: 'The image of this man wins my battles for me.'

He said to the Jews: 'Why have you come?'

They replied: 'Is it possible that star-worshipers should mislead you into destroying the House in which prayers are said for you and your kingdom that it may never be destroyed!'

'To whom are you referring?'

'To the Cutheans who stand before you.'

'They are delivered into your hands.'

At once they pierced the heel of the Cutheans, tied them to the tails of their horses and dragged them over thorns and thistles, until they came to Mount Gerizim, which they plowed and sowed with vetch, even as the Cutheans had planned to do with the House of our God" (Yoma 69a).

The legend in Josephus ascribes to Alexander things which are highly improbable. After the battle at Issus, Alexander set out hurriedly for Egypt in order to dislodge the Persians from the Mediterranean coast. The siege of Tyre was protracted and Alexander had no time to turn aside from his main route in order to visit a city as unimportant as Jerusalem was then, or the Jews, who were a small nation. It is obvious that Alexander advanced with his army along the coast and did not then visit the interior of the country, although undoubtedly he did so in the spring of 331 b.c.e. The Roman writer Curtius Rufus relates that when Alexander was in Egypt the news reached him that the Samaritans had rebelled and had consigned Andromachus, the Macedonian governor of Samaria, to the flames. Alexander hurried to Samaria, reestablished order with an iron hand, and stationed Macedonians there. On this occasion Alexander probably visited the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, a visit which would not have been friendly (as is evidenced by the discoveries of the remains of Samaritan fugitives in the caves of Wadi Daliyeh (see F.R. Cross in bibl.). The Jews in Jerusalem presumably rejoiced at the reversal of the Samaritans and tried to appear before Alexander as a people loyal to him and to his rule, in which purpose they doubtlessly succeeded. An intimation of this success may be gleaned from the legendary account that Alexander granted to the Jews special privileges not only in Jerusalem but in the Diaspora as well. Nonetheless, there is no basis for assuming that he visited the Temple in Jerusalem, for had he done so, such an important event would assuredly have been referred to in the Talmud, which contains many stories about Alexander of Macedonia (Tam. 31b–32b). It may be reasonably assumed, however, that the Jews approached Alexander before his journey to Samaria to correct any false impression he may have had, fearing that he might confuse them with the Samaritans and include them in their punishment. This is clearly reflected in the above-mentioned aggadah, which gives the place of the meeting as Antipatris. Although this name does not fit in with the time of Alexander, the Talmud is most probably preserving an authentic popular tradition (Antipatris was on the main route along which an army had to pass when marching from north to south). The aggadah, however, is not precise in naming Simeon the Just as the officiating high priest at that time. As for the Jews' destroying Samaria on that occasion, the allusion is probably to its destruction by the Jews in the days of John Hyrcanus.

[Abraham Schalit]

In the Aggadah

The legends about Alexander of Macedonia do not so much portray his historical image, as describe the Greeks as a whole, as they were known to the peoples of the East, including the Jews. According to Plato (Republic, 435–6), the love of knowledge is characteristic of the Greeks and the love of money and possessions, mainly of the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. According to the aggadah, however, the heart of the Greek is torn by two conflicting desires: a craving for money and a hankering after knowledge; for while the Greek loves gold, he also longs to observe people and their customs, to become acquainted with new countries and new manners, thus increasing his knowledge. He delights in proclaiming the latter desire, and he attempts to conceal the former. He is deeply humiliated when he finds that he has failed to do so, as was the lot of Alexander upon his visit to King Kaẓya for the assumed purpose of observing his administration of justice (tj bm 2:5, 8c). The disdain of the people of the East for the rapacious Greek conquerors is a conspicuous feature of the aggadah, which describes Alexander's visit to the country of the Amazons (Tam. 32a). The aggadic account of Alexander's wish to enter the Holy of Holies and of the sage who dissuaded him from doing so (Gen. R. 61:7) was intended to demonstrate to the Jews that the sword is not always the most effective weapon against enemies like Alexander; moderation and discretion, guarded compromise and the exploitation of an enemy's weakness, courage and strength of spirit, often accomplish what the sword cannot. One aggadah in which the personality of the Macedonian king bears a close resemblance to the historical Alexander, reports a discussion between him and the elders of the south country (Tam. 31b–32a). Here he is featured as a typical Greek philosopher, bent upon learning from every man and from every nation, inquiring into every purpose, seeking precise definitions of concepts.

[Elimelech Epstein Halevy]

In Medieval Hebrew Literature

Stories about Alexander were included in Hebrew literature throughout the Middle Ages. They may be divided into two categories: (1) Stories describing his wisdom and high moral standards, reflecting the belief that as a pupil of Aristotle he had to be a philosopher. As early as the 11th century, Solomon ibn *Gabirol included such a story in his ethical work, Tikkun Middot ha-Nefesh. This practice was imitated by most medieval Hebrew moralists. Stories about him and epigrams attributed to him are found in Arabic works translated into Hebrew, e.g., Musrei ha-Filosofim by Ḥunain ibn Isḥaq and the pseudo-Aristotelian Sod ha-Sodot. (2) The medieval romance, the Gests of Alexander, was known in Hebrew, and published in many versions. This work, which originated in Hellenistic literature, is known in Greek as the Pseudo-Callisthenes; it was written around 300 c.e. by an anonymous Alexandrian author. According to W. van Bekkum, one of the recensions of the Greek text was believed to have been done by a Jew who added new elements taken from Josephus and the rabbinic literature, but Trumpf has proven that it was written by a Christian author who used the Septuagint. Some of the Hebrew versions seem to draw upon the Pseudo-Callisthenes, but most of them are based on the Latin version, the Historia de proeliis Alexandri Magni, a recension of the Latin translation by Archpresbyter Leo of Naples (mid-10th century). It seems that at least one version was translated into Hebrew from the Arabic, itself a translation of the Latin version. There are five printed versions of the Hebrew text of the Gests of Alexander (and others in manuscript):

(a) In the 12th century a version of this work was included in the *Josippon (written 200 years earlier) and became in this way part of Hebrew historical literature.

(b) Israel Lévi printed a version from an Arabic translation attributed to Samuel ibn Tibbon, based on the Latin Historia de proeliis. It was a deficient edition of the Ms. Héb. 671.5 in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, of the Sefer Toledot Alexander (Kovez al Jad, 2 (1886), 1–82). A critical edition of the same manuscript was published, with English translation, by Wout Jac. van Bekkum: A Hebrew Alexander Romance according to Ms. Héb. 671,5 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale (Groningen, Styx Publications, 1994). According to the editor, there is a tendency to cleanse the Hebrew text of mention of paganism and idolatry in the Latin text, although some of the pagan names still remain.

(c) Wout Jac. van Bekkum also published the first critical edition of the Alexander Romance according to another London Ms.: A Hebrew Alexander Romance according to Ms. London Jews' College no. 145 (Leuven, Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oriëntalistik, 1992). This manuscript is also based on the Latin translation by Leo of Naples, but it represents a different version of the Hebrew translation, with its own characteristics.

(d) I.J. Kazis printed a Hebrew version (1962) based on the Paris manuscript Ms. Héb. 750.3, translated by Immanuel b. Jacob *Bonfils (mid-14th century) from the same Latin text of the Historia de proeliis, which was compiled from other sources as well.

(e) Another version, printed also by I. Lévi (in: Festschrift… Steinschneider (1896), 142–63), based on the Ms. 53 of the Estense Library in Modena, seems to be unrelated to the Latin text; Lévi conjectured that this version may be derived directly from the Greek Pseudo-Callisthenes. Its story is more imaginative and fanciful than that of the other versions, and has sometimes parallels with texts in the Talmud and Midrash. Two more manuscripts have, according to W. van Bekkum, a similar nature: Ms. Héb. D.11 from the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and another one from Damascus.

Besides being popular as a novel, the Gests of Alexander, constructed from hundreds of stories which can exist independently, was also used in Hebrew literature as a source for short stories. The name of the hero, Alexander, is often omitted and only the plot proves its origin in this romance (e.g., Sefer Ḥasidim, 379).

[Joseph Dan /

Angel Saenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]


Lévi, in: rej, 2 (1881), 293–300; 3 (1881), 238–65; 7 (1883), 78–93; 12 (1886), 117–8; 28 (1894), 147–8; J. Spak, Der Bericht des Josephus ueber Alexander den Grossen (1911); Guttmann, Mafte'aḥ, 3, pt. 1 (1924), 67–69; idem, in: Tarbiz, 11 (1939/40), 271–94; I. Abrahams, Campaigns in Palestine from Alexander the Great (1927); Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 2 (19512), 85–107; V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), 1–5, 40–48; E.E. Halevy, Sha'arei ha-Aggadah (1963), 115–37; D. Flusser, in: Tarbiz, 26 (1956/57), 165–84; I.J. Kazis (ed.), The Book of the Gests of Alexander of Macedon (1962), 223–7 (bibliography); F.R. Cross, in: Freedman and Greenfield (eds.), New Directions in Biblical Archaeology (1969), 41–62.

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Alexander the Great°

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