by Douglas Reed
These chaotic centuries brought in their course the second significant event of the period: the enforced conversion of the Idumeans to Jehovaism (“Judaism” is a word apparently first used by the Judean historian Josephus to denote the culture and way of life of Judea, as “Hellenism” described those of Greece, and originally had no religious connotation. For want of a better word it will now be used in this book to identify the racial religion set up by the Levites on their perversion of the “Mosaic Law.”)
Only one other mass-conversion to Judaism is known to recorded history, and that one, which came about eight or nine centuries later, was of immediate importance to our present generation, as will be shown. Individual conversion, on the other hand, was at this period frequent, and apparently was encouraged even by the rabbis, for Jesus himself, according to Saint Matthew, told the scribes and pharisees, rebukingly, that they “compass sea and land to make one proselyte.”
Thus, for some reason, the racial ban introduced by the Second Law and the New Covenant was not, at this time, being enforced. Presumably the explanation is the numerical one; if the racial law had been strictly enforced the small tribe of
Evidently there was much intermingling, for whatever reason. The Jewish Encyclopaedia says that “early and late
Nevertheless, the racial Law remained in full vigour, not weakened by these exceptions, so that in the Christian era proselytizing virtually ceased and the Judaists of the world, although obviously they were not descended from
Fervent Zionists still beat their heads on a wall of lamentation when they consider the case of the Idumeans, which, they hold, proves the dictum just quoted. The problem of what to do with them apparently arose out of the priests' own sleight-of-hand feats with history and The Law. In the first historical book, Genesis, the Idumeans are shown as the tribe descended from Esau (“Esau the father of the Edomites”), who was own brother to Jacob-called-Israel. This
“And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Edom … Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth … And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau …”
When Numbers came to be written, say two hundred years later, this situation had changed. By then Ezra and Nehemiah, escorted by Persian soldiery, had enforced their racial law on the Judahites, and the Idumeans, like other neighbouring peoples, became hostile (for exactly the same reasons that cause Arab hostility today).
They learned, from Numbers, that, far from being “not meddled” with, they were now marked down for “utter destruction.” Thus in Numbers Moses and his followers no longer “pass by our brethren the children of Esau”; they demand to pass through the Idumean land. The King of Idumea refuses permission, whereon Moses takes another route and the Lord promises him that “
From other passages in The Law the Idumeans were able to learn the fate of cities so taken in possession; in them, nothing was to be left alive that breathed. (The scribes dealt similarly with the Moabites; in Deuteronomy Moses is commanded “Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give thee of their land for a possession”; in Numbers, the divine command is that the Moabites be destroyed).
From about 400 BC on, therefore, the Judeans were distrusted and feared by neighbouring tribes, including the Idumeans. They were proved right in this, for during the brief revival of
But the matter did not end there. A law set up in this way throws up a new problem for each one that is solved. Having “taken possession,” was John Hyreanus to “utterly destroy” and “save nothing alive that breatheth” of “our brethren, the children of Esau”? He disobeyed that law, and contented himself with the forcible conversion. But by so doing he made himself a capital transgressor, like Saul, the first king of the
destroyed (according to the Levitical version of history).
John Hyrcanus had to deal with two political parties. Of these, the more moderate Sadducees, who supported the monarchy, presumably tendered the counsel to spare the Idumeans, and merely by force to make them Jews. The other party was that of the Pharisees, who represented the old despotic priesthood of the Levites and wished to restore it in full sovereignty.
Presumably these fanatical Pharisees, as heirs of the Levites, would have had him exact the full rigour of the Law and “utterly destroy” the Idumeans. They continued fiercely to oppose him (as Samuel opposed Saul) and to work for the overthrow of the monarchy. What is of particular interest today, they later claimed that from his clemency towards the Idumeans the entire ensuing catastrophe of
The Pharisees had to wait about 150 years for the proof of this argument, if proof it was to any but themselves. Out of the converted Idumeans came one Antipater who rose to high favour in the little court at
In the sequel, utter confusion reigned in the little province so that even the shadow of independence vanished and
For this denouement the Pharisees, as the authors of Roman intervention, were apparently to blame. They laid the fault on “the half caste” and “Idumean slave,” Herod. Had John Hyrcanus but “observed the Law” and “utterly destroyed” the Idumeans, 150 years before, all this would not have come about, they said. It is illuminating to see with what bitter anger Dr. Josef Kastein, two thousand years later, took up this reproach, as if it were an event of the day before. A Twentieth Century Zionist, who wrote in the time of Hitler's advent to power in
However, the calamity of Judea was also the victory of the Pharisees, as will be seen, and this is typical of the paradoxes in which the story of