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Alexander, Josephus, and Jerusalem

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By Islamaphobe - Posted on 30 December 2006

by John Evans
Although the details of Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire are generally well documented, a notable exception exists with regard to how Alexander dealt with Judea and Jerusalem. It is true that in Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus provided a detailed account of Alexander’s supposed visit to Jerusalem late in 332, following the successful siege of Gaza, but most recognized scholars in the prevailingly liberal world of academia have dismissed this account as being essentially fictional. They have done so because they have judged it too fantastic to be credible and, to a lesser extent, because they take it to be a propaganda piece designed to make the Jews look superior to the Samaritans. That it is deemed too fantastic is, in large part, because it supports an early date for the writing of the Book of Daniel.Although the details of Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire are generally well documented, a notable exception exists with regard to how Alexander dealt with Judea and Jerusalem. It is true that in Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus provided a detailed account of Alexander’s supposed visit to Jerusalem late in 332, following the successful siege of Gaza, but most recognized scholars in the prevailingly liberal world of academia have dismissed this account as being essentially fictional. They have done so because they have judged it too fantastic to be credible and, to a lesser extent, because they take it to be a propaganda piece designed to make the Jews look superior to the Samaritans. That it is deemed too fantastic is, in large part, because it supports an early date for the writing of the Book of Daniel.The curt dismissal of Josephus’s account by liberal academia contrasts markedly with the fact that many liberal scholars are often willing to give Josephus considerable credibility as a historian, and the rejection of that account leaves academics with the problem of explaining why Alexander seems not have worried about the loyalties of the Jews before he made his move into Mesopotamia in the summer of 331. It stands to reason that the Macedonian conqueror must have taken steps before then to assure himself that the Jews would not be a problem and that something must have happened to give him this assurance. Moreover, you could heavily discount the supernatural features of Josephus’s account and still find in it a plausible explanation of how it came to pass that Alexander appears to have had no Jewish problem. Evidently, however, the tendency of liberal historians to automatically exclude the supernatural from their accounts of history has collectively biased them against taking Josephus seriously in this notable instance.

What is particularly objectionable about Josephus’s account from the perspective of liberal scholars is that it portrays Alexander as being told by the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem that the Book of Daniel had declared that a Greek would destroy the empire of the Persians.[1] Because liberal biblical scholarship takes it as proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the Book of Daniel—and certainly Daniel 8, which portrays the Greek goat with a large horn as killing the two-horned ram portraying the Medo-Persian Empire (v. 5-7, 20-21)—is a product of the second century BC, to lend credence to Josephus’s account would open the door to recognizing the possibility that Daniel 8 was written by the fourth century BC and therefore contradict a finding that has been declared unassailable by the leading authorities. And that would mean, God forbid, conceding that the Book of Daniel has legitimate claims to being genuinely prophetic. It would be possible to grant that Alexander may have paid a short visit to Jerusalem and to argue that Josephus embellished this visit with legendary material, but the prevailing view in academia is that there is just too much fantasy in his account to warrant giving it much credibility.

Although Daniel 8:5 portrays the Greek goat as coming from the west with such rapidity as to cross “the whole earth without touching the ground,” it actually took Alexander seven years to subdue the opposing Persian forces and fully secure the possession of the Persian or Achaemenid Empire. Given the vastness of that empire, the rapidity and thoroughness of the conquest were indeed remarkable, but a lot more was involved in it than the famous battles of the Granicus, Issus, and Gaugamela. As it proceeded, Alexander had to replace the existing administrative apparatus with his own, put down and prevent local rebellions, obtain supplies and reinforcements, and secure his ever-lengthening supply lines. Furthermore, because Persian allies initially had naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean and he wanted to incorporate Egypt into his burgeoning empire, Alexander found it necessary to carry out extensive operations along the coast before moving into Mesopotamia.

Alexander’s army crossed the Hellespont/Dardanelles in May 334, but the decisive battle at Gaugamela, which led to the occupation of Mesopotamia and proved fatal to the hopes of Darius III, the Achaemenid monarch, did not occur until October 331. Even after Gaugamela, Darius III remained in the field for most of a year. He was murdered in July 330 by Bessus, the satrap of Bactria (northern Afghanistan), who proclaimed himself the successor to Darius and took the throne name of Artaxerxes V. Alexander then felt compelled to conduct a campaign in what is now Afghanistan and the lands along its northern border that resulted in the elimination of Bessus in June 329. It was not until the spring of 327, however, that resistance in the eastern part of the empire was fully overcome. Alexander next invaded lands in what are now southern Afghanistan and Pakistan that had been claimed by the Achaemenids under Darius I but had been lost under Xerxes I, and it was not until early in 324 that he returned to the Persian heartland in southwestern Iran.[2]

Within a month after the crossing of the Hellespont in May 334, Alexander defeated the regional forces of the Persians about thirty miles east of those straits at the Granicus River. During the next few months, he took over much of Asia Minor while Darius III was assembling a huge force to come against him. The armies met in a great battle in November 333 at Issus, which was located in what is southernmost Turkey, just north of Syria on the Mediterranean coast. Alexander won the battle decisively, of course, and his chief lieutenant, Parmenion, raced ahead to Damascus, where he captured a great store of treasure as well as the family of Darius, including his wife, mother, and children. This capture symbolically strengthened Alexander’s claim to have replaced Darius.[3]

Following Issus, Alexander opted to move down the coast rather than proceed inland. With the exception of Tyre, in the southern part of the Levant, the Phoenician cities surrendered, but Alexander turned down Tyre’s surrender offer because it refused to allow him to sacrifice at the temple of its chief deity in February. No Persian king had ever made such a demand of the Tyrians. There followed a protracted siege, which ran from January 332 until July of that year. After the fall of Tyre, Alexander moved further down the coast to Gaza, whose Persian governor refused to surrender. Another siege followed, and Gaza fell in October. It was immediately after this siege, according to Josephus, that Alexander made his trip to Jerusalem.[4]

According to Josephus, around the time that Alexander was coming into power, Jaddua became the high priest in Jerusalem. He had a brother named Manasseh, whose father-in-law, Sanballat, served as the Persian governor in Samaria. Sanballat was, claimed Josephus, a Cuthean; i.e. a descendant of the people whom the Assyrians had moved into Israel following their conquest of that nation in the eighth century. He was also a Samaritan; i.e. an adherent of the Yahweh-based faith that prevailed in Samaria. Sanballat had given his daughter Nicaso in marriage to Mannaseh so as to secure good relations with the Jews.[5] The elders of Jerusalem then became uneasy about the marriage of the high priest’s brother to a “foreigner” and demanded that Mannaseh either divorce Nicaso or agree not to approach the altar of the Temple. Jaddua joined them in this demand. When Mannaseh informed Sanballat that although he loved Nicaso, he was unwilling to give up his priestly authority on her account, Sanballat assured his son-in-law that he would preserve his status as a priest, procure his succession to Sanballat’s position as governor, and build a temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria that would be like that of Jerusalem. Mannaseh accepted this offer. Disturbances then arose among the people of Jerusalem because “many of those priests and Levites were entangled in such matches” as that of Mannaseh, and the compromised priests and Levites defected to the side of Manasseh and Sanballat.[6]

Although Josephus indicates that the prospect of the development of a rival temple at Mt. Gerizim greatly disturbed those who insisted on the centrality of temple worship at Jerusalem, his account implies that up until that time, relations were not so strained between the Jews and the Samaritans as to preclude marriages between their priestly families. To my mind, this is a highly significant observation that suggests that the account of what happened to the residents of Israel when the Assyrians conquered their nation that appears in 2 Kings 17 contains serious inaccuracies that reflect the bias of the Jews against the Samaritans. In 2 Kings 17:18-23, we read that all of Israel was exiled by the Assyrians. Two Kings 17:24-39 then offer an elaborate account of how the king of Assyria resettled Israel/Samaria with people from various locations who proceeded, with the help of a priest who had lived in Israel, to develop systems of worship rather similar to what the residents of Israel had worked out before; i.e. systems in which the worship of Yahweh was mixed with the worship of the gods of their different nationalities. Josephus, incidentally, seems to have accepted the claim of 2 Kings 17 that the Samaritans were wholly descended from the Cutheans and other foreigners.

I submit that, as a practical matter, it is highly unlikely that the Assyrians would have rounded up and deported all of the residents of Israel in the eighth century and completely replaced them with people from other locations. I suspect that the Assyrians deported the city dwellers and many of the leading citizens while leaving much of the original population in place. They wanted to break up concentrations of people with a strong tribal or national identity, not just move them somewhere else. Something similar, no doubt, took place when Nebuchadnezzar deported residents of Judah to Babylonia in the sixth century, though my guess is that the Assyrians moved more people around than the Babylonians. In any event, I am confident that a sufficient number of the residents of Israel remained in place in the eighth century to permit the survival of the Yahweh worship that 2 Kings 17 seeks to explain in rather implausible fashion. This finding squares with the indication by Josephus that the religious systems of Samaria and Judea in Alexander’s time had enough in common to allow some overlapping of the priesthood. Without doubt, the gulf between the Samaritans and the Jews subsequently widened as each group focused the worship of Yahweh on its own temple.

The story about Sanballat, Manasseh, and Jaddua somewhat resembles a story that appears in Nehemiah 13 that mentions the problem of intermarriage with foreigners—though residents of Moab, Ammon, and Ashdod, not Samaria—and refers in verse 28 to one “Sanballat the Horonite”; i.e. a resident of Moab, who was an enemy of Nehemiah and the father-in-law of a son of the high priest. Lester Grabbe, a prominent liberal scholar in England, suggests that it is clear that the story of Manasseh in Josephus is a version of the story in Nehemiah “that has been moved a century later.”[7] The two stories differ substantially, however, and I am confident that what is “clear” to Grabbe is not necessarily clear to other authorities. Grabbe, incidentally, points out that Persian records pertaining to the mid-fifth century BC and somewhat later have identified two Persian governors of Samaria as being named Sanballat. He does not confirm, however, that a man with this name was the governor when Alexander arrived.[8]

In any event, it is clear that the differences between the Jews and the Samaritans widened after the Samaritans built their own temple. This means that if we can accurately determine when the temple on Mt. Gerizim was built, we shall be better able to evaluate the veracity of Josephus’s account. Unfortunately, the temple was destroyed by the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus (134-104 BC), and the determination of its construction date by examining the ruins has not settled the issue. There is strong support for a fourth-century BC date, which supports Josephus, but there are also those who argue for a fifth-century date. In my judgment, the fact that Nehemiah does not mention the Samaritans favors the fourth-century date.

Josephus indicated that when Darius arrived in force and took up his position at Issus in Cilicia, everyone believed that Alexander would not dare take on his massive army. Following Alexander’s victory, however, at the beginning of the siege of Tyre, Sanballat hastened to meet with Alexander with seven thousand men, who became auxiliary troops in Alexander’s army. In addition, Sanballat brought up the matter of building a temple and suggested to Alexander that doing so would divide the religious loyalties of the Jews and reduce the danger of a rebellion. Alexander agreed to this proposal, whereupon Sanballat immediately began building the temple at Mt. Gerizim and made Manasseh its high priest. At about the time that the siege of Gaza was terminated, however, Sanballat died.[9]

Meanwhile, Josephus wrote, when Alexander began the siege of Tyre, he requested support from Jaddua and was turned down because the high priest had promised Darius that he would not bear arms against him. We can infer from this that Josephus meant to imply that the Jewish high priest was more honorable than the opportunistic Sanballat. Upon the termination of the siege at Gaza, however, Alexander immediately headed for Jerusalem, thereby inducing a state of panic. Jaddua then ordered the populace to make supplications and join him in sacrifice at the Temple. He was rewarded with a dream in which he was told to adorn the city, open its gates, command the populace to dress in white, and walk out to meet Alexander with the priests and the people. Upon seeing the resulting procession, Alexander advanced to meet the priests all by himself and saluted Jaddua. Parmenion then went up to Alexander and asked him why he did this and was told by Alexander that he had seen the same person in a dream when he was in Macedonia and had been exhorted by him to make no delay in invading Asia and told that he would be given dominion of Persia. Alexander next walked into the city with the priests, offered sacrifice at the Temple, and was shown the Book of Daniel and told that it indicates that a Greek would destroy the empire of the Persians.[10] It is this claim that Alexander was told about the Book of Daniel which, more than anything else, has provoked doubt in the academic establishment that Alexander visited Jerusalem.

On the next day, Josephus continued, Alexander called the priests before him and asked what they sought from him. Jaddua’s response was that the Jews wanted to live under he laws of their forefathers and to pay no tribute in Sabbath Years. Jaddua also asked that the Jews living in Babylonia and Media be allowed the same rights. Alexander agreed to these requests and encouraged the Jews to serve in his army. Josephus wrote that “many were ready to accompany him in his wars” without, however, indicating that some actually did. His business with Jerusalem settled, Alexander led his army into the other cities of the area. Upon seeing how well the Jews had fared, the Samaritans hastened to claim the same treatment as the Jews with regard to the remission of tribute in the seventh year. After being informed by the Samaritans that they were Hebrews, but not Jews, Alexander elected to defer a decision on tribute remission until a later time. He did, however, continue to employ the services of the seven thousand men that Sanballat had provided to him by taking them with him to Egypt.[11]

Josephus commented that the Samaritans followed an opportunistic policy of claiming a close affinity to the Jews when it was to their advantage to do so and distinguishing themselves from the Jews on other occasions. In doing so, he sarcastically noted that they would claim descent from Joseph and his sons Ephraim and Manasseh when they wanted to associate themselves with the Jews.[12] This makes it clear that although the Jews commonly denied that the Samaritans were descended from the ten tribes of Israel, as 2 Kings 17 demonstrates, the Samaritans claimed such descent.

In the final portion of his account, Josephus wrote that after Alexander’s death, the temple at Mt. Gerizim was left intact. He fired a parting shot at the Samaritans by claiming that they gave refuge to Jewish reprobates who violated the dietary laws or committed other violations of the Law, such a profaning the Sabbath; and he ended his account by stating that when Jaddua died, his son Onias became high priest.[13] It is of interest that the high priest who was removed by Antiochus IV in 174 when he sold the office to Menelaus and who was murdered with the connivance of Menelaus in 170 was Onias III.

In December 332, Alexander entered Egypt, where he quickly established his authority. He gained the support of the Egyptian priesthood and sacrificed at Memphis to the Apis, the sacred bull of Egypt, a manifestation of the god Ptah. In March 331, he visited the Siwa Oasis in western Egypt, famous for its oracle of the god Ammon, whose cult had been promoted in Greece by the poet Pindar. According to Jona Lendering, both Perseus and Hercules were claimed by Alexander to be among his ancestors; and since Perseus was considered to be an ancestor of the Achaemenids, the visit to Siwa can be regarded as religious preparation for the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. Lendering also suggests that the Ammon had religious significance to the Egyptians. What the oracle told Alexander is not known, but it is recorded that after he visited Siwa, he added Ammon to the list of gods that he worshipped.[14]

In April 331, when Alexander was in Memphis, the news arrived of a revolt in Samaria. This event signaled the end of Alexander’s Egyptian “vacation” and that it was time to move into the interior of Asia. The problem in Samaria seems to have been minor and was quickly resolved. Lendering indicates that in the administrative reshuffling that followed, control over some Samaritan territory was assigned to the Jews in Jerusalem. At the end of July 331, Alexander’s army at last began its move from Phoenicia into the interior.[15] Of possible relevance to the events in Samaria in 331 is the statement by Josephus in Against Apion, quoting Hecateus, that “Alexander honored our nation to such a degree, that, for the equity and the faithfulness which the Jews exhibited to him, he permitted them to hold the country of Samaria free from tribute.”[16]

In the remainder of this article, I shall offer an evaluation of the plausibility of Josephus’s account of Alexander’s supposed visit to Jerusalem that begins with a few comments about an article on that subject by the great Jewish-Italian classical scholar Arnaldo Momigliano, who, after some opening statements acknowledging the favorable view of Daniel held by Josephus, offered the following assessment: “I shall say immediately and dogmatically that I assume there is no truth in the visit of Alexander to Jerusalem. It is not recorded by any respectable ancient source on Alexander and is full of impossible details.”[17] With that comment out of the way, Momigliano proceeded to omit consideration of the “respectable ancient source[s]” and to focus his handling of the “impossible details” on Josephus’s treatment of the Samaritans and his view of the Book of Daniel.

Momigliano observed that Josephus offered two different accounts about the Samaritans, one before Alexander’s visit to Jerusalem, the other afterwards. The second account, he claimed, “presupposes that Aexander had not met the Samaritans before: it assumes that they had never asked to be allowed to build a temple of their own in order to weaken the Jews.” He then added this acerbic comment: “One must add (though this is not a point to be pressed in fairy tales) that ancient temples were not built in a few months.” The first account, he conceded, “has the look of a genuine Samaritan story that tries to connect the temple of Mount Gerizim with Alexander” while the second “is definitely anti-Samaritan, though in a mild tone.” He conceded that the first story could contain some elements of truth, but he regarded the second as pure invention, and he noted that neither is strictly necessary to explain a visit by Alexander to Jerusalem.[18] As for why Josephus adopted a rather “mild tone” in dealing with the Samaritans, Momigliano suggested that although Josephus did not like the Samaritans, they “had joined the rebellion of 67 A.D. and had suffered heavily from the Romans.”[19]

Momigliano was confident that the Book of Daniel was finalized around 165 BC; i.e. during the oppressive reign of the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV, and that, in keeping with Seleucids’ origin, it is thoroughly anti-Macedonian. Therefore, he reasoned, it was unlikely that the legend of Alexander’s visit arose at the time of writing, at least in Palestine, where anti-Macedonian sentiment among Jews was particularly strong. He speculated, however, that it could have originated among the Jews living in Egypt but that the reference in Josephus’s account to the Book of Daniel was probably an addition inserted by Josephus.[20] I must note, however, that Momigliano’s insistence that Daniel is thoroughly anti-Macedonian followed from his conviction that the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2 and 7 is Macedonian in origin. If the fourth kingdom is Rome, as I believe, an entirely different analysis is in order.

In Josephus’s account, Momigliano noted, the high priest does not consult the Book of Daniel in order to decide his own conduct, and Alexander does not learn anything from Daniel that he did not already know; i.e. he already believed that he was destined to conquer the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Josephus conveniently omitted any mention of the fifth kingdom; i.e. the Jewish messianic kingdom, that was to succeed the kingdom represented by the Macedonian states, and Momigliano implied that he did not want to portray the high priest as conveying that piece of unwelcome news to Alexander. Momigliano called attention at this point to the fact that earlier in Jewish Antiquities, Josephus had written about Daniel the prophet, leaving out “all that in the original is pointedly anti-Greek and anti-Macedonian” while inserting a brief statement indicating that Rome was the Book of Daniel’s fourth kingdom.[21]

Momigliano clearly believed—and I agree—that Josephus’s delicate position as a protege and adopted member of the family of the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian acted to restrain his comments on the apocalyptic aspects of the Book of Daniel. Momigliano also recognized, with good reason, I think, that between the death of Antiochus IV (174/173 BC) and the lifetime of Josephus (b. ca. 37 AD), there was a tendency to read Maccabean era fulfillments into Daniel’s apocalypticism, but that Josephus and “his Jewish contemporaries were beginning to introduce the Romans into their interpretation of Daniel’s prophecies.”[22] The possibility that Josephus may have been correct in bringing the Romans into these prophecies does not appear to have been entertained by him for a second.

Although Momigliano regarded Josephus’s accounts of the Samaritans before and after the supposed visit to Jerusalem as mutually exclusive, I believe this assertion to be nonsense. Again, Momigliano wrote that the treatment of the Samaritans after the Jerusalem visit “presupposes that Alexander had not met the Samaritans before,” and he threw in a gratuitous shot about “fairy tales.”[23] He neglected to point out, however, that Josephus referred to the seven thousand Samaritans who served in Alexander’s army in both accounts, which suggests that Josephus had not forgotten what he had written a little earlier. It is true that in his account of Alexander’s dealings with the Samaritans after the supposed visit to Jerusalem, Josephus had the Samaritans asking Alexander to come to their city of Shechem to honor their temple like he had honored that of the Jews.[24] Momigliano evidently took this to mean that Josephus slipped up and assumed that the temple to which he alluded earlier already existed. Josephus did not claim that the temple had been constructed virtually overnight, however, and his statement about it can be reconciled with the commonsense understanding that, in view of what he had written earlier, he was assuming that the reader would understand he was referring to the temple’s site. One can also reasonably assume that the Samaritans would not have needed to wait until the completion of the temple to worship there. In my judgment, Momigliano confirmed, in this and other instances, that astute critical-historical scholars often have had a tendency to be hypercritical and overly inclined to downgrade the competence of ancient writers and the sophistication of their readers.

From what we know about the chronology of Alexander’s operations, enough time elapsed between the fall of Gaza and Alexander’s entry into Egypt to have allowed the visit to Jerusalem that Josephus described. We know that the siege of Gaza ended in October 332 and that Alexander entered Egypt in December. It is unlikely that he spent the intervening time resting! It also seems obvious that he had good reason to assure himself that no problems would be forthcoming from the Jews, who were not an insignificant component of the eastern Mediterranean’s population mix. Furthermore, when Alexander undertook the siege of Tyre, he surely sent word to nearby populations, including the Samaritans and the Jews, that he expected their assistance. Therefore, Josephus’s references to such calls for assistance seem quite realistic. We also can infer from what we know about the chronology of Alexander’s operations from sources other than Josephus that the Jews caused him no major problems at any time. Had they done so, we can be certain that the non-Jews who wrote about his conquests would have been eager to mention the fact.

Although Josephus offered some derogatory comments about the Samaritans, he also had the Samaritans being given the permission to build their temple. This, as Jona Lendering notes, seems “a plausible punishment for the Jewish refusal to send soldiers.” Lendering also points out that Alexander’s accession to the requests made to him by the Jewish priests was not a grant of special privileges to the Jews: “everything he grants the Jews had already been granted to them by the Persian kings. This was Alexander’s usual policy.”[25] That is, Alexander liked to present himself as the imperial successor Darius III; consequently, he followed existing practices in the administration of conquered territories to the extent that it was practicable to do so.

Alexander also liked to believe that he had secured the favor of the local gods wherever he went. Consequently, it was a standard practice of his to sacrifice at holy sites to whatever gods were worshipped locally when he added new territories to his domain. The story that Josephus presented about Alexander’s encounter with Jaddua and the Jewish priesthood no doubt sounds rather wild to modern ears, but with all the emphasis upon visions and oracles that one encounters in reading about the history of the civilizations of ancient times and Alexander’s apparent eagerness to believe that he was on a mission approved by the gods, I have little difficulty believing that he might have had dreams similar to what Josephus described.

As for the treatment of the Book of Daniel in Josephus’s account, I can readily understand why those who are so sure that it was written in its final form during the reign of Antiochus IV have no difficulty in raising questions about it. The reference to Daniel is quite brief. We are simply told that it was shown to Alexander and that it declares that a Greek would destroy the empire of the Persians. Skeptics will automatically ask, for example, how did the priests deal with such verses as 8:8: “The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven” (NIV)? Inasmuch as the Book of Daniel predicts a short life for the Greek conqueror symbolized by the goat with a large horn, it stands to reason, one can argue, that the priests would have needed to have been very careful about what they told Alexander regarding Daniel’s prophetic material.

If you believe, as I do, that the Book of Daniel existed before Alexander came to power and that parts of it circulated widely among Aramaic-speaking Jews, it is quite conceivable that Alexander would have known something about it before he came to Jerusalem. The oldest manuscripts of Daniel 8 are in Hebrew, however, which suggests that a more limited circulation of that chapter may have occurred. In any event, Daniel would have been only one of a number of sources of allegedly prophetic material, including oracles, that existed in the in the world in which Alexander lived. Moreover, if you judge Alexander by his behavior, although he clearly believed he was on a divinely sanctioned mission, he did not act like a man who felt that his mission was to found an empire that would endure long after his death. I suggest that he acted instead like a man who did not expect to live a long life. Perhaps, after all, he knew something about the prophecy that he would die at the height of his power. [26]


[1]Ibid., 11.8.5, 386 (338).

[2] See the articles there on Alexander, especially, the one entitled “Alexander the Great: chronology.”

[3]Ibid. See, in particular, “Alexander the Great (6).”

[4]Ibid. See, in particular, “Alexander the Great (7).”

[5]Josephus, Antiquities, 11.7.2, 382 (302-03).

[6]Ibid., 11.8.2, 383 (306-12).

[7]“Recent Trends in Reconstructing the History of Ancient Israel,” a report of an academic conference in Rome in 2003 sponsored by the Associazione Orientalisti,


[9]Josephus, Antiquities, 11.8.3-4, 383-84 (313-15, 321-25).

[10]Ibid., 11.8.4-5, 384, 386 (325-37).

[11]Ibid., 11.8.5-6, 386 (337-45).

[12]Ibid., 11.8.6, 386 (341).

[13]Ibid., 11.8.7, 386 (346-47).

[14] See “Alexander the Great (8).”

[15]Ibid. See “Alexander the Great (8),” “Samaria,” and “Alexander the Great (9).”

[16]Josephus, Against Apion, 2.4, 962 (43).

[17]Arnaldo Momigliano, “Flavius Josephus and Alexander’s Visit to Jerusalem,” Essays on Ancient and Modern Judaism, ed. with intro. by Silvia Berti, trans. by Maura Masella-Gayly (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 81.

[18]Ibid., 82.

[19] Ibid., 86.

[20]Ibid., 84-85.

[21]Ibid., 85. Josephus’s treatment of Daniel is found in Antiquities, 10-11, 349-58 (186-281). His statement about Rome as the fourth kingdom follows his rather brief account of the reign of Antiochus IV, in which he mentions the plundering of the temple and the forbidding of sacrifices for a period of three years, and is as follows: “And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them.” 10.11.7, 357 (275-76).

[22]Momigliano, “Josephus,” 85-86.

[23]Ibid., 86.

[24]Josephus, Antiquities, 11.8.6, 386 (342-43).

[25] See “Alexander Visits Jerusalem.”

[26]In preparing this article, I benefited from exchanges of messages with Thomas Sachariassen. So thanks, Thomas, for your input. I hope that the final product is not too much at variance with your own views, and I look forward to future discussions.

ThomasS's picture

Dear John Evans,

You wrote:

"That it is deemed too fantastic is, in large part, because it supports an early date for the writing of the Book of Daniel."

So, in your opinion, why is the historicity of this Alexander story rejected by conservative scholars (who actually do advocate an early date)?


Th. S.

Islamaphobe's picture

The conservatives with whom I am familiar are inclined to accept the historicity of the account of Josephus. To which conservative scholars are you referring? I'd like to know, so why don't you tell us? My suspicion is that the "conservative" scholars you have in mind who advocate an early date for Daniel have one foot in the liberal camp.

ThomasS's picture

Dear John Evans,

I really do not know what you mean by the term "conservative". Perhaps you would care to explain?

The following names run into my mind: Young, Baldwin, Longman. They do not seem to put any weight on the story of Alexander reading/hearing about the Book of Daniel. (If they do, I would like to know it.)

Whereas it is possible that Alexander went to Jerusalem, there is little or nothing supporting that he was made aware of the prophecy in Dan 8.

IF one argues that liberals dismiss the Alexander story because they refuse to believe that the Book of Daniel was written prior to 325 BCE, it could also be argued that conservatives cling to the story in order to defend the Book of Daniel.

I think most scholars (both conservatives and liberals) would argue that Josephus cannot always be trusted. Whereas it is possible that Alexander went to Jerusalem, it cannot be proven. Whether he was familiar with (parts of) Dan 8, we just cannot know for sure. Thus, the date of Daniel has to be fixed by other means!



Islamaphobe's picture


In simple terms in this context, "conservative" applies to those who view Daniel as an authentic prophet and the Book of Daniel as having been written before the second century BC.

Because I came to biblical study without the benefit of formal training and am an academic whose lifetime experiences have taught him that the views of established authorities are often wrong, especially when those authorities have a "liberal" mindset, I am not a hostage to received opinion. I found received opinions to often be questionable in my chosen professional field of economics, and I have also found them to often be questionable in the field of biblical study. There is much that is subjective in biblical study, and that means that the personal biases of the investigators heavily influence what they find. Scholars can look at the same empirical evidence and come to completely different conclusions. My academic experience has shown me that what I call the "liberal mindset" is far more dominant among academics in the humanities and social sciences other than economics than in my own professional field. Therefore, the fact that the established authorities have tended to dismiss the Josephus account does not greatly concern me. What does concern me is the evidence, and that evidence suggests that Alexander probably did visit Jerusalem. Yes, Josephus is sometimes wrong, and one could accept that Alexander probably did visit Jerusalem without accepting what Josephus says about the Book of Daniel. I submit, however, that dismissing the notion that Alexander was shown the Book of Daniel is not warranted by the evidence and that the proper conclusion is that the account of Josephus should not simply be dismissed as obvious fantasy.

ThomasS's picture

Dear John Evans,

Why do you think conservative scholars like Young, Baldwin and Longman didn't put much weight on the Alexander story? (Do you think they had a leg in the liberal camp?)

Could it be that you trust Josephus' story of Alexander reading/hearing the prophecy in Dan 8 because you really would like to have proof for an early date of Dan 8?

There is nothing wrong with your conservative bias, but you cannot expect us to believe that you are somewhat more objective than so-called liberals.



Islamaphobe's picture

Well, Thomas, I do believe that I am more objective than most liberal academics, but perhaps that is one man's opinion! As for Young and Baldwin (I don't know Longman), I suspect that they didn't look at the matter closely. I certainly would like for Josephus's story to be true, but I agree with those who say that we cannot be sure about the matter on the basis of the evidence that we have. What I can be sure about is that the case for the story's truth is much stronger than liberal scholars have assumed.

ThomasS's picture

Dear John Evans,

You wrote:

"I do believe that I am more objective than most liberal academics, but perhaps that is one man's opinion!"

At least you seem more objective than many so-called conservatives. And that is a good thing.

You also wrote:

"What I can be sure about is that the case for the story's truth is much stronger than liberal scholars have assumed."

...or conservative scholars (like Young, Baldwin, Longman)...



Islamaphobe's picture

As an afterthought I shall add another point that adds to the plausbility of the account by Josephus. If the Book of Daniel was circulating before the time of Alexander, some readers will wonder, then why wouldn't the Jewish priesthood have supported Alexander when he besieged Tyre? Couldn't they see that he was the Greek goat of Daniel 8? Josephus actually deals with that point by writing that when Darius began assembling a huge force to repulse Alexander prior to Issus, everyone in the region assumed that Darius would defeat Alexander. That would then explain why the priests didn't send help to Alexander--they were not yet convinced that he was the person referred to in the prophecy.

John S. Evans

JL's picture

Thank-you John,

That was quite interesting.



JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Islamaphobe's picture

Thanks, J.L. It was hard work for me, and I hope our readers will generally enjoy it. While taking a walk while ago, I thought of a fine point that I should have included. I am adding it as a comment below.

John S. Evans

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