Jews exploring the Mediterranean shores in the time of the prophet Ezekiel

It just seems natural for us to travel. Few people would undoubtedly be able to draw a planisphere without a model, but basically we all have fairly precise notions of the shape of the Earth and the continents, or of the location of countries and cities.

But to get there, human beings had to explore a completely unknown world ... and come back!

The biblical book of the prophet Ezekiel allows us to discover one of these moments.

The book of Ezekiel

The problem is, it's hard to date this book. For believers, guided by the incipit in particular, it was created in VIe century BC. It is stated that the first revelation was brought to the prophet in the fifth year of theexile of King Joachin (Ezekiel 1.2), that is to say around 592 BC; another is dated the sixth year (Ezek 8.1: 20.1), yet another the seventh year (Ez XNUMX: XNUMX), etc. Historical criticism has often revised dating downward, up to the IIIe century BC in the most extreme cases. But today, a large majority of commentators opts for the idea of ​​a more or less progressive composition, starting from an original actually dating from the exile in Babylon.

However, there is an important variation to this book, it is its translation into greek to IIe century (probably around the year 185) before our era in the famous “Septuagint”. The comparison between the two is often very enriching.

A question of distant shores

Au chapter 27, the prophet built a long development on the trade of the Phoenician city of Tire; it lists destinations such as Tarshish (probably Tarsus, in Asia Minor), Syria, Arabia, Persia. Many peoples are ill-defined and it is difficult to know if they exist or if their main function is to give the text an air of exoticism (Ezekiel 27.1-26). However, it happens that certain commentators, to try to locate such or such shoreline presented, resort to the Greek version. The problem is, it actually reflects another era.

Map of ancient Greek dialects, showing Lydia, the island of Rhodes and Miletus.

In the Greek version, we see some of these peoples take on a very precise identity. The land of Lud, undoubtedly by phonetic assimilation, becomes that of the Lydians. The distant and rich African country of Punt is replaced by Libya, a rich Greek colony since the VIIe century BC. In verse 12, "those of Tarshish" (or "of the high seas") become "the Carthaginians", this maritime power of present-day Tunisia. In the next verse, the translators even replaced the plural “Javan, Tubal and Meshech” with “all of Greece”!

The unknown city of Dedan in verse 15 becomes the wealthy commercial city of Rhodes, where the famous colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The city was born around 408 BC. AD and most wine amphorae found in Israel come from; it is a poor quality wine, used mainly for soldiers. Rhodes was one of the most active ports in the Greek world, which was not supplanted until 167 BCE by Delos, after the Romans intervened in Greek affairs.

Finally, in verse 18, the “white wool” becomes wool from the Greek city of Miletus, in Asia Minor.

Martin Heemskerck, Colossus of Rhodes, XNUMXth century.

Jews increasingly active in the Mediterranean

This development undoubtedly reveals the intensification of maritime exchanges with the Greek world and, somewhere between the two books, an entry into the western basin of the Mediterranean. We thus discover that the Jews gradually reached distant shores and established trade relations with increasingly distant peoples. At VIe century, they mainly knew near-eastern regions; to IIe century, they are peoples particularly active in Mediterranean maritime trade, mainly Greeks. This is normal: since the conquest ofAlexander The Great (c. 331 BC), the Jews were integrated into the wider Greek world, stretching from the Balkans to the Indus. They are open to a new and much larger world than before.

Finally, it should be noted that Rome does not yet appear in this geography. We are, at the time of the translation into Greek, shortly before the powerful Republic burst into Eastern affairs. The Jews did not hear of the Romans until about twenty years later, after they forced Antiochus IV Epiphanes to abandon Egypt in 168 BC. J.-C. The Maccabees font alliance with them in 161 BC, hoping to gain military support against the Seleucids. In order to achieve autonomy, they are therefore more and more linked with the rising power of Rome which, little by little, takes the ascendancy and ends up annexing Judea at the time of Pompey the Great in 63 BC. J.-C.The Conversation

Michael Girardin, Doctor in Ancient History, University of Lorraine

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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