THE LAW AND THE IDUMEANS
While the Judaic scriptures, thus compiled, were on their way, thus translated, from the Alexandrine Jews to the Greeks and thereafter to the other heathen, Persian, Greek and Roman overlords followed each other in little Judea.
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 Judah would have died out and the priesthood, with its creed, would have been left like generals with a plan of battle, but no army.
Evidently there was much intermingling, for whatever reason. The Jewish Encyclopaedia says that "early and late Judah derived strength from the absorption of outsiders" and other authorities agree, so that anything like a purebred tribe of Judah must have disappeared some centuries before Christ, at the latest.
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 Judah, became again a community separated from mankind by a rigid racial ban. Racial exclusion remained, or again became, the supreme tenet of formal Zionism, and the Talmudic ruling was that "proselytes are as injurious to Judaism as ulcers to a sound body".
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
kinsmanship between Judah and Edom was apparently the original tradition, so that the Idumeans' special status was still recognized when Deuteronomy was produced in 621 BC, the Lord then "saying unto Moses":
"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 "Edom shall be a possession" .
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 Judah under the Hasmoneans, John Hyreanus, who was king and high priest in Judea, fell on them and at the swordpoint forced them to submit to circumcision and the Mosaic Law. Of the two versions of The Law ("not to meddle" and "take possession") he obeyed the second, which might have been a satisfactory solution if the matter had ended there, for any good rabbi could have told him that either, neither or both of these decrees was right ("If the Rabbis call 1eft right and right left, you must believe it": Dr. William Rubens).
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 united kingdom of Israel and Judah, long before. For this very thing, stopping short of utter destruction (by sparing King Agag and some beasts), Saul had been repudiated, dethroned and
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 Judea came! They saw in the second destruction of the temple and the extinction of Judea in AD 70 the prescribed penalty for John Hyrcanus's failure in observance; like Saul, he had "transgressed".
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 Jerusalem (as the legendary Daniel had risen at the much greater courts of Babylon and Persia). The Pharisees themselves appealed to the Roman truimvir, Pompey, to intervene in Judea and restore the old priesthood, while abolishing the little monarchy. Their plan went agley; though the Hasmonean dynasty was in fact exterminated in the chaotic decades of little wars and insurrections that followed, Antipater the Idumean rose until Caesar made him procurator of Judea, and his son, Herod, was by Antony made king of Judea!
In the sequel, utter confusion reigned in the little province so that even the shadow of independence vanished and Rome, left no other choice, began directly to rule the land.
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 Germany, he was convinced that this offence against the racial law had brought the second calamity on Judea.
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 Zion abounds from its start.