Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Migdal Stone - Archaeological Evidence for the Prophets Rejection of the Law at the time of Judas Maccabeus

The Migdal Stone (Found in a Synagogue in Magdala, Gallilee)

The tradition of burning incense away from the temple has its origin in the reign of Antiochus. Antiochus wanted to unify worship across his dominions so that everyone should only offer sacrifice of animals.  This was in agreement with his friends, the Jewish priests who were at loggerheads with the prophets. Antiochus's command to Mattathias was to not offer burning of incense.  "Worship of God" (Ant.12.6.2) was what the prophets did in the sanctuary at the altar of incense. This altar was removed by Antiochus with the co-operation of the priests.  The prophets having lost their altar in the sanctuary, resorted to burning incense in every town of Judea on temporary altars - they refused to give up the "worship of God". The propaganda of 1 Maccabees 1.54 calls them idol altars which were supposedly established by Antiochus's forces. They were altars of incense, not idol altars.

In Mac. 1:54, who was offering incense at the doors of houses, throughout the towns of Judea, if it wasn't Jews? Isn't this like the Jews watching the burning of incense at the opening of the sanctuary, during a festival.  They were also offering incense in the streets.  You have to credit these people with an advanced sense of God's presence everywhere.

There were supposed to be no Jews living in Magdala until the end of the second century BCE. Antiochus's persecution began in approximately 167 BCE. This led to many Jews being scattered. The current migrant crisis is a reminder of what persecuted communities do.   There is every possibility that a Jewish community established itself in Magdala shortly after 167 BCE. Mattathias taught his people to defend themselves, whereas they had been reluctant to do so.

The stone was easily transportable. A rough estimate from drawings is that the stone has dimensions of about 50 x 50 cm at the top and a height of 40 cm. Such a stone could have been made well before the synagogue was built.  Also it could have been hidden easily from Antiochus's troops. They had, in effect, a portable sanctuary - an altar with all the markings that represented the sanctuary.

The Migdal stone was all about the sanctuary, not the Temple as a whole. The symbols on the stone show no connection with animal sacrifices.  Animals were sacrificed outside the sanctuary.  The relation between the symbols and the sanctuary proper is very strong.  Some scholars think that the stone was an altar of incense. Was it one of the "idol" altars of 1 Maccabees?

At the dished top of the Migdal stone are two "palm trees".  They are probably symbols of Israels fruitfulness.  Also at the top is a symbol of an incense flower, linking the Stone to an incense altar.  The side views represent the curtains of the sanctuary.  They divide the sanctuary into its two compartments, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The two circular objects I take, were at one end of the Holy Place. If they are at one end of the Holy Place (it is difficult to tell from drawings at which end of the stone these circular shapes are) then I have to assume they were something to do with the sanctuary worship. Given the serious symbolism on the stone I doubt that the two circles were symbolic of the more mundane rings for transportation. (See the text below on Jesus and the Temple by James Charlesworth).  

1 Mac. 1:56 following on has: "All scrolls of the law which were found were torn up and burnt." This further propaganda would have us believe that Antiochus's forces did this. I suggest that Antiochus's forces were not responsible for tearing up the books of the law.  Mattathias's community were the culprits. This was a final break-up of the Jewish nation into two parties, essentially the priests and the prophets. The priests mocked and scorned the prophets greatly in their peshers of the Scrolls. Mattathias's community reacted, came to reject the law, and tore up the scrolls of the law, basically the Pentateuch.

The priests had approached Antiochus for his help in putting down the prophetic community who they regarded as "seekers of smooth things". The priests with Antiochus's troops put to death women their babies and their families. The propaganda has it that these people were fulfilling the law. They welcomed death. Does this remind you of Josephus's "Essenes". Essenes do not exist anywhere in the Scrolls. In Josephus they have been interpolated artificially back in time.  I suggest it was for disobeying the law established by the priests that people were put to death. 

Jesus and the Temple (Edited by 
James Charlesworth)

In chapter 5 of Jesus and Temple. Mordechai Aviam makes some very interesting observations on ritual bathing, stone vessels, clay oil lamps, synagogues, the Migdal stone and its interpretation, and the Gamla coin. "The earliest synagogues dated so far are the first phase of the synagogue at Modin, which is dated to the Hasmonean period, and the synagogue at the Royal Hasmonean palace in Jericho." (See Chap.5, page 131).  

All his comments seem to me to be about prophets and what prophets were interested in, which was purity of spirit and worship in the Spirit. 

Aviam links the two “palm trees” on the top of the dished Migdal stone to two rakes. He says that these were used to rake the ash and burnt bones from the main altar. But the “palm trees” would be useless for raking large animal bones.  The depiction of rakes seems mundane and of no deep significance compared to the rest of the imagery. The two "palm trees" were symbolic of actual palm trees; they were symbols of Israel's fruitfulness.   I suggest that the Migdal stone was all about the sanctuary and the altar of incense which was kept burning 24 hours a day.  The rose shaped symbol also on the dished top of the stone, was symbolic of the incense flower. Aviam says (See Fig. 5.6 on page 134)  that the "two rings"  symbolised at the end of each long side are two containers that held fresh incense to replenish that burnt on the altar. 

On page 125, Aviam says that the main reason for the creation of mikvaot was “the establishment of a powerful, aggressive and expanding Jewish kingdom, creating an enlarged territory that should be populated in a short period of time with new Jewish villages and towns.” This period started with the Maccabean-Hasmonean revolt.  He doesn't say why the revolt started?  In fact he doesn't even talk about the Maccabean-Hasmonean revolt, as though the mikveh were nothing to do with it. This was the start of a period of revolution, a pivotal and seismic moment for Jewish beliefs which became fundamentally prophetic.   

On page 125, Aviam admits "I am convinced that ... there were religious, social and cultural components in the creation of mikvaot".  But he sees this as being just a development in Judaism for Jews in general and not a drastic change in religious belief brought about by a particular group.  He doesn't ask the question, why did the mikvaot die out?  On the same page, Aviam describes the mikveh as a “portable purification installation". Anyone could immerse in a mikveh and be reckoned pure, and Jewish.  This was without the involvement of priests and animal sacrifices. Mikveh were everywhere.  The mikveh could not easily be removed.  In support Aviam cites Baumgarten and Cohn.  He says " both Joseph Baumgarten and Steve Cohn have suggested that many religious traditions and customs were first established during the Hasmonean reign".  But the so-called 'religious traditions' and 'customs' were radical changes in the beliefs of most Jews at the time.  

The mikveh at the fortress of Qumran were used by the Hasmonean and Herodian soldiers who had kept guard. Qumran was captured by priests for a short time around 65 CE when they revolted. These priests would not have been at all interested in the mikvaot.  They would not have used the mikvaot because they believed that only animal sacrifice could make people pure.   The same is true of all the other mikveh found at other fortresses such as Masada or the Mikveh found at the Hasmonean palace at Jericho.  Mikvaot would have been used by Hasmoneans who followed the philosophy of Judas Maccabeus.  On page 124, Aviam says "the mikveh at Queen Naphtali (see Fig.5.1) has a special importance as it is not in a private home or a rich palace but in a military structure that was used only by soldiers".  So who does he think used the mikvaot at Qumran and Masada if not soldiers?