Alexander the Great Visits Jerusalem

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This fifth installment from The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus comments on some of Alexander the Great's battles and his entrance into Jerusalem. According to Josephus, after discovering Biblical prophecies related to him overcoming the Persians, Alexander granted several favors to the Jews in the city! Other study materials in this series are listed at the bottom of this article.

About this time it was that Philip, King of Macedon, was treacherously assaulted and slain at Egae by Pausanias, the son of Cerastes, who was derived from the family of Oreste. Philip's son Alexander (the Great) succeeded him in the kingdom. He, passing over the Hellespont, overcame the generals of Darius' (Darius III who ruled Persia from 336 to 330 B.C.) army in a battle fought at Granicum (Granicus River in 334 B.C.). So he marched over Lydia, and subdued Ionia, and overran Caria, and fell upon the places of Pamphylia.

Darius defeated at Issus

About this time it was that Darius heard how Alexander had passed over the Hellespont, and had beaten his lieutenants in the battle at Granicum, and was proceeding further; whereupon he gathered together an army of horse and foot, and determined that he would meet the Macedonians before they should assault and conquer all Asia. So he passed over the river Euphrates, and came over Taurus, the Cilician mountain, and at Issus of Cilicia (in 333 B.C.) he waited for the enemy, as ready there to give him battle.

Upon which Sanballat was glad that Darius was come down; and told Manasseh that he would suddenly perform his promises to him, and this as soon as ever Darius should come back, after he had beaten his enemies. For not he only, but all those that were in Asia also, were persuaded that the Macedonians would not so much as come to a battle with the Persians, on account of their multitude. But the event proved otherwise than they expected.

The King (of Persia) joined battle with the Macedonians, and was beaten, and lost a great part of his army. His mother also, and his wife and children, were taken captives, and he fled into Persia.

Sieges of Tyre and Gaza

So Alexander came into Syria and took Damascus. When he had obtained Sidon, he besieged Tyre, when he sent all epistle to the Jewish high priest, to send him some auxiliaries, and to supply his army with provisions; and that what presents he formerly sent to Darius, he would now send to him, and choose the friendship of the Macedonians, and that he should never repent of so doing.

But the high priest (in Jerusalem) answered the messengers, that he had given his oath to Darius not to bear arms against him. Additionally, he said that he would not transgress this while Darius was in the land of the living. Upon hearing this answer, Alexander was very angry. Though he determined not to leave Tyre, which was just ready to be taken, yet as soon as he had taken it, he threatened that he would make an expedition against the Jewish high priest, and through him teach all men to whom they must keep their oaths.

So when he (Alexander the Great) had, with a good deal of pains during the siege, taken Tyre, and had settled its affairs, he came to the city of Gaza, and besieged both the city and him that was governor of the garrison, whose name was Babemeses.

Journey to Jerusalem

Now Alexander, when he had taken Gaza, made haste to go up to Jerusalem. Jaddua the high priest, when he heard that, was in an agony, and under terror, as not knowing how he should meet the Macedonians, since the King was displeased at his foregoing disobedience.

He (Jaddua) therefore ordained that the people should make supplications, and should join with him in offering sacrifice to God, whom he besought to protect that nation, and to deliver them from the perils that were coming upon them.

Whereupon God warned him in a dream, which came upon him after he had offered sacrifice, that he should take courage, and adorn the city, and open the gates. He was also told that the rest should appear in white garments, but that he and the priests should meet the King in the habits proper to their order, without the dread of any ill consequences, which the providence of God would prevent. Upon which, when he rose from his sleep, he greatly rejoiced, and declared to all the warning he had received from God.

And when he (Alexander) understood that he was not far from the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable, and the manner of it different from that of other nations. It reached to a place called Sapha, which name, translated into Greek, signifies a prospect, for you have thence a prospect both of Jerusalem and of the temple.

And when the Phoenicians and the Chaldeans that followed him thought they should have liberty to plunder the city, and torment the high priest to death, which the king's displeasure fairly promised them, the very reverse of it happened.

Alexander the Great meets Jerusalem's High Priest
Alexander the Great meets High Priest
Marco Pino, 1545 - 47

Meeting the High Priest

For Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head, having the golden plate whereon the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest. The Jews also did all together, with one voice, salute Alexander, and encompass him about; whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what he had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind.

Daniel's prophecies

And when he (Alexander) had given the high priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city. And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest's direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests.

And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. And as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present. The next day he called them to him, and bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired.

And when they entreared him (Alexander) that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired. And when he said to the multitude, that if any of them would enlist themselves in his army, on this condition, that they should continue under the laws of their forefathers, and live according to them, he was willing to take them with him, many were ready to accompany him in his wars.

So when Alexander had thus settled matters at Jerusalem, he led his army into the neighboring cities.

Our Notes

King Philip II of Macedon was born in 382 B.C. and was assassinated in 336 by one of his bodyguards. In the same year, his son, Alexander the Great, assumed the throne at the age of twenty. He died in 323 in the city of Babylon at the age of 32.

Alexander, who was never defeated in battle, is considered one of the world's greatest military commanders. His huge empire encompassed more than two million square miles (5.2 million square kilometers) stretching from the Ionian Sea in the west to India in the east.

The city of Alexandria in Egypt, founded around 332 B.C., is named after Alexander.

The Biblical prophecies that refer to Alexander the Great, the Greek-based empire he ruled, and what was to happen to it after his death are the following.

Daniel 2:31 - 32, 39
Represented as belly and thighs of bronze, also called the kingdom of bronze.

Daniel 7:6
Symbolized as a beast, like a leopard, which had four wings of a bird on its back. It also had four heads that represented Alexander's four generals ruling over pieces of his empire after his death.

Daniel 8:5 - 8, 21 - 22
Alexander is symbolized as a male (he) goat (shaggy goat) with a large horn between its eyes. When the large horn is broken (his death), four other horns appear which represent his four generals dividing his empire into four kingdoms.

Daniel 11:3 - 4
A mighty king (representing Alexander) will rule with great dominion. When the king is broken (dead), his kingdom will be divided into four pieces but not among his descendants.

According to Josephus, Alexander the Great's visit to Jerusalem took place after he had taken the cities of Tyre and Gaza. The siege of Tyre ran from January to July 332 B.C. His siege of Gaza occurred in October of the same year. A visit to Jerusalem, assuming Josephus' chronology is accurate, could have taken place in or soon after October.

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Biblical History by Josephus
with Background Notes!
The Tower of Babel
Saul Is Made Israel's King
Solomon Builds Jerusalem's Temple
Babylon Destroys Jerusalem and Temple
Alexander the Great Visits Jerusalem!
Herod the Great Conquers Jerusalem
Herod Rebuilds the Temple

Excerpts taken from
Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus
Book 11, Chapter 8
Edited, expanded and ©

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