Difference between revisions of "History"
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* [God-Fearers and the Identity of the Sabians]
Latest revision as of 17:47, 22 August 2007
This history was written by Rabbi Bindman in "The Seven Colors Of The Rainbow", Resource Publications, Inc. San Jose, California, 1995, p. 8-18).
Mesopotamia, origin of seventy nations
Following the flood, humanity was still one united body, living in one place, the area now known as Mesopotamia or Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through a fertile plain. Here the people had settled and given birth to children. Their state of security was so great that they began to consider themselves the masters of all creation, ready to challenge G-d Himself for supremacy. They saw their own unity as the key to this, and they did not commit the sins of banditry and sexual infidelity (bestiality) for which the previous generation had been condemned. They were kind and loving to one another, but they grew arrogant as a group and decided to build a high tower, the Tower of Babel (Heaven's Gate, Sumerian: Nun.Ki), from which to gain an access to heaven.
This was a form of idolatry (violation of the Covenant of Noah), and their punishment from the heavenly court was that their languages should be confused. They would no longer understand each other as before. This was the origin of separate languages as we now have them; seventy basic tongues were established, from which all of today's languages descended. This was also the number of the actual nations of the non-Jewish world before they were subdivided and intermingled.
Because of their newly acquired linguistic differences, the people began to quarrel over the building of the tower and they were forced to abandon the project. They decided to move away from this central place, and they re-assembled in different locations depending on which language they spoke. Thus, the families of the earth became settled in their separate locations. While this was going on, the Seven Laws in all their detail were being taught from an academy in Jerusalem established by Shem, the son of Noah, and his grandson Eber. Anyone who wanted was free to come and learn. However, various temptations and the distances between the peoples were increasing. Soon the nations developed idolatrous cults of their own, based on the mistake of early stargazers who thought that since the stars and planets were serving their Creator, it was proper to worship them instead of Him. It is from these stargazers that would later come all various forms of astral/solar worship which would become the very foundation for almost all Gentile idolatrous religions.
Shem and Eber were scholars of the whole Torah, as it is known to the Jews today, but in their time only the Seven Laws had actually been manifested as commandments for the people to observe and keep; the rest remained, as it were, "in heaven."
In these circumstances there arose the first wicked king, Nimrod of Ur, who forced all others to submit to him by making himself an actual object of worship. This was the first instance of a form of tyranny that has never since disappeared, a tyranny over the human spirit as it strives for truth and for the freedom to express it. The solution came through the efforts of one man, whose descendants developed into the Jewish people themselves, still today the prime target for all such wicked rulers. This man was Abraham, born in Ur into a family of idolaters, who arrived by his own reasoning at the conclusion that only the Creator Himself should be worshiped and served, and that His name must be made known to all humankind.
Nimrod tried to kill Abraham for speaking out against his ruling cult, but Abraham was miraculously saved. Then G-d told him to leave the land of his birth and to travel to "a land which I shall show you." This was the land of Israel, the Holy Land, which G-d gave to Abraham and his descendants as an inheritance, as a place in which to keep all of His commandments in the Torah and thus to be close to Him. Abraham studied at the academy of Shem and Eber There Abraham studied at the academy of Shem and Eber, and he acquired great wisdom. He traveled with his wife and his flocks and herds, offering hospitality to people and discussing the concepts of divinity with them, each according to his level. Sarah, meanwhile, instructed the women. Abraham wrote books and devoted all his wealth to doing kindness to everyone who needed it. He brought others to the understanding of the the Seven Laws, by which he himself was bound, but his efforts for the spreading of this awareness earned him a much higher reward; his descendants were to be given the privilege of keeping the whole Torah in the Jewish manner.
After they had passed many years without children, Abraham's first wife, Sarah, gave birth to Isaac, in whom Abraham's wisdom and his blessings were to be continued. Sarah had previously allowed Abraham to take a second wife, Hagar, in order that he might have a son. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, in whom Arab and Moslem leadership originated. Ishmael challenged Isaac for the entire succession; though he was not found worthy for this, his greatness continued, and he died righteous and esteemed.
Isaac continued Abraham's work in his turn, never leaving the Holy Land all his life. His son, Jacob, completed the original task by fathering twelve sons and taking them to live in Egypt at G-d's command. These twelve men became the fathers of the Jewish people. Jacob was also challenged for the succession by his twin brother, Esau. Western power and success, as dramatically revealed in the rise of the Roman Empire, originated in Esau. Jacob knew the unworthiness of Esau and captured his truth by impersonating him before their father, later also escaping his brother's revenge.
Children of Israel in Egypt
Contrary to what some might say it can be shown that when Jacob brought his family to Egypt, the observance of the Seven Laws was well known as seen in the Egyptian's Negative confession (remember most of the Laws of Noah were negative). After Jacob's twelve sons died, an evil king of Egypt, the pharaoh, set out to enslave the Jewish people, to destroy their spiritual and ethical concepts, and to restrict their independence of thought. Thus the situation remained for hundreds of years. But G-d saw their sufferings, and He remembered the relationship of divine love that He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At an appointed time, He brought them out of Egypt among great plagues and wonders, through the hand of the chosen prophet, Moses, whom He had found worthy to teach and to lead them.
Moses led the Jews out into the Sinai Desert, and they gathered at a small mountain where Moses ascended to G-d before the eyes of them all. He remained there receiving the whole Torah from G-d through his prophetic faculties, and then he came down to teach it to them. Thus, the Jewish people were established as they exist today, charged with keeping the entire body of the divine commandments (the reiterated Laws of Noah plus those added over and above them which makes up the Covenant of Moses ).
This event took place in the year 1312 B.C.E. (Before Common Era). At this time, during which the whole world was aware of what was happening, the state of the Garden of Eden was restored to humanity. (This state was to be lost again through other sins and errors of judgment.) The other nations were again given the Seven Laws that had been told to Noah, and the Jews were given the duty of teaching them. From then onward, all non-Jews who kept the Seven Laws were known by the Hebrew title of Chasidei Umot ha-Olam or "righteous of the nations."
Thus the Jews were brought out of the desert and restored to the land of Israel, the place whose nature was fit for wisdom and for the observance of Torah law. There they obeyed the commandments to set a king over themselves to rule according to the Torah and to build a Temple on the original altar site in Jerusalem for the offering of sacrifices as the law prescribed. In these ways they performed the task of linking all of earthly creation to its origin in heaven.
While the Jews lived on their land, with the Temple in their midst, they had a high level of spiritual awareness. Prophecy was a constant factor in their lives. These centuries also saw the rise of other empires: Greece, with its scientific and artistic excellence, and Persia and Babylon, with highly developed sorcery cults of a kind that has now disappeared. The Greek world produced many truly great thinkers, such as the philosopher Aristotle, but its cult of beauty also led many people to a self-indulgent way of life, immoral and idolatrous. Greek influence in conflict with Torah Thus, inevitably, through this Gentile Greek influence as well as others, there were elements that came into conflict with Torah and the world of Jewish learning. During the early years of the Second Temple, these forces mounted an all-out campaign to conquer the land of Israel and to force the Jews away from the Torah. These Greeks opposed the Torah as much because of the Seven Laws as from any concern over the life led by the Jews themselves. They wanted to pollute Jewish wisdom with impure concepts to the point where it would lose the capacity to influence non-Jews in favor of Noachide practice. They sent troops into the Holy Temple itself in an attempt to destroy its altars and to contaminate the sacred olive oil used for lighting the lamps. This was no act of random destruction: this oil and its light correspond in the Temple service to the maintaining of pure Torah wisdom.
However, the Cohanim, the priestly branch of the Jewish nation who were devoted to the Temple service, rose in armed revolt against the invader. With divine help, they gained a military victory. On re-entering the Temple, they discovered one single flask of oil that had remained sealed against contamination. It contained only enough oil for one day, but they trusted in G-d. In a further miracle, the light lasted eight whole days until more pure oil could be prepared. This was the origin of the present-day Jewish festival of Chanukah, where lights are lit for eight days in perpetuation of the miracle.
The victory over the Greeks did not merely secure the Jewish nation against an invader but also restored Torah to its place and maintained the entire moral order of the world. The Jews had also won the ability to teach the Seven Laws without interference, and through the succeeding years their influence grew. A movement arose among Greeks and other nations to abandon Greek culture and seek Torah enlightenment instead.
In Temple times
In Temple times, the non-Jews who formally took on the duty of observance of the Seven Laws were given the right to live in the land of Israel alongside the Jews, sharing in its divine insights and joys together with them. Both within the land and outside it they formed large communities in association with the synagogues. By the time of the rise of Imperial Rome they had become so prominent that the Roman government gave them special status in law, with the influence of their beliefs felt all across the empire. These were later called "G-dfearers."
They were known as "G-dfearers," yirei shamayim in Hebrew. In Italy and other western regions of the empire they were called by the Latin equivalent metuentes. In the Greek-speaking lands to the east, where they were much more numerous, they were known as phoboumenoi (fearers of the One) or theosebei (worshipers of G-d). A memorial tablet found in the synagogue of Aphrodisias in Turkey in 1976, commemorating donors to charity, has two separate groups of names: one is of Jews, but the other is of Greeks, such as "Polychronios," "Apianos," and "Athenagoras," and it is headed with the words, "and also these Fearers of the One...."
A similar inscription has also been found in the synagogue of Sardis, this time with three groups of names: born Jews, full converts to Judaism, and observers of the Seven Laws. The "Fearers" are mentioned many times by the Roman commentators and historians, often with sarcasm and mockery of their closeness to the Jewish world and its ideas.
Under the Roman Empire
Josephus records how each city in Syria from which the emperor had expelled the Jews still had its population of Greek "sympathizers." He also describes the large non-Jewish community associated with the synagogue of Antioch, which was then one of the largest cities in the world. The biographer Plutarch, in his Life of Cicero, describes how the great lawyer-politician defended a free Roman accused of abandoning the pagan religion of the state in favor of "Jewish practices," making clear that the accused had not in fact become a Jew (but a G-dfearer).
The satirists Petronius and Juvenal derided non-Jews who "act the part of the Jew," mocking at their reluctance to be circumcised even after accepting Jewish truth upon themselves. Talmudic sources speak of a non-Jewish king named Lemuel who was reproached by Rabbi Hanina for unseemly behavior with the reminder, "Your father was a Fearer of Heaven." The Noachide observers were often well-educated people, sometimes members of the Roman aristocracy, and they endured and answered the pagan wits with great patience and intellectual distinction. The Roman Emperor Antoninus, who enjoyed a close friendship with the Jewish sage Rabbi Judah the Prince, was thought to have established that relationship on the basis of a personal adherence to the Seven Laws. Josephus also mentions a King Izates, who underwent a Jewish "conversion" without being circumcised after discussions with a Jew named Ananias who lived within his kingdom of Adiabene in Mesopotamia. These Gentiles lived happy and fruitful lives, filled with the knowledge of truth, realizing their non-Jewish potential before the eyes of everyone.
It is often claimed that "ten percent of the empire" was Jewish, but the number of Jews who emerged from that period into more recent times does not bear out the contention that all these millions had converted in full. By far the majority of them were Noachide observers, non-Jews who had rejected paganism and formed an association with the Torah that gave them a status of their own.
These were times which saw a great moral development in the non-Jewish world, as the absurdity of the old pagan ways became obvious to everyone. Public and private morality became the dominant issue in people's lives, as it is to a great extent today. While the Jews were established in the Holy Land, with the Temple at its heart for all to see, there was no mistaking the source from which the necessary ideas had to come. Similar developments were taking place also in the Persian Empire, and even in India and China, because the fame and glory of the Temple were known in all parts of the world. At this time the Hindu religion was led away from its early idolatry toward acknowledging the single Creator as it does today. The Buddhist ideology also arose to take the Far East onto a higher level than it had known before.
As these developments proceeded, the Roman state became the scene of a considerable struggle between non-Jews who stood fast by the Seven Laws and early church leaders who wanted the public to settle for a new religion that was based on Jewish themes but incorporated elements of Greek idolatry into its framework. The writing of the New Testament in Greek, based on the deeds of a certain Jew who was believed by many to be linked to messianic concepts, was intended to further the aim of the latter group. When the church made its bid for official domination, it was offering to reconcile the widespread desire for idolatrous concepts with the equally widespread desire for pure truth.
In time, there was a clear division between these two tendencies at all levels of life and politics. At its peak the struggle led to the brief but eventful reign of the Emperor Julian, known to Christian history as "the Apostate." He was a remarkable man, only twenty-four years old when he came to the imperial throne in the year 361, determined to give a moral basis to the crisis-ridden government in a very short span of time. Last Attempt under Julian the Emperor Julian was a cousin of the emperor, raised far away from the Roman court surroundings, and his early education had been mainly in Greek philosophy. Though he was considered an outsider in Roman politics, or perhaps because of it, the Emperor Constantius recognized his keen intelligence and gave him an important military command in the war against the tribes in what is now Germany. Against all the odds, he succeeded in battle and aroused the jealousy of the emperor, who ordered him recalled.
Julian's friends in Rome, aware of his moral and intellectual potential, rose up in revolt when they heard of his recall and proclaimed him emperor. Before the situation could develop into a full-scale civil war, Constantius died, leaving Julian as his only legitimate successor. The young man came to the throne with no ties to any of the powerful established forces of the state, whose greed and arrogance were tearing the fabric of society apart. His philosophical training had brought him close to Jewish ideas and to the Seven Laws at the exact time when their relevance was greatest.
Though the Christian bishops were pressing hard for their faith to become the sole official doctrine, Julian refused them and proclaimed constitutional freedom of religion. He allowed pagan temples to function, along with synagogues and Christian churches, but his policy in government was based on spiritual values that were intended to raise the tone of life above the level of interfaith competition. He reduced the taxes that burdened the working people and kept inflation down by banning price rises and stemming the flow of gold across the empire's borders. He completed the war with the aggressive German tribes, realizing that the state would never become stable until its borders were secure. The support of the "G-dfearers" maintained his prestige, and the quality of the social fabric began to improve.
However, the senatorial class soon felt their privileges were being threatened, and the church sought to win them over as allies for the Christian cause. Propaganda was spread among the poor, alleging that the Jews and their adherents were planning to exploit them even more, and this was helped by the power which Julian's policies had given to the bureaucrats who administered the reforms. Within two years the emperor's position was under threat; he had gone for high moral stakes, but the empire itself was so unstable that chaos had risen against him.
In order to win final military security, he led an army to the east against the Persian Empire, the last strong power that posed a danger to Rome. His legions reached the Persian capital itself, going further than Roman armies had ever gone before. However, he retreated from the task of mounting a siege in the heat of summer. As the army marched away, he was hit by a stray arrow and died on the sand. Thus fell the last official advocate of the Seven Laws until modern times, a man whose courage was brooked only by the most elemental forces that menace the rule of law.