By Alexander Eterman

Posted June 9, 2005


More often than not, the Internet exposes us to something new and unfamiliar -- that's what the Internet is all about, after all. It turns out, however, that it is also capable of unexpected feats akin to time travel. The last thing I would have expected to encounter on the web was the once famous but, alas, long forgotten article by Chaim Heifetz entitled Malchut Paras uMadai b'Tekufat Bayit Sheni u'Liphaneha -- Iyun Mechadash [1] (which should be translated as "The Persian-Median Kingdom During the Second Temple Period and Before: A Revised Approach"), published in 1991 in issue 14 of the Israeli national-religious Megadim magazine. The article sets out a historical theory developed by the author -- a rabbi and a lawyer -- in the 1980s, far in advance of the emergence of computer webs in the modern sense of the term. It would appear that much of the site's material (small essays, most of them "in favor", a few "against") devoted to this theory had been written even before Heifetz's article saw light. How they found their way onto the site is beyond comprehension.

At any rate, encountering the aforementioned article, along with an essay by Brad Aaronson [2] (who, incidentally, translated Heifetz's article into English) devoted to Heifetz's theory, as well as other sundry elements of the "Heifetz" debate, I experienced a feeling of nostalgia. The fact is, in the late 1980s I, too, was actively involved with the very same problem tackled by Heifetz -- to wit, analysis of the fundamental discrepancy between the scientific and the Jewish orthodox accounts of the history of the Near East between the birth of the Persian Empire and its death at the hands of Alexander the Great. Unsatisfied with the obtained results, I carried my research into the following years.

Returning to this topic today, over ten years later, I once again cannot help being amazed at the arguments put forward by Heifetz-Aaronson, as well as by their supporters and opponents. Having renounced the scientific process of evaluating the relevant data, for the most part they have no idea of what they are saying and writing. It is impossible to engage in scientific research while treating science with total disregard, let alone revulsion. Even more so, it is impossible to achieve any sort of acceptable result while ignoring the systematic approach. Continuing the scholastic debate over who is right -- the Jewish or the Greek sources -- diluting it with purely ideological contentions about the infallibility of Jewish Sages and the inherent Greek anti-Semitism, they seem to forget about the elementary duty of the scholar to seek after truth rather than self-justification. Quite intentionally, they overlook the crux of the matter: first, the selection of relevant historical materials, second, the spirit of the period in question, i.e. the actual nature and essence of the issues related to the topic under discussion.

They believe that a dialogue born of scholastic inspiration is capable of being equal to the real problems -- in our case, problems related to the aforementioned historical-chronological discrepancy. Their principal mistake stems from their belief that this discrepancy can be studied in a vacuum, isolated from any undesirable influences; that it is not a part of a broader and deeper set of issues that naturally emerge in the course of mastering historical reality. More often than not, in fact, they do not even view the past as reality, making an unwitting choice in favor of destructive deconstructivism. A pity, for by doing so they ignore the real challenges posed by the utterly fascinating Jewish history [3] and turn a blind eye to the vital, not to say the only, scientific question that matters: how did it really happen?

How indeed.

Defining the problem

Like anyone who sets out to explore this subject, I am obliged to begin by explaining to the reader (who may have already been subjected to this torture a dozen times) what exactly is being discussed. I will make this as brief as possible, retaining the right to revise the very definition of the issue as time goes by.

Let us begin with a "narrow" definition of the aforementioned discrepancy.

Historical science believes that:

  1. The Neo-Babylonian Empire was established by Nabopolassar and his son, Nebuchadnezzar, circa 605 BCE, following the battle of Karkemish. Some historians, however, trace the birth of the empire to several years earlier (to the year 612 BCE for example), following the fall of Nineveh. For us, these minor discrepancies are of no concern.
  2. The Neo-Babylonian Empire was destroyed by the Persian king Cyrus in 539 or 538 BCE.
  3. In turn, the Persian Empire established by Cyrus was destroyed by Alexander the Great in a victorious war whose conclusion, somewhat tentatively, may be dated to 331 BCE, following the Battle of Gaugamela. Thus the Persian Empire existed for 207-208 years.

This reconstruction implicitly includes, among other things, quite a few pivotal events in Jewish history, above all the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587/586 BCE, with the subsequent expulsion of the majority of Jewish inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judea, the return of part of those expelled and their offspring to Judea under the Persian kings Cyrus, Darius I, and Artaxerxes I, the establishment of a Jewish autonomy in Judea, and the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Jewish traditional sources are not overly abundant in historical information concerning the period in question. Nevertheless, the chronologically relevant books of the Bible (Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, with parts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and certainly some of the "minor prophets") paint a different historical picture that is significantly at odds with the conventional scientific account. These books clearly depict a totally different reality; their depiction, however, suffers from regrettable lack of detail. Nevertheless, there is a solid, albeit considerably later historical Jewish tradition, one that is reasonably [4] consistent with the Biblical text, which relies, among other things, on the Tannaitic work Seder Olam. This tradition maintains, inter alia, that the period outlined above was far more compact. Translated into the currently accepted historical language, its main assertions are as follows:

  1. Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar established the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 433 BCE (provided, once again, that we take the Battle of Karkemish as the turning point in the history of the Middle East).
  2. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 422 BCE.
  3. In 370 BCE, the Median king Darius and his Persian relative Cyrus conquered Babylon and destroyed the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing their own Persian-Median (subsequently Persian) Empire.
  4. In 318 BCE, Alexander the Great, having won the Battle of Gaugamela, destroyed the Persian (formally Persian-Median) Empire, establishing his own empire instead.

Therefore the Persian Empire existed for a mere 52 years.

Clearly, what we have here are two radically divergent historical theories that cannot be reconciled solely by means of cosmetic adjustments. Like it or not, we must make a choice. The truth lies either with historical science or with the Jewish tradition, or else it belongs to neither of the two -- whatever the case may be, the two theories cannot be both right at the same time.

It must be noted that acceptance of the traditional Jewish chronology is fraught with yet another serious problem: all other, pre-Persian historical events in all the lands in question would be "rejuvenated" by 150 years. In some cases, such "rejuvenation" bodes nothing short of disaster.

The positions of the sides

Historical science does not pay the traditional Jewish version as such any particular attention, and this is mainly due to the latter's insufficient corroboration. Indeed, the Jewish version is founded solely on its own claims, ignoring a plethora of facts and, for two millennia, making no attempt to adjust to external data. On the other hand, the scientific reconstruction of ancient history was a product of painstaking labor; as it emerged, it underwent numerous modifications, particularly in the last two fruitful centuries and in principle, it is open to further revisions -- provided that they are duly argued and corroborated. The mere fact that Jewish or other sources, however ancient, make a different claim does not constitute an argument where science is concerned; at the most, this is raw material that merits further study to a larger or smaller degree -- especially since historical science has had to deal with every possible kind of singular assertion, some of them far-fetched in the extreme. Since the Jewish Sages made no particular effort to garner scientifically acceptable arguments, until recently Jewish historical reconstruction remained their exclusive domain.

Another noteworthy fact is that the set of specific Jewish disciplines included the aforementioned historical reconstruction only as a rather marginal theory. As with all empirically based fields of inquiry, ancient history held no particular interest for the Jewish Sages. To be sure, this type of reconstruction had active supporters who openly accused European science of both illiteracy and falsification of historical facts, even though they failed to come up with any reasons for the latter other than general anti-Semitism. At the very least, European historians were held accountable for flagrant bias in favor of Greek historical literature at the expense of its Jewish counterpart -- hence, allegedly, the dramatic chronological error.

On the other hand, quite a number of Jewish scholars made timid attempts to question the traditional Jewish historical reconstruction in the belief that its chances to endure in a serious scientific debate were miniscule, while any gains to be had were negligible. They proposed a wide range of methods for rehabilitating the European scientific model -- from an alternative interpretation of the Jewish sources used as the basis for traditional reconstruction, to take these sources out of the bounds of empirical reality. Naturally, these ideas were subjected to ferocious ideological criticism. The very fact that Jewish historical reconstruction won the approval (albeit half-hearted) of the majority of religious authorities of all times makes it invulnerable to internal criticism. Hence the appearance of a historical work that would attempt to provide a "scientific" basis for this reconstruction at any cost was only a matter of time.

It is in this light that we should examine the theory put forth by Heifetz. Aimed at the Jewish religious audience, it is not properly scientific in the common sense of the word. Strangely enough, this has nothing to do with its professional merit (which, frankly, is dubious, even though on occasion Heifetz does show flashes of outstanding erudition). What is important about this theory is that its true purpose was educational rather than scholarly; by virtue of its appearance, it was intended to encourage and console that part of Jewish religious public that is equally steeped in Jewish orthodox ideology and European education. One of the admirers of Heifetz's work remarked that it would be no big tragedy if this work were eventually found to be imperfect; what matters is that for the first time, it provided an alternative to the "non-Jewish" historical reconstruction, whose very divergence from Jewish tradition undermines the Sages' authority. In the view of the Jewish religious world, the total disagreement of modern science with the silent, meekly acquiescent Jewish historical tradition compromised Jewish orthodoxy itself, which had good reason for calling itself rabbinical Judaism. The very idea that the Jewish Sages could be wrong was inconceivable. Yet if they were right, why does science fail to acknowledge this? Why does science refuse to consider the Jewish historical reconstruction as at least one of the acceptable versions? What Heifetz tried to instill in his audience was above all hope, hope for a future victory in the battle against "external" knowledge. Even if his theory has its flaws, it has paved the way for new Jewish historical research, a "Jewish" science. Eventually the "non-Jewish" science will admit that the truth in this matter always lay with the Jews. At the very least, he had to show that the score is even, that science too knows next to nothing about the era in question. That being the case, the Jewish tradition emerges as an equal partner in historical knowledge, and can now hope for a brilliant scientific future.

The method resorted to by Heifetz was entirely determined by the objective he had set for himself. Heifetz acted like an ER doctor rather than a scholar -- save the patient and damn the details. As far as the true problems of Jewish history, he simply ignored them. All he knew was that it was essential to force 208 years of Persian history into the 52 years allotted to it by Jewish tradition. He realized that he was going too far, that the only way to solve this mathematical problem would be by reformulating it, ideally by splitting it up. That is why he shifted some of the events undeniably relevant to Persian history to an earlier time, redefining them as acts performed by the Persians before they became masters of their own empire. Anything that could not be reshuffled was compressed. In a consistent, uniform, repeated manner Heifetz carries out the same tedious operation: he welds several historical figures into one and glues separate events together. As a result (using nothing but glue), he has fashioned and presented to the reader his own version of Persian, Neo-Babylonian, and Jewish history, one that fits the framework set by Jewish reconstruction and conforms almost perfectly to Jewish tradition. A slight departure from Jewish sources should be forgiven due to his good intentions and expression of unconditional loyalty to the same sources. This version puts to use, albeit in minor roles, most of the Persian, Babylonian and Jewish characters known to historical science and literature, but the Jewish religious play they stage is totally different and quite unfamiliar.

Below I will discuss in detail the character and nature of Heifetz's reconstruction. Unfortunately, this discussion has no scientific significance, even though it is likely to be of some culturological and psychological interest (see below). However, we should begin by dotting the i's and crossing the t's in all that concerns the historical aspect of the issue. [5]

The real trouble with traditional Jewish reconstruction

I must state, to my deep regret, that the traditional Jewish reconstruction of history is one hundred percent wrong. In other words, it enters into such a problematic relationship with the more reliable portion of the available body of information on the ancient world that any attempt to defend it scientifically quickly proves futile. Anticipating the natural epistemological objection, I will say that like any other theory, this one too may prove to be right, but only in the sense and to the extent of, say, Aristotelian mechanics or Ptolemaic cosmology. That is to say, its chances of complying with facts are purely theoretical, and are to be considered virtually nil. There is one qualification: all the other (except for the empirical) versions of its interpretation, such as metaphysical and cabbalistic, remain open to anyone interested and do not constitute the subject of this discussion.

Let us take a closer look at Heifetz's model. As we have already mentioned, in order to dilute at least somewhat the super-dense Jewish reconstruction of history, Heifetz pitched everything he could, (essentially every great achievement of the Persian kings) from the Persian into the Neo-Babylonian period. Thus his "Persian era" spanned not 52 years (from 370 to 318 BCE) but rather all of 95 years (from 413 to 318 BCE). He assigned the 52 years, in full keeping with the Jewish reconstruction, exclusively to the Persian Empire, i.e. to the period (remolded to his liking) between the conquest of Babylon by the Persians and the Battle of Gaugamela. In the "preliminary era" Heifetz incorporates events like the conquest of Egypt by the Persian Cambyses, which took place, in his opinion, in 413 BCE. Cambyses, if we are to believe Heifetz, was not a sovereign ruler but a vassal at the service of Nebuchadnezzar, for whose benefit he made the conquest in the first place. Similarly, Heifetz places the Greco-Persian wars outside the frame of the Persian era proper. As he sees it, in 410 the Median Xerxes, also in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, led a large-scale invasion of mainland Greece; yet unlike Cambyses, who had emerged victorious in Egypt, Xerxes suffered a crushing defeat.

Evidently, Heifetz believed that the cunning contrivance described above simplified the task he was facing. After all, a period of 95 years is far longer than one of 52 years; moreover, the new version will have watered down the Persian history, which would play into Heifetz' hands. Unfortunately, the entire stratagem was totally superfluous. I suspect that had Heifetz given some thought at the time to the following, his theory (which would have come into being in any case, since no one had canceled the ideological order) would have looked completely different.

To recall: Heifetz failed to truly dilute the overly thick infusion of Persian history. All he did was pour it into a slightly larger vessel, the Neo-Babylonian imperial pool. To understand his end-result, let us digress for a moment from all these manipulations, focusing instead on Near Eastern history itself.

At the end of the seventh century BCE, this history gave birth to a powerful multicultural synchronism, which makes it possible to compose an effective chronology of later periods. The synchronism in question is a combination of the famous Battle of Karkemish (which took place, according to scientific chronology, in 605 BCE), marking the end of Assyria, and the campaign against Syria staged by the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II [6] and his clash with Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar.

Due to a series of circumstances, not the least of which was sheer luck, these events are depicted in virtually all of ancient literature. They are recounted in the Bible [7], described by Herodotus [8], by Egyptian and Babylonian chroniclers. The upshot of this is plain to see. To judge by the (rather sizable) sum-total of the data, Necho and the young Nebuchadnezzar are, first, contemporaries of one another, second, contemporaries of the Judean kings Josiah and Jehoiakim, and third, contemporaries of the Athenian law-maker Drakontos, the Milesian tyrant Thrasybulus, the poetess Sappho, and the great reformer Solon. Fourth, Necho represents a solid link in Egypt's Saitian royal dynasty; fifth, the Median kingdom was ruled at that time by Cyaxares, an ally of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar.

In principle, one could go through all the branches of this synchronism, but we will concentrate on the most appropriate one -- the Greek. Scientific chronology holds that the Battle of Karkemish and the Battle of Gaugamela were separated by 605-331=274 years. According to the Jewish reconstruction of history, the two events are separated by 433-318=117 years. The difference between the two versions still comes to 157 years. Thus Heifetz has gained nothing from his artificial splitting of Persian history into "pre-imperial" and "post-imperial"! He still has to dissect any history, Greek included (as well as Egyptian, if need be) in such a fashion as to squeeze 274 years into 117. Was there any sense, then, in going to the trouble of declaring Xerxes and Cambyses Nebuchadnezzar's commanders? As far as Greek history proper is concerned, this substitution is totally irrelevant.

Realizing all this, I once spent considerable effort in order to shake up the Greek chronology of the 7th-6th centuries BCE from the inside. I really had no other choice, since, as we will see below, the Greek 5th century is virtually invincible. On the other hand, the Greeks themselves were clearly aware of the fact that their chronicles dealing with the 7th-6th centuries suffer from chronological incongruities. By way of example, I will cite the following passage from Plutarch's biography of Solon: "That Solon should discourse with Croesus, some think not agreeable with chronology; but I cannot reject so famous and well-attested a narrative, and, what is more, one so agreeable to Solon's temper, and so worthy his wisdom and greatness of mind, because, forsooth, it does not agree with some chronological canons, which thousands have endeavored to regulate, and yet, to this day, could never bring their differing opinions to any agreement." [9]

Alas, an objective scrutiny of the sources has yielded relatively unfavorable results. Evidently our present reconstruction of Greek history is more accurate than the Greek one, yet even in the most extreme case, it is a matter of a chronological shift of about twenty years at the most. [10] The tight linkage between the Greek history of the 6th century BCE and the histories of Asia Minor and Egypt simply leave no room for any significant revision. Even a powerful conspiracy between writers and counterfeiters could not have produced (and for what conceivable reason?) the imaginary 150 years of Greek history -- for today's archaeology would have unmasked such a forgery. Then again, this is totally irrelevant to this study, for finding some 150 years in the 6th century alone (i.e. between Karkemish and 500 BCE) is even logically impossible. Therefore Heifetz's attempt at historical reconstruction was doomed to failure from the very start, even without any serious probing of its Eastern components. The East of that period can no longer be separated from the West, so its history must be examined against the history of the West we know so well, ingenuous as it is, practically year by year.

274 will never equal 117. This in itself should be enough, wouldn't you say? [11]

Playing along with Heifetz

However, let us forget for a moment the Eastern-Western synchronisms. Let us grant Heifetz this small handicap. Let us assume that now he has not 52 but 95 years at his disposal, and that the chronological discrepancy has shrunk significantly. Let us give him a real chance to patch it up.

In order to satisfy ourselves that the Jewish reconstruction, even in the diluted form proposed by Heifetz, is plainly inconsistent with the facts, we will once again follow the Greek way, [12] leaving aside for the time being all of Heifetz's arguments concerning Jewish, Persian and Mesopotamian histories. Let us forget for the moment about the immense difficulties created by the aforementioned revolutionary theories -- in all likelihood, Heifetz does not have the slightest idea what interesting and surprising arguments can be offered against them. We will focus our attention elsewhere: having established the absolute, and what equally important, the relative dates for the Persian wars and Alexander's victory, Heifetz accurately set the temporal boundaries (once again, both absolute and relative) of the pivotal -- though shorter -- period in Greek history. This means that we can safely forget about Persia and Babylon, in whose history Heifetz rummages with such zeal. Let us leave the Ancient East alone for the meantime. We have at our disposal an excellently researched body of historical material -- a specific history, arranged by year and month -- that we do know very well. This is the history of classical and early-Hellenistic Greece. Let us use its straightforward algebra to test Heifetz's harmony. If Heifetz's reconstruction passes the Greek history exam, we will have to admit that his Eastern inquiries merit at least some consideration. If not, they will immediately lose any scientific and historical significance, becoming a mere appendage to contemporary Jewish culture, and a rather marginal one at that.

Unfortunately, the results of the test quickly prove to be dismally poor. Despite the fact that Heifetz opted not to delve too deeply into Greek history (even under the far less stringent conditions we have adopted), he has still said enough about it to compromise his theory. Yet even had he kept totally silent on the subject, the result would have been the same.

To keep my account short, I will resist the temptation to give it a melodramatic feel. Instead, I will go straight to the far from complete outline of Greek history for the period that Heifetz is concerned with (from the Persian wars to Alexander's victories). To preclude any misunderstanding, I would like to stress that this outline was set by Western historical science and does not commit Hefetz a priori.

490 BCEBattle of Marathon.
480-479 BCEXerxes' invasion of Greece, the Battles of Salamis and Platea.
478 BCE Creation of the first Athenian Naval League.
472 BCE Staging of Aeschylus' tragedy The Persians.
465 BCEHelots' revolt at Messenia.
462 BCEDemocratic reforms in Athens.
458 BCEStaging of Aeschylus' Oresteia and Eumenides.
456 BCEAeschylus' death.
454 BCEDefeat of the Athenian fleet in Egypt.
451 BCEAdoption of the law restricting Athenian citizenship.
449 BCENaval battle at Cypriot Salamin.
449 BCEPeace of Kallias and the end of Greco-Persian wars.
446 BCEAdoption of the new constitution by the Beotean League.
445 BCEPeace treaty between the Peloponnesian and Athenian League.
444 BCE Election of Pericles as first strategist.
443 BCEReform of the Athenian Naval League.
440-439 BCEAllies' uprising against Athens.
438 BCEStaging of Euripides' Alkestis.
435 BCEWar between Kerkyra and Corinth.
431 BCEStart of the Peloponnesian war; staging of Euripides' Medea.
428 BCEStaging of Euripides' Ippolitus. Death of Anaxagoras. Birth of Plato.
425 BCEBattle of Sphacteria.
424 BCEStaging of Aristophanes' The Knights.
421 BCEPeace of Nicias. Staging of Aristophanes' Peace.
418 BCEThe Spartans' victory at Mantinea.
415 BCEStart of the Athenian's Sicilian campaign. Staging of Euripide's Women of Troy.
414 BCEStaging of Aristophane's Birds.
413 BCEDefeat of the Athenians in Sicily.
413 BCEResumption of the Peloponnesian war.
412 BCEStaging of Euripides' Helen and Andromache.
411 BCEOverthrow of the Council of Four Hundred in Athens. Staging of Aristophane's Lysistrata.
409 BCEFoundation of the town of Rhodes. Staging of Sophocles' Philoctetes.
406 BCEDeath of Euripides and Sophocles.
405 BCEDefeat of the Athenian fleet at Aegispotomai. Peace treaty between Syracuse and Carthage. Staging of Aristophanes' Frogs.
404 BCECapitulation of Athens.
403 BCETyranny of the Thirty in Athens.
401 BCEBattle of Cunaxa.
400 BCEEnd of the March of the Ten Thousand.
399 BCESocrates' execution.
395-387 BCECorinthian War.
399-394 BCEWar between Sparta and Persia.
397 BCEStart of the war between Syracuse and Carthage.
394 BCENaval battle at Cnidos.
392 BCEPeace treaty between Syracuse and Carthage. Staging of Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae.
390 BCERome sacked by the Gaels.
388 BCEStaging of Aristophanes' Wealth.
386 BCEPeace of Antialkidas.
384 BCEBirth of Aristotle and Demosthenes.
392 BCECapture of Thebes by Sparta.
379 BCEThebes regains independence.

378 BCEEstablishment of the second Athenian Naval League.
374 BCESpartan recognition of the second Athenian Naval League.
371 BCEBattle of Leuctra.
370 BCEFirst Peloponnesian campaign of Epaminondas.
367 BCEPersia's recognition of the Beotean League. Aristotle joins the Academy. Plato visits Syracuse.
364 BCEThebians destroy Orchomenosa. Epaminondas takes Byzantium away from the Athenians.
362 BCEBattle of Mantineia. Death of Epaminondas.
362/1 BCEGeneral peace in Greece (except Sparta).
361 BCEAgesilaus in Egypt. Plato pays a second visit to Syracuse.
359 BCECrowning of Philip II in Macedon.
357-352 BCE"Alliance War", break up of the Athenian Naval League.
356 BCEBirth of Alexander.
355 BCE"Holy War" declared on the Phocians. Publication of Isocrates' On the Peace and Demosthenes' Against Leptines.
353 BCEDeath of Mausolus, tyrant of Caria. Start of building of the Mausoleum.
352 BCEIntervention of Philip II in the "Holy War" against the Greek cities. Publication of Demosthenes' For the Megalopolitans and Isocrates' On Restitution.
352/1 BCEDemosthenes' first Phillipics (possibly 349 BCE).
348 BCEPhilip captures Olynthus. Restoration of alliance between Rome and Carthage.
347 BCEDionysius II recaptures Syracuse. Death of Plato.
346 BCEPeace of Philocrates. Publication of Demosthenes' On the Peace and Isocrates' To Philip.

344 BCEPhilip in Illyria. Timoleon liberates Syracuse from Dionysius II.
343 BCEAlliance between Megara and Athens. Aristotle becomes Alexander's mentor. Start of Rome's First Samnite War.
342-341 BCEBirth of Menadros and Epicurus.
340-338 BCEPhilip besieges Perinth and Byzantium. The Roman-Latin War.
338 BCEBattle of Chaeronea.
337 BCEThe Corinth Congress; establishment of Macedon's hegemony over Greece. The Greek Confederation, headed by Philip, declares war on Persia.
336 BCEDeath of Philip II. Alexander becomes Greece's strategist.
335 BCEAlexander sacks Thebes and settles in Athens.
334 BCEAlexander invades Persia.
333 BCEBattle of Issus. Birth of Zenon.
331 BCEFoundation of Alexandria. Battle of Gaugamela; demise of the Persian Empire.

The above outline is far from being an exhaustive account of reliable information on the history of Greece and of early Hellenistic states. As a matter of fact, we possess a far greater mass of data, so the outline could be significantly expanded. Nevertheless, even this outline illustrates, more or less tangibly, the vast amount of every sort of information on Greece and the Hellenistic world that is available to us.

Let us focus on some of the items highlighted in the outline.

To begin with, it is easy to see that Xerxes' invasion of Greece (the first highlighted item) and the demise of the Persian Empire (the last highlighted item), according to scientific chronology, are separated by 149 years. Since both events are also present in Heifetz's reconstruction, we should make note of the time-span of 92 years that separates the two according to Heifetz (410-318=92). Thus, even by shifting many events in Persian history back to the New-Babylonian period and stretching its framework from 52 to 95 years (including Cambyses' adventures in Egypt, see above), Heifetz was still unable to avoid the predictable clash with Greek history which is chock full of meticulously recorded events -- events, moreover, that are not alien, Persian, and in his opinion poorly documented, but those familiar to Greek historians from their personal experience, and to modern scholars from several sources at once. In other words, Heifetz must not only defend his highly dubious castling moves (to be discussed below), but also force events -- that took place, according to historical science, during 149 years of dense Greek history replete with Persian, Egyptian, and Roman synchronisms -- into the span of the 92 years he has managed to reclaim.

To repeat: for Heifetz's reconstruction of Eastern history to be considered at least worthy of rigorous debate, a debate that goes to the core of the issue, he must above all squeeze the 150 years of Greek history between the Persian wars and Alexander's campaigns into 92 years, and to do so with impunity.

What, then, does Heifetz do to achieve this objective?

Strangely enough, he does precious little.

In chapter 10 of his work (pp.130-136), Heifetz raised the following interesting issue.

Herodotus (1.130) makes this brief statement:

Afterwards the Medes repented of their submission, and revolted against Darius, but were defeated in battle, and again reduced to subjection.

Xenophon, in his Greek History (1.2.19), also makes brief reference to a similar subject:

Thus ended the year in which the Medes seceded from Darius the King of Persia, and afterwards submitted to him once again.

Xenophon undoubtedly refers to the year 409 BCE (or the 23d year of the Peloponnesian War). On the other hand, Herodotus' History deals with a manifestly earlier period; what is more, Herodotus himself had passed away by then. Therefore in this instance the two historians, provided they knew what they are talking about, were making fairly similar mention of two different Median revolts against two different Persian kings named Darius: Herodotus refers to Darius I, while Xenophon refers to Darius II.

Based on this dubious coincidence of names, Heifetz immediately draws far-reaching conclusions. First, he takes it for granted that the reference is to the same revolt and the same king. Second, he is certain that Herodotus lived at a much later time than commonly believed, and thus was quite capable of describing events that took place during Xenophon's lifetime. Third, he is convinced that the Greek notions of history were, to put it mildly, rather vague. Fourth, he thinks those same Greeks, consciously or unconsciously, extended history.

Fortunately, Heifetz's patently groundless conclusions (which he later takes to absurd lengths) are of no immediate concern to us at the moment. Of considerably more interest are his subsequent arguments.

In book eight of his History, Heifetz continues, Thucydides mentions a Persian king named Darius, a contemporary and direct participant in the Peloponnesian War. Beyond any doubt, this is the same Darius described by Xenophon, who actually wrote the sequel to book eight.

Heifetz writes:

"Identification of the Darius mentioned by Thucydydes is of immense importance to Greek history and chronology as such. At the same time, it creates considerable problems in regard to the history of the Greek cities of Athens, Sparta and Thebes. Even though these problems cannot impair the reconstruction of the history of Persia and Media undertaken in this work, I will nevertheless indicate in brief how we can resolve the specific problems of Greek history that pertain to the period in question.

Part two of Greek History... discusses... the Peace of Antalcidas and ends with the Mantinean War, the greatest of all Greek wars, as it was described by Diodorus. There is reason to believe that the Mantinean War, described in the final chapter of Xenophont's Greek History -- a war that was joined, according to Diodorus, by the Spartan king Agis, a figure unknown to modern scholars -- is the same Mantinean War [13], called "the greatest of Greek wars" by Thucydides, which was joined by the Spartan king Agis, the brother of the great king Agesilaus of Sparta. According to Thucydides' book, this war took place during the seventh or eighth war of Darius' reign. [14] There is also a pronounced likeness between the peace treaty of Antalcidas, made between the Spartan admiral and King Artaxerxes... and the peace treaty of Chalcideus, made between the Spartan admiral and King Darius and his sons. [15] In both treaties, Sparta betrayed Greek interests by ceding Greek towns in Asia Minor to Persia. There are also other points that can provide footholds in the search for additional similarities.

My personal penchant to find a correspondence between the two great Mantinean wars is primarily based on the dating of the great Median revolt, as well as on other evidence that the Darius mentioned by Thucydides is Darius the son of Hystaspes. This view is strengthened in light of the following chronological fact. According to Jewish historical tradition, the 7th-8th year of Darius' reign and the conquest of Persia by Alexander in year 36 of Darius' reign were separated by 28-30 years. At the same time, according to scientific historical data, the Mantinean War of 362-361 BCE described by Xenophon (the war that saw the death of the great Theban hero Epaminondas) and the decisive battles fought by Alexander against Darius in 332-331 BCE were separated by 29-30 years. Accepting the correspondence of the two Mantinean wars establishes a high degree of correspondence between two chronological systems -- the Jewish traditional chronology and the one based on Greek historical records."

This argument evidently contains the answer to a crucial question: does Heifetz believe his own stories? The answer, alas, is no. The very fact that Heifetz tries his best to avoid discussing Greek history -- which in this case (in fact, in any case where the 5th-4th centuries BCE are concerned) is the ultimate measure of all things -- this fact in itself, though quite interesting, does not yet compromise his position. The monologue above is much more incriminating. It clearly demonstrates that Heifetz is fully aware of the contradictions in Greek history caused by the Jewish reconstruction. Evidently, he can neither disregard them outright nor propose any kind of intelligible theory (at least similar to the one he invented for Persian history) that would reconcile them. What is worse, his words carry a laughable threat: I may be leaving Greek history alone for the time being, but do not think for a minute that I am powerless -- there are enough handholds to grab. I will grab them if need be, I will blend everyone together, and then you will see that these Greek heroes and playwrights never even existed, I might leave one out of five at best. Truly, historical science with a twist.

I permit myself such a bold attack for the sole reason that, as we are about to see, Heifetz's tragicomic manipulations are absolutely premeditated. As a consequence, he cannot hope for any clemency.

Thus Heifetz, who thinks nothing of turning the history of the Ancient East upside down, does not dare take on the history of Greece and Hellenistic states. Why? Before I answer this question, I would like to take a closer look at Heifetz's speculations on the Hellenic theme quoted above. They provide a fairly good sample of the apologetic method he has employed.

The first striking detail in this discussion is the blatant error in what is meant to be his main argument in support of the claim that the two "great Median revolts" are identical. As we have seen, Heifetz attempts, if not to prove then at least to corroborate (with nothing solid to go on) the correspondence of the Median revolts mentioned by Herodotus and Xenophon and described in the Behistun inscription, as well as, strangely enough, in the book Yehudit. However, the rather limited information that we do possess regarding these revolts compels us to rule out this possibility completely.

Indeed, as we have seen above, the revolt recorded by Xenophon is commonly dated to 409 BCE, or the 23d year of the Peloponnesian War, the 15th year in the reign of Darius -- the very same Darius described by Thucydides. At the same time, the Behistun inscription, which Heifetz wrongly believes to be his ally, indicates that the series of revolts in numerous provinces of the Persian Empire began (as Heifetz himself imprudently states below) immediately after the crowning of Darius I (or rather, after he staged his coup d'etat). Simply speaking, with Darius on the throne the empire fell apart, but the new king managed to restore it. It is this outstanding feat of restoration that was carved into the Behistun rock.

According to the Behistun inscription, one of these revolts, probably second in importance after the Babylonian one, was the Median uprising led by Phraortes. It was certainly this uprising that Herodotus had in mind in book one of his History. Yet Thucydides and Xenophon, even if we disregard the chronology, referred to another event -- for the uprising they mentioned took place not in the first or second year, but in the 15th year of Darius' reign. And as soon as the correspondence of the revolts disappears, the supposed correspondence of the kings, for the sake of which Heifetz puts on the entire show, evaporates as well. Any objective researcher would have led the argument in the reverse direction: since Thucydides and Xenophon described a different period than did Herodotus, the multiplicity of revolts is as predictable as the multiplicity of kings, so it is no wonder that evidence is found for this multiplicity. Note this: even Xenophon's passing reference to the Median revolt contains convincing proof of its "non-Behistunness". This is the way -- directly based on the material that fits his needs -- that Heifetz builds his "obviousness".

Incidentally, the history of the Persian Empire is a record of constant revolts and their more or less successful suppression. It is well-known fact that the Persian kings never managed to transform their huge empire from a wobbly political entity into an efficiently functioning unit. Egypt, to take one example, won its independence for all of 60 years, returning to the bosom of the Persian Empire only a short time before the Macedonian conquest. The contradictions between the empire's provinces remained irreconcilable. What is more, these contradictions were so deeply entrenched that even the Hellenistic conquerors failed to resolve them. It was largely for this reason that Alexander's successors found it easier to agree on dividing the empire that on perpetuating it. The unprecedented fact that Seleuk sold the priceless Indian part of his state relatively cheaply suggests that he realized he would not be able to retain it. The first stable political entity to unify Europe, Asia and Africa was the Roman Empire, truly a new kind of state, yet the Romans, too, had their hands full putting down endless revolts. Thus Heifetz's claim regarding the unlikelihood of two Median uprisings in only forty years appears rather strange. I am afraid such uprisings were considerably more than two. I think that searching for traces of these uprisings would have been rather interesting, but there is no need for that, since Xenophon has already done it for us.

The next striking detail is the hollow nature of Heifetz's "interesting chronological factor" -- which is the "duality" of the Mantinean battle. Heifetz's reasoning unfolds as follows (I am keeping to his text). The final battle of Epaminondas (the battle of Mantinea) took place 29-30 years before Alexander's decisive victory over Persia. On the other hand, Darius -- the last Persian king -- reigned, according to Jewish tradition, for 36 years. Counting back 28-30 years from his death, we find ourselves in the 7th-8th year of Darius' reign. Yet it was precisely during these "Darius" years (true, we do not even know if this is the same Darius, but Heifetz will not be put off by such trivial considerations) that the first Mantinean War between Sparta and the Argive cities took place! Thus a single hypothesis of correspondence -- in this case the correspondence between two Mantinean wars -- rearranges the Greek chronology to fit the spirit of the Jewish reconstruction. A tempting hypothesis indeed!

This entire argument does not have a single viable word. First of all, note the fact that it is totally devoid of any accurately performed mathematical calculation, regardless of whether this accuracy is essential to the matter in hand. All of the "spans" introduced by Heifetz -- 28-30, 29-30 and so on -- are actually superfluous in the context of the sources he uses. It is common knowledge (Heifetz does not even question the relative dating) that the Battle of Gaugamela, which marked the end of the Persian Empire, occurred in the fall of 331 BCE, while Emapinondas' Battle of Mantinea took place in the summer (during the wheat harvest) of 362 BCE. Therefore these events are separated by 31 years less several months.

Similarly, the first Mantinean battle took place in the late fall of 418 BCE, during the sixth rather than the seventh-eighth year in the reign of Darius II. If we assume, following Heifetz, that this king remained in power for 36 years (which, alas, is not the case, but let us go on for the sake of argument), his reign was to last for slightly under 30 years from the battle. Why does Heifetz deliberately garble his narrative? Apparently he does so in order to give it a veneer of science.

Part II



[3] Then again, we should give due credit to those who earnestly believe that they know Jewish history inside out, and that it poses no real problems. These people's minds are made up, and I have no hopes of changing them -- the leopard, as we know, cannot change his spots.

[4] Although not perfectly.

[5] Another few words concerning nostalgia. Together with Heifetz's article and Aaronson's essay, the web tossed ashore a short commentary by Mitchell First. In 1997 First published an enchanting book (Mitchell First, Jewish History in Conflict: A Study of the Major Discrepancy Between Rabbinic and Conventional Chronology), summing up his MA thesis and mostly devoted to a review of Jewish rabbinical sources that deal with the issue at hand. His own view on this subject is rather unconventional: religious orthodoxy does not in any way prevent First from adhering to the orthodox scientific point of view. In one of the appendixes at the end of his book he explains the motivating factors behind his preference for "external" scientific theory over the traditional Jewish one. Unfortunately, he was unable to find the crucial arguments in favor of his preference, i.e. in favor of scientific chronology. I should note that First's commentaries which appear on the net ( are virtually identical to the arguments he cites later in his book, in which he totally ignores Heifetz's theory due to its wildly far-fetched assertions.

[6] I am bound to add that the seventh century BCE produced yet another magnificent synchronism -- the conquest of Egypt by the Assyrian king Asarhaddon in 671 BCE -- which could have also been of help to us. This time, however, there is simply no need for it.

[7] In the Second Book of Kings 23:29), it is written: "In his (Josiah's) days, Pharaoh Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates", while the Book of Jeremiah (46:1-2) says: "The word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah the prophet against the Gentiles: Against Egypt, against the army of Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates in Carchemish, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon smote in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah." Thus one of the ribs of synchronism is present: Necho is a contemporary of Nebuchadnezzar on the one hand, and of kings of Judea Josiah and Jehoiakim on the other.

[8] In the second volume of his History (2, 158-160), Herodotus writes: "The son of Psammetichos was Necos, and he became king of Egypt... Necos betook himself to waging wars, and triremes were built by him, some for the Northern Sea and others in the Arabian gulf for the Erythraian Sea...These ships he used when he needed them; and also on land Necos engaged battle at Magdolos with the Syrians, and conquered them... After this, having reigned in all sixteen years, he brought his life to an end, and handed on the kingdom to Psammis his son. While this Psammis was king of Egypt, there came to him men sent by the Eleians, who boasted that they ordered the contest at Olympia in the most just and honourable manner possible..." This is the other -- Greco-Egyptian -- rib of synchronism.

[9] This is a carbon copy of the view propounded by Heifetz' himself, who held the accounts of Jewish authorities in far greater esteem than any empirical or even mathematical argument.

[10] The actual dates of Solon's reforms and the beginning of Pisistratus's tyranny can probably be slightly moved. The traditional view that points at the kinship and close friendship between Solon and Pisistratus is hardly compatible with the accepted Greek chronology of the first half of the 6th century BCE. Hence the alleged difficulty with an encounter between Solon and Croesus, which had already created problems for ancient historians. However, Greek chronological inconsistencies are immeasurably fewer than the aforementioned Jewish discrepancy; what is more, they do not continue into the 5th century BCE.

[11] However, this is far from essential. I undertake to come up with another dozen serious arguments proving the accuracy of the scientific chronological system. All of them will be well founded and even convincing, but the degree of their explicitness will vary greatly.

[12] Once again, not because it is the only way, but because it is the most explicit one. I do have plenty to say about Heifetz's Eastern reconstructions; I will touch upon some of them in the appendix. However, our knowledge of ancient Greek history is infinitely better than that of any other contemporary history -- and for that reason, it should take the brunt of our scrutiny.

[13] Heifetz refers to the two campaigns described by Thucydides and Xenophon as "Mantinean wars" (Milchamot Mantini). In fact, the two events can be merely Mantinean battles. At the same time, the war between Sparta and the Argolian cities is indeed occasionally called a Mantinean war, while the last invasion of Peloponnesos by Epaminondas cannot be called that by any stretch of imagination.

[14] Unfortunately, Heifetz immediately proves himself to be a rather imprecise chronicler. According to Thucydides, the war between Peloponnesian cities mentioned by Heifetz took place during the 13th-14th years of the Peloponnesian War, i.e. in 419-418 BCE. The next footnote explains that the 13th year of the reign of Darius II falls on 411 BCE. Thus the battle near Mantinea, which was indeed described by Thucydides as "the greatest battle between the most important Hellenistic cities" took place in the sixth year in the reign of Darius II, while the corresponding war began in the fifth year of his reign. See History, vol. 5, pp. 47, 80.

[15] Here Heifetz is guilty of yet another inaccuracy. Thucydides, whom Heifetz misquotes, recounts that within a very short time (two or three years) the Spartans made not one but three peace treaties with King Darius of Persia, every time through the mediation of the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. Only one of these treaties (the first one) was made with the participation of the Spartan commander Chalcideus; only one of them (the second one) contained the formula that interested Heifetz ("friendship and alliance with the king, the sons of the king, and Tissaphernes"). As for the third treaty, it was markedly different from the other two, containing an important synchronism: mentioned in it was the fact that it was signed in the 13th year of Darius' reign. Since the reign of Darius II, judging by a variety of indications, began in 424/423 BCE, the treaty should be dated to 411 BCE. This synchronism enables us to verify the dating of many events related to the Peloponnesian War. The dating, as expected, proves to be impeccable. Thucydides states that the third treaty was made in the winter of the 20th year of the war, i.e. 411 BCE -- which provide the needed proof. See History, vol. 8, pp. 18, 37, 58, 60.

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