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Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


Letter Serial Correlation

Mark Perakh's Web Site



Yet this is but a taste of things to come. What is more interesting is that Heifetz's very argument concerning the coincidence of two temporal intervals is but a feeble and quite pointless mathematical slight-of-hand, devoid of any historical substance. His ever so eloquent statements are literally in a void; what it more, the true meaning of his argument is crystal clear.

As we have already said, scientific chronology allocates 149 years to the period between Xerxes' invasion of Greece and the demise of the Persian Empire. Heifetz, on the other hand (all of his manipulations notwithstanding), was forced to limit it to 92 years. Therefore he had to urgently find some way to save 57 years. Unable to rewrite Greek history, he decided to confine himself to purely mathematical manipulation. Glancing through a relevant textbook, he found a couple of events sharing the same name (the Battle of Mantinea), separated from one another by 56 years. In terms of substance and historical context, these events have nothing in common; on the other hand, 56 is almost the same as 57. Thus Heifetz immediately proposed to declare these two events one, thereby shortening Greek history by 56 years. A remarkable mathematical idea! But what about the crux of the matter? We are talking about two battles that have nothing in common except for their location. The first one was nothing more than another settling of scores between Peloponnesian cities, above all Argos which decided to put up a fight for control of the peninsula, and Sparta, its long-time ruler. The other battle took place in a totally different political era. It was waged against the floundering Spartans by the great Theban military leader Epaminondas, as he staged yet another invasion of Peloponnesus. The first Mantinean battle ended in a decisive victory for the Spartans, who reestablished their hegemony over the peninsula; at that historical moment, they were halfway to the greatest victory in their history, a victory that 14 years later would make them masters of all Greece. In the other battle, they were once again defeated by the Thebans, even though Epaminondas' death made their victory essentially irrelevant. In any case, at the time Sparta was barely repulsing its external enemy in Peloponnesus proper, having long and irreversibly forfeited its dominant role in Greece. Interestingly, during the first Mantinean battle, Thebes and other Boeotian cities were Sparta's allies (the more than ten-thousand strong Boeotian contingent was part of the Spartan army), while in the first battle they were Sparta's sworn enemies. Heifetz's claim of correspondence between the two Mantinean battles is among the most ill advised historical sophisms born of religious apologetics. One may just as well "conjoin" the end of WWI and the conclusion of the 1940 Franco-German campaign by virtue of the fact that Hitler accepted France's surrender in the same railway car as that used by Marshal Foch to accept the surrender of Germany in 1918. The same car -- the same campaign. Otherwise why the car in the first place?! Unfortunately, sophisms of this sort do nothing to produce a consistent reconstruction of events, an accurate picture of the world. On the contrary, they avoid all structure, relying on stunts, on psychological shenanigans. It is most unfortunate that Heifetz does not even make a sincere attempt to substantiate his "Mantinean association". A bare conjecture is far less interesting to refute than a complete theory. Indeed, how does one defeat non-existing arguments? By taking them to their logical conclusion? But that is playing straight into your opponent's hands!

In order to reemphasize the meaninglessness of the "Mantinean association" let us recall Heifetz's second proposal -- to associate the treaty between Chalcideus and Tissaphernes, in 413 or 412 BCE, with the Peace of Antalcidas, signed in 386 BCE. Now, if the first -- "Mantinean" -- association is correct, the second one is simply irrelevant: after all, the first association has already eliminated the 56-year period between 418 and 362 BCE, while both treaties were made within this time-span! If, however, the first association is to be understood as fulfilling some role other than that of elimination, then how can it possibly resolve the chronological problems plaguing the Jewish reconstruction of history?

Therefore we should return to the central question already raised above: what prevents Heifetz from doing away with Greek history in the same decisive manner as he has Persian history?

On page 136 of his work, in footnote 159, Heifetz writes the following:

Thucydides, unlike other Greek historians, was renown for his impeccable accuracy. The date for the Median uprising in the context of the chronology of the Peloponnesian War fits quite nicely with the figures cited in the book of Yehudit. Moreover, Thucydides' assertion that the retreat of Xerxes and the start of the Peloponnesian War were separated by 50 years fits quite nicely with the figures cited by Jewish historical tradition, as well as by Herodotus in his account of the conquest of Egypt.

To put it simply, this means that Heifetz accepts the relatively scientific chronology of the huge time span between 480 and 404 BCE [16], i.e. from Xerxes' invasion of Greece to the end of the Peloponnesian War. Therefore the first 76 years out of the 92 that Heifetz has gained through his own reconstruction are in fact taken up, and with exactly the same matters as found in the work of European historians. Thus Heifetz actually faces the enormous challenge of stretching the remaining 16 calendar years to encompass the tempestuous events of the late fifth century BCE, all of Greece's profuse pre-Macedonian fourth century, the entire history of Philip II, the establishment of Macedonian hegemony in Hellas, Alexander's wars in Greece, and, finally, his great campaign in Persia. This is a rather hopeless objective (which is why Heifetz never makes a serious attempt to achieve it or even to define it; his half-hearted attacks on the Peace of Antalcidas and the "Mantinean battles", attacks that are not even backed by an analysis of obtained data, are no attempt at all -- a subterfuge at the most), yet Heifetz makes it even look most peculiar. Indeed, why does Heifetz submissively accept the scientific version of the Greek fifth century BCE, thereby remaining face to face with the fourth century?

There are two reasons for this. The first one bears an individual name -- that of Thucydides. The second one is the fact that in ancient Greece the fifth century was an amazing, unparalleled period of cultural flourishing in a wide range of areas. The density of events in the fifth century was incredible; what is more, these events were recorded largely by contemporaries, and the fact that these events are totally independent of one another and completely different in nature only exacerbates the issue.

Attacking the Greek fifth century is a futile task for the additional reason that such an attack automatically targets all historical knowledge pertaining to the period in question (unless we are dealing with a country like China). Heifetz is perfectly aware that his own reconstruction is neither Jewish nor Persian. It is based on the Greek historical grid, which Heifetz only snips into a shape that suits his needs. Thus he cannot throw the grid away altogether, for by doing so he will lose the reconstruction as well.

The role played by Thucydides in shaping the history of the fifth century is incalculable. This brilliant writer, who was centuries ahead of other historians in his method, produced a tightly-knit, accurate, detailed (sometimes month-by-month and week-by-week), and thoroughly thought out description of Greek history between 435 and 411 BCE, as well as providing us with a profusion of addition information on the preceding decades [17]. We have had plenty of opportunities to verify Thucydides' data, which invariably proved reliable in the extreme. What is even more important, with Thucydides' book as our guide we were able to collaborate numerous archaeological findings as well as certain less reliable literary chronicles.

We also benefit from the fact that the fifth century BCE was not only a time of wars, political drama and historical works, but also a period marked by an incredible flowering of Athenian culture. This fact virtually doubles the density of our chronological knowledge. We know not only the dates of battles, political repressions and coups, but also the dates for the production of the tragedies by Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, as well as of the comedies by Aristophanes. And yet the playwrights glorified and ridiculed philosophers and politicians and were generally concerned with current political events and wars. It is the nature and content of this amazing and unprecedented mixture of history and culture that render hopeless any attempt to attack Greek history. Heifetz, despite his considerable arrogance, does not even try.[18]

The fourth century BCE is a somewhat different matter. For ancient Greece, this was a century of political decline and simultaneously of scientific and cultural crisis. Of course this was also a century of the immortal Plato and Aristotle (and Aristophanes, too, was alive at the time), however, the ascendancy of metaphysical philosophy is a sure sign of scientific crisis. In addition, skeptical minds like Russell maintain that if any large body of writings by earlier Greek thinkers had survived to this day, the place of Plato and Aristotle in the history of philosophy would have been somewhat more modest. In any case, we have fairly good knowledge of fourth century history, yet it is to a large extent the product of scientific reconstruction rather than literary-historical fact. We have no Thucydides to describe that century. On the whole, this is not so terrible as far as science is concerned. Yet Heifetz, who maintains with no real justification that our knowledge of ancient history is based solely on the words of ancient historians, feels somewhat more at ease in the fourth century. Indeed, Xenophon is a legitimate target for at least some mistrust, the works of Ctesius have been all but lost, and as for other fourth century historical writings (apart from the numerous political speeches, if they can be considered historical at all), all we have of them are mere fragments. That is precisely why Heifetz threatens to pounce on Greece's fourth century -- lest someone bring to light the discrepancy between his reconstruction and the basic facts of Greek history. Since fourth century Greek history is itself a partial reconstruction, and one that relies on later texts at that, Heifetz decided that he was entitled to a large-scale experiment.

At the same time, we should keep in mind that he did resist the powerful temptation to rewrite the history of the Greek fourth century, item by item and year by year. The reason for this self-restraint is simple: the overly narrow framework he had been forced into by the Jewish reconstruction of history. Recall that his sixteen-year framework was supposed to accommodate a number of fascinating and well-documented political evolutions at once: the period of Spartan hegemony in Greece (certainly a very brief period, a mere 15-20 years depending on the reckoning -- yet Heifetz only has 16), the spectacular rise of Thebes (a mere 10 years), the period of the second Athenian naval alliance (we even have a surviving copy of its formation agreement) which slightly overlaps with the Theban era yet lasts for a much longer time and finally, the five-year "Holy War" and the nearly twenty-year long (!) overlapping period of the conquest of Greece by Macedonia.

Even from the moment Alexander's father, Philip II, began to actively intervene in the affairs of the weakening Greece until Alexander's victory over Persia at least 21 years elapsed -- which, alas, is clearly more than 16. An attempt to squeeze the war between Philip and Thocida into the framework of the Peloponnesian War seems to appear hopeless even to Heifetz -- at least he never undertook it. [19]

I can understand him. Anyone who resolves to depict Alexander as Agesilaus' contemporary does so at the risk of driving the reader insane. For example, he will have to explain who the aging Agesilaus, hired by the Egyptian king as commander of the Greek mercenaries, actually fought against -- was it Alexander? Given the required historical density (16 years for the entire period from the end of the Peloponnesian War to the Battle of Gaugamela), this is a totally reasonable conjecture. And most importantly, to restore the historical fabric of an era one must rely not only on historical writings and archaeological data (with its countless inscriptions), but also on dramatic works and philosophical treatises. Plato and Aristotle built an abundance of historical details into their voluminous works, not knowing which of them would prove to be of interest to future readers. Moreover, during the fourth century BCE Rome enters the arena, the Sicilian Greeks continue to war against Carthage and amongst each other, and Magna Graecia (the network of Greek cities in southern Italy) gives birth to remarkable synchronisms. What more could we wish for?

That is precisely why Heifetz simply does not have the option of reconstructing Greek history in his own way. The fifth century is beyond his reach and the fourth century is far too dense. He knows that he would do well to steer clear of the Greek problems produced by his theory -- and to his credit, that is exactly what he does.

However, as we have already mentioned, in this situation his eastern, Jewish-Persian ventures (including the physical elimination of Cyrus the Great, the stripping of Cambyses and Xerxes of their title of sovereign Persian kings, the distortion of dynastic links and total fusion of an entire series of historical figures into one) have lost any scientific relevance and value, turning into apologetic speculation. And that, we should keep in mind, is a totally different genre.

We should remind the reader that in the previous section we forgave Heifetz a large portion of his 157-year-long discrepancy. However, we can always change our mind if need be. This would make Heifetz's position immediately hopeless. After all, if this were a matter of eradication all 157 years of "superfluous" history, there would be have to be no fewer than three associations of the Mantinean type. Then again, all that has been said above renders this irrelevant.

The ratio of chronological dissonance

(on the "black hole" and the spirit of the age)

Unfortunately, the relatively easy dispatch of Heifetz's reconstruction does not yet guarantee us an easy life. Indeed, the "black hole" of Jewish history definitely exists; what is more, as we are about to see, at a closer glance it turns out to be larger than commonly believed. Yet where did it come from? What is its nature? And most importantly, why does it trigger such a deplorable reaction -- call it "Heifetzianism"?

In a word, we have to say at least a few words concerning this issue.

Ultimately, this type of "black hole" is merely a reflection, an interpretation of the regrettable insulting ignorance of real history, a result of the enormous gap in our knowledge, its clear discordance with the spirit and nature of the age in question. As it turns out, it is not only knowledge that breeds melancholy but also ignorance, particularly when coupled with a good deal of clumsiness. Inability to fill an entire era in Jewish history inspires overwrought intellectuals with, at the very least, a natural urge to declare this era non-existent. We should not rush to accuse them of every mortal sin -- this is but an ordinary, almost forgivable defensive reaction. Historical nihilism (regardless of whether or not it erupts in violent form) is hidden within us rather than in real history, in the imaginary rather than historical realm; it is the direct result of our intellectual weakness and not of unnatural, let alone supernatural, historical development. In any case, it never goes unpunished. The Jewish example is more than typical. Even rationally thinking intellectuals tend to drastically lower their methodological standards in the vicinity of the "black hole". Time and time again they forget that it is their duty to look for the simplest answers to the questions raised and even unraised -- for these answers are the only truth available to the mortal scholar -- rather than complicate the issue artificially, spawning new entities instead of answers and turning their research into infamous self-justification. To be sure, the supernatural complexity of a problem can account for any gap in knowledge, but resorting to the supernatural is hardly the most sensible way of filling that gap. That is probably why -- essentially due to our own long-time complexes -- we have still been unable to get the better of this problem, which, at least judging by many outward signs, is no more complex than other problems that have been successfully solved long ago.

The gap in our knowledge is a perfectly objective phenomenon, and it is as such that it puts on an ancient dance of cause and effect, which boils down to a ritual exchange of partners, often in a void. Thus we should refrain from accusing Heifetz and his ilk of falsification on a historical scale, and premeditated to boot. They are only concerned about their own comfort, and it is certain that such an immense misunderstanding can by no means be the result of malicious intent alone. On the other hand, it cannot be completely accidental, either. In all likelihood, it is the combined result of poor methodology and excessive imagination -- and it not clear which is worse.

In order to understand what exactly Heifetz fights for, and more importantly, what against -- in other words, what misfortune has come down on Jewish historical tradition -- we must begin by tracing the true scale of this disaster. The scale is impressive: living political Jewish history, the main subject of historiographical prose, disappears from the visible horizon in the wake of Babylon's conquest of Judea, returning only during the Hasmonean period. Nearly 400 years of Jewish existence are shrouded in the mist. Even if we dismiss 50 years of Babylonian rule as a material and cultural wasteland, this still leaves us with another 350 undoubtedly historical years. Naturally, we have some knowledge of those years. We have read, for example, about the return of some of the Jewish exiles from Babylon, and that a small portion of those exiles staged a coup of sorts and seized control of Judea's Jewish community, which was made up of both old-time residents who had outlasted the Assyrians and the Babylonians and "returnees". However, the biblical account of this episode is vague, tentative, devoid of crucial details, and most importantly, unconnected to time frames and to real contexts, including the international. Yet even if we overlook all these shortcomings, there is not much cause for celebration. The "history of the return" is the only actual account available to us. Even the very fact of the existence of a Persian province in Judea does not get an explicit mention in the Bible and the province's name remains a mystery. If not for archaeological data, we would have continued to view this issue with considerable doubt to this day.

To judge from Jewish sources, in the intervening period between the exiles' return and the Hasmonean uprising nothing at all happened in the realm of Jewish politics. Nor are external sources of much help in dispelling the historical mist. The amount of preserved information is so negligible that the inscriptions left by Jews and other Palestinian parties involved in Lower Egypt, Elephantine and Babylon, together with the meager Judean finds unearthed by archaeologists, are seen as awe-inspiring historical records. Yet even these tell us next to nothing about the political, economic, or even ideological life of Persian Judea.

To be sure, everything is known by comparison. Not that we know all that much about Israel and Judea during the monarchy, but the existence of the Deuteronomy historiography, the relatively reliable lists of royalty, the data of these states' involvement in international conflicts and external accounts give us enough information to take our bearings. The monarchic period, at least from the mid-9th century BCE, is lit by a somewhat dim but still functioning lamp. After the Babylonian conquest, Jewish history is plunged into a long period of darkness.

Due to rather mysterious circumstances, the Babylonian and Persian chapters of Jewish history have totally lost any real historical content. The anti-historic tenor of the relevant biblical accounts clearly points to a historiographic (and probably a broader cultural) catastrophe that took place, a catastrophe whose meaning and content still elude us. Interestingly, there was no marked improvement in the situation during the Hellenistic era, i.e. after Judea had become part of the Macedonian Empire. The Jewish sources kept their silence. However, the fact that the numerous and fairly well-documented wars between the north and the south (played up in the Book of Daniel), or to put it simply, between the Seleucid Kingdom and Ptolemaic Egypt, took place on the territory of Palestine as well did provide us with some information: at least we can count the times that Jerusalem passed from one pair of Macedonian hands into another. [20] To some extent, we are also helped by the bottomless Egyptian Hellenistic archives, containing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of papyrus records from the period in question. There, we find some information on everyday Jewish affairs. Moreover, the proximity of the 3d century BCE to the Hasmonean period -- the time when living Jewish history finally arose from its slumber, reviving historiography as a by-product -- rescued Hellenistic Judea from the horrors of total eclipse.

The central focus of any study devoted to the "black hole" should be an attempt to answer the following questions: How did this "hole" come into being? Is it a natural phenomenon? In other words, who, for what purpose and through what means, drew a "black screen" around the Judean reality of the sixth-third centuries BCE? Putting aside for now the little we had intended to say on this subject, let us return to the direct consequence of the "black-out".

To all appearances, there was not a single historiographic work that survived the "dark age" and carried the political chronicles of the Persian and early-Hellenistic times into the Hasmonean period. We should stress that this is a far more sweeping statement than the mere fact that such accounts have not reached our time. This implies not only the absence of historical literature, but the absence of national historical memory, an amnesia of sorts. To be sure, we cannot make the categorical assertion that no historiographic works pertaining to the period in question were ever created; all that is certain is that if they did exist, they were quickly consigned to oblivion.

Since we are confident that it was during the Persian era that the biblical historiography of the monarchic period was put in order, the Jews of the Persian era cannot be said to have no interest in history -- it was only modernity that they placed off limits for one reason or another. As we have already mentioned, there are no surviving traces of an oral historical tradition of any significance -- a tradition that could have come into play at a later or simply a more liberal time. As we have said, Jewish critical thinkers Josephus Flavius and Philo of Alexandria knew virtually nothing about the "black hole" -- otherwise they would have recounted any available material in their works. Yet their books, Hellenistic in form and content, are silent on this issue. [21] Surviving extra-biblical Jewish works, including the apocrypha, are similarly devoid of any substantial historical information. What is worse, to the best of my knowledge the numerous Qumran scrolls have introduced nothing new in this regard, even though they were spared the later rabbinical censorship. Thus the blackout fulfilled its objective in full by successfully eliminating historical information on an entire era and preventing it from reaching subsequent generations.

Naturally, the descendants of Persian and early-Hellenistic Jews were faced with the formidable task of creating an alternative, emphatically non-historical and thus probably ideological reconstruction of the "dark age". It should be stressed that the authors of this reconstruction themselves did not know what was hidden from them. Nevertheless, simple chronological analysis told them that a considerable time-span had been ignored and overlooked by both literature and tradition. As a result, the authors had to decide what to do with the time-span in question in an all-but-arbitrary manner.

The almost total lack of information, the historical darkness -- the most irresistible kind of ignorance -- inevitably gave rise (partly following the adage "all cats are gray in the dark") to the temptation to fabricate an imagined historical reconstruction. And when the politically and ideologically biased historian gets control of arithmetic, or chronology in this instance, he will show no mercy. The simplest way for the "Reconstructors" would have been to annul the entire Second Temple period up until the Hasmoneans, declaring the latter restorers of ancient Jewish sovereignty, yet this was not an easy decision to make. For that they would have had to cancel the Persian Empire as such, to forget about Alexander the Great and the period of Ptolemaic rule -- in other words, to venture into the extremes of historical implausibility. This they stopped short of doing.

Since the idea of completely nullifying the "dark age" was ruled out -- almost entirely due to foreign-political considerations -- the next decision was to shorten this age. As a result, Jewish history -- along with world history as perceived by the Jews -- ended up losing one and a half a century, almost entirely at the expense of the Persian era. The Hellenistic era was shortened by a mere ten years, even though it too proved impossible to fill in a substantial manner! The result was a paradoxical picture: the Babylonian period was conserved, yet it was emptied of historical content for the purely technical reason that Judea supposedly did not exist at the time as a viable political entity (even though this is not a self-evident inference, particularly since the Jews of Palestine did not just vanish into thin air, we will let it stand); the Persian period was virtually eliminated (shrunk from 208 to 52 years) and uprooted from its historical context while the lengthy century and a half long early-Hellenistic period, though retaining almost all of its length, was placed outside of history -- the land was all but devoid of any events.

It is hard to determine who is personally responsible for this fabrication and when it was made up. There is no doubt that by the time of the Mishnah it had become part of tradition, yet the Jewish scholars of that period simply had no choice, for at that stage the natural question of what happened in Judea in the 6th-3th centuries BCE required a coherent answer. To be sure, admitting ignorance was possible in theory -- but this ideological possibility was denied the Mishnaic sages, the Tannaim. On the contrary, their main ideological premise was the claim of being part of an unbroken historical tradition, whether from the moment of the Sinai revelation or the creation of the world. Thus the cultural trap snapped shut, with all those brought up on emunat chachamim (faith in the infallibility of the sages in the existence of an absolute and unassailable Jewish tradition which made the believers accept the teachings of the leading rabbis as absolute truth) still imprisoned inside. (See Heifetz and his historiographic convolutions).

All that remains for us is to return -- if only for a moment -- to the main question: What did happen in Judea during the 6th-3th centuries BCE? What caused the break in Jewish historiographic tradition? Was the "blackout" a natural phenomenon, or could it have been, to an extent, the result of an unfortunate coincidence? And, finally, do we have any chance of restoring the lost history?

This problem requires a much more thorough treatment than a brief reference on the margins of this article. Therefore I will resume the thesis form of discussion which helps avoid treacherous turns and natural verbosities.

  1. It is virtually certain that the Babylonian conquest ravaged a large part of Judea, destroying its cities and plunging it back into a long period of extreme economic and cultural backwardness. Archaeological data on the Persian era is not very flattering to Judea. Not only was it -- or at least its historic Jewish mountainous regions -- totally devastated, but its restoration was a slow and tortuous process. Furthermore, the mountainous areas of Judea populated by Jews, remote from the sea and the trade routes, remained backward long afterward.
  2. The restoration of Judea was actually a coup d'etat, or more precisely, a regime change that was prompted or even ordered by the Persian rulers. Not only were the "returnees from Babylon" placed above the local community, [22] but they also altered the country's governing system in a way that was pleasing to the empire. For centuries Judea had been a monarchy ruled by a dynasty that traced its origins back, to one degree of veracity or another, to King David. If we are to believe the biblical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah and Haggai, at first the "returnees" were indeed led by princes from the house of David, probably the son and grandson of one of the last Judean kings, who were eagerly welcomed by the prophets. Upon returning, however, the princes mysteriously disappeared, and power passed into the hands of the high priests. With the consent and probably the approval of the Persian rulers, they established a hierocracy in Judea, headed by the temple administration (along with the Persian governor), i.e. a political system that was obviously at odds with tradition. There is no doubt that this "revolution" was not a painless one. Its reverberations reach us through the prism of the Hasmonean era, which was depicted in rather negative terms in traditional literature. Interestingly, the Talmud views the Hasmonean priests as usurpers who took over the throne of David through unlawful means. The same accusation can be certainly leveled against Ezra and Nehemiah, who seized rule of Judea for the benefit of the priestly class. Therefore the direct juxtaposition of the ideas of the patently pro-monarchic Deuteronomy historiography on the Persian era could not but be problematic from both ideological and political points of view. What is surprising is something else: the new regime (which produced the "priestly" element of the biblical text) for some reason did not find it necessary to expunge the old, hostile historiography and to create one of its own, or was unable to force its own historiography on the people and transmit it to later periods.
  3. It is also quite likely that the start of the Persian era saw a partial yet significant replacement of the ethnic base of the Jewish nation. There is no doubt that the "returnees" were vastly inferior in numbers to the remaining inhabitants of Judea. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah clearly indicate that the Jewish identity of the old inhabitants was questioned, if not outright annulled. What is more, it appears that those Israelites who continued living in Samaria (i.e. the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom, destroyed as early as the 8th century), as well as the Judaized newcomers, were totally excluded from the Jewish people by its new, purely Judean priestly leadership. This exclusion was a sensible political step: the Persian rulers had no intention of including Samaria in the province of Judea, making it a separate administrative unit instead. Since the governing of Judea was based on this ethno-religious principle, the inhabitants of Samaria (Jews and converted gentiles) immediately became unwelcome aliens and, strangely enough, adherents of a different religion in the eyes of "orthodox" Judea. Most importantly, they undermined the priests' monopoly on the Jerusalem-style Judaism recognized by the empire.

    To pave the way for such exclusion, the new leadership imposed extreme religious requirements which were radically different from those accepted during the monarchic period, including the new prerequisite of pure blood rather than tribal belonging and faith. I will not develop this rewarding topic here. Evidently the religion created or shaped by Ezra and Nehemiah bore only a tenuous similarity to the old, tribal Jewish religion, and was adjusted to fit the political demands of the time and the place -- a tiny Persian province with Jerusalem as its center.

  4. The hierocratic and urbocentric character of the new religious and political regime placed the entire Jewish periphery all but outside the law. It is conceivable (though not indisputable) that shortly before the demise of the Judean Kingdom Jerusalem became the sole site of Jewish worship. It is possible, however, that pre-dating the Jerusalem urbocentrism to the monarchic past is in effect an attempt at self-justification by the new hierocratic regime created around Jerusalem by the Persians. Since the Jewish sacrificial rituals (the backbone of any ancient religion) were now concentrated exclusively at the Temple (even though it is a known fact that the Jews of Elephantine, politically harmless and highly valued by the central power, regularly violated the prohibition against performing sacrifices outside the Temple and were not excommunicated), the entire Jewish world outside of Jerusalem found itself in a religiously inferior position. Naturally, this religious measure was aimed primarily against the Jews of Palestine, yet it was this measure that prepared the ground for the substantial Jewish Diaspora -- one of cult inferiority as opposed to the full-blown religious existence that was restricted to Jerusalem alone.
  5. To repeat, such transformations could hardly have been quick and painless. In all likelihood, Judea went through a difficult transitional stage, accompanied by infighting among various factions. It is hard to say how long this process lasted and what upheavals accompanied it. Nevertheless, we can easily envisage a long period during which the Judean regime was incapable of producing its own historiography, one that would be acceptable to at least a large part of its own ruling class. Perhaps the historiographic and other works from the early-Persian period were destroyed shortly after being written. It is possible that the factional strife in Judea led to a situation where the literary output of the time was either held back or focused entirely on the past -- for example, concentrating on editing the biblical corpus which was relatively within the consensus.
  6. Nevertheless, it is impossible to give a rational answer to the main question: Why did the rejection of historiographic creation last for so long? What accounted for the stifling of the oral historical tradition? Why did the simplest temple records containing lists of the high priests (which could have found their way to the Jewish historians of the Roman time) fail to be transmitted from one generation to the next? And finally, why is it that the curtain was not pulled open after some time had passed? What was it in the subsequent history of Judean politics, economy and culture that was considered compromising enough to require concealment; and most importantly, how -- and by whom -- was this brought about? Here we enter the realm of guessing. There are interesting theories, primarily culturological, regarding the subject -- yet I see them as too half-baked to merit discussion in this paper.

At any rate, a review of the Jewish chronology of the Second Temple period inevitably comes up against a discussion of the nature of the "blackout" in Jewish history. Its very existence was bound to pose chronological problems that seem easy prey to the dilettante. Such is the usual origin of apologetic historical reconstructions. Heifetz's theory is far from being an exception to the rule.

In conclusion

On the whole, we can consider ourselves lucky. World history abounds in "dark eras", perplexing and poorly documented stretches of time following periods which have left us a great deal of valuable information and which we appear to understand. Such "dark ages" may be found in Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Greek history alike -- everywhere we look, in fact. The "dark age" of Jewish history is astonishing not in itself but by sheer virtue of having taken place in an era that, in a sense, ensured relative transparency -- and of course by its relatively long duration. In an era that was well acquainted with Pythagoras and Zarathustra, in an area sandwiched between Egypt, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean Sea, it is difficult to remove an entire culture from circulation.

On the other hand, such a late era, the product of a given history by a given geography, more or less guarantees the preservation of its intellectual belongings. Taking this distinctive law of preservation on trust, we believe that a rediscovery of Jewish history during the Second Temple period is virtually inevitable. For this to happen, we must begin by determining what it is that is hidden in the "darkroom" of Jewish history. The very fact that to this day we have not succeeded in answering the fundamental questions raised is bound to cause certain discomfort. After all, during this "dark age" the totally transparent, history-saturated Greek culture was throbbing only a few hundred miles from Jerusalem while the Gnostic intellectual revolution was looming in the east.

I would like to hope that the answers will not be long in coming.

Appendix: Heifetz as a phenomenon of tradition

So far we have been basically focusing on what Heifetz does not write about, that is the issues he is reluctant to examine. It is now time to take a look at the text of his article. The text gives away not only the author, but the entire genre. Compared to Heifetz's boundless infatuation with himself and his interpretation of history (based on the infallible Jewish tradition, to be sure), the indigestible Plutarch quoted above begins to look like a paragon of objectivity.

I should mention in passing that Heifetz's conjectures ought to be numbered.

1) On p. 78 of the original publication in Megadim he writes:

The history of the ancient world from the beginning of time to the Chaldean (Casdean) Kingdom created by Nebuchadnezzar and his father Nabopolassar, is covered in mist due to the lack of ancient historical sources surviving to this day and possessing historical continuity -- with the exception of the Book of Books of the Jewish people.

This statement contains a staggering measure of apologetics, making any further debate with Heifetz impossible. Fortunately, debate is no longer our objective. The Jewish Book of Books -- which is not a book but rather a fairly late anthology of heterogenous, partially contradictory works in different languages -- is at least half moralistic mythological stories. For example, the traditional account relied on by Heifetz talks about a global flood in 2162 BCE, during a historical period about which we know a thing or two. And one of the things we know for certain is that no worldwide calamity occurred at the time. By the same token, no science, no matter how lenient, would treat as historically accurate information the prosaic account from Chronicles 2, chapter 13, of a great battle between Judea and Israel that allegedly featured 400,000 Judean and 800,000 Jewish elite warriors; if we are to believe the Book of Books, 500,000 Israelites died in that battle.

As for the five or six centuries immediately preceding Nebuchadnezzar, there is no doubt that during that period there were quite a few ancient states about which we know much more than about ancient Israel and Judea. Specifically, they have bequeathed us a far vaster written legacy, including historical records, and due to their active role in international politics and trade, they have left more vivid cultural and archaeological traces. This is true, for example, in regard to Assyria, Babylon and Egypt -- whose chronicles we revise today whenever necessary -- to the same extent it is true for China.

On the other hand, the Jewish sources of the monarchic era are not all that bad, even though they cannot be said to present a continuous and consistent version of the history of monarchies in Israel and Judea. The trouble is that during later periods the quality of Jewish sources markedly deteriorates. As a result, in spite of Heifetz's assurances, we only manage to form an unbroken continuum of Jewish political history from the Hasmonean times until the late first century CE,; our present notions of Jewish antiquities represent a modern-day reconstruction, at times a rather daring one. Be that as it may, to assert, as Heifetz goes on to do, that our knowledge of ancient history comes from the accounts of ancient historians means to sin against the very spirit of historical science. Ancient historical writings constitute one of our sources, providing invaluable "raw material". Our current knowledge of ancient history is much better than that of the ancients themselves, and we frequently revise their works. In this regard, the Jewish sources are by no means an exception.

2) On p. 80, Heifetz writes:

Relying on all these [historical] sources, it is impossible for the compiler to form any kind of an acceptable unbroken sequence of key historical events on a coordinated chronological basis without having to overcome and eliminate inconsistencies. This is evidenced by the numerous fundamental disagreements between new age historians. Given such unstable circumstances, the worldview and individual preferences of a historian become a decisive factor in his view of history, even if he himself is not aware of it. Moreover, every new element in the interpretation of old sources, as well as discovery of new ones, can easily result in undermining previously established views and changing the very face of history of the period in question [the period of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian empires] beyond recognition.

This argument contains both an assumption that makes the very argument redundant and flagrant contradictions. Indeed, Heifetz begins with issues that, in his opinion, apply specifically to the history of the period in question. As an argument in favor of their existence he cites the impossibility of having a consistent historical reconstruction altogether, even when it concerns very recent times (talk of modern history has been largely left outside the material we have quoted, but abounds in the original)! Yet if that is the case, why discuss any specific ancient sources and lament their unreliability? What is more, Heifetz's argument is essentially applicable to any science, in fact to any study and any tradition, including his own. Heifetz maintains that any knowledge is incomplete, inaccurate, and subject to revision. Of course, this is more than true. Does it follow that all physical theories are unreliable, or that it is impossible to reconstruct a given historical period? Not at all. According to Heifetz's logic, bridges should collapse because the science of mechanics readjusts its basic postulates from time to time -- yet the bridges are still standing, somehow. He deliberately ignores a basic fact of science history: new theories that are aimed at reforming old ones (as opposed to theories that are fundamentally new, i.e. that concern themselves with previously unknown phenomena) are almost invariably nothing but a successful elucidation of the application of old theories. The revolutionary character of new concepts is usually of a theoretical nature, and their applications are rather esoteric from a practical point of view. Nor could it be otherwise, for then the physical measuring made prior to the introduction of a new theory would have had to be substantially untrue (along with the old theory) -- and that is patent nonsense! For example, the theory of relativity, as revolutionary as it was, did not nullify the practical Newtonian calculations of long-known applications, but merely made minute and virtually irrelevant modifications. On the other hand, this theory obtained results that were markedly different from the Newtonian for experiments that were never staged by Newton and his contemporaries. Therefore Einstein did not undermine Newton's practical calculations, even though he did create a fairly revolutionary physical theory.

This does not imply, however, that a sound physical or historical theory can never be fundamentally revised; what this does mean is that the overly general argument offered by Heifetz is meaningless. If he is set on refuting the scientific version of the Persian Empire, let him find substantive arguments appropriate for the task. The history of science does not supply him with any such arguments.

What is more, resorting to the problems of new history is sheer manipulation. The problems of new history are fundamentally different from those of ancient history. If the circumstances of "new history" could be transferred to "ancient history", Heifetz would have no topics for discussion. We are perfectly clear, for example, as to the outline of military campaigns conducted by Louis IV or of the Napoleonic wars. The "undermining of previously established views and changing the very face of history" regarding these periods are purely theoretical scenarios. However, the modern era gives rise to completely new issues: examining the motives for certain actions, the nature of the influence exercised by certain people, their ideological evolutions and, most importantly, the social and economic processes taking place in various countries and their cultural contexts. If the problems involved in the study of ancient history were of the same nature, it would not even occur to Heifetz to invent his chronological reforms. Moreover, we should keep in mind that the very term "modern era" is not quite a chronological concept. This, if for France and Italy the 15th century CE is the modern era, for South America it is extreme antiquity.

Even more importantly, Heifetz -- perhaps through ignorance -- disregards the fact that in any given country an ancient era may be much better understood and hence better studied than a later period. Thus, for example, some periods in the history of Mesopotamia during the second half of the third millennium BCE are more intelligible to us today than the history of the mid-2nd century BCE. The history of Jewish monarchies is far more coherent than the Second Temple period. With the collapse of the Roman Empire a large part of Europe was temporarily shrouded in mist. The list of such examples could be continued.

As for the crux of the matter, i.e. the degree of certainty and unanimity in regard to Mediterranean and Western Asian history of the 6th-4th centuries BCE, here Heifetz "merely" distorts the facts somewhat. We know the history of the Neo-Babylonian Kingdom and the first Achaeminids very well, predictably well. We are slightly less knowledgeable about the last century or so of the history of the Persian Empire, but far from the extent Heifetz would have liked us to be. Most importantly, we are very well informed about the history of Greece in the 5th-4th centuries BCE, a history that abounds in indisputably Mediterranean (Italian-Sicilian, Carthaginian-Phoenician, etc.), Persian and Egyptian synchronisms. This in itself is enough to render meaningless any attempt at a radical revision of Western Asian chronology. This has nothing to do with reshuffling the Persian kings and determining their exact number -- the time that separates the milestones of Persian history is definitely reliable and not exclusively based on Persian data. The individual tastes of historians are totally irrelevant here. (See above.)

3) On p. 85, Heifetz writes:

We should note, furthermore, that the historical and chronological picture created by Jewish historical tradition is complete and consistent in every detail, containing no contradictions and causing no arguments, apart from minor issues in regard to which there is no clear-cut tradition, such as the question of whether Darius the Persian was the son of Ahasuerus and Esther. These details, which trace their origins to interpretations rather than tradition, do not change the historical sequence or the chronological order of events.

This argument does not contain a single word of truth -- nothing that even so much as resembles truth.

To begin with, the Book of Books itself, while vague and mythological in regard to true antiquity, also abounds in chronological discrepancies when it comes to a totally historical era -- that of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea. These discrepancies are not too dramatic (never exceeding two decades), yet due to the rather high information density of the period in question they create quite a few irksome problems. Suffice it to say that to this day the Jewish scholars who are most loyal to tradition are unable to decide on the exact dates for the reign of the Judean king Hezekiah, to take but one example -- and this despite his obvious Assyrian synchronism with King Sennacherib, which enables us to date exactly such a momentous event in Hezekiah's biography as the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. There are at the very least two different chronological systems that cover the era of the kings (once again, the most transparent period in Jewish history), and it is still impossible to decide which of the two is the best.

The situation becomes even worse in the case of later Jewish history. In essence, we know nothing at all about the political history of Judea between the late 6th and early 2nd centuries BCE. The chronology of this era is not even worth mentioning. It might have been called relative were there something to relate it to; as is, the lack of dated events makes a chronology unnecessary. Interestingly enough, Jewish tradition is just as incapable of filling this era as is modern science. Nevertheless, our knowledge of the era is somewhat better than was the knowledge of Josephus Flavius and his contemporaries, who were separated from it by mere centuries -- not to mention the Talmudic sages.

Naturally, Heifetz could object and say that the topic of his discussion is not the biblical narrative or some other book version of Jewish history (the infamous Seder Olam, for example), but the notorious, thoroughly developed, unwritten historical tradition. The problem is that no such tradition exists. This fact is not only verified but also illustrated, above all, by the radically divergent deliberations of Jewish sages of all times regarding both the chronological discrepancies in the Bible and matters having to do with later periods. There is no doubt that their ideas, which are often quite clever, are nothing but eclectic interpretation; their authors not only do not purvey historical knowledge, they sincerely lay no claims to doing so, and, in fact, express almost no interest in history. The contradictory statements made by Jewish sages concerning the Persian era are examined in detailed in the aforementioned book by First. The views of Rashi and other commentators on chronological biblical discrepancies concerning the era of the kings were explored to some degree in my earlier work dealing with the same subject.

The best evidence that Jewish historical thought does not contain any consistent historical reconstruction "with a Jewish face" is the fact that the first attempt to create such a reconstruction was made by none other than Heifetz himself, who has become a pioneer in the full sense of the word. Due to the lack of systematic ancient sources, he is forced to rely on the stark Talmudic assertion regarding the extreme brevity of Persian rule. Then again, he does a rather dubious service to Jewish tradition itself (not the non-existent historical tradition, but tradition pure and simple). His manipulations repeatedly place tradition in an embarrassing position. Until Heifetz came along, tradition could have at least reveled in its vagueness -- the same vagueness that Heifetz tries to dispel. It is no surprise, therefore, that Heifetz's article was not enthusiastically embraced by Orthodox Jewish circles -- for it is non-orthodox in essence.

This does not mean that there are no Jewish books which recount world history from Creation to our days. The trouble is that these Jewish versions are far more than one, and none feels any obligation to interpret even the most basic set of empirical and other historical data. To put it simply, they prefer to keep looking straight ahead so as to avoid seeing anything seditious.

Part III

[16] For the sake of fairness, we should note that Thucydides' account proper is interrupted when it comes to the events of 411 BCE, yet its impression on his contemporaries was so powerful that several historians at once rushed to compose a sequel to the history of the Peloponnesian War using Thucydides' methods. We have the preserved work by Xenophon, whose accuracy matches that of Thucydides, at least in regard to events that took place up until the end of the war, i.e. before 404 BCE. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that Heifetz, following Greek historians and modern scholars, agrees that the Peloponnesian War lasted 27 years.

[17] It should be kept in mind that Thucydides lived until about 396 BCE, and even though he left no works from the final years of his life, his book can provide a perceptive reader with at least some idea of the atmosphere that marked the turn of the century.

[18] I can understand him. If he had dared "revise" and modify, partially at least, the chronology of the Peloponnesian War or the Athenian Golden Century, all of his other inquiries would have been pushed to the background -- this in itself would have been sufficient to assess his theory. But no: everything ever described, even in passing, by Thucydides is held sacred by Heifetz. Another matter is Xenophon, to whom Heifetz decides to ascribe personal acquaintance with Cyrus the Great.

[19] Yet in purely mathematical terms he had no other choice. If this war does not fit chronologically into the 27-year long Peloponnesian War, Heifetz's chronology falls apart...

[20] Analogous information on the Persian-Egyptian-Phoenician wars of the fourth century involving Palestine is so meager that it makes one give unwilling credence to the claim that Judea was untouched by those wars -- a clear case of scientific paucity.

[21] In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus Flavius bends over backwards to try and reconcile the biblical narrative with Greek historiography. The results are appalling. He gets tangled in his arithmetic, distorts biblical texts and Greek studies alike, and all in vain – he simply cannot create a history of the "dark age" out of nothing. In purely chronological terms, his Persian period turns out to be even longer than the Greek (about 250 years) yet it remains almost totally empty of events, history or politics. On the other hand, Flavius (naturally) resolves to use the Greek platform as a "landing strip" for the major biblical stories dealing with the Persian era -- such as the feats of Zerubabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel and Esther. The situation was even more interesting in the early-Hellenistic period: in Greek countries time (along with history) flows while in Judea it virtually stands still. All this, to be sure, up until the beginning of the Hasmonean era, when Flavius suddenly regains his loquacity. Incidentally, Flavius claims that he himself hails from the Hasmonean dynasty on the distaff side...

[22] This situation is quite similar to what happened in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, following the return of Arafat and his creation of the "Tunisian" administration which placed the Palestinian territories under its control.