TruthVid's 100 Proofs that the Israelites were White, Part 75: 98, Parthian Role and Interest in First Century BC Judaea. Why Josephus Wrote Wars, and for Whom, The Identification of the Magi

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TruthVid's 100 Proofs that the Israelites were White, Part 75

Having finished our exposition on the linguistic connections between Hebrew and some of the languages of Europe, primarily English, there are only a handful of proofs left in our list. So now we will turn to another aspect of history, which is the relationship between the Parthians and Judaeans which predates Roman times, and then after discussing the identity of the Magi we shall move on to discuss various archaeological proofs of the ethnicity of the Israelites, that they were indeed White. There are at least four, traditionally five, and possibly more magi mentioned or referred to in the New Testament, and all of them are portrayed as Judaeans, or as having special knowledge of certain of the affairs relating to Judaea. In the end, I will also make a few assertions here with implications that I have restrained myself from making in the past, but some of them do have multiple witnesses even if the entire picture is not as complete as I would prefer.

98) Parthian role and interest in first century BC Judaea. Why Josephus wrote Wars, and for whom, and the interest which Josephus maintained in Parthia up through the end of his histories. The identification of the Magi.

Before discussing the Parthians and their interest in the history of Judaea in Roman times, perhaps we should first have some background on Parthia, and also on neighboring Hyrcania, as Hyrcanus was a name taken by several of the Hasamonaean high priests even a hundred years before Rome became involved in Judaea, and I doubt that is a coincidence. The name Hyrcanus, as it is applied to the high priest which we know by that name, is known only from Josephus, but not from Maccabees where he is referred to only as John the son of Simon. However there is also a later high priest named John Hyrcanus, who was slain by Herod in 30 BC, and in 2 Maccabees 3:11 another Hyrcanus is named, the son of Tobias, so the name Hyrcanus is not unusual in Judaea.

Even according to Wikipedia, the name Hyrcanus means one from Hyrcania, and Hyrcania was not only the name of a district, or kingdom, on the southeast shores of the Caspian Sea, but it was also the Greek name for the Caspian Sea. It is said to have been derived from an old Persian word for wolf, which also has cognates in Sanskrit and related languages. The ancient district of Hyrcania had Parthia on its eastern border, Dahistan, which means place of the Dahae on its north, and Media on its south. From the time of the Median empire, Hyrcania was a satrapy of the Medes while in the Persian empire it was a province of the satrapy of Parthia. Scholars have connected the Dahae to the Hyrcanians through linguistic evidence in the meanings of the names. Some writings have also apparently used the terms Dahistan and Hyrcania interchangeably. But the Daheans are also said to be extinct.

In our own German Origins essays, in parts 3 and 4, we discussed evidence connecting the Dahae to the Germanic Daci or Dacians of Roman times, as Strabo of Cappadocia had explained that the Daci “were called Daï in early times”, but he himself refused to connect them to the “Scythians who are called ‘Daae,’ for they live far away in the neighborhood of Hyrcania” (Geography, 7.3.12). We do not accept “far away in Hyrcania” as a valid reason, as even Strabo himself, along with many other writers who preceded him, had supplied much evidence that demonstrates that all of the Germanic tribes arrived in Central Europe in early times from far-away places in Asia. In some sources the Parthians were said to come from the tribes of Dahistan, however we would further assert that these people and all Scythians came from the Khumri, the Israelites of the Assyrian captivity.

As a digression, much of the history of the intertestamental period found in the pages of Flavius Josephus had come from the now-lost writings of Nicolaus of Damascus, who was born about 70 years before Josephus. In his own histories, Josephus cites and discusses him often. Nicolaus was a personal friend of the elder Herod, attended missions on behalf of the Herodians, and his brother, named Ptolemy, also held an office in Herod’s court. Aside from this Nicolaus, who was not necessarily an Edomite, Josephus cited Greek and Roman historians such as Herodotus, Strabo and Livy.

Because we are about to discuss what things Josephus had written about relations between the Parthians and Judaeans, it might be fitting to begin with a couple of paragraphs from a paper which I wrote some time around 2007, Classical Records of the Origins of the Scythians, Parthians & Related Tribes:

In the preface to Josephus’ Wars, the historian explains that he originally wrote the book in “the language of our country”, i.e. Hebrew or perhaps Aramaic, and sent it to the “Upper Barbarians”, among whom he then names as “the Parthians ... Babylonians ... remotest Arabians ... and those of our nation beyond Euphrates, with the Adiabeni.” Except for the Parthians, Josephus’ designations here are geographical, where it is clear from the pages of his Antiquities that many of the Israelites of the Babylonian deportation still dwelt around Babylonia in his time (15.3.1), and this would include the “remotest” part of Arabia adjacent to Babylonia (cf. Acts 2:11; 1 Pet. 5:13). Also, Josephus attests that many Israelites of the Assyrian deportations were “beyond Euphrates until now”, where they were “an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers” (11.5.2). Adiabene is that part of Assyria which, according to Strabo in his Geography, is not in Mesopotamia but which consists of the plains beyond the Tigris bordering Babylonia to the south and Armenia to the north (16.1.1, 19). Media borders Adiabene on the east.

Herodotus listed Parthians among those who fought under the Persians in Xerxes’ famous invasion of Greece, and like the Arians and Sogdians, says that they were equipped like the Bactrians “in all respects” (7.66). The Parthians had a district immediately east of Media, southeast of the Caspian Sea, which they obtained by force. Strabo says of Parthia that in the Persian and Macedonian periods “in addition to its smallness, it is thickly wooded and mountainous, and also poverty-stricken”, and that at that time its people paid their tribute along with the Hyrcanians to the west (11.9.1). Strabo then says that “Arsaces (Ἀρσάκης), a Scythian, with some of the Däae ... invaded Parthia and conquered it. Now at the outset Arsaces was weak, being continually at war with those who had been deprived by him of their territory, both he himself and his successors, but later they grew so strong, always taking neighboring territory, through successes in warfare, that finally they established themselves as lords of the whole of the country inside the Euphrates ...” (11.9.2). Elsewhere Strabo tells us that the Däae, along with the Massagetae and Sacae, are Scythians (11.8.2). So we see that the Parthians of the Parthian empire were Scythians, and Josephus surely indicates to us that they were Israelites.

In another place in his writings, in Antiquities Book 11, Josephus attested that “therefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers.” In the regions beyond the Euphrates we also see many names which were certainly derived from the Persian name for the Scythians, which was Saka. Among these are the title Arsaces and the names Massagetae, Sacarauli, and also Sacasene, a region of Armenia which was occuped by Scythians in classical times. There should be no doubt from this as well as from the Assyrian descriptions of the Khumri, or Israelites, and the Biblical accounts of the places to which the Israelites were taken into captivity, that the Scythians were indeed the “immense multitude” in that statement by Josephus.

As for the Israelites on the Caspian Sea, we wrote the following in our essay, Classical Records of the Origins of the Scythians, Parthians & Related Tribes:

East of Iberia and reaching to the Caspian Sea was Albania, of which the eastern part, Caspiana, sat at the mouth of that same Araxes river where the Scythians are placed at the earliest times. Herodotus mentions the Caspians at 7.67, and in company with the Bactrians in Xerxes’ Persian army at 7.86. In Strabo we have seen the relationship of the Bactrians and Scythians mentioned above (11.8.2). Caspiana must be, as Dr. George Moore agrees in his The Lost Tribes And The Saxons Of The East And The Saxons Of the West, that same district mentioned at Ezra 8:17, Casiphia, to which Ezra sent for Levites to come to Jerusalem after the rebuilding of the Temple. Moore wrote as much in the 1870’s, when his book was first published.

So while we see that the ancient historians surely made some mistakes in certain places, or offered fanciful conjectures where the truth of a matter was obscured by time or language, we have a consistent pattern of testimony among many ancient accounts that the Parthian, Scythian, and other “Indo-European” tribes shared a common origin in and around the regions of ancient Media, Armenia and northern Assyria, and from there soon spread themselves east as far as the borders of India and Tibet, and west to Thrace and the Danube river. And we can tell their descent from the Israelites not only because they first appear in places where the Bible tells us that the Israelites were brought to by the Assyrians, and not only because they fulfilled the many prophecies which were foretold of the Israelites, but also from the testimonies such as those of Ezra (Ezra 8:17; 2 Esdras 13:39 ff.), Josephus (Antiquities 11.5.2), and Paul (Colossians 3:11), who certainly wrote to no one but the “lost” Israelites. There was no “immense multitude”, as Josephus and Ezra call them, of “Jews” beyond the Euphrates in the time of either Josephus (say, 70 A.D.), or Ezra (say, 450 B.C.), or the contemporary historians who described those entire regions surely would have noted them (Herodotus about 450 B.C., Diodorus about 50 B.C., Strabo before 25 A.D.). But there was indeed an immense multitude of Scythians in those regions, under the many names that we see the various Scythian tribes had adopted, such as Parthians, Iberians, Massagetae, etc. And these were strong enough not only to withstand the subjugations attempted by the Persians, but that a portion of them came to subjugate Persia, and to keep Rome from bringing its empire north of the Danube or east of the Euphrates.

Again, Josephus’ Wars of the Judaeans opens in part by stating that “I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians; I, Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterward, [am the author of this work.] 4 Now, at the time when this great concussion of affairs happened, the affairs of the Romans were themselves in great disorder. Those Judaeans, also, who were for seditions, then arose when the times were disturbed; they were also in a flourishing condition for strength and riches, insomuch that the affairs of the East were then exceedingly tumultuous, while some hoped for gain, and others were afraid of loss in such troubles; 5 for the Judaeans hoped that all of their nation which were beyond Euphrates would have raised an insurrection together with them.”

Those Judaeans, or more properly, Israelites beyond the Euphrates, otherwise known generally as Scythians, whom he called here “Upper Barbarians”, also must have been of the same nation as the Judaeans as Josephus attests here. Josephus hoped they would help in the Judaean revolt against the Romans, and for that he wrote to them in Hebrew, so he expected them to still be able to understand Hebrew. Josephus was not an ignorant man in the affairs of Israel and Judah, and therefore he knew what he was writing, and why he had written.

The relationship in history between the later Judaeans, those of the Hasmonean period, and the Parthians is evident in Josephus’ Antiquities, Books 13 through 20. Josephus first mentions it in the time of John Hyrcanus, the same Judaean high priest who has his name from Hyrcania, and who began the wayward policy of forcibly converting Edomites to Judaism, which his successors also maintained. Here we shall present and discuss certain passages in that history, hoping to sufficiently illustrate that relationship. Our assertion is that if the Parthians, a Scythian tribe, had concern for the affairs of Judaea even before their own rivalry with the Romans, then there must have been deeper ties between the two peoples, as Judaea was never a military threat to Parthia, and as Josephus attested those deeper ties in his preface to his history of the Wars of the Judaeans and elsewhere.

In the 3rd century BC, the Scythian tribes of the former Persian empire, beginning with the Parthians, had declared their independence from the Seleucid successors of Alexander, who were preoccupied with the invasions of the Galatae into western Anatolia. Then in the latter half of the 2nd century BC, the Parthians, who by that time had subjected much of the former Persian empire east of the Tigris river, had been fighting a war against the Seleucids which by about 140 BC had resulted in the complete Parthian control of Mesopotamia. In 130 BC the Seleucids began an endeavor to regain the territory. When John Hyrcanus, who became the Judaean high priest around that same time, had heard of the defeat of the Seleucids and the death of Antiochus VII Sidetes in 129 BC, he used that opportunity to begin conquering the cities of the Edomites and forcing their subjugation to Judaea and their conversion to Judaism. At the same time, Hyrcanus took Samaria, whereupon Josephus describes that he had demolished it. But here in chapter 10 of Antiquities Book 13 (from 13.270) we may also find a clue as to why Hyrcanus adopted the policy of converting the Edomites: at this same time Hyrcanus abandoned the party of the Pharisees and joined that of the Sadducees. Around that same time he also robbed the tomb of David, and used the three thousand talents of gold which he stole to pay for an army of foreign mercenaries. Josephus spent a great portion of Antiquities Book 13 detailing both the Parthian wars against the Seleucids and the expansion of Judaea by the Hasamonaeans.

Nearly 70 years after John Hyrcanus began his expansion of Judaea, and shortly before the Romans had conquered it, Pompey annexed to Rome what little was left of the Seleucid empire in northern Syria. The Roman general Gabinus marched into Parthia with two legions in 65 BC, seeking to persuade them to make a treaty with Pompey, as the Romans were now their neighbors. But the Roman wars with the Parthians did not begin for another decade, beginning around 54 BC, where for nearly three centuries they fought over control of Armenia, and sometimes even Mesopotamia. In 53 BC the Roman general Crassus, the so-called “richest man in Rome”, lost seven legions and his own life in a failed invasion of Parthia. With the passing of the Parthians and the rise of a new Persian empire, the Byzantines continued to fight with them until the rise of Islam changed the entire nature of the east.

After the defeat of Crassus in 53 BC, Pacorus, the crown prince of Parthia, was encouraged and invaded Syria and the Levant, where he managed to hold onto much territory until as late as 39 BC. Rome managed to repel Pacorus at Antioch, but the Romans soon became preoccupied with the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar from 49 to 45 BC, and then the end of the Republic in spite of the assassination of Caesar, which brought Mark Anthony and his legions to Rome until he arranged an agreement with Octavian. In 39 BC, the Romans launched a counter-offensive, and expelled the Parthians in 38 when Pacorus was defeated and killed in battle near Antioch.

But in the meantime, Antigonus the son of Aristobulus, son of high priest Alexander Janneus had offered the Parthians a thousand talents and five hundred women (Antiquities 14.331) to unseat his uncle Hyrcanus II as high priest, along with Herod who was governor of Galilee and who was betrothed to Hyrcanus II’s granddaughter Mariamne, and also that they kill Herod and install him as high priest and king of Judaea. For that, Antigonus never paid what he had promised, but the Parthians nevertheless unseated Hyrcanus II and made Antigonus the high priest. However Herod escaped death by fleeing Jerusalem for Idumea. During the three years that followed, Herod made war against Antigonus and was even able to defeat him, although once again Antigonus fled to Parthia and made an appeal upon which he was restored by the Parthians. Having been a friend of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, Herod supported Rome in the war against the Parthians, and when they retook Jerusalem then Herod was made king, and Antigonus was beheaded by the Romans.

We read in Antiquities Book 14:

330 Now, in the second year, Pacorus, the king of Parthia's son, and Barzapharnes, a commander of the Parthians, possessed themselves of Syria. Ptolemy, the son of Menneus, also was now dead, and Lysanias his son took his government, and made a league of friendship with Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus: and in order to obtain it, made use of that commander, who had great interest in him. 331 Now Antigonus had promised to give the Parthians a thousand talents, and five hundred women, upon condition they would take the government away from Hyrcanus, and bestow it upon him, and kill Herod. 332 And although he did not give them what he had promised, yet did the Parthians make an expedition into Judea on that account, and carried Antigonus with them. Pacorus went along the maritime parts; but the commander, Barzapharnes through the midland.

It is apparent, that Antigonus wanted to supplant his uncle, John Hyrcanus II, on account of his relations to Herod. Herod was an Edomite, not an Israelite, and he was also betrothed to marry Mariamne, a granddaughter of Hyrcanus. So while Antigonus never requested that Hyrcanus be killed, he did want Herod killed. This motive is apparent in his later words on the wall of Jerusalem, as the city was besieged once again by both the Romans and Herod, where Josephus wrote in Antiquities Book 14 (14.403): “but Antigonus, by way of reply to what Herod had caused to be proclaimed, and this before the Romans, and before Silo also, said that they would not do justly if they gave the kingdom to Herod, who was no more than a private man, and an Idumean, i.e. a half Jew, whereas they ought to bestow it on one of the royal family, as their custom was”. The words “half Jew” evidently belong to Josephus, who must have meant that Herod was a Jew by profession, and not by race. Several times elsewhere Josephus explained that both of the parents of Herod were Edomites. [I must thank Truthvids for remembering and locating this passage during the podcast recording.]

After the death of Pacorus, Hyrcanus II, who had been his prisoner, was released by the king of Parthia, who had treated him kindly, and he returned to Jerusalem. When he returned, he had expected Herod, who was already king, to be kind to him, but Herod instead had him killed.

Even after the Parthians had no longer any immediate political interest in Judaea, Josephus continued to record the events in Parthia and Armenia through to the end of his histories. These were the northern barbarians who were of the ten tribes, as Josephus had reckoned them, whom he hoped would also come to attack Rome, joining in the revolts of the Judaeans. Josephus must have had an increased hope where he wrote of a time when Jerusalem was already destroyed by Titus and a Greek king in Syria had made an alliance with the Parthians to rebel against Rome and we read in Wars, Book 7:

219 And now, in the fourth year of the reign of Vespasian, it came to pass that Antiochus, the king of Commagene, with all his family, fell into very great calamities. The occasion was this:-- 220 Caesennius Petus, who was governor of Syria at this time, whether it were done out of regard to truth, or whether out of hatred to Antiochus, (for what was the real motive was never thoroughly discovered,) sent a letter to Caesar, 221 and therein told him that Antiochus, with his son Epiphanes, had resolved to rebel against the Romans, and had made a league with the king of Parthia for that purpose; 222 that it was therefore fit to forestall them, lest they should before hand begin such a war as may cause a general disturbance in the Roman empire. 223 Now Caesar was disposed to take some care about the matter, since this discovery was made; for the neighbourhood of the kingdoms made this affair worthy of greater regard;

The alleged rebellion was short-lived, and was never put to action, as Petus, the Roman governor of Syria, attacked him before he could do anything and his people revolted from him, siding with Rome, whereupon Antiochus was forced out of his kingdom and placed in bonds. Josephus recorded that he was nevertheless granted mercy by Vespasian and allowed to live on a pension in Lacedemon. Here in this 7th book it is also evident that Wars was not completed until Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome, but Josephus still had hope that the Judaean rebellion would continue, and that the Parthians and other northern barabarians would join them.

Now a subject relating to the history of the Parthians in Judaea is the identity of the magi. We have already cited Ezra 8:17 where Ezra had sent to Casiphia for priests after he found that the Levites in Jerusalem had corrupted themselves, and explained that Casiphia is on the Caspian Sea in Hyrcania. But before we begin discussing the magi, we should discuss the word μάγος and where it first appeared in ancient times. Herodotus described the magi as a priesthood among the Medes and Persians. In all of the Greek Old Testament, the word μάγος appears only in chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, where it is translated from the Hebrew word chartom, חרטם (Strong’s # 2748). But the word also describes an engraver or scribe, as the first syllable, chart or חרט (Strong’s # 2747), is a word describing an engraving tool for either metal (Exodus 32:4) or clay (Isaiah 8:1). In the New Testament, it appears in Matthew chapter 2, to describe the so-called “wise men”, and Acts chapters 8 and 13 where it is translated as sorcerer in the King James Version, describing a Judaean who was also called a false prophet.

The very first mention of Parthia by Josephus, in Antiquities Book 10, attests that certain Judaean, or more properly, Israelite priests were entrusted with the care of a tower in Ecbatana, the capital city of the Medes, which is said to have been built by Daniel. There we read:

264 Now when Daniel was become so illustrious and famous, on account of the opinion men had that he was beloved of God, he built a tower at Ecbatana, in Media: it was a most elegant building, and wonderfully made, and it is still remaining, and preserved to this day; and to such as see it, it appears to have been recently built, and to have been no older than that very day when anyone looks upon it, it is so fresh, flourishing, and beautiful, and no way grown old in so long time; 265 for buildings suffer the same as men do, they grow old as well as they, and by numbers of years their strength is dissolved, and their beauty withered. Now they bury the kings of Media, of Persia, and Parthia in this tower, to this day, and he who was entrusted with the care of it was a Judaean priest; which thing is also observed to this day.

We would assert that to these “northern barbarians” those Judaean priests were not Levites, but magi, and that would explain why the three magi, or perhaps even more, who came to Judaea at the birth of Christ would even know of His incarnation, and also why there were Judaeans called magi in the Greek text of Acts chapters 8 and 13, one named Simon, who was in Samaria, and another named Elymas who was in Paphos. The assertion by some mainstream academics that the term magi came to be used everywhere is not true. Rather, the Judaean priests who were called magi did not all remain in Parthia in the Roman period.

The following is from Strabo’s Geography, Book 15, chapter 3 (15.3.1):

After Carmania one comes to Persis. A large portion of this country lies on the seaboard of the gulf which is named after it, but a much larger portion of it lies in the interior, particularly in the direction of its length, that is, from the south and Carmania towards the north and the tribes of Media. Persis is of a threefold character, both in its nature and in the temperature of its air. For, in the first place, its seaboard is burning hot, sandy, and stinted of fruits except dates (its length is reckoned at about forty-four, or forty-three, hundred stadia, and it terminates at the largest of the rivers in that part of the world, the Oroatis, as it is called); secondly, the portion above the seaboard produces everything, is level, and is excellent for the rearing of cattle, and also abounds with rivers and lakes; the third portion, that on the north, is wintry and mountainous; and it is on the borders of this portion that the camel-breeders live. Now, according to Eratosthenes, the length of the country towards the north and the Caspian Gates is about eight thousand stadia, if reckoned from certain promontories, and the remainder to the Caspian Gates is not more than two thousand stadia; and the breadth, in the interior, from Susa to Persepolis, is four thousand two hundred stadia, and thence to the borders of Carmania sixteen hundred more. The tribes which inhabit the country are the Pateischoreis, as they are called, and the Achaemenidae and the Magi. Now the Magi follow with zeal a kind of august life, whereas the Cyrtii and the Mardi are brigands and others are farmers.

The Achaemenidae are the family which produced the Persian kings, and the Magi were from the same district. The term Caspian Gates, sometimes called Alexander’s Gates, refers to defensive walls built across passes through the mountains that linked Caspiana with the regions north of the Caucasus mountains. While the gates existed in Strabo’s time, they were not of great antiquity. In any event, the location of the gates is important, because here we see that Strabo was speaking of the same region in which Israelites had been settled centuries before, and from which had come both the magi and the later kings of Persia.