the enemy of my enemy

During my sojourn in Israel, two things conspired to make me, quite fleetingly, a newspaper reader:

  1. Someone — either the Jewish Agency or the kibbutz — provided all ulpanists with free copies of the Jerusalem Post;
  2. Israel’s state-run radio and television stations went on strike for 52 days.

So for the only time in my life, I read more than the funny pages when handed a newspaper.

I remember three things from that brief tryst (or was it a forced marriage?):

  1. The scandalous official visit to Israel of Italian porn-star-turned-politician Cicciolina;
  2. Black Monday;
  3. an editorial on why Israel should side with Iran against Iraq.

The gist of the editorial was that Arabs hated Jews more than non-Arab Muslims did, and not only was Iran non-Arab but the Iranians had a strong historical link with the Jews, and the recent anti-Semitic rhetoric from Iran was just bluff and posturing for the Muslim world.

Cyrus the GreatI had no idea what it was talking about. I don’t think I had fully realized before reading that editorial that Iranians are not Arabs (!) and I had no idea what historical links it was referring to. I’m sure I didn’t know that "Iranians" and "Persians" referred to the same people, and if I had known, I didn’t have much clue who the Persians were in history and what their connection was to Judah, Jerusalem, or the Jews.

Now the two worst enemies the Jews had before the Romans destroyed the Temple for the second and last time in 70 AD, were (1) the Babylonians who destroyed the Temple in 587 BC (and exiled the Jews from Judah), and (2) the Seleucids whose treatment of the Jews is written about symbolically in the Book of Daniel and less symbolically in 1 Maccabees.

Iran Rescues Jews from the Babylonians

Cyrus the Great, in founding the first Persian Empire, overthrew the Babylonians, released the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and even sponsored the building of the Second Temple. The Jews were so fond of Cyrus that the Book of Isaiah refers to him as God’s anointed (aka messiah aka christ).

Iran Rescues Jews from "the Grecians"

From Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, pp. 720f:

Persia

The Jewish victory at Beth-horon was sufficiently spectacular to raise the rebellion from a local tumult to an internationally observed matter. Clearly the prestige of the regime now required that a major effort be put into the suppression of the rebels.

Unfortunately for Antiochus it was easier to see the need than to do something about it. The same old problem arose — lack of money. Furthermore, the empire was fading at the other end, too. If Judas and his army of irregulars were shaking the west, in the east whole provinces were falling away.

The Parthian rulers, who had been subservient to the Seleucids even as late as the reign of Antiochus III, were little by little enlarging their independence. In 171 B.C., a vigorous king, Mithridates I, ascended the Parthian throne and the last vestige of dependence on the Seleucids disappeared. Indeed, Mithridates extended his power in all directions and was making himself a major factor in central Asia.

It may be that if Parthia had remained quiet, Antiochus could have handled the Jewish rebellion. As it was, he found himself pulled in both directions. His prestige abroad, already badly shaken by his humiliation in Egypt, demanded that he not allow the Jews to remain unpunished. On the other hand, if he could but bring the eastern provinces back into the fold, he could collect all the money he needed in the form of punitive tribute. With prestige pulling one way and money the other, he made the worst possible decision. He decided to divide his forces and embark on a two-front war…

As the Arabic proverb supposedly says, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

So the Persians (aka Parthians aka Iranians) helped out the Jews of Judah twice, once against their Babylonian oppressors and once against their Greco-Syrian oppressors. That’s Big Enemy #1 and Big Enemy #2. What about Big Enemy #3, the Roman oppressors?

Parthian shotWell, no one came to the rescue when the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple, and no one could really help the Jews of Judah after that, because there weren’t really any Jews left in Judah. They were scattered to the neighboring empires, Rome and Rome’s only viable enemy … Persia!

Iran Rescues Jews from the Romans

Despite the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews faired relatively well in the Roman Empire — until the empire became officially Christian, at which point official suppression of the Jewish religion began. But while the Jews were hunkering down for more than a millennium of oppression in the Christian West, Judaism was flourishing in Persia.

Here’s Wikipedia on "The Parthian Period" of Jewish history:

The Parthian Empire was an enduring empire based on a loosely configured system of vassal kings. This lack of a rigidly centralized rule over the empire had its drawbacks, such as the rise of a Jewish bandit-state in Nehardea (see Anilai and Asinai). Yet, the tolerance of the Arsacid dynasty was as legendary as the first Persian dynasty, the Achaemenids. There is even an account that indicates the conversion of a small number of Parthian vassal kings of Adiabene to Judaism. These instances and others show not only the tolerance of Parthian kings, but is also a testament to the extent to which the Parthians saw themselves as the heir to the preceding empire of Cyrus the Great. The Parthians were very protective of the Jewish minority as reflected in old Jewish saying "When you see a Parthian charger chained to a tombstone in the Land of Israel, the hour of the Messiah will be near".

Today, on the front page of JPost.com, the website of the same newspaper in which I read that “pro-Iranian” editorial back in 1987, the third-most-prominent link in their nav bar (after Home and Headlines) is Iranian Threat. That’s before the links for Jewish World, Israel, Middle East, or even Elections ’09.

I prefer reading history to reading the news.

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