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Hebrew Colonization In Early Greece

The Witness Of The Apocrypha
And Flavius Josephus

            An important and fascinating correspondence took place between the Jewish high priest and the king of the Spartans (Lacedemonians) of Greece. The date of this correspondence has been commonly assigned by Palmer, Grimm and others, to B.C. 330-309. It provides evidence that the early inhabitants of Greece were in fact Israelites.

            In the Apocryphal book of First Maccabees chapter 12, verses 5-23, we read:

            “And this is the copy of the letters which Jonathan wrote to the Lacedemonians: Jonathan the high priest, and the elders of the nation, and the priests, and the other people of the Jews, unto the Lacedemonians their brethren send greeting: There were letters sent in times past unto Onias the high priest from Darius, who reigned then among you, to signify that ye are our brethren, as the copy here underwritten doth specify. At which time Onias entreated the ambassador that was sent honourably, and received the letters, wherein declaration was made of the league and friendship, lest we should become strangers to you altogether, for there is a long time passed since ye sent unto us. We therefore at all times without ceasing, both in our feast, and other convenient days, do remember you in the sacrifices which we offer, and in our prayers, as reason is, and as it becometh us to think upon our brethren, and we are right of your honour. As for ourselves, we have had great troubles and wars on every side, forsomuch as the kings that are round about us have fought against us. Howbeit we would not be troublesome unto you, nor to others of our confederates and friends in these wars. For we have help from heaven that succoureth us, so as we are delivered from our enemies, and our enemies are brought under foot. For this cause we chose Numenius the son of Antiochus, and Antipater the son of Jason, and sent them unto the Romans, to renew the amity that we had with them, and the former league. We commanded them also to go unto you, and to salute you, and to deliver you our letters concerning the renewing of our brotherhood. Wherefore now you shall do well to give us an answer thereto. And this is the copy of the letters which Onias sent: Areus king of the Lacedemonians to Onias the high priest, greeting: It is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham. Now therefore, since this is come to our knowledge, ye shall do well to write unto us of your prosperity. We do write back again to you, that your cattle and goods are ours, and ours are yours. We do command therefore our ambassadors to make report unto you on this wise.”

Flavius Josephus

            We reproduce the passage from Flavius Josephus further relating to this kinship of the Jews of the Maccabean age with the Spartans. It includes an answer to the above letter of Areus king of the Lacedemonians to Onias the high priest:

            “Jonathan having thus gotten a glorious victory, and slain two thousand of the enemy, returned to Jerusalem. So when he saw that all his affairs prospered according to his mind, by the providence of God, he sent ambassadors to the Romans, being desirous of renewing that friendship which their nation had with them formerly. He enjoined the same ambassadors, that, as they came back, they should go to the Spartans, and put them in mind of their friendship and kindred.* So when the ambassadors came to Rome, they went into their senate, and said what they were commanded by Jonathan their high priest to say, how he had sent them to confirm their friendship. The senate then confirmed what had been formerly decreed concerning their friendship with the Jews, and gave them letters to carry to all the kings of Asia and Europe, and to the governors of the cities, that they might safely conduct them to their own country. Accordingly, as they returned, they came to Sparta, and delivered the epistle which they had received of Jonathan to them; a copy of which here follows: ‘Jonathan, the high priest of the Jewish nation, and the senate, and body of the people of the Jews, to the ephori and senate, and body of the people of the Lacedemonians, send greeting. If you be well, and both your public and private affairs be agreeable to your mind, it is according to our wishes. We are well also. When in former times an epistle was brought to Onias, who was then our high priest, from Areus, who at that time was your king, by Demoteles, concerning the kindred that was between us and you, a copy of which is here subjoined, we both joyfully received the epistle, and were well pleased with Demoteles and Areus, although we did not need such a demonstration, because we were well satisfied about it from the sacred writings, yet did not we think fit first to begin the claim of this relation to you, lest we should seem too early in taking to ourselves the glory which is now given us by you. It is a long time since this relation of ours to you hath been renewed; and when we, upon holy and festival days, offer sacrifices to God, we pray to Him for your preservation and victory. As to ourselves, although we have had many wars that have compassed us around, by reason of the covetousness of our neighbours, yet did not we determine to be troublesome either to you or others that were related to us;+ but since we have now overcome our enemies, and have occasion to send Numenius the son of Antiochus, and Antipater the son of Jason, who are both honourable men belonging to our senate, to the Romans, we gave them this epistle to you also, that they might renew that friendship which is between us. You will therefore do well yourselves to write to us, and send us an account of what you stand in need of from us, since we are in all things disposed to act according to your desires.’ So the Lacedemonians received the ambassadors kindly, and made a decree for friendship and mutual assistance, and sent it to them.”    (An exerpt from Antiquities xiii.5 by Flavius Josephus)


* The ambassadors claim “brotherhood” and “kindred” with the Spartans, but only “friendship” with the Romans.

+ “to you or to others that were related to us” - Jewish opinion did not exclude Israelite origin to other nations, but claimed it.



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