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Against Apion. Book 2

The merits of the our religion, contrary to Allegations

(14 chapters; 296 verses). For Greek text, click here.
To find a verse, click Ctrl-F, plus the verse number

01. The Anti-Jewish writings of Apion the grammarian

02. Apion's unfounded claims about Moses

03. Apion tells lies, and is ignorant too

04. In defence of religious separatism

05. The libel about the Greek, fattened for sacrifice

06. Fables about Mnaseas, and the anti-Greek Oath

07. Our lowly status does not disprove our religion

08. Spirit and content of the Mosaic Law

09. Jewish unity and constancy, based on solid Law

10. Laws of our society: marriage, family, justice

11. Our laws are the most firmly observed

12. Pagan pantheon leads to mutable legal system

13. Separatism is not unique to the Jews

14. Jewish law should be admired by everyone of goodwill

Chapter 1. [001-007] The anti-Jewish writings of Apion the grammarian

001 In the former book, my most honoured Epaphroditus, I have illustrated our antiquity and shown the truth about it from the writings of the Phoenicians and Chaldeans and Egyptians, bringing in as witnesses many Greek writers also, and refuting Manetho and Cheremon and some other critics. 002 Now I will begin to refute the remaining authors who have written anything against us, although I confess I have wondered whether to bother with refuting Apion the grammarian. 003 Some of the accusations against us in his writings are much the same as others have made, while he has added more that are very dull and most of what he says is simply scurrilous, and, to speak plainly, shows up his lack of learning, and looks like the work of a man of low character morals, whose whole life is just a charade. 004 Yet, because many men are foolish enough to be more influenced by writings of that kind than by what is written with care, and are charmed by insults thrown at others and bored to hear them praised, I thought this man should not be let off unexamined after writing an indictment of us that seems to demand an answer in open court. 005 For I have noted how it delights people to see a man who first began rebuking another, to have his own vices held up for scrutiny. 006 It is not easy to go right through this man's words and know what he means to say, but amid the confusion and disorder of his falsehoods, he seems to want to adduce, first, things similar to what we have already examined, about our ancestors' departure from Egypt; 007 secondly he accuses the Jews who live in Alexandria; and thirdly, he mixes in with these things some accusations about the sacred purifications and other laws about our temple.

Chapter 2. [008-027] Apion's unfounded claims about Moses

008 I really think that I have already more than adequately proven that our fathers were not originally Egyptians, and were not expelled from there due to bodily disease or any other sort of ailment, 009 but I will briefly observe what Apion adds upon that subject. 010 In his third book on Egyptian lore, he says, "I have heard from the elders of Egypt that a man from Heliopolis felt obliged obliged to follow his native customs and to pray in the open air, in the direction of the sunrise, for that was the orientation of Sun-City. 011 Instead of obelisks he set up pillars, beneath which was carved the shape of a vessel and the shadow that fell from their tops went around that vessel in a circle, as the sun goes round in the heavens." 012 That is that strange statement we have from this grammarian. But it needs few words to prove that it is a false, for the facts are against it. When Moses built the first tabernacle for God, he did not order any such image to be placed in it, or that those who came after him should make one. And when in later on Solomon built his temple in Jerusalem, he avoided such oddities as Apion has here invented. 013 He says that he heard from the elders that Moses was of Heliopolis, clearly because as a younger man himself, he believed those who by their more advanced age had known and conversed with him. 014 This grammarian, as he may be, could not say with certainly which was the poet Homer's birthplace, or even the district of Pythagoras, who had lived comparatively recently, but he can easily decide the age of Moses, who preceded them by such a long time, all based on his "elders' report," which shows what a liar he was. 015 As to his chronology of the time when he says Moses brought the leprous people, the blind and the lame out of Egypt, see how well this sharp grammarian agrees with those who went before him! 016 Manetho says that the Jews left Egypt in the reign of Tethmosis, three hundred ninety-three years before Danaus fled to Argos; Lysimachus says it was under king Bocchoris, that is, one thousand seven hundred years ago; Molo and others each decided it as he pleased. 017 But this most trusted Apion places it exactly in the seventh olympiad and the first year of that olympiad, in which, he says, the Phoenicians built Carthage. He added this reference to Carthage in order, as he thought, to strengthen his claim by so evident a sign of chronology. 018 But he did not know that this sign refutes his assertion, for if we believe the Phoenician records about the time of their colony's first coming to Carthage, they tell how Hiram their king lived over a hundred and fifty years before the building of Carthage, which I have already proven from those Phoenician records. 019 This Hiram was a friend of Solomon when he was building the temple in Jerusalem and helped him greatly in his completing the sanctuary; and Solomon built that temple six hundred and twelve years after the Jews came out of Egypt. 020 As for the number of those expelled from Egypt, he imagines the same number as Lysimachus, a hundred and ten thousand, and then assigns a strange and plausible reason for the name of Sabbath. 021 According to him, when the Jews had gone a six days' journey, they had a swelling in the groin, which was why once they got safely to the land which is now called Judea they rested on the seventh day, and used the Egyptian language when calling that day the Sabbath, for the Egyptians call an illness of the groin 'Sabbatosis'. 022 Would not this nonsense make one laugh, or rather hate his impudence for writing so? It seems that all these hundred and ten thousand people had these blisters. 023 But if they were blind and lame and suffered from all the ailments Apion says they had, they could not have gone a single day's journey. If on the contrary they were all able to cross a large desert, and, besides, to fight and conquer all who opposed them, all of them would not have had the groin malady after six days. 024 No such ailment comes naturally and inevitably on those who travel, and when many thousands are on the march for many days, they maintain an agreed pace. Nor is it likely for such a thing to happen by chance, indeed it would be most absurd. 025 However, the remarkable Apion has already told us that they reached Judea in six days, and again, that Moses went up the mountain called Sinai, between Egypt and Arabia, and hid there for forty days and when he came down from there he gave laws to the Jews. But how could they wait for forty days in a desert place where there was no water and at the same time to cross all the intervening land in just six days? 026 As for his grammatical explanation of the word Sabbath, it comes either from his gross impudence or his terrible ignorance, 027 for the words Sabbo and Sabbath are very different. In the Jewish language the word Sabbath means rest from all sorts of work; but the word sabbo, as he says, means among the Egyptians a malady of the groin.

Chapter 3. [028-064] Apion tells lies, and is ignorant too

028 This is the highly novel account that the Egyptian Apion gives of Moses and the Jews' departure from Egypt and is no more than his own invention. But it is not surprising that he lies about our ancestors, in affirming them to be originally from Egypt. 029 The man even lies about himself; for although he was born in the Egyptian oasis, a prototype Egyptian one could say, he denies his real country and ancestors and falsely claims to be from Alexandria, though he must admit the lowliness of his family. 030 See how he calls those whom he hates and wants to insult Egyptians, for if he had not reckoned Egyptian as an insulting name he would not have avoided the name of Egyptian himself. Those who brag of their own countries value themselves by having that name they acquire thereby and condemn any who claim it falsely. 031 When the Egyptians claim to be our relatives, they do it for one of two reasons, either as a boast to share in our prestige, or to drag us down to share in their own infamy. 032 But the noble Apion seems to hurl this insult at us to please the Alexandrians, as a reward for the privilege they granted him of being their fellow citizen. He knows the hostility of the Alexandrians towards their Jewish fellow citizens and so sets out to insult them, even if thereby he must include all the other Egyptians. In both cases he is a shameless liar.

Alleged crimes of the Alexandrian Jews

033 What then are the serious and shocking crimes of which Apion accuses the Alexandrian Jews? Let us see: "They came from Syria and lived near the raging sea beside the dashing of the waves." 034 Now if there is any mockery attached to the place where one lives, this man insults not his real place of origin, but what he pretends to be his place, Alexandria, for all agree in that the part of that city nearest the sea is the best place to live in. 035 Now if the Jews took that part of the city by force and have held on to it, it is a sign of their bravery; but in reality it was Alexander himself who gave them that place to live in, when they got privileges there equal to the Macedonians. 036 I do not know what Apion would have said, if they lived in the Necropolis, rather than beside the royal palace and were not called "Macedonians" even up to now. 037 If this man had read the letters of king Alexander, or those of Ptolemy the son of Lagus, or come across the writings of the succeeding kings, or the pillar which is still standing in Alexandria inscribed with the privileges which the great Caesar granted the Jews -- had he, I say, known these records and yet dared write the opposite to them, he is a rogue; but if he knew nothing of them, he is an ignoramus. 038 When he wonders how Jews could be called Alexandrians, it is a similar ignorance, for all those who were called out to form colonies, however remote from each other in their origins, were named after those who brought them to their new homes. 039 Why speak of others, when our people living in Antioch are named Antiochians, because Seleucus the founder of that city gave them the privileges belonging to it? Similarly the Jews living in Ephesus and the other cities of Ionia, enjoy the same identity as those originally born there, by the grant of the succeeding princes. 040 The kindness of the Romans has allowed most others to adopt their name, not just individual men but entire, large nations. For those formerly named Iberi and Tyrrheni and Sabini, are now called Romani. 041 If Apion rejects this way of obtaining the privilege of Alexandrian citizenship, let him from now on refrain from calling himself an Alexandrian, for otherwise, how can one who was born in the very heart of Egypt be an Alexandrian if he would abrogate this way of granting the privilege, once granted to us? It is true that the Romans, who are now the lords of the world, have refused to Egyptians alone the privileges of any city whatever. 042 But this upstart, who himself wishes to share in a privilege that he is forbidden to have, tries by calumnies to take it from those who have justly received it, for Alexander did not bring some of our nation to Alexandria just to provide inhabitants for his city that he had worked so hard to build, he gave it to our people as a reward for their virtue and fidelity to him. 043 He honoured our nation, for, as Hecateus says of us, "because of the justice and fidelity the Jews showed to him, he let them hold the district of Samaria free of tax. 044 Just like Alexander's was the attitude of Ptolemy the son of Lagus towards the Jews who lived in Alexandria. For he entrusted to them the fortresses of Egypt, believing they would keep them faithfully and valiantly for him, and when he wished to win control of Cyrene and the other cities of Libya, he sent a party of Jews to live in them. 045 His successor Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus, not only set free all those of our race who were in prison in his realm, but often gave them financial help and, most important of all, was eager to know our laws and to encounter our books of sacred Scripture. 046 He sent requesting to have people sent who could interpret the law for him, and so as to have the writings well transcribed he did not commit the task to people chosen at random but to Demetrius Phalereus and Andreas and Aristeas. 047 Demetrius was the most learned person of his age and the others were from his own bodyguard; these were his appointed agents in this matter. Surely he would not have been so eager to learn our laws and the philosophy of our nation, had he despised those who followed it, indeed, had he not admired them.

Attitude of the Macedonian kings

048 It has escaped Apion's notice how almost all the kings of his Macedonian ancestors were well disposed towards us. For the third Ptolemy, surnamed Euergetes, once he had occupied all of Syria, offered thanksgiving sacrifice for his victory not to the Egyptian gods, but came to Jerusalem and offered many sacrifices to God according to our laws and dedicated appropriate victory gifts to him. 049 Then Ptolemy Philometer and his wife Cleopatra entrusted all their kingdom to the Jews, when the generals of their whole army were the Jews Onias and Dositheus, whose names Apion mocks. But instead of mocking them, he should admire their actions and be grateful to them for saving Alexandria, of which he claims to be a citizen. 050 For when these Alexandrians were at war with queen Cleopatra and in danger of annihilation, these Jews won them a settlement and saved them from the horrors of civil war. But then, he says, Onias brought a small army later against the city at the time when Thermus the Roman envoy was present there. 051 I would say that he was fully justified in doing so, because after the death of his brother Philometer, the Ptolemy who is surnamed Physco came from Cyrene wanting to expel Cleopatra from the kingdom, 052 verses 52-113 are translated from the Latin
and unjustly take for himself the kingdom belonging to her and her sons. This was why Onias went to war against him for Cleopatra's sake, for he would not abandon the royal family in their distress.

Divine Providence spared the Jews

053 God gave a remarkable proof of his justice, for when Ptolemy Physco dared to fight Onias's army and had caught all the Jews in the city along with their children and wives and exposed them naked and in chains to be trampled and destroyed by his elephants and had made the elephants drunk for that purpose, his plans went totally wrong. 054 The elephants ignored the Jews who were exposed to them and attacked Physco's friends and killed many of them. Afterwards Ptolemy saw a terrible ghost, which forbade him to harm those people. 055 Even his beloved concubine, whom some call Ithaca and others Irene, implored him not to do such a wicked thing. He gave in to her and repented of both what he had already done and his future plans. So with good reason the Alexandrian Jews are well known to celebrate this day, on which God granted them such a clear deliverance. 056 However, Apion, who lies about everyone, dares to condemn the Jews for making this war against Physco, when he should have commended them for it.

The vices of Cleopatra

He also mentions Cleopatra, the last queen of Alexandria and reproaches us that she was against us, but he should have reproached her instead. 057 For she practiced all kinds of injustice and wickedness, both to her nearest relatives and husbands who had loved her, and generally with regard to all the Romans and her imperial benefactors. She even had her sister Arsinoe killed in a temple, though she had done her no harm; 058 she also had her brother treacherously killed and destroyed the gods of her country and the burial vaults of her ancestors. Although she had received her kingdom from the first Caesar, she dared to rebel against his son and successor, and then corrupted Antony with her sensuality and made him a traitor to his country and treacherous to his friends. Some she stripped of their royal authority and in her madness forced others to act wickedly. 059 But why should I dwell any further on this, when during a sea-battle she abandoned the man who was her husband and the father of their common children and made him to give up his army and imperial role, to follow her? 060 Indeed when finally Alexandria was taken by Caesar, she was reduced to saying that she still had some hope of safety if she could kill the Jews by her own hand, for such was her level of savagery and treachery. Is it any shame to us, if, as Apion says, this queen did not distribute wheat to us in time of famine? 061 But she finally met with the punishment she deserved, while we could point out to the great Caesar the help we gave him and our fidelity against the Egyptians to him and to the senate and its decrees and the letters of Augustus Caesar, which praise our merits. 062 Apion should have examined those letters and in particular the testimonies given to us under Alexander and all the Ptolemies and the decrees of the senate and of the greatest Roman emperors. 063 And if Germanicus was unable to make a distribution of corn to everyone in Alexandria, it only shows what a barren time that was and how great was the scarcity of corn at the time; it is not an indictment of the Jews, for what all the emperors have thought of the Alexandrian Jews is clear. 064 With regard to this corn distribution the Jews were no exception to the other people of Alexandria. But they still wanted to conserve what the kings had formerly entrusted to them, I mean the custody of the river; nor did those kings think them unworthy to have it entirely in their care.

Chapter 4. [065-088] In defence of religious separatism

065 But Apion still insists: "If the Jews are Alexandrian citizens, why do they not worship the same gods as the Alexandrians?" To this I reply: Since you are Egyptians, why do you fight against each other and have unresolved wars about your religion? 066 But we must not call you all Egyptians, nor in general even men, since you worship beasts of a nature quite contrary to men, although the nature of all people seems to be one and the same. 067 Now if there are such differences of opinion among you Egyptians, why are you surprised that those who came to Alexandria from another country and formerly had original laws of their own, should persevere in the observance of those laws? 068 Still he charges us with stirring up revolt; but if this accusation is just, why is it not made against all Jews everywhere, since we are known to be all of one mind? 069 But anyone can discover that the authors of rebellion were citizens of Alexandria just as Apion is, for while the Greeks and Macedonians occupied this city, there was no revolt against us and we were permitted to observe our ancient rituals; but when the number of the Egyptians there came to be large, the times grew unruly and these revolts broke out more often, though our people were uninvolved. 070 The source of the trouble were people who, lacking the solid character of the Macedonians or the prudence of the Greeks, showed all the bad qualities of the Egyptians and kept up their ancient hatred of us. 071 In fact, the rash charges made against us really apply to themselves, since many of them have not properly acquired citizenship, yet call "foreigners" people who are well known to have had that privilege granted to them. 072 For it does not seem that any of the former kings have granted to the Egyptians the status of citizens, any more than the emperors have done now, but Alexander first brought us into this city, then the kings expanded our rights there and the Romans have seen fit to retain them. 073 Apion still denounces us for not erecting images of the emperors, as if the latter did were not already aware of this or needed Apion to defend them. He should rather have admire the generosity and moderation of the Romans, that they do not force their subjects to transgress their ancestral laws, but are content to receive the honour due to them in a way that is devout and lawful in the eyes of those who offer it. esteem consistent with piety and with their own laws. They do not esteem honours that have to be exacted by violence. 074 So since the Greeks and others believe it is right to make images, and take pleasure in depicting their parents and wives and children, and some even have pictures of people in no way related to them, or of servants that they were fond of, it is no wonder that they are willing to show the same respect to their princes and rulers? 075 But our Legislator did not single out the Roman authority for dishonour when treating of images, which he scorned as neither useful to God or man, and he forbade us to make images of any animate thing and much less of God himself, who, as we shall later show, is beyond all material creation. 076 Nowhere, however, has he forbidden us to honour worthy men, so that we willingly respect our emperors and the people of Rome. 077 Indeed, we regularly offer sacrifices for them, and this is not just a daily ritual paid for by the Jewish community, for we have no other sacrifice that we offer at the expense of us all, not even for our own children, but we do so out of unique reverence for the emperors, an honour we show to no other individual. 078 This may suffice as my general reply to what Apion has said about the Alexandrian Jews.

079 I am no less amazed at Posidonius and Apollonius, the son of Molo, for furnishing this man with his materials. While accusing us for not worshipping the same gods as others, they do not see their own impiety when they tell lies about us and invent absurd, insulting stories about our temple; whereas it is a most shameful thing for free men to lie about anything and especially about so sacred a temple, famous throughout the world. 080 Apion has the gall to claim that the Jews placed there a donkey's head and worshipped it reverently, and says that this came to light when our temple was despoiled by Antiochus Epiphanes who found there the head made of gold and worth a lot of money. 081 My first answer to this is that if there were any such thing among us, an Egyptian should be the last one to mock us for it since a donkey is no more animal than goats and other creatures, which they treat as gods. 082 But then I must ask, how can Apion not understand this is such an obvious and incredible lie? Our people are always ruled by the same laws to which we remain faithful, and while our city like others has seen many disasters, and Epiphanes and Pompey the Great and Licinius Crassus and finally Titus Caesar, have conquered us in war and occupied our temple, none of them found anything there but the strictest piety, whose secrets we may not reveal to others. 083 But Antiochus had no just cause to ravage our temple and merely came there looking for money. Without declaring war he attacked us while we were his allies and friends; nor did he find anything there to deride. 084 This is attested by many worthy writers including Polybius of Megalopolis, Strabo of Cappadocia, Nicolaus of Damascus, Timagenes, Castor the chronologist and Apollodorus, who all say that it was out of his lack of money that Antiochus broke his pact with the Jews and despoiled their temple that was full of gold and silver. 085 Apion should have learned the facts, unless he has the heart of an ass or the impudence of a dog, the kind of dog they worship, for nobody else can make sense of his lies. 086 We Jews give asses no such honour or power as the Egyptians do to crocodiles and scorpions, when they deem those who are mauled by the former or bitten by the latter, as happy and persons found worthy by God. 087 Asses are the same for us as they are for other wise men, just beasts to bear the burdens we lay upon them, and if they come to our threshing-floors and eat our corn, or do not do the work we give them, we beat them soundly, because it is their task to help us in our work and agriculture. 088 But this Apion was inept in writing fiction, or else was unable to draw proper conclusions from what he had found, since the insults he casts at us fall wide of the target.

Chapter 5. [089-111] The libel about the Greek boy, fattened for sacrifice

089 There is another Greek fable with which he slanders us. On this suffice it to say that anyone who presumes to speak divine worship ought to know this plain truth, that it less profane to pass through a temple than to invent wicked lies about its priests. 090 People such as he would sooner justify a sacrilegious king than write the honest truth about us and our temple. They would rather gratify Antiochus and conceal his treachery and sacrilege regarding our nation, in his need of money, so they try to disgrace us and tell lies even about future events. 091 For this reason Apion becomes other men's prophet when he says that in our temple Antiochus found a bed and a man lying on it, beside a table laden with food, from sea and land and the fowl of the air, at which this man was gazing. 092 When the king came in, the man immediately showed him reverence, hoping to obtain all possible help from him, and fell down on his knees and stretched out his right hand, imploring for release. When the king bade him sit down and say who he was and why he lived there and what was the meaning of those various sorts of food set before him, with sighs and tears the man gave him this account of his plight. 093 He said he was a Greek and that as he passed through this province earning his living, foreigners suddenly seized him and brought to this temple and locked up where he was seen by nobody, but fattened by these manifold foods set before him. 094 At first these unexpected gifts seemed to him a reason for joy, but after a while he became suspicious and anxious about their meaning. Finally he asked the servants who came to him and they told him he was being fed to fulfil a secret Jewish law and that they did the same at a set time every year. 095 They used to catch a Greek foreigner and fatten him and then lead him out to a wood and kill him and offer sacrifice in their usual way and taste of his entrails and take an oath at the sacrifice of the Greek, tto remain hostile to the Greeks. Then they would throw the remnants of their victim into a pit. 096 He adds that the man said that in just a few more days he was to be killed, and begged Antiochus, if he reverenced the Greek gods, to foil the Jewish plot on his life and save him from his misfortunes. 097 This tragic fable is packed with savagery and impudence, and does not absolve Antiochus of sacrilege, as those who wrote it in his support may think. 098 Coming to the temple, he could not know in advance that he would meet with any such thing there, but must have found it unexpectedly. It was still impious and godless.. But our author wrote whatever his lying imagination dictated to him, as one can easily see by examining his writings. 099 The distinctiveness of our laws is not only with regard to the Greeks, but they contrast with the Egyptians and many other nations also, and since men of all nations sometimes come and live among us, how would we swear and conspire only against the Greeks, to pour outtheir blood? 100 How could all the Jews gather for these sacrifices and how would the entrails of one man suffice for so many thousands to taste of them, as Apion claims? 101 Or why did not the king bring this man, whoever he was, for his name is not given in Apion's book, back to his own country with great fanfare, which would give him distinction as a religious man and a mighty lover of the Greeks, for it would have gained him the goodwill of many, to set alongside the Jews' hatred for him? 102 But I leave this matter, for the proper way to refute fools is not to use mere words, but to appeal to the facts against them. For all who ever saw the construction of our temple know of its nature and purity from all profanity. 103 Its four courts were surrounded with porticoes each of which in our law had a special degree of separation from the rest. Everyone could enter the first court, even foreigners, and nobody was prevented from passing through it except women, during their periods. 104 All Jews could enter the second court, and their wives when they were purified; into the third court Jewish men could enter, when they were clean and purified. The fourth was reserved for the priests, wearing their priestly vestments; but into the most sacred place, none could enter but the high priests, in their special vestments. 105 Such care is used about these sacred duties that the priests are appointed to go into the temple only at certain hours. In the morning, at the opening of the inner temple, the officiants receive the sacrifices, as they do again at noon, until the doors are shut. 106 Lastly, it is not even lawful to bring any vessel into the sanctuary; nor is there anything there, but the altar, the table, the censer and the candlestick, which are all written in the law. 107 There is nothing else there, nor are there any ineffable mysteries, nor is there any feasting within the place. This is publicly known by the whole people and their operations are perfectly open. 108 Although there are four groups of priests, each having more than five thousand men, they only officiate on certain days, and when those are over, other priests in turn perform the sacrifices and assemble at mid-day and receive the keys of the temple and the exact number of vessels, without anything to do with food or drink being carried into the temple, 109 for we are not allowed to offer anything at the altar, except what is prepared for the sacrifices.

What can we conclude about Apion, but that he told incredible stories without examining the facts? But that is disgrace! As a man of learning did he not promise to write true history? 110 If he knew about the purity of our temple, he has entirely ignored it but invents a story about the seizing of a Greek, about mysterious food and the richest delicacies, and pretends that strangers could enter a place to which the noblest of the Jews are not allowed to enter, except the priests. 111 This is utter impiety and a gratuitous lie, to mislead those who will not trouble to examine the truth of things and the only purpose of telling such unspeakable stories is to discredit us.

Chapter 6. [112-124] Fables about Mnaseas, and the anti-Greek Oath

112 This most devout man then mocks us with a fable he attributes to Mnaseas, who, according to him says: "While the Jews were once fighting a long war with the Idumeans, a man left one of the Idumean cities named Dora, after worshipping Apollo there. This man, whose name was Zabidus, came to the Jews and promised to deliver Apollo, the god of the Dorians, into their hands and that he would enter our temple if they would all leave it for a while; and the Jews all believed him. 113 Zabidus made a wooden instrument and stepped into it and set three rows of lamps above it, and then walked in such a way that he appeared to those looking on from the distance to be a kind of star, walking above the earth. 114 The Jews were shocked by of this startling vision and stood very quiet at a distance, and while they continued in absolute silence, Zabidus entered the sanctuary and carried off the golden head of an ass, - for he writes facetiously like that, - and then hurried back to Dora. 115 What I say in reply is this: It is Apion who loads the donkey, that is, himself, with a burden of foolery and lies, for he writes of imaginery places and shifts the position of cities that he does not know! 116 Idumea borders upon our country and is near to Gaza, in which there is no such city as Dora, although there is indeed a city named Dora in Phoenicia, near Mount Carmel, but it is four days' journey from Idumea. 117 Then, why does this man condemn us for not sharing the gods of other nations, if our fathers were so easily persuaded to have Apollo come to them and thought they saw him walking upon the earth among the stars? 118 Is it possible that those who have so many festivals where lamps are lit, had never seen a candlestick! And it seems that while Zabidus journeyed over the country, where so many thousands lived, nobody met him. It seems too that even in a time of war, he found the walls of Jerusalem unguarded. About the rest I make no comment! 119 The doors of the sanctuary were seventy feet high and twenty feet broad. They were all plated over with gold and were almost solid gold and it took no fewer than twenty men to shut them every day, nor was it lawful ever to leave them open. 120 But it seems our lamp-bearer opened them easily, or thought he opened them, just as he thought he had the donkey's head in his hand. Whether he ever returned it to us or whether Apion brought it back so that Antiochus might find it and give occasion for Apion's second fable is uncertain.


He tells another falsehood alleging that we swear to God, the Maker of the heaven and earth and sea, "to show no good will to any alien and especially to the Greeks." 122 This liar should have said directly that we show no goodwill towards any alien and especially to the Egyptians. For then his story about the oath would square with the rest of his forgeries, if our ancestors had been driven out by their Egyptian relatives, not for any wrong they had done, but for the misfortunes they suffered. 123 For we were remote from the Greeks in place, rather than different from them in our institutions, so that there is no enmity or jealousy between us. On the contrary, many of them have come over to our laws and some have continued to observe them, though others had not the courage to persevere and so abandoned them. 124 But nobody ever said they heard us swear this oath, or perhaps Apion was the only person to hear it, for he was the one to invent it.

Chapter 7. [125-144] Our lowly status does not disprove our religion

125 In his next argument, Apion shows his amazing intelligence at its sharpest. For him, a clear proof that we do not have just laws, or worship God properly, is that we are in subjection to foreign nations, at various times, and that our city has been beset by misfortunes, as if theirs was from the beginning an imperial city, unaccustomed to subjection and not now in thrall to the Romans. 126 But he had better give up this bragging, for anyone but himself would think that what Apion says here was said against himself. 127 Very few nations have had the good fortune to continue ruling for a long time, since changes in human affairs can put them into subjection under others, and most nations have been often subdued. 128 Are the Egyptians the only nation to have the extraordinary privilege of never serving any of the kings who conquered Asia and Europe because, as they say, the gods fled to their country and saved themselves by being changed into the shapes of wild beasts? But these Egyptians are the very people who seem to have never, in all past ages, had one day of freedom, even from their own masters! 129 For I will not mock them by telling how the Persians treated them, more than once and indeed many times, when they laid their cities waste, demolished their temples and cut the throats of the animals they worshipped as gods. 130 I will not imitate the clownish ignorance of Apion, who is unaware of the troubles of the Athenians, or the Spartans, who were called the bravest of all people while the former were the most religious of the Greeks. 131 I shall bypass kings who were famous for piety, particularly one named Cresus, and the troubles he met with in his life; and the citadel of Athens, the temple at Ephesus, that at Delphi, and thousands of others which were burned down, while nobody harshly judged the sufferers, but rather those who had done these things. 132 And yet we find Apion accusing our nation while he forgets the woes of his own Egyptian people. Has Sesostris who was once so celebrated a king of Egypt blinded him? Will we not brag of our kings, David and Solomon, though they conquered many nations? No, we will leave them aside. 133 But Apion is unaware of what everyone knows, that the Egyptians were under the Persians and afterwards the Macedonians when they were lords of Asia, and were no better than slaves, 134 while formerly we have enjoyed liberty and indeed, for nearly a hundred and twenty years we ruled the cities that lie round about us, until Pompeius Magnus. When all kings everywhere were conquered by the Romans, our ancestors were the only people who continued to be esteemed for their fidelity by their allies and friends.

135 But, he says, we have not produced any geniuses or inventors of the arts, or any who are renowned for wisdom. He lists Socrates and Zeno and Cleanthes and others of the same sort, and, oddly, adds himself to the list and pronounces Alexandria blessed to have such a citizen! 136 He had to be the one to praise his own merits, since all others thought him no more than a charlatan of corrupt life and harmful words, and one could rightly pity Alexandria if it prided itself on such a man. But we have had many as deserving of praise as any other and whoever has read our Antiquities will know of them.

137 As to the rest of his indictment, it would probably be best to leave them without reply, and leave him to be his own accuser and that of the rest of the Egyptians. But he condemns us for sacrificing animals and abstaining from swine's flesh and laughs at us for the circumcision of our private members. 138 Our slaughter of tame animals in sacrifice is something we share with all other men, but Apion, by making it a crime to sacrifice them, proves himself to be an Egyptian. No Greek or Macedonian would complain of it, for they glory in sacrificing whole hecatombs to the gods and use those sacrifices for feasting, and yet the world is not emptied of livestock, as Apion seems to fear. 139 But if all people had followed the customs of the Egyptians, the world certainly be emptied mankind and be filled with the wildest of beasts, which they feed with care, imagining them to be gods. 140 If one asked Apion whom he thinks the wisest and most godly of all Egyptians, he would surely say it is the priests; 141 for the kings are said to have originally committed two tasks to them: the worship of the gods and the care of wisdom. But their priests are all circumcised and abstain from swine's flesh, and none of the other Egyptians assists them sacrificing to the gods. 142 So Apion was quite blinded in his mind, when on behalf of the Egyptians he set out to revile us, for he condemns others who not only follow the lifestyle he so reviles, but teach others to be circumcised, as Herodotus has said. 143 This makes me think that Apion was justly punished for so insulting the laws of his own country, for he had to be circumcised due to an ulcer in his private member, and when the operation failed and gangrene set in, he died in great pain. 144 Now wise people should carefully observe the laws of their own religion and persevere in them, but not readily revile those of others; but this Apion deserted his own laws and told lies about ours. So his life ended, and this shall end our comments about him too.

Chapter 8. [145-178] Spirit and content of the Mosaic Law

145 But now, since Apollonius, Molo, Lysimachus and others have written about our lawgiver Moses and our laws things neither fair nor true, partly out of ignorance, but mainly out of hostility to us, for they calumniating Moses as a charlatan and deceiver and claiming that our laws teach us wickedness rather than virtue, I wish to describe briefly, according to my ability, our system as a whole and its individual branches. 146 I expect it will become clear that the laws laid down for us are most conducive to piety, sharing with each other, love of mankind in general and acting with justice, as well as sustaining difficulties bravely and despising death. 147 I beg whoever may read this to do so without prejudice for my purpose is not to write a eulogy of ourselves, but a fair apologia in our defence, drawn from the laws by which we lead our lives, against the many false accusations made against us. 148 Unlike Apion, Apollonius does not make a concerted case against us, but does so only sporadically, at times calling us godless and haters of men and at times blaming us for lack of courage but occasionally accusing us of audacity and lack of restraint conduct; indeed he calls us the weakest of all the barbarians and says this is why we are the only people to have made no contribution to human life. 149 But I believe all these allegations will be disproved if it becomes clear that our laws enjoin the very reverse of what he says and that we diligently observe those laws. 150 If I must mention any laws of other nations that are contrary to ours, those who have sought to vilify our laws compared to theirs have only themselves to blame. In future, I think, they cannot claim either that we do not have such laws, which I will present in summary form or that we do not, above all people, continue to be law-observant.

151 After this small digression, let me first note that those who have admired good order and living under common laws and who began to introduce them, may well be acknowledged as more civilised and naturally virtuous than other men. 152 Each group endeavours to trace their culture back to ancient roots, so as not to seem to merely imitate others, but to themselves to have a lawful lifestyle to pass on to others. 153 Since this is so, the virtue of a Legislator is seen in providing for the best manner of living for a people and in persuading the people of the value, and getting them to persevere in them without change, both in prosperity and adversity. 154 I venture to say that ours is the most ancient of all the Legislators we have ever heard of. The Lycurguses and Solons and Zaleucus of Locri and all those lawgivers so admired by the Greeks appear to be born yesterday, compared with our Legislator, and the very word "law" was not even known in ancient times among the Greeks. 155 Homer can witness the truth of this, for he never uses the term in all his poems, and there was then no such thing among them, but the populace was governed by wise maxims and the instructions of their kings. For a long time they continued to follow those unwritten customs, although they were always changing them to suit the occasion. 156 But our Legislator, who was so much more ancient than the rest, as even those who speak against us always admit, showed himself the people's best ruler and counsellor, covering the entire conduct of their lives in his legislation and persuading them to accept it. In this way he arranged for his laws to be observed most faithfully.

157 Let us consider his first and greatest work, for when it was our ancestors resolved to leave Egypt and return to their own country, he led out our people in their many thousands through formidable difficulties and brought them home in safety. They had to travel across a sandy, waterless country and defeat their enemies, and as they fought, protect their children and wives and possessions. 158 Through it all he was an excellent general and a most prudent counsellor who took the truest care of all of them. He managed to have the whole throng depend upon him and while he persuaded them always to obey him, he did not abuse his authority for his personal gain, which often happens when leaders gain great powers: it can pave the way for tyranny and accustom people to a very dissolute life. 159 Our Legislator, on the contrary, when he gained great authority, thought he should observe piety and show great goodwill towards the people. In this way he showed his high degree of virtue and sought to gain the most lasting security for those who had made him their ruler. 160 With such a good resolution and when wonderful acts were done, he had every reason to see himself as ruled and guided by God. And so, believing that his actions and plans were in accord with God's will, he thought it his main duty to impress that notion upon the people, for once people believe that God is looking at their lives, they will not allow themselves to sin. 161 This was the character of our Legislator. He was no charlatan, no deceiver, as his revilers unjustly say, but such as the Greeks boast that Minos was among them and other Legislators after him. 162 Some of them think they got their laws from Zeus, while Minos said that the revelation of his laws was through Apollo and his oracles at Delphi, whether the speakers really thought they were divine or felt they could easily persuade the people that it was so. 163 But it will be easy, by comparing those laws, to decide who made the best laws and who had most reason to believe that God was their author; for it is time to come to that point. 164 There are innumerable differences in the local customs and laws of all mankind, which one may briefly put under the following headings: Some place the power of the state in the hands of a monarch, some opt for oligarchy and others for some form of republic. 165 Our Legislator turned aside from any of these forms, and fixed our government to be what, by straining terms, may be called a Theocracy, assigning the authority and the power to God. 166 He persuaded all the people to regard God as the author of all good things whether enjoyed in common by mankind or by each individual, and of all that they themselves had gained by praying to him in their difficulties. He told them that nothing is hidden from God, whether our inward thoughts or our outward actions. 167 He presented Him as unbegotten and immutable, through all eternity, above all mortal ideas of beauty, and, though known to us by his power, unknown to us in his essence. 168 I will refrain from showing here how these ideas about God are shared by the wisest among the Greeks, who learned them from the principles he taught. But they strongly testify that these notions are just and in accord with the nature of God and his majesty, for Pythagoras and Anaxagoras and Plato and the Stoic philosophers after them and almost all the rest, share these ideas about the nature of God. 169 However, these men dared not disclose the true ideas to more than a few, because the majority of the people were prejudiced with other opinions. But our Legislator, whose actions agreed with his laws, not only persuaded his contemporaries of his ideas, but so firmly imprinted this faith in God on all their descendants, that it could never be moved. 170 The reason was that this was always more useful than other legislations; for Moses did not make religion a part of virtue, but he saw and ordered other virtues as parts of religion; I mean justice, fortitude, temperance and common agreement of the members of the community with each other. 171 All our actions and studies and words have a bearing on piety towards God, for he has left none of these unregulated or undecided. For there are two ways to come at any sort of learning and a moral way of life. One is by instruction in words; the other is by practical exercises. 172 Other lawgivers have separated these two ways and opted for one of those ways of instruction, whichever each one pleased, while neglecting the other. So the men of Sparta and of Crete taught by practical exercises, but not by words; while the Athenians and almost all the other Greeks made laws about what was to be done, or left undone, but gave little thought to putting them into practice.

173 Our Legislator, on the other hand, carefully joined together these two methods of instruction, for he neither left the practical exercises without verbal instruction, nor did he let the hearing of the law proceed without practical exercises. From earliest infancy and the regulation of everyone's diet, he left nothing of the slightest importance to be done at the pleasure and caprice of the person himself. 174 He made fixed rules about what sorts of food they should abstain from and what sorts they should use; about the interaction they should have with others and the diligence to bring to their occupations and the times of repose in between, so that, by living under the law as under a father and master, we might be guilty of no sin, either voluntary or from ignorance. 175 For he did not allow the guilt of ignorance to go on unpunished, showing the law to be the best and the most necessary instruction of all and letting the people set aside their other employments and gather to listen to the law and learn it exactly, not merely on occasion or fairly often but once a week, which all the other legislators seem to have neglected.

176 And indeed most men, far from living according to their own laws, hardly know what they are. Only when they have sinned do they learn from others that they have broken the law. 177 Even people in the highest and most important government posts admit to ignorance of the laws and are obliged to take on as consultants in public office people who are competent in those laws. 178 Among us, if you can ask about our laws anyone can recite them all as easily as his own name, since we have learned them from our earliest awareness, and have them as it were inscribed upon our souls. Few of us transgress them and, if any do offend, it is impossible to escape the punishment.

Chapter 9. [179-198] Jewish constancy and unity, based on a solid Law

179 It is this above all that has forged such remarkable harmony among us, for our total agreement in all our ideas about God and the fact that we do not differ in our lifestyle and practices, produces among us the highest uniformity of practice that is found on earth. 180 No other people but ours has avoided all those contradictory views about God that are so frequent among other nations, whether in the private opinions of ordinary folk or among some philosophers who have dared to indulge such contradictions. Some of them even use terms that entirely deny the nature of God, just as others have set aside his providence over mankind. 181 With us you will not find any differences in our lifestyles, but the same practices are found among us all. Following our law we have a harmonious way of speaking about God, which affirms that he sees all things; just as we have a single way to describe how our life should be lived, that everything should be geared towards piety, and this one may hear from our women and servants too.

182 This is the source of the accusation made by some, that we have not produced inventors of new processes, or new ways of speaking, for others think it desirable to persevere in nothing that has been handed down from their ancestors and see it as a mark of wisdom for people to dare to step outside of those traditions. 183 We, on the contrary, see it as our unique wisdom and virtue to allow no acts or ideas contrary to our original laws, and this tenacity is a striking sign that our law is admirably framed, whereas when they are tested, laws that are not so well made are shown to need amendment.


Since we are convinced that our laws are in accord with God's will, it would be impious for us not to observe them, for what is there in them that one would change? What can be found to be better? Or what can we take from other people's laws that will excel them? Would one want to change our entire system of orde? 185 But where will we find a better or more righteous constitution than ours, which has us honour God as the Ruler of the universe and puts the priesthood in charge of major affairs and places the chief high priest in charge of the other priests? 186 From the start our Legislator did not appoint the priests to that dignity for their wealth or acquisitiveness, but he entrusted divine worship to those who excelled in their ability to persuade others and in prudence of behaviour. 187 These were to carefully oversee the observance of the law and the rest of the people's conduct, and so the were priests appointed as inspectors of all and judges of difficult cases and to pass sentence on those who deserved punishment.

188 What form of rule can be holier than this? What more worthy kind of worship can be shown to God than ours, where the entire body of the people is devoted to religion, and an extraordinary level of care is required in the priests and the whole state is so ordered as for a religious festival? 189 What foreigners can barely keep up for a few days, when they celebrate such festivals, under the title of mysteries and sacred ceremonies, we observe with pleasure and firm resolve throughout our whole lives. 190 What things then are commanded and forbidden to us? They are simple and well known. The first is about God and says that He contains all things and is in every way perfect and happy, self-sufficient and supplying all other things; the beginning, the middle and the end of all things. He is manifest in his works and benefits and more splendid than all other beings but in form and size, he is most mysterious. 191 No material, however costly, is worthy to form an image of him and no art can express the idea we should have of him. We can neither see or imagine anything like him, and it is unholy to form a likeness of him. 192 We see his works in the light, the sky, the earth, the sun and the moon, the waters, the generations of animals, the growth of fruits. God made these, not with hands or toil, or needing any to work with him; but as he willed they should be made and be good, immediately they were made and were good. All should follow Him, for to worship Him to practice virtue, and worship of God is the holiest thing there is.

193 There should be only one temple for one God, for one is the friend to all and the temple of the one God should be shared by all, and priests should be continually worshipping Him, with him who is the first-born at their head. 194 His business is to offer sacrifices to God, along with his fellow- priests, to see that the laws are observed, decide controversies and punish the convicted. Whoever does not submit to him must be punished as if he defied God himself. 195 When we offer sacrifice it is not for a drunken orgy, for such is against God's will, but in sobriety. 196 At the sacrifices we pray, firstly, for the welfare of the community and then for our own, for we are made for fellowship with each other and to put the common good before our own is acceptable to God. 197 Our prayer to God is not that He give us what is good, for he has already given that freely and means it for everyone, but rather for the ability to receive and guard what we have received. 198 Various purifications go with our sacrifices, for after a funeral, after intercourse with our wives and on many other occasions which it would take too long to set down here.

Chapter 10. [199-219] Laws of our society, on marriage, family, justice

199 What then are our laws about marriage? That law allows only the intercourse which is according to nature, of a man with his wife, and only for the procreation of children. It abhors that of a male with a male, and death is the penalty for engaging in it. 200 It also commands us not to marry for the sake of dowery, or to take a woman by force, or to deceitfully seduce her; but let her be given in marriage by the one who has power over her because of his close kinship. 201 Scripture says, "A woman is subject to her husband in all things." So she must obey him, not in order to suffer insult, but to let herself be led, since God has given power to the husband. He should have union only with his own wife, for it is unholy to do so with the wife of another and to do so is a capital crime; as is raping a virgin betrothed to another man, or seducing a married woman. 202 The law obliges us to rear all our offspring and forbids women to abort what is conceived, or to destroy it later. If she turns out to have done so, it is seen as child-murder, destroying a soul and diminishing the race. A man should refrain from the bed of a pregnant woman if he wants to remain pure. 203 Even after legitimate intercourse between man and wife, they must wash, for it entails some division of the soul, as if it went to another place, for the soul suffers when joined to the body and again when separated from it by death, and so the law orders purifications for all these things.

204 It does not allow us to hold at the births of our children a festivity involving drinking to excess, but enjoins that our education should be sober from the very start. We are to teach our children to read and they must learn the laws and the story of their ancestors, as models to imitate, and so rear them from their infancy that they never transgress the law, or have any excuse to be ignorant of it.

205 It provides for the pious burial of the dead, with no extravagant expenses for funerals or the erection of splendid monuments. Their nearest relatives are required to take care of their obsequies, and all who pass by during a funeral should draw near and join in the grieving. After the funeral the house and its inhabitants must be purified, so that if anyone has committed murder he will know how far he is from being pure.

206 According to the law, honour to parents comes second after honour to God and any son who does not repay their benefits to him, or gravely offends them is condemned to be stoned. It also requires the young to duly respect their elders, since God is the supreme Elder. 207 W must not conceal anything from our friends, for it is no true friendship without total confidence, and forbids us to reveal secrets, even if people should grow estranged. If a judge takes bribes, it is punishable by death. Whoever refuses the help that he could give, is held guilty. 208 One must not demand back what one has not put on deposit, nor may one touch another's property, and whoever lends money must not demand interest on the loan. These and many similar rules are the bonds that unite us in community.

209 We ought also to look at the kind of fairness that our Legislator requires us to show to outsiders. It is clear that he made the best possible provision, so that we should neither lose our own identity nor be grudging towards those who wish to share with us. 210 All those who wish to live under our laws are warmly welcomed, since our household is not limited to our own race but to all who opt to share in our lifestyle; but he did not want casual visitors to be admitted to familiarity with us.

211 In other ways he said that we must share things with people, such as to give to those in need fire and water and food, to give people directions, not to leave anyone unburied, and to treat fairly even those we regard as our enemies; 212 for he does not allow us to set their land on fire, or to cut down fruit-trees or even to ransack those who have fallen in battle. He also provided for prisoners, that they may not be abused, especially the women. 213 He has so effectively taught us gentleness and humanity, that he has not ignored brute beasts, allowing us use them properly and in no other way. Animals that come to our houses, imploring, we are forbidden to kill, nor may we kill the dams along with their young. When in an enemy's country, we are obliged to spare and not kill the animals that labour for mankind. 214 So he has managed to teach us moderation for every occasion, and given us the aforesaid laws while at the same time setting up penalties that leave no excuse for whoever breaks these laws.

215 The penalty for most transgressions is death, for example, if one commits adultery, or rapes a girl, or ventures on sodomy with a male, or consents to this act by another. The law is just as strictly binding on slaves. 216 Our punishments assigned for cheating in weights or measures, or dishonesty in trade, or stealing what belongs to another, or taking what one has not deposited, are more severe than one meets among other nations. 217 Wrongful behaviour towards parents, or impiety against God, even if only intended, leads to immediate death. The reward for living exactly according to the laws is not silver or gold, or a transient garland of olive branches or any such public sign of praise, 218 but a good man has the testimony of his own conscience and by virtue of our Legislator's prophetic spirit and the firm security God gave him, he believes that to those who observe these laws, and are ready to die for them if need be, God will restore them to an even better life than before. 219 I would hesitate to write this, except that it is known in practice to many how often our people have resolved to bravely endure any suffering rather than speak one word against our law.

Chapter 11. [220-235] Our laws are the most firmly observed

220 Suppose that our nation were not as well known as it is among all people and that our willing submission to our laws were not as manifest as it is, 221 but that someone claimed to have written these laws himself and read them to the Greeks, or claimed to have met people outside of the known world, who had such reverence about God and had firmly observed such laws for a long time, I have to think that they would be admired by all, all the more so, if they knew the frequent changes they had endured during that period. 222 But those who have undertaken to write something similar about governance and laws are accused of composing fantasies and of having begun an impossible task. I will pass over the other philosophers who in their writings have tried anything of this kind. 223 Even Plato, who is so admired by the Greeks for his gravity of manners and his ability with words and his persuasive power beyond all other philosophers, is laughed at and ridiculed by those who claim expertise in political affairs, 224 even though reading his writings carefully one finds his precepts to be mild and close to the customs of the majority. Plato himself confesses that it is not safe to publish the true idea of God among the ignorant crowd. 225 Yet some regard Plato's discourses as mere fancies, artfully presented, while they admire Lycurgus as the principal lawgiver and all admire Sparta for having continued for so long in firmly keeping his laws. 226 Well then, if it be admitted that obedience to laws is a mark of virtue, let those who admire this in the Spartans compare their duration with the more than two thousand years our system has lasted, 227 and let them further consider that though the Spartans seem to have kept their laws exactly while they enjoyed their liberty, they forgot almost all those laws once they suffered a change in their fortunes. 228 We, on the contrary, despite a myriad changes of fortune under the changing kings of Asia, have never abandoned our laws under the most abject distress, or from sloth or to gain a livelihood. If one chooses to see it, the ordeal and pains we endured were worse than what the Spartans seem to have borne with fortitude. 229 And they had neither to work or toil at any trade or manual labour, but lived as free men in their city, sleek and healthy and cultivating their bodies by exercise, 230 with other men to serve them for the essentials of life and to prepare their food. All their activity was geared to the noble purpose that by act and endurance they could conquer those against whom they made war! 231 I may add that even they did not succeed, for despite their law not just some individuals but groups of them surrendered to the enemy, with their weapons.

232 Nobody can say the same about us, for no more than a few have become traitors to our laws, even from fear of death itself, and I do not mean the easy death that occurs in battle, but that which comes with physical torture and seems the most severe of all. 233 Some of our conquerors, it seems to me, have put us to death in this way not because they hated those they had subdued, but rather out of a desire of see the spectacle whether there are people who believe that the only true evil is to be forced to do or speak anything contrary to their own laws. 234 Nor need one be surprised if we are braver than all others in dying for our laws, for others cannot easily bear even the simpler things in which we are trained; I mean earning our living and our discipline in not eating or drinking at random or by caprice, or in sexual matters, or regarding extravagance, and in observing fixed days of rest. 235 But the people who wield the sword in war and whose attack puts their enemies to flight, cannot submit to such laws about their lifestyle, while our willing submission to laws in these areas prepares us for fortitude in other areas too.

Chapter 12. [236-257] Pagan pantheon leads to mutable legal system

236 Yet ignoble sophists and deceivers of young men, like Lysimachus and Molon and other such writers, revile us as the vilest of all mankind. 237 I have no desire to examine the norms of other nations, for our ancestral custom is to keep to our own, and not to indict those of others. Our Legislator has even forbidden us to mock and revile what others deem to be gods, since such statements include the name of God. 238 But we cannot keep silent when our opponents think to belittle us by comparing their religion to ours, especially since what I shall say in refutation will not be said for the first time, but has already been said by many eminent people. 239 For among those admired among the Greeks for wisdom, is there one who has not censured both the most famous poets and lawmakers, for sowing these notions about the gods among the common people, 240 that the gods can be as numerous as they want, that they are born from each other by all kinds of coupling, that they are distinct by their places and ways of living as one distinguishes different kinds of animal: some being under the earth; some in the sea, and the oldest of them all chained in hell! 241 Among those they assign to heaven, they put in charge one whom they call a father, who acts like a tyrannical master, so that his wife and brother and daughter, whom he brought forth from his own head, conspired to seize and imprison him, as he himself had seized and imprisoned his own father before.

242 People of intelligence have quite rightly judged these notions to be worthy of severe censure. They mock the idea of picturing some gods as beardless and young, and others as old and accordingly bearded, and of assigning gods to various trades, with this one a smith and that one a weaver, and a third as as a warrior fighting with men, and some of them playing the harp, or delighting in archery. 243 The gods even divide into rival gangs and quarrel about humans, so that not only do they lay hands on each other but they grieve for the wounds they have received from men! 244 But grossest of all are the unbridled lusts and amours attributed to most of these male and female gods. 245 Then the chief of all their gods and their first progenitor neglects the goddesses whom he has tricked and made pregnant and leaves them in prison or to be drowned in the sea. He is so ruled by fate that he cannot even save his own offspring, or bear their deaths without weeping. 246 What fine notions, like all that follows, for in heaven the gods are so unashamed of adulteries that some of them profess to envy those caught in the very act. And why not, when the eldest of them, their king, could not refrain from raging lust with his wife as soon as they reached their bedroom? 247 Some of the gods are servants to men and for a wage will act as builders or shepherds, while others, like criminals, are chained in a prison of bronze. What sensible person would not be enraged by such stories and rebuke those who forged them and condemn the folly of those who accept them as true? 248 Some people have portrayed the nature and form of God as Terror or Fear, or Frenzy or Fraud and the other vilest passions, and gotten cities to offer sacrifices to the more respectable gods. 249 They are forced to picture some gods as the givers of good things and others as averters of evil and try to move them, as they would the vilest of men, by gifts and presents, fearing to be greatly harmed by them unless they pay them their wages.

250 It is worth asking about the cause of such anomalous misconceptions of the Deity. I believe they come from the imperfect knowledge of the true nature of God with which the heathen lawgivers began; and even what they knew of it they did not explain to the people, or build the rest of their system upon it. 251 Instead, they omitted it as insignificant and let the poets introduce what gods they pleased, subject to all sorts of passions, and let their orators win from the people power to allow any foreign gods they wanted. 252 The painters and sculptors of Greece had a great influence in this, as each devised his favourite shapes, one moulded from clay and the other just drawn, but the most admired artists worked with ivory and gold in producing their novelties. 253 This is why some temples are quite deserted, while others are being built for all kinds of purification. Besides, the chief gods have now grown old in the enjoyment of honours, while those coming up after them are taking their place, to speak as honourably of them as I can. 254 Others are being newly introduced and worshipped, as already said by way of digression, leaving the older shrines desolate, and some temples fall empty and others are built up new, according to people's fancy, whereas they should guard their ideas about God and the worship due to him immutably the same.

255 Apollonius Molo was just one of these foolish, benighted men. But nothing of what I have said was unknown to the real philosophers among the Greeks, who knew of these bold allegorical claims and rightly despised them and agreed with us on the true and proper ideas about God. 256 That is why Plato would not leave political decisions to any of the poets, and even dismisses Homer, though with a garland on his head and anointed with oil, so as not to destroy with his fables the true ideas of God. 257 On this point indeed, Plato largely imitated our Legislator, bidding his citizens to pay attention so that each could accurately learn the laws.

Chapter 13. [258-280] Separatism is not unique to the Jews

258 Apollonius Molo makes a mistake when blaming us for not welcoming those who hold different notions about God, or not communicating with those who elect a lifestyle different from ours. 259 For this is not unique to us but is common to all, and not only the Greeks in general but to those most esteemed among them. The Spartans excluded foreigners and would not even let their own people travel abroad, suspecting that both these things would weaken their laws. 260 They could indeed be blamed for discourtesy, since they gave no foreigners access to their city, 261 whereas we, though we do not think fit to imitate the customs of others, welcome people who desire to share in ours, which I think is a clear sign of our humanity and even generosity.

262 Enough about the Spartans. But did Apollonius not know about the behaviour of the Athenians, who glory in having made their city open to all people, how they punished without mercy those who only spoke a word against their laws about the gods. 263 For what other reason was Socrates put to death by them? For he did not betray their city to its enemies, nor did he defile their temples, but he simply swore some new oaths and affirmed whether in earnest, or as some say, only in jest, that a daemon spoke to him, and for this he was condemned to death by drinking poison. 264 His accuser said that he corrupted the young men, by making them despise the system and laws of their city, and so Socrates, the citizen of Athens, was executed. 265 Anaxagoras too, though he came from Clazomene, came within a few votes of condemnation for saying that the sun, which the Athenians thought of as a god, was just a ball of fire. 266 They also announced a reward of a talent for anyone who would kill Diagoras of Melos, when he was reported to have mocked their mysteries. Then when Protagoras was held to have written something about the gods that was unacceptable to the Athenians, he would have been captured and killed if he had not quickly fled. 267 Nor need we be surprised that they treated eminent men in this way, when they did not spare even women; for recently they killed the priestess Ninon whom someone accused of initiating people to foreign gods forbidden by their law, for death is their penalty for bringing in a foreign god. 268 Clearly those who follow such laws do not believe the gods of other nations to be real, or they would not deny themselves the pleasure of extra gods. 269 Such is the happy state of the Athenians! Now the Scythians take pleasure in murdering people and differ little from brute beasts, yet they think it right to have their customs observed. They killed Anacharsis, a man well admired among the Greeks for his wisdom, for seeming on his return too attached to Greek ways; and among the Persians many were executed on the same account. 270 Apollonius was clearly pleased with the laws of the Persians and admired them since the Greeks had a taste of their courage and shared most of their opinions about the gods! What about their burning of temples and their courage that almost made slaves of the Greeks? Apollonius has imitated the Persian by doing violence to other men's wives and castrating his own sons! 271 Among us it is a capital crime to treat a brute beast in that way, and neither fear of our rulers nor the desire to follow what other nations prize could separate us from our own laws. 272 We do not apply our courage to start wars or gain wealth, but only to observe our laws, and though we patiently bear other losses, if anyone tries to compel us to break our laws, it is then we choose to go to war, even if we cannot win it, and with much fortitude bear even the greatest hardships to the last. 273 And why should we wish to imitate the laws of other nations, since we see even their own legislators not observing them? The Spartans had to abolish the system that prevented them associating with others, and despised marriage, and the Eleans and Thebans have outlawed the unnatural and shameless lust, which allowed them intercourse with males, 274 since the sign of repenting of things formerly thought of as fine and good is to renounce all such acts for the future. 275 But they now repeal laws once so rooted among the Greeks that they attributed sodomite practices to the gods, who also married their own sisters, for so used they justify their disorderly and unnatural pleasures.

276 I will pass over the penalties and the many loopholes that most other legislators have allowed for evildoers, when for instance they allow money fines to be paid in the case of adultery and after a seduction one need only marry the girl and all the excuses they allow for denying the facts, if one bothered to enquire into them, since among most nations there is a studied art in how the laws may be broken. 277 It is not so amongst us, for even if we are robbed of our wealth or our cities, or any other advantages we have, our law continues unchanged. No Jew can go so far from his own country, or be so fearful of even the most severe master, as not to have even more fear of the Law than of him. 278 If this is our mind about the value of our laws, let our enemies grant that our laws are most excellent, and if they still imagine that they are bad laws even though we keep them so firmly, then what penalties are deserved by those who do not keep their own laws, which they deem better than ours? 279 Since duration in time is trusted as the best criterion in all cases, I would make that a proof of the excellence of our laws and of the belief about God that is passed on to us through them. 280 Now this comparison has been available for a very long time; if one compares its duration with that of the laws made by other legislators, he will find that ours is the most ancient of them all.

Chapter 14. [281-296] Jewish law should be admired by everyone of goodwill

281 We have shown that our laws have always been admired and imitated by other men, and that while the earliest Greek philosophers seemed to follow the laws of their own countries, in their actions and philosophy they actually followed our Legislator and taught people to live frugally and to commune with each other. 282 Indeed for a long time even ordinary citizens have been inclined to follow our religious practices, for there is not a city among Greeks or barbarians, or any nation, where our custom of resting on the seventh day has not reached and where our fasting and lighting of lamps and many of our dietary prohibitions are not observed. 283 They also try to imitate our harmony with each other and our charitable distribution of goods and our diligence in our trades and our fortitude in facing the troubles we meet with on account of our laws. 284 The most remarkable thing is that our law offers no pleasure to entice men, but persuades by its own force, and as God himself pervades the world, so does our law pervade all things. If anyone simply reflects on his own country and his own family, he will not disagree with what I say. 285 So in fairness one should either to accuse all mankind of wrongdoing when they were so eager to imitate laws so foreign and so evil in themselves, rather than making better laws of their own, or else our accusers should give up their grudge against us. 286 For in honouring our Legislator and believing what, by prophetic authority, he taught us about God, we are not showing any spite towards them. Even if we ourselves did not appreciate the excellence of our own laws, the sheer number of those who desire to imitate them would justify us in taking pride in them.

287 Already in my books of Antiquities I described in detail the laws by which we are ruled, and have only mentioned them here as far as my present purpose required, without setting out either to criticise the laws of other nations or to praise our own, in order to refute those who have unjustly written about us, shamelessly distorting the truth. 288 I think that what I set out to do in writing these books I have adequately carried out. I have shown that we are very ancient nation, citing the witness of many ancient writers who have mentioned us in their books, whereas our accusers have claimed that we are of recent origin. 289 Where they claimed that our ancestors were Egyptians, I have proven that we came into Egypt from another country. Where they made the lying claim that we were expelled from there due to our bodily ailments, I have shown that we returned in good health to our country by our own choice. 290 They reviled our Legislator as a nobody, but long ago God testified to his virtue, and since then time itself has often borne witness to the same thing.

291 About the laws no more need be said, for a glance at them shows how they teach not impiety, but the truest piety in the world. They do not make men hate each other, but encourage people to freely share with each other. They are hostile to injustice and care for righteousness, banish idleness and extravagance and teach men to be self-sufficient and good workers. 292 They forbid us to go to war just for covetousness, but make us courageous in defending the laws. They are inflexible in punishing evildoers and admit no sophistry of words, but are always based on actions which we always hold as firmer proofs than what is contained merely in writing. 293 Therefore I dare to say that we have become the teachers of others in a wide range of things that are excellent, for what is higher than constant piety? What is more just than obedience to the laws? 294 What is more advantageous than mutual love and harmony, whereby we are neither parted by troubles, nor arrogant and rude when we prosper? We can scorn death in time of war and apply ourselves to our jobs and cultivate the land in times of peace, for we believe that in all things and in all ways God oversees and guides our actions. 295 If these precepts had either been written earlier, or were more exactly kept by any others before us, we would owe them the thanks that disciples owe to their masters. But if it is clear that we have kept them more than any others and if we have shown that they arose within our own people, then let the Apions and the Molons, with all the rest of those who delight in lies and mockery, stand refuted. 296 Finally, let me dedicate this and the foregoing book to you, Epaphroditus, for your great love of truth, and on your behalf to people who, like you, wish to know the truth about our nation.