Alexander’s Visit to Jerusalem
Despite Alexander’s many transgressions in the Middle East, a distinctly positive (and completely fictional) story emerged soon after his death which placed him at the heart of Jewish sacred history. Probably originating from the Jewish community of the Egyptian capital of Alexandria, it first appears in the writings of the first century AD Jewish/Roman historian Josephus. It’s important to note that there’s no historical evidence the Macedonian monarch ever went to Jerusalem. But this didn’t stop a number of stories from emerging.
Several versions of the story exist, spanning the first to the tenth centuries AD. But the main details are consistent. The Jewish High Priest Jaddus has a dream in which God tells him a great conqueror is approaching the city. God instructs him to go out with the other priests from the Temple dressed in their finest robes and greet him on Mt. Scopus. As chance would have it, Alexander has also recently had a dream in which the same God told him to kneel before those he would meet in such robes.
This is exactly what Alexander does, and after supplicating himself before Jaddus and the other priests, he enters the Jewish Temple. There he is shown the Book of Daniel (written, in fact, long after Alexander’s lifetime), which prophecises his conquest of Persia. Another Jewish story exists in which the Macedonian mediates over a dispute over citizenship between the Jews and the Samaritans, eventually ruling in favor of the former. Historically there was a dispute about the statuses of their respective temples in Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim, but it belongs to the second century BCâ200 years after Alexander’s death.
At first glance, why the Jewish community in Alexandria would have wanted to invent this story is a mystery. But it begins to make sense when you think about their political situation. After emigrating from Palestine, they set themselves up in Alexandria but had few rights. In an appeal to the rulers of Egyptâthe Ptolemies, descendants of Alexander’s bodyguard, Ptolemyâthey created a story linking them to the city’s founder, Alexander. In doing this, they lent a great deal of legitimizing credibility to their cause.