Op-Ed: Scots And Jews: Braveheart, Meet Ben Yair
Gerald A. HonigmanThe author is an educator who has done extensive doctoral studies in Mid-East...
Despite his anti-Semitic streak, Mel Gibson is a talented actor and director. I really would like to like the guy. Too bad he still sees Jews as the Devil's spawn.
One movie, in particular, was truly amazing:
“They may take our lives, but they may never take our freedom!”
Thus, allegedly, spoke William Wallace, aka Braveheart.
No doubt, Gibson's movie was hauntingly spectacular and led me to admire the Scots even more than I did already--at least until recently.
Nevertheless, questions regarding the historicity of Gibson's account caused quite a commotion.
Ronald Hamowy of the Department of History at the University of Alberta summed it up this way in his June 28, 1995 comments:
"Frankly, this movie has about as much merit historically as one of the countless dubbed Italian films about Hercules battling the tyrants"
Regardless, William Wallace was a 13th century Scottish hero, and Gibson’s passion for the freedom of this people and sympathy for their cause shined through.
It is thus with sadness that I heard recent news about the Church of Scotland's comments regarding the age-old plight and quest for freedom of an even more historically ancient and persecuted people, the Jews.
Both Jewish and non-Jewish historical records link Jews to the land of Israel for most of man's recorded history--before most other peoples even made their historical debuts.
The famed Cyrus Cylinder (the Kurash Prism of Persia's Cyrus the Great), for example, is making the rounds in museums all over the world. Despite some debate, many scholars consider it as being one of the most important archaeological finds ever discovered. As of May 2013, it is on display in Washington's Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute and, among other things, gives an outsider's account of the return of the Jews, upon being freed by Cyrus from Babylonian captivity, to the very land which the Scots now say they have no special ties to.
Braveheart's descendants now claim such things as the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) not specifically connecting the land of Israel to Jews at all (I guess the stories in it are about Chinese or Zimbabweans); the need for Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank") to once again be forcibly made Judenrein to appease others' demands; and more.
Like other churches of its ilk, the Scots' missionary work in the Middle East probably has at least as much to do with this anti-Israel development as anything else.
To better appreciate the travesty, let's backtrack and return to the words of Gibson's Braveheart.We'll compare them to another quote, one courtesy of a much-respected, contemporary historian who recorded the words of a major leader of another oppressed people who were fighting--over a thousand years before William Wallace took on England--the conqueror of much of the known world. And, as the Scots, fighting for freedom and dignity, earlier gave Rome much trouble, so did the Jews.
Tacitus was one of the main Roman historians of the time. Before we consider Josephus's quote, let's see what Tacitus had to say about the first major revolt of the people (66-73 C.E.) whom the Church of Scotland now claims have no special ties to the land in Vol. II, Book V, The Works of Tacitus:
"Vespasian succeeded to the command. It inflamed his resentment that the Jews were the only nation that had not yet submitted.Titus was appointed by his father to complete the subjugation of Judaea. He commanded three legions in Judaea itself.To these he added the twelfth from Syria and the third and twenty-second from Alexandria. Amongst his allies were a band of Arabs, formidable in themselves and harboring towards the Jews the bitter animosity usually subsisting between neighboring nations."
Please note the name of the country Rome was referring to here--Judaea, as in Jew. Also note that Arabs were outsiders allying themselves with the Romans to get, like vultures, a piece of the kill.
Get the picture?
After the Judaean fortress of Masada fell in 73 C.E., when the Emperor Hadrian later decided to turn the Temple Mount into a pagan shrine, it was the grandchildrens’ turn to take on their mighty pagan conquerors. And, again, contemporary Roman historians, such as Dio Cassius, recorded the second major revolt (132-135 C.E.) as well.
Among other things, the entire Twenty-Second Roman Legion was wiped out before the leader of this second major quest for freedom by the Jews, Shimon Bar Kochba, fell at Betar. Detailed letters from him to his troops and minted coins with "for the freedom of Israel" etched on them have been discovered as were the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the latter is the War Scroll which speaks of the conflict between ”the Sons of Light vs. the Sons of Darkness,” and so forth. All in the land where Scots now claim Jews have no special relationship to…
We are now ready for the Roman-sponsored historian, Josephus.
Josephus was a Jew who detested his fellow countrymen who took up arms against the Roman Empire. He saw them waging a war that could not be won, leading their nation to ruin. He chose to align himself with the future Emperor instead. The point is that he wrote what he wrote not out of admiration for the Jewish patriots and freedom fighters. Keep this in mind as we proceed…
The situation Josephus feared was the same as if Lithuania had taken on the Soviet Union in the latter’s heyday of power--and to a lesser degree (Great Britain had not yet become the imperial powerhouse that it would later on)--what the Scots faced in their struggle with England in William Wallace's day in the 13th century C.E.
Yet, again, please note that it was Jews--not Arabs, not "Palestinians"--who waged repeated revolts in the land that the Church of Scotland now says is not theirs, and they kept the struggle going on for hundreds of years after Rome was gone.
Non-Jewish sources speak of an army of tens of thousands of Jews allying themselves with the Persians to fight the hated Byzantines on the eve of the Arabs' own imperial, caliphal conquest of the region in the 7th century C.E. And beforethe Roman era, Jews had been waging such fights for their freedom for millennia against other assorted enemies--once again, also recorded by those enemies themselves.
Judaea Capta coins can be found in museums all over the world and were issued to commemorate Rome's victory. Judaea Capta--not Palaestina Capta.
Near the Colosseum, the Arch of Titus stands tall in Rome to this very day as well. Among other things, it displays Romans carrying away the giant menorah and other spoils of the Temple of the Jews along with Judaean captives.
So, despite the Scottish Church's unfortunate claims, the historicity of the Jews’ age-old struggle to remain free in their own land is beyond reasonable doubt and is highlighted by, among others, the Romans and their other enemies themselves.
“They may take our lives, but they may never take our freedom!”--again, the alleged words of Braveheart. Now, let's compare Scotland's hero to his Jewish counterpart over a thousand years earlier.
Eleazar ben Yair was a leader of the last major band of Judaean warriors to hold out after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
Josephus records, in Book VII, Wars Of The Jews, the following, heart-wrenching plea Ben Yair gave to his fighters and their families atop the fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea just prior to the final Roman assault.
“Now as he (Eleazar) judged this to be the best thing they could do in their present circumstances, he gathered the most courageous and encouraged them by a speech: 'Since we, long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than G-d himself, the time is come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice. We were the very first that revolted from them, and we are the last that fight against them (see Tacitus’ quote above); and I cannot but esteem it as a favour that G-d hath granted us that it is still in our power to die bravely, in a state of freedom.'”
Drawing lots, Masada’s defenders committed mass suicide - families and all—rather than fall into Roman hands
While some scholars debate the details, practically everything else that has been excavated, discovered otherwise, and so forth testify to Josephus’ trustworthiness–so there is no reason to doubt him here. Complete with the huge Roman ramp recorded in Josephus, Masada overlooks the Dead Sea to this very day--a must for visitors going to Israel.Contrast all of the above to Professor Hamowy's comments about the historical reliability of Gibson's Braveheart account mentioned at the beginning of this analysis.
Regardless of the news coming out of Scotland today, and despite periods of forced exile, there is no doubt that Jews have been linked to the land for most of recorded history. Indeed, their very name is linked to the land that at least some Scots and others say they have no special ties to--a land which got its very name from the Jewish people.
Judah was one of Jacob's twelve sons, for whom the tribes were named. And, as we saw earlier in the writings of the Roman historians themselves, on Roman coins, and so forth, Judea (Iudaea, Judaea) was the Roman name for the land of the people of Judah. Some sixteen centuries earlier, upon his spiritual growth, Jacob had been renamed Israel.
There exist no greater ties anywhere between a land and a people than those which exist between Jews and the land of Israel. Even in forced exile, those ties were never forgotten.
What's next? A rewording of Matthew 2:1 to have Jesus's birth in Bethlehem of the 'West Bank' instead of Bethlehem of Judea? Over a thousand years earlier, the Jews' King David was born there too.
Shame on the Church of Scotland.