Challenging the Received Tradition: Alexander of Macedon Didn’t Really Exist Either — Well, Sort Of

In another extremely unlikely turn of events, my research has detailed that not only are the NT documents — and then it turns out the OT documents — filled with nearly exclusively literary fictions, but the sources for ancient history (far more generally) prove really lousy sources for those concerned with good history.  Here are some of the latest challenges to the received accounts of history I am challenging with great confidence:

Arrian, the primary source used for the life of Alexander, is filled will superstitions, oracular pronouncements and visits to temples.  Josephos has these too.   Arrian nearly turns Alexander into a kind of itinerant trophy collector of the Homeric gods — a kind of the “holy tortilla” or “shroud of turin” treasure hunt.  Here, Alexander retraces the footsteps of, and judges reflexively, the Persians for their previous transgressions — recorded by Herodotos of Halicarnassos (a city in southern Asia Minor).

Other likely problems include Josephos’ extreme dependence on biblical, and then rabbinical tradition.  Specifically, the “Jaddua the High Priest Meets Alexander” apocryphon is doubtless ahistorical.  In a copycat moment, We find an apocryphon from another historian, teaching the “Pyrhhus of Epirus Almost Defeats Rome by Soldiers on Elephants” which Polybios (I would say somewhat embarrassingly) repeats.  Only this time, Hannibal of Carthage nearly defeats Rome with the help of many “Swiss-Alp Crossing Elephants.”  Polybios is supposed to be the best among the historians of the ancient world.  This does not bode well.  Neither his outlandish account, nor the Pyrrhus drama, are worth their weight in paper. It shows rather, that the museum at Alexandria (which had something like a zoo next door) had probably acquired its first elephant (perhaps two, a male and female) from the far East, and the locals were fascinated by the elephants. So it did not take long for them after that to work their way into legend, and then tradition (established and accepted legend)

I believe that historians have grossly underestimated the nearly universal tendency among the ancients to pursue superstitious legend as historical episode — because of the authority and respect that tradition seemed to them to have earned from the Homeric, honorific and heroic accounts.  The love of tradition did not serve them (nor us) well.  The ancient world  was filled, and I mean filled, with the love of dreams and their interpretations, fascination with imposing curses and then bearing amulets (amulets deflected curses), with sacrifices and entrail readings, oracular pronouncements (prophecy), with fortune telling, omens and eclipses, spells and magical traditions, numerology (Orphism, etc), and a host of other “supernatural” superstitions.

Did this affect their view of history?  You bet it did — right down to the best they had. Arrian shows a great admiration for Herodotean itinerancy (collecting source traditions from temples and oracles [and lucky charms with Alexander, to obtain divine favour], which he transposes to Alexander.  I believe that this actually shows us how the Alexander legends (tradition) came into being. My explanation goes like this:

Fourth-century Rhakotis (Alexandria “before it was called that”) had many Greek and Macedonian foreign soldiers (Mercks) dwelling there.  Polybios notes this.  Alexander was supposed to be the son of Phillip II and the student of Aristotle.  Both of these were later associations assigned to him after his life in the process of legendary development.  He lived in “Alexandria” under a king named Ptolemy — who was his king, not his general.  Persia had been encroached upon the outlying areas around Egypt for years and moved a bit too close.  A man with a name similar to Alexander, perhaps the more likely “Aristeas” proposed a plan to overrun the Persian outpost, and with Ptolemy’s approval, they decided to teach Persia a lesson or two.  Having overrun the outpost, Aristeas’ men learned of rumors of a planned mutiny in the Persian army against the current monarch in Persepolis — probably not Darius 3.

Why not Darius?  This name was given the “battle of Issus loser” (another legend) to provide a “Lex Talionis” bookmark in Arrian’s account for the transgressions Herodotos recounts the Persians to have committed against Greece — fomented by the forebearer of the same name.  Though we all “know” that Atossa really did it.  After all, even Genesis says “It was the woman, lord, she gave me of the apple and I ate.”

Upon learning of the opportune conspiracy — not far from Gaugamela — Aristeas, then made plans (which had to have been approved) to advance upon Persepolis with a significant segment of the Persian army in tow a good distance behind, and with mercenary reinforcements.  They had to attack Persepolis unawares and from both front and back at the same time — overwhelming and sudden force was the goal.  Traveling along the coast south of Susa, one contingent advanced to the rear and then the other to the front after a distraction had been created.  The Persepolis army contingent was too close to the king, and they dared not attempt to enlist them (lest the plan be foiled) and knew they would have to have done with them to accomplish the coup.  With all the proper soldiers in place the two-flank and simultaneous attack effected the siege, burning and sacking of Persepolis with great success.  Aristeas won hands down.

He returned to Rhakotis to great fanfare and the warm welcome of king Ptolemy, and the name of the city was changed to Alexandria and then was built up by later monarchs.  Because of the greatness of Aristeas who took the lead in the siege, his name was changed (perhaps after his death) to the man who took the lead — Alex – Ander.  Over 20 different cities along the route of his victory (Nike road) subsequently adopted the same name for their cities — the great “Us too” effort of cities to participate in the glory in order to secure for themselves a good name to posterity in the Homeric tradition.

But, of course, competition arises among cities with similar claims to fame — just as in the Christian era, Rome, Antioch and Jerusalem (as well as Alexandria) each laid claim to this or that dominical or apostolic primacy — because of the great deeds done here by early disciples, or else by Jesus.   So in this Alexandria, “Alexander did this great thing.”  “Oh yeah?  In our city, he did such and so.  Beat that.”  And so the legends of Alexander the Great — by fifty years later — the son of Phillip and student of Aristotle, and by 150 years later, the son of Zeus.

By about 200 BC, Alexander’s fame was so general and great that it shows up even in the names of the High Priests in Jerusalem, and remains current among them until 70, when the temple and Jerusalem fall to the Romans who put down their rebellion.  This can be accounted for by the addition to the Alexander tradition I mentioned earlier called the “Jaddua the High Priest Meets Alexander” apocryphon — which Flavius Jospehus recounts as actual history in his Antiquities of the Jews.

The legends that grew up in the various Alexandrias, kept by the priests and prophets (-esses) at their temples and oracles, were later gleaned by itinerant “scholars” like Herodotos, and were later collectively ascribed the name (as though of an individual biographer) “Callimachos.”   This is my “Ockham’s razor enchanced,” utterly non-superstitious, reconstruction of the events I believe most likely to have unfolded by a comparison of the circumstantial evidence I know of, and other like actual events that did in fact transpire in history (historical analogies).

It challenges the existence  of Alexander the Great as a fusion of “Homeric and Herodotean” mythology, though it views him as “mytho-historical” much in the way that the Jesus Seminar has in the past viewed Jesus — the ‘other’ son of Zeus (rabbinical version).  The final point I wish to make, though I have much more to say on what I know believe the flimsiness of the ancient historians and their “tradition as history” (traditiongeschichte methode)

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