Although Alexander the Great conquered Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and surrounding countries, modern historians have little to say of him visiting the Holy Land. Yet ancient history says that he had a most remarkable encounter there, not only visiting the temple in Jerusalem but also making a sacrifice to the God of Israel.
Most modern historians dismiss the story, but one wonders just why they do. Could it be they would have to admit there is a God of history who controls the course of nations?
The noted first-century Jewish historian Josephus records the king’s visit to Jerusalem and a meeting between Alexander and the high priest, Jaddua.
In 332 B.C. Alexander besieged and defeated the coastal cities of Tyre and Gaza in his march toward Egypt. During this campaign he turned toward Jerusalem. Alexander had already demanded men and supplies from the Jews, who were under the rule of Alexander’s mortal enemy, the Persian king Darius. The high priest hesitated, saying that while Darius lived they would honor their pledge. Alexander was angry and began a move on the city.
Well aware of the danger, Jaddua asked the people to pray to God for His mercy and protection. Then, says Josephus, Jaddua had a dream as to how to entreat the Macedonian king. He and the other priests dressed in their priestly robes and, accompanied by others dressed in white garments, formed a pro-cession that went out of the city to a carefully chosen place to meet the king.
Alexander then did the unexpected. Alone, he approached the high priest and members of the procession and greeted them.
When asked by one of his generals why he welcomed this group, Alexander replied: “I did not adore him, but that God who hath honoured him with his high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit [garment], when I was at Dios in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain the dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; whence it is, that having seen no other in that habit, and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision, and the exhortation which I had in my dream, I believe that I bring this army under the divine conduct, and shall therewith conquer Darius, and destroy the power of the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap. 8, sec. 5, William Whiston translation, 1981).
Josephus records that Alexander then accompanied the priest into Jerusalem and the temple, where he “offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest’s direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests.”
Alexander’s visit was capped by a briefing from the book of Daniel, written several centuries earlier, which foretold the rise and conquests of Alexander. “And when the book of Daniel was shewed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present…” (ibid.)
Many scholars regard Josephus as a reputable historian on the same footing as other ancient authorities such as Tacitus. Why, then, is this remarkable record of Alexander’s visit to Jerusalem so casually dismissed as a fabrication?
Many simply cannot accept that the book of Daniel, which foretold Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire several centuries before the Macedonian king was born, could have been divinely inspired. So rather than accept Daniel’s book as a work inspired by God through the Jewish prophet in Babylon during the sixth century B.C., they argue that it must have been written long after Alexander lived and died.
Believing it impossible for such a tale to be true, they have to dismiss not only Daniel’s book but this remarkable account by a studious and respected ancient historian. After all, they reason, Alexander could not have been shown a book that had not been written!
Obviously Josephus, writing in the first century, believed the story to be true and included it in his history. It’s amazing how modern scholars pick and choose what they deem as “accurate” from ancient texts. Anything they disagree with, they simply dismiss as inaccurate and untrue. Yet this account of Alexander’s visit to the Jerusalem temple remains an amazing vignette that confirms the inspired prophecies of God recorded in the book of Daniel.