[This entry surveys two aspects of warfare: Historical Warfare and Eschatological Warfare.]
After the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 587/586 bce the Jews spent the next several centuries under the domination of great empires. To the best of our knowledge, the Jews during the first part of the Second Temple period were pacifistic and not involved in military activity. They had little choice to be anything else, much as with many other peoples in the Persian and Greek empires. Yet the Jews as a whole had never adopted a pacifistic stance and remained ready to fight when necessary. As a result of necessity, the Jews revolted against religious suppression in the Maccabean Revolt (166–164 bce), and, over the next 300 years, to the time of Bar Kokhba, a series of revolts resulted from perceived necessity and the hope of victory. Sadly, many of these revolts had almost no chance of succeeding and only left the people ravaged, devastated, and disillusioned.
In most examples we have of fighting, the Jews were defending their nation, traditions, or community. However, there are indications that Jews sometimes participated as mercenaries or in fighting units in the armies of the day. After Onias IV fled to Egypt and built a temple at Leontopolis (c.170 bce), some members of the community established there became commanders of the forces of Cleopatra III (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 13.284–287). Josephus gives anecdotes of Jews who were a part of the armies of Alexander and the Diadochi (Against Apion 1.22 secs. 192, 201–240). Jews were part of military settlements (klerouchoi, katoikiai), which would have included the duty of call-up in time of war. The Tobias known from the Zenon papyri was in charge of a military settlement which seemed to have included Jews as well as others (CPJ 1.118–121). The papyri also show a number of Jewish military settlers in Ptolemaic Egypt (CPJ 1.11–15, 147–178).
The core of the Hellenistic Greek army was the phalanx, a body of heavily armed infantry in rows of up to sixteen with twenty-foot spears (sarissa). The phalanx was normally made up of troops from military settlements and largely Macedonian descendents, as they were likely to be more reliable and loyal. The phalanx was the key to the effectiveness of Greek fighting units, with their discipline in making the phalanx act as a single unit in battle. (The fossilation of the phalanx was also the downfall of the Greek military when they confronted the more flexible Roman formations.) When functioning as it should, in close formation with the soldiers protected by a hedge of pike heads and shields, they could withstand the assault of cavalry, archers, skirmishers, and even elephants. But there were two weaknesses: one was the difficulty in maintaining the close formation as the phalanx advanced, especially if it had to cross rough terrain; once it was broken up, cavalry and light infantry could come in for close combat. The other weakness was its vulnerability to attack on the flanks.
Connected with the phalanx were cavalry units whose main job was to break up the phalanx of the enemy by outflanking it, or to defend the flanks of their own phalanx from the enemy cavalry. Preceding the phalanx were lightly armed skirmishers—archers and javelin throwers—whose job was to harrass the opposing phalanx and attempt to break it up. They would be opposed by the skirmishers on the opposite side. Elephants were an effective addition to the heavy infantry when available, though they tended to be more effective against non-Greek armies than other Hellenistic forces. Artillery was used by Hellenistic armies only during sieges; the Romans, however, eventually evolved a system which made regular use of arrow- and stone-throwers on the battlefield.
The Roman army was conceptualized differently from the Greek. The Romans had early abandoned the phalanx in favor of maniples (Latin manipulus [“handful”]), small units of soldiers (60 to 120 men) in the battle line who had some freedom of action. There were conventionally three main lines in the battlefront: in the front rank the hastati, armed with sword and javelin; next, the principes, the most fit of the young men in their prime, similarly armed; finally, the triarii, the older and most experienced of the soldiers. Preceding them were the velites, lightly armed soldiers whose job it was to harrass the enemy line with light javelins before retiring behind the main battle lines. These groups could be deployed in different ways and formations, depending on the circumstances. From about 100 bce the maniple system gave way to that of cohorts, somewhat larger units and without the distinction in armament or experience. One of the achievements of the Romans, from the time of Julius Caesar on, was the integration of cavalry, light, and heavy troops into a fully coordinated and versatile fighting force.
The Greek city-states had raised their army from among the citizens, each of whom had a duty to defend the state. However, the Greek homeland was incapable of providing enough food for its population. This is why the Greeks branched out into trade and seafaring activities. Also, many Greeks made their living by selling their services as mercenaries. Both the Persians and their opponents (e.g., the Egyptians) made use of Greek mercenary soldiers. During the Hellenistic period, it was common for kings and would-be rulers to depend heavily on mercenaries.
The Roman army had also begun as a citizen army. Then, as they spread their control, they made use of allies and native troops in auxiliary fighting units. (Thus, another strength of the Romans was their ability to absorb enormous casualties and still continue to carry on their campaigns.) The Maccabees began with a citizen army but their pool of manpower was finite, and the later Hasmoneans also made use of mercenaries. Nevertheless, large numbers of the Jews continued to have military careers during Hasmonean and Herodian rule.
The military settlement was an important part of Hellenistic organization and strategy. Alexander rewarded his veterans by founding Greek cities at various places in the ancient Near East and settling them there. A piece of land would be taken and a city built on the model of the Greek city-state. The farmland surrounding the city would be divided up into plots known as cleruchies (from Greek klērouchia [“inheritance”]) and a portion assigned to each soldier. The soldiers were citizens of the city and also reservists in the army, to be called up when needed by the king. The land was farmed by slaves or (as frequently was the case in the East) by serfs bound to the land. In the late days of the Roman Republic, as it extended its control over new lands, a similar scheme was followed in which Roman veterans received land.
As noted above, Jews served in fighting units in the Seleucid and Ptolemaic armies. They also had opportunity to observe fighting units of the various armies which would have been regularly in the Palestinian area. Unfortunately, when it comes to precise information on military knowledge among the Palestinian Jews or the makeup and training of their armies, we have very few data. Only certain hints are given in the books of Maccabees. As a military man himself, Josephus is sometimes a bit better, while the Qumran War Scroll (1QM) may show some more detailed knowledge of the conduct of actual battles.
When the Maccabean revolt began, the Jews seem to have had little in the way of weapons or training. Yet recent study has shown that while some of their initial successes were remarkable, they were not miraculous: most of their military successes are explicable by the normal canons of warfare (Bar-Kochva 1989). The David-versus-Goliath picture so common in textbooks is a gross exaggeration, though this picture has prevailed because the books of Maccabees themselves exaggerate the strength and numbers of the enemy and minimize the numbers, equipment, and training of the Jews. Victories were usually due to factors which also accorded victory in other military contexts: equal or superior numbers to the enemy, surprise, poor training or generalship on the part of the enemy forces, underestimation of their strength by the Seleucids, making use of local knowledge, the fact that the Seleucids' attention was directed elsewhere and not focused on the situation in Judea. The initial successes of the Maccabees were mainly against local garrison troops with only small contingents of soldiers. In four confrontations between Judas and proper Seleucid forces (Emmaus, Beth Zur, Beth Zacharia, Elasa), two were lost by the Jews and in a third the Syrians withdrew because of the situation in Antioch. The only extraordinary victory was at Emmaus in which Judas made a surprise attack after a forced march with a small group of picked, disciplined, and very fit troops.
The real success of Judas Maccabeus was not in guerrilla warfare, as has sometimes been suggested, but in developing a properly trained regular Judean army. It is debated as to whether the phalanx and an army modeled fully on Hellenistic lines had already been created under Judas (Bar-Kochva 1989) or came about only under Jonathan (Shatzman), but both agree that it happened. The initial improvised warfare was necessary when nothing else was available, but territory could be gained and held only by a conventionally trained and deployed Hellenistic military force. The indication is that part of the knowledge about training and fighting technique came from the Tobiad military colony, which contained Jewish as well as other soldiers (cf. 1 Mc. 5.13; 2 Mc. 12.12–24, 35; and the discussion in Bar-Kochva 1989, p. 82 and n. 42).
Jews continued to be used in fighting units after the end of Hasmonean rule. Jewish troops were involved in the Roman civil war. During Caesar's invasion of Egypt, Hyrcanus II and Antipater placed their own troops at his disposal. When Herod was appointed king by the Romans, he had a number of forces at his disposal in retaking Jerusalem in 37 bce—several Roman legions, mercenaries, Gentile soldiers—and he continued to make use of mercenaries and soldiers from the non-Jewish portions of his kingdom. As a result, it has often been assumed that his standing army (which was an important support of his rule as a client-king to Rome) was made up mostly of mercenaries or conscripts from the gentile areas of his kingdom. However, this seems to be incorrect; rather, the bulk of Herod's army throughout his reign appears to have been composed of Jews (Shatzman).
For the 66–70 war, we have a detailed description of some parts of it. The Jews won the first round against the Roman general Cestius Gallus, apparently because of miscalculations on his part and effective Jewish harassing tactics as a consequence of their knowledge of the local terrain. But once Vespasian landed with adequate forces, the Jews simply retreated before them. Josephus claims that he trained his troops in Roman methods (The Jewish War 2.577–582). When besieged in Jotapata, his techniques of defense were mostly those known as standard from the military manuals (Cohen: 94–96). The only real fighting was at the final siege of Jerusalem and a few other cities. The Jews fought bravely and, again, used standard counter-siege techniques, but their final defeat was never in doubt.
The last major Jewish military activity in antiquity was the Bar Kokhba Revolt, but we have few details and some accounts are legendary (e.g., the references in rabbinic literature). It is not clear that Bar Kokhba ever held any territory apart from that in the Judean desert. The supposition that he took and held Jerusalem for a period of time has not been demonstrated. According to Cassius Dio (69.12.1–14.13), the Roman army suffered a great deal, but this may have been from harassing tactics rather than full battlefield confrontations. Archaeology indicates that the Jews used underground hiding places as a means of ambush and lightning attacks (Gichon; Kloner). Once again, though, the superior military resources and skill of the Romans prevailed.
- Bar-Kochva, B. The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge, 1976.
- Bar-Kochva, B. Judas Maccabaeus: The Jewish Struggle against the Seleucids. Cambridge, 1989.
- Cohen, S. D. J. Josephus in Galilee and Rome: His Vita and Development as a Historian. CSCT, 8. Leiden, 1979.
- Gichon, M. “New Insight into the Bar Kokhba War and a Reappraisal of Dio Cassius 69.12–13.” JQR 77 (1986–1987), 15–43.
- Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army from Republic to Empire. Totowa, N.J., 1984.
- Kloner, A. “The Subterranean Hideaways of the Judean Foothills and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.” Jerusalem Cathedra 3 (1983), 83–96.
- Kloner, A. “Underground Hiding Complexes from the Bar Kokhba War in the Judean Shephelah.” BA 46 (1983), 210–221.
- Shatzman, Israel. The Armies of the Hasmonaeans and Herod: From Hellenistic to Roman Frameworks. TSAJ, 25. Tübingen, 1991.
- Webster, Graham. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D. 3d ed. London, 1985.
Lester L. Grabbe
The idea that God would fight—and fight on behalf of his people—was widespread in the ancient Near East. Kings often believed that their god would march alongside them, and if they were defeated, it was because their god was angry with them. Israel believed the same thing. The Song of Moses states, “Yhwh is a warrior” (Ex. 15.3), and describes how God threw Pharaoh's troops into the sea and protected the defenseless Israelites. According to the Song of Deborah, even the stars fought from heaven against the forces of King Jabin (Jgs. 5.20). Psalm 18 describes Yahweh as coming from heaven in wrath to intervene against the psalmist's enemies. One of the epithets of the God of Israel, mentioned in many passages, is Yhwh Tseva᾽ot (“the Lord of armies”). The “day of Yhwh” seems originally to have been a time when God was expected to fight on behalf of his people (Am. 5.18–20; Joel 4.14–17 [Eng. 3:14–17]). Ezekiel 38–39 pictures a restored peaceful land of Israel with unwalled villages which is threatened by a set of eschatological enemies from the ends of the earth. The invasion by “Gog of the land of Magog” is supernaturally stopped, and the bodies of the troops are given to the beasts of the field and the birds of the air.
Developing from these earlier Israelite and ancient Near Eastern phenomena, eschatalogical warfare became a widespread motif in Jewish apocalyptic and related literature. Perhaps one of the most explicit early statements is from the main Old Testament apocalyptic writing Daniel 7–12. It paints a picture in which the earthly powers and their struggles against each other are mirrored by angelic powers who also oppose one another (cf. 10.13, 20–21). The “prince of Persia” is not a human ruler but an angelic being who opposes the archangels Gabriel and Michael. Although the scene is set in the time of the neo-Babylonian or early Persian empire, the writer is clearly expecting the eschaton in his own time during the Maccabean revolt (about 165 bce).
The war between supernatural beings hinted at in Daniel is described in greater detail in the New Testament book of Revelation (12.1–9). Here Satan the Devil and his forces are defeated by the forces of God, led by Michael. The story has been Christianized and made to refer to the birth of Christ, but the basic story depends very much on Jewish antecedents. Not least are the motifs taken from the ancient Near Eastern beliefs in the monsters of chaos, also found in the Old Testament (Ps. 29.10; 89.9–10; Is. 27.1; 51.9–11), who were conquered at creation but continually threaten the ordered cosmos and must be defeated periodically by God (Yarbro Collins).
Many apocalypses envisage a cosmic climax to history in which God or his instrument(s) will intervene in one way or other to punish the wicked and defend his people. The Gospel apocalypse (Mark 13 and parallels), 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch describe this time, as does Revelation. According to the last-named writing, the climax is the battle at “Armageddon” (Rv. 16.16), the battle in the valley of Jezreel in which God slaughters the armies menacing Jerusalem until the blood flows to the horse's bridle (14.20). This is followed by a “millennium” of God's rule on earth (12.4–6); however, at the end of this period Israel is once again threatened by eschatological enemies, stirred up by Satan, and said to be “Gog and Magog” (12.7–9, obviously drawing on the names of Ezekiel 38–39).
Timing is very important to eschatological warfare. It is often assumed that God has a particular prearranged schedule of events to which he works, and a variety of schemes can be found in the surviving apocalyptic literature (Grabbe, 1979). One which seems to occur in the Cairo Damascus Document is the use of the seventy-weeks prophecy from Daniel 9.24–27 (Grabbe, 1997), in which there is a period of 390 years of wrath, follow by 20 years of groping (CD i.5–6). A period of 40 years is also supposed to follow the death of the Teacher before the eschaton (CD xx.13–14). If we count in a “generation” of 40 years for the life of the Teacher, we come to 490 years, exactly as in Daniel 9. Other significant periods of time found in some of the scrolls are forty and seven (see below).
The main Qumran text embodying eschatological warfare is the War Scroll (1QM; 1Q33; 4Q491–496 = 4QMa–f). There is also a writing related to it preserved in fragments (4Q497). The War Scroll is not paralleled in other known literature and thus provides a unique view on the subject. The final war between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness” takes place according to a stereotyped timetable. According to ii.6–10, the war will apparently last forty years (forty is often used as a time of trial or difficulty in biblical passages); however, i.13–14 makes it according to a heptadic scheme, with one side winning for three “lots” (goralot), the other side winning for three, and “the hand of God” apparently prevailing in the seventh. Whether these “lots” represent years is not clear; if so, the war is fought over a sabbatical year cycle.
A great deal of attention is paid to the formalities of how the battle is carried on, with significant space given to the trumpet calls (iii.1–11), the various ensigns carried by the particular battalions (iii.13–v.2), the decoration of the weapons (v.4–14; vi.2–3), and the activities of the priests (vii.9–ix.9). The order of battle is also very stylized: however much it may be based on actual warfare of the time, it has the quality of a ballet about it. Just as a ballet may contain scenes from actual life but interpreted in a special way by dance, so the waging of war in the War Scrolls appears choreographed. Contributing to this impression is the considerable influence of the biblical text which has stereotyped the account (e.g., Nm. 10.1–10 on the trumpets).
Yet one can say with some confidence that the picture in the War Scroll is at least in part based on the actual maneuvers of the army in battle. It has been suggested that the writer shows a knowledge similar to that found in Hellenistic military manuals (Davies; Duhaime 1988). Others have seen a detailed knowledge of Roman military tactics (Yadin). In either case, the writer has at least a general understanding of basic movements of an army engaging another army in the field, especially in columns ii–xix. Yet many of the writings which discuss eschatological warfare do so in terms of normal warfare and only shade into a supernatural aspect of it. Nevertheless, the picture in some passages of the War Scroll seems different from that in others. It has been explained that the differences between the different parts arise in part because of its redaction history (Davies). This means that more than one system is represented in the text. If so, it is impossible to reconcile all the passages with one another. The picture given by the different sections can be summarized as follows:
Column i: The nations attacked are the army of Belial, including Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, and the Kittim of Asshur and Egypt (i.1–2, 4). The war is between “the sons of light” and the “sons of darkness” with angelic hosts fighting as well as humans (i.10–11). The fighting takes place in seven parts: for three, the sons of darkness prevail, and for three, the sons of light prevail. In the seventh, God is victorious. The “sons of righteousness” shine to the ends of the earth (much as the “wise” shine like the stars in Dn. 12.3), suggesting a form of “astral immortality” (Dupont-Sommer).
Columns ii–ix: The war takes place over a period of forty years of war, fighting every year except the sabbatical years. The first six years have been lost at the beginning of the column; however, they may have been devoted to preparation for war for six years, followed by the sabbatical rest (ii.9). The remaining thirty-three are divided up into a pattern of six years of fighting followed by a seventh year of rest (ii.6–10). The list of enemies fought is broken (ii.10–13) but apparently included Aram Naharaim, Lud, Uz, Hul, Togar, Mesha, sons of Arphaxad, Ashur, Persia, Kadmonites, Elam, Ishmael, Keturah, the sons of Japhet. Fighting units contain horsemen, javelin throwers, and (apparently) slingers, along with the usual regular troops. It is interesting, in the light of columns xv–xix, that no indication is given that Israelites will fall in battle. However, on the whole, this section tends to describe the battles realistically and contains no angelic assistance (though vii.6 mentions “the holy angels” as being among them), despite a certain “ritualizing” of the battle (Davies, 1977, 42, 45).
Columns x–xiv: This is a collection of hymns and prayers, thus differing in content from much of the rest of the writing. God's past help to his people is recited, and he is called on to deliver them from their enemies, aided by the angelic hosts (xii.4). God is referred to as a “mighty man of war” (xii.9: gibbor ha-milḥamah). At least one blessing is given by the priests (xiii.1); another is sung by the victorious Israelite army (xiv.2–18).
Columns xv–xix: This section is partially parallel to vii.9–ix.9, but there are differences. For example, it is envisaged that there will be Israelite casualties (xvi.11; xvii.8–9; War Scrolla x, ii.11). This is apparently a way of testing “according to the mysteries of God.” There is also no cavalry among the troops. There is only an anonymous “enemy” rather than named opponents, except for “the king of the Kittim” in xv.2 (redactional according to Davies, 1977, pp. 88–90).
Extensive discussion about the growth of the book is beyond our purpose here, but some points are important. Columns ii–ix are based on the realities of the battlefield, but they were not written by a soldier. Just as some of the military manuals of the Greco-Roman world were written by armchair military historians and were debated in the philosophical schools, so this section may well have been written by a priest with some knowledge of warfare (Duhaime 1988). The military data have been put in a framework which gives them a different slant, however. The conduct of the campaign is led by the priests; the battle has been ritualized; and, most importantly, the central description of columns ii–ix is now preceded by column i and followed by columns x–xix, which give an eschatological context to the battle.
The details of the battle now fit in with this eschatological context. For instance, a number of different trumpet sounds are described in the War Scroll (iii.1–11). The trumpet was very important in warfare because in the noise and confusion of battle it was one of the best ways to communicate to the troops, and the ones described in the War Scroll have the feel of being based on the actual signals known to be used in battle, but it is the priests and Levites who sound the signals (vii.12–ix.9). Ensigns and standards (1QM iii.13–iv.18) were also widely used by ancient armies, much as flags are used today; however, the amount of space devoted to them gives them a significance far beyond their place in actual warfare. Similarly, the slogans (1QM iii, iv, vi) remind one of those mentioned in 2 Maccabees 8.23 and 13.15, but they seem to have an end in themselves in the War Scroll. The data may at times be those of a military manual, but the message is a theological one.
The enemies named at various places are traditional enemies and could be reapplied to represent a particular historical enemy (as the “Kittim” seem to represent the Romans in Dn. 11:30). But just as Gog and Magog are taken up in Revelation as names for the eschatological enemies destroyed by Christ, so the Kittim and others in the context created by column i have become the “Sons of Darkness” to be defeated by the stereotyped righteous who now become the “Sons of Light” and fight not according to human plans but only to the strict schedule of a divine timetable. As always, God is the supreme divine warrior, commanding angelic hosts.
- Davies, Philip R. 1QM, the War Scroll from Qumran: Its Structure and History. Biblica et Orientalia, 32. Rome, 1977.
- Duhaime, Jean. “The War Scroll from Qumran and the Greco-Roman Tactical Treatises.” Revue de Qumrân 13 (1988), 133–151.
- Duhaime, Jean. “War Scroll (1QM; 1Q33; 4Q491–496 = 4QM1–6; 4Q497).” In The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations. Vol. 2: Damascus Document, War Scroll, and Related Documents, edited by J. H. Charlesworth, pp. 80–203. Tübingen, 1995.
- Dupont-Sommer, A. “De l'immortalité astrale dans la Sagesse de Salomon (III 7).” Revue des Études Grecques 62 (1949), 80–87.
- Grabbe, Lester L. “Chronography in Hellenistic Jewish Historiography.” Society of Biblical Literature 1979 Seminar Papers, pp. 243–268. Chico, Calif., 1979.
- Grabbe, Lester L. “The 70-Weeks Prophecy (Dan 9:24–27) in Early Jewish Interpretation.” In The Quest for Content and Meaning: Studies in Biblical Intertextuality in Honor of James A. Sanders, edited by C. A. Evans and S. Talmon, pp. 595–611. Leiden, 1997.
- Osten-Sacken, P. von der. Gott und Belial: Traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zum Dualismus in den Texten aus Qumran. SUNT, 6. Göttingen, 1969.
- Yadin, Yigael. The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. Oxford, 1962.
- Yarbro Collins, Adele. The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation. HDR, 9. Missoula, Mont., 1976.
Lester L. Grabbe