By STEPHEN GABRIEL ROSENBERG
It is, as Josephus said, a "paradeisos." The first-century Jewish historian describes it in detail in his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, and he gets most of it right. As you leave the sprawling western suburbs of Amman, you enter a desert of few trees and shrubs, and after 20 minutes you suddenly spy a green patch that grows larger and larger as you approach and soon it becomes this paradise of greenery and classical ruins.
To the north, it is hemmed in by high limestone cliffs riddled with caves, and to the south, it is cut off by the deep gorge of the Wadi es-Tsir. In between are terraced fields of fruit and vegetables dotted with small houses surmounted by dovecotes. You have arrived at Airaq al-Amir (also spelled 'Iraq el-Emir) that Josephus called Tyros.
It was the estate of Hyrcanus ben Joseph, one of the first Hellenizers, who had to flee from his brothers in Jerusalem after he had usurped the tax-collecting rights of their father Joseph ben Tobiah. He fled to the family property across the Jordan, near Rabbat Ammon, and there he transformed it into a Hellenistic country estate, but he was not its founder.
That was one of his ancestors, Tobiah the Ammonite servant (court official), who had opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. Another was Tubias the animal breeder who supplied exotic animals to his royal Egyptian customer Ptolemy II from this estate in Ammon. Hyrcanus's father Joseph had been tax-collector for Ptolemy IV Philopator for 22 years and had brought prosperity to himself and his compatriots in Palestine, until such time as his energetic youngest son Hyrcanus bribed his way in Alexandria to take over the lucrative position.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
HYRCANUS BEN JOSEPH and his estate in what is now Jordan are featured in a Jerusalem Post article: