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Edom Becomes Rome

In Parashat Vayishlach (Gen.32:4-36:43), “Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” Jacob survives the all-night struggle and like the infant that held onto his brother's heel, he will not let go until his adversary confirms Jacob owns the birthright--the royal title: Israel. It's a name can rendered as "upright with God" or "man struggling with God." It's a name revealing God’s desire for a true partnership in building the world.

Jacob calls the place of this struggle Peniel, exclaiming he had, “Seen Elohim face to face but my life was saved!” Jacob fully grasped that every encounter in life, whether man or angel, good or evil—every living experience, is placed before us by the Creator. More importantly, he saw the span of history and the mission of his descendants who, like the ladder in a previous dream, would bring heaven and earth together. The wrestling—alone with a man is a prophetic hint of the Jewish experience through the ages as, “a people who dwell alone among the nations." They have struggled to be a model nation, keeping alive the knowledge of the One True G-d. A life lived in this manner is a vibrant testament to Torah-values of Jacob that rejects the humanism of Esav.

The day after this wrestling match, Jacob and Esav meet and the latter appears to let bygones be bygones. Jacob urges Esav to proceed ahead of him and Esav speeds ahead of Jacob through history.

At the beginning of the thirty-sixth chapter of Genesis, the royal roll call of Esav's descendants takes a curious turn at verse thirty-one because the names of the rulers are not from the lineage of Esav. They are foreigners. According to the commentary known as MeAm Lo Ez, the Edomites were unable to find anyone in their own ranks that they trusted or felt was capable to rule them and they sought foreigners to install as their monarchs.

A king called Bela is among those who ruled but were not descendants of Esav.

Many of the English translations imply that Bela’s capitol was located somewhere in Edom. However, Sefer Ha Yashar, (a book referenced in Joshua 10:13 and 2nd Samuel 1:18) tells us that Bela hailed from Dinhabah, a province on the coast of North Africa where he befriended the ruler of that region. The ruler was known as Angeas and may be an historical figure alternately called Aneas, who would become one of the founders of Rome. Sefer Ha Yashar states:

"Therefore the sons of Esav swore, saying, From that day forward they would not choose a king from their brethren, but one from a strange land unto this day. And there was a man there from the people of Angeas king of Dinhabah; his name was Bela the son of Beor, who was a very valiant man, beautiful and comely and wise in all wisdom, and a man of sense and counsel; and there was none of the people of Angeas like unto him. And all the children of Esav took him and anointed him and they crowned him for a king…. And the people of Angeas took their hire for their battle from the children of Esav, and they went and returned at that time to their master in Dinhabah." - Sefer HaYashar 57:40-44

Apparently, the clans of Esav/Edom hired Angeas and his army to serve as mercenaries. Edom’s political connections with Angeas/Aneas, his people and Bela is one of many threads that connect Esav/Edom to the origins of Rome .

Yet another link can be traced directly to the family Esav, in the form of a grandson named Zepho. In the 61st chapter of Sefer HaYashar, verses 24-25 states that Zepho, became a leader of the people called the children of Kittim:

"And the children of Kittim saw the valor of Zepho…and they made Zepho king over them…they built him a very large palace for his royal habitation and made a large throne for him, and Zepho reigned over the whole land of Kittim and over the land of Italia fifty years."

The Jewish commentator, Abarbanel makes this same connection as does Yossipon, a 10th century chronicle attributed to Joseph ben Gorion, which states that Zepho was crowned king of Kittim by its inhabitants. History and myth are easily mingled and assimilated with the passage of time. We have already seen a few examples where the two have become intertwined. If Zepho, grandson of Esav, became the first king to rule over all of Italy, it would come as no surprise that his subjects would want to know of his origins. We can visualize Zepho, surrounded by his adoring minions as he recounted and traced his divine lineage, how G-d told Rebecca that noble leaders were in her womb. Zepho would have revealed that his regal ancestors were twins. All of those significant details could have evolved into a saga of twins born of a god and suckled by a she-wolf. I have speculated how the wolf wandered into this legend. It is not too much of a stretch to consider that the Hebrew word for wolf is ze’ev. Though not spelled the same, it sounds very much like Zepho. Consider that this grandson of Esau would also include his grandfather’s legacy of hatred for Jacob. That attitude would be absorbed by the subjects of Zepho and grow into an instrument of terrible cruelty and oppression known as the Roman Empire.

Another figure found in the lineage of Esav is Magiel. Midrash Rabbah states that this is a prophetic reference to the Emperor Diocletian, a ruler who radically changed the Roman Empire. One of the Amoraim, Rabbi Ammi, had a dream on the day that Diocletian took power. The rabbi told his contemporaries that Magdiel had become king and that there would be one more king over Edom. If one more ruler followed Diocletian that would mean that his true successor, Constantine the Great was the “final” king over Edom. Though Rabbi Ammi saw these men as the last rulers of Rome, it may be that his prophetic insight actually revealed them as pivotal figures who heralded the end of one version of Rome and the birth of another, newer incarnation of the empire.

Diocletian made his mark on Roman history at a time of great transformation. The empire was in danger of collapsing. As emperor, he instituted massive reforms in the economy, the military and, most importantly, the way Romans were governed. By increasing the army and enlarging the civil service ranks. He was also known for wielding religious rhetoric in his quest for power. Though historians chart the end of the Roman Empire as falling in the Fifth Century, it could be argued that it actually was reborn as something else that we now call Europe. Diocletian and Constantine were the midwives of that rebirth. They are credited by most contemporary historians for stabilizing the vastness that was Rome while forever changing the basic nature of the empire.

Constantine was a benevolent dictator, if there is such a thing. He attempted to meld the Roman idea of conquest and autocratic rule with religion. This effort had been perfected centuries earlier by the founder of the empire — Zepho, the grandson of Esau. He was the first “benevolent dictator” of the people called the Romim, on the River Tibreu. Following the death of his father, Constantine took the reins of power.

His influence was significant as author James Carroll reveals in his book Constantine’s Sword:

"…Constantine was the instrument of revolution in the religious imagination of the Mediterranean world, and eventually Europe. His political impact on Christianity is widely recognized, but his role as shaper of its central religious idea is insufficiently appreciated."

Most of us are familiar with the famous story of Constantine and his victory at the Milvian Bridge, on the Tiber. The night before the battle, he had allegedly witnessed a cross in the sky hovering over a Latin phrase meaning, “In this Sign Conquer”. Basking in bloody religious fervor that would make Esau proud, he eventually forced Christianity on the entire empire. James Carroll likens the rule of Constantine as the ‘second greatest story ever told’ and reminds the reader that Constantine’s adoption of Christianity led to a mass conversion in the “structures of culture, mind, politics, spirituality and even calendar.

Constantine was like many of those world movers who came before and after him. In the beginning there was a tolerance toward other creeds as long as it suited his designs. But Constantine’s tolerance for the Jews only went so far. As Carroll points out:

"Christianity went from being a private apolitical movement to being a shaper of world politics. The status of Judaism was similarly reversed.

It was, after all, the influence of Constantine that kept alive the libel that the Jews killed Jesus. In his letter to the churches after the Council of Arelate, Constantine’s warning about consulting the Jewish calendar exudes anti-Semitic bile:

What right opinions can they have who, after the murder of the Lord, went out of their minds…"

The rule of Constantine would eventually bring about a repositioning of Jerusalem in the hearts and minds of the world. It was no longer regarded as a forgotten Roman province. It held a special place for the growing power of the Catholic Church. From that time on, the Papacy would continue to exert influence through the many permutations of the Roman Empire. There is no denying that Rome, as the Catholic Church, would extend its influence for hundreds of years and over much of the European continent. It may not be coincidence that, centuries later, the new incarnation of Rome would emerge in the very same locale where Constantine began his ascent to power: the Roman province of Germania.

From the time of Diocletian and Constantine until the formal disappearance of Roman Power in the West in 476CE, two rising institutions gradually took control of the western Mediterranean world. These new forces were, first, the Christian Church and, second, the German tribes who organized the kingdoms that inherited the western empire. Professor Carroll Quigley, who trained diplomats and world leaders at the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University, wrote that the rise of Hitler in Germany was possible because the Germans were still under the influence of Roman domination:

"The German continued to dream of that glimpse he had of that glorious, holy, eternal, imperial system before it sank. (The German) refused to accept that it was gone…All the subsequent failures of the German people from the failure of the Otto the Great to Hitler in the 20th century have served to perpetuate and perhaps intensify the German thirst…for the totalitarian way of life."

The imagery of Esau and Jacob grappling with one another vividly distills the historical struggle of opposing philosophies locked together. We have witnessed Greco-Roman concepts of government and religion reborn throughout the centuries — always emerging with Jacob’s Torah principles clinging to them. Even a milestone such as the Magna Carta, drafted in 1215 AD was a mixture of the two philosophies. This historical document, which signaled a new beginning for the rights of the individual in England, was not welcome by the crown. King John immediately appealed to the Vatican to have it annulled. Of course, they were happy to oblige.

The French Revolution in 1789 was an event that actually paved the way for Napoleon’s dictatorial thrust for conquest. This idea of Democracy would fuel the engine that powered the founding our own country. But again its birth represented the struggle between different ideologies.

Professor Quigley agreed with those who believed it was their duty to preserve the Western way of life at any cost. He had intimate knowledge of the various Round Table Groups in America and England. One of them, formed in 1919, was the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Cecil Rhodes, the fabulously wealthy diamond magnate, aided and abetted the creation of this organization with like-minded individuals to preserve and expand the British Empire as well as their own ideas of what was right and good for mankind. Rhodes was an ardent student of John Ruskin who espoused a belief system that found its roots in ancient Greece.

Prior to World War II, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institutes of Pacific Relations and a group called Union Now were formed by the powerful men who esteemed these ideologies. This latter, based in England, was instrumental is conceiving the so-called “three bloc world.” They envisioned a new Europe with England on one end of the continent and the Soviet Union at a safe distance on the other. An Adolf Hitler-ruled bloc of countries would provide a necessary protective buffer in between. Neville Chamberlain was at their beck and call, shutting across the continent seeking to appease Adolf Hitler. Union Now was also under the misguided impression that Hitler was only interested in his immediate neighborhood. He was like the farmer who said that he only wanted the property that bordered his own land. If Poland and Czechoslovakia refused to give in, they were standing in the way of peace. Chamberlain finally extracted a promise from the Czech government to grant “autonomy” to Germans living in the Sudetenland.

Tragically, Chamberlain returned to England proclaiming, “Peace in our time.” Hitler’s tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia shortly afterwards. It was this kind of treachery that eventually led to World War II and the Holocaust. The European powers and anti-Torah Liberals are using this very same model today. They are telling Israel to dole out whole portions of its land under the guise of granting “autonomy” to the Palestinians. By not doing so, Israel is accused of standing in the way of peace and democracy.

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