Jerusalem greets Sparta
JONATHAN, the youngest of the Hasmonean brothers, succeeded Judas Maccabeus as leader of the Jewish people. In 152 B.C.E. he assumed the dignity of High Priest. This ingenious statesman became the builder of the new Jewish Commonwealth. In order to strengthen its independence, he sent an embassy to Rome to establish friendly relations with the Republic and at the same time addressed letters with a similar purpose to various city states through which the envoys passed on their journey. Only one of these has been preserved, in the First Book of the Maccabees (XII. 5-23), the letter to the people of Sparta. This letter refers to an earlier correspondence between Areus, King of Sparta, and the High Priest, Onias, and even quotes literally from the letter of Areus. Whether this unique quotation and Jonathan's own letter are historical documents or inventions of the author is still an open question. Jonathan's diplomatic activity certainly gives some support to the assumption that either this or some similar letter - the first known to have been sent from the Land of Israel to Europe - was written by the High Priest.
'We at all times...remember you in the sacrifices, and in our prayers'
[Jerusalem, about 150 B.C.E.]
Jonathan, the High Priest, and the Elders of the Nation, the priests, and the other people of the Jews, unto the Lacedemonians their brethren send greeting.
There were letters sent in times past unto Onias the High Priest from Areus,1 who reigned then among you, to signify that ye are our brethren as the copy here underwritten doth specify. At which time Onias 2 entreated the ambassador that was sent honourably, and received the letter wherein declaration was made of the league and friendship.
Therefore, we also, albeit we need none of these things, for