Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
IN the upper part of the Kedron Valley, not far from the point north of Jerusalem where it is crossed by the road to Nablus, is an old rock-hewn sepulchre. Inside the walled-up vestibule, the entrance to which is closed by a modern door, is an ancient, but purposely mutilated and little noticeable, Latin inscription, which proves that at one time this rock-tomb, which during the course of ages has been much altered and now serves the purpose of a synagogue, was the last resting-place of a noble Roman lady named Julia Sabina.
In spite of this fact, however, the Jews of Jerusalem assert that this is the tomb of Simon the Just, and make pilgrimages to it on the thirty-third day of ’Omer, and also on the Feast of Weeks, seventeen days later.
Simon II., the son of Onias, lived during that period of Jewish history which intervenes between the time of Zerubabel and that of the Maccabees. His surname, "the Just," shows the respect in which he was held by his contemporaries. He towered both in body and mind above other high priests of the period, and worthily closed the long line of ancient Israelitish worthies preceding the heroes of the house of Asmon.
Jesus the son of Sirach (chap. 50) describes his work in the repairs and fortifications of the city
and Temple, and dwells with enthusiastic reverence on his majestic appearance when he came from behind the veil hiding the Holy of Holies, into the midst of the people as they thronged the Temple-courts on the great annual Day of Atonement. It was like the morning star bursting from a cloud, or the moon at the full (vv. 5, 6), like the sun's rays reflected from the golden pinnacles of God's house, or the rainbow when it shines out clear from the black background of the storm. It was like roses, like to lilies by a stream, like the fruit-laden olive-tree, like the stately fir-tree, like the fragrance of the frankincense, like the beauty of a golden vessel set with jewels. Every movement of the Pontiff is described with glowing admiration. The high-priestly garments of glory and beauty seemed all the more gorgeous from the manner in which he wore them. His form towered above those of his fellow-priests, as does a cedar in a palm-grove; and all his ceremonial acts, the pouring out of the libations, to a blast of silver trumpets, the shouting of the multitude, the harmony evoked by the band of Levitical musicians and singers, above all Simon's delivery of the final benediction, were things never to be forgotten of the witness.
Nor was it his physical beauty alone which drew out the love of those who knew him. Various are the stories told of his influence with men, and the prevailing power of his prayers with God. According to one tradition, he was the last survivor of the "Great Synagogue" which fixed the Old Testament Canon. Another says that it was he who
met Alexander the Great, when that conqueror (known in Arab folk-lore as the second Iskander Dhu’lkarnein, the first of that name having been a prophet contemporary with El Khalìl, and to whom we alluded when speaking of El Khudr and the Fountain of Youth) came to Jerusalem about B.C. 330; while a third asserts that it was Simon the Just who tried to dissuade Ptolemy Philopator from intruding into the Temple at Jerusalem. The whole city was panic-stricken when the monarch announced his resolution. The dense crowds sent heavenward a shriek so piercing that it seemed as if the very walls and foundations shared in it. In the midst of the tumult was heard the prayer of Simon, invoking the All-seeing God. And then, like a reed broken by the wind, the Egyptian king fell on the pavement, and was carried out by his guards.
It is also related that, till the days of Simon the Just, it was always the right hand of the high priest that drew the lot for the scape-goat: but that afterwards the right and left wavered and varied. Till his time the scarlet wool bound round the horns of the animal turned white in token of the atonement being accepted and all sin forgiven: but after his days its changing colour was never certain. In his days the golden candlestick in the holy place burned without failing: afterwards it frequently went out. Two faggots daily were sufficient to keep the flame on the great altar of burnt-offering in front of the Temple porch alive in his time: but later, piles of wood were not enough. In the last year of his life he is said to have foretold his own death from the
omen that, whereas on all former occasions he was accompanied to the entrance of the Holy of Holies on the solemn yearly fast-day by an angel in the form of an aged man clad in white from head to foot, this year his mysterious companion was clothed in black, and followed him as he went in and came out. His teaching may be judged of by the saying ascribed to him: "There are three foundations of the universe--the Law, Worship, and Almsgiving."
He greatly disliked receiving the ascetic dedication of the Nazarites. On one occasion, however, he made an exception. A tall, handsome youth of splendid bearing, with beautiful eyes and long locks of hair falling in magnificent clusters on his shoulders, arrived one day from a place in the south of Palestine and presented himself before the high priest as anxious to take the vows. "Why?" inquired Simon. "Would you shave off that glorious growth of hair?" The young man replied: "I was keeping my father's flocks, when, one day, whilst drawing water from a well, I beheld, with vain-glorious feelings, the reflection of my own image in the water, and was, in consequence, tempted to give way to a sinful inclination and be lost. I said to myself, 'Thou wicked one! wilt thou be proud of that which does not belong to thee, who art but worms and dust? O God, I will cut off these locks for the glory of heaven.'" On that, Simon embraced the youth, exclaiming, "Would there were many such Nazarites in Israel!"
With such a record of his life, it is no wonder that
in modern times the Jews of Jerusalem ascribe miraculous power to the intercessions of this saint, and offer vows and prayers at his shrine, as in the following story:--
About two hundred years ago, when Rabbi Galanti was "The First in Zion," there came a year of great distress for lack of rain. The whole population of the city fasted and prayed, the Christians holding services and reciting litanies in their churches, the Moslems in their mosques, and the Jews at their Place of Wailing; but in vain. Infants, Christian, Jewish, and Moslem, were also kept for hours without food and water, in order that their sufferings and cries might bring down the desired blessing, since Allah loves the prayers of little children: and the pupils in the Mohammedan schools marched in procession all through and round the city, chanting prayers and passages from the Koran; but still the heaven was as brass, and the All-Merciful seemed to have forgotten His chosen Land and City.
In consequence of this fearful drought, popular prejudice was roused against the Jews, and a Moslem sheykh told the Pasha that Allah was keeping back the rain because they were allowed to live in Jerusalem. Hearing this, the Pasha sent word to Galanti that, unless rain fell within three days, the Jews should be driven out.
The consternation caused by this message may be imagined. The Jews spent the next two days in constant prayer. Before sunrise of the third day, Galanti bade his people clothe themselves for wet
weather, and accompany him to the tomb of Simon the Just, to give thanks for the heavy rain that would fall before evening.
The Jews believed their Rabbi had gone mad, yet dared not to disobey "The Crown of the Head of Israel." As the procession passed out at the Damascus Gate, the Moslem sentries mocked them for wearing winter clothing on that intolerably hot day, under that burning sky. But the Jews trudged on their way regardless of ridicule.
On reaching the shrine of Simon the Just their Rabbi's faith infected them, and they joined him with fervour in thanksgiving:; when suddenly the sky was overcast and rain came down in torrents. Indeed so heavy was the downpour that, in spite of their winter clothing, they were drenched to the skin.
As they returned, the soldiers at the gate who had mocked them going out, fell at Galanti's feet and asked forgiveness. The Pasha, likewise, was much impressed, and for a long while afterwards they were held in honour by the populace.