Category Archives: Mosollom

Mosollom the Archer

Joseph ben Matityahu (“Josephus”) was a first century Jewish historian, and is a somewhat controversial figure.  He wrote several histories of the Jewish people.  In one of his books he recounts a story told to him of the Jewish archer named Mosollom, who lived sometime Alexander the Great, so roughly 300BC:

As we were travelling towards the Red Sea, there was one Mosollam in the company, a Jew, and one of our horse-guards, that was looked upon to be very brave, and a famous marksman with bow and arrow.

As they were advancing on their way, a soothsayer, that took upon him to foretell the fortune of their voyage, bade them all stand, and they did so.  This Jew asked them what they stood for. The cunning man, showing them a bird, replied, “If that bird stands, you are to stand; if it rises, and flies on, you are to go forward too;  but if the bird takes its flight the contrary way, you must all go back again.”  

The Jew, without any more words, let fly an arrow, and killed the bird.  The diviner and his companions fell presently upon the Jew in most outrageous terms.  

“Why certainly,” says Mosollam, “you are all mad to be thus concerned about a foolish bird.  How shall that poor wretch pretend to tell us our fortune, that knew nothing of its own?  If this bird could have foreseen good or evil to come, it would have kept itself out of the way of this arrow.” 

I like that story.