Background: I'm reading a book in Hebrew called "The Ten Tribes" by Alter Walner, a collection of essays on a number of topics that relate both to the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and to other aspects of the Jewish Exile. One of these topics is the Temple of Onias. In the essay he discusses, among other things, the different traditions relating to the creation of this temple. One tradition in the Talmud (appears in a few places, such as tractate Menachot 109b) says that Onias was chosen as High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem but his jealous brother Shim'i tricked him into wearing women's clothing on his first day on the job, which got Onias chased out of Jerusalem. He escaped to Egypt and eventually came to build a copy of the temple in Leontopolis.

Walner quotes from an essay by Ben-Zion Lurie who suggests that the Talmud combined two traditions: One of a man nicknamed "Onias" who was really a Hellenistic priest who was set on making extreme religious reforms in Jerusalem and because of this, wore of his own accord women's clothing while serving in the Temple. He was one of the people who brought upon the eventual desecration of the Temple which led to the Hasmonean Uprising a few decades later. The other was a priest who was really called Onias who was forced to flee Jerusalem, possibly because the priests who had turned to Hellenism had gained enough political power and had him kicked out. This Onias, or his son, came to build the temple in Egypt.

My question is about the Hellenistic priest who wore women's clothing in the Temple. In a footnote in the essay, Walner mentions that the Heraklean priest of the Island of Kos would open up the service by wearing women's clothing.

This makes it sound like a very niche phenomenon and I'm skeptical that the Hellenistic priests of Jerusalem would have heard of this. I was wondering whether there was evidence that this was a more widespread phenomenon among the Greeks of this era (late 3rd-2nd century BCE) and what would the act have symbolized in religious terms?


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