The rededication of the Temple by Maccabean forces in 164 BCE was not the
end of the Jewish war against the Syrian-Greeks, nor the military-political
escapades of the Hasmonean family. The Maccabean war continued for twenty
five years. The descendants of Mattithias, Judah, and Simon remained the
single most influential family in the politics of the Jewish world until
the forces of Rome conquered the Land of Israel in 63 BCE.
Soon after the Jewish return to the Temple Mount, Antiochus IV died.
The commanding general of Syrian Greek forces, Lysias proposed terms of
peace to the Jews. He hoped to extricate himself from the quicksand of
Judaea in order to return to Antioch and claim the now empty throne. The
conditions of peace included guarantees on Jewish religious freedom.
Politically, Judaea would remain under Syrian-Greek rule. Many of the
Hassidim were prepared to accept Lysias' terms. Judah and his followers,
although the minority, argued that religious freedom without the framework
of political independence was meaningless. With the peace accepted by most
Jews, Judah and his followers left Jerusalem.
Lysias appointed Alcimus (or Elyakim) to the High Priesthood. Like Jason,
Alcimus was an avowed Hellenizer. In order to prevent internal Jewish power
struggles, Alcimus removed the Hassidim from all positions of influence,
and executed others. Civil war erupted again as the common people felt that
the peace agreement was a shameful scam cooked up by Lysias and his Jewish
quislings. In 160 BCE, Judah was killed as Syrian troops invaded the
country at the request of Alcimus. The brothers Jonathan and Simon
continued the fight. In Syria, continuing battles of succession weakened
the waning Seleucid regime.
Between 160-152 BCE, Maccabean stamina was also flagging. The years of war,
the recent death of Judah, and their exile from Jerusalem reduced seriously
both their morale and their numbers. However, two rivals for the Seleucid
throne, Alexander Ballas and Demetrius, both recognized the potential power
of the Hasmoneans as allies in their struggle to the crown. Jonathan backed
Demetrius, and even sent over 3000 Jewish troops to fight with Demetrius at
Antioch. Even though the Hasmoneans and their followers were weary after
years of struggle, it seems that they were still the only group in Judaea
capable of rallying significant numbers of troops. Jonathan was rewarded
for his service to the Seleucid throne. Not only appointed governor of
Judaea, he was also made High Priest. By 143 BCE, Jonathan was also dead.
His involvement in the schemes of the Seleucid court ended with his
assassination by the Ptolemies. Simon, the single survivor of the five
brothers, took the throne and the priesthood, and made them hereditary
possessions of the Hasmonean family. In 141 BCE, Simon drove the Syrian
garrison from Jerusalem, razed the Akra, and expelled the Jewish
hellenizers. With the ascension of Simon, the Hasmonean house became the
first independent Jewish government since the time of the Babylonians.
The Hasmonean Dynasty introduced several innovations to the history of
Jewish politics. During the First Temple Period, the monarchy of the
Davidic line and the priesthood, which traced it's hereditary roots back to
Aaron, the brother of Moses, were kept separate. The Hasmonean kings, also
of priestly descent, recognized that by controlling both the royal court
and the Temple itself, they could more easily maintain their own political
and economic power through a religious sanction. Ideologically, the
combination of religious fervor and the political independence lay at the
very base of the Macabean revolt. With the rise of Rome by the 1st Century
BCE, later Jewish rebel groups would also utilize the explosive mix of
religious sanction and political extremism in their struggle for Jewish
independence against Rome.
As the Hasmonean Empire expanded into the Galilee, south to Idumea, and
across the Jordan River, they forcibly converted the non-Jewish populations
of these areas. Under John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE), Idumea, and it's
central city of Marisha, the birthplace of Herod, was converted by the
sword. The Itureans of the Galilee were converted during the campaigns of
Aristobolus I (104-03 BCE). The choice between death and exile or adopting
Judaism ultimately signified the conquered people's acceptance of Hasmonean
political rule. A large non-Jewish population, the Hasmoneans were
convinced, could become a potential seedbed for cultural conflict and
political insurrection. The Hasmonean crusade or Jihad is the only example
of forced conversion to Judaism since the days of Joshua. From an uprising
that began as a protest against religious oppression, the Hasmoneans had
come a long way.
The Hasmonean state, although it began as a local revolt against Seleucid
rule, as a Jewish refusal to embrace Hellenism at the expense of Judaism,
was also heavily influenced by Hellenistic culture. Hasmonean coins, for
example, use both Hebrew and Greek inscriptions. Careful not to use symbols
that would directly offend Jewish sensibilities against idolatry, Hasmonean
coins bear the same types of symbols - stars, palm branches, cornucopia -
that one would see in both the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires.
Although Jewish tradition remembers Judah and his four brothers, and even
John Hyrcanus, with high regard, the tradition also recalls the growing
tyranny of the Hasmonean House. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the 1st
Century CE, writes about John Hyrcanus
He alone enjoyed the three greatest priviliges at once - political
power, the high priesthood, and the prophetic gift. So constant was his
divine inspiration that nothing was hidden from him. . . (The Jewish Wars.
In the same passage, Jospehus relates how Hyrcanus looted the tomb of David
of 3000 talents. One third of the money went to pay off the Seleucids, and
the rest went to raising a mercenary army to help him in his wars of
conquest. Ironically, Hyrcanus' wars of territorial expansion and forced
conversion were largely fought, not by Jews, but by pagan "hired swords".
The rising sun of the Macabees as a force for national liberation was
descending as Hasmonean rule developed a taste for despotism that made it
no different than any of the surrounding pagan kingdoms. Alexander Yannai,
acting as High Priest during Sukkot, was pelted by the crowd with etrogim,
the lemon-like fruit that is central to the festival celebration. The
furious Yannai ordered his forces into the streets of Jerusalem. Over 6000
were executed. In the civil war that ensued, Yannai was only able to ensure
his continued rule after five years of fighting and over 50,000 dead. After
Yannai's Jewish rivals turned to the Seleucid's for military aid, Demetrius
III invaded the country, and beat Yannai's forces at Schechem (89 BCE).
When Demetrius was later driven out of the country, Alexander Yannai took
his revenge on his Jewish rivals. Captured at the town of Bemeselis, the
Jewish dissidents were led back to Jerusalem under guard and chain.
Yannai's fury was insatiable, and Jospehus relates:
Eight hundred of the prisoners he impaled in the middle of the
city, then butchered their wives and children before their eyes; meanwhile
cup in hand as he reclined amidst his concubines he enjoyed the spectacle.
(The Jewish War 1:103)
Ultimately, the power politics of the ancient Middle East determined the
rise and fall of the Hasmonean dynasty. The success of Judah, Jonathan, and
Simon was in large part due to the increasing weakness of both the
Ptolemies in the South and the Seleucids in the North. The ongoing
between Ptoelies and Seleucids, the internal struggles within the two
Hellenistic kingdoms, and the development of local revolts throughout the
empires created a power vacuum in the Land of Israel that the Hasmoneans
filled. However, as Rome continued to solidify it's own position throughout
the Mediterranean in the 1st Century BCE, it became clear that the
Hasmonean house could not stand against the might of Rome. Rome has
appeared on the scene fairly early on. Judah Macabee had enlisted Roman
support during his war against Antiochus Epiphanes.
In 67 BCE, two brothers, the sons of Alexander Yannai and Salome Alexandra,
Hyrcanus II and Aristobolus clashed over claims to the Hasmonean throne.
Again, civil war erupted between the armies of Hyrcanus and Aristobolus.
Both brothers turned to the Roman legate in Syria. Each hoped that Roman
support would secure his own position as king against the claims of his
brother. The Roman general Pompey, concerned about Rome's ability to
ensure the defense of the Mediterranean coast and Egypt against the
Parthians of Mesopotamia, recognized the strategic value of Roman influence
in the Land of Israel and across the Jordan. Pompey threw the weight of the
Roman armies behind Hyrcanus, the weaker of the two brothers. Pomepey's
invasion of the Land of Israel, it may b said, was in response, strangely
enough, to a Jewish royal invitation. After a three month seige, Pompey's
armies entered Jerusalem.
The once great Hasmonean empire was reduced to Judaea, Galilee, and Idumea.
Hyrcanus became a puppet king with the Romans pulling the strings. The
country was in fact controlled by the Roman legate in Syria,with the aid of
an Idumean advisor, one of the noble families of Marisha who had been
converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus. The advisor's name was Antipater.
Not only was Antipater a central political figure within th failing
Hasmonean regime, but he was also closely involved with the intrigues of
Roman politics. A confidant of Julius Caesar, Antipater assisted
Caesar in quelling Ptolemy opposition to Rome. As a reward for his service,
Antipate was made procurater of Judaea. Phasael, one of Antipater's sons,
ruled as govenor of Jerusalem. The second son, Herod, began his political
career as govenor of the Galilee. Appointed by the Roman Senate as rex
socius et amicus populi (allied king and friend of the Roman people) Herod
was undisputed ruler of the Land of Israel for over thirty years (37-4