Northwest of Eden # 11 – PRIESTLY KINGDOM (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Maccabees, IDB. Metzger)

The Northern Kingdom would be dissolved by Assyria, another Babylonian abstract.  One hundred fifty years later, the Southern Kingdom ceased to exist for seventy years.  During the captivity, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and leaders accepted the verdict of Yahweh against them and they decided that they could remain Yahweh followers in captivity and not loose their identity.  Only a remnant would return to Palestine and rebuild the nation of Judah or Israel.  The leaders were mostly priests and scribes that held on to Yahweh and His laws.  The remnant had seventy years to gain the trust of their captors before they were allowed to take an extended vacation.  The men that proved themselves worthy were Daniel, Mordecai, Ezra, Nehemiah and Queen Ester.  Of these, Ezra and Nehemiah were allowed to go on extended leaves from their services of the new kings of Medes and Persians, under Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes.  The other Jews in captivity adjusted gradually to their masters and with their skills ended up managing their captor’s estates and money.  Jewish farmers and shepherds became bankers, merchants and traders.  Nebuchadnezzer did not take all the leading Jews to Babylon.  A large group escaped to Egypt and many of them adapted to their new jobs and skills.  Under Greek and Roman expansion, many Jews prospered and began controlling a considerable part of the world’s trade and banking.  In Alexandria, Jews were Hellenized and they gave the world a Greek Bible, the Septuagenta.
Ezra and Nehemiah obtained permission to rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and re-establish Yahweh worship according the Moses’ law.  They were being assisted in the restoration of Israel by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and two public leaders, Zerubbabel and Jeshua.  It would no longer be a costly monarchy but a Mosaic theocracy under the leadership of a High Priest and a Council or Sanhedrin, know as the Hasidim.  In Jesus day, they were the Pharisees, but they were no longer in control.  The Sadducees were in power.  Nehemiah’s project faced much opposition and it multiplied when Alexander the Great invaded Palestine and was welcomed by the Jewish leaders and people.  He brought Zeus with him; but he left the Jews their freedom to worship.  Many Jews adopted Hellenism voluntarily.  When Alexander died, his four generals divided his domain into four kingdoms.  Nehemiah’s Israel became a hurdle between Syria and Egypt, or the Seleucids and the Ptolemies.  Under priestly supervision, Yahwehism was left undisturbed until Antiochus Epiphanies XIII set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple and had his envoy offer up a pig.  Mattathias slew the envoy and a lengthy religious struggle between Syria and the Maccabees ensued.  Judas Maccabeus succeeded his father and became a guerrilla warrior.  The Jewish historian Josephus suggested that the Maccabees adopted the name Hasmoneus from Mattathias’ great grandfather for their dynasty (142-63 B.C.).  There was less interference from Syria because of a treaty with Rome.  Simon Maccabeus and two of his sons died for their religious freedom.  A third son, John Hyrcanus escaped, became High Priest, was brutal with the Samaritans, forced Idumeans to become Jews and became friendly with the Hellenists and Rome. 
Judas Aristobulus became High Priest and King.  The Pharisee party with their Davidic expectations opposed the new king.  The king sided with the Sadducees and the Hellenizers and an internal religious conflict began to disrupt the Hasmonean reign.  Alexander Janneus forced his form of Judaism on his subjects.  It was acceptable to the Sadducees but not to the Pharisees.  He defied their sacrifice by pouring holy water on their feet and not on the altar.  The Pharisees began to throw fruit and vegetables at the king and he had his Asian mercenaries butcher six thousand of the Pharisee party.  The Pharisees appealed to king Demetrius of Syria for assistance and Janneus was defeated.  When it appeared that Demetrius had his eyes on Jerusalem, they allowed Janneus back and he rewarded the Pharisees by hanging their families on eight hundred crosses.  Janneus died on the battlefield and he entrusted the kingdom to Alexandra and the priesthood to a son.  He encouraged her to make peace with the Pharisees and she did manage to be more humane and kind with her opposition.  That angered the Sadducees and they used her younger son Aristobulus against the queen and her older son Hyrcanus.  The younger brother drove his older brother into exile and assumed the positions of High Priest and king.  That act caused the Hasmonean demise and the rise of the Herods.
Hyrcanus did not stop plotting against his brother a Hellenist siding with the Sadducees.  He found a friend in Antipater, father of Herod the Great, of the Idumean family in the country of Nabatea and king Aretas III of Arabia.  In return for Aretas’ service, Hyrcanus would give up twelve cities his ancestors had captured.  The friendship pact between Antipater and Hyrcanus opened the door for entering the playing field for the Herods descendants of Edom.  At this time Pompey was taking over the region.  The Jews that had been friendly with Rome sent three envoys with invitations.  The Sadducees with Aristobulus wanted to remain as they were.  Antipater and Hyrcanus had similar requests.  The Pharisees saw another false pretender to the Davidic throne and pleaded with the Romans to take over the government and allow them to practice their religion freely.  Pompey accepted the Pharisaic plan but Aristobulus II resisted and the Romans slaughtered twelve thousand Jews.  In Rome, Caesars and Generals changed but the Herods managed to negotiate themselves into favor with their captors and in 39 B.C. Herod was made king over Judea.  The Herods killed off any pretender to the throne of Judea, even their own offspring fathered jointly with a Hasmonean princess.  This Herod slaughtered the baby boys in Bethlehem and his offspring collaborated with the Pharisees and Sadducees to crucify Jesus, the Christ.  It was their political and religious enmity that moved Rome to end that small nation’s existence in A.D. 70.  The tragedy of tragedies was that the Jews and people with similar attitudes and views did not learn from the mistakes of others and their own.  Cause and effect were as certain as day and night.  It was friendly Rome that stabbed the Jewish nation in the back for their persistent rebellion.