THE HASMONEAN DYNASTY AND THE PROMISES
Daniel’s prophecy of betrayal became a sobering reality. The Persians and the Medes fell to Alexander the Great and the Hellenizing of the Middle East began. Alexander’s empire was divided among his four generals. Two of them, Egypt and Syria became Judea’s mortal enemies. Syria was set on Hellenizing Judaism with costly consequences. Treachery began within Judaism with Alcimus who turned against the Hasidim and many were executed. Those who escaped rejoined Judas Maccabee and the civil war continued. It began with the Syrians and ended with the Romans, leaving posterity with the bloodiest memory of Abraham’s seed in history.
Alexander the Great was friendly with the Jews and left their religious belief and observance alone. The Hellenistic Syrians took it as their mission to Hellenize their domain and the Maccabees became their fiercest opposition to change. The Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanies XIII set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple and had his envoy offer up a pig. Mattathias, the priest in charge of preserving Yahwehism 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 when the Hasmoneans secured 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. Long before that the conflict between Syria and the Maccabees (Hasmoneans) was brutal and bloody. After the Maccabees began to fight on the Sabbath, the Syrian army suffered losses and one defeat.
The Syrian army returned and Judas was killed. Judas’ brothers Simon, and Johanan with several hundred men escaped across Jordan. Jonathan emerged as the leader and many of the young men flocked to his aid; but there were to be no more battles. The mortal enemy Antiochus died and two men, Demetrius II and Alexander Balos challenged for the Syrian throne. Both Syrian factions sought Jewish support from Jonathan rather than the Hellenizing Alcimus. Jonathan wisely sided with Balas who had Roman and Spartan support. Before Syria had resolved its internal conflict, Jonathan was High Priest, governor of Judea, a member of the Syrian nobility and a friend of Rome. His brother Simon became governor of the Philistine coastal area and it was annexed to Judea. Simon also became High Priest after Jonathan was killed in a Syrian conflict. Simon, after his priesthood was legitimized, was also killed, along with two sons, by an ambitious son-in-law. A third son, John Hyrcanus, escaped and succeeded his father as hereditary head of the Jewish state. The death of Simon ended the Maccabeean period and the succession of John Hyrcanus commenced the Hasmonean dynasty (Pf. pp. 91-95; I-II Mac.).
John Hyrcanus received Syrian recognition by promising to be subservient and assist militarily if needed. He also gave up the coastal cities except for Jaffa, but took them back and annexed Edom when Syria had other enemies to face. Syrian recognition, however, spelled the end of the old Hellenizers. Down the road, this group became the leading Sadducees. The Hasidic group became the Pharisees. None of these parties were Maccabeean enthusiasts, but for religious and political reasons quite acceptable. In essence, the grand and great grand children of Mattathias were not at all a credit to the priesthood or the sacred office. When John Hyrcanus fell in disfavor with the Pharisees, he sided with the Sadducees. After the incorporation of the Edomites or Idumeans, he left his children a kingdom as large as that of David and Solomon. Judah Aristobulus succeeded his father through a power struggle. He imprisoned three of his brothers where two died of starvation and one was murdered. He took the title “King.” He tyrannized the country for one year. He drank himself to death and Alexander Jannaeus, the only brother who had escaped Aristobulus’s hand, assumed the throne. This man walked basically in his brother’s footsteps and provided no relief to his subjects. He was bent on enlarging his domain at the cost of an already hurting people. He aspired to become a maritime power and added such districts as Perea and Galilee.
On the Feast of Tabernacles, Jannaeus officiated in the temple as king-priest. To show contempt for the Pharisees, he poured the water of libation at his feet and not on the altar. This impious behavior incited the people and they pelted the king with citrons intended for the feast. He in turn ordered his foreign mercenaries to kill many of the defenseless worshippers. Civil war broke out and to add insult to injury, the children of the Hasidim requested that the children of Antiochus Epiphanes to assist them in deposing the children of the Maccabees. Thus, the Pharisees with the help of the Syrians drove Alexander Jannaeus into the Judean Hills. Fearing that the Syrians might reclaim Judea, many of the Pharisees went over to Jannaeus. With this realignment, the Syrians were defeated. Jannaeus was not as forgiving as the Pharisees were. He held a banquet for his Sadducees and crucified eight hundred Pharisees. He became the Wicked Priest, who repented on his deathbed and had his wife Solome Alexandra promise to side with the Pharisees.
Salome Alexandra did not have to side with anyone. She was seventy and wise when she became queen. She entrusted the office of the High Priest to her oldest son Hyrcanus, the army to her second son Aristabulus and the affairs of the state to her brother Simon Ben Shetah, a leader of the Pharisees. He was the man who mandated that all Jewish boys received an education, primarily in the Scriptures. During Salome’s reign, the Pharisees took liberties against the Sadducees and spilled their blood. It divided the nation once more. At the queen’s demise, the Pharisees enthroned her oldest son as Hyrcanus II. The Sadducee went with Aristabulus and the army. Hyrcanus surrendered, gave his daughter to his brother’s son in marriage and promised eternal friendship. When Hyrcanus realized that he had become expendable, he fled to Aretas, King of the Nabatean Arabs. It was at this point when another important change took place. The Idumean Antipater, predecessor of Herod, made his move to better his lot. He persuaded Hyrcanus that they could oust Aristobulus with a Nabatean army. And after invading Palestine and surrounding Jerusalem, the Roman Pompey took a vital interest in the quarrel between the two brothers (Pf. pp. 97-102).
At first, a subordinate of Pompey sided with Aristobulus. When Aristobulus’s loyalty became doubtful, the General went with Hyrcanus. Jerusalem fell after three months, some twelve thousand Jews were killed unnecessarily and Pompey defiled the Holy Place by entering it. However, he left everything in tact, made Hyrcanus Ethnarch over Judea, Galilee, Idumea and Perea. Judea lost the coastal cities and was made part of the Roman province of Syria. Aristobulus was taken to Rome. Antipater proved valuable in Hyrcanus’s administration. This Edomite, despised by Jews, became the power behind the throne of the weak Hyrcanus. He secured positions of influence for his sons Phasael and Herod. He was also very opportunistic in siding with those who took power in Rome. As a result, his son Herod was made “Procurator of Judea” with the promise of becoming king. In 41 BC, the Parthians, who were still outside the Roman conquest, invaded and took Jerusalem. They restored Aristobulus as king and high priest. Prior to the invasion, Hyrcanus died and Herod inherited the Judean throne. Herod became what Nebuchadnezzar was before a tool of God to end the false representation by a people for whom the Promises were intended. Internal and external strife ended the Hasmonean dynasty. They began to live by the sword and died by it.