The Holy Land after the Books of Maccabees

By Jack Fink

People familiar with the Bible know the Jewish history from the time of Abraham in about 1700 B.C. to the century before Christ was born, but they frequently don’t know what happened after the year 134 B.C., when the First Book of Maccabees ends.

At that time, the Hasmonean family was firmly in control in Judea. John Hyrcanus was both governor and high priest of the Jews, although many Jews didn’t accept him as high priest since he wasn’t from the Tribe of Levi.

John Hyrcanus ruled until his death in 104 B.C., and this was a time of expansion. His troops went south and annexed Idumea (the Old Testament country of Edom). Then he went north and conquered Samaria, destroying the Samaritans’ temple on Mount Gerizim. Continuing into Galilee, he conquered it.

Hyrcanus was succeeded by his son, Aristobulus I, but his reign lasted only a year before he was taken prisoner and sent to Rome. Alexander Jannaeus succeeded him and was a ruthless ruler who was hated by his subjects, the Jews.

In 90 B.C., the Pharisees tried to revolt against Jannaeus, but he put down the revolution with great savagery. He executed 800 of his opponents, crucifying them in Jerusalem. Crucifixion was a common form of execution at the time, not done solely by the Romans.

Alexander Jannaeus was succeeded in 76 B.C. by his wife Salome Alexandra. She made compromises with the Jewish leaders, turning over to the leaders of the Pharisees the direction of the state. Their traditions and ordinances, which had been abolished by John Hyrcanus, became the laws of the state.

When Salome Alexandra died in 67 B.C., her sons Hyrcanus and Aristobulus fought over the succession. Neither was to win because this is when Rome decided to crush the empire’s independent states. The Roman general Pompey laid siege to Jerusalem for three months and it fell in 63 B.C. Judea became a puppet of Rome. Hyrcanus was allowed to remain as the nominal governor, but the real ruler was his chief minister, Antipater—the father of Herod the Great.

After that, Judean and Roman history became intertwined. Pompey and Julius Caesar decided that the world wasn’t big enough for both of them. While they were

Then Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus and Cassius in 44 B.C. In Judea, Antipater and his sons quickly switched allegiances to Brutus and Cassius, but Antipater was murdered by his rivals. Then Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian. Herod supported Antony and his paramour, Cleopatra of Egypt. In return for that support, he was given the title tetrarch.battling, Hyrcanus and Antipater supported Caesar. After Caesar’s victory, Antipater was rewarded for his support by being named procurator of Judea. Antipater, in turn, named his elder son, Phasael, governor of Jerusalem and his younger son, Herod, governor of Galilee.

With civil wars raging within the Roman Empire, the Parthians invaded Judea in 40 B.C. Hyrcanus and Phasael were taken prisoner and Phasael committed suicide. Herod then quickly fled south with his family. He put his family and about 800 troops in the fortress of Masada, on a high hill near the Dead Sea, and continued on to Egypt. There, with Antony on one side and Octavian on the other, Herod was named King of Judea. His first act was to offer sacrifice to Jupiter, something his Jewish subjects never forgot.

While Herod was making his escape from Judea, Mattathias Antigonus tried to make himself King of Judea, reestablishing the Hasmonean kingdom brought to an end 23 years earlier by Pompey. Herod, considered by Antony and Octavian to be the sole ally of Rome in the Middle East, led a Roman army to recapture Judea.

The Parthians were soon defeated, but Herod’s Jewish rivals, the Hasmoneans, still controlled Jerusalem. After a long siege and with the help of Roman soldiers, Herod took Jerusalem in the year 37 B.C. He was to rule there until his death in 4 B.C.

I’ll say much more about King Herod in my next article.