430 to 5/4 B. C. Part 2
Maccabean Revolt 167 – 143 B. C.
Daniel predicted that “the people who know their God will stand firm and take action” in Daniel 11: 32. When Antiochus ordered the villages in Palestine to set up altars and sacrifice to Zeus, Mattathias, a priest at Modin, refused. An apostate Jew stepped forward to sacrifice, and Mattathias killed him, as well as Antiochus’ representative. He and his sons John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar and Jonathan took to the mountains and began their struggle against Antiochus and the Greek ways of the Seleucids. This is what is known as the Maccabean revolt. They were eventually joined by pious Jews who sought to defend the law of Moses against Hellenism. Mattathias died soon after the rebellion began and was succeeded by his son Judas, whose military successes won him the surname of “the Hammerer.” He used the surprise tactics of guerilla warfare and “hammered” away at the troops of Antiochus. Soon the enemy was fleeing before them.
After they defeated the Seleucid general Lysias at Beth-zur in 164 B. C., Judas marched to Jerusalem and purified and rededicated the Jewish temple. This made possible the reinstatement of worship rituals there. The Jewish feast of Hanukkah commemorates this event. This celebration is also called the “feast of lights” which is based on the legend that one small vessel of undefiled oil miraculously kept burning for eight days the lamps of the menorah.
Though it was highly significant, the rededication of the temple did not end the war for Jewish independence. Judas continued his military efforts. He carried on raids in Transjordan, the coastal plain, and Idumea, while his brother Simon led an expedition into Galilee. Wherever there were complaints of mistreatment of Jews, the Maccabees (a name applied to all champions of Judaism in that period) would carry out their exploits.
They gained religious freedom in Jerusalem and Judas sought political freedom for all of Judea and he lost his life carrying on this valiant effort. He was killed in the Battle of Eleasa in 161 B. C., and was succeeded by his brother Jonathan who carried on the struggle. Jonathan became a pawn in the political intrigues of the Seleucids and was eventually captured and put to death. Simon then assumed leadership and was able to secure political independence for Judah in 142 B. C.
Hasmonean Rule 142 – 63 B. C.
After 25 years of fighting to maintain their control, the Seleucids finally granted the Judeans their independence. Demetrius II exempted the land from further taxation and tribute. Simon Maccabaeus was confirmed as ethnarch and high priest, with the right of succession granted to his heirs. Religious and political power now resided in one leader. The priestly descendants from the time of Simon until 63 B. C. were the Hasmoneans that derived their name from the family of Hasmon.
The country enjoyed several years of prosperity and peace under Simon’s administration. He and two of his sons were assassinated in 135 B. C., though by the power-seeking Ptolemy. He was succeeded by his second son, John Hyrcanus. During his reign the Seleucids again reasserted Syrian authority and Hyrcanus I was compelled by famine to surrender Jerusalem and much of his power. When the Syrian leader was slain, though, the country was plunged into a civil war and Hyrcanus was able to reestablish Jewish independence again. He also carved out additional territory and conquered Idumea on the south, Samaria on the north, and Medaba in Transjordan.
The rival Pharisees and Sudducees started trying to maneuver for dominance in the realm and began to create much internal dissension. The Pharisees emerged as the more distinct group shortly after the Maccabean revolt and had as their ancestors the pious Hasidim. They joined the rebel forces because they refused to compromise their dedication to the law by adopting the ways of Hellenism.
The Pharisees’ dedication to the law was twofold however. They recognized both the written law of the Torah and its supplementation by the teachings of the prophets and the oral Law. In contrast, the Sadducees based their authority on their supposed descendancy from David’s faithful high priest Zadok. They recognized only the written law.
These priests and wealthy aristocrats essentially controlled the workings of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council and tribunal, and their interests lay mainly in the political and secular realm. The Pharisees were generally laymen and middle-class Jews who centered their teaching and activities around the synagogues. They were branded as “separatists” by the priestly Sadducees, and the differences between the two groups became crystallized when Hyrcanus aligned himself with the Sadducees. This sparked a long struggle during which the Pharisees attempted to democratize the Jewish religion and remove it from the rigid control of the temple priesthood.
Aristobulus I was the son and successor of John Hyrcanus. He was able to conquer Galilee and extend the Hasmonean dominion yet further north. After his death, his widow Salome Alexandra, married the next surviving brother Alexander Jannaeus. He expanded the kingdom to include most of the present land of Israel. He was not nearly as successful as Aristobulus in maintaining a stable administration and good public relations. He managed to alienate both the Sadducees and the Pharisees and suppress any opposition with savage measures. Many Jews fled the country during this reign. One significant result of his rule was the appointment of Antipater, as governor of Idumea. He was the Herod of the Bible’s father.
Salome Alexandra had been designated by Alexander Jannaeus as his successor. She selected her oldest son, Hyrcanus II as high priest and made peace with the Pharisees. She knew that they influenced the majority of the people. When Alexandra died, Hyrcanus assumed the position of king as well as high priest. He was somewhat of a weakling and was challenged by his brother, Aritobulus II, who quickly took power and captured Jerusalem. As the political situation in Jerusalem was deteriorating, the Roman general Pompey was marching east across Asia Minor.
After annexing the Seleucid kingdom, which became the Roman province of Syria, he turned his attention toward Judea. When Pompey arrived, the supporters of Hyrcanus threw open the gates of the city to him. Aristobulus suspected that Pompey would not favor him and he fled. He was later taken prisoner and slain. Hyrcanus was reinstated as high priest and given the title ethnarch (“ruler of a nation”). But the nation he ruled was only a fragment of what he had previously controlled. Much of the country was placed under the authority of the Roman proconsul of Syria. Palestine was now under the dominion of Rome.
Roman Rule 63 – 4 B. C.
Although Hyrcanus II was high priest and ethnarch of Judea, his friend and supporter Antipater (father of Herod the Great) was the power behind the throne. When Pompey and Julius Caesar engaged in civil war, Antipater threw in his lot with Caesar. He was rewarded with Roman citizenship and appointed procurator of Judea. This was a position that actually gave him more power than that of Hyrcanus. Antipater used this authority to appoint his oldest son Phasael as governor of Jerusalem and his younger son Herod as governor of Galilee.
The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B. C. resulted in renewed civil war in Rome, but Antipater and his sons managed to stay in favor with the ruling party. When Antipater was murdered in 43 B. C., Herod and Phasael were appointed co-rulers of Judea.
In 40 B. C., the Parthians invaded Syria from their territory southeast of the Caspian Sea and soon swept into Palestine. They were joined by Antigonus who was the surviving son of Aristobulus II. He wanted to regain the position of high priest for his lineage. Under his direction, Phasael and Hyrcanus were captured by the Parthians, but Herod managed to escape to Masada, then to Petra, and finally to Rome. Antigonus was appointed ruler by the Parthians, and Hyrcanus was carried away and mutilated, which made him unfit for the high priesthood.
When Herod arrived in Rome, he was recognized as a hero and received with honor. Octavian, who was to be the future Emperor Augustus, and Mark Antony persuaded the Roman senate to appoint Herod “king of the Jews”. Although it was an empty title at the time, he was determined to make the most of this opportunity.
He returned to Palestine and began his campaign for Galilee in the winter of 39 B. C. with the support of Roman soldiers. During the next two years, Herod secured the territories appointed to him by Rome. Jerusalem fell to Herod’s forces in the summer of 37 B. C., Antigonus was executed (who was the power in Jerusalem at that time), and Herod the Idumean became the undisputed King of Judea.
After securing his power, Herod solidified his position by punishing those who had opposed him and rewarded his supporters. He executed 45 former supporters of Antigonus and confiscated their properties. He was never really liked by the Jews, even though he attempted to reconcile with them and even added on to the temple significantly for them. They loathed his Idumean heritage even though he said publicly that he conformed to Judaic law and encouraged the Pharisees.
Herod’s Edomite ancestors had been forced to convert to Judaism by John Hyrcanus. He was not a true Jew and could claim no hereditary right to the throne despite his marriage to the Hasmonean princess Mariamme.
He was a great builder, though, and taxed the people heavily to support his many projects. To protect his domain, he built fortresses at Masada, Herodium, and Machaerus. He established Caesarea, which was a lovely port city on the Mediterranean coast; and Sebaste, a city in the hills of Samaria. He built a winter villa at Jericho that had a large swimming pool as part of it. In Jerusalem, he commissioned a palace, theater, towers, and the marvelous Antonia Fortress. The Fortress was the gateway to the Temple itself, which was his crowning work.
He enlarged the temple mount by adding retaining walls and a platform supported by subterranean arches. It was surrounded by colonnaded porches. In the center of this great courtyard was the sanctuary where the priests ministered. Although Herod spared no expense in embellishing the temple, it failed to win him the support of the Jews. They knew that he did everything because of his vanity, and not out of love for the God of Israel.
Below is a picture of some of his unique building techniques. These are totally unique to Herodian structures and have not been found in any other archaeological digs.
During the last ten years of his life, he was plagued by domestic problems. His multiple wives had given him several heirs. Each of them wanted to be a great leader in his kingdom. Herod himself also started to have many mental problems at this time. In a fit of jealousy, he had Mariamne put to death in 29 B. C. Later he suspected his two sons, Alexander and Aristobolus, of plotting against him and approved their assassinations. On his death bed he discovered that his oldest son Antipater had also been disloyal to him. He, too, was put to death. Herod himself died five days later in Jericho.
Augustus divided Herod’s kingdom between his three surviving sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip. Archelaus was appointed tetrarch of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria. Antipas was granted the territories of Galilee and Perea. He was the Herod that is talked about in the Gospels who ordered the execution of John the Baptist and before whom Jesus was brought shortly before his crucifixion. Philip received the tetrarchate of the regions northeast of the Sea of Galilee. His subjects were mainly Greeks and Syrians, and he earned a reputation as an excellent ruler who loved peace.
Shortly before his death, Herod the Great learned of some strange visitors from the east who were inquiring about the baby that had been born “king of the Jews”? It is that question that brings us out of the transitional period between the Book of Malachi and the Gospel of Matthew – and into the New Testament era.