THE GREEK PERIOD
“The Conflict over Hellenization”
In our study of Persia we listed a number of major archaeological sites and finds that are important to the study, and that have some connection to biblical events. With regard to Cyrus the main focus was on the literary resources of his reign, his conquests, and most importantly, his calling by God to conquer and reign (the Cyrus Cylinder). With regard to Cambyses and Darius I, there was the famous Behistun inscription, a massive relief carved into the side of a cliff telling the story of Darius. It was this tri-lingual inscription that enabled archaeologists to decipher Akkadian cuneiform. The subject matter of the crisis of succession as told by Darius is also found in the writings of Herodotus--but some scholars still think his story of a usurper trying to take the throne is a hoax. There was also the great buildings of Persepolis that may have formed a ritual complex for various state functions and celebrations. For Xerxes I, the husband of Esther, the rich discoveries at his palace in Susa are quite amazing--most of which are now in the museum in Paris. For the Aramaic sections of Daniel and Ezra, good support has come from the Elephantine papyri of the 5th century (a Jewish colony on the Nile). So these are all grand discoveries, and as always, we cannot do justice to them by merely mentioning them. More discussion can be found in Edwin Yamauchi’s book Persia.
But now we turn to Greece. And here we shall not find as much material. For the wars of the period, first the Macedonians and then the Ptolemies and Seleucids, and finally the Hasmoneans, we are dealing with written histories and other related documents. There are plenty of weapons from the Greek world, helmets, swords, and the like; and there is an enormous amount of Greek pottery from ancient Greece as well as the inter-testamental period. But since we are focusing on the period from 350 B.C. down to 63 B.C., and then mostly in Palestine, we shall not catalog all this other material (for it all, see the texts on the archaeology of ancient Greece). When we deal with the missionary journeys of Paul, we shall discuss the finds at each of the Greek cities that are important. Of the seventy cities founded by Alexander, almost nothing of the early settlements remain, and with regard to the most important for biblical studies, Alexandria in Egypt, only a few things in and along the harbor have surfaced. For the Hasmoneans and their wars, only written accounts, largely from a later period, provide the information. Some excavations of tombs, and some discoveries of objects have been made, but nothing of great impact. It is a period of time that changed the world, but the changes that followed it were so dramatic the early changes were lost. But the most obvious result of the period is the Hellenizing influence throughout the world. So we shall use this section as a historical and cultural bridge to the beginnings of the relevant New Testament archaeological backgrounds.
Part One: Alexander and Hellenism
Background. The Macedonians are not entirely Greek in origin; they seem to be of mixed Greek and Illyrian race. They were not ranked among the Greeks because of racial mixing, but because they did not live like Greeks. They preferred to live in the country, not in the cities like other Greeks who managed the affairs of their own city-state. In contrast, the Macedonians formed one country with one king.
The Macedonians also passed the time hunting and farming. To an educated Greek, the Macedonian was too uncouth to be a Greek. But the Macedonians were hardy, brave, and obedient.
Rise to Power under Philip. In 357 B.C. Philip seized the gold mines of Mt. Pangaeus just across the Thracian border, and founded the city of Philippi. This wealth enabled him to unite the country with roads and to create a standing army of professional soldiers that became the most disciplined and deadly force the world had seen. It was known for the ability of its commanders and the professional efficiency of the troops.
On August 7, 338 B.C. Philip and his army defeated the Athenian and Theban armies at Chaeronea. Philip became ruler over all of Greece--except Sparta. But he was free to organize the Greek city states now. He called a congress at Corinth and declared war against the occupying force--Persia.
Philip returned to Macedonia and was murdered at the time of his daughter’s wedding. Some have suggested that Olympias, the mother of Alexander, and Alexander himself, had something to do with this. The suggestion is more plausible for Olympias, because she had been repudiated in favor of another woman.
Alexander the Great
His Early Years. Tradition says that he was brought into the world by the goddess Artemis; and the temple at Ephesus burned to the ground because the goddess was pre-occupied. The Greeks probably moved the month of his birth back to mid-summer of 356 B.C. in order that Philip might be said to receive three messages simultaneously: one of Parmenco’s victory over the Illyrians, another of the victory of the race horse at the Olympic games, and a third of the birth of Alexander at Pella. A son whose birth coincided with victories would always be victorious.
It was soon clear that Alexander’s skill and cold rationalism were inherited from his father; his romanticism and impetuousness came from his mother. At the age of 13 Philip brought Aristotle to his court to teach his son. His mind was thus greatly influenced by the Greek way of life. As a youth he appears to have exercised self-restraint. According to Plutarch the pleasures of the body had little hold on him.
He married twice for reasons of policy--to Roxanne, the daughter of an Iranian baron, and to a daughter of Darius. He had only one child, born after his death.
At the age of 16 while his father was away he crushed a Thracian rebellion and founded the city Alexandropolis, named after himself of course. He was only 20 when his father was murdered. But he quickly won the allegiance of the army and put the conspirators to death. He marched then to Corinth where the Greeks elected him commander in chief of the war of revenge against Persia.
The Macedonian Army. The army of Alexander is a fascinating study itself. From the ancient records we learn a good deal. First, the cavalry. Much of Alexander’s success can be attributed to the cavalry--it was the real striking arm. The most important section was the Companion Cavalry, some 2000 strong, drawn from influential families of Macedonia. The best of them were destined to become officers and administrators.
Second, the phalanx. Here there is some difference of opinion regarding its make-up. It was mobile and flexible. It generally formed a rectangle of men, but its configuration depended on the situation. It might be square, elongated, or narrowed for a thrust. It could even take the shape of a wedge. It was usually made up of eight, ten, or sixteen men in depth. It consisted in its entirety of 9000 foot companions divided into six battalions named after their commanders.
The soldiers were heavily armed, including a spear which seems to have been about 21 feet in length. The butt of the spear was weighted so it could be held several feet from the end. A body of soldiers equipped with such spears and drawn up in sixteen ranks, each rank standing 3 feet behind the one in front, and holding their spears fifteen feet from the point, had the spears of all the first five ranks projecting in front of the men in the first rank, distances of three, six, nine, twelve, and fifteen feet. The enemy armed with a six foot spear would have had to have broken through three rows of spear points before their own spear points could touch a Macedonian.
The soldiers could easily terrify the enemy by the mere arranging and rearranging of their formations. They advanced as a slow moving mass, and by the time they had passed into the battle cry it was a brave opponent who stood his ground.
There were other units as well. The hypaspists were fully armed shield bearing guards recruited from the higher level of society. There were three battalions totaling 3000 strong. One was Alexander’s guard. There were also 12,000 Greeks; 7000 were the contingents and allies of the Corinthian league. The remaining were mercenaries. There were 4000 Thracians, 1000 Agrianian javelin men, slingers, and about a thousand Cretan archers.
Alexander’s army was about 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry.
Alexander also made use of siege trains. These were siege towers on rollers or wheels and covered with hide to protect them from fire (like the Assyrians had, but larger). They were as high as 150 feet, consisting of many stories so that any part of the enemy’s walls could be reached by the artillery.
Boarding bridges were used at Tyre for the first time in history. Battering rams which had huge beams over 100 feet long with a metallic head were used to knock down walls. The besiegers were protected by moveable sheds, known as tortoises. But the greatest weapon in antiquity used at Tyre was the torsion catapult. It could fire huge arrows accurately for 200 yards as well as stones weighing 50 to 60 pounds.
The Conquests of Alexander
In the North. In the spring of 335 he made an expedition against the barbarian tribes in the north. He fought his way through Thrace to the Danube which he crossed and defeated the tribes who lived beyond it. He then turned southwest and defeated the Illyrians on the west of Macedonia. These wars were designed to instill fear in the hearts of those who sought to sever his lines of communication.
While he was gone a false report was circulated of his death causing a revolt by the Thebans. Alexander marched his army 250 miles in two weeks and captured Thebes. The city was destroyed to the ground and the entire population sold as slaves.
In Asia Minor. In early spring of 334 B.C., Alexander was ready to start the campaign against Persia. Antipater remained in Macedonia with an army of 12,000 foot soldiers and 1500 cavalry. Alexander crossed the Hellespont in 334. One of his first acts in Asia (today’s western Turkey) was a side-trip to Troy where he paid homage to the honor of Achilles.
(Troy had been the famous city of the Trojan Wars tradition (cf. Homer); and it was from Troy that Aeneas had fled to found Rome. Julius Caesar apparently wanted to make Troy the center of the empire later, but retained Rome. So Troy was a very important city in antiquity. In the New Testament Paul spent some time in the nearby Troas [which we will study later]).
The Persian king Darius III thought it unnecessary to try to halt the advance of Alexander. The Persian satraps were ready, however, with a large cavalry four times the size of Alexander’s. The best troops available to them were several regiments of Greek mercenaries under Memnon of Rhodes. But Alexander charged the Persians on the opposite bank of the River Granicus and after a desperate conflict defeated them. He then conducted the first winter campaign in history against the hill tribes in southwest Anatolia, which lasted until the spring of 333. During this time Alexander let all his young married soldiers spend the winter back in Macedonia.
Memnon was given control of the Persian military; he chose to attack by sea. One Aegean island after another fell until they reached Alexander’s most vulnerable spot--the Hellespont. Alexander had previously disbanded his navy in view of the Persian superiority. His strategy was to neutralize the Persian navy by depriving them of every harbor in the eastern Mediterranean. This plan, as well as the death of Memnon, ended the Persian naval superiority.
In 333 B.C. Alexander crossed the Taurus Mountains into Cilicia. By forced marches he reached the Cilician Gates (this is a deep gorge through the mountains that leads down to the area of Tarsus and Antioch) before the Persians could block the pass. He then marched to Issus and crossed to the Syrian coast. His intelligence service broke down here, and he actually passed to the south of the Persian armies before discovering where they were. The Persian’s were then at his back, forcing Alexander to turn back to fight them. Persia probably had 100,000 infantry and cavalry combined. But in the battle the highest ranking officers of Darius were slain defending the king. Alexander was wounded in the thigh. But when the battle seemed lost, Darius fled, and his family was taken alive. This proved to be one of the great battles of antiquity, marking the end of eastern power over the Mediterranean region.
In Phoenicia. Darius retreated across the Euphrates. Alexander did not pursue him because his primary objective was to drive the Persians out of the area. He turned south and took Damascus. The other Phoenician cities and ports surrendered without a conflict. Tyre alone refused to submit. The city was built on an island half a mile from the mainland surrounded by high walls two miles in circumference. Alexander decided to reach Tyre by building a solid stone causeway across the half mile of open sea. The Tyrians foiled this plan again and again; but eventually, after seven months siege, the city was taken with a great slaughter (July 332 B.C.).
While occupied with the taking of Tyre, ambassadors came from Darius offering 10,000 talents for his family, all the territory west of the Euphrates, a daughter in marriage, and friendship and alliance. The terms were rejected because Alexander already had most of what was offered.
In Egypt. Alexander made his way south to Egypt. Along the way the High Priest of Jerusalem came out to bless him. Alexander was touched by this gesture apparently, and by-passed the little Persian province of Judah. But Alexander always retained a favorable impression of the Jews.
When he arrived in Egypt he found no resistance. The Persians had provoked the Egyptians by insulting their animal gods. Alexander, on the other hand, offered sacrifices to them. He himself claimed to be a son of Amon. In fact, Alexander is portrayed on the wall reliefs in Karnak and Luxor.
The city of Alexandria was founded on the westernmost mouth of the Nile in the Delta. A great lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the world, was later constructed there to facilitate commerce. Built between 299 and 279 B.C., the lighthouse was 360 feet high and remained standing until 1326 A.D. The Ptolemaic dynasty (see below) made this city the center of Hellenism. It was in this city in 285 that the translation of the Old Testament into Greek was begun (see below under “Septuagint”).
Alexander followed his usual plan of divided responsibilities. He appointed Egyptians as governors of the land, but the financial affairs he placed in the hands of a Greek, and the military was entrusted to Greeks.
At Gaugamela. With slightly larger forces now, Alexander next prepared to fight the Persians at Gaugamela, near Arbela, not far from Nineveh. Darius’ army was even larger than his last one. In fact, he used scythe-bearing chariots, and fifteen elephants--which is used correctly could have struck terror in the opponents. Once again Alexander penetrated the defense and headed straight for Darius. At this Darius again fled, and his armies defeated.
Darius was now master of the Persian empire. He founded two cities, appointed satraps, and then entered Babylon and was received by the people and the priests. He then marched to Susa, and then on to Persepolis. Although there was no opposition, he burned the latter city and let his soldiers massacre a portion of the inhabitants to avenge the slaughter of Greeks 150 years earlier. Darius fled to Media, where one of his nobles killed him.
Beyond the Caspian. Alexander continued through Persia and Afghanistan. He founded Alexandria Arion, modern Herat. He went further east and founded a city said to be today’s Kandahar, and another to the north near what is now Kabul. He then crossed the river Jaxartes and defeated the Scythians, the northern frontier of his empire.
In India. In the spring of 327 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hinder Kush, recruiting many Asiatics in his army. He crossed the Indus and marched through the Punjab. He met little opposition until he reached Hydaspes at Haranpur. There he met the larger army of Porus, the ruler of Paurava, with his hundreds of scythe-bearing chariots and over 200 elephants. Alexander’s phalanx was used to withstand and assault the elephants, and Porus was defeated. He was allowed to keep his kingdom, but as a vassal to Alexander.
The army continued to march to Gudaspur on the Hyphasis. There the troops began to mutiny against further invasions. During the preceding eight and a half years they had marched over 11,000 miles. Alexander withdrew to his tent, and after sulking for three days yielded to them.
The Return. Alexander turned back, and when he reached Hydaspes he put half his army on a fleet of 800 ships. The rest followed on shore as they sailed on the Hydaspes connecting to the Indian ocean. Alexander was seriously wounded in storming one of the cities on the way. The fleet made its way to the mouth of the Euphrates, and the army after a punishing march rendezvoused with them in Carmania, and then to Susa.
Alexander died in Babylon June 13, 323 B.C., not yet 33 years old. He had reigned twelve years and eight months. In Athens an opponent said, “It cannot be true; if Alexander were dead the whole inhabitable world would have smelt of his carcass.”
World Government. He felt he was on a divine mission to be the harmonizer and reconciler of the world, uniting and mixing men’s lives and customs as in a loving cup. His founding os cities and settlements of soldiers in every area was for the purpose of keeping the empire together (more than making it Greek). He sought to form one single people with the best of all cultures. He did not introduce new systems of government where he went, but maintained what Persia had put in place.
Progress. He would have altered the condition of the empire by making roads, ports, and docks, and everything that would have advanced commerce and brought the nations into communication with each other. He founded approximately 70 cities, and while they initially were to police the area, they eventually became the powerful stimulants of trade and unification. He abolished the gold standard of Persia and substituted a uniform currency on the Attic standard.
Part Two: The Empire after Alexander
Compromise and Struggle
Alexander did have a son, born after his death, and Roxanne hoped that he would be crowned king. The army favored Arrhidaeus, the half brother of Alexander. But he died in 317. Therefore, to hold the empire together, satrapies were assigned to the various generals. But by 315 after seven years of struggle, four men emerged:
Antigonus ruled from the Mediterranean to central Asia;
Cassander ruled Macedonia
Ptolemy ruled Egypt and southern Syria
Tysimmachus ruler of Thrace.
Cassander eventually murdered Roxana and her son Antigonus.
In 315 A.D. Ptolemy, Cassander, and Tysimachus formed an alliance to check Antigonus, who wanted to rule the whole empire. They warned him to comply, but he refused; thus, Ptolemy and his foremost general Seleucid defeated him at Goza in 312 B.C. But Antigonus quickly retaliated and regained Syria. But in 301 B.C. the alliance overcame the forces of Antigonus. A previous agreement was that Ptolemy should have Palestine. But the allies changed their minds and Seleucus gained control.
The empire thus fell into the hands of three powerful families, starting with their answers: the Ptolemies ruled over Egypt; Seleucids over Syria; and the house of Antigonus in Macedonia. A struggle followed between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids,. The Ptolemies gained the upper hand by 272. But Ptolemy was succeeded by Ptolemy II--“Philadelphus”--in 283. Seleucus was murdered in 281 and succeeded by Antigonus.
For the rest of the century there were struggles between these two families, as well as murder and intrigue within the courts. Finally, in 198 the Syrian forces prevailed over the armies of Ptolemy and gained control of all of Palestine. But then Rome defeated Antiochus of Syria Antioch in 190 B.C. The younger son of Antiochus was taken hostage for twelve years in Rome.
Jewish Life in the Land
Under the Ptolemies. Once military superiority was gained over Jerusalem and the land, then Alexander’s peaceful and tolerant policies were pursued. Ptolemy found the Jews to be loyal, and under his successors Judea enjoyed great prosperity.
It was during the reign of Ptolemy II that the Scriptures were to be translated into Greek for use of Jews in a Greek culture. But there was little pressure to comply. Jews were allowed to pursue their religious and social practices, with no interference or record of brutality.
Under the Seleucids. Initially the Seleucid kings Antiochus III and Seleucus IV did not change the tolerant policy of the Ptolemies. But the office of the High Priest became more and more an issue in Judea. Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin was made High Priest by Antiochus because he was the highest bidder. A thorough going Hellenist, Menelaus was installed by force of arms.
Subsequent resistance by the deposed priest Jason precipitated a violent reaction by Antiochus. He occupied Jerusalem, destroyed the city walls, and slaughtered the followers of Jason. A systematic attempt was now made to Hellenize the country by force, making Jerusalem a polis. Greek deities were to be worshiped by everyone now. The God of Israel was identified with Jupiter and a bearded image of the pagan deity was set up on the altar. Heathen rites were performed in the courtyard; the drunken orgy of Bacchus was made compulsory.
This clash of cultures can still be seen in the archaeological findings of the next two hundred years. Greek and Roman cities in the land were filled with statues to Bacchus and other deities, the cities had theaters and public baths and brothels and amphitheaters and hippodromes--all part of a culture that was thoroughly pagan. The righteous people had to live in this setting, and yet keep their integrity. In the early years there was a strong protest movement against it by a group known as the hasidim (not to be confused with today’s hasidic who originated in eastern Europe). The hasidim who lived 200-100 B.C. were opposed to the Hellenizing parties. Among these righteous opponents were the Pharisees and the later Essenes.
There is very little archaeology from this period of time, other than written texts that describe the troubles. More will be useful in the next section when we consider Qumran and the Essenes. But it is important to understand this stretch of time historically to see how the cultural influences of Greece and Rome came to dominate the land.
Part Three: The Hasmoneans (168-66 B.C.)
The term “Hasmonean” comes from the name hasmon, the great, great grandfather of Mattathias the priest. The first part of this period is often called the “Maccabean” period after the son of Mattathias, Judas Maccabaeus (“the hammerer”). The literature from the period are the books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha, which although not part of the canon are nonetheless one of our most important sources for the history of this period.
The Maccabean Revolution (168 B.C.--143 B.C.)
Background. The background for the revolt concerns the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The government of Egypt became weak in the period from 181-170 B.C., and so Antiochus invaded it and captured the young boy-king Ptolemy VI, who was then made a regent over Egypt under Antiochus. But in 168 B.C. Ptolemy rebelled, and so Antiochus had to invade Egypt again.
But this time when he arrived in Egypt he was confronted by en envoy from Rome, C. Gopilius Laenus, who demanded that he relinquish all claims to Egypt. Unwilling to risk a war with Rome, Antiochus withdrew and left Ptolemy alone. On his way home he entered Jerusalem and plundered it, probably furious over being humiliated by the envoy. He needed money, because he had been forced to give up Egypt. So he put the Jews under pressure to conform to the common Greek culture.
In 166 Antiochus again invaded Judea and took the city by treachery. He stripped the temple of its furnishings and treasures, massacred many of the inhabitants, and carried about 10,000 people away into captivity. He demolished the city walls, and built a tower overlooking the temple area, which he manned with Macedonian mercenaries. He then profaned the place by offering a sow on the altar He commanded the Jews to erect shrines to his gods in their towns, and to offer sows on the altar. He had copies of the Law confiscated and burned; those who had copies were punished. And he forbad circumcision; punishment was strangling the mothers and the children.
Well, this so angered the conservative loyal Jews that a rebellion broke out. But their anger was not just against the Greeks, the Hellenizers, but also the Samaritans who complied with Antiochus. The Samaritans denied Jewish ancestry, claiming to be Sidonians, and referred to the temple in Jerusalem as “The Temple of Jupiter Hellenios.”
Mattathias. Mattathias was a priest from Modin of the order of Joiarib (who had returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel [Neh. 12:6,7]). Archaeologists have just been doing some work in Modin and found Maccabean graves.
Mattathias refused to compromise by participating in any Hellenistic worship. When a Hellenistic sacrifice was forced at Modin, Mattathias and his sons killed the Jew who offered it, the king’s general who ordered it [named Appeles], and a few other soldiers nearby. They then destroyed the altar. He and his followers then fled to the wilderness to escape Antiochus. The rebellion was started.
Mattathias organized an army from his followers to use guerilla warfare against Antiochus. After a massacre because of their observance of the Sabbath, Mattathias allowed defensive warfare on the Sabbath day. After a year he commissioned his sons to continue the struggle for freedom. They were John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar, and Jonathan. He died shortly after and was buried in Modin.
Judas Maccabaeus (166-161 B.C.). There was a bit of a struggle for leadership between Judas and the Samaritans, but Judas defeated the Samaritans in a battle. He then had to face the Syrian forces and defeated them, forcing Antiochus IV to seek additional help from the Persian provinces. He went there to collect delinquent tax money, and left the governor Lysias to fight Judas. Judas pulled off a surprise attack and routed the larger Syrian band. A year later Lysias came back with an even larger army of 60,000, but was defeated by Judas’ 10,000. Lysias withdrew.
In the year 165, on Kislev 15, three years after the war started, the people were able to repair and cleanse the Temple which had fallen into a frightful state. Eight days of festivities celebrated the rededication of the Temple. This is the occasion marked by the annual Hanukkah celebration.
The next task was to consolidate the independence that had been won. Judas rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls and stationed guards in the garrisons. Then he had to fight the Edomites in the Trans-Jordan region, and then wage two campaigns in the north, one in the Galilee (where he rescued Jews who had been taken prisoner), and the other in Gilead to fight the Ammonites (where he rescued others). When Antiochus IV returned and learned of the defeats, he became fatally ill (1 Macc. 6:5-14). The dying king wanted his son to become the next king, and appointed Philip to be regent until he was of age. But Lysias appointed his son as Antiochus V Eupater.
The new king mustered the largest force he could--100,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, and 32 war elephants (1 Macc. 6:30). The initial attack by Judas was a failure. Just as Lysias was about to take Jerusalem, he heard that Philip had returned with an army from Persia and was about to take the government. Lysias negotiated a truce with the Jews, allowing them to maintain their own worship.
Afterward Judas purged Jerusalem of Hellenizing Jews, many of whom fled to Antioch. Demetrius, the brother of Antiochus IV returned from Rome and overthrew Lysias and Antiochus V. He became king in 162. The Hellenizing Jews pleaded with Demetrius to re-take Jerusalem and Judea. So he appointed Alcimus as High Priest and Bacchides as general. Alcimus immediately had 60 scribes put to death--people he thought were his enemies. This prompted Judas to resume hostilities. Judas managed to drive out the Hellenizers.
Judas sent to Rome and arranged a treaty by which the Jews would fight for Rome, and Rome would fight for the Jews, and Demetrius was to stay away from Judea. The treaty was not a very strong one, because Rome was occupied at the time with Spain, Carthage, Greece, and western Asia.
When Bacchides and Alcimus finally regrouped and attacked, they marched on Jerusalem with about 20,000 men in early spring, 161. Judas started out with 3000 men, but after desertions he was left with only 800. Judas attacked and drove back the enemies’ right wing--but he was killed. Jonathan and Simon buried him in Modin.
Jonathan (161-143 B.C.). The Jewish people were left in confusion and some anarchy. Jonathan took over the leadership and relied on guerilla tactics from the wilderness near Tekoa. Bacchides crossed the Jordan to fight him. Bacchides attacked, but lost 1000 men--and Jonathan and the guerillas escaped. Alcimus shortly died of a stroke after he demolished the wall of the inner court of the Temple. Bacchides then returned to Antioch.
Jonathan then arrested and executed 50 ringleaders of a Jewish plot against him. After a continued guerilla conflict, Bacchides made a treaty with Jonathan to release all prisoners and to establish peace. This treaty marked the end of the first stage of the struggle.
A struggle for power broke out in Antioch between Demetrius and Alexander Balas, who claimed to be a son of Antiochus IV. Both sides appealed to the Jews for help--they now held the balance of power. Demetrius allowed Jonathan to re-arm; he then fortified Jerusalem, prompting the Hellenizing Jews to flee to Antioch. Alexander then appointed Jonathan High Priest and sent him a purple robe and a crown. Demetrius countered by freeing Judea of taxation on various things, assigned the city of Jerusalem to Jonathan, and declared religious toleration for Jews. He even donated money for the rebuilding of the Temple. Then, Alexander Balas killed Demetrius in battle and gained the kingdom for himself. He remained on friendly terms with Jonathan. But Demetrius II, the son of Demetrius, rebelled and invaded Cilicia from Crete. After a couple of treacherous plots were uncovered, other leaders defected to Demetrius’ side. Alexander fled, and eventually Demetrius II was crowned.
The trouble in Syria continued, however. A son of Alexander Balas, also called Antiochus, plotted with an officer named Trypho, to replace Demetrius. Trypho expelled the king and crowned Antiochus VI king. Antiochus confirmed Jonathan as High Priest and made Simon his brother general over the troops in Palestine. Jonathan allied with Antiochus VI and defeated Demetrius. Then, in a strange twist, Trypho decided he wanted the kingdom for himself. He decided to remove Jonathan first. Under the pretense of peace he got Jonathan to come to Ptolemais. Inside the city Trypho killed the 1000 troops with Jonathan, but spared the leader. He took him as captive to Jerusalem where he demanded a ransom of 100 talents of silver and Jonathan’s two sons as hostages. Simon agreed; but then Trypho went to Gilead with Jonathan and executed him there. Simon recovered the body and buried it in Modin.
The Hasmonean Dynasty (143-63 B.C.)
Simon (143-135 B.C.). Simon took over as the next leader of the Jewish faction. He took the territories of Gazara, Joppa, and Jamnia. He also took the citadel of Jerusalem and destroyed it. He then assumed the prerogatives of king--even though he was a priest! These lines were not supposed to mix. But he began a consolidation of the kingdom of Judea and issued his own coins.
In Syria the trouble continued. Trypho murdered Antiochus and took control of the government and the army. He promised them money--but money was not forthcoming. The army then deserted him for Cleopatra (the wife of Demetrius II). She asked Antiochus VII Sidetes (the brother of Demetrius II) to marry her and take over the throne. Simon helped Antiochus defeat Trypho, who was executed in 138. But then Antiochus turned and fought Simon.
Simon was murdered by his son-in-law Ptolemy. Ptolemy imprisoned Simon’s wife and his two eldest sons. His third son, John Hyrcanus, escaped to Jerusalem and found refuge.
John Hyrcanus I (135-105 B.C.). John Hyrcanus besieged Ptolemy in the fortress of Dagon near Jericho. Ptolemy tortured and tilled Hyrcanus’ mother and two brothers, and then fled to Philadelphia, east of the Jordan.
Syria exerted a last gasp of fight against the Jews. Antiochus VII laid siege to Jerusalem, but agreed to leave when he was given 400 talents of silver, hostages, and had broken down the walls. He was then killed in a campaign against the Parthians. Demetrius II regained the throne, but the people sought a new king from Ptolemy Physcon of Egypt. They received Alexander Zabinius who defeated and killed Demetrius. The Syrian kings were no longer powerful enough to threaten the Hasmonean line.
John Hyrcanus held both the civil power and the high priesthood--something that only the promised Messiah was to do. He was also no longer a vassal to Syria.
Aristobulus (104-103 B.C.). The son of John seized control of the power when his father died. He imprisoned his mother to whom Hyrcanus had bequeathed the government, and starved her to death. He then killed his brother Antigonus. But he soon died, and was succeeded by his widow, Salome Alexandra.
Alexander Jannaeus (104-78 B.C.). Salome freed Aristobulus’ three brothers, and married the oldest, Alexander Jannaeus. Alexander promptly killed one of his brothers and forced the other to live in seclusion.
Alexander had a longer rule, or better said, misrule. Alexander tried to take control of all the region; he made treaties with Ptolemy and with Cleopatra of Egypt (an earlier Cleopatra)--but through his duplicity found himself abandoned by them. He was a very unpopular king. At a Feast of Tabernacles as High Priest he poured the libations out on his feet (in contempt for the Pharisees); he was then pelted with fruit.
He remained in power thanks to Pisidian and Cilician mercenaries--but for six years the nation was virtually in revolt against him. The Jews appealed to the new Demetrius of Syria for help; he managed to help them drive Alexander to the mountains. But about 6000 Jews deserted the coalition out of pity for Alexander, so Demetrius withdrew. Alexander then indulged himself in murderous reprisals against those who plotted against him. In one city he crucified 800 people, mostly Pharisees, but not before slaughtering their wives and children before their eyes. The country was in deep trouble financially, because years of misrule and war had depleted the treasury.
Salome Alexandra (76-67 B.C.). The widow of Alexander Jannaeus became a wise and firm ruler after the death of her corrupt husband. Her oldest son, John Hyrcanus II, was made High Priest, and her youngest son, Aristobulus, was left in private life. She ruled with the advice of the Pharisees, who advised her to execute the cruel advisors that had counseled her husband. Some, however, were merely exiled through her mercy.
Aristobulus and John Hyrcanus II (67-63 B.C.). When Alexandra became ill, Aristobulus proclaimed himself king. She imprisoned his wife and children in retaliation, but died before taking any further action. Hyrcanus and Aristobulus were reconciled to the situation, each keeping their office.
But internal strife soon developed. Antipater of Idumea persuaded Hyrcanus that Aristobulus was plotting to kill him. Antipater advised Hyrcanus to ally with King Aretas of the Nabataeans to regain his kingdom. Hyrcanus with an army of 50,000 besieged Jerusalem.
But Scaurus in Syria, a Roman general under Pompey, heard of the civil strife in Judea. He ordered Hyrcanus to lift the siege of Jerusalem. Aretas fled, and Aristobulus pursued Hyrcanus, killing 6000 of his army. Both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus made overtures for help from Pompey. Pompey then went after Aristobulus, chasing him to the mountain fortress, and then to Jerusalem. Pompey laid siege to Jerusalem. Aristobulus came out to negotiate--but was taken prisoner. Pompey battered down the walls of the city from the north and entered into the Temple precincts. 12,000 defenders of Jerusalem were killed. John Hyrcanus was reconstituted as High Priest, but Aristobulus and his family were taken as prisoners to Rome.
Final Intervention of Rome. Alexander, one of Aristobulus’ sons, escaped on the journey to Rome. He returned to Judea to fight Hyrcanus by guerilla tactics. But Gabinius, the successor to Scaurus, put down Alexander’s rebellion. Gabinius then divided the land into five districts and placed them under the rule of an aristocracy.
Aristobulus also escaped from Rome and renewed the hostilities with Hyrcanus, but was soon put down by the Romans.
The arrival of Pompey in Jerusalem ended the real rule of the Hasmonean kings. Later attempts to recover the throne failed completely, and although the priesthood remained with Hyrcanus, his power diminished gradually before the rising new king. When Hyrcanus was old, Antipater suggested that his son Phasael be made the prefect over Jerusalem, and his son Herod, be made governor of Galilee. Hyrcanus consented, and rule officially passed into the hands of the Herods. As we shall see, Herod bribed his way to power in Judea, and conquered Galilee.
Herod the Great will be the main subject of the next chapter in Israel’s troubled history. And while most readers of the New Testament realize that Herod was a very wicked man, his kingship under Roman control was a breath of fresh air for most of the people. The Hasmoneans had proved to be a treacherous and bloody lot; now for the first time in centuries the people of Israel would have a generation or two of relative peace.
There is not much archaeological material for this period of time. Of course we have the literature of the Books of Maccabees, as well as Josephus. And we do have the community of Qumran and its work. But because the time was a time of warfare and murder, and not a time of great building or development of culture, there is not much to be found. Besides, the Romans as well as Herod built most of the things that would last, and it is their works that we study the most now.
Before we proceed to the Herodians and the early Gospel period, there are two sites that have to be surveyed: first, Qumran, on the north shore of the Dead Sea, which was a center for Essenes, and possibly a place familiar to John the Baptist; and secondly, Petra in Jordan, an ancient Edomite place that was carved into a city by the Nabataeans. To these we turn next.