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JEWS, ROME and JESUS (1 of 3)

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Jews, Rome and Jesus

Loss of independence to Rome | Essenes, Dead Sea Scrolls and the Herods | John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth

Loss of Independence to Rome

The Maccabees family was renamed the Hasmonaeans, and among them, as among other ruling families, conflicts developed. In 134 BCE, a son-in-law of Simon Maccabeus, who was military commander of the region around Jericho, assassinated Simon and his two elder sons while they were his guests. A third son, John Hyrcanus, escaped the assassination. John was governor of a region in Judea along the Mediterranean coast and in command of a military force. He took power in Jerusalem, and there he was recognized as Simon's heir and made High Priest.

The Seleucid monarch, Antiochus VII, seeing Judea weakened by inner turmoil, decided to regain his family's control over Judea. Judea fell to his armies. But when Antiochus VII died in 129 BCE, John Hyrcanus renewed the treaty between his family and Rome. And fear of Rome left both Antiochus' successor and the Ptolemies of Egypt reluctant to violate Judea's borders.

With Rome as an ally, John Hyrcanus was able to expand Judea's frontiers. He destroyed the city of Samaria, having disliked the Hellenized city for what he saw as its heretical form of Yahweh worship and its opposition to the Maccabaean revolt. Then, in a series of military campaigns, he won territory that the Jewish state had lost during Nebuchadnessar's invasion some 470 years before. He annexed Idumaea and forced its population to adopt Judaism, including circumcision. He overran and annexed Galilee, and there, where Jesus was to preach a hundred a fifty years later, he forced conversions to Judaism – conquest again to influence belief.

More Civil War

In 104 BCE, John Hyrcanus bequeathed rule to his wife and died. Their son, Aristobulus, was High Priest, and Aristobulus had his mother thrown into prison and starved to death, and he became king – the first of Judea's monarchs to be both king and high priest. Aristobulus had one brother assassinated and his other brothers jailed. Then, after less than a year as king, Aristobulus died, and his widow released his brothers from jail and married the eldest of them: Jonathan. (She was thirty-seven, he twenty-two) Jonathan became king and high priest and was named Alexander Janneus.

Alexander Janneus launched wars in all directions against Judea's neighbors. Although he was a Pharisee, he allied himself with the aristocratic Sadducees and showed contempt for the Pharisees, and this precipitated an uprising against him and another civil war. The Pharisees hated Alexander so much that they sought an alliance with the Seleucid monarchy in Syria. The Seleucid monarch sent an army of both Syrians and Jews southward to overthrow Alexander, but those Jews who came south deserted and joined Alexander's forces. Alexander crushed the rebellion against him and took revenge against the Pharisees. He had eight hundred of them crucified in the center of Jerusalem and is said to have had the throats cut of their wives and children before their eyes, and to have watched some of the crucifixions from a window while dining among his harem. The executions helped to make Alexander Janneus unpopular. Independence had proven of little benefit for common Jews, but with the increase in their misery they intensified their hope for the coming a great king – a messiah – and a future life in a spiritual kingdom in heaven.

Ascent of the Herods

An attempt to improve matters followed the death of Alexander Janneus in 76 BCE. Alexander Janneus was succeeded by his widow, Salome Alexandra, now sixty-four. As queen of Judah she reversed the policies of her late husband and supported the Pharisees, and the Pharisees in turn recognized her right to rule, even though she was not a descendant of David as they believed a monarch should be.

Salome Alexandra died in 67 and her son John became John Hyrcanus II. Three months later John's brother, Judas Aristobulus, overthrew him, becoming Aristobulus II. John sought help from an Arab chieftain named Antipater, who was from nearby Idumaea and the head of a family called the Herods. Seeking an increase in influence in Judea, Antipater convinced John Hyrcanus II to wage war against Aristobulus II. Another bloody civil war followed. The Hasmonaeans still had an alliance with Rome, and the two brothers sought arbitration there.

Rome responded by allowing its army in the East, under the command of Gneus Pompey, to intervene. Pompey marched into Jerusalem. The warring brothers remained willing to let Pompey arbitrate their differences, but their followers were not, and Pompey took military action to assert his authority. Supporters of Aristobulus held the ground around Jerusalem's temple, and for three months they held off Pompey and his army. Then Pompey's army broke into the temple, slaying the Sadducee priests they found there dutifully at prayer. The following year, 63 BCE, Rome made Syria and lands south to Egypt, including Judea, a single Roman province. The homeland of the Jews had lost its independence – not to be regained until 1948.

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