03.05.10 90 – 88 B.C. Jewish Civil War; 80 women and 800 Pharisees Crucified
Civil war broke out when the conservative religious Pharisees joined forces with Demetrius III, a descendant of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Together they fought against Alexander Jannaeus. As Jannaeus was about to crush the rebellion, some 6,000 men of Demetrius defected and about 8,000 Pharisees did likewise, leaving many others to be either captured or killed in battle. Of those whom Jannaeus considered to be traitors or potential enemies, 800 were crucified. As these Pharisees died in agony, Jannaeus had their wives and children slaughtered in front of them – husbands and fathers watched in horror, helpless, and dying on a cross. Of this barbaric account, Josephus wrote that while,
He [Jannaeus] was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them (Pharisees) to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes. This was indeed by way of revenge for the injuries they had done him; which punishment yet was of an inhuman nature.
Josephus, Antiquities 13.14.2 (380)
In Ashkelon, Jannaeus crucified eighty women whom he suspected of being witches. He stripped them naked and, for the sake of modesty, nailed them facing the cross where they died. The Essenes wrote of this horrific event in their Dead Sea Scroll 4QpNah 1:6-8. As the gospels reveal between these two major Jewish groups there was no great love. The common belief was that since every person who died on a tree was cursed by God, whoever they crucified would therefore, also be cursed by God. Their reasoning was based on the following words of Moses,
For anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.
Just when Jannaeus thought he was at the height of his power and success, in 83 B.C., Tigranes of Armenia (modern Turkey) invaded Syria and northern Israel, captured many Jews and took them to be slaves in Armenia. But Jannaeus was too weak to protect his own people. The Jews, who protested against the cruelty of their king, took advantage of the situation and a six-year civil war erupted. Jannaeus was killed and his widow, Alexandra Salome, ruled until her death in 67 B.C.
. Avi-Yonah and Kraeling, Our Living Bible. 240-41.
. See also Josephus, Wars, 1.4.1, 6. Furthermore, a parallel account was also found in Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4QpNahum, but it is not as complete as the account recorded by Josephus.
. The Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.4 states that it was Simeon ben Shetah who ordered them to be crucified.
. Elgvin, “The Messiah.” 36. Young, “The Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People.” 27.
. Neusner and Green, eds., Dictionary of Judaism. 60.
. Neusner and Green, eds., Dictionary of Judaism. 635.