03.05 Jewish Sovereignty And Roman Conquest (c. 164 B.C. – A.D.70)

03.05 Jewish Sovereignty And Roman Conquest

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Unit 03

Historical Background


Chapter 05

Jewish Sovereignty And Roman Conquest

(c. 164 B.C. – A.D. 70)


03.05.00.A. SEA-GOING SHIPS OF HASMONEAN DAYS by Jacob S. Golub. 1929. (2)

03.05.00.A. SEA-GOING SHIPS OF HASMONEAN DAYS by Jacob S. Golub. 1929. The Jewish kings of the Inter-Testamental Period had sea-going vessels that were used for both military and freight transport. They never dominated the eastern Mediterranean Sea and were soon surpassed by the rise of the Roman Empire.

03.05.01 Introduction

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03.05.01 Introduction

The Maccabean Revolt began with a quest for religious freedom, but in the course of time, the Jews pursued only political freedom. The precise date when Jewish sovereignty began is difficult to determine as it varied from area to area. There was a dramatic improvement that began in 164 B.C. when Jerusalem and the temple came under complete Jewish control.  But they were not completely free from foreign control in all areas of Israel for another two decades.[1] This was the beginning of the Second Jewish Commonwealth[2] when Israel had complete political and religious freedom.

Although there were pockets of Syrian resistance, generally there was freedom from oppression and the people quickly began to prosper. Taxes were paid by goods that entered into the land by shipping as well as international camel caravans. In fact, the Jewish merchant marine sailed to nearly every port that belted the Mediterranean Sea.[3] Little wonder then, that years later, Herod the Great, who was known world-wide for his architectural wonders, built a three-story ship so he and his friends could sail to Rome.[4]

However, as the common people would soon discover, their leaders were nearly as corrupt as those who had previously been their overlords. Jews crucified Jews.[5] Capital punishment in Jewish history was supposed to be quick and without unnecessary agony. But instead, murder, theft, and the abuse by the religious authority are only some of the vices that permeated the leadership.  Righteous men and women were horrified to see widespread “unJewish” behavior by their own. They earnestly prayed for their long-awaited messiah to come.


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Yet with the news of Jewish freedom spreading throughout the Diaspora, many foreign Jews, such as those in Babylon, decided to return to their Promised Land. Most settled in Galilee, a region that was severely devastated centuries earlier by the Assyrians.  While there were a few Gentile inhabitants, for the most part it was barren and became known as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (who destroyed it).[6] In fact, to confirm the absence of Gentiles living in this area, it is significant that archaeologists have uncovered numerous villages that had no evidence of pig bones – a sure sign of Jewish occupation.[7] Pig bones are always found in the ruins of Gentile communities. Now thousands were migrating into the region of rich farmland.[8]  So many  came in the second century that Josephus said that a “countless multitude” came from Galilee and other areas to Jerusalem at Pentecost,[9]  and that they did so by going through Samaria.[10] A growing number of scholars believe that in spite of the political, military, and economic crises in “Eretz Israel” (the land of Israel), the Jewish people maintained a majority over Gentile and Samaritan populations in the first centuries B.C. and A.D.[11]

Yet while the little Jewish state was trying to re-establish itself, it was sandwiched as the frontier of two opposing super powers: the Romans and Parthians. To the west, the Roman Empire was expanding quickly by belting the Mediterranean Sea and spreading into Europe.  To the East, the Parthian Empire was growing to include large portions of India and surrounding areas.  The little Jewish enclave was where the two would meet – on the land bridge that connects three continents.  As if the influences of the Greek culture had not challenged the Jews enough, now they were the subject of two competing tug-of-war empires.

The significance of this era is that the Maccabean family established itself as the governing dynasty, and would continue to dominate the Jewish people until the Roman conquest in 63 B.C. Shortly after that conquest, Herod the Great was appointed by Rome to be king of the Jews. His success was due, in part, to his marriage with Mariamne, a Hasmonean (Maccabean) princess (see the House of the Maccabees Family Tree below).


03.05.02.A THE HOUSE OF THE MACCABEES FAMILY TREE. The Maccabean Dynasty, also known as the House of the Maccabees, this family dynasty was instrumental in the successful Maccabean Revolt and their descendants eventually became known as the Sadducees. Courtesy of International Mapping and Dan Przywara.


Graffiti illustrations of sea-going vessels were found in a Jerusalem tomb dated to the Maccabean period of the second century B.C.[12] The tomb, known as Jason’s Tomb, belonged to a Jason, that the inscriptions indicate sailed to the coast of Egypt. He may have been a naval commander although some historians believe he was the high priest who was removed from office in 175 B.C. (but that does not explain the ship illustrations). The graffiti emphasizes the merchant marine and naval power of the time


03.05.02.B. GRAFFITI OF MACCABEAN ERA SHIPS UNDER SIEGE. Graffiti of a pirate ship pursuing two other vessels was found in Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem.  In the tomb, the pirate ship (bottom) is to the right of the other ships depicting a chase. The illustration is based upon charcoal drawings found in the tomb.

[1]. Walls, “Maccabees.” 2:925-26.


[2]. Notley, In the Master’s Steps. 42.


[3]. In the maritime commerce of ancient Middle East, Israel is referred to as either a land bridge to be crossed by a military conqueror, or a people group. Various empires dominated the Mediterranean Sea, but the Israelites were never among them. But in the second century B.C., the superior maritime activities of the Jews are found in various extra-biblical sources such as 1 Macc. 8:23-28; 13:25-29.  See also Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. 148-50 concerning the graffiti of ships found in tombs.


[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.14.3.


[5]. In the first half of the second century B.C., one of the most shocking crucifixions occurred when the wicked priest Alcimus reportedly had his uncle, the righteous Jose ben Joezer, crucified. The people were shocked in disbelief of this horrendous act. See Genesis Rabbah 65:22 (Albeck, ed., p. 742); Midrash on Psalms 11:7; cf. 1 Macc. 7:16.

[6]. Isa. 9:1; 1 Macc. 5:15; Mt. 4:15.


[7]. Reed, Archaeology. 47; Dunn, “Did Jesus Attend the Synagogue?” 208-10.


[8]. See “Galilee of the Gentiles” in 06.01.08.


[9]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1 and Wars 2.12.3.


[10]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.2 and Wars 2.3.1.


[11]. Cohen, “The Attitude to the Gentile in the Halakhah and in Reality in the Tannaitic Period.” 35.

[12]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason%27s_Tomb#/media/File:Jason,_a_Jewish_archer_on_the_prow_of_a_pirate_ship_.jpg.  Retrieved July 29, 2015; See also Kloner and Zissu. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 748.

03.05.02 December; Temple Consecrated; Sanhedrin Resumes

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03.05.02 164 B.C. December; Temple Consecrated; Sanhedrin Resumes

On the 25th day of Kislev, 164 B.C. the temple was consecrated and God honored for His divine intervention.[1]  Israel was never more vividly conscious of the living God in their presence at any other time in the Inter-Testamental Period.  Although they had not heard from a prophet in more than two centuries, His presence was unmistakable as another miracle took place.[2]

The dedication of the temple was a time of great joy and celebration. But it was more than a dedication celebration – it was the Feast of tabernacles that had been delayed for three months due to the political situation.[3]   That is why it was an eight day event – the Feast was always an eight day celebration of “God with us” or “God living among His people.”   In the process of preparing for the sacred service, the priests discovered they only had enough olive oil for the temple lamps to burn for two days.  As the eight-day festival continued, they realized that God multiplied the oil to last until additional oil could be pressed and the temple dedicated.  This miraculous event became known as the Feast of Dedication and was celebrated by Jesus in John 10:22.

With the dedication, the Sanhedrin functioned with greater freedom and served in both legislative and judicial roles. Therefore, kings did not have complete authority unless they also controlled the high priest who functioned as the Sanhedrin president. In Hebrew, the organization is known as Hever Hayelhudin, and the word Sanhedrin, is in reality, the Greek translation.[4]  As was previously stated, the revolt came to an end; the Hasmonean family that started the uprising established itself in both the priesthood and kingship position. These positions were essentially captured without regard to the fact that the family was not of King David’s royal decendency, nor was it from the Zadokite family.[5]      

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[1].   http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/History.shtml. Retrieved September 20, 2014.


[2]. Gilbrant, “John.” 295.

[3]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 17, page 9.


[4]. Golub, In the Days. 160.


[5]. New International Version Archaeological Study Bible. (notes) 1704.   


03.05.03 Hellenized Jews Kill 60 Hasidim Jews

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03.05.03 162 B.C.  Hellenized Jews Kill 60 Hasidim Jews

Some scholars today believe the Hasidim were probably the closest religious group to biblical Judaism.[1] And the Hellenistic Jews did not care for them in the slightest. Alcimus, the High Priest of the temple had 60 Hasidim Jews crucified for being obedient to the Torah and objecting to him. Among those martyred was Jose ben Joezer, a priestly scribe (1 Macc. 7:16).  These executions reflect the civil unrest and hatred between Jewish sects throughout the country. The century of Jewish independence (165 – 63 B.C.) was like the book of Judges, or like the wild, wild American west in the 19th century. Some leading Jewish families of the high priesthood adopted Greek names – such as Jason and Menelaus – that horrified orthodox Jews.[2] It was not simply that they had Greek names, but that they identified themselves more with the pagan Greek culture than with their own Jewish faith and heritage. The significance of that identity change greatly diminished in later years as the use of Greek and Hebrew names became more commonplace. Yet, the influence of Hellenism created Jewish anti-Semitism as had never been experienced.

[1]. Safrai, “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the Frist Century.” 180.


[2]. Goodman. “Under the Influence.” 62.


03.05.04 Jonathan the High Priest and Governor, Jewish Anti-Semitism Grows

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03.05.04 153 B.C. Jonathan the High Priest and Governor, Jewish Anti-Semitism Grows

Jonathan, of the freedom-fighting Maccabean family, took the position of high priest. This was with full disregard of the fact that the Maccabean family belonged to the Jehoiarib division of priests and, therefore, was not eligible for the office.  While in this position, he also held the offices of governor as well as military dictator.  While the Jewish people rejoiced in the victory afforded them, they were saddened at their power hungry leadership.  This set the stage for the Maccabean dynasty, a/k/a the Hasmonean dynasty since Jonathan was a son of Mattathias, a son of the priest Hasmon.  Scholars strongly believe that the term “wicked priest” found in the Dead Sea Scrolls refers to this Jonathan.[1]

Soon the Hasmonean rulers began persecution against other Jews, namely members of the Zadok dynasty who were the only legitimate Jews who could offer sacrifices in the temple and serve as High Priest.  As a result, the remainder of the Zadok clan moved into the desert wilderness near Damascus to join others who had relocated there some three decades earlier. By the 120s B.C., the descendants of the powerful Hasmoneans became known as the Sadducees while the descendants of the Zadok Dynasty became known as the Essenes.  These two groups hated each other as much as they later hated the new believers of the Christian movement.  Since many Essenes lived near Damascus in the first century (A.D.), it is very possible that Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul) chose to go to the Syrian capital to kill both Essenes and Christians.  While all this theological violence was going on, the Sadducees and Pharisees emerged as rival religious parties in the temple.[2]

[1]. The “wicked priest” is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scroll Habakkuk commentary 1QpHab and in the commentary of Psalm 37 4QpPs.

[2]. Wilkinson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 68.

03.05.05 Maccabean Revolt Oficially Ended; Simon Reigned

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03.05.05 143-135 B.C. Maccabean Revolt Oficially Ended; Simon Reigned

Simon Maccabee was the first of a series of Hasmonean rulers who controlled the leadership and he reigned for eight years (143-135 B.C.). The revolt officially ended in May 142 B.C., but true independence was yet to be attained. He cleaned up pockets of resistance and, while the Jews were no longer fighting major military battles and had complete religious freedom, they were required to pay taxes to the Seleucids in Damascus, Syria. The latter part of his monarchy was a time of welcomed peace and prosperity.


All sides became tired and exhausted of the fighting. Syria still controlled some of the Jewish areas, but with Antiochus IV Epiphanes gone life had improved drastically. The last years of Simon’s reign were the most prosperous and peaceful after many years of war and hardships. In recognition of the achievements and Simon and his brothers, the nation declared Simon to be the hereditary high priest and ruler of Judaea. The people gave him the honored title of “Simon the Just” (1 Macc. 14:41). Simon was made “prince” as well as high priest until a time that a faithful priest would arise. In essence, he filled the position of high priest merely so it would not be vacant.[1] The future looked bright and promising, but that was about to change.


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Then Simon and his family were invited to a banquet in Jericho that was offered by his son-in-law Ptolemy. Ptolemy used the occasion to assassinate the entire family. John Hyrcanus, the third son of Simon, heard of the plot, and barely escaped with his life. It had become evident that life under Jewish monarchy would be little different than under the pagans.  The promise of peace was gone.

The major accomplishment of the Maccabean Revolt was that,


  1. It destroyed the yoke of bondage and terror previously institutionalized by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.


  1. Gentile anti-Semitism and forced worship of pagan gods ended.


It must be noted that the revolt…


  1. Was not against Hellenism in general. Many Jews did not reject Hellenism, but rather,

they desired religious freedom as well as the pleasures of the Greeks. This is evidenced by the fact that Hasmonean leaders struck Greek coins, assumed Greek names, and were not even interested in purging the Greek gods and culture from Jewish society.


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  1. Did not eliminate pagan shrines throughout the land. Pockets of pagan worship continued to thrive, and in fact, increased later during the reign of Herod the Great. Some scholars believe that this included the Shrine of Asclepius, a Greek healing deity that was situated outside the city wall.


  1. In terms of history, Nazareth is a rather “new” village. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of an active but small community dating to the Canaanites in the Middle Bronze age. But apparently the village was abandoned for unknown reasons and remained desolate for more than a thousand years.[2] Then, in the second century B. C., came the Maccabean Revolt, at which time Aristobulus the Maccabean conquered Galilee to Judaize it. With newly won victory in hand, the Jewish people believed their homeland was a place of religious freedom without foreign domination. This was the motivation for a migration of Babylonian Jews, some of whom resettled the village of Nazareth.[3]


While the numbers of this immigration was rather small, some scholars believe that among them were the ancestors of Joseph and Mary. Some scholars believe that the descendants of the Davidic clan lived first in Kochaba (Batanea) and then relocated to Nazareth.[4] After the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, one of the twenty-four courses[5] settled in Nazareth. For these Jewish refugees to have considered relocating there, the village must have had a reputation for being an all-Jewish conservative community. It eventually died out in the fourth century A.D.[6]


  1. The Maccabees captured the imagination of the nation and gave them a vision and hope for a redeemer who would liberate them from cultural and political influences. The word “redeemer” to the first century Jew did not have the spiritual implication that it has today for Christians, but rather, it was one who was sent by God for political and social freedom.


The invasion of Hellenism into the Jewish culture made profound changes in the religious landscape. If the Greeks had not come, religious groups such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Essenes would never have developed. The intense bitter hostilities between these religious rivals continued throughout the days of Jesus.


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03.05.05.Z MAP OF THE HOLY LAND UNDER HASMONEAN DOMINATION (2ND CENTURY B.C.). This map shows that the Hasmoneans expanded their territory into Gentile areas. It also identifies Modin, located between Jerusalem and Joppa (Jaffa) that was the home of the Maccabean family that initiated the Maccabean Revolt.  Courtesy of International Mapping and Dan Przywara.

[1]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:132, 549;  Josephus, Antiquities 12.2.5.


[2]. Meyers and Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity. 57.


[3]. Kopp, The Holy Places of the Gospels. 52.


[4]. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. 1.7.14; Pixner, With Jesus through Galilee. 125. Some scholars believe that Nazareth did not become a significant community until after the Maccabean Revolt, even though some archaeological evidence (pottery pieces) uncovered there has been dated to the Iron Age.  For further study, see the website for Associates for Biblical Research, as well as Grisanti, “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures.” 475-98.


[5]. The term “course” refers to a group of priests who served in the temple twice a year for two weeks each time. During the spring Passover and fall Tabernacles festivals all twenty-four courses, or groups, of priests were in service. Deut. 16:16; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:20, 23-24.


[6]. Meyers and Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity. 57.


03.05.06 True Independence; Rule of the Hasmoneans

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03.05.06 135-63 B.C. True Independence; Rule of the Hasmoneans

With the Greeks defeated, the Jewish people had complete freedom.  The Maccabean family gained control of the temple in 164 B.C. and complete control of the land by 135 B.C. Except for a few short periods when the Pharisees ruled, the Hasmoneans (eventually known as the Sadducees) continued control until the Roman conquest in 63 B.C. Under Roman rule, the Sadducees controlled the temple until its destruction in A.D. 70. While the Maccabees/ Hasmoneans were descendants from the tribe of Levi, they placed various individuals in positions of power regardless of their ancestry — a violation of the Mosaic code. But something wasn’t quite right.  National sovereignty in ancient history was defined as follows:

  1. People did not have to pay tribute (taxes) to any foreign overlord.
  1. People had the opportunity to prosper, and in a limited sense were a self-determining people.

But as the Jews discovered, most of their leaders were just as corrupt as were their foreign overlords. It did not take long for the common people, who had been oppressed by foreigners, to be oppressed by their own leaders.   In this miserable state, they cried out to God for a messiah who would deliver them from the oppression of their own dictators. Below is a list of their rulers.[1]

Simon                                      143-135 B.C.

John Hyrcanus                        135-104 B.C.[2]

Aristobulus I                           104-103 B.C.[3]

Alexander Jannaeus                103-76 B.C.[4]

Alexandra Salome                   76-67 B.C.[5]

Aristobulus II,[6] Hyrcanus[7]      67-63 B.C.

Hyrcanus II                             63-40 B.C.[8] (Puppet king of Rome)

Antigonus                               40-37 B.C.[9] (Puppet king of Rome)


After the last Hasmonean ruler, Antigonus, Herod the Great took control. It is noteworthy to recognize that while the Jews believed they could now resurrect the former glory of King David, that dream never materialized. The leaders of the revolt created their multi-purpose monarch who served as king, priest (or appointed a priest) and military general. Their dynasty would be filled with corruption, murder, and deceit. With the exception of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the common people were in no better position than with an ordinary pagan ruler.

After a long hard-fought struggle to gain freedom from the Greeks, the Hasmoneans were not about to subject themselves to a foreign power again.  So they constructed a series of seven fortresses at strategic locations for protection and signal communication.[10] For example, daytime smoke signals and nighttime fire signals at the Machaerus fortress, east of the Dead Sea, were visible from all other fortresses including the fortress beside the temple in Jerusalem.[11]  In fact, smoke from the temple altar was visible at Machaerus,[12] and priests would regularly go to the pinnacle of the temple at sundown on Fridays, and by a fire flare, declare the beginning of Shabbat. That fire signal was relayed and within a few moments every village in the land knew that the day of rest had begun. However, to irritate the Jews, the Samaritans from time to time sent out a false signal.[13] Little wonder then, that there was no great love between Jews and Samaritans during the days of Jesus.

Years later, during the reign of Herod the Great, these fortresses would play a significant role in maintaining peace in a tension-filled country. The Hasmoneans built a massive defense system which Herod expanded, and the foundations of the military hostile environment in which Jesus ministered were established at this time.


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[1]. For a list of terms of service of the Annas family temple priests and selected first century Roman rulers, see Appendix 1.


[2]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.10.7; See also the writings of an unknown author in 1 Maccabees 16.


[3]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.11.3; Wars. 1.3.


[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.11.5; Wars 1.4.


[5]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.11.6; Wars 1.5.


[6]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.1-4; Wars 1.6-7.


[7]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.16.2; 14.1.3 – 3.2.


[8]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.5-13; Wars 1.8-13.


[9]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.14-16; Wars 1.14-18.


[10].  The seven major fortresses are: (1) the Alexandrium (also known as Alexandreion or Sartaba) in the Jordan Valley to defend the northern region, (2) Masada border palace fortress in the southern region, (3, 4) the Doq and the Cypros (Kypros) border fortresses that overlooked Jericho, (5) the Hyrcania Prison fortress, (6) the Machaerus, on the eastern edge of the Dead Sea, and (7) in Jerusalem, a palace-fortress beside the temple, that was later renamed by Herod the Great as the Antonia Fortress. Some fortresses, such as the Herodian, were his in original contruction while he modified other fortresses such as the Antonia, Masada, and Machaerus. For more information on Herod’s fortresses, see Samuel Rocca, The Forts of Judaea 168 BC-AD 70. New York / London: Osprey Publishing 2008. See location map at 03.05.26.Z.


[11]. Voros, “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced.”  33-34.


[12]. Mishnah, Tamid. 3.8.


[13]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:113.


03.05.07 Rule of John Hyrcanus; Samaritan Temple Destroyed

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03.05.07 135-104 B.C. Rule of John Hyrcanus; Samaritan Temple Destroyed

John Hyrcanus ruled Israel/Judaea (the provinces of Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Perea, and Idumea) [1] and desired to “purify” the Jewish state of foreign influences.  He no sooner took control when he was threatened by an invasion of a new Syrian ruler who besieged Jerusalem and almost captured it by starving the people to death. A treaty was finally agreed to that included a sum of money that was paid to Damascus. Shortly thereafter, the king was killed and Hyrcanus had no problems with the Syrian Greeks again.

He now could concentrate on making the Holy Land a holy land, or at least as he believed it should be. His goal was to either exterminate or drive out non-Jewish religions and their influences. He pursued and killed remnants of the Seleucid dynasty, unless they converted to Judaism which included circumcision.  In 128 B.C. he captured the two principal cities of Samaria and Shechem, and destroyed the Samaritan temple.[2] Whatever was left or rebuilt was destroyed by his two sons, Aristobulus and Antigonus in 108-107 BC, who also sold hundreds, if not thousands, into slavery.[3]

Archaeologists have uncovered the burn-layer of the temple ruins, along with arrowheads, swords, daggers as well as stone and lead balls once used as missiles thrown by shepherd’s slings.[4]  Since the Samaritans were weak at this time, they could offer no effective opposition.

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Hyrcanus extended Jewish rule east of the Jordan River and as far south as Edom, which included the ancient city of Petra, and forced conversions and circumcisions of the Idumeans. The Jews, however, never recognized the conversions of these people.  These descendants of Esau also lived in the Negev Desert. They chose “conversion” as an alternative to death or moving out of the area.  Hyrcanus expanded the Jewish domination but not to the Decapolis cities. While he was primarily a military ruler, he constructed a citadel fortress beside the temple,[5] which was later remodeled by Herod the Great who renamed it the “Tower of Antonia,” a/k/a the “Antonio Fortress.”[6] Hyrcanus functioned as king (a title he never claimed), priest, and prophet, and near the end of his reign, he left the party of Pharisees and joined the Sadducees.[7]

During reigns of Hyrcanus, and later his son Alexander Jannaeus, there was a strong migration of Jews from Babylon and Persia to their homeland.  News of the victorious Maccabees and the “purification” traveled quickly to the Babylonian and Parthian provinces.  Since many were anticipating a messiah, they returned to the land God had promised them.[8] Those who relocated to the Galilee area, had a dialect accent distinctively different from those who had a longer heritage in Jerusalem. For that reason, during the trials of Jesus, those standing near Peter said to him, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean” (Mk. 14:70), because “your accent gives you away” (Mt. 26:73).

Hyrcanus and his militants again attacked the Samaritans, this time devastating the city of Shechem. He maintained absolute control over all aspects of Jewish life, including the temple. To reduce the possibilities of any challengers arising in the temple, he took the robes of the high priest when not in use, and kept them in storage. They were given to the high priest the week prior to the Day of Atonement and returned the day after. This tradition continued throughout the reign of Herod the Great and the Romans. The symbolism concerning the control of the high priestly robes cannot be overstated. In fact, years later, Vitellius, who was the last governor of Syria under Emperor Tiberius, received special permission from the emperor that the high priest could keep his robes permanently.[9]

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Casual reading of John Hyrcanus would leave the impression that he was passionate about eradicating the Greek culture from Israel.  But it appears that he simply desired to secure his power. The fact that he struck coins with Hebrew and Greek imagery is indicative that elements of the Greek culture had been accepted by leaders in the highest positions.  On the coin below, the script reads from right to left: WHY NN (HUH) = Yehohnan; H= The; KHN = Priest; H = The; GDL = High; W= and; (HUH) BR = Council; H= The; YHDM=  Jews.[10] While the coins identified him a high priest, he also functioned as king

coin 1coin 2coin 3







03.05.07.A. JEWISH COINS WITH GREEK MOTIFS. The First Jewish Coin (left and center) was minted by John Hyrcanus I (Yehohanan) from 130 to 104 B.C. It has the ancient paleo-Hebrew inscription that reads, “Yehohanan the High Priest and the Council of the Jews” surrounded by a wreath. The reverse shows a Greek double cornucopia adorned with ribbons, pomegranate between horns, and a border of dots. RIGHT: Years later Herod the Great minted coins with a double cornucopia and caduceus in the center. SOURCE:  http://www.mefacts.com/cached.asp?x_id=10080

This matter is important, because scholars often underestimate the influence, even presence, of Hellenism in Jewish life during the days of Jesus. When Hyrcanus died in 104 B.C., he willed that his wife take the throne, but his son Aristobulus starved his mother to death,[11]  killed his brother, and took control of the Jewish throne.[12]

[1]. Some ancient writers use the term “Judea” in the broadest sense. Examples are found in Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 5.15.70; Strabo, Geographia, 16.4.21; and Dio Sassius, Roman History, 37.15.2. In the days of Jesus, Perea was often referred to as the “region of Judea across the Jordan.”

[2]. Metzger, New Testament. 22; Note: Some sources date the destruction to 111/110 B.C.

[3]. Josephus, Wars 1.2.7. See Zangenberg, “Between Jerusalem and Samaria.” 427-28.

[4]. http://archaeologynewsreport.blogspot.com/2012/04/samaritans-temple-history-and-new.html. Retrieved August 20, 2013.

[5]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.3.

[6]. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.5.

[7]. Flusser, Jesus. 259.

[8]. Pixner, With Jesus through Galilee. 17.

[9]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:550. Bruce, New Testament History. 30-31.

[10]. http://ancientcoinage.org/persian-hasmonean–tyrian-coin-types.html  Retrieved November 6, 2014. For further study, see also http://www.mefacts.com/cached.asp?x_id=10080 Retrieved November 6, 2014.

[11]. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian. 303; Neusner and Green, eds., Dictionary of Judaism. 58.

[12]. Metzger, New Testament. 22-23.

03.05.08 Rule of Aristobulus I

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 15, 2016  -  Comments Off on 03.05.08 Rule of Aristobulus I

03.05.08 104 – 102 B.C. Rule of Aristobulus I

The accounts of the various Jewish rulers are difficult for the modern mind to comprehend. Most of them certainly had no desires to follow the ways of the Torah. As to the rule of Aristobulus I, Josephus recorded his shameful life account.

Now when their father Hyrcanus was dead, the eldest son Aristobulus, intending to change the government into a kingdom, for so he resolved to do, first of all put a diadem (crown) on his head, four hundred and eighty-one years and three months after the people had been delivered from the Babylonian slavery, and were returned to their own country again.  This Aristobulus loved his next brother Antonius, and treated him as his equal, but the others he held in bonds (prison). He also cast his mother into prison, because she disputed the government with him; for Hyrcanus had left her to be mistress of all.[1]  He also proceeded to that degree of barbarity, as to kill her in prison with hunger, he was alienated from his brother Antigonus by calumnies, and added him to the rest whom he slew.

Josephus, Antiquities 13.11.1 (301-303)


It is difficult to imagine that any Jewish leader was so barbaric. It appears that society had regressed to the horrific times of the judges more than a thousand years earlier. The reign of Aristobulus did not give the Jewish people any peace or comfort, and they struggled under his leadership almost as badly as they did under some pagan rulers.

Six centuries had passed since the ten northern tribes were exiled by the Assyrians, and now the Hasmonean King Aristobulus I incorporated Galilee under Jewish rule.  The Hasmoneans were the Jews who won victory over the Greeks in the Maccabean Revolt, and eventually became known as the Sadducees.   Josephus recorded that Aristobulus, like his father, required Gentiles to convert to Judaism as evidenced by ordering circumcision and observation of all Jewish laws.[2]  When the news of this decree reached Babylon and Persia, thousands of Jews responded by returning to Galilee.

The long-awaited freedom the Jews desired was quickly became a nightmare, as their leaders proved to be as corrupt as foreign dictators were.  Aristobulus I declared himself “King of the Jews” of Jerusalem, and fortunately, his reign was short lived.  He left no lasting impression upon Israel other than murder and family jealousies that would haunt future generations. His corruption of government planted the seed of a future civil war and intensified the expectations of a messiah who would be of the character of King David.  In later years, during the ministry of Jesus, the Jews were repulsed by the idea of the title, “King of the Jews,” not only because of Aristobulus I, but King Herod as well.

[1]. It has been suggest that apparently Hyrcanus permitted or ordered his wife to be a sexual servant for friends and others in government.


[2]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.11.3.

03.05.09 Rule of Alexander Jannaeus

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 15, 2016  -  Comments Off on 03.05.09 Rule of Alexander Jannaeus

03.05.09 102 – 76 B.C. Rule of Alexander Jannaeus

Alexander Jannaeus continued the policies of his father, Aristobulus I, but with greater intensity. With his army, that included foreign mercenaries, he successfully took control of northern cities and villages, including Mount Tabor.[1] He then traveled east and conquered the Decapolis cities, a conquest his father dreamed of.[2] Like his father, he had no mercy on the Gentiles living in Galilee as he told them either to accept Judaism or leave. The fact that he now ruled over most of the territory that was once part of David’s Empire, greatly increased the speculation that the anointed “son of David” would soon come to re-establish the great Davidic Empire. Everyone believed that when the “anointed one” would come, he would restore order and justice in the land. (The terms “anointed one” and “he” are not capitalized because the people were not expecting God Himself to come.) By the time Jesus arrived more than a century later, many had become tired of waiting.

He minted coins with his inscription as king and placed himself in the position of a high priest even though he was not of the Davidic line.[3]   This angered orthodox Jews such as the Essenes, who had previously separated themselves from the temple. They wrote of the corrupted priesthood in what is now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Jannaeus could have brought unity between the Pharisees and Sadducees. But it is evident that he and other leaders were continually spiteful toward those who held a different religious viewpoint. On one occasion during the Feast of Tabernacles, when water was brought up from the Pool of Siloam to the temple, he poured the water on the floor beside the altar instead upon it. Instantly the attending priests, Pharisees, and others around him began to throw citrons (a fruit used in the feast celebrations) at him. In response, Jannaeus called in his soldiers and several thousand worshippers were massacred that day. While this event took place more than a century earlier, the Pharisees did not forget this or any other events of persecution by the Sadducees at the time of Jesus.[4] The intense hatred and animosity between Pharisees and Sadducees grew stronger every day.

With various areas under his domain, his international trade expanded and the nation’s economy grew. It was truly a time of prosperity seldom seen since the days of King David and Solomon. Now the Greeks of the Decapolis cities were paying taxes (tribute) to the Jews. While there was stability on the international scene, on the home-front there continued intense conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees. In fact, as a faithful Sadducee, his reign was marked by the bitterest persecution of the Pharisees.

Just as John Hyrcanus I accepted elements of Hellenism, Jannaeus did likewise. In fact, in the years that followed the Maccabean Revolt, the entire Hasmonean/Maccabean dynasty became increasingly accepting of Hellenism and less interested in observing either the biblical or rabbinic Judaism. By the time Jesus was in ministry, the dynasty – then known as the Sadducees – was entirely Hellenistic and gave only lip service to the Torah.



03.05.09.A. A MODEL OF A HASMONEAN MERCHANT SHIP.   This model of a Hasmonean merchant ship was constructed from a tomb drawing in Jerusalem. It demonstrates the economic and military power of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty in the first and second centuries B.C.  Photographed by the author in 2000 at the Dagon Grain Museum, Haifa.

The Maccabean leader Alexander Jannaeus (Yehonatan) evidently wanted to modernize his country. He not only minted coins with the Aramaic (as is used today) square script, and also dated them.  Previous Jewish coins had the older paleo-Hebrew script – the script used before the Babylonian destruction of Solomon’s temple in 586 B.C.[5] His coins were minted throughout his reign, 103-76 B.C.[6]



03.05.09.B.  THE FIRST BILINGUAL JEWISH COIN. This coin with Greek and paleo-Hebrew lettering was struck by Alexander Jannaeus (Yehonatan) in the 25th year of his reign, corresponding to 78 B.C. LEFT: A ship’s anchor (of King Alexander) in Greek. RIGHT: A star of eight rays (Yehonatan the King) in Hebrew, stylized diadem around.[7]

[1]. Golub, In the Days. 147; Jung, “Mount Tabor” 4:714; Josephus, Antiquities 13.16.2.

[2]. Golub, In the Days. 147; Barclay, “Mark.” 124-25.


[3]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.10.1.

[4]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 2:637-38.

[5]. Brenner, “Spending your Way through Jewish History.” 48.


[6]. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/MaccabeanHasmoneanCoins.html Retrieved November 5, 2014.


[7]. http://www.mefacts.com/cached.asp?x_id=10080 Retrieved July 10, 2012.  See also Brenner, “Spending your Way through Jewish History.” 48.


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