03.05.16 63 B.C. Rome Conquers Judah; Hyrcanus II Installed as Ruler of Israel
The civil war between Aristobulus II and John Hyrcanus II did not go unnoticed by the Romans, who were also watching the growing Parthian threat far to the east. They did not want the Parthians to take advantage of the political chaos among the Jews and establish access to the Mediterranean Sea. So when John Hycranus went to the Romans to gather troops to fight his brother, they were absolutely delighted. However, he did not anticipate that the civil conflict would cost the Jewish state its sovereignty. But the request was a dream come true for the Romans and soon Israel became the puppet state on the frontier land facing the Parthian Empire.
The Roman General Gnaeus Pompeius Mangus (106-48 B.C.), a/k/a Pompeii or Pompeii (Pompey) the Great, was a successful statesman and military general. He captured Damascus from King Pontus and traveled south to capture all of Judah in only three months – the time it took to walk from one end of the country to the other and back. With mechanical engines, namely stone-throwing catapults, and battering rams shipped in from Tyre, the Romans battered Jerusalem until victory was secured. The Roman historian Dio Cassius said that he captured Jerusalem on a Sabbath because the Jews refused to fight on the Day of Atonement, as they considered that to be “work.” Consequently, Pompey’s army entered Jerusalem in a battle that cost the Jews 12,000 lives of men, women, and children. It was the one day of the year Jews thought God would forgive them of their sins, and instead they became servants to a pagan master.
When Pompey marched into Jerusalem, he insisted on entering the Holy of Holies with his officers. According to Josephus, he then took a large number of Jews as slaves and sold them throughout the empire and he acquired the support of the Hasmonean family. Thus, Jewish sovereignty was finally betrayed. But God’s curse was upon him when he landed in Egypt in 48 B.C. There he was stabbed in the back by an Egyptian centurion as he disembarked from a ship. He was stripped of his clothing, beheaded, and his naked body was left on the sandy shore. In this context, the word “naked” means that his body laid on the ground fully exposed – traditional undergarments removed. Rather than having his body buried, it was burned on the beach. No greater dishonor could possibly have been given to anyone. Many have said it was Divine punishment for his previous entry into the Holy of Holies.
In the previous century, the Hasmoneans had expanded Jewish domain to nearly the size of King David’s Empire. Many Jews believed that once their land area would become as large as the former Davidic Empire, then the expected son of David, would come and reign over his “father’s” kingdom. Therefore, anticipation of the coming of this political messiah was at fever pitch. However, Pompey doused water on that dream when he divided the Hasmonean Empire, and Israel was once again a tiny state that consisted of Galilee, Judea, and Perea (Jewish area east of the Jordan River). This division was to reduce the possibility of a future uprising. Whereas the Assyrians and Babylonians relocated large populations to prevent subservient people from gaining their independence, the Romans divided their regions to achieve the same purpose. But, as they would discover, the Jewish people were difficult to control.
. Josephus, Antiquities 14.4.2.
. Dio Cassius, Roman History 37.15.2-17.3.
. Josephus, Antiquities 14.6.1.
. Golub, In the Days. 196-98.