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Chapter Three: A Political History of the Jews to the Diaspora


The Jews (Hebrews) are believed to be descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Jacob’s ten sons, whose offspring comprised Israel’s ten tribes. The Book of Genesis records their trek to from Canaan to Egypt in a time of famine. They became enslaved in that land during the next centuries. Around 1225 B.C., Moses led an exodus of Hebrews from Egypt across the Sinai peninsula and back to Canaan where their forbearers had once lived. Jehovah, their ancestral god, gave Moses a set of laws for the nationi. Jehovah meant for the Jews to obey these Commandments in exchange for his favor.

Moses died before the migrating Hebrews entered the land of Canaan. Their leadership passed to Joshua. After Joshua led his followers across the Jordan river, the ten tribes of Israel lived among the Canaanite people for more than a century. Though without a central government, they worshiped Jehovah. It was the period of the judges. Throughout the 11th century B.C., the Hebrew tribes were in conflict with the more tightly organized Philistine city-states in Gaza which had a monopoly in the art of working with iron. Unable to conquer the Hebrews militarily, the Philistines seized the Ark of the Covenant in an attempt to demoralize them. Its presence among them brought only misfortune.

The Monarchy: Saul, David, and Solomon

When the Philistines denied them a blacksmith of their own to resharpen iron tools, the Hebrew tribes united under the command of Saul, who became their first king. Saul defeated the Philistines in battle. He later committed suicide after being defeated at Gilboa in 1013 B.C. Saul’s son Jonathan then ruled east of the Jordan while a Philistine vassal, David, was king of Judah in Hebron. David became king over all the tribes of Israel after he defeated the Philistines and drove them out of Canaan. He captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites around 1000 B.C., built a wall around the city, and made it the capital of his kingdom. David went on to conquer the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites, and the Aramaean states of Damascus and Zobah. The Canaanite population was culturally and politically integrated within the Hebrew state, which now encompassed all of southern Syria except for Philistia.

Although David had intended to build a permanent shrine in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant, the tradition of carrying the Ark around in a tent was too strong. It fell to David’s son and successor, Solomon, to build the Temple. Unlike most Middle Eastern temples, this one did not contain a statue of a god, only the Ark surrounded by statues of angels with folded wings. Solomon was a king who preferred wisdom to riches or power. Yet, he was also ruler of an empire which traded with distant kingdoms and became rich. Solomon allied himself with the Egyptian pharaoh and King Hiram of Tyre. For diplomatic reasons, he had several foreign-born wives. Foreign dignitaries visited his court. However, his ambitious construction projects strained the material resources of the nation.

The Kingdom Splits in Two; Prophets Appear

Even before Solomon’s death in 933 B.C., the empire began to crumble. The people of Edom and Damascus revolted. Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam I, rebuffed a request for tax relief from certain of the northern tribes. “My father used the whip on you; but I will use the lash,” the king told his complaining subjects. Then they, too, revolted, splitting the empire in two. Jeroboam I set up a new kingdom with a capital at Shechem which later was transferred to Samaria. During the next two centuries, this “northern kingdom” grew to be more powerful than the southern kingdom of Judah based in Jerusalem. After a century of conflict with the Aramaeans, King Jeroboam II of Israel was able to achieve hegemony over Judah after the Assyrians dealt the Aramaeans a crippling blow. However, there remained a belief hat God would channel his favor to the Jews through David’s dynasty in Jerusalem.

King Solomon’s empire contained the seeds of religious conflict. Solomon and his father had both pursued a policy of integration with the Canaanite people. In a practical sense, this meant tolerating their gods. When Solomon and his successors took foreign wives, they allowed foreign worship to be introduced at court. Contrary to instructions given by Moses, the Jewish kings allowed shrines to be built to other gods. Such practices were prevalent in the Northern Kingdom where Jereboam I, established rival cults at Dan and Bethel, using non-Levitic priests, in order to weaken the authority of the court at Jerusalem. The Golden Calf was made a symbol of God’s presence. To the Jerusalem priesthood, the Northern Kingdom represented apostasy. And when this kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., there was a ready explanation for the disaster: God had withdrawn his favor.

About this time religious prophets became politically influential. The first Syrian and Hebrew prophets were men who fell into shamanic trances. They were not tellers of the future but persons who “told forth” - proclaimed divinely revealed truths. Saul fell in with such a band of ecstatic prophets. In the 9th Century B.C., though, prophets of the Northern Kingdom began to criticize idol-worship at the court of King Ahab. Ahab had allowed his Sidonian wife, Jezebel, to set up a cult of her people’s god, Baal, in Samaria. The prophet Elijah railed against Ahab’s idolatry. He engaged in a contest with the priests of Baal, demonstrating that sacrifices to Jehovah alone would be accepted. A three-year drought fell upon the land. After working many miracles, Elijah departed from the earth in a chariot of fire.

With an even larger band of followers, the prophet Elisha continued Elijah’s work. Elisha instigated a rebellion against Ahab’s son, Jehoram (or Joram), among the king’s troops stationed along the border with Damascus. One of Elisha’s disciples anointed Jehu, the local commander, to replace Jehoram as king. Given prophetic sanction, Jehu promptly traveled to the royal palace where he slaughtered Jehoram, the Queen Mother Jezebel, and other surviving members of Ahab’s family, and then set himself upon the throne, ending the previous dynasty.

Meanwhile, the Jewish people were being drawn into a literate culture based on the alphabet. The Aramaeans and Phoenicians had originated this type of script. The northern Samarian kingdom was often at war with Damascus, center of Aramaean culture; yet merchants, prophets, and others traveled freely between the two territories. The Phoenicians at Tyre were trading partners and allies of King Solomon. Israel and Judaea were thus in the midst of an emerging literacy, incorporating the heritage of past civilizations. As religious prophets put writing to the service of their campaign against royal apostates, they added a twist to the literate culture.

Amos, a herdsman and dresser of fig-mulberries at Tekoa in Judah, was the first writing prophet. He appeared as a prophet at Bethel, the holy city of the North Kingdom, during the reign of Jeroboam II (783-743 B.C.) At the time, this kingdom was threatened by Assyrian militarism. Amos railed against the oppression of the poor both in Judah and Israel. He predicted that God would punish these nations for their sins but in the end would restore them to righteousness and glory by rebuilding the House of David. Assyria would be the instrument of God’s wrath. Therefore, it was no use to fight the impending ruin. Instead, one should look forward to the future day of the Lord.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel, while militarily stronger than Judah, was considered to be more wicked. Not only was it influenced by foreign gods, this kingdom exhibited greater social inequality. Its northern neighbor, Phoenicia, was prospering from vigorous Mediterranean trade. The elite class in Israel sought to emulate this success by promoting commerce at the expense of agriculture. The commercial class grew richer while farmers in the hinterland failed to keep pace. Issues of social justice were added to concerns about idolatrous worship. Amos declared that “righteousness” was pleasing to God.

Politically, the northern kingdom was under pressure from the expanding Assyrian empire. It made the mistake of becoming allied with Assyria’s enemy, the Aramaean city of Damascus. The Assyrians seized Gilead and Galilee from Israel in 733-32 B.C. and then captured Damascus. Rulers of the northern kingdom sought to stave off defeat through alliances with Assyria and with Egypt but these failed. When Hoshea refused to pay tribute to the Assyrians, he was deposed. In 722 B.C., Sargon of Assyria captured Samaria after a three-year siege. Over 27,000 Israelites were deported to other parts of the Assyrian empire.The prophet Hosea interpreted the distressing events as a sign that the kingdom of Israel had turned away from God. There was a lesson in the fact that the Assyrian empire was unable to take the kingdom at Jerusalem, ruled by descendants of David.

Troubles in the Southern Kingdom

Yet, certain things were also rotten in the southern kingdom of Judah. For the first half century after the northern secession, the southern kings tolerated pagan cults. King Asa (908-867 B.C.) instituted a general purge of these cults. Facing pressure from the north, Jehoshaphat made an alliance with King Ahab. Ahaziah was killed by Jehu whom the prophet Elisha had brought to power in the north. For awhile, a daughter of Jezebel ruled Jerusalem but a palace revolt brought Jehoash to the throne. Amaziah was taken prisoner by king Joash of Israel, and Judah came under northern control. After a time of prosperity, this combined kingdom faced a threat from Assyria. Contrary to advice from his adviser Isaiah, King Ahaz called upon the Assyrian king for help. Hezekiah, his successor, first defied the Assyrians and then made peace with them after a disastrous war.

The Kingdom of Judah, while nominally independent, became an Assyrian vassal state. After submitting to Assyrian rule, King Ahaz installed an Aramaean altar in the Temple and tolerated foreign cults. The prophets Isaiah and Micah warned against these practices. Having criticized the corruption of Judaean society during the prosperous reign of King Uzziah, Isaiah now argued that the Assyrians were “a hired razor from across the Euphrates” meant to shave Judah clean of its iniquities. While the Assyrians were indeed ungodly and cruel, he argued that the Jews should not put their trust in alliances or rebellions but look to God alone for salvation. After their cleansing had been accomplished, God would break Assyrian power upon the mountains of Judah, showing all subjected nations that the God of the Jews was God of the entire world.

Micah, too, presented a scenario of succumbing to Assyrian power followed by national redemption. Unlike Isaiah, he foresaw that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Because of its rulers’ wickedness, this city would become a ploughed field. Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.) was moved by such warnings, as well as by the destruction of Israel, to crack down on pagan worship in his kingdom. Renouncing idolatry, he even removed from the Temple a bronze serpent ascribed to Moses.

While a still vassal of Assyria, Hezekiah participated in an uprising against the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, led by the Babylonian rebel, Merodach-Baladan. The rebellion collapsed in 701 B.C. despite aid from Egypt. Hezekiah sued for peace but Sennacherib demanded Jerusalem’s surrender. While Isaiah had disapproved of seeking Egyptian help, he assured Hezekiah that Jerusalem would not be taken. Hezekiah then refused to surrender and Sennacherib unexpectedly returned home. While the Judaean countryside was devastated, the capital remained under Hezekiah’s control.

Manasseh, who succeeded Hezekiah as king, adopted a policy of appeasing Assyria and submitting to its rule. Judah contributed troops to the Assyrians and shared in the prosperity of their empire. Foreign merchants came to Judah, bringing diverse customs and strange dress. Doubting Jehovah’s ability to help them, the Judaean people turned to other gods. The court of Manasseh became a center of pagan worship. The cults of Asherah, a Canaanite fertility goddess, and of Assyrian deities took root there. Such developments called for religious reform; but it was not until the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.) that actions were taken to restore the Temple cult.

Under Josiah, foreign religious practices were again suppressed. A new set of laws and divine instructions, written around 630 B.C., were “found” in the Temple by the high priest and judged to be authentic. These writings comprise the book of Deuteronomy, which takes an uncompromising stand against worshiping gods other than Jehovah. The Passover celebration again took place in the Temple. Josiah convened a representative assembly to enter into a covenant with God to recognize the Torah. The Assyrian empire was then in the process of dissolution. However, Josiah died before he was able to realize his ambition of recovering all the territories once ruled by King David. He did create a scriptural foundation for the religion of Judaism.

Whatever comfort the inhabitants of Judah might have found in Assyria’s collapse was soon dispelled in the rivalry between Egypt and Babylon to fill the power vacuum. Josiah lost his life while opposing the Egyptians, an Assyrian ally. The Kingdom of Judah became subject first to the Egyptians and then to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho II at the battle of Carchemish. Some interpreted Judah’s bad fortune as a consequence of Manasseh’s apostasy. The prophet Jeremiah argued its roots lay deeper. He had warned that a northern power would scourge the faithless nation of Israel. After Assyria fell, that power was seen to be Babylon.

King Jehoiakim rebelled against the Babylonians in 598 B.C. but was defeated. He died shortly before Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin again unwisely plotted against Babylon relying upon help from Egypt. Although the prophet Jeremiah preached that resistance to Babylon was useless, the king persisted in his rebellion. Again Nebuchadnezzar prevailed. Jehoiachin and thousands of Jews from prominent families were deported to Babylon. The king’s brother, Zedekiah, was installed upon the throne after swearing loyalty to the Babylonian king.

Zedekiah ruled for ten years. Then, he broke his promise to the Babylonians and sought independence with Egypt’s help. Jeremiah continued to urge submission to Babylon. This time, Nebuchadnezzar descended upon Jerusalem with lethal force. After a siege lasting eighteen months, he captured the city, blinded Zedekiah, destroyed the Temple, burned Jerusalem to the ground, and deported the king and much of the Jewish population to Babylon. So began the period of the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah was given the choice of remaining in Judaea or emigrating to Egypt.

The exile to Babylon was a formative time for Jewish religion. The Jews no longer had their own government. They had only the memory of a state ruled by David and his heirs, together with prophecies that this dynasty would some day be restored through the intervention of God. Jeremiah’s reputation as a prophet of God was established by his fateful warnings that resistance to Babylon would have dire consequences. Religious Jews now took heart from his prediction that the Temple in Jerusalem would some day be rebuilt. God would offer a new covenant with his people inscribing obedience in their hearts. The House of David would again take its place among the powerful empires of the earth and enjoy God’s special blessing.

Exile and Return to Jerusalem

In Babylon, the cult of Jehovah might have been forgotten. God seemed to have let David’s dynasty expire. Josiah had decreed that Jehovah could be worshiped only in the Temple; but that Temple existed no more. In fact, the Jews preserved and strengthened their religious identity in this harsh setting. They preserved it by cultivating an attitude of separateness from other people and by creating the synagogue which was a place to study the Torah, the Jews’ portable culture. The same prophets who had predicted the destruction of Israel and Judah had also predicted that God would resurrect the House of David in an even more glorious form.

The prophet Ezekial (593-73 B.C.) was among those Jews sent to Babylon in the first wave of deportations in 597 B.C. Like Jeremiah, he prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction. Yet, his sights were set primarily upon restoration of the Temple. God would revive Israel’s dry bones so the entire world would know he was God. Another prophet of this time, known as Second Isaiah (writer of Isaiah, chapters 40 through 66), also predicted that the Jews would be allowed to return home from captivity. He even mentioned their deliverer, Cyrus, by name. The text of Second Isaiah provided strong support for monotheism. The miraculous delivery of the Jews from captivity indicated that Jehovah was god not only of the Jews but of all peoples.

Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It was not long before Babylon was, in turn, conquered by a neighboring power. King Cyrus II of Persia gained control of the Median empire in 559 B.C. In 538 B.C., he conquered Babylon. The Jewish exiles were now subject to a new empire, albeit one more benign. In the same year that Babylon was conquered, Cyrus issued an edict allowing Jews to return to their homeland. About 40,000 exiles did return. Once again, prophecy had been fulfilled. However, Judaea remained a part of the Persian empire for another two centuries.

During the Babylonian captivity, many persons who remained in Palestine continued to worship Jehovah. His cult had followers in faraway places such as Elephantine in southern Egypt. Assyrian policies of deportation had brought many Gentiles into Samaria to mix with the Jewish population. Conflict developed between Jews returning from Babylon and the Samarians who were settled in Judah. The Babylonian Jews would not allow their Samarian coreligionists to participate in the restoration of Temple worship. The latter denounced the returning exiles to the Persian court as insurrectionists wanting to establish an independent state. Permission to rebuild the Temple was rescinded. This project sat for a number of years until Darius I lifted the ban in 520 B.C. Work on the Temple was completed four years later.

Although the Temple in Jerusalem was now rebuilt, none of Ezekial’s or Second Isaiah’s other predictions had come true. There were no great miracles evidencing Jehovah’s power and glory. Instead, the Jews began squabbling among themselves. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah had interpreted the events preceding Darius’ ascension to the throne as a sign that the Persian empire was breaking up and God’s kingdom would soon arrive. They identified the Jewish governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, as the promised Messiah who would rule this kingdom. (Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, was also an ancestor of Joseph, Mary’s husband.) However, nothing of the sort happened. Events in Judaea continued along a mundane course.

There was a belief that God might restore his favor to the Jews if they faithfully observed requirements of the Covenant. Persons of mixed heritage such as the Samarians were seen as a threat to religious purity. In this xenophobic environment, a major concern was intermarriage between Gentiles and Jews. In 458 B.C., the Levite priest Ezra, along with a large retinue, arrived from Babylon. He brought with him an agenda of zealously enforcing religious rules. Citing archaic laws, Ezra and other leaders forced many Jews who had married Gentiles to become divorced. The non-Jewish spouses and children were expelled from the community.

Nehemiah, who had been the cupbearer of Artaxerxes I, returned to Palestine in 444 B.C. bearing letters of appointment as Governor of Judah. An important task was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah and Ezra spearheaded the process of religious cleansing. The Persian emperor, Artaxerxes, had granted Ezra a charter allowing him to make the Torah law of the land for Jews in Judah and other eastern provinces. However, the Torah first had to be published. For its publication, it had to be officially compiled. So Ezra became associated with the process of codifying the Torah. These sacred scriptures allowed the Jews to retain their religious identity while remaining a people politically subservient to others.

By the mid 5th Century B.C., when Nehemiah and Ezra lived, it had been a century and a half since Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. The Jews had remained a culturally distinct people. On the other hand, the link with prophecy was weakening. God seemed no longer to be speaking to the Jews in their own time. The prophet Malachi reflects the discouragement which religious Jews felt at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. He denounced intermarriage with Gentiles and corruption among Temple priests. He recommended that the Torah be observed. Malachi’s is the last book contained in the Old Testament canon. After him, the canon was closed.

Life under Greek Rule

Then, after another century of subjection to Persian rule, a remarkable political event occurred. Alexander the Great, commanding Macedonian and Greek armies, conquered the Persian empire. Persian rule In Judaea was extinguished. Following Alexander’s death ten years later, Judaea fell under Egyptian control. Once again, it was caught in a dynastic struggle between powerful empires to the north and south, ruled by Alexander’s former generals. The southern empire of Egypt was ruled by successors of Ptolemy I; the northern Syrian empire by successors of Seleucus Nicator. The Egyptians controlled Palestine until 198 B.C. Then it was the Syrians’ turn for the next thirty years.

As with the Persian empire, Egypt under the Ptolemies was tolerant of Jewish religion. Many Jews settled in Egypt and became hellenized. Even under the Syrians, they found relatively tolerant conditions. Meanwhile, the Egyptian and Syrian dynasties fought each other for control of possessions in the east Mediterranean region. Territories such as Phoenicia, Sicily, and Cyprus often changed hands. The Syrian power grew stronger over time.

The Seleucid emperor Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.) waged war over a vast area. He forced the Parthian king to become a vassal and beat an Indian prince into submission. In 202 B.C., he went to war with Egypt for the sixth time. Judaea became a Syrian possession when the peace treaty was signed four years later. Antiochus then made the mistake of taking on Rome. The Romans defeated him in 190 B.C. at Magnesia-under-Sipylus, setting up Syria’s dismemberment. Asia Minor (Turkey) was lost. Armenia and Bactria became independent states.

While the Seleucid empire continued, there was financial pressure upon it to pay the post-war indemnity to Rome. Most of the wealth lay in temples spread about the empire. The Syrian emperors were forced to pillage these temples to raise money. Such actions aroused the ire of local populations. In Judaea, they stirred tensions between rich and poor. The rich, who controlled the temple wealth, tended to be sympathetic to Greek authority. The more numerous poor were Jewish traditionalists clinging to the Law. A rift between two rich families, the Oniads and Tobiads, escalated into the development of pro-Egyptian and pro-Syrian factions within Jewish society.

In 175 B.C., a group of Hellenizing Jews asked the Seleucid emperor, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) to turn the temple-state in Jerusalem into a Greek-style city to be renamed Antioch. The emperor was only too happy to oblige. It had been the policy of Syrian emperors to create associations of Hellenic city-states whose common Greek culture would strengthen the empire. Also, the Hellenized priesthoods at the different temples outdid each other in offering bribes to the emperor.

In 169 B.C., emperor Antiochus, on his way to Egypt to fight a war, pillaged the Jerusalem Temple with the high priest’s consent. When Rome signaled its displeasure in regard to the Egyptian expedition, Antiochus changed his mind. Returning to Syria by way of Judaea, he learned of an insurrection by anti-Hellenist Jews. While the rebellion was directed against the Temple priests, the emperor interpreted it as defiance of himself. He built a fort in Jerusalem and took military action.

In December of 167 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes (meaning “the God Manifest”) hellenized worship in the Temple. His new cult identified Jehovah with the Olympian god Zeus. Zeus was represented by a statue in the Temple resembling the emperor himself. This act, more than any other, galvanized anti-Hellenic sentiment. Religious Jews struck back through military actions directed by Judas Maccabeus, son of the priest Mattathias.

Maccabean Rule

After killing an agent of the emperor, Judas Maccabeus and his four brothers fled to the mountains where they assembled a group of Jewish guerillas. For six years this army fought battles against the Syrian forces. At length, they recaptured and reconsecrated the Temple, forcing children of Hellenizing Jews to be circumcised. So the Hasmonean dynasty came into being. Rome entered into a treaty withthis dynasty in 161 B.C. However, Judas Maccabeus was killed in the following year when a Syrian army under Demetrius I “Soter” (“saviour’) again ravished the countryside forcing him to flee to the mountains.

After Judas’ death, succession to Hasmonean throne fell to the youngest of Mattathias’ sons, Jonathan. Ruling for seventeen years, he was the first of the Hasmonean rulers to assume the dual function of priest and king. Meanwhile, a pretender to the Seleucid throne, Alexander Balas, who claimed to be Antiochus IV’s son, fought for power with Demetrius, a son of emperor Seleucus IV. Jonathan took advantage of their five-year struggle to wrest concessions from Syria. Currying favor both with Demetrius and the Romans, he gradually expelled foreign troops from Judaea.

Jonathan was murdered in 143 B.C. by a Syrian general whom he had thought was his friend. Mattathias’ last remaining son, Simon, then assumed the throne which he occupied for eight years until he, too, was treacherously murdered. It was under Simon’s rule that the Hasmonean dynasty finally took the Seleucid fort in Jerusalem, drove the Syrians out, ended tribute to them, and gained real independence. These were heady days for religious visionaries. A Jewish state again existed in Judaea. Ancient prophesies seemed to be coming true.

Meanwhile, groups of patriotic Jews called Pharisees, who were not part of the Temple priesthood, produced new prophetic scriptures envisioning Jewish redemption in the final days. The Book of Daniel, while attributed to an earlier prophet, is believed to be one of these. Other writings have recently come to light with the discovery of the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, stashed in a cave near the Essene compound at Qumran as Roman armies were laying waste to Judaea in 68 A.D. These scriptures tell of a prophet known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” who led his followers into the desert but was put to death by Jewish authorities around 70 B.C. He allegedly rose from the grave and went to heaven. A script titled “The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness” captures the ferocious spirit of the Maccabean war in presenting Jewish and non-Jewish forces in sharp moral contrast.

This was a time when anti-Hellenizing Jews were dividing into religious and political factions. Josephus, the historian, mentions three groups in particular. The Sadducees were right-wing Jews who were well educated and rich; they tended to favor the Epicurean philosophy. The Pharisees were the more conservative of the militant Jews known as “Chassidim” (Hasidaeans) who wished to purge Jewish religion of foreign influences. They were popular leaders and Stoic in temperament. Finally, there were the radical Chassidim, the Essenes, who pursued a monastic life not unlike that of the Pythagorean order.

We know the Sadducees and Pharisees from the Christian Gospels. The Sadducees, a Temple aristocracy, accepted the Torah alone. They rejected doctrines such as belief in angels and resurrection of the dead which were products of a so-called “oral law’ revealed to Moses. The Pharisees, more ready to accept religious innovations, appear in a negative light in Gospel accounts of their discussions with Jesus. Historically, however, this group of Jews enjoyed much prestige among the people for their uncompromising stand in difficult times under the Hasmonean rulers. Products of an anti-Hellenic uprising, those rulers became Hellenists. The Pharisees who challenged them on it suffered great persecution .

After Simon Maccabeus was murdered by his son-in-law in 134 B.C., Simon’s surviving son, John Hyrcanus, assumed the throne and ruled for thirty years. Hyrcanus held the dual office of prophet and priest. In the first year of his reign, the Seleucid king Antiochus VII Sidetes reconquered Judaea, ravished Jerusalem, and demanded tribute from the Jews before turning his attention to Parthia. This king was killed by the Parthians in 127 B.C. A struggle for succession ensued between two half-brothers, Antiochus VIII Epiphanes (“Grypus”) and Antiochus IX Philopater (“Cyzicenus”). It lasted until 111 B.C. when they agreed to split the kingdom. Each ruled for another fifteen years.

John Hyrcanus took advantage of the Syrian civil war to reassert control over Judaea. He conquered neighboring peoples such as the Moabites, Samarians, and Idumaeans, giving them a choice between becoming circumcised, going into exile, or being put to the sword. Such zealous proselytizing brought a large increase in the number of persons adhering to Judaism. Around 110 B.C., the Pharisees questioned Hyrcanus’ right to be high priest as well as king. Hyrcanus then turned upon this group of former supporters and persecuted them. The Hasmoneans became allied instead with the Sadducees. John Hyrcanus died in 104 B.C.

Aristobulus I, who called himself “the Hellene”, succeeded his father. His short, cruel reign was marked by violence against his own family. A brother, Alexander Jannaeus, ascended to the throne upon his death in 103 B.C. This ruler continued his father’s policy of suppressing the Pharisees while siding with the Sadducees. The Pharisees, who had gined influence with the people, withdrew their support so that Jannaeus had to resort to foreign mercenaries to maintain political control. He died in 76 B.C. after ruling for twenty-five years. His widow, Salome Alexandra, ruled for the next seven years as queen-regent . Upon her late husband’s recommendation, she now supported the Pharisees and persecuted their rivals, the Sadducees.

The last five years of Jewish independence followed Salome Alexandra’s death in 69 B.C.. First her oldest son, John Hyrcanus II , a supporter of the Pharisees, became king. Then another son, Aristobulus II, seized control with the help of the Sadducees. For a time, there were two Judaean kings supported by the different parties. After the Roman general, Pompey, captured Antioch in 65 B.C., both sides appealed to him to intervene in their political dispute. Pompey backed John Hyrcanus II when the Sadducees resisted Roman rule. In 63 B.C., he captured Jerusalem, desecrated the Temple, and set up Hyrcanus as a puppet king and high priest. Real power fell into the hands of the Antipater family.

Judaea in Roman Times

The Antipaters were converts to Judaism from Idumaea in the southern part of Palestine. The original Antipater had given refuge to Hyrcanus II when he was ousted by his brother. His son, also named Antipater, became prime minister under Hyrcanus when the Romans restored that king to power. Julius Caesar, who had defeated Pompey in a power struggle, gave Antipater control over Palestine. The prime minister appointed his own sons, Herod and Phasael, to be provincial governors.

In 37 B.C., the Roman Senate appointed Herod to be King of Judaea. Herod (“the Great”) ruled until 4 B.C. He improved the harbor at Caesarea, built a temple to honor Augustus in Samaria, and rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple on a grander scale. Because of his close ties with the Romans, Herod was opposed by both the Pharisees and Sadducees. Though a Jew, he was hated for his sympathies with Greek culture.

Three sons divided up Herod’s kingdom after his death. Archelaus became ethnarch of Judaea, Samaria, and Idumaea. Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. A third son, Philip, perhaps the ablest administrator of this group, received Batanaea, northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Augustus Caesar removed Archelaus from office in 6 A.D. after his subjects complained. Judaea was then joined to the Roman province of Syria. A Roman procurator now ruled this province.

The first Judaean procurator, Cyrenius, issued an edict that Jews register their property in preparation for taxation. This precipitated an armed rebellion led by the Zealots. Thousands were executed; their skeletons hung on trees for years. Another violent group, the Sicarii, carried concealed daggers which they used to assassinate their opponents in crowds. It was in such an environment that Pontius Pilate became procurator of Judaea in 26 A.D. He was removed ten years later after Samaritans complained of atrocities.

Jesus of Nazareth lived in Galilee, a province ruled by Herod Antipas. This is the same king who ordered John the Baptist’s beheading. The Herod who ordered the slaughter of infant males at the time of Jesus’ birth might have been Herod the Great, although the conventional calendar places his death four years before Jesus’ birth. Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover in 30 A.D. That put him in Pilate’s jurisdiction when he was convicted of blasphemy and executed on a cross. Christianity began with news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

In 37 A.D., the Roman emperor Caligula appointed a grandson of Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa I, to succeed Philip as tetrarch. An able ruler, he was given control over southern Syria and most of Palestine four years later. He ruled for three years. In 44 A.D., his son, Herod Agrippa II, inherited the kingdom. In the same year, an Egyptian named Theudas proclaimed himself Messiah. He led 30,000 supporters into the desert where many were slaughtered by the Romans. Herod Agrippa II was a poor ruler who antagonized the people. Rome once again took control of Palestine.

While Jesus’ followers spread the Gospel by peaceful persuasion, Judaea and neighboring lands seethed with resistance to Roman rule. The situation built up to a head in the period between 68 and 70 A.D., when certain revolutionary groups attempted to defeat the Romans through force of arms. They were hoping to prepare the way for a Messiah who would establish God’s supernatural Kingdom. Jewish rebels took control of Jerusalem. The Roman general Vespasian was dispatched there to put down the insurrection. His armies besieged the city. Called back to Rome to become emperor, Vespasian appointed his son Titus to continue the siege.

Jerusalem was occupied by three separate groups of armed insurrectionists, each awaiting the Messiah. They controlled different sections of the city. For eight horrible months, these rival groups inside the besieged city set fire to each others’ food supply, destroyed the royal palace and house of the high priest, and looted or murdered rich individuals, while expecting Messianic intervention. Instead, Roman soldiers broke through the fortifications. The Temple and most of the city were destroyed. Almost the entire population was killed or deported. So began the Diaspora.

Judaism survived through accommodation with the Roman authorities. A leader of the Pharisees, smuggled out of Jerusalem in a coffin after the debacle of 70 A.D., received permission from Vespasian to establish an institute of Jewish studies in Jamnia. Rabbinical Judaism, organized around worship in synagogues, sprouted from that school. Another religious community, of even greater historical consequence, was that which arose from the death and resurrection of the peaceful Messiah, Jesus, who had lived in a previous time.

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