Volume. XXXIV, No. 7
Sunday, 18 August 2019

From the Pastor’s Heart: Jerusalem (9)

In the previous article, we learnt about the origin of Hanukah, feast of lights or feast of the dedication.  It is alluded to in John 10:22, “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication and it was winter.”  Judas Maccabeus’ war did not end with the Greek-Syrian army, but continued with all surrounding nations.  There were also persistent attempts by Lysias to defeat the Jews.  He brought a great army with a camel corps and many elephants and accompanied the boy-king, Antiochus V.  Judas’ brother, Eleazar was killed, and Jerusalem was captured.  Even though the king made a treaty with the Jews, when he saw the strength of the fort on Mt. Zion, he broke his promise and destroyed the fortifications (1 Maccabees 6:62).  In April, 161 B.C., Judas was killed in battle with another Syrian general, Nicanor. 

Jonathan, Judas’ brother

After Judas’ death, both Jerusalem and the land were re-garrisoned by Syrians.  However, by 152 BC Jonathan, Judas’ brother, who was residing at Michmash, was virtual ruler of the land.  By astute negotiation, he was able to gain more than any of his family had ever done. He was appointed high priest and deputy for the king, in Judea.  The Jewish hostages were delivered to Jonathan, and he restored them to their parents.  He repaired the city and restored the temple-fortress with squared stones.  1 Maccabees 10:9-11 says, “9 And the hostages were delivered to Jonathan, and he restored them to their parents. 10 And Jonathan dwelt in Jerusalem, and began to build, and to repair the city. 11 And he ordered workmen to build the walls, and mount Sion round about with square stones for fortification: and so they did.”  Later, Jonathan was detained by deceit and eventually killed together with his two sons. 

Simon Thassi, Jonathan’s brother

Simon took the bones of Jonathan and buried them in Modin, the city of his fathers.  1 Maccabees 13:33 says, “And Simon built up the strong holds of Judea, fortifying them with high towers, and great walls, and gates, and bars: and he stored up victuals in the fortresses.”  He and his men “. . . fortified the mountain of the temple that was near the castle, and he dwelt there himself, and they that were with him” (13:34).  Simon was able to bring peace and rest to all the land of Judaea.  1 Maccabees 14:6-15 describes the days of Simon as follows: “6 And he enlarged the bounds of his nation, and made himself master of the country. 7 And he gathered together a great number of captives, and had the dominion of Gazara, and of Bethsura, and of the castle: and took away all uncleanness out of it and there was none that resisted him. 8 And every man tilled his land with peace: and the land of Juda yielded her increase, and the trees of the fields their fruit. 9 The ancient men sat all in the streets, and treated together of the good things of the land, and the young men put on them glory, and the robes of war. 10 And he provided victuals for the cities, and he appointed that they should be furnished with ammunition, so that the fame of his glory was renowned even to the end of the earth. 11 He made peace in the land, and Israel rejoiced with great joy. 12 And every man sat under his vine, and under his fig tree: and there was none to make them afraid. 13 There was none left in the land to fight against them: kings were discomfited in those days. 14 And he strengthened all those of his people that were brought low, and he sought the law, and took away every unjust and wicked man. 15 He glorified the sanctuary, and multiplied the vessels of the holy places.”  Simon was the high priest, captain, and prince of the nation of the Jews.  Simon and his two sons were killed by deception.

John, Simon’s son, also called Hyrcanus

John was a valiant man of war.  Josephus explains in his book, The Jewish War, that John was also known as “Hyrcanus” without giving any reason.  During the first year of his reign, he had to face serious challenges from Antiochus VII Sidetes (from the same Seleucid empire that had oppressed the Jews).  Antiochus pillaged the land of Judah and laid a year-long siege on Jerusalem (134 B.C).  John had to negotiate a truce with him, which cost him and his countrymen a lot.  There were three conditions for the truce: offering three thousand talents of silver, breaking down the walls of Jerusalem, and joining his army against the Parthians.  Thus, the Jews came under the control of the Seleucid empire.  These conditions were harsh, and it has been said that John had to open up the tomb of David in order to make the three thousand talents for Antiochus.  Then, a heavy taxation from Antiochus followed.  John’s participation of the war with Antiochus, his loot of King David’s tomb, and some other policies he had implemented made him very unpopular amongst the people.  However, when Antiochus VII was killed in battle in 128 BC, he led a series of military conquests and marked the high point of Judaea.  The dissipating situation of the Seleucid empire gave him opportunities to assert Judean independence and to expand his territory. 

Josephus recorded a conflict between Hyrcanus and the Pharisees.  The Pharisees asked him to give up his position of high priesthood (Ant. 13.288-296).  Naturally, after this incident, he took his side with the Sadducees, the rivals of the Pharisees.  As a ruler, John Hyrcanus was not an absolute ruler.  At times he had to submit to the assembly of the Jews.  It means that there were some tensions and conflicts between religious (he was the high priest) and secular leadership.  As a solution, in his will he gave his wife control of civil authority after he died, and his son, Judas Aristobulus, the role of high priest.  However, it has been known to us that Aristobulus was not happy with it.  He cast his mother into prison and let her starve.  It is truly an irony and sad event within the family of a Jewish reformer and conqueror.  We also need to be informed that John Hyrcanus kept good foreign relations with Rome and Egypt.

Hasmonean Dynasty

At this moment, we need to familiarize ourselves with the term, Hasmonean dynasty.  It refers to the ruling dynasty of Judaea and surrounding regions between about 140 and 116 B.C. when the dynasty ruled semi-autonomously from the Seleucids, and between 110 B. C. when the dynasty became fully independent, and 37 B. C. when the Herodian dynasty overtook it .  The Hasmonean dynasty was established under the leadership of Simon, two decades after his brother Judas Maccabeus defeated the Seleucid army.  During the prosperous days, the Hasmonean rulers built many new buildings.  Even when Herod took the power over the Jewish state, he tried to bolster the legitimacy of his reign by marrying a Hasmonean princess, Mariamne, and planned to drown the last male Hasmonean heir at his Jericho palace in A. D. 6. 

Rome’s Intervention

Though Simon fought for the independent status of the Jewish state, his great-grandsons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, became pawns in a proxy war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great.  Hyrcanus and Aristobulus’ quarrels and fights brought downfalls upon the Jewish state.  Pompey met delegates and received gifts from both parties and also from the Pharisees.  He placed himself as a stopper of quarrels and then took the city of Jerusalem by storm.  After Pompey died, the Jews had a temporary autonomy, which rapidly vanished under the Roman rule of Mark Antony and Octavian.



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