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Josephus, Antiquities XI, 4-79: Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus

Coin of Pompey the GreatThe coming of the Romans led, in turn, to the rise of the Idumean Antipater who manipulated Hyrcanus II to advance his own interests. The infighting of the last Hasmoneans made it possible for the Romans to side with Antipater and Hyrcanus, thus gaining power over Judea in 63 B.C.E.

(4) Hyrcanus then began his rule on the third year of the hundred and seventy-seventh olympiad when Quintus Hortensius and Quintus Metellus, who was called Metellus of Crete, were consuls at Rome. 60 Immediately, Aristobulus began to make war against him, and in battle with Hyrcanus at Jericho, many of his soldiers deserted him and went over to his brother. 61 (5) Then Hyrcanus fled into the citadel where Aristobulus’ wife and children had been imprisoned by his mother, as we have said already, 62 and attacked and overcame his adversaries who had fled there and taken refuge within the walls of the temple. (6) So after he had sent a message to his brother about coming to an agreement regarding the matters between them, he laid aside his enmity to him on these conditions that Aristobulus should be king, and that he (Hyrcanus) should live without meddling in public affairs and quietly enjoy the estate he had acquired. 63 (7) When they had agreed upon these terms in the temple and had confirmed the agreement with oaths and giving one another their right hands and embracing one another in the sight of the whole multitude, they departed, the one, Aristobulus, to the palace, and Hyrcanus, as a private man, to the former house of Aristobulus.

(8) But there was a certain friend of Hyrcanus, an Idumean called Antipater, who was very rich, and in his nature an active and a seditious man, who was an enemy of Aristobulus and had differences with him on account of his good will to Hyrcanus. (9) It is true that Nicolaus of Damascus 64 says that Antipater was of the stock of the principal Jews who came from Babylon into Judea; but that assertion of his was to gratify Herod, who was his (Antipater’s) son, and who, by certain revolutions of fortune, came afterwards to be king of the Jews, whose history we shallgive you in its proper place. 65 (10) However, this Antipater was at first called Antipas, and that was his father’s name also, of whom they relate this- That king Alexander and his wife made him general of all Idumea, and that he made a league of friendship with those Arabs, Gazans, and Ascalonites who were of his own party, and by many and large presents made them his loyal friends. (11) But now this young Antipater was suspicious of the power of Aristobulus and was afraid of some harm he might do him because of his hatred of him. So he stirred up the most powerful of the Jews and talked against him to them privately, and said that it was unjust to overlook the conduct of Aristobulus who had gotten the government unrighteously and had driven his brother who was the elder from the throne, who ought to retain what belonged to him by prerogative of his birth. (12) He perpetually made the same speeches to Hyrcanus and told him that his own life would be in danger unless he guarded himself and got rid of Aristobulus. For he said that the friends of Aristobulus lost no opportunity to advise him to kill him, as then, and not before, he was sure to retain his power. (13) Hyrcanus gave no credit to these words of his, being of a gentle disposition and one that did not easily admit of calumnies against other men. This temperament of his, not disposing him to meddle in public affairs, and his lack of spirit, made him appear to observers to be degenerate and unmanly, while Aristobulus was of a contrary temperament, an active man, and an alert spirit.

(14) Since, therefore, Antipater saw that Hyrcanus did not listen to what he said, he never ceased, day by day, to charge feigned crimes to Aristobulus and to slander him before Hyrcanus, saying that Aristobulus had a mind to kill him. So by urging him perpetually, he advised him and persuaded him to flee to Aretas, the king of Arabia, and promised that if he would comply with his advice, he would also assist him himself. (15) When Hyrcanus heard this, he said that it was to his advantage to flee to Aretas, the Arab king. (Arabia is a country that borders upon Judea.) However, Hyrcanus sent Antipater first to the Arab king in order to receive assurances from him that when he would come as a supplicant to him, he would not deliver him up to his enemies. (16) So Antipater, having received such assurances, returned to Hyrcanus in Jerusalem. A while afterward he took Hyrcanus and stole out of the city by night, traveled a great distance, and came and brought him to the city called Petra where the palace of Aretas was. (17) As he was a very familiar friend of that king, he urged him to bring back Hyrcanus into Judea, and this persuasion he continued every day without any intermission. He also proposed to make him presents on that account. At length he finally persuaded Aretas, (18) Moreover, Hyrcanus promised him that when he had been brought there and had received his kingdom, he would restore that territory and those twelve cities which his father Alexander had taken from the Arabians….

(19) After these promises had been given to Aretas, he made an expedition against Aristobulus with an army of fifty thousand horsemen and foot soldiers and beat him in battle. When after that victory many went over to Hyrcanus as deserters, Aristobulus was left desolate and fled to Jerusalem. (20) Then the king of Arabia took his entire army and made an assault upon the temple, and besieged Aristobulus therein. The people still supported Hyrcanus and assisted him in the siege, while none but the priests continued to be loyal to Aristobulus. (21) So Aretas united the forces of the Arabians and of the Jews together and pressed on vigorously with the siege. As this happened at the time when the feast of unleavened bread was celebrated, which we call the Passover, the principal men among the Jews left the country and fled into Egypt.

(22) There was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous man, beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and whose prayers God had heard, and had sent them rain. 66 This man had hidden himself because he saw that this revolt would last a great while. However, they brought him to the Jewish camp and desired that just as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he would in like manner make imprecations against Aristobulus and those of his faction. (23) And when, upon his refusal, and the excuses that he made, he was still compelled to speak by the multitude, he stood up in the midst of them and said, (24) “O God, the King of the whole world! since those that stand now with me are Your people, and those that are besieged are also Your priests, I beseech You that You will neither hearken to the prayers of those against these, nor bring to effect what these pray against those.” Whereupon those wicked Jews who stood about him, as soon as he had uttered this prayer, stoned him to death.

(25) But God punished them immediately for their barbarity and took vengeance on them for the murder of Onias in the following manner- While the priests and Aristobulus were besieged, it happened that the feast called the Passover occurred, at which it is our custom to offer a great number of sacrifices to God. (26) But those that were with Aristobulus wanted sacrifices, and desired that their countrymen outside would furnish them with such sacrifices, and assured them they should have as much money for themas they should desire. And when they required them to pay a thousand drachmae for each head of cattle, Aristobulus and the priests willingly undertook to pay for them accordingly; and those within let down the money over the walls and gave it to them. (27) But when the others had received it they did not deliver the sacrifices, but arrived at the height of wickedness as to break the assurances they had given and to be guilty of impiety towards God by not furnishing those that wanted them with sacrifices. (28) And when the priests found that they had been cheated and that the agreements they had made were violated, they prayed to God that He would exact satisfaction on their behalf from their countrymen. Nor did He delay their punishment, but sent a strong and vehement storm of wind that destroyed the fruits of the whole country until a modius 67 of wheat was then bought for eleven drachmae.

(29) In the meantime, Pompey sent Scaurus 68 into Syria, 69 while he was himself in Armenia and making war with Tigranes. But when Scaurus came to Damascus and found that Lollius and Metellus had newly taken the city, he hurried to Judea. (30) When he arrived there, ambassadors came to him, both from Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, and both desired that he assist them. When both of them promised to give him money, Aristobulus four hundred talents and Hyrcanus no less, he accepted Aristobulus’ promise, (31) for he (Aristobulus) was rich, and had a great soul, and desired to obtain nothing but what was moderate; whereas the other (Hyrcanus) was poor and tenacious, and made incredible promises in hope of greater advantages. . . . (32) He therefore made an agreement with Aristobulus for the reason mentioned before, took his money, raised the siege, and ordered Aretas to depart, or else he should be declared an enemy of the Romans. (33) So Scaurus returned to Damascus again. Then Aristobulus, with a great army, made war with Aretas and Hyrcanus and fought them at a place called Papyron, 70 beat them in battle, and killed about six thousand of the enemy, among them Phalion, the brother of Antipater.

(34) A little later Pompey came to Damascus and marched into Celesyria. At that time ambassadors came to him from all of Syria and Egypt, and from Judea also, for Aristobulus had sent him a great present which was a golden vine of the value of five hundred talents. (35) Now Strabo of Cappadocia mentions this present in these words – “There came also an embassy from Egypt, and a crown of the value of four thousand pieces of gold. And from Judea there came another, whether you call it a vine or a garden; they call the thing Terpole, ‘Delight.’ (36) However, we ourselves saw that present deposited at Rome in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus with this inscription- ‘The
Gift of Alexander, the king of the Jews.’ It was valued at five hundred talents, and the report is that Aristobulus, the ruler of the Jews, sent it.”

(37) Not long afterward, ambassadors came again to him, Antipater from Hyrcanus, and Nicodemus from Aristobulus. The latter also accused first Gabinius and then Scaurus of having taken bribes, the one three hundred talents, and the other four hundred. By this accusation he made these two his enemies besides those he had before. (38) When Pompey had ordered those that had controversies with one another to come to him at the beginning of the spring, he brought his army out of their winter quarters and marched into the country of Damascus…. (41) It was there that he heard the causes of the Jews and of their leaders Hyrcanus and Aristobulus who had differences with one another. But the nation had complaints against them both and did not desire to be governed by a king because the form of government they received from their forefathers was that of subjection to the priests of God whom they worshiped. And [they complained] that though these two were of the posterity of priests, yet they sought to change the government of their nation to another form in order to enslave them. (42) Hyrcanus complained that although he was the elder brother, he was deprived of the prerogative of his birth by Aristobulus and that he had but a small part of the country under him, Aristobulus having taken away the rest from him by force. (43) He also charged that the incursions which had been made into their neighbors’ countries and the piracies that had taken place at sea, were owing to him, and that the nation would not have revolted unless Aristobulus had been a man given to violence and disorder. There were no fewer than a thousand Jews, the most reputable among them provided by Antipater, who confirmed this accusation. (44) But Aristobulus alleged against him that it was Hyrcanus’ own temperament which was inactive, and on that account contemptible, which caused him to be deprived of the government; and that for himself he was required to take it upon himself lest it be transferred to others; and that as to his title [of king], it was no other than what his father had taken [before him]. (45) He also called witnesses to what he had said, some persons who were both young and insolent, whose purple garments, fine heads of hair, and other ornaments, were detested [by the court], and which they appeared in, not as though they were to plead their cause in a court of justice, but as if they were marching in a pompous procession.

(46) When Pompey had heard the claims of these two, he condemned Aristobulus for his violent procedure. He then spoke civilly to them and sent them away, and told them that when he came again into their country, he would settle all their affairs after he had first taken a view of the affairs of the Nabateans. In the meantime, he ordered them to keep the peace, and treated Aristobulus civilly lest he should make the nation revolt and hinder his return. (47) This Aristobulus did, for without waiting for any further determination which Pompey had promised them, he went to the city Delius 71 and then marched into Judea….

(52) But when Pompey commanded Aristobulus to deliver up the fortresses he held and to send an order to their commanders under his own hand for that purpose, for they had been forbidden to deliver them up upon any other commands, he indeed agreed to do so, but still he retired in displeasure to Jerusalem and made preparation for war. (54) Now when Pompey had pitched his camp at Jericho (where the palm tree grows and that balsam which is the most precious of all ointments, which, upon any incision made in the wood with a sharp stone, oozes out like sap), he marched in the morning to Jerusalem. (55) Thereupon Aristobulus repented of what he was doing and came to Pompey, [promised to] give him money and admit him into Jerusalem, and begged that he should stop the war and do what he pleased peaceably. So Pompey, upon his entreaty, forgave him and sent Gabinius and soldiers with him to receive the money and the city. (56) Yet no part of this was performed, but Gabinius came back, both being excluded from the city and receiving none of the money promised because Aristobulus’ soldiers would not permit the agreements to be executed. (57) At this Pompey was very angry, so he put Aristobulus into prison and came himself to the city which was strong on every side except the north which was not so well fortified. For there was a broad and deep ditch that encompassed the city and included within it the temple which was itself surrounded by a very strong stone wall.

(58) Now there was dissension among the men who were within the city, for they did not agree as to what was to be done in their present circumstances. While some thought it best to deliver up the city to Pompey, Aristobulus’ party exhorted them to shut the gates because he was kept inprison. Now these prevented the others and seized the temple, cut off the bridge which extended from it to the city, and prepared themselves for a siege. (59) But the others admitted Pompey’s army and delivered up both the city and the king’s palace to him. So Pompey sent his legate Piso with an army, and placed garrisons both in the city and in the palace to secure them, and fortified the houses that were adjacent to the temple as well as all those which were more distant and outside it….

(64) Because the Romans understood this, 72 on those days which we call Sabbaths, they shot nothing at the Jews, nor met them in any pitched battle, but raised up their earthen banks, and brought up their siege-engines so that they might be put to work on the next day. (65) Anyone may hence learn what very great piety we exercise towards God and the observance of His laws since the priests were not at all hindered from their sacred ministrations by their fear during this siege, but still twice each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour (3-00 P.M.), they offered their sacrifices on the altar. Nor did they omit those sacrifices if any misfortune happened by the stones that were being thrown at them. (66) For although the city was taken in the third month, on the day of the fast, 73 upon the hundred and seventy-ninth olympiad, when Gaius Antonius and Marcus Tullius Cicero were consuls, 74 and the enemy then fell upon them and cut the throats of those that were in the temple, (67) yet those that offered the sacrifices could not be compelled to run away, neither by the fear they were in for their own lives nor by the number that were already killed, thinking it better to suffer whatever came upon them at their very altars than to omit anything that their laws required of them. (68) That this is not a mere boast to manifest a degree of our piety that was false but is the real truth, is attested by those that have written of the acts of Pompey; and, among them Strabo and Nicolaus [of Damascus]; and besides these Titus Livius, the writer of the Roman history.

(69) But when the battering-engine was brought near, the greatest of the towers was shaken by it and fell down, and broke down a part of the fortifications, so that the enemy poured in … (70) Some of the Jews were killed by the Romans and some by one another. Indeed, there were some who threw themselves down the precipices or set fire to their houses and burned them for they were not able to bear the miseries they were under.

(71) Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand, but of the Romans very few. Absalom, who was at once both uncle and father-in-law to Aristobulus, was taken captive. No small sins were committed about the temple itself which in former ages had been inaccessible and seen by none. (72) For Pompey and some of those who were with him also went into it and saw all that which it was unlawful for any other men to see except for the high priests. There were in that temple the golden table, the holy candlestick, and the libation vessels, and a great quantity of spices, and besides these there were among the treasures two thousand talents of sacred money. Yet Pompey touched nothing of all this on account of his regard for religion, and in this point also he acted in a manner that was worthy of his virtue. (73) The next day he gave an order to those who had charge of the temple to cleanse it and to bring what offerings the law required to God, and restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus, both because he had been useful to him in other respects and because he hindered the Jews in the country from giving Aristobulus any assistance in his war against him. He also beheaded those who had been the authors of that war, and bestowed proper rewards on Faustus and on those others who had mounted the wall with such alacrity. (74) He made Jerusalem tributary to the Romans, and took away those cities of Celesyria which the inhabitants of Judea had subdued, 75 and put them under the rule of the Roman governor, and confined the whole nation, which had elevated itself so high before, within its own boundaries….

(77) The causes of this misery which came upon Jerusalem were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus by raising dissension one against the other. For now we lost our liberty and became subject to the Romans, and that territory which we had gained by our arms from the Syrians we were compelled to restore to the Syrians. (78) Moreover, the Romans exacted of us, in a short time, more than ten thousand talents; and the royal authority, which was an office formerly bestowed on those who were high priests by the right of their family, became the property of private men. But we shall treat these matters in their proper places. (79) Now Pompey committed Celesyria, as far as the river Euphrates and Egypt, to Scaurus, with two Roman legions, and then went away to Cilicia and made haste to Rome. He also carried bound along with him Aristobulus and his children; for he had two daughters and as many sons, one of whom ran away. But the younger, Antigonus, was carried to Rome together with his sisters.

60. 70-69 B.C.E.

61. Hyrcanus’ soldiers deserted to his brother, Aristobulus.

62. Ant.XIII, 426.

63. Apparently, he gave up the high priesthood.

64. Herod’s non-Jewish secretary of state whose historical works served as a principal source for Josephus.

65.Antiquities 15.

66. In Rabbinic tradition, this man was known as Honi, the Circle-drawer. This story appears in Mishnah Ta’anit 3-8, cf. Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23a, Jerusalem Talmud 3-10-12 (66d).

67. A modius equals about one-quarter of a bushel.

68. M. Aemilius Scaurus, Roman governor of Syria, 65-63 B.C.E. He is one of a few historical characters mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

69. Ca. 65 B.C.E.

70. Probably someplace near Jericho.

71. Probably to be corrected to “Dium,” a city in the Decapolis, a group of Hellenistic cities in Transjordan.

72. That the Jews would defend themselves on the Sabbath but not try to stop the Romans from raising siege works.

73. An incorrect designation of the Jewish Sabbath common among classical writers, apparently borrowed by Josephus from his source.

74. July, 63 B.C.E.

75. This refers to the Hasmonean conquest. Cf. the list of cities conquered by Alexander Janneus in Ant. XIII, 393.

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