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Josephus, Antiquities XIII, 230-300: The Reign of John Hyrcanus

John HyrcanusJohn Hyrcanus (ruled 134-104 B.C.E.) established himself quickly as ruler and successfully negotiated his relationship with the Seleucids. He also maintained close ties with Rome which was increasingly interested in Judea as a bridge to Syria.

(230) So Ptolemy retired to one of the fortresses above Jericho which was called Dagon. But Hyrcanus, having taken the high priesthood that had been his father’s before, 12 immediately propitiated God by sacrifices and then made an expedition against Ptolemy. When he made his attacks upon the place, in all other respects he was stronger than Ptolemy, but was rendered weaker only by the feeling of pity he had for his mother and his brothers. (231) For Ptolemy brought them to the wall and tormented them in the sight of all, and threatened that he would throw them down headlong unless Hyrcanus would give up the siege. Since he thought that to the extent that he relaxed the siege and capture of the place, the greater was the favor that he showed those who were dearest to him by preventing their misery, his zeal about it was cooled.

(232) However, his mother spread out her hands and begged of him that he would not grow remiss on her account, but indulge his indignation so much the more, and that he would do his utmost to take the place quickly in order to get their enemy under his power, and then to avenge upon him what he had done to those that were dearest to himself. For death would be to her sweet, though with torment, if that enemy of theirs might but be brought to punishment for his wicked dealings against them. (233) Now when his mother said this, he resolved to take the fortress immediately, but when he saw her beaten and torn to pieces, his courage failed him, and he could not but sympathize with what his mother suffered, and was thereby overcome. (234) As the siege was drawn out by this means, the year on which the Jews are accustomed to rest came on, 13 for the Jews observe this rest every seventh year, as they do every seventh day. (235) So Ptolemy, being for this reason released from the war, killed the brothers of Hyrcanus and his mother. When he had so done, he fled to Zeno, who was called Cotylas, who was then the tyrant of the city Philadelphia. 14

(236) But Antiochus, being very resentful of the injuries that Simon had brought upon him, invaded Judea in the fourth year of his reign and the first year of the principality of Hyrcanus, in the hundred and sixty-second Olympiad. 15 (237) And when he had burnt the country, he shut up Hyrcanus in the city (Jerusalem) which he surrounded with seven encampments. But he did nothing at first because of the strength of the walls and because of the valor of the besieged, and also because they were in need of water, although they were delivered by a large shower of rain which fell at the setting of the Pleiades. (238) However, on the north part of the wall, where it happened that the city was on the same level as the outward ground, the king (Antiochus) raised a hundred towers each three stories high, and placed companies of soldiers upon them. (239) He made his attacks every day, and he cut a double ditch, deep and broad, and confined the inhabitants within it as within a wall. But the besieged contrived to make frequent sallies out; and if the enemy were anywhere not on their guard, they fell upon them and did them a great deal of harm. But if they perceived them, they then returned to the city with ease.

(240) Because Hyrcanus discerned the inconvenience caused by so great a number of men in the city since the provisions were the sooner used up by them, and yet, as it is natural to suppose, those great numbers did nothing, he separated the useless part and expelled them from the city and retained only that part who were in the flower of their age and fit for war. (241) However, Antiochus would not let those that were expelled leave. They, therefore, wandered about between the walls, and were consumed by famine and almost died miserably. But when the feast of Tabernacles 16 was at hand, those that were within took pity on their condition and admitted them again. (242) And when Hyrcanus sent to Antiochus, and desired that there might be a truce for seven days because of the festival, he gave way to this piety towards God and made that truce accordingly. Besides that, he sent in a magnificent sacrifice, bulls with their horns gilded, with all sorts of sweet spices, and with cups of gold and silver….

(245) Accordingly, Hyrcanus took this moderation of his kindly, and when he understood how religious he was towards the Deity, he sent envoys to him, and requested that he restore to the Jews their native form of government. So he (Antiochus) rejected the counsel of those who would have had him utterly destroy the nation because of the separateness of their way of living and paid no attention to what they said. (246) But being persuaded that all they did was out of a pious frame of mind, he answered the envoys that if the besieged would deliver up their arms, pay tribute for Joppa and the other cities which bordered upon Judea, and admit a garrison of his, on these terms he would no longer make war against them. (247) But the Jews, although they were content with the other conditions, did not agree to admit the garrison because they could not associate with other people because of their separateness. Yet they were willing, instead of the admission of the garrison, to give him hostages and five hundred talents of silver, of which they paid down three hundred and handed over the hostages immediately which King Antiochus accepted. One of those hostages was Hyrcanus’ brother. But still he broke down the fortifications that surrounded the city. (248) Upon these conditions Antiochus broke off the siege and departed.

(249) Hyrcanus also opened the sepulcher of David, who excelled all other kings in riches, and took out of it three thousand talents. He was also the first of the Jews who, relying on this wealth, maintained foreign troops. There was also an alliance of friendship and mutual assistance made with Antiochus upon which Hyrcanus admitted him into the city and furnished him with whatever his army wanted in great plenty and with great generosity. (250) He marched along with him when he made an expedition against the Parthians, 17 of which Nicolaus of Damascus 18 is a witness for us. In his history, he writes- (251) “When Antiochus had erected a trophy at the river Lycus, 19 upon the conquest of Indates, the general of the Parthians, he stayed there for two days. It was at the request of Hyrcanus the Jew because it was such a festival derived from their forefathers, on which the law of the Jews did not allow them to travel.” (252) And truly he did not speak falsely in saying so, for the festival, which we call Pentecost, 20 did then occur on the day following the Sabbath, and is it not lawful for us to travel, either on the Sabbath day or on a festival day. (253) But when Antiochus joined battle with Arsaces, the king of Parthia, he lost a great part of his army, and was himself killed. His brother Demetrius (II) succeeded to the kingdom of Syria, by the permission of Arsaces, who freed him from his captivity at the same time that Antiochus attacked Parthia, as we have formerly related elsewhere. 21 (254) When Hyrcanus heard of the death of Antiochus, 22 he immediately made an expedition against the cities of Syria, hoping to find them empty of fighting men, and of such as were able to defend them. (255) However, it was not until the sixth month that he took Medaba, 23 and that not without the greatest hardship to his army. After this he took Samega 24 and the neighboring places; and besides these, Shechem and Gerizim, and the nation of the Cutheans, 25 (256) who dwelled near the temple, which resembled the temple at Jerusalem and which Alexander permitted Sanballat, the general of his army, to build for the sake of Manasseh, who was son-in-law to Jadua the high priest, as we have formerly related. 26 This temple was now destroyed two hundred years after it was built. (257) Hyrcanus also took Adora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans. He permitted them to stay in their country if they would circumcise themselves and observe the laws of the Jews. (258) They were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the practice of circumcision and the rest of the Jewish way of life, and since the time in which this happened to them, they thereafter continued to be Jews.

(259) But Hyrcanus the high priest was desirous of renewing the alliance of friendship they had with the Romans. Accordingly, he sent an embassy to them. When the senate received their epistle, they made an alliance of friendship with them according to the following terms-

(260) “Fanius, the son of Marcus, the praetor, gathered the senate together on the eighth day before the Ides of February, in the senate house, when Lucius Manlius, the son of Lucius, of the Mentine tribe, and Gaius Sempronius, the son of Gaius, of the Falernian tribe, were present. 27 The occasion was that the ambassadors sent by the people of the Jews, Simon, the son of Dositheus, Apollonius, the son of Alexander, and Diodorus, the son of Jason, who were good and virtuous men, (261) had something to propose about that alliance of friendship and mutual assistance which existed between them and the Romans, and about other public affairs. They requested that Joppa and its ports and Gazara, and the Pegae 28 and the several other cities and countries of theirs, which Antiochus had taken from them in the war contrary to the decree of the senate, might be restored to them; (262) and that it might not be lawful for the king’s troops to pass through their country and the countries of those that are subject to them; and that the laws Antiochus had made during that war, without the decree of the senate, might be made void; (263) and that the Romans would send ambassadors who should take care that restitution be made to them for what Antiochus had taken from them, and that they should make an estimate of the value of the country that had been laid waste in the war; and that they would grant the envoys letters of protection to the kings and free cities in order to assure their safe return home. (264) It was therefore decreed concerning these points that they should renew their alliance of friendship and mutual assistance with these good men who were sent by a good and friendly people.” (265) But as to the letters requested, their answer was that the senate would consult about that matter when their own affairs would allow them and that they would endeavor, for the time to come, to prevent similar injury to them; and that the praetor Fanius should give them money out of the public treasury to bear their expenses home.

(266) And thus did Fanius dismiss the Jewish ambassadors. He gave them money out of the public treasury and gave the decree of the senate to those that were to conduct them on their way and to take care that they should return home in safety….

(275) So Hyrcanus made an expedition against Samaria which was a very strong city. About its present name, Sebaste, and its rebuilding by Herod we shall speak at a proper time. 29 But he made his attack against it and besieged it vigorously, for he was greatly displeased with the Samaritans for the injuries they had done to the people of Marissa, who were colonists and allies of the Jews, in compliance with the kings of Syria….

(281) And when Hyrcanus had taken the city after a year’s siege, he was not contented with doing that only, but he demolished it entirely, and left it to be swept away by the mountain-torrents, for he dug such hollows as might let the waters run under it. Indeed, he took away the very evidence that there had ever been such a city there. (282) A very surprising thing is related of this high priest Hyrcanus, how God came to discourse with him. For they say that on the very same day on which his sons fought with Antiochus Cyzicenus, he was alone in the temple as high priest offering incense, and he heard a voice saying that his sons had just then overcome Antiochus. (283) He openly declared this before all the multitude as he came out of the temple, and it accordingly proved true. 30 This was the situation of the affairs of Hyrcanus.

(284) At this time not only those Jews who were at Jerusalem and in Judea were prosperous but also those of them who were at Alexandria, and in Egypt and Cyprus. (285) For Cleopatra, the queen, was at war with her son Ptolemy, who was called Lathyrus, and she appointed for her generals Chelcias and Ananias, the sons of that Onias who built the temple in the nome of Heliopolis, like that at Jerusalem, as we have elsewhere related. 31 (286) Cleopatra entrusted these men with her army and did nothing without their advice, as Strabo of Cappadocia 32 attests, when he says thus- (287) “Now the greater part, both those that came to Cyprus with us and those that were sent there
afterward, revolted with Ptolemy immediately. Only the Jews who were called Onias’ party continued to be faithful because their countrymen Chelcias and Ananias were in special favor with the queen.” These are the words of Strabo.

(288) However, this prosperous state of affairs moved the Jews to envy Hyrcanus. They who were the worst disposed to him were the Pharisees, who are one of the sects of the Jews, as we have informed you already. These have so great a power over the multitude that when they say anything against the king or against the high priest, they are immediately believed. (289) Now Hyrcanus was a disciple of theirs and greatly beloved by them. 33 When he once invited them to a feast and entertained them very kindly, and when he saw them in a good humor, he began to say to them that they knew he was desirous to be a righteous man and to do all things whereby he might please God, which was the profession of the Pharisees also. (290) However, he requested, that if they observed him offending in any point and straying from the right way, they should call him back and correct him. On that occasion they attested to his being entirely virtuous, and with this commendation he was very pleased. Butthere was one of his guests there whose name was Eleazar, (291) a man of evil nature, who delighted in seditious practices. This man said, “Since you desire to know the truth, if you are righteous in earnest, give up the high priesthood and content yourself with the civil government of the people.” (292) And when he desired to know why he ought to give up the high priesthood, he replied, “We have heard it from the elders that your mother had been a captive during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.” 34 This story was false, and Hyrcanus was furious with him, and all the Pharisees were very indignant against him.

(293) Now there was one Jonathan, a very great friend of Hyrcanus, but of the sect of the Sadducees whose notions are quite contrary to those of the Pharisees. He told Hyrcanus that Eleazar had cast such a reproach upon him with the general approval of all the Pharisees, and that this would be made manifest if he would only ask them the question of what punishment they thought this man deserved. (294) He might be sure that the reproach was not laid on him with their approbation if they were for punishing him as his crime deserved. So the Pharisees gave an answer that he deserved lashes and chains, but that it did not seem right to punish reproaches with death; and indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions, are not apt to be severe in punishments. (295) At this gentle sentence Hyrcanus was very angry, and he thought that this man reproached him with their approval. It was this Jonathan who chiefly aggravated him and influenced him so that he joined the Sadducean party, (296) made him leave the party of the Pharisees, and abolish the decrees they had imposed on the people, and punish those who observed them. From this source arose that hatred which he and his sons met with from the multitude.

(297) But of these matters we shall speak later. 35 What I would now explain is this- that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances handed down by their fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses. For that reason the Sadducees reject them and say that we are to consider obligatory only those observances which are in the written word, but are not to observe those that are derived from the tradition of our forefathers. (298) Concerning these things, great disputes and differences have arisen among them. The Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich and have no following among the populace, but the Pharisees have the masses on their side. But these two sects and that of the Essenes, I have treated in detail in the second book of Jewish affairs. 36

(299) When Hyrcanus had put an end to this sedition, he lived happily thereafter and administered the government in the best manner for thirty-one years 37 and then died, leaving behind him five sons. He was considered by God to be worthy of the three privileges- the government of his nation, the office of the high priesthood, and prophecy. (300) For God was with him and enabled him to know the future and to foretell this in particular, that his two eldest sons would not long continue as masters of the state. Their unhappy catastrophe will be worth our description so that we may thence learn how far they were from having their father’s good fortune.

12. John Hyrcanus was high priest and ruler from 134-104 B.C.E.

13. The Sabbatical year extended from October 135 to October 134 B.C.E.

14. Amman in Transjordan.

15. The war seems to have lasted from 134-132 B.C.E.

16. The fall festival of Sukkot.

17. In 130 B.C.E.

18. A high non-Jewish official of Herod’s kingdom who was a historian as well.

19. The Greater Zab River in Assyria.

20. The holiday of Shavuot in May-June.

21. There is no such passage in Josephus, but this cross-reference was taken from his source.

22. 129 B.C.E.

23. An ancient Moabite city, now in Jordan, then ruled by the Nabateans.

24. Probably to be located about eight miles northeast of Medaba.

25. “Cutheans” is an alternative term for Samaritans.

26.Ant.XI, 322-4.

27. These women served as praetors in 132 B.C.E.

28. About ten miles north of Joppa.

29. Ant.XV, 296-8.

30. This revelation is also mentioned in Tosefta Sotah 13-5.

31. Ant.XIII, 62-73.

32. Strabo of Amaseia (ca. 64-the 20’s of the first century C.E.) was a geographer and historian from Cappadocia in Asia Minor, modern Turkey. This passage is quoted from the lost work, Historia Hypomnemata.

33. The following story appears in the Babylonian Talmud Qiddushin 66a, regarding Alexander James.

34. The accusation meant that his mother could not be depended on to have been a virgin at marriage, and so he was not a legitimate priest. Cf. Lev. 21-13-14.

35. Ant.XIII, 301 ff., 320 ff.

36. War II, 119-66.

37. 135-104 B.C.E.

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