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Josephus, Antiquities XIII, 301-23: The Reign of Aristobulus

Tower of AntoniaAristobulus, who succeeded his father John Hyrcanus, reigned from 104 to 103 B.C.E. He was a tragic figure destroyed by his jealousy and suspicion. He serves as little more than a transitional figure between John Hyrcanus and Alexander Janneus. He was, however, the first Hasmonean to take the title of King.

(301) Now when their father Hyrcanus was dead, the eldest son Aristobulus, intending to change the government into a kingdom, for so he resolved to do, first of all put a diadem on his head, four hundred and eighty-one years and three months after the people had been delivered from the Babylonian captivity and were returned to their own country again. 38 (302) This Aristobulus loved his next brother Antigonus and treated him as his equal, but the others he held in bonds. He also threw his mother into prison because she disputed the government with him, for Hyrcanus had left her to be mistress of all. He went so far in his barbarity as to kill her in prison by starvation. (303) To the death of his mother he added that of Antigonus from whom he was alienated by calumnies even though he had seemed to have an affection for him, and he had made him above the rest a partner with him in the kingdom. At first he did not give credence to those calumnies, partly because he loved him, and so he paid no attention to what was said against him, and partly because he thought the reproaches were caused by the envy of those who related them.

(304) But when Antigonus once returned from a military campaign, and that feast was then at hand when they make tabernacles [to the honor of] God, 39 it happened that Aristobulus had fallen sick, and Antigonus went up most splendidly adorned with his soldiers about him in their armor to the temple to celebrate the feast and to pray earnestly for the recovery of his brother. (305) Some wicked persons, who had a great desire to create a dispute between the brothers, made use of the opportunity of the pompous appearance of Antigonus and of the successes which he had achieved. They went to the king and spitefully exaggerated his pompous appearance at the feast, (306) and pretended that all these actions were not like those of a private person but indications of an affectation of royal authority; and that his coming with a strong body of men must indicate the intention to kill Aristobulus; and that his way of reasoning was this- that it was a silly thing, while it was in his power to reign himself, to look upon it as a great favor that he was honored with a lower office by his brother.

(307) Aristobulus began to believe these charges, but took care both that his brother should not suspect him and that he himself might not risk his own safety. So he stationed his guards in a dark, underground passage (he himself was then lying sick in the tower which was called Antonia), and he commanded them that in case Antigonus came in to him unarmed, they should not touch anybody, but if armed, they should kill him. (308) Moreover, he sent to Antigonus and requested that he come unarmed. But the queen, and those that joined with her in the plot against Antigonus, persuaded the messenger to tell him the direct opposite, how his brother had heard that he had made himself a fine suit of armor for war and invited him to come to him in that armor so that he might see how fine it was. (309) So Antigonus, suspecting no treachery but depending on the good will of his brother, came to Aristobulus armed, as he used to be, with his entire armor, in order to show it to him. But when he had come to a place which was called Strato’s Tower, where the passage happened to be exceedingly dark, the guards killed him. (310) Now his death demonstrates that nothing is stronger than envy and calumny, and that nothing does more certainly divide the good will and natural affection of men than those passions.

(311) But here one may take occasion to wonder at one Judas, who was of the sect of the Essenes, and who never missed the truth in his predictions. For this man, when he saw Antigonus passing by the temple, cried to his companions and friends, who stayed with him as his students in order to learn the art of foretelling things to come, (312) that it was good for him (Judas himself) to die now, since he had spoken falsely about Antigonus, since Antigonus was still alive and was passing by, although he had foretold that he would die at the place called Strato’s Tower that very day. For the place is six hundred stades away from where he had foretold that he would be slain; and the greater part of the day had already passed so that he was in danger of proving a false prophet. (313) As he was saying this in a melancholy mood, the news came that Antigonus had been slain in the underground passage which was also called Strato’s Tower, by the same name as Caesarea which is located at the sea. This fact had confused the prophet. (314) Aristobulus repented immediately of the slaughter of his brother. But because of it, disease came upon him, and he was disturbed in his mind from the guilt of such wickedness, so that his entrails were corrupted by intolerable pain, and he vomited blood…. (317) He died, having reigned a year.

(318) He was called a lover of the Greeks, and had conferred many benefits on his own country. He made war against Iturea, 40 added a great part of it to Judea, and compelled the inhabitants, if they would remain in that country, to be circumcised and to live according to the Jewish laws. (319) He was naturally a man of candor and of great modesty, as Strabo bears witness in the name of Timagenes 41 who says thus- “This man was a person of candor and very serviceable to the Jews, for he added a territory to them and obtained a part of the nation of the Itureans for them and bound them to them by the bond of circumcision.”

When Aristobulus died, his wife Salome, 42 who was called Alexandra by the Greeks, let his brothers out of prison (for Aristobulus had kept them in chains, as we have said already 43 ) and made Alexander Janneus king for he was the superior in age and in moderation…. (323) … He killed one of his brothers who had designs on the kingdom, and the other, who chose to live a private and quiet life, he held in honor.

38. Actually, it was about 481 years since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.

39. The fall festival of Sukkot.

40. The Bekaa Valley in Southern Lebanon.

41. A first century B.C.E. historian who wrote in Rome.

42. Hebrew, Shelomzion, literally, “peace of Zion.”

43.Ant.XIII, 302.

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