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Lee I. Levine. “The Age of Hellenism: Alexander the Great and the Rise and Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom.” Part III

Ancient Israel From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Ed. Hershal Shanks. Washington, D.C.- Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999.

Hasmonean Rulers of Judea, 142–37 B.C.E.

Simon 142–134

John Hyrcanus 134–104

Aristobulus I 104–103

Alexander Jannaeus 103–76

Salome Alexandra 76–67

Aristobulus II 67–63

John Hyrcanus II 63–40

Mattathias Antigonus 40–37

Combining Political and Religious Power

With the emergence of the Hasmonean state, the political circumstances of the Jewish people were radically altered. The power and trappings of a self-governing political entity were now introduced into Jewish society. Control of the various societal institutions carried with it enormous authority and influence. From the outset, the Hasmoneans defined themselves as the supreme leaders of the people, both in politics and religion. Having already been appointed to the high priesthood (Jonathan, as noted above, had been appointed high priest with Demetrius’s help in 152 B.C.E.), they assumed two more titles in 141 B.C.E.—leader of the people and commander of the army (strategos). A generation later, in 104 B.C.E., the title “king” was adopted and from that time several generations of Jewish kings ruled Judea.

Combining the political authority of a sovereign state with the highest religious title in the land (that is, high priest) was indeed an innovation in Jewish history. Earlier, in the First Temple period, the high priesthood stood beside the monarchy; priest and king functioned as two distinctly independent sources of authority. Similarly, in the period following Hasmonean rule, Herod would clearly separate these two realms, reserving the political one exclusively for himself and relegating the religious one, with its decidedly secondary status, to others. The combining of these two realms by the Hasmoneans proved to be explosive, in both a positive and a negative sense, as it provided an ideological component that motivated and justified the most daring of political and military policies. 25

Expanding Hasmonean Rule

One of the most remarkable achievements of the Hasmoneans was their radical redrawing of the map of Judea. What had once been a small, isolated subprovince in the Persian period and in the early Hellenistic period (after Alexander’s conquest) became, by the end of the Hasmonean era, a major political entity embracing all of modern Israel (except for the southern Negev and the northern coastal area), parts of southern Lebanon and western Jordan.

Simon, who ruled the new state from 142 to 134 B.C.E., made a major military push to the northwest, toward the sea. He conquered Gezer, expelled its Gentile inhabitants, purified the town and resettled it with observant Jews (1 Maccabees 13-43–48). From Gezer he proceeded to Joppa, which, once taken, served as the major seaport emporium for the Hasmonean state.

Simon’s son and successor, John Hyrcanus, ruled for 30 years (134–104 B.C.E.) and, like his father, expanded the country’s borders dramatically. Broadening his hold along the coast and even establishing a presence east of the Jordan River, he devoted his major efforts to countering the various ethnic groups living in the hill country—the Idumeans in southern Judea and the northern Negev and the Samaritans to the north. 26

Hyrcanus probably conquered the Galilee as well, although the composition of its population at the time is unknown.

Hyrcanus was succeeded by his son Aristobulus I, the first Hasmonean to adopt the title “king.” Although he ruled for only one year (104–103 B.C.E.), he successfully annexed Iturean territory in southern Lebanon. 27

Aristobulus was succeeded by his brother Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 B.C.E.), the last and perhaps greatest military leader of the Hasmonean dynasty. Jannaeus annexed new territories in almost every direction. In the northwest, he gained control of Strato’s Tower (later Caesarea) and Dor; in the southwest, he took the coastal district, including Gaza, one of the major Hellenistic cities of the time; in the northeast, he overran much of the Golan and Gilead (today’s northwestern Jordan); and to the southeast, he conquered large areas of Moab. 28

The control of neighboring peoples, cities, important trade routes and major ports was an obvious motivation that directed the course and extent of these Hasmonean conquests. The religious-nationalist dimension, however, was no less significant a factor in Hasmonean policy. The Hasmoneans regarded themselves as the successors of the great leaders of the past—the judges and the kings of First Temple times. This is clearly, albeit subtly, reflected in 1 Maccabees, written under Hasmonean patronage toward the end of the second century B.C.E. Both the overall language and the specific terms it uses are reminiscent of the books of Judges and Kings, consciously drawing an analogy between the Hasmoneans, on the one hand, and the development and institutionalization of Jewish political leadership in biblical times, on the other. 29

The book culminates with Simon’s coronation, described in 1 Maccabees 14. The carefully crafted account frequently alludes to the glorious days of King Solomon.

Another touch in the same vein- Hasmonean coins bore the ancient Hebrew script that was used in the First Temple period, rather than the square Aramaic script in use at the time. This was undoubtedly a conscious attempt by the Hasmoneans to identify their rule with the earlier Davidic monarchy.

Hasmonean Religious Ideology

In the religious sphere, the Hasmoneans were committed to ridding their territories of all idolatrous practices. Religious purification of the land became a basic policy. Sometimes this meant driving out pagan inhabitants altogether and then purifying the site; at other times, conversion of the populace was required. Entire populations, both urban and rural, were thus brought into the Jewish fold. The two outstanding examples of this policy were the conversion of the Idumeans by John Hyrcanus and the conversion of the Itureans by Aristobulus I. How smoothly this policy was effected is difficult to determine. No mention of resistance is made in our sources, although undoubtedly some, either active or passive, must have occurred. It is hard to imagine, for example, that the ultimatum of conversion or death offered to the inhabitants of the Hellenistic city of Pella in the Transjordan did not meet with outright hostility and derision. 30

The ideological component that accompanied the Hasmonean successes was a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it undoubtedly provided a significant additional impetus and motivation for the Hasmoneans’ conquests, as well as a transcendent cause firmly rooted in a biblical faith that overshadowed ordinary political concerns. On the other hand, such an anti-pagan attitude was bound to stir up animosity. Hasmonean zealousness might easily be interpreted, perhaps correctly, as an onslaught against gentile values and the pagan way of life. Some of the earliest evidence of pagan anti-Semitism—such as the negative description of Jews and Judaism by Antiochus VII’s advisors (as preserved by the Greek historian Diodorus) and the hostility of Posidonius of Syria (as noted by other early writers)—was in large part a reaction to Hasmonean anti-pagan drives. By the first century B.C.E. various anti-Jewish accusations were circulating widely- The Jews were
misanthropes, Jewish religious precepts were engendering social animosity and moral perversion, Jewish worship in the Jerusalem Temple was primitive and barbaric, etc. Much of this anti-Jewish hostility seems to have been triggered by political and religious opposition to the Hasmoneans. 31

That many pagans and Jews viewed the Hasmonean conquests as part of a struggle for ultimate control of the country, a struggle in which each side claimed possession of the land, no doubt further exacerbated pagan sentiments. 32

The Hasmonean combination of political power and religious ideology was equally problematic on the domestic front. Instead of being the art of the possible, politics was fraught with the tensions and passions born of ideological inflexibility. Indeed, the Hasmonean model of combining political and religious leadership was adopted by other elements in their society, particularly by religious groups. In contrast to the later Second Temple period, when the religious character of the various Jewish sects predominated, during the Hasmonean era the political involvement of such groups was paramount. For example, we find leaders of both major sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, holding seats in the ruler’s inner cabinet. Toward the end of the second century B.C.E., the Sadducees worked hand in glove with John Hyrcanus, who favored the priestly aristocratic classes- The joint political machinations of the Sadducees and the followers of John Hyrcanus finally forced the Pharisees out of government. 33

The Pharisees, however, quickly became an active opposition; in fact, much of the unrest that occurred during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus was supported, encouraged and led by the Pharisees. 34

Open Pharisaic hostility and, at times, insulting behavior toward Jannaeus finally led to severe countermeasures—including exile, persecution and even mass
crucifixion. The opposition, for its part, went to the extreme of inviting the Syrian king Demetrius VI to attack Jerusalem. When the battle was finally joined, the Seleucid side was bolstered by Jewish dissidents and the Hasmonean side was reinforced by pagan mercenaries!

Later, Jannaeus’s wife and successor, Salome Alexandra (76–67 B.C.E.), reinstated the Pharisees and gave them complete control over the country’s internal affairs. They lost little time in avenging themselves against the Sadducees and the wealthy aristocrats who had persecuted them earlier. 35

The most extreme reaction to this situation was taken by members of another Jewish sect—the Essenes, or Dead Sea sect. In protest against the political and religious leadership of the Hasmoneans, the Essenes left Jerusalem and settled in a remote region of the Judean wilderness, where they awaited the removal of the Hasmonean leadership as part of the messianic drama that, in their opinion, was imminent.

Thus, the political involvement of religious sects in Hasmonean society was endemic. All groups—Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes—were now organized politically. This injected into the political arena a passion and ideological rigidity that only increased tensions.

A Unique Synthesis of Hellenism and Judaism

In a quite different realm, the Hasmoneans established a pattern of behavior that deeply affected the cultural and social ambiance of Jewish society; they introduced into Hasmonean Judea a particular synthesis between Jewish and Hellenistic elements. Elias Bickerman has aptly described the Hasmonean attitude as a form of moderate Hellenism.36

The Hasmoneans were keen to adapt Hellenistic forms to Judaism—rather than altering Judaism to conform to the dictates of Hellenism, as the extreme Hellenizers among the Jews had advocated. Perhaps there is no better indication of the Hasmonean desire to integrate the two worlds than the coins they minted. On these tiny bronze issues, intended as small change and used for propagandistic purposes, we find symbols and inscriptions that convey a clear-cut message- The Jewish and Greek worlds are not irreconcilable. The language is either Greek or Hebrew; only a few issues are in Aramaic, the Semitic language in everyday use at the time. The Greek inscription uses the Hellenistic title of the Jewish ruler (king) and his Greek name (Alexander [Jannaeus]); the Hebrew coins use his Jewish title (high priest) and his Hebrew name (Jonathan). Moreover, the Hebrew script is not the later Aramaic “square” form, but an older style in vogue during First Temple times, but until now not used in Second Temple times. 37

The symbols on these coins are also an important indication of the Hasmonean attitude to the surrounding culture. None of the symbols is uniquely Jewish. The palm branch, anchor, cornucopia, wheel/star, etc., are found on Ptolemaic coins, Seleucid coins and the coins minted by various cities of the region (such as Gaza, Tyre and Ascalon). The only exceptions to this rule are two issues minted by Alexander Jannaeus’s grandson and the last of the Hasmonean rulers, Mattathias Antigonus (40–37 B.C.E.); on these two issues we find the menorah and the table of the shewbread from the Temple. For the most part, however, these Hasmonean coins display symbols of pagan origin, albeit carefully selected. Only the most neutral symbols, those that bore no blatantly pagan overtones, were copied. Thus, a policy of compromise was adopted; Hellenistic symbolism was accepted as long as it was not offensive to Jewish concepts and practices then in vogue. A similar contrast and synthesis is found at the magnificent Hasmonean winter palace excavated near Jericho. 38

Some of the finest amenities of the Hellenistic world were found there—a large swimming pool, baths, a grand pavilion, frescoed walls with geometric designs, carefully hewn Doric columns and friezes. Between the pool and palace, however, were a number of Jewish ritual baths (miqva’ot). These were used by the Hasmoneans who, in their role as priests, were required to be ritually pure before partaking of the free will offerings (terumah) given by the people. Miqva’ot were unknown in earlier periods; no archaeological remains of such installations have been uncovered at sites of pre-Hasmonean date, nor are they ever mentioned in biblical
sources. The Hasmoneans not only adopted Hellenistic architectural styles and associated social-recreational amenities, they also maintained uniquely Jewish institutions such as the ritual bath.

Jewish society at large reflected this basic openness to Hellenistic influence, albeit with a significant amount of selectivity and adaptation in the process, which usually meant the rejection of overtly pagan forms.

Let us consider several examples. The funerary remains from the Jerusalem area, which reflect a great degree of outside influence, invariably imitate well-known Hellenistic models. The tomb of Jason, a wealthy Jerusalem aristocrat from the first century B.C.E., had a pyramidal form; the tomb of the sons of Hezir (Bnei Hezir) in the Kidron Valley east of the Old City followed another Egyptian tradition with its columned facade and adjacent funerary monument. The deceased were regularly buried in kokhim (loculi), small cavities, about the length and width of a human body, cut into the walls of caves. This form of burial was derived from Hellenistic models originating in fourth-century Alexandria. No less Hellenistic in origin were the tomb facades and series of outer courtyards (as at Jason’s tomb). Columns, capitals, friezes and architraves of various Greek orders are always found in these tombs, and inscriptions are recorded in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. What is uniquely Jewish about these tombs, however, is their artistic expression; here we find a major break with the pagan world. Whereas figural
representation is common on pagan tombs in Palestine (for example, at Marissa we find figures in a musical procession) and throughout the Hellenistic world, it is practically nonexistent on Jewish tombs. 39

This absence of figural representation reflects a significant religious and cultural development in the Hasmonean era. Throughout the previous 1,000 years of Jewish history, figural representations had been common. The cherubs over the Holy Ark, the lions of Solomon’s throne, the oxen supporting the huge basin in the Temple courtyard, the bronze serpent for healing used from the days of Moses until King Hezekiah’s time, as well as the calves at the sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel all attest to the use of figural art in the biblical period. The innumerable figurines excavated at Israelite sites, not to speak of coins with human and animal depictions minted in Jerusalem in the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods, provide additional evidence of Israelite use of figural art.

Commencing with the Hasmoneans, however, and continuing for about 300 years— through the time of Bar-Kokhba (died c. 135 C.E.)—the Jews manifested an almost total
aversion to figural art. Josephus’s writings and rabbinic literature, as well as archaeological remains from the late Second Temple period, all confirm a widespread adherence to this strict prohibition. Why this happened is not entirely clear. Perhaps it was a traumatic reaction to the decrees of Antiochus IV, who, to the horror of the Jews, introduced idols into the sacred Temple precincts; after all, the Second Commandment’s proscription of images was essentially directed against idolatry. Or perhaps it was due to the dominance under the Hasmoneans of a more conservative (Sadducean?) interpretation of the Torah generally and of the Second Commandment of the Decalogue in particular. Instead of banning only figural art for idolatrous purposes (the more lenient position taken earlier in the biblical period and, later, in the talmudic period), the Hasmoneans prohibited all figural depictions. In this reaction against regnant Hellenistic practice, the
Jews clearly distinguished themselves from the surrounding culture.

Another illustration of the synthesis of Jewish and Hellenistic cultures—but with a heavy emphasis on Jewish particularism—is preserved in a small apocryphal work known as the Greek Additions to the biblical Book of Esther. These Additions attempt to give the Book of Esther a more pious, Jewish-oriented character. The biblical account as it stands raises some thorny issues. Why is God never mentioned? Why are no expressions of traditional Jewish piety, such as prayer, included? Why does a respectable Jewish girl like Esther marry a gentile king? And sleep with him? And eat from his table? The Additions deal with these issues by supplementing the biblical text with a particularistic religious tone advocating a pro-Jewish and anti-pagan outlook. What is especially fascinating—and indeed ironic—is that the Additions were written in fine Greek literary style, and in Jerusalem; moreover, they were written by a Jewish priest named Lysimachus and were
brought to Alexandria by a levite named Ptolemy. For this reason, some highly educated and acculturated Jews (notice their names!) had made a clear bifurcation between their Hellenistic education and their strong Jewish loyalties.

People’s names often indicate cultural proclivities. For this reason, in addition to the Hasmonean rulers who bore Greek names (Hyrcanus, Aristobulus, Antigonus,
Alexander), many members of the leading political and diplomatic families of the Hasmonean kingdom also bore Greek names. 40

Hellenistic influence was not restricted only to material culture (art and architecture) or to Greek names and language. It penetrated deeper, even affecting the religious institutions and religious beliefs of Hasmonean society. We have already discussed funerary practices. 41

Rabbinic sources shed light on developments regarding marriage laws. According to tradition, Simeon ben Shatah\, a leading Pharisaic figure who flourished during the first half of the first century B.C.E., made a major alteration in the Jewish wedding ceremony- the introduction of the ketubah, the wedding document specifying the obligation of the groom toward his bride. 42

Previously, the groom had been required to set aside a sum of money or property for the bride’s family, with whom he made the contract. This arrangement had its roots in earlier Mesopotamian practice. According to one rabbinic tradition, this arrangement made divorce too easy; the husband had little to lose, for whatever he owed the bride in the case of divorce had already been set aside. In the fourth or third century B.C.E. another arrangement, emanating from Egypt, was introduced into non-Jewish marriage contracts. The contract, negotiated directly between husband and wife, stipulated that in the case of divorce the groom was to pay the settlement from his own property; nothing was set aside at the time of marriage. This was intended to make divorce more difficult. Clearly inspired by Hellenistic models, Simeon ben Shatah\ seems to have introduced this Egyptian practice into the Jewish marriage ceremony some time in the early first century B.C.E. 43

The impact of Hellenism on Pharisaic tradition was certainly not limited to the ketubah. In most cases, however, it is more difficult to trace. For example, as an institution of higher learning the Pharisaic academy (beth midrash) had much in common with the Greek philosophical school. The parallels are not so much in the material learned (although in the area of ethics, the overlap may have been quite recognizable), 44 but rather in the nature and organization of this institution. The beth midrash was a school of higher learning open to all, with rules governing its operation similar to those of the Greek philosophical schools. The relationship between master and pupil in the beth midrash and the principles of exegesis applied there also resembled those of its Greek counterpart. 45

Since no similar institution existed in Palestine before Hellenistic times, and as influences from the Greek academy permeated Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition later on as well, 46 it seems quite probable that the creation of this Jewish institution was inspired by the Greek model.

Several other Pharisaic concepts, such as afterlife in the form of carnal resurrection and the concept of a dual law (written and oral), may also have originated outside of Jewish tradition. Neither has clear-cut biblical roots, and both can be found, in one form or another, in non-Jewish (Greek and Babylonian) traditions.

No discussion of foreign influences on forms of Judaism during the Hasmonean period can ignore the evidence from the Dead Sea caves at Qumran. Time and again it has been demonstrated that the ideology of the Qumran sect was replete with concepts and practices quite different from biblical formulations and remarkably similar to concepts of the surrounding, especially eastern, Hellenistic world. 47

Ideas such as dualism, predestination, astrology, angelology and demonology, the particular notion of wisdom and the spirit, as well as the use of a solar calendar, can all be traced to Hellenistic, especially eastern Hellenistic, models. Other institutions at Qumran—communal living, the concept of “community” (yahad), initiation rites, the penal code, celibacy and asceticism—although new to Judaism, have striking parallels elsewhere. 48

Explaining how such an array of outside influences reached a Jewish sect like the Essenes at Qumran is a formidable challenge. When one considers the fact that, of all groups, the Essene community at Qumran was the most self-consciously isolationist, having physically divorced itself from the rest of society, such massive foreign influence becomes even more perplexing. Several explanations have been offered, yet none seems entirely satisfactory. They all suppose that such influences were early and that the Qumran community for which we have evidence, was probably unaware of the origins of these traditions. One explanation, for example, assumes that the sect originated in the eastern Diaspora (Babylonia) and that by the time it reached Judea it had already absorbed and internalized these concepts. 49

Another suggests that these foreign ideas were current in Judean society of the Hellenistic period and that the forerunners of Qumran adopted them quite early on as an integral part of the legitimate religious and cultural baggage of their environment. 50

Whatever the explanation, the fact remains that such extensive influence on a major Jewish sect of the period is indeed astounding. In surveying Hasmonean society as a whole, therefore, it becomes evident that no area of society and no sector of the population remained entirely unaffected by Hellenistic culture. The question is only a matter of degree—how much, in what areas, with what intensity, and which parts of the population?

The Hasmonean state has often been portrayed as a reaction against Hellenism, a reassertion of Jewish nationalist and religious will in the face of the demands, temptations and outright coercion of the larger world. This view, however, is only partly true and, as such, a distortion. In a more profound sense, the Hasmonean state must be viewed, at least in part, as a product of Hellenism, as an affirmation of the surrounding culture no less than a rejection of it, an expression of national sovereignty nourished and shaped by its international context. Thus, the Hasmonean state embodied a new Jewish disposition that incorporated a resurgent Jewish identity with varying expressions of Hellenism. Most Jews were prepared to adopt into their lifestyle many forms of Hellenism, albeit in varying degrees and with certain adjustments and changes.

Jerusalem, the Temple and the Priests Under Hasmonean Rule

The creation of the Hasmonean kingdom had a revolutionary effect on Jerusalem, its capital city. Since the beginning of the Second Temple period in the sixth century B.C.E., Jerusalem had occupied a small area that included only the ancient City of David and the area of the Temple Mount. Altogether, the city encompassed some 30 acres; its population numbered only about 5,000 or 6,000. This situation had prevailed for nearly 400 years (c. 540–140 B.C.E.). Then, suddenly, in the short period of Hasmonean rule, Jerusalem expanded more than fivefold, stretching over more than 160 acres and numbering approximately 30,000 inhabitants. It encompassed the entire western hill (Mt. Zion) as far as today’s Citadel of David (adjacent to the Jaffa Gate). Remains of the Hasmonean city wall have been discovered in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, in the Citadel itself and on the slopes of Mt. Zion. In many places this wall followed the same course as the Israelite one of First Temple times; in fact, Hasmonean builders were not only aware of this earlier enceinte, but they even integrated parts of it into their later fortifications. 51

A precise dating for this wall is almost impossible. Although the literary sources are replete with references to construction of the city’s fortifications under various Hasmonean rulers, none ever explicitly mentions any large-scale expansion of the city limits. Moreover, archaeological evidence for dating the wall is scant and inconclusive. Since there were several stages to the Hasmonean wall (as seen most clearly in the Citadel area), it would appear that it was first built in the second century B.C.E., probably under Jonathan or Simon, and subsequently repaired and reinforced periodically. 52 Jerusalem’s population during thisperiod was overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, Jewish- The priests were the leading class within Judean society; they not only controlled the most important institution within the city (the Temple), but they were also an integral part of the local aristocracy. With the rise of the Hasmonean state, priests played a leading role in its religious, political, diplomatic and military affairs. For example, the names of emissaries sent to Rome, Sparta and elsewhere indicate that they were almost
always of priestly stock. 53

Evidence of priestly prominence has also been found in the aforementioned tomb of Jason (almost certainly a priest) and that of the Bnei Hezir family (also of priestly origin; see 1 Chronicles 24-15), and in the abovementioned Additions to Esther, written by a Jerusalem priest.

The priestly caste was undoubtedly a varied group. Some were Hellenistic enthusiasts, such as Jason, Menelaus and others who reportedly flocked to the gymnasium instead of performing their Temple duties. On the other hand, Josephus recounts the heroic efforts of the Jerusalem priests during the siege of the city by the Roman general Pompey in 63 B.C.E. Despite near starvation, they faithfully continued to perform their culticobligations. Some were even massacred by the Romans while fulfilling their priestly duties. 54

Although the geographical focal point of Jerusalem had been the Temple and the Temple Mount in the First Temple period, 55 power and prestige were nevertheless divided among three different types of leaders—the king, the high priest and the prophets. Each had his sphere of influence and each operated in a different setting- the king from his palace and through his bureaucracy, the high priest in the Temple and the prophet in the marketplace. By the early Second Temple period this power structure had been dramatically altered. Kingship and prophecy had disappeared and were replaced by the wealthy aristocracy (for example, Nehemiah) and the scholar-scribes (such as Ezra). From then until the destruction of the Temple almost six centuries later (in 70 C.E.), the priesthood—with but few exceptions—reigned supreme; the high priest became the religious and political leader of the people, both internally and vis-à-vis the ruling authorities.

In the early Hellenistic period, at the time of Ptolemy I (323–285 B.C.E.), the high priest Hezekiah is mentioned as a leader of the people. 56 As noted, in the third century B.C.E., Sparta communicated for diplomatic purposes with the high priest Onias I. 57

The high priest Onias II served as representative of the people before the Ptolemaic court in Alexandria. 58 Another high priest, Simon the Just, was praised by Ben Sira as a leader of his people in the late third century B.C.E. 59 The high priest Jason radically altered the political and cultural institutions of Jerusalem in 175 B.C.E. 60 So the stage was set for the Hasmoneans to culminate this process by combining the high priesthood with the most extensive temporal power enjoyed by a Jewish ruler since 586 B.C.E.—political sovereignty and command of the army. 61

The importance and prestige of the Temple increased under Hasmonean rule as a result of the enhanced political status of the Hasmonean state. The sanctity of the Temple as the quintessence of Judaism is reflected in a particularly interesting way in 2 Maccabees, which was produced under Hasmonean auspices for political and religious purposes. This book is a summary of a larger, now lost, five-volume work written in the mid-second century (c. 150 B.C.E.) by Jason the Cyrene. It summarizes the events that took place in Jerusalem and Judea between 175 and 160 B.C.E. (until the death of Judah Maccabee). The book was written, however, in the early years of John Hyrcanus’s reign (about 120 B.C.E.) to impress the Jews of Alexandria with early Hasmonean military and religious achievements—their triumph over the Seleucids, their purification of the Temple and the celebration of Hanukkah. Aside from the obvious historical value of 2 Maccabees, it is an important statement of Hasmonean propaganda. The sanctity of the Temple is its central theme. The book begins and ends with the preservation of the Temple’s purity, focusing on the purification of the Temple in 164 B.C.E. The political message of 2 Maccabees is clear. It was the Hasmoneans who fought and shed their blood for the sake of preserving the sanctity of the Temple, and this fact grants them legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the people.

A number of practices emphasizing the centrality of the Temple had already developed by the first century B.C.E. These practices, which appear to have originated in the Hasmonean period, became widespread and normative in the late Second Temple period. Large-scale pilgrimages to Jerusalem by Jews of the Diaspora, Judea and the Galilee, as well as the half-shekel annual contribution, were nurtured and encouraged by Hasmonean leaders. 62

These practices not only enhanced the political and religious status of the Hasmoneans but also emphasized that Jerusalem—with its Temple—was the spiritual center of world Jewry.

Finally, the most prominent institutions of the period were located in the Temple precincts or on the Temple Mount. It served as the ritual center for the nation’s many varied celebrations over the course of the year; it was also the meeting place of the highest courts of the land, and possibly of the h\ever ha-yehudim (the governing body of the high council of the Jews), apparently a representative body mentioned on Hasmonean coins. One of the important city markets that served Temple needs operated there, and leaders of the different sects taught their disciples in these precincts.

No other institution in Jewish society rivaled the Temple in its sanctity and importance. Despite the absence of explicit references to the presence of a synagogue in Judea proper, there can be little doubt that this institution had already begun to evolve by the Hasmonean era. Nevertheless, although the synagogue appears to have had a distinctly communal nature with a number of religious functions (such as reading Scriptures, translating them into Aramaic, and giving sermons), it in no way challenged the supremacy of the Temple. This remained true throughout the Second Temple period; only after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. did the synagogue develop its own unique religious profile. 63

In the Hasmonean period, the religion of the ordinary Jew focused to a large extent on the Temple, its rituals and requirements. Aside from making offerings to priests and Levites, a Jew was obligated to bring the first fruits (bikkurim), as well as the first produce of his flocks, to Jerusalem. Moreover, four times every seven years he was to spend a tithe of his earnings within the bounds of Jerusalem. These obligations were in addition to the half-shekel contribution and the requirement (often unobserved by those living at a distance) to be present in the Holy City on each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot). As the occasion arose, individual Jews would go to the Temple to offer sacrifices for personal reasons—a sin or guilt offering, a free will offering, an offering in fulfillment of a vow or following childbirth.

The End of Jewish Sovereignty

Jewish sovereignty was lost to the Romans when Pompey conquered Judea in 63 B.C.E. Was this avoidable? Could the Hasmonean kingdom have averted the Roman conquest? Josephus answers in the affirmative, claiming that all was lost because of the internecine conflict between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. These warring brothers brought ruin to their kingdom through their failure to present a unified front against Rome. Josephus was certainly correct in his appraisal that Hasmonean weakness contributed heavily to the demise of their kingdom. There is no doubt that, had the brothers coordinated their efforts and jointly negotiated with Pompey, they could have avoided such serious losses. However, Josephus is certainly wrong in suggesting that even a unified stand would ultimately have made a difference. Rome was destined to conquer the East irrespective of internal Hasmonean politics. The Hasmoneans could only have hoped to mitigate the conditions of conquest. By demonstrating a unified stand and a willingness to cooperate, their kingdom might have survived much longer and suffered less damage than it in fact did. Their behavior in this regard was a major political failure, one that cost them their independence and hegemony over Jewish society. 88

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