The Postexilic History of Israel. XI.

By Professor Willis J Beecher, D.D.,

Auburn, N. Y.



In this series of papers no attempt is made to narrate the events exhaustively. The idea has rather been to call attention to certain events that have a special interest. The present paper, noticing briefly the external history from the time of the Maccabees to the time of Jesus, and one more paper, on the Israelitish institutions and literature for the same period, complete the series.

The sources.—The sources of information are very abundant. The most prominent are First and Second Maccabees and Josephus, with many incidental notices in other Jewish and Greek writings. These are illustrated and confirmed by many objects and inscriptions, especially in regard to the Ptolemies of Egypt, brought to light in recent explorations.

The situation just before the Maccabaean wars.—The ninth paper in this series, in the STUDENT for March, 1890, has noticed that Palestine was subject to the Egyptian-Greek kingdom till about 200 B. C., and then passed to the sway of the Syrian-Greek kingdom. Meanwhile, as we may judge from the events that followed, the country had become well filled, in the north as well as in the south, and on both sides of the Jordan, with a Jewish population. At the same time, there were Philistines, Edomites, Ammonites, and other peoples living on their ancient sites, while Greek cities were everywhere springing up-Gaza, Azotus, and Ptolemais, near the Mediterranean, Scythopolis, Pella, and Paneas, in the north, and many others. In the absence of specific information, we may assume that justice was administered in each locality, among Jews, Greeks, or other peoples, according to the traditional usage of each people, and that the Ptolemies or the Seleucide generally abstained from interference, except to make sure that the tributes were paid, that combinations or uprisings detrimental to the interests of the sovereign were prevented, or that any particular enterprise which he undertook was carried out. Within a narrow region around Shechem, the Samaritans evidently kept themselves well organized for the protection of their form of religion. As Jerusalem became more and more a religious centre for Jews in different parts of the world, the influence of the highpriest and the other ecclesiastics there became more and more dominant; but there is no trace of any wide political authority wielded by them in those times. The Jewish patriots who, in the Maccabean wars, came into conflict with the Syrian-Greek empire, were not a nation; they were simply an unorganized body of local communities, bound together by ties of race and religion.

When Joseph the son of Tobias, the great tax farmer, died, about 201 B. C.,1 the three-sided conflict of opinion among the Palestinian Jews/ was ripening toward a crisis, his sons and those of the highpriest Simon II. being the leaders. Considering the career of the father, we are not surprised to find the sons of Joseph at the head of the unpatriotic Hellenizing party, which, later, supported Menelaus the son of Simon as highpriest, Jos. XII. v. 1., iv. 11. Since the fanatically orthodox author of 2 Mac. eulogizes the godliness of Onias, the eldest son of Simon, 3:I, 32, etc.,3 we may infer that Onias was devoted to the Judaizing party. As "Hyrcanus the son of Tobias" had monies deposited in the temple, under the care of Onias, 2 Mac. 3:I I, we may infer that there was sympathy between the two men, and that Hyrcanus, in his conflict with his brothers, Jos. XII. iv. I I, aimed to become the leader of the Judaizing party. The inference is supported by the fact that, later, he committed suicide to escape from Antiochus Epiphanes. Hyrcanus was shrewd enough to see that this party would, in time, become the winning party. It was not successful, however, so far as he was concerned. Simon the highpriest, recognizing the older sons of Joseph as his legitimate kinsmen, supported them, and the people sided with him and them. Upon his death, a year or two after that of Joseph, Onias became highpriest, indeed, but Hyrcanus did not attain to power, and at length abandoned the attempt, and established himself near Hesbon, east of the Dead Sea. There he maintained himself for seven years, dying after the accession of Antiochus.

An incident in this conflict was the attempted robbery of the temple by Heliodorus, 2 Mac. chap. 3. This was brought about by one of the opponents of Onias, as a matter of revenge, arising from a dispute over an official appointment.

Jason made highpriest.—On the chronological hypothesis we are following, the conflict had lasted about 27 years when Antiochus Epiphanes came to the throne in Antioch, B. C. 175. Soon after that, Jesus the son of Simon II. became highpriest. Josephus says this occurred after the death of Onias, but the author of 2 Mac. says that Jesus supplanted Onias, and his account is circumstantial, and probably credible. In any case, he was made highpriest by Antiochus. This is the first instance of a record of the actual appointment of a Jewish highpriest by a Persian or Greek emperor, though there had been an attempt of this kind earlier, Jos. Ant. XI. vii. 1.

Jesus changed his name to the Greek name Jason. What little Josephus says concerning him is favorable, but the author of 2 Mac. speaks harshly of him. The people generally supported him, while the sons of Tobias opposed him, Jos. XII. v. 1. From this it appears that the people in general had now deserted the party of the sons of Tobias. Jason certainly was not a particularly worthy man. Perhaps he was a Hellenizer of the nobler type, liberal toward the Greeks without being unfaithful to Israelitish institutions; a compromise, it may be, between the unpatriotic Hellenizers and the Judaizers.

The attempted subversion of Judaism.—After three years, Antiochus deposed Jason, and put Menelaus in his place. Then began a systematic effort to pervert the people from their ancestral religion. Exasperated by this, the party of Jason resorted to force and bloodshed. He made a great slaughter of his opponents, and afterward fled the country, and died in exile, 2 Mac. 5:5-o0. In revenge for his attempts, Antiochus captured Jerusalem, B. C. 170, slaying 40,000, and selling 40,000 into slavery, 2 Mac. 5:11-14. Two years later, he profaned the temple, and began an exterminating persecution against all who refused to conform to the Greek worship. The soldiers of Antiochus marched from village to village, destroying the books of the law, compelling the people to perform heathen sacrifice, and committing atrocities and desolating the country wherever they went.

Armed resistance.—This began almost at once. In the absence of any national organization, leaders were raised up from the people. Mattathias of Modiim, a native of Jerusalem, of priestly blood, a descendant of one Asamonaeus, together with his five sons, entered upon the desperate struggle, Jos. Ant. XII. vi. At first, their adherents were few, and mostly from a narrow region near Jerusalem, but in later years their power became wider. The successive leaders were Mattathias, B. C. 168-167, Judas Maccabmeus, B. C. 167-161, Jonathan, B. C. 161-143, Simon, B. C. 143-135. The conflict was marked by unparalleled heroism on the part of the patriots, by dreadful atrocities on both sides, and by ravages and slaughters that largely depleted the Jewish population of Palestine.

The patriots were not without external help. They sought and obtained the moral support of the Romans, whose policy was to do whatever would weaken the empire of the Seleucide. Several times in the course of the wars there were revolutions at Antioch, and rival claimants to the throne of the Seleucide, seeking the support of the Jewish patriot party, and making promises which they regularly violated as soon as they had accomplished their own purposes. As early as B. C. 164, the patriots, under Judas, regained possession of the temple, and cleansed it. When Simon became leader, B. C. 143, Judaea claimed independence. The details of these events have been rewritten many times, but there is still nothing better for one to do than to read them in the original sources, the books of Maccabees and Josephus.

During the wars, the tenure of the highpriestly office changed. The accounts contradict each other as to whether Judas Maccabaeus exercised that office; but his brother Jonathan, with no claim to hereditary right other than any man of priestly blood might have, accepted the highpriesthood from one of the claimants to the Syrian-Greek crown, Alexander Balas (Epiphanes), Jos. Ant. XIII. ii. 2. From this time, for some generations, the highpriest was the chief magistrate of the people. The formula for the era of Simon was " In the first year of Simon, highpriest and general, and leader of the Jews," I Mac. 13:42.

Simon's successor was his son John Hyrcanus, B. C. 135-104. He had a good deal of fighting to do, but, on the whole, the Jews had now at length become a nation, and were prosperous. He conquered the Samaritans and the country east of the Jordan, and incorporated the Idumaeans into the Jewish nation, compelling them to accept circumcision, Ant. XIII. ix. Wealth and luxury had their natural effect upon him, for he turned from the Judaistic party, with which his family had hitherto acted, and became a Sadducee.

He was succeeded by his son Aristobulus, who took the title of king. He reigned one year, and added a great part of Iturma to Judaea, compelling the inhabitants to be circumcised. He was known as Philhellen, the lover of the Greeks. See Jos. Ant. XIII. xi. Up to his time, the Asamonaean coinage was stamped with Hebrew characters; he and his successors issued coins with Greek letters, or with Greek on one side and Hebrew on the other, Smith's Bib. Dic., "Money."

The next king and highpriest was Alexander, known as Jannaus, another son of John Hyrcanus. He had a reign of 27 years, full of wars and vicissitudes, but on the whole successful, Ant. XIII. xii.-xv. The kingdom, as he left it, covered all Palestine (including Samaria and the Greek cities), and a large part of Coelesyria.

His successor for nine years was his wife Alexandra, his son Hyrcanus being highpriest. They returned to the party of the Pharisees, and even put to death many of their friends in revenge for atrocities which Alexander had committed against the Pharisees, Ant. XIII. xvi.

On the death of Alexandra, Hyrcanus, having been defeated in battle by his younger brother Aristobulus, retired, by agreement, to private life, leaving the power to Aristobulus. Afterward, under the influence of an Idumaean named Antipater, Hyrcanus went to Aretas king of Arabia, and by his aid made an attempt to recover his lost power. The result was an appeal to the Romans as arbitrators, and this turned out as Roman arbitrations usually turned out in those days: Pompey, the arbitrator, was admitted to part of Jerusalem by the friends of Hyrcanus, took the other part of the city by storm, butchered the Jews in a way that made them regret the Macedonian times, and restored Hyrcanus to the highpriesthood, but with the title of ethnarch instead of king, and made Judaea tributary to the Romans, detaching from it the Greek cities and Coelesyria, and exacting enormous contributions. His capture of Jerusalem was in B. C. 63.

After this occurred at Rome the events of the first triumvirate, and those which followed, terminating in the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar. As often as these events caused the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Judaea, the friends of Aristobulus stirred up revolts. Then the Roman legions would return, slaughter the Jews like sheep, carry off as much as the general in command thought fit of the enormous wealth of the temple, and impose fresh exactions. Gabinius, Crassus, and Cassius, one after the other, invaded Judaea. At length, under Julius Caesar, the highpriesthood of Hyrcanus was again confirmed, and Antipater the Idumean made procurator of Judaea, Ant. XIV. viii. 5. Under his administration his son Herod was instrusted with important affairs, and at last, B. C. 40, bought of Mark Antony and the Roman senate the title and office of king, Ant. XIV. xiv. 4. With his accession, the office of highpriest became again separated from that of chief magistrate. After some years of fighting, Herod came into actual possession of the kingdom thus given him. Later, after the defeat of Antony, he obtained from Augustus the confirmation of the kingdom in his hands. He was still on the throne when Jesus was born. If his reign was marked by disgraceful cruelties, it was also marked by ability. Palestine again grew populous and wealthy, and some of its cities magnificent. If the people groaned under his yoke and that of the Romans, they at least submitted; and thus they suffered far less from foreign and civil wars than in the generations that preceded.

The little primer on the Historical Connection between the Old and New Testaments, by Rev. John Skinner, published by T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh, is an admirably compact presentation of the facts as found in Josephus and other sources.


1) In the STUDENT for March, I89o, I held that Joseph farmed the taxes for 22 years before his son Hyrcanus was born, and after that for more than 13 years longer, beginning soon after the accession of Ptolemy Philopator, 222 B. C.; and consequently, that his death occured later than 187 B. C., during the pontificate of Onias III. This contradicts Jos. Ant. XII. iv. Ii, where Simon II., the predecessor of Onias, is said to have participated in the quarrels that followed the death of Joseph. The following sketch better fits the account in Josephus: Joseph first went to Alexandria about B. C. 222, being then young enough to count himself a young man along with Ptolemy, but yet having already a family of children. Hyrcanus was born soon after, and at about 13 years old, attended the birth festival for Ptolemy Epiphanes, about 208 B. C. Joseph died about B. C. 201. His old age, at the time of the birth festival, must in any case be merely relative old age.

2) See closing paragraphs of paper in the STUDENT for March, 1890.

3) In the STUDENT for March, I890, I have called attention to the contradictions between 2 Mac. and Josephus, and hinted at my estimate of the relative value of the two accounts.