The Onias Dynasty

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” -Karl Marx

The Maccabee Revolt

The Zadokite priesthood held office over the Temple of Jerusalem since the time of Solomon, although lost during the Babylonian Captivity and reestablished during the Persian Empire, and it is said to have passed to Onias I around the time of Alexander the Great. Antiquites of the Jews says that Onias I received Alexander the Great in Jerusalem, although historians generally believe that Alexander skipped over Jerusalem on his way to Egypt. When Alexander died, all the lands he conquered were divided between four of his generals and Judea found itself pulled between two Alexandrian powers, the Ptolemy dynasty in Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty in Syria, named after two of those generals. Ptolemy I Soter was Alexander’s the Great’s childhood friend and possible half-brother, and Seleucus I Nicator who a general who had proved himself in a campaign in India. In 300 B.C. Seleucus I opened Antioch up to the Jews and gave them equal status with Greeks while many other Jews settled in Alexandria, Egypt.

Antiquities of the Jews says that Onias II, who was high priest from 240 to 218, had “little soul” and was a “lover of money,” and so refused to pay 30 talents of silver in tribute to Ptolemy III, causing Onias’ nephew Joseph to pay the debt off himself so as to stop the threat of an Egyptian invasion. Then in 219, Antiochus III “the Great” of the Seleucid dynasty seized Palestine from the Ptolemy dynasty. This would begin a long and pronounced power struggle between the two Alexandrian cities, with Jerusalem in the middle.

Onias I Onias II
Coins of Onias I and Onias II

According to 2 Maccabees, Onias III, who was high priest from 185 to 175, got into a quarrel with the Temple superintendent, Simon the Benjamite, about the supervision of the market place. Simon went to the governor of Tarsus and told him of the untold riches in the temple and how the king could take it if he was made high priest. The governor then told the king, Seleucus IV Philopator, son of Antiochus III, who sent his minister Heliodorus to Jerusalem. It’s said that when Heliodrus tried to enter the temple to steal the treasure appropriated for orphans and widows that the “Lord of Spirits,” a term used in the Book of Enoch for one of the triad of godly beings of heaven, sent a golden armored horse rider, who clipped Heliodorus with its hooves, and two other angelic men in splendid clothing who flogged the minister while his bodyguards ran away in blind terror. Heliodorus was carried away on a stretcher and Onias III offered a sacrifice for the man’s recovery, worried that the king would think the Jews had done this to him. The angelic men are then said to have appeared to Heliodorus and told him to thank Onias for his life, which causes the minister to return, telling the king of the divine power that watched over that place. It is said, however, that Simon brought a false accusation to the king that it was Onias III who had threatened Heliodorus. When Simon began to murder people through henchmen with the help of Apollonius, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, Onias began to appeal to the Seleucus IV. But Seleucas died and his brother, Antiochus IV took the throne. Antiochus took the title Epiphanies, meaning “the Brilliant,” but the Jews who would come to be oppressed by his efforts to eradicate Jewish culture referred to him as Epimanes, “the Mad One.”

In 175, Antiochus decided to sell the Jerusalem priesthood to Onias’ brother Jason for 440 talents of silver (roughly 158,400 silver shekels). Unlike his brother, Jason believed Jerusalem needed to be Hellenized. According to 2 Maccabees, “The craze for Hellenism and foreign customs reached such a pitch, through the outrageous wickedness of the ungodly pseudo-high-priest Jason, that the priests no longer cared about the service of the altar. Disdaining the temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened, at the signal for the discus-throwing, to take part in the unlawful exercises on the athletic field.” (4:13). Among the Jews who opposed Hellenization was the Hasidic party, which believed the priesthood still belonged to Onias III, but in 173 he was forced to take refuge with Ptolemy VI in Egypt. Thus, the Tobiads, whose legitimacy went back to Onias II’s nephew buying Ptolemy III off, bribed Syria into an alliance while the Oniads, the ousted priesthood, and relied on the support of Egypt.

In 172, Jason sent Menelaus, the brother of Simon the Benjamite, to Antiochus IV, but Menelaus secretly betrayed him by outbidding him by 300 talents. Menelaus was later summoned by the king for failing to pay the bribe, but as Antiochus had been called off to fight a revolt in Tarsus and Mallus, Menelaus met with a nobleman named Andronicus and presented him with gold vessels he had stolen from the temple. Onias made a public protest of this and escaped to “the inviolable sanctuary of Daphne, near Antioch.” Menelaus and Andronicus lured Onias out of the garden sanctuary with sworn pledges of nonviolence but then put him to death. This theme holds a parallel with Jesus surrendering in the Garden of Gethsemane in the name of peace, saying, “Am I leading a rebellion…?” As Josephus points out, the death of Onias III was not just some isolated factoid of little historical importance: “As a result, not only the Jews, but many people of other nations as well, were indignant and angry over the unjust murder of the man.” It’s said that the Greeks and Jews told Antiochus IV about this and that the king wept in memory of the noble Onias and had Andronicus led around the city and put to death in the same spot Onias was killed.

However, Menelaus’ substitute priest, Lysimachus, stole more gold vessels, which caused the people to protest against him. Lysimachus responded by leading 3,000 men against the mob, but the force was put into confusion and Lysimachus was killed near the treasury. Although charges were brought against Menelaus, the high priest is said to have bribed Ptolemy to convince Anitochus to decide in favor of the high priest and had his accusers put to death.

Antiochus went on two campaigns against Egypt, once from 170-169 and again in 168, but it is unclear if he conquered Jerusalem and robbed the Temple on one or both of these campaigns. The description of Antiochus’ spoiling of the Temple is given in 1 and 2 Maccabees are virtually the same, but 1 Maccabees dates it to 170-169, while in 2 Maccabees a false rumor was spread that Antiochus had been killed in his second campaign against Egypt, bringing Jason back from exile to the Ammonites in order to stage a failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem himself. He was ultimately forced to move from country to country in exile until he finally died in Sparta. But because of this infighting, 2 Maccabees says that Antiochus IV “thought” the city was in revolt and “raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm.” In 1 Maccabees, it is said that Antiochus spoke peaceable words to Jerusalem but then betrayed them, and 2 Maccabees says that 40,000 men, women, and children were killed, and another 40,000 were sold into slavery. “Not satisfied with this,”, says 2 Maccabees, “the king dared to enter the holiest temple in the world; Menelaus, that traitor both to the laws and to his country, served as guide.” The author argues that the reason Antiochus IV was not flogged by angels in the same way Heliodorus did was because God was angry “for a little while” over the sins of the city’s inhabitants, thus allowing Antiochus to steal 18,000 talents from the temple.

Most scholars agree that 1 Maccabees is generally more reliable than 2 Maccabees. Hebrew idioms throughout the story have given scholars cause to believe it was originally written in that language. But in this case, 2 Maccabees is somewhat corroborated by Josephus, who has Antiochus robbing Jerusalem twice, but only mentions the spoiling of Temple as happening after the second invasion of Egypt, despite the fact that he uses 1 Maccabees as one of his main sources and dates the invasions at 168 and 166. Josephus’ War of the Jews begins by saying:

“At the same time that Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes, had a quarrel with the sixth Ptolemy about his right to the whole country of Syria, a great sedition fell among the men of power in Judea, and they had a contention about obtaining the government; while each of those that were of dignity could not endure to be subject to their equals. However, Onias, one of the high priests, got the better, and cast the sons of Tobias out of the city; who fled to Antiochus, and besought him to make use of them for his leaders, and to make an expedition into Judea. The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months. But Onias, the high priest, fled to Ptolemy, and received a place from him in the Nomus of Heliopolis, where he built a city resembling Jerusalem, and a temple that was like its temple concerning which we shall speak more in its proper place hereafter.

“Now Antiochus was not satisfied either with his unexpected taking the city, or with its pillage, or with the great slaughter he had made there; but being overcome with his violent passions, and remembering what he had suffered during the siege, he compelled the Jews to dissolve the laws of their country, and to keep their infants uncircumcised, and to sacrifice swine’s flesh upon the altar; against which they all opposed themselves, and the most approved among them were put to death.”

In chapter 10 of Book 20 of Antiquities, Josephus says that this same Onias, who historians call Onias IV, was driven away by Antiochus and his general Lysias, after which another Aaronite named Jaeimus was given the office. The description of the Syrians’ defilement of the Temple is given in more horrid detail in 2 Maccabeees:

“Not long after this the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus, and that on [the Samaritan] Mount Gerizim to Zeus the Hospitable, as the inhabitants of the place requested. This intensified the evil in an intolerable and utterly disgusting way. The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; they amused themselves with prostitutes and had intercourse with women even in the sacred court. They also brought into the temple things that were forbidden, so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws. A man could not keep the Sabbath or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew. Moreover, at the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday the Jews had, from bitter necessity, to partake of the sacrifices, and when the festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to march in his procession, wearing wreaths of ivy. At the suggestion of the citizens of Ptolemais, a decree was issued ordering the neighboring Greek cities to act in the same way against the Jews: oblige them to partake of the sacrifices, and put to death those who would not consent to adopt the customs of the Greeks. It was obvious, therefore, that disaster impended. Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall. Others, who had assembled in nearby caves to observe the Sabbath in secret, were betrayed to Philip and all burned to death. In their respect for the holiness of that day, they had scruples about defending themselves.”

The beginning of the Maccabee Revolt is said to have begun when a priest named Mattathias killed a Seleucid representative who attempted to force him to sacrifice to the Greek gods and then killed a Jew who had just capitulated. In 1 Maccabees it says, “When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar.” (2:24). The word “zealot” comes from this “zeal for God” or “jealousy for God” that brought Moses and the Levites to massacre the Israelites who bowed before the golden calf. Mattathias took his five sons and escaped into the wilderness and according to 2 Maccabees raised an army of 6,000. Mattathis’ son, Judas, then recovered and purified the temple in 164 B.C. The rededication of the Second Temple is marked by the celebration of the miracle of Hanukah, in which a one-day supply of oil for the temple’s “eternal flame” lasted eight days, just long enough to prepare and consecrate new oil.

After that, Judas led a revolt against Syria and gained the name Maccabee, meaning “the Hammer,” using guerrilla warfare to win victories against the Syrians despite commanding a numerically inferior army. In 1 Maccabees, it tells how Judas won a battle against a small army of Syrians led by Apollonius and used Apollonius’ sword from that day on. He also fought Samaritan and Arab tribes and conquered Edom, “because they were lying in wait for them” and forced the population to convert to Judaism. He made an alliance with the Nabataeans, an ancient people who lived in southern Jordan, Canaan, and northern Arabia. His brother Simon won another victory in Gilead, and when Judas took Bozrah, he killed every single male by the sword and burned the spoils in fire, reminiscent of the “ban,” a gesture of murderous sacrifice of one’s enemies drawn from the holy wars of Moses in the Torah. But Judas is also said to have helped defend Jewish communities in Gilead, Transjordan, and Galilee after they came under attack, and helped many Galilean Jews by allowing them to move back to Judea. Judas also “turned aside to Azotus in the land of the Philistines; he tore down their altars, and the graven images of their gods he burned with fire; he plundered the cities and returned to the land of Judah.”

Antiochus IV died in Persia on a campaign against the Parthians that same year. In 2 Maccabees, God is said to have punished Antiochus with an abdominal sickness immediately after he spoke of his plan to make Jerusalem a graveyard of Jews. Although Antiochus is said to of at first continued his megalomania despite this divine punishment, he eventually broke down and wrote a very polite letter to the Jews asking them to follow his son after his death. However, 1 Maccabees has Antiochus hearing that his general Lysias had lost a battle against Judas near Emmaus and then had Antiochus die after making a deathbed confessional about his regret for bringing such evil on Jerusalem.

Antiochus’ defiling of the Temple would come to inspire the concept of the “abomination that causes desolation” in the Book of Daniel and the “apocalypse of weeks” in the Book of Enoch as Jewish apocalyptic beliefs became more rampant in the despair brought on by the Syrian policy of cultural genocide. The “abomination that causes desolation” prophecy would then be reinterpreted in gospels of Mark (13:14) and Matthew (24:15) as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D. As shown by Dr. Randel McCraw Helms, the Book of Daniel implicitly identifies Onias III as the Messiah through an apocalyptic prophecy based on numerology:

“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah, the ruler, comes there will be seven weeks and 62 ‘weeks.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the 62 ‘weeks,’ the Messiah will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue with many for one ‘week.’ In the middle of the ‘week,’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the Temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” -Daniel 9:25-27 (NIV + KJV)

As discussed before, the imagery of the flood is often used in Christian literature to symbolize the End of Days. The seven ‘weeks’ here represents 49 years between the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 B.C. to the building of the second in 538. The 62 ‘weeks’ represents 434 years from the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 605 until Onias III was assassinated in 171. The ‘half-week’ represents the four years between then and Antiochus putting an end to sacrifices and offerings in 167, when he set up the “abomination that causes desolation,” making reference to the sacrifice of pigs on the altar of Zeus. The last ‘week’ represents the seven years between the death of Onias III and the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabee in 164 B.C. In the Book of Jeremiah it is prophesized that the Jews would be captive in Babylon for 70 years (25:12), although it would actually turn out to be only 49 years. Thus, the 70 years was reinterpreted by the author of Daniel to became 70 ‘weeks’ of years, or 490 years, divided into a seven-week period, a 62-week period, and a final one-week period. The seven-week period provided the explanation for how 70 became 49 and the final one-week period represented the author’s own time just before Jeremiah’s prophecy that Yahweh would return again to “bring charges against the nations” and “bring judgment to all mankind and put the wicked to the sword.” (25:31). That would bring about the “real” end to the captivity, which only began in Babylon but had actually continued with the Achaemenid and Macedonian Empires. The Book of Daniel also predicts that Antiochus IV would “pitch his royal pavilion between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the holy hill, the fairest of hills [Zion]; and he will meet his end with no one to help him.” (11:45). Since Antiochus IV died in Persia, not Judea, Helms argues that the Book of Daniel was probably written just before his death in 164.

In 1 Maccabees, it says that despite Antiochus’ death, his general Lysias continued the fight against the Jews, bringing in 100,000 soldiers, 20,000 cavalrymen, and 32 war elephants against Judas. There was a battle in Beth-Zechariah in which Judas’ brother, Eleazar, called Avaran, wanting to make a name for himself, managed to get under what he thought was the king’s elephant and cut open its underbelly, causing the creature to fall on him and kill him. Josephus relates that Eleazer had assumed it was the king’s elephant tower because it was the largest, but that it turned out to have only been a private citizen, and that the sacrifice itself was as a symbol for the entire battle: the Jews fought valiantly despite fortune falling against them. The Jews fled the Gentile army and then withstood a famine caused by the Jewish law of the “Sabbath year” in which no food was supposed to be grown for an entire year. Lysias was besieging Jerusalem when he learned of the approach of Philip, who both Maccabees say had been appointed as guardian of Antiochus’ 9-year-old son, Antiochus V. A quick peace deal with the Jews was made but immediately broken by Lysias when he broke down the city’s walls before returning to Antioch to defeat Philip in 163. Nevertheless, his retreat was taken as a victory for the Maccabees against the Hellenist party within Judea, and according to 2 Maccabees, Menelaus was subsequently removed from office and executed.

In 162, Antiochus’ nephew and true heir to the throne, Demetrius, escaped from Roman captivity and was able to depose and kill Lysias and his own 11-year-old cousin, Antiochus V, taking his rightful place as king of Syria. A former high priest named Alcimus, who had “defiled himself in the time of separation,” was able to convince Demetrius that the “Hasideans,” led by Judas, would never allow the kingdom to find peace. He then convinced Demetrius to give him the office of high priest and sent a governor and general named Bacchides to defeat Judas. The association of Judas with the Hasideans in 2 Maccabees is strange because 1 Maccabees says that the Hasideans were the first to sue for peace, saying, “A priest of the line of Aaron has come with the army, and he will not harm us.” (7:13). Assuming 1 Maccabees is correct, the Jewish group/sect seems to have been pro-Zadokite, since those were the priests descended from Aaron. But according to 1 Maccabees, the Hasideans turned out to be wrong: Bacchides swore no one would be hurt and then immediately seized and killed 60 men and took over Jerusalem.

Alcimus took control of the high priest office and Josephus says that he did more damage to Israel than the Gentiles, and so Judas came out and “took vengeance on the men who had deserted, and he prevented those in the city from going out into the country.” Demetrius sent an army led by a general named Nicanor, and although the events are widely varied between 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, the latter says that Judas responded by speaking about a vision he had of Onias:

“He armed each of them not so much with confidence in shields and spears as with the inspiration of brave words, and he cheered them all by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, ‘This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God.’ Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: ‘Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries.’”

In 161, Judas defeated Nicanor in battle, which was taken with such celebration that the day became a national holiday. After being slain in his armor, Nicanor had his tongue cut out to be fed to the birds, while his head and hands were displayed outside Jerusalem.

While the victory marks the end of 2 Maccabees, 1 Maccabees goes on to tell how Judas became so impressed by how Rome was able to gain control of modern France and Spain through “patience and planning” that he sought an alliance with the Romans against Demetrius. The Romans are venerated by the writer for making and deposing kings around the world yet never put on a crown or wore purple “as a mark of pride.” Rome’s Senate chamber is praised as is their ability to trust one man to rule over them without envy or jealousy. History tells that Rome had already been checking Antiochus’ campaigns of aggression, and had forced him to evacuate Egypt twice. The second time a chalk circle was said to have been drawn around Antiochus IV to indicate that if he left the circle without a promise to leave Egypt he would be at war with Rome.

Demetrius sent Bacchides and Alcimus to defeat Judas and on the night before the battle many of Judas’ men fled in fear of the Greeks’ numbers. Although his generals tried to convince Judas to escape also, the leader decided to fight for honor. His army was defeated and Judas was killed. Judas’ brother Jonathan, from whom Josephus was descended from through his daughter, took over the army and fled into the wilderness.

Lawlessness and famine emerged, and “the country deserted with them to the enemy.” Jonathan sent his brother John to beg their friends the Nabateans to let them store some of their supplies with them, but they were ambushed by a hostile tribe, the “sons of Jambri,” who killed them and stole their things. Jonathan later took vengeance on them by ambushing a Jambri wedding to one of the noble daughters of Canaan, killing many of them and causing the rest to flee into the mountains. Bacchides then trapped Jonathan at a marsh at the river Jordan on the Sabbath, and Jonathan was forced to convince his men to fight despite the commandment not to, which they did, killing a thousand of their men before they escaped through the river. Bacchides retook Jerusalem and Alcimus tore down the walls in the temple’s inner sanctuary which was “the work of the prophets!” For this, he was cursed with a paralyzed mouth, much like John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, from the Gospel of Luke, and then died in agony soon afterwards.

When Demetrius tried to have some of Judas’ countrymen betray him, Jonathan had 50 men killed and then escaped to and fortified the city of Bethbasi. Bacchides put the city to diege, but Jonathan left his brother Simon in charge and took a small force to ambush Bacchides’ reinforcements from within their tents. Bacchides decided to leave and a peace agreement and hostage exchange was made. And so “Thus the sword ceased from Israel. And Jonathan dwelt in Michmash. And Jonathan began to judge the people, and he destroyed the ungodly out of Israel.”

International relations between Demetrius and Rome, the kings of Pergamon (in Turkey), and Ptolemic Egypt began to deteriorate, and support was transferred to a new contender for the throne from Smyrna, Turkey, named Alexander Epiphanes, better known as Alexander Balas. He claimed to be a son of Antiochus IV, but historians are not so sure. He was “discovered” by a former minister of Antiochus IV and the brother of an usurper that Demetrius had executed. In 1 Maccabees it says that Demetrius knew that the balance of power had changed and so he immediately sent a letter to Jonathan giving in to every Jewish demand: they would retain their homeland, along with Samaria and Galilee, completely tax-free, all Jewish captives would be set free, Judas would be allowed to recruit an army, and Demetrius pledged to release control of the citadel in Jerusalem and “give it to the high priest, that he may station in it men of his own choice to guard it.” All of this and all Jonathan had to do was pledge not to ally with his “enemies.” Jonathan made the agreement, but quickly backed out of it once he got a letter from Alexander saying:

“‘King Alexander to his brother Jonathan, greeting. We have heard about you, that you are a mighty warrior and worthy to be our friend. And so we have appointed you today to be the high priest of your nation; you are to be called the king’s friend.’ (and he sent him a purple robe and a golden crown) ‘and you are to take our side and keep friendship with us.’

“So Jonathan put on the holy garments in the seventh month of the 160th year [153 B.C.], at the feast of tabernacles, and he recruited troops and equipped them with arms in abundance.”

According to the Torah, only a priest descended from Aaron could be the high priest of Jerusalem. Jonathan’s father Mattathias had been nothing more than a lowly rural priest from Modiin, so this no doubt would have brought on a great amount of controversy, especially from the Onias family. This may be why 2 Maccabees ended with the defeat of Nicanor: everyone could agree that Judas was a national hero, but Jonathan’s name was probably not so universally supported. The book is written from a pro-Hasmonean perspective, so there is no mention of who was deposed in order to give Jonathan the position. Amazingly enough, the normally meticulous nature of Jewish record-keeping fails to reveal who took the position as high priest after Alcimus was executed, despite a full record starting from the end of the Babylonian Exile in 515 B.C. Antiquities of the Jews says that the position was held by Judas, but he was already dead by the time Jonathan was given the priesthood. Some scholars, including Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, have suggested that it was the Teacher of Righteousness and that his name was expunged from the records by the Hasmonian priesthood.

In 150 B.C., Alexander Balas defeated Demetrius in battle and despite all the turmoil he brought upon the Jews, Josephus describes the Syrian king’s death in a very heroic manner. He tells how Demetrius was winning in the area of the battle where he fought and was pursuing some fleeing enemies through a bog when his horse fell, bringing his enemies back to completely surround him, yet he fought on courageously, taking many wounds before falling. Josephus then breaks away from Alexander Balas and Demetrius and tells the story of how the legitimate high priest, Onias IV, traveled to Egypt in the wake of losing his office and was given a place of refuge by Ptolemy VI, called Philometor, meaning “Mother Lover.” Josephus later says that this was “the nephew of the Onias that was dead, and bore the same name with his father.” In the 3rd chapter of Book 13, Josephus says:

But then the son of Onias the high priest, who was of the same name with his father, and who fled to king Ptolemy, who was called Philometor, lived now at Alexandria, as we have said already. When this Onias saw that Judea was oppressed by the Macedonians and their kings, out of a desire to purchase to himself a memorial and eternal fame he resolved to send to king Ptolemy and queen Cleopatra, to ask leave of them that he might build a temple in Egypt like to that at Jerusalem, and might ordain Levites and priests out of their own stock. The chief reason why he was desirous so to do, was, that he relied upon the prophet Isaiah, who lived above 600 years before, and foretold that there certainly was to be a temple built to Almighty God in Egypt by a man that was a Jew. Onias was elevated with this prediction, and wrote the following epistle to Ptolemy and Cleopatra: ‘Having done many and great things for you in the affairs of the war, by the assistance of God, and that in Celesyria and Phoenicia, I came at length with the Jews to Leontopolis, and to other places of your nation, where I found that the greatest part of your people had temples in an improper manner, and that on this account they bare ill-will one against another, which happens to the Egyptians by reason of the multitude of their temples, and the difference of opinions about Divine worship. Now I found a very fit place in a castle that hath its name from the country Diana; this place is full of materials of several sorts, and replenished with sacred animals; I desire therefore that you will grant me leave to purge this holy place, which belongs to no master, and is fallen down, and to build there a temple to Almighty God, after the pattern of that in Jerusalem, and of the same dimensions, that may be for the benefit of thyself, and thy wife and children, that those Jews which dwell in Egypt may have a place whither they may come and meet together in mutual harmony one with another, and he subservient to thy advantages; for the prophet Isaiah foretold that ‘there should be an altar in Egypt to the Lord God; and many other such things did he prophesy relating to that place.’”

The prophecy by Isaiah referenced here says, “In that day the Egyptians will be like women. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that Yahweh of Armies raises against them. And the land of Judah will bring terror to the Egyptians; everyone to whom Judah is mentioned will be terrified, because of what Yahweh of Armies is planning against them. One of them will be called the City of the Sun.” (19:19) The title City of the Sun refers to Heliopolis, the same city that Joseph became a priest of after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, called On in the Book of Genesis (41:45). This is also the city of the Egyptian god Atum, who would later be revised as the monotheistic sun god Aten under the pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten, who ruled in the 1300’s B.C., also had two viziers named Yuya and Ramose, comparable to the names Joseph and Moses.

This interpretation as given by Josephus no doubt conflicted with the belief of most Jews since the Egyptian temple would have provided an alternative to the one in Jerusalem. Jews copying the Masoretic text seem to have been conscious of this, since most copies of the Masoretic text use the term “City of Destruction” instead, no doubt to dissuade readers away from Onias IV’s interpretation. However, the reference to Heliopolis remained in the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in some versions of the Masoretic text.

Josephus goes on to say that Ptolemy and his wife Cleopatra wrote to Onias giving him permission to re-establish the temple in Heliopolis, which he did, although Josephus describes it as “smaller and poorer” and was attended by Alexandrian Jews. Despite Onias’ desire for “mutual harmony,” Josephus says there was a sedition between the Alexandrian Jews and the Samaritans over whether Mount Zion or Mount Gerizzim in Samaria was the true mountain on which Moses had received the Law. Two men Sabbeus and Theodosius argued for the Samaritans while a man named Andronicus argued for the Jews, each taking an oath to tell the truth on pain of death. Andronicus’ arguments given to Ptolemy included a list of the successions of high priests and how all the kings of Asia had honored the Jerusalem temple with donations. Ptolemy ruled in favor of Andronicus and put the other two men to death.

In the book War of the Jews, Josephus refers to the area in which Onias built his temple as Onion. In Chapter 10 of Book 7, he writes:

Onias, the son of Simon, one of the Jewish high priests fled from Antiochus the king of Syria, when he made war with the Jews, and came to Alexandria; and as Ptolemy received him very kindly, on account of hatred to Antiochus, he assured him, that if he would comply with his proposal, he would bring all the Jews to his assistance; and when the king agreed to do it so far as he was able, he desired him to give him leave to build a temple some where in Egypt, and to worship God according to the customs of his own country; for that the Jews would then be so much readier to fight against Antiochus who had laid waste the temple at Jerusalem, and that they would then come to him with greater good-will; and that, by granting them liberty of conscience, very many of them would come over to him.

So Ptolemy complied with his proposals, and gave him a place 180 furlongs distant from Memphis. That Nomos was called the Nomos of Hellopolls, where Onias built a fortress and a temple, not like to that at Jerusalem, but such as resembled a tower. He built it of large stones to the height of 60 cubits; he made the structure of the altar in imitation of that in our own country, and in like manner adorned with gifts, excepting the make of the candlestick, for he did not make a candlestick, but had a [single] lamp hammered out of a piece of gold, which illuminated the place with its rays, and which he hung by a chain of gold; but the entire temple was encompassed with a wall of burnt brick, though it had gates of stone. The king also gave him a large country for a revenue in money, that both the priests might have a plentiful provision made for them, and that God might have great abundance of what things were necessary for his worship. Yet did not Onias do this out of a sober disposition, but he had a mind to contend with the Jews at Jerusalem, and could not forget the indignation he had for being banished thence. Accordingly, he thought that by building this temple he should draw away a great number from them to himself.

The lamp is also a common symbol used in light/darkness duality adherent both in Christian and Essene writings, and is commonly referenced in the gospels, and can also be found in 2 Peter and Revelation. The most common lamp saying from the Synoptic gospels is “no one after lighting a lamp covers it.” Contention with the high priests of Jerusalem is likewise a constant theme of the Synoptic gospels.

After Demetrius’ death, Alexander Balas married a daughter of Ptolemy VI, and 1 Maccabees says that Jonathan attended the wedding, followed by “a group of pestilent men from Israel, lawless men, gathered together against him to accuse him.” But despite these complaints, Balas clothed Jonathan in kingly purple and told his officers to go out into the street and proclaim that no one was to accuse or annoy him for any reason, and “when his accusers saw the honor that was paid him, in accordance with the proclamation, and saw him clothed in purple, they all fled. Thus the king honored him and enrolled him among his chief friends, and made him general and governor of the province.”

Alexander Balas began a life of debauchery and found himself heavily dependant on his father-in-law, Ptolemy Philometor, who eventually sided against him with Demetrius’ son. Demetrius II, who had fled to Crete after his parents’ death, sent a general named Apollonius to Jamnia, who wrote a letter to Jonathan telling the Judean king that he was the only one rising up against Apollonius and that he would be put to flight just as his forefathers had twice before. When the two fought at Azotus, Apollonius left a secret cavalry of thousand behind him, who were able to encircle Jonathan’s army and rain arrows down on them from early morning to late afternoon. But then Jonathan’s brother Simon appeared with his own forces and they were able to pierce into the exhausted cavalry, and Apollonius’ army “fled to Azotus and entered Beth-dagon, the temple of their idol, for safety. But Jonathan burned Azotus and the surrounding towns and plundered them; and the temple of Dagon, and those who had taken refuge in it he burned with fire,” killing 8,000 men in all (10:83). Balas rewarded Jonathan with a buckle that was only given to the kinsmen of kings as well as the city of Ekron, a Philistine city bordering Judah.

Ptolemy’s armies then came by ship to Syria and he took the cities “by trickery,” promising peace to get the people to open the gates and then stationing his own garrison there. It’s said he sent a letter to Demetrius’ son offering him Balas’ former wife, saying, “I now regret that I gave him my daughter, for he has tried to kill me” but 1 Maccabees says he only blamed Balas because he wanted his kingdom. Balas was already putting down a revolt in Cilicia, after which he brought his army against Ptolemy and lost, fleeing to the Nabataeans in northern Arabia, where he was assassinated to stay on Egypt’s good side. Zabdiel the Arab sent his head to Ptolemy, but the Egyptian king would be dead three days later, and his troops in the strongholds were killed by their inhabitants.

Demetrius II, one of the few Greek kings depicted with a beard, became king around 147 B.C., and Jonathan put the Seleucid fortress in Jerusalem under siege. But according to 1 Maccabees, “certain lawless men who hated their nation went to the king and reported to him that Jonathan was besieging the citadel.” Demetrius sent him a letter asking to meet with him in Ptolemais, and Jonathan decided to “put himself in danger” and “went taking silver and gold and clothing and numerous other gifts.” The bribe worked, and Demetrius confirmed him as high priest once again, giving him both Judea and Samaria tax-free. Thus, the Maccabee Revolution went from being a rebellion against cultural annihilation to a powerful and respected Jewish nation that ruled over multiple cultures and had control over the Temple priesthood from the Onias family. This is also the time when the “four Jewish philosophies,” as Josephus puts it, became divided between the Sadducees (backed by Jonathan), the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots, circa 140 B.C. Although these groups may have existed in some form before the reign of Jonathan, it was his appropriation of the priesthood that helped bring about the polarization within Jewish society. The Dead Sea Scroll known as the Damascus Document refers to the subsequent era as a time of new statutes and great division, with people forming groups of “thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” (12:23). It was called the “Age of Wickedness,” and it was expected to end with the coming of “the Messiah of Aaron.”

The Spartan-Danaan Connection

After a period of peace, Demetrius II decided to dismiss his Syrian army and keep the foreign mercenaries as guard, which caused a revolt. Jonathan brought in 120,000 his own men to help bring down the revolt, killing around 100,000. He went away with some spoils, but still felt cheated and oppressed afterwards. Demetrius’ former soldiers clamored around a former supporter of Demetrius named Trypho, who returned from Arabia with Alexander’s son, Antiochus, routing Demetrius and taking over Antioch. Jonathan was confirmed as high priest and Simon was made governor from Tyre to Egypt. Jonathan then took his own army and a Syrian army and put Gaza to siege and plundered it before working out a deal with Demetrius’ men at Beth-zur. Jonathan then fought a battle against the foreigners on the plains of Hazor, in which all but two of Jonathan’s commanders fled with their armies. Jonathan reacted in the typical Jewish manner of grief: he ripped his clothes, poured dust on his head, and prayed. Then he returned to battle and actually prevailed, and the men who fled joined back up with him and pursued the enemy to Kadesh, killing 3,000 in all.

Jonathan then reaffirmed his alliance with the Romans and the Spartans. The First Book of Maccabees relates two very strange letters, claiming them to be copies of letters sent Jonathan sent Arius, the king of the Spartans:

“Jonathan the high priest, the senate of the nation, the priests, and the rest of the Jewish people to their brethren the Spartans, greeting. Already in time past a letter was sent to Onias the high priest from Arius, who was king among you, stating that you are our brethren, as the appended copy shows. Onias welcomed the envoy with honor, and received the letter, which contained a clear declaration of alliance and friendship. Therefore, though we have no need of these things, since we have as encouragement the holy books which are in our hands, we have undertaken to send to renew our brotherhood and friendship with you, so that we may not become estranged from you, for considerable time has passed since you sent your letter to us. We therefore remember you constantly on every occasion, both in our feasts and on other appropriate days, at the sacrifices which we offer and in our prayers, as it is right and proper to remember brethren. And we rejoice in your glory. But as for ourselves, many afflictions and many wars have encircled us; the kings round about us have waged war against us. We were unwilling to annoy you and our other allies and friends with these wars, for we have the help which comes from Heaven for our aid; and we were delivered from our enemies and our enemies were humbled. We therefore have chosen Numenius the son of Antiochus and Antipater the son of Jason, and have sent them to Rome to renew our former friendship and alliance with them. We have commanded them to go also to you and greet you and deliver to you this letter from us concerning the renewal of our brotherhood. And now please send us a reply to this.

“This is a copy of the letter which they sent to Onias:

“Arius, king of the Spartans, to Onias the high priest, greeting. It has been found in writing concerning the Spartans and the Jews that they are brethren and are of the family of Abraham. And now that we have learned this, please write us concerning your welfare; we on our part write to you that your cattle and your property belong to us, and ours belong to you. We therefore command that our envoys report to you accordingly.”

Antiquities of the Jews lists a very similar letter and ascribes it to Onias III, but King Arius ruled from 309 to 265 B.C., so he would have been a contemporary of Onias I, who was high priest from 320 and 280. In fact, there was no king of Sparta while Onias III was high priest. The last king, Nabis, had been assassinated by the Aetolian League in 192, causing Sparta to join the Achaean League, which itself was dissolved by Rome in 146. Opinion on whether the letters are authentic or not are mixed.

The seemingly unlikely connection between the Spartans and Jews actually has a fairly long and sordid tradition behind it. A skeptical philosopher and historian from the 300’s B.C., Hecataeus of Abdera, who went on an expedition to Syria with the first Ptolemy, is the first to relate the legendary account in his book, Aegyptica, that the Jews were exiled from Egypt along with other foreigners like the Kadmus and Danaus because they had been inflicted with a contagious disease. To ancient Jewish historians like Josephus, this sounded like anti-Semetic mythmaking, but according to Origen, Hecataeus was so strong a partisan for the Jewish people in his work, On the Jews, that the Greek grammarian Herennius Philo of Byblos questioned whether the work was actually written by Hecataeus or not, ultimately concluding that if it was written by him he must have been carried away by the teachings of Judaism.

In Against Apion, Josephus references a historian named Manetho who associates the Hebrews with the Hyksos, translated either as “Shepherd Kings” or “Captive Shepherds.” Manetho claims that Joseph went into Egypt during the fourth year of the pharaoh Aphophis, and that the Hebrews, or Shepherd Kings, were expelled during the reign of Tethtoosis, who is equivalent to Ahmose, the first king of the Egyptian New Kingdom. It’s said that Moses was a priest from Heliopolis, the same city that Genesis says Joseph became a priest of (41:45), and that Moses was expelled from Egypt for contracting leprosy. If true, this may have provided the backdrop for some of the Biblical traditions from the Book of Exodus like the Ten Plagues of Egypt and Moses keeping himself veiled (34:33), and Miriam’s ‘punishment’ of being infected with leprosy in the Book of Numbers (12:10). Manetho also claimed that Sethos (Seti I) was dubbed Aegyptus, which is where Egypt got its name. His brother Armais rebelled against Sethos while given charge of Egypt and defeated, and Manetho claims that Armais was called Danaus. In Greek myth, Danaus was the twin brother of Aegyptus, and when Aegyptus offered to marry his 50 sons to Danaus’ 50 daughters, Danaus fled to Argos, just north of Sparta, and received protection from King Pelasgus, an eponym for the Pre-Hellenic Pelasgians. The Greek historian and geographer, Strabo, whose first writings appears some time between 7 and 18 A.D., wrote that the Pelasgians were also called Danaans.

All of this Josephus considers to be nothing more than fanciful stories and cites as proof Manethos’ own admittance that this story is based not on Egyptian records but from unknown sources. From Josephus’ point of view, all Greek writers had no regard for historical truth, always preferring rhetorical displays rather than the “serious” history writing of the oriental tradition. The remarks are nothing if not ironic considering the respect given by modern scholars to Greek history-writing and how little faith is given towards Oriental texts, which are notorious for lacking cited sources. Josephus himself is normally viewed as mimicking the Greek form of history-writing rather than the Oriental form.

However, there are some interesting parallels to be made with this tradition. In Genesis, Dan is one of the twelve sons of Jacob, each of whom represents one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Dan’s mother was not one of Jacob’s two wives but the handmaiden Bilhah, which some scholars have interpreted to mean that the Danites were believed to have not been completely Israelite. Homer’s Illiad also refers to a tribe of Dan, or “Danaans,” who live with the people of Argos and helped fight against Troy. Herodotus said that by following the line from Danae, the original Dorians who founded Greek culture could be traced back to the Egyptians. Another myth says that there was a Danaus who fathered three daughters that were worshipped on the island of Rhodes off the Aegean Sea, where Danaus had stopped between his trip from Egypt to Greece in order to found a sanctuary to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Another suspected link is with the Denyens, a group of people associated with the Sea Peoples who attacked Egypt in the 1100’s B.C. and settled along the coast by the Philistines.

The first century historian Tacitus repeats a tradition that the Jews were originally “refugees from the island of Crete who settled on the remotest corner of Libya in the days when, according to the story, Saturn was driven from his throne by the aggression of Jupiter.” and that the name ‘Judaei’ had come from a “barbarous lengthening of ‘Idaei,’ the name of the people dwelling around the famous Mount Ida in Crete.” Tacitus also mentions that there were other opinions that the Jews came from Ethiopia and southern Turkey, but assures the reader that most authorities agreed that the Jews were expelled from Egypt on the advice of an oracle of Hammon (or Amen) because they carried a plague with them. The pharaoh who expelled them is listed as Bocchoris, but the closest parallel that can be found to that name is Pharaoh Bakare from the 700’s B.C., far too late. Tacitus also says that Moses built channels of water to quench the thirst of the Israelites, paralleling the “water from stone” miracle stories in the Torah. He also says they traveled for six days without rest and expelled the inhabitants of Canaan and took over their lands on the seventh, a completely different take on the “40 years” wandering through the desert. Fasting is said to commemorate the hunger they endured and the Sabbath was set aside to mark the end of their toils, another detail that makes sense in context of the Exodus story but which is not actually in the story or a part of Jewish tradition.

Another historian from the first century, Diodorus of Sicily, wrote that the Egyptians exiled the foreigners of their lands not only because of a pestilence they believed to be divinely-ordained, but also because they practiced “different rites of religion and sacrifice” while the Egyptians’ own “traditional observances in honor of the gods had fallen into disuse.” This could possibly be a reference to the Aten heresy brought on by the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, who built a new capital in Armana and who lost many family members to a plague that hit Egypt at the time. According to Diodorus, Danaus and Cadmus were cast ashore in Greece, but the majority of the people who were exiled had been led into Judea by Moses, “outstanding both for his wisdom and for his courage.” Moses, not Joshua, is said to have taken possession of the land and founded Jerusalem, and was credited with drawing up their laws and dividing the Israelites into twelve tribes.

Jewish tradition teaches that the Sanhedrin goes all the way back to Moses, when 70 elders of Israel were ordered by God to stand before Moses in the Tent of Meeting, as told in the Book of Numbers (11:16). Its name is believed to have either come from “Sin-hadrin” (“Sinai Glorified”), or son'im hadarath pan'im b'din (“Opponents give respect and honor to its judgment”). But most scholars believe it is actually derived from the Greek word synedrion, which means “sitting together” or “assembly,” placing its establishment some time after the 300s B.C. Some ancient sources refer to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem as the Gerousia, the Spartan Council of Elders, and its been suggested that the Judeans had established the council due to the influence of Plato and the Spartans. The earliest it can be traced back to is to the late first century B.C., when Hillel was Nasi, or leader of the Sanhedrin, at which point the position became hereditary.

Returning to the story in 1 Maccabees, the Seleucid king Demetrius II once again raised up an army to defeat Jonathan and the two met in the region of Hamath. Jonathan received word that they were going to attack by night and so kept his men alert, but word of this made its way back to the enemy. The Greek army kept fires burning to cover their escape, and Jonathan tried to pursue them, but the enemy managed to cross the Eletherus, so Jonathan “turned aside against the Arabs who are called Zabadeans, and he crushed them and plundered them.” Hearing Joppa was ready to hand the city over to Demetrius’ men, Simon marched into the city and took it by surprise, then fortified the walls of Jerusalem and Adida. When Cretan soldiers pillaged Antioch, the people rebelled against Demetrius II, which allowed a general named Diodotrus Trypho to use the infant child of Alexander Balas as a contention for the Syrian throne. He decided to try and kill Jonathan, supposedly fearing “that Jonathan might not permit him,” but perhaps also wanting to gain legitimacy in doing so, so he marched to Beth-shan and convinced Jonathan that he would give him control of Ptolemais if he only disbanded most of his army and went with him. Desiring an ally against Demetrius, Jonathan fell into Trypho’s trap and was captured in Ptolemais (modern Acre in Israel) and presumed killed. The nation mourned for him and it is said that now that Judah was weakened, the surrounding nations made plans “to blot out the memory of them from among men.”

Simon, now the last living son of Mattathias, took the reigns of leadership. Trypho brought an army to Judah and claimed the only reason he was holding Jonathan was because of the money he owed the royal treasury. He offered to return Jonathan for 100 talents of silver and two of Jonathan’s sons as hostages so that Jonathan would not rebel against him. Simon did not trust him, but since he worried what the rest of the nation would think if he refused he paid the ransom, only to have Trypho break his word. Trypho tried to bring food to a citadel in Adora, but was unable to because of snow, and so he killed Jonathan and returned home. Simon buried Jonathan and had pyramids made for all his dead family members who had given their lives fighting against the Seleucids. In 138, Trypho claimed that the young son of Alexander Balas, Antiochus VII, had died while undergoing necessary surgery. Maccabees reports that he “dealt treacherously with the young king Antiochus” and killed him in order to crown himself king of Asia. As Trypho plundered the country, Simon decided to ally himself with Demetrius, who was now fighting against the Parthians in northeast Iran. Once again the crown tax was cancelled and Judah was recognized as a legitimate self-determining nation. Simon then put Gazara to siege and made peace with the people before cleansing the city of idolatry and resettling it with “men who observed the law.” He did the same for the citadel in Jerusalem, and then declared a national holiday reminiscent of the Triumphal Entry from the gospels:

“On the 23rd day of the second month, in the 171st year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. And Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing.” He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men dwelt there. And Simon saw that John [Hyrcanus] his son had reached manhood, so he made him commander of all the forces, and he dwelt in Gazara.”

The First Book of Maccabees goes on to tell how Demetrius II invaded Parthia and was captured by King Mithradates I, ushering in a new era of “peace” for Simon. This “peace” is said to have included extending the borders of his nation, but the writer of 1 Maccabees describes it in nostalgic detail, speaking of how “Old men sat in the streets; they all talked together of good things; and the youths donned the glories and garments of war.”

When Rome and Sparta learned of Jonathan’s death, they are said to have written their condolences, praising his glory and honor, and acknowledged Simon as high priest. Simon is said to have sent a relative of his, Numenius, “son of Antiochus and Antipater, son of Jason,” along with a golden shield to prove his alliance to the Romans. Between the three nations and many of the priests of Judea, it was decided that bronze tablets confirming that the priesthood belonged to him and his family. In 141 B.C., these tablets were established on the pillars of Mt Zion, a “conspicuous place” in the holy sanctuary, and within the treasury. They spoke of the glory that Jonathan and Simon brought the nation and at the end says:

“‘And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise, and that he should be governor over them and that he should take charge of the sanctuary and appoint men over its tasks and over the country and the weapons and the strongholds, and that he should take charge of the sanctuary, and that he should be obeyed by all, and that all contracts in the country should be written in his name, and that he should be clothed in purple and wear gold. And none of the people or priests shall be permitted to nullify any of these decisions or to oppose what he says, or to convene an assembly in the country without his permission, or to be clothed in purple or put on a gold buckle. Whoever acts contrary to these decisions or nullifies any of them shall be liable to punishment.’ So Simon accepted and agreed to be high priest, to be commander and ethnarch of the Jews and priests, and to be protector of them all.” -1 Maccabees 14:41-49

The phrase “until a trustworthy prophet arise” is one of those literary enigmas that catches a lot of attention with scholars because of what can only be called an intentional gloss over by the author. The words could easily be interpreted as a desire for the Temple rights to be transferred away from the Maccabee family, yet that is hard to believe since it is written in what is an otherwise very pro-Simon book. It’s almost as if the writer believed that that the Maccabees needed the Temple (and its financial power) for now, but would like to have seen it returned once “a trustworthy prophet” showed everyone that the time was right. It certainly goes against the flow of the rest of the narrative, and it has been suggested that it’s the language of compromise. The phrase presumes that the age of prophecy had not yet ended, yet earlier in 1 Maccabees it says that there had been a distress “such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.” (9:27).

At that point, Trypho took power in Syria, but Demetrius II’s brother, Antiochus VII Sidetes, made a pact with Simon to fight Trypho. With a superior force, Antiochus took control of Syria and pursued Trypho into Israel to the city of Dor. Numenius is then said to have returned with a letter from the council of Rome telling Ptolemy to hand over any “pestilent man” who had escaped from Jerusalem to Egypt, no doubt in contention to Simon’s new authority. The same message was then copied and spread to all the cities across the Mediterranean. Simon then sent 2000 men to help Antiochus, but its said that Antiochus refused to accept them and then broke off all their agreements. He sent a messenger asking Simon to either hand over the cities of Joppa and Gazara or pay 500 tablets of silver. Otherwise, they would be invaded. Simon contended that those two cities had caused him great damage but offered 100 tablets instead. At that time, Trypho escaped Dor by ship and sailed to Orthosia, in Phoenicia. Antiochus charged his general Cendebeus to invade Judea while he pursued Trypho.

The last chapter of Maccabees tells how Simon summoned his two oldest sons, John Hyrcanus and Judas, and told them that although he had fought for Israel in his younger years, he had become old, and so it was time for them to take his place and fight for the nation. John and Judas brought 20,000 men to Modein where Cendebeus had camped out. When his men became afraid to cross a necessary stream of water, John Hyrcanus crossed it first, showing them that it could be done, so that they followed him. He then divided his army and put the cavalry in the middle to protect them since he knew that Cendebeus had a larger cavalry. The strategy worked, and although Judas was injured, John was able to pursue the Syrian army to Kedron and the fields of Azotus. John set the field on fire, killing 2,000 of them, and then returned to Jerusalem. “Hyrcanus” is believed to be a regnal name, and tradition says he earned it after the battle with Cendebeus, his real name being Yohanan Girhan.

The book does not end on a happy note however. When Simon and two of his sons, Judas and Mattathias, went to see his son-in-law, Ptolemy son of Abubus, in Jericho, a great banquet was held in his honor. But the son-in-law betrayed hem, getting Simon and his sons drunk before ambushing and killing them. Ptolemy, who had been appointed to Jericho by the Greeks, then sent word to the king, asking to send troops and to have all the cities turned over to him. Ptolemy also sent captains to John in order to “give them silver and gold as gifts,” but a report came to John Hyrcanus at Gazara telling him what had happened and warning him that the men were being positioned to kill him, and so John was able to have them executed. The book then ends saying that the rest of John’s deeds are written in the chronicles of his priesthood. Jewish tradition says that John Hyrcanus wanted to exact revenge on Ptolemy, but when he besieged his son-in-law in fort Dagon, John Hyrcanus’ mother was produced and tortured every time they got close. Because of this he is said to have lifted the siege, but that she was eventually killed after Ptolemy managed to escape.

The first two Maccabee books were accepted into the Roman Catholic canon through the Council of Trent in 1566. It is also accepted by Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. The fact that the author gives unabashed compliments towards Rome for its faithfulness gives a sure standing for dating 1 Maccabees before Pompey’s desecration of the Jerusalem Temple in 63 B.C. The Maccabees are referred to as “Deuterocanonical,” meaning “second canon,” because their acceptance by Christians wasn’t and isn’t universal, especially in the eastern churches. The “deuterocanonical” concept itself is usually not present in Protestant churches since they tend to draw a hard line between canon and apocrypha. Protestant theologians also have problems with 2 Maccabees because of dogmatic issues with prayer for the dead, as well other things such as the merits of martyrdom, the resurrection of the dead, and also because the dream in which Onias gives Judas Maccabee a sword has been used as an example for the belief in the intercession of saints, another point of contention between Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther said that he was “so great an enemy to the second book of Maccabees, and to Esther,” that he wished “they had not come down to us at all.”

It is perhaps ironic that books dedicated towards Jewish nationalism, something Judaism had always strived for but Christianity surrendered, would be admitted into the Roman Catholic canon yet left out of the Jewish one. By accepting Maccabees, it implicitly endorses the Hasmonian Dynasty, and in effect canonizes the Sadducee party of which Jesus was in conflict with in the gospels. The installation of a Hasmonean kingdom also in some ways helped produce the Herodian kings who killed John the Baptist and supposedly committed the “Slaughter of Innocents” in the Gospel of Matthew. Every gospel portrays Jesus as speaking out against the Herodians and the Temple priesthood it was associated with. A closer look at 1 Maccabees, which is generally believed to have originally been written in Hebrew, has shown that despite its seemingly positive attitude towards the Onias priesthood, it ultimately endorses Jonathan and Simon’s appropriation of their priestly office.

There are other issues as well. Being written by a patriotic Jew, 1 Maccabees clearly considers religion and nationalism as the same thing, whereas the New Testament definitively draws a line between the two. This combination of religion and nationalism is also in many parts of the Old Testament, and perhaps Maccabee literature can still be considered within “Old Testament” times, but if the canon had not already been officially “closed” by then, there had definitely been a benchmark set since the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in the 400’s B.C., and it is notable that the Maccabees are not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Pharisees, whose name means “separatist,” tried to base their authority on the canon Ezra had set up in the mid-400’s B.C., although they would later come to accept the Book of Daniel as well.

In Invitation to the Apocrypha, Daniel J. Harrington writes, “First Maccabees is part of the canon of Scripture in the Roman Catholic, Greek, and Russian Orthodox churches. It is not recognized as Scripture by Protestants and Jews. There has been, however, a puzzling ambivalence about 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Jewish tradition. Hanukkah, which celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Jerusalem temple in 164 B.C.E. under Judas, is part of the traditional Jewish calendar of festivals. Although it is a minor holiday (except in countries where its proximity to Christmas has made it very significant), the ‘biblical basis’ for it lies in books not regarded as canonical. Since it is likely that 1 Maccabees was composed in Hebrew, its absence from the canon of Hebrew Scriptures is somewhat puzzling. These puzzlements have led some scholars to suspect that at some point in the first century there was a Jewish reaction against the Maccabees and what they stood for, and a deliberate attempt to push them out of the sacred tradition of Judaism. Perhaps ‘messianic’ claims were being made about Judas Maccabeus or some other figure who traced his ancestry back to the Maccabean movement. Perhaps in light of failed uprising against the Romans by Jews claiming to follow the example of Judas and his brothers, the custodians of the Jewish tradition found the Maccabees too controversial and dangerous. The revival of interest in the Maccabees as men of action and noble warriors in the modern state of Israel suggests that these suspicions have some basis in fact.”

Rise of the Hasmonean Kingdom

After his battle with general Cendebeus, John Hyrcanus was besieged by Antiochus VII Sidetes, taking up where his captured brother Demetrius II had left off, even to the point of marrying Demetrius’ wife, the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra Thea. Jerusalem had a secret well tunnel though, so the besieged did not suffer from lack of water like the Syrian army did, but the city did suffer from lack of supplies, which caused John Hyrcanus to expel everyone who did not carry arms out of the city. Finally, a peace accord was made, and Hyrcanus agreed to pay 300 silver talents then and 200 talents more later in tribute for some of the Syrian cities he had conquered. In order to pay the sum, its said that he was forced to open the sepulcher of King David and take the treasure from it. Rather than allow Jerusalem be occupied, he handed over prisoners, including his own brother. Their weapons were handed over and the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed once again.

In the mean time, the Parthian king Mithradates not only kept Demetrius II alive but very off. Mithradates even had Demetrius II marry a Parthian princess named Rhodogune, of whom he had children with. He had tried to escape and return to Antioch twice but was forgiven both times. During one of these times, his friend Kallimander had traveled through Babylonia and Parthia in order to rescue him, although in the end both were captured. Rather than punish Kallimander, Mithradates rewarded him for his loyalty to Demetrius. In 130, Antiochus marched against the Parthians with Hyrcanus as his vassal. Mithradates decided to release Demetrius in hopes the brothers would fight each other over the throne, but soon after the release Antiochus was defeated and was either killed or committed suicide in defeat. Because of this, Mithradates tried to recapture Demetrius but failed, and the Syrian king returned to Antioch for a second reign.

Syria, however, had lost must of its power and prestige since Demetrius II was gone and his second go-round was seen as a failed one. With Roman support, John Hyrcanus used this period of Syrian weakness to expand on his own borders. He conquered Madaba, on the Jordan bank, and Samaya on the Sea of Galilee in 129. According to Josephus, he then conquered Shechem, the ancient one-time capital of Israel and one of the most important Samaritan cities. The Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hatred between one another, starting with when the Babylonian Jews in captivity returned to reclaim Judea, but this age-old bitterness was multiplied by a significant amount when John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim some time around that year.

Cleopatra Thea gave Demetrius an army to help her fight against her brother Ptolemy, but his troops eventually deserted, and in retaliation, Ptolemy raised up a rebel in Syria named Alexander Zabinas, a supposed son of Alexander Balas. When Demetrius was defeated in battle at Damascus in 126, he escaped to the southern Nile city of Ptolmais Hermiou, only to find that his wife Cleopatra had closed the gates on him. It is said that he tried to escape by ship, but was then murdered on her orders.

Starting from 125, Cleopatra Thea ruled jointly with Antiochus VIII Grypus, her son by Demetrius. Their rule was challenged by their eldest son, Seleucus V Philometer (his surname ironically meaning “Lover-Mother”), prompting her to put him to death. It’s said that after four years of ruling through her son, Cleopatra one day offered Grypus a glass of wine after he had come back from a hunt, and that knowing she didn’t normally do that, he forced her to drink it, causing her to die from her own poison. However, the story may have been inspired by the fact that Grypus was believed to have written several poems about poisonous herbs. Grypus would come to become a very popular king, although his conscious image of Tryphe, living the good life, would come to instill in him the image of lavish decadence. He would also find himself in a civil war with his half-brother/cousin Antiochus IX Sidates, surnamed Cyzicenus.

About that time Hyrcanus opened up the sepulcher of David once again to pay for a foreign army and used it to conquer the Idumeans, the descendants of the Biblical Edomites, in 125. He dismantled the defenses in the Idumean cities of Adora and Marissa, and then forced them to observe Jewish rites and laws, including circumcision, and in doing so, incorporated them into the Jewish nation. In an article on John Hyrcanus by Richard Gottheil and Meyer Kayserling at, it says, “This is the first instance of forcible conversion in Jewish history. In this Hyrcanus allowed his zeal for the Jewish cause to lead him to take a step which later wrought harm; for to the Edomites belonged the family of the Herodians, who were to bring about the ruin of the Hasmoneans.” Other than that, it describes him as a “wise and just ruler and a skillful warrior.”

According to Josephus, John Hyrcanus was a product of a Pharisaic upbringing, although the name Hyrcanus shows some amount of Hellenization. Some of his religious ordinances shows Pharisaic influence. He had Psalm 44 stricken from the Temple liturgy because of the anthropomorphic lines insinuating God was sleeping and hiding his face. He also decreed that sacrificial animals were not to be wounded before they were killed. However, his attitude towards the Pharisees eventually changed and he withdrew all religious authority from the Sanhedrin and declared himself a Sadducee around 120.

During a great festival attended by both Pharisees and Sadducees, John Hyrcanus is said in Antiquities to have asked the leaders of the Pharisees if there was anything they wished to bring before him. A Pharisee named Eleazar ben Po’era, “a man of an ill temper, and delighting in seditious practices” demanded that John Hyrcanus relinquish his claim to the priesthood and be content with temporal power (13:10). When Hyrcanus asked for the reason why, Eleazer told the king that his mother had been a captive of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, seeming to insinuate that he was the bastard son of a foreigner, which according to the Torah would make him ineligible to take part in any religious assembly. According to another source, quoted by Gottheil and Kayserling in the Jewish Encyclopedia, it was an old man named Judah ben Gedidim who made the claim that his mother had been a captive in Modin. Hyrcanus is said to have ordered an investigation which proved the allegation untrue and that Judah was flagellated for the accusation. Josephus concurs that the rumor was false. But then a Suduccee named Jonathan became one of Hyrcanus’ best friends and according to Josephus he was able to use Eleazar to split him with the Pharisees. He told Hyrcanus to ask the Pharisees what Eleazer’s punishment should be. They replied that he should receive “stripes and binds” rather than death, which Josephus claimed was characteristic of their merciful nature, but which was used by Jonathan as proof that the Pharisees had no respect for the king. Hyrcanus then left the party, replaced the Pharisee statutes with the Sadducean statutes as the standard interpretation of the Law, and punished any Pharisees who continued to observe their own statutes. Despite this, Josephus claims that the Sadducees were able to “persuade none but the rich,” while the Pharisees kept the “multitude on their side.”

Meanwhile, the dynastic intra-family intrigue in Egypt had devolved into a pattern very similar to Syria. In 116, Ptolemy VIII, called Psychon (meaning “Potbelly”), at his death left his throne to his wife, Cleopatra III, but asked her to make a son of her choice king to rule as co-regent. Although she wanted to elevate her younger and more impressionable son, Ptolemy X Alexander, the Alexandrians forced her to crown her older 14-year-old son, Ptolemy IX Soter II, nick-named Lathyros, meaning “Exciter.” However, in exchange, Lathyros was forced in 115 to put away his current sister-wife, Cleopatra IV, and marry a younger sister, Cleopatra Selene, who, as mentioned in an earlier chapter, may be identifiable with Queen Helene of the Sepher Toldoth Yeshu. The younger Ptolemy was sent to rule in Cyprus, while mother and son ruled Egypt jointly. However, the Samaritans had sent a request to Lathyros to help fight Hyrcanus when they were being put to siege, and although he wished to help, his mother was against it. According to Josephus, contention soon grew between mother and son on whether to give favorable treatment to the Jews who lived in Egypt because of this.

Cleopatra III, Ptolemy IX “Lathyros,” Ptolemy X Alexander, and Cleopatra Selene

Shortly before the story of John Hyrcanus’ trouble with the Pharisees, Antiquities tells how the sons of Onias IV made an alliance with her against Lathyros:

“Now it happened at this time, that not only those Jews who were at Jerusalem and in Judea were in prosperity, but also those of them that were at Alexandria, and in Egypt and Cyprus; for Cleopatra the queen was at variance with her son Ptolemy, who was called Lathyrus, and appointed for her generals Chelcias and Ananias, the sons of that Onias who built the temple in the prefecture of Heliopolis, like to that at Jerusalem, as we have elsewhere related. Cleopatra entrusted these men with her army, and did nothing without their advice, as Strabo of Cappadocia attests, when he saith thus, ‘Now the greater part, both those that came to Cyprus with us, and those that were sent afterward thither, revolted to Ptolemy immediately; only those that were called Onias’ party, being Jews, continued faithful, because their countrymen Chelcias and Ananias were in chief favor with the queen.’ These are the words of Strabo.” -Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 10

After 6 years of co-rulership, Cleopatra III was able to depose Lathyros in 110 after claiming that he had tried to kill her, and the younger brother Alexander returned from Cyprus to take his place, having already been using the title of king for 4 years. However, Alexander’s attempt at ruling failed and he was replaced by Lathyros the next year, seemingly with their mother’s consent. Alexander made another failed attempt to take the throne beside his mother in 108 before succeeding in 107, after which Lathyros was forced to flee to Cyprus, leaving Selene and his sons behind. Alexander then fathered Ptolemy XI Alexander II with an unknown woman in 105 and remarried Cleopatra Berenice III, daughter of Lathyros and his discarded wife, Cleopatra IV. That same year Cleopatra III took over her son’s clerical role and became the priestess of Alexander the Great. They sent a naval force after Lathyros, but he was able to escape to Syria for a while. Selene meanwhile remarried Antiochus VIII Grypus, who was allied with Cleopatra III and Alexander, while Grypus’ rival Cyzicenus married Cleopatra IV and allied himself with Lathyros and the Samaritans.

Historians generally agree that the Hasmonean dynasty achieved its peak in power around this time. In War of the Jews, Josephus describes John Hyrcanus as “a very happy man” since it was he alone who “had three of the most desirable things in the world: the government of his nation, and the high priesthood, and the gift of prophecy,” although one of these prophecies was that his two eldest sons would not continue to rule under the title of “master of government.” This was said to have been fulfilled after Hyrcanus died in 104. Although Hyrcanus is said to have bequeathed the priesthood to his son Aristobulus and the kingdom to his wife as “Queen regent,” Aristobulus desired the unchecked power that his father had had and so allied himself with his brother Antigonus to have their family imprisoned, including his brother, Alexander Jannaeus.

Aristobulus is said to have proclaimed himself king and was the first Jew to put on the diadem, or jeweled tiara. The Pharisees saw Aristobulus’ act as an attempt to usurp the title, since he was no more from the House of David than he was a Levite or a son or Aaron. The declaration of kingship by Aristobulus, if true, was so unpopular that he did not even imprint it on his coinage but only imprinted his title as high priest in Hebrew. He is generally perceived by historians to have been a Hellenized king, so adapting the title may have been perceived as necessary in order to receive acknowledgement from other Hellenized nation-states. Not just rulers but important officials of Judea also adopted Greek names.

Aristobulus’ wife was named Salome Alexandra, who is generally regarded to be the same Queen Alexandra who would later be wife of Alexander Jannaeus and then final regent of a unified Judea. Josephus insinuates this but never directly identifies the wife of Aristobulus and the wife of Jannaeus as being the same Alexandra, so it has been hypothesized that Josephus presumed that Jannaeus had followed the Levite law of marrying the widow of a childless brother. According to G.R.S. Mead, Queen Alexandra is also the most likely (or rather, least unlikely) choice for the role of Queen Helene of the Sepher Toldoth Yeshu. Her brother was Simeon ben Shetach, an important Pharisee scholar and Nasi of the Sanhedrin, and in the Toldoth, he is the teacher of Mary’s negligent fiancé, Jochanan, and the person that Judas goes to in order to betray Yeshu.

Aristobulus’ mother starved to death in prison and it wasn’t too long after that that Aristobulus got very sick. While he was in his sickbed, some of his men began to tell him how pompous Antigonus had been acting, and so he gave the order that if Antigonus came to him with armor on, that they should slay him. His wife, presumably the same woman Josephus later calls Alexandra, knew this and decided to do away with Antigonus by giving him some jeweled armor with the message that Aristobulus wanted to see him in it. Josephus reports that a man named Judas the Essene prophesized that Antigonus would be killed in Strato’s Tower and upon seeing Antigonus hours away from the predicted spot near the end of the day, the prophet lamented that it would be good for him to die now since one of his predictions had been found false for the first time. However, he later came to learn that Antigonus was killed in a subterranean place that was also called Strato’s Tower, proving his prophecy true. An intriguing prophecy from an Essene with an intriguing name; Alexandra’s actions most likely would have been greatly appreciated by the Essenes as well as the Pharisees. After Antigonus was killed, Josephus says that Aristobulus repented the crime, which only caused him more agony, so much so that he vomited blood. When Aristobulus heard that a servant slipped and spilled some of the vomited blood on the spot where Antigonus’ blood stained the ground, Aristobulus burst into tears, realizing that God was punishing him for killing his mother and brothers, at which point he died, having reigned less than a year.

Josephus describes how after Aristobulus died, Salome released his younger brothers and made Alexander Jannaeus king. Josephus says that as a child, Jannaeus was hated by his father, and relates a tale of how when Hyrcanus asked God in a dream whether Aristobulus or Antigonus would inherit his kingdom, he was despaired at being shown an image of Jannaeus, and so had the boy sent to Syria. Josephus says that one of Jannaeus’ other brothers contended his declaration as king and was killed for it, but that another brother “chose to live a private and quiet life.” Jannaeus is described by Josephus as being chosen as king because he was older in appearance and temperament than his other brothers, although he would come to be hated by a great number of his people. Strabo, our Greek geographer, said that while the successors of Moses were righteous and pious “there were others that took upon them the high priesthood, at first superstitious and afterward tyrannical persons.” Aristobulus may have kept his declaration as king only partially known throughout his short reign as Strabo, seemingly by mistake, says that it was Jannaeus who first became openly tyrannical and declare himself “king instead of a priest” (Book 16, p. 761).

After taking the crown, Alexander Jannaeus was in continuous warfare from 104 to 98 B.C. He put Ptolemais in Egypt under siege, causing the city to immediately send for help from Lathyros, although according to Josephus a man named Demenetus was able to convince the city that it would be better being ruled by the Jews than to risk Cleopatra III’s retaliation (13:12). When Lathyros came down to the city with 30,000 men, Jannaeus lifted the siege and retreated, but then offered an alliance in which he would pay Lathyros 400 talents of silver to depose a tyrant in Gaza named Zoilus and give the city to the Jews. Lathyros deposed Zoilus, but then learned that Jannaeus had made a secret alliance with his mother, so in retaliation he had his generals continue the siege on Ptolemais, which kept its gates closed to him, while he personally led a contingent into Judea. Josephus says that Jannaeus took 50,000 to 80,000 soldiers out to defend against him, but that Lathyros conquered the city of Asochis in Galilee on a Sabbath day and enslaved 10,000. Lathyros then lost many men in a failed attempt to take Sepphoris, and then fought Alexander Jannaeus at Azophon on the Jordan. Jannaeus caught the army while it was crossing the river, but delayed his attack hoping to catch the entire army between his forces and the river. This turned out to be a poor decision as Josephus says that Jannaeus had the better army and was winning at first, but Lathyros was able to call an auxiliary force that put Jannaeus’ army to flight. Josephus tells how Lathyros had his men overrun Judea and had the women and children of the country boiled and consumed as sacrifices in order to terrorize the Jews, a claim backed by Strabo and Nicholas of Damascus.

In 103, Ptolemy X Alexander sent his newborn son to the city of Kos in Greece before going after Lathyros in Judea, and campaigned in Damascus before returning. Lathyros then attempted to retake Egypt while its army was gone, but failed to do so, after which he took refuge in Gazara before returning to Cyprus. Ananias, son of Onias IV, advised Cleopatra III to make an alliance with Alexander Jannaeus and in February of 102, Cleopatra III defeated Lathyros near the Egyptian city of Pelusium, but 19 months later, her son Alexander had her killed. In the year 100, Alexander’s wife Berenice accepted Ptolemy XI Alexander II as the recognized king, although the boy was still in Greece. But then Grypus died of natural causes in 96, forcing Selene to marry her dead husband’s nemesis, Cyzicenus. The eldest of her six sons by Grypus, Seleucis VI, however, did not accept the marriage and succeeded in raising an army to defeat and kill Cyzicenus in early 95, only to be killed by Cyzicenus’ son, Antiochus X Eusebes. Selene then married her son’s killer that same year and had two sons by him.

Hardly disheartened from his earlier loss to Lathyros, Jannaeus took Gadara in Jordan after a 10-month siege, and then took Amathus, the strongest fortress in Jordan. But after taking its spoils, he was ambushed by their owner, Theodorus, son of Zenon, and lost the spoils along with the lives of 10,000 Jews. Recovering from this defeat, Jannaeus managed to gain control of the entire coast of Palestine, from Mount Carmel in the north to Egypt in the south, with the exception of Ashkelon, because of the city’s strong ties with Egypt.

However, Jannaeus’ Hellenization and militarism left him alienated with his own people, particularly the Pharisees. According to Josephus, enslaving the people of Gaza caused the Jews to initiate an insurrection during the next festival in which 6,000 of them were put down using Pisidian and Cilician mercenaries. According to JewishEncyclopedia.Com, the insurrection was caused by Jannaeus when he insulted the Pharisees by offering a water liberation as high priest at the Feast of Tabernacles and let the water run down to his feet. This enraged the onlookers and he was pelted with citrons that were being carried as part of the ceremony. The Pharisees gave him the name “Son of the Captive,” referring to the earlier accusation against his father that he was not a full Jew and ineligible as high priest. Jannaeus then built a partition wall of wood around the altar and the temple to obstruct everyone except the priests from getting near him during the ceremonies.

Jannaeus later made a push into Arabia, conquering them along with the Gileadites and Moabites. However, he lost his entire army after being ambushed by Obodas, king of the Arabians, and escaped to Jerusalem only to find more insurrections. He put these rebels down as well, although Josephus says in War of the Jews that he had “no reason to rejoice in these victories” and tried to supplicate his subjects with talk, only to find that “this mutability and irregularity of his conduct made them hate him still more. And when he asked them why they so hated him, and what he should do in order to appease them, they said, by killing himself; for that it would be then all they could do to be reconciled to him, who had done such tragical things to them, even when he was dead.”

The insurgents are said to have even invited Demetrius III Eucerus, son of Grypus, to invade Judea in 95 and take over the government, as long as it meant deposing Alexander Jannaeus. When the two armies met each other, Jannaeus tried to bribe the Jews of Antioch to join him while Demetrius tried to bribe Jannaeus’ men to betray him, with both attempts failing. Close-quarter combat ensued and Demetrius was the winner, although Josephus reports that “Alexander’s mercenaries showed the greatest exploits, both in soul and body.” Jannaeus fled into the mountains, yet Josephus says that 6,000 of the Jews who invited Demetrius switched back over the Alexander in pity and forced Demetrius to retreat from the country. His enemy defeated, Jannaeus then turned to the opponents that he perceived to be traitors and is said to have killed 50,000 Jews from 95 to 89 B.C., until the civil war came to a head:

“However, the rest of the [Jewish] multitude did not lay aside their quarrels with him, when the [foreign] auxiliaries were gone; but they had a perpetual war with Alexander, until he had slain the greatest part of them, and driven the rest into the city Berneselis; and when he had demolished that city, he carried the captives to Jerusalem. Nay, his rage was grown so extravagant, that his barbarity proceeded to the degree of impiety; for when he had ordered 800 to be hung upon crosses in the midst of the city, he had the throats of their wives and children cut before their eyes; and these executions he saw as he was drinking and lying down with his concubines. Upon which so deep a surprise seized on the people, that 8,000 of his opposers fled away the very next night, out of all Judea, whose flight was only terminated by Alexander’s death; so at last, though not till late, and with great difficulty, he, by such actions, procured quiet to his kingdom, and left off fighting any more.”

According to an article written by Prof. Louis Ginzberg on JewishEncyclopedia.Com, the 8,000 Pharisees who fled Jerusalem emigrated to Egypt and Syria, with Judah ben Tabbai leading the ones to Egypt. The ones who went to Syria were said to have met with intense violence and that most of them were massacred near Chalcis, leaving only a small remnant who took refuge in Bet Zabdai.

With Alexander Jannaeus crucifying hundreds of his own people as his victims watched their family members get tortured to death before them, it is hard to think of a less likely ally to the Essenes, yet that is what is implied by a copied letter referred to as the Prayer for King Jonathan, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

[Column B] “A song of holiness unto king Jonathan and all the congregation of your people, Israel, who are in the four winds of heaven, peace be [for] all, and upon your kingdom, your name be blessed.

[Column A] “Praise the Lord, a Psalm… of You loved as a fa[ther]; you ruled over… vacat… and your foes were [will be] afraid… the heaven… and to the depths of the sea… and upon those who glorify him… the humble from the hand of adversaries… Zion for his habitation, ch[ooses]…

[Column C] “…because you love Isr[ael]… in the day and until evening… to approach, to be Remember them for blessing on your name, which is called… kingdom to be blessed… for the day of war… to King Jonathan…”

Since no Jew had proclaimed himself king before Aristobulus, nearly all scholars have presumed it to be meant for Alexander Jannaeus. The finding was quite unexpected since it has long been presumed that the Qumran community had moved out of Jerusalem as a rival spiritual movement in opposition to the Hasmonean priesthood around the time of John Hyrcanus’ reign. However, we also have Josephus’ uncorroborated report that the wife of Aristobulus fulfilled Judas the Essene’s prophecy, which could mean that Salome Alexandra was an Essene sympathizer who was able to convince her second husband to make concessions towards them. Antiquities says that Jannaeus had crucified the 800 men on the advice of Diogenes of Judea and that after Jannaeus died, Alexandra had that advisor put to death. Other, less likely possibilities are that the scroll has been misinterpreted due to the missing fragments or that another, otherwise unknown contender to the throne had the same name. Another more presumptuous supposition has been made that the letter was brought in by a Sadducee convert and so did not reflect the opinion of the Dead Sea community. A more likely possibility, assuming there even was a conflict between the Dead Sea community and Jannaeus, is that the praises were diplomatic in nature. The sons of Onias IV had convinced Cleopatra III to make an alliance with Jannaeus against Lathyros despite the fact that they were Judean dissidents, so it would not be too surprising if the Essenes were a part of this alliance or a similar one.

One of the Jews who fled from Jannaeus’ persecutions was Joshua ben Perachiah, the leader of the Sanhedrin who is also mentioned as being the teacher of Yeshu, both in the Babylonian Talmud and in the 12th century Abraham ben Daud quotation. Ben Perachiah is said to have escaped to Egypt, along with Yeshu, which may have provided some of the background for the story about Jesus’ escape to Egypt as a child. The Jerusalem Talmud instead identifies Yeshu’s teacher as Yehudah ben Tabbai, another teacher who fled to Alexandria along with ben Perachiah. The Sepher Tolodth Yeshu makes no mention of ben Peraciah or ben Tabbai, but instead says that Yeshu’s teacher was named Elchanan. However, it also says that his birth-name, Yehoshua (or Joshua), came from Mary’s brother, which may insinuate that Joshua ben Perachiah was Yeshu’s uncle. It also says that Yeshu’s mother was from the House of David and that he was somehow related to Queen Helene, who may be identifiable with Queen Alexandra, sister to Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach. As G.R.S. Mead wrote in Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?: “Here we have the close relationship of Jesus to the most distinguished Rabbis of the time.” (p. 317).

The Babylonian Talmud uses a story of Yeshu’s childhood to emphasize that rabbinical teachers should provide harsh discipline towards their students, but not so much as to create a permanent breach with them. In Sanhedrin 107b it says:

“The Rabbis taught: The left should always be used to push away, and the right, on the other hand to draw nearer. But one should not do it as Elisha who pushed Gehazi away, nor as R. Joshua ben Perachiah, who pushed away Yeshu with both hands. What was the problem with R. Joshua ben Perachiah? When King Jannai ordered the extermination of the Rabbis, R. Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu fled to Alexandria. When it was safe to return, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach sent him a letter:

“‘From me, Jerusalem the holy city, to the Alexandria in Egypt, my sister. My spouse tarries in your midst, and I sit desolate.’

“Joshua set off at once. During the trip they happened upon an inn in which they treated him with great respect. Joshua commented, ‘How fair is this inn.’ Yeshu replied, ‘But Rabbi, she has unattractive eyes.’ Joshua replied, ‘You godless person, do you fill your mind with such things? Then he had 400 trumpets sounded and excommunicated him. Yeshu often came and said to him, ‘Receive me back.’ Joshua paid no attention. One day, while Joshua was reciting the Shema, Yeshu came to him, hoping for a reprieve. Joshua made a sign to him with his hand. Yeshu misunderstood, thinking he had been repulsed, so he went away [and] set up a brick [idol] and worshipped it. Joshua said to him, ‘Repent!’ Yeshu replied, ‘I learned this from you: ‘Anyone who sins and causes the people to sin, is not allowed the possibility of repentance.’’

The Teacher said: ‘Yeshu practiced sorcery and corrupted and misled Israel.’

When Joshua ben Perachiah returned to Jerusalem, probably in 78 B.C., he was re-elected as Nasi of the Sanhedrin, with Simeon ben Shetach taking the office of vice president. After ben Perachiah died, Simeon became Nasi and Judah ben Tabbai became vice president. However, the attitude towards the Pharisees changed again for some reason and all of them, even Simeon, were once again forced into hiding. It’s said that Alexander then invited some Parthian envoys to his table. His guests were said to have missed Simeon’s words of wisdom and on this Alexander once again allowed the queen’s brother to rejoin the court, vowing not to harm him. Simeon is said to have taken a place at the table between the king and queen and said, “The wisdom which I serve grants me equal rank with kings.”

Some time later, King Aretas III of the Nabataean kingdom, after conquering Damascus, invaded Judea so that Jannaeus fought him at Hadid and lost, and thus was forced to bribe him to leave. Aretas took command of an important road between Jerusalem and Jaffa and Alexander retaliated by capturing Nabataean cities in Moab and attacking Bashan and Gilead. From 85 to 82, he successfully conquered 5 cities east of the Jordan, including the heavily defended fortress of Gamala.

Josephus reports that throughout the last 3 years of his life Alexander Jannaeus lost his health to heavy drinking and began having terrible fevers yet refused to quit campaigning, so that the combination of war and drink brought his death at Ragaba, a fortress beyond Jordan. Before he died in 76, he is said to have bequeathed the throne to Alexandra, who was present at his deathbed. He is reported as telling her, “Fear neither the Pharisees nor those that are not Pharisees, but guard thyself against the dyed ones [hypocrites] who do the deed of Zimri and expect the reward of Phineas.” This referred to an event in the Book of Numbers (25:14), in which a Hebrew named Zimri was killed by Aaron’s son Phineas for marrying a Midianite woman. For his “zeal for the law” Phineas was rewarded with the Levite priesthood that God had already been bequeathed to his father, Aaron. The warning by Jannaeus appears to refer to a group of Jews who were allied with other nations and desired to usurp the priesthood. This group could easily be the Onias dynasty, which had ties to Egypt and possibly Syria and more than likely desired their Temple rights to be restored to them. But another possibility is that it is a reference to those who had called for Demetrius III to depose him.

In chapter 15 of Antiquities, Josephus says that as Alexander Jannaeus lay dying, his wife “came to him weeping and lamenting, and bewailed herself and her sons on the desolate condition they should be left in.” She reminded him of the hatred that the nation bore him and so he advised her to return to Judea and secure the kingdom before allowing anyone to know that he had died, and after that she should “go in triumph, as upon a victory, to Jerusalem, and put some of her authority into the hands of the Pharisees; for that they would commend her for the honor she had done them, and would reconcile the nation to her…” Although he blamed the Pharisees for fanning the flames of hatred against him, he knew that a political compromise would be necessary to maintain control of the kingdom. He even told her to give the Pharisees his body in order to honor or abuse as they saw fit, knowing it would force them to give him a glorious funeral. He also told her to promise that she would “do nothing without them in the affairs of the kingdom.” As Jannaeus predicted, Alexandra was accepted as queen after his death and his body was interred in Jerusalem with the approval of the Pharisees.

Queens of the Orient

Queen Alexandra came to be well-loved by the people “because she seemed displeased at the offenses her husband had been guilty of.” Her eldest son was Hyrcanus II, who Josephus said was “unable to manage public affairs, and delighted rather in a quiet life.” Alexandra made him high priest “because he was the elder, but much more because he cared not to meddle with politics, and permitted the Pharisees to do every thing;” Her younger son, Aristobulus II, in contrast was “an active and a bold man.” Political power was returned to the Pharisees and the people were once again ordered to obey the practices that Hyrcanus I had abrogated, so that, as Josephus says, the queen was regent in name only and the Pharisees “differed in nothing from lords.”

The era came to be known in later times as the Golden Age of the Pharisees. The Haggadah (Ta’anit, 23a; Sifra, Hukkat, 1: 110) says that during her rule rain fell only on Sabbath nights so that the working class suffered no loss of pay through the rain falling during their work-time. The fertility of the soil was said to have been so great that the wheat grew as large as kidney-beans, the oats as large as olives, and the lentil seedpods as large as gold coins. The sages were said to have preserved some of the plants in order to prove that when people obeyed the Torah, God would reward them with a fertile harvest.

The queen’s brother, Simeon ben Shetach, disposed of the Sadducee penal code and installed his own supplement to the Torah laws, almost all of which were directed against the Sadducees. One important addition he made restricted divorce so that a man couldn’t invest his wife’s dowry and then leave her destitute. He also established schools in the larger cities for children to the Pharisee interpretation of scripture and for the first time made it compulsory to attend. In the Megilat Ta’anit of the Mishnah, he is referred to as “the restorer of the Law” and the one who “has given back to the crown of learning its former brightness.” He is also famed for his honesty as well as his total adherence to the Law. In the Yerushalmi Bava Metzia of the Talmud, there is a story of how his pupils found an expensive jewel on the donkey he had purchased from an Arab, and upon returning it to its owner, the Arab exclaimed “Praised be the God of Simeon ben Shetach!” (2:8c).

According to the Mishnah, Simeon ben Shetach, “hung” 80 women at Ashkelon on charges of witchcraft during that time (1:9). In the article, “Jesus and the Temple Scroll,” German Prof. of Theology Otto William Betz says that these “hangings” were crucifixions against political enemies of the Pharisees under the authority of his sister the queen. As referenced in the book, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, by James H. Charlesworth, Betz writes: “The motif of witchcraft was introduced in order to justify the penalty of crucifixion. The practice of sorcery and witchcraft could be condemned as blasphemy, because the secret name of God was used in incantations (cf. b.Shab 75a). Thus the crime of qilelat 'elohim [‘accursed by God and men’] (Deut 21:23) was committed, which had to be punished by crucifixion.” However, if political expediency was the case for these public executions, it would be assumed that men, not women, would be the principal victims of the purge.

The illegal use of the name Yahweh for magical incantations is also the principal indictment made against Yeshu in the Sepher Toldoth Yeshu, and Yeshu was also said to pay tribute to a divine virgin mother who personified wisdom, saying, “Did not a virgin bear me? Did not my mother conceive me in the top of her head?” Mention of this same Sophia figure is found strewn about the General Epistles as well. This tradition of feminine wisdom can be seen as going back to Isaiah’s verses on the “Virgin Daughter of Zion,” also called the “Daughter of Jerusalem,” (37:22) but could easily have been interpreted by patriarchal monotheists as worshipping false gods. But contrast Isaiah’s free use of feminine iconography to Jeremiah’s argument with the women who tell him, “We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.” (44:17). Jeremiah grows angry and shouts out, “Go ahead then, and do what you promised! Keep your vows! But hear the word of Yahweh, all you people of Judah in Egypt. This is what Yahweh of Armies, the Elohim of Israel, says: ‘I swear by my great name,’ says Yahweh, ‘that no one from Judah living anywhere in Egypt will ever again invoke my name or wear, ‘as surely as Adonai Yahweh lives.’ For I am watching over them for farm, not for good; the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed. Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand -- mine or theirs.” (44:25). With a quadruple correspondence to Egypt, female worshippers, the use of Yahweh’s name, and libations towards Yahweh’s wife, I would argue that this reflects an age-old cultural disparity between the polytheistic Yahweh/Judah/Aaron/Zadok/Jerusalem tradition of which Isaiah is a part of and the monotheistic Elohim/Israel/Moses/Abiathar/Shiloh tradition that Jeremiah is a part of.

According to the Yerushalmi Sanhedrin of the Talmud, the relatives of the women who were killed brought false witnesses against Simeon’s son and convicted him of a capital offense, but on the way to his execution he protested his innocence so sympathetically that the witnesses admitted that they had lied (23b). The judges were about the liberate Simeon’s son, but the son himself objected, reminding them that the Law said a witness could not withdraw his accusation, and said to his father, “If you desire that the welfare of Israel shall be strengthened by thy hand, then consider me as a beam on which you may tread without regret.” His son was executed, and it had been put forward that this is the reason he wrote a warning that witnesses should always be cross-examined.

According to Josephus, “the queen also took care of the affairs of the kingdom, and got together a great body of mercenary soldiers, and increased her own army to such a degree, that she became terrible to the neighboring tyrants, and took hostages of them: and the country was entirely at peace, except for the Pharisees; for they disturbed the queen, and desired that she would kill those who persuaded Alexander to slay the 800 men;” She allowed them to kill several of them, “one after another,” and many of the “most potent” of her husband’s old advisors were able to convince Aristobulus II to openly oppose his mother saying that “if he had an opportunity, he would not permit his mother to go on so.” These men told her that it was not worthy that they should have braved the hazards of their enemies only to be slain like “brute beasts” at home. They also reminded her that the Arabian king Aretas would give “any reward” to hire them as auxiliaries and told her that they would rather be jailed in fortresses or be put to death immediately at the palace gates instead of waiting to be killed by the Pharisees in the future. Then, when the men called on the ghost of Jannaeus to console the slain, the bystanders were said to have broken out into tears.

In what seems to be an issue paralleling the dynastic conflicts in Egypt and Syria, Aristobulus II also took issue with the fact that the nation was ostensibly being run by a woman, and impugned her supporters by saying, “Nay, indeed, the case is this, that they have been themselves the authors of their own calamities, who have permitted a woman who, against reason, was mad with ambition, to reign over them, when there were sons in the flower of their age fitter for it.” In response, Salome gave authority over all the fortresses of the kingdom to Aristobulus, except for the three that held the principal treasuries. She later sent Aristobulus with an army to fight a king from Damascus named Ptolemy, whom Josephus says was nicknamed Menneus. Menneus was said to have been a “bad neighbor to the city,” but Aristobulus did “nothing considerable there, and so returned home.”

Josephus says that it was about this time news was brought that Tigranes II the Great, the king of Armenia, invaded Syria with 500,000 men, bringing down the Seleucid Empire, and it was believed he would next be headed for Judea. Tigranes II had been a prisoner of the Parthians, and like Demetrius II, had been released, but in this case only after 25 years and after ceding 70 “valleys” to them. At the age of 40, he returned to Armenia to consolidate power around an empire that had already been founded by the Artaxiad Dynasty. After his captor, Mithradates II, died, he recovered his 70 valleys and then conquered Mesopotamia in 88 B.C. before invading Phoenicia and Cilicia five years later. Josephus says, “This news, as may well be supposed, terrified the queen and the nation. Accordingly, they sent him many and very valuable presents, as also ambassadors, and that as he was besieging Ptolemais; for Selene the queen, the same that was also called Cleopatra, ruled then over Syria, who had persuaded the inhabitants to exclude Tigranes.” As for the presents and ambassadors that Queen Alexandra sent, Josephus says they worked well in turning Tigranes’ favor.

The 2nd century Greek historian Appian of Alexandria says that Selene’s husband, Antiochus X Eusebes, was defeated by Tigranes II in 83 B.C., although Josephus says the Syrian king was killed 8 or 9 years earlier fighting the Parthians. So starting from somewhere between 92 or 83, Cleopatra Selene was living in Cilicia. Meanwhile, her son Philip I had taken the crown in 95 and had established himself in Antioch by 92 while surviving attacks from his brother, Demetrius III Eucaerus. After being defeated by Tigranes or someone else, Antiochus XII Dionysus, another son of Grypus, took up the crown in 87. Although Dionsysus had been marginalized to the southern areas of Syria, he nevertheless took the titles of “God Manifest,” “Father-lover,” and “Beautiful Victor.” He even made raids against Judea and attempted keep the Nabataean Arabs in check until he was killed in battle with Nabataeans in 84, after which Selene appears to have ruled Damascus. This may have provided the backdrop for deciding the case of Yeshu ben Panthera, since most of his miracles were said to have been done in Upper Galilee, but the location of the queen would have to of been changed to Jerusalem later, possibly reflecting a confusion with (Salome?) Alexandra.

Some time after Tigranes’ invasion, Selene brought her two youngest sons, Seleucus VII Philometor and Antiochus XIII Asiaticus, to Rome in order to get them recognized as kings of Egypt. Although she was unsuccessful in this, they were accepted as kings of Syria and are known to have maintained a royal estate from at least 75 to 73 B.C. Seleucus VII Philometor, who was unknown until recently, appears to have continued minting coins under the title of king even during the occupation by Tigranes from 83 to 69, even though only a few cities still remained loyal at this time. He is also believed to be the same king derogatorily known as Seleucus Kybiosaktes, or “Fish-Butcher,” who in 56 married Berenice IV, sister to the famed Cleopatra VII of Egypt. But the marriage was said to have been done against Berenice’s will and she soon had her husband strangled to death for his lack of manners, although she herself was eventually defeated the next year by her father, Ptolemy XII Aueletes, with the help of the Romans. After defeating his daughter, Ptolemy is said to have had her head brought to him on a plate, similar to how King Herod’s daughter Salome was said to have had John the Baptist’s head brought to her.

Damascus was finally taken by Tigranes II in 72 B.C., and in 69 Cleopatra Selene was arrested and killed at the age of 66, effectively ending 250 years of Seleucid rule. If Selene is the original Queen Helene, then that would mean Yeshu could probably have only attended her court some time between 84 and 72 B.C. Tigranes II was the first to mint Armenian coins, and the coins he produced after adopting the Seleucid practice show him wearing a crown showing a star with a curved tail on it. An ABC News article from May 19, 2004 tells how American and Italian researches have suggested that the shooting star is a reference to Halley’s Comet, which should have been visible in the sky on August 6, 87 B.C. Alexander Jannaeus also minted widow’s mite coins with stars and anchors on them. Some theologians have suggested that the comet’s return in 12 B.C. may help explain the story of the Star of Bethlehem, although the date is too early for both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Unlike most astronomical phenomenon, a comet would be one of the few kinds of “shining stars” that could appear to be pointing in a particular direction. Tigranes may have seen Halley’s comet as heralding a new era of Armenian supremacy. Tigranes himself took on the later Christian title of “King of Kings,” and Cicero spoke of his success in war as making “the Republic of Rome tremble before the prowess of his arms.”

Two coins depicting Tigranes II with a star crown
and a widow’s mite minted by Alexander Jannaeus

So what happens if we try to extrapolate the story from of the Star of Bethlehem from the Gospel of Matthew backwards to the 87 B.C. appearance? Dating Yeshu’s birth at 87 would make him about 9 years old when he was excommunicated by Joshua ben Perachiah on the way from Egypt to Jerusalem. Assuming Queen Alexandra was Queen Helene, Yeshu would have had to of visited her some time from between when he was 11 and 20 years old. Selene would have been dethroned by the time he was 15 and dead when he was 18.

The Roman consul Lucullus, after running Tigranes’ ally and father-in-law, Mithradates VI, out of his home country of Pontus (in modern day Turkey, on the south shore of the Black Sea), turned his attention to Armenia, forcing Tigranes to return and defend his country in 69. Although outnumbered, Lucullus defeated Tigranes’ army at Tigranocerta after non-Armenian guards betrayed the king by opening up the city gates to the Romans. Lucullus defeated Tigranes and Mithradates again the next year in the Battle of Artaxta, but couldn’t proceed into the Armenian city because of a revolt brought on by soldiers who had grown angry over continuous marches through barren terrain, all the while serving longer than the required 20 years of service and despite fresh troops being raised behind them. The revolt was led by Lucullus’ brother-in-law, Publius Claudius, who felt he had been disrespected by the Roman consul, ultimately allowing Tigranes and Mithradates to retake most of their kingdoms.

After this close call with Tigranes, Josephus reports that Queen Alexandra fell into a “dangerous distemper,” and that it was this, coupled with the fear that the Pharisees would retain power after the queen died, that caused Aristobulus II to attempt a coup on his mother. He rode away in the night with his friends and servants to secure the fortresses of Judea, starting with Agaba, leaving his wife and children in Jerusalem to be arrested and held in the fortress that was over the Temple. However, the coup worked well, and Aristobulus was able to secure 22 “strong places” of Judea in 15 days. Josephus says that the queen was by this time very ill, and Hyrcanus II tried to convince his mother to surrender to Aristobulus, but being unconcerned with public affairs, she became resolved to fight it out since they still had an army and the bulk of the treasuries. However, she died soon afterwards at the age of 73, after 9 years of rule, from 76 to 67 B.C. Josephus concludes his 13th book of Antiquities by saying:

“A woman she was who showed no signs of the weakness of her sex, for she was sagacious to the greatest degree in her ambition of governing; and demonstrated by her doings at once, that her mind was fit for action, and that sometimes men themselves show the little understanding they have by the frequent mistakes they make in point of government; for she always preferred the present to futurity, and preferred the power of an imperious dominion above all things, and in comparison of that had no regard to what was good, or what was right. However, she brought the affairs of her house to such an unfortunate condition, that she was the occasion of the taking away that authority from it, and that in no long time afterward, which she had obtained by a vast number of hazards and misfortunes, and this out of a desire of what does not belong to a woman, and all by a compliance in her sentiments with those that bare ill-will to their family, and by leaving the administration destitute of a proper support of great men; and, indeed, her management during her administration while she was alive, was such as filled the palace after her death with calamities and disturbance. However, although this had been her way of governing, she preserved the nation in peace. And this is the conclusion of the affairs of, Alexandra.”

Jesus the Rain Maker?

After the queen’s death, her two sons began to fight over the kingdom. Hyrcanus II took an army to Jericho, but when many of his men deserted to Aristobulus II’s side, the older son took refuge in the fortress holding Aristobulus’ wife and children. A peace deal was struck in which Aristobulus inherited the kingdom and Hyrcanus was allowed to keep his estate, solemnized by an oath and a shaking of hands in front of the multitude.

But Hyrcanus had an Idumean friend named Antipater, an important official in the Hasmonean kingdom, who according to Josephus was “in his nature an active and seditious man; who was at enmity with Aristobulus, and had differences with him on account of his good-will to Hyrcanus.” His name was originally Antipas, the same name as his father, who had been the general in charge of Idumea after Alexander Jannaeus had conquered it and had also “made a league of friendship with those Arabians, and Gazites, and Ascalonites, that were of his own party, and had, by many and large presents, made them his fast friends.” The name Antipater, however, was the same as one of Alexander the Great’s original generals. Antipater was married to a woman named Cypros, a daughter of one of the “eminent men” or Idumea, who bore him four sons and a daughter, the second son being the future Herod the Great, who was born in 73 B.C. This friend of Hyrcanus began to secretly rile many powerful Jews against Aristobulus, reminding them that Hyrcanus was the older brother. He also tried to convince Hyrcanus that Aristobulus was getting constant advice to have him killed, but Hyrcanus “gave no credit to these words of his, as being of a gentle disposition, and one that does not easily admit of calumnies against other men,” although Josephus said that these attributes caused accusations that he was “unmanly.”

But eventually Antipater convinced Hyrcanus II to flee with him to King Aretas of Arabia, after which the two of them promised that if Aretas would help Hyrcanus take control of Judea, the 12 Arabian cities that Alexander Jannaeus had conquered would be restored to his kingdom. Aretas invaded Judea with 50,000 men and defeated Aristobulus, and the younger brother was forced to flee to Jerusalem. Josephus reports that after this defeat, most of the public support went over to Hyrcanus while the priests remained loyal to Aristobulus. Josephus describes how Aristobulus was forced to take refuge in the Jerusalem temple:

So Aretas united the forces of the Arabians and of the Jews together, and pressed on the siege vigorously. 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. Now there was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous man he was, and 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. This man had hid himself, because he saw that this sedition would last a great while. However, they brought him to the Jewish camp, and desired, that as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he would in like manner make imprecations on Aristobulus and those of his faction. And when, upon his refusal, and the excuses that he made, he was still by the multitude compelled to speak, he stood up in the midst of them, and said, ‘Oh God, the King of the whole world! since those that stand now with me are thy people, and those that are besieged are also thy priests, I beseech thee, that thou wilt neither hearken to the prayers of those against these, nor bring to effect what these pray against those.’ Whereupon such wicked Jews as stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death.

Josephus makes no mention here as to whether this Onias is related to the previously mentioned Onias family. Assuming the Onias dynasty would have considered themselves the rightful priests of Jerusalem, it would be surprising to hear a descendant of the dynasty refer to the besieged clerics, who were mostly Sadducees, as God’s “priests,” though the quote may just be a paraphrase. Given the time that had elapsed since the priesthood had been stolen from Onias III, it shouldn’t be too surprising if this generation of Oniads would have considered both the priests in Heliopolis and Jerusalem to be legitimate.

Onias is said to have hid himself before the Passover he would be arrested in, just as Yeshu did in the Toldoth, just as Jesus does in the Gospel of John (11:54). The Teacher of Righteousness, who presumably was also a teacher and a “righteous man,” is said in the Damascus Document to have taken his followers and “escaped to the north,” where he formed a “New Covenant in the Land of Damascus.” Onias’ death, like that of both Yeshu and the gospel Jesus, is positioned around the Passover. His ability to control the weather can also be compared to Jesus’ calming of the storm, which is related in the Synoptic gospels as one of his more remarkable miracles, and one of the few in the Synoptics not related to healing. His final act, calling God not to bring his wrath on either side might be compared to a verse that was added to the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus asks God to forgive those who were crucifying him “for they do not know what they are doing.” (23:34).

Josephus continues:

But God punished them immediately for this their barbarity, and took vengeance of them for the murder of Onias, in the manner following: While the priests and Aristobulus were besieged, it happened that the feast called the Passover was come, at which it is our custom to offer a great number of sacrifices to God; but those that were with Aristobulus wanted sacrifices, and desired that their countrymen without would furnish them with such sacrifices, and assured them they should have as much money for them as 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 them. But when the others had received it, they did not deliver the sacrifices, but arrived at that 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. And when the priests found they had been cheated, and that the agreements they had made were violated, they prayed to God that he would avenge them on their countrymen. Nor did he delay that their punishment, but sent a strong and vehement storm of wind, that destroyed the fruits of the whole country, till a modius of wheat was then bought for eleven drachmae.

This part of the story about God’s retribution seems to be pregnant with a separate sin-retribution story. It makes no sense that Hyrcanus’ men would be punished by succeeding in stealing something like $40,000 from their enemy, and the crop-destroying storm is said to have come about because of the prayers of the priests on Aristobulus’ side. It looks as if Josephus tried to tie the story of the stoning of Onias to the story of the uncompensated bribe so that the destructive storm would be interpreted as punishment for both of them.

This same Onias is referenced in the Jewish Mishnah by his Hebrew name, Khoni ha-M’agel, or Honi the Circle-Drawer. According to JewishEncyclopedia.Com, he was an Essene of high repute and a descendant of Moses. He was said to have had many pupils, and according to the Ta‘anit, was a great scholar who was known for clear and lucid replies to all questions and answered all objections given to him by rabbis. Yet no halakah of his traditions has been preserved and his death by stoning is not mentioned.

Ta’anit 3:8 starts by saying that the shofar horn was blown due to any public distress, “but not because of too great an abundance of rain,” and then proceeds to tell of a story in which there was such a calamity. A group of people are said to have went to Honi and asked him to pray for rain to fall. Honi confidently told them to “Go out and bring in the Passover ovens [made of clay] that they be not softened.” He then prayed, but no rain fell. Failing that, he drew a circle and stood within it and said before God, “Oh Lord of the world, your children have turned their faces to me, for I am like a son of the house before you. I swear by your great name that I will not stir from here until you have pity on your children.” At this, a slight drizzle appeared, but Honi only replied, “Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill the cisterns, pits, and caverns.” When it began to rain with violence, he said, “Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of goodwill, blessing, and graciousness.” This caused the rain to fall in more moderation, yet it continued until the Israelites had to go up from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because of the rain. The people then went to him and said, “Just as you prayed for the rain to come, so pray that it may go away!” Honi replies for the men to go and see if the Stone of Strayers (also translated as the Stone of Claimants) had disappeared. When the story was copied over to the Palestinian Talmud, an explanation is written for this:

“What is the Stone of Strayers? Everyone who had lost something would take it from there, and everyone who found something would bring it there. He [Honi] said to them, ‘Just as it is impossible for the Stone to be eliminated from the world, so it is impossible to pray that rain will stop.’”

The Mishnah goes on to tell how after this incident, Queen Alexandra’s brother, Simon ben Shetach sent a message to Honi saying, “Had you not been Honi I would have pronounced a ban against you! But what shall I do to you? You importune God and he performs your will, like a son that importunes his father He performs His will. Of you the Scripture says, ‘Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her that bore you rejoice.’” In the Babylonian Talmud, Simeon ben Shetach says that had the drought been of the same proportion to the one that happened in the days of Elijah and King Ahab, then God would not have granted Honi’s wish and he would have used God’s name in vain. The Babylonian Talmud also records a prayer that proclaimed Honi to be the Savior of a wicked generation, and even an atoner for sin, and so fulfilled the midrash exegesis on a verse from Job:

What did the sons of the Hall of Hewn Stones [the Sanhedrin] send to Honi the Circle-Drawer?
[It was this midrash on Job 22:28-30]:
‘And you will utter a decree and it will be established for you…’
--You have decreed from below, and the Holy One, blessed be He!, established what you say from above;
‘And light will shine on your ways.’
--By your prayer you have enlightened a generation that was in darkness;
‘When they cast you down, you shall say: there is a lifting up!’
--By your prayer you have raised a generation that was low;
‘For he saves the lowly’
--By your prayer you have saved a generation bent over by sin;
‘He delivers the unclean’
--By your prayer you have delivered a generation that was unclean;
‘Yes, he will deliver you by your clear hands.’
--By the work of your clear hands you have delivered it.”
-Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a

It goes on to say that Honi had two grandsons who some 40 or 50 years later were also rainmakers in Jerusalem. One was Hilkiah, the son of Honi’s son, who was visited by two Rabbis during a great drought. While preparing bread for their children, Hilkiah told his wife, “I know that the rabbis want rain. Come, let us go up to the roof and pray for mercy. Maybe the Holy One, blessed be He!, will be pleased and rain will fall without a good deed being credited to us.” After coming back down, they met with the rabbis, and when told that they were sent to ask him to bring rain, he replied, “Blessed be the Sustainer! He did not let you need Abba Hilkiah!” But they didn’t believe him, saying, “Lord, we know that the rain came on your account!” Honi’s other grandchild, Hanan ha Nechba, the son of Honi’s daughter, had schoolchildren sent to him by the teachers during a drought. They would cry to him, “Abba, Abba, give us rain!” Honi would then address the “Holy One,” saying: “Lord of the world, do it! Because they don’t distinguish between the Abba who gives rain and the Abba who doesn’t.”

In “Enfant Terrible,” written for The Harvard Theological Review (Vol. 68, #¾, Jul.-Oct.,1975, p. 371-376), Prof. David Daube argues that the conflict between Honi and Simeon was between charismatic vs. institutionalized religions, comparing it to the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees in the gospels. In the vein of Honi and Jesus, Charismatic religion is legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities and on the philosophical or ethical order ordained by him, whereas Simeon represented a less personal, more bureaucratic form of religion based on a strict adherence to the letter of the law, as evidenced by the story of his son’s trial. Prof. John Dominic Crossan argues that Honi was not a charismatic Hasid but a magician who operated outside established religion, and that the portrayals of piety in the Mishnah and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds are later reinterpretations.

In “Eschatological ‘Rain’ Imagery in the War Scroll From Qumran and in the Letter of James,” Prof. Robert Eisenman associates the “quasi-rainmaking tradition” with the theme of the primordial flood, which the New Testament links to the Signs of the End, such as the verse in Matthew: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming o the Son of Man. For in the dates before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;” (24:37). Eisenman also points out that Avot de Rabbi Nathan (4:4) in the Talmud says that one of the rewards for proper Temple service is rain coming in on its season. The Epistle of James likewise compares the Second Coming of Christ to much-needed rain: “Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield it’s valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (5:7). The Dead Sea Scroll known as the War Scroll also refers to the End of Days with the flood of Noah, saying, “Our Soverign is Holy and the King of Glory is with us…. They are as clouds, clouds of dew covering the earth and a shower of rain shedding Judgment on all that grows there.”

It could be argued that that apocalyptic allusions to the flood would only be natural, but Genesis specifically says: “Yahweh smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclanation of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and hear, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (8:21).

Eisenman also points out that the Zaddik, or “Righteous” epithet that Josephus gives Honi is also part of a tradition found in the Kabbalah and in the Meideval Zohar, and is paralleled by both Christian scripture and the Dead Sea Scrolls, citing the Teacher of Righteousness and James the Just/Righteous. The Zohar reads: “Noah was a righteous man… after the heavenly ideal. Scripture says, ‘The Righteous One is the pillar of the world.’ [Proverbs 10:25]… So Noah was called ‘Righteous’ below… a true copy of the heavenly ideal, and… an incarnation of the world’s Covenant of Peace.” (66b). Eisenman compares this verse to the apostle James, who is also referred to as one of the “pillars” in the Epistle to the Galatians (2:8), and is said by St. Epiphanius to have also been a rainmaker. Onias also prefigures James in that he was stoned to death just prior to Pompey’s assault on the Temple, just as James was stoned to death eight years before the Temple was destroyed by Titus. In both cases, “establishment figures send representatives to the two Zaddiks asking them to condemn a seditious undercurrent; in both cases, their refusal culminates in their stoning.” Eisenman also associates this Zaddik tradition with an esoteric understanding of the Zadokite Covenant, referenced in 1 Maccabees (2:26) and Ben Sira (54:23), which he associates with the “Covenant of Peace.” The tradition of the Savior who is “hidden by God” is another attribute of the Zaddik tradition that also came to be accepted by the Twelver Shi’a sub-sect of Islam and duplicated in the legend of the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi.

In the Ta’anit of the Babylonian Talmud (23a), Honi is said to have always thought about Psalm 126, which says, “When Yahweh restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like men who had dreamed.” The verse implied that the 70 years of captivity (which were really 49 years) in Babylon were “just a dream,” and it made Honi wonder if it was really possible that people could dream for 70 years. Then one day Honi was walking down the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi told the man, “You know a carob tree takes 70 years to bear fruit; are you so sure that you will live 70 years so as to ear from it?” The man replies to him, “I found this world provided with carob trees, and my forebears planted them for me, so will I plant for my offspring.” Honi then sat down to eat next to where the carob seed had been planted, and as he slept, a small cave formed around him so that he was hidden. Honi slept for 70 years, and when he work up he saw a man gathering carobs from the tree that had grown next to him. When he asks the man if he knows who planted the tree, the man answers that it was his grandfather, and Honi realizes how long he slept. But when he goes and finds his grandson to tell him that he is Honi, his grandson doesn’t believe him. He then goes to the beit madrash, or study hall, where he hears the sages saying, “The laws are as clear as they were in the days of Honi. For when Honi entered the beit madrash, any question that the sages had, he would solve.” When Honi heard them reminiscing of his own by-gone era, he announced, “I am he!” But the sages didn’t believe him either and shunned him, which caused Honi to ask God to give him death. Thus it could be interpreted that although Honi’s name lived on in memory, his teachings were not preserved by pupils. A later unnamed Talmudic scholar added a remark to the story, saying, “Either a havruta, or death.” Havruta can mean friend or study partner. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, Honi went to sleep when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and then woke up during the construction of the Second Temple, perhaps an insinuation of reincarnation.

Aside from the obvious parallel with Rip Van Wrinkle, which was adopted by Washington Irving from German stories like Peter Klaus the Goatherd and the Grimm fairy tale Karl Katz, the story of Honi’s slumber also parallels one of the legends of Epimenides of Knossos. As mentioned in the chapter on the Dionysian Mysteries, Epimenides, the philosopher-poet referred to as a prophet in the Epistle to Titus and quoted in both Titus and Acts as saying “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons,” was said by Diogenes Laeretius to have fallen asleep in Zeus’ sacred cave in Crete for 57 years and then woke up with the gift of prophecy. According to Laertius, some authors said that the Cretans sacrificed to Epimendes as a god because he predicted the defeat of the Athenians by the Macedonian general Antipater shortly after the death of Alexander the Great. He was said to have first realized this upon seeing the port of Munychia, where Antipater’s garrison would be admitted following their surrender some 200 years later, saying “if the Athenians knew how much evil it would bring them, they would tear it to pieces with their teeth.” Epimenides’ prediction of the fall of Democratic Athens to the Macedonian Empire upon seeing the port parallels Jesus’ prediction of the Second Temple’s destruction upon seeing it.

There is also the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The Monophysite priest and poet Jacob of Saruq is known to have published the story around 520 A.D. in Edessa, a Syrian city in northern Iraq. Another Syrian manuscript from the 500’s now in the British Museum gives the number of sleepers as eight. St. Gregory of Tours, the Gallo-Roman historian also wrote a version of it in the late 500’s, and another version found itself edited into the Qur’an in the following century (18:9). Although the names of the Sleepers vary, Simeon Metaphrastes, in his Lives of the Saints from the late 900’s, lists them as: Maximillian, Jamblichos, Martin, John, Dionysios, Exakostodianos, and Antoninos. They are commemorated with feasts on the Greek Orthodox Calendar on August 4th and October 22nd and are commemorated in Roman Martyrology on July 27th.

The story tells how seven Christians in Ephesus, no doubt representing the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, were arrested by the Roman Emperor Decius in the year 250 for practicing Christianity. They were given time to recant so they gave away their possessions to the poor and went to the mountains to pray in a cave. The emperor then sealed the cave and the seven men fell asleep. Decades passed and the seven woke up in a different era, usually during the reign of Theodosius. The men went back to the city and were surprised to see crosses on all the houses. When they tried to use their old coins, the bishop and the emperor were called, and after everyone learned of the miracle, the sleepers died praising God. Simeon Metaphrastes wrote that during the reign of Theodosius there were heretics who denied the resurrection of the body, and by appearing, the Seven Sleepers proved to everyone that God could raise the dead in bodily form. He also said that the emperor wanted to build the men golden tombs but they appeared to him in a dream and asked to be buried in the earth of their cave instead. This he did, but also adorned the cave with precious stones and had a great church built over it so that every year the feast of the Seven Sleepers would be kept.

Another version of the story found in the Qur’an includes a dog as one of the sleepers. In that version the time lost is 300 years and by that time the calendar had changed from the Gregorian to the lunar calendar. There is also an Anglo-Norman poem, Li set dormanz, or The Seven Sleepers, written by a man named Chardry, which can be found in a collection of hagiographies from the 1200’s by Jacobus de Voragines called Golden Legend. There is a similar tale told by Aristotle about sleepers at Sardis, a city close to Ephesus and home to one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. There are also variants of the “sleeper” legend found in Slav, Indian, and Chinese lore. A modern version of the story was made out of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, called Future Imperfect, in which Cmdr. William Riker is trapped on the planet Alpha Onias III, where he is tricked into thinking that he was infected by a toxic gas that re-manifested itself 16 years later, causing him to forget the entire period of time following his initial infection, in essence, making him “fall asleep” and come back to life in the future. .

Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom

After describing the death of Onias, Josephus continues on in Antiquities, telling how Pompey sent a politician from a patrician family named Scaurus to Syria while he went to Armenia to finish off Tigranes II the Great (taking Tigranes’ rebellious son with him). Finding Damascus taken by “Lollins and Metellus,” Scaurus went to Judea. He was met by ambassadors from both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, each trying to bribe him with 400 talents of gold in order to side with him against his brother. Josephus says that Scaurus chose Aristobulus because “he was rich, and he had a great soul, and desired to obtain nothing but what was moderate; whereas, the other was poor, tenacious, and made incredible promises in hopes of greater advantages; for it was not the same thing to take a city that was exceeding strong and powerful, as it was to eject out of the country some fugitives, with a greater number of Nabateans, who were no very warlike people.” Scaurus then raised the siege and ordered Aretas to leave or be declared an enemy to the Romans. After Scaurus left for Damascus, Aristobulus raised an army and fought Aretas and Hyrcanus at a place called Papyron, killing Antipater’s brother, Phalion, along with 6,000 men.

In the mean time, Tigranes the Great, now 75 years old, surrendered to Pompey, and was allowed to keep some parts of his kingdom for 6,000 talents of silver. His rebel son of the same name, who Tigranes the Great had already previously defeated in battle and who had already sided with Pompey, was sent back to Rome as a prisoner, while the elder Tigranes would remain an ally to Rome for another 11 years. Josephus says that after Pompey marched through southern Syria, he received ambassadors from Syria, Egypt, and Judea. He cites Strabo as saying that Aristobulus sent Pompey a golden vine, which some called a “garden,” but which he called Terpole, or “the Delight,” it was said to be worth 500 talents, or 4,000 gold pieces. It was placed in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, although the inscription was said to have made it a gift of Alexander Jannaeus, not Aristobulus. Hyrcanus sent Antipater to Rome complaining that Scaurus had taken a 400 talent bribe and that the Roman counsul and general, Gabinus, before him had taken a 300 talent bribe, but these accusations only made them more enemies.

Bust of Pompey
Statue of Tigranes II

Pompey then brought his army towards Damascus, destroying Antiochus Cyzicenus’ citadel in Apamia, and taking the lands of Ptolemy Menneus, Dionysius of Tripoli, and Silas the Jew, all of which were “wicked” men according to Josephus. In Damascus, he listened not only to Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, but to the representatives of the Jews who did not want a king at all “because the form of government they received from their forefathers was that of subjection to the priests of that God whom they worshipped; and [they complained], that though these two were the posterity of priests, yet did they seek to change the government of their nation to another form, in order to enslave them.” Hyrcanus and “no fewer than a thousand Jews” argued he had the right to Judea by virtue of being the elder, and that Aristobulus had invaded neighboring countries and was engaged in piracy. Aristobulus argued it was Hyrcanus’ “inactive” temper that had lost him the government, leaving Aristobulus to take the reigns in order to prevent the kingdom from being taken over by others. Aristobulus also called some witnesses, but they came so dressed up and ornamented that they seemed to the court to be “marching in a pompous procession” rather than pleading their cause in a court of justice. Pompey ruled against Aristobulus “for his violent procedure,” and then sent them away, promising to settle the rest of their affairs after he had dealt with the Nabataeans.

But Aristobulus decided not to wait, and so went to the city of Delius, which Pompey had promised him, and raised an army to march into Judea. When Pompey heard this, he turned his army around and went back, causing Aristobulus to flee to a mountain fortress called Alexandrium. Not wanting war with Rome, Aristobulus’ men convinced him to give up the fortress and send commands for his men in other cities to stand down. He then went to Jerusalem and started to prepare for another war, causing Pompey to break camp at Jericho and head for Jerusalem, and on the way there, Pompey received word that Tigranes’ former ally, Mithradates VI of Pontus, had been assassinated by his son, Pharmaces. When Pompey arrived in 63 B.C., Aristobulus characteristically opened the gates and appeased him with a bribe, but when Gabinius was sent to procure the bribe, he found the city closed to him. At this, Pompey threw Aristobulus in prison, took his children hostage, and then put the city to siege.

Those who were loyal to Aristobulus closed themselves off in the Temple while the rest of the men opened the city gates up to Pompey. Pompey offered Aristobulus’ men an accommodation, but when that failed, he put the Temple’s north side under siege with Hyrcanus’ help. Pompey had a bank raised over the ditch separating him from the Temple, which Josephus claims could never have been finished except for the fact that it was done on the Sabbath. By then, a exception to the rule had been adapted so that Jews could defend themselves on the Sabbath, so the Romans made sure not to engage them on that day but only work on the bank, lest it would allow the besieged to attack those who were constructing it. Once finished, Pompey invaded the Temple and cut the throats of the priests who were still there, offering sacrifices to God rather than running for their lives, which Josephus assures us “not a mere brag,” and cites Stabo, Nicolaus of Damascus, and Titus Livius as witnesses to the fact.

A battering-engine broke down the largest of the towers, and the Romans poured in, led by Cornelius Faustus and the centurians Furius and Fabius, killing 12,000 Jews with very few loses. Aristobulus’ uncle and father-in-law, Absalom, was captured. Josephus says that although Pompey did enter the inner sanctum “which in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none,” he commends Pompey for not stealing the golden table, the holy candlestick, the pouring vessels, spices, and 2,000 talents of “sacred money,” because of “his regard to religion.” Nevertheless, profaning the Holies of Holies was still seen as a sacrilege to the Jews of the time.

“Pompey in the Temple of Jerusalem,” by 15th century French painter Jean Fouquet

The next day, Pompey restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus and allowed them to cleanse the Temple and make offerings. The cities of Southern Syria that Judea had conquered was put under the government of a Roman president. The wall around Jerusalem was knocked down. Gadara was rebuilt and all the cities that the Hasmonean kingdom had conquered -- Hippos, Scythopolis, Pella, Dios, Samaria, Marissa, Ashdod, Jamnia, Arethusa, Gaza, Joppa, Dora, and Strato’s Tower (later rebuilt as Caesarea) -- were all “left in a state of freedom, and joined them to the province of Syria.” Hyrcanus II had finally triumphed completely over his younger brother, but it had cost him the kingdom. Jerusalem was now a “tributary to the Romans”:

Now the occasions of this misery which came upon Jerusalem were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, by raising a sedition one against the other; for now we lost our liberty, and became subject to the Romans, and were deprived of that country which we had gained by our arms from the Syrians, and were compelled to restore it to the Syrians. Moreover, the Romans exacted of us, in a little time, above ten thousand talents; and the royal authority, which was a dignity formerly bestowed on those that were high priests, by the right of their family, became the property of private men.

Tacitus describes it this way:

“While the Assyrian, Median, and Persian Empires dominated the East, the Jews were slaves regarded as the lowest of the low. In the Hellenistic period, King Antiochus made an effort to get rid of their primitive cult and Hellenize them, but this would-be reform of this degraded nation was foiled by the outbreak of war with Parthia, for this was the moment of Arsaces’ insurrection. Then, since the Hellenisitic rulers were weak and the Parthians had not yet developed into a great power (Rome, too, was still far away), the Jews established a dynasty of their own. These kings were expelled by the fickle mob, but regained control by force, setting up a reign of terror which embraced, among other typical acts of despotism, the banishment of fellow-citizens, the destruction of cities, and the murder of brothers, wives, and parents. The kings encouraged the superstitious Jewish religion, for they assumed the office of High Priest in order to buttress their regime.” -Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, Ch. 8

Scaurus went on to invade Arabia, laid Pella to waste, but became affected by a famine in Petra. Hyrcanus II sent Antipater with a supply line, and Scaurus in turn sent him to negotiate a tribute of 300 talents out of King Aretas. One of Aristobulus’ sons, Alexander, who had escaped Pompey, was able to raise an army and overrun Judea and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the other cities. Scaurus’ successor, Gabinus, and Marcus Antonius defeated Alexander in Jerusalem and then followed him to Alexandrium, where he ultimately surrendered. At the request of Alexander’s mother, Gabinus had the remaining fortresses in Hyrcanium, Macherus, and Alexandrium demolished so that they would not be used in another war. Gabinus then put Hyrcanus in control of the Temple in Jerusalem in 57 B.C., but handed the government over to an aristocracy and divided the nation into five portions: Jerusalem, Gadara, a portion for Amathus, Jericho, and Sepphoris.

Josephus says the people were “glad to be thus freed from the monarchical government,” but once again Aristobulus II brought trouble to the country by fleeing from Rome with his son Antigonus, after which he raised an army and took Alexandrium. Gabinus sent a larger army with Siscuria, Antonius, and Servilius, so Aristobulus disbanded his non-warriors and took 8,000 soldiers towards Macherus, but was eventually overtaken. Aristobulus was confined in Rome, but his mother was able to convince Gabinius to send his children back to Judea for delivering the fortresses up to him. Then Alexander started another revolt in Syria while Gabinius was campaigning against the Parthians. Antipater, who had been supplying Gabinuius’ Parthian war, was sent to put down the revolt and defeated Alexander, killing and scattering 10,000 men at Mount Tabor. After resettling the government according to Antipater, Gabinius marched against the Nabateans and defeated them.

Julius Caesar formed an unofficial Triumvirate with Marcus Micinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) in 60 B.C., which was opposed by Marcus Porcius Cato and Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus. The alliance combined Caesar’s popularity and reputation with Crassus’ wealth and influence within the plutocratic Ordo Equester and Pompey’s wealth and military reputation. It was kept secret until the Senate tried to stop Caesar’s agrarian law to establish colonies and redistribute public lands to the poor, at which point Pompey’s soldiers filled the streets and the law was brought before the Council of the People and carried through. While Caesar expanded the Roman border to Gaul and Britain, Gabinius was replaced by Crassus, who according to Josephus, stole the gold that Pompey had left alone in the Jerusalem Temple and against the advice of his companion Gaius Cassius Longinus, used it for another expedition against the Parthians. He perished along the Euphrates river in 53, thus ending the First Triumvirate. Cassius then marched into Judea and after taking Taricheae, put 30,000 Jews into slavery, and with the help of Antipater put down another sedition loyal to Aristobulus II.

The First Triumvirate had been cemented by Pompey’s marriage to Caesar’s daughter, Julia, but after she died in childbirth in 54, the alliance became strained. Caesar tried to reseal the alliance by having Pompey marry his niece, Octavia, but Pompey instead married Cornelius Metella, daughter to one of Caesar’s greatest enemies, Metellus Scipio. Pompey then pursued an agenda against Caesar and forbade him from gaining the office of consul without turning over control of his armies, which would have been suicidal. In 49, Caesar released Aristobulus II from captivity and put him in command of two legions to take Syria, but one of Pompey’s men was able to poison the ousted king before he left. His body was preserved in honey until it was sent to be buried in Judea by Mark Antony. His son Alexander, likewise, was beheaded by Scipio in Antioch on Pompey’s orders, and Antigonus and his sisters were taken away from Aristobulus’ wife by Philippio, son to the ruler of Chalcus. Philippio took them back with him to his home on the Greek island of Euboea, where he married the youngest sister, only to be killed by his own father, Ptolemy, son of Menneus, so that he could marry her himself. Meanwhile, Pompey could have defeated Caesar at the siege of Dyrrhachium, but failed to pursue his escape, only to Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48. After Pompey escaped to Egypt, Ptolemy XIII had two of Pompey’s old comrades betray and kill him, and then presented his head to Caesar as a present. However, Caesar reportedly burst into tears at seeing the head and had the Egyptian king deposed, instead elevating his sister, the famous Cleopatra VII, to the throne.

After Pompey was assassinated, Antipater switched his allegiance to Caesar, who found himself in a bad situation fighting Pompey’s forces in Alexandria. When Mithridates of Pergamus came to his aid with more troops, he was blocked by Jewish forces in Pelusium, and after help from Syria and elsewhere was summoned to put the city in a siege, Antipater led the charge that took the city. Still, they met more resistance from Egyptian Jews from the “country of Onias,” but Josephus says that not only did Antipater convince them to let him through, but managed to get supplies and some soldiers from Memphis from them. Antipater then saved Mithradates in a battle at a place called the Jews’ Camp, an important event that Mithradates impressed upon Caesar. Josephus tells how Caesar had Antipater take other “hazardous enterprises,” which earned him wealth, Roman citizenship, and many wounds all over his body. Hyrcanus II was made high priest, but the one who truly won out from the Judean civil war was Antipater, who was also made chief minister of Judea with the right to collect taxes along with the right to promote the interests of his own house over that of Hyrcanus’, even after Caesar promoted Hyrcanus to ethnarch.

Caesar was killed in the Roman Senate on the Idea of March of 44 B.C. through a conspiracy led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Caesar’s friend Marcus Junius Brutus. Mark Antony was able to turn popular opinion against Cassius and forced him to flee to Syria, which in turn forced Antipater to side with him against Mark Antony. In the year 43, Guius Julius Caesar Octavianus joined with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Marcus Antionius (Mark Antony) to form the Second Triumvirate, which, unlike the First Triumvirate, was formally constituted and so gave them the power to assume complete political authority over the Roman state. Working to save the Republic, Antipater had his son Phasael, the governor of Jerusalem, and Herod, the governor of Galilee, as well as his enemy Malichus collect emergency taxes. Some of Malichus’ cities defaulted, but Cassius sold four of them into slavery and Hyrcanus made up the deficit.

That same year Antipater was poisoned while dining with Hyrcanus and Malichus was believed to be the perpetrator, so Herod had Cassius lure Malichus to Tyre where he was assassinated. The death of Antipater sparked another revolt, and Aristobulus II’s son Antignous tried to take advantage of the situation and take the throne. Herod defeated Antigonus and put down the rebellion, then married Hyrcanus’ teenage granddaughter Mariamne, banishing his former wife and son in the process. Mariamne herself would later be convicted of trying to kill Herod and be sentenced to death.

Cassius and Brutus began to assemble armies in Greece in order to march on Rome, but Octavian and Mark Antony brought a campaign against them and after losing two battles at Philippi in Macedonia, Cassius and Brutus committed suicide in 42. Octavian returned to Rome and Lepidus went to govern Hispania and Africa, while Mark Antony assumed the title of Dionysus in Egypt and married Cleopatra VII, who had already borne a child to the late Julius Caesar named Caesarion, and who two years later bore Antony twins named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II. Herod convinced Octavian and Mark Antony that his father had been forced to help Cassius and so was made tetrarch of Galilee in 42, upsetting the Jews further. Although Herod claimed to follow the Jewish religion, the cultural affinity of his Idumean family was Hellenistic, and most Jews did not recognize him as one of them. Both the Mishnah and Justin the Martyr attest to Jewish legends that he was not even a half-Jew but a Philistine.

In the year 40, Antigonus allied himself with the Parthians, declared himself King and High Priest, and this time succeeded in taking the throne of Judea. Despite Herod’s warnings, Phasael and Hyrcanus II went to negotiate a peace with them and was captured. Phasael committed suicide by bashing his own brains in and Hyrcanus had his ears mutilated so that he would no longer be considered a legitimate priest, since according to Leviticus: “For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his Elohim.” (21:16). Josephus says he bit the ears off. The theme is paralleled by the gospel story of one of Jesus’ disciples cutting off the ear of the servant to the high priest, and also seems to have an ironic reference in the often repeated phrase given by Jesus, “Let those who have ears hear.” Anyone who knew that Hyrcanus II was the original “Caiaphas” to Honi the Circle-Drawer might have recognized it as a veiled reference. The former high priest was eventually taken to Babylonia, where he lived in the respected company of the Babylonian Jews for four years. King Phraates IV used much of the spoils of Jerusalem to build up the city of Ctesiphon, on the east bank of the Tigris. Mark Antony, having allied with Octavian by marrying his sister Octavia in 40 B.C., went to Egypt, where he invaded Cilicia, Syria, and Parthia, having the Parthian King Pacorus killed in 39, then hoping to further avenge Crassus, invaded Mesopotamia in 36, but after a series of disasters, was forced to retreat from Armenia with heavy losses in the winter.

Having fled to Rome, Herod he was elected “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate and with the help of Mark Antony and money lent from Cleopatra, returned with a Roman army, defeating and executing Antigonus in 37, and installed himself as a puppet king to the Romans. One of the first things Herod did upon becoming king was to order the execution of 45 Sadducees of the Sanhedrin for their support of Antigonus, using their confiscated wealth to pay Mark Antony. He took away the secular powers of the Sanhedrin and made it a religious court only. He also broke the tradition of priest being a permanent position determined by family, but instead made it an office to be conferred and purchased, which eventually led to the position being changed out every year or so by wealthy Sadducee priestly families such as the Anan, Boethus, and Phiabi.

The next year, Herod invited Hyrcanus to return to Jerusalem and bestowed upon him the presidency of the state council and first place at his table. Fearing that his brother-in-law, Aristobulus II’s 17-year-old grandson, Aristobulus III, would be named “King of the Jews” by virtue of being one of the last descendants of the Hasmonean Dynasty, Herod made the young man high priest in the year 36, then is said to have secretly had him drowned in Jericho a year later. He started a war with the Nabataeans in 32 and defeated them the next year, but faced another rebellion from them after an earthquake devastated Judea.

Although the Second Triumvirate had been renewed for five more years in 38, it was broken two years later when Octavian accused Lepidus of usurping power and forming a rebellion in Sicily, forcing him into exile. Trying to bring the Roman aristocracy to his side, Octavian married Livia, the daughter of a Roman magistrate, and accused Antony of the unforgivable crime of “going native.” Ignoring summons to come to Rome, Antony invaded Armenia and when he returned successful, he threw a mock Roman Triumph on the streets of Alexandria and announced what would be known as the Donations of Alexandria: he bequeathed his son Alexander Helios Armenia and the unconquered lands in Parthia, and to Cleopatra Selene II was given Cyrenaica and Libya, with Syria and Cilicia going to the young Ptolemy Philadelphus, and worst of all to Octavian, Caesar’s son Caesarion was declared the legitimate son and heir of Caesar. In the year 32, Octavian accused Mark Antony of illegally keeping provinces and starting wars against foreign nations without the Senate’s consent, causing the Senate to deprive him of his powers and declare war on Cleopatra. Both consuls and a third of the Senate abandoned Rome to meet Antony and Cleopatra in Greece and the war began the next year. In the Battle of Actium, Antony and Cleopatra’s navy was destroyed, and in 30 B.C. both committed suicide as Octavian invaded Egypt. Caesarion was killed but Antony’s children were spared, except for his son by Fulvia, Mark Antony the Lesser. Octavian would go on to rule for 44 more years, taking on two new titles that would become a hallmark of Roman emperorship: that of Augustus, meaning “Majestic,” and Princeps, meaning “First Citizen.”

After the death of Antony, Herod promptly switched his allegiance to Octavian, and that same year charged Hyrcanus II with plotting with the Nabataeans against him and had him put to death. Herod would go on have 10 wives with a multitude of children, many of whom became very powerful while others would be charged with treason and executed, even up to Herod's last days. However, the story in the Gospel of Matthew of him killing all the babies in Bethlehem to stop the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy is generally seen by scholars as unhistorical. With Antigonus, Aristobulus III and Hyrcanus II gone, Herod became the sole ruler of Judea for 34 years, ushering in the expansive Herodian Dynasty. Caesar Augustus and Herod would become two names that represented power, stability, and prestige unlike anything since the time of Alexander the Great, but most Pharisees and Essenes saw themselves as being under the yoke of an Edomite or a Philistine, who was himself a puppet of Rome.

Herod’s momentous building projects would secure his fame, not the least of which was the massive rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. In honor of Augustus he rebuilt Samaria and renamed it Sebaste, and in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea he built the massive fortress of Masada, originally meant as a refuge in the event of a revolt, it become the final stand in the Jewish resistance in the First Jewish-Roman War. It was this conflict that brought about the deaths of James the Just, the Zealot leader Judas of Galilee, and Jesus ben Ananus, and brought Josephus to unsuccessfully convince John of Giscala to surrender the Temple so that it would not be destroyed.

The abolishment of Hasmonean kingdom was said by Mara Bar Serapion to have been precipitated the execution of the “wise king,” just as St. Epiphanias says that “the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased.” Josephus here seems to have written a very similar script in which Honi’s execution brings about God’s wrath immediately before Pompey took over the country in 63 B.C. This in turn parallels the gospel story, which transfigures the death of Jesus and the disciples James and John with the temple’s destruction. Could it be that the traditions of Honi and Yeshu come from the same source? There are many events in the life of Honi the Circle Drawer that match up with the Yeshu story.

One obstacle to this theory is the fact that Josephus places the events of Honi after the death of Queen Alexandra of Judea and Queen Selene of Egypt, while the Toldoth story has the Queen threaten the lives of the “wise men” of Jerusalem and ends with Yeshu’s body being presented to the queen. We know that the portion of the Toldoth that says Jesus was extracted from Judas’ garden to keep people from trampling on the lettuces is a very old tradition because it’s mentioned by Tertullian, but we also know that the part where Queen threatens Rabbi Tanchuma and all of “us Israelites” seems to be a later creation since the only Rabbi Tanchuma of record is the Midrash author Rabbi Tanchuma Bar Abba (Barabbas) from the mid-300’s A.D. The Queen isn’t mentioned for a good while until that point, so it may be that an earlier version of the story in which there is no mention of the Queen after Yeshu’s death. But Josephus can not be trusted too much either, since the story seems to have been clumsily forced behind the sin-retribution story of Hyrcanus II stealing 1,000 drachmae from Aristobulus II for undelivered sacrifices. Therefore it’s also possible that the original story was set before the civil war and it was later appended by Josephus or a copyist to the story of Hyrcanus’ siege since his death was also on or near a Passover as well as being intrinsically linked to the fall of the kingdom.

Another problem is resolving the two different names. If Yeshu was given the name Yehoshua at birth as the Toldoth says, why would he be referred to as Honi? It could be because his real name was stricken from the Jewish record, leading to the long tradition of nameless references to the “wise king,” or Chrestos, “good one,” in the Classical historical record. It may be possible that the name Honi became associated with him because of his family name and his association with the martyrdom of Onias III, and that the title of “Circle-Maker” was given to differentiate himself from the ancestors he was named after.

Of course, they could have been two completely different people, one from a rain-making tradition, the other from a magus tradition, one descended from the priestly line and one descended from the kingly line, one who was killed for not cursing Aristobulus II and his Sadducee party, and the other for being a bastard and a sorcerer, yet both stoned to death on or near Passover within a 20 year time frame. But could it also be a coincidence that they both went into hiding before being lured out, and that both of them were described as being in conflict with Simeon ben Shetach? Josephus may not have made any mention of Simeon being involved with Honi’s death per se, but he is definitely portrayed as antagonistic towards him in the Mishnah, and it would be a likely scenario given that it was Hyrcanus II and the Pharisees who are said to have captured him. Honi never himself claims to be either the Messiah or the Son of God, while that is one of the prime themes of Yeshu’s teachings, but the same is true about the differences between the gospels of Mark and John. Perhaps all the traditions surrounding these Messiah figures fed off each other, each seen as reincarnation of the former, from Enoch, to Melchizedek, Onias III, Honi the Circle-Drawer, the Teacher of Righteousness (if he is a different person), and perhaps Jesus ben Ananus. It’s also possible that the Toldoth is a purposeful combination of legends from the Onias dynasty, the gospels, and popular figures from the fourth century A.D.

However, it is my contention that after Honi died, he was remembered by two groups: the Essenes and what Irenaeus would call Gnostics. To the Essenes he was the Teacher of Righteousness, and to the Gnostics, he was remembered as the Savior, a wonder-worker, and the fountainhead of wisdom. The Essenes believed Honi would return as the Son of Man as written in the Book of Daniel to right all the wrongs the Romans had done to the nation of Judea, just as the author of Daniel believed Onias III would do in his own time. By the time the gospels were written, there was a litany of guesses as to who this avenging Messiah would be, as the Gospel of Matthew relates when Jesus asks: “Who do you think the Son of Man is?” (16:13). His disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Each of these people would have been considered Christians in that they believed a Messiah was going to return shortly to bring justice against the Romans. The Gnostics reinterpreted the legend of Honi through the lens of Orphic and Dionysian myth combined with the ancient Phoenician legend of redemption through the sacrifice of the Father God Elus’ only Son, Iedud. To the Gnostics, he was Chrestos Ieosus, or Jesus the Righteous, probably a derivation of Yeshu. Just as Socrates’ teachings were divided between the founder of the Cynics, Antisthenes, and the founder of Platonic thought, Plato, the Gnostics were likewise subdivided between Cynic philosophers, who saw Jesus as a new Moses who brought a wise philosophy of anti-materialism, and the Platonic mystics, like Cerinthus, who saw Jesus as a spiritual redeemer or hidden mystery.

The Cynic philosophers wrote the first gospels, early versions of Q, Mark, Peter, and Signs, drawing upon legends of Yeshu, Onias III, Honi the Circle-Drawer, and Jesus ben Ananus to create a comprehensive mythology for the Age of the Apostles. The Gospel of Mark was itself partially written to criticize the actions of James the Just, John of Giscala, and Judas of Galilee. The Cynic tradition was probably an offshoot of to the Nazarene sect that James the Just, his brother John, and Cephas were “pillars” of. The Gospel of Matthew was written more in defense of Peter, James, and John, but still contrasted themselves from Essene followers of John the Baptist. The Cynics held on to the apocalyptic beliefs of the Essenes but put less emphasis on fasting and keeping the Sabbath as the they did. The Gospel of Mark, which was first circulated around Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, makes it a point to say that James and John should not act as “high officials” who “exercise authority over them” but must instead “be a slave to all.” (10:42). Since apostles like Paul, Barnabas, and Mark renounced all forms of materialism and made themselves “a slave to all” by going out and attending to the sick and needy, they would be before them in the kingdom of heaven. Although James probably did decide in a council at Jerusalem that Gentile converts did not have to be circumcised or follow Jewish dietary law, the Cynics took it further in saying that even the Jews did not have to follow the laws of Moses any longer. These Essenes who “freed” themselves from the law and from the Sabbath were most likely the “disciples” who were “called Christians first at Antioch,” as the Book of Acts says (11:26).

The Platonic variety of Gnostics believed the Jewish Law was written in ignorance by the Demiurge, or possibly in some cases, as the Pauline epistles say, it was a contract between God and man with angels as intermediaries, and that the contract was “broken” upon Jesus’ death, which made Jews were “free” of it. These Gnostics were the originators of the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of Luke, and the gospel behind the Toldoth, and seem to have mostly been established in Egypt, Arabia, and Turkey. It is probably these Gnostics who came to be seen as the purveyors of “myths and endless genealogies,” as mentioned in 1 Timothy, which faith-based Christians found offensive (1:3). Judging from the Coptic gospels, they did not focus on the renunciation of materialism like the Cynics did and generally separated personal morality from religion and instead desired salvation through knowledge rather than purification. They perceived Jesus and the kingdom to be a secret mystery to be unraveled, and wrote sayings far more complicated and esoteric than the “wisdom literature” of the Cynics. Some of these Platonic Gnostics identified with the twin aspect of Jesus, and saw Judas Thomas as a necessary instigator who freed Jews from the “slavery” of the Law, and in some versions was said to have died in Jesus’ place.

The Johannine tradition practiced in the Presbyter churches of Turkey was a combination of both the Essene and Gnostic traditions, accepting the Old Testament as written by the one God but its laws defunct, accepting Jesus as the divine Logos of God but discarding the concept of the Demiurge, accepting Salvation as product not from Baptism or the Crucifixion, but through the Incarnation, and ironically dismissing the Gnostic concept of a transcendental “kingdom of God” and spiritual resurrection for the Essene paranoia of an immanent Paraousia and the Jewish tradition of a bodily resurrection upon a “new earth.” It’s scripture was based on John the Elder rewriting an Essene Apocalypse into the Book of Revelation and the Platonic Gnostic Gospel of Cerinthus into the Gospel of John in the 90s.

When Pope St. Victor sought to unify all of Christianity under Rome in the late 170’s, the earlier Synoptic gospels were added into the tradition, while both the Jewish Ebionites and the Hellenisitic Gnostics were simultaneously made into heretics by St. Irenaeus. Irenaeus himself was a disciple of Polycarp, a “hearer of John,” probably John the Elder. Marcion’s Gospel of the Lord was rewritten into Luke and the Epistle of Luke was rewritten by the same person into Acts of the Apostles. Paul, who no doubt was seen as a heretic by many, was enrolled into the canon as a patriarchal anti-Gnostic who reluctantly excused marriage by virtue of the Marcionite epistles being rewritten. James, who no doubt held beliefs closer to the Ebionites, was likewise adopted into the pantheon, although little if any rewriting was necessary for the generic epistles of James, 1 Peter, and Jude. And so, an alliance between Presbyter groups centered in Rome, Lyons, and Ephesus consolidated itself into the Apostolic Church, supposedly descended from all 12 disciples and Paul, thus separating itself from the rest of Christianity and making heretics of the Ebionites, the Cerinthians, the Nicolations, the Syrian and Egyptian Gnostics, the Carpocatans, the Marcionites, the Valentinians, Tatian and the Encratites, the spirit-driven Montanists, the anti-Logos Alogi, Polycarp and the Quartodecimanists who didn‘t celebrate Easter on Sunday, and the Adoptionists who believed Christ was a pre-existent spirit that had adopted the body of Jesus.