The Maccabean Revolt & Hasmonean Period (166 – 40 BC)

Please read I & II Maccabees
These are not divinely inspired scripture but do give us an account of God’s dealing with His people during this time.
Mattathias ben Johanan, the priest who refused to sacrifice to the Greek gods and slew those who demanded the Jews do such, along with the Jew who was complying.

This was a time of hard-one victory over a despised enemy, only to be followed by such bitter internal division that the Jews eventually gave away their freedom in trying to defeat one another.

Revolt against evil rulers

In 166 B.C., within a year of offering a pig on the Temple alter, Antiochus IV sent a contingent to force local villagers to sacrifice pigs to Zeus.  Still, many in Israel chose to die rather than to break the holy covenant.  When Antiochus’ men came to the small town of Modein, about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and a young man stepped forward to perform the required sacrifice to Zeus the priest Mattathias stabbed him to death, then turned on the Greek commander and killed him as well. Mattathias quickly grabbed his five sons and headed to the hills to hide, as did many of the townspeople, fearing reprisals.  Thus a rebellion was started by the priest Mattathias and his five sons.

Over the next few months more people from the countryside, including many of the Hasidim, joined them in the hills of Judea and they began a campaign of guerrilla warfare. Casualties were heavy against the much larger and better equipped Greek army. Mattathias and two of his five sons had been killed before the first substantial victory was won.

Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”
He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”  Daniel 8:13-14 NIV

Despite heavy losses, Mattathias’s third son, Judas (called Maccabeus), managed to recapture Jerusalem. The name “Maccabee” or “Maccabeus” is composed of the initial letters of a verse the Jewish people sang after God split the sea (Exodus 15:11): Mkamocha ba’eilim Hashem (מי כמוך באילים י׳) / “Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d.” It is said that this phrase was the battle cry of Maccabees, written upon their banners and shields.

On Kislev 25, 165 BC, three years to the day after the first abominable sacrifice had been offered, the temple was cleansed, new altar was rededicated and the daily sacrifices to Yahweh once again offered in the Jerusalem temple. From the time Antiochus IV had plundered the temple in 170 BC until Judas Maccabeus recaptured Jerusalem and led the people in shattering the statue of Zeus and cleansing the temple on 25th Kislev 164 BC was six years and 110 days (2,300 evenings and mornings without their proper sacrifices).   (1)

Temple cleansed and miracle lights

They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleansed the Temple. The legend is that they could only find one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest for lighting the Menorah (seven-branched golden lampstand) and re-dedicating the temple to Yahweh.  This was only enough to last one day, and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil.  Miraculously it burned for the full eight days. This re-dedication of the temple has been celebrated by the Jews every year since 164 B.C. for eight days.

Eight days is also the length of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), the holiday some say the Jewish people celebrated upon rededicating the Temple (as they had been unable to celebrate it at the proper time due to the ongoing battle). Solomon himself had chosen that very same Feast of Tabernacles to dedicate the first Temple when it was newly built. So, the eight-day festival of joy and thanksgiving would have been an especially appropriate way to commemorate this rededication of the Temple. Thus, the festival established to commemorate this victorious dedication, Hanakkah / Chanuka (Feast of Dedication, often now referred to as the Festival of Lights), lasts for eight nights (2) (3).

Priest lighting the Menorah in the Temple
Priest lighting the Menorah in the Temple

Judas Maccabeus ruled as leader of the army after his father’s death in 167 BCE. When Judas died of the Battle of Elasa (161/160 BCE), the youngest brother, Jonathan, was chosen as the new leader.  He attacked enemy armies and Jewish Hellenists alike. Through military victories and strategic alliances Jonathan achieved peace and was appointment as High Priest by the new ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Alexander Balas.  The High Priesthood was no longer primarily a religious office focused on the temple and determined by descent through the line of Levi, Aaron and Zadok (Lev. 21:1, 1 Chr. 29:22, 2 Chr. 31:10) but had degenerated into a political office appointed by a foreign power to rule the Jewish people. Thus there was no thought to send to Egypt to request someone from the high priest’s line return to Jerusalem and take up their rightful place again. Indeed, much of the purpose of the writing of I & II Maccabees was to justify the Maccabees’ holding these positions due to their bravery in battle to restoring Temple worship. 

On Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) of 153 BC, Jonathan put on the High Priest’s garments and officiated in the temple for the first time. Ten years later Jonathan was tricked and captured by Diodotus Trypho.  After the capture of Jonathan, his brother Simon became leader of the people.  He paid the ransom asked for his brother but Trypho killed Jonathan instead.  Simon had ongoing battles with Trypho until he sided with Demetrius II and received freedom from taxation and recognition of Judah’s political independence in return (142 BC).

The Hasmonean Period (142 – 40 BC)

The period from 142 BC (the date of independence) to 40 BC (the beginning of the reign of ‘Herod the Great’ under the Romans) is called the Hasmonean period, because the ruling family – the family of the priest Mattathias and his sons Judas, Jonathan, and Simon – was the house of Hasmon.   Under the Hasmoneans the Sanhedrin continued to hold an important place in Jewish life, but the autocratic tendencies developed by some of these princes led to a curtailment of its authority at times. (4)

Simon declared himself both High Priest and king (even though he was neither from the line of Zadok nor that of David, he was from the priestly Aaronic line). Combining the office of the king with that of the high priest was strictly forbidden in the law of Moses. The Essenes were among the more oppositional to this dual Hasmonean rule.

Zugos – fathers of pharisaic Judaism

Zugos (pairs) of sages

The period of the Zugos (Pairs) –

five pairs of renown pharisaic sages who shared the leadership of the developing
pharisaic movement. 

Another shift had taken place in the development of the Pharisees.  With the death of Antigonus the authority over the Torah school that he represented was transmitted to two of his disciples, Yose ben Yoezer and Yose ben Yochanan. With them began the period of the Zugos [Pairs], five pairs of renown pharisaic sages who shared the leadership of the developing pharisaic movement.  Designated Nassi (prince/president); and Av Beis Din (chief/vice president of the court), they were responsible for developing the Oral Law and heading the judgments on such.  Each of these pharisaic sages established Torah schools in their own generation to teach their disciples their wisdom and interpretation of the Torah and Oral Law. It was from their disciples that the next Zugos would be chosen on their passing. During times of pharisaic political ascendancy they also held the two top positions in the Sanhedrin.  

With the purge of Hellenists from Jerusalem, many leading Pharisees took advantage of the opportunity to gain political power and influence as members of the Sanhedrin.  They operated as a balance to Simon’s spiritual and political power and there was respect shown between the two.  The people were now freely worshipping God and had been unburdened of foreign taxes and so started to prosper. (5) (6) (7)

Each of the pharisaic sages, during this period, had a saying that epitomised their wisdom and teaching.  These are recorded and discussed in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, and give us further insight into the development of Jewish thought and prioritisation in their religious practice.

Pirkei Avot (sometimes just referred to as Avot) is among the most well known of all writings in Rabbinic Judaism. Pirkei (sayings) Avot (fathers) is one of the sixty-three tractates found in the Mishnah, the code of Jewish law compiled in the early third century C.E. from the Oral Law that was being developed throughout the time of occupation. Pirkei Avot is considered supremely important to Judaism because it justifies the authority of the rabbis, something the Bible does not do.  The statements attributed to the rabbis in Pirkei Avot express the basic concerns and central ideas that occupied the rabbis.

Yose b. Yoezer’s saying was: “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise; sit in the dust of their feet; and drink in their words for thirst” (Avot 1:4).

Yose b. Yochanan’s saying was: “Let your house be so wide open that the poor may enter it as were they intimates there; and do not hold too much discourse with women” (Avot 1:5).  The sage’s discussion on this one counselled even against engaging in much conversation with one’s wife.

Yose b. Yoezer was killed in 140 BC and Yehoshua ben Perachya became Nassi.

Yehoshua’s admonition was: “Provide yourself with a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge all people favourably.” (Avot 1:6)

Yehoshua’s pair was Nithai the Arbelite, who was accustomed to say: “Keep aloof from a wicked neighbour, associate not with a sinner, and never consider yourself exempt from God’s chastisement.” (Avot 1:7)

Many Romans turn to Judaism…

The Jewish diaspora had spread far and wide, taking their religion with them and influencing people everywhere they went to leave their pagan ways and worship the one true God as He desires to be worshipped.  As Rome gained territory many were now under Roman rule.  In 139 BC the Romans ruled that Jews could worship freely in all Roman territories.  That same year, however, all Jews were expelled from the city of Rome because the government became fearful of the Jewish influence as many Romans began believing and practising the Jewish teachings.

Politics and power mired in strife, division and murder…

Simon reigned for seven years until he and his two oldest sons were slain at a banquet by his son-in-law Ptolemeus, the governor of Jericho, in 135 BCE. (8)

Jonathan Hyrcanus, the only son of Simon not slain at the banquet, immediately rushed to Jerusalem and installed himself in his father’s place as both High Priest and King.  Then he rallied the Sanhedrin and the people to his side, rescued his mother who had been held to ransom and forced Ptolemeus to flee.  His tenure then faced a year-long Syrian siege that forced him agree to tear down Jerusalem’s fortifications and renew tribute to the Greek emperor in 133 BCE. Within a few years, however, he took advantage of political turmoil in Syria following the death of Antiochus VII (129 BCE) to rebuild his forces, reclaim independence and extend Judean control over Palestine and Jordan. He also took the seaport of Jaffe and Jews became partners with the Phoenicians in shipping and trade all the way to North Africa, Italy and Rome. Jonathan strengthened the Torah education system, observed it closely himself, put great expense into improving the temple edifice and insisted on higher standards for the temple service.  Under his reign the nation reached new heights of prosperity and greatness. 

Some of Jonathan’s efforts, however, had unintended consequences.  To ensure ongoing peace and stability, he forcibly brought all his new territories under the Torah. On the southern front he forced Judah’s neighbours in Idumea (the Edomites) to convert to Judaism. From these forcibly converted Edomites, Herod the Great later emerged. 

On the northern front he destroyed the rival temple at Shechem in Samaria. 

Like many of the wealthy aristocrats, Jonathan developed an appreciation for Greek culture and learning, seeing this as perfectly compatible with his Jewish faith and essential for engaging on the world stage.  This put him at odds with the Pharisaic religious leaders who forbade attendance at Greek theatres or gymnasiums or engaging with Greek learning or other forms of Greek culture as they laboured to put a fence around the Torah to keep the Jewish population from being polluted by this most insidious outside influence.

The Hasidim (“pious ones”) had been warning about the dangers of Hellenism since this foreign culture first presented itself to the Jews, and knew that their hatred of these strange ways had been proven justified by all that led up to the Maccabean Revolt and the bloody battles that followed.  To them there was no difference between reading Greek literature and polluting the temple by offering a pig as sacrifice to Zeus on its alter; all of it was detestable and led down that same slippery slope to destruction.  It was from the Hasidim that the Pharisees had developed.  Jonathan now found himself rejected by the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin, who challenged his right to be High Priest. 

He responded by dismissing all the Pharisees from the Sanhedrin and forming an exclusively Sadducean Sanhedrin. By removing from power all those with whom he disagreed, Jonathan removed the checks and balances which had been part of the strength of his early reign. The Pharisees and Sadducees were devolving into fiercely opposing political powers who saw no value in the other.   Jonathan died in 104 B.C. (9) (10) (11) (12)  (13)

Religious disputes…

Vehement differences of opinion were evident between different Torah scholars and priests during this time.   One of the big issues of debate was Hellenism which was on the rise once again.   Many of the scholars shared the views of the Hasidim that every aspect of Greek culture was an abomination to God and the Jews needed to keep themselves totally separate from it.  Others, particularly among those who had the wealth and connections to benefit from the changes, were more open minded and argued for integrating those aspects that would bring such godly blessings as increased knowledge, reasoning, sophistication and wealth. 

Another area of increasingly bitter dispute was the Oral Law.  Proponents claimed that it provided the necessary fence around the Torah, safeguarding their law, customs and traditions from the pollutions of Greek culture and other heathen ways, and so had to be fully obeyed, yet were divided among themselves as to what the correct laws were.   Detractors argued that it had no legitimacy and they were only bound to obedience to the written Torah.  

While all agreed on the spiritual authority of the Torah, there were differing interpretations of what it meant to obey Torah.  The spiritual authority of the rest of the scriptures in the Tanakh was also hotly disputed with some exalting the other scriptures to the same level of inspired authority as the Torah, and others refusing to accept the divine inspiration of the Nev’im (Prophets) and/or the K’tuvim (Writings). 

There were also arguments over the correct way of performing many of the temple duties, correct timing and method for celebrating each feast, and regulations for marriage and divorce.  Almost anything that could have a doctrine or practice formed around it, had bitterly opposed doctrines and differing practices formed around it.  Judaism had become polarised around extremes.  The three most significant parties to come out of this time and continue until after the destruction of the second temple were the Pharisees and Essenes who came from the Hasidim tradition and the Sadducees whose roots were generally in the priesthood and who were open to the benefits of Hellenization. 

Jewish Sects of the Hasmonean Period

Pharisees means “separated ones“.  Originally this sanctification referred to their separation from Hellenism in all its forms, but by the beginning of the first Century it had broadened to being separated from the “people of the land”, who were seen as incapable of being pious because they were unrefined and unskilled in the Pharisees’ interpretations of Torah and Oral Law.  Pharisees were not, however, separated from the power structures of the land, but rather saw their role as leading and defining those power structures in order to corral the uneducated masses into their view of what it meant to be the sanctified nation of God’s people.  Judea could not be a holy nation unless their leaders were holy, so the Pharisees became entwined in the political process in order to occupy the positions of power necessary to enforce obedience to Torah on the leaders of their nation as well as the masses.  Pharisees were strong proponents of the Oral Law, although they had many disputes within their ranks about what its’ true rendering and interpretation was.  Some of them were priests but many were not and gained their position through the strength of their Torah study under one of the respected sages (latter called rabbis).  Pharisees had a strong role in the Sanhedrin through most of its existence after the Maccabean revolt and saw their input as essential to keeping the nation in God’s blessings and averting further judgments like the Babylonian captivity.  In the end it was the Pharisees who proved to be the most enduring force within Judaism, apart from the followers of Yeshua, after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and they shaped what became the rabbinical Judaism of today.  Thus, most Jewish history, of the second temple period and beyond, is written from their perspective. (14) (15) (16)           

The Essenes were a Jewish sect during the Second Temple period, that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. The Essenes were among the more oppositional to the Hasmonean rule as well as the way they operated the Temple. Essenes were very strict in their religious practice and shunned both the priesthood and the political class for their corruption.   As they lost power and influence within the Temple’s political governance they ceased involvement in the Sanhedrin or any of the power structures of their day.  Some remained in Jerusalem, and others settled in other Jewish towns, but some withdrew from the rest of society to live in their own closely knit communities where they shared all things, including the community in Qumran who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some would have nothing to do with the currencies of the time because of the images on the coins. They believed in the immortality of the soul and in angels, but generally not in the PhariseesOral Law  Some of their communities isolated themselves and developed unique doctrines and practices.  Much of what we know about the Essenes comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls which had been kept by one of their communities and detailed some of their communal life and beliefs.   

Sadducees came mostly from the priestly aristocracy and upper classes.  They were open to Hellenism and closed to the Oral Law.  They generally did not accept the doctrine of the resurrection or the immortality of the soul.  Some attribute this to their interpretation of the Jewish sage Antigonus of Soko’s maxim “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages.”  Others attributed it to more Hellenistic influences, and others to their rejection of the divine inspiration of the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) in the TaNaKh (Old Testament).  Sadducees generally centred their interests in political life, of which they were the chief rulers before the destruction of the Second Temple, where their power had resided.  Instead of sharing the Pharisees’ messianic hopes they took the people’s destiny onto their own hands, fighting or negotiating with the heathen nations as they thought best, while seeking their own temporal welfare and worldly success.  Most of the High Priests were Sadducees and they also had a strong role in the Sanhedrin through most of its existence (16) (15) (17).

Hasidim means “pious ones”.  This movement began in response to Antiochus IV’s defilement of the temple and forced Hellenization of the Jewish people.  It continued developing as a reforming and revival movement within Judaism throughout the Hasmonean period.  Both Pharisees and Essenes could trace their roots to the rural Hasidim, but both took very different paths.  Unlike the Essenes, the Hasidim did not withdraw from society but remained vitally involved in the broader community.  Unlike the Pharisees, the Hasidim were not part of the political power structures nor did they have a seat on the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, nor consider study the highest virtue.   All references to Hasidim in the Second Temple period relate to Galilee and several renowned Hasid sages came from this area.  Theirs was a practical spirituality that focused on intimate and privileged relationship with God as their heavenly Father and regarded obeying “Torah” as more important than just studying it.  In many instances the Hasidim had halachic (Jewish law) traditions that were not in keeping with the accepted Halakha decreed by the Sanhedrin, and in some cases even opposed to it.  They also had some customs and modes of behaviour which differed from that of the dominant Pharisaic sages.   They believed in God doing miracles in response to the faith of those who were intimate with Him.  Most of the ancient passages pertaining to Hasidim refer to their causing rain to fall, healing the sick or exorcising demons.  Even in the case of rain there is a difference between the Hasidim and the Pharisaic sages.  The sage prayed for rain as part of a public prayer ritual – sometimes his prayers were answered and sometimes not.  The Hasid prayed privately and as a son beseeching his Father and their prayers were always answered.  Unlike the Pharisees, the Hasidim saw virtue in poverty and in giving away all one’s possessions “the Holy One, blessed is He, examined every good quality and found none better for Israel than poverty.”   A midrash (ancient rabbinic commentary) states: “A person becomes a Hasid to suffer all things.  He is given an angel who treats him in the manner of the Hasidim…and says, “You save the afflicted (/poor) but Your eyes are on the haughty (/rich) to humble them.” 2 Samuel 22:28.”  Characteristics of a Hasid were described as: “he is humble… a fearer of sin, judges a man according to his deeds, and says, ‘I have no need of anything found in this world.”  They generally did manual labour and menial jobs to support the most basic needs for themselves and their family. (18) (19)

Interactions between religious and political leaders

Jonathan had directed that after his death his oldest son Aristobulus would become High Priest and his wife become leader of the nation.  Although women leaders were not a part of Jewish culture or tradition, they were well accepted in several of the surrounding Hellenised nations, so the idea was gaining credence among the Jews involved in international trade and relations.  All welcomed the separation of powers between High Priest and civic leader, that is, all except AristobulusAristobulus was not convinced that his power should in any way be limited and so seized the crown with the support of his brother Antigonus, had his stepmother put in prison where she starved to death and placed his other three half-brothers in prison.  The Pharisees were infuriated and began working on stirring up a massive rebellion, but Aristobulus died in pain and with internal bleeding from an unknown disease before any attempt to depose him could come to fruition.  As his health faded during the single year that he reigned, much of the governing was done by his wife, Queen Alexandra Salome, and brother Antigonus.  Just days before Aristobulus died Salome used trickery to have Antigonus killed by his guards.

When Aristobulus died in 103 BC Queen Salome released the half-brothers from prison and, in line with Jewish law as she was childless, married the oldest of them, Alexander Jannaeus, to whom the throne and High Priesthood went. Initially Aristobulus’ enemies were Alexander’s friends, so he removed the Sadducee members from the Sanhedrin and reorganised it to be composed exclusively of Pharisees. This also met with his new wife’s approval, as she was sister to the leader of the Pharisees, Simin ben Shetah. (15)

Alexander had only one aim in life; to continue the great Maccabean tradition of conquest and increase the extent of his kingdom to its natural boundaries – the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern desert.  Unfortunately, he lacked the military prowess of his ancestors, and his early campaigns were quite disastrous.  Were it not for the large and wealthy Jewish diaspora in Egypt putting political pressure on Cleopatra to send her army to his rescue, Alexander would have likely lost his crown and Judea its independence.  While Alexander was away at war, he allowed his queen a major role in the nation’s internal affairs, and she was instrumental in encouraging the introduction of synagogue schools in many towns to teach young children the Torah.

The Pharisee Zugos (pairs) during this time were Simeon ben Shetach (Queen Salom’s brother) and Judah ben Tabbai

Simeon’s noted saying was: “Interrogate the witness very closely, and be careful with thy words, lest they be put by them on the track of falsehood”. 

That of Judah was: “Make thyself not as those that predispose the judges, and while the litigants stand before thee let them be in thine eyes as guilty; and when dismissed from before thee let them be in thine eyes as righteous, because that they have received the verdict upon them.” (20)

Conflicts between Pharisees and Sadducees

The Pharisees had become rather disillusioned with this line of leaders who claimed to be both king and High Priest, and their pragmatism could see no good purpose in picking fights with other nations only to lose the battles, have the kingdom’s freedom threatened and tens of thousands killed in the fighting.  Even though the Sanhedrin was now totally comprised of Pharisees with their Nassi (prince/leader), Simeon ben Shetach, being a brother of Queen Salome and frequent guest at the palace, Alexander would not listen to their pleas to abandon this policy of conquest and conform to their view of Judaism.  The more the Pharisees felt that their influence over the king was waning, the more critical they became of him and his right to the offices of High Priest and king.  Alexander responded by seeking the support of their political rivals, the Sadducees, who included many of the aristocratic leaders of the priesthood over which he presided as High Priest.

As mentioned earlier, the Pharisees and Sadducees were opposing political parties in Judah who disagreed on almost everything, including on how each of the festivals should be performed and how each of the functions of the priests and High Priest was to be carried out.   Although most of the aristocracy of the priesthood were Sadducees, they would generally bow to performing their functions as the Pharisees prescribed out of fear of the political backlash if they performed them strictly as was written in the Torah, with nothing added.  One of the Pharisaic innovations was adding an elaborate Water Libation Ceremony (Nissuch Ha-Mayim) following the daily sacrifices during Sukoot (the Feast of Tabernacles).  They taught this as fulfilling Isa. 12:3: “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation“.  This became a very jovial time and one of the most popular parts of the celebration of this festival.  With much joy, music, singing, dancing and sometimes even acrobatics and rabbis juggling flaming touches, water was drawn from the pool of Siloam and the High Priest poured that water out on the alter, which to Jewish people of the Second Temple era was symbolic of the Spirit of God being poured out during the days of the Messiah and so stirred the expectation and hopes of the people, particularly when they were feeling oppressed.  Such expectations and hopes were not shared by the Sadducees and especially not by the man who saw himself as the only leader the Jews needed, the High Priest Alexander.

Religious conflict becomes bloody civil war…

In around 98 BCE Alexander, while officiating as the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkot, poured the water onto his own feet instead of onto the alter.  The Pharisees and their followers were enraged, saw this as blasphemous, ‘stoned him’ with the citrons (large, thick skinned citrus fruit) they were carrying in accordance with another of the customs of the festival, while shouting derogatory cries about his unfitness for the priesthood.  Alexander summoned his troops to attack those who attacked him and about 6,000 Jews were slain in the temple courts that day.

Not all of Alexander’s attempts at conquest were fruitless, he did win some battles and take some new land, but his attack against Obedias, the king of the Arabs, was poorly executed, the Jews suffered heavy losses and Alexander returned defeated to find the people in Jerusalem, incited by the Pharisees, armed and arrayed against their High Priest and king. What followed was a six year long bloody civil war that cost the lives of 50,000 Jews. 

The Pharisees went so far as to request the Syrian king Demetrius III join them in fighting against their monarch and High Priest in exchange for reigning over them. However, after defeating their brothers in a few battles, many deserted Demetrius’ army and helped Alexander defeat him and retain the kingdom’s independence.  According to Pharisaic tradition Alexander took the advice of a Sadducee to punish their treason by crucifying 800 captured Pharisees after executing their wives and children before their eyes while he and feasting courtiers enjoyed the bloody spectacle.  Animosity and distrust between the two parties, Pharisees and Sadducees had reached its zenith and 8,000 Pharisees fled to seek asylum in neighbouring lands. 

Hatred driven underground

Alexander suffered terribly with ill health for the last three years of his life and died of his ailments from an unknown disease while at the siege of the fortified town of Ragaba in 76 BCE. His wife Salome was with him at his death and reported that he repented of his treatment of the Pharisees on his death bed. (21)  (22) (23) (24) (25) (26)

After her husband’s death, Queen Salome reigned over Judah and her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, was appointed High Priest.  Salome called the Pharisees to return to Jerusalem and brought them into her government, gradually pushing the Sadducees out of every important office and position.   She appointed her brother, Shimon ben Shetah, leader of the Pharisees, and Yehudah ben Tabbai as joint heads over the new Sanhedrin (Great Bet Din), now comprised exclusively of PhariseesSalome allowed the Pharisees’ Oral Law to be adopted as the law of the royal court.  Education was also placed in the hands of Pharisaic teachers and the care of the many thousands of widows and orphans left from Alexander’s wars placed in the hands of Pharisaic leaders. Salome’s was generally a peaceful reign, without the civil war of her husband’s rule and only one brief foreign battle.  The trade routes were re-opened, and the nation began to prosper again. 

The strong ideological differences and hatreds between Jews did not lessen during Salome’s reign, however, they were just driven underground and nowhere was this more obvious than in her own family. Salome’s two sons are reported to have hated one another with the eldest, Hyrcanus II, firmly siding with the Pharisees and the younger, Aristobulus II, continuing his father’s alliance with the Sadducees.   The Pharisees started exacting retribution against the Sadducees with the execution of one of their leaders.  Fearing mass exterminations, the Sadducees petitioned the queen for protection against the now ruling party.  Salome responded by removing the Sadducees, many of whom had been leaders of the temple priesthood, from Jerusalem and assigning them to several fortified towns for their residence.

Civil war between brothers

After a nine year reign Salome died in 67 BCE and bequeathed the throne to her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, who had been High Priest since the beginning of her reign.  (27) (15) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32)

Hyrcanus II had scarcely reigned three months when his brother, Aristobulus II, rallied an army from the Sadducean party to rise in rebellion.  Near Jericho the brothers met in battle.  As Aristobulus gained the upper hand, Hyrcanus fled back to Jerusalem to take refuge in the citadel, but the capture of the temple by Aristobulus eventually compelled Hyrcanus to seek a peace agreement.  According to the terms of the peace Hyrcanus was to renounce both the throne and the office of High Priest but would continue to enjoy the revenues of the latter office (some sources say he retained the high priesthood).

The agreement lasted about six weeks.  Aristrobulus was more capable as a military leader, but Hyrcanus was endowed with skill in negotiating and forging alliances to accomplish his goals. Hyrcanus sought counsel from the talented and ambitious administrator, Antipater, satrap of Idumaea (a neighbouring province conquered and forcibly converted by Hyrcanus II’s grandfather, Jonathan Hyrcanus I).  Antipater offered to support him in waging war on Aristobulus and the Sadducees to regain his crown.  Their joint army of Pharisees and Idumeans routed the forces of Aristobulus and forced the remnants to retreat to the Temple area fortress. The rest of Jerusalem and the entire country now came under the domain of Hyrcanus and the Pharisees, with the High Priesthood and temple all that was left for Aristobulus

No ethics in the battle for power

Despite their animosity toward each other, both sides firmly believed in the necessity of the temple sacrifices, so the two made an agreement to ensure that the twice-daily sacrifice was offered. Every day the army on the outside would send up the necessary sheep to be slaughtered. The priests inside the Temple continued their daily service and worship after the manner of the Sadducees.  The siege lasted months and showed no sign of ending. One day Hyrcanus sent up a pig instead of a sheep for the temple sacrifice.  The Hasmoneans had initiated their rebellion after the Greeks desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the alter, and now their descendants were killing each other and sending up a pig for the temple sacrifice!  This caused many devout Jews to turn from supporting Hyrcanus and the focus of the conflict shifted from Pharisee against Sadducee to power-hungry brother against power-hungry brother. (33) (34) (35) (36) (37) (38) (39) (40) (2)

Reference List

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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* The priest Mattathias and his sons fought and killed to regain their religious freedom. What are your thoughts on this?
* They eventually won the battle but lost a lot of lives in the process. Was it worth it?
* Has your community ever faced such battles?
* How do you lead your community through times of conflict?
* What effect did pride have on the leaders and the nation?
* Do you think Judaism was developing in healthy or unhealthy ways? If you were trying to reform Judaism during this time what issues would you tackle?
* Who were the Pharisees?
* Who were the Sadducees?
* Who were the Essenes?
* Who were the Hasidim?
* Did the arguments over faith and practice between the Pharisees and Sadducees strengthen or weaken Judaism?
* Was God honoured by the ways the different groups fought over who had the right doctrines and the right way of worshipping Him?
* When we disagree with a fellow believer over doctrine, how can we be constructive instead of destructive in our disagreement?
* Who wins when we fight with one another?