Palestine under Hasmonean Rule

The marriage of politics and religion contributed to both the expansion and destruction of the Hasmoneans.

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I Maccabees, a book written under their auspices and in they style of which is reminiscent of the biblical books of Judges and Kings.

The author of I Maccabees sought to forge a connection between those earlier rulers and the Hasmoneans. He uses ethnic and geographical terminology taken from the Bible (e.g. Edom and Moab), and regarding Jerusalem, he repeatedly invokes the names of biblical sites such as the City of David and Mount Zion (I Macc.1:33, 4:37, 14:36). The author's paean of Simon's [Simeon's] achievements (I Macc.14) recalls a plethora of biblical blessings including a phrase reminiscent of Solomon's reign of peace and security ("under his own vine and under his own fig tree"; I Kings 5:5) […]

Wedding Politics and Religion

Hasmonean coinage proclaims the dual identification of these rulers, who were both religious functionaries (high priests) and political leaders (ethnarchs and later, kings). More than any other type of evidence, these coins point to the two worlds in which the Hasmoneans' functioned, while I Maccabees preserves accounts that fully substantiate these roles, which are embellished by the military dimension as well. For example, Jonathan was appointed high priest, strategos [commander] and meridarch [political leader](I Macc. 14:38-45) Never before in Jewish history had such extensive powers been concentrated in one leader.

In this sense, Hasmonean identification with biblical precedents entailed also the adoption and implementation of certain biblical views, especially those spelled out in Deuteronomy that emphasize the religious dimension of political power (and vice versa). Deuteronomy's ban on idolatry and hostility toward the indigenous gentile nations is absolute. On repeated occasions, Deuteronomy (7:1-6, 16. 25-26, 20:15-20) commands the conquering Israelites to destroy all sanctuaries and idols and to annihilate all traces of the heathens.

Zealotry and Conversion

The Hasmoneans, for their part, exhibited an outright hostility toward the local pagan population, proceeded to destroy all traces of idolatry (shrines and temples), removed the idolaters themselves in one way or another (by conversion, murder, or exile), and instituted a rigorous policy of purification, thereby, in effect, Judaizing their realm. On several occasions, they introduced a religiously observant Jewish population into a conquered city (I Macc. 13:47-48); both the Jerusalem Akra and the city of Gezer were subjected to such a process ( I Macc. 13:49-53).

At times a more moderate policy was adopted. For instance, although John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, he appears to have done little else to interfere with the Samaritan way of life, perhaps because it was so similar to that of the Jews. In this case, Deuteronomy's emphasis on the centralization of the cult may have mandated and justified the elimination of the Gezerian sanctuary.

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Lee I. Levine

Lee I. Levine is a professor in the Department of History and the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.