Palestine under Hasmonean Rule

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

Print this page Print this page

At other times, however, whole populations were converted to Judaism, as was the case with the Idumeans under John Hyrcanus, and the Ituraeans under Aristobulus. [Idumea was an area south of Judea, while the Ituraeans lived in the Galilee. Aristobulus I was Hyrcanus' son, who ruled from 104-103 B.C.E.]

This combination of religious fervor and political policy undoubtedly provided a powerful impetus for conquest and expansion. God's will as conveyed in Deuteronomy and elsewhere was now being fulfilled. A literature echoing this triumphalism was also being created at this time (e.g. Jubilees, Judith).

A Double-Edge Sword

Nevertheless, political power coupled with religious tenets proved to be a double-edged sword, for such a policy was bound to evoke a great deal of animosity. The Hasmonean policy of conquests, conversions and purification might be construed by some as an attack on the pagan world per se. Thus it is not surprising that one of the earliest statements of hostility against the Jews and Judaism is ascribed to the advisors of Antiochus VII during his siege of Jerusalem (134-132 B.C.E.).

Moreover, some of the views of Posidonius ( a Syrian philosopher who flourished in the first part of the first century B.C.E) may also have been in reaction to these policies. In his writings, the Jews are accused of being evil, arrogant, and corrupt; moreover, they are atheists (i.e. they do not recognize the gods) and preserve barbaric customs, particularly in regard to their Temple.

Of no less importance is the fact that a combined religious and political agenda also had deleterious domestic effects. Thus, while creating a political framework that aimed at emphasizing the common and shared, Hasmonean policy often presented a political and religious challenge and a threat to others. The synthesis of politics and religion came to characterize contemporary Jewish sects as well. Such a milieu could only exacerbate relations between various groups in Hasmonean Jerusalem.

Hellenism and the Hasmoneans

Coins also provide a valuable clue regarding the goals of Hasmonean rule in the cultural realm and reflect, for example, their desire to embrace both the Jewish and Hellenistic worlds. While the coins of John Hyrcanus refer to him only by his Hebrew name (Yehohanan) and Jewish title (high priest), those of Alexander Jannaeus reflect a broader horizon, referring to him as high priest and king (basileios), using both Hebrew (even some Aramaic) and Greek, and calling him by both his Hebrew and Greek names (Yehonatan, Alexander). [Alexander succeeded Aristobulus I, ruling from 103-76 B.C.E.] The last Hasmonean ruler, Mattathias Antigonus, minted coins with only Greek inscriptions. In general, Jewish and Hellenistic features were incorporated into many facets of Hasmonean life and viewed as complimenting one another [… ]

In 63 B.C.E, the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem and, once again--as had been the case before the Hasmoneans--the city [and the province] became subservient to a foreign power.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

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.