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A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix XXIV

The Herodian Era and the Birth of Jesus

The High Priests, the Great Secret, and the Royal Mixup

The Setup: Antipater, the wealthy Idumean father of Herod, sought control of Judea through political maneuvering. When Judean Queen (and ruler) Salome died in 67 BCE, Antipater[1] ensured that her oldest son (and then High Priest) Hyrcanus II was named to the Kingship as well. Knowing that Hyrcanus was weak and that his brother Aristobulus (II) sought the throne, Antipater hoped that civil war would allow him to take over. Indeed, two months after Hyrcanus took the throne Aristobulus led a successful revolt and forced a negotiated settlement[2].

Antipater turned to his father-in-law and friend, the Nabataean King Aretas (III). With promises of bribes and the return of lands previously taken by the Hasmoneans, Antipater persuaded Aretas to offer Hyrcanus refuge and assistance. In 64 BCE, Aretas laid siege to Jerusalem with a large army and forced Aristobulus to bribe Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (deputy of the Roman general Pompey) for help. Scaurus ordered Aretas to withdraw his army and Aristobulus sent his troops after them. The Nabeteans were first crushed by the unexpected attack and then subdued by a follow-up invasion by Scaurus (62 BCE).  In exchange for a huge bribe to Scaurus and recognition of Roman supremacy over Nabatea, Aretas retained his territory and possessions as a vassal of the Roman Empire.

Somehow Antipater emerged from all this with even greater power: still aligned with the Hasmoneans and Nabeteans while gaining great favor with the Romans. Pompey seemed especially kind to Antipater and when he split the Roman province of Judea, Antipater was placed in control of Idumaea[3]. Then, Antipater aided Caesar in his defeat of Pompey (48 BCE) and in quashing civil war in Egypt[4]. Caesar rewarded him with appointment as governor (“procurator”) of Judea and surrounds[5], he granted Antipater Roman citizenship, and he declared him to be free from Roman taxation everywhere with the right to collect taxes where he governed. Antipater appointed his sons Phasael as governor of Jerusalem and Herod as governor of Galilee.

Following the assassination of Caesar (44 BCE), Antipater sided with Cassius against Mark Antony and eventually his enemies caught up with him. He was poisoned and died in 43 BCE. Herod believed that his father had been poisoned under the orders of Hyrcanus and he sought revenge. In 42 BCE, the Parthian Pacorus supported Brutus and Cassius - the murderers of Caesar – in their losing battle at Philippi.  Pacorus then allied with Quintus Labienus (the Roman rebel) and invaded Syria (spring of 40 BCE) defeating the forces of the Roman governor Decidius Saxa. Pacorus’ deputy Barzapharnes took control of Judea and deposed Hyrcanus II replacing him with his nephew Antigonus II. Antigonus had Hycanus seized and proceeded to bite off his ears making him permanently ineligible for the priesthood. He then had Hyrcanus taken to Babylonia, where he would live in exile among the Babylonian Jews – which included the Exilarchs[6]. Herod had escaped to Rome (where he grew up) and sought Roman military assistance to recapture Judea.

In 37 BCE, Herod vanquished Antigonus[7] but feared that Hyrcanus might induce the Parthians to help him regain the throne. So, he persuaded the former High Priest to return to Jerusalem where Herod received him with honors including a position in the Sanhedrin[8]. This marked the beginning of a trend which Herod would follow throughout his reign: those opponents or competitors he couldn’t kill, he brought under some form of control (often until he could have them killed).

(From here, I begin inclusion of the speculative story – what follows is a mix of history and fiction).

The appointment of a Sanhedrin was a crucial early step for Herod. While he would rule in all matters not specifically religious, Judea was a religious state and the religious leadership would have great power with the Jewish people. Whereas the priesthood was largely functionary, the Sanhedrin made legal decisions and judgments. Under a relatively new “tradition” which began during the reign of Mattathias Maccabee, the Sanhedrin was led by a pair of men known as the Zugot (literally meaning “pair”): one was “Nasi” (President) and the other was “Av Beit Din” (Vice-President). According to tradition, the Zugot were opponents who stood at the head of the Sanhedrin and offered different views on issues and judgments so that a balanced position was offered to the other sixty-nine general members.

When Herod was governor of Galilee, he had been brought before the Sanhedrin upon charges of unlawful killings (supposedly of “bandits”). The Zugot at the time, Shemaiah (aka Samaias) and Avtalyon (aka Ptollion)[9], spoke against Herod but also warned their colleagues about repercussions of judging against Herod. Avtallyon (with Hyrcanus) arranged for Herod to “escape”, thus averting the judgment and potential strife.  Later (37 BCE), it was Avtalyon who urged the Jerusalemites to open the city gates to Herod when he returned with a Roman army to reclaim his position.

Herod rewarded these men by retaining them as the Zugot[10] and they were given substantial leeway in proposing appointees to the general membership with one caveat: Herod insisted that the Sanhedrin reflect diverse religious and social views. Since the Zugot were both Pharisees, that meant appointment of both friends and foes. As Zugot, Shemaiah and Abtalion also played a key role in the selection of the new High Priest.

Knowing the power of the High Priest and the historical trend of the High Priest becoming the ruler of the Judeans, Herod wisely sought a High Priest from outside the Hyrcanus/Hasmonean line. He needed someone that the people would find favorable, someone who would remain aside from the entrenched priesthood, and someone who he could control. The Zadokite presence had remained strong and Herod was quite aware of the history of the “line of Aaronite priests who still claimed to be the legitimate holders of the High Priesthood”. Herod sought the advice of the Zugot[11] and they agreed that the appointment of an Oniad would meet his goals. They also wondered privately how such an outsider could possibly function within the highly nepotistic and bureaucratic priesthood of Jerusalem.

Herod sent an agent named Benaiah to Egypt where the Oniads had remained independent for several generations, even establishing their own Jewish Temple. At Leontopolis (about 270 miles from Jerusalem on one of the two major routes to Alexandria) he met with both the High Priest Sethus ben Ananias (aka “Sie”)and his Nasi, Hananiah ben Ari (aka “Hanan”). Benaiah’s offer of returning the rightful title in the rightful place to the rightful heirs was simply irresistible. Offering his personal guarantee for the safety of the High Priest and his family helped ensure the Oniads and after consulting with both family and their Council (a 23 member “Sanhedrin”), it was agreed to accept it.

It was critical to the deal that Herod didn’t want the legitimate High Priest, just a High Priest who had legitimate claim to the title. Sie would never have accepted for himself, especially after what had happened to his great-grandfather (see Appendix XXVIII). Instead, Hanan agreed to go and negotiate directly with Herod while under the protection of Benaiah’s hospitality.

Arriving at Herod’s Palace, Hanan witnessed the impressive effort that was underway to clean it up, although it still showed signs of the turmoil that had prevailed in Jerusalem for decades. Hanan was surprisingly impressed by Herod – a man who could be charming, witty, and persuasive or treacherous, ruthless, and murderous. During this frist meeting, Herod displayed only his good side and Herod offered Hanan a deal even better than that proposed by Benaiah. In essence, Herod wanted the High Priest removed from politics, the Temple to function more as it had in the old days, and the Sanhedrin to focus upon religious matters, civil justice, and operation of the priesthood instead of governing the nation. Hanan was in nearly full agreement and when the discussion turned to finances, Herod offered his High Priest all Temple income (tithes, offerings, and donations) while he would keep all Temple related income (exchange fees, taxes, venor lease fees, etc.). In short, he offered Hanan a fortune. Prompted by Hana’s questions, Herod assured that the Temple treasures and treasury would be secure[12], that its archiving function would be independent, and that the priesthood would be allowed great independence so long as it avoided political actions. Without further detail, Hanan accepted the deal and asked that a document be drawn to reflect Herod’s promises.

As word spread that Herod would appoint an unknown Zaddokite from Egypt as High Priest, the reaction was mixed: the average Jew saw it as a clear sign of God’s Will and a major change in the right direction for the Jewish people whereas the aristocrats and entrenched priests saw it as a direct threat. Both were right. Two weeks later, during the festival of Lights, Herod appointed “Hananiel” (or Ananeel) as High Priest[13]. The Hasmoneans,  especially Herod’s mother-in-law[14], Alexandra, saw it as a travesty. She wanted Aristobulus (III), brother of Herod’s wife Mariamne, to be the High Priest and saw Herod’s appointment as a dagger at the throat of the Hasmonean dynasty (which was getting weaker and weaker). Her recourse was to appeal to her good friend Cleopatra (VII) for help from the Romans (Mark Antony).

Meanwhile, Hanan struggled to appease the diverse groups which sought favorable appointments and assurances of continued power. His relatives and friends who made the journey to Jerusalem included good hearted “well wishers” as well as a large contingent looking for favorable appointments. Since the Jerusalem priesthood was in disarray, he had no friends or associates there and he had in mind a whole new infrastructure. But he wasn’t in any hurry and he wisely focused on restoring traditional services using traditional means and utilizing existing people in their current positions to make that happen.

Within six months, Hanan managed to achieve his first goal and won favor with both the masses and Herod. He hadn’t pushed reforms too hard and his appointments were generally regarded as fair and proper. Just as he was ready to begin a new wave of reform, Herod called for him and advised him that he was being replaced. Alexandra’s appeal to Cleopatra to exercise her influence upon Mark Antony had worked and Herod decided to give the office to the young Aristobulus instead of having to appear again before his friend and answer for his choices.

Thus, in 36 BCE, the sixteen year old Aristobulus was named High Priest. Hanan was given a sizable tribute and was asked to remain in Jerusalem as an advisor to Herod. The young High Priest was in “over his head” (sorry, the bad pun is coming) and he relied heavily upon Hanan to function. The attractive and charming High Priest quickly proved far too popular with both the people (who had a positively flawed memory of the Hasmoneans) and the aristocrats. Herod felt threatened and there could only be one outcome.

Less than six months after the appointment of Aristobulus, Herod arranged to have Aristobulus “accidentally” drowned while playing in the Palace pool at Jericho. Although Herod feigned profound grief and paid for a lavish funeral, Alexandra was livid. She again turned to Cleopatra and began a series of intrigues and events that would nearly end the Herodian era. In the meantime, Herod re-appointed Hanan as High Priest.

Guessing what might be coming, Herod began to prepare for his possible execution. This planning included the execution of every member of the Hasmonean clan in Judea by his Idumean friends and family. Herod was so absorbed in this vengeance that he allowed Hanan great liberty as High Priest. A year later (34 BCE) Herod was summoned to Laodicea where another round of bribes and gifts to Mark Antony managed to keep Herod on the throne. To appease Cleopatra, Antony awarded her some of Herod’s most valuable and profitable lands in Palestine (the coast and Jericho) so that Herod was forced to both pay her and obey her. Then, upon returning home, Herod found that his execution plan had become known and was told that his favorite wife (Marianne) had been having an affair.

It had to be a bitter and difficult time for Herod – he had just been humbled by the Hasmoneans and he couldn’t afford to take vengeance upon them. Instead, he turned his attention to a mutual foe – the Davidians (and, he began to treat everyone associated with the Hasmonenas – including many of Jerusalem’s aristocrats – as foes). It was well known and believed that the future of Judaism was prophesized to return to a Davidian descendant (see Appendix XI). Thus, those with the blood of David in their ancestry (many thousands) who had any legitimate claim to David’s throne (dozens) were a risk to both the Hasmoneans and the Herodians. A quiet but effective pogrom against these possible claimants began. It was made somewhat difficult because the Hasmoneans had strived to marry into the Davidian lineage – Herod adopted the same strategy.

Not long after Herod’s humiliation before Antony (and Cleopatra) and following Antony's conquest of Armenia, the “Donations of Alexandria” were held in Egypt (late 34 BCE). These somewhat wild and speculative self-delusions led to further deterioration of Antony’s Roman position and his relationship with Octavian (which had been worsening for several years). By 33 BCE, the two Romans were at war and although Herod had benefitted from a friendship with Antony, he clearly hated Cleopatra and secretly sided with Octavian. Following the defeat of Antony's forces and Cleopatra’s navy at Actium (31 BCE), Herod knew that Rome would be ruled by Octavian. His strategy was to appear loyal to Antony while assisting Octavian[15].

Octavian summoned Herod to Rhodes and Herod persuaded the future Emporer that he would support him with the same loyalty that he had Antony. Octavian saw the potential of this ally in the east and affirmed that Herod could remain as ruler of the Jews. Herod was promised the return of lands taken from him by Antony (given to Cleopatra) and he was to receive several coastal and Jordanian cities. Herod provided Octavian the full support of his military[16] and a promise to keep the Egyptian Oniads neutral (which Hanan had indicated was their intent anyway). The deal was hardly significant as events turned out, but it cemented Herod’s favored status with the man who would soon “rule the world”. On August 1, 30 BCE, Antony’s army deserted him in Egypt and by the 12th, both he and Cleopatra were dead.

With Cleopatra out of the way, the Hasmoneans lost all leverage with Herod. With complete confidence in his future, Herod returned to Jerusalem as an immensely more powerful man. Two of Herod’s commanders alleged that Alexandra urged them to rebel against Herod while he was away and she was executed. Herod also executed Costobar (his brother-in-law) for allegedly hiding the sons of Baba (supposedly supporters of Antigonus). The sons of Baba were executed as were Herod’s aides Antipater, Lysimachus and Dositheus for being involved. After purging his Court of the Hasmoneans, he demanded an oath of loyalty from all those around him and those appointed by him. The exceptions to this oath were revealing: all Essenes were exempted and the Zugot were exempted.

Hanan refused to take the oath on similar grounds, but Herod was looking for a change in the High Priesthood anyway. Hanan had served Herod well during difficult times and he had restored considerable respect for the office and the Temple. However, Herod saw too much wealth outside his control within the High Priesthood and he decided to take offers from others for the title. He told Hanan that he could remain High Priest only if he was the highest bidder. Hanan had no intention of bidding for the job but he knew someone who might.

Meanwhile, Herod announced that it was his intention to restore and enhance the Jerusalem Temple so that it was “worthy”. Jews were flocking to Jerusalem and Judea from the turmoil in Egypt and other areas, bringing great wealth with them. Herod saw restoration of the Temple as both a matter of prestige and income generation. (For all his shortcomings, Herod was also a visionary builder).  His ambitious plan coincided with the announcement of several other large-scale building projects (including entire cities). The Temple project meant that the opportunity to be High Priest was fraught with great risks and even greater potential rewards:  the new High Priest would control the most important Jewish building project since Solomon first built his Temple and he would control much of the vast sum needed to build it.

Hanan had stayed in close contact with Sie even though they could never be together. They had agreed that war between Rome and Egypt was inevitable and that although Cleopatra deserved the support of Egyption Jews, her’s was a losing cause. Hanan and Sie facilitated the moving of many family members to Judea, Galilee, and the trans-Jordan (including Jericho & En-Gedi). They also began the transfer of savings and records from the Leontopolis Temple to the Jerusalem Temple.

Among those who were part of this “second Exodus from Egypt” was Joazar bar Boethus, patriarch of the family known to many as “the Boethusians”.  When he arrived in Jerusalem from Alexandria, he was among its wealthiest citizens (even wealthier than Herod) and he was a power-broker with powerful Roman friends[17]. When Hanan (his “cousin”) informed Joazar of Herod’s plans, he asked Hanan to arrange an audience with the King.

Herod recognized the name and stature of Joazar and quickly realized that he was as adept at dealing with politicians as he was adept at being one. Joazar wasted no time in getting to the point and made Herod an offer beyond Herod’s dreams – doubling the amount Herod had planned to spend upon the Temple. In return, Joazar got to name the next High Priest and had the privilege of keeping the title within his power during the rest of Herod’s life. Hanan knew that Joazar would replace him, but was pleased that the title would remain within the family. Besides, he simply didn’t have the energy to deal with all the non-religious duties that it would take to supervise the Temple reconstruction project. He suggested that his replacement be Sie’s son Jeshua (aka Yehoshua)[18].

Joazar would have preferred one of his brother s (Phabet or Simon), but followed Hanan’s preference far enough to send two delegates to Sie with a proposal and a letter from Hanan. Joazar’s proposal contained no surprises – he was interested in matters of income, authority, and assignments. Hanan’s letter explained his reasons for suggesting Yehoshua and it included their secret phrase ( “חֶמְדַּ֣ת  כָּל־  הַגֹּויִ֑ם  וּמִלֵּאתִ֞י  אֶת־  הַבַּ֤יִת  הַזֶּה֙”  - May the wealth of all nations fill your house from Haggai 2:7). Sie needed nothing more since this told him that the reason involved the sacred treasures [which we’re getting to].

Yehoshua would have done whatever his father asked, but when told that the suggestion came from “Uncle Hanan”, it was a given that Yehoshua would agree. It was more difficult to convince his mother Deena but she was also swayed by the fact that Hanan had proposed the idea. So, despite Sie’s reservations about sending his[19] son to Jerusalem, he trusted Hanan. Thus, in the year 30 BCE, Yehoshua ben Sie became High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple.

Herod’s announcement relating his intention of rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple met mixed reaction: the people didn’t trust him and the priesthood found much to worry about. The announcement included one critical detail - the project required the destruction of the existing Temple[20]. Many Jews simply couldn’t imagine tearing down God’s house under any circumstance and some priests thought this might just be a pretense for destroying the Temple outright. Herod and Yehoshua had discussed this and Yehoshua had proposed some ideas which Herod included in his announcement.

First, Herod explained that funding for the project was already secured and reserved. He promised that not a single Temple service would be missed. He committed to having all the actual on-site construction performed by priests (for ritual purity) and all the off-site preparation supervised by priests (to ensure the work was “chokim” - performed as required by the Torah). Yehoshua proved himself in quickly negotiating the necessary concessions which placated the priests and pacified the people. With plenty of pockets getting filled, it was an easy sell.

It was to be a massive project with some 25,000 workers. Countless stones would be cut and moved prior to the start of actual construction. All the construction machines had to be built and years of preparations would be required to allow the current Temple to be rebuilt from the inside out without violating its sanctity. And all of this required extensive planning. But that was hardly all of it.

Herod had also told Yehoshua that he intended to do far more than rebuild the Temple itself – he wanted to enclose the Temple within a compound that would include massive new walls, gates, bridges, stairs, underground facilities, stoas, porticos, and supporting buildings. While these would be future projects (as funds became available), he asked that these intentions be incorporated into the early construction planning (but kept private). When Yehoshua heard of these plans, he felt the Hand of God at work since it fit perfectly into his secret intentions.

It was widely known that the Temple served as both national bank and national archive. Rumors of unimaginable riches hidden within Mt. Moriah (beneath the Temple) were commonplace – and true. There were few places in the world where the super rich could safely keep their treasures. The Egyptians had been masters of hiding, protecting, and then recovering such treasure for over a thousand years, but the Jews had evolved even better methods which combined good record-keeping, the ability to keep a secret, trustworthiness, and competency. Even their enemies had learned that the Jews would honor their obligation to safeguard and return whatever was kept by them for another (for a fee, of course)[21]. Thus, both Herod and Aretas secretly stored a large part of their wealth within the Temple Bank.

Such a large project required many separate working groups and three of them were specifically assigned the task of re-designing the Temple vaults. Two were well known, but secretive in their work and one was both secret and so secretive that only three people outside the group even knew it existed: Yehoshua, Hanan, and Dositheus – the younger half brother of Yehoshua. Hanan had fathered both (via different mothers), although legally Yehoshua was Sie’s son. The half brothers thought of each other as cousins and didn’t know they were more closely related. Dositheus had the public role of being Yehoshua’s chief assistant and confidant. He worked closely with his uncle Simon[22] (Joazar’s brother) and Simon’s daughter Marianne (who acted a Simon’s “right-hand-man”). But his most important title was Shawmar (“Keeper”) because Hanan had designated him as his successor.

The Shawmar was responsible for keeping the greatest secret in human history – the location of the Sacred Temple Treasures[23] – hidden since the days of Jeremiah. The treasures were currently hidden in three locations in Egypt (having been taken there around 170 BCE by the exiled Oniads) and the method of locating them was a set of three different puzzles spread among two dozen Oniads[24]. Sie, Hanan, and Dositheus had sought to relocate the treasures for years, but hadn’t decided how or where until recently.

 Within a year of Herod’s announcement, final plans had been completed and some 12,000 priests began special training in construction arts. Only priests would be allowed inside the Temple itself during construction and only a small percentage of them would work on the most sacred area - the Holy of Holies[25]. Another 10,000 Jews were to be utilized for general labor outside the Temple itself. But an even more select group worked on the vaults beneath the Temple and within that group were 77 men chosen to construct the אוֹצָר סָתַם (Satham Otsar or Secret Storehouse). Their task was made easier by the fact that beneath the Temple were dozens of chambers, channels, and conduits needed for normal Temple operations, numerous vaults for storing monies and documents for the Temple’s normal banking functions, hidden chambers for keeping treasures from others, and additional secret storehouses for other purposes. What only a handful of men knew was that the whole thing was a ruse.

The Keepers had no intention of storing the sacred treasures beneath the Temple, but they carefully allowed others to believe the rumors knowing that the chances of 77 men keeping such a secret were almost zero. The Secret Storehouse would find other important uses and remained hidden even after the Temple was razed by the Romans almost a century later. The important secrets were of an entirely  different character.

Within the Herodian Court and the “royal families” there was an amazing combination of relationships that included the incestuous and the ridiculous. Wives were exchanged, children were born to secret fathers, and alignments were arranged specifically for political advantage. Herod maneuvered women around like chess pieces, taking them from their husbands or fathers and giving them away as prizes. Most of this occurred as a result of his desire to so completely confuse the bloodlines that no one could contest Herodian regality. This required the control of four different lineages: the line of David, the line of the High Priest, the Hasmonean line, and Herod’s own line. In short, Herod’s approach was an ancient one: to kill or imprison the male competition and to breed the females.



satham: to stop up, shut up, keep close

Original Word: סָתַם

chatham: to seal, affix a seal, seal up

Original Word: חָתַם

otsar: treasure, store, a treasury, storehouse

Original Word: אוֹצָר

Yehoshua kept Hanan directly involved in the Temple project and he found creative solutions to the most difficult aspect of the project: it was his agreement with Herod and the other Jewish religious authorities that the sacrificial rituals (“korbanot”) would continue unabated during construction. The requirement that all on-site Temple constructed be performed by the Kohanim (family of priests) meant thousands had to learn trade skills. Assembling planners and builders from many nations, gathering and constructing the huge machines that would be required, and quarrying stone would take most of a decade.

Herod had received the title “Basileus” from Octavian (also the unofficial title for the Emperor himself) and gained incredible favor from him: tax breaks, gifts, and honors. Having turned the Temple project over to the priests, Herod took on massive building projects elsewhere, including palaces, fortresses, and entire cities (such as Caesarea Maritima which he dedicated to his primary benefactor). It was a remarkable period for the region as economic prosperity reversed much of the damage and destruction which had occurred during the prior century. Roads were built, aqueducts and irrigation systems were constructed, and great wealth was amassed and spent, especially in Jerusalem. (Herod was also insane and his court was full of intrigue, murder, and shuffling for position – see Appendix XXII).

The situation in Egypt was somewhat opposite – the hit-and-miss prosperity of the last century had become the hit-and-miss decline through the current century (before the common era – BCE). The Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt had become Aegyptus - the Roman province of Egypt.  Because it remained the “breadbasket of the Roman Empire”, Egypt was treated differently than most other provinces – it was governed by a “prefect” (of the equestrian class) instead of the traditional senatorial governor. The first prefect of Aegyptus was Gaius Cornelius Gallus who lasted only a year. He was replaced by Gaius Aelius Gallus (no relation) who only managed to stay for two years.  The third prefect was Gaius Petronius who lasted until 20 BCE. These prefects brought Roman control (by the force of over 10,000 Roman soldiers) to both lower and upper Egypt and established a protectorate over the southern frontier. They also implemented a new and more complex taxation system[26] whereby land was taxed and rented, a variety of small taxes and tolls were added, customs duties were expanded, and the system of tax collection was supervised by appointed officials.

Both the Alexandrian and Heliopolis Jews made this new system work well for themselves and the general rift between Jews and other Egyptians continued. The Romans were practical if nothing else and they recognized the efficiency of the tax collection system the Ptolemies had implemented. Actually, many taxes were lowered under the Romans and they successfully used land grants as an incentive to increase production. Sie and his community were given more liberty than they expected although a Roman epistrategos ("over-general") controlled the region and a strategoi named Calpurnius Concessus oversaw the Nome of Heliopolis. Neither Roman was particularly interested in the affairs of the Jews so long as tax revenues were collected easily and agricultural production increased. 

Sie grew old and tired. However, he had a lifelong desire to see the Jerusalem Temple, so in the year 25 BCE he turned his title over to his youngest son, Yohanan (Yohan), and made his pilgrimage to the Holy City. He took most of his family with him and they stayed with Hanan and Dione in the City of David (Ophal). But the journey proved fatal to Sie and on the day after he fulfilled his dream of seeing Solomon’s Temple, he suddenly died. In a showing of family unity (and to highlight their prominence) Joazar and Simon chose to honor Sie with a massive funeral procession. It was unlike anything Jerusalem had seen since the before the Exile.

Deena and the children were not aware of the political side of the event and saw it more as affection from family and fellow Jews. With Dione’s approval, Hanan invited Deena and her children to move in with them and Denna happily decided to accept, thereby remaining in Jerusalem. Joazar was pleased with this arrangement since he very much wanted to have Yoni dau Sie (their oldest daughter) marry one of his nephews and to have this line of legitimate succession under his control. But Joazar was not aware of the very close ties between Hanan, Deena, and their children and his plan was dependent upon Yohan not having a son as successor.

With the death of his father in Jerusalem and the choice of his mother to remain there, Yohan was “stuck” in Leontopolis. He would have happily relinquished his position and title except for a solemn and holy pledge he had made to his father and to God. It was essential that he keep his title in order to protect the sacred treasures of Judaism (see Appendix XXVII).







                                                                 |                                             |

                                                  (with Deena[27])                                         (with Dione)

                                   ________|__________                   _____|______

                                    |             |             |             |                    |                           |

                                 Yoni   Yeshua   Yana     Yohan       Dositheus         Deanna                                                                                                                                                                        


We should recall that "The Paralipomena of Jeremiah" (or “4 Baruch”) states that Jeremiah hid the sacred objects from the Jerusalem Temple just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile (in 586 BCE) and that at the conclusion of the exile Cyrus allowed the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of Jewish worship there. The Book of Ezra provides a detailed listing of the objects returned to the Temple, but that list includes none of the most sacred objects (the Ark of the Covenant and its mercy seat, a golden table for showbread, a 75 pound solid gold menorah, a square bronze altar, a perpetual lamp, an incense altar, and a bronze laver). It is most likely that the objects remained in hiding even after the Temple was restored and that replicas were made to permit services.

The continuous turmoil which surrounded and engulfed Judea over the subsequent half century would have rationally required that God’s most sacred objects remain hidden. The secret of their location would have been closely held within the High Priesthood and with the death of Onias III, that secret would have travelled to Egypt and Heliopolis with his son’s entourage. Thus, it was passed down in the line of Egyptian High Priests:

171-142 BCE        Onias IV

142-134 BCE        Ananias bar Onias (absent, 138-134 BCE)

134-99 BCE          Banus bar Onias

99-79   BCE          Boethus bar Banus/Phiabi bar Ari

79-54   BCE          Phiabi bar Ari

54-25   BCE          Sethus bar Ananleus

25-4     BCE           Yohan bar Sethus

However, in 99 BCE, the role of שָׁמַר (Shawmar or Keeper) was given to Phiabi bar Ari and was subsequently retained within his line and the line of Sethus. When Sethus bar Ananleus became High Priest, Phiabi and Sethus devised a way to disseminate the secret within their families and improved its survivability and security. Thus, Yehoshua bar Phiabi became one of the Keepers before he became High Priest in Jerusalem (30-23 BCE).

Yehoshua married Bethanne, the daughter of Levi bar Melchi, and fathered three daughters with her: JoAnna (“Jane”), Elizabeth, and Hannah. Lacking a son and any other person he trusted, Yehoshua became the first to pass the secret to a daughter – in fact he shared it with all three of them (in part because he knew they couldn’t keep secrets from each other anyway). Yehoshua would have remained High Priest in Jerusalem except for an unexpected event within the Herodian Court. But first, there is a relevant side story.

Herod was constantly seeking ways to improve his standing and that of his heirs while frequently changing his mind about who those heirs would be. Few historical figures had a royal court with more intrigue, murder, back-stabbing, and pure craziness (and that says a lot). The complexities are far beyond the scope here, but some of the many forced, impelled, arranged, or bought marriages brokered by Herod are important in this matter. Perhaps the most popular person in Jerusalem at the time was “Cleopatra of Jerusalem”, the posthumous daughter of Cleopatra VII of Egypt (fathered by Mark Antony). She was as beautiful and politically astute as her mother – who was legendary as the former and historically the later. She had been given as a wife to Jacob ben Mattan, a “Nasi” and a Davidic Prince of Israel who had served Herod’s interests well as his ambassador in Alexandria from the time of Cleopatra through the Roman take-over. Upon his return to Jerusalem in 32 BCE, Herod had appointed him as the Pechah (mayor) of Jerusalem.

The popularity of this couple rankled Herod but he couldn’t risk killing them because Jacob had powerful friends at home and abroad. But after Herod fell ill in 29 BCE, a series of events changed the entire scene. With Herod recuperating elsewhere, Alexandra (his Hasmonean mother-in-law) conspired to dethrone him by telling Herod’s commanders in Jerusalem that Herod had gone “insane”. Instead, they betrayed her to Herod and he had her executed. Herod also executed his brother-in-law Costobar[28] for conspiracy in hiding the sons of Aububus (“Baba”) ben Antigonus (the surviving Hasmonean heir) and then had both the sons of Baba killed. During this purge, Herod also executed his close Idumaean advisors Gadius Antipater, Lysimachus, and Dositheus (for allegedly conspiring with Costobar). Finally, he told Jacob that the only way for him to keep his title was to forfeit his wife (“Cleopatra”) so that Herod could make her his own wife. This terrible choice was made by both Jacob[29] and Cleopatra for one reason: they wanted to protect their only son, Joseph[30].

During this period, a group of significant marriages took place, beginning with the marriages of Yehoshua’s daughters.  Jane (aka Joanna) married Joachim, the son of Alamyos (an Oniad who was the “Patriarch” or Pechah of Judea from 50-47 BCE). This made Jane the sister-in-law of Salome dau Alamyos who had married Zebedee, the brother of Joseph of Arimathea. (Zebedee and Salome were the parents of the Apostles James and John). Elizabeth (an Aaronite) married Zechariah, a leading Priest of the Abijah Order (a Levite)[31]. They were the parents of John the Baptist. Yehoshua’s youngest daughter was Hanna – a precocious and charming young woman who caught the eye of a “minor” Hasmonean prince Alexander III Helios (known to all as “Heli”). Yehoshua would not have encouraged a royal match but allowed Hanna to marry a prince because she so clearly loved him. It didn’t hurt that Yehoshua thought highly of “Heli” [32] – a man with more character and honor than most of his relatives. Unfortunately, it was a marriage which didn’t last (as below).

Also during this period, Yoni dau Sie, the oldest daughter of Sie (via Hanan) and Dione, married for the second time. Her first husband, a prominent but unfavorable man, was killed in an accident having not fathered any children. She had no brother-in-law and would not have opted for levirate marriage regardless. After moving to Jerusalem to live with her parents, she met the recently widowed Simon bar Shemayah[33] and they married a year later.

This brings us to the year 23 BCE, a year which would prove eventful and profoundly significant[34]. As Judea and surrounds recovered from the drought[35], an era of prosperity ensued (assisted by the fact that Herod temporarily reduced taxes by 1/3).  Herod improved his stature with Caesar Augustus who added the territories of Trachonitis, Batanaea and Auranitis to Herod's kingdom. Herod sent his sons (by Mariamme I), Alexander and Aristobolus, to Rome for their education. Herod met with Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa[36] at Mitylene and they seemingly formed a pact which made Herod one of the most powerful Roman patrons. Herod was comfortable in continuing his pogrom against his real and imagined rivals.

Herod had eliminated all the main Hasmonean and Davidic heirs and with his increased status, he set upon the secondary lines. Thus, although the young Alexander III Helios was well removed from the line of succession, Herod had him killed (feeling empowered enough to overcome the objections of his adversaries). He would have also killed Hanna just to be certain that she wasn’t carrying another possible heir, but Herod spared her since he intended that she would marry one of his sons.  But Hanna managed to escape Herod’s grasp with the help of powerful friends (Joazar intended for Hanna to marry one of his nephews to bring this line of legitimate succession under his control).

Yehoshua had managed Hanna’s escape and this infuriated Herod. He imprisoned his High Priest and refused to release him until Hanna was returned. Yehoshua refused and so Herod decided to replace him. The timing of this decision was awkward because of Herod’s reliance upon Joazar and the state of the Temple construction[37]. Simon bar Boethus, Yehoshua’s uncle (a brother of Joazar), was Joazar’s chief assistant and handled both the planning and purchasing for Temple construction. This made him very powerful and brought him in frequent contact with Herod. Herod liked and admired Simon and especially “liked” Simon’s daughter, Mariamne.  She was Simon’s primary assistant and she accompanied Simon almost wherever he went. Ultimately, it was Herod’s lust for Mariamne that determined the outcome: Herod was so smitten by her that he asked Joazar how she might become his wife (Mariamne was not of sufficient “dignity” to marry the king). Joazar saw his advantage and told Herod that Marriamne would gain the necessary dignity if her father was High Priest. Thus, Simon was named High Priest and Herod agreed to keep the High Priesthood within Joazar’s family during his lifetime.  Mariamne became Herod’s 3rd wife[38] and Yehoshua “disappeared”.

The Jerusalem High Priests of the Herodian Era

Hanaeel/Ananelus                          37-37 BCE

Aristobulus III                                    37-36 BCE (less than 1 year, killed by Herod)

Hanan/Ananelus (restored)        36-30 BCE

Yehoshua ben Fabus                      30-23 BCE

Simon ben Boethus                        23-5 BCE

Matthias ben Theophilus              5-4 BCE

Joazar ben Boethus                        4-4 BCE (Appointed upon Herod’s death)

Eleazar ben Boethus                       4-3 BCE

Joshua ben Sie                                  3-1 BCE

Joazar ben Boethus                        1 BCE-6 CE


The families of Sethus and Hanan were torn by this event: while Joazar was not to blame, most felt that he could and should have done more to help Yehoshua. Yet, inter-family marriages and power-sharing had created complex alliances and loyalties such that family ties no longer dictated one’s positions. The group which aligned with Joazar in Jerusalem would go on to dominate the office of High Priest for several generations (until the war that would result in the destruction of Temple Judaism). Simon went on to become the most important High Priest of the era – at least in terms of the office itself. The families of the Oniads, the Hasmoneans, and the Herodians become inexorably linked. The family group which disassociated from Joazar became exiled, outcast, and even hunted (Herod would have paid handsomely for the head of Hanna or her offspring). The family group which followed Joazar bar Boethus became known as the Boethusians and the exiled family group we shall call the Shawmars (“Keepers”, since they were the ones who kept the legitmate title of High Priest and Judaism’s great secret).

Of course, the continuation of the Temple and High Priesthood at Leoptopolis remained an issue. Yohanan ben Sethus saw the imprisonment and “disappearance” of his brother Yehoshua as more than a “sign” and had little trouble grasping the likely future. He summoned his uncle Hanan (his biological father) in order to change their plans. Hanan agreed with Yohan that their situation was bleak but was surprised when Yohan went a step further and suggested that Judaism as they knew it would cease in a few generations. Hanan reminded his son that Jews had demonstrated a remarkable survivability and Yohan reminded his “uncle” that Jews and Judaism were not one and the same. He explained his vision of the destruction of a new and glorious Temple in Jerusalem and a time when Jews were even more dispersed than during the Great Exile. Even though he didn’t share Yohan’s vision, Hanan took it seriously and knew there were growing risks to his people.  It was essential to take steps to prepare for the worst regarding both the High Priesthood and the sacred treasures.

Joazar held the largest deposits of wealth in Jerusalem and was very interested in keeping those deposits safe – even from Herod. It was a poorly kept secret that deep within the new Temple complex there were vaults and storerooms holding vast wealth. It was said that these were protected by cunningly engineered passages which could “disappear” if necessary. It wasn’t long before it was rumored that some of the ancient sacred treasures had been moved there. In truth, those were merely the better replicas which had been moved there from Egypt (as below).

Simon had never been made privy to the great secret, but both he and Joazar knew about it. They wanted desperately to make inquiries about it, but knew that to do so would raise suspicions. But they never missed an opportunity to glean what they could from those relatives likely to have some tidbit of information or to reveal those who would know more.  Over the course of three decades, they had gathered an extensive knowledge, a bunch of theories, plenty of speculation, and almost nothing tangible about the great secret. But they were sure about its subject and that Yohan and Hanan guarded it. With that, it didn’t take geniuses to figure out who they might share it with.

In that regard, it was beneficial that Hanna was in hiding and that to keep her safe it was necessary for all those close to her to be very cautious (especially her sisters). Her situation was made more complex by a simple fact – she was pregnant.

Once Herod realized his mistake, he was furious. He had hoped to control the Davidic line, intermingle it with the Hasmonean line and the Aaronite/Zaddokite/Oniad line, and then make these hereditary lines his own. His pogrom against the Davidic heirs had been more successful than he had hoped so that the remaining heirs were much farther down the line than he or his advisors had expected. Once his advisors figured out that one of the remaining primary lines of Davidic succession was linked to Alexander Helios, that Hanna had brought together the right bloodlines, and that their offspring would be contenders for the Davidic throne, Herod demanded that Hanna be found and kept alive so that she could be bred into his family.

His first plan was to bribe or coerce Joazar into finding and handing over the girl; after all he was related to her. Joazar offered his obsequious and agreeable façade while thinking that Herod couldn’t offer enough money to entice Hanna from him – if he had her. The daughters of High Priests were “prized possessions” and were generally wed (sold) to princes and powerful men. However, the daughters of Yehoshua III had been treated differently: Jane, Elizabeth, and Hanna were never treated as “chattel” by their father. His loyalty and love offered them the freedom of choosing a husband even though they were carriers of a primary Oniad line of succession. Besides, Yehoshua knew that they also carried parts of the great secret so that their marriage was part of keeping such.

There was “no love lost” between Joachim and Herod since it had been Herod’s father (Antipas) who had deprived Joachim’s father, Alamyos, of his position (Pechah of Judea) back in 47 BCE. Like his father, Joachim was politically astute and well connected so that when Alexander Helios was executed, he foresaw what was coming. With Yehoshua’s help, he took his niece Hanna under his protection and arranged for her transport to Leontopolis (out of Herod’s reach). There, Hanna met Yohan, her uncle who was the High Priest. She had heard plenty about him over the years, so meeting him had more familiarity than one might expect. The most pleasant surprise for Hanna was Yohan’s wife, Zayit, who was much more than welcoming.  It was in the home of her uncle Yohan and aunt Zayit that Hanna gave birth to Mary.

And this leads us to another key event in the year 23 BCE. At the same time that Mary was brought into the world, Yohan had convened a special council to consider their future and what to do about the sacred treasures. Given that this was the holiest of holy work, the council was deeply in prayer seeking divine guidance when a slight rumbling was felt. The council agreed that the small earthquake was a sign from God that the treasures should be moved. But where and how? Moving the most valuable objects known to man (at least to these men) could not be accomplished without risk and such a move required both a secure location and a change in the manner by which the secret was held.

The last time the treasures were moved was soon after the exodus of Onias IV and his entourage to Egypt in 172 BCE. At that time there were offsetting concerns which weighed in favor of the risky move: the abject corruption and greed of the usurpers (those who bought the title of High Priest) meant that they would sell the treasures if they got their hands on them and there were traitors amongst them who knew the treasures were hidden (but not exactly where). On the other hand, until the Oniads had safe refuge in Egypt, there was no safety in bringing them there. Luckily, soon after their arrival in Alexandria, Ptolemy had generously given them a homeland in Egypt and once they arrived there they found several secure locations for hiding their treasures. Unfortunately, those locations were considered less and less secure.

Three teams were sent out in search of new sites where the treasures could be safely hidden. Those teams proposed numerous sites which were pared down to twelve. Further prayer and discussion reduced that to three favored sites: Pella/ Gadara, Hazazon Tamar (Ein Gedi), and Gamala in Galilee. Ultimately, the Gadara site was chosen and a plan was developed for the move. This five-year plan centered upon a fake mining operation subsidized by a secret supporter with mining rights provided by the Romans. Between 28 and 24 BCE, preparations were made and late in the year 23 BCE, the treasures were moved in circuitous routes via four different caravans to their new hiding place. Oddly, the “cover story” given to those sworn to secrecy about the move was that they were transporting riches and relics from the Temple Bank in Leontopolis to the Temple Bank in Jerusalem. This brought all the treasures within a stone’s throw of the Jewish Temple for the first time in five centuries. They remained in Jerusalem for only one night before being sent out in new caravans headed for four different cities where they were again reloaded and restaged for staggered arrival in Gadara[39]. Those carrying the treasures believed they were carrying valuable mining supplies (the reason for armed guards and extra security precautions). Over a three day period, the treasures were buried deep within the vaults built in the Gadara mines[40].

Concurrent with the move, Yohan and six of his most trusted priests devised a complex means of promulgating the secret over many generations. This had three parts: personal, written, and permanent. The personal part involved a network of trusted people who were given parts of the puzzle which would require at least three different people to come together, share their knowledge and work out the details. The written part involved writing the secret in coded language and meaning so that only a select group of scholars and priests might decode the existence of the secret and the means by which it could be deciphered (essentially combining numerology and the kabbalah). The permanent part involved the creation of metal scrolls, stone tablets, and special artifacts which were engraved with specially coded messages which required one to have at least two of the artifacts to make sense of the encoded message.

And then, as if the rest of the year hadn’t been bad enough, the end of the year 23 BCE proved disastrous for the Oniads, in large part because of the movement of the sacred treasures. It was expected that someone within Joazar’s clan would learn of the move, but it was not expected that Herod would hear of it. Joazar ended up knowing many of the details, but not the actual destination. Herod learned only that riches from the Leontopolis Temple had been moved to Jerusalem or Judea, but upon hearing such, he summoned Simon and Joazar to appear before him. They cautiously acknowledged and confirmed what Herod already knew but insisted they had little additional information. After all, didn’t it make sense to keep one’s valuables in the safest place and wasn’t the new Temple Treasury[41] intended to be the safest of all places? Herod didn’t have enough information to oppose this idea, but didn’t exactly accept their premise. He insisted on an accounting of the Treasury’s contents; Simon and Joazar knew this could never be allowed and agreed that Herod must never learn about the sacred treasures.

This made their task more difficult because they desperately wanted to learn the location of the treasures, but they had to accomplish this without leaking information to Herod. In addition, they did not want Herod to know the full extent of riches (including theirs) held within the Temple Treasury. Thus, they had to give Herod enough information to appease him, but nothing more. Their plan backfired – the accounting they gave to Herod only piqued his curiosity. He wanted to send one of his trusted Idumaen aides to audit the accounting and see the treasury first hand – after all, if the accounting was accurate, what objection could there be?

Joazar and Simon had anticipated part of Herod’s response and they had prepared for it; when it came time to show Herod’s Idumaen underling the Temple Treasury, he was shown vast riches in only one of several treasury “vaults”. But when Herod heard about the maze of passages and tunnels beneath the Temple, he wanted to know more – even to the point of seeking a tour. Luckily for Joazar and Simon, Herod was sickly and when told of the “cold”, dark and wet passages, he changed his mind. The many eyes of a Herodian entourage passing through the Temple’s catacombs would have created plenty of problems for the High Priest, his keeper, and the many Jewish aristocrats who kept large portions of their riches within its confines.

Unfortunately, their troubles didn’t end with Herod’s declining a Temple tour: in fact, they had just begun. Herod was still sour about the disappearance of Hanna and his spies had told him that there were secret happenings regarding unknown riches being moved within his lands. Herod sensed, somehow, that the two events were related and his general paranoia[42] was intensified. It was the distractions in Rome and Herod’s new palace in Jerusalem and fortress at “Herodia” (both completed in 23 BCE) that kept him from pursuing the issue more. Those distractions simply meant that Herod delegated his inquiries to a subordinate and this time he picked Nicholas of Damascus, the cultured scholar, diplomat, court philosopher and historian who had served Antony and Cleopatra. When Joazar learned of this selection, he knew he had trouble.

Nicholas was both smart and loyal. He had developed a large network of friends, associates, and people who owed him money or favors. Whereas Herod’s spies were powerful, Nicholas’ were smart and well positioned. Herod’s spies relied mostly upon threats and force; Nicholas selected those with intelligence, discretion, and connections. Only a day after he sent out inquiries, Nicholas learned that Hanna was in Leontopolis with a new daughter and was living with the High Priest there. He learned that the Leontopolis Temple had sent caravans with riches and relics to Jerusalem only weeks before and that something strange had happened to them after their arrival. The level of secrecy around this transfer seemed to far exceed what one might normally expect. Nicholas decided that he would devote more of his personal attention to the matter and his first step was to invite Joazar and Simon to meet with him at Joazar’s estate just north of Jerusalem.

They began a strange but familiar “dance”  of rhetoric and testing, each trying to decide how much was known and how much would be revealed. Simon let Joazar speak for him even when Nicholas tried to directly engage him in the process. Getting nowhere, Nicholas tried a different approach: “I want to examine the relics which were recently transferred to the Temple.” “Relics,” asked Joazar unconvincingly. Nicholas grinned ever so slightly – he saw that he had touched a nerve. “There were no relics recently transferred from Leontopolis.” That caused Nicholas to pause – Joazar seemed to be telling the truth, but it was certain the earlier question had caused a reaction. Were they playing word games with “recently” or had they come from somewhere else?  “So there have been no shipments from On during the last six months?” “Of course there have been, but none contained any Holy relics that I’m aware of.”  Joazar looked to Simon and he affirmed this.

Now Nicholas thought back through his information and tried again: “Are you aware of any relics being shipped out of On within the last six months?” There was a short pause which was far too long for Joazar’s denial to be truthful and Nicholas saw the change in Simon’s expression. Nicholas concluded that there was a shipment, these men knew something about it, and that it did not end up in the Jerusalem Temple. Their effort to hide this was most revealing and Nicholas wasn’t about to let this pass easily. “Gentlemen, we have but two choices here: either we can cooperate or we will find ourselves asking Herod to pick sides. Since he already believes that you know the whereabouts of Hanna and since he sent me on this inquiry, I propose that it would be a great mistake to send me back to your lord and patron with a report suggesting any sort of conspiracy or perfidy.”

The balance between promise and pragmatism often becomes skewed and it had just become such for Joazar. When he was told of the Great Secret (not the secret itself) he had taken a holy oath. Now, he might lose everything, including his life, if he didn’t break that promise. It didn’t take him long to decide. “There is a long and complex history regarding the most sacred relics of our religion. For centuries, we have been unable to expose them to loss or desecration because our people have not been secure and our Temple has been controlled by kittim (a derogatory slang for foreigners).  Before our people were forced into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, one of our prophets had the great relics hidden and started the Great Secret which held the means of finding them. We know of this secret, but not the secret itself. We are under holy oath to not even reveal that there is such a secret.”

Nicholas saw this as true and wondered: “Are these relics valuable in themselves or only as holy objects?” “There are priceless to our people, but would not pay a day of taxes if melted down or sold to others.” “So, would your people go to war over these relics?” “Every devout man, woman, and child would die to save them.” Nicholas saw that this included the two men before him and he changed course. “Is there some tie between the relics and Hanna”. Joazar sighed in despair; he knew he was opposed by a master. He nodded the affirmative and gathered his breath before explaining about Hanna’s relationship with Yohan, the legitimate High Priest, who knew the Great Secret. He admitted that he believed that her father had shared the Great Secret with Hanna and her sisters. And he admitted that he was seeking both the relics and the girl for his own purposes.

“Then you don’t know Hanna’s whereabouts?” “I believe that she is staying with her uncle in Leontopolis where she is beyond my reach… And, she has a new daughter.” Nicholas saw that Joazar was cooperating and so he turned more personal: “Why do you seek the girl?” Joazar understood that Nicholas had the answer and was merely looking for confirmation. “She brings together two main ancestries – the Davidic line and the Zaddokite line. If Yohan remains childless, the daughters of Yehoshua will pass along the rightful title of High Priest.” Nicholas looked at Simon who didn’t react to Joazar’s statement indicating that he wasn’t the “rightful High Priest”. All of this was new to Nicholas and he was intrigued. Over an hour later, Joazar had summarized both the Oniad story and the history of the Holy Relics and Nicholas was busily assimilating both the details and the implications. In his blunt way, he summarized: “So, without the Holy Relics the Temple here is illegitimate and without the proper ancestry, you (looking to Simon) are not the legitimate High Priest. Fascinating!”

While reflecting upon this information, Nicholas saw the discomfort which Joazar and Simon could not hide. “You have been forthright with me and I have found it unwise to penalize such – you have my word that what you have told me will remain confidential.” This did little to ease the worries of two men who had just violated a holy oath and who had unwillingly placed their fates in the hands of this “God less” kittim. Now, Joazar only hoped that he would find Hanna before Herod (or Herod’s lackeys) and that the Great Secret was as well protected as he believed it was. Because the most important thing was ensure that Hanna not fall into Herod’s hands, Joazar sent word to Yohan that he had information indicating that Herod was aware of Hanna’s location and that she was in great peril.

As much as Yohan wanted to believe that Hanna was safe with him (surrounded by a small but well proven army) he felt the need to discuss the matter with both his wife and his ward. Zayit was adamant that Hanna and Mary were not safe with them: “Herod will stop at nothing to capture her, and failing that, kill her. Even after his Roman reprimand for the war against Aretas, he might send forces here – jeopardizing all of us.” Yohan knew that Zayit was more than fond of Hanna and that she would fight to defend her, so her concerns were beyond personal. Hanna agreed to do whatever Yohan thought was best and Yohan conceded that it would be best for Hanna to move. But where to and how?

As with all secrets, the fewer the people who know it or about it, the better. Thus, when Zayit suggested an odd plan, Yohan decided to test it without discussing the matter with the Council. A week later, Hanna left Leontopolis before daylight hidden in a merchant’s wagon headed for Alexandria. Once they reached the Nile, she was covertly transferred to a barge headed for Pelusium (at the NE edge of the delta on the old trade route). From there she travelled with a caravan to Jerusalem as “Anne dau Ari” and was met by Joachim and his wife Helena. Zayit’s plan had Hanna living right under Herod’s nose. However, there was another VIP involved: Mary.

Zayit left Leontopolis a day after Hanna on a direct route to Jerusalem. With her was Mary, a child who viewed Zayit as a second mother. She stayed with a trusted cousin until Helena and Anne arrived to reunite mother and daughter. It was a sad and joyous occasion to be back together while knowing they might never be together again, but Zayit was confident in her plan and in the future of Anna and Mary.

Joachim and Helena lived relatively private lives and only rarely introduced Anne to friends and relatives as his new levirate wife from Sepphoris. (Since levirate marriages always involved a relative’s death, no one asked questions). Back in Leontopolis, the questions about Hanna were discretely answered with “she went to live with a relative in Alexandria”. Herod’s spies heard this and were able to confirm Hanna’s secret departure and arrival at the Nile, but from there, the trail went cold. The only oddity of the informant’s tale was that there was nothing said about an infant, but it was easily assumed that the infant had been hidden. Herod sent word to his spies and aides in Alexandria (a likely destination for Hanna) to look for Hanna and Mary, but they obviously found nothing.

With the year 23 BCE coming to an end and his efforts to find Hanna unsuccessful, Herod ordered the arrest of dozens of the Oniads who had moved to Jerusalem when Yehoshua became High Priest. (He did not, however, order the arrest of any priests). Then he made it clear that he would not release his hostages until Hanna was turned over to him. The events which followed took several unexpected turns.

After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Yamim Noraim, the “Days of Awe” marking the start of a new year), four different delegations appeared before Herod to appeal for release of the captive Oniads. First was a delegation of priests who pleaded for mercy and respect for these Kohanim, several of whom were Temple officials (Herod had distinguished priests and priestly officials, arresting only the later). Herod was unmoved. Then there was a delegation of officials who made both a political argument and a popularist argument. Herod was only moved by the fact that he had inadvertently arrested two Oniads who were also Roman citizens and they were released. Finally, Herod was approached by a delegation of Saduccean aristocrats who either had direct ties to the Oniads, owed them, or relied upon them. Herod scoffed at their argument but was persuaded by a sizable bribe to release four of the Oniads. This left a  dozen captive Oniads including two grandsons of Chelkias ben Onias (IV) and the grandson of Berenice dau Onias.

These children of Onias IV were not in the main line of succession, but all had created a powerful legacy. Chelkias had been one of the great Jewish generals who supported Ptolemy, Cleopatra, and even Mark Antony. Despite the failure of Antony and Cleopatra, Chelkias had earned great respect by the Romans and he had friends throughout the Middle East. His off-spring included independent minded over-achievers who formed the backbone of the “Zealot” movement[43], including his son Garon and grandson Hezekiah ben Garon.  Berenice dau Onias had married Mennius ben Mattathias, a Davidic Exilarch and tetrarch of Chalcis (aka Abilene and Iturea). They had formed a powerful alliance with the Romans and “had the ear” of Varro, the Legatus (Prefect) of Syria (appointed in 24 BCE).

The fourth “delegation” was the smallest and involved only two members: Lucius Terentius and his aide. Lucius had been sent by Varro to make inquiries on behalf of certain “concerned citizens” regarding allegations of illegal imprisonments. Varro wasn’t about to create a fuss over the matter, but wanted Herod to know that powerful people had made serious accusations and that Herod should be wary of such. It was Lucius’ task to gather facts and try to ascertain Herod’s reason for the arrests. The more Lucius heard, the more concerned he became. He decided to extend his visit and further impress upon Herod that what he was doing was clearly illegal and would most certainly cause more problems than Herod seemed to realize.

On the second day of the visit, Lucius sent his aide, named Traianus, to offer greetings from Varro to Joazar (who was well known by the Roman). Lucius suggested that Joazar might have additional insight into the arrests and wanted Traianus to ask about them if the opportunity arose. What Traianus reported back added to the concerns of Lucius and he decided to speak more boldly to the King. Herod wasn’t about to let some minor official from Syria tell him what to do, but he also didn’t want to irritate the Legatus. He made appeasing sounds and acknowledgements while intending to do nothing. However, after Lucius left, Herod conferred with Nicholas who was clear in his advice: “It is clear that the taking of these hostages will not result in the return of Hanna and that the price you must pay to keep them will be great.” Herod gave his trusted friend and “secretary” his look of scorn, but knew that Nicholas was right. “Wait until the week before Chanukah and then we’ll release them”. The Oniads had won this “battle”, but their war with Herod was just beginning.

The Oniads in Jerusalem realized that remaining there was simply too risky and most chose to leave. Besides, they were increasingly disgusted with Herod and his policies which undermined their religious and cultural distinctiveness. Since another group that had left Egypt had settled in Galilee and Sepphoris, it became the favored destination for the Oniads and Joachim decided to move his family there. Among those in their caravan north was Hezekiah ben Garon (one of the recently released hostages). He was actively recruiting followers for an opposition army and found plenty of support but few “soldiers” among the group. The ties formed during that week would last for several generations.

Soon afterward a new issue created an uproar.  Merchant caravans and official parties were attacked by “brigands” who stole or destroyed merchandise and sometimes killed targeted people. The intended victims were clearly Herodians and Herodian supporters. Herod’s response was to order any thieves caught - even Jews - to be sold into permanent foreign slavery. This violated Jewish law and served as the tipping point for public outcries, demonstrations, and protests. Some of Herod’s officials and advisors even objected to this new policy and so Herod prohibited public gatherings[44] and demanded an oath of loyalty from all those around him. Those who refused the oath or didn’t cooperate with Herod's policies were secretly executed[45]. This led to a spiral of greater oppression and greater resistance.

The one thing the brigands didn’t interfere with was the construction of the new Temple and once actual building began in the year 20 BCE, it (the actual Temple, not the surrounding structures) was completed in less than two years. It was a remarkable accomplishment and the result was stunning – the new Temple was praised as one of the most beautiful and striking in the world with abundant polished white stone and plenty of gold. Equally impressive were the new accoutrements: impressive lampstands, a new laver large enough to cleanse twelve priests at once, three massive curtains, several golden tables, and the immense altar of whitewashed (unhewn) stones - 48 feet square and 15 feet high.

Herod’s Temple











From here, the story continues within “An Amazing Life”.



[1] Antipater had been made general of all of Judea by Alexander Jannaeus, father of Hyrcanus and Antigonus.

[2] Hyrcanus renounced his throne and the office of High Priest, but retained revenues from the latter office.

[3] Perhaps related to the fact that Aristobulus II had been poisoned in Rome. (Dio Cassius 41:18, 1).

[4] Interestingly, when Caesar besieged Alexandria in pursuit of Pompey, Hyrcanus sent him reinforcements and wrote a letter asking the Jews in the "territory of Onias" to grant Caesar’s army clear passage. This was almost certainly Antipater’s doing. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0011_0_10485.html.

[6] Which included a main line of Davidic descendents.

[7] Herod also executed dozens of the most prominent of Antigonus' supporters, confiscating their estates. All  members of the Sanhedrin, with the exception of Pollio (Abalion) and Shemaiah, were slain.

[8] There is a historical conflict as some sources say that Hyrcanus was named President of the Sanhedrin, but such is unlikely. The Zugots were in place and one of them would have been “Nasi”.

[9] There is historical confusion regarding the names and actions of these Zugot: שמעיה or Shemaiah/Sameas was confused with the later Zugot named Shammai and Avtalyon (not a Hebrew name, but written as אבטליון‎) was confused with “Pollion” (Josephus). See “Studies in Hellenistic Judaism”, Louis H. Feldman, Brill (1996), pps. 45-51.

[10] There was some record that Herod had replaced this Zugot with Idumeans, but such seems very unlikely. Since both Shemaiah and Avtalyon were of foreign descent (Bab. Yoma, 71b; 'Eduy. v.6; Gi. 57b; Yer. M. . iii.81b), their opponents may have equated them to the hated Idumeans. Note Josephus, Ant. xv.1, § 1. Shemaiah and Avtalyon were given the informal title of darshan or “preacher” (Pes. 70a), the first to be so honored.

[11] Both Shemaiah and Avtalyon had spent significant time in Alexandria when younger and knew plenty about the Oniads of Egypt.

[12] Herod wisely did not include royal or priestly tombs in this promise and the raiding of David’s, Solomon’s and other tombs helped fund many of Herod’s building programs.

[13] See, “The History of the Second Temple” by Joseph Klausner (5 vols., 6th ed. Achiasaf , Jerusalem (1963), €4.12.

[14] In 39 BCE Herod married Mariamne (known as Mariamne I), the teenage niece of Antigonus, in an attempt to improve his claim to the throne. Herod already had a wife and chose Doris and their child Antipater.

[15] Herod first ridded himself of Hyrcanus (II) by alleging tyranny between Hyrcanus and Aretas - Hyrcanus was executed.

[16] Herod met Octavius en route to Egypt (at Ptolemais) with supplies and forces and then Escorted Octavian to Antioch after Egypt was settled.

[17] This migration of Jews from Egypt to Judea and surrounds was one of the largest transfers of wealth in all of history – not including the sacred treasures discussed below.

[18] aka Yehoshua III, Joshua ben Fabus, or “Jesus bar Phabet” (according to Josephus).

[19] In Appendix XXVIII it is explained that Yehoshua was the biological son of Hanan.

[20] We should recall that our image of the “Temple” may include courtyards and structures which were added later. Here we are dealing with the single structure known as Solomon’s Temple (which was actually a far lesser reconstructed and war-torn version that had stood for some 400 years).

[21] This historic function led to several interesting stories where invaders, usurpers, and foreigners had attempted to steal these treasures. Mysterious things happened to those who tried such thievery and the legends served to protect the Temple’s vaults as much as guards, cleverness, and luck. To a large extent, the modern Swiss Banks also enjoy the benefit of having customers from a wide base of friends and enemies.

[22] Simon held the purse strings for the project and answered only to his brother.

[23] Jeremiah hid the Jewish sacred objects from the Jerusalem Temple (the Ark of the Covenant and its mercy seat, a golden table for showbread, a 75 pound solid gold menorah, a square bronze altar, a perpetual lamp, an incense altar, and a bronze laver) just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.  It is most likely that the original objects remained in hiding even after the Temple was restored and that replicas were made to permit services in the restored Temple. See Appendix XXVII.

[24] Each puzzle was different and required that four pieces be brought together and deciphered such that the locations were revealed. Each puzzle set was distributed to two different groups so that 24 people held pieces and six different combinations could come together to reveal the secret locations.

[25] Special screens and scaffolds were utilized so that only small parts of the Holy of Holies were visible at one time. 


[26] Different groups had different rates of taxation based on their social class – and social class was complex in itself.

[27] Raised as the children of Sethus.

[28] Husband of Herod’s sister Salome, father of Princess Berenice.

[29] Herod finally had Jacob executed in 23 BCE on a charge of sedition.

[30] Soon afterward, a major drought struck the region and the people blamed Herod’s actions for angering God.

[31]  Luke 1:5 – “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah.  His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

[32] Hanna was his second wife. His first was Alexandra III who was taken from him to wed a Herodian.

[33] Approximately 1 in 5 boys during this period were named Simon. Shemayah was a Zugot and Nasi with both Davidic ancestry and ancestry from the Assyrian king Sennacherib. See Git. 57b and Avot. 1:10.

[34] Augustus gave up his permanent consulship after a serious illness. Being near death, he revealed his intended succession and that created a crisis in Rome which led to the “Second Settlement” and Agrippa’s assignment as super-governor (imperium proconsul maius) of all the eastern provinces.

[35] Herod had converted his gold and silver Palace ornaments into coinage and used them to buy grain from Egypt which he then distributed to both Judeans and those outside of his kingdom. This charity resulted in gratitude and respect which increased his power and security.

[36] The second most powerful man in the Roman Empire, Agrippa was the son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus, father-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, maternal grandfather of the Emperor Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather of the Emperor Nero.

[37] The Temple re-construction project created a big stir because the plan called for the destruction of the current Temple. The priests and the people were greatly troubled by this but a compromise plan was accepted: the project could continue if Temple services were never interrupted and the actual demolition and rebuilding was done as quickly as possible. This meant that all the stones had to be quarried and moved into position before building began. This, and the purchasing and gathering of other building materials, had been underway for over a year.

[38] This story has another component worthy of interest – Herod had murdered his 2nd wife (also named Mariamne) and was both guilt-ridden and regretful about her loss. It was thought that the young and beautiful Mariamne II was his replacement for his lost love.

[39] Gadara was a city of the Decapolis approximately six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, two miles south of the Yarmuk River, and 12 miles north of Pella.

[40] Meanwhile, similar fake caravans had headed for five other locations where fake operations had been set up and activities akin to those at Gadara were conducted as a ruse. In each case, select persons were given a coded “secret” that led to the wrong site.

[41] The Jewish Temple had served as a safe place for riches during the Hasmonean era and neither the Romans nor the Herodians were willing to start a civil war by ransacking it. Indeed, Herod chose to use it for keeping much of his own wealth.

[42] Herod had plenty of reason for paranoia – much of it caused by his own actions. Aside from a slew of Jewish contenders for his throne, Herod was basically at war with Malchus (King of Nabataea) while trying to retain favor with the Romans.

[43] The Jewish Zealot movement was diverse and not easily generalized in the manner historically convenient. See Appendix XVI for more information.

[44] We don’t know how this would have worked for festivals and Temple services.

[45] Essenes were exempted from the oath as were the Pharisees Polion and Samaias because of their prior support of Herod.

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