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A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix VII – The Jewish High Priesthood

The Jewish High Priesthood was THE topic and issue among Jews during the time of Jesus. Certainly, the Jews were not happy with Roman occupation, but the focus of their anger was derived from Roman interference with their religion – and the focus of their religion was often the High Priest. Even before the Romans arrived, issues regarding the legitimacy of the High Priest had been a major dispute among Jews for several hundred years – a dispute that directly involved Jesus and his family.

It is difficult for non-Jews to understand the significance of the Jewish High Priest during the era of Jesus. Through the centuries his role varied, but often combined that of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Pope, King, and Hand Servant to God. It was a position that too often led to his death and sometimes led to his murdering others. By offering even more than wealth and power, the title “High Priest” could never be taken lightly.

Tradition has told the story of Jesus with little regard to his brother James. Because James – the brother of Jesus – has been described as the “opposition High Priest” – and was recorded as having entered the Holy of Holies[1] (a privilege reserved to the High Priest), we should recognize that the sons of Joseph bar Jacob were of Davidic and Aaronite lineage and had legitimate claim to the high priesthood. Indeed, the entire conception of Jesus’ family must be framed with consideration of their regal and priestly status.

We should also review the major Jewish sects that influenced the life of Jesus and his times. The Gospels refer to two of the major groups – the Sadducees and the Pharisees – but we now have reason to think that they were less significant in the life of Jesus than the group called the Essenes.  Because these sects (and others) are best grouped by their positions on the High Priesthood and their approach to selecting their proper religious leader, we need to have a basic understanding of the high priesthood.

What follows is a brief history and outline of the general structure of the Jewish High Priesthood.

In The Beginning:

The first indication of any kind of Jewish priesthood in the Old Testament comes unexpectedly and obscurely:  “And Melchizedek, King of Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him [Abraham], saying ‘Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand’; and he gave him tithes of all.” Genesis 14:18-20 (from the KJV, Emph. added). We are not told how Melchizedek became a priest or what happened to the priesthood that he led. Centuries later, during the time of Moses, a different priesthood is established that would have much more historical significance – the priesthood of Aaron.

In the Book of Exodus (28:1) the Lord directs Moses to appoint Aaron (Moses’ older brother) as first and highest priest and describes a model or prototype for the Jewish High Priesthood. Thus, on Mount Sinai, the Jews are directed to institute worship, sacrifice, and an order of priests – right down to detailed descriptions of their clothing. Initially, the perpetual office of the Aaronites was limited to caring for the lamp before the veil of the tabernacle which was to burn perpetually (Exodus 27:21), but soon thereafter a more elaborate calling was detailed (Exodus 28:29). Aaron and his male offspring were to be distinguished from ordinary Jews by their sacred functions, their authority, and their vestments. Concomitant to their appointment and duties, God granted the Aaronites a “heave offering” as compensation for their work.

Thus Aaron, the first High Priest, ranks with Moses as spokesman and executor of the will of God (as revealed through Moses). The Aaronites were awarded the special power and compensation of the position of High Priest or Kohen Gadol and the formal priesthood (the “kohanim”) along with the necessity of protecting their prize and power. Over time, the role of the priests would grow and so would the priesthood.  Aaron was a member of the Tribe of Levi and therefore all kohanim and were Levites by direct patrilineal descent. However, not all Levites were kohanim and the desecdency of the priesthood did not always follow a direct line.

The History and Succession of the High Priesthood:

Initially, the succession was to be through the High Priest’s oldest son and was to remain in his own family (Lev. 6:15). In the time of ELI (~1100 BCE) the office passed to the collateral branch of Ithamar (the youngest son of Aaron the High Priest) after the death of his two older brothers Nadab and Abihu. Ithamar served as High Priest along with his elder brother Eleazar until his death (I Sam.  2:23). Eleazar’s term was marred by the corruption of Balaam, God’s plague for the sinners, and the heresy of Peor. However, Aaron’s grandson Phinehas (aka Pinchas) was appointed by God as High Priest when he speared Zimiri bar Salu (the prince of the Tribe of Simeon) and Cozbi (the princess of the Midianites) as they defiled the tabernacle. God then promised Phinehas peace and the perpetual priesthood. (Numbers 25:7-13). The high-priesthood remained in the family of Phinehas until the time of Eli, into whose family it passed (Eli was descended from Eleazar's brother Ithamar) [2].

A major break in the succession of the high-priesthood occurred during the time of Saul when the king was told that Ahimelech bar Ahitub (the High Priest) had given aid to David. Saul had Doeg the Edomite kill the priest along with many of his fellow Levites. The only one to escape was Abiathar bar Ahimelech who went to David and was then appointed High Priest. (1 Sam. 22:9:23). However, Abiathar was then cast out by Solomon (I Kings 2:26–7) when it was thought that he lost favor with God and the high priesthood was given to Zadok, son of Ahitub (son of Amariah, son of Meraioth, son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi ((1 Chr 6:6-8) of the line of Eleazar.

Zadok was High Priest during the remaining reign of King Solomon and the construction of the First Temple. Descendants of Zadok increased in rank and influence, so that his son Azariah was one of the princes of Solomon (I Kings iv. 2), and the Ahimaaz who married a daughter of Solomon was probably another of Zadok's children. Either Zadok himself or his grandson was the ruler of the Aaronites (I Chron. 27: 17). The high-priesthood remained in the hands of the Zadokites from the reign of Solomon until the rise of the Maccabees. However, there were several significant glitches during that period.

The most obvious occurred during the Babylonian exile (598-538 BCE). There may, in fact, have been times when there was no functioning priesthood among the Jews. However, the descendants of Zadok were careful to maintain their lineage (note 1 Chron. 6: 1-53) and power so that Joshua, son of Jehozadak, was appointed High Priest upon the return from exile and the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem (with only 38 Levites known to Ezra). The succession of Zadokite High Priests continued through the restoration period until the time of Alexander the Great (listed in Neh. 12: 10).

Jaddus bar Joannes (aka Jaddua, Johanan or Jonathan – the last High Priest mentioned in the Old Testament at Neh. 12:22) fathered two lines of High Priests (one beginning with Onias I – aka Honi, Honiyya or Honiyahu and the other through Mannasseh, the first Samaritan High Priest – as below). Apparently, Jaddus became ill or disqualified for the position and so that his oldest son Onias I was made High Priest while he was still alive. Thus began an era of High Priesthood intrigue that would carry on until the time of Jesus.

Onias I was the High Priest in Jerusalem from 323 to 300 BCE. There are several dubious stories in history that relate to Onias I, including that he greeted Alexander the Great in Jerusalem (who probably never passed through it) and who is said to have received a friendly letter from Arius, ruler of the Spartans. What is known is that during Onias' High Priesthood Palestine and Judea were in the middle of continual conflicts between the former generals of Alexander[3] (Ptolemy and Seleucid) who led the forces in Egypt and Syria. Because of the unsettled conditions during this period, many Jews left Judea for the newly founded city of Alexandria (Egypt).

Onias was succeeded by his son Simon I (High Priest from 300-270 BCE) who was extolled in the Jewish literature[4] as “Simon the Just”. He was a leading Hassidim (later the Pharisees) who initiated what seemed to be a golden era of peace[5]. Simon’s chief maxim was "The world exists through three things: the Law, worship, and beneficence". He was an opponent of the Nazarites and was deeply interested both in the spiritual and in the material development of the nation, refurbishing both the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Simeon the Just is called one of the last members of the Great Synagogue[6] (or Anshei Knesset HaGedolah “The Men of the Great Assembly”). It instituted the prayers and blessings for Israel as well as the benedictions for Kiddush and Habdalah”. They also established of the Feast of Purim. As an example of the change that resulted, after Simeon’s death, men ceased to utter the Tetragrammaton (“YHWH”) aloud (Yoma 30b; Tosef. Soah, xiii).

When Simon died (270 BCE) his son, Onias II, was still a minor so his uncle Eleazar bar Jaddus served as High priest for a short period, but he died within a couple of years. After him Manasseh bar Jaddus officiated as High Priest (even though the very old Jaddus was still alive).

At this point, it may be useful to divert from the main theme and examine three related matters: the feud between the Oniades and the Tobiades, the schism between the Orthodox Jews and the Hellenists, and the debate between the “pious ones” or Hassidim and the modernists or Sadducees.

It was then as it is now, the foundation of governing is taxation. Different schemes may exist for taxation and governments may range from benevolent to wholly corrupt, but their essence remains: take money from those who they govern and use that money for their own purposes and priorities[7]. The gist of all the political struggles and in-fighting from this era (and all others) is to expand the power of taxation. One simply cannot get a proper view of history without close examination of who collects taxes and how they collect them. When we talk about a king taking and occupying some new territory, it is for the purpose of expanding or protecting taxation. Judeans were historically prosperous and thereby a frequent target of others.

During the times that Judea was under foreign control, they almost always had to pay some “tribute” to the foreign leader – even when they had their own “king” or ethnarch. From their origin, the Temple and the priesthood had the power of taxation. During the times that the Jews had a combined King and High Priest, it was difficult or impossible to distinguish taxes that were “political” and taxes that were “religious” (tithes). Sometime around the time of Solomon and Zaddok, the taxes became more easily distinguished and there was a need for tax collection separate from tithes.

We don’t know the details of their history, but between the time of Zaddok and Onias there emerged a powerful family of tax collectors in Judea – the Tobiads. They were generally Aaronites but not Levites and they had a central line descended from Manasseh with strong ties to the Samaritans. They intermarried with the Zaddokites and held positions of trust within the priesthood and government (such as Temple treasurer). As the “establishment” publicans they even collected taxes or tributes for foreign powers, making them wealthy, powerful, and unpopular.

Greek civilization was the dominant world culture from the time of Alexander the Great well into the Roman era and there were many Jews who found the Grecian or Hellenist culture preferable. That was due to three basic facts: the majority of Jews in the world lived within Greek societies[8] (the largest grouping of Jews in the world was in Alexandria), Greek was the language of commerce, government, and most intellectuals, and pro-Hellenistic leaders were in control of both Syria and Egypt. Among the younger Jews, a growing number leaned more and more towards Hellenization creating a rift with traditionalists and the more orthodox. Obviously, there existed a full range of absorption with varying cultural elements, but there would eventually evolve clear lines of distinction.

There were numerous political factions, sects or “parties” within Judea and Judaism, two of which will be important to the succession of the High Priest. The first may generally be designated as the Chasidim (Assidean/Hassidim/Pharisee). They were self designated as “the pious” and Jewish tradition distinguishes between the ' earlier' and the ' later' Chasidim – who began the Pharisee Rabbinical movement. The Hassidim were more liberal and progressive, seeking ways to adapt Judaism to newer ideas. The second sect were the Sadducees (or Tzedukim, sons of Zadok), a priestly group associated with the aristocrats and the leadership of the Temple in Jerusalem. Originally, the Sadducees were the “fundamentalist” or conservative Jews who held to the more traditional beliefs and practices. Later, the name seems to have been purloined or corrupted such that it took on different meanings.

And now, we may return to our main theme…

During this period, Judea was (as Josephus says) like a storm-tossed ship on the ocean. In the “First Syrian War”, (274-271 BCE) Antiochus I, the Seleucid king, was trying to expand his empire's holdings in Syria and Anatolia. Ptolemy II scored a major victory and re-took the areas in coastal Syria (including Judea) and southern Anatolia. The “Second Syrian War” (260-253 BCE) had little military significance and was ended when Antiochus II (Theos) married Ptolemy's daughter Berenice Syra[9]. In each of these wars, Judea was caught in the middle.

It would appear that Manasseh gained and held his position by courting the favor of the Ptolemies (who had controlled Judea since the death of Alexander the Great).  But when he married Nicaso, a daughter of Sanballat (III) the Samaritan Governor, Jaddus gave Manasseh the alternative of divorcing his wife or leaving the priesthood. Manasseh went to Sanballat who promised him that if he would retain his daughter as wife he would build a temple upon Mount Gerizim where Manasseh would officiate as high priest. Manasseh, accordingly, remained with his father-in-law and became high priest in the Samaritan temple[10]. Thus, Onias II finally became High Priest around 250 BCE.

 Antiochus II was likely poisoned by Laodice in 246 BCE and in a competition to put their respective sons on the throne, Laodice claimed that Antiochus had named her son heir while on his deathbed but Berenice argued that her newly born son was the legitimate heir. Thus came the “Third Syrian War” (246-241 BCE) between Ptolemy III (Euergetes) and Queen Laodice.  Berenice asked her brother Ptolemy III, the new Ptolemaic king, to come to Antioch and help place her son on the throne, but when Ptolemy arrived Berenice and her child had been assassinated. Ptolemy declared war on Laodice's newly crowned son, Seleucus II, and campaigned against him (and his brother) with great success.

Upon reaching the peak of their dynasty (240-225 BCE), the Ptolemies were to be significantly weakened by court intrigue and public unrest. Ptolemy III reigned from 246-222 BCE. Onias II died in 240 BCE and was succeeded by his son Simon II[11]. Ptolemy IV Philopator inaugurated his reign (221-204 BCE) with the murder of his queen and mother Berenice II. The young king succumbed to the influence of imperial courtiers and ministers who used their positions for their own self-interest (at the people's expense). In this context, we have the start of the great Jewish feud and historical fraud.

Josephus[12](the Jewish/Roman historian of the first century) provides fascinating reading regarding this period, although it is clear that he was less concerned about the truth  than making his point and advancing his cause. We are left to wonder about the biases and sources (apparently Samaritan and pro-Tobian) of the historian. Josephus paints a picture that often makes little sense (along with getting names and dates wrong), but he does provide some useful information about another powerful Jewish family that we should know about, the Tobiades.

Joseph bar Tobias (apparently a descendant of Tobiah the Ammonite -Neh. 2: 19) was the nephew of Onias II (his mother was the sister of Onias I) who served as Temple treasurer. His father (Tobias) was the chief tax collector. Parsing the work of Josephus, we learn how Tobias got this position…

When the day came on which King Ptolemy was to let the taxes of the cities to farm  and the principals of several countries [Coele Syria, Phoenicia, Judaea, and Samaria] were to bid for them, [Tobias] accused the bidders of conspiring to under-estimate the value of the taxes [which came to eight thousand talents] and bid twice their offer. The king was pleased and said he would confirm the sale of the taxes, but asked [Tobias] what sureties that would be bound for the payment of the money. Tobias answered: "I will give such security, and those of persons good and responsible, and which you shall have no reason to distrust:  thyself and thy wife - and you shall be security for both parties."  Ptolemaeus laughed at the proposal, and granted him the farming of the taxes without any sureties.

The Jews would have been delighted to have non-foreign tax collectors[13] and the Tobians initially gained favor with the Jewish people. We don’t know the dates involved, but Josephus tells us that the Tobians were the Egyptian tax collectors for at least 22 years (probably from around 240-214 BCE). To show the power involved in such, Josephus offers these details (parsed):

Joseph took with him two thousand foot soldiers to Ascalon and demanded the taxes. They refused to pay anything; upon which he seized upon about twenty of the principal men, slew them, gathered what they had together, and sent it all to the king.  Ptolemaeus... gave him leave to do as he pleased. When the Syrians heard of this, they willingly admitted Joseph and paid their taxes. When the inhabitants of Scythopolis would not pay him taxes without disputing about them, he slew the principal men of that city and sent their effects to the king. He gathered great wealth by this farming of the taxes and made use of what estate he had thus gotten in order to support his authority. He privately sent many presents to the king, to Cleopatra, to their friends, and to all that were powerful about the court, thereby purchasing their good-will. (Ibid).

The Tobias family naturally favored continued Egyptian control, but the Onias family favored the Syrians and the improved possibility of greater independence they offered. When Antiochus III took the Seleucid throne in 223 BCE, he set out to restore the possessions lost by his predecessors and two more Syrian Wars (the Fourth from 220-217 BCE and the Fifth from 202-195 BCE) ensued. Joseph was followed by an ambitious son, Hyrcanus.

Simon II (named “the Just” by some historians in contrast to the prior Simon) held the High Priesthood from 220-190 BCE). Antiochus III (“the Great” - brother of Seleucus II) entered into Palestine in 218 BCE by defeating Ptolemy III but was then defeated by in the battle of Raphia (near Gaza) in 217 BCE. The Ptolemaic  victory was also a loss since the native Egyptians who had fought at Raphia broke from Ptolemy in what is known as the Egyptian Revolt and establishing their own kingdom in Upper Egypt. This would preoccupy the Ptolemies, along with other economic problems and rebellions, through the next decade.

Ptolemy IV died in 204 BCE and a bloody conflict over the regency followed (beginning with the murder of the dead king's wife and sister by the ministers Agothocles and Sosibius). Agothocles held the regency for a couple of years - until he was lynched by an Alexandrian mob. The regency was passed from one adviser to another, the nativist movement expanded with the support of Egyptian priests, and the kingdom was in a state of near anarchy

Antiochus III put together a new alliance (with Philip V of Macedon) and undertook a new invasion of Coele-Syria which earned him the important port of Sidon and delivered a crushing blow to the Ptolemies.  He then prepared to invade Egypt itself, but the Romans would suffer no disruption of their grain imports from Egypt and demanded a settlement. The parties willingly complied and in 195 BCE Ptolemy and Antiochus signed a treaty that left the Seleucid king in possession of Coele-Syria and Judea.

Meanwhile, the Judeans had trouble of their own.  The Samaritans were flourishing and took land claimed by the Judeans (Josephus). Simon II chose a course of conciliation and assigned many Tobians (Samaritans and Benjamites) to important posts. When he was replaced by his son, Onias III, in 190 BCE, the intrigue of the High Priesthood would reach its apex and the line of succession would be broken again.

Onias III (known as “the Pious One”) was surrounded by international conflicts and confronted by increasing intra-family tensions, but he repeatedly demonstrated his ability to preserve the prosperity of the country along with the religious and secular authority of his family. He saw the Egyptian-Syrian settlement as an opportunity to change alliances and so he withheld payment of the Egyptian tribute against the advice of his Tobian advisors. The kings of Syria and Egypt were both wanting to have the support of the Jews and so they both honored the Jerusalem Temple and presented it with expensive gifts.

Antiochus III (‘the Great”) was soundly defeated by the Romans in several battles between 191 and 189 BCE and was forced to enter into the Treaty of Apamea in 188 BCE. As part of that treaty, one of Antiochus’ sons was delivered to the Romans as a hostage. However, within a year, Seleucus IV Philopator (the oldest son of Antiochus III) followed his father onto the throne and so the Romans exchanged their hostage, the younger Antiochus IV, for his nephew Demetrius I Soter (the son and heir of Seleucus).  Onias gained the favor of Seleucus and was on such friendly terms with him that the King collected no Temple Tax and even made contributions to the cost of "services of the sacrifices."

The Tobians easily changed loyalties and were becoming more and more Grecianised. Being unable to collect taxes for the Egyptians, they sought favor with the Syrians in a contest for power and wealth against the Oniades. The contest reached a turning point when the head of the Temple - a Tobian named Simeon (bar Bilgah, a Benjamite) - demanded the post of commissioner (“Agoranomos”)[14]  from Onias. (II Macc. 3:4). Onias refused and Simeon turned to Apollonius, son of Thraseas of Tarsus and governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, to inform him about "untold sums of money[15]" held in the Temple treasury. Appolonius told Seleucus and the King dispatched Heliodorus, his chancellor, to investigate and take the money if it was found. When Heliodorus arrived in Jerusalem and made his inquiries, Onias remonstrated that the funds held in the Temple were primarily "deposits of widows and orphans" but also included a substantial sum belonging  to Hyrcanus, son of Joseph bar Tobias[16]. Nevertheless, Heliodorus persisted in his mission and sought to see and abscond with the funds (supposedly consisting of 30,000 pounds of silver and 15,000 pounds of gold) (II Mac. 3).

According to legend (and the Book of the Maccabees), when Heliodorus entered the Temple God intervened in the form of a horse mounted apparition that scared the wits out of Heliodorus. Onias interceded to save Heliodorus, but he was no longer willing to enter the Temple.  Heliodorus returned to Seleucus empty handed and advised the king to send an enemy on this mission instead of him.

The traitor Simeon (the Tobian) then advised Seleucus that Onias had actually tricked Heliodorus to avoid giving up the treasure. His unholy action led to bloodshed between their followers and families. The Oniades won the minor civil war and cast the Tobians out of Jerusalem. Simeon (and followers) ran to Seleucus with further allegations against Onias and asked him to make use of them as his leaders of an expedition into Judea to settle the dispute (Jos. Wars,   ). Instead, Seleucus allowed the Tobians their own little empire east of the Jordan River (in the vicinity of Heshbon) where they built the castle of Tyre, carried on war with the Arabs, and ruled during the remaining seven years of Seleucus’ reign.

With victory over the Tobians came defeat within Onias’ family. With the Tobians gone, other members of Onias’ family assumed vacated positions. Onias’s son Jason obtained access to Temple funds and then went to Seleucus offering an extraordinary sum[17] for the title of High Priest. That might not have been enough, but Jason was as willing to sell out his religion as his family and so he also promised to convert Jerusalem into a Hellenized city and to do away with Jewish services. Seleucus took the deal and Onias was forced into exile.

Jason proved good to his promises: he built a gymnasium near the Temple and instituted the full range of Greek culture[18] and corruption. He set aside the existing Syrian and Roman concessions[19] to the Jews and modified the Temple and its services. Seleucus was so pleased that he granted the citizens of Jerusalem the privileges and title of citizens of Antioch.

Heliodorus assassinated Seleucus and seized the throne for himself, but soon thereafter, the brother of the Seleucus, Antiochus IV Epiphanes re-took the throne with the help of the Pergamon monarch Eumenes II[20]. (The true heir Demetrius, son of Seleucus, was being retained in Rome as a hostage so Seleucus’ infant son, named Antiochus, was formal head of state for a few years until Epiphanes had him murdered). Jason offered to pay Antiochus in order to be confirmed as the new High Priest in Jerusalem and Antiochus accepted the offer, banishing Onias III. Jason sought to create a Greek-style Polis in Jerusalem (re-named Antioch after the king) and abandoned ordinances granting the Judeans religious freedom given under Antiochus III. It is little wonder that Orthodox Jews, including the later Essenes, would view Jason as “the Evil One” and imposter to the high priesthood.

Jason's time as High Priest ended unexpectedly in 172 BCE when he sent Menelaus, the brother of Simon the Benjaminite, to deliver tribute to Antiochus. Menelaus took this opportunity to "outbid" Jason for the priesthood[21] and Antiochus appointed Menelaus (who was not an Aaronite), as the “High Priest” (given the title but not the religious authority). At this point, we see the bifurcation of the high-priest lineage and confusion among historians regarding the name Onias.

After receiving the king's orders he returned to Jerusalem possessing no qualification for the high priesthood, but having the decree of King Seleucus and the enforcement of his army. Thus, Jason supplanted his own brother by bribery and was then supplanted by another through bribery. He was driven out of Jerusalem as a fugitive and ended up in the land of Ammon.

Menelaus held the title to the office, but he was unable to regularly pay the money promised to the king.  Seleucus ordered his general of the Jerusalem citadel, Sostratus, to demand payments past due or to bring Menelaus to Antioch. Unable to pay, Menelaus was forced to leave left his brother Lysimachus to act as the High Priest while he was away. With his life on the line, Menelaus returned to Jerusalem desperate for funds and so he stole the golden vessels belonging to the Temple.

It was in the year 170 BCE that Onias decided that he must go to Seleucus and intercede on behalf of his people. But, before a decision was given, Seleucus was opportunistically assassinated by his minister and "friend" Heliodorus while an accomplice, Andronicus, murdered Seleucus's infant son (the available legitimate heir). But, their coup failed when Antiochus IV Epiphanes returned from Rome and took advantage of the murder to install himself as King Antiochus IV Epiphanes[22].

Menelaus took advantage of the timing and conspired with Heliodorus to have his accomplice Andronicus entice Onias from his sanctuary at Daphne and treacherously slay him. This action caused great indignation among both the Jews and the Greeks (2 Macc 4:34). Nevertheless, Menelaus managed to remain in office[23] and further abrogate the Jewish observances. The new King  ordered Andronicus put to death and Heliodorus banished.

Upon the killing of Onias III, a group of supporters took his young son, Onias IV, and fled to Egypt[24] (many Jews believed that salvation would come from Egypt) to seek sanctuary from the Court of Alexandria: King Ptolemy VI Philometor and Queen Cleopatra I[25]. The royals gladly gave refuge to such a prominent personage who was the enemy of an enemy[26].

 

 

Then, in 167 BCE, the deposed High Priest Jason gathered a small army and made a surprise attack on the city of Jerusalem forcing Menelaus to flee. Meanwhile, Antiochus had taken his army to the Sinai with the intent of settling the long-term feud with the Ptolemies. However, he and his army were turned away[27] from their attack and upon hearing about Menelaus’ situation he took his army to Jerusalem and restored Menelaus as “High Priest”. As punishment for the complicity on the Jews, Antiochus  executed thousands of men, women and children, built a citadel near the Temple called the Acra (partly used later by the Romans as “Antonia”), and decreed most Jewish religious practices unlawful. (See 2 Maccabees 6:1-11). The Temple was desecrated and services were stopped. Judaism in Judea was outlawed and there was no Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem.

This began centuries of “religious civil war” that divided Judea and Judaism into hostile camps— the Orthodox versus the Hellenists. The war was directly related to who should be High Priest and was still being waged during the time of Jesus. There are many indications that the family of Joseph was deeply involved and, therefore, aspects of history related to this feud deserve more detailed explanation.

Once given sanctuary in Egypt, Onias IV soon requested permission to build a Temple in Egypt modeled after the Temple at Jerusalem. There he would reinstate the legitimate Jewish priesthood based upon the Levitical/Aaronite priesthood and orthodox traditions. He sold the idea to Ptolemy by suggesting that building an alternative Temple and place of offering would draw many Jews away from the Syrians and the Jewish oppression in Jerusalem. For Ptolemy, a big selling point for accepting the Jewish Temple was  the claim that the Jews it attracted would be willing soldiers ("B. J." vii. 10,§2). This was clearly indicated by the fact that Onias also proposed to build a fortress around the temple in order to protect the surrounding territory and to serve Ptolemy with his Jewish army. Ptolemy not only agreed to Onias’ plans, but also provided substantial funding for the "Oneion" project ("B. J." vii. 10, § 3). Thus,  Leontopolites[28]   became a Jewish center and the area’s ancient temples were restored for use by the Jews. (See note regarding “Temple of Onias”).

Onias’ timing could hardly have been better since soon after work began on the new Temple and its altar the Jerusalem Temple was taken over by the Hellenists and Jewish services were cut off. With a temple in Egypt, Alexandrian Jews – the largest Jewish population in the world at that time – had a more convenient place for services. Judean Jews had no other choice; not only was their Temple desecrated, their fundamental religious practices were punishable by death. There was no dispute that Onias was a legitimate High Priest (if not the only legitimate one) and the Egyptian Temple became the center of Judaism for several years.

Antiochus's religious persecution proved to be a major miscalculation as it provoked a full-scale revolt (starting in 167 BCE). Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah (together known as the Maccabeans) led a rebellion against Antiochus. By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah (who became known as Yehuda HaMakabi "Judah the Hammer") became the leader of the revolt.  Through the heroic achievements of Judah (defeating two large and well-equipped armies of Antiochus in 165 BCE) the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy gained remarkable success: the Temple was liberated, rebuilt according to the Torah, and rededicated to worship (164 BCE - the December festival of Hanukkah[29] was later instituted to commemorate this triumph). We don’t know who presided over the Temple during this time, but it may well have been Onias IV.

Judah had gained a remarkable victory, but still didn’t control all of Jerusalem, much less Judea. He was repelled (in 164 BCE) when he attempted to drive the Syrian garrison out of its Acra stronghold in the lower city.  Meanwhile, Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV Philopator, escaped from Roman captivity and murdered King Antiochus V Eupator (his cousin) to become the Syrian King (162 BCE). Demetrius sent an army under Bacchides to re-establish the high priesthood at Jerusalem using an ambitious political puppet (who happened to be of Aaronic descent but not in the high-priestly line) named Alcimus (aka  Jacimus , Joachim or ,in Hebrew, Eliacim)[30].

Many Jews[31] welcomed the idea of peace and there was hope that Alcimus would bring both peace and a return to proper worship. He did neither. Aside from following strong Hellenistic positions, Alcimus was simply cruel and immoral. Soon after Bacchides (along with his army) returned to Antioch, Judah Maccabee overcame Alcimus and drove him back to Syria. But Alcimus was persistent and Demetrius couldn’t tolerate such insurrection so he sent Nicanor and his army to restore Alcimus as High Priest. Judah out-smarted and then defeated Nicanor (who was killed). Demetrius became increasingly enraged and sent an even greater army (under Bacchides again) to reinstall Alcimus.

Judah was defeated and killed in a battle near the village of Elasa, just north of Jerusalem in 160 BCE. Jonathan (the youngest son of Mattathias) had been Judah’s chief lieutenant and took over the Maccabean lead. He reorganized the Judean resistance and barely eluded capture by the Syrians.  Alcimus was re-established as High Priest (160 BCE) with a strong garrison that Bacchides left in Jerusalem. Alcimus remained High Priest until 159 BCE when he died of “palsy”. (The Jews believed that it was God acting in response to Alcimus’ desecrations of the Temple).

The court at Antioch didn’t nominate a successor High Priest and there ensued an inter-sacerdotium of seven years in the list of the High Priests during which the high-priestly functions were performed by a Sagan or vice high-priest. [32] Josephus (Ant. 20:10) relates that the office was vacant during this time, but this is indeed highly unlikely since the High Priest was a necessary part of the rites on the Day of Atonement. In other places (Ant. 12:10-11) Josephus suggests that Judas Maccabeus held the office for three years after the death of Alcimus, but Judas actually died a year before Alcimus. One theory (Dupont-Sommer) holds that “the Wicked Priest” (Jonathan) attacked and killed the High Priest known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” on the Day of Atonement (when Jews were forbidden by the Law of Moses to defend themselves) and that the Teacher of Righteousness was an Oniade whose name was wiped out by the Maccabeans.

Alcimus’ death created a void at the same time the Syrian throne was being challenged. Demetrius had lost the support of Ptolemy and was being challenged by Ptolemy’s son-in-law Alexander Balas. He needed the troops that were garrisoned in Jerusalem, so he reached out to Jonathan again. Offering to return hostages being held in the Acra and accept his rule of Judea in return for peace, Demetrius gained Jonathan’s acceptance. Thus, Jonathan was able to take up residence in Jerusalem and began to fortify it. Balas then petitioned Jonathan for his support in his bid to become King of Syria and offered even more: appointment as High Priest and the title of Prince. Jonathan accepted Balas’ offer and during the Feast of Tabernacles in 153 BCE Jonathan put on the High Priest's garments and officiated for the first time. Balas was successful in his bid and, three years later[33], Alexander Balas conferred on Jonathan both the civil and military authority over Judea (1 Maccabees 9:73-10:66). This was the start of the Hasmonean dynasty in Judea.

Further conflict arose between Alexander and Demetrius II and Jonathan again supported Alexander. In return Jonathan was given the gift of the city of Accaron with its territory (1 Maccabees 10:67-89). After Alexander Balas' death (145 BCE), Jonathan allied himself with Demetrius II (Nicator) and was rewarded with the addition of three Samaritan districts (Ephraim, Lydda, and Ramathaim) to Judea. Also, Demetrius decreed this extension of Judea to be free from all taxes and confirmed all of Jonathan’s dignities and titles.

When Demetrius was overthrown, Jonathan courted more gentile allies and took control of more territory. He even invaded southern Galilee. Despite spectacular external political gains, Jonathan's policies created religious discord among conservative/orthodox Jews, many of whom viewed his claim to the high-priesthood as illegitimate. The orthodox Jews had not forgotten who the legitimate High Priest was (Onias IV).

Onias had not only enjoyed the favor of the Egyptian court, he had succeeded in elevating Egyptian Judaism to a position of greater respect and significance. As he had suggested, a large number of Judeans (called "inhabitants" by the Egyptians) had either accompanied him to Egypt or had followed later. These inhabitants performed military service and served the Ptolemies well enough to be given tracts of land for their own. ("Ant." xi. 8,§6). The district even became known as the "country of Onias" Like the Maccabees (Tobiades), Onias had an army and had fought on behalf of his benefactors. (Egypt had the same type of intrigue and in-fighting as the Syrians). (Josephus, "Contra Ap." ii. 5).

The situation in Egypt changed when peace came to Judea and Ptolemy VI Philometor died in 145 BCE.  His wife, Cleopatra II, proposed joint rule with Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (aka “Ptollemy II Physcon”) and he became Pharaoh in 144 (after murdering Cleopatra’s son). The new Pharaoh had been opposed by Alexandrian intellectuals and Jews[34] and he took his revenge on them, engaging in mass purges and expulsions. With the changes in politics in both Egypt and Judea, there were good reasons for the Egyptian Jews to think that it was the right time to restore the legitimate High Priest to the Jerusalem Temple. The Tobiades had other ideas. But first, we should return to Jonathan Maccabee and the Syrian throne.

Diodotus Tryphon, a general of Alexander Balas, used Balas’s son as a pretext for assuming reign of Coele-Syria (the southern part which included Judea). In 143 BCE, he went with an army to Judea and invited Jonathan to Scythopolis (aka Akka) for a “friendly” meeting. There, he persuaded Jonathan that his intentions were peaceful and promised to give him Ptolemais and other fortresses.  Jonathan fell for the bait, dismissed his army of 40,000 men and went to Ptolemais with 1,000 men as its garrison (142 BCE). Diodotus killed or captured the entire army and held Jonathan captive.

But when Diodotus was about to enter Judea, he was confronted by the new Jewish leader, Simon Maccabee. Surprised by the engagement, Diodotus hoped to trick Simon the way he had his brother. Demanding a meager tribute of one-hundred talents, he offered to trade Jonathan for Jonathan's two sons (as hostages). Although Simon did not trust Diodotus, he agreed to the trade so that he wouldn’t be accused of causing the death of his brother. But, even after the sons were delivered to him, Diodotus did not liberate Jonathan because Simon continued to block his advance into Judea. Once he saw that his trick had failed, Diodotus executed Jonathan at Baskama.

Thus, Simon assumed the High Priesthood in 142 BC, receiving the double office of High Priest and Prince of Israel. A “large assembly "of the priests and elders of Judea was gathered and the leadership of the Hasmoneans was established by a resolution, adopted in 141 BCE. Their decree held that “Simon should be their leader (ethnarch), commander of the army, and High Priest forever, until there should arise a faithful prophet" (1 Macc. 14:41). A copy of the decree was engraved upon tablets which were set up in the Temple court. Ironically, the election was performed in Hellenistic fashion without meaningful involvement of the Oniades. 

Simon had an army large enough to enforce the decree and enjoyed popular support among the Jewish people having led them to semi-independence. He reigned from 142 to 135 BCE. The Roman Senate accorded the newly formed Hasmonean dynasty recognition and authority in 139, when the delegation of Simon was in Rome. Simon led the Jews in relative peace and prosperity, until he was assassinated at the instigation of his son-in-law Ptolemy bar Abubus (aka Abobus or Abobi), who had been named governor of the region by Antiochus VII Sidetes . (He invited Simon and his two sons Mattathias and Judah to a banquet, where he had them murdered).

Simeon was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus in 134 BCE. John’s early years as High Priest (he declined the title of regent) were tumultuous. He was lucky to escape the assassination that killed his father and brothers, but he was unable to avenge their murder. He had Ptolemy trapped in the fortress at Dagon, but Ptolemy had his mother captive in the fort. Whenever Hyrcanus tried to attack, Ptolemy would parade out John’s mother and torture her on the walls of the fort.

Antiochus VII Sidetes decided to invade Judea and laid seige to Jerusalem. John knew that the army would starve, so he forced those who couldn’t fight out of the city. Antiochus wouldn’t let them pass through his lines so John eventually had to allow them back into the city and bid for a truce. The terms of the truce required payment of three thousand talents of silver, breaking down the walls and battlements of Jerusalem, Judean participation in the Seleucid war against the Parthians, and recognition of Seleucid control (Josephus, Antiquities 13.245). When Hyrcanus needed to loot the Temple (David's sepulcher ) to pay the 3000 talents, his low popularity plummeted.

John honored the terms of the truce and so in 130 he marched against the Parthians with Antiochus Sidetes. However, the Syrian King fell in battle and John seized this opportunity (already having his army in the field) to extend the borders of Judea to the line it had held in the days of Simon. He also hoped to repeat Simon’s success in allying with Rome. He conquered Shechem, one of the most important towns of Samaria, and destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim – thereby creating an enduring hostility between the Jewish peoples of Judea and Samaria.

John’s use of a Greek regnal name alienated the anti-Hellenists. John also created hostility between the Jewish sects (although he made appeasements to most of them). He withdrew religious authority from the Sanhedrin and there were accusations that he was unfit to be High Priest because his mother had once been held captive. Eleazar ben Po'era demanded that he forfeit the diadem of the high priest because he did not have the required lineage from David or proper descendancy from Aaron.

John’s reign lasted for thirty years (until 104 BCE), when, according to his will, the leadership of the country was awarded to his wife while his oldest son Aristobulus received only the high-priesthood (recognizing that the High Priest should not also be king). Aristobulus was not satisfied with this, so he put his mother in prison and starved her to death. By such means he came to be both High Priest and King for just a year before he died (hopefully a miserable death).

Aristobulus was succeeded by his brother, Alexander Jannæus (the third son of John Hyrcanus, by his second wife), who ascended to both the throne and High-Priesthood in the year 102 B.C. (Salome, the childless wife of Artobulus had freed him from prison upon her husband’s death when he promised to marry her). Jannaeus had intentions (like his predecessors) of expanding Jewish influence and territory. However, he proved to be incompetent as a general [35]and had to be rescued from defeat through the assistance of Egyptian Jews.

Cleopatra III feared that her banished son Ptolemy Lathurus (from Cyprus) would become too powerful a threat to her reign if he was able to capture Judea, so she allowed  two Jewish generals (Helkias and Ananias – both Oniades) to take an army to support Janneaus. They not only forced Lathurus back to Cyprus and saved Jannaeus, they convinced Cleopatra not to go ahead and take control of Judea.

Jannaeus lack of real success in his efforts to enlarge his holdings, while consuming vast resources and costing the lives of tens of thousands of Jews, led to increasing tensions and even civil war at home. Tensions had been high since the policies of the Hasmoneans gave greater prominence to political interests and less to religious considerations. The Pharisees, who represented popular sentiment, largely ignored the transgressions[36] of the Hasmonean princes when their exploits served to directly secure Judea and Palestine (and allow free worship).

Jannaeus’ warlike inclinations aligned him with the Sadducees (the aristocratic class) who were the  people most deeply interested in national  aggrandizement and expansion. During one Feast of Tabernacles he demonstrated his contempt for the Pharisaic prescribed offerings (the water libation) by allowing the holy water to run over his feet. The people present were so incensed at their High Priest that they threw coins[37] (which they carried in accordance with one of the customs of this festival) at him and assailed him with loud cries of "son of the captive!" (as explained above). In response, Jannaeus (who appeared to have is Pisidian and Cilician mercenaries standing by) had some 6,000 Pharisees[38]  killed.

This incident led to civil war.  The opponents of Jannaeus (and his Sadducee supporters) decided that it was time to restore the High Priesthood to legitimate holders (as is reflected in the Dead Sea Scroll labeled 4Q390
[39]). For six years the civil war continued between the people and the royal troops leading to over 50,000 deaths. Out of desperation, some of Jannaeus’ opponents turned to the Syrian king Demetrius III (son of Demetrius Eucærus) for help. But his help was too successful and Jannaeus was defeated so soundly that many of his opponents feared that the Syrians would try to take advantage of their victory and resume control over Judea. With this change of sides, the Syrians were compelled to withdraw and Jannaeus regained power. Jannaeus sought peace with the Pharisees but was offered only one option: his death. They simply could not forgive his brutal cruelty and sacrilege of massacring the defenseless multitude in the sacred precincts of the Temple. Unfortunately for them, they had not yet seen the full scale of Jannaeus’ evil.

Upon the advice of the Sadducee Diogenes, Jannaeus captured some 800 Pharisees and had them nailed to crosses. As if such a monstrous deed wasn’t enough, Jannaeus took it even farther by organizing a feast (surrounding himself with his courtiers, concubines, and courtesans) while he had the families (women and children) of the Pharisees being crucified dismembered and executed in front of them[40]. The bloody spectacle so terrorized his Pharisee opponents that they fled by the thousands (8,000+) to Syria[41] and Egypt[42].

Hated by his own people, Jannaeus succumbed to the inebriety to which he had become addicted.  A persistent illness (alcoholism?) undermined his strength and rendered the last three years of his life full of suffering. During the siege of the fortified town Ragaba, he succumbed to his ailment in 78 BCE. Salome Alexandra, his wife, was present at his deathbed[43] and he entrusted to her the reins of government.

Alexandra's brother, Simeon ben Shetah, was a leader of the Pharisees and she sought peace between the factions. She appointed John Hyrcanus II, son of Alexander Jannaeus, as High Priest (76-66 BCE) and Simeon ben Shetah to be head of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council of State). They resolved that every young Jewish man should be educated in the Hebrew Scriptures and organized a comprehensive system of schools and teachers to achieve that goal. The political influence of the Pharisees grew tremendously under Alexandra’s reign and the power of the Sanhedrin was expanded. The Mishnah and the Talmud (written subsequently) record numerous rulings ascribed to the Pharisees in a diversity of subjects including sacrifices and other ritual practices in the Temple, civil and criminal law, and governance. The influence of the Pharisees over the lives of the common people remained strong and their rulings were deemed authoritative for many generations.

Alexandra (who was in her late 70s) became ill and her son Aristobulus II (who sought the support of the Sadducees) rose against her in order to prevent the succession of the elder son Hyrcanus II (who had Pharisee support).  Despite Alexandra’s wishes to the contrary, she was succeeded by Aristobulus II in 67 BCE. The rivalry between Hyrcanus (II) and Aristobulus (II) brought about another civil war.

At one point during the conflict, Hyrcanus took refuge in the citadel of Jerusalem (a remnant of the Acra), but when Aristobulus captured the Temple, Hyrcanus was compelled to surrender and renounce his office of High Priest (because Hyrcanus held Aristobulus's wife and her children hostage in the fortress he was allowed to keep the revenues of his office). With the brothers reconciled, they changed houses in Jerusalem such that Aristobulus went to the royal palace and ruled from 67–63 BCE).

That would have been the end of the civil war except for the machinations of Antipater the Idumean. Antipater had hopes of controlling Judea and saw that it would be easier to achieve that goal if the weaker and less warlike Hyrcanus controlled the government instead of Aristobulus. Accordingly, Antipater advised Hyrcanus that Aristobulus was planning to have him killed. Believeing this was true, Hyrcanus fled to Aretas, King of Nabatæa. However, Aretas and Antipater were actually co-conspirators and using Hyrcanus as their excuse, they attacked Jerusalem with their combined armies (about 50,000 strong). During the six month siege (63 BCE), the “allies”of Hyrcanus captured “Onias the pious” (aka Honi HaM'agel or Onias the Circle Drawer[44]) and ordered him to pray for the demise of Aristobulus. Honi instead prayed: "Lord of the universe, as the besieged and the besiegers both belong to Your people, I beseech You not to answer the evil prayers of either." After this, the followers of Hyrcanus stoned him to death. Because Onias was greatly revered, this action incensed the majority of the Jews – Pharisee or Sadducee.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world was rapidly becoming Roman and in 63 BCE the Roman general Marcus Aemilius Scaurus went to Syria to take possession of the Seleucid empire after Pompey the Great and the Roman army’s decisive victories over Antiochus XIII Asiaticus. Pompey decided to bring Judea under the rule of the Romans.

He summoned the Hasmonean brothers, delegates of the people's party (represented by an unnamed third claimant of the Jewish throne who sought an autocracy) along with others (including Antipater) who were presented to Pompey.  He received lavish gifts from them as they bid for his favor, but he eventually sided with Antipater and followed his course – choosing Hyrcanus as a weak leader who could be better controlled. Aristobulus guessed the designs of Pompey and tried to secure himself in the fortress of Alexandrium[45]; but soon realized that resistance was futile and surrendered at the first summons of Pompey (offering to deliver Jerusalem in the process).

 

Some Jewish patriots and members of the “people’s party” (mostly supporters of Aristobulus and Sadducees) were not willing to give up to the Romans and forced a siege of the Temple. It took the Romans three months (and a Sabbath day attack) to break the siege. They killed all the priests who were officiating in the Temple (whether combatants or not) along with 12,000 other Jews. Pompey entered the Holy of Holies, but chose not to further desecrate it.  Judaea became a “protectorate of Rome” (with a substantial tribute) under the supervision of the Roman governor of Syria Aulus Gabinius. The ambitiousness of Aristobulus and weaknesses of Hyrcanus had caused Judea to lose its independence again.

Thus, under Roman control in 63 BCE, Judaea was allowed their High Priest (John Hyrcanus II) while Antipater the Idumaean[46] was given effective control of the country (as epitropos or “regent”). The Romans served to regulate trade and maximize tax revenue, but were unsuccessful in keeping the peace.

Aristobulus and his son Alexander (along with a number of other captives) were taken as prisoners by Pompey for his triumphant return to Rome. However, while in route to Rome, Alexander escaped and promptly organized a revolt against Hyrcanus. With some difficulty Gabinius restored order and in 57 BCE he split the Hasmonean Kingdom into Galilee, Samaria, and Judea with five districts of legal and religious councils[47] – effectively removing Hyrcanus’ political power. In 54 BCE, Gabinius handed over the province to his successor as Governor of Syria, Marcus Licinius Crassus.

Then, in 50 BCE, Julius Caesar chose to use Aristobulus and his family as his clients to try and take control of Judea from Hyrcanus and Antipater (who supported Pompey in the growing feud between Caesar and Pompey). But Antipater struck first by having Aristobulus poisoned in Rome and Alexander executed in Antioch. But when Pompey was killed by Ptolemy XIII (in 48 BCE), Antipater and Hyrcanus quickly changed allegiances and led the Jewish forces in support of Caesar at Alexandria. This brought them Caesar's favor and secured an enlargement of their authority in Palestine. Caesar ignored the claims of Aristobulus's younger son, Antigonus the Hasmonean and in 47 BCE confirmed the Judean ethnarchy for Hyrcanus (also continuing his High Priesthood). Ceasar also named Antipater the first Roman Procurator of Judea, restored Joppa to the Hasmonean domain, granted Judea freedom from all tribute and taxes to Rome, and guaranteed the independence of the Judean administration.

Hyrcanus willingly let Antipater continue running the government even though everyone knew that he was mostly interested in promoting his own family. Antipater appointed his sons to positions of influence: Phasael was made Governor of Jerusalem and Herod Governor of Galilee. But soon thereafter, Herod was accused of abuses and was put on trial. This led to increasing tension between Hyrcanus and Antipater, especially when Herod was forced into exile in 46 BCE.

Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE and unrest and confusion spread throughout the Roman world, including Judaea. Antipater wisely sided with Cassius (one of Caesar's assassins), but in the midst of his rising success Antipater was poisoned[48] while feasting with Hyrcanus in 43 BCE. Phasael managed to kill the assassins and maintain the control over Judea for Antipater's family. However, the Roman civil war was headed their way.

In support of Cassius’ bid to become the new Roman Emperor, Quintus Labienus declared himself proconsul of Syria. He joined the Parthians in invading Roman territories in 40 BCE, fighting against Mark Anthony. Antigonus encouraged Labienus and the Parthians to invade Syria and Palestine and formed an army from the many Jews eager to support the scion of the Maccabean house to help drive out the hated Idumean puppet king.

Phasael and Hyrcanus went to negotiate with the Parthians, but were captured instead. Antigonus bit off Hyrcanus's ear to make him unsuitable for the High Priesthood and put Phasael to death. Herod fled to seek the support of Mark Antony in Rome. Antigonus (Mattathias to the Hebrews) bore the double title of king and High Priest for only three years (40-37 BCE).

In Rome, Mark Anthony strove to get Herod named king of Judea and in 40 BCE succeeded in persuading Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) and the Roman Senate to agree (giving him the title of “Basileus”, the highest possible Roman title at the time). In 39 BCE, a Roman counterattack killed Labienus and recovered Asia Minor. After the Parthians' defeat, Herod led another Roman army to retake Jerusalem, capturing the holy city from Antigonus after a five-month siege in 37 BCE. Antigonus was delivered to Mark Antony and was executed[49] shortly thereafter. That marked the end of the Hasmonean dynasty[50] but not its influence in Judea or on the High Priesthood.

Herod began his rule in 37 BCE with revenge, trepidation, discontent, confusion, and discord.  Strong opposition arose to his appointment because he was not of proper kingly (Davidic) ancestry or Jewish priestly heritage[51] . But Herod was both ruthlessness and shrewd; he murdered all the remaining judges from his earlier trial in Jerusalem and executed all of the remaining male relatives of Hyrcanus - anyone who might reasonably dispute his throne.

Also early among his tasks was the selection and appointment of a new High Priest. Herod needed someone to replace the deformed Hyrcanus as high priest and he desired to choose the least threatening possibility. Interestingly, he chose a member of the Zadokite/Onias family, Hananiel  (Ananel , Ananelus), a priest from Egypt. But Alexandra, Herod's mother-in-law, was insulted that her sixteen-year-old son Aristobulus[52] (the brother of Herod’s wife Mariamne) was not named. She asked Cleopatra (via Marc Antony) to force Herod to appoint Aristobulus as high priest and upon that request, Herod immediately (in 36 BCE) removed Ananel and made the 17 year old Aristobulus high priest.

During the following feast of Tabernacles people were showing great affection for the handsome and likeable Aristobulus. Herod found that excessively threatening and decided to get rid of this potential rival. After the feast concluded Herod joined Alexandra in Jericho and invited Aristobulus to go swimming where some men hired by Herod drowned Aristobulus by “accident”. Herod made a great showing of lamentation and arranged a magnificent funeral , but Alexandra knew the truth and devoted her life to revenge.

She informed Cleopatra of the murder and demanded an inquiry. Herod had no choice but to go and face possible death. But before he left, Herod told his uncle Joseph to keep watch over Mariamne and to kill her if he should be executed. Herod appeared before Marc Antony and put forth an eloquent defense (along with a suitable bribe) that led to his acquittal.  When Herod returned to Jerusalem, Joseph's wife Salome (Herod's sister) accused Joseph of having intercourse with Mariamne. Mariamne denied the allegation and Herod believed her, but she learned about the instructions that Herod had given Joseph. Herod found out that Joseph had tattled so he executed him without a trial and then had Alexandra bound in chains and put in prison as a troublemaker. Not long aftwerwards, he had Mariamne killed. It didn’t pay to be related to Herod.

With the death of Aristibulus, Herod reappointed Hananiel (aka Ananeel )as High Priest (36 BCE) and there was a period of relative stability while Herod tried to consolidate his position and plan his great building projects. After the death of Hananiel (30 BCE), Herod appointed another Egyptian Yeshua bar Phiabi (aka Joshua ben Fabus or “Jesus bar Phabet” according to Josephus) as High Priest from 30-23 BCE. (We know very little about this person) . Then there was more intrigue.

Herod never fully got over the loss of Mariamne and it was reported that he frequently lamented over her. His early years as king were full of court intrigues and the consequent brutalities. For this reason and to quell complaints against his legitimacy, Herod hoped for an alliance with the sacerdotal aristocracy which should legitimatize him.

Conveniently and ironically, another Mariamne came into his life – one who was esteemed as the most beautiful woman of that time. People spoke of her with such admiration that Herod invited her to his palace and he became smitten with her. This new Mariamne was the daughter of the priest Simon bar Boethus from Alexandria. Seeking the daughter’s affection, the father’s consent for marriage, and the aforementioned alliance, Herod offered Simon the office of High Priest. Thus, Simon ben Boethus served as High Priest from 23-5 BCE. Given the fact that Herod re-built the Jerusalem Temple during this period (20-10 BCE for the actual Temple), the importance of this High Priest can hardly be estimated.

The Boethusians[53] would be prominent from this time forward. From the family of Boethus we would later gain the following high priests: Joezer, who filled the office twice; Eleazar; Simon Cantheras; his son Elioneus; and Joshua b. Gamla (by marriage to Martha who belonged to the family (Yeb. vi. 4)).

These Boethusians
[54] were of ancient aristocratic blood and their new good fortune blended with the Herodian high aristocracy to elevate them to near sovereignty.  When the Gospels speak of “the chief-priests, the scribes, and the elders”, they might well have given them the name Boethusians. In this we may see the difficulties in categorizing individuals during the time of Jesus – orthodox Oniades later became aristocratic Hellenist Sadducees.

Herod remain suspicious of his heirs throughout his life. In 13 BCE Herod named Antipater, his first-born son by Doris, first heir. Meanwhile, Herod suspected both his sons from his marriage to Mariamne I, Alexander and Aristobulus (IV), of intending to murder him. He took them to Caesar Augustus be tried, but Augustus reconciled the three and Herod amended his will so that Alexander and Aristobulus rose in the royal succession (remaining below Antipater). Mariamne (II) bore Herod one son, also called Herod Philip (sometimes known as Herod Boethus).

In 8 BC, Herod accused his Hasmonean sons (those by Mariamne I) of high treason. This time Augustus gave him the permission to proceed legally against his sons – and they were executed. That left Herodias (Herod’s grand-daughter by Aristobulus IV and Berenice) orphaned and a minor. According to Herod’s wishes, Herod II Boethus (Philip) married Herodias so that her connection to the Hasmonean bloodline would support his right to succeed Herod. This marriage was opposed by Antipater III (Herod’s oldest son) and so Herod specifically demoted Herod II Boethus to second in line to the succession.

Simon ben Boethus died in 5 BCE and was replaced by his son-in-law Matthias ben Theophilus (father of Josephus the historian and first of two High Priests of the same name).  This High Priest suffered great indignity on his first eve of the Day of Atonement (probably the most important day of the priest’s year) when he dreamt he was having sexual intercourse was therefore ritually impure for the highest of holy services. Instead, his kinsman Joseph ben Ellem[55] acted as High Priest for that day. ("Ant." xvii. 6, § 4; Tosef., Yoma, i. 4; Yoma 12b; Yer. Yoma 38d).

Finally, in 4 BCE, zealot youths demolished the golden eagle (an idolatrous Roman symbol) over the main entrance of the Temple of Jerusalem. Herod arrested them, brought them to court, and sentenced them to death. When it was found that Pharisee teachers had inspired the action, Herod had them executed (burned alive) as well.

Antipater was charged with the intent to poison Herod. Herod was already seriously ill but wrote a new will naming Antipas (from his fourth marriage with Malthace) as his successor. Otherwise, Antipater's execution would have made Herod II Boethus first in the line of succession. (It seemed though that Philip’s mother had knowledge of the poison plot and failed to stop it, so Herod dropped Philip from his position just days before he died).

 With the death of Herod, radical Jewish elements rose in revolt: Judah b. Zippori in Jerusalem, Judas in the Galilee, Simon in Perea, a former slave of Herod, who burned down the royal palace at Jericho, and Athronges in Judea, a shepherd who led a two-year rebellion. The Syrian legate Publius Quinctilius Varus took command of Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee, and immediately put down the uprisings, killing thousands of Jews by crucifixion and selling many into slavery. With governance re-established, Augustus divided Herod's kingdom among his sons: Archelaus (from Malthace) received Judea and Samaria), Herod Antipas (also by Malthace) became tetrarch of Galilee and the southern Transjordan (Peraea), and Philip (from Mariamne II) received the northern Transjordan (Batanaea).

The High Priest Matthias ben Theophilus had been implicated in the insurrection when the golden eagle was pulled down from the gate of the Temple and so Herod Archelaus (the new ruler of Judea) replaced him with Joazar ben Boethus  – a Sadducee[56]. But that choice was very unpopular and several groups petitioned Archelaus during the gathering for Passover to replace him. Perhaps as a mockery of their request, he substituted Joazar’s brother Eleazar ben Boethus (also a Sadducee) as High Priest.

For reasons unknown, when Archelaus returned from his confirmation visit to Rome, he replaced Eleazar ben Boethus with Joshua (Jesus) ben Sie (Siah) (3 BCE). We know little about Joshua ben Sie, but his high priesthood lasted for only two years. Then Joazar ben Boethus was made High Priest a second time in 4 CE, and deposed in 10 CE. Because he was replaced by Ananus (Annas / Hanan) ben Seth – who was appointed by Quirinius (the Roman governor of Syria) - the dates of his service are well established. Annas was appointed High Priest just after the Romans had deposed Archelaus. Annas served in the office until the age of 36 when he was deposed by the procurator Gratus in 15 CE 'for imposing and executing capital sentences which had been forbidden by the imperial government.'

This appointment marked another decline in the High Priesthood. At least Herod had felt some necessity of appointing lackeys who had some credentials and popular support. The Romans merely appointed whoever was most likely to do their bidding and keep the peace. Beginning with Ananus, every High Priest would answer directly to the Roman Procurator of Judea and the office would somehow involve Ananus. Even after he was deposed, Ananus remained highly influential in religious, social, and political circles - aided greatly by his five sons and his son-in-law. He may have served as Nasi or president of the Sanhedrin after being High Priest.

Ismael ben Fabus (Phiabi) (15-16 CE), another Alexandrian priest, was appointed High Priest by Valerius Gratus, the predecessor Procurator of Pontius Pilate. Legend holds that he was "the handsomest man of his time, whose effeminate love of luxury was the scandal of the age". He was followed by Ananus’ son Eleazar ben Ananus (16-17 CE) and Simon ben Camithus (17-18 CE).

Joseph bar Caiaphas (Yosef bar Kayafa) became the High Priest in 18 CE. He was the son-in-law of Ananus and reportedly belonged to the Sadducee sect. In the Mishnah (Parah 3:5) he is said to oppose the Mishnat Ha-Hasidim (“extra law for the Pious”) and is referred to as “Ha-Koph” (“the monkey” -a play on his name). Of course, Caiaphas is most famous for his involvement in the life of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament and within that record there is both contradiction and confusion. What does seem clear is that Ananus was still “pulling the strings” of his son-in-law. In 36 CE, Pontius was recalled to Rome and Caiaphas was removed by Vitellius, the new governor of Syria.

Because they had no influence on the life of Jesus, the remaining successors to the High Priesthood are merely listed briefly:

Caiaphas was succeeded by Jonathan bar Anan (36 CE) a brother-in-law of Caiaphas.
Jonathan bar Ananus, (37 CE). Appointed by Vitellius
 Theophilus bar Ananus (Jonathan), (37-41 CE). Appointed by Herod Agrippa I
 Simon Kantheras (Cantharus), son of Boethus, (41-43 CE). Appointed by Herod Agrippa I – led Paul’s tribunal.
 Matthias bar Ananus, (43-44 CE).
Elionaius (Elioneus) bar Kantheras (Kobi /Gamus) (above), (44-45 CE).  Appointed by Herod of Chalcis.
Simon bar Cantharus (part of 45 CE) was a appointed a second time and was deposed the same year.

Joseph bar Kami (Cainus / Caneus), (45-47 CE). Appointed by Herod of Chalcis.

 Ananias bar Nebedaius (Nebedeus / Hananiah ben Nedebai), 47-55 CE

Jonathan (Joazar) bar Ananus restored Under Agrippa II.
 Ishmael bar Phiabi III, (55-61 CE). Appointed by Herod Agrippa II.
 Joseph Qabi, son of Simon (above), 61-62 CE. From Iudaea. Appointed by Herod Agrippa II.
 Ananus bar Ananus (Alexander ben Hanan), 62 CE. Fifth son of Ananus to act as High Priest. Appointed                by Herod Agrippa II. Tried and executed James, the brother of Jesus, and was removed from        office after only three months. Fighting against the zealots, he was killed commanding the Jews               during the Zealot Temple Siege.

 Jesus (Ismael) bar Damnaius (Damneus), 62-65 CE.
 Joshua (Jesus) bar Gamaliel (House of Phiabi), 63-65 CE. Since he was  betrothed to Martha, daughter of             Jonathias bar Elioneiai and grand daughter of Caiaphas, before his elevation, he was permitted     to marry her while High Priest.
Matthias bar Theophilus (grandson of above), 65-67 CE. Was ousted by the zealots during the    revolution.
Phinnias bar Samuel, 67-70 CE. From Aptha. Appointed (by lots) during the war by the Jerusalem “mob”.              A man who proved unworthy of the title and was subject to ridicule by other priests.

The Jewish High Priesthood ended with the Roman War in 70 CE..


[1] Hegesippus – Vol. 5 of his Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church. (From Jerome).

[2] According to the Samaritans, a civil war broke out between the Sons of Itamar and the Sons of Phinehas resulting in the division of the High Priesthood between those who followed Eli and those who followed Uzzi ben Bukki (to Mount Gerizim in Samaria). Thus, the Samaritans maintained a separate priesthood and Temple.

[3] Antigonus first took Judea following the death of Alexander but Ptolemy I (Soter) seized Jerusalem in 320 BCE.

[4] Sirach 1:1 and Ab. i. 2.

[5] Peace is a relative term here and is relevant only to the Jews in Judea. Over a century of war would ensue after the death of Alexander the Great as his generals divided up his kingdom (especially Seleucid in Syrian and Ptolemy in Egypt). Judea was caught in the middle and was passed back and forth until Antiochus defeated the Ptolemies in 198 BCE and took control for most of the next 150 years.

[6] An assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets that had existed from the end of the era of prophets.

[7] Of course, in “representative” type governments, the idea is that the government officials use the taxes in a manner consistent with the purposes and priorities of the people they represent (ideally).

[8] With the translation of Jewish scripture into Greek (the “Septuagint” from Alexandria beginning in 300 BCE) and its widespread dissemination, there was a decentralization of Jewish learning and religious teaching akin to what happened when King James had the Bible translated into English.

[9] Antiochus repudiated his previous wife, Laodice (who was also his cousin), but turned over substantial domains to her.

[10] The High Priesthood of the Samaritans is not significant in the life of Jesus and is therefore not a subject of this work. Certainly, the history of dispute between the Samariatns and the Judeans was significant and it seems clear that Jesus and the Samaritans were friendlier than expected – he travelled freely through Samaria and spoke favorably of them.

[11] The historical record, and thus some historians, confuse the names and dates during this period such that Onias is sometimes called Simon and the designations of Onias II, III, IV, and V are confused.

[12] Josephus seemed to be descended through the Tobian line and wanted to establish their Davidic lineage and legal ascension to the high priesthood for his own purposes. His works that he wrote for the Romans regarding Jewish history, include  “Jewish Antiquities” (Book 12), where he offers what has become known as the Tobian Romance. See “Did Moses speak Attic?: Jewish historiography and scripture…” by Lester L. Grabbe  2001 (pp 137-38). His pro-Samaritan stance is readily recognized elsewhere.

[13] Under non-Jewish tax collection, the taxes included crown-money (tribute paid by the local government), one third of the field-crops, half of the produce from lumber, and a tax on the Levitical tithes and on all revenues of the Temple. There was a royal monopoly on salt and the forests so 100% of their production was taxed in some fashion. We don’t know how this changed under the Tobians, if at all.

[14] The commissioner controlled such things the price of goods and public employment – acting effectively as mayor of Jerusalem.

[15] “In the treasuries of Jerusalem are stored many thousands of private deposits, not belonging to the temple account, and rightfully the property of King Seleucus.” (IV Mac. 2:19).

[16] Joseph had seven sons by his first wife but then married the daughter of his Alexandrian brother Solymius. Their son, Hyrcanus, was his father's favorite and primary heir.

[17] 440 talents of silver and other bribes.

[18] “He induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat.”

[19] The Roman concessions had been secured under the leadership of Onias by John, the father of Eupolemus, who had travelled to Rome and established friendship and alliance with the Romans.

[20] Heliodorus is a fascinating character in history – he later served as ambassador to King Antialkidas (Antialcidas), travelled to India, converted to Hinduism, and befriended King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra.

[21] By three hundred talents of silver.

[22] Seleucus' true heir, Demetrius, was still a hostage in Rome.

[23] Josephus (Ant., XII, v, 1) says that "on the death of Onias the high priest, Antiochus gave the high-priesthood to his brother Jesus (Jason)," but the account of 2 Macc given above is the more probable and is followed herein.

[24] It is clear that both the authors of the books of the Maccabbees (along with Josephus) intended to depreciate the worth of the Temple of Onias in Egypt and consistent with that intention tends to uphold the dignity of the temple of Jerusalem. Related details were ignored and invented.

[25] Antiochus (III) knew that the Romans would not permit him to keep the lands taken during his attack in 200 (and victory at Panium 198 BCE), so he told them that he wanted to make peace with Ptolemy (V) and offered the marriage of his daughter Cleopatra (I) as a showing of good faith.

[26] The Ptolemy and Seleucid families had been at war almost continuously since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. See the Syrian Wars… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Syrian_War.

[27] In 172 BCE, Antiochus initiated another attack on Egypt but before he reached Alexandria a Roman ambassador delivered a message from the Roman Senate directing Antiochus to withdraw his armies from Egypt (and Cyprus) or consider himself at war with Rome. Antiochus wisely chose to not cross the line drawn in the sand by the ambassador. Rabbinical sources refer to him as הרשע harasha ("the wicked").

[28] There were two ancient cities named Leontopolis in Egypt and a nome named Leontopolites (the 11th nome). They are often confused by historians. The nome of Leontopolites was the site of the City of Onias and the Temple.

[29] An eight day celebration of songs and sacrifices.

[30] There is doubt about what office Alcimus held because different terms have been used to describe it in different sources (I Mac. 7:21, II Mac. 16:13, and Josephus). Alcimus describes his title as being inherited from his ancestors (II Macc. xiv. 7). Since there is no doubt that only the Oniades properly held the high-priesthood, Alcimus could only have meant some higher priestly office that had been held in his family for some generations. Some scholars seem to overlook this issue and perpetuate Alcimus' uncertain high-priesthood.

[31] Apparently the scribes and Assideans gave him their confidence despite the fact that he was only a priest of Aaron's family. (See footnoteabove).

[32]A dictionary of the Bible: comprising its antiquities ...”, Volume 1, Part 1; By Sir William Smith, John M. Fuller; p.84

[33] Demetrius I died in 150 BCE.

[34] We don’t know how well Physcon distinguished Alexandrian from Oneon Jews, but we do know that but both Chelkias and Ananias, the sons of Onias, performed military service and acted as generals under Cleopatra III. (117-81; "Ant." xiii. 10, § 4). Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Onias did not suffer the same disfavor as most Alexandrian Jews.

[35] At the battle of Azophon, Jannaeus suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Ptolemy’s much smaller force. Jannaeus allowed the enemy to cross the Jordan River unimpeded intending to trap Ptolemy between his army and the water. Instead, the army of Ptolemy struck the Jewish camp killing men, women and children (supposedly the corpses were hacked to pieces, flung into caldrons and boiled).

[36] The Pharisees opposed the marriage of Jannaeus with his brother’s widow, which was forbidden by Torah law.

[37] Jannaeus had caused irritation when he had the inscription “King Alexander” minted onto his coins. To the Pharisees, the house of David was the only legitimate royal house, all others being usurpers of the royal title.

[38] An act for which he appears as a “wicked tyrant” in the Talmud under the name King Yannai (Jonathan).

[39] See “The Dead Sea scrolls and the Hasmonean State” by anan Eshel (pps. 22-28).

[40] This incredible account is supported by Josephus, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in the Nahum Pesher.

[41] The fate of those who went to Syria was equally sad; the greater part of them were massacred near Chalcis.

[42] One of the most prominent of those who escaped to Egypt was Judah ben abbai.

[43] On his deathbed, Jannaeus warned Alexandra: “Fear neither the Pharisees nor those that are not Pharisees, but guard thyself against the dyed ones [hypocrites] who do the deed of Zimri and expect the reward of Phineas.” This apparently refers to Jews allied with some other nation who intend to claim the priesthood (Phineas was rewarded with the Levite priesthood that God had already been bequeathed to his father, Aaron). See Num. 25:11-13.

[44] According to the Talmud, Honi was famous for his ability to successfully pray for rain by drawing circles around himself and praying to God that he would not leave the circle until it rained (Mishnah Ta'anit 3:4).

[45] A fortified castle built by Jannaeus on a mountain between Scythopolis and Jerusalem.

[46] The Idumaens were the Edomites of old and had a long rivalry with the Jews of Judea (Note Exodus 17:10). When Judas Maccabbee defeated the Idumaens in 164 BCE and John Hyrcanus (in 123 BCE) forced them to adopt Judaism (including circumcision), animosity grew and continued for generations.

[47] Or “Sanhedrin” - Greek: συνέδριον, "synedrion".

[48] Malichus, a rival who aspired to an influential position in Judea, hired an assassin to poison Antipater.

[49] Antigonus II Mattathias was the only anointed King of the Jews (messiah) historically recorded to have been scourged and crucified by the Romans. Cassius Dio's Roman History records: "These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him."

[50] Hyrcanus lived in Syrian exile until 36 BCE when Herod (who feared that Hyrcanus might induce the Parthians to help him regain the throne) invited him to return to Jerusalem and offered him the presidency of the Sanhedrin. By the year 30 BCE, Herod was secure enough in his rule that he charged Hyrcanus with plotting a revolt with King Aretas and had him executed.

[51] Herod had an Idumaen father and an Arabian mother (who had been forcibly converted to Judaism). Jews generally looked down upon the Idumeans as racially impure and it was commonly held that one could only be a Jew when one was born from a Jewish mother.

[52]Aristobulus III was the paternal grandson of Aristobulus II and the last of the Hasmoneans to serve as High Priest.

[53] The Boethusians were later considered to be a variety of the Sadducees because of later relatives.It is uncertain whether the sect known as the Boethusians were related to the priestly family.

[54] See “Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature”, Volume 9  By John McClintock, James Strong (1889) pp. 240-242.

[55] The rabbinic literature associates Joseph ben Elim (son of the mute) with the office of segan – the coadjutor of  the High Priest. He was probably the son of Matthias ben Theophilus as Joseph “ben Elim” is a nickname. He was from Sepphoris in Galileee. There is much speculation that he was the father of Mary, mother of Jesus.

[56] This was the year 4000 in the Jewish system.

[57] Again, this text is parsed from Josephus, whose writing is redundant and awkward.

[58] Aside from other inherent contradictions, Josephus’ narrative must refer to Ptolemy V Epiphanes (205-182 BCE) instead of “Ptolemaeus Euergetes” and that explains why Joseph could not have been an Egyptian tax collector at the time (since Cœle-Syria was then under Syrian suzerainty). Regardless of these details, what seems certain is that a rapidly growing division had begun between the two related households and the Jewish priesthood would become increasingly divided into the Orthodox and Hellenistic camps.


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