Even two thousand years ago, you had to belong to the old boys' club if you wanted to rise to a really high position. The leading Jews in Jerusalem were part of a tight, closed society, and they could not abide Antipater. “That Idumean,” as they called him, considered himself a Jew with every justification, because as mentioned before, the entire population of his country had undergone forced conversion to Judaism around 130 BCE. Considering the fact that the conversion was forced upon the Idumeans by John Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean, it seems most unfair that the pro-Hasmonean Jews would look upon the Idumeans as outsiders, particularly one
like Antipater who seemed to embrace Judaism. But they did. They justified it by stressing that “pious” Jews did not recognize forced conversions as binding. The "old boys" found it expedient to be pious regarding such matters, at least when it served their purpose. But let’s face it, even if Antipater could produce ancestors who came to Judea (then Canaan) with Moses the Law Giver during the Exodus, he would still not be a Hasmonean, and the leading Jews of that period would despise him. For reasons that only they could figure out, only a Hasmonean would be accepted as a ruler, which makes very little sense since tradition dictated that true rulers had to be descendants of the House of David. In truth, they simply were insufferable snobs, using religion as a tool to justify their prejudices. The entire population of Judea, though, liked Antipater and his sons. The fact that they amassed huge revenues for themselves did not bother the common people, probably because unlike the Hasmoneans, Antipater, Phasael, and during his youth, even Herod, did not abuse their power against the population and did not steal their possessions or overtaxed them. And they seemed sane, practical, and down-to-earth, a huge improvement over the Hasmoneans with their streak of madness that would come up every so often to wreak havoc on the population.
Things would have probably gone on like that for a long time, but Antipater finally made a serious mistake. As mentioned before, he was extremely friendly with the Roman generals, and often influenced Hyrcanus to send them money when they needed it. That was all for the good of Judea, since the business oriented Romans would forgive quite a lot if supplied with money, but at one point Antipater took the money, and when transferring it to the Romans, neglected to mention it was a gift from Hyrcanus, making it look as if it was a gift from himself. It probably was not intentional, since it would have done no service to Antipater; Hyrcanus heard about it but gave it no thought. But when the leading Jews heard about it, they decided it was the time to act. They came to Hyrcanus to openly accuse Antipater as a usurper, and brought with them an impressive list of his imaginary crimes. They said that Antipater and his sons pretended to royal power, while he, Hyrcanus, was a ruler in name only, and that Hyrcanus was deluding himself thinking that they were his stewards. In reality, they said, Antipater and his sons were the real masters. They had little to pin on Phasael, but Herod could serve as the scapegoat. Herod, they said, committed a serious crime. He had killed the robber Ezekias and many of his men, in violation of the Law, which forbids anyone to kill a man, even an evildoer, unless given a directive from the Sanhedrin.[i] Herod did not even ask the Sanhedrin or Hyrcanus’permission to do so. They demanded a trial.
Hyrcanus loved Herod, but he was a weak man under severe pressure. In addition to the leaders, he was being harassed by the mothers of some of the men killed by Herod, who demanded that Herod should be brought before the Sanhedrin to defend himself. After resisting all these assaults for a while, Hyrcanus gave in and summoned Herod to stand trial, hoping for an acquittal. Antipater quickly advised his son to come with a bodyguard; not a huge one that would look as if he intended to challenge Hyrcanus, but big enough to protect him from the predators at the Sanhedrin. Herod sent a message that he would comply with Hyrcanus’ request as soon as he put his affairs in order in the Galilee.
In the meantime, Herod’s friend Sextus, the governor of Syria who was so pleased when Herod got rid of the gang of robbers that the Sanhedrin was so concerned about, wrote a letter to Hyrcanus. The letter started with a polite request to let Herod go free, and ended with threats as to what would happen if Hyrcanus would not do as asked. Hyrcanus, as always, was torn between fear and relief. He knew that the threats were real and that the Sanhedrin would not like to insult powerful Syria, supported as it was by the Romans. So when the Sanhedrin was assembled on the next day, he went to show them the letter.
What happened next was worth a Hollywood biblical epic movie. Hyrcanus stood at the assembly room as the members were reading the letter, murmuring among themselves and wavering as to what to do. At this moment, Herod strode into the building. An extraordinarily handsome young man, dressed in royal purple, his hair carefully arranged, and his well-armed troops surrounding him, he made a gorgeous, menacing image. The Sanhedrin was awed by this dramatic entry, and no one dared to say anything, not even those who denounced him before his arrival. Herod smiled and said nothing, waiting, in the silent room.
One man stood up. Without fear or hesitation, he spoke his mind. He rebuked Herod for coming to trial without humility or reverence for the Sanhedrin, and particularly for bringing his soldiers with him as a show of power. But what he said next is much more surprising, because he attacked the authorities. “But it is not Herod whom I should blame for this or for putting his own interests above the law, but you and the king, for giving him such great license. Be assured, however, that God is great, and this man, whom you now wish to release for Hyrcanus’ sake, will
one day punish you and the king as well.” Hyrcanus was shaken. He requested the Sanhedrin to postpone the trial one day, so everyone could ponder the situation further. Everyone complied, and the man who had said those things left quietly. We will discuss this man of mystery further in the next segment… stay tuned!
[i]The Sanhedrin was the supreme legislative and
judicial body of the Jewish State, meeting in Jerusalem.