Marcus Licinius Crassus
(The picture is taken from a website that declared that it is copyright free and public domain. If anyone disagrees, please let me know and I will remove it immediately).
In the last segment, we said goodbye to one of the few Romans who seemed to have treated Judea with at least some respect. Governor Gabinius returned to Rome, and Crassus came to take his place. Almost immediately, the new governor had to prepare to march against the Parthians right away. Naturally he needed money, sinceas we know, wars are very expensive.
The Temple was his choice as a source of money. It contained incredible riches – money contributed from all over the habitable world, from every place where Jews resided, be it a large city, a small town, or a rural village. For generations, the Temple’s wealth accumulated as coins, gold, jewels, and costly embroidered fabrics. This is not a legend of a “lost city of gold” or such like. Several highly regarded ancient historians, including Strabo of Cappadocia, discussed the treasures of the Temple as a matter that was well-known by contemporaries.
Crassus made an appointment with the priest Eleazar, who was the official Guardian of the Money at the Temple. Eleazar was informed as to what Crassus had in mind, and he agonized over the responsibility. What was he to do? Crassus would take everything no matter what… if Eleazar would consider presenting any objections, torture and death were certain. But giving away the entire Temple’s money would horrible, and on top of the loss, it would be Eleazar’s personal disgrace as the agent of such a loss. And forever, since history would not forget it… and so he devised a strategy. More than anything else, Eleazar wanted to save the curtains of the sanctuary. Money could be replaced– the Jews would never stop sending it as long as the Temple stood – but these curtains were not only symbolic in protecting the sanctuary, they were irreplaceable because of their costly workmanship. We do not know what they looked like, but based on other descriptions of such ornamentations, most likely they were made of priceless
silk and embroidered with gold thread and gems.
Eleazar took a huge risk in what he did next. He told Crassus that he knew about a treasure that would be worth much more than anything else in the Temple, and easier to dispose of than the treasures such as the curtains and the gold artifacts. The object, Eleazar promised him, would be more than sufficient to pay for the campaign against the Parthians, and some to spare. Of course, Crassus could have tortured Eleazar and in that way get everything out of him and collect the mysterious object the priest talked about, and everything else. The reason he did not do so, but agreed to the priest’s offer, is that the Romans, above and beyond anything else, were good businessmen. Crassus really could not care less that Eleazar was rather impertinent in his request. The Romans considered all the Jews to be slightly insane… so why bother with the hordes of the Jews who would react to his bad treatment of their priest Eleazar, when he could get all he really needed with no trouble, quietly and willingly? After all, he could always come back to the Temple and bargain some more. The important thing was to locate quick money and get on with the campaign against Parthia. Crassus agreed to the bargain.
Eleazar led him directly to the sanctuary curtains.“No one in the world knows this secret,” said Eleazar, “except for the Guardian of the Money, and the knowledge is passed from one Guardian to the next. Do you see the wooden bar on which these curtains hang?”
“Yes,” said Crassus, intrigued.
“It is hollow,” said Eleazar, “and inside, there is a bar of gold that is worth tens of thousands of drachmas. Take it as a ransom for all the rest of the artifacts.”
Crassus swore assurance that he would remove nothing else from the Temple, but would be content with the present given to him by the priest. Eleazar extracted the gold bar from the hollow wood bar and handed it to Crassus.
“It is good,” said Crassus, who knew a good piece of gold when he saw one; after all, he was himself extremely wealthy. “But it is not enough. I will also take the coin money.”
Eleazar did not press the issue. You could not tell the Roman governor that he broke his oath, and expect to live. At least the curtains and the gold artifacts remained intact… the coin money will be replaced, and no one would miss the gold bar since its presence was unknown. And Eleazar would not lose his life or honor, either. So everything was quiet in Judea, for the moment. Naturally, Eleazar worried that when Crassus returned, he would come back for more gold.
But Crassus never came back to plunder the Temple again. He made all the preparations for the invasion of Parthia with the money he gained, and marched there. The famous battle and the intrigues surrounding it can be told at another segment, but the end result was that the Parthians destroyed almost his entire army, and Crassus was killed. The Romans were facing chaos in both Syria and Judea, and the Parthians were ready to invade.
The situation was to be saved by Cassius, who was Crassus’ quaestor. He managed to escape with a few hundred men, and went to Syria, where he repelled the new Parthian attack. It so happened that Cassius was a great friend of Antipater, and highly influenced by him… and so the story continued, favoring Antipater one more time, and helping him design the Herodian Dynasty.