Simon, the last Hasmonean brother
The End of an Era
After two years of relative peace, the troubles began again. They comprised of tedious and exhausting civil wars between the forces of the Hebraic Jews and the Hellenists, and even more tedious and exhausting trouble among the rulers and usurpers of the throne in Syria. King Demetrius, on the advice of the Hellenists, sent Bacchides to fight with Jonathan again, but both warriors were tired of the endless skirmishes. Surprisingly, they made a pact of peace and an exchange of prisoners. Some sources say that Bacchides was so fed up with the endless plots of the Hellenistic Jews that he seized and killed fifty of their leaders. At any rate, he left Judea alone and Jonathan ruled for some years, making deals with the various Greek-Syrian leaders and changing sides as needed. He also kept the treaties with the Romans, started by Judah Maccabee. But at such times, nothing lasts for long, and eventually he was ambushed and killed. Simon, the last of the brothers, took his place as the Commander of the Jews.
Simon was no longer a young man, but even though he really lost the wish to fight, he had no choice. Helped by his sons, now grown men and able commanders in the army, he completed the liberation of Judea, accepted the position of high priest and governor, and solidified the peace treaties with both the Syrians and the Romans. He ruled quite successfully for seven years, from 142 B.C.E. to 135 B.C.E. Again, the good times would not last. His son-in-law plotted against him and succeeded in murdering him and two of his sons.
Despite the loss of the last of the five brothers, the Hasmonean dynasty was secure. Simon’s son, John Hyrcanus, succeeded him. The Greek-Syrians by that time were greatly weakened, mostly because of constant wars with their great enemy, the Parthians, so they ignored Judea, allowing John Hyrcanus a free hand. He proved himself a good commander and an intelligent governor, with one exception. Unlike any of the preceding Hasmoneans, John Hyrcanus was personally ambitious. Deciding to damage the Greek-Syrian even further, he managed to increase the strength and numbers of his army by including soldiers from Macedonia, and together they struck serious attacks against the Greek-Syrians, who were caught between the Jews and the Parthians, and so were forced to retreat. Using his growing army, John Hyrcanus conquered Samaria and Idumea, increasing the size of Judea enormously. Again he made a mistake based on his wish for personal power – he forced the Idumeans to convert to Judaism, an act Judea would later have to pay for with blood and tears for generations.
The Jews did not rejoice when they realized that John Hyrcanus was not satisfied with his role of commander and governor. Appalled, they watched as he went to Jerusalem, and made himself the high priest by his own initiative instead of waiting for the invitation to do so. One is reminded of Napoleon’s gesture of crowning himself with his own hands, while the Pope, who was expected to crown him, watched in horror… And John Hyrcanus did not stop there. He appropriated the Temple’s wealth and instituted his own family and their relatives as the ruling class. They lived in excessive luxury, built huge mansions, and started associating and inter-marrying with the old aristocrats, the Sadducees. Old Mattathias would have been furious had he seen the mansions, the jewelry, the ladies’fashions, or even the Greek names they gave their children.
The Pharisees took some time to understand that the Hasmoneans disassociated themselves not only from the Pharisees themselves, but from the villagers and country people. They were horrified by the new lifestyle of the Hasmoneans – but there was nothing they could do.
When John Hyrcanus died in 105 B.C.E., his son Judah succeeded him, but did not last long. John had another brother – the monster, Alexander Jannaeus, which we have discussed before in Chapter One. He would soon ascend to the throne, but his blood-drenched reign deserves a segment of its own.
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