Hillel and I want to wish all our friends a wonderful holiday season – whichever holiday you celebrate and enjoy! We are going to be away for a couple of weeks since we realize no one is going to read any new segments of our story while the festivities are going on… If we could give you time travel trips to a fun Temple celebration 2000 years ago we would, but because of the economy, the annoying airport rules, and the bad weather, the Time Machines are sadly out of order… hopefully the service will resume after a wonderful 2012 that will bring us all health, happiness, prosperity, and maybe even best sellers! Happy New Year!
Jerusalem, 55 B.C.E.
As he emerged from the dark, almost cold shade of the massive gate in the northern wall, Hillel’s eyes were hit by the bright light; at noontime in summer, the light in Judea could be blinding under the cloudless blue sky. He did not notice how the custom officer ignored him, seeing that Hillel was a very poor young man with nothing to interest the authorities. Slightly dazed by the noise and chaotic activity in the market that stood right next to the gate, he looked at the massive structures, walls, towers, and houses made of the beautiful pink stone of the region. Babylon was much bigger and had an extremely impressive architectural style, but lacking stone, everything was built with bricks made of clay that were baked in the sun and later covered with stucco. Jerusalem was made entirely of stone.
Both living and commerce areas were clearly divided to accommodate the level of the wealth of the population. The valley of Tyropoeon, a ravine in the middle of the city, with the temple mount and the City of David on one side, the lower, very poor city in the valley itself, and the residential area of the upper city high up on the western side. The area around the marketplace was comprised of the residences of middle and upper class merchants, shopkeepers, and landowners, but they shared the place with the shops, restaurants, and workshops. The place was packed with people going about their business, but also with many pilgrims visiting the holy city. Hillel was unpleasantly aware that the throng also included Roman soldiers that were placed there by Pompey and helped Antipater keep the nervous and always fragile state of peace. He disliked looking at displays of military power.
Life in Babylon
As the war, deprivations, and struggles drove the Jewish population in Judea to extremes, another group of Jews lived quite happily in Babylonia. Not that they did not care about what was happening in Judea – they cared a great deal, and most of them had relatives and friends there. The intercourse between the groups never stopped and they held each other in mutual esteem, but their lives took very different modes.
To really understand the relationship between the Jews in the Babylonian Diaspora, particularly the urban Jews in the city of Babylon, and the Jews in Judea, one might look at the relationship between the Jewish population in New York City and the Israelis. Every year, as the NY Jews sit to the traditional Passover Seder, they utter the ritual line that have been repeated for two thousand years all over the world by Jews everywhere: “Next year in Jerusalem.” Of course the NY Jews don’t mean it; right now New York City is home, life is comfortable, English is their language, they like the American lifestyle, education, jobs… Do the Israelis mind? Do they expect every New York Jew to plan immigration to Israel? Do they even want them to? Of course they have no such thoughts at all. They love their cousins and friends in New York, they e-mail and SKYPE, and every so often they all visit each other. Fifty or sixty years ago, when Israel was very poor, American Jews sent generous packages that made both children and adults much more comfortable and happy, and helped restore the economy by their contribution through tourism. Huge cheerful busloads of charming American visitors were a very common sight. These days there is a constant exchange of doctors, business people, students and entertainers. Some American Jews do immigrate to Israel. Some Israelis come and settle in New York. The intercourse between the NY (and other places in America, of course, I am just using New York as a metaphor to Babylon) and Israel never stopped. And while the two groups have many reasons to fight over politics, lifestyle, and degree of religion, and indeed they do so all the time, these are family fights, not enemy fights.
The Final Collapse
And now the great queen, Salome Alexandra, was dead, but her memory lived on. Throughout history, some loved her, some hated her. No one ever argued against the statement that her reign was more peaceful than those of any of her Hasmonean relatives; no one ever disputed the fact that she showed more intelligence, common sense, and diplomatic ability the any of the others. Of course, they all say that she did not behave like a proper woman. That is to be expected since the culture was highly patriarchal. Nevertheless, the patronizing Talmudic sages, who had very little appreciation for women’s minds in general, worshipped her and even wrote legends about her. Go figure.
Her sons, Aristobolus and Hyrcanus, are not very appealing to the modern reader. Josephus tells that one of the main reasons Salome Alexandra appointed Hyrcanus to the position of High Priest was because he lacked energy and was not suited for ruling. However, since Salome Alexandra did not leave clear instructions of giving the kingdom to Aristobolus, Hyrcanus had to assume the kingship. Some time before her death, Aristobolus showed himself a true Hasmonean by trying to revolt against his own mother so that he could seize the country to himself, so naturally, as soon as Salome Alexandra died and Hyrcanus assumed the kingship, Aristobolus started a civil war against him. During a decisive battle near Jericho, Aristobolus won, mostly because Hyrcanus’ soldiers deserted him and preferred to move to Aristobolus. A truce was achieved – Hyrcanus would give up not only the throne, but all attempts to participate in public life, but would be allowed to keep his considerable property and income. In short, he was to become a wealthy private citizen. The brothers, it seems, did not really wish to kill each other, at
least at that stage.
Had everything stopped right there, the Jewish State could have been saved. However, a new power came into the picture – an Idumean called Antipater, a dear friend of Hyrcanus. Antipater was wealthy, a man of action, and by nature an ambitious trouble-maker. He was also a Jew – because the Idumeans, as mentioned in a previous section, were unfortunately forced by the Hasmoneans to become Jewish – and on top of all his advantages, he was the son of the governor of Idumea. As I have mentioned before, the Jews would pay a high price for forcing the Idumeans to convert, and here, with Antipater, it all began.
Antipater felt he had every right to be engaged with the fate of the Jewish State, and as a Jew and a high official of Idumea, he was probably right. He hated and feared Aristobolus, and tried his best to have Hyrcanus act against his brother. Hyrcanus was not interested in rising against Aristobolus, much preferring to live a quiet private life, but eventually Antipater convinced him that his brother planned to kill him. On his friend’s advice, Hyrcanus escaped to a neighboring Arab country, to be under the protection of the Nabatean king Aretas. He was installed in Aretas’ palace in the city of Petra. During his stay, Aretas and Antipater finally achieved their aim – they made Hyrcanus agree to be a part of the attempt to remove Aristobolus.
And so the weak minded, ineffective man allowed himself to become a puppet in the hands of the two plotters, and to be returned to Jerusalem. They even made him promise that if the coup would be a success, he would restore twelve cities taken from Aretas by Hyrcanus’ father, Alexander Jannaeus. With fifty thousand soldiers, Aretas and Hyrcanus marched against Aristobolus. This was a full-fledged civil war.
As the war waged on, the people of Judea were sick and tired of both brothers. They wished for nothing but peace and a return to the golden age of Salome Alexandra. So when each of the two brothers appealed to Rome to help him against his brother, no one acted to stop them from their folly. Asking Rome to intervene was simply begging them to take charge and turn Judea into a province, but the two brothers somehow did not see it, blinded by their own ambitions.
It so happened that the Roman General Scarus was near enough to Judea. Each of the brothers offered
him a large sum of money. Aristobolus was wealthier than Hyrcanus, and was considered a better friend of Rome since apparently Hyrcanus had once dealt with the Romans in a way that seemed dishonest to them. For the Romans, the guiding principle in life was that business is business, and so General Scarus dealt with the situation in the typical Roman way. He put an end to the war by commanding Aretas to withdraw immediately – or be declared an enemy of the Romans. He then went back to Syria, to his affairs in Damascus, and Aristobolus killed six thousand of the combined force of Aretas and Hyrcanus, among them Antipater’s brother , Phallion. Aretas and Hyrcanus retreated back to Petra. And then, soon enough, Pompey came to Damascus, went to Judea, and finished the business in the predictable way which any thinking person could have seen would happen, by installing Antipater as the Governor of Judea. Antipater achieved his grand ambitions – and the independent Jewish State was no more; it will be a very long time before it is resurrected.
The Hasmonean Dynasty ruled for over seventy years. During this time, many Jews could not tolerate the life under them and immigrated to Egypt, Rome, Tyre, and of course, Babylonia, where a large community existed since the original exile. And since this is where Hillel was born and raised, it will be a good thing to leave the sad and torn Judea and move, for a while, to that sophisticated, multicultural, wealthy and enchanting city. They say that Alexandria was the Paris of the ancient world. If it is so, then Babylonia was very much a sister city of New York.
A note to the readers: There is going to be a change in the routine. At this point, a great deal of research will have to be done to continue with the book. Therefore, instead of placing the segments twice a week on Monday and Thursday nights, as I have been doing, I plan to place a segment once a week, on each Sunday night. I hope you will come back and please, leave comments! I will need all the feedback I can get as I go along, and I am extremely interested in each and every reader’s views.
BLOOD THIRSTY MONSTER OR A MILITARY GENIUS?
THE REIGN OF ALEXANDER JANNAEUS
We have already looked into the beginning of the reign and at the death of Alexander Jannaeus, both involving the woman who was so important in his life, Queen Salome Alexandra. However, as one of the worst tyrants Judea had ever seen, and most likely suffering from the Hasmonean mental illness, it would be interesting to give a few details about his life and legacy.
After Hyrcanus’ death, his son Aristobolus succeeded him. Despite the fact that he only lasted one year, he made one significant change that would later affect Jannaeus – he declared himself officially the king as well as the high priest. Hyrcanus ruled like royalty, there is no doubt of it, but he never made himself officially a king. When Aristobolus changed this and declared himself as the possessor of the two titles, the Pharisees objected to both. To begin with, like most thinking people, they believed that the two offices, representing faith and state, should be separated. And on top of this, the Hasmoneans were not direct descendants of King David, and therefore were not eligible to be kings. These were not the only reasons, however. Had they liked Aristobolus, they might have waved their objections in favor of getting their own way in other things. But by that time, they simply detested the later Hasmoneans. They fiercely objected to their Hellenized style, so different from the purely Hebraic views of Mattathias and his five sons, and from the simple values of the Maccabean revolt.