An ancient temple in Petra
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When I think about an éminence grise, the first person that comes to mind is always Talleyrand. Of course, over the centuries, there were many others, but he stands out as a worldly, sophisticated, brilliant man with no principles or integrity. Someone who could, and did, make and break empires, while sipping a glass of champagne and indulging in all the activities a clergyman like himself should not indulge in, though never in excess. He was the epitome of the 18th century intellectual, the dandy, the stylish aristocrat, and you may have disliked him but nevertheless appreciated his charm, his manners and his sparkling conversation.
Antipater shared many of these qualities. I have already mentioned him in the posting of Part Eleven: Tainted Glory: The Hasmonean Dynasty (Chapter Two), which was titled The Final Collapse. The collapse was that of the independent Jewish State. Without Antipater, it might have been saved. Scheming, plotting, and interfering between the two Hasmonean brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, he achieved his aim, which was to hand the Jewish State to Rome on a silver platter. Unlike Talleyrand, who never aspired to be the official ruler, once Antipater succeeded he discarded his role as the power behind Hyrcanus’ throne, and took command. I do not wish to repeat the entire segment about the struggle between the two brothers, and the inevitable victory
of Rome over both. You can read about it in the “Final Collapse” segment I mentioned above, but the end result was that Antipater was made a Governor of Judea. The Hasmoneans Dynasty would now be replaced by the Herodian Dynasty, since Antipater was the father of Herod the Great.
Antipater was an Idumean, born to a family of nobility, sophistication, and great wealth. His people were Arabs of an ancient origin, and for a long time, enemies of the Jews. They originally occupied the country south of Judea, from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba, which was the port of the Red Sea. After the exile of the Jews, the Idumeans moved north, occupied several cities in Judea, and traded with the Phoenicians in the north and the Nabateans in the south.
The Nabateans were also Arabs, a wealthy and strong nation, whose capital was Petra. Their situation helped them control the trade routes from South Arabia, allowing great profits from the trade in gems, woods, animals, silks and gold from Africa, India, and China. Antipas wanted his son, young Antipater, to be connected with an important Nabatean family, and so he arranged a marriage for him with a noble Nabatean woman, Kufra. We know her by her Greek name, Cypros. The couple had five children: one daughter, Salome, and four sons, Phasael, Herod, who would later become the famous King, Joseph, and Pheroras.
And yet, Antipater was a Jew. An earlier Hasmonean leader, John Hyrcanus, conquered the Idumeans and decreed that anyone who wanted to maintain ownership of his land, had to be circumcised and follow the traditions of the Jewish faith. Antipater’s father, Antipas, conformed, and eventually became the Governor of Idumea. Antipater inherited the position, and one of the reasons for his support of Hyrcanus was his fear that Aristobulus, who disliked him, would take away his position if he became king.
And this enforced Judaism was the route of many troubles for both Antipater and Herod. Forcible converston was not recognized by the Pharisaic tradition, which was dominant in Judea. So observant and/or nationalists Jews did not recognize them as Jews, and therefore, claimed that Herod had no right to be their king. Add to it the friendship between the family and the Romans, and the Hellenistic preferences and lifestyle of both Antipater and Herod, and it is clear that trouble was inevitable and would plague Herod no matter how much he would consider himself a legitimate Jew and a legitimate King.