There is a general assumption that no one is irreplaceable. Possibly it is true, but nevertheless there are people whose departure creates a pivotal point in the history of a nation, and Antipater’s
murder undoubtedly changed the history of Judea.
The first order of the day, for both Herod and Phasael, was revenging their father’s death. Typically, Phasael wanted to get Malichus, the murderer, by “cunning” as Josephus puts it, while Herod wanted to lead his army against Malichus right away. Herod reluctantly agreed with his brother, because Phasael persuaded him that a civil war could easily erupt as a result of a military
action. So Herod went to Samaria, and occupied himself in straightening the affairs there, while Phasael remained in Jerusalem, attending to his own tasks.
Soon enough the Festival of Tabernacles was about to take place in Jerusalem. As usual, Herod set out for the celebrations, accompanied by his soldiers. There was nothing out of the ordinary in his planned arrival, but Malichus feared for his life. He went to Hyrcanus and begged him to prevent Herod from entering the city. After some thought, Hyrcanus agreed and sent a message to Herod that he could not come in with his soldiers, who were mostly non-Jewish, because the Jewish population was in a state of ritual purity. The excuse made no sense; there was no precedence to preventing non-Jews from attending whatever festival they wanted to celebrate. Herod ignored Hyrcanus’ order and entered the city at night.
Malichus knew he had no choice, so he went to Herod pretending to weep for his great friend Antipater. Herod accepted Malichus’ condolences and eased his fear by a show of friendship, but while doing so, had another idea. It was clear to him that Phasael was right, and an open fight would cause a civil war. So instead of killing Malichus, he wrote a letter to Cassius and related to him the entire story in detail. Cassius knew Malichus well, and had several reasons of his own to detest him. He believed Herod implicitly. He wrote back to Herod and told him to wait, since he, Cassius, was going to take care of the matter for him. Immediately, he wrote to the military tribunes in Tyre, informing them that they should assist Herod in his plans when the time comes and they get the order to proceed.
Malichus had spies everywhere, naturally, and he suspected that something was going on, but instead of escaping he went to Tyre. Marching like that into the lion’s den was quite uncharacteristic on his part, and there is no clear explanation as to why he did it. Some scholars maintain that he had done so because his son was held as a hostage in Tyre. Supposedly, Malichus planned to steal his son, return to Judea, and try to seize power. The timing and the motives are impossible to prove, but whatever they were, Malichus went to Tyre.
Herod, still pretending to believe Malichus’ innocence, sent a servant to Tyre. The reason given was to prepare a banquet and entertain Malichus and several other dignitaries. But what the servant really did was approaching the military tribunes and informimg them that the time has come to carry on Cassius’ order and kill Malichus. The drama ended abruptly and violently – the tribunes went out of the city to meet Malichus on the seashore, and stabbed him to death.
When Hyrcanus heard the news, he was so shocked he had a mini- stroke and lost his power of speech for a while. Herod’s representatives explained to the stricken man that it was done on Cassius’ order, and that Malchius had every intention of starting a revolt in Judea, disposing of Hyrcanus, and seizing power for himself. Slowly recovering, Hyrcanus accepted the explanation and when he regained his power of speech said,“Cassius had saved both me and my country by destroying one who conspired against both.”
We will never know if Hyrcanus meant what he said, or was forced to say it by his fear of Herod’s growing power. Hyrcanus was at that time a very tired, elderly man, and he knew Herod could be more dangerous than any enemy, so it would be best to keep him on his side at any cost. Perhaps that is why he allowed the greatest mistake that Herod ever committed to happen. Hyrcanus’ granddaughter, Mariamne, was at that time a very young girl. But already her incredible beauty began to be evident to anyone who saw her, and Herod asked for her hand. It would be years before they could get married, but Hyrcanus accepted the offer despite knowing full well that it was not only Mariamne’s beauty that attracted Herod. She was a Hasmonean princess – and Herod wanted to be related to the powerful family and thus justify his quest for power. Herod could not know that Marimane would become the love of his life, but would also be the power that would later destroy his spirit and push him further and further into insanity and murder.