As mentioned in the last segment, Herod and Phasael were made tetrarchs by Antony. By now, it should have been clear to any thinking person that any attempt of revolt against them would be futile. But the faction that hated Herod must have lost the power of reasoning, because they continued to fight against his rapid rise to power. The fact that he intervened and saved fifteen of the rebels from certain death in the hands of Antony did not make a difference, their hatred of Herod was too strong.
As Antony, Herod, Phasael and Hyrcanus were going to Tyre, the rebels incited the population and about a thousand men waited for them on the beach, ready for a fight. A thousand men against the trained Roman army who had an inexhaustible supply of weapons as well as manpower… it is impossible to understand these acts of desperation. Herod and Hyrcanus, hearing about it, went to the beach and begged the men to return home. Herod emphasized that great harm would come upon them if they insisted on fighting, that Antony would not put up with it, and that they were condemning not only themselves but countless others in Judea. The speech made no difference whatsoever, and the rebels refused to disperse.
Antony sent his troops to the beach to commit a massacre of horrible proportions. Many of the Jews were killed, and even more were wounded or maimed. The rest tried to escape, but many were captured and taken prisoners. Hyrcanus supplied medical attention to the wounded, and made sure to give proper burial to the many dead who were lying on the beach in pools of blood. One can only imagine the mental fatigue and sorrow the old man was experiencing. He knew he was helpless between the new powers of Rome and Herod and ambition; there was nothing he could do to save his own dynasty, and fully realized the end of the Hasmoneans was near. But he did what he could to help the suffering of his people.
Judea blamed Herod for the massacre, and the cries against him irritated Antony to a point of rage. He commanded the guards to murder all the Jewish prisoners that he captured on the beach. No one knows if Herod tried again to intervene on their behalf; perhaps he had also lost his patience and did not do so. This battle on the beach might have been a pivotal point in Herod’s rise, perhaps the moment that made it clear to him that he would never gain the affection and loyalty of Judea, and that his reign would be drenched in blood for its entire duration.
Two years passed in relative peace, but soon enough trouble started again, this time in an entanglement with not only the Hasmoneans, but the Parthian prince and general, Pacorus. Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, never gave up the struggle to restore the Hasmonean dynasty to power, and during the feast of Shavuot, he tried to invade Jerusalem. Herod defended the Palace, Phasael defended the walls, and they probably would have managed to win. However, Antigonus got the Parthians to help him. Phasael was convinced by Pacorus that Antigonus, and himself as well, wished to have peace talks. Despite Herod’s warning, Phasael went with Hyrcanus to the camp of the Parthian leader Barzapharnes, and both of them were immediately imprisoned. They were handed over to Antigonus.
Phasael was put in chains, but at the last moment, managed to send a messenger to warn Herod. As revenge, Antigonus mutilated Hyrcanus’ear. This, he knew, would prevent Hyrcanus from continuing in his position of High Priest, because the Law required that the High Priest would have no deformity.
Phasael, a man of honor and integrity, knew that his own end was near, and was comforted by the message he had received that his brother Herod had escaped with his family and many other followers. Phasael was not afraid of death, and he knew his brother would revenge him, but he did not want to be tormented by the Parthians or made and exhibition of by Antigonus. He decided to kill himself in an honorable way to escape the indignity. His hands were tied, so he could not easily accomplish his suicide, but he was determined that death would be preferable to dishonor. Therefore, he dashed his head powerfully against a rock and died. The woman who had given him the message about the escape of his brother later reported that Phasael bore his pain and
his death cheerfully, seeing it as an escape from humiliation and an honorable
way to leave this world.