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.