Judean Priest Kings

The Maccabees, called the Hasmoneans from their ancestor Hashmon, emerged to rule, first as high priests, then as priest-kings, after leading a revolution against the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.E.) and the Hellenized high priests (Jason and Menelaus) whom he had appointed. In the bargain, the Maccabees had initiated an alliance or amicitia with Rome, which had established dominion in Greece and Asia in a series of wars with Philip V of Macedon and Antiochus III in Asia. The Hasmoneans ruled from 161 B.C.E. until internal wars among competing family members left Judea vulnerable to foreign domination. In 63 B.C.E., Pompey the Great conquered Judea and introduced Roman rule.

The dissolution of the Hasmonean-led Jewish nation, from 63-40 B.C.E., coincided with the escalating presence of Rome in the east. Just as Pompey was claiming Syria from the Seleucids, the Jews were embroiled in a civil war between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. Antipater, the Idumean general of Hyrcanus I, backed Hyrcanus II while shoring up power for himself and his own son, Herod (often referred to as "Herod the Great"). When Pompey's legate Scaurus arrived in Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E., delegations from both parties besieged him; Scaurus backed Aristobulus, but Pompey was less accommodating. Rather than back either claimant, he declared war on Jerusalem and after a three-month siege finally took the Temple. After his victory, Pompey even entered the Temple and the Holy of Holies although he did not defile it.

In the parade of spoils from his conquests, Pompey led Aristobulus II and his sons through Rome as prisoners. Hyrcanus II remained in Jerusalem as High Priest. Much of what had been part of the Jewish state was now annexed by Syria. The Greek city-states enjoyed a new revitalization under Pompey's reorganization, and they offered support in return; the Jews and other Semitic nations, however, resented the Roman presence and control. Reduced to a client state of Rome, the same outrage against a foreign ruler and the same desire for religious and national independence that characterized Judea in the Hellenistic period and that had long plagued its internal politics now set the stage for the Messiah king, Jesus Christ, to incite a revolution for the return of an independent Judea ruled by a High Priest/ King of the Jews.

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