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Judea Under Roman Suzerainty

( Originally Published 1911 )



Growth of Rome

Rome, from the city on the Tiber, had spread over all Italy. Then gradually it mastered the lands on both sides of the Mediterranean. Greece and Carthage were absorbed in the same year, 146 B.C.E. Soon its tide of conquest reached Asia, and nearly all the lands in the East conquered by Alexander—excepting Persia—were under its sway. When Greco Syria—which had included Judea until the Maccabean independence—fell before its arms, it was to be expected that the never-satisfied Rome would not rest until the land of our fathers had been added to its possessions. We have seen how an un-happy series of events played into its hands and hastened this end. In a sense Rome was becoming the "mistress of the world." Nor was her sway as transitory as that of earlier world powers—Assyria, Babylonia, Persia or Macedonia. It was to endure for many centuries and it has left a lasting impress upon the world's civilization.

Already the Jewish captives that Pompey took to Rome, later freed and called Libertini, formed together with earlier emigrants the beginnings of an important Jewish 'community. Here later still we find this Jewish colony on the Tiber quietly influencing Roman affairs.

Judea, with the rest of Palestine, was now placed under the general supervision of Rome's Syrian governor. Internally its life was not interfered with, but all temporal—that is political—power was taken from the High Priest. His authority was confined to the Temple. Both Aristobulus, who had escaped from. Rome, and his son, Alexander, made foolhardy attempts for the throne, which only resulted in further curtailing of Judah's power. Yet another desperate attempt was made for the throne. Alas, it only resulted in thirty thousand of the defeated malcontents being sold into slavery. This chafing against Rome's rule only brought its mailed hand more fiercely against ill-fated Israel.

From First Triumvirate to Empire

But Rome now entered upon its own period of civil war at home and men lustful of power drenched this country in blood. In 60 B. C. E. Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus divided the Roman possessions between them and formed the First Triumvirate (Crassus given Syria, plundered the Temple treasures). On the death of Crassus, Caesar, ambitious for supreme power—the fatal weakness of this really great man—crossed the river Rubicon that was the boundary of his province of Gaul, made war on Pompey, who was soon slain, and held for a brief time sole sway. In 44 Caesar was killed by Brut-us and Cassius. These in turn were overthrown by Caesar's avenger, Marc Antony, and a new Triumvirate was formed, consisting of Antony, Octavian (Augustus) and Lepidus. These were as disloyal to each other as the first group. Antony, seduced from his duty by the witchery of that fatally beautiful woman, Cleopatra of Egypt, was finally defeated and overthrown in the battle of Actium, 30. Octavian Augustus now held the reins alone and the Roman Empire was launched. Augustus, the first emperor, reigned from 60 B.C.E. to 14 A.C.E.

These few outlines of Roman history will have to be kept in mind to follow events in Judea, for much was to happen to storm-tossed Israel between the first Triumvirate and the empire of Augustus. Every change in government at Rome affected the land of Israel and its people.

Indeed, in all their subsequent history no great event occurred in the world without affecting the Jews in some way, and many of these world events were in turn influenced by them.

When Pompey was killed in 48, that arch-conspirator, Antipater, who had sided with him while in power, now with Hyrcanus, his puppet, professed friendship for Caesar and helped him with Jewish troops for his Egyptian campaign. Caesar extended favors to both. Hyrcanus as High Priest, was once more given political authority, and Antipater was made Procurator of Judea. We have witnessed the thin entering of the wedge; behold the Idumean now head of Jewish affairs. Caesar now granted permission to rebuild the walls -of Jerusalem, and concessions. and privileges were also conferred on the Jews of Alexandria and Asia Minor, for Rome's sway reached far. Caesar's good will made the rulership of Antipater tolerable for a while and when the news of Caesar's death reached the Jews they mourned him as a lost friend.

The political power granted to Hyrcanus as High Priest carried with it the title of Ethnarch, which means governor of a province. But all power was really exercised by Antipater who, as Procurator of Judea, made his son Phasael governor of Jerusalem, and his son Herod governor of Galilee. How this intruding stranger had tightened his grip on the land of our fathers !

Herod Enters on the Scene

Herod was to play an important role in Judah's for-tunes. Already as governor of Galilee, a youth of twenty-five, he showed his masterfulness in the summary execution of a marauder. Summoned to the Sanhedrin to answer for this action, he dared defy it. Why? Because Cassius, now master of Syria (including Judea) at Caesar's death, was put under obligation by the crafty Antipater and his equally cunning son Herod. Together they succeeded in squeezing money from Judaea for the maintenance of an army against Antony. Thus the Jews were embroiled in Rome's conflicts to further the ambitions of these Idumeans. As a result Herod was now made governor of Celo-Syria (Palestine) and could snap his fingers at the Sanhedrin. Judea, in fact, was a prey to anarchy brought about by conspiracies and usurpations.

In 42 Brutus and Cassius were defeated at Philippi by Antony and Octavian, and it seemed that an end had come to the fortunes of Herod. Antipater had been slain, caught in a final act of heartless duplicity against Hyrcanus. But Herod had the adroit cunning of his father and knew how to desert a sinking ship and change his allegiance to the man of rising fortunes. With plausible words Herod made his peace with Antony. Nor did the complaints against him and his brother by the Jewish nobility avail. On the contrary Antony made them both tetrarehs—subordinate governors—of Judea at the expense of the weak and aging Hyrcanus.

The Last Hasmonean Ruler

Antigonus, a son of Aristobulus, taking advantage of a Parthian uprising, made one more effort to seize the Jewish throne. He succeeded. Herod was put to flight and Hyrcanus deposed altogether. This last scion of the Hasmoncan house held a brief royal sway from 40 to 37. He lacked the greatness of the earlier Maccabeans to hold the nation ; and, antagonized the Sanhedrin instead of attaching it to him. Herod, after varied shifts, sailed to Rome, making an appeal at head-quarters. Deceiving all by his plausibility, he obtained an appointment as "King of Judea" from Antony's senate. But for that throne he must now fight "the man in possession." There followed a series of engagements in which Jewish blood flowed freely. With the aid of Rome, Herod was of course successful, ultimately taking Jerusalem itself. Antigonus was put to death. Thus ended the Hasmonean rule in Judea so gloriously begun 'a little over a century before.

Theme for Discussion

Single out great events in history influenced by and influencing the Jews.



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