In the Divine dispensation, Israel was destined to sustain the highest and most important part that can be assigned to any nation. Originally chosen to be the depositary of spiritual truth, and separated from all other nations in order to fulfil this mission, it was preserved till the Divine purposes were accomplished. These purposes seem to have been, to serve as the channel and as the exemplification of Divine truth, and to afford a medium by which the fulness of Divine truth, and of Divine fact, might become embodied in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If every nation is the representative, and its history the embodiment, of some truth, this applies in a special manner, or at least becomes specially manifest, in the case of Israel. Israel was meant to be a theocracy. Not only in its ecclesiastical, but in its political constitution also, was it to show forth the supremacy, the authority, and the continued presence of Jehovah with His Covenant people. If this truth was to be exhibited in the world, it became necessary to fix upon and to separate from the rest one nation. But though in the preparatory stage national, these were spiritual facts and truths, which ultimately could not belong, and were not meant to be confined to any one race. These realities are necessarily universal; they are designed for and apply to all, both to those who are afar off, and to those who are nigh. Another, and a kindred feature, of the preparatory dispensation, was its typical character. Israel, its history, its ordinances, its prophecies, all were not only so many present realities, they pointed also to something future, to which they stood in the relationship of shadows. The grand end and meaning of the preparatory stage was to show the need of, and to open the way for, the advent of the Savior. With His coming, what was typical gave place to what is real—what was preparatory ceased. "Grace and truth have been brought to light by the Gospel. "
The truths which the Old Testament dispensation and history embodied, were chiefly these,—that Jehovah is the living, and that He is the true God. In opposition to heathenism, it exhibited the unity, the personality, the character, and the purposes of the Deity. We do not deny that certain traditions, containing some portions of spiritual truth, circulated amongst the heathen, nor that the spirit of God who moved over that chaotic deep awakened amongst them aspirations after, and ultimately produced a general preparedness for, the coming of the kingdom. But we hold that the pre-Christian history of the world only exemplified the experience contained in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and may be summed up in the words of an Apostle,—"The world by wisdom knew not God." Here all the different tendencies of thought, of morals, and of fact, were allowed to ripen into maturity, and in turn proved that, in the highest and only true aim, man left to himself is as unprofitable, and hence must, in the righteous dispensation of his Lord, meet with the same doom as did the unfruitful fig-tree which Jesus cursed. The Jewish nation also, notwithstanding the eternal seed in the midst of it, misunderstood its mission, and, when finally left to its own development, only exhibited by its judgments the truths which at one time it had, and is again designed to declare and to enjoy.
The misunderstandings of the Jews reached their climax in the national rejection of the Savior, and after this the downfall of Jerusalem was not long delayed. Yet even after the destruction of the temple and city, they eagerly followed out the same religious tendency which had led to that catastrophe, and developed the formalism of true religion to its utmost, until their religion became only a recollection of the past. Still, Israel was to have a future history, and it could not be destroyed. They wandered, but could not be lost. However, in none of their undertakings could they prosper. It was vain for them, once and again, to renew the unequal contest for national restoration, although they achieved deeds of valour unsurpassed by those of any other nation. They thought and laboured in their colleges; they prayed and fasted in their synagogues; they wrought and gained in their temporal pursuits. But their researches were fruitless for good; they did not benefit the world by their religious ardour; nor were they even allowed to enjoy the advantages of their activity and commerce. Ichabod was written upon all their undertakings, for the glory had departed. Israel and its history are typical; yet will they, as such, meet with a blessed realisation.
Viewed in this light, the history of the Jews gains additional interest and importance. Their past importance can scarcely be overstated; they gave to the world a Bible and a Savior. Their present importance is indicated by their almost miraculous national preservation, and the fact of their being scattered by the Divine hand broadcast over the fields of the world and of its history, as so many seeds of spiritual truths. Their future importance lies in this, that they are seeds which are yet to take root, to spring up and to bear fruit; and that their future is connected with the last and brightest events of coming history. Israel and its history are inseparably connected with Scripture. We meet them everywhere; and everywhere their past, their present, and their future are full of the deepest meaning. And so shall it continue to be, till their bringing in prove "as life from the dead. "
During the period of the Judges, the nation of Israel was gradually gaining in unity and strength, and it enjoyed its greatest prosperity in a political point of view under the reign of David. The splendour of Solomon's reign only concealed for a while the corruption of the social and religious life of the nation which then commenced. The introduction of foreign luxury and foreign customs soon produced its natural result. From that period we may date the commencement of the peculiar pre-Babylonian form of religious apostasy. It had, indeed, appeared even before that event; but now it rapidly developed, and finally assumed gigantic proportions. In this stage the idolatry of Israel consisted not so much in the rejection of the truth, as in its admixture with and neutralisation by foreign elements. The worship of Jehovah was not wholly set aside, but He was only looked upon as their national Deity; and along with Him other national Deities were more or less avowedly made objects of worship. The sad consequences of this made themselves felt in the series of national judgments, which terminated in the deportation of Israel, and then of Judah to Babylon. Israel without its God, became Israel without its country. This judgment had so far its effects, that the spiritual degeneracy of Israel never afterwards appeared again in the form of idolatry. There were some who, in the school of affliction, had in Babylon sought after the Lord God of Israel. But side by side with them were those who, while willing to acknowledge their former national sins, and desirous of returning to the land of their fathers, expressed their repentance by simply going to the opposite extreme of an exclusively Jewish formalism. And now Jehovah was still only a national Deity, although the only national Deity,—just as the Jews were the only nation; all others had neither meaning nor purpose. Judaism as such, in its national and typical state, was the sole and the highest truth.
Such, in its religious aspects, was the Jewish nation when the captives returned to the land of their fathers. It will readily be conceived that this event encouraged and strengthened the peculiar national tendencies to which we have already alluded. In fact, the second or post-Babylonian form of spiritual degeneracy had now been entered upon. It consisted in laying an extreme value upon the form and letter as such, and developing it alone. In room of the priest came the teacher or Rabbi; in room of experience, knowledge; in room of the spirit and reality of the Bible, its letter and form. So much was this the case, that even when the temple was at last destroyed, and the Old Testament economy had thereby become impossible, the change was only felt in a national, not in a religious point of view. It was this tendency which opposed itself to the spirituality of the Gospel, and led to the rejection of the Son of God. That event must not be looked upon as an isolated fact. The contest between the Pharisees and the Lord was in reality that of opposing religions; as far as the Scribes were concerned, it was a life and death struggle. The synagogue contended for continued existence in its peculiar form. It overcame, because it could make use of carnal weapons; but from that moment the doom of Israel was sealed. Before the coming of Christ, two parties might co-exist within the Jewish nation and the synagogue. A contest was still possible. But His advent closed it by bringing it to the issue of a battle. After His death, and before the destruction of Jerusalem, a mistake was still possible. But the latter event made any misunderstanding for ever impossible. With His own hand God took down the tabernacle, and closed the temple doors: He put His seal to the termination of the Old Testament dispensation.
But we have so far anticipated certain points in the religious history of the Jews, to which we shall have to recur more fully in the sequel. We return to sketch their political history. After their return from Babylon, the Jews continued subject to the kings of Persia, and under the administration of their own high priests. But when Alexander the Great on his march of conquest subdued Syria, Judea also fell into his power. A Jewish tradition relates that, when the high priest Jaddua refused to pay to him in future the customary tribute, on the plea of his oath of allegiance to the Persian monarch, Alexander advanced against Jerusalem. But at no great distance from the city he was met by a solemn procession, with the high priest at its head, who had come to welcome the conqueror, in obedience to a command given to Jaddua in a vision. It is added that Alexander had seen a similar vision, and, in accordance with its injunction, now received the deputation most graciously, not only spared their city and temple, but even offered sacrifices there, and accorded great privileges to the Jewish nation. This narrative, whatever may be its historical value, and the numerous other stories about Alexander which Jewish legend has to record, prove at least the deep impression which his appearance made; and certainly ever afterwards the Jews remained attached to his interests. It is well known that Alexander succeeded in his enterprises, that he conquered Persia, and at last died in the midst of his prosperity at Babylon.
After his decease, his former generals, who obtained possession of the various provinces which had constituted his empire, became speedily involved in mutual hostilities. The first consequence of these disturbances, so far as Judea was concerned, was that Ptolemy Lagus, to whom Egypt had been assigned, along with it seized upon Palestine. The reign of that prince was very prosperous. Mild and humane, he not only confirmed the privileges which Alexander had conferred on the Jews, but encouraged their settlement in the city of Alexandria, and in the province of Cyrene. But when his rival Antigonus, whose ambition was equalled by his courage, possessed himself for a time of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine, the latter country became the theatre of war. This circumstance must have contributed to swell the number of Jewish emigrants into Egypt. But a victory gained over his antagonist at Gaza soon restored Palestine to Ptolemy. At the same time the allies of Ptolemy attempted to make a diversion in the East against Antigonus. Seleucus, a general who shared the enlightened policy of Ptolemy, was encouraged to endeavour there to found an empire for himself. Babylonia gladly welcomed him. He became the first of a dynasty. His accession was hailed in the East as the commencement of a new era. Men reckoned after it, and the so-called "Seleucian Era" dates from the period of his gaining firm possession of the above province (about 312 B.C.). Soon afterwards, Antigonus, who had gained some successes against the Arabs and in Greece, attempted an invasion of Egypt, but was completely repulsed. The ambitious plans of that restless monarch, together, perhaps, with a growing desire on the part of Seleucus, who had now firmly established his power in the East, to possess himself of the dominions of Antigonus, led to a grand combined attack against the latter, in which Seleucus took the lead. Antigonus was beaten, and fell in battle; and Seleucus received Syria, Asia Minor, and the provinces east of the Euphrates, as his share in the common spoil. Seleucus prosecuted the same liberal policy in his new dominions, which had secured for him the attachment of his Babylonian subjects. He built a number of large cities, amongst them Antioch and Laodicea in Syria, and encouraged the influx of wealthy, industrious, and loyal Jewish settlers, by according them privileges similar to those which their brethren enjoyed in Egypt. These not only constituted them citizens, but made them in some respects independent, by placing them under the government of rulers of their own. Meantime the Jewish high priest Jaddua had been succeeded by Onias I. (about 321 B.C.), and the latter, by Simon the Just (about 300 B.C.), to whom tradition ascribes an extensive and important part in the religious history of the Jews.
But the successors of the kings of Syria and Egypt did not inherit the moderation of their fathers. They became embroiled in mutual jealousies and in hostilities, which led to no decisive result in favour of either party, but enabled the disaffected subjects of Antiochus II. , on the eastern banks of the Tigris, to found what afterwards grew into the formidable Parthian Empire. The war between the monarchs of Syria and Egypt was at last terminated by the marriage of Antiochus with the daughter of Ptolemy II. But on the death of the latter monarch, his daughter, the Syrian queen, was repudiated. Antiochus recalled in her stead a former wife of his, who, dreading the fickleness of her lover, murdered him, and placed her son Seleucus on the throne. Ptolemy III. now marched upon Syria, in order to avenge the disgrace and the murder of his sister, who had fallen a victim to her former rival. The queen-mother was killed, and Seleucus obtained from Ptolemy a ten years' truce. He was defeated by the Parthians, who thus secured their independence, and, dying after a reign of twenty-one years, was succeeded by his son, Seleucus III. , and, after the murder of the latter, by Antiochus III. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Palestine had continued to enjoy the favour of the Egyptian monarchs, to whom they were tributary. The successors of the high priest Simon the Just were Eleazar, Manasseh, and Onias II. (about 250 B.C.). All these priests farmed the revenues of Palestine for a certain sum, which they undertook annually to pay to the king of Egypt. In return, they exercised a kind of sovereignty in Palestine, where they administered affairs according to the Divine law. But Onias had, for a considerable time, omitted to pay this tribute,—a course which, but for the timely interposition of his nephew Joseph, would have led to serious circumstances. It is about this time that the political leanings of a certain party of the Jews towards Syria, and the moral deterioration by the introduction of Grecian manners and modes of thinking, led to the formation of a Hellenising party. The influence of the Syrians became daily greater. The Egyptian king, Ptolemy III. , had been succeeded by his son, Ptolemy IV. , who abandoned himself to every vice. Encouraged by the inactivity of the Egyptians, Antiochus III. of Syria overran and took Phenicia and Palestine. But Ptolemy at last roused himself from his drunken revels, met and overcame his antagonist near Aphid (217 B.C.), and recovered his ancient possessions. The Greek romance known as the Third Book of the Maccabees records the persecutions which the Jews are said to have suffered at the hands of Ptolemy upon his return to Egypt. We are told that after his victory the king visited Jerusalem. There he attempted to penetrate into the Holiest of all, against the advice of the high priest, Simon II. (who had succeeded Onias II. ), and was struck down by the hand of the Lord. On his return to Egypt he meant to vent his resentment upon the Jews of Alexandria, whom he deprived of their privileges, and even resolved to exterminate. For this purpose he caused them to be shut up in the arena and exposed to elephants. But when these animals only turned against the assembled spectators instead of the Jews, and other portents appeared, the superstitious king as suddenly changed, and restored to the Jews their former privileges. [Josephus relates this story in a simpler and probably more original form, but he refers the events to the reign of Ptolemy VII. ]
Ptolemy IV. was succeeded by his infant son, Ptolemy v. Antiochus III. of Syria availed himself of the period of helplessness of the Egyptian monarch, to regain Coele-Syria and Palestine. In this undertaking he was encouraged by a party amongst the Jews. At last a peace was concluded between the two monarchs, on condition of a marriage between Cleopatra, the daughter of Antiochus, and young Ptolemy, and on the understanding that Cleopatra should receive the disputed provinces as her dowry. This treaty left Antiochus at liberty to encounter other and much more powerful opponents, in the coming masters of the world—the Romans. But he was unsuccessful, and was obliged to conclude a very disadvantageous peace, and to give hostages, amongst them his son, Antiochus Epiphanes. Soon afterwards he was slain in Persia, and succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV.
Meanwhile the times were becoming more troublous in Palestine, which had never been surrendered to the Egyptian monarch. A dispute arose between Onias III. , the son and successor of Simon II. , and a certain Simon, a captain of the temple guard, who belonged to the Hellenising party. Simon appealed to the cupidity of the Syrians by referring to the untold treasures deposited in the temple. Probably it was only superstition which arrested the Syrian general at that time, but a well-known legend relates how the treasurer Heliodorus was struck down' by a supernatural apparition when he attempted to plunder the temple. Onias appealed to Seleucus against Simon, and for the rest of his reign that king seems to have been favourable to the Jews.
But a period of severe persecution commenced after the murder of Seleucus by Heliodorus, when Antiochus IV. , surnamed Epiphanes, who had just returned from Rome, succeeded his brother on the throne of Syria (175 B.C.). First, Onias III. was superseded by his brother Jason, who had bribed the king, and obtained not only the priesthood, but leave to erect a gymnasium at Jerusalem. This institution proved a source of very great temptation to the Jewish youth, by leading them to conform to Grecian manners. Under that wicked priest the Grecian party became almost dominant. Jason was in turn superseded by a new rival, Menelaus, who had promised a larger sum to Antiochus than that which had been paid by his predecessor. In order to raise it, he plundered the temple treasury, and then incited his accomplices to the murder of Onias, who from his exile had protested against the sacrilege. It was in vain the Jews appealed for redress to Antiochus; their deputies were only slaughtered. Meantime, Ptolemy v. had died, and the executors of his children claimed from Antiochus the provinces which had been promised to their father. On the refusal of Antiochus, both parties prepared for war, and the Syrian monarch soon possessed himself of Egypt. During the confusion, the priest Jason returned to Jerusalem, and forced Menelaus to seek refuge in the castle of the Syrian garrison attached to the city. But Antiochus soon marched upon the Jewish capital, and not only obliged Jason to retire, but, regarding the resistance to his nominee as rebellion against himself, he took a fearful vengeance, by slaughter of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and plunder of the temple. Two years later (168 B.C.), Antiochus again invaded Egypt, when the Roman Senate peremptorily ordered him to withdraw. He sullenly obeyed, but vented his anger upon the Jews. He despatched Apollonius, his chief collector of tribute, with 22,000 men to Jerusalem, where the inhabitants received them cheerfully, not surmising any evil. Then the Syrian soldiery was let loose upon the Jews. The men were slaughtered, and the women and children sold into slavery. Whoever was able escaped from the city; the sanctuary was deserted, and the daily worship ceased. Jerusalem was henceforth to be a Greek city; and the better to ensure this result, the old walls were broken down, and the citadel in the neighbourhood of the temple was newly fortified and occupied by a Syrian garrison. And now began an unprecedented persecution, for the Syrian king had resolved on nothing short of an extinction of the Jewish faith. For that purpose he converted the temple at Jerusalem into one dedicated to Jupiter Olympius. A small heathen altar was reared on the great altar of burnt offering, and on the 25th Chislev (December) the first sacrifice was offered upon it. Circumcision, the keeping of the Sabbath, and every outward observance of the law, were made capital crimes. Every copy of the law was to be surrendered to the authorities and destroyed; every Jew in Palestine was to be obliged to apostatise. In the persecutions which now ensued, many noble instances of a preference of death to blasphemy occurred. At last, Mattathias, a priest, and the head of the Asmonean family, raised the standard of resistance to the Syrian tyranny, and called upon all the faithful in Israel to arm in defence of their lives and laws. The mountains of Judea' afforded the little band a secure retreat and meeting-place. Gradually the number of armed patriots increased into a little army. The first important step they took was to agree that it should be considered lawful to defend themselves on Sabbath-days—a resolution of great practical moment, as it protected the Jews from hostile attacks, which frequently were planned in the belief that they would not be resisted on the day of rest. The aged Mattathias soon died, but was succeeded by his vigorous and youthful son, Judas Maccabaeus. Notwithstanding their great disparity in numbers, Judas routed and slew Apollonius, the Syrian general. To obtain means for carrying on the Jewish and other campaigns, King Antiochus proceeded eastwards, in the hope of replenishing his exhausted treasury by the spoil of temples and cities. Meanwhile the governor Lysias, to whose charge the king had committed his infant son, was to continue the Jewish war. So confident were the Syrians of success, that a large number of slave merchants thronged their camp, preparing to purchase the expected Jewish captives. A Syrian detachment, considerably superior to that of Judas, was sent to meet the Jews. But the latter eluding them, managed to surprise the Syrian camp, routed the panic-stricken soldiers, killed many, took others captive, and got an immense booty. When the Syrian detachment which had been sent to meet Judas returned from its unsuccessful expedition, and discovered the camp in flames, terror seized them, and they also fled precipitately. A second campaign, undertaken the following year, terminated as disadvantageously for the Syrians; and Judas, advancing to Jerusalem, purified the temple, and solemnly rededicated it, exactly three years after its desecration.
During the next two years the Syrian government was fully occupied by events elsewhere. Antiochus Epiphanes died towards the close of the year 164, and Lysias administered the kingdom during the minority of his successor, Antiochus v. Judas meantime was engaged in fortifying strong positions in Judea, and chastising the hostile heathen border tribes. But when he laid siege to the citadel of Jerusalem, some of the Syrian garrison who had escaped, together with representatives of the Grecian party among the Jews, appealed to Lysias for help. He invaded Judea with a powerful army, and forced Judas to seek safety behind the fortifications of Jerusalem. The prospect was becoming hopeless, when troubles at home recalled the Syrian army, and led to a treaty of peace, in which the Jews acknowledged Syrian supremacy, but were secured liberty of conscience and worship. After his retreat Lysias is said to have put to death the apostate high priest Menelaus. It was probably a few years later that the son of the murdered Onias, who had taken refuge in Egypt, seeing no prospect of ever receiving his priestly inheritance, founded a rival temple at Heliopolis.
Judas Maccabaeus was now practically at the head of the Jewish people, and from this point a new period commences. Since the Syrian monarch's rule had ceased to be oppressive, the original cause for the struggle no longer existed, while the Grecian party in Judea felt themselves endangered by the measures of Judas. Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV. , who had been murdered by Heliodorus, was now on the throne of Syria. When, therefore, in answer to the complaints of the Grecian party, he appointed Alcimus their leader as high priest, the Chasidim, or strict Jewish party, were at first disposed to support him, in spite of the opposition of Judas. Soon, however, fresh troubles arose. Judas once more took the lead in resisting the intruder and his allies, and the Syrian army was completely routed, and their general Nicanor slain. Still, the prospect was far from reassuring, and division had already appeared in the ranks of the Jews. Judas took therefore the bold step of appealing for help to Rome, But before aid could be granted, he succumbed to superior numbers, and fell in an engagement, together with the greater part of his adherents.
The command now devolved on his brother Jonathan. The new commander retired to Jordan, where he successfully defended himself. The Syrian general, after taking measures for the complete subjugation of Judea, and establishing strong Syrian garrisons in the country, withdrew once more. An interval of peace ensued, which Jonathan assiduously employed in strengthening his party. On the return of the Syrians to Palestine two years later, the Jewish leader was so successful in the almost passive resistance which he offered, that the Syrian Bacchides was wearied out, and a treaty of peace was made. In the period which followed, the Jewish parties appear to have made terms with one another, and the power of the Asmoneans steadily increased. The views of the national party had enlarged during these campaigns. They now sought not only religious but political independence also, and circumstances soon occurred which furthered their designs. A rival to King Demetrius had been set up in Syria, and both parties contended for the powerful co-operation of Jonathan, by attempting to outbid one another in promises. The Jews espoused the cause of the pretender, and, on his accession to the Syrian throne, Jonathan was declared Meridarch, or commander in Judea. But his predecessor's misfortunes did not teach the new Syrian monarch to eschew his vices. Accordingly, Demetrius II. , the son of Demetrius, was soon welcomed back by his subjects, and regained his father's throne. Although the Jews had formerly supported his opponent, they obtained from him a confirmation of their privileges, on condition of rendering him aid against his rebel subjects. But the ingratitude of Demetrius II. , alienated all hearts from him, and enabled Tryphon, the guardian of the young son of the pretender, once again to bring about a change of dynasty, by procuring the throne of Syria for his ward. The latter, who assumed the title of Antiochus VI. , was only a puppet in the hands of Tryphon, who desired ultimately to gain the crown for himself. To attain this purpose, he first sought to get rid of Jonathan, who had given in his adherence to the new government. In this he succeeded by treachery, as also in accomplishing the murder of his young master.
The government of Judea now devolved on Simon, the last surviving brother of Judas and Jonathan. Simon prosecuted the same line of policy as his predecessors, and, like them, endeavoured to secure the sympathy of the Romans. By espousing the cause of those who could be of use to them, and, laying hold of every opportunity for extending their sway, the Maccabees had gradually obtained all but the title of kings. To further his objects, Simon now made overtures of reconciliation to the dethroned Demetrius II, whom his brother had forsaken for Antiochus VI. By a treaty, the Jews were no longer obliged to pay tribute; Simon was made hereditary prince; and, indeed, such terms were obtained from the fallen monarch, that the Jews ever afterwards dated from this year as the first of their liberation (143 B.C.). Still the cause of Demetrius seemed hopeless, and in an expedition against Parthia he was taken prisoner. He was, however, kindly treated by the Parthian king, whose daughter he married. His brother, Antiochus VII. , now took up the struggle against Tryphon. While his success remained doubtful, Antiochus courted the favour of Simon, but no sooner had he gained a decided advantage than he changed his attitude towards the Jews, and refused to acknowledge their claims to independence. He marched an army into Palestine, which was repulsed by John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon. But when Hyrcanus became high priest and governor (135 B.C.), his father and brothers having fallen victims to a foul conspiracy, Antiochus again invaded Palestine. Jerusalem was besieged, and Hyrcanus was obliged to sue for peace, which the Syrian monarch granted on reasonable terms. Soon after, Antiochus VII. fell in an expedition against the Parthians, and his brother, Demetrius II. , who had escaped from the captivity in which he had been kept by the Parthian court, which only used him as a tool, reascended the throne of Syria. John Hyrcanus meantime extended his sway in Palestine; he subdued the Samaritans, and also conquered the Idumeans, whom he forced to become Jewish proselytes. But Demetrius II. did not long retain the Syrian crown. After the brief reign of a pretender, he was succeeded by his son, Antiochus VIII. The reign of the high priest Hyrcanus is marked by the first public contest between the two great Jewish parties, which seem to have made their appearance about the time of the high priest Jonathan. The Pharisees, the representatives of the earlier Chasidim, were the more strictly religious party, while the Sadducees consisted of the more moderate men, who sympathised with the later tendencies of the Maccabees, and their endeavours to secure national power and independence. By tradition and necessity, Hyrcanus belonged to the sect of the Pharisees, but there was too much of the ambitious warrior about him to suit the tastes of the stricter Jews, nor were they pleased with the innovations introduced by him in religious matters. Ultimately an open quarrel broke out between this party and Hyrcanus, and decided him to join the Sadducees. The subsequent history of the Maccabees presents a picture of rapid declension. At his death (105 B.C.), Hyrcanus left the principality to his wife; but their eldest son, Aristobulus, deposed his mother, and she soon afterwards perished in prison, as the story went, by hunger. His favourite brother Antigonus also fell a victim to his jealous suspicions, and after a reign of only one year Aristobulus died of a painful disease. He was succeeded by his third brother, Alexander Jannaeus, probably the most warlike, as he was the most cruel and least popular of the Asmoneans. His ambitious projects were not attended with success, and as, besides, he was a professed Sadducee, the public discontent broke, on two distinct occasions, into open rebellion. These insurrections were indeed quelled, but not without much bloodshed.
Alexander left the kingdom to his wife, with directions that, after his death, she should join the party of the Pharisees, whose adherence to her rule was thereby procured. After her decease, Hyrcanus, her elder son, a weak prince, would have seized the crown, but found a rival in his younger and more energetic brother, Aristobulus (69 B.C.). Hyrcanus, indeed, resigned the crown in his favour, but by the advice of one Antipater, an Idumean, who had acquired considerable influence, betook himself for assistance to Aretas, king of Arabia, who gladly espoused his cause. Judea now became the scene of a civil war between the rival brothers. Hyrcanus advanced with an army, and shut up Aristobulus in Jerusalem. Meantime the Roman general Pompey had penetrated victoriously into Syria, and both brothers hastened to submit their claims to him for arbitration and assistance. Though the Roman chief delayed his decision, he was clearly disposed to favour the weak Hyrcanus as more likely to be serviceable to himself, and Aristobulus resolved to fight for the crown. He at first attempted to defend Jerusalem, but surrendered on the approach of Pompey. His adherents retired to the temple, which, after a three months' siege, was taken by assault on a Sabbath day. Hyrcanus was now confirmed in his dignity as high priest, but he was deprived of the crown, and became tributary to Rome. Aristobulus and his children (with the exception of Alexander, who escaped by the way) followed Pompey as captives (63 B.C.).
It was in vain that Alexander, and afterwards Aristobulus, endeavoured again to raise the standard of rebellion in Palestine. The watchful and energetic Romans, who were now virtually masters of the country, specially Mark Antony, defeated all their plans. At the same time, Antipater succeeded in ingratiating himself with the new lords of the soil. The war between Caesar and Pompey seemed at first to hold out new prospects to the party of Aristobulus, as Antipater had espoused the cause of Pompey; but the adherents of the latter killed Aristobulus and his son, while Antipater himself seasonably changed sides, and compensated for his former opposition by rendering such effective assistance to Caesar, that he obtained even greater privileges than he had before possessed, being nominated Roman procurator in Judea. The national party was naturally jealous of the unbounded influence which the Idumean Antipater and his sons (of whom Herod was the most promising) were acquiring in Palestine. But, though Antipater was poisoned, the influence of his sons remained unshaken, and they preserved their power in spite of all the revolutions which at this period took place throughout the Roman world. Caesar had been slain, and the short-lived republic was succeeded by the triumvirate. The affairs of the East were now confided to Mark Antony, a friend of Antipater; and Herod, though he had previously given assistance to the republican party, soon gained his favour. In vain did the Jews send successive deputations to complain of the exactions of the sons of Antipater. The latter were confirmed in the government of Judea under Hyrcanus, and their power was still further established by the betrothal of Herod with the beautiful Mariamne, the grand-daughter of the high priest. Soon afterwards Mark Antony was captivated by the charms of Cleopatra.
Antony's inactivity and exactions exposed his provinces to the inroads of the Parthians, who soon possessed themselves of Syria; but the threatening aspect of affairs in Italy obliged Antony to return immediately to Rome, where he happily effected a temporary reconciliation with his colleagues. During his absence from the East, Antigonus, a son of the late Aristobulus, had secured from the Parthians the recognition of his claims upon the Jewish throne (40 B.C.). By treachery, both the aged high priest Hyrcanus and the brother of Herod were made captives and put in chains; but Herod himself had managed to escape to Masada, where he placed his friends in safety, and then departed for Rome. Meanwhile Herod's brother had committed suicide in prison, and Antigonus had cut off the ears of Hyrcanus, in order to unfit him for the priesthood. Herod had originally gone to Rome, for the purpose of procuring the government of Judea for Aristobulus, the brother of Mariamne, under whom he hoped to act as Antipater had done under Hyrcanus; but, when there, he succeeded in obtaining his own elevation to the Jewish throne.
Herod returned to Palestine to conquer his new kingdom by help of the Romans, and, after a two years' struggle (37 B.C.), recovered the country. Antigonus was executed, and Herod reigned undisturbed. One by one he removed his dangerous rivals of the family of the Asmoneans out of the way. The first victim was young Aristobulus, his brother-in-law, who was far too great a favourite with the people to be allowed to live. Next followed the aged Hyrcanus, who had inconsiderately returned to Palestine from his asylum in Parthia. By and by none of the Asmoneans remained. While ridding himself of every possible rival, Herod also knew how to conciliate the favour not only of Antony, but, after his fall, of Octavius. In this brief sketch we cannot refer more fully to the eventful reign of Herod. Cunning, ambitious, bold, and energetic, he was equally hated and feared by his subjects. The two distinguishing features of his character and government were the most unrelenting cruelty, which sacrificed even those nearest to him to the slightest suspicion, and a magnificence which induced him everywhere to raise lasting monuments to himself. Signal instances of the former occurred, when he caused not only his wife, but even his sons and other near relatives, to be executed. Of the latter, the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem, and the foundation of new cities, such as Caesarea Stratonis, are examples. But to no monument does Herod owe the preservation of his memory so much as to the fact that towards the close of his reign Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The last act of Herod's life is sufficiently indicative of his character. The loathsome disease, which at last cut him off, had for some time preyed on his vitals. When he felt his end approaching, he summoned the principal men amongst the Jews, and ordered them to be shut up and to be killed immediately after his decease, in order to secure (as he said) that his decease should occasion a general mourning throughout the land. Happily this cruel behest was not obeyed. The possessions of Herod were divided by the emperor between his three sons. Archelaus was made ethnarch of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, but soon afterwards banished to Gaul; Herod Antipas (the Herod of the Gospels) obtained Galilee and Perea; and Philip, the northern district on the eastern bank of Jordan. On the banishment of Archelaus, Judea was brought directly under Roman rule, and placed under a procurator, who was to some extent subordinate to the imperial legate of Syria. The Jewish hatred of foreign rule, and the inability of the Romans to understand the prejudices of the nation, would in any case have rendered difficult the administration of the province. But, in fact, the breach between the Romans and the Jews was made continually wider, owing to the rapacity and cruelty with which almost all the governors of Judea exercised their office. The most noted of these procurators was Pontius Pilate, under whose administration the Lord Jesus, being delivered by the Jews into the hands of the Romans, "offered Himself by the Eternal Spirit unto the Father." But Pilate's tyranny was too great to be long tolerated. When, on another occasion, he caused a number of unoffending Samaritans to be slaughtered, he was sent to Rome by Vitellius, the legate of Syria, in order to answer for his conduct before the Emperor Tiberius (37 a.d.). The Roman legates and procurators imitated the conduct of Herod in frequently changing the occupants of the high priesthood, to gratify their own avarice or caprice. [Nevertheless the high priests retained considerable power down to the fall of Jerusalem. They were almost always chosen from among a few favoured families, who formed an influential aristocracy, and strengthened the power of the high priest. ] Even Jewish authorities represent these priests as morally and religiously so degraded as by their sins to have called down the Divine vengeance upon the people.
—History Of The Jewish Nation