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Rome and Judea in Transition

Hasmonean Relations with the Roman Republic and the Evolution of the High Priesthood


Chris Seeman

Rome and Judea in Transition is the first English-language book to study exclusively the first century and a half of Roman-Judean political relations (164–37 B.C.). It presents a comprehensive reassessment of the Late Republic's involvement in the Levant, the motives of Hasmonean diplomacy, and the development of the Jewish high priesthood. Therefore, it is of interest to classicists, ancient historians, biblical scholars, and students of Judaica alike.
Previous studies have often mischaracterized this period as a consistent unfolding of Rome’s hegemonic will at Jewish expense. By contrast, this book argues that the Republic harbored no imperial designs on Judea prior to Pompey’s opportunistic intervention in 63 B.C., and that Rome’s subsequent intermittent meddling in the region’s governance did not significantly alter the dynamics of the Hasmonean state. Only with the Parthian invasion of Syria in 40 B.C. – and because of it – did the Republic unilaterally reshape Judean politics by its elevation of Herod the Great as «King of the Jews.»
Judea’s alliance with Rome began in the context of Judas Maccabeus’ revolt against Seleucid rule. Scholars have therefore understandably assumed that the primary hope of Judas’ successors was that Roman recognition would secure and extend Judean sovereignty. This book argues that the main motive for Hasmonean diplomacy was domestic: to advertise the legitimacy of the Maccabees against their Jewish rivals. For this reason, the documentary record of relations with the Republic is of great value for studying the ideology and institutional growth of high priestly power during this period.


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Preface xi


Preface The seed from which this book germinated was a doctoral dissertation completed in 2002 under the direction of Erich Gruen at the University of California at Berkeley. Although a decade now separates that initial research from the present work, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Erich for setting me on the path of exploration, and for his unstinting encouragement throughout the journey. I also thank the other members of my dissertation committee—Robert Knapp, John Endres, Daniel Boyarin, and the late Victor Gold—for bringing a truly interdisciplinary breadth to the experience, the memory of which continues to inspire. The dissertation dealt primarily with the first half of the present book’s subtitle: “Hasmonean Relations with the Roman Republic.” It addressed preliminary issues concerning the authenticity, dating and significance of the documents found in 1 Maccabees and in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities pertaining to Rome’s involvement with pre-Herodian Judea. What the current monograph adds to this foundation is encapsulated in the second half of its subtitle: “the Evolution of the High Priesthood.” The Hasmoneans engaged in international diplomacy as high priests of their nation. They acquired this office as genealogical outsiders, which made their tenure controversial. The documents generated by the Hasmoneans’ diplomatic activity have convinced me that the whole enterprise was integral to the family’s domestic legitimation as Judea’s sacerdotal leaders. My thinking on this issue has been enriched by several groundbreaking works, recent and forthcoming, on the subject of the high priesthood during the Hellenistic period. Comparable...

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