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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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Chapter One: The International Background


CHAPTER ONE The International Background Despite their differing genres and divergent viewpoints, the biblical books of 1 Maccabees and Daniel share the same starting point for contextualizing the Maccabean revolt: the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, more than a century and a half earlier. The Hasmonean historian summarizes the intervening period in a few schematic verses, recounting the rise and depredations of the Diadochoi, which climax with the advent of Antiochus IV; the apocalyptic seer devotes an entire chapter to mapping out the vicissitudes of Macedonian rule in painstaking detail. 1 Both authors presume that the political history of the 3 rd century is essential for comprehending the Judean crises of the 2 nd . Attention to the international background of local events also underlies 1 Maccabees’ account of Hasmonean interaction with Rome. The author prefaces Judas’ decision to dispatch his embassy to Italy with a lengthy excursus on the growth of Rome’s imperium throughout the Mediterranean, especially as this impacted the successor-states of Alexander’s empire.2 Maccabean diplomacy (so the dynasty’s chronicler would have us believe) sprang from a considered analysis of half a century of Roman military and political behavior. The purpose of the present chapter is to critically examine this longue durée—both as a backdrop to Roman-Hasmonean relations and as a basis for tracking, in future chapters, the Maccabees’ ongoing adaptation to the changing imperial landscape. The fundamental feature of that landscape was the incessant tug-of-war over Palestine waged by the Seleucid and Ptolemaic...

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