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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 Two: The Judean Background


CHAPTER TWO The Judean Background For all its gaps and silences, the information available to us for Judean history during Hellenistic times is considerable. Literary sources interface with archaeological, epigraphic, papyrological and numismatic testimony to generate a substantial data set for reconstructing Judea’s place in the Mediterranean world. Paradoxically though—as the previous chapter demonstrates—it is possible to offer a coherent history of the Levant without mentioning Judea. Greek and Roman authors mostly ignored the landlocked hinterland of Jerusalem in their accounts of this period, or anonymously subsumed the district under their treatment of larger geopolitical entities. 1 This is due, in part, to Judea’s comparative insignificance to the events those historians wished to document. Judea was also likely passed over because it lay within a region whose Seleucid title was never challenged by Rome or interrupted by the Sixth Syrian War. It was, however, by no means unaffected by those events. On the contrary, Judean sources begin to proliferate precisely when the southern Levant becomes Seleucid, and it is the local consequences of that development—in concert with the hegemonic stature acquired by Rome in the wake of Pydna and Eleusis—that would propel Judea’s leaders to seek diplomatic support from the Republic. The purpose of this chapter is to relate what is known about Judea to the international context described in the previous chapter. Since that chapter focused on geopolitical aspects of the Seleucid-Ptolemaic conflict and of Rome’s growing involvement in it, I begin by considering Judea’s...

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