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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 Three: The Maccabean Revolt


CHAPTER THREE The Maccabean Revolt In the summer of 168 BC, Rome’s international peacekeeping agenda, Antiochus IV’s scramble to reassert supremacy over his realm, and domestic Judean strife converged for the first time. The convergence, however, was purely coincidental. C. Popillius Laenas could give Antiochus his marching orders only because L. Aemilius Paullus had defeated Perseus at Pydna. Without that victory to back up its threats, the Senate might have had to acquiesce in Seleucid hegemony over Cyprus and Egypt. Contingency likewise characterized the instability of Jason’s and Menelaus’ high priestly tenures in Judea during the Sixth Syrian War and the period leading up to it. Antiochus had no intrinsic commitment to either of the high priests he endorsed, much less to the cultural politics they espoused. Jason and Menelaus exploited circumstances to their advantage—the king’s accession, his preparations for war, his rumored death—but could hardly have anticipated any of these developments. The author of Daniel was aware of the role of Laenas’ legation (“the ships of Kittim”) in prompting Antiochus’ evacuation of Egypt,1 but we have no decisive evidence that anyone at the time perceived the Republic as a potential mediator of Judea’s troubled relations with its sovereign.2 That crucial threshold would not be crossed for another four years. What made diplomatic contact between Rome and Judea possible was the tenacity of the Maccabean revolt and the failure of the oppressive policies that had provoked it. Though they spanned only a few years of Judea’s history...

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