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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 Four: Judas Turns to Rome


CHAPTER FOUR Judas Turns To Rome By 161 BC, Judas had so alienated himself from the accommodationist path that his only remaining option for undermining Alcimus was to challenge the high priest’s legitimacy at its imperial source. But how to accomplish this? Broadcasting anti-Seleucid slogans would achieve nothing. Repulsing Demetrius’ armies was no solution either; the king always had more to send. Rome had turned Antiochus IV back from Egypt, but had never interfered with Seleucid suzerainty over the Levant. In the aftermath of Eleusis, the Republic’s legates were, at most, prepared to support reconciliation of the Maccabean rebels with their Macedonian ruler. None of these developments weakened the incumbent high priest’s hold on Jerusalem. But in the year before Judas sent his embassy, new political developments in the Seleucid realm may have shaken these certainties. In 162, a senatorial commission headed by Cn. Octavius landed in Laodicea and proceeded to burn the Seleucid fleet and hamstring its war- elephants. Later that same year, Demetrius seized the kingdom against the Senate’s wishes, and rumors that the patres had become estranged from the usurper may well have been in the air. Word may even have reached Judas that Timarchus, the Seleucid satrap of Media, who had raised the standard of revolt against Demetrius, had journeyed to Rome seeking recognition of his independent rule over the eastern satrapies. These events opened the door to new readings of Rome’s stance toward the Seleucids, and may have influenced the timing of Judas’ embassy. The...

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