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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 Five: Renewal under Jonathan and Simon


CHAPTER FIVE Renewal under Jonathan and Simon The latter half of the 2 nd century BC saw radical changes in Rome’s relations with the Aegean world. Major upheavals in the Balkans during the 140s resulted in the installation of a permanent Roman military presence in Greece and Macedon. In 133, Attalus III of Pergamum bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman people, leading to the eventual transformation of western Anatolia into a going provincial concern. Potential hegemony gave way to actual empire. By contrast, the Republic’s dealings with lands beyond the Taurus were as evasive and non-committal after 160 as they had been before that year. For the Maccabees, then, the Roman context remained static. The same cannot be said of the Seleucid horizon. In 152, the bad blood of Demetrius’ violent coup began to bear bitter fruit. A series of succession struggles rent the realm into rival dynastic camps, none of which proved capable of maintaining ascendancy for more than a few years. Meanwhile, out of the eastern satrapies, a new military menace, the Parthians, descended on Babylonia, severing that territorial core from Seleucid control forever. As the realm imploded, the Ptolemies presided over the carnage, manipulating Syrian quarrels for the furtherance of their own feuds. The Levant had once again become a bone of imperial contention. The Hasmoneans were quick to take advantage of this volatile environment. Over the next three decades, Judas’ brothers (Jonathan and Simon) and nephew (John Hyrcanus) followed his lead in sending embassies to Rome...

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