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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 Six: Renewal under John Hyrcanus


CHAPTER SIX Renewal under John Hyrcanus Roman-Judean relations under Jonathan and Simon appear to have been confined to one-time renewals of friendship and alliance motivated by the Maccabees’ quest for domestic legitimacy. John Hyrcanus continued this practice, but went further. In addition to sending men, he also sent money, and what he requested was correspondingly more concrete: explicit Roman endorsement for Judean territorial sovereignty, including recently captured towns and harbors of the Paralia. The Seleucid dynasty had never relinquished its claim over any part of the strategically vital Palestinian coast, and John could boast no title to it the Romans would have automatically recognized. The high priest’s solution was to pay the Republic to validate Hasmonean imperialism. The conquests themselves had been Simon’s doing. Already under Antiochus VI, John’s father had been granted oversight of the Paralia “from the Ladder of Tyre to the borders of Egypt.”1 Following Jonathan’s capture by Trypho, Simon seized Joppa and Gazara. 2 Later, when he launched his bid for the Syrian throne in 138 BC, Antiochus VII confirmed Simon’s possession of “the strongholds that you have built and now hold,”3 but soon thereafter made it plain that this grant did not include Joppa, Gazara or the Acra—“cities of my kingdom.”4 The king demanded them back, appointing a new governor over the Paralia and dispatching him to fight when Simon refused to yield. 5 The attack was deflected; the royal claim was not. The purpose of this chapter is to present...

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