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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 Seven: From Eulogy to Silence


CHAPTER SEVEN From Eulogy to Silence Given its lack of military efficacy, it is far from obvious why the author of 1 Maccabees so glowingly advertises Judea’s alliance with Rome. It is equally surprising that, after cultivating ties with the Republic for two generations, the Hasmoneans seem to have allowed the relationship to languish. It may be that the Roman connection enjoys the prominence it does because 1 Maccabees was composed at a time when diplomacy with Rome was useful to Hasmonean statecraft. If this is the case, literary analysis of 1 Maccabees may offer important clues as to the causes for the hiatus that followed. The preceding three chapters have addressed literary issues only as a prelude to separating fact from fabrication. In the present chapter, the compositional arrangement of 1 Maccabees and its profiling of the Republic take center stage. This shift in attention from historical reality to literary representation is a consequence of my thesis that the Maccabees’ main motive for fostering friendship with Rome was domestic legitimation. Judas and his brothers manipulated the Roman name in order to justify their rule to their own people; John, their successor, utilized senatorial decrees to link that pretense to a concept of Judean statehood. Prior to Pompey, the history of Roman-Judean relations is essentially a history of image-management. Such a judgment naturally leads to the suspicion that the apparent lapse in diplomacy after John’s rule stemmed from a shift in Hasmonean priorities. Did John’s successors face challenges for which...

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