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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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Summative Assessment


This book has traced the stages by which Rome came to rule the Levant, and how Judea came to be ruled in consequence of that development. For some, this is a tale that deserves documentation but requires no further comment. As dedicated imperialists, it was natural that the Romans would seek to seize the former Seleucid domain, having spent a century weakening its dynasts. All that was wanting was a pretext. Rome conquered the Levant because it was there. 1 Such an assessment renders Judea’s fate inevitable, or at least unremarkable. If the Republic’s hegemonic impulses dictated relations with Syria from the beginning, how much more would they have overshadowed ties with Judea? In one scholar’s estimation, Judas’ embassy of 161 was a recipe for eventual Roman domination. 2 For another, Judea was destined for provincialization the moment Pompey set foot in Jerusalem. 3 A more nuanced approach to Roman-Hasmonean relations is needed. A central concern of this book has been to correlate transitions in the imperial landscape of Palestine with changes in the Judean high priesthood. As was seen under Simon and especially under Hyrcanus II, diplomacy with the Republic served not only to bolster Hasmonean rule, but also gave concrete expression to a view of that family’s sacerdotal role that explicitly linked its exercise to Roman recognition. As a vehicle for high priestly prostasia, Hasmonean diplomacy linked a native Judean concept of cultic representation with a Hellenic model of international relations. Imperial Transitions From its first military commitment...

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