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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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A. Epigraphic Evidence for Roman Treaty Forms Were our evidence limited to literary sources, we would be aware of only a fraction of Rome’s diplomatic ties with the East during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The epigraphic record dispels this illusion in the form of public inscriptions documenting senatorial decrees (senatus consulta) and other official correspondence with Greek states. 1 Some of these inscriptions are comparable in form to that of 1 Maccabees 8.23-30. The epigraphic medium of these treaties makes them particularly valuable as comparative evidence because of their rigid adherence to the actual wording (albeit in Greek translation) of the Senate’s original pronouncement.2 The four treaty texts I have assembled here—those of Maronea, Cibyra, Methymna and Astypalaea—are those most often cited by scholars for comparison with 1 Maccabees 8. 3 Maronea (SEG XXXV.823) Maronea was a Greek city on the southern coast of Thrace. Its inscription is one of the best preserved. The document’s orthography locates the inscription broadly within the 2 nd century BC. 4 The reference to the liberation of the Maroneans’ neighbors, the Aenians by “Lucius” may be a reference to the reorganization of Macedonia by L. Aemilius Paullus in 167, in which case the treaty would postdate that event. Some scholars attempt to date the treaty more precisely to the winter of 168/167, at which time the Senate declared the freedom of Aenus and Maronea in reaction to an attempt by King Eumenes of Pergamum to claim them for himself. 5...

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