Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

Rival Claimants for the Throne.

Aristobulus II.

Even before the good Queen Salome died storm clouds began to darken the horizon of Judah. Her second son, Aristobulus, inherited all his father's fierceness and tyranny. The throne had been naturally left to the elder brother, Hyrcanus, but the headstrong Aristobulus seized the reins of power on the dangerous theory that he was more fit to rule. Civil war began before the good queen had quite breathed her last. Hyrcanus, the weak, yielded, and all might have been well were it not for the interference of a new enemy who was eventually to bring about the ruin of the Jewish State.

Antipater the Idumean.

It will be recalled that John Hyrcanus had conquered the Idumeans and made them, seemingly, Jews. We shall now see the kind of Jews they were. One of them, Antipater, was the local governor of this Idumean province. He was a man who lusted for power and had absolutely no scruples as to the means of gaining his ends. He saw that if only he could place the weak Hyrcanus on the throne, he might become a power behind it.

He began by insinuating himself into the favor of the Jewish nobility, and, ostensibly, as a pleader for justice, emphasized the evils of Aristobulus' usurpation. Letting that poison work, he came to the innocent Hyrcanus and played upon his fears with a made-up story of conspiracy against his life. Most reluctantly was Hyrcanus persuaded to flee with him from Jerusalem to an Arabian prince, Aretas. Aretas was induced to lend his aid in the expectation that Hyrcanus, once in power, would restore the cities Alexander Janneus had taken from the Arabians.

So unhappy Judah was plunged in war again to gratify the unworthy ambitions of unworthy men and men not of their own people. Aristobulus was defeated in battle by Aretas and was besieged in the Temple Citadel.

Prayer of Onias.

An interesting incident is told at this juncture that recalls the Bible story of Balaam. (Numbers xxii-xxiv.) In the party of Hyrcanus there was a man, Onias, who, so said credulous rumor, had brought rain in times of drought through his fervent prayer. He was now brought into the camp and asked to invoke God's curse on Aristobulus and his allies. But such prayer he considered blasphemous, therefore he voiced his petition to heaven in these words: "O God, King of the whole world, since those that stand now with me are Thy people and those that are besieged are also Thy priests, I beseech Thee that Thou wilt neither hearken to the prayer of those against these, nor bring about what these pray against those." Alas, the temper of warfare had not patience or appreciation with this sublime attitude. The man was stoned. But in a sense his prayer was answered.

Pompey Takes Jerusalem.

For the Aesop fable of the two bears quarrelling over a find, thus affording opportunity for a third to step in and seize it, was here to be exemplified. Rome was ever on the watch to bring all outlying provinces into her net. Pompey, her victorious general, whose head Julius Caesar was later to demand, was just now making his triumphant march through Asia. The warring brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobolus, appealed to his lieutenant. To leave the decision with Rome was a dangerous precedent, for the power that could grant a throne by its decision might also take it away. So, while the decision was rendered in favor of Aristobulus, it was as vassal rather than as independent king that he held his throne for some two years. The real gainer was Rome. It had now the right to revoke its decision; and it did. The people, disgusted with their unworthy leaders who cared nothing for the nation, but only for its honors—appealed to Rome to abolish the monarchy that had been gradually introduced and restore the old regime of the High Priesthood.

But the headstrong Aristobulus dared resist even Rome and entrenched himself against invasion. This was fatal both for him and Judea. The temple mount was besieged. It was taken with frightful massacre by lustful Romans. This was in 63. Pompey sacrilegiously entered the Holy of Holies, in which to his surprise he found no idol; a spiritual God was an unfamiliar concept to the pagan mind. He curtailed the Jewish state and made it tributary. Aristobulus must grace Pompey's triumph at Rome.

So much for the vain conquests of John Hyrcanus and Alexander Janneus. They evaporated with a word from Pompey. Thus ended the Judean independence for which the early Maccabees had fought so nobly. It had endured but seventy-nine years. Over this tributary State Hyrcanus II. was made High Priest. The kingship created by the first Aristobulus was short-lived indeed. The scheming Antipater had won, but graver issues were to be the outcome.