Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

A Royal House Again.


In Aristobulus, eldest son and successor of John Hyrcanus, we see the Hasmonean further and further estranged from the generous spirit that called them to the fore. Judas Maccabeus wished to be the Saviour of Judaism and the Jews, Aristobulus wanted only to be their king. The story of Abimelech in the days of the Judges and Jotham's parable come forcibly to mind (Judges ix). Aristobulus began his reign by inprisoning his mother, to prevent her succession to the throne, according to his father's wish, and likewise all his brothers but one, on suspicion of their treason. Antigonus was his favorite brother, and he shared the royal power with him. The king was certainly unpopular with the people, who accused him of being more Greek than Jew. Slander made him even worse than he was, ascribing to him the death of his beloved brother Antigonus, who was assassinated toward the close of his reign. He continued his father's policy of conquest, and subdued portions of northern Palestine, including Galilee, and, like his father again imposed Judaism upon them. While in both instances the motive for the forced conversion was probably ancestral pride, still it showed religious zeal too—though not of the highest kind.

Alexander Janneus.

The widow of Aristobulus, Salome Alexandra, released her husband's brother from prison at his death and by marrying Alexander Janneus, the eldest, and appointing him to the office of High Priest she allowed the kingly power to devolve upon him. Like his brother, he was not a man of peace, but of war. He further increased Judea's territory by conquest on the western Philistine side bordering on the Mediterranean.

He was not the man to quiet the growing dissensions between Pharisees and Sadducees, but rather to foment them. For the royal Sadducean party was getting more and more estranged in policy and aim from the national and religious aspirations of the people. There was a not always silent protest against the warrior king officiating as High Priest. At the Feast of Tabernacles, the people pelted him with their citrons, which they were carrying together with palms (lulab and esrog), symbols of the harvest, for this is also called the Feast of Ingathering. This could not end without a tragedy, and a large number were slain by his foreign mercenaries. (Royal body guards were usually composed of foreigners.) This conflict grew into a civil war, both sides in turn hiring foreign troops, and resulted in a terrible decimating of Judah's numbers, the Pharisees losing more largely. Such is one of the evils of uniting religious authority with temporal power. The rebellion was finally put down, but only with an iron hand.

This king, who could not be at peace, spent his last days in fighting the Arabians, who were just beginning to be Judea's most dangerous neighbor. But he inherited from his Maccabean ancestors love of arms without inheriting their military genius. This meant much wanton waste of life and some reverses. How vain this purpose of spending blood and substance in extending his territorial sway and making it nominally Jewish by force of arms, while fomenting religious antagonism at home—always destructive of religion itself. He left an even bigger State than his father, John Hyrcanus. Judea now meant the whole seacoast (with the exception of Ascalon) from Mount Carmel to Egypt and reached far east of the Jordan.

Queen Salome Alexandra.

The throne went by will to Alexander Janneus' widow, who, it will be remembered, was also the widow of his elder brother, Aristobulus. Upon her eldest son, Hyrcanus, Queen Salome bestowed the high priesthood. Her sympathies, however, were entirely with the Pharisees. The exiles came back and political prisoners were released. The land enjoyed a pleasing contrast under her pious and gentle sway. All the Pharisaic ordinances, abolished by the late king, were reinstituted. Indeed, all religious interests were placed in their hands. It was a prosperous, peaceful reign, and was later looked back upon as a blessed day. In the stormy days that were to follow, it might well seem in retrospect, a golden age.

The "Pairs."

We have seen that the priesthood and Temple were no longer the religious centres around which the people rallied. The Jews had outgrown the age of priestism, although the splendid ritual of the sacrificial altar still continued. The religious guides and teachers were the scribes, learned in the Law, who for sometime had been presiding in couples. Hence they are called the "Pairs." The first of each pair held the office of Nasi, Prince or President of the Sanhedrin, and the second that of Ab Beth Din, Father of the Court or Vice-President.

Here are their names with some of the most famous sayings attributed to them:—

  1. Jose ben Joezer—Let thy house be a meeting place for the wise. Cover thyself with the dust of their feet and quench thy thirst with their words.
  2. Jose ben Jochanan—Let thy house be opened wide and let the needy be thy household.
  3. Joshua ben Perachia—Procure for thyself an instructor, possess thyself of a worthy associate, and judge every man in the scale of merit.
  4. Mattai the Arbelite—Associate not with the wicked and flatter not thyself that thou canst evade punishment.
  5. Jehudah ben Tabbai—Constitute not thyself dictator to the Judges.
  6. Simon ben Shetach—Be guarded in thy words; perchance from them men may learn to lie.
  7. Shemaiah—Love labor and hate pomp and suffer thyself to remain unknown to the head of the State.
  8. Abtalion—Ye wise be guarded in your words; or you may be exiled to a place of evil waters (false doctrine) and your disciples may drink and die.
  9. Hillel and Shammai, the last "Pair," will be treated in a separate chapter.

Simon ben Shetach flourished in this reign. He was brother-in-law of the king, by whom he had been nevertheless imprisoned. But when the queen came to the throne he was practically placed as the religious head of affairs. Simon ben Shetach and his associate, Judah ben Tabbai, reorganized the Council and hence were called "restorers of the Law." From this time on the Pharisaic became the official interpretation of Judaism.

In all large towns Simon ben Shetach established schools for young men for the study of the Pentateuch and the laws interpreted from it. As President of the Council, he was very severe on those who infringed on the law. He has even been called the Judean Brutus, as he did not spare his own son. He reinstituted many customs that had been neglected during the Sadducean regime. Among these was the joyous "Water Celebration" during Tabernacles, a trace of which still survives in the ritual of Shemini Atzereth (the eighth day that follows and concludes the festival of Succoth). The celebrations were accompanied by illuminations and torchlight processions, religious music and dancing. The water drawing at the Spring of Siloah was heralded by blasts of the priests' trumpets. Another national custom revived was the summer "Wood Festival," on Ab 15. It had relation to the use of wood at the altar fires, and was a further opportunity for joyous unbending among the youths and maidens.

The Pharisees on the whole were the more democratic party, and decided that the maintenance of the Temple should be borne by all and not merely by voluntary offerings of the rich few. This new law brought enormous revenues to the Temple which later became its menace, attracting the covetous rather than the worshipful.


Sayings of the Fathers:—These sayings, which form one book of the Mishna, will be found in the Sabbath Afternoon Service of the Jewish Prayer Book. Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, chapter I. Taylor. Cambridge Press. Translations and notes.

Water Festival:—For a vivid description see Poetry of the Talmud, Seckles.

Theme for discussion:—Contrast the Wood Festival of ancient Judea with Arbor Day in modern America. Mark the difference of purpose.