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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

From the Hasmoneans to the Herodians

After Pompey's death in 48 BCE, Hyrcanus II and Antipater allied themselves with Julius Caesar, Pompey's rival in the Second Civil War. For encouraging the Egyptian community to support Caesar's campaign there, as well as for sending Jewish forces to Egypt, Hyrcanus was granted the title “ethnarch of the Jews,” which he added to his rank as high priest. The political title symbolized his role of representative of all Jews, both in Judea and throughout the Diaspora. Although Hyrcanus thus gained status, Antipater, appointed “procurator of Judea” by Caesar, retained the political power.

Antipater engineered for his son Phasael the governorship of Jerusalem, and over Galilee he placed his younger son Herod. There Herod would face local popular as well as juridical opposition. In 47 he suppressed the guerrilla war being waged in the north by the local leader Hezekiah (Ezechias). Having executed the rebel after a mock trial, Herod was summoned by Hyrcanus to appear before the Sanhedrin to defend his actions. Yet he by no means capitulated; he arrived in royal purple, accompanied by an armed guard. Hyrcanus disbanded the session, perhaps on Roman orders, and expelled Herod from Jerusalem.

Humiliated, Herod's immediate impulse was to attack Jerusalem, but he was restrained by his calmer brother and father, who feared a potential civil war. Herod's status was in fact enhanced following this confrontation with the Sanhedrin: Sextus Caesar, the Syrian governor, appointed him governor of Coele-Syria, and probably Samaria as well. In 43, Antipater was poisoned by his one-time ally Malichus, whom Herod then had assassinated.

Ever dependent on the fortunes of the empire, both Herod and Judea found themselves caught in the web of Roman internal politics. In 42, Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lapidus defeated the old republicans Brutus and Cassius at the battle of Philippi in Thrace. Antony assumed responsibility for the eastern provinces. Within a year, two Jewish delegations complained at separate times to Antony about their local governors, Phasael and Herod. But Herod, who had been a supporter of Cassius, not only managed to neutralize the charges by appealing directly to Antony; he and his brother consolidated their positions when the new ruler, acting against the wishes of a substantial delegation of Jewish leaders, named them tetrarchs of Judea.

Antony, Phasael, and Herod were at least momentarily content; the general population of Judea was not. To the contrary, already opposed to Herod, they were now responsible for contributing to Antony's lavish lifestyle. Taxes became more and more burdensome. The army too would demand increasing support.

In 40 BCE the Parthians again took up arms against Syria and Judea. Among their allies was Antigonus, the son of Pompey's captive Aristobulus II. Antigonus offered the Parthians support in exchange for their placing him on the throne in Judea. His campaign also received substantial backing from the Jewish population unhappy with Antipater's sons. By the end of the campaign, the Parthians had captured Phasael and Hyrcanus II. Herod, the most politically astute of the local rulers, fled. To prevent Hyrcanus II from serving again as high priest, the Parthians mutilated his ears (see Lev. 21.17 ); Phasael committed suicide. The Parthians then honored their treaty and installed Antigonus as king in Judea.

While the Parthians were hoisting the Hasmonean heir into power in Jerusalem, the Roman senate, with the support of Antony and Octavian, appointed Herod king of Judea. Herod then began his own military campaign. In 39 he took Galilee, Samaria, and Idumea; in 38 he received substantial help from the Roman general Ventidius, who defeated the Parthians and thereby cut off Antigonus's military support. With the aid of Ventidius's successor, Sosius, Herod gained the rest of the kingdom by the spring of 37. Antigonus was captured, taken to Antioch, and beheaded on Antony's orders. Herod married Mariamme, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus II and the sister of Aristobulus III. He settled down to a reign of grandeur, economic and architectural expansion, and familial intrigue that lasted more than three decades (37–4 BCE).

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