From 104 to 67 BC

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Alexander Jannaeus, Salome Alexandra Expand Hasmonean Kingdom Before Its Decline

From 104 to 67 BC

Flavius Josephus, The Jewish Wars, Book I, Chapter 4, Section 2

John Hyrcanus dies in 104 BC and his son, Aristobulus, becomes the leader of Judea. The new ruler is a tyrant and a Hellenist who goes as far as killing his closest relatives. He rules for only one year before dying. The immediate heir to the crown is Aristobulus’ brother, Alexander Jannaeus. The new king marries Aristobulus’ widow, Salome, and begins expanding the borders of his realm. Seeing himself as the legitimate heir of both the kingship and the priesthood, Alexander Janneus denies the Pharisees their demands for religious freedom. These tensions simmer into a long and bloody civil war, which Alexander Jannaeus mercilessly suppresses.  Alexander Jannaeus’ widow, Salome Alexandra, ascends to the throne following his death in 76 BC, and her son, John Hyrcanus II, becomes the high priest. The new queen appeases, and even supports, the Pharisees, as well the Sanhedrin and its leaders – Simeon ben Shetach and Judah ben Tabbai. Her close ties with this sect stirs animosity among the rivaling Sadducees and nobility of Judea. Salome’s death in 67 BC marks the beginning of the end for the independent Hasmonean kingdom.

Alexander Jannaeus inherits the Hasmonean dynasty and marries Salome. They rule over Judea for 37 yearsa period characterized by religious, national, and political prosperity, marking the peak of Hasmonean independence. However, the heirs to the Hasmonean dynasty are preoccupied with internal power struggles and therefore forget about the supreme task laid out before their ancestors. This preoccupation comes at a heavy cost – the end of the Hasmonean entity.

“Now it happened that there was a battle between him and Ptolemy, who was called Lathyrus, who had taken the city Asochis. He indeed slew a great many of his enemies, but the victory rather inclined to Ptolemy. But when this Ptolemy was pursued by his mother Cleopatra, and retired into Egypt, Alexander besieged Gadara, and took it; as also he did Amathus, which was the strongest of all the fortresses that were about Jordan, and therein were the most precious of all the possessions of Theodorus, the son of Zeno. Whereupon Theodorus marched against him, and took what belonged to himself as well as the king’s baggage, and slew ten thousand of the Jews. However, Alexander recovered this blow, and turned his force towards the maritime parts, and took Raphia and Gaza, with Anthedon also, which was afterwards called Agrippias by king Herod” (Josephus Flavius, The Jewish Wars, Book 1, Chapter 4, paragraph 2)

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