200px-Aristobulus II

Aristobulus II, Jewish High Priest


Aristobulus II was Jewish King and High Priest over Judea from 66 to 63BC. Being the younger son of Alexander Jannaeus and Alexandra Salome, he was unable to assume the hereditary roles of High Priest and King after the death of either parent. This left Aristobulus greatly resentful of his older brother's succession to the throne and office of High Priest, and with a driving determination to take these posititons by force.

After the death of his mother, Salome, Aristobulus' older brother Hyrcanus II did in fact become King over Judea. He had already been installed as High Priest by Salome during her reign as Queen. [3] After Hyrcanus had reigned as king for only three months, Aristobulus rose in rebellion against him, believing himself better equipped for both leadership roles. Aristobulus engaged Hyrcanus in battle at Jericho and won the victory after Hyrcanus' own soldiers went over to his side.

Fearing for his life, Hyrcanus took refuge in the citadel of Jerusalem, but when Aristobulus captured the Temple, he felt compelled to surrender. The brothers then concluded a peace treaty whereby Hyrcanus was to renounce the throne and the office of High Priest, but was to receive the revenues of the High Priest office.

The political wrestling of the two rivals worsened as each brother sought military and political aid from such foreign leaders as Aretas III, King of the Nabataeans, and finally, Roman general Pompey.

Family BackgroundEdit

Aristobulus’ family were the Hasmoneans (/hæzməˈniːən/), the ruling dynasty of the Hasmonean Kingdom of Israel. They ruled over Israel from 140BC to 37BC, and their territory was an independent religious Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The Hasmonean Dynasty was established under the leadership of Simon Maccabaeus, a little over twenty years after his brother Judas Maccabee (aka "Hammer") defeated the Seleucid army during the Maccabean Revolt in 165 BC. The Hasmonean Kingdom lasted for 103 years before succumbing to the Roman appointed Herodian Dynasty in 37 BC. [4].[1]

  • The Hasmonean Dynasty

The Hasmoneans were applauded for ending the oppressive rule by the Seleucids and founding the first independent Jewish kingdom after being under subjugation and control by foreign nations. The nation had been subjected to political domination by others son after their return from exile in Babylon [2 Kings 25:7-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10 & 52:1-16] reportedly in 539BC. During the time period of the Babylonian deportation, Judah's last reigning King, Zedekiah, had been dethroned. The Jewish Feast of Hannukah [aka “Festival of Lights”] is celebrated every year in honor of the re-dedication of the Temple after the defeat of Antiochus IV [Seleucid leader] by the Hasmoneans.

  • Conflict over Hasmonean Rule

Because the Hasmoneans were not descended from the lineage of King David, many righteous Jews felt that they were not legitimate rulers of the Jewish people. To some Jews, they were seen as worldly or overly concerned with military power. It was during this time, however, that the hope of a Messiah, the "son of David," grew ever stronger as Jews witnessed the corrupt practices taking place during Hasmonean rule.

This is also the time when the Sadducees emerged as the party of the priests, taking their name, Sadducee, from King Solomon's loyal priest, Zadok. Their rivals, the Pharisees, emerged out of the group of scribes and sages who objected to the Hasmonean monopoly on power. The Pharisees were hoping for a Messiah and they criticized the growing corruption of the Hasmonean court. During the Hasmonean period, the Sadducees and Pharisees functioned primarily as political parties. According to Josephus, the Pharisees opposed the Hasmonean war against the Samaritans, as well as the forced conversion of the Idumeans. The political rift between the two parties grew wider under the Hasmonean king, Alexander Jannaeus, who adopted Sadduceean rites in the Temple. [5]

Aristobulus' Rise to PowerEdit

After the death of Alexander Jannaeus in 76 BC, his widow, Salome [6] succeeded to the rule of Judea and installed their elder son Hyrcanus as High Priest. When Salome died in 67 BC, she named Hyrcanus as successor to the Kingship as well. Infuriated for being passed over for either role, Aristobulus set out to make himself King and High Priest by military means.[7] [8]

Hyrcanus had scarcely reigned three months [c. 67BC] when Aristobulus rose in rebellion against him. He responded by advancing against him. The two brothers met in battle near Jericho. [2] Many of Hyrcanus' soldiers went over to Aristobulus’ side, thereby giving him the victory.

Consequently, Hyrcanus took refuge in the citadel of Jerusalem. When Aristobulus captured the Temple, Hyrcanus surrendered. A peace was then concluded between them. Hyrcanus was to renounce the throne and the office of high priest, but was to receive the revenues that came with that office.

  • An Alliance with the Nabataeans

The peace agreement between Aristobulus and Hyrcanus didn’t last for long because Hyrcanus believed that Aristobulus was planning to have him murdered. At this point, Antipater the Idumean, whose aim it was to control Judea, began manipulating events so that Hyrcanus, whom he deemed weak, could be placed on the throne instead of Aristobulus. Fearful for his life, Hyrcanus took refuge with Aretas III, King of the Nabataeans, whom Antipater had bribed into supporting Hyrcanus’ cause by making them a promise to return to them, the Arabian towns that had been taken by the Hasmoneans. [9]

The Nabataeans advanced toward Jerusalem with an army of 50,000 and besieged the city for several months. During the siege, Hyrcanus’ followers stoned the pious Onias (Honi ha-Magel, also Khoni or Choni ha-Magel), who had refused to pray for the demise of their opponents, and who further angered many Jews by selling a lamb of the paschal sacrifice to the besieged for the enormous price of one thousand drachmae and then instead delivered a pig, an animal deemed unclean among the Jews and therefore unfit as a sacrifice.

  • Roman Intervention

Pompey the Great (106-48 BC)

While the civil war raged on, Roman general Pompey defeated the Kingdoms of Pontus and the Seleucids. He then sent his deputy Marcus Aemilius Scaurus to take possession of Seleucid Syria.

Since the Hasmoneans were already allies of the Romans, both brothers appealed to Scaurus, trying to win him over through bribes. [400 talents]. Scaurus, moved by a gift of 400 talents, decided in favor of Aristobulus and ordered Aretas to withdraw his army. During his retreat, the Nabateans suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Aristobulus.

When Pompey arrived in Syria a short time later, in 63 BCE, both brothers and a third party sent their delegates to Pompey. The third party who sent Pompey an appeal were residents of Jerusalem who wished to abolish the present Judean monarchy and return the country to a theocracy. In any event, Pompey favored Hyrcanus over Aristobulos since he felt the elder was weaker and a more reliable ally of the Roman Empire.

Aristobulos, now suspicious of Pompey, entrenched himself in the fortress of Alexandrium. When the Romans summoned their army, he surrendered and undertook to deliver Jerusalem over to them. However, Aristobulus' aristocratic supporters fortified themselves against Pompey in the temple, refusing to open the gates. Pompey then breached the walls, slaughtered thousands of Jews in the sanctuary and even entered the Holy of Holies. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain power, Aristobulus was sent to Rome as a prisoner and Hyrcanus was restored to his position as High Priest but not to the Kingship. Political authority now rested with the Romans whose interests were represented by Antipater. [In 47 BC, Julius Caesar restored some political authority to Hyrcanus by appointing him ethnarch. This however had little practical effect, since Hyrcanus yielded to Antipater in everything.] [10]

Aristobulus' DeathEdit

Two different accounts are given for the death of Aristobulus. One account states that in 49BC, Aristobulus was on his way to Judaea with his son Alexander [11] when he was assassinated by poison.

A different account tells us that Aristobulus escaped from prison in Rome, but was recaptured again and taken back to prison there. In 49BC, he was freed by Julius Caesar and sent at the head of two Roman legions in order to fight against Pompey in Syria. On his way to Syria he was poisoned, though not fatally, by Pompey's allies. Aristobulus was carried captive to Rome and was then assassinated. [12] [3]

Aristobulus’ Impact on the History of JudeaEdit

When the Hasmomens began ruling Judea in 140BC, following a crushing defeat of the Seleucids two decades earlier, it was free of foreign domination. This period of independence would come to an end during the civil war between Aristobulus and his elder brother Hyrcanus. Aristobulus II would be the last independent Jewish King of Judea.

Due to the civil was caused by Aristobulus II, the power of Rome, led by its formidable general Pompey, was brought to bear on the situation. The tragic result was the demise of the Jewish state and the establishment of Roman sovereignty over Jerusalem and Judea. In the aftermath, client kings such as Herod the Great, or governors such as Pontius Pilate, ruled the Jews on behalf of Rome until the Jews were driven out of Jerusalem and its environs after a series of revolts in the first and second centuries CE.

Notes & References

  1. Hannukah [also romanized as “Chanukah”), is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a very special candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light. [1]
  2. Jericho is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. It is also believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world.[3][4] It is known in Judeo-Christian tradition as the place of the Israelites' return from bondage in Egypt, led by Joshua, the successor to Moses. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of over 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back to 11,000 years ago (9000 BC] [2]
  3. In 40 BCE, Aristobulus' son Antigonus allied himself with the Parthians and was proclaimed King and High Priest. Hyrcanus was seized and mutilated at his ears (according to Josephus, Antigonus bit his uncle's ears off) to make him permanently ineligible for the priesthood.Then Hyrcanus was then taken to Babylonia, where for four years he lived amid the Babylonian Jews, who paid him every mark of respect, only top die at the hands of Herod the Great in 30BC who feared that he too might seek Parthian help and regain the throne.
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