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Second Temple Judaism: A Brief Historical Outline
Part Three

Bruce N. Fisk

Bruce N. Fisk, Associate Professor of New Testament, Westmont College

(Back to Part Two. Forward to part Four)

My thanks to Professor Bruce Fisk of Westmont College for his permission

to post this outline. Tim

3. From the Maccabean Revolt to Roman Rule

3.1. The Maccabean Revolt and the Hasmonean Dynasty [167-37 BCE]

167 Antiochus IV issues a decree abolishing Jewish religion.

  • He defiles the temple (1 Macc. 1:54-59; 2 Macc. 6:2-5; Dan. 11:31).
  • He tortures those who refused to comply.
  • Mattathias, an old priest in Modein, N.W. of Jerusalem, refuses to cooperate, kills an idolatrous Jew and flees with his five sons: John, Eleazar, Judas, Jonathan, Simon.
  • The Maccabean revolt (and the Hasmonean dynasty) begins. See 1 Macc.2:15-28.
    On the zeal of Phinehas, see Num.25:6-15; Psm.106:28-31; Sir.45:23-24; 1 Macc.2:27, 54.

1 Macc.2:29-38: a band of rebels hiding in the desert are attacked on the Sabbath. They refuse to defend themselves and are slaughtered.
1 Macc.2:39-41: Mattathias and company determine to fight even on Sabbath--they would break the Torah for the sake of Torah.

166/165 Mattathias delivers his final testament (1 Macc.2:49-68) and dies (1 Macc.2:69-70).

Judas ("Maccabeus"='the hammerer'), 3rd son of Mattathias, becomes commander of about 3000 rebel forces.

165-164 The rebels successfully wage guerilla warfare on the Syrian forces lead by Antiochus' commander, Lysias (while Antiochus is away in Persia raising funds).

  • To explore how the author of 1 Maccabees makes good use of his characters' speeches and prayers, see 3:18-22, 58-60; 4:8-11, 17-18; 4:30-33.
  • For examples of circumlocutions (like "kingdom of heaven" in Matthew) see 1 Macc. 3:18, 19, 50, 60; 4:10, 24, 40, 55.

164 The temple is purified.

  • They store the stones from the profaned Altar of Burnt Offering.
  • On the hope for a future prophet, see 1 Macc.4:44-46; 14:41; Deut.18:15; Mal.4:5.
  • The altar is rebuilt and sacrifices resume on 25th of Chislev (= November/December).
  • This event is celebrated as the 8 day Feast of Hannukah (began on Dec.24, 1997). See 1 Macc.4:36-58.

164/163 Antiochus dies during a campaign against the Parthians (1 Macc.6:16).

164-161 Popular support for Judas wanes.

163-162 Antiochus V rules as a child, with Lysias as regent.

  • The Jews' religious freedom is restored. Menelaus is executed. Judas' position is recognized.
  • Jewish proponents of Hellenization are virtually eliminated.

162 Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV, returns from Rome, seizes power, and appoints Alcimus as high priest (1 Macc.7:5-9). Judas opposes Alcimus.

  • On the pro-Maccabean bias of 1 Maccabees, see 7:5, 9, 21-23.
  • Judas concludes a treaty with Rome, against Demetrius and the Syrians (1 Macc.8:17-32).
  • Judas dies in battle against (1 Macc.9:17-22).
  • Question: Did the Jews believe that the gift of prophecy had ceased? See 1 Macc.9:27; 4:46; 14:41.

161-142 Jonathan, Judas' brother, rules in Judas' place.

  • Many Jews, content with restored religious freedoms, do not support his quest for independence from the Seleucids.

159 Alcimus dies while attempting to remodel the Temple (1 Macc.9:54-56).

  • See Josephus Antiquities 13.171-173 (read chapter 5, section 9 of Whiston's translation) who offers comments on three Jewish groups--Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes--at this point in the story.

152 Alexander Balas arrives and recruits Jonathan in his quest for the Seleucid throne.

  • He rewards Jonathan by appointing him as High Priest, even though not of Zadokite descent.
  • The (non-Zadokite) Hasmonean priesthood lasts from 152 to 37 BCE.

 Excursus: The Origins of the Qumran Community: Majority View

 According to the influential Essene hypothesis (cf. J.C.VanderKam) about the Dead Sea sect:

  • a penitential/renewal movement emerged in Palestine c.197
  • a priest, known in the scrolls as the Teacher of Righteousness, arose to lead the group c.177
  • this Teacher may have been particularly influential in Jerusalem between 159 and 152
  • he opposed Jonathan's appointment to High Priest in 152
  • the Teacher and his followers fled Jerusalem and established a community at Qumran
  • Jonathan is the one the scrolls describe as the "Wicked Priest" (alternatively, Jonathan's brother Simon may have been the "Wicked Priest" [see below)
  • this community continued until it was destroyed in 68 CE
For a key passage that appears to describe the group's genesis, see Damascus Document (CD) 1:3-14.
For 25 fascinating facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran community go here. 
For the story of how the scrolls were discovered in the caves, go here.



 Near Qumran, looking west at Cave IV
and the wadi just beyond.

  Map of ruins at Qumran

150-145 Alexander Balas displaces Demetrius and rules as Seleucid king.

Jonathan greatly expands his own realm within the Seleucid empire.

142 Jonathan is killed by Tryphon, another claimant to the Seleucid throne. See 1 Macc.12.

142-34Simon, another brother of Judas, becomes leader and high priest. See 1 Macc.14:41-43 on Simon's titles.

134 Simon clashes with Seleucid king, Antiochus VII, and is killed.

Antiochus VII invades Judea.

134-04 John Hyrcanus I, son of Simon and thus the first Hasmonean of the next generation, becomes leader.

He resolves the conflict by agreeing to Seleucidic demands.

Hyrcanus captures Samaria and Idumea and forcibly converts and circumcizes the Idumeans.
See Josephus
Antiquities 13.288-300 (chapter 10, section 5) on the conflict between Hyrcanus and the Pharisees.
But in
War 1.67-69 (chapter 2, section 8) Josephus describes this rebellion under Hyrcanus without mentioning the Pharisees.

    • Herod the Great, whose reign began much later, in 37 BCE, was Idumean.

129 Antiochus VII dies.

104-03 Aristobulus I, John's son, rules and conquers Galilee, forcibly converting Galileans.

Recall the negative attitudes toward Galilee/Nazareth in the Gospels: Jn 1:46; 7:41, 52; Mt 2:23?

103-76 Alexander Janaeus, brother of Aristobulus, rules and conquers the Transjordan.

88 The people, apparently including the Pharisees, support Syrian king Demetrius III against (pro-Sadducean) Alexander.

Alexander retaliates by having 800 crucified for their disloyalty.

See Josephus, Antiquities13.379-383, 410 (chapter 14, section 2).

During this period, numerous peoples rise and fall:


Region Ruled

 Aretas III




Mithradates of Pontus

Asia Minor








Italy, Asia Minor (73 BCE)
Syria (64 BCE)

76-67 Salome Alexandra, Alexander's wife, rules as (Israel's only) queen and shifts royal support toward the Pharisees' political agenda.

See Josephus, Antiquities 13.399-404 (chapter 15, section 5). Does Josephus overstate the power and influence of the Pharisees?

Hyrcanus II rules as High Priest during her reign.

66-63 Aristobulus II gains power and assumes title of High Priest as well.

Civil war between Salome's two sons: pro-Pharisee Hyrcanus II and pro-Sadducee Aristobulus II.
With the help of Antipater the Idumean, Hyrcanus gets aid from the Nabateans.

65 Aristobulus wins Roman support.

 Excursus: Origins of the Qumran Community: Minority View

 According to another hypothesis (cf. M.Wise, M.Abegg, E.Cook):

  • the Teacher of Righteousness (perhaps named Judah) arose late 2nd/early 1st c.
  • under Salome, the Pharisees persecuted his followers and forced them into exile
  • the "Wicked Priest is the pro-Pharisee Hyrcanus II
  • much in the scrolls is anti-Pharisaic

64 Roman general Pompey easily defeats Antiochus XIII, the last Seleucid, and makes Syria a Roman province.

63 Pompey enters Jerusalem, with support of Hyrcanus.

Rebel supporters of Aristobulus hold out in the Temple for 3 months (though Aristobulus himself had surrendered).

Pompey gains the Temple and enters the Holy of Holies, which was barred to all but the High Priest and then only on Yom Kippur. To his surprise, he finds nothing. He does not loot the temple. During the seige the priests keep working in the Temple; many are slaughtered while on the job.

Judea becomes a Roman province and thus loses her independence.

  • See 1QpHab
  • See Psalm of Solomon 2, 8:14-22; 17:5-9

63-40 Hyrcanus II, appointed by Pompey, serves as High Priest.

61 Many Jews, including Aristobulus II, are deported to Rome as prisoners.

(These were later emancipated and formed a Jewish presence in the capital.)

57 Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, deprives Hyrcanus of political power but lets him continue as High Priest.

47 Julius Caesar rewards Antipater the Idumean, supporter of Hyrcanus, for lending aid during his fight in Alexandria.

The priesthood of Hyrcanus II is confirmed, and the Jews are granted numerous concessions and considerable autonomy.

Antipater appoints two of his sons as prefects: Phasael over Judea, and Herod over Galilee.

44 Julius Caesar is assassinated on the Ides of March.

43 Antipater is assassinated.

42 Mark Antony (and Octavian) defeats Cassius (and Brutus) in Philippi.

41 Antony appoints Phasael and Herod (age 25) as joint tetrarchs over Judea.

40 While Antony is in the east, Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II, with help from the Parthians and Roman renegades from Syria, captures Jerusalem, ousts Hyrcanus II, and becomes both king and high priest.

Phasael commits suicide in prison (War.1.271-272).
Herod retreats to Masada (where he leaves his family), Petra andAlexandria and then flees to Rome where he appeals to (and bribes) Antony.
He is declared "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate.

See War 1.250-279 (from chap. 13, section 2 to chap. 14, section 2) for details on the war between Herod the Parthians, including Herod's military maneuvers, his slaughter of many Jews and the Parthians' atrocities in Jerusalem.

38 Herod conquers Galilee.

37 Herod gains Jerusalem after a 3-month seige.

Antigonus is taken to Antioch, where he is beheaded by the Romans, bringing to an end the Hasmonean dynasty.

3.2. The Herodian Dynasty and Roman Rule [37 BCE-66 CE]

37-4 Herod the Great, an Idumean, rules Judea and Galilee, with Roman support.

Herod marries Princess Mariamne of the Hasmonean clan (father: Alexander, son of Arist.II; mother: Alexandra, daughter of Hyrc.II) to lend legitimacy to his reign.

31 At Actium, Greece, Octavian defeats Antony and Queen Cleopatra of Egypt (the last of the Ptolemies).

Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide in Alexandria.
Octavian's reign begins a relatively stable period of about 200 years, known as the
Pax Romana.
Herod retains his office.

31 BCE-14 CE Octavian reigns, taking title Augustus in 27 BCE.

During Herod's long reign:

  • he appoints high priests, including Hananel, a priest from Babylon (37-30 BCE), Aristobulus, son of Alexandra (briefly in 36 BCE) and Simon son of Boëthus (23-5 BCE).
  • he executes many aids and family members, including uncle Joseph, former king Hyrcanus II, wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra, sons (by Mariamne) Alexander and Aristobulus, and son (by first wife Doris) Antipater, all based on suspicions, fears and his desire to remove contenders for his office.[Matthew 2: Herod's attempt to execute Jesus as another potential threat follows this pattern.]
  • he expanded his territories to include Jericho, Gaza, Gadara, Samaria, and the northern regions of Trachonitis, Batanaea, Auranitis and Ituraea.
  • he engages in massive building program: establishing, (re)fortifying and (re)naming many cities, including Caesarea (formerly Strato's Tower); building a palace and fortress in Jerusalem; fortresses at Masada and Herodium, and, beginning in 19 BCE, reconstructing the Temple
  • he employs a court historian, Nicolas of Damascus, an important source for Josephus

4 BCE Herod the Great dies.

Read all about Herod's reign:
The incident of the eagle image over the Temple gate: Ant. 17.149-167 (chap. 6, sections 2 through 4).
Herod's dastardly plan to insure mourning at his death:
Ant.17.174-179 (chap. 6, section 5).
Herod's death:
Ant.17.193-94 (chap. 8, section 2).

Herod's kingdom is divided between three sons (War 2.93-100):

Reign Son Mother Title Region
4-6 CE Archelaus Malthace of Samaria ethnarch Judea, Samaria
4-39 CE Antipas Malthace tetrarch Galilee, Perea (southern Transjordan)
4-34 CE Philip Cleopatra of Jerusalem tetrarch Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanea, Auranitis


6 CE Jewish delegation appeals to Augustus against Archelaus. Archelaus is deposed.

Augustus establishes Judea as a Roman province to be ruled by Roman Procurators.
Syrian legate Quirinius takes census of Judea to determine tribute owing to Rome.
Judas the Galilean leads an unsuccessful tax revolt (Acts 5:37; War 2.111f., 117f.; Ant.18.3-6).

Herod Antipas

Ant. 18.109-115: Herod Antipas divorces his first wife (daughter of Aretas IV, Nabatean king) to marry Herodias (daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus; wife of half-brother Herod).
This event prompts Aretas to wage war and inflict heavy damage on Antipas.
See Ant.18.116-119; Matt.14:3-12 on
John the Baptist, his death, and its significance.
Question: How do the characterizations of John the Baptist in Josephus and in the Gospels compare?

See Luke 23:7-12 on Jesus' trial appearance before Herod.

Pontius Pilate: procurator of Judea, 26-36 CE.

Read about Pilates exploits:
On Pilate's nighttime introduction of Roman standards into Jerusalem, see both Josephus Antiquities 18.55-59 (chap. 3, section 1) and War 2.169-174 (chap. 9, sections 2 & 3).
On Pilate's attempt to use sacred money to build an aqueduct, see both Josephus
Antiquities 18.60-62 (chap. 3, section 2) and War 2.175-177 (chap.9, section 4).

6-15 Annas rules as High Priest. See John 18:13, 24; Luke 3:2; Acts 4:6.

18-36 Caiaphas (son-in-law of Annas) rules as High Priest. See Matt 26:59-66; John 18:24.

14-37 Tiberius Caesar

Characteristics of Roman Rule

  • Rome preferred to rule from a distance, stationing relatively few troops at a few garrisons around the country and in Jerusalem
  • appointed kings/governors had wide latitude even to administer capital punishment
  • Roman policy was generally tolerant of Jewish practice; didn't attempt Hellenization but did suppress revolts ruthlessly
  • Judean governors continued to appoint High Priests (no longer determined by heredity)
  • left small towns to be run by local elders and priests
  • collected tribute from governor/king (who collected taxes from the people)
  • protected borders from invasion
  • supplied security forces to Jerusalem during major festivals

(To Part Four)

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