PALESTINE UNDER NATIVE RULE
1. Death of Judas Maccabeus.—
In the early part of the campaign, Eleazar, one of the five brave Maccabean brothers, had been slain, and now, four years after the taking of Jerusalem, Judas fell fighting in its defence. ‘The greatest gift a hero leaves his race is to have been a hero.’ The fortune of war may lose, as the fortune of war may win, the substantial gifts which a hero brings his race; but his life, if it be truly heroic, will remain a valuable possession to them ‘throughout all generations.’ Though he brought no offering to his country but Khartoum, Gordon belongs to Englishmen as a great gift for ever. And so it is with Judas Maccabeus, though no inch of the land which he won for them remains to his race. ‘My Jewish soldiers are veritable Maccabees,’ said the Czar Nicholas to Sir Moses Montefiore, when, in 1846, the English philanthropist went to plead for his poor downtrodden Russian brothers, who, except in the army, had so little chance of a fair field. The name of Maccabee was used by the Russian Emperor as a testimonial to character. Here was a legacy left to his race by a hero, and presented 2,000 years after date.
2. Jonathan the Maccabee.—
Directly after Judas’s death, Jonathan, another of the devoted Maccabean brothers, took the command of affairs. He did the work of priest and soldier and statesman too. But a third brother was lost on the battle-field, and for a while courage and skill seemed to make no way against the superior force of the Syrians. Time, however, was on Jonathan’s side. He kept on ‘pegging away,’ and some ten years after the death of Judas, the enemy found out what stuff he was made of, and tried to come to terms. At that date a rival was opposing the reigning king of Syria. This new claimant, Alexander Balas, and the old opponent, Demetrius, both made overtures to Jonathan for his alliance. Probably each thought how very useful so clever and warlike a general would be on his side, and how much pleasanter as an ally than as an enemy. So the king who was, and the king who wanted to be, bid against each other for the Jewish general’s friendship. Jonathan declared on the same side as did Rome, for Alexander Balas. Then for eight years there was peace and quiet, and Jonathan put aside his sword, and wore the white robes of the priest, and things were well for the Jews. At the end of that time another revolution disturbed the Syrian succession. A usurper called Tryphon claimed the throne, got Jonathan by treachery into his power, and used it to have him put to death.
3. Simon, the First of the Priest-king Dynasty.—
There was only one left now of the five brave sons of Mattathias. With all the brothers, patriotism was the strongest of the affections, and Simon gave himself no time to indulge in grief. He at once put himself at the head of affairs, and so successfully that the Syrian garrison had very soon to retire from Jerusalem. Simon renewed the alliance with Rome, and strengthening his position thereby, found the necessary leisure to look after peaceable duties, which for some time past had been rather neglected for the more urgent military ones. He made Joppa a harbour, which was good for commerce on the coasts, and he saw to agricultural interests, which encouraged labour in the interior of the country. Simon was a practical man as well as a pious one. He so far impressed his people that they recognised his worth in his lifetime. In solemn assembly, held in the month of Elul 140 B.C., Simon was proclaimed hereditary high priest and prince.
4. The Sons of Simon.—
Simon, no more than the other Maccabean brothers, was destined to die in his bed. Some four years after his assumption of the priest-king dignity Syria again changed rulers. The new monarch, Antiochus Sidetes, reverted to the old bad policy of endeavouring to make Judea a vassal province, instead of recognising her as an independent and allied state. Bribery, as usual, was in the first place employed, and a son-in-law of Simon’s was found base enough to serve the Syrian purpose. With help of this treacherous Ptolemy, Simon and his elder son Joannan were betrayed and murdered. John Hyrcanus, the younger son of Simon, escaped, and presently buckled on his priestly armour.
5. Reign of John Hyrcanus.—
He wore it for nine-and-twenty years (135‒106) bravely and uncompromisingly. In the double and divided duties which devolved upon him, John Hyrcanus was perhaps more king than priest, more just than merciful. He made short work with his foes, whether native or foreign ones; and when he had fought and routed the Syrians, he began to deal with the Samaritans. He would tolerate no mongrel Judaism. He explained to the Samaritans that in religious matters they must make up their minds to be one thing or the other, and to help them to come to a decision he destroyed the temple which they had built on Mount Gerizim. It was a high-handed measure. His own subjects greatly approved it, and after their capital was besieged and reduced to ashes the Samaritans had to acquiesce. The Samaritans henceforward cease to have any noteworthy history as a separate religious nationality.
6. His Last Years.—
There is nothing so successful as success. The Romans supported John Hyrcanus, and his kingdom grew in extent almost to the limits of David’s and Solomon’s sovereignty. But a cloud was rising on the clear sky in the shape of political troubles, and towards the end of his reign the popular king found himself in opposition.