Jews under Roman Rule - W. D. Morrison

The Roman Conquest
(B.C. 63-41.)

In the preceding chapter, we have witnessed the rise of the Jewish nation from a state of vassalage to a position in which it had no longer anything to fear from the hostility of Syria, and we now enter upon a new era in the history of the relations between the Romans and this remarkable people. Whilst the Jews were fighting the battle of liberty on the hillsides of their native land, the internal structure of the old Roman Commonwealth was falling into decay, and the power of the Senate or aristocracy was being supplanted by the authority of military chiefs, whose predominance resulted in the establishment of the Empire. The policy adopted by these military leaders may be described in contradistinction to the policy of the Senate as imperial rather than national; it led them in the direction of bringing fresh territories under the domination of Rome. In process of time such a policy would undoubtedly have brought the Romans into conflict with the Jews for possession of supremacy in Palestine; but the advent of this inevitable struggle was hastened by the deplorable intestine strife which broke out in the reign of John Hyrcanus between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In the succeeding reigns this strife went on increasing in bitterness, till the Romans stepped in between the rival factions and put an end to their fratricidal war.

In the early days of the war with Syria, it was seen that a party existed among the Jews which manifested no strong desire for complete independence, but was disposed to be quite contented with the old foreign domination, after religious liberty had been fought for and obtained. But this party does not appear to have exercised a preponderating influence on the vast body of the people till the contest with the Syrians was practically over and the nation had time to direct its attention to internal affairs. From the days of Judas Maccabaeus, till the closing years of John Hyrcanus's life the party of national independence, headed by the Hasmonaeans, held the first place in the councils of the nation, and in the affections of the people. Its adherents had become the military leaders, the diplomatists, the civil administrators; in short, the ruling aristocracy of the country. By the exigencies of their position, the members of this party were brought into close contact with the civilization of Greece, which at this epoch surrounded Palestine on all sides. As diplomatists they had to be familiar with the Greek language; as generals who commanded mercenaries, they had to accommodate themselves to Gentile customs; as governors of districts containing a mixed population, they had to deal with practical affairs from a wider than a Jewish point of view. While remaining conscientiously true to the principles of the Law they did not consider it inconsistent with these principles to gratify a taste for the refinements and luxuries of Hellenic life, and their mental horizon became enlarged under the liberalizing influence of Hellenic culture. In addition to this, the Sadducees, for this is the party which we are now describing, having built up the independence of the country by a policy of prudence and diplomacy, endeavoured to uphold its interests and security by the same means, and had no hesitation in forming alliances with foreign nations for the attainment of these ends.

The Sadducees, it will be perceived, were essentially a political party, permeated, but still not dominated, by Hellenic ideas—a party of which the highest aim was to further the greatness and glory of the State it had done so much to found.

On the other hand, the central and absorbing thought of the Assidaeans, who had fought side by side with the Sadducees in the early days of the insurrection, was not the State, but Religion; and it was the same thought which burned within the heart and mind of the Pharisees, who were almost the same party appearing under another name. This, party, which was composed of the scribes and their disciples, abhorred Hellenism as subversive of the Law, and regarded the growing material greatness of the State with suspicion, fearing lest the teachings of the Synagogue should be lost amid the din and stir of political and military life. During the reign of John Hyrcanus Pharisaism succeeded in becoming a force within the nation, and towards the close of his life it began to assume an aggressive form, directing its hostility against the prince himself, who, although nominally a Pharisee, was in reality the living embodiment of Sadducaism.

The opposition of the Pharisees to Hyrcanus proceeded from causes which would among any people but the Jews have led him to be regarded with gratitude and affection. His keen desire to further the interests and dignity of his native land, his labours for the welfare and prosperity of the population, his willingness to introduce arts and sciences which had reached a higher development elsewhere than they had at home; all these things because they were not immediately concerned with the Law and the Traditions, were looked upon with disfavour by the Pharisees. It is also probable that they manifested a similar hostility to the action of Hyrcanus in forming alliances with a heathen power like Rome. These men saw in him too much of the statesman and too little of the High Priest. His secular functions appeared to cast his sacred ones too completely into the background; he had far more the aspect of a civil than of an ecclesiastical dignitary; hence the Pharisees considered that the vital interests of Judaism were suffering in his hands. It was for the God of Israel and His Law, and not for the national existence or grandeur that the Pharisees conceived a High Priest should principally strive; but as there did not appear to be the least likelihood of Hyrcanus coming round to that opinion, the malcontents determined upon demanding the separation of the spiritual from the temporal power. It was alleged by the Pharisees that the Hasmonaean princes had no legitimate right to the High Priesthood, and, according to tradition, Eleazar, one of their number, had the boldness to tell Hyrcanus to abdicate the pontificate and to content himself with the civil government of the people. The contention of the Pharisees that the religious headship of the community did not belong to the Hasmonaeans was historically correct, but the lineal heirs to this high dignity had probably become extinct. In any case it would have been impossible for Hyrcanus to relinquish an office which in the eyes of the people invested him with a sacred character, and was one of the main sources of his authority. To a man of his experience it was manifest that he had to deal with a disaffected element in the community, and accordingly the Pharisees were expelled from the positions of influence in the kingdom. Henceforth the Sadducees became identified even more closely than before with the cause and fortunes of the Hasmonaeans, whilst the Pharisees fell back exclusively on the people for sympathy and support. Pleading that they were contending for the faith and traditions of their fathers against a ruling house, which was supported by a party notoriously inclined to foreign customs, the Pharisees had no difficulty in arousing feelings of hostility among a fanatical population against the Hasmonaeans, and thus preparing the way for civil wars

It is possible that Hyrcanus intended that after his death his successors should make a concession to the Pharisees, for he separated the civil from the ecclesiastical authority, leaving the kingdom to his widow and the High Priesthood to his son Judas Aristobulus.

But this arrangement did not satisfy Aristobulus (B.C. 1054); he accordingly deposed his mother, and was the first of his house to assume the title of king. This title he used only in the non-Jewish part of his dominions, but it showed his preference for Greek customs, and was sufficient to stamp him as a partisan of the Sadducees. His partiality for Hellenism was so pronounced that he became known by the name Philhellene; yet, after conquering the Ituraeans, he retained enough of Judaism to compel his new subjects to be circumcised—a measure which in the eyes of the Pharisees may have atoned for much which they detested in his life. His, reign of one year was too brief to permit of the development of grave discontent on the part of his opponents; it was reserved for his successor to face the full force of their hostility.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


Alexander Jannaeus (B.C. 10478) became head of the nation after his brother's death, but he possessed very little of the political ability so conspicuously displayed by his predecessors; he was simply a brutal and dissipated soldier constantly involved in war. During his reign the Pharisees became the undoubted leaders of popular opinion. But Alexander paid no heed to this circumstance, and on one occasion while performing the duties of High Priest at the Feast of Tabernacles, he treated an observance enjoined on the High Priest by the Pharisees with deliberate contempt. Matters of religious ritual have always exercised a strange power over the emotions of men, and when the assembled worshippers in the Temple perceived Alexander pouring the libation on the ground, in accordance with the Sadducaean custom, instead of on the altar, their indignation knew no bounds. They immediately raised a shout that he was unworthy of his high dignity, and at the same time began to pelt him with the citrons which they held in their hands. So great was the tumult that the king would probably have been murdered by the enraged populace had not the Greek soldiers in his service come to the rescue and quelled the disturbance. As many as six thousand men fell before the precincts of the Temple were cleared. After this bloody work the Pharisees became the irreconcilable enemies of Alexander, and waited impatiently for the opportunity of heading a rebellion against him.

They had not to wait long. About a year afterwards the king lost his army in a campaign against the Nabataeans and had to return to Jerusalem, a fugitive (B.C. 94). The Pharisees immediately incited their adherents to revolt, and for six years a bloody war desolated the wretched country. After fifty thousand men had perished without leading to any decisive result, Alexander desired to come to terms with his adversaries. Nothing, however, would satisfy them but his death, and to compass this end they sought the assistance of their old enemies the Syrians. Demetrius III. invaded Palestine at the head of a powerful force and defeated Alexander who fled for refuge to the mountains of Ephraim. In this miserable plight he excited the compassion of a large body of the people who had thus far been fighting on behalf of the Pharisees. These men, whose patriotic feelings were stronger than their religious convictions, went over to the king's side when they saw the Syrians threatening to become once more dominant in Palestine. Their action immediately changed the whole aspect of the situation; Demetrius had to withdraw his forces, and Alexander again obtained the upper hand. The Pharisees, abandoned by a portion of their adherents had to flee into exile, and those who did not succeed in making their escape were crucified in a most barbarous manner by the victorious prince. He was not molested by the Pharisees during the remainder of his reign. When Tigranes, king of Armenia, overthrew the Syrian monarchy (B.C. 83), Alexander, who appears to have enjoyed the goodwill of the conqueror, was enabled, towards the close of a long career, to enlarge the boundaries of his kingdom, which, however, never comprised the whole of Palestine. Alexander had two sons, John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, but his widow, Salome Alexandra (B.C. 78-69), succeeded him on the throne, and his elder son Hyrcanus was contented with the High Priesthood. Alexandra, a woman of prudence and resolution, reversed the policy of her husband; the Pharisees who had the ear of the masses were recalled from exile, and entrusted with a preponderating voice in the conduct of internal affairs. Under their influence, several religious customs and observances were modified to suit the ideas of the party; the marriage laws were revised, alterations were made in the law of evidence, and greater attention was paid to the education of the young. Had the Pharisees confined their activity within the sphere of legislation, it is possible that the hatred engendered during the preceding reign might have died away, but, unhappily for the peace of the nation, the Pharisees abused their power for the purpose of pursuing a policy of revenge. Their opponents were one after another condemned and put to death. The Sadducees took alarm at the fate of their companions, and placed themselves under the protection of Aristobulus, the queen's second son, who was ardently attached to their cause. Conducted by this prince into the presence of Alexandra, they implored her to put an end to the persecutions of the dominant party; at the same time reminding her of their past services to the State, and expressing their willingness to accept command of the fortresses if their presence was not desired in Jerusalem. The queen, probably grown weary of the yoke of the Pharisees, acceded to the request of her petitioners; the military strength of the kingdom was delivered over to the Sadducees, who had now simply to bide their time in order to regain their lost authority. Aristobulus, a man of enterprise and ambition, was their leader; his brother, the weak and passive Hyrcanus, was a tool in the hands of the Pharisees, and when Salome was seized with a mortal illness Aristobulus, aided by the military chiefs, overthrew his brother and became king (B.C. 69).

Under the sovereignty of Aristobulus (B.C. 69-63), the strife of parties brought the era of Jewish independence to a close, and made the Romans masters of the Holy Land. It is very probable that the bitter feud between the Pharisees and the Sadducees would have resulted much sooner in the establishment of foreign supremacy, if a strong Power had then existed in Western Asia, or if the Roman Commonwealth had not been in a state of permanent revolution, which compelled her ambitious spirits to fix their eyes upon affairs at home. From the commencement of the reign of John Hyrcanus (B.C. 135) till the revolt of the Asiatic provinces (B.C. 88), under the leadership of Mithridates, king of Pontus, the Romans had almost entirely neglected Oriental politics. But the loss of their possessions in the East aroused the patriotism of the hostile factions at the capital, and a Roman army, led by the genius of Sulla, proceeded to the scene of the revolt. Sulla quelled the insurrection, and Mithridates had to beg humbly for peace. But the restless ambition of Mithridates, as well as the Roman method of not only conquering but utterly annihilating a formidable enemy, led to a renewal of the war, which was waged with varying fortune on both sides till Pompey, a former lieutenant of Sulla's, after being invested with unlimited powers, arrived on the scene of conflict with a large army (B.C. 66). Having disposed of his adversary, Pompey boldly decided on extending the Roman frontier to the banks of the Euphrates. This decision involved the subjugation of Palestine, but its absorption into the vast empire would have taken a different, and perhaps a less bloody form, if, amid their party animosities, a common basis of patriotism had existed among the Jews.

Whilst Pompey was engaged in putting a termination to the resistance of Mithridates, civil war broke out afresh in Palestine (B.C. 66). Antipater, an Idumaean of political ability, and father of Herod the Great, had obtained supreme influence over the feeble-minded Hyrcanus, whom he induced to offer concessions of territory to Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, in return for a promise of assistance to dethrone his brother Aristobulus. Aretas entered into the compact, and Hyrcanus fled with Antipater to the court of his ally at Petra. A Nabataean army invaded Palestine; the Pharisees, regardless of national independence, assisted the invaders, and Aristobulus, unable to keep the field, was besieged in Jerusalem. Whilst the Jews were destroying one another around the walls of the Holy City, Pompey's lieutenants were making themselves masters of Syria, and one of them, Marcus Scaurus, entered Juda a for the double purpose of enriching himself and effecting the pacification of the country. Both the contending princes laid their claims before the Roman general, who, from reasons of policy as well as motives of self-interest, decided in favour of Aristobulus. So great was the awe inspired by the Roman name that a word from Scaurus compelled the Pharisees and Nabatxans to raise the siege, and for two years longer Aristobulus was permitted to reign in peace (B.C. 65-63).

The arrangements made by Scaurus in Palestine were only provisional. When Pompey arrived at Damascus (B.C. 64), he took into his own hands the re-organization of the immense territories lying between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, which were now at the disposal of Rome. As long as the supreme direction of affairs was controlled by the Senate, the object of Roman policy was not to gain possession of the East, but to break up its political unity. A different attitude was adopted with regard to foreign affairs, when the leaders of the democracy became the real heads of the Republic (B.C. 70). Unlike the oligarchy of the Senate, the chiefs of the democratic party did not consider external possessions as a necessary evil, only to be endured as helping to fill the coffers of the State; nor were they afraid of the effects upon the Roman character of a closer contact with the Hellenic communities of the East. When, therefore, Pompey began the task of restoring order and authority among the chaotic elements with which he had to deal, he discarded the old policy of the Senate, and reverted as far as possible to the organization which existed in Syria in the best epoch of the Seleucidae. The power formerly exercised by these monarchs he determined to put into the strong hands of a Roman proconsul. This decision necessitated the downfall of Jewish liberty; for Judaea in the eyes of the Romans was nothing more than a province of Syria which had been temporarily successful in asserting its independence.

Meanwhile deputations reached Pompey from the Jewish princes and people, and finally Hyrcanus and Aristobulus arrived at Damascus to urge the merits of their respective claims. But the mighty Roman did not choose to disclose his plans until he had chastised the Nabataeans. Aristobulus, putting a sinister interpretation upon his delay, showed signs of hostility, whereupon Pompey was offended, and forthwith made his legions ready for the invasion of Palestine. As the Roman troops were advancing, the unfortunate Aristobulus, trembling between hope and fear, alternately negotiated, hesitated, or made preparations for defence, till the Romans came within sight of Jerusalem. He then gave himself up, and promised to place the Holy City in their hands. But the brave and patriotic Sadducees who composed the garrison refused to admit the Roman officers; they destroyed the bridge which united Mount Zion with Mount Moriah, and, withdrawing within the fortifications of the Temple Mount, resolved to fight to the last for the liberties of their native land. The Pharisees surrendered the city itself, but for three months the soldiers of Aristobulus defied the utmost efforts of the Roman general, who would have been compelled to prolong the siege for an indefinite period, if the defenders had not put such a rigorous interpretation upon the law forbidding work on the Sabbath day. The Romans soon learned to take advantage of this extravagant literalism. On a Sabbath in the month of June, B.C. 63, a breach was effected in the walls, the Temple hill was carried after fearful slaughter by assault, and the Jewish people lay at the mercy of the conqueror. Pompey and his officers had the curiosity to enter the Holy of Holies, which had never before been seen by Western eyes. From motives of policy he immediately restored the Temple ceremonial, and for a similar reason abstained from plundering the sacred treasury.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


In the so-called Psalms of Solomon we possess a poetic account of the impression produced on a large section of the people by these terrible events. "A powerful smiter," says the Psalmist, "has God brought from the ends of the earth. He decreed war upon Jerusalem and upon the land. The princes of the land went out with joy to meet him, and said to him, Blessed be thy way, draw near, and enter in peace. . . . He entered the house of his children in peace like a father, standing in all safety. He took possession of the strong places in the land, and of the walls of Jerusalem, and while they went astray, God led him in security. He destroyed the chief men and all who were wise in council. He spilt the blood of the inhabitants of Jerusalem like unclean water. He led away their sons and daughters because they were begotten in iniquity. They did according to the iniquity of their fathers; they defiled Jerusalem and the things dedicated to the name of God."

From these and similar expressions of the Psalmist, we can gather that the bloody chastisement which the Jews had at this period to endure was regarded by the spiritual guides of the people as proceeding from the hand of God, the Romans being considered as the instruments for carrying His vengeance into effect. In the eyes of the writer, the Hasmonaeans are punished for assuming the royal dignity when it had not been promised them, and the people are also punished for condoning the transgressions of their princes, and falling with them into sin. Pompey's labours were lightened by the existence of these sentiments among a large body of the population, and more especially when he began to take into consideration the re-establishment of some settled form of government, which would satisfy the Jews, and at the same time prove amenable to the will of Rome.

When at Damascus, Pompey had received a deputation from Judaea, which made representations to him to the effect that the Hasmonaean princes had changed the form of government under which their ancestors had lived, and desiring him to restore the order of things that had formerly existed in the land. These suggestions fell in with Pompey's projected arrangements, and he proceeded to act upon them after resistance before Jerusalem was at an end. Aristobulus was deposed, and taken with his children to Rome to adorn the triumph of the conqueror (B.C. 61); the kingship, after an existence of little more than forty years, was abolished, and the Jews were stripped of all the territories (with the exception of Idumaea) which they had acquired by conquest in the era of their independence. In this way Samaria, the commercial cities along the Mediterranean coast, the Decapolis in the northeast of Palestine, and many Hellenic communities on the eastern banks of the Jordan, were liberated from a yoke which they detested, and which at times forced Judaism upon them at the point of the sword. By the inhabitants of these places Pompey was looked upon in the light of a deliverer. The self-government which they had formerly enjoyed he, according to Roman custom, restored to them; and the rule of the Roman pro-consul was mild and beneficent when contrasted with the despotism of the Jewish kings. Judaea itself was placed under the authority of the Roman governor of Syria, who, with two legions at his command, was responsible for the peace and order of the newly-acquired territories. The Jews had now to pay tribute to Rome in the same way as they had previously done to Syria; but they were freely permitted to manage their own internal affairs, and to live in accordance with their own laws. As a reward for his fidelity to Roman interests, Hyrcanus was reinstated as High Priest, receiving at the same time the civic title of Ethnarch, a name by which his predecessors had been known before they assumed the prouder dignity of king.

In estimating Pompey's conduct it must be borne in mind that, if his arrangements pressed severely on Jewish pride, they were on the whole a blessing to the peoples of the East, who were rescued from chaos and instability, and enabled, after years of anarchy, to enjoy the fruits of peace. High above the petty princes with which Syria was filled there now stood the Roman governor to keep them all in awe; complete liberty within their own dominions was freely accorded them, but they were now effectually restrained from preying on their weaker neighbours. These princes became in reality Roman procurators, responsible to the proconsul for the just exercise of their powers. With the advent of peace, ruined cities were restored and repopulated; communities which had groaned under the yoke of petty despots were allowed to manage their own affairs; commerce could now take a wider sweep; the facilities for human intercourse were vastly enlarged; and civilization in those regions was enabled to extend its influence and blossom forth in higher forms. Even in the case of the Jews, if Pompey destroyed the ideal boundaries of the Holy Land, this was done simply because a Gentile element predominated outside the borders of Judaea; in fact he was only restoring to the population of these districts, the liberty of which they had lately been deprived. Nevertheless he permitted the Jews to retain complete possession of their own territory, that is to say, the territory which they inhabited after the return from Babylon, a period which must be considered as a fresh starting-point in their national career. It is true he made the Ethnarch Hyrcanus a tributary prince, a proceeding which deprived the people of their liberty. Still it was plainly impossible for Pompey to allow an aggressive power, as the Jews had shown themselves to be, to exist with independence in the very heart of acquisitions which he had just placed under the protection of Rome.

It was not however to be expected that the Jewish patriots would look at the situation from this point of view, and accordingly we find Alexander, a son of the dethroned Aristobulus, a few years after Pompey's departure, rallying his dejected countrymen, and taking the field against the Romans at the head of more than ten thousand men. At this period Gabinius (B.C. 5755) was at the head of affairs in Syria, and as Hyrcanus was unable to put down the insurrection, the proconsul entered Judaea and utterly defeated Alexander, who afterwards fell into his hands. At the close of the revolt, Gabinius made some alterations in the government of the country. Hyrcanus was deprived of temporal power and confined to his spiritual functions. The country was also divided into five districts, each district being ruled by a separate council, composed of the leading citizens, who were responsible to the proconsul. Many towns which the Jews had destroyed were rebuilt and repopulated, among them being Samaria and Scythopolis, the latter of which afterwards became the most important place in Galilee. By filling the country with a non-Jewish population, and by creating local centres of administration entirely independent of one another, Gabinius hoped to produce provincial rivalries, and to destroy the desire for political unity and independence.

Before the arrangements of Gabinius had time to produce any practical results, Aristobulus escaped from Rome, and headed a fresh revolt (B.C. 56). But his raw levies were unable to withstand the disciplined bravery of the legions, and in spite of heroic efforts on his part the insurrection was crushed, and he had once more to go back into captivity. Nothing daunted by his father's ill-success, Alexander his son, resolved a second time to try the arbitrament of war (B.C. 55). Gabinius was engaged in an expedition against Egypt, Syria was in consequence depleted of troops, and the Jewish army was assisting the Romans as auxiliaries. Alexander conceived that a favourable moment had arrived to strike another blow for freedom, but his hopes were quickly shattered, for Antipater succeeded in persuading many adherents of the prince to desert him, and Gabinius on his arrival in Palestine defeated and dispersed the rest. In the Egyptian campaign Antipater had been of the utmost service to the Romans. By him the expedition was provisioned and fitted out; through his instrumentality, the roads were left open, so that the invaders had no hostile manifestations to encounter on the march. It was in all probability as a reward for these signal services, that Gabinius, after the restoration of peace, arranged the affairs of Palestine in accordance with the views of Antipater, who had now become the virtual ruler of the land. These arrangements restored Hyrcanus, or rather his wily minister Antipater, to the most important position in Southern Syria.

Whilst these events were transpiring in Palestine, three of the most powerful Roman citizens, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, renewed an agreement known as the Triumvirate (B.C. 56), the effects of which were shortly afterwards felt throughout the whole of Western Asia. No power was left standing capable of resisting the united action of these three men, who accordingly assumed supreme control of the Republic, and selected the most distinguished positions for themselves and their adherents. Each of them inwardly cherished the vast ambition of becoming one day undisputed master of the State. Crassus, who far outstripped his colleagues in riches, wished also to rival them in military achievements, and be the first to grasp the dignity they all were plotting to obtain. Caesar was already occupied in subduing the West, and in that region there were no more laurels to be won, but mighty kingdoms in the East were still unconquered; and the recent outbreak of the Parthian war offered Crassus an opportunity, admirably suited to his present purposes and ulterior designs. In his eagerness to reach the scene of action, Crassus proceeded to the East before the expiration of his consulate, and taking over the government of Syria B.C. 55—53) from Gabinius, entered with a light heart on an expedition against the Parthians, which proved fatal to his reputation and his life. Before crossing the Euphrates the proconsul took no pains to leave a contented people behind him on whose goodwill the Romans could rely. What Pompey had possessed the wisdom to spare, his avarice was unable to resist. The Temple of Jerusalem was plundered in violation of his oath, producing bitter feelings of resentment against the Romans, who soon afterwards experienced the evil effects of Crassus' greed. In the arid wastes of Mesopotamia he was defeated and slain. His brave lieutenant Cassius led back the remnants of the shattered legions to Syria.

The Jews smarting under a sense of injustice rose once more to revolt, and endeavoured to co-operate with the victorious Parthians who were bent on driving the Romans out of Asia. Never did the Jews obtain a more favourable moment for asserting their right to independence, for the Roman forces in Syria under the command of Cassius (B.C. 52—5 I) did not now exceed ten thousand men, and the impending hostilities between Caesar and Pompey prevented him from being reinforced with troops from Italy. But even in these circumstances the fortune of war declared itself against them; and Cassius after suppressing the insurrection sold thirty thousand Jewish warriors in the slave market, and at the suggestion of Antipater executed the leader of the rebels (B.C. 52).

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


Whilst the Jews were vainly attempting to determine the form of rule in Palestine, a vaster question involving not only the political future of this principality, but of the whole civilized world as well was rapidly approaching a solution at Rome. The death of Crassus put an end to the triumvirate; the ties of family the only ones which bound together the dissimilar characters of Caesar and Pompey were broken by the death of Pompey's wife, Caesar's daughter Julia, and Pompey was now anxious to settle their conflicting claims to the empire by an appeal to the sword. Caesar did not fear this ultimate appeal, still he did not desire it. Pompey and the aristocrats, however, left him no choice. By the violence of their measures they forced on a rupture and the great civil war began. It is said that Caesar before crossing the boundaries of his province hesitated when he reflected on the miseries the war would cause, and the judgment posterity would pass upon his act. At last hesitation gave way before resolve, and turning to his friends he is reported to have said, "Let us go whither we are called by the presages of the gods and the iniquity of our enemies. The die is cast."

At the head of only five thousand men and three hundred horse he marched with startling rapidity upon the capital. Pompey and the aristocratic party fled from Rome in consternation, and crossed the Adriatic into Macedonia. In sixty days Caesar without shedding a drop of blood was master of the whole of Italy. Immediately afterwards he set out for Spain, the centre of Pompey's strength. "I go," he said, describing his tactics, "against an army without a general; afterwards I shall proceed against a general without an army." Spain, after a brilliant campaign, was subdued in forty days. Caesar then transported his legions into Greece, and after many vicissitudes completely overthrew his rival in the plains of Pharsalia (B.C. 48). Pompey fled from the field of battle and sailed for Egypt, but, on landing he was basely assassinated by order of the Egyptian king. Caesar, at the head of a small force, arrived in Alexandria, in pursuit of his vanquished foe; but on his arrival he learned that Pompey the Great was dead.

Whilst Caesar was at Alexandria, the Jews, under Antipater, were able to perform a signal service for him at one of the most critical moments of his military career. When the ministers of the Egyptian king saw that he was in command of a little more than three thousand troops, they attacked him with a large army, aided by the mob of Alexandria. Caesar was compelled to burn his ships, and was ultimately blockaded in one quarter of the city both by land and sea. His position was fast becoming desperate, when a miscellaneous army from the principalities of Syria succeeded in forcing its way to his assistance. By far the most important personage in this army was Antipater, whose contingent of three thousand men gave stability to the whole. He also procured help from the Arab tribes along the line of march, and it was by his efforts that the large Jewish colony at Alexandria was induced to come to Caesar's aid. But Antipater was more than a clever diplomatist; in this campaign he displayed conspicuous gallantry in the field. He was the first to storm the walls of Pelusium, and it was he who, turning the tide of battle outside Alexandria, enabled Caesar to effect a junction with the relieving force, a movement which resulted in the utter discomfiture of the Egyptians' (B.C. 47).

Caesar at the commencement of the war against Pompey released Aristobulus, who was a prisoner at Rome, and appointed him to the command of two legions, with instructions to proceed to Syria, and create a diversion in favour of his patron. But the unfortunate prince was poisoned by Pompey's party, and his son Alexander beheaded about the same time. Antigonus, his younger son, after victory had declared itself for Caesar, laid the claims of his house before the conqueror; but the recent services of Hyrcanus and Antipater outweighed the pleas of Antigonus, who had to retire into obscurity and wait for better times. Caesar, when settling the affairs of the East, willingly overlooked the circumstance that the Jews had in the first instance sided with his opponent. He placed them in the most favoured position which any community subject to Rome could hold. The land was freed from the tribute imposed upon it by Pompey; the Roman garrisons were withdrawn, and the population exempted from military service in the legions. Religious liberty was assured to the Jews both in Palestine and throughout the East. At home they were permitted to live in accordance with their own laws, and could only be judged by their own tribunals. The power of self-government was granted them, which made them masters of their internal affairs. The walls of Jerusalem, which Pompey had destroyed, they were allowed to rebuild; the important seaport of Joppa was restored to them, as well as all the places along the coast which had not been acquired by conquest. Hyrcanus was elevated to senatorial rank, and the ethnarchy made hereditary in his family. Antipater received his share of honour by being made a Roman citizen, and granted immunity from taxation. Caesar did not make him a Roman official, as some have supposed, but he confirmed the astute Idumaean in the position of Prime Minister to Hyrcanus. Owing to the weakness of his master's character, this position invested him with supreme power in the State, Hyrcanus being little more than a tool in his hands (B.C. 47).

During the remainder of his life Antipater adopted the only policy possible to a protected State—a policy which consisted in attempting to make the Jews contented with their position as an autonomous people within the vast empire of which Caesar had become the chief. In the political condition of the world at that period, not to speak of the irreconcilable divisions among the Jews themselves, the independence of Judaea was utterly impracticable, and it would have spared the unfortunate population much bloodshed and misery if the Jewish aristocracy had quietly accepted the altered order of things. But these men, jealous of Antipater's influence and power, did their utmost to hamper him in his efforts to pacify the country. In order to cripple the father they assailed his son Herod, a young man of twenty-five, who had just earned the gratitude of the peaceable inhabitants of Northern Palestine, and the goodwill of the Syrian proconsul by dispersing the robber bands of Galilee and executing their chiefs. As this latter measure was taken without authority from Jerusalem, he was summoned before the aristocrats of the Sanhedrin, who possessed sufficient influence to secure his banishment. But Herod was not a man to be easily crushed. He withdrew to Damascus, entered the Roman army, and was appointed by Sextus Caesar. (B.C. 4746) military governor of Coelo-Syria. In this new and important office he was able to overawe the opponents of his family, and to strengthen his father's hands in Jerusalem.

Roman politics were now as important to the Jewish people as the course of events within their own borders, and the vicissitudes of parties at the imperial capital were distinctly felt in the remotest provinces of the East. Caesar was not satisfied with exercising the authority of a king, he had the weakness to desire the name as well. It was a weakness which sealed his fate. The old Republic was no doubt dead, but republican forms were still deeply rooted in the heart of the aristocracy. A plot was laid against his life by a band of senators, and on the Ides of March (B.C. 44) the Dictator was assassinated. Once more the Roman world, which had begun to taste the sweets of peace, was thrown into disorder and convulsed with civil war. Among the people the desire for the old constitution was extinct, and Caesar's murderers had to flee from Rome. One of the principal conspirators, Cassius, retired to Syria, the pro-consulate of which he had received from Caesar. Syria was then in a very unsettled state; a partisan of Pompey's, Q. Caecilius Bassus, had raised an insurrection (B.C. 46); Sextus Caesar, the proconsul, was assassinated by his own troops, who went over to Bassus, and war was going on between Herod and Bassus when Cassius arrived (B.C. 44) and reconciled their conflicting interests. Cassius soon showed himself a hard master. On Palestine alone he levied a contribution of seven hundred talents, and as Antipater was unable to pay the whole sum within the allotted time, the inhabitants of several Jewish towns were ruthlessly seized and sold as slaves. Herod, on the other hand, won the proconsul's good will by the alacrity with which he paid the one hundred talents that fell upon him. He was rewarded with the procuratorship of Coelo-Syria, and a promise of the Jewish crown if fortune favoured Cassius in his impending conflict with the Caesarians.

The death of Caesar did not destroy Caesarism, which sprang up with the decay of the spirit of liberty, and Octavian, a nephew and heir of the mighty Dictator, aspired to play the part which was left vacant by the murder of his illustrious relative. In conjunction with Mark Antony, one of Caesar's lieutenants, he resolved to effect the overthrow of Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators. The armies of the contending factions met in the plains of Philippi; Cassius was defeated and committed suicide, and the Roman world lay at the disposal of Antony and Octavian. The victors divided the spoils between them; the West was allotted to Octavian, then a young man of twenty-one, and Antony became sovereign lord of all the Roman conquests in the East. When the tidings of Cassius' defeat reached Palestine, the Jewish aristocracy believed the moment had at last arrived which would rid them of the Herodian family. Antipater they had already succeeded in poisoning, but his two sons, Herod and Phasael, in spite of insurrections' and discontent, continued to hold high positions, and Herod, through his betrothal to Mariamne, the beautiful granddaughter of Hyrcanus, became a member of the royal house. Deputations from Judaea reached the headquarters of the Roman general to complain of the Idumaean brothers for usurping the power which belonged to the ethnarch. But Hyrcanus raised his voice in defence of the accused, and Antony thereupon elevated the sons of his old friend Antipater to the rank of Tetrarchs (B.C. 41).

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


In looking back upon the period which had elapsed since the Jewish people fell under the domination of Rome, it will be seen that they must necessarily be involved in the confusion and unsettlement inseparable from the downfall of old Roman institutions, and the uprising of an imperial system on their ruins. The Romans themselves suffered terribly in life and fortune from the revolution then in progress in their midst, and Judaea did not escape the turmoil arising out of a change in the centre of authority from the ancient oligarchy to the new monarchy. But Rome on the whole exercised greater severity towards her own citizens than towards her dependents in the provinces. Judaea, during this troubled time, had to suffer much, but it was due to the wisdom of Antipater that she did not suffer more. To his honour it must be said that he made the utmost of the difficult and perilous circumstances in which the Jews were then placed, and by abandoning a hopeless struggle with Rome obtained the most favourable conditions possible for the people whose interests he had in charge. Personal ambition, no doubt, entered into his calculations it is an element in the character of almost everyone who aspires to rule but the important fact remains that he possessed a clearer view of the times in which he lived, and utilized his knowledge in the performance of far greater services to the Jewish nation than the Jewish aristocracy who reviled and opposed him. By futile insurrections and by fostering discontent the aristocracy added vastly to the miseries of the population. By their opposition to the Romans, they were in reality throwing themselves across the path of the Divine purpose which was working itself out in history by binding the Mediterranean peoples under one form of civil rule, as a preliminary to the advent and propagation of the Christian faith. The Pharisees, whether consciously or not, displayed a wiser appreciation of the tendency of events by withdrawing altogether from public life. When Rome became supreme, political affairs ceased for a time to have any interest for them, and rabbinical tradition passes over in silence the entire political history of this period. Their attitude was summed up in the maxim of the famous rabbi Schemaiah, "Love work, eschew domination, and hold aloof from the civil power."