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Author Topic: Chapter 12: High Priests Jonathan, Simon II, John Hyrcanus & Jannaeus  (Read 3475 times)
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« on: January 10, 2016, 01:37:58 PM »

Chap. 12-Heroes of the Hellensitic Age (2016) Charles N. Pope

Upon being restored to kingship in Egypt by Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VIII next made use of a rogue Syrian identity, Tryphon, to treacherously abduct and “execute” the High Priest Jonathan Apphus.  The aging Jonathan (former Ptolemy V) had produced a royal son (Aristobulus), but not one that could succeed him as High Priest due to his “leprosy” (skin condition).  Ptolemy VIII further made use of a Jewish/Hasmonean identity, that of Simon (III), to ingratiate himself with the people of Jerusalem/Thebes by providing an exceedingly lavish burial for Jonathan.  That accomplished, he promptly took the High Priesthood for himself!  Finally, he abandoned the now tainted identity of Tryphon in Syria and replaced it with a more proper kingship under the name of Antiochus VII Euergetes.  (Note that Euergetes was also the throne name of Ptolemy VIII in Egypt.)  All this would have been done with the blessing of the “departed” Ptolemy VI, as Josephus explicitly states that the governance of Simon was recommended to his “sons” and to the people by Mattathias (Ptolemy VI).

Despite inititial resistance, Simon’s tenure as High Priest was by all indications a popular one, however it ended abruptly after eight years when the prince formerly known as Ptolemy VI actually died (in 138 BC as Mithridates of Parthia) and a new family Godfather (John Hyrcanus) decided to exercise his prerogative to change up the royal assignments.  About 134 BC, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes was ordered to remove himself as High Priest and take his own wife and children as “hostages” back to Lower Egypt.  John Hyrcanus then took control of “Jerusalem” and assumed the office of High Priest.  Ptolemy VIII Euergetes remained a pharaoh, but by 129 BC John Hyrcanus also replaced Antiochus VII Euergetes as Seleucid king under the name of Demetrius II Nicator.  When Hasmonean Mattathias (Ptolemy VI) relegated the Egyptian throne to his brother Simon II (Ptolemy VIII), John Hyrcanus (Ptolemy VII) resigned his claim in Egypt, as well.  Afterwards, he became something of a “hidden-king” to the West, but as the designated successor to the Great Throne he became the dominant king in the East under the names of Artabanus (successor of Mithridates) in Parthia and Emperor Jing (successor of Wen) in China.  He returned to the West as another incarnation of the “Prester John” Cycle.

John Hyrcanus never produced a single (surviving) royal son, yet he held the status of Great King for over 50 years and was also recognized as High Priest for over 30 years.  However, without a true son of his own, his powers of “prophetic vision” were extremely limited.  As told by Josephus, John Hyrcanus was only endowed with the gift of predicting that the younger prince he despised the most would ultimately succeed him!  “God” had revealed to him in a dream that Alexander Jannaeus, who was the least related to him of all candidates, was to take his kingdom.  After the birth of Antigonus around 128 BC, the only “God” in the life of John Hyrcanus was the “Goddess” Cleopatra III.  As the mother of Aristobulus and Jannaeus and grandmother of Antigonus, she had the power to control the succession, and John Hyrcanus is said to have resigned that decision to her at the end of his long career.

The legendary fertility of former Great Queens and “God’s Wives” such as Tiye and Ahmose-Nefertiri was no longer a reasonable expectation.  Instead of five or more sons, the queens of the Ptolemaic Era were considered blessed to have two.  The first Cleopatra had only one son, Ptolemy V, and perhaps a single daughter, Cleopatra II.  Cleopatra II was unable to bear any sons by her only brother, and produced the heirs by her father and uncles instead.  Cleopatra III had two royal sons, Ptolemy D and Ptolemy X Alexander, by two royal partners, and as many as three daughters.  Her daughter Cleopatra-Selene was mother of Ptolemy XI and Ptolemy XII, and a daughter Berenice III.  The Ptolemaic Era was marked by an extreme scarcity of royal heirs, but that does not appear to have diminished the influence of its queens, because no kings lived to see the birth of more than one royal grandson during this entire period, and none witnessed the birth of a great-grandson!

The Hasmonean Alexander Jannaeus has a brother named Antigonus, who is clearly favored over Alexander (and apparently also over Aristobulus) by their “father” John Hyrcanus.  Josephus reveals why Antigonus was special by stating that the last High Priest Onias (i.e., Judas Maccabee) did not have only one son, but two, who he names as “Chelcias” and “Ananias,” and that they were both selected as leading generals by Cleopatra III.  They are by association the aliases of Alexander Jannaeus and his younger brother Antigonus, not in their role as kings but as the most outstanding military commanders of their day.  Furthermore, they are both identified as the sons of the greatest military commander of the previous generation, Alexander Balas (a.k.a. Judas Maccabee and Scipio Aemilianus).  Therefore, if John Hyrcanus preferred the younger Antigonus over the elder princes Alexander and Aristobulus, then it was due to Antigonus having a different mother (i.e., Tryphaena vice Cleopatra III) than that of Aristobulus and Alexander, and one that may have been a true daughter of John Hyrcanus (rather than Ptolemy VIII/Trypho as currently thought).  Therefore, any sons of Antigonus would be the grandsons of John Hyrcanus and carry on his bloodline in that way.  However, the rules of succession evidently did not allow John Hyrcanus to get his way, and the kingdom passed to Alexander Jannaeus upon the old king’s death.

Although Hyrcanus seems to have forced the issue and appointed Aristobulus as his immediate successor, Aristobulus only survived in the capacity of High Priest for about a year, and seemingly only for the purposes of offending Jewish sensibilities.  His skin condition may have even been exaggerated for effect.  However, this so-called “leprosy” did not exclude him from secular kingship.  It was rather the lack of an heir that doomed his own dream of becoming Great King.  Aristobulus was likely also suffering from a wasting (probably gout-related) disease by that time, and as Josephus describes, but he did not literally die until a couple of decades later.  Aristobulus was only playing dead in Jerusalem, so that Jannaeus could “honorably” take his “widowed wife” as his own.  The aristocratic reader would have understood that Alexandra/Cleopatra-Selene had to be repeatedly paired with all eligible royal males in the usual royal fashion, and even though the youngest, Antigonus, was actually her nephew.  Knowing this, her involvement in the plot to kill Antigonus (prior to the “death” of Aristobulus) is obviously equally contrived.  She not only did not literally kill Antigonus, but had already given birth to a son by him, Hyrcanus II.  Aristobulus and Antigonus were simply being excluded from the Jewish priesthood in order that her choice Jannaeus might be made more acceptable to the Jews, which he arguably was not (see below).

Nor should we believe that Aristobulus really starved his mother to death in prison.  Cleopatra III remained alive and very much in charge well after the death of John Hyrcanus.  Josephus states that the “ghosts” of Aristobulus’ murdered brother and mother haunted him, which is way of saying that neither were truly dead but still powerful.  (References to the “ghost” of Alexander the Great had formerly signified that he had similarly remained a living and active force after his own staged death.)  In Egyptian history, it is rather Ptolemy X Alexander (Jannaeus) who is credited with eliminating the domineering Queen Mother Cleopatra III in 101 BC.  But, again, it is highly unlikely that the Great Queen Cleopatra III died at that time either, especially considering she was only about 60 years of age.  It is more reasonable that she simply chose to exit the Egyptian stage to avoid the appearance of undue queenly influence (after affairs had been arranged to her suiting), and in order to concentrate on other concerns within the larger Empire.  Upon the actual death of Cleopatra III from old age (around 91 BC), her daughter Cleopatra-Selene was already poised to succeed her as Great Queen.

In Antiquities of the Jews (Chap13-Book13), Josephus is at his most transparent when he openly states that the Hasmonean and Egyptian royal families are “related.”  When narrating the conflict between the “brothers” Ptolemy IX (Lathyros) and Ptolemy X (Alexander), Josephus also makes absolutely no distinction between the Egyptian Ptolemy Alexander and the Hasmonean Alexander Jannaeus.  They are implicitly one and the same.  Cleopatra III, whose Hasmonean name is withheld by Josephus, was said to have appointed two Jewish generals over her own personal armies, as noted above, and the Jews are declared to be the personal subjects of her son Alexander.  Alexander’s own army was comprised primarily of Jews and he commanded them as a Jew.  After leading his army to a gloriously triumph over his “Egyptian” brother Lathyros (Antigonus), Alexander returned to Jerusalem to preside as High Priest over the sacrifices associated with a major Jewish Holy Day, the Feast of Tabernacles.  Surprisingly, the “Jewish” champion Alexander was greeted with jeers instead of cheers from the Passover crowd, which indicates that despite the manipulation of his mother and wife, the Jewish people did not much care for his election.

As it turns out, Alexander Jannaeus and Antigonus were brothers due to having the same father (Alexander Balas), but actually had different mothers.  Cleopatra III was the true mother of Alexander Jannaeus, and her status was superior to that of Tryphaena the mother of Antigonus.  As Hyrcanus had no true son, there was no established male dynasty at the time, therefore Cleopatra III (Roman:  Marcia Regia, “Warrior-Queen”) had immense power and ruled very much as a king/pharaoh in her own right.  Of the three daughters of Cleopatra III, she chose Cleopatra-Selene (Alexandra Salome) as her queenly successor.  They were the most fertile with Alexander Balas and his son Alexander Jannaeus, which essentially determined the kingly succession.
Once it is realized that the Egyptian/Seleucid royal family and the Jewish/Hasmonean royal family were one and the same, then the perpetual strife in the region can be chalked up to elaborate war gaming exercises that were used by the unified royal family to keep major cities and the population in check.  For example, Josephus relates that while the two senior sons (Aristobulus and Antigonus) of John Hyrcanus were besieging the important city of Sebaste in Samaria, one of these very same sons (Antigonus) came to the relief of the city under his Seleucid identity (Antiochus Cyzicenus) and using troops sent to him by his Egyptian alter ego (Ptolemy IX Lathyros).  The Queen Mother, Cleopatra III, pretended to be upset with her son Ptolemy IX and determined to depose him as pharaoh.

After John Hyrcanus wills the High Priesthood (and the Great Throne) to his wife Cleopatra III, Antigonus and Aristobulus go to war with one another under their Seleucid names, Cyzicenus and Philometer (Antiochus VIII Grypos) while Alexander Jannaeus attacks the city of Ptolemais.  The people of Ptolemais cannot get relief from rival Seleucid kings (who are engaged with one another), and decide their only hope is an appeal to the kings of Egypt, which are Ptolemy IX (Antigonus) and Ptolemy X (Alexander Jannaeus)!  Meanwhile, a rogue tyrant by the name of Zoilus gets involved.  However, Zoilus is the name of a contemporary ruler of the Indo-Bactria Dynasty and evidently an alias of John Hyrcanus himself.  In response, Ptolemy IX and Alexander Jannaeus make an pact to defeat Zoilus, but afterward Ptolemy IX learned that Jannaeus was conspiring with his (actually, Alexander’s) mother Cleopatra and broke the accord.  However, while Cleopatra was supposedly at war with Ptolemy IX, this very same “son” is also named as one of her Jewish generals!  The scenario is a sting operation, and the aristocratic reader would have certainly understood it as such.

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