The Hammer

The Macedon-Maccabee-Mithradates Connection

I took your advice and went back over your stuff, and have come to the conclusion that it’s perfect and it needs nothing. I rereading pt.5, I realized that I had read it too fast the first time, and so perhaps I missed some things that answered some of my questions, and recentered a little better on where you are going.

Here are some thoughts on your recent advice to me, and you don’t have to “respond”; I am merely trying to “contribute” and perhaps stimulate a synapse that might help your work, or help somebody else do the same.

Regarding Hyrcanus. I’m stumped, other than to say what you already pointed out. As far as I know he was the only Maccabee to take a regnal name too. But as you’ll see later, I’m beginning to come to a larger understanding about the Arsacids, which I realized while reading Maccabees.

Regarding Hellenism:

Take a look at the following text- I was very surprised (I guess since I don’t read Maccabees very often).

I Maccabees 12

Jonathan renews his league with the Romans and Lacedemonians. The
forces of Demetrius flee away from him. He is deceived and made
prisoner by Tryphon.

12:1. And Jonathan saw that the time served him, and he chose certain
men, and sent them to Rome, to confirm and to renew the amity with

12:2. And he sent letters to the Spartans, and to other places,
according to the same form.

12:3. And they went to Rome, and entered into the senate house, and
said: Jonathan, the high priest, and the nation of the Jews, have sent
us to renew the amity, and alliance, as it was before.

12:4. And they gave them letters to their governors in every place, to
conduct them into the land of Juda with peace.

12:5. And this is a copy of the letters which Jonathan wrote to the

12:6. Jonathan, the high priest, and the ancients of the nation, and
the priests, and the rest of the people of the Jews, to the Spartans,
their brethren, greeting.

12:7. There were letters sent long ago to Onias the high priest, from
Arius, who reigned then among you to signify that you are our brethren,
as the copy here underwritten doth specify.

12:8. And Onias received the ambassador with honour and received the
letters, wherein there was mention made of the alliance, and amity.

12:9. We, though we needed none of these things having for our comfort
the holy books that are in our hands,

12:10. Chose rather to send to you to renew the brotherhood and
friendship, lest we should become stranger to you altogether: for there
is a long time passed since you sent to us.

12:11. We, therefore, at all times without ceasing, both in our
festivals, and other days wherein it is convenient, remember you in the
sacrifices that we offer, and in our observances, as it is meet and
becoming to remember brethren.

12:12. And we rejoice at your glory.

12:13. But we have had many troubles and wars on every side; and the
kings that are round about us have fought against us.

12:14. But we would not be troublesome to you, nor to the rest of our
allies and friends, in these wars.

12:15. For we have had help from heaven, and we have been delivered,
and our enemies are humbled.

12:16. We have chosen, therefore, Numenius the son of Antiochus, and
Antipater, the son of Jason, and have sent them to the Romans, to renew
with them the former amity and alliance.

12:17. And we have commanded them to go also to you, and salute you,
and to deliver you our letters, concerning the renewing of our

12:18. And now you shall do well to give us an answer hereto.

12:19. And this is the copy of the letter which he had sent to Onias:

12:20. Arius, king of the Spartans, to Onias, the high priest,

12:21. It is found in writing concerning the Spartans, and the Jews,
that they are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham.

12:22. And now since this is come to our knowledge, you do well to
write to us of your prosperity.

12:23. And we also have written back to you, That our cattle, and our
possessions, are yours: and yours, ours. We, therefore, have commanded
that these things should be told you.

What was surprising was to see Arius and Onias on the same page. Interestingly, Arius is the Roman name of a Parthian river- Hari Rud (sometimes Harirud) a river flowing 1100 kilometers from the mountains of central Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, where it disappears in the Kara-Kum desert. Rud means "river" in Persian.

Didn’t Herod II Boethus go by the cognomen of “Rus”? Maybe something?

Regarding the deriviation of “Hasmonean”

The family name of the Hasmonean dynasty originates with the ancestor of the house, Asamoneus or Asmoneus (see Josephus, Jewish Antiquities: 12.265, 14.468, 16.179 who is said to have been the grandfather of Mattathias, but about whom nothing more is known). As I’ve been driving at, I suspect his lack of genealogical attribution points to an eastern beginning, or perhaps a prior Armenian progenitor.

Do you not “buy” this i.d. of Josephus’?

Regarding Mithradates:

Here are all the Mithradates, who in the case of Parthians, were throne names of the Arsacid family line. Interestingly, they were non-dynastic, in that rulership was bestowed by selection by the (levite) Magi, and not by 1st born, or king’s selection.

Mithradates, a eunuch who helped Artabanus to assassinate Xerxes I.
Mithradates, who fought first with Cyrus the Younger and after his death with Artaxerxes against the Greeks, and is the ancestor of the kings of Pontus.
Mithridates of Persia, a son-in-law of Darius III
Mithridates I of Parthia (171–138 BC)
Mithridates II of Parthia (110–87 BC)
Mithridates III of Parthia (58–57 BC)
Mithridates IV of Parthia (AD 128–147)
Mithridates I of Kios
Mithridates II of Kios (337–302 BC)
Mithridates I of Pontus (302–266 BC)
Mithridates II of Pontus (c. 250–c. 220 BC)
Mithridates III of Pontus (c. 220–c. 185 BC)
Mithridates IV of Pontus (170–c. 150 BC)
Mithridates V of Pontus (c. 150–120 BC)
Mithridates VI of Pontus (120–63 BC)
Mithridates I of the Bosporus
Mithridates II of the Bosporus
Mithridates I of Kommagene
Mithridates II of Kommagene
Mithridates of Armenia (AD 35–51)

Also, the word mithridates or mithridate was once synonymous with antidote, and mithridatism meant the practice of taking repeated low doses of a poison with the intent of building immunity to it. Mithridates was also a common title for books containing samples of several languages. These meanings were inspired by legends about Mithridates VI of Pontus.

Personally, in preparing this, I was surprised by the Mithradates of ‘Pontos’ and ‘Kios.’

Cius (in Greek Kios) was an ancient Greek town bordering the Propontis (now known as the Sea of Marmara), and had as such a long history, being mentioned by Homer, Aristoteles and Strabo. An important chain in the ancient silk road, it became known as a wealthy town. There are only few remnants of the ancient town and its harbour today. Somewhat more to the west, the new Turkish town of Gemlik can be found.

After the colonisation of the Anatolian shores by the Ionian Greeks, Pontus soon became a name which was applied, in ancient times, to extensive tracts of country in the northeast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) bordering on the Euxine (Black Sea), which was often called simply Pontos (the Main), by the Greeks. The exact signification of this purely territorial name varied greatly at different times. The Greeks used it loosely to denote various parts of the shores of the Euxine, and the term did not get a definite connotation of being a separate state until after the establishment of the kingdom of Pontus, founded beyond the Halys during the troubled period following the death of Alexander the Great, shortly after 302 BC, by Mithradates I Ktistes, son of Mithridates II of Kios (Mysia) a Persian ruler in the service of Antigonus, one of Alexander's successors. The kingdom of Pontus was henceforth ruled by a succession of kings, mostly bearing the same name, till 64 BC.

As the greater part of this kingdom lay within the immense region of Cappadocia, which in early ages extended from the borders of Cilicia to the Euxine, the kingdom as a whole was at first called "Cappadocia towards the Pontus", but afterwards simply "Pontus," the name Cappadocia being henceforth restricted to the southern half of the region previously included under that title. Under the last king, Mithradates Eupator, commonly called the Great, the realm of Pontus included not only Pontic Cappadocia but also the seaboard from the Bithynian frontier to Colchis, part of inland Paphlagonia, and Lesser Armenia. With the subjection of this kingdom by Pompey in 64 BC, in which little changed in the structuring of life, neither for the oligarchies that controlled the cities nor for the common people in city or hinterland, the meaning of the name Pontus underwent a change. Part of the kingdom was now annexed to the Roman Empire, being united with Bithynia in a double province called Pontus and Bithynia: this part included only the seaboard between Heraclea (Eregli) and Amisus (Samsun), the ora Pontica. Hereafter the simple name Pontus without qualification was regularly employed to denote the half of this dual province, especially by Romans and people speaking from the Roman point of view; it is so used almost always in the New Testament.

And here’s an essay on the themes we have discussed, reflected back on the political background of the Hasmoneans, cribbed from various sources.

After the death of Alexander, his empire was divided up between his generals, among who were Ptolemy and Seleucus. Palestine, an important trade route between Egypt and Asia Minor, was hotly contested, but ultimately Ptolemy controlled Egypt and Palestine, while Seleucus controlled Syria.

Under the Ptolemaic kings, life was relatively benign. Ptolemy and his heirs continued the Persian custom of allowing each province to run its own cultural and religious affairs with the proviso that all takes go to Alexandria instead of Antioch. Hectaeus tells us that Jerusalem was ruled by an aristocratic hereditary priesthood appointed for life. With one hundred years of relative peace, the Jews prospered both in Judea and in the Diaspora under Ptolemiac rule.

Seleucid rule was not nearly so benign. The First and Second Book of the Maccabees, which are now part of the Apocrypha (Greek for hidden), are our main sources for the period both before and during the Hasmonean rebellion. Both I and II Maccabees are accounts of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid state. I Maccabees opens with a brief summary of the history of the Greek empire from Alexander the Great to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The remainder of the book covers the period of the Maccabean Revolt to the death of Simon (135 B.C.E.). II Maccabees is made up of glorious accounts of the victories of Judah Maccabee-The Hammer. It includes supernatural ailments, angels, miracles and resurrection of the dead. But it also relates events prior to the revolt.

Because of the extreme suppression of the Jews under the Seleucids during the second century B.C.E., a type of literature known as apocalyptic (Greek for revelation) arose. The hopes of the faithful were fortified by visions of a glorious future and in such beliefs as a last judgment, the resurrection of the dead and that the Messiah will come and rescue His people. The Book of Daniel, which was written around 160 B.C.E., is full of such prophecy. The Book is basically an account of a young man who clings to his faith in spite of extreme pressures. The Book is set in the time of the Babylonian exile. Daniel is the prophet who interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dreams. Resurrection is mentioned for the first time in Jewish canonical literature. Most of the Jewish writers wrote anonymously and made few references to the historical events of the day.
Another account that is significant for the explanation of the events in Judaea is The Wisdom of Ben Sira, or as it is known in the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus. Ecclesiasticus is the only book that we have knowledge of the author. His grandson translated the Book into Greek in about 132 B.C.E. some fifty years after Ben Sira wrote it, and that is the version that had been preserved. His book contains hints and allusions to the great tribulations that were occurring in Judaea in 180 B.C.E. He hints of the growing dissatisfaction of the poor and of the great schism between rich and poor.
Josephus records the chronicle of the Hellenized Tobiad family in Jerusalem. The most significant political event to occur was the transfer of responsibility event to occur was the transfer of responsibility for tax collections from the High Priest to a member of the Tobiad family. The High priest, Onias, refused to pay Ptolemy III (246-221 B.C.E.) the 20 talents of silver due annually on his own private property, thus endangering the safety of Judaea. He remained unmoved by Ptolemy's threat to sequester land and settle soldiers on it. Joseph, son of Tobiah, went to the King and offered to collect the taxes. A dichotomy was produced in Judean administration. The Temple administration remained entirely in priestly hands, as did all religious authority. But everything concerned with the king's taxes was now handled by Joseph and his kinsmen. Their influence and prestige rose considerably. They became very wealthy and influential. The young men became Hellenized. They adopted Greek names, manners and lifestyle. To succeed they broke Mosaic Law in the line of duty. Joseph and his sons emerged as the leaders in the Hellenizing movement.
With his cognomen as a clue to the changes taking place in the local power structure the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, took control of Palestine c. 200 B.C.E. Soon after he took control, he promulgated an edict granting privileges to Jerusalem. He gave Jews permission to live "according to their ancestral laws."
A change of policy occurred under Antiochus IV Epiphanesa (187-175 B.C.E..). Reasons for the change are complex. II Maccabees relates what happened next. Jason, Onias' brother, obtained the high-priesthood by corrupt means. He petitioned the king and promised him 360 talents in silver coin immediately and 80 talents from future revenues. He promised to build a sports-stadium and to arrange for the education of young men. The king agreed and, as soon as he seized the priesthood, Jason made the Jews conform to the Greek way of life. Hellenism reached a high point with the introduction of foreign customs. Was Jerusalem becoming a Greek polis? The High Priest still controlled religious affairs and as yet there was no interference with religious practices.
Meanwhile, Antiochus undertook his second invasion of Egypt. Upon a false report of Antiochus' death, the deposed High Priest, Jason, raised an army and attacked Jerusalem. Menelaus took refuge in the citadel, and Jason continued to massacre 'his fellow citizens.' But, he did not gain control of the government. When news reached Antiochus, whose Egyptian campaign had been stopped by the growing power of Rome, it was clear to him that Judaea was in a state of rebellion. So he set out in a 'savage mood’, took Jerusalem by storm and, without mercy, told his troops to slaughter everyone they met. Because he needed money to pay the heavy fine imposed by Rome, he stripped the temple of its golden altar and all of its sacred vessels. The king issued a decree throughout his empire: "his subjects were to become one people throughout his empire and abandon their own laws and religion." The citizens of Judaea were forbidden to practice their religion. Sabbath and feast days were to be profaned; the temple and its ministers to be defiled. Altars, idols, and sacred precincts were to be established; swine and other unclean beasts to be offered in sacrifice. They must leave their sons uncircumcised; they must make themselves in every way abominable, unclean, and profane and so forget the law and change all their statues. The penalty for disobedience is death. Pagan altars were built throughout the towns of Judaea. All the scrolls of law which were found were torn up and burned. Many found the strength to resist.
The Second Book of Maccabees relates tales of martyrs who preferred to die rather than to obey Antiochus' law. The First Book of the Maccabees takes up the narrative. When Mattathias, a priest of the Joarib family from Jerusalem, saw the desecreation of the temple, he said, "We shall not obey the command of the king, nor will we deviate one step from our forms of worship." With those words, he killed the Jew who had stepped forward and was going to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. He and his sons fled to the hills and set up secret centers of resistance.
The Maccabean revolt can be divided up into four periods. From 166 to 164 B.C.E., there was guerrilla warfare under the command of Judas Maccabeaus, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem. II Maccabees records what happened. In 164 B.C.E. Judah marched into Jerusalem at the head of his armed forces. After three years of pollution, the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. The festival lasted eight days. "A measure was passed by the public assembly, with the approval of Judah Maccabeaus, to the effect that the entire Jewish race should keep these days every year." By this act of the assembly, Judah and his people "declared themselves the true Israel." It had far reaching significance. All previous festivals had been declared by the people. This measure was without precedent in Judaea. But, it was in complete accord with the practices of the Greeks. When an event was considered important, the Greeks believed it should be commemorated for all time. Thus Judah "initiated a practice of his enemies, but at the same time incorporated it into Judaism." This was the first step along the path, that "introduced Hellenic usages into Judaism without making a sacrifice of Judaism." Now that he was master of Jerusalem, Judah built high wall and strong tower to protect the Temple, and fortified the town around Jerusalem. He was now the master of Jerusalem.
From 164-160 B.C.E., after purifying the Temple, Judah proceeded to avenge the Jews who had been attacked by their Gentile neighbors. Epiphanes died in 163 B.C.E. leaving a young boy, Antiochus V Eupator, as king. His guardian, Lysias, who as regent controlled the who empire, set out to make a final end and to the irritating Judaeans. Lysias, along with his elephants, the tanks of the ancient world, marched on Judaea. Lysias captured the Maccabean fortress of Beth-Zur, south of Jerusalem. He then defeated Judah at Beth-Zechariah, which left the way open to Jerusalem. But his victory was never followed up. Lysias heard that Philip, a rival general, was marching on Antioch from eastern Syria. He, therefore, hastily concluded a peace treaty with Judah, so that he could return home and deal with affairs there.
The Maccabeans were victorious. As a condition of peace, Antiochus' decrees against the Jewish religion, were officially annulled. Judah's conquest of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple restored religious freedom. Jerusalem was again the capital of as self-governing Jewish province. The Hellenistic reforms aimed against the ancient traditions were repulsed. The first religious war in history ended in victory for the Judeans. But the Hasmoneans wanted more. They desired complete freedom from Seleucid rule. The majority of the people were happy with the peace treaty and few wanted to follow Judah and his brothers as they fled the city.
But Judah's fortunes changed. He was able to enlist a large force and defeated the Greek general Nicanor in a major battle. A year later, Judah was killed fighting a new Syrian army under the leadership of Baccides. Hasmonean hopes for political power were dashed. 160-152 B.C.E. was a period of declining fortunes for the Hasmoneans. They fled from Jerusalem and settled in Michmash, removed from the center of power. But change was coming.
Luck was with them and the period from 152 to 141 B.C.E. was one of ascendancy for the family. The Seleucid throne was up for grabs again. Both Alexander Balas and Demetrius wanted Hasmonean support. Jonathan, the leader since Judah's death, played one against the other. Finally, Jonathan supported Demetrius and for this he was "richly rewarded."
In 152 B.C.E. he appeared for the first time as High Priest, shortly afterwards the Seleucids appointed him viceroy over a now wider Judaea. He not only consolidated his rule over Judaea, but also extended the territory. He was in firm control and was recognized as the sole representative of the Seleucids in Judaea. There is irony here. Twenty-five years ago, Jason and Menelaus, acquired the high priesthood by bribing the gentile king, now the Hasmoneans followed suit; instead of bribes, they paid with services rendered." Simon, the last Maccabean brother, declared Judaea's independence (141 B.C.E. ) from Seleucid rule. He drove out the remnants of the Syrian garrison and the last of the Hellenizers from Acre.
Jewish progress was closely bound up with the slow decline of the Seleucid dynasty. The Hasmonean dynasty lasted until Pompey decided to annex Syria and Roman intervention in Judaea became inevitable. In 63 B.C.E. Pompey conquered Jerusalem and with one stroke dismembered the Hasmonean state and Judaea became one more province under the jurisdiction of Rome.
What were the achievements of the Hasmonean Dynasty? Not since the tenth century, under David and Solomon, had there been an independent Jewish state. The small state had been expanded under the dynasty. It became a major political entity embracing parts of Lebanon and Jordan. A basic policy of the Hasmonean was religious purification and whole populations were converted--Idumeans by John Hyrcanus and Itureans by Aristobulus I.
This most important achievement was the synthesis of Hellenism and Judaism. The leaders adopted Greek names; coins minted were bilingual, both in Greek and Hebrew. It was during this period that the religious community divided itself into three religious sects or parties, the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.
The Essenes were an ascetic sect that withdrew for a life of religious contemplation. They formed their own communities and developed a messianic religion. The Sadducees were members of the priestly class, who formed an alliance with the Hasmonean ruling party. They were the wealthy and aristocratic class and were considered pro-Hellenizers. But in religious matters, they were conservative. The Sadducees believed in the strict interpretation of the Torah--the Temple, priest and sacrifice were sacrosanct.
Their rivals, the Pharisees, were the opposite--very conservative in their politics, but liberal in their interpretation of the law. It is their view that prevailed. They stressed Oral Law along with the written law. They stood for the synagogue, the rabbi and prayer. It was they who introduced elasticity into Judaism which made it possible for the religion to survive in times of stress. The Pharisees introduced the concept of retribution and resurrection, "when the righteous would be rewarded to new life."