King Herod and the Wise Men

Between Malachi and Matthew: Greedy, Obsessed People, Far from God, Vie for Power

When last we left the Hebrew people, they were enjoying 100 years of independence from any Gentile nation as the Hasmonean Dynasty. Why only 100 years? Where was God all this time? Today, we conclude the story with various people — both men and women — vying for power, and not caring who they crush on their way to thrones and kingdoms. Let’s dig in…

Who Were the Hasmoneans?

The Maccabean/Hasmonean Dynasty of Judah from Mattathias to Herod. Marshall46, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Maccabean/Hasmonean Dynasty of Judah from Mattathias to Herod. Marshall46, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Hasmonean Dynasty/Kingdom Effib, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Hasmonean Dynasty/Kingdom Effib, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aristobulous I, r.104-103 BC – died and his widow, Salome Alexandra, freed Aristobulous’ brothers and married one of them. As part of Jewish law, Deuteronomy 25:5-6, it’s what’s called a “Levirate marriage”. It was legal under Levitical law.

She married Alexander Jannaeus, r. 103-76 BC. However, because he was a high priest, he was only supposed to marry a virgin. (Leviticus 21:14) He was ruthless and broke Jewish law several times. One time, during the fall festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, he didn’t do the priestly ritual as designated. It was one of the pilgrimage feasts where Jews traveedl from all over to Jerusalem to celebrate it. Subsequently, when the people complained, he killed 6000 of them. Yes, a massacre.

Because of this, a group of rebels, the “Seekers of Smooth Things”, sought help from the Seleucid king at the time, Demetrius, then changed their minds. They figured that it was better to have a bad Jewish king than a good Gentile king. However, Demetrius didn’t want to turn back, and attacked Jerusalem, but God stopped him. Alexander Jannaeus, then wanted to punish the rebels and had them crucified. Furthermore, he had the rebels’ wives and children killed in front of them. By the way, this happened all while he was having an orgy with his 800 concubines.

When Alexander Jannaeus died in 76 BC, his wife, Salome Alexandra, ruled until her death in 67 BC. So, here we have a Hasmonean Queen ruling. Consequently, because she was a woman, she could not serve as high priest. Her oldest son, John Hyrcanus II, served as high priest while she reigned. According to Josephus, she was a good queen, a good ruler, despite being a woman.

When Salome Alexandra dies, her oldest son, Hyrcanus II, was the obvious successor. Needless to say, like in many dynastic families, there was a younger son, Aristobulous II, who wanted the throne. This resulted in a civil war. Learn more here.

The Nabateans

These were the Hasmoneans’ neighbors to the south. An Arab people whose language at the time was an early form of Arabic. They were nomads and well-established, lucrative traders. Their kingdom covered the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, the Negev Desert and Gaza was their major port on the Mediterranean. Petra was their capital city. The Nabateans existed until 106 AD, when it was annexed by the Roman Emperor Trajan.

3 Sects: The Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes

Much of the history of these groups come from Josephus who calls them “haireseis” (Greek) or in Latin “secta”, where we get our word for “sect” or a group that segments from another. The Greek word “haireseis” is where we get the word “heresy”. In today’s world, the words “heresy” and “sect” have negative connotations. Not so in those days. It wasn’t until the Early Christian church that they started being used negatively to call out people who disagreed with Church leaders. Clearly, the origins of these words are neutral and are used simply to define different schools of thought, philosophical schools or movements.

The Sadducees

The Sadducees stem from Zadok, the High Priest in King Solomon’s day. They became known as the Zadokites. Likewise, you see them mentioned a lot in the Old Testament books. At some point, they lost their hold on the Jerusalem Temple.

One of the branches of the Zadokites morphed into the Sadducees and became part of the Jerusalem elite — priestly, and members of the upper class, the aristocracy and conservatives. They were religiously conservative and wanted to preserve the Jewish religion. Obviously, this led them to clash with the Pharisees who were notorious for changing or adding to the Mosaic Law. They do not believe in the resurrection, because there’s no reference to it in the Pentateuch — the 5 Books of Moses.

The Pharisees

Their name comes from the word “parash” — to separate. They didn’t call themselves “Pharisees”. They considered themselves scribes, sages or rabbis (teachers)— experts in Jewish law. The Pharisees weren’t among the wealthy, but what would be considered the “middle class”. They recognized oral tradition along with Hebraic Law — the 5 Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. To them, because of changing times, laws had to be “adjusted” to make sense. (That very much resembles the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Progressive Churches.)

The Pharisees vs the Sadducees

Luke explains one of the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

This divided the council—the Pharisees against the Sadducees— for the Sadducees say there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, but the Pharisees believe in all of these.

Acts 23:7-8 NLT

Free Will vs Pre-Destination

The Sadducees believe that there is no human free will, and God is in control of everything. A Jewish Rabbi explains the Pharisee doctrine.

“All is foreseen but free will is given”. – The Pharisee doctrine.

Rabbi Akiba

These groups prevailed during the 2nd Temple Period: From Zerubbabel’s rebuilding of the temple starting in 537 BC, to its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. They cease to exist after 70 AD. After the destruction of the temple, the Rabbis evolved out of the Pharisees. Hence, we have the Rabbinical Period — which we’re in now until after the Rapture and the raising of the Antichrist. It’s in Revelation.

Jesus called them out, because when they criticized Him like in Mark 7, they used man-made laws that were not part of the original Mosaic Law.

The “Seekers of Smooth Things”

That was a nickname that the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, gave to those who revolted against Alexander Jannaeus. It means “seeking the easy way out”. That’s what they tried to do by bringing in the Seleucid king, Demetrius, into the picture. These “Seekers of Smooth Things” are nonother than the Pharisees.

Enter the Romans

Rome already had conquered most of the Mediterranean. They considered the Mediterranean to be “their lake”.

A map of the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent, showing the territory of Trajan's Nabataean conquests in red. Public Domain.
A map of the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent, showing the territory of Trajan’s Nabataean conquests in red. Public Domain.

The feuding sons of Salome Alexandra had the bright idea to turn to the Romans. As a result, General Pompey annexed Judah into the Roman Empire in 63 BC. The Romans removed the Hasmoneans from any rule except where there were concentrations of Jews – Galilee, Idumaea, Judea, Peraea.

Wikipedia User:Andrew c, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Wikipedia User:Andrew c, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

They wanted to strengthen the Hellenized cities – the Decapolis, which was under the Roman province of Syria. Hyrcanus II was given the title of “Ethnarch of the Jews” an administrator, or high priest. The governor or procurator was Anitpater, c. 100-43 BC. He was an Idamean Jew, whose father was Antipas. Anitpater was the father of Herod the Great and his older brother, Phasael. Antipas was forced to convert to Judaism by the Hasmonean kings.

In 40 BC, Syria and Judea were overrun by the Parthians — successors of the Persians. One of the Hasmonean heirs, Mattathias Antigonus (r. 40-37 BC), took over the country capturing Hyrcanus II and Phasael, who commits suicide. Antigonus then bites off the ear of Hyrcanus. (Yes, he pulled a Mike Tyson.) Thus, he rendered Hyrcanus blemished and unfit to be high priest.

Herod flees to Idumaea, then to Masada, finally to the Nabatean kingdom, his mother’s homeland. He then goes to Egypt and is greeted by Cleopatra VII – a descendant of the Ptolemies. She wanted to revive Ptolemaic independence. She offered Herod assistance, but he declined and went to Rome.

Subsequently, he goes to Marc Antony, who appoints him client king of Judea. He went back and fought Mattathias Antigonus until 37 BC, with the help of the legate of Syria.

Obsessed by Fear of a Revolt or Threat

Because Herod was half-Jewish by his father’s forced conversion, many Jews did not accept Herod as a legitimate king. He feared a Jewish revolt.

One of Herod’s wives was Hasmonean, Mariamne, daughter of Alexandra. Altogether, he had 9 or 10 wives. Mariamne was his favorite one. She was very beautiful and he was insanely jealous. Mariamne wanted to have her younger brother Aristobulus III appointed as high priest. Herod saw him as a potential threat.

Through Cleopatra’s influence, Aristobulus III got the post. The people really liked him and Herod, fearing him, had him killed by drowning.

Meanwhile, during the winter of 36-37 BC, Cleopatra, in Egypt, married Marc Antony. Remember, Cleopatra’s ambition was to revive the Ptolemaic kingdom including Judea ruled by Herod. Marc Antony gave her all the non-Jewish areas.

In 31 BC, during the Battle of Actium, Octavian, later known as Emperor Augustus (27 BC), defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra. They both returned to Egypt and killed themselves. After that, Herod meets with Octavian and tells him, “I was a loyal friend to Marc Antony and I’ll be a loyal friend to you.” Thus, Marc Antony increased his territories tremendously. Herod, then ended up killing his wife, Mariamne, 2 of his sons, and various other people. All because of jealousy and perceived threats.

Hence, understanding Herod’s obsession and perceiving of threats, it’s no wonder he freaked when 3 Persian astrologers came looking for the “King of the Jews”.

Man without God

Obviously, without God, given man’s free will, man will mess things up tremendously. Maybe this 400-year period was a test. God wanted to see — though He did know and orchestrated most of it — what people would do when left to their own devices. This era was dominated by people who had…

  • The Lust of the Flesh – wives, concubines, luxury, kingdoms, land, etc.
  • Lust of the Eyes – wanting the easy way out, coveting, jealousy, “seeking smooth things”, etc.
  • Pride of Life – success, riches, prosperity, possessions, triumph, power, etc.

It didn’t matter whether they were Jew or Gentile, man or woman, they fell for the devil’s temptations. It started in the Garden of Eden at the Fall of Man, and continued to when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Moreover, it still continues today.

Enter Jesus — Fully God and Fully Man

In conclusion, left to our own devices, the only place we will end up is in hell. That’s why….

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 NLT

It’s YOUR choice where you will spend eternity and it’s a choice you need to make while you’re still alive and coherent.

If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, feel His Shalom — a peace that surpasses all understanding, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, which can happen at any moment, this is what you have to do…

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

From Malachi to Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew Part 1 & 2

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone Be The Glory!

Top image by Good News Productions International from FreeBibleImages.org. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

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