Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Case of the Disappearing First-Century Hasmoneans

This sixth instalment in my series on first-century memories of the Maccabean revolt amounts to a variation on a minimalist-sounding refrain. In this case, those who defend a link between the Maccabean revolt and the first Jewish revolt against Rome tend to ignore the gap between Hasmonean propaganda during the period of Hasmonean rule that ended in the 60’s BCE, and the Jewish revolt more than a century later in the 60’s CE. While Hasmonean popularity appears to have persisted through the reign of Herod the Great (see previous post), there is precious little concrete evidence between 3 BCE and 93/94 CE that anyone appealed either to Hasmonean ancestry or to Hasmonean precedent to buttress their leadership claims or to establish their personal credentials.

As far as I know, the only extant example of an appeal to Hasmonean ancestry in the first century comes from Josephus’s Life, which was written at the very end of the century in 93/94 CE. After cataloguing his priestly credentials, Josephus claims royal descent through the daughter of Judas’s brother, Jonathan:
“Moreover, on my [great-great-grand-]mother’s side I am of royal blood; for the posterity of Asamonaeus, from whom she sprang, for a very considerable period were kings, as well as high-priests, of our nation” (Life 2).[1]
Perhaps it is significant that Josephus only mentions his Hasmonean lineage once, near the end of his life. In the 70’s when he published the Jewish War, he passed over his Hasmonean ancestry in silence, identifying himself only as “a Hebrew by race, a native of Jerusalem and a priest” who was an eyewitness of many of the events he records (War 1.3).

Other explanations of Josephus’s silence in the 70’s CE are possible, of course, and it may be that Josephus’s self-description in the 90’s was typical of the century as a whole. Even though his resumé is the only one to survive, there may well have been others throughout the first century who were proud of their distant Hasmonean lineage.

In a valiant attempt to produce another example, William Farmer suggested “with some confidence” that Josephus suppressed the Hasmonean identity of Judas the Galilean, the founder of the “fourth philosophy” and the one on whom Josephus pinned the blame for the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 CE. Farmer’s argument rests on a speculative combination of the name, Judas, which was common among Hasmoneans and non-Hasmoneans alike, opposition to Herod by the Jerusalem aristocracy for the murder of Judas’s father, Ezekias, and the supposition that the Jerusalem aristocracy at that time had intermarried with the Hasmoneans.[2] Needless to say, I do not share Farmer’s confidence.[3]
Daniel Schwartz supposes that priests in the first century looked on the Hasmoneans not so much as literal ancestors as exemplars of the best form of government, remembering with nostalgia “the good old Hasmonean days, when high priests ruled the land.”[4] This is possible. But priestly rule was not a Hasmonean innovation, and Schwartz assumes both that Hasmonean rule remained popular—the point in question here—and that “the ejection of Rome” from the land was “the goal toward which territorially-centered priestly religion must logically strive.”[5] (Does historical causation really follow such patterns of logical necessity?)

Instead of first-century Jews celebrating Hasmonean rule, the search for hard evidence yields Hasmonean descendants who did not draw on their Hasmonean heritage when they might have been expected to do so. Josephus is one example. Another is Herod the Great’s grandson, Herod Agrippa I, who was a descendant of Hasmonean royalty through the line of his grandmother, Mariamme. Agrippa I apparently made no attempt to burnish his leadership credentials by appealing to his Hasmonean ancestry when he was appointed king, first of the territory of his uncle Philip, then of Galilee, and finally of Judaea and Samaria.[6] Agrippa I’s son Agrippa II, a Roman through and through, appears to have “helped Titus celebrate the destruction of the Temple in the autumn of 70 C.E.”[7]
Agrippa I’s failure to play up his Hasmonean ancestry may have been a calculated decision. In the charged atmosphere of the mid-first century, an appeal to Hasmonean ancestry may have conveyed a desire for independence at a time when Agrippa had decided to throw in his lot with Rome as his grandfather Herod the Great had done. Indeed, one of the paradoxes of Agrippa’s life, according to Daniel Schwartz, is that even though he pursued an aggressively Herodian foreign policy, completely loyal to Rome and a benefactor of non-Jewish Greek cities both within and beyond the borders of his realm, Agrippa could not escape his Hasmonean ancestry:
“[A] man who knew better than anyone that the fate of Judaea, and of the Jews of the Mediterranean world, was dependent upon Rome, was stubbornly viewed by too many people as harbinger of the type of anti-Roman Jewish nationalism embodied by some of his ancestors. The hopes which were raised by his enthronement, and which refused to die with him, contributed to the faith which led to the great rebellion of 66-73 C.E., and to catastrophe.”[8]
If Schwartz is correct, the legacy of the Maccabees and their Hasmonean successors exerted such pressure on Jews and non-Jews alike that it shaped impressions of, and responses to, Agrippa, despite his best efforts to counteract them.

The problem, for my purposes, is that instead of providing direct evidence for first-century memories of the Maccabees among Jews and neighbouring gentiles, Schwartz’s proposal takes Hasmonean popularity (among Jews) and notoriety (among non-Jews) for granted:

The Hasmonean Legacy among Jews: Schwartz maintains that Agrippa’s Hasmonean ancestry fueled “anti-Roman Jewish nationalism” even though everyone knew that Agrippa himself, the putative Hasmonean heir, would have nothing to do with it:
“While such circles might have drawn some encouragement from Agrippa’s one-quarter Hasmonean descent, it was not to be expected that he would be the flag-bearer for the priests’ return to their former glory …. Some high priests and others, therefore, seem to have undertaken to bear that flag themselves.”[9]
The evidence Schwartz adduces—priestly support for the Jewish revolt itself a couple decades later and “Agrippa’s frequent switching of high priests”[10]—is only compelling if one assumes widespread first-century support for the Hasmoneans to begin with.

The Hasmonean Legacy among Non-Jews: Josephus describes in some detail how non-Jews in the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste rejoiced at Agrippa’s death:
“They hurled insults, too foul to be mentioned, at the deceased; and all who were then on military service … went off to their homes, and seizing the images of the king’s daughters carried them with one accord to the brothels, where they set them up on the roofs and offered them every possible sort of insult …. Moreover, they reclined in the public places and celebrated feasts for all the people, wearing garlands and using scented unguents; they poured libations to Charon, and exchanged toasts in celebration of the king’s death. In this they were unmindful not only of Agrippa, who had treated them with much generosity, but also of his grandfather Herod, who had built their cities” (A.J. 19.357-9).
According to Schwartz, this reaction to Agrippa’s death is “ironic” because Agrippa’s “policy … was that of his grandfather [Herod], not of the Hasmoneans.”[11] It is worth noting, however, that Josephus—our only source for this episode—says nothing about Agrippa’s Hasmonean ancestry. In its context, at the very end of book 19 of the Antiquities, the story illustrates the growing conflict between Jews and Gentiles within Agrippa’s realm that Josephus names as one of the causes of the Jewish revolt. Josephus goes on to say that the emperor Claudius had originally planned to discipline those who dishonoured Agrippa’s memory by relocating the cavalry units from Caesarea and Sebaste to Pontus, but in the end he was persuaded to let them stay in Judaea and, as a result “These men, in the period that followed, proved to be a source of the greatest disasters to the Jews by sowing the seed of the war in Florus’ time” (A.J. 19.366). From Josephus’s perspective, those who opposed Agrippa did so not because of his Hasmonean grandmother but because of his Jewishness.

The Hasmoneans and the Romans: There are also reasons to question an easy equation between Hasmoneans and opposition to Rome.

In the first place, Agrippa’s pro-Roman policy did not stop him from engaging in other activities that led to Roman censure, including fortifying the walls of Jerusalem (War 2.218-219; 5.147-160; A.J. 19.326-7) and meeting as royalty with other client kings (A.J. 19.338-342).[12] Were these actions somehow less provocative than claiming to be the heir of the Hasmonean dynasty? It is true that the Hasmoneans who attempted to regain power in Judaea after Pompey’s invasion called on the Parthians for help driving out the Romans. But during the first century the charge of supporting the Parthians was a convenient way for rivals to libel their opponents. According to Josephus, Agrippa himself had secured control of Herod Antipas’s realm by accusing his uncle of siding with the Parthians against Rome—and Antipas was no relation to the Hasmoneans (A.J. 18.250-2).

More importantly, appealing to one’s Hasmonean ancestry need not have been construed as anti-Roman in itself. Schwartz assumes that opposition to the Greek Seleucid rule of Antiochus and his successors in the original Maccabean storyline had by the first century been transferred to Rome. But substituting “Roman oppressor” in place of “Greek oppressor” was neither necessary nor inevitable. More than thirty-five years ago, Wayne Meeks warned about a tendency to read post-70 Jewish attitudes toward Rome back into the early first century:
“Popular treatments of early Christianity and early Judaism have focused so one-sidedly on Palestine and especially on the failed revolts of 66-70 and 132-135 that we tend to think of Rome as the implacable enemy of the Jews. The documents collected by Josephus, the two political tracts of Philo, and other evidence suggest rather that Jews of the cities more often regarded Rome as their protector.”[13]
Even in Judaea, an anti-Roman stance was not the only viable Hasmonean alternative. Agrippa could, for example, have pointed to the first Maccabean rulers who, according to 1 and 2 Maccabees, were close allies of the Romans (see 1 Macc 8; 12:1-4; 14:16-19, 24; 15:15-24; 2 Macc 4:11; 11:34-38).

In sum, instead of resulting from his pro-Roman policy, Agrippa’s apparent failure to mention his Hasmonean ancestry may suggest that neither he nor his contemporaries regarded it as significant.

To be sure, the disappearance of Hasmonean propaganda in support of Hasmonean leadership claims does not mean people no longer remembered the Maccabean revolt. Whatever the influence of Hasmonean propaganda, it is possible that by the end of the Hasmonean era memories of the Maccabean revolt were secure enough that they could be employed in different ways by those who sought a return to high-priestly rule or freedom from Roman control. People may have looked back fondly on the early stages of the Maccabean revolt while being critical of later Hasmonean rule. In the search for a smoking gun—for hard evidence that memories of the Maccabean revolt motivated popular acts of resistance or rebellion in the first century—most turn to the crisis under Caligula in 39/40 and the first Jewish revolt against Rome that culminated in the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE. I hope to evaluate both these events and the sources that report them later.

My basic point here, which admittedly says more about the limitations of our evidence than anything else, is that there is no direct evidence that people appealed to Hasmonean lineage to support their leadership claims from the immediate aftermath of the death of Herod in 4 BCE until the late first century when Josephus wrote his autobiography. At the very least, this silence should encourage caution about the way the Hasmoneans and Maccabees were remembered. We should not assume that support for the Hasmoneans remained constant or that the Maccabean storyline was reapplied in the same way.

[1] Since Josephus proceeds to give his father’s ancestry and to note how his father’s line was connected to the Hasmoneans through his great-great-grandmother, his reference to his “mother” in Life 2 probably refers to his great-great-grandmother. See Steve Mason, Life of Josephus (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 6 note 14.
[2] William Reuben Farmer, “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” New Testament Studies 4.2 (1958): 150–51. In “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” 155, Farmer only mentions as a possibility that the Judas of Galilee who was active after Herod’s death in 4 BCE (War 2.56) is the same as the Judas the Galilean mentioned in connection with Quirinius’s census 10 years later (War 2.117-118). In Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus, however, Farmer appears to take the identification of the two Judas’s for granted. This view is defended in detail by Martin Hengel, The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 331–33. For the argument that the two Judas’s were two different individuals, see Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, Volume 1B: Judean War 2 (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 39 n. 341 and 81 n. 724.
[3] See David Goodblatt, Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 96, for reasons why Judas was unlikely to have been a priest, let alone a Hasmonean.
[4] Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judaea, TSAJ 23 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), 130.
[5] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 130, emphasis added. See David M. Goodblatt, The Monarchic Principle: Studies in Jewish Self-Government in Antiquity (TSAJ 38; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994), for the argument that “priestly monarchy” was the dominant Judaean form of government throughout the Second Temple period.
[6] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 43, 173. Contrast Farmer, “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” 148 n. 3.
[7] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 175.
[8] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 175
[9] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 130.
[10] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 130
[11] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 132.
[12] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 137–44, proposes that Agrippa’s actions were criticized because the Roman legate of Syria, Vibius Marsus, was jealous of Agrippa’s success. But even if Agrippa’s intentions were innocent, his actions were liable to being construed as anti-Roman. For Rome’s evolving approach to governing the Near East and a gradual shift from government through client kings to direct administration, see Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East: 31 BC - AD 337 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Seth Schwartz, The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
[13] Wayne A Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 38.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees -- A Footnote with Footnotes
Part 2: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 2: The Origins of Hanukkah
Part 3: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 3: Hanukkah in the First Century
Part 4: Memories of the Maccabees in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Part 5: The Maccabean Revolt and the Success of Hasmonean Propaganda

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