130 BC to 110 BC, Psalm 41: John Hyrcanus.

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    Summary

This generation is from the years 130 BC to 110 BC

According to our count, this generation is the 41st generation associated with Psalm 41. It is in this Psalm 41 that we therefore find an illustration of the facts of this generation.

This generation is linked to the reign of John Hyrcanus (134 BC / 104 BC), the successor of the Hasmonean dynasty.The latter succeeds Simon when he is assassinated, escaping himself to death. His last brothers and his mother, taken prisoner, are executed.

The Greek Antiochus Soter attacks Judea and besieges Jerusalem. Many Jews that John Hyrcanus had brought out of the city find themselves stranded between the walls and the Greek troops. The Feast of Tabernacles arriving, the besieged, touched with compassion towards their fellow citizens, made them return to the city.

On the occasion of this feast, the high priest asks the Greek king for a truce. The latter (Antiochus) not only grants it to him but, being touched by a feeling of piety, liberally and magnificently sends him bulls to sacrifice: what was received at the gates of the city and carried in the Temple. He also sent food to the soldiers.

The position of Antiochus is all the more praiseworthy since most of his advisers would have preferred to continue the confrontation until the extermination of the Jews of Jerusalem.

John Hyrcanus becomes an ally of Antiochus, but Antiochus will be defeated and will die when he defies the Parthians.

John Hyrcan renewed his treaty of alliance with Rome. Hyrcanus was thus able to continue his fight against Samaria, which he subjugates definitively. This is the beginning of an era of prosperity for Jews.

As is unfortunately often the case, when external peace is achieved, it is on the domestic front that tensions are reinforced. Thus John Hyrcanus will be challenged by his own people who challenge his status Cohen (family associated with the priesthood) that his mother was captive. John Hyrcanus having proclaimed himself high priest, it is on these bases that the internal revolt is carried out. Hyrcanus succeeded in maintaining national unity and calmly ending his reign.

Jean Hyrcan is the last character mentioned in I Maccabees. The Books of the Maccabees are the last historical biblical books. It is therefore natural that the psalm relating to this generation (Psalm 41) closes the first book of the psalms. The first book recounting the biblical epic since Solomon’s death comes to an end.

Make way for the history of the Jews among the nations.

Talk

Simon’s death

This generation is linked to the reign of John Hyrcanus (134 BC / 104 BC), the successor of the Hasmonean dynasty.

The latter succeeds Simon when he is assassinated, escaping himself to death. It is Ptolemy[1], governor of Jericho and son-in-law of Simon who organizes the plot, after having murdered Simon and his two sons during a meal that he had organized, he tries to attack John, without success:

  • Then[2] (after the murder of Simon and his sons) Ptolemy wrote a report and sent it to the king, asking him to send troops to help him and to turn over to him their country and its cities.
  • He sent other men to Gazara to do away with John. To the army officers he sent letters inviting them to come to him so that he might present them with silver, gold, and gifts.
  • He also sent others to seize Jerusalem and the temple mount.
  • But someone ran ahead and brought word to John at Gazara that his father and his brothers had perished, and “Ptolemy has sent men to kill you also.”
  • On hearing this, John was utterly astounded. When the men came to kill him, he seized them and put them to death, for he knew that they sought to kill him.

Jerusalem under siege

Jean[3] Hyrcan then tried to besiege Dagon near Jericho where Ptolemy had taken refuge, who held with him the mother of Jean Hyrcanus and his last brothers. Wanting to preserve these, and before the threats of Ptolemy, the siege lasted seven years. Ptolemy will manage to escape by having previously executed the mother and the brothers of Jean Hyrcan.

After this episode, Jean Hyrcan must undergo the siege of Antiochus Soter:

  • But Antiochus[4], being very uneasy at the miseries that Simon had brought upon him, he invaded Judea in the fourth years’ of his reign, and the first year of the principality of Hyrcanus, in the hundred and sixty-second olympiad.
  • And when he had burnt the country, he shut up Hyrcanus in the city, which he encompassed round with seven encampments; but did just nothing at the first, because of the strength of the walls, and because of the valor of the besieged, although they were once in want of water, which yet they were delivered from by a large shower of rain, which fell at the setting of the Pleiades
  • However, about the north part of the wall, where it happened the city was upon a level with the outward ground, the king raised a hundred towers of three stories high, and placed bodies of soldiers upon them; and as he made his attacks every day, he cut a double ditch, deep and broad, and confined the inhabitants within it as within a wall;
  • but the besieged contrived to make frequent sallies out; and if the enemy were not any where upon their guard, they fell upon them, and did them a great deal of mischief; and if they perceived them, they then retired into the city with ease.
  • But because Hyrcanus discerned the inconvenience of so great a number of men in the city, while the provisions were the sooner spent by them, and yet, as is natural to suppose, those great numbers did nothing, he separated the useless part, and excluded them out of the city, and retained that part only which were in the flower of their age, and fit for war.
  • However, Antiochus would not let those that were excluded go away, who therefore wandering about between the wails, and consuming away by famine, died miserably; but when the feast of tabernacles was at hand, those that were within commiserated their condition, and received them in again.

The mercy of Antiochus

Jean Hyrcan’s reaction to his fellow citizens, to the detriment of his military interests, is illustrated by the beginning of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 41 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 3 )
  • For the conductor, a song of David.
  • Praiseworthy is he who looks after the poor; on a day of calamity the Lord will rescue him.
  • The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be praised in the land, and You will not deliver him into the desire of his enemies.

And indeed Jean Hyrcan’s reaction allows him to escape the siege that threatens him:

  • And[5] when Hyrcanus sent to Antiochus, and desired there might be a truce for seven days, because of the festival, he gave way to this piety towards God, and made that truce accordingly. And besides that, he sent in a magnificent sacrifice, bulls with their horns gilded, with all sorts of sweet spices, and with cups of gold and silver. So those that were at the gates received the sacrifices from those that brought them, and led them to the temple, Antiochus the mean while feasting his army, which was a quite different conduct from Antiochus Epiphanes, who, when he had taken the city,

This unexpected reversal of situation is also illustrated by the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 41 associated to this generation, verses 4 and 5 )

  • The Lord will support him on his sickbed (illustrates the military situation of Jean Hyrcanus before the decision of Antiochus); when You have transformed his entire restfulness in his illness.
  • I said, « O Lord, be gracious to me; heal my soul because I have sinned against You. »

The position of Antiochus is all the more praiseworthy since most of his advisers would have preferred to continue the confrontation until the extermination of the Jews of Jerusalem:

  • Accordingly[6], Hyrcanus took this moderation of his kindly; and when he understood how religious he was towards the Deity, he sent an embassage to him, and desired that he would restore the settlements they received from their forefathers. So he rejected the counsel of those that would have him utterly destroy the nation, by reason of their way of living, which was to others unsociable, and did not regard what they said. But being persuaded that all they did was out of a religious mind, he answered the ambassadors, that if the besieged would deliver up their arms, and pay tribute for Joppa, and the other cities which bordered upon Judea, and admit a garrison of his, on these terms he would make war against them no longer.

This desire to destroy the Jewish people, supported by the lieutenants of Antiochus whom this king rejects, is illustrated by the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 41 associated to this generation, verses 6 to 9 )

  • My enemies speak evil of me; « When will he die and his name be lost? »
  • And if he comes to see [me], he speaks falsely; his heart gathers iniquity for him; when he goes outside, he talks.
  • All my enemies whisper together about me; concerning me, they think evil.
  • « An evil thing shall be poured into him, and once he lies down, he will no longer rise. »

This passage that has been illustrated with the attitude of the lieutenants of Antiochus is unfortunately « universal ». Whenever an enemy stands against the people of Israel, he does not content himself with wanting to enslave him. Generally, the designs of Israel’s enemies are to destroy the people of Israel, to physically destroy them and if possible to destroy their memory.

Consolidation of the Kingdom of Judea

Among the recurring adversaries of the people of Israel are the Samaritans who do not hesitate to follow the direction of the wind and embrace the cause of the enemy of Israel when it has a chance to win.

John Hyrcanus becomes an ally of Antiochus, but Antiochus will be defeated and will die when he defies the Parthians. John Hyrcanus then fights the Samaritans and brings them back for a time to the bosom of Jerusalem:

  • But[7] when Hyrcanus heard of the death of Antiochus, he presently made an expedition against the cities of Syria, hoping to find them destitute of fighting men, and of such as were able to defend them.
  • However, it was not till the sixth month that he took Medaba, and that not without the greatest distress of his army. After this he took Samega, and the neighboring places; and besides these, Shechem and Gerizzim, and the nation of the Cutheans, who dwelt at the temple which resembled that temple which was at Jerusalem, and which Alexander permitted Sanballat, the general of his army, to build for the sake of Manasseh, who was son-in-law to Jaddua the high priest, as we have formerly related; which temple was now deserted two hundred years after it was built.

Rome

Later[8], John Hyrcan renewed his treaty of alliance with Rome.

Rome assures the sovereign and his people of his protection. Demetrius, the successor of Antiochus can not in spite of his will to attack Jean Hyrcan because of the internal tensions in Syria. Demetrius is defeated by Alexander Zabinas, whom the king of Egypt had sent against Demetrius at the request of the people of Syria. Alexander Zabinas makes alliance with John Hyrcanus but is killed by the son of Demetrius. There followed a succession war in Syria that weakened the kingdom and thus directly guaranteed peace to the kingdom of Judea.

Hyrcanus was thus able to continue his fight against Samaria, which he subjugates definitively. This is the beginning of an era of prosperity for Jews:

  • Now[9] it happened at this time, that not only those Jews who were at Jerusalem and in Judea were in prosperity, but also those of them that were at Alexandria, and in Egypt and Cyprus; for Cleopatra the queen was at variance with her son Ptolemy, who was called Lathyrus, and appointed for her generals Chelcias and Ananias, the sons of that Onias who built the temple in the prefecture of Heliopolis, like to that at Jerusalem, as we have elsewhere related.
  • Cleopatra intrusted these men with her army, and did nothing without their advice, as Strabo of Cappadocia attests, when he saith thus, « Now the greater part, both those that came to Cyprus with us, and those that were sent afterward thither, revolted to Ptolemy immediately; only those that were called Onias’s party, being Jews, continued faithful, because their countrymen Chelcias and Ananias were in chief favor with the queen. » These are the words of Strabo.

Hyrcan is disputed

As is unfortunately often the case, when external peace is achieved, it is on the domestic front that tensions are reinforced.

Thus John Hyrcanus will be challenged by his own people who challenge his status Cohen that his mother was captive. Before quoting the corresponding passage, one must refer to the Talmud to know the official position of orthodoxy in this area.

Recall that the Pharisees who will challenge Jean Hyrcan, at the time, oppose the Sadducees by relying on the oral law (which will give the Talmud) while the Sadducees rely only on the written law.

Thus the Talmud, which will be written much later deals with the problem of the captive woman who wants to marry a Cohen (Priest) as follows:

  • Similarly[10], with regard to a woman who said: I was taken captive but I am pure, as I was not raped in captivity, she is deemed credible and permitted to marry a priest, as the mouth that prohibited and established that she was taken captive is the mouth that permitted and established that she was not defiled.
    • (Principle of « migo », instead of lying on its purity, it could have hidden its initial condition of captive.If it did not, it must believe on the whole.This argument does not hold if there are witnesses, which explains the rest of the text)
  • But if there are witnesses that she was taken captive, and she says: I am pure, she is not deemed credible.
    • (We do not believe it. Until proven otherwise, it is presumed that her jailers abused her).
  • And if witnesses came after she married, this woman need not leave her husband.

This element of the Oral Law completes the command of the written law:

  • He[11] (the priest, the Cohen) shall marry a woman in her virgin state.
  • A widow, a divorcee, a woman who is desecrated or a prostitute he shall not marry [any] of these. Only a virgin of his people may he take as a wife.
  • And he shall not desecrate his offspring among his people, for I am the Lord, Who sanctifies him.

John Hyrcanus having proclaimed himself high priest, it is on these bases that the internal revolt is carried out:

  • These[12] have so great a power over the multitude, that when they say any thing against the king, or against the high priest, they are presently believed. Now Hyrcanus was a disciple of theirs, and greatly beloved by them. And when he once invited them to a feast, and entertained them very kindly, when he saw them in a good humor, he began to say to them, that they knew he was desirous to be a righteous man, and to do all things whereby he might please God, which was the profession of the Pharisees also. However, he desired, that if they observed him offending in any point, and going out of the right way, they would call him back and correct him. On which occasion they attested to his being entirely virtuous; with which commendation he was well pleased.
  • But still there was one of his guests there, whose name was Eleazar, a man of an ill temper, and delighting in seditious practices. This man said, » Since thou desirest to know the truth, if thou wilt be righteous in earnest, lay down the high priesthood, and content thyself with the civil government of the people, » And when he desired to know for what cause he ought to lay down the high priesthood, the other replied, « We have heard it from old men, that thy mother had been a captive under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.  » This story was false, and Hyrcanus was provoked against him; and all the Pharisees had a very great indignation against him.

The reverse suffered by Hyrcanus is illustrated by the end of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 41 associated to this generation, verses 10 to 14 )

  • Even my ally, in whom I trusted, who eats my bread, developed an ambush for me.
  • But You, O Lord, be gracious to me and raise me up, so that I may repay them.
  • With this I shall know that You desired me, when my enemy does not shout joyfully over me.
  • As for me, because of my innocence You shall support me, and stand me up before You forever.
  • Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel from all times past and to all times to come. Amen and amen.

Hyrcanus reacted to this attack by turning to the Sadducees. Despite the distrust of the people favorable to the Pharisees, Hyrcanus succeeded in maintaining national unity and calmly ending his reign. The prayer expressed at the end of the psalm was therefore followed by effect for Hyrcanus.

End of biblical times

Jean Hyrcan is the last character mentioned in I Maccabees. The Books of the Maccabees are the last historical biblical books.

They are incorporated in the Greek Bible but not in the Hebrew Bible. Not that the history of the Ammonean resistance did not hold the attention of those responsible for the Jewish canon, but more likely for « technical » reasons: the Hebrew version must have been lost or the versions available were not sufficiently reliable. In any case, this generation is the last of the biblical epic, John Hyrcanus the last king or prophet worthy of mention. This is why Flavius Josephus inserted in the account concerning John Hyrcanus: « End[14] of the Stories of the Bible ».

It is therefore natural that the psalm relating to this generation (Psalm 41) closes the first book of the psalms. The first book recounting the biblical epic since Solomon’s death comes to an end.

Make way for the history of the Jews among the nations.


[1] 1 Maccabees, Chapter 16, verses 11 to 17

[2] 1 Maccabees, Chapter 16, verses 18 to 22

[3] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / Chapter 15.

[4] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 8.

[5] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 8 (continuation of the previous quote)

[6] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 8 (continuation of the previous quote)

[7] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 9

[8] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 9

[9] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 10

[10] Babylonian Talmud / Ketubot (The William Davidson Talmud) / 22a  (translation got from: https://www.sefaria.org/Ketubot.22a.4?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en )

[11] Vayikra – Leviticus – Chapter 21, verses 13 to 15

[12] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 12.9

[13] Voir Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre treizième/chapitre 15

[14] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 15