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

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Hyrcanus_I-YohananThis generation is that of the years between 130 BC to 110 BC.

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, 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.
Jean 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:
  • Antiochus [1] Soter, who always retained the resentment of the benefits that Simon, father of Hyrcanus, had won over him, attacked Judea in the fourth year of his reign, which was the first in the principality of Hyrcanus, and the one-hundred-and-sixty-second Olympiad. After ravaging the countryside and compelling Hyrcanus to retreat to Jerusalem, he besieged it, and divided his army into seven sections to lock up the whole place. For some time he was unable to advance, because of the strength of the walls and the value of the besieged people, combined with the lack of water, which a great deal of rain remedied. He then built on the northern side, which was the easiest access to the rest, a hundred three-storey towers on which he put a large number of men of war to beat the walls without delay. To which he added a double circumvallation very large and wide to remove from the Jews all kinds of communication from the inside to the outside. The besieged, on their side, made many sorties with great loss of the besiegers when they were not on their guard; and when they were there they easily withdrew into the city. Hyrcanus, seeing that the quantity of useless mouths which were in the place could consume his provisions unnecessarily, brought them out, and retained only those whom the vigor of the age rendered fit for war. But Antiochus prevented them from going to the country; and thus they remained wandering within the walls of the city, where hunger consumed them miserably. The Feast of Tabernacles having arrived, the besieged, touched with compassion by their fellow citizens, made them return to the city.
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
And indeed Jean Hyrcan’s reaction allows him to escape the siege that threatens him:
  • And  [2] High Priest Hyrcanus prayed to the king to make a truce of seven days to give them the means to solemnize this great festival. This prince (Antiochus) not only granted it to him but, being touched by a feeling of piety, he liberally and magnificently sent him bulls to sacrifice who had golden horns, and gold and silver vessels full of all sorts of very precious perfumes: what was received at the gates of the city and brought to the Temple. He also sent food to the soldiers.
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.
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.
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 he 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.
Later, 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.
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 [3], 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.
Stich, Abbildung, gravure, engraving : 1889This element of the Oral Law completes the command of the written law:
  • He (the priest, the Cohen) [4] 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 inner slingshot is conducted:
  • The happiness [5] of Hyrcanus attracted the envy of the Jews, but especially of those of the Pharisee sect of which we have spoken above; and they have such credit among the people that they embrace their feelings even when they are contrary to those of kings and high priests. Hyrcanus, who had been their disciple and much loved by them, gave them a great feast. When he saw that after having made good food they began to be a little gay, he told them, that since being of their feelings, they knew that he had no greater desire than to walk in the ways of the justice and doing nothing that was not pleasing to God. They were obliged to warn him if they thought that something was wanting, so that he would correct it. All the other guests having given him great praise, he showed great joy. But one of them, named Eleazar, who was a very wicked man, spoke and said to him, “If you wish, as you say, to be honestly and frankly spoken, give proof of your virtue by renouncing the great priesthood, and content yourself with being the prince of the people. ” Hyrcan asked him what led him to make this proposal. “It is,” he replied, “because we have learned from our elders that your mother was a slave during the reign of King Antiochus Epiphanes”. Now, as the noise was false, Hyrcanus was very offended by such a speech, and the Pharisees did not testify to it less than 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.



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[1] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / beginning of chapter 16. (French: Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre treizième/début du chapitre 16 )

[2] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 16 (continuation of the preceding quotation). (French: Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre treizième/chapitre 16).

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

[4] LÉVITIQUE Chapitre 21, versets 13 à 15

[5] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Book thirteenth / chapter 18. (Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre treizième/chapitre 18).