After the death of Judas, his brother Jonathan took up his mantle. Little Judea was a ping-pong ball in the Greek kings’ wars that were spanning generations. Jonathan sided with one Greek King, Alexander Balas—husband of Cleopatra Thea from the last post—and was rewarded with the title of High Priest/Ruler of the Jews after seven years without a High Priest.(152-142 BC) (Antiquities of the Jews XIII.II.2-3)
When Jonathan was also killed by “treachery,” and young Onias IV son of the last true High Priest of the old order had decamped to Egypt[i] (ca 143 B.C.). Jonathan’s younger brother, Simon, was then officially awarded the dynastic High Priesthood by the priests and the multitudes, thereby establishing the House of the Hasmoneans, named for Judas Maccabee’s grandfather. (ca 142-135 B.C.)
And the Jews and their priests resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever… and that he should be their general…and that he should wear purple and gold. I Maccabees 14:41-42
But would the 15-generation Oniad/Jesus son of Josadeck House who took power after the last Davidic son was ousted from ruling after the return from Babylon, just turn over the High Priesthood to the upstart priest Simon. He was heroic and the nation owed their continued existence to them, yes, but they were of lessor priestly ranking. And why did their heir, young Onias IV run off to Egypt in the first place and not stay and fight for the High Priesthood of his father’s house. Perhaps Onias IV was unfit to rule in the Temple for some reason. What does a ruling House, be it High Priest or King, do under the circumstances when a male of the line can’t take the head position…or the people don’t want him too? By now we know that from the days of David the King that the old House marries their daughter to the new guy…and either the new guy assimilates into the old House…as we will see as we go along…or…they start a new ruling house…as Simon the Hasmonean was allowed to do.
So why did the House of Onias allow a new House of the Hasmoneans to inherit the role of High Priest?
Working from hindsight, knowing about an event that comes a bit later, and now being aware of the role of daughters of rulers/kings/high priests/princes of the congregation, this is what I think happened. I’m already in over my head, but here goes.
The Books of the Maccabees tell us that the children of Onias III were held as hostages by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek king bent on destroying the Jews. After years of war, when the Jews had won back their right to rule their nation again under Judas’ brother Jonathan, one of the first things Jonathan does is release the hostages and captives. We first hear of Onias IV, heir to the Oniad High Priesthood, in this same section where Jonathan released the captives, as told by I Maccabees and Josephus. But Onias IV does not become the next High Priest, as was his due. No reason is definitively given but during the same time frame Jonathan is “killed by treachery” which would leave the door open for Onias IV…one would think…But that is not what happened. Jonathan’s younger brother Simon was made the High Priest for life and for his House to become the dynastic High Priestly House…by the priests of Jerusalem. So, what happened?
I think that when Simon and his House were given the High Priesthood “until a Prophet should come” it was because he married a daughter of Onias III…it would have been her due as the daughter of the last ruler to marry the next ruler…and because Simon was a member of the heroic family/priestly house that saved them all from the Greeks. That left Onias IV with no path to the High Priesthood, and he took off for Egypt. It would have been helpful if not necessary for Simon to have the High Priest’s daughter by his side at his coronation…as David had to have Michal daughter of Saul by his side. She is the elephant in the room. (See www.jewishvirtuallibrary, Jewish History.org, Jewish Women’s Archives)
A High Priest’s Daughter
At last, a woman of a High Priestly house enters history, though unnamed. She will later be a heroine in her own right and a symbol of unity for the nation…and perhaps the woman behind the widow with seven sons’ story of martyrdom. Because after a fairly peaceful reign, (144-135 B.C.) Simon was also killed by “treachery.” An ambitious son-in-law strikes…as often happens:
Ptolemy son of Abubus, who had been made governor over the plain of Jericho…was the son-in-law of the high priest… plotted deceitfully against Simon and his sons to remove them. I Maccabees 16:11-14
Ptolemy killed Simon and two of his sons and took his mother-in-law, our unnamed wife of Simon and her two younger sons captive and used her to set a trap to kill a third son, “young” John Hyrcanus who inherited his father’s “kingdom.”
So Ptolemy retired to one of the fortresses that was above Jericho, which was called Dagon. But Hyrcanus having taken the high priesthood that had been his father’s before…made an expedition against Ptolemy…and was rendered weaker than he, by the commiseration he had for his mother and his brethren…for Ptolemy brought them upon the wall, and tormented them in sight of all, and threatened that he would throw them down headlong, unless Hyrcanus would leave off the siege…However, his mother spread out her hands, and begged of him that he would not grow remiss on her account…and that he would do his utmost to take the place quickly…and then to avenge upon him what he had done to those that were dearest to himself; for that death would be to her sweet, though with torment, if that enemy of theirs might but be brought to punishment for his wicked dealings to them. Antiquities of the Jews XIII.VIII.1, I Maccabees 16)
…But John’s case was this: When he considered the courage of his mother, and heard her entreaty, he set about his attacks; but when he saw her beaten, and torn to pieces with the stripes, he grew feeble, and was entirely overcome by his affections. And as the siege was delayed by this means, the year of rest came on, upon which the Jews rest every seventh year, therefore, Ptolemy was freed from being besieged, and slew the brethren of John with their mother…Wars of the Jews XI.II.4
Hyrcanus had just taken over the High Priesthood. He could not save his mother because a Sabbath Year had just then begun. It was required of Jews that they abstain from work for one year every seventh year and war was work. He had no choice but to follow the Law and break the siege and withdraw, leaving his mother a martyr to the Sabbath Year—the ultimate number seven.
[i] The story of how the Onias IV took off for Egypt and built a Temple there, believe it or not, will be an issue in the life of a Queen named Mariamne/Mary in the days of Herod…and by extension for Mary mother of Jesus.
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