Part 5 The Hasmonean Appeal
While Rome had been growing in success and power with no King in their Libera Res Publica, the kingdom of God continued to struggle under its royal burden. After the Maccabees revolt against the Syrians in 166 BC, Judea began to enjoy some independence as a political state. This independence from foreign control increased in 141 BC with the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty, a century before the first Caesar.
The Hasmoneans introduced a ‘new deal’ into the structure of Jewish government. They redefined the political and civil power of the kings and the charitable service of the Levites in the favor of both at the expense of the people. Prosperity bloomed but this new central power was soon to overshadow the people.
The civil power should have remained with the people, but it had not. The service of the people should have remained in the hands of the priesthood of estateless Levites, but it did not. The charitable contributions of the people to the government of Israel should have remained voluntary, but they did not. The Hasmoneans mingled the union of Church and State and diminished the power of the people to the corruption of all.
Israel, over the centuries, was returning to the same bondage and mire that had plagued man from the beginning. They had sought a series of kings who fulfilled the prophetic words in 1 Samuel Chapter 8. The Hasmonean Kings on the right hand of government conspired with the priestly ministers on the left. They allowed the Levites to own an estate in land. This allowed them to grow wealthy, while the people were placed under tribute as they were in Egypt. The office of minister in the kingdom became tempting to those who sought gain over giving and pride over purity.
In 78 BC the Pharisees, a political party, had an ordinance1 passed, requiring the temple tax be paid or the matter was handed over to the appointed civil magistrates of Judea for enforcement by the right hand of government. Funds flowed into the government’s temple whether it served the people or not. Now, with the top-down appointment of the courts, new legislated statutes, and the fornication of the priests, the government served the people less and the people served the government more.
In 66 BC, two brothers, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, began to battle for these created positions of power. Aristobulus appealed to the Roman world order and Pompey’s legions, which had been busy removing Lybian pirates from the Gulf of Sidra.2
Pompey sent Marcus Scaurus to settle the usurpation of Hyrcanus and Aretas. Aristobulus was secured, but later complained to Pompey that General Scaurus was corrupt and, included with his complaint, an impressive gift of gold.
In 63 BC, Pompey came to see for himself. After examining the details of Judaic law and listening to both sides of the case, he decided that Hyrcanus had a more legitimate claim.
The Pharisees requested the assistance of Pompey and his troops in the removal of Aristobulus and his Sadducee supporters who were barricaded in the temple. Pompey was a man of law with great respect for the customs of nations and their temples. To avoid sacrilege,3 he instructed his soldiers to carefully enter the temple and remove the usurpers only. He then honorably treated his former payment from Aristobulus as the golden bribe that it was and gave it all away to one of the charitable temples of Rome. Pompey even returned the priesthood to some of its original status, overruling some of the more blatant violations of the Hasmoneans.
Rome was in its own decline. After such a long history of dereliction of rights and responsibilities by the people and greedy corruption within the offices of Rome and God’s own kingdom, no one man was able to redeem Israel, or the world, from its decent into the mire of government and economic bondage and apostasy.
Socialization of Rome
Rome, as a world power, stayed on in the role of a peace-keeping force and to assist if another dispute arose over who would be king in the land of Israel, now called Judea. It also sought to protect its own commercial interest in banking and trade, which was increasing year by year as the citizens of Judea became more Hellenized and Romanized under the influence of these new and enticing ways.
With the centralization of power in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief of Rome, it had become the victim of its own crafty benevolence. All the citizenry contracted their way under the gratuitous Arch of Triumph. At one point, almost half of Rome was fed directly out of the private treasury of the Emperor, warranting a measure of loyalty. Many of the “free citizens” were idle, dissipated, and unproductive. Selfishness had replaced service, avarice replaced alms-giving, and apathy supplanted advocacy. The civil power moved from the people and their families into the hands of the organized State, where a vast bureaucracy became king and tyrant, according to the inevitable succession of history.4
There was little need for individual charity, for there was the government dole bringing in food necessities, 500,000,000 bushels of grain a year from Egypt alone. This grain was stockpiled and redistributed daily from warehouses along Trajan’s dock covering over 160 acres. With these massive giveaway programs in place, the local farmers needed to be subsidized.
There was a massive bureaucracy that administered these public works. Public offices to supplement the living standards of the average Roman were handed out like government contracts. The State as Father took care of and provided for its children, but at the price of liberty and freedom and the virtue they produce.
People, who need the personal choice of charity to maintain a healthy and strong community, were manumitted from their God-given responsibility into an enfranchised citizenry. Not everyone felt the sting of the whip with the population reaping such benefits. The poor worked the system, the rich were taxed to give them something about which to complain, but not so much that they stopped being the idle rich. The very rich could get around heavy taxes with bribes and lobbying for new regulations and loopholes. Eventually, the poor were resented because they were seen as the source of the dreaded tax collectors.
It was the honest, hard-working middle working class that were squeezed at both ends or some misguided weaker neighbor conquered. These systems never start out that way. At first, the rich or defeated pay the bill or prosperity is simply borrowed against the future at usurious rates of interest. Inevitably, the same adverse result prevail as the pig returns to its mire and the dog to its vomit.
1Salome- Alexandra (about 78 BC), that the Pharisaical party, being then in power, had carried an enactment by which the Temple tribute was to be enforced at law. Alfred Edersheim’s book The Temple.
2History does repeat itself. This same gulf has been the source of conflict from Pompey to Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. To know the future study the past.
3“…sacred moneys amounting to 2,000 talents, he touched none of these because of piety, and in this respect also he acted in a manner worthy of his virtuous character. And on the morrow he instructed the temple servants to cleanse the Temple and to offer the customary sacrifices to God…” Josephus, Ant. 14.72-3
4“We must realize that today’s Establishment is the new George III. Whether it will continue to adhere to his tactics, we do not know. If it does, the redress, honored in tradition, is also revolution… the truth is that the vast bureaucracy now runs this country, irrespective of what party is in power.” William O. Douglas (page 95, page 54).