son of King Demetrius, sent a letter from the islands of the sea to Simon, the
priest and ethnarch of the Jews, and to all the nation,
COMMENTARY: That would be Antiochus VII
Sidetes, the twenty year old son of Darius I and younger brother of Darius II
who currently pines in Parthian custody.
“Islands of the Sea” refer to the islands that belong to Greece. Antiochus came most lately from Rhodes, one
of the largest and most important islands, where he learned of his brother’s
imprisonment, though he was brought up in Sides (hence the name “Sidetes”.)
2) which read as follows:
Antiochus sends greetings to Simon, the high priest and ethnarch, and to the
COMMENTARY: So the new administration
confirms Simon’s titles, although in fact he’s claiming the title of “King”
prematurely. His brother is still quite
alive. Sort of king pro tem.
3) Whereas certain villains have gained
control of the kingdom of our ancestors, I intend to reclaim it, that I may
restore it to its former state. I have recruited a large number of mercenary
troops and equipped warships.
COMMENTARY: “There’s a new sheriff in
town, and I’ve got the firepower to take back what’s ours.” Warships might seem useless in desert combat,
but he had to get the troops there somehow.
intend to make a landing in the country so that I may take revenge on those who
have ruined our country and laid waste many cities in my kingdom.
COMMENTARY: This phrase, seemingly referring
to Trypho, turned out to be more loaded than it appeared.
5) “Now, therefore, I
confirm to you all the tax exemptions that the kings before me granted you and
whatever other privileges they conceded to you. 6) I authorize you to coin your own money,
as legal tender in your country. 7) Jerusalem and its sanctuary shall be
free. All the weapons you have prepared and all the strongholds you have built
and now occupy shall remain in your possession. 8) All debts, present or future, due to
the royal treasury shall be canceled for you, now and for all time. 9)
When we establish our
kingdom, we will greatly honor you and your nation and the temple, so that your
glory will be manifest in all the earth.”
COMMENTARY: “So you don’t have to do
anything messy while I’m occupied with fighting, such as trying your luck with
some other king.” But he needs to add
something novel to the stakes in order to also get the Jews to side with him
should his brother escape unexpectedly, so he adds the valuable touch of
letting Simon mint his own coins. Simon
had been doing that already, anyway, as a sign of Judea’s independence, so
Antiochus might also have been “making a virtue of necessity” as my Grandma
would have said.
The coins count in “Years of Simon” and start in Year
One. Oddly enough, although Simon ruled
for seven years, the dates on all Simon-era coins found so far go no further
than five. Why, at this point, is anybody’s
Also interesting is that while these coins bore all
inscriptions in Hebrew letters, later Hasmodian royals issued them stamped in
Greek instead, and without their names on the coins. This shows the erosion of Jewish
In true Jewish fashion, no coin ever bore a portrait of anyone. Simon’s bore a palm tree between baskets of
dates. Later coins bore such things as a
cup, a branch of lilies, a pod of grapes, a palm, and similar symbols. The Israelites believed that idolatry often
began with commemorating a lost loved one with a portrait, and then idealizing
that loved one into godhood. In some
cases they were probably correct.
10) In the one hundred
and seventy-fourth year Antiochus
invaded the land of his ancestors, and all the troops rallied to him, so that
few were left with Trypho.
COMMENTARY: We’re at 138 BC. Trypho has not exactly charmed those he’s
11) Pursued by Antiochus, Trypho fled to
Dor, by the sea,
COMMENTARY: Dor was a coastal fortress
fifteen miles south of Carmel. (That’s around twenty-four kilometers, for those
of you in practically every other country but the stubborn USA.) Currently it’s known as Tanturah.
12) realizing what
troubles had come upon him now that his soldiers had deserted him.
COMMENTARY: The most tyrannical monarch
still needs the consent of somebody else to empower him—an army, financiers,
13) Antiochus encamped
before Dor with a hundred and twenty thousand infantry and eight thousand
COMMENTARY: Commentators agree that this
is not a likely number; the sparse populace of the region couldn’t sustain such
he surrounded the city, his ships closed from the sea, so that he pressed it
hard by land and sea and let no one go in or out.
COMMENTARY: One of the most basic
strategies, and most effective if you can pull it off: get your enemy between
two jaws and close them.
15) Meanwhile, Numenius and his companions
came from Rome with letters containing this message to various kings and
COMMENTARY: Numenius has finally made
the trip back home, his mission a success.
He carries a copy of a circular letter to Rome’s allies, subjects, and
16) “Lucius, Consul of the Romans, sends greetings to King
COMMENTARY: Lucius might be Lucius
Calpurnius Piso, Or Lucius Caecilius Metellus, who were consuls back to back;
the timing fits within a few years that could have been during the consulate of
either. King Ptolemy, on the other hand,
is always the Egyptian monarch, conveniently enough, when it’s not Cleopatra.
17) Ambassadors of the Jews, our friends
and allies, have come to us to renew their earlier friendship and alliance.
They had been sent by Simon the high priest and the Jewish people,
COMMENTARY: An earlier translation says
“renew their old friendship and confederacy”, but in fact this alliance was
barely twenty-five years old.
18) and they brought
with them a gold shield of a thousand minas.
COMMENTARY: As discussed before, an
impressive gift, boasting wealth and offering mutual protection.
19) Therefore we have
decided to write to various kings and countries, that they are not to venture
to harm them, or wage war against them or their cities or their country, and
are not to assist those who fight against them.
COMMENTARY: This might sound encouraging
and protective, but it’s also patronizing in the oldest sense of the word. Roman society structured itself on the
supremacy of the Patriarch. They based
every level of rule on the family, each level nesting inside a larger family
like a series of Russian dolls—households were families within the family of
the city, within the family of the country, until you got to the Senate. Eventually they, too, came under the
patriarchy of the Emperor, but not quite yet.
Basically practically everybody in the Roman system belonged to somebody
The father of a family owned that family—even the word “familia” most often
referred to the patriarch’s slaves, though it also included his wife, children,
grandchildren, concubines and poor relations.
He cherished them more than American slavemasters ever did their slaves,
took an interest in their well-being and displayed his magnanimity proudly, not
to mention fulfilling his duty to defend them from aggressors, but they had to
obey him explicitly no matter what he commanded, and he had the authority to
have them beaten or killed if they displeased him. He decided who married who, who took what
career path, and even whether a woman in his familia could keep her baby or had
to expose the child.
Even if he freed a slave, which was often the case, that freedman would still
owe him fealty; freedom simply meant an increase in civic rights and the
ability to own his own business. It often came in handy to free a slave, as the
noble class could not engage in vulgar trade, drawing income only from their
land and their tenants, but setting up an astute freedman with some business capital
could pay back the investment handsomely, a percentage of all profits being
owed back to the patriarch, and the freedman would have plenty left over to enrich
himself quite well, and acquire slaves of his own. So well, in fact, that sometimes a former
slave could then become a power-broker to other nobles down on their financial
luck, in return for legal favors that a freedman couldn’t obtain for himself.
Also, if his son by blood displeased him, a patriarch could disown him and
adopt one of his slaves as the heir instead.
Slaves could and did maneuver to ingratiate themselves to their masters
while casting aspersions on the heir, or maneuver to get sold or gifted into a
more agreeable familia.
As the familia, so too the village, so too the city-state, so too the country,
so too the empire. The titles changed,
but each leader functioned as a patriarch, and all beneath him were his
children and his slaves.
So, in effect, what Rome is saying to other nations is, “Leave Judea
alone. She is mine.” With all the pluses and minuses that this
20) We have also decided to accept the
shield from them.
COMMENTARY: “Decided” implies that
they’re doing Judea a favor. No thank
you, no least indication of gratitude, but instead the patriarch accepts the
responsibility of one more child. It’s a
gracious put-down of the extravagance of the gift.
21) If, then, any troublemakers from their country take refuge
with you, hand them over to Simon the high priest, so that he may punish them
according to their law.”
COMMENTARY: Here the patriarch
establishes the right for Simon to be patriarch of his own familia, as a Roman
father might support his son’s authority over his grandchildren. In this case he’s giving Simon permission to
hunt down lax Jews who fled the country, in order to impose his version of
Mosaic law upon them.
This suits Rome’s purposes, because these communities, Pagans all, are unlikely
to cooperate much with turning Jews over for punishment for the crime of acting
Pagan. Which means that any time Rome
wants to pick a quarrel with any of these nations, say to make a land grab or
secure greater power, they can always accuse them of not abiding by a legal
requirement and therefore being in rebellion.
All hands rise against the bully who takes whatever he wants just
because he wants it, but a figleaf of legality makes people hesitate until too
late to resist.
22) The consul sent identical letters to
Kings Demetrius, Attalus,
Ariarthes and Arsaces;
COMMENTARY: That would be Attalus II of
Pergamum, Ariarthes V of Cappadocia, And Arsaces VI AKA Mithridates I of
Parthia, who would no doubt be kind enough to convey Demetrius’s letter to him
while holding him in custody.
23) to all the countries—Sampsames, the
Spartans, Delos, Myndos, Sicyon, Caria, Samos, Pamphylia, Lycia, Halicarnassus,
Rhodes, Phaselis, Cos, Side, Aradus, Gortyna, Cnidus, Cyprus, and Cyrene.
COMMENTARY: Sampsames probably referred
to the citizens of Samsoun, a seaport in Pontus.
Sparta, as you’ll recall,
was an ally of Simon’s.
Tiny Delos was included
more for its spiritual authority than its temporal power, being sacred to Apollo,
as it never had many people, and occasionally stood deserted altogether. Currently fourteen people live on this island
(as of 2018.)
Myndos, now Mentesche, was
a seaport in Caria, near Halicarnassus.
Sicyon was the strong,
ancient and influential capitol city of Sicyonia on the north Peloponnesian
coast, west of Corinth.
Caria was a whole country,
on the southwest coast of what is now Turkey, as are many of these places.
Samos was a Greek island
separated from Asia by just a narrow strait.
Pamphylia was an Asian
nation on the coast between Lycia and Cilicia.
Lycia has the
Mediterranean to the south, Pamphylia to the east, Caria to the west, and
Phrygia to the north. They had a
reputation for skilled archers, which would make it doubly important to warn
fortress-capitol of Caria, had a pugnacious reputation as having put up an
unusually good fight against Alexander the Great. So they got their own letter, in addition to
the one for Caria in general. I guess
they needed warned off twice.
Rhodes, an important
island south of the Carian coast, lately hosted Antiochus, mentioned at the
start of this chapter. She also hosted
one of the Seven Wonders of the World in the form of a giant statue of Apollo,
AKA the Colossus of Rhodes, straddling the entrance to their harbor. (And to answer the question that some might
not wish to admit to, as to the view from ships sailing in, no, the Greeks were
not shy about anatomically correct statues of their deities. Artists of a more modest era, however, have
depicted the Colossus with a loincloth.)
technically a major seaport of Lycia, required its own separate letter due to
it being, at this time, a pirate haven not actually following Lycian law. It helps to be able to sail out of archery range.
Cos, now called Zia, is one of the Cyclades, about 15 miles or 24 kilometers
off from Halicarnassus.
Side is a seaport of Pamphylia, here especially honored with its own letter as
the childhood home of the current semiofficial king of the Seleucids.
Aradus, a significant
island city, held a strategic position opposite the mouth of the Eleutherus
Gortyna was a major city
of Crete, so a letter there effectively addressed the entire island nation and
whatever bits remained of its erstwhile empire.
Cnidus, a town on a
promontory of Caria, merited its own letter on account of being sacred to
Venus, and hosting a marble statue of the same by the famous sculptor,
Cyrene was the capitol of
Libya in Northern Africa, important to Judea because many Jews fled the Greek
conquests to live there. At this point
Jews made up a fourth of their population.
None of these were, strictly speaking, subjects of Rome at this time. All of them harbored Jews who had fled the
copy of the letter was also sent to Simon the high priest.
COMMENTARY: Logically enough.
25) When King Antiochus encamped before
Dor, he assaulted it continuously both with troops and with the siege engines
he had made. He blockaded Trypho by preventing anyone from going in or out.
COMMENTARY: Now, back to the Seleucids
and their wars to patch their fading glory back together.
26) Simon sent to Antiochus’ support two
thousand elite troops, together with silver and gold and much equipment.
COMMENTARY: As agreed.
27) But he refused to
accept the aid; in fact, he broke all the agreements he had previously made
with Simon and became hostile toward him.
COMMENTARY: Very odd. If he merely intended duplicity, he would
have broken off relations after receiving the silver, gold and equipment. Josephus says that Antiochus himself had
requested the aid, and accepted it. Some
have suggested that there were two sieges, and Antiochus fell out with Simon
sometime between the first and the second.
28) He sent
Athenobius, one of his Friends, to confer with Simon and say: “You are
occupying Joppa and Gazara and the citadel of Jerusalem; these are cities of my
COMMENTARY: This twenty year old might
not have realized, from Rhodes, the strategic importance of Joppa and Gazara,
only realizing what Simon had taken from the Seleucids during the war. The citadel, of course, mattered as a vantage
point to keep an eye on Simon.
29) You have laid
waste their territories, done great harm to the land, and taken possession of
many districts in my kingdom.
COMMENTARY: One cannot conduct war
without laying waste and doing great harm, even in a revolution to free one’s
own homeland. But it always makes a
great accusation, as if the victor just wantonly ran around trashing places for
the fun of it.
30) Now, therefore, give up the cities you
have seized and the tribute money of the districts you control outside the
territory of Judea; 31)
or instead, pay me five hundred
talents of silver for the devastation you have caused and five hundred talents
more for the tribute money of the cities. If you do not do this, we will come
and make war on you.”
COMMENTARY: From Antiochus’s
perspective, he’s not reneging on his bargain.
He just didn’t consider Joppa, Gazara, and the Citadel of Jerusalem part
of the deal, since Seleucid Greeks built the original fortresses there.
From Simon’s perspective, the vague wording of the
agreement sent to him could be read as giving Simon permission to hold any
territory that he had seized so far.
Antiochus said that he could keep any fortress that he’d built, and Simon’s
counting repairing and improving fortresses that he and his brothers had torn
apart as “building”.
32) So Athenobius, the
king’s Friend, came to Jerusalem and on seeing the splendor of Simon’s court,
the gold and silver plate on the sideboard, and his rich display, he was
amazed. When he gave him the king’s message,
COMMENTARY: Not necessarily amazed in a
good way. Vassal nations shouldn’t
outshine their masters.
33) Simon said to him
in reply: “It is not foreign land we have taken nor have we seized the property
of others, but only our ancestral heritage which for a time had been unjustly
held by our enemies.
COMMENTARY: “Enemies” being the Seleucid
Empire—an awkward thing to say to the Seleucid Emperor. Simon may act as diplomatically as he can
within limits, but his just sense of entitlement to his own heritage sets those
limits. However he might play the part,
he does not see his people as a Vassal nation.
34) Now that we have
the opportunity, we are holding on to the heritage of our ancestors.
COMMENTARY: “Heritage” in this sense
means the partitions of Israel/Judea as defined by prophets speaking for
God. Temporal kings can’t really compete
with a claim like that.
I can relate to this. Centuries ago, the
priests of Spain, frustrated with the impossibility of trying to get the Yaqui
people in Mexico to submit to Spanish authority (especially since we had
defeated them in battle.) They figured
that if we settled down and stayed put they could control us (poor naifs!) so
they told us to build seven missions and live permanently around them in seven
“Says who?” quoth the Yaquis.
“Says God!” quoth the priests.
“Oh, so God has given us this land? And you have come all this way to tell
us? Thank you! You can leave now—we’ll take it from here.” And so the Yaquis have fought unyieldingly
ever since to stay in control of the land God gave us. And He has certainly taken our side, one way
or another, despite the harshest persecutions, to make the Yoeme, the Yaqui
people, the Undefeated Tribe.
Much in the Bible has an especial resonance for
Yaquis. Tales of exile and return, struggles and victories, deliverance and
35) As for Joppa and Gazara, which you
demand, those cities were doing great harm to our people and our country. For
these we will give you a hundred talents.” Athenobius made no reply,
COMMENTARY: From Simon’s point of view,
he’s being fair. He concedes that Joppa
and Gazara weren’t part of the original heritage given to the Jewish
people. However, they’re much too
strategic to let go of now; where they made strong bases for enemies before,
they could again.
Still, he’s underpricing them. A hundred
talents is an extravagant amount for an individual, who could retire on that
sum, but not for two entire cities of major importance. Would you sell Los Angeles and San Diego
combined for a million dollars?
On the other hand, a
thousand talents is also unreasonable.
Judea would have struggled to pay that off for generations. Simon might have assumed that Antiochus
intended to bargain; a good bargainer always starts with an unreasonable sum,
so that whatever follows after feels like a good deal. But Asians bargained more than Europeans;
something might have gotten lost in the translation.
Why would Antiochus have
asked such a ghastly amount, if he wasn’t bargaining? Because his country was still paying off the
ghastly amount demanded of them by Rome! But he didn’t have Rome’s legions to make it
36) but returned to the king in anger. When he told him of
Simon’s words, of his splendor, and of all he had seen, the king fell into a
COMMENTARY: As in violently breaking
things. Athenobius, in contrast, didn’t
“fall into” anger, he was just angry.
When someone in the Bible “falls into” a rage it implies loss of
control, the helplessness of someone no longer having his footing. (Or, as one translation has it, he was
“exceeding wroth”, as in exceeding the limits of good sense.)
37) Trypho had boarded
a ship and escaped to Orthosia.
COMMENTARY: Oh yeah, Trypho. Remember him?
He might not be much of leader, but he’s always been a slippery
rascal. Leave it to him to take advantage
of any distraction that presents itself!
A different account says that Trypho first fled to Ptolemais and only then made
his way from there to Orthosia, a port between Tripoli and the Eleutherus
River. Bottom line, he wasn’t where
Antiochus wanted him to be.
38) Then the king
appointed Cendebeus commander-in-chief of the seacoast, and gave him infantry
and cavalry forces. 39) He ordered him to
encamp against Judea and to fortify Kedron*
and strengthen its gates, so that he could wage war on the people. Meanwhile
the king went in pursuit of Trypho.
COMMENTARY: Once again, the fractured
Seleucid Empire faces two fronts at the same time. And once again it works to Judea’s advantage. Simon might not have been as saucy if he
hadn’t known that Antiochus also had to deal with Trypho. Young King Antiochus strikes me as a little
bit naive. Younger brothers don’t get
quite the same training in kingship as the eldest does—they’re Plan B heirs,
40) When Cendebeus came to Jamnia, he
began to harass the people and to make incursions into Judea, where he took
people captive and massacred them.
COMMENTARY: This translation makes it
sound as if the people were taken captive expressly for massacre—an act that
would have outraged all nations against the Seleucids. Actually, the text is talking about two
distinct groups, the captives and the massacred. Cendebeus’s forces attempted to take
civilians as slaves, and in many cases succeeded. However, the Jews were too riled up after
generations of fighting for their freedom to take enslavement passively, even
those among them who were not warriors.
A significant number resisted and went down fighting.
41) As the king ordered,
he fortified Kedron and stationed cavalry and infantry there, so that they
could go out and patrol the roads of Judea.
Kedron was a few miles south of Jamnia.
It matters because it faces the Gazara—the fortress held by Simon’s son,