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Hyrca'nus, Joannes

Ὑρκανός), prince and high-priest of the Jews, was the son and successor of Simon Maccabaeus, the restorer of the independence of Judaea. In B. C. 137, Antiochus VII. having established himself on the throne of Syria after the defeat and death of Tryphon, determined to effect the reduction of Judaea to its former condition of a tributary province of the Syrian monarchy, and sent a force, under his general, Cendebeus, to invade the country. Simon, being now a man of advanced years, confided the command of the force which he opposed to them, to his two sons, Judas and Joannes Hyrcanus: they were completely successful, defeated Cendebeus, and drove him out of Judaea. But Simon did not long enjoy the fruits of this victory, being treacherously seized and assassinated by his son-in-law, Ptolemy, the governor of Jericho, B. C. 135. Two of his sons, Judas and Mattathias, perished with him, but Hyrcanus escaped the snares of the assassin, and assumed the dignity of high-priest and prince of the Jews, and advanced with an army against Ptolemy, who took refuge in the fortress of Dagon, where he was able to defy the arms of Hyrcanus. It is not improbable that the crime of Ptolemy had been previously concerted with Antiochus Sidetes: at least, that monarch immediately took advantage of it to invade Judaea with a large army; and, Hyrcanus being unable to meet him in the field, laid siege to Jerusalem itself. The siege was closely pressed, and the Jews suffered severely from famine; but at length Antiochus consented to conclude a treaty, by which Jerusalem and its inhabitants were spared, on condition of the fortifications being dismantled and the payment of an annual tribute, B. C. 133. (J. AJ 13.7. §§ 3, 4, 8.1-3, B. J. 1.2.5; 1 Mace. xv. xvi.; Just. 36.1.; Diod. Exc. Hoesch. 34.1.; Plut. Apophth. p. 184. f.; Euseb. Arm. p. 167.) Four years afterwards Hyrcanus accompanied Antiochus in his expedition against Parthia, and bore an important part in his first successes, but returned with his auxiliaries to Jerusalem, at the approach of winter, by which means he fortunately escaped the final disaster that overwhelmed the Syrian king and his army. But as soon as he heard of the death of Antiochus, he took advantage of the unsettled state of the Syrian monarchy to prosecute his own schemes, reduced several cities on the confines of Judaea; among others, Sichem, in Samaria, and destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim: after which he completely subdued the Idumaeans, whom he compelled to adopt the laws and customs of the Jews. (J. AJ 13.9.1.) At the same time he took a still more important measure in order to secure his independence, by sending an embassy to Rome, which was favourably received by the senate, who confirmed the alliance already concluded by them with Simon. (Id. ibid § 2.)

Demetrius II., who had returned from his captivity in Parthia, and re-established himself on the throne of Syria, after the death of his brother, Antiochus, was preparing to direct his arms against Jndaea, when he was prevented by the breaking out of the civil war, which ended in his own defeat and death, B. C. 125. Hyrcanus afterwards concluded an alliance with the pretender, Alexander Zebina, but does not appear to have afforded him any active assistance: his object was not to take part in the civil wars that distracted the Syrian monarchy, but to take advantage of these to strengthen and extend his own power, for which the ceaseless contests of the Seleucidae among themselves left him free scope. A long interval elapsed, during which he appears to have been content to govern Judaea in peace, and the country is said to have enjoyed the utmost prosperity under his mild and equitable rule, while he himself amassed vast treasures. At length, he felt sufficient confidence in his own strength to invade Samaria, and lay siege to the city of that name, which had been for ages the rival and enemy of Jorusalem. The Samarians invoked the assistance of Antiochus Cyzicenus, who advanced with an army to their support, but was defeated by Antigonus and Aristonus, the two sons of Hyrcanus; his generals, Epicrates and Callimander, were equally unsuccessful: and Samaria, at length, fell into the hands of Ilyrcanus, who razed to the ground the hated city, B. C. 109. (Joseph. Ant. xiii. 9. § 3. 10.1-3. B. J. 1.2.7.) The tranquillity of the latter years of his reign appears to have been in some measure disturbed by the dissensions between the two powerful sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees; Hyrcanus, who had been at first attached to the former party, quitted them on some disgust, and threw himself into the arms of their rivals. But these disputes did not break out into open insurrection, and Hyrcanus closed his long reign in peace and prosperity. There is much confusion in the chronology of Josephus, who in one place assigns to Hyrcanus a reign of thirty-one years, in another one of thirty-three: Eusebius, on the contrary, allows him only twenty-six: it appears probable that he reigned in fact between twenty-nine and thirty years, and died in B. C. 106, or the beginning of 105. He left five sons, of whom the eldest, Aristobulus, succeeded him. (J. AJ 13.10.5-7, B. J. 1.2.8; Euseb. Arm. p. 94.)

Although Joannes Hyrcanus did not himself assume the title of king, he may be justly regarded as the founder of the monarchy of Judaea, which continued in his family till the accession of Herod. The foregoing genealogical table exhibits the line of the kings and princes of the Asamonean race, as well as their descent from the Maccabees.


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hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 13.7
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 13.10.5
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 13.10.7
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 13.9.1
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