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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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JOHN HYRCANUS

JOHN HYRCANUS was proclaimed high-priest and ruler of Judea in the place of his father. His first act was to march against the murderer Ptolemy. He besieged the fortress of Dagon, and would soon have taken it had not Ptolemy set the mother and brethren upon the wall and beaten them with rods, threatening to kill them unless Hyrcanus would raise the siege. The brave mother, however, cried out to her son not to be moved by the injuries she suffered, since she would rather die than that Ptolemy should go unpunished. Hyrcanus was sorely tried, and knew not what to do. For his mother's courage and her entreaties to him made him set about the attack, but when he saw her body torn with stripes, his love and pity for her made him desist. In this way the siege was delayed until the year of rest, for the Jews rested every seventh year as they did upon every seventh day. Ptolemy, being thus freed, slew John's mother and brethren and fled to a foreign country.

Meanwhile, Antiochus had gathered up an army and [290] marched into Judea. For he had been very angry at the defeat of his general, Cendebeus, by Simon, and had determined to avenge it at the first opportunity. He laid waste the country of the Jews, and came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Hyrcanus and his followers suffered so greatly from famine that they were forced to the sad necessity of sending out of the city all who were either too old or too young to assist in its defense. The besiegers refused to let them pass, and many of them perished miserably in the ditches near the walls of the city. But Antiochus proved a generous enemy. When the time for celebrating the feast of the tabernacle came round, Hyrcanus sent messengers to him asking for a week's truce, that the Jews might be able to offer up their sacrifices. Antiochus not only granted this request, but sent Hyrcanus a number of bulls with gilded horns and cups of gold and silver to be used in the sacrifices. The poor Jews who were outside of the walls received these presents from the Syrians, and were allowed to return with them into the city. Because of this generosity, Antiochus was ever after called the Pious.

At last Hyrcanus made a treaty with Antiochus. He promised to level the walls of Jerusalem, to pay a tribute every year to the king of Syria, to assist him in his wars, and to give him hostages, among others his own brother, as security for the faithful performance of these promises.

Then Antiochus raised the siege and returned to his own country.

Four years afterwards, John Hyrcanus was sent for by King Antiochus to assist him in a war against the Parthians. That nation still held his brother Demetrius a prisoner, and Antiochus wished to make them set him at liberty. Hyrcanus collected his forces and went with Antiochus, as he had agreed. The combined armies of the Jews and Syrians met the Parthians, and defeated them in a great battle. Then Hyrcanus obtained permission to return home. Antiochus continued the war alone, but was defeated and slain by the [291] king of the Parthians. Demetrius, however, managed to escape, and, coming to Antioch, he seized upon the throne of Syria. So much quarrelling then arose in that country, for there were others who claimed the kingdom, that Hyrcanus took the opportunity to free himself from the foreign yoke, and Judea no longer paid tribute to Syria.

Hyrcanus also made war against several of the nations around him who were the enemies of the Jews, and he defeated and subdued them. The victory which endeared him most to his people was his victory over the Samaritans. For several centuries the Jews and the Samaritans had looked upon one another with jealous eyes, and the mutual hatred had increased when the Samaritans built their rival temple at Gerizim. Hyrcanus first took Gerizim, and destroyed the temple there. Then he marched against the city of Samaria, where he left his army, under the command of his two sons, Antigonus and Aristobulus. The siege lasted for a long time, but, though the inhabitants called in the assistance of the king of Syria, they were at last obliged to yield, their city was entirely destroyed, and they themselves were carried off as slaves.

But though Hyrcanus prospered abroad in his wars, he found it difficult to preserve peace at home in his own city of Jerusalem. Two great parties had arisen there, called the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were continually quarrelling because they could not agree on many questions of religion. Hyrcanus sided at first with the Pharisees, who also at first were the favorites of the people, but afterwards he left them and sided with the Sadducees.

Now he did this for the following reason: He was one day at a great banquet given by the Pharisees, and while the guests were eating and drinking Hyrcanus asked them if they had any fault to find with the way he governed. Many of the Pharisees cried out that they had no fault to find with him, for Hyrcanus was a wise and prudent prince, and they were [292] well pleased with his government. But one among them, named Eleazar, who was of a cross temper, and who delighted in contradiction, rose, and said,—

"Since thou art anxious to know the truth, if thou wilt be righteous in earnest, lay down the high-priesthood and be satisfied with the civil government of the people."

Hyrcanus, surprised, asked why he ought to lay down the priesthood. And Eleazar answered,—

"We have heard from old men that thy mother was once a captive under Antiochus Epiphanes. Therefore thou art not fir to be a priest, for thou art the son of one who transgressed against the law of Moses and married a foreigner."

This story was false, and Hyrcanus was very angry with Eleazar. The other Pharisees also said that he had done wrong in making this remark.

Now there was one Jonathan, a Sadducee, who was a great friend of Hyrcanus. When he heard what had happened at the banquet he made Hyrcanus believe that Eleazar had only spoken what the other Pharisees had taught him to believe.

"To prove that this is so," said Jonathan, "ask the Pharisees what punishment the man deserves for making so wicked a speech, and you will find them willing to let him off with only a light punishment."

Hyrcanus therefore asked the Pharisees this question, and they answered, "Eleazar deserves to be publicly whipped, for it does not seem right to punish mere words with death."

Now the king thought the man deserved death for his speech; so he believed what Jonathan had told him, and was angry with the Pharisees, and left their party to go over to the Sadducees. In this way he excited the enmity of the Pharisees against him; and the people, also, who preferred the Pharisees, were less friendly to him that formerly.

Still, the remainder of Hyrcanus's reign was sufficiently peaceful and happy. He died after he had been ruler of the [293] Jews for thirty-one years, leaving five sons behind him. He was a very fortunate man, says Josephus, for he possessed the three most desirable things in the world,—the government of his people, the high-priesthood, and the gift of prophecy; concerning which last gift, it is related that God frequently conversed with him and revealed the future, and that among other things he predicted that his two eldest sons would not long continue in the government.


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