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HYRCANUS:

Collector of the royal revenues in Egypt; born in Jerusalem about 220 B.C.; died in 175; youngest son of the tax-farmer Joseph ben Tobiah by his second wife, the daughter of his brother Solymius. Displaying from his childhood the most extraordinary abilities and accomplishments, he became the favorite of his father, which predilection made his elder half-brother jealous, andsubsequently became a source of misery to the whole nation. His father, being unable on account of his infirmities to be present at an Egyptian court solemnity, sent Hyrcanus as his representative, the two elder half-brothers refusing to attend for reasons of their own. The occasion of the solemnity is unknown. It could not have been the birth of Ptolemy V., Epiphanes (209 B.C.), as Hyrcanus was then only eleven years old. His half-brothers wrote to their friends at court to put Hyrcanus out of the way.

Hyrcanus, promising his father to be very economical in all expenditures, obtained from the latter a letter of credit to his steward at Alexandria. He soon gained favor at court by his cleverness and by his adroitness of speech. He pleased Ptolemy and his courtiers by his wit and especially by his extravagant presents; and when he left Alexandria he himself was loaded with gifts. He was probably awarded also the office of tax-collector. His half-brothers, who had now still greater reason for jealousy, lay in wait to kill him; and even his father was incensed against him on account of the enormous sums he had spent. A battle ensued in which Hyrcanus and his companions killed two of his half-brothers. Fearing for his safety, Hyrcanus left Jerusalem.

At the death of Joseph the quarrels of the brothers were espoused by the people. The elder sons, out of hatred to Hyrcanus, who probably succeeded his father in office, sided with Antiochus against Egypt, and raised a Seleucidan party, while Hyrcanus and his adherents supported the Ptolemies. At the final triumph of the Seleucids, Hyrcanus took up his abode beyond the Jordan, in territory granted to him by Ptolemy V., and was at war continually with the Arabian and other tribes, which he obliged to pay taxes.

Hyrcanus erected a strong castle of white marble upon a rock near Heshban, and surrounded it with a wide moat of great depth. This castle was called "Tyrus." For seven years Hyrcanus remained in his retreat and accumulated immense wealth, a part of which was deposited in the Temple at Jerusalem (II Macc. iii. 11). At the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes the Tobiads renewed their hostilities against Hyrcanus and persuaded the new king to capture him. Hyrcanus, dreading an ignominious death, committed suicide.

Bibliography:
  • Josephus, Ant. xii. 4, §§ 6-11;
  • Grätz, Gesch. ii. 245 et seq.;
  • Adolf Büchler, Die Tobiaden und die Oniaden, passim;
  • Schürer, Gesch. i. 195 et seq.
G. I. Br.
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