High priest; prince of the Hasmonean family; born about 175; died 104 (Schürer). He was a wise and just ruler and a skilful warrior. As a young man he distinguished himself as a general in the war against the Syrian general Cendebeus, whom he defeated. That John was given the surname "Hyrcanus" on account of this victory, is a tradition to which Grätz and others attribute historical significance. When his father, Simon Maccabeus, was assassinated at Jericho by his son-in-law Ptolemy, John succeeded in escaping from those sent by Ptolemy to murder him also. From Gadara, where he at that time lived, John hastened to Jerusalem, where the people gladly received him as Simon's successor (135). He never assumed the title of king, being content with that of high priest. The beginning of his reign was not happy. He could not avenge the murder of his father, for Ptolemy, whom he had shut up in the fort Dagon, subjected Hyrcanus' mother to cruel tortures on the walls of the fort whenever her son attempted to attack it. Hyrcanus, therefore, raised the siege after several months, although his mother bore the tortures with heroic determination, and encouraged him to punish the murderer. Finally, however, she was put to death, as was, presumably, an imprisoned brother also; while Ptolemy himself fled to Rabbath Ammon (Philadelphia; 135 B.C.).

Copper Coin of Hyrcanus.Obverse: —"Johanan the High Priest and the 'Senate' of the Jews," within a laurel wreath.Reverse: two cornucopiæ; in the middle a poppy-head.(After Madden, "History of Jewish Coinage.")Besieged by Antiochus Sidetes.

A still greater danger threatened Hyrcanus when the Syrian king Antiochus Sidetes marched against Jerusalem with a large army, and besieged him. The besieged suffered from lack of provisions; the besiegers from lack of water. Hyrcanus found himself forced into the apparent cruelty of driving out of the city all who could not carry arms. After Antiochus had unsuccessfully besieged the city during an entire summer, he was willing, in view of the danger which menaced him from the east, to enter into peace negotiations. Hyrcanus asked an armistice of seven days, extending over the Feast of Tabernacles, which was granted. Hard pressed, Hyrcanus willingly agreed to the terms of peace. The Jews were compelled to surrender their weapons and pay tribute for Joppa and for some other towns which formerly were Syrian. In preference to having Jerusalem occupied by Syrian troops, Hyrcanus gave hostages (among whom was his own brother), and undertook to pay five hundred talents of silver, of which three hundred were demanded at once. He is said to have taken this sum from the treasure in David's sepulcher. In conformity with another stipulation the battlements on the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed.

Alliance with the Romans.

In 130 Hyrcanus, as a vassal of the Syrian king, marched against the Parthians. Antiochus Sidetes fell in the ensuing battle, or (as Appian, "De Rebus Syriacis," ch. 68, states), in despair at his ignominious defeat (129), sought death. His brother, Demetrius II., ascended the throne for the second time, but retained it for only a short period. Hyrcanus now seized the opportunity presented by the weaknessof the Syrian kingdom to extend the borders of Judea to the line it had held in the days of its prosperity. To shake off the Syrian bondage and enlarge his domains, he endeavored to form an alliance with the Romans. To this end he followed the example set by his predecessor, and sent an embassy to Rome. A great deal of confusion, however, exists with regard to this embassy and the senatorial enactments connected with it (see Josephus, "Ant." xiii. 9, § 2; xiv. 10, § 22; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 500 et seq.; Werner, "Johann Hyrcan," pp. 33 et seq.).

Forcibly Converts the Edomites.

Hyrcanus, who had been confirmed by the Romans in the possession of the important seaport of Joppa, subjugated other Syrian towns, such as Berœa (Aleppo). He marched against the fort of Madaba, on the banks of the Jordan, which had always been hostile to the Hasmoneans, and conquered it after a six months' siege; he also conquered the town of Samaya (Samega), on the Sea of Galilee, of special importance on account of its geographical position. He then proceeded against the Samaritans, who had always sided with the enemies of the Jews. He conquered Shechem, one of the most important towns of Samaria, and destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim (21st Kislew = December, about 120). After victoriously ending the war in Samaria, he proceeded to subdue the Edomites, always a menace to the southern parts of his domains. With funds which he is said to have obtained from David's sepulcher he hired foreign troops, dismantled Adora and Marissa, the strong places of Edom, and forced the Edomites to accept the Jewish religion and submit to circumcision. This is the first instance of forcible conversion in Jewish history. In this Hyrcanus allowed his zeal for the Jewish cause to lead him to take a step which later wrought harm; for to the Edomites belonged the family of the Herodians, who were to bring about the ruin of the Hasmoneans. The Samaritans, who still held their strongly fortified metropolis of Samaria, with a part of Jezreel, remained hostile toward the Jews. For this reason Hyrcanus renewed his attacks upon them. He marched against Samaria at the head of a great army, but as his presence in Jerusalem was necessary, he left the siege of the former city to his two sons, Aristobulus and Antigonus.

Ruins of the Palace of Hyrcanus.(After Vogüé, "Syrie Centrale.")

The war was unexpectedly prolonged by the interference of the Syrian king, Antiochus IX.; and after he had been defeated by Aristobulus, the Egyptian prince Lathyrus, son of Ptolemy Physcon, was called to the Syrians' assistance. Aristobulus and Antigonus not only conquered the whole of the Plain of Jezreel, especially the important town of Bethsan (Scythopolis; June, 110 or 111), but also, five months later (25th Ḥeshwan = November), took the fort of Samaria. The latter was completely demolished, and water-trenches were dug through the town. Hyrcanus had refortified the walls of Jerusalem, had secured the independence of Judea, and had raised it to a level with the neighboring states. During his reign the different religious sects in the country—Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes—became firmly established. Hyrcanus, who was a pupil of the Pharisees, remained long the faithful adherent of the latter, although he had friends also among the Sadducees. Several of his religious ordinancesshowed his Pharisaic sympathies; thus, he ordered Ps. xliv. stricken from the Temple liturgy on the ground that its anthŕopomorphisms might give rise to misunderstanding; and he ordered that animals destined for the altar should not be wounded before the time for slaughter.

Opposes the Sanhedrin.

But when Hyrcanus withdrew all religious authority from the Sanhedrin, the love he had enjoyed was changed to a hatred which was soon openly declared. At a great festival to which he invited the leaders of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he asked whether the Pharisees had any matter which they desired to bring before him; whereupon a certain Eleazar ben Po'era demanded that he should be content with the temporal power, and should lay aside the diadem of the high priest. According to another source, an old man named Judah ben Gedidim is said to have declared that, Hyrcanus' mother having been held captive in Modin by the enemy, Hyrcanus, as the son of a captive, could not legally be high priest (Josephus, "Ant." xiii. 10, § 5; Ḳid. 66a). Hyrcanus ordered an investigation, and the statement concerning his mother was proved to be untrue. He then requested the Sanhedrin to punish his traducer, but the latter was sentenced to flagellation only. Hyrcanus then joined the Sadducees, without, however, as some assert, persecuting the Pharisees. He suspended the Pharisaic rules, and made the Sadducean statutes the standard for the interpretation of the Law. It must be noted that Hyrcanus, or Johanan, the high priest, is not always referred to when that name is mentioned in the Talmud.

John Hyrcanus, who, as Josephus says, was endowed with three godly gifts—the temporal power, the dignity of a high priest, and the gift of prophecy—died after a reign of thirty years. His death ended the power of the young Jewish kingdom.

  • Josephus, Ant. xiii.;
  • C. Werner, Joh. Hyrcan (with full bibliography), Wernigerode, 1877;
  • Grätz, Gesch. iii. 69 et seq.;
  • Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, i. 201-234 et seq.;
  • Schürer, Gesch. i. 256 et seq.;
  • H. Holtzmann, Judenthum und Christenthum, pp. 121-137 et seq.
G. M. K.
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