Hyrcanus, John

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HYRCANUS, JOHN (Johanan ), ethnarch of Judea and high priest (135–104 b.c.e.), son of *Simeon the Hasmonean, and the most successful and energetic of rulers of the Hasmonean dynasty from the point of view of the consolidation and territorial expansion of Judea. Already during the lifetime of his father he played an important role in the defense of Judea and in the administration of the state. After his father and his two brothers were killed by his brother-in-law, Ptolemy, in Jericho, he thwarted the murderer's design to kill him also and took over control in Jerusalem. It is with an account of this incident that I Maccabees ends; the details of his reign are given in Josephus (Wars, 1:54ff.; Ant., 13:229ff.), and in material scattered throughout talmudic literature. Most of his rule was spent in wars. At first, he was compelled to submit to *Antiochusvii Sidetes and to agree to pay him tribute for Jaffa and the other towns outside the borders of Judea that had been conquered by the Jews, and even to join him in a campaign against the Parthians. However, after the death of Antiochus in 129, Hyrcanus achieved the complete independence of Judea and undertook extensive conquests throughout the whole of the land of Israel. At first he turned to the center of the country, seizing Shechem and destroying the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim. Later he conquered Idumea (Edom) and compelled its inhabitants to adopt Judaism. From this time the Idumeans became an inseparable part of the Jewish people. Simultaneously he began the conquest of Transjordan, in particular of Moab. During the last years of his rule he renewed his campaign of conquests in the north, attacking the strong Hellenistic towns of *Samaria and *Beth-Shean (= Scythopolis). Despite the fact that Hellenistic soldiers and the rulers of some neighboring territories who were hostile to the Jews came to the aid of the besieged city of Samaria, it was conquered and destroyed by Hyrcanus' sons in 107. As a result the road to Galilee was now open to the Jews, and it is probable that parts of Galilee too, if not the whole of it, were already annexed to Judea during the days of Hyrcanus.

In his policy and in his wars, he was helped by the ties he cultivated with foreign nations interested in weakening the Seleucid Syria. He strengthened the pact with Rome, and on three occasions during his rule the Roman senate adopted resolutions in favor of Judea. Bonds of friendship were also formed between Hyrcanus and the Ptolemies, a friendship helped by the close ties which existed between the Jews of Egypt and the monarchy. In so far as internal affairs were concerned, a gradual change took place in his status during Hyrcanus' rule which led to the strengthening of his personal authority. It was during his rule apparently that the *Pharisee and *Sadducee parties came into open conflict. At the commencement of his rule he maintained close relations with the Pharisees, who also recognized his religious authority. Later rabbinic tradition depicts him as having been "righteous originally" (Ber. 29a), even to the extent of stating that he heard a *bat kol (Sot. 33a). According to Josephus (Wars, 1:68–69), Hyrcanus was vouchsafed the high priesthood, prophecy, and rulership and he was the only one to attain all three. The Mishnah (Sot. 9:10) ascribes certain regulations with regard to the Temple and the priestly portions to him. In the course of time, however, the authoritarian and secularist character of his administration began to show itself – a fact which also found expression in the recruitment of a force of foreign mercenaries from Asia Minor. The high priest came closer to the Sadducees and in his last years a breach occurred between him and the Pharisees. According to rabbinic tradition "Johanan officiated in the high priesthood for 80 years and in the end became a Sadducee" (Ber. 29a; Jos., Ant., 13:288ff.). It is uncertain whether the coins bearing the legend "Johanan the High Priest" and Ḥever ha-Yehudim or rosh ḥever ha-Yehudim were minted by him or by his grandson *Hyrcanus ii.


C. Werner, Johann Hyrkan (Ger., 1877); Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 3 (19502), 81ff.; Schuerer, Hist, 16, 60, 67ff.; M. Stern, in: Zion, 26 (1961), 1–22; S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950), 139ff.; A. Schalit, Koenig Herodes (1969), 810 (index), s.v.Johannes Hyrkanos.

[Menahem Stern]