Alexander Jannaeus was the second Hasmonean king after Aristobulus and the son of Maccabeean leader John Hyrcanus. According to the Bible Timeline with World History, he lived around 98 BC. His reign was full of conflict with Judea’s neighbors and marred by conflicts within Judea itself. Much of what we know about Alexander Jannaeus came from the writings of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Alexander was not his father’s heir as he was younger than two of his brothers. According to Josephus, he was also his father’s least favorite child.
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This unfortunate start was made worse after Aristobulus, his brother, imprisoned their mother whom John Hyrcanus wanted to rule in his stead after his death. Aristobulus, along with another brother Antigonus, conspired together when they starved their mother to death in prison and proclaimed himself king instead. They also left three of their brothers, including Alexander Jannaeus, imprisoned. Alexandra Salome, the new king’s wife, tricked both Aristobulus and his brother Antigonus which resulted in them turning against each other. Because of this, Aristobulus killed his brother and descended into madness soon afterward. According to Josephus, he died after he reigned for one year of a disease of the intestines.
Alexander Jannaeus was freed by Queen Alexandra after the death of Aristobulus. She then had him proclaimed as new king of Judea, and both sealed the pact through marriage. He had one of his brothers whom he considered a threat to his kingship killed but spared another brother who only wanted a quiet life.
During the height of his reign, his territory stretched from Dan in the north to Beersheba. Alexander attacked the coastal city of Ptolemais (modern Acre) soon after he became king. The rulers of Ptolemais needed an ally to help them defend the city, and they chose Ptolemy Lathyrus for help. He was removed by his mother, Cleopatra III from governing Egypt earlier and was exiled in Cyprus. Thus, he was eager to regain power with this alliance with the rulers of Ptolemais. He was further assured that the people of Gaza (which Alexander also attacked) would be on his side, as well as the Sidonians and other allies.
Ptolemy’s ambition of returning to power was cut short when an influential man from Ptolemais, called Demenetus, convinced the people to submit instead to the Jews. He was worried that an alliance with Ptolemy would alarm his mother who ruled as queen of Egypt and would likely attack Ptolemais herself. Ptolemy heard this while in Cyprus, but he decided to sail to Ptolemais with his soldiers despite the people’s betrayal. To add insult to injury, the rulers of Ptolemais refused to talk to him and his ambassadors when they arrived outside their city.
Ptolemy was redeemed when the rulers of Gaza asked for his assistance after Alexander besieged their city. Alexander Jannaeus showed how cunning he was when he deceived Ptolemy into a public alliance with him but made a secret alliance with Cleopatra against her son. Ptolemy handed over the cities of his former allies to Alexander Jannaeus. When he discovered the Judean king’s scheme, he proceeded to attack several cities in Galilee. Many were successful, so Alexander asked for Cleopatra’s help. She sent her loyal Jewish generals Helkias and Ananias to help the Judean king, so her son was forced to withdraw from Alexander’s territories.
Alexander also launched a series of conquests towards the Transjordan region for the profitable trade route that ran through the Nabatean territory. He conquered the cities of Gadara, Raphia, Anthedon, and Gaza. He also tried to take the fortress of Amathus but was unsuccessful when he and his troops were ambushed by its ruler Theodorus.
Angered after the Judean king wrested the trade routes from him, the Nabatean king Obodas I, ambushed him at Golan. After this defeat, Alexander decided to return to Jerusalem, but was opposed by his own people. The Jewish people’s growing resentment culminated into a full civil war after an incident during the Feast of the Tabernacles. As he was the High Priest, Alexander was assigned the task of pouring the water during the libation ceremony on the altar. Instead of doing this, he poured the water on his feet.
This angered the Jews who were at the temple, and they pelted Alexander, a Sadducee, with citrons which in turn angered him. He ordered the massacre of thousands of people who were in the temple at that time and prevented others from offering sacrifices at the temple following the massacre. This incident started the six-year civil war during his reign with the Pharisees leading the rebels against Jannaeus.
The Judean rebels allied themselves with the Seleucids under Demetrius III Eucaerus, who helped them defeat Jannaeus at Shechem. After they had seen his defeat, the Judean leaders changed their minds and sided with Jannaeus again. Together, they defeated Demetrius but after the war, Jannaeus was not in the mood for a reconciliation. He had the rebel leaders (Pharisees) killed along with their families, as well as had thousands of other rebels exiled to Syria and Egypt.
Other Conquests and Death
Because of his cruelty and his failings as a king, Alexander was hated by his own people, so he had to rely on foreign troops to defend his territories. He was helpless against the Arab king Aretas, who invaded Judea later in his reign and wrested from him the control of the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem. He died after an illness at the age of 51 and left the kingdom to his wife, Alexandra Salome.
Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Antiquities of the Jews. London: Routledge, n.d. Print.
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