Religious & Political Background of Judea-Samaria

Around the time of Herod the Great (70 BCE) a civil war broke out between the Saducees and Pharisees. Prior to this, King Jannaeus, a Hasmonian who sided with the Saducees, had crucified thousands of Pharisees causing great long term hatred. The Hasmonian family were Saducees and in succession to the position of High Priest. Jannaaeus died and his wife Alexandra brought peace to the land for about 15 years when the Pharisees seeking revenge, restarted the war then went to general Pompeii of the Romans to "bring peace" to the land. The Pharisees attacked the Saducees on Shabbat killing 12,000 priests who refused to fight. The Pharisees then quickly allied themselves with the Romans to take control.

Rome sent in a procurator named Antipater, an Edomite descendant and the father of Herod the Great. (This is the Herod who slaughtered the innocents as recorded in the Gospels). Antipater sent Herod to Galillee to bring down a revolt lead by the priest Zacharias. Herod put to death thousands, including innocent victims. He also appointed a gentile to the position of High Priest and had the entire Sanhedrin killed with the exception of two men – Hillel and Shammai. They were recognized as popular leaders and Herod spared to prevent a full revolt. (Shammai accomodated the Romans, Hillel opposed them.) Herod appointed political cronies to fill the Sanhedrin.

Herod then married the last Hasmonian princess, Alexandra Salome, giving him political legitimacy for ruling in Judea. Herod killed off the rest of the Hasmonians, and took total control. Herod had two sons with Alexandra. His older son put on the High Priest’s garments at the age of thirteen. When the people saw this there is a time of national mourning and repentance as he is the first legitimate High Priest in many years. Herod saw this and was threatened so he had this son drowned in a pool. When his wife got upset Herod put her into exile with the younger son. Herod took on another wife, had five children by her, and had them all killed.

A populist movement began around the younger son of Alexander Salome. Herod brought a false accusation of adultery to her and had her killed. Herod then went temporarily insane as he truly loved her. Herod then had Alexandra Salome’s younger son put to death. However the younger son had children who continued. At the end of Herod’s life, a son from the second wife tried to take control. Herod had him killed and his brothers imprisoned.

Herod in his final will, ordered that any person remotely related to the Hasmonian family, including his own sons, were to be killed, except for one grandson who was to live. This was carried out. Herod died a horrific death, rotting from within. This surviving grandson is the Herod on the throne when Yeshua is brought to trial. This Herod is married to his niece (also named Salome). The Qumran community in their literature writes a commentary critical of an uncle being married to his niece – probably written in reaction to the Herodians, who were considered an abomination to the Jews. This is interesting as the Torah allowed such marriages.

By the time of Yeshua the Temple had been corrupted by the Herodians for some time (i.e., people had bought their way into important positions. In response to this corruption, a number of Saducees split off and departed into the wilderness (and other places) and formed what became the Essenes, setting up their own "temple" and system of sacrifices and offerings, done in the wilderness.

Many of the Wilderness Essenes did not marry in order to keep "pure" and draw closer to G-d. It is this group that did most of the writing found in Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls). Much of their terminology can be seen in Yeshua’s teachings (i.e., the poor, the meek, "the Way"). Sha’ul’s teachings on marriage may also reflect this.

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