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Kings of the Jews

The Origins of the Jewish Nation

Authored by Norman Gelb

Publication Year: 2010

We all know about King David and King Solomon, but what about the kings Omri and Uzziah? Of the more than fifty monarchs who sat on the throne of the Jews for over 1000 years, most of us can recall only a few. What we do remember about them has been colored by legend and embellishment. In Kings of the Jews, Norman Gelb tells us the real stories of them all. And in doing so, he reveals how a remarkably resilient people survived divisions, discord, and conquest to forge a vibrant identity that has lasted to the present day. Kings of the Jews explores some of the most dramatic periods in Jewish history: those of the united Israelite kingdom under David and Solomon, the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the Babylonian exile, and the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. With illustrations, maps, chronologies, and index.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Contents

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pp. xi-xiii

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INTRODUCTION

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pp. xv-xix

Kings feature prominently in the annals of most countries. Major historical events are commonly portrayed as having been achieved or perpetrated by kings or in their names: the wars they fought, the projects they undertook, the riches they accumulated, the reverses they sustained, how their people fared underthem. That was as true for the Jews as for, say, the English or the Chinese....

BEGINNINGS

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Saul

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pp. 3-10

The story of Saul is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It is a tale of glory and ame turning to despair, madness, and ultimate doom. Saul was chosen the first king of the Jews at a time when they were fully recognizing te emasculating consequences of their tribal divisions and rivalries..

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Ishbosheth

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pp. 11-13

Saul’s life had ended in the war with the Philistines, as had the lives of three of his sons. But he had been ritually ordained ruler of the Jews and his last surviving son Ishbosheth claimed to be his successor as king by right of inheritance. Abner, who had been Saul’s military commander, arranged the coronation. Abner was a forceful figure, in contrast to the weak-willed Ishbosheth (also called Ishbaal). He intended to be the actual ruler of the Jews, monarch in all but name.

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David

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pp. 15-30

King Saul had been a tragic figure and Ishbosheth a feeble one. But David, who came to the throne of the Jews around the year 1000 BCE, was a figure of heroic proportions—warrior, musician and dynamic ruler. He vanquished the enemies of his people and did much to weld the Jewish tribes into a nation, with Jerusalem at its heart and center. Through force of arms, he turned that nation into a...

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Solomon

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pp. 32-42

When Solomon became king of the Jews, the situation was hugely different than it had been when his father, David, had donned the crown. Within a relatively short period of time—roughly forty years—David had created a unified nation of the land in which tribes had jealously guarded their separate identities. What was more, that nation had humbled its adversaries, expanded territorially, and...

THE DIVIDED NATION

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The New Kingdoms

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pp. 45-46

The death of King Solomon opened a fresh chapter in the history of the Jewish people. Oppression by the instruments of the monarchy, sectional differences, and sharp disparities in living standards blunted their allegiance to the kingdom Saul had founded, David had united, and Solomon had turned into abureaucratized state...

KINGS OF ISRAEL

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Jeroboam

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pp. 49-52

As a young man, Jeroboam had been employed as a laborer on one of King Solomon’s many construction projects. Judged worthy of greater responsibilities, he was made a regional supervisor of the forced labor engaged in some of those enterprises...

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Nadab

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pp. 53-

Little is known of Nadab, the second ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel. During his two-year reign, he was no more willing to recognize the long-established spiritual supremacy of Jerusalem and its Temple priests than his father, Jeroboam, the kingdom’s founding monarch, had been. He also did just as little to try to stamp out pagan worship practiced by great numbers of his subjects, for...

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Baasha

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pp. 54-55

During the closing years of Jeroboam’s kingship, and especially during the abbreviated reign of his son Nadab, the army of Israel had grown bitter about their kingdom’s weakness in the face of hostile neighbors and the loss of territory to them. In addition to the Philistines and the Aramaeans of Damascus6, thoseneighbors included Judah, which had continued to challenge the legitimacy of...

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Elah

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pp. 56-

The reign of Elah, son of the soldier-king Baasha, was marked by the further militarization of political power in Israel. He was responsible, though it was not of his doing. Given to drink but not to leadership, he lasted on the throne less than two years. What little impact he had on developments was to the northern kingdom's disadvantage...

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Zimri

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pp. 57-

By the time Zimri killed King Elah and seized the crown of Israel, the northern kingdom had been in existence almost half a century. Nevertheless, its survival as an independent state was still uncertain. The kingdom needed strong, assertive leadership to meet the challenges it continued to face from Judah, Damascus, and the Philistines. As a commander of its elite chariot corps, Zimri seemed...

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Omri

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pp. 59-61

Since its creation as an independent kingdom, Israel had been a muddled, conspiracy-riven land, a place of uncertainty and foreboding. Its people had beengiven little reason for confidence or pride in their national identity. Their leadershad provided the kingdom with little stability. Their army had been repeatedly outmatched or stalemated in battle....

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Ahab

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pp. 62-66

Until the reign of Omri, no royal heir to the kingdom of Israel had come close to matching his father in notable achievement. Jeroboam, its founding monarch after the split in the Jewish nation, had bequeathed Israel to Nadab, who proved to be no more than a cipher and who reigned briefly. Elah, who had inherited the crown from his soldier father, Baasha, was a drunk and incompetent whose...

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Ahaziah

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pp. 68-

King Ahab’s death in battle while fighting with his soldiers against Damascus, and the defeat his army suffered in that clash, had a devastating impact on his kingdom, especially in view of the character of Ahab’s eldest son, Ahaziah, who succeeded him on the throne. Ahaziah was a shadow of his dynamic father and Incapable of providing his redoubtable grandfather, Omri...

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Jehoram

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pp. 69-70

Ahab’s son, Jehoram, could not have relished succeeding to the throne upon the death of his brother, Ahaziah. Israel was locked in a losing war with Damascus at the time and its people were shrouded in gloom and foreboding. Not long into Jehoram’s reign, the Damascenes came close to conquering his kingdom and absorbing it into their own...

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Jehu

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pp. 72-74

Conveying the words and commands of Yahweh to the Jewish people was the role of the prophets of ancient Israel. They transmitted His promises of divine favor if they remained true to Him and issued His warnings of severe retribution for sinfulness. The sacred duty of those holy men included fearless condemnation of injustice, corruption, oppression, and poverty. Living and preaching in times...

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Jehoahaz

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pp. 76-

Despite his crusading zeal—though more likely because of it—the warrior kingJehu had inflicted such damage to the fortunes of Israel that the kingdom wasdoomed to further decline when he died and was succeeded on the throne by his son, Jehoahaz...

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Jehoash

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pp. 77-78

External events often have a critical bearing on the fate of small states. Such was the situation for Israel during the reign of Jehoash, son of hapless King Jehoahaz.The fortunes of the kingdom, at low ebb when Jehoash ascended its throne, dramatically improved during his reign. But that was solely because of happenings beyond Israel’s borders, and one development in particular to which its fate...

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Jeroboam II

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pp. 79-81

If there is a single period in the history of the northern kingdom of the Jews inwhich it best showed its potential for greatness, it was during the reign of Jeroboam II. Under him, Israel was more confident and more secure than it had ever been before or would ever be again...

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Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, Hoshea

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pp. 83-88

During the quarter century before its final destruction, the northern Jewish kingdom came to be overwhelmed by crisis and existential anxiety. None of those who would be Israel’s last six kings was of exceptional character or significant achievement. The prophet Hosea conveyed God’s lament that Israel had madekings, “but not with My sanction; they have made officers, but not of My...

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The Lost Tribes of Israel

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pp. 89-92

When the Assyrians stormed the city of Samaria in 722 BCE, they did more than overrun Israel’s last remaining bastion. In seizing its capital, they completed the process of obliterating the northern kingdom of the Jews as a political, geographic, ethnic, and religious entity. New inhabitants brought in by the conquerors to settle on the land were from various other parts of the Assyrian empire....

KINGS OF JUDAH

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Rehoboam

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pp. 94-99

As with the creation of the northern kingdom, when the Jewish nation split in two after Solomon died, the foundation of the southern kingdom was a waterwatershed in the history of the Jewish people....

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Abijah

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pp. 100-101

Hostility was the keynote of relations between Judah and Israel from the moment of their establishment as separate states. But Abijah has the distinction of having launched the first major war between Jews. He was the second to wear the crown of Judah after Solomon’s kingdom split in two, and his legacy from his father, Rehoboam, included his claim to be king of Israel as well as Judah by virtue of...

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Asa

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pp. 102-103

Though Judah and Israel shared a spiritual and historical heritage, their separate perceived national interests rather than what they held in common dominated their policies and actions. When in dispute, as they often were, each was prepared to form an alliance with a non-Jewish third state to be used as an instrument against the other..

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Jehoshaphat

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pp. 104-106

It was difficult for the nation ruled from Jerusalem to reconcile itself to transformation from the regional power it had been under Solomon to the shrunken state it became as the kingdom of Judah after he died. It took Judah six decades to adjust to the change...

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Jehoram

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pp. 108-109

For a small state in a turbulent region subjected to rapidly shifting conditions,stability can never be guaranteed. The situation is even more difficult when the actions of the ruler of that small state compound the attending perils. Upon his death, Jehoshaphat bequeathed his oldest son Jehoram a secure, self-assured Judah. But Jehoram quickly tipped Judah into decline....

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Ahaziah

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pp. 110-

The manner of Ahaziah’s death is of greater historical interest than his life. Of the sons of King Jehoram, only he, the youngest, survived when Philistine marauders pillaged Jerusalem while his father was away from the capital. When Jehoram subsequently died, Ahaziah, then twenty-two years old, inherited the throne of Judah...

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Athaliah

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pp. 111-112

Like all major religions, Judaism has always been male dominated and male focused. Its annals list comparatively few females of the heroic stature of Miriam, who saved the baby Moses from Egyptian slaughter; Deborah the Judge; Judith, who killed the drunken commander of an invading Babylonian army; and Esther,who, as consort to the king of Persia, saved the lives of her people....

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Joash

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pp. 114-115

No king of the Jews had ever ascended the throne the way Joash did, and none ever would. As a baby he had been saved by his aunt, Jehoshaba, and her husband, High Priest Jehoiada, from death at the hands of his grandmother, Queen Athaliah, and he was anointed monarch at the age of seven in a coup consummated in the Temple in Jerusalem, during which Athaliah was killed by the...

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Amaziah

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pp. 116-117

Amaziah could not help feeling anxious when he ascended the throne of Judah. He was the son of a king who had been murdered in a plot hatched by pillars of the society he was to rule. The coup against his father, Joash, had involved important people whose support—or at least sufferance—was essential if he were to cling to his crown...

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Uzziah

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pp. 118-120

The assassination of King Amaziah, like the earlier dispatch of his father, Joash, had remarkably little immediate impact on the land they had ruled. The conspiracies that led to their elimination were not directed against the dynasty of David. Perpetuation of the Davidic royal line remained sacrosanct and continued to provide the southern kingdom with a strong measure of stability, as well as a new...

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Jotham

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pp. 122-

Over time, the gaps between social classes had become wide and unrelenting in the northern kingdom of Israel where the rich enjoyed benefits and privileges far beyond those available to most of the people. But Judah appears to have enjoyed a more equitable society, even when great wealth was being generated within itsborders, as happened during the reign of Jotham’s acclaimed father Uzziah....

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Ahaz

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pp. 123-124

The Assyrians, with whom interaction had become an important factor in the Jewish experience, were founders of a sophisticated civilization whose origins dated back at least to the exodus of the Jewish tribes from Egypt. Their empire expanded and contracted over time but, at its peak, it covered territory stretching from well into present-day Turkey to the Persian Gulf and from the Caspian Sea...

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Hezekiah

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pp. 125-127

The fate of Judah was perilously uncertain when Ahaz died and Hezekiah inherited his throne. The expansionist Assyrians were growing ever more threatening. Soon after Hezekiah became king, they overran Israel to the north, brutally expelling great numbers of its people to places unknown, and also conquered and Judah had itself already become one of Assyria’s vassal states. Its treasury was...

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Manasseh

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pp. 128-129

The domination of one nation by another is not without its compensations when the alternative for the weaker is total annihilation. For Judah, that was the situation when Hezekiah died and his son Manasseh succeeded him as king. By submitting to the Assyrians, however reluctantly, Hezekiah had saved Judah from the fate of obliteration that Israel had suffered. But he passed on to...

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Amon

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pp. 130-

The reign of King Amon is barely a footnote in the history of Judah and the Jews. He came to the throne at the age of twenty-two upon the death of his long-reigning father, Manasseh, and ruled for only two years before being assassinated. Like his father, he bowed to the reality of the overwhelming might of the Assyrians, who remained capable of conquering and destroying Judah any time they...

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Josiah

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pp. 131-135

New, powerful forces were appearing on the horizons of the Jewish nation at this stage in its history, The Assyrians had for some time been the most redoubtable presence in the turbulent region. But Medes were pressing in from western Iran and what is now Azerbaijan. Fierce Scythians and Cimmerians were sweeping down from the north. Rebellion against Assyrian overlords was breaking out in...

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Jehoahaz

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pp. 137-138

After three centuries of existence, Judah was drifting inexorably toward extinction. Under Josiah, the southern kingdom of the Jews had freed itself from subservience to the crumbling Assyrian Empire. But even if the proud Josiah had not been mortally wounded by the Egyptians on the battlefield at Megiddo, and even if his army had not been shattered there, Judah would have been doomed. It was...

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Jehoiakim

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pp. 139-140

Having, by force of arms, replaced Assyria as arbiter of the fate of terminally weakened Judah, and having removed King Jehoahaz in a demonstration of their power, the Egyptians permitted his brother Eliakim to sit on the throne of the Jews. As a symbol of their authority, they assigned him a throne name-Jehoiakim...

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Jehoiachin

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pp. 141-

No king of the Jews ever mounted the throne under circumstances as desperate as those with which Jehoiachin had to contend when he became king of Judah upon the death of his similarly named father Jehoiakim. Just eighteen years old, he was in trouble and danger from the instant he donned the crown. Having overrun his kingdom, the Babylonians were laying siege to Jerusalem....

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Zedekiah

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pp. 142-144

Zedekiah, the twentieth and last to wear the crown of the kingdom of Judah, was also the last of all the kings of the Jews in biblical times, the northern kingdom ofIsrael having been obliterated by the Assyrians more than a century earlier. During Zedekiah’s reign, it became Judah’s turn to suffer final catastrophe...

EXILE AND RETURN

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Babylonian Exile

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pp. 147-150

Being ejected from Judah and driven into exile in Babylonia was a shattering experience for the Jews. They had lost their homeland, their Jerusalem, their Temple and their homes, and been required to start new lives in a strange land. They had been abandoned by the God who they had believed had chosen them as His own from all peoples of the world. “The Lord has acted like a foe,” they...

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Return to Zion

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pp. 152-154

Like their return from Egypt almost eight centuries earlier, the return of the Jews from Babylonia was in waves, beginning in 538 BCE. This new exodus also involved a hazardous trek of hundreds of miles. Sheshbazzar (who may have beena son of exiled King Jehoiachin, though never king himself) led the first contingent of returnees. The first governor of Judah under the Persians was...

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The Greek Challenge

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pp. 156-159

After the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the people of Judah lived in peace according to their own laws and culture for more than a century. For the most part, they were neither oppressed by the Persians who ruled their land, nor pressured to adapt to non-Jewish ways...

THE HASMONEANS

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The Maccabee Revolt

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pp. 162-172

The attempt by Syrian King Antiochus IV to forcibly Hellenize Judaea was the greatest threat Judaism had faced since the Babylonian exile four centuries earlier. All Jewish practices were to be outlawed and uprooted. All measures thought necessary to achieve that objective were to be rigorously implemented. The Temple in Jerusalem was to be rededicated to Zeus and rituals of sacrifice...

THE HASMONEAN MONARCHS

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Aristobulus I

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pp. 174-176

Judah Aristobulus, oldest son of John Hyrcanus and grandson of Simon Maccabee, believed it natural and proper for him to succeed his father as ruler of Judaea. His father thought otherwise...

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Alexander Jannai

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pp. 177-179

Alexander Jannai, the second Hasmonean monarch, took an unusual path to the throne of the Jews. He was a prisoner one day, king of Judaea and high priest the next. When his brother Aristobulus, who had imprisoned him as a possible threat to his position, died after only one year on the throne, twenty-two-year-old Jannai was freed from captivity and anointed his successor. He then married Salome...

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Alexandra Salome

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pp. 180-183

Alexandra Salome (Shelomtzion) was one of only two women ever to have ruled the Jewish nation in their own right, rather than as the wives of reigning kings.The other was Queen Athaliah who had sat on the throne of the kingdom ofJudah eight centuries earlier....

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Hyrcanus II, Aristobulus II, Antigonus II

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pp. 184-191

The closing chapter in the history of the Hasmonean kings of the Jews is a tale of family strife, civil war, and the beginnings of Roman rule in Judaea. It is the story of three kings for whom the troubled affairs of the nation were of little concern compared to questions of their personal fortunes...

THE IMPACT OF THE ROMANS

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Herod the Great

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pp. 193-198

Herod was among the most accomplished of all the kings who sat on the throne of the Jewish nation. During his reign, Judaea prospered and was secure. Under him, it was transformed from what had been reduced to a landlocked ministate into a kingdom almost as large as the Jewish nation had ever been, and was highly regarded internationally despite having become a client state of the Romans....

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The Agrippas

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pp. 200-208

The death of Herod the Great marked the start of an interval in the history of the kings of the Jews. More than four decades would pass before another would weartheir crown...

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War with Rome

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pp. 209-222

By the summer of 66, war in Judaea appeared inevitable. Opinion among the Jews was sharply divided. Most of them probably favored fighting for independence from Rome if it could be achieved without great bloodshed. But religiously motivated Zealots insisted on freedom from foreign rule and oppression no matter how it was achieved and whatever the price. Other fervent nationalists...

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Aftermath

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pp. 224-226

The slaughter, destruction, and consequences of the war with Rome were the greatest calamities the Jewish nation had suffered. So many Jews had died in the conflict, and Jerusalem and other Judaean population centers had been so devastated, that continuing the struggle for independence was out of the question. Shattered Jerusalem was now little more than a base for the Roman Tenth...

ENDNOTES

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pp. 228-232

CHRONOLOGY

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pp. 234-235

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

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pp. 236-

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 238-239

INDEX

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pp. 240-246


E-ISBN-13: 9780827609532
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827609136

Publication Year: 2010