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CHAPTER 2 A Written Legacy: Literary Evidence from the Ancient Near East to 600 C.E. OVERVIEW Ancient Literature Archeological discoveries indicate that women were active participants in ancient Jewish society. But literary evidence has had a much greater impact than archeology on how we view the position and status of Jewish women. Because women's activities have scarcely appeared in ancient Jewish literature , people assume that women played only a minor role. When texts such as the Apocrypha, the Mishnah, and the Talmud are analyzed carefully , however, they suggest that women had a greater role than was originally assumed. Even though much of ancient literature has been altered by defective transmissions, cultural misunderstandings, and faulty translations , detailed examination and analysis yields considerable data previously overlooked. This chapter will concentrate on such literary evidence. The Hasmonean Dynasty Following the final defeat of the Ptolemaic Empire in 198 B.C.E., the Seleucids ruled in Syria and Judea. Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.E.) enforced a policy of Hellenization and suppressed Jewish practices. This ultimately resulted in the Jewish uprising of 165 B.C.E. led by Mattathias, a priest of the Hasmonean family, and his five sons. After Mattathias's death, his middle son, Judah (nicknamed "the Maccabee") led a small but determined Jewish army into battle against the 21 22 The JPS Guide to Jewish Women Syrians and succeeded in overcoming a combined force of Syrian-Greeks and Jewish assimilationists.! Once in control of Jerusalem, the Jews cleansed the Temple of any signs of pagan worship and rededicated it. The festival of Hanukkah commemorates this victory. Judah the Maccabee continued fighting for several more years, however , as Antiochus's successors attempted to regain control and reimpose Greek culture on the area. When Judah died, his brothers succeeded him and established the Hasmonean, or Maccabean, Dynasty.2 The Hasmoneans dominated the land of Israel from 152 until 63 B.C.E. The main literary sources for this period are the apocryphal books 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Josephus's works, from the first century of the Common Era.3 These accounts concentrate on dynastic and military actions, and women are almost completely absent from the narratives. When they are mentioned, the facts about them mainly concern their relationships to the principal male protagonists. Simon, the last Maccabean brother, was killed in 134 B.C.E. by his sonin -law and was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus. As each generation of the Hasmonean family ascended the throne, the dynasty became more hellenized and increasingly corrupt. Fighting between the different factions of the family increased, resulting in a series of civil wars. In addition to these dynastic struggles, two political/religious parties had emerged in Judea: the Sadducees, the party of the ruling class, and the Pharisees, supported by the people. Contention between these two parties resulted in a brutal civil war in which approximately 50,000 Jews died before the Sadducees, led by King Alexander Jannai (103-76 B.C.E.), triumphed.4 When Alexander Jannai died in 76 B.C.E., his wife, Salome/Shelamzion Alexandra, succeeded him, becoming the only Hasmonean woman to hold power in Judea. She ruled for nine years, a period of relative peace. Following her death, her two sons, Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II, fought over the succession and invited Rome in to mediate their claims. Rome SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES: TWO COMPETING FACTIONS IN JUDEA The Sadducees were more nationalistic, were willing to use force to spread Judaism, and adhered to a literal reading of biblical law. They represented the ruling class in Judea. The Pharisees disagreed with the expansionist policies of the Hasmonean rulers and believed in a more liberal interpretation of the Torah, incorporating the oral law. They were considered the party of the common people.s A Written Legacy 23 gradually took control of the Jewish state and the surrounding areas, and the Hasmonean Dynasty weakened and finally disappeared. King Herod I After a series of attacks on Jerusalem and the brutal execution of forty-five members of the Sanhedrin, Herod, the son of the Idumean governor Antipas, took control of Judea (by then incorporated into greater Palestine). He was granted the title of king by the Roman Empire and reigned from 37 to 34 B.C.E. During those years he built major public buildings, palaces, and fortresses, and some of the ruins remain as landmarks today. However, his rule was marked by cruelty and murder as well as...


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