Eyal Regev, The Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology Department, Bar-Ilan University

The Hasmoneans: Ideology, Archaeology, Identity, Journal of Ancient Judaism, Supplements, Vol 10 (2013)

In his description of the Hasmonean period Josephus missed the spirit of the era. Josephus focused on military occupations and political tensions, without explaining what the Jewish people thought of the Hasmoneans and what the Hasmoneans thought of the Jewish People and themselves. This book aims to fill in this lack, uncovering the cultural and social character of the Hasmoneans as rulers from Jonathan (and in certain cases from as early as Judah Maccabee) to Mattathaias Antigonus. It explores how the Hasmoneans ruled the Jewish people, namely, the ways in which they legitimized their authority and built relationships with their subjects. It focuses on the Hasmoneans’ construction and symbolic representations of their ideology in relation to the Temple cult, their rule, and their subsequent kingship. The discussion is interdisciplinary in several senses. It merges historical sources with archaeological findings, Jewish and Hellenistic perspectives, traditional, text-oriented, historical-critical methods with comparative and socio-anthropological approaches.

The first two chapters deal with the religious perceptions and activities of the Hasmoneans. Chapter 1 discusses the Maccabean regard for Hanukkah as a Temple festival for the renewal of ancient cultic traditions. Chapter 2 examines the manner in which the Hasmoneans used the Temple, its protection, and its maintenance to legitimize their rule, and how they developed the Temple as the center of Judaism. Chapters 3-6 deal with manifestations of governmental and royal ideology. Chapter 3 explores how the Hasmoneans legitimized their rule, showing that they built their authority gradually as religious leaders, and suggests that their state was not a conventional Hellenistic one. Chapter 4 explores Hellenistic royal ideologies and proposes that the Hasmonean ideology resembled Macedonian “national” monarchy. The chapter also examines the emergence of Hasmonean kingship against its Jewish background. Chapter 5 aims to decipher the meaning of the symbols and epigraphs on the Hasmonean coins. It examines how Hellenistic symbols and Jewish concepts were used to reinforce Hasmonean authority and Jewish identity. Chapter 6 analyzes the Hasmonean palaces in Jericho, searching for the royal ideology they display, using  the methodology of social archaeology, as well as comparisons with other Hellenistic palaces—especially the Herodian ones. The final chapter builds on the previous results, uncovering how the Hasmoneans created a new Jewish collective identity. Here I use insights from sociology and anthropology as well as from theories of modern nationalism. My thesis is that throughout their promotion and legitimization of their own rule, the Hasmoneans reinforced Jewish collective identity. This final chapter also demonstrates that the theme of this book is actually how the Hasmoneans created and represented elements of power and identity.


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