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« outlandish women.” “ Remember them, O my God!" is the fine and indignant ejaculation of Nehemiah, “ remember them, because they have defiled the priesthood, the covenant of the priesthood, and the Levites.”
When the dynasty of the Asmoneans, or royal line of David, had ultimately succeeded in re-establishing the monarchy of Judah in its temporal forms and succession, the priesthood was still the imperium in imperio; and the intrigues of the pontiffs with their foreign masters (whether Persian, Greek, or Egyptian) were pursued through every phasis of treachery and corruption. Under the Greek dominion, persons without zeal, or religion, or love of country, aspired to the pontificate, through the influence of the men in power at the courts of their foreign rulers.
To the ministers of the supreme government their eyes were still constantly turned ; their object was power over the people, and wealth for themselves, to be enjoyed in their sumptuous dwellings " in the temple.” They forgot that the influence of their order in the olden times was founded in the belief of its superior virtues, its exclusive knowledge, and direct communion with Heaven itself. They forgot that Moses, their great reformer and legislator, was not their pontiff, and that Aaron, who was, exer. cised no temporal authority : they forgot that Joshua and Jephthah, and Sampson, who were judges, and great cap. tains, and political rulers, were not priests, and that Eli and Samuel, by attempting to establish an absolute theocracy in their own persons and families, and to unite the temporal with the spiritual sway, had roused the suspicions of the progressing people, and paved the way to that revolution, which established an irresponsible monarchy over the commonwealth of Israel, ending in the separation of its tribes and their eventual captivity.
Under Alexander of Macedon,* the priesthood appears to have reached the acmé of sordid corruption and political intrigue; and the sanguinary contest of two ambitious brotherst for the pontificate, sprinkled the holy of holies with human blood, and desecrated the temple of
* Three hundred and fifty years before Christ. † Ezra, Nehemiah, and Josephus, are the authorities.
Jehovah by the crime of fratricide.* The internal govern. ment of Israel, under the supremacy of the Ptolemies, was rather an anarchy than a monarchy, or theocracy. The intrigues of the pontifical familiest with the Asiatic kings, and the dire and deadly warfare of Antiochus, were only relieved for an interval by the transient illustration of Judas Maccabeus. I
The scion of a sacerdotal family, but ennobled by personal qualities beyond all distinctions of caste or race, Judas Maccabeus was one of the last and greatest patriots of Judea : he fought her battles, he revived her ancient nationality, he released her from servitude, and, rescuing her from the tyranny of Antiochus, placed her under the protection of the Roman senate. He lived to be raised to the pontifical sovereignty by the gratitude of the people; and he died gloriously in their cause, fighting for their independence!
To this purest of their pontiffs and bravest of their warriors, succeeded the restoration of the Asmonean dynasty, the royal race of Judah, who united in their persons the titles of King of Judah and grand sacrificer. Acting, however, by the will of other great “ pontiffs,” they con. tinued to reign and to serve-despots in their domestic government, and slaves to the Roman power. The successive Alexanders and Aristobuluses of this declining family, exhibited in their respective reigns all the corruption and feebleness incident to a proconsular government, and all the refined cruelty inherent (in all ages and circumstances) in the Asiatic temperament. Still, throughout this moral disorganization, amidst all the crimes and
* The reigning pontiff, John, was assassinated by the rival candidate for the tiara (his own brother Jesus) in the temple of Jerusalem, Jesus having been protected and promised that high dignity by the powerful Bagosa, the general of the Persian army under Artaxerxes. This sacri. lege (says Josephus) was the cause that the Jews immediately after lost their liberty, and that their temple was profaned.
The pontifical family of Onias recalls the nepotism and corruption of the worst times of the papal power of Rome. The atrocities of the priesthood had become so odious, that under Antiochus an immense number of the Jews renounced their religion ; and the Samaritans wholly separated themselves from Israel, and consecrated their ancient temple at Garisim to the Grecian Jupiter.-Josephus.
I Maccabees, 1, 8, 9.
corruption, which filled up this most momentous epoch in the history of the Jews, and of mankind, some light, (faint, indeed, and unequal in its flashes, like the flashing of the lightning over the lurid masses of the thickening hurri. cane,) occasionally brightened the darkness of the Jewish story. That light, of old in Israel, came from woman's mind.
A century before the birth of Christ, the women of the Asmonean dynasty, as queens and stateswomen, but above all as royal mothers, (that awful position in Oriental despotisms) appeared on the arena of public life, with great intellectual power, if not with the milder virtues of woman's happiest condition. The Alexandras (a name which for a time was indicative of the same political and social importance in Judah, as that of Cleopatra in Egypt,) were placed in a position that called out all the strong volition and intellectual contrivance, of which the moral idiosyncrasy of woman is susceptible.
The social condition of the Hebrew women at this period remained what the reforms of Moses had left it, when he reduced polygamy to four lawful wives, and an indefinite number of concubines.)* Incompatible as these reforms may be with Christian morals, and with modern European institutions, they were still advantageously distinguished from the laws of all other Oriental nations, and even from those of Israel, in its more primitive times. But the Hebrew women had too many traditions of the state of female society in Persia, and were in too close relation with Egypt, not to have borrowed much from both, in opinion, customs, and in self-dependence ;t and the queens of the Asmonean dynasty, during the century which preceded the birth of Christ, appeared not only to have displayed considerable moral energy, but to have taken up a position, and to have assumed an influence with their royal masters, or husbạnds, which assimilated their condition to that of the royal women of both these countries.
* Michaelis. “Polygamy amongst the Jews was through the influence of Rabbi Gierson (A. D 1060) formally prohibited under the penalty of excommunication, or cherem, by a synod held at Worms; but the effects of this prohibition were to last only till 1340, after which time a person married to more than one wife was not to be considered as falling under the penalty. In many countries this prohibition was not adopted by the Jews--for instance, by those that lived in Provence. The abolition of polygamy was not made on religious grounds, but only as a matter of expediency; many later Jewish synods have, however, forced such indi. viduals as had married several wives to divorce them all except the first."
See an admirable article on the State of the Jews in Poland, in the British and Foreign Review, Number X. October, 1837.
+ Segur, vol. 1, page 165.
A century before the Christian era, the mother of Aris. tobulus, the then reigning king and pontiff of Judea, aware of the inherent vices of her unnatural son, put forth her own pretensions to the throne, and endeavoured to prove that the sovereignty of Palestine was her right. Whether she was just or otherwise, whether sympathy for the suffering people, or a personal ambition, urged this aspiration of the queen-mother, she must have been considered by her son as too dangerous a rival to be permitted to live. Accordingly, the ferocious Aristobulus condemned her to the slow torture of dying of hunger in a loathsome dungeon!
As an expiation of this crime, against which nature cried aloud, he endeavoured to bring into the pale of orthodoxy the Iturians, whom he converted, by fire and sword, to the Jewish faith. But the murder of his bro. ther Antigone soon followed that of his mother : and this fearful king of the Jews, and grand pontiff, having lived abhorred, died suddenly in agonies of mind and body, bequeathing to Salome, whom the Greeks called Alex. andra, his wife, a power in the state, which she had already secured as the chief of an influential cabal. She had already brought the nobles of Judea, and the courtiers of the palace of Jerusalem, to her interests ; and she proved at once the purity of her intentions, and the greatness of her influence in the state, by immediately liberating her husband's imprisoned brothers, and placing the elder (Alexander-Janneus) on the throne and in the pontificate of Judea.
But she who gave power, could not give wisdom to render it available. Alexander-Janneus soon proved how unworthy he was of the protection of his disinterested sister-in-law, by the commission of every crime that de. grades and afflicts humanity.
His first act on his assumption of royal power, was to put his second brother to death, on a suspicion of conspiracy against the throne ; his next ferocious deed was to crucify eight hundred of his subjects, before the eyes of their wives, on the plea of a revolt! During his mad wars with the Arabs and Moabites, he lost nearly the whole of his army in an ambuscade; and in an engagement with Ptolemy Lathyrus, King of Egypt, he was wholly defeated. The frequent insurrections of his subjects induced him at last to ask them “ what he could do to satisfy them?” They replied with acclamations“ Die!" He soon accomplished their wishes; for, in the midst of his crimes, his wars, and his defeats, while besieging the castle of Ragaba “ beyond the Jordan,” he was struck down by a mortal disease, at the moment when he was celebrating one of his dissolute orgies, in a royal tent, filled with his concubines and parasites.
It was then that the talents and virtues of his wife Salome, the second Alexandra, who had accompanied him in his campaigns, were first exerted in behalf of the public good. Alarmed by the distracted condition of the state, and the perilous position of her children and herself, Alexandra rushed, like Bathsheba, to the couch of the dying king of Judea. Eloquently describing to him the public disasters, the perils, that surrounded his two sons, Hiram and Aristobulus, and the hatred that the people bore to his race, on account of the crimes of its late representatives, she besought him to announce his will, and to name a successor, and a regent for that suc. cessor, such as would best suit the exigencies of the times. He thought of her wisdom and her virtues, he was aware of her popularity with all classes, and, above all, with the Pharisees, that powerful faction, whose influence he advised her to cultivate; and, dying, he named her his successor to the throne.
Alexandra, whose sons were under age, was left by the will of her husband sole sovereign; and, being upheld by the most powerful party in the state, she placed herself at the head of the armies, prosecuted the siege with vigour, and carried it with such brilliant success, that, on her return to Jerusalem, she had not only a triumphal entry for herself, but obtained for her husband the honours of superb