Antipater the Idumaean
A native of Idumaea, southeast of Judea between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, which during the time of the Hebrew Bible had been known as the land of Edom, Antipater became a powerful official under the later Hasmonean kings and subsequently became a client of the Roman general Pompey the Great when Pompey conquered Judea in the name of Roman Republic.
When Julius Caesar defeated Pompey, Antipater rescued Caesar in Alexandria, and was made chief minister of Judea, with the right to collect taxes. Antipater eventually made his sons Phasaelus and Herod the Governors of Jerusalem and Galilee respectively. After the assassination of Caesar, Antipater was forced to side with Gaius Cassius Longinus against Mark Antony. The pro-Roman politics of Antipater led to his increasing unpopularity among the devout, non-Hellenized Jews. He died by poison.
The diplomacy and artful politics of Antipater, as well as his insinuation into the Hasmonean court, paved the way for the rise of his son Herod the Great, who used this position to marry the Hasmonean princess Mariamne, endear himself to Rome and become king of Judea under Roman influence.
Though historians understand that Antipater’s family converted to Judaism in the second century BCE, different stories had circulated in the wake of his sons coming to power. They demonstrate the tensions that existed between the Jewish people and the powerful Idumaeans who appear at this time. Nicolaus of Damascus, the court historian for Herod, wrote that Herod’s ancestors were among the historical elite in Jerusalem who had been taken by King Nebuchadnezzar into Babylonian captivity in the sixth century BCE. This account serves two purposes; when the Persian King Cyrus sent the captives in Babylon back to Judea, it is likely that some chose to settle elsewhere. A legitimate dispersion such as this would shroud the fact that Herod’s ancestry is undocumented in the meticulous records of returned Jewish families. Claiming a heritage among the Jews from as early as the Babylonian captivity provides credibility for a pro-Roman and Hellenized Herod as a King over the Jews, for they were highly contemptuous of him. Josephus explains this rendering by critiquing its author: Nicolaus wrote to please Herod and would do so at the cost of truthfulness.
Instead Josephus explains that Antipater's family converted to Judaism during the forced conversions by the Sadducee-influenced Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus. Hyrcanus threatened that any Idumeaan who wished to maintain their land would need to be circumcised and enter into the traditions of the Jews. Forcible conversion was not recognized by the dominant Pharisaic tradition, so even though Antipater and Herod the Great may have considered themselves of the Jewish faith, they were not considered Jewish by the observant and nationalist Jews of Judea. This influential family was resented for their Edomite ancestry, their Hellenistic incursions upon Jewish tradition, and their collusion with the Roman invaders.
Antipater married Cypros, a Nabataean noblewoman, which helped endear the Nabateans to him. Their marriage helped bring about a close friendship between him and the King of the Arabia, Aretas, to whom Cypros was a related. The two men had such a relationship that Antipater entrusted his children to his friend when he went to war with the Hasmonean Aristobulus II. They had four sons: Phasael, Herod, Joseph, and Pheroras, and a daughter, Salome, one of several Salomes among the Herodians. Antipater also had a brother named Phalion, who was killed in battle against Aristobulus at Papyron.
Antipater served as a governor of Idumea under King Alexander Jannaeus and Queen Salome Alexandra, the parents of the feuding heirs. Josephus writes that he was a man of great authority among the Idumeans, both wealthy and born into a dignified family. Indeed it is clear in the various forms of assistance that Antipater provides to both Hyrcanus II, brother of Aristobulus, and the Romans, that he possessed great resources, and brilliant military and political capabilities.
At the Hasmonean court
Antipater laid the foundation for Herod's ascension to the throne of Judea partly through his activities in the court of the Hasmoneans, the heirs of the Maccabees, who were the hereditary leaders of the Jews, and partly by currying favor with the Romans, who were growing more involved and dominant over the region at this time.
Soon after Hyrcanus succeeded his widowed mother as ruler and took the office of the high priest, he was immediately attacked by his brother and surrendered. Hyrcanus agreed to retire from public life. Antipater, who seems to have succeeded his father as governor of Idumæa, had reason to fear that King Aristobulus would not retain him in this position.
Antipater was known as a seditious and trouble-making man, and he exploited the weak-willed Hyrcanus for the sake of his ambition. After Hyrcanus stepped down, Antipater persuaded him to contend against his brother for his rightful position, and even convinced the unsuspecting and reluctant Hyrcanus that his younger brother intended to kill him. He arranged for Hyrcanus to come under the protection of the Arabian King Aretas III in Petra. Together they attacked Aristobulus in Jerusalem, and there was a great upheaval that drew the attention of the Roman magistrate Pompey assigned to the eastern Mediterranean province.
Although Pompey and his lieutenant Scaurus initially ruled in Aristobulus’ favor when the brothers brought their case forward, on the third intervention Pompey ordered the brothers to wait. Aristobulus impatiently provoked a political offense that brought Pompey to appoint Hyrcanus the ethnarch of Judea.
Hyrcanus proved ineffective as either an administrator, or more importantly, as tax collector. Antipater was able to insinuate himself into a position of influence, and soon exercised the authority that ostensibly belonged to Hyrcanus as high priest. Antipater recognized Rome's growing dominance in the region and exploited it to his advantage. Due his loyalty to Rome and reliability as a statesman, he was placed in charge of Judea, with responsibilities and privileges that included mediating civil disturbance and tax collecting.
Roman Procurator and appointments of sons
With Hyrcanus established, Antipater thrived and laid the foundation for his family’s success by navigating conflicts of loyalty and power-shifting within the Roman elite. When Julius Caesar and Pompey went to battle in Egypt, Pompey was killed, so Antipater in 47 BCE shifted his allegiance to Caesar, and indeed ingratiated himself with Caesar. While Caesar was besieged in Alexandria, Antipater rescued him with three thousand men and the aid of numerous nearby friends. For his “demonstrations of valor” Caesar elevated Antipater to Roman citizenry, freed him from taxes, and showered him with honors and declarations of friendship.
Later when accused by Aristobulus’ son, Antigonus, who returns from Roman bondage to contest for power, Antipater made a great scene of his scars from fighting for Caesar’s life in Egypt. He defended himself with a history of unfailing loyalty to the Romans. This appeal persuaded Caesar who then appointed Antipater the first Roman Procurator of Judea. This amity allowed the Jews a special degree of protection and freedom to govern themselves and enjoy Rome’s good will. Josephus notes that with his newfound rights and honors, Antipater immediately began to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that Pompey had destroyed when subduing Aristobulus. He established order by tempering civil disturbances in Judea and threatening to become a “severe master instead of a gentle governor” should the people grow seditious and unruly. Matters in Judea were finally calm for a time.
At this time came the defining point in Antipater's legacy, whereby he made his son, Phasael, governor of Jerusalem, and Herod the governor of Galilee, to the north of Samaria between the Sea of Galilee and Mediterranean. Herod quickly set about ridding Galilee of what his court historian calls "robbers", although they may also have been people resisting Roman rule. His activities eventually resulted in complaints raised with the Sanhedrin.
Assassination and Legacy
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Antipater was forced to side with Cassius against Mark Antony. When Cassius came to Syria to collect troops, he began to demand harsh tributes, so much so that some entire cities and city curators were sold into slavery. Cassius demanded seven hundred talents out of Judea, so Antipater split the cost between his two sons. One aristocrat tasked with collecting tribute was Malichus, who disdained Antipater and enraged Cassius by not collecting with haste. However, Antipater saved Malichus from death by expending one hundred talents of his own and placating Cassius’ anger.
Although Antipater saved Malichus' life a second time from a different ruler, Malichus continued to despise Antipater and seek his murder. Josephus presents two opposing reasons, one which would help secure Hyrcanus against the rising threat of Herod, and the other being his desire to quickly dispose of Hyrcanus and take power himself. He devised multiple assassination attempts which Antipater evaded, but successfully bribed one of Hyrcanus’ cup-bearers to poison and kill Antipater.
Antipater’s work as power-broker between the Hasmoneans, the Arabians, and the Romans inaugurated dramatic dynamics and steep changes in the history of the Jewish nation. The diplomacy and artful politics of Antipater produced the Herodian dynasty; he paved the way for the rise of his son Herod the Great, who married the Hasmonean princess Mariamne, endeared himself to Rome, and usurped the Judean throne to become king of Judea under Roman influence.
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