Alexander Jannaeus and Me – Part I

I began writing an essay early this month, and never finished it. I meant to finish it by this past Sunday…didn’t happen. So I figured I’d at least post what I have written so far, as it does comprise a “Part I”, and I can post future parts of the essay as they are written.

167 years before the common era, Mattathias and several sons, including Judah Maccabee, revolted against the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus. This revolt, which lasted until 160 BCE, is commemorated every year in the holiday of Hannukah. The success of the revolt, and the rededication of the Temple which had been desecrated by the Seleucids is celebrated. What is usually not taught to kids is what happened a few years down the road.

When Judah died, leadership passed to his brother Jonathan, and then it passed to their brother Simon. Judah, Jonathan and Simon were good leaders, I beleive, but then the leadership of the Hasmonean Dynasty passed to the next generation. John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, is known for forcefully converting the Idumeans to Judaism. Judaism is proud that there are very few times in our religion’s history that we forcefully converted anyone. This is one of those few sad times. When he died, leadership passed to his wife. (That is something positive to note — women were allowed to lead.) However, their son, Aristobulus, wasn’t satisfied with High Priest, so he threw his mother into jail, and took leadership. At least he didn’t commit matricide, right? His reign lasted only a year, though, and he died a painful illness. (G-d works in not so mysterious ways sometimes.) He was succeeded, unfortunately, by a brother, Alexander Jannaeus. Alexander Jannaeus slew 6,000 Pharisees, starting a civil war that resulted in 50,000 deaths, which was a lot back then. He is considered so wicked a tyrant, that his death on the 2nd day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, in the Hebrew year 3685 (76 BCE), is recorded as a day of celebration. I don’t believe the death of any other Jew has been recorded as a day of celebration for us.

2045 years later, to the day on the Hebrew Calendar. I was born. (You were wondering what this was leading up to, weren’t you?) I can guarantee you that my parents had no idea who Alexander Jannaeus was, and I was not named after him, even though it is assumed that his Hebrew name was Jonathan. This year my birthday on the Roman calendar coincides again with my birthday on the Hebrew calendar.

[I should briefly mention Alexander Jannaeus’s wife, who was also the wife of his brother before he died the painful illness, and who took over the reigns of power after Jannaeus died. She healed the rifts that her husbands had caused. She has a rather famous name. Salome, but she should not be confused with the New Testament Salome.]