Alexander Jannaeus Hasmonean, King and High Priest

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Alexander Jannaeus Hasmonean, King and High Priest

Hebrew: אלכסנדר ינאי החשמונאי, מלך וכהן גדול, Dutch: Alexander Jannaeus ben Hyrcanus, King of Judah and High Priest
Also Known As: "/Jonathan/"
Birthplace: Jerusalem, Judea
Death: Died in 76 BCE, Judea
Cause of death: Died in war
Place of Burial: Jerudalem, Judea
Immediate Family:

Son of John Hyrcanus I Hasmonean, Ethnarch & High Priest and Arisone of Egypt
Husband of Salome Alexandra, Queen of Judaea
Father of Aristobulus II Maccabaeus, King and High Priest and Hyrcanus II King of Maccabaeus, High Priest & King
Brother of Judas Aristobulus I Hasmonean, King & High Priest of Judea; Antigonos I Hasmonean; Absalom of Judea Hasmonéan, Prince; son #5 of John Hyrcanus I #5 Maccabeus and Hezekiah ben Yohanan

Occupation: King & High Priest of Judea
Managed by: Private User
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About Alexander Jannaeus Hasmonean, King and High Priest

אלכסנדר ינאי

Alexander Jannaeus (also known as Alexander Jannai/Yannai; Hebrew: אלכסנדר ינאי) was king of Judea from 103 BC to 76 BC. The son of John Hyrcanus, he inherited the throne from his brother Aristobulus I, and appears to have married his brother's widow, Shlomtzion or "Shelomit", also known as Salome Alexandra, according to the Biblical law of Yibum ("levirate marriage").

His likely full Hebrew name was Jonathan; he may have been the High Priest Jonathan, rather than his great-uncle of the same name, who established the Masada fortress. Under the name King Yannai, he appears as a wicked tyrant in the Talmud, reflecting his conflict with the Pharisee party. He is among the more colorful historical figures, despite being little known outside specialized history. He and his widow (who became queen regnant after his death) had substantial impact on the subsequent development of Judaism.

Jannaeus expanded the Hasmonean Kingdom and established the city of Gamla in 81 BCE as the capital for what is now the Golan Heights.


Alexander Jannaeus married the wife of his brother, Aristobulus I (Salome Alexandra). By her he had two sons, the eldest, Hyrcanus II became high-priest in 62 BCE and Aristobulus II who was high-priest from 66 - 62 BCE and started a bloody civil war with his brother, ending in his capture by Pompey the Great.

Conquests of Alexander Jannaeus

During the twenty-seven year reign of Alexander Jannaeus, he was almost constantly involved in military conflict. Primarily, international factors at the time created an environment suitable for Jannaeus’ conquests. First of all, Jannaeus received support from Cleopatra III of Egypt. She was probably swayed to support Jannaeus through two Jewish commanders in her military. This support was particularly crucial during the war with Ptolemy Lathyrus (discussed later). Ultimately, conflict in the Roman Empire was the greatest outside influence on Judean military campaigns. Political instability in Rome led to a Civil War beginning in 88 BCE. With Rome chiefly concerned with a tumultuous domestic predicament, Jannaeus was free to expand the Judean state. Finally, a weak Seleucid Empire was unable to help Hellenistic cities near Judea.

With a mercenary army similar to that of his father, Jannaeus led a Judean army that conquered the entire coastal plain except for Ashkelon. Jannaeus toppled Western Samaria, the Galilee and the Northern Transjordan. The coastal ports of Dor and Caesarea were also taken after Jannaeus was defeated at Acre. Elsewhere on the Mediterranean coast, the Judeans triumphed over the cities of Raffah and Antedon. Finally, Jannaeus outlasted the inhabitants of Gaza in a year long siege. This impressive victory gained Judean control over the Mediterranean outlet for the Nabatean trade routes. [edit] War with Ptolemy Lathyrus

After a failed siege against Gaza, Jannaeus struck a phony league of friendship with the Egyptian co-ruler Ptolemy Lathyrus. In reality Jannaeus sought the assistance of Lathyrus’ mother, Cleopatra III, against her son. When Lathyrus learned of this treachery, he took out his fury on Judea. After defeating Jannaeus near the Jordan River, Lathyrus’ soldiers slaughtered fleeing Jewish troops. Afterwards, Lathyrus attacked a small village in Judea with utter malice. The Egyptian troops strangled women and children. Then the deceased were cut into pieces, boiled in cauldrons, and eaten as a sacrifice. This act of cannibalism was used to terrify the Judean people and their military. After this massacre, Jannaeus was in no position to stop the onslaught of Lathyrus. However, Cleopatra III stepped in to prevent Lathyrus from sacking Jerusalem.

News of this slaughter certainly spread rapidly throughout Judea, exemplified by the Pesher on Isaiah 4Q161 found at Qumran: “(25) He will shake his fist at the mount of the daughters of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem…(27) when he goes up from the Valley of Acco to fight against Philistia…(29) and even up to the boundaries of Jerusalem.”

High Priesthood

It is clear that a strong rift existed between the Pharisees and Alexander Jannaeus. The rival Sadducees were avid supporters of Jannaeus (see 4Q448). The Pharisaic opposition to Jannaeus continued with his marriage to his brother’s widow, which was forbidden by Torah law. Furthermore, Jannaeus established himself as a ruler concerned mainly with conquests rather than his religious obligations.

One year during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Alexander Jannaeus, while officiating as the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) at the Temple in Jerusalem, demonstrated his support of the Sadducees by denying the law of the water libation. The crowd responded with shock at his mockery and showed their displeasure by pelting Alexander with the etrogim (citrons) that they were holding in their hands. Unwittingly, the crowd had played right into Alexander's hands. He had intended to incite the people to riot and his soldiers fell upon the crowd at his command. The soldiers slew more than 6,000 people in the Temple courtyard.

This incident during Tabernacles was a major factor leading up to the Judean Civil War by igniting popular opponents of Jannaeus. A Qumran document sheds further light on another opponent of Jannaeus. The scroll 4Q390 was written by an adversary of Jannaeus seeking popular support to overthrow the Hasmonean King. The author called for an end to the dispute between Jannaeus and the Pharisees. According to the author, the only acceptable solution was an end to the Hasmonean Priesthood and secular control. This opposition culminated in the Judean Civil War.

Judean Civil War and the Crucifixion of the 800

The Judean Civil War initially began after the conquest of Gaza by Jannaeus. Due to Jannaeus’ victory at Gaza, the Nabatean kingdom no longer controlled their trade routes to Rome and Damascus. Therefore Nabatean king Obodas I launched an attack on Judea in the Golan. Potentially, the war with the Nabateans was the last straw against a war-mongering king and an incompetent High Priest. After Jannaeus was defeated in battle against Obadas, he returned to fierce Jewish opposition in Jerusalem. A civil war broke out between Pharisaic supported Jewish rebels and Jannaeus.

Overall, the war lasted six years and left 50,000 Judeans dead. After Jannaeus succeeded early in the war, the rebels unbelievably asked for Seleucid assistance. Judean insurgents joined forces with Demetrius III to fight against Jannaeus. The Seleucid forces defeated Jannaeus at Schechem and forced him into exile in the mountains. However, these Judean rebels ultimately decided that it was better to live under a terrible Jewish king than backtrack to a Seleucid ruler. After 6,000 Jews returned to Jannaeus, Demetrius was defeated. The end of the Civil War brought a sense of national solidarity against Seleucid influence. Nevertheless, Jannaeus was uninterested in reconciliation within the Judean State.

The aftermath of the Judean Civil War consisted of popular unrest, poverty and grief over the fallen soldiers on both sides. The greatest impact of the war was the victor’s revenge. Josephus reports that Jannaeus brought 800 rebels to Jerusalem and had them crucified. Even worse, Jannaeus had the throats of the rebel’s wives and children cut before their eyes as Jannaeus ate with his concubines.

This incredible account is supported in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the Nahum Pesher, the Judean Civil War and Jannaeus’ brutal retribution are specifically mentioned.

“(2) The interpretation of it concerns Demetrius, King of Greece, who sought to enter Jerusalem on the advice of the Seeker-After-Smooth-Things. (3) But God did not give Jerusalem into the power of the Kings of Greece from Antiochus until the rise of the rulers of the Kittim… (6b) Its interpretation concerns the Lion of Wrath (7) which will bring vengeance against the Seekers-After-Smooth-Things; he would hang men alive.”

In this passage, The Seekers-After-Smooth-Things represent the Jewish Rebels, the Lion of Wrath represents Alexander Jannaeus, and the rulers of Kittim signify the Roman Empire. Given that this passage mentions the Roman takeover, it was clearly written after the fall of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Nevertheless, substantiation of Josephus’ account of the crucifixion of Jewish rebels by Jannaeus quells any doubt of historicity of this event.

Sources (more):

Alexander Jannai Maccabeus of Judea - rootweb

Early Nabatean history 300 BCE - 26 BCE

About אלכסנדר ינאי החשמונאי, מלך וכהן גדול (עברית)

יהונתן אלכסנדר ("ינאי") - מלך וכהן גדול משושלת החשמונאים בין השנים 103 לפנה"ס עד 76 לפנה"ס בתקופת הבית השני. עסק רבות בכיבושים והרחיב מאוד את ממלכת החשמונאים, למרות שידע גם תבוסות. אלכסנדר ינאי היה בנו הצעיר של יוחנן הורקנוס הראשון. מהמטבעות ידוע לנו ששמו העברי היה "יהונתן" וינאי הוא קיצור של שם זה. עם זאת, יש הסוברים שינאי הוא קיצור של "יוחנן". אחיו, יהודה אריסטובולוס הראשון, שטם את ינאי וחשש ממנו, ובעת היותו המנהיג כלא את ינאי. אולם לאחר מות יהודה אריסטובולוס ומשמת אחיו הנוסף אנטיגונוס הראשון התמנה אלכסנדר ינאי לשליט. אלכסנדר ינאי נשא לאישה כיבם את אלמנתו של יהודה אריסטובלוס, הלא היא שלומציון המלכה (שהיא גם האחות של שמעון בן שטח).

צוואת ינאי : כאיש מלחמות ניהל אלכסנדר ינאי את ממלכתו, וכאיש מלחמות נפל בשעה שצר על אחת הערים בעבר הירדן המזרחי. בשנות מלכותו האחרונות ביקש לאחות את הקרע בינו לבין העם, ואף ציווה על אשתו, שלומציון אלכסנדרה, להשלים עם הפרושים, כי הבין שלבסוף מלך לא יוכל לשלוט בעם על חודם של כידונים ולהתבסס על חיל שכירים.

בשעה שנפטר ינאי, בשנת 76 לפנה"ס, התפלגה ירושתו והתפצלה לשלושה בעלי תפקידים: אשתו שלומציון נטלה את כתר המלוכה, בנה הבכור, הורקנוס השני, היה לכוהן גדול והפיקוד על הצבא נמסר לבן הצעיר, יהודה אריסטובולוס השני.

ינאי בהערכה היסטורית : יוסף קלוזנר מתייחס באהדת מה אל ינאי המלך ורואה כבדיה את הסיפורים שיש אצל יוסף בן מתתיהו בדבר אכזריותו הגדולה (למשל צליבת 800 פרושים, שחיטת נשיהם ובניהם לעיניהם והתעלסות עם פילגשיו במשתה גדול באותו זמן). בספרו "היסטוריה של הבית השני" הוא מציין שעל ידי השגשוג המדיני והכיבושים: הועיל המלך ה"חילוני" מבית חשמונאי גם ליהדות הרוחנית - אפשר, שלא מדעתו - יותר מן ה"רוחניים" ביותר שבמנהיגיה... היחס השלילי אל מלך זה מצד קדמונינו ואחרונינו מעיד רק על אי התעמקות בדברי הימים של אותו זמן ועל מגמות תאולוגיות, שאינן מביאות בחשבון את החיים הארציים ואת מצב הדברים כמו שהיו בימי קדם.

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Alexander Jannaeus Hasmonean, King and High Priest's Timeline

Jerusalem, Judea
- -76
Age 21
Jerusalem, Judea
Age 24
Age 24
Age 48
76 BCE, Judea
Age 48
Jerudalem, Judea