Judas’ younger brother, Jonathan, assumed leadership of the Maccabean revolt. Not only was he faced with the Syrian threat but mushrooming civil unrest. The Maccabees advocated a Judea ruled by Jews as well as strict adherence to religious laws. They were opposed by the Hellenized Judeans who endorsed compromise to ensure friendly relations with Syria. Although Jonathan was able to secure the governorship by leveraging alliances with Rome and Sparta, he was murdered in 142 BC.
Jonathan’s older brother, Simon, took up the Maccabean cause. Simon was able to convince the Seleucid king to cancel Judea’s tribute to Syria. The Judeans were ecstatic with their newfound independence and freedom from Syrian taxation. Simon was named hereditary High Priest, an office that was pledged to his descendents. The Jews and their priests had consented that he should be their prince and high priest forever, till there should arise a faithful prophet. Notable successors to Simon were his son, John Hyrcanus, and his grandson, Alexander Janneus.
Hyrcanus expanded Judean borders to include Samaria in the north and Indumea in the south. He forced the Idumeans to embrace Judaism and submit to circumcision. Antipater I, grandfather of Herod the Great, was one of his converts.
During the reign of Janneus, the country erupted into civil war, brought on by a bitter rivalry between two religious parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The disgruntled Pharisees sought the help of Syria while the Sadducees allied themselves with Janneus. In the end, Janneus emerged victorious. To celebrate his victory, he crucified 800 Pharisees while their wives and children were slaughtered before their eyes.
The descendants of Mattathias, who were called Hasmoneans, established nearly a century of independence in Judea. The Hasmonean dynasty ended in 37 BC with the Roman capture of Jerusalem. Herod the Great was appointed “King of the Jews.”
Herod governed the whole of Palestine which was divided into three provinces west of the Jordan—Judea, Samaria, and the northernmost province of Galilee. Because his Idumean family had been converted to Judaism about a century earlier, he was viewed as a half-Jew by Judeans. Thus his pagan constituents saw him as a benefactor of the Jews but the Jewish populace never perceived him as an equal. Herod attempted to win Jewish approval by marrying a daughter of the Hasmoneans, by publicly observing Jewish law, and, most notably, by renovating Zerubabbel’s temple with such lavish splendour that it became one of the wonders of the Roman Empire.
Jacob’s prophecy was on the brink of fulfilment. The other eleven tribes of Israel either jumped or were pushed into the melting pot but Judah retained its cultural identity. While the ten northern tribes were dispersed among the nations or swallowed up in Samaria, Judah maintained its name, its borders, and to some extent its independence, even after the Babylonian exile.
In 5 BC, by decree of Augustus Caesar, a census was taken of the entire Roman Empire. Judeans were counted and their property evaluated for taxation. In order to register, everyone went to his own city. Mary and Joseph made the trip from Galilee to Judea, to the city of David, which was called Bethlehem, because Joseph was a descendant of King David. During their visit, Jesus was born. Shiloh had come in the person of the Messiah.
Herod the Great died in the spring of 4 BC. His kingdom was divided between his sons. Herod Antipas was given the land of Galilee and Herod Archelaus, the land of Judea and Samaria.
Unlike his father, Archelaus didn’t receive the title, “King of the Jews.” Instead he received the less prestigious title of tetrarch, designating a local ruler appointed to govern on Rome’s behalf. In 6 AD, Archelaus was deposed by Augustus Caesar and his domain annexed to the Empire. Judea and Samaria were reduced to a province ruled by a Roman governor.
Pontius Pilate was the fifth Roman governor to rule Judea. At the end of Christ’s trial and before His sentencing, Pilate asked the chief priests, “Shall I crucify your King?”
The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Judea’s fate was sealed. The sceptre had indeed departed from Judah. Shiloh had come.