Palestine under Hasmonean Rule

The marriage of politics and religion contributed to both the expansion and destruction of the Hasmoneans.


In 142 B.C.E. the Great Assembly in Jerusalem named Simeon, the last surviving Maccabee brother, to the posts of high priest, commander and leader and deemed these posts hereditary. When Simeon was assassinated in 134 B.C.E. his son, John Hyrcanus, assumed leadership, establishing the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmonean era continued until the invasion of Rome in 63 B.C.E. The following article describes Palestine under Hasmonean rule. It is reprinted with permission from Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (Jewish Publication Society).

Hasmonean Expansion

With the establishment of Hasmonean rule (transformed in 104-103 B.C.E. into a kingdom), Jerusalem entered a new stage of history as the capital of an independent state. While the city had already enjoyed this status for some four hundred years during the First Temple period (c. 1000-586 B.C.E.), it had been reduced to a modest temple-city for the first four hundred years of the Second Temple era (c. 540-140 B.C.E.), serving as the capital of a small and relatively isolated district.


All this changed, however, under the Hasmoneans; as Jerusalem assumed its role as the center of a sizable state, the city’s dimensions and fortunes were affected as well. Replacing the district of Yehud in the Persian and Hellenistic eras, the Hasmonean realm expanded greatly, encompassing an area roughly the size of David’s and Solomon’s kingdoms’ and becoming a significant regional power by the beginning of the first century B.C.E. Jerusalem under the Hasmoneans grew fivefold, from a relatively small area in the City of David with some five thousand inhabitants to a population of twenty-five to thirty thousand inhabitants… 

Biblical Precedents

As a result of the many Hasmonean conquests, the biblical concept of Eretz Israel–the area of Jewish settlement and sovereignty in ancient Palestine–was significantly expanded. Although today we are aware of the many differences in the delineation of Israel’s borders according to various biblical traditions, it is generally agreed that the “Promised Land” included the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and east of the Jordan River, and between the Galilee and the northern Negev. While the boundaries of Yehud for the first four hundred years of the Second Temple period were severely restricted to the area around Jerusalem, a much more expansive understanding of Eretz Israel became a new reality under the Hasmoneans, with enormous ideological and social implications.

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Lee I. Levine is a professor in the Department of History and the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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