Jerusalem: The Biography
showed his gratitude, after a victory over his enemies, by visiting Jerusalem and there sacrificing respectfully in the Temple, hosted no doubt by Joseph. When the king died, however, the Egyptians found themselves challenged by a teenaged Seleucid king of irrepressible ambition.
    The challenger was the Macedonian king of Asia, Antiochus III. In 223, this peripatetic eighteen-year-old inherited a grandiose title and a disintegrating empire, * but he possessed the gifts to reverse this decay. Antiochus regarded himself as the heir to Alexander and, like all the Macedonian kings, he associated himself with Apollo, Hercules, Achilles and, above all, Zeus. In a dizzying succession of campaigns, Antiochus reconquered Alexander’s eastern empire as far as India, earning the soubriquet ‘the Great’. He repeatedly attacked Palestine but the Ptolemies repelled his invasions and the ageing Joseph the Tobiad continued to rule Jerusalem. But his son Hyrcanus betrayed him and attacked the city. Shortly before his death, Joseph defeated his son, who went on to carve out his own principality in today’s Jordan.
    In 201, Antiochus the Great, now in his forties, returned from his triumphs in the east. Jerusalem was ‘tossed like a ship in a storm between both sides’. Finally, Antiochus routed the Egyptians, and Jerusalem welcomed a new master. ‘The Jews, when we came into their city,’ declared Antiochus, ‘gave us a splendid reception and met us with their senate, and also helped us expel the Egyptian garrison.’ A Seleucid king and army were an impressive sight. Antiochus would have worn a diadem of royalty, laced boots of crimson embroidered with gold, a broad-brimmed hat and a dark-blue cloak spangled with gold stars, brooched at the throat in crimson. The Jerusalemites provisioned his multinational army that included Macedonian phalanxes bearing their sarissa lances, Cretan mountain fighters, Cilician light infantry, Thracian slingers, Mysian bowmen, Lydian javelineers, Persian bowmen, Kurdish infantry, Iranian heavy-armoured cataphracts on war horses and, most prestigious of all, elephants – probably a first for Jerusalem. †
    Antiochus promised to repair the Temple and the walls, repopulate the city and confirmed the Jews’ right to rule themselves ‘in accordance with the laws of their fathers’. He even banned foreigners from entering the Temple or bringing ‘into the city the flesh of horses or mules or wild or tame asses or leopards, foxes or hares’. Simon, the high priest, had certainly backed the right side: never had Jerusalem enjoyed such an indulgent conqueror. Jerusalemites looked back at this time as a golden age ruled by the ideal high priest who, they said, resembled ‘the morning star in the midst of a cloud’. 28
    When Simon * emerged from the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest ‘was clothed in the perfection of glory, when he went up to the holy altar’. He was the paragon of the high priests who ruled Judah as anointed princes, a combination of monarch, pope and ayatollah: he wore gilded robes, a gleaming breastplate and a crown-like turban on which he sported the nezer , a golden flower, the symbol of life and salvation, a relic of the headdress of the kings of Judah. Jesus Ben Sira, the author of Ecclesiasticus and the first writer to capture the sacred drama of the flourishing city, described Simon as ‘a cypress tree which groweth up to the clouds’.
    Jerusalem had become a theocracy – the very word was invented by the historian Josephus to describe this statelet with its ‘entire sovereignty and all authority in the hands of God’. Harsh rules regulated every detail of life, for there was no distinction between politics and religion. In Jerusalem there were no statues nor graven images. The observance of the Sabbath was an obsession. All crimes against religion were punished

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