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Jonathan (Hasmonean)

Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls What is This? Explores the history, relevance, and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Jonathan (Hasmonean)

son of Mattathias was high priest from 152 to 143 bce. Jonathan was the younger brother of Judah the Maccabee and together with him fought in battles from the beginning of the Hasmonean rebellion. After Judah fell in battle in 161 bce, his friends elected Jonathan as their leader. Shortly thereafter, Jacimus was appointed high priest by Bacchides, military commander of Demetrius I of Syria, causing Jonathan and his followers to flee to the desert of Tekoa. When Jonathan's brother Yoḥanan was killed by a hostile Arab tribe, Jonathan took revenge against them. Bacchides attempted to punish Jonathan for the injury to the Arabs, but then formed an alliance with him. When a pretender to the crown, Alexander Balas, rose against Demetrius I in 152–145 bce, both parties made offers to Jonathan to appoint him as high priest in 152 bce in exchange for aid. Henceforth, Jonathan did not need to fight the Seleucids in order to strengthen his position; rather, he acted in the diplomatic realm in order to further his objectives. In 147 bce, Demetrius II arose as a competitor to Alexander Balas. Jonathan defeated him in a battle that took place near Jaffa and Ashdod. As a reward, Jonathan received the Akra and its surroundings from Alexander Balas. After Demetrius II returned to Antioch, he faced a revolt of soldiers and residents. Demetrius II was compelled to ask for Jonathan's help, and as compensation he promised Jonathan to evacuate the Seleucid soldiers from the Akra. A force of three thousand Jewish soldiers departed for Antioch and protected Demetrius II, who then evaded his promises to Jonathan.

Toward the end of 145 bce, the power of Tryphon (who was a pretender to the Seleucid throne) and Antiochus VI became stronger, and Jonathan formed an alliance with them. They authorized Jonathan's rule over the northern regions and added a fourth region to Judea (most likely Transjordan). Tryphon even appointed Simon, the brother of Jonathan, as governor of the coastal district. In 143 bce, Jonathan formed political alliances with Rome and Sparta. Tryphon reached the conclusion that Jonathan was overly independent. Tryphon captured Jonathan at Acre and subsequently attempted to invade Judea, which was defended by Simon. Tryphon attempted to reach Jerusalem via the Judean Desert; however, as a result of a snowstorm, he was forced to return to the Jordan Valley. Following the failure of his campaign, Tryphon executed Jonathan in 143 bce.

Among scholars of the Qumran scrolls, there has been a lengthy controversy regarding the identity of the Wicked Priest who is mentioned five times in Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab) and an additional two times in two pesharim from Qumran Cave 4 (4Q171 and 4Q163). [See Wicked Priest.] The majority of scholars have accepted the suggestions of Geza Vermes and Józef Milik in identifying the high priest as Jonathan son of Mattathias.

The following details about the Wicked Priest are elucidated in the pesharim: Pesher Habakkuk says that the evil priest was originally considered legitimate at the beginning of his service, and only when he ruled over Israel did he abandon the Lord and begin to betray the statutes for wealth (1QpHab viii.3–13). Likewise, it is noted that the Wicked Priest committed abominations in Jerusalem, defiled the Temple, and robbed the riches of orphans (1QpHab xii.7–10). The attempt of the Wicked Priest to kill the Teacher of Righteousness is mentioned twice. In Pesher Habakkuk it is said that the Wicked Priest attacked the Teacher of Righteousness on Yom Kippur, while the Teacher of Righteousness fasted in his place of exile (1QpHab xi.2–8). [See Teacher of Righteousness.] From this description it seems that one of the arguments between the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest was the question of the calendar, since the Wicked Priest, who was probably the high priest, could not leave the Temple on the Day of Atonement. Therefore, it seems that the Wicked Priest attacked the Teacher of Righteousness on his Yom Kippur, which was not Yom Kippur for the Wicked Priest. [See Calendars and Mishmarot.]

In Pesher Psalmsa it was noted that the Wicked Priest tried to kill the Teacher of Righteousness on account of the statute and the law which the Teacher of Righteousness sent to the Wicked Priest (4Q171 4.7–9). In Pesher Habakkuk it is said that the Lord took vengeance upon the Wicked Priest because he attempted to hurt the people of the sect (1QpHab xii.2–6). Likewise, there are two descriptions in this pesher which note that the Wicked Priest's enemies caught him, tortured him, and took revenge upon his corpse (1QpHab vii.13–ix.2; ix.99–12). The mention of the Wicked Priest in Pesher Isaiahc is fragmented and nothing can be learned from it (4Q163 30.3).

The widespread opinion that the treatise Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah was sent by the Teacher of Righteousness to the Wicked Priest also explains why the author of Pesher Habakkuk took the trouble to differentiate between the beginning of the Wicked Priest's life in which he was a positive leader and the end of his life in which he betrayed the statutes for wealth. The last paragraph in Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah is formulated in a very positive tone, and the writer notes that the addressee excels in the study of the law and understanding of the statutes. [See Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah.]

Some scholars have suggested that Jonathan son of Mattathias was mentioned in one of the scrolls, Apocryphal Psalm and Prayer (4Q448). This scroll contains a prayer for the welfare of King Jonathan and his kingdom. Yet Jonathan was not a king but a high priest, and there is no evidence that his followers called him king. Thus, the king mentioned in Apocryphal Psalm and Prayer must be Alexander Jannaeus, the only king whose Hebrew name was Jonathan.

[See also Alexander Jannaeus; Hasmoneans.]


  • Cross, Frank Moore. The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies. Garden City, N.Y., 1961. See pages 141–156.
  • Eshel, H. “4QMMT and the History of the Hasmonean Period.” In Reading 4QMMT: New Perspectives on Qumran Law and History, edited by J. Kampen and M. S. Bernstein, pp. 53–65. Atlanta, 1996.
  • Jeremias, G. Der Lehrer der Gerechtigkeit. Göttingen, 1963.
  • Milik, Józef T. Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea, translated by John Strugnell. Studies in Biblical Theology, 26. Naperville, Ill., 1959. See pages 74–87.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, J. “The Essenes and Their History.” Revue biblique 81 (1974), 215–244.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, J. “Demetrius I and the Teacher of Righteousness.” Revue biblique 83 (1976), 400–420.
  • Qimron, E., and J. Strugnell. “An Unpublished Halakhic Letter from Qumran.” In Biblical Archaeology Today, edited by J. Amitai, pp. 400–407. Jerusalem, 1985.
  • Stegemann, Hartmut. Die Entstehung der Qumrangemeinde. Bonn, 1971.
  • Talmon, S. “Yom Hakkippurim in the Habakkuk Scroll.” Biblica 32 (1951), 549–563.
  • Vermes, Geza. Discoveries in the Judean Desert. New York, 1956. See pages 89–97.
  • Vermes, Geza. “The So-Called King Jonathan Fragment (4Q448).” Journal of Jewish Studies 44 (1993), 294–300.
  • Yadin, Yigael. The Temple Scroll, vol. 1. Jerusalem, 1983. See page 396.

Hanan Eshel

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