Sizing Range: 7-14
Denomination: Prutah (Bronze) Date: 134-104 BCE
Description: Obverse: Hebrew (Yehohanan the High Priest and the Council of the Jews) surrounded by wreath. Reverse: double Cornucopias , pomegranate in between, border of dots.
John Hyrcanus (Yohanan Girhan) (born 164 BCE, died 104 BCE) was a Hasmonean (Maccabeean) leader of the 2nd century BC. Apparently the name "Hyrcanus" was taken by him as a regnal name upon his accession to power.
He was the son of Simon Maccabaeus and hence the nephew of Judas Maccabaeus, Jonathan Maccabaeus and their siblings, whose story is told in the Deuterocanonical books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, in the Talmud, and in Josephus. John was not present at a banquet at which his father and his two brothers were murdered, purportedly by his brother-in-law Ptolemy. He attained to his father's former offices, that of high priest and king (although some Jews never accepted any of the Hasmoneans as being legitimate kings, as they were not lineal descendants of David).
His taking a Greek regnal name - "Hyrcanus" - was a significant political and cultural step away from the intransigent opposition to and rejection of Hellenistic culture which had characterized the Maccabean revolt against Seleucid rule. It reflected a more pragmatic recognition that Judea, once having attained independence, had to maintain its position among a milieu of small and large states which all shared the Hellenistic culture. All subsequent Hasmonean rulers followed suit and adopted Greek names in their turn.
During the first year of Hyrcanus’ reign, he faced the most serious challenge to independent Judean rule from the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus VII Sidetes marched into Judea, pillaged the countryside and laid a year long siege on Jerusalem. The prolonged siege caused Hyrcanus to remove any Judean from the city who could not assist with the defense effort (Ant.13.240). These refugees were not allowed to pass through Antiochus’ lines. Therefore, these Judeans were literally trapped in the middle of a chaotic siege. With a humanitarian crisis on his hands, Hyrcanus re-admitted his estranged Jerusalemites when the festival of Succoth arrived. Afterwards, due to massive food shortages in Jerusalem, Hyrcanus negotiated a truce with Antiochus.
Ultimately, one of the final acts of Hyrcanus’ life was an act that solved any kind of dispute over his role as High Priest and Ethnarch. In the will of Hyrcanus, he provisioned for the division of the high priesthood from secular authority. Hyrcanus’ wife was given control of civil authority after his death, and his son Judas Aristobulus was given the role of High Priest. This action represented Hyrcanus’ willingness to compromise over the issue of secular and religious authority.