Athronges, the shepherd (4 BCE)
Josephus, Jewish War 2.60-65 and Jewish Antiquities 17.278-284.
Story: In 4 BCE, king Herod
the Great died. Immediately, there were several revolts against the
rule of his son and successor, Herod
Archelaus. One of the rebels was
Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors,
nor for any great wealth he possessed. For he had been a mere shepherd,
not known by anybody. But because he was a tall man, and excelled others
in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king. This
man thought it so sweet a thing to do more than ordinary injuries to others,
that, although he risked his life, he did not much care if he lost it in
so great a design.
Comment: The rebellion of Athronges may have lasted for almost two
years. Although Josephus knows what happened to his four brothers, he does
not say what happened to the man himself. The fact that he was a shepherd
was of course not held against him: after all, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and
David had all been shepherds. This makes him the only one of the three
rebels who may have aspired to a messianic kingdom, but it should be stressed
that Josephus twice mentions that he was crowned with a diadem and does
not mention anointment. Unless Josephus tells a lie -something he is certainly
capable of- we must assume that Athronges thought this coronation was more
important than anointment.
He had four brothers, who were tall men themselves, and
were believed to be superior to others in the strength of their hands,
and thereby were encouraged to aim at great things, and thought that strength
of theirs would support them in retaining the kingdom. Each of these ruled
over a band of men of their own (for those that got together to them were
very numerous). They were every one of them also commanders; but when they
came to fight, they were subordinate to him, and fought for him. After
he had put a diadem
about his head, he assembled a council to debate about what things should
be done, and all things were done according to his pleasure. So, this man
retained his power a great while; he was also called king, and had nothing
to hinder him from doing what he pleased.
Together with his brothers, he slew a great many of both
of Roman and of the king's forces, and managed matters with the like hatred
to each of them. They fell upon the king's soldiers because of the licentious
conduct they had been allowed under Herod's government; and they fell upon
the Romans, because of the injuries they had so lately received from them.
But in process of time they grew more cruel to all sorts of men, nor could
anyone escape from one or other of these seditions, since they slew some
out of the hopes of gain, and others from a mere custom of slaying men.
Once, they attacked a Roman company at Emmaus, soldiers
who were bringing grain and weapons to the army, and fell upon Arius, the
centurion, who commanded the company, and shot forty of the best of his
foot soldiers. The other Romans panicked after this slaughter, left their
dead behind them, and were saved by Gratus, who came to their assistance
with the king's troops that he commanded. Now these four brethren continued
the war a long while by such sort of expeditions, and they much grieved
the Romans; but they did their own nation also a great deal of mischief.
Afterwards they were subdued; one of them in a fight with
Gratus, another with Ptolemy; Herod Archelaus took the eldest of them prisoner;
while the last of them was so dejected at the other's misfortune, and saw
so plainly that he had no way now left to save himself, his army being
worn away with sickness and continual labors, that he also delivered himself
up to Archelaus, upon his promise and oath to God to preserve his life.
But these things came to pass a good while afterward.
Jewish Antiquities 17.278-284]