[Picture: Marble bust of Pompey the Great]
In 64 BC Pompey marched into Syria, deposed the king Antiochus XIII Asiaticus, and made that country also a Roman province. In 63 BC, he advanced further south, in order to establish the Roman supremacy in Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, and Palestine. After that he captured Jerusalem. At the time Judaea was racked by civil war between two Jewish brothers who created religious factions: Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. The civil war was causing instability, and it exposed Pompey's unprotected flank. He felt that he had to act. Both sides gave money to Pompey for assistance, and a picked delegation of Pharisees went in support of Hyrcanus. Pompey decided to link forces with the good-natured Hyrcanus, and their joint army of Romans and Jews besieged Jerusalem for three months, after which it was taken from Aristobulus. Aristobulus was crafty, though, and later succeeded in temporarily usurping the throne from Hyrcanus. Subsequently, King Herod I executed Hyrcanus in 31 BC. The Jewish historian Josephus has provided many details of this period.
Pompey entered the Holy of Holies; this was only the second time that someone had dared to penetrate into this sacred spot. He went to the Temple to satisfy his curiosity about stories he had heard about the worship of the Jewish people. He made it a priority to find out whether or not the Jews had no physical statue or image of God in their most sacred place of worship. To Pompey, it was inconceivable to worship a God without portraying him in a type of physical likeness, like a statue. What Pompey saw was unlike anything he had seen on his travels. He found no physical statue, religious image, or pictorial description of the Hebrew God. Instead, he saw the Torah scrolls, and was thoroughly confused.