Psalm of Solomon 2 is a lament for Jerusalem after Pompey captured the city in 63 B.C. Although his name is not specifically mentioned, the author of the psalm clearly has Pompey in mind. He is called an “arrogant sinner” who brought battering rams against the walls of the Temple (2:1). According to Josephus, the city surrendered to the Romans but the Temple itself was captured. Pompey therefore brought “mechanical engines, and battering-rams from Tyre” (Antiq. 14.4.2).
Once inside the Temple, “They trampled it down (καταπατέω) with their shoes in arrogance” (PsSol 2:2). This description is a possible allusion to 1 Maccabees 3:51, “Your sanctuary is trampled down (καταπατέω) and profaned, and your priests mourn in humiliation” (RSV). In verse 19, the arrogant Gentiles dragged the beauty of the Temple “down from the throne of glory.” According to Josephus, Pompey entered the Temple and “saw all that which it was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests” (Antiq. 14.4.2).
PsSol 2:20-21 alludes to Isaiah 3:24 by personifying Jerusalem as a beautiful woman who has gone into mourning: “She put on sackcloth instead of beautiful clothes, a rope around her head instead of a crown. She took off the wreath of glory which God had put on her; in dishonor her beauty was thrown to the ground.” Since Isaiah was looking forward to the fall of Jerusalem Babylon is the “arrogant sinner” who desecrated the Temple. The writer of this psalm once again sees the Jerusalem of his day as a ravished, enslaved woman driven into exile.
Like 1 Maccabees, the author of this psalm blames the disaster on the “sons of Jerusalem” who have profaned (μιαίνω, 1 Macc 1:46, 63) and defiled (βεβηλόω, 1 Macc 1:43) the holy place with lawless acts. Although this lawlessness is not defined, verses 11-13 describe the sons and daughters of Jerusalem as prostitutes, a common metaphor for idolatry in the Old Testament. Psalm of Solomon 8 has an extended condemnation of the priesthood in control of the Temple, “plundered the sanctuary of God” (Ps.Sol 8:12).
Based on these observations, it is not difficult to see why some scholars thought this description referred to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “arrogant sinner” who profaned the Temple. His audacity is well-known from Daniel 11 and it led to the Maccabean Revolt. In this view, sons of Jerusalem who were established by the gentiles (2:11-14) are the Hasmoneans. Even if the arrogant sinner is Pompey, then the sons of Jerusalem are still the last of the Hasmoneans, perhaps even Herod the Great (who certainly can be described as committing lawlessness). It is also possible Herod the Great is the psalmist’s target, if the desecration of the Temple is Herod’s extensive expansion of the Temple courts. However, the judgment on the arrogant sinner in verses 26-27 does not resonate with Herod’s death.
Considering the reference to the death of Pompey in 2:26-7, it seems more likely the author of PsSol 2 intentionally calls to mind the devastating loss of the Temple in 586 B.C. as well as the arrogance of Antiochus to describe a more recent desecration of the Temple, that of the Romans in 63 B.C. Biblical texts often look back to the events of the past to describe the realities of the present, so it is no surprise this anonymous author builds his psalm on the same model.
Like a biblical psalm, the author addresses God and calls on him to exact vengeance on the arrogant sinner who trampled the sanctuary. God ought to act quickly to repay their arrogance.
Psalm of Solomon 2:25-27 And I did not wait long until God showed me his insolence pierced on the mountains of Egypt, more despised than the smallest thing on earth and sea. 27 His body was carried about on the waves in much shame, and there was no one to bury (him), for he (God) had despised him with contempt.
The dishonorable death of the arrogant sinner seems to be a clear allusion to the assassination of Pompey in 45 B.C.
Cassius Dio, Roman History 42: Although he had subdued the entire Roman sea, he perished on it; and although he had once been, as the saying is, “master of a thousand ships” he was destroyed in a tiny boat near Egypt and in a sense by Ptolemy, whose father he had once restored from exile to that land and to his kingdom… Thus Pompey, who previously had been considered the most powerful of the Romans, so that he even received the nickname of Agamemnon, was now butchered like one of the lowest of the Egyptians themselves.
The final verses of the psalm are a confession of faith in the Lord (2:33-37). The Lord has mercy on those who fear him. The Lord will distinguish “between the righteous and the sinner” and “repay sinners forever according to their actions.” Knowing God had brought Pompey to a dishonorable end would be of great comfort to the readers of this psalm. If God has acted in history to bring down a tyrant like Pompey, then he will again bring down the present tyrant.
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