Do not say, "How was it that the former days were better than these?" For not out of wisdom have you asked concerning this.

Kohelet 7:10

Judah Maccabee (Hasmonean ) - biography

The Maccabees (Hebrew: מכבים‎ or מקבים, Makabim or Maqabim; Greek Μακκαβαῖοι, /makav'εï/) were a Jewish rebel army who took control of Judea, which had been a client state of the Seleucid Empire. They founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE, reasserting the Jewish religion, expanding the boundaries of the Land of Israel and reducing the influence of Hellenism.

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Background

In the 2nd century BCE, Judea lay between the Ptolemaic Kingdom based in Egypt and the Seleucid empire based in Syria, kingdoms formed after the death of Alexander the Great (336–323 BCE) Previously under the Ptolemies, Judea had fallen to the Seleucids in ca.200 BCE. Since the rule of Alexander in the near east, there had been a process of Hellenization, which affected Judea. Some Jews, mainly those of the urban upper class,wished to dispense with Jewish law and to adopt a Greek lifestyle. Hellenizing Jews had built a gymnasium, competed internationally in Greek games, "removed their marks of circumcision and repudiated the holy covenant".

When Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 215–164 BCE), became ruler of the Seleucid Empire in 175 BCE, the High Priest in Jerusalem was Onias III. Antiochus was insensitive to the views of religious Jews and treated the High Priest as a political appointee and one from whom money could be made. To Antiochus the High Priest was merely a local governor within his realm, who could be appointed or dismissed at will, while to orthodox Jews he was divinely appointed. Jason, the brother of Onias, bribed Antiochus to make him High Priest instead. Jason abolished the traditional theocracy and constituted Jerusalem as a Greek polis. Menelaus (who was not even a member of the Levite priestly family) then bribed Antiochus and was appointed High Priest in place of Jason. Menelaus had Onias assassinated. His brother Lysimachus took holy vessels from the Temple, causing riots and the thief's death at the hands of the rioters. Menelaus was arrested and arraigned before Antiochus, but he bribed his way out of trouble. Jason subsequently drove out Menelaus and became High Priest again. Antiochus pillaged the Temple, attacked Jerusalem and "led captive the women and children". From this point onwards, Antiochus pursued a Hellenizing policy with zeal. This effectively meant banning traditional Jewish religious practice. In 167 BCE Jewish sacrifice was forbidden, sabbaths and feasts were banned and circumcision was outlawed. Altars to Greek gods were set up and animals prohibited to Jews were sacrificed on them. The Olympian Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple. Possession of Jewish scriptures was made a capital offence. The motives of Antiochus are unclear. He may have been incensed at the overthrow of his appointee, Menelaus, he may have been responding to an orthodox Jewish revolt that had drawn on the Temple and the Torah for its strength, or he may have been encouraged by a group of radical Hellenizers among the Jews.

The revolt

In the narrative of I Maccabees, after Antiochus issued his decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice, a rural Jewish priest from Modiin, Mattathias the Hasmonean, sparked the revolt against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship the Greek gods. Mattathias killed a Hellenistic Jew who stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Mattathias' place. He and his five sons fled to the wilderness of Judah. After Mattathias' death about one year later in 166 BCE, his son Judah Maccabee led an army of Jewish dissidents to victory over the Seleucid dynasty in guerrilla warfare, which at first was directed against Hellenizing Jews, of whom there were many. The Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the villages, circumcised children and forced Jews into outlawry. The term Maccabees as used to describe the Jewish army is taken from its actual use as Judah's surname.

The revolt itself involved many battles, in which the Maccabean forces gained notoriety among the Syrian army for their use of guerrilla tactics. After the victory, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleansed the Temple, reestablishing traditional Jewish worship there and installing Jonathan Maccabee as high priest. A large Syrian army was sent to quash the revolt, but returned to Syria on the death of Antiochus IV. Its commander Lysias, preoccupied with internal Syrian affairs, agreed to a political compromise that restored religious freedom. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee's victory over the Seleucids. According to Rabbinic tradition, the victorious Maccabees could only find a small jug of oil that had remained uncontaminated by virtue of a seal, and although it only contained enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days, by which time further oil could be procured.

Maccabean rule

Following the re-dedication of the temple, the supporters of the Maccabees were divided over the question of whether to continue fighting or not. When the revolt began under the leadership of Mattathias, it was seen, in the view of the author of the First Book of Maccabees, as a war for religious freedom to end the oppression of the Seleucids. However, as the Maccabees realized how successful they had been, many wanted to continue the revolt and conquer other lands with Jewish populations or to convert their peoples. This policy exacerbated the divide between the Pharisees and Sadducees under later Hasmonean monarchs such as Alexander Jannaeus. Those who sought the continuation of the war were led by Judah Maccabee.

On his death in battle in 160 BCE, Judah was succeeded as army commander by his younger brother, Jonathan, who was already High Priest. Jonathan made treaties with various foreign states, causing further dissent between those who merely desired religious freedom and those who sought greater power.

In 142 BCE Jonathan was assassinated by Diodotus Tryphon, a pretender to the Seleucid throne, and was succeeded by Simon Maccabee, the last remaining son of Mattathias. Simon gave support to Demetrius II Nicator, the Seleucid king, and in return Demetrius exempted the Maccabees from tribute. Simon conquered the port of Joppa and the fortress of Gezer and expelled the garrison from the Acra in Jerusalem. In 140 BCE, he was recognised by an assembly of the priests, leaders and elders as high priest, military commander and ruler of Israel. Their decree became the basis of the Hasmonean kingdom. Shortly after, the Roman senate renewed its alliance with the Hasmonean kingdom and commanded its allies in the eastern Mediterranean to do so also. Although the Maccabees won autonomy, the region remained a province of the Seleucid empire and Simon was required to provide troops to Antiochus VII Sidetes, the brother of Demetrius II. When Simon refused to give up the territory he had conquered, Antiochus took them by force.

Simon was murdered in 134 BCE by his son-in-law Ptolemy, and was succeeded as high priest and king by his son John Hyrcanus I. Antiochus conquered the entire district of Judea, but refrained from attacking the Temple or interfering with Jewish observances. Judea was freed from Seleucid rule on the death of Antiochus in 129 BCE.

Hasmonean rule lasted until 63 BCE, when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem and subjected Israel to Roman rule, while the Hasmonean dynasty itself ended in 37 BCE when the Idumean Herod the Great became king of Israel and king of the Jews.

Mention in deuterocanon

The story of the Maccabees is told in 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, which are part of the Septuagint, and in 3 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees, which are not. 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are part of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments, but not the Hebrew Bible.

Origin of name

The name Maccabee is sometimes seen used as a synonym for the entire Hasmonean Dynasty, but the Maccabees proper were Judah Maccabee and his four brothers. The name Maccabee was a personal epithet of Judah, and the later generations were not his direct descendants. Although there is no definitive explanation of what the term means, one suggestion is that the name derives from the Aramaic maqqaba, "the hammer", in recognition of his ferocity in battle. It is also possible that the name Maccabee is an acronym for the Torah verse "Mi chamocha ba'elim YHWH", "Who is like unto thee among the mighty, O Lord!"






Article author: Zipora Galitski
Article tags: biography
The article is about these people:   Judah Maccabee (Hasmonean )

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