In part II of my article I covered the history of the Jewish people in Judea from the Babylonian period to the end of the Seleucid persecution when Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in 163 BC while fighting a war against the Parthians in the east. During the reign of Antiochus, observant Jews were persecuted and their religious practice was outlawed. The priesthood was made a political position according to men’s will instead of by divine authority through a priestly order as ordained by Elohim.
Also, Hellenized Jews were part of the problems in corrupting and undermining the Jewish tradition of the fathers. This is what the book of Maccabees had to say:
In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.”
Prelude to Maccabean Revolt
The most grievous unholy act against the observant Jews, however, was the wanton desecration of the Temple by decree of Antiochus that foment unrest among the observant Jews which eventually led to the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid oppressors.
he Maccabean Revolt was a religious war against religious persecution imposed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes upon the faithful servants of Elohim, prohibiting their worship of YHWH Elohim in place of pagan idol worshiping which the Seleucid king did in great defilement of the Temple. It was also a civil war pitting orthodox Jews against Hellenized Jews who willingly joined the reformist campaign and played a significant role in the moral decay and corruption of the Jewish people by supplanting the Jewish faith and tradition in favor of Greek culture and ideology. Thus, violence was perpetrated against those who did not comply and much bloodshed was committed against Elohim’s people.
The revolt lasted from 167 to 160 BC.
According to the Book of Maccabees, there was at that time a kohen Jew whose name was Mattityahu (Mattathias) ben Yohanan (John), the son of Simeon, the son of Asamoneus (Hasmoneus of Judea, chronicled by Josephus, possibly not a direct line but from distant ancestor as some Jewish source put it, which later gave rise to the Hasmonean dynasty).
Mattathias was from a priestly class of the order of Joarib, who moved from Jerusalem to settle in a small town called Modein. He was the elder of the town. He had five sons:
1. Yohanan (John) surnamed Gaddi,
2. Shimon (Simon) called Thassi,
3. Yehudah (Judah) called Maccabeus,
4. Eleazar called Avaran and
5. Yonathan (Jonathan) called Apphus.
Meaning of Maccabee
Therefore the name Maccabee (Hebrew מכבים) was derived from Judah Maccabeus, which means “hammer” in Hebrew. It is also a Hebrew acronym for “mi kamokha ba’alim YHWH” מִֽי־כָמֹכָה בָּֽאֵלִם יְהוָה which was taken from the first part of the verse in Exodus 15:11 which said:
“Who is like unto thee Lord YHWH”
The conflict started when Antiochus sent his soldiers under the command of Apelles to go forth to Modein to set up an alter to the heathen idol for worship and to compel Mattathias, notable Jewish elder of the city, to set an example for the people to offer pig sacrifice to the pagan god. The Book of Maccabees recounted the following:
When Mattathias heard that the Temple was defiled and blasphemies against God was being committed in Judah and Jerusalem he and his sons rent their clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned greatly.
But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”
When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command.
When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.
Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!”
And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city.
Martyrs perish on Sabbath for their faith
Many righteous Jews, who were persecuted for their religious belief, also refused to submit to the king’s decree. They fled to the wilderness and hide in caves. Many were slaughtered, including women and children, when they were besieged by the king’s army in their desert hideout and were reluctant to fight back nor barricade the entrance of their caves on account of Sabbath. According to the Books of Maccabees, a thousand Jewish men, women and children were burnt and perished in their caves on that day.
When Mattathias and his men heard of their sacrifice, they mourned for their loss deeply and decided that they would fight back against every man who came to attack them on the Sabbath day. Thus began the seven year Maccabean guerrilla warfare. And therefore Mattathias and his followers fought against their enemies. Later a company of Hasideans, a religious ascetic sect whom the Book of Maccabees referred to as mighty warriors of Israel came to join them. They struck down the uncircumcised and the Hellenized Jews who betrayed the laws of their fathers. And they tore down the pagan alters and circumcised all the uncircumcised boys they found within the borders.
The Maccabean Revolt led by Judah
In 166 BC (146th year of the Seleucid era), Mattathias passed away of old age and his son, Judah Maccabeus, succeeded him as leader of the Maccabee revolt. Earlier in 167 BC Judah had just defeated the Governor of Samaria, Appollonius, who was dispatched to link up with the Seleucid forces from Jerusalem to fight Judah’s men at northern part of Samaria in what is called the Battle of Wadi Haramia.
Appolonius was killed in that battle and his men, including the much larger Syrian troops, were destroyed. .
Following up with the Battle of Wadi Haramia, Judah and his fellow men fought another battle in 166 BC with the Seleucid force under the command of Governor Seron in the Battle of Beth Horon. In the battle Seron was killed and the Seleucid army took off hastily in defeat.
Lysias invades Judea while Antiochus sought wealth in Persia
When Antiochus heard the news he was very angry by the disgraceful defeats of his supposedly well trained and well equipped large armies to a small bunch of untrained and ill-equipped peasant rebels. So, he was about to muster together his soldiers and mercenaries to go to Judea about the beginning of spring when he realized his coffers were running low.
At that time, Antiochus had wanted to collect unpaid tax revenues from the wealth of Elam (Elymais or Elamaise in Graecized form) in Persia which was a city rich with gold and silver. The Seleucid-Parthian relationship had been a series of frequent cat and mouse struggles between a conqueror and its vassal state since the beginning of the Seleucid Empire. So Antiochus set out in an expedition to invade the Parthians that same year.
Antiochus therefore left his state affair of the Southern Syria and guardianship of his son, who was still a minor, to his general and governor of Syria, known as Lysias, before heading to Persia. He also instructed Lysias to invade Judea, enslave its people and utterly destroy Jerusalem and the whole nation.
This military campaign commissioned by Lysias took place the same year in 166 BC. and was the third and much larger Seleucid military expedition thus far against the Maccabees known as the Battle of Emmaus.
Lysias, acting as regent, sent out a large contingent of forty thousand Seleucid infantry and seven thousand cavalry to Emmaus commanded by Syrian-Seleucid generals: Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, Nicanor and Gorgias. They also brought along slave traders for slave trading as they were very sure of defeating the Maccabees and the whole Judea.
But, as we can see from history, time and again, Elohim’s hand was at play at every turn in this historical event concerning the Maccabees. And against all odds, Judah and his men were able to defeat the Seleucid forces once again.
Confounded by reports of the great defeat of the Seleucid army against Judah the next year Lysias mustered sixty thousand select group of foot soldiers and five thousand cavalry to subdue Judas and his force. They battled out in Beth-zur where Judah had just ten thousand men and lacking in equipment and training. For their lacking they were able to make up in spirit and in their strength through fasting and earnest prayers to Elohim. Yet, once again, by the grace of Elohim, the Seleucid army was sorely defeated. So Lysias counted his loss then returned to Antioch to prepare for yet another invasion with plan for even a much larger army and mercenaries.
Purification and Rededication of the Temple
Acknowledging Divine intervention for his many victories against the Seleucid military power, Judah assembled his people and turned back to Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple and to rededicate it. When they saw the Sanctuary laid in desolation with the altar profaned, the priests’ chambers in ruin, gates burnt and bushes sprang up in courts as in a thicket the men rent their clothes and mourned greatly.
Then they went to work to purify the Sanctuary and to remove defiled stones to an unclean place while a detail of men was sent to fight against the enemy in the citadel to keep them at bay. They then built a new altar with unhewn stones as the law required. They also rebuilt the Sanctuary and the interior of the Temple and consecrated the courts. They then brought in the table, a makeshift lamp stand (for the original gold menorah was melted down by the Greek invaders) and the altar of incense and made new holy vessels for worship. They then finished all the work that had to be done.
They subsequently found one vial of pure lamp oil in the Temple with the seal still intact. They used the oil they just found to light the menorah and, lo behold, the menorah stayed lit for eight days until they were able to press fresh olive oil for the Temple. Thus, Judas and his people purified the Temple and rededicated it early in the morning on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Levitical Law of Sacrifices and Offerings. This event took place in the 148th year of the Seleucid era. This event and the date according to the Hebrew calendar set forth the annual celebration of the eight days of Hanukkah, which is observed by the Jewish people to this day
Death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Meantime Antiochus was defeated in Persia. He heard news of his defeats also in Judea. In despondency. Antiochus fell ill and died in 163 BC on the 149th Seleucid era in Persia during his military campaign against Parthia. On his death bed Antiochus made Philip, his close friend, a guardian to all his kingdom on behalf of his minor son so that he could bring the child up to become a king.
Upon hearing that Antiochus had passed away, Lysias took in his custody Antiochus’ son, whom he had brought up as a boy, and set him up as the next king and named the boy Antiochus (V) Eupator.
According to the account in 1 Maccabees the Gentiles in the surrounding were angry at Judah and his people when they found out that the altar had been rebuilt and the Sanctuary rededicated to the Elohim of the Jewish people. And so there was fighting going on between the Gentiles and the Jewish people in diverse places. They were eventually defeated by Judah and his men.
Then the garrison in the citadel, with the renegade Jews, kept inflicting harm against the Jews in the Sanctuary. In response, Judah assembled his people and besieged the citadel. While the citadel was under attack by Judah’s force, some escaped to seek help from the young king.
Antiochus V Eupator besieges the Temple
King Antiochus (V) Eupator then set forth with Lysias commanding one hundred thousand foot soldiers, twenty thousand horsemen and thirty-two war elephants. They came to Idumea and encamped at Beth-zur to wage war against Judah and his men. The battle then moved to Beth-zechariah. It was in this battle that Judah’s younger brother, Eleazar, called Avaran, was crushed to death by an elephant which he stabbed during the fierce battle for he mistakenly thought the king was on the beast.
While, owing to the scarcity of foods in the store being that it was the seventh year and the land being not ploughed, the inhabitants of Beth-zur finally made peace with the king on the security of oaths that they should suffer no hard treatment.
Meanwhile, Judah had retreated to Jerusalem where he and a few of his men were prepared to endure a siege as long as they could in the Temple. For it being the sabbatical year of the land what little food that was left in the storage had quickly ran out. Then, yet again, by the stroke of Divine intervention, Lysias and the king received news that Philip was on his way with his armed forces from Persia to Antioch to seize control of the government.
Reluctant peace offered by Eupator
Lysias then advised the king to come to term and make peace with the Jews and all their nation and to allow them to live by their laws as they did before so that they can return to Antioch and take care of their internal state affair.
And thus the king came to peaceful term with Judah and his men and permitted them to live according to the laws of their fathers. Before the king left for Antioch he had his soldiers tore down the fortified walls of Mount Zion to the ground and then he gathered his troops and returned to Antioch. This event took place in the 150th year of the Seleucid era.
I will continue further development into the Maccabees to the Hasmonean and the Herodian dynasties in my next article. Meantime, may Elohim keep you and bless you.
Update: 04/01/2014 – 1) Apparently there is a discrepancy in the dates corresponding to the Seleucid years and historical dates from different sources, e.g the date Antiochus IV died. Here’s the explanation from the source as provided below:
Two different uses were made of the Seleucid years:
- The natives of the empire used the Babylonian calendar, in which the new year falls on 1 Nisanu (3 April in 311 BC), so in this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds roughly to April 311 BC to March 310 BC. This included the Jews, who call it theEra of Contracts. It is used in the Jewish historical book, now “deuterocanonical”, 1 Maccabees, in 6:20, 7:1, 9:3, 10:1, etc.
- The Macedonian court adopted the Babylonian calendar (substituting the Macedonian month names) but reckoned the new year to be in the autumn (the exact date is unknown). In this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds to the period from autumn 312 BC to summer 311 BC. By the seventh century AD / tenth AG, the west Syrian Christians settled on 1 October-to-30 September. Jews, however, reckon the start of each new Seleucid year with the lunar month Tishri.
These differences in the beginning of the year mean that dates may differ by one. Bickerman gives this example:
For instance, the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus, approximately 15 December 164 BC, fell in the year 148 of the Seleucid Era according to Jewish (and Babylonian) calculation, but in the year 149 for the court.\
2) Added sub-heading for ease of reading.