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Antiochus' repression against Jerusalem
(3592 AM - 168 BCE)
Decree against Judaism
(3593 AM - 167 BCE)
The Sibylline Oracles
(3593 AM - 167 BCE)
The Jewish revolt
(3593 AM - 167 BCE)
(3594 AM - 166 BCE)
The Battle of Emmaus
(3595 AM - 165 BCE)
Judah Maccabee restores the Temple service
(3597 AM - 164 BCE)
Festival of Chanukkah
(3597 AM - 164 BCE)
Death of Antiochus Epiphanes
(3597 AM - 163 BCE)
Demetrius returns from Rome
(3599 AM - 161 BCE)
New friendship bewteen the Maccabeans and Rome
(3599 AM - 161 BCE)
Death of Judah Maccabee
(3600 AM - 160 BCE)
Previous << Generation 30 >> Next
Hebrew years 3480 to 3600 (280-160 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~
When Antiochus Epiphanes was at war in Egypt, Jason (the deposed High Priest) spread the rumour that the Seleucid king had been killed. He thus managed to have the people of Jerusalem rebel against Menelaus (the illegitimate High Priest) who found refuge in the citadel. But soon after, Antiochus was returning to Judea from his ill-fated campaign of Egypt, and decided to punish the Jewish rebels for having threatened his appointed High Priest. He massacred a good part of the people of Jerusalem, sacked the Temple, and restored Menelaus to his role. Apparently, it was out of personal revenge that Menelaus had himself advised Antiochus to desecrate the Temple.~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And after that Antiochus had smitten Egypt, he returned again in the hundred forty and third year [of the Seleucid Dynasty], and went up against Israel and Jerusalem with a great multitude, and entered proudly into the sanctuary, and took away the golden altar, and the candlestick of light, and all the vessels thereof, and the table of the shew-bread, and the pouring-vessels, and the vials, and the censers of gold, and the vail, and the crowns, and the golden ornaments which were on the front of the temple, all which he pulled off. He took also the silver and the gold, and the precious vessels; also he took the hidden treasures which he found.
And when he had taken all away, he went into his own land, having made a great massacre, and spoken very proudly. Therefore there was great mourning in Israel, in every place where they were; so that the princes and elders mourned, the virgins and young men were made feeble, and the beauty of women was changed. Every bridegroom took up lamentation, and she who sat in the marriage-chamber was in heaviness. The land also was moved for the inhabitants thereof, and all the house of Jacob was covered with confusion. --- Maccabees, Book II, 1:20-28
In the same year, on the 15th of the month of Kislev, they burned the books of Jewish Law that they had found in the Temple. And on the 25th, they used the Temple for idol offering.
It may have been in that period that the incident recorded in the Talmud and regarding a so-called Apostomos took place:
Five misfortunes befell our fathers on the 17th of Tammuz and five on the 9th of Av.
On the 17th of Tammuz, the Tables [of the Law] were shattered [by Moses, following the Golden Calf incident], the daily offering was discontinued [at the beginning of the Judges period], a breach was made in the city [by the Romans] and Apostomos [written אפוסטמוס in Hebrew]burned the Scroll of the Law and placed an idol in the Temple.
On the 9th of Av, it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [promised] land [after the return of the explorers in Kadesh-Barnea], the Temple was destroyed the first [by the Babylonians] and the second time [by the Romans], Betar was captured [ending the Bar-Kochba revolt]and the city [of Jerusalem] was ploughed up [to make room for a Roman city instead]. --- Talmud, Taanit, chapter IV, Mishna, 26a-26b
All the incidents mentioned above for the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are well known in Jewish tradition. However the mention of the so-called Apostomos is somehow obscure. There have been a few known instances of the burning of a Torah Scroll but not so many are combined with the placing of an idol in the Temple except during the time of the decree by Antiochus Epiphanes. The name Apostomos also suggests it was an incident that took place during the Greek occupation of Jerusalem as it featured many examples of profanations of the Jewish cult. The word Apostomos is composed of two Greek words: ἀπό (apó) meaning from and στομος (stómos) meaning mouth. So Apostomos simply means "from the mouth" which is suggesting that he was the "executioner of the orders" from the Greek command when the city was captured. But others believe that this incident happened at the time of the Romans, probably before the revolt of Bar-Kochba, because it is mentioned after the event related to the fall of Jerusalem (a breach was made in the city). Shortly before this revolt, it is known that the Romans had the intent to erect a Temple to Jupiter on the ground of the Second Temple, as they erected a Temple to Aphrodites on the location of Jesus' Crucifixion..
It is interesting to note that the English word "apostle" is derived from the Greek Apostolos, which is composed of the words ἀπό (apó) meaning from and στολος (stólos) meaning fleet... There is only one letter difference between the two words: μ and λ. Could it be that 'Apostolos' really had been 'Apostomos'? After all, the expression "from the fleet" doesn't mean much for a word like Apostle, whereas "from the mouth" is exactly right: the Apostle is the one who carries the word of a leader or a prophet.
Antiochus Epiphanes'repression in Jerusalem (Wilhem Goeree, Amsterdam, 1690)
A Greek philosopher and astronomer, Posidonius of Apameia, who lived in Syria around 100 BCE, followed Polybius in the effort to write World History. But instead of following the facts, he gave way to his own opinion, and to his hatred of the Jewish race, with non-historical legends:
Indeed, Antiochus, the so-called Epiphanes, after having defeated the Jews, went inside their divine sanctuary, a place where nobody except for the high priest could enter. He found there the statue of a long bearded man, riding a donkey, holding a book in his hands: he thought that this statue was of Moses, the founder of Jerusalem and the organiser of the Jewish people, the one who imposed laws that are contrary to humanity and justice. Antiochus felt harmed by such hatred against the other people and made it a point of honour to abolish the Jewish institutions. This is why he sacrified, in front of the statue of the founder and on the uncovered altar of their god, a huge sow and spread the blood of the beast; then, after having ordered the meat to be prepared, with the fat that was collected, he ordered to stain the sacred books which were filled with these writings that are contrary to hospitality, and to extinguish the so-called eternal lamp which burned continuously in the temple and, finally, he forced the high priest and the other Jews to eat from the sacrifice. --- Diodorus Siculus, XXXIV, fragment 1, citing Posidonius; in Reinach, Theodore, Textes d’auteurs grecs et romains relatifs au judaisme, Paris 1895, pp. 57-58; translated from the French
All other historians reported that Antiochus penetrated the Temple not because he defeated the Jews in any war but because he needed money after his lost campaign (and failure to financially benefit from it) and wanted to get his hands on the treasures of the temple. His hatred of the Jewish nation and his anger after being forced out of Egypt made the rest. Some of the details were however true, including the Greeks forcing Jews to eat pork meat.
According to most historians, it is about this time that Antiochus ordered to build a fortress close to the Temple in order to station an armed garrison. This fortress, the Acra, was perceived by the Jewish population as an intrusion in the Holy City. The Acra was later utterly destroyed during the rule of the Maccabeans to the point that there is final consensus today about its exact location near the Temple Mount. The name Acra comes from the greek word Acropolis, meaning the higher place. Apparently the Acra was higher that the Temple so the garrison could monitor the movements of people there. But there is another theory that the Acra was built (or maybe started) at the time of the Ptolemaic rule because the Book of Maccabees mentions that Menelaus had found refuge in the "citadel"" this citadel is presumably the Acra, so it existed prior to the repression of Antiochus.
After two years, Antiochus sent his money collector, Apollonius, to spoil the Jewish religious city. The latter caused destruction and killed a great number of the people of Jerusalem. He then built a large wall around the Temple and towers to protect the garrison, and placed Hellenized Jews at key posts with the goal to prevent the religious service:
Moreover, King Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people, and every one should leave his own laws: so all the heathen agreed, according to the commandment of the king. Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the Sabbath. For the king had sent letters by the hand of messengers unto Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, that they should follow laws strange to the land, and forbid burnt-offerings, and sacrifice, and drink-offerings in the sanctuary, and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days, and pollute the sanctuary and holy people, set up altars, and temples, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh and unclean beasts, that they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation, to the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances. And whosoever would not do according to commandment of the king, he said, he should die. --- Maccabees, Book II, 1:41-50
The Book of the Maccabees also relates the story of the martyr of one woman, Chanah, and her seven sons.
Now Antiochus thinking' himself despised, and suspecting it to be a reproachful speech, whilst the youngest was yet alive, did not only exhort him by words, but also assured him with oaths, that he would make him both a rich and an enviable man, if he would turn from the laws of his fathers; and that also he would take him for his friend, and trust him with affairs. But when the young man would in no case hearken unto him, the king called his mother, and exhorted her that she would counsel the young man to save his life. And when he had exhorted her with many words, she promised him that she would persuade her son. But she bowing herself towards him, laughing the cruel tyrant to scorn, spoke in her country language on this manner: "O my son, have pity upon me who bore you nine months in my womb, and gave you suck three years, and nourished you, and brought you up unto this age, and endured the troubles of education. I beseech you, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all which is therein, and consider that God made them of things which were not, and so was the race of men made likewise. Fear not this executioner; but being worthy of your brethren, take your death, that I may receive you again in mercy with your brethren." --- Maccabees, Book III, 7:24-29 ; this story is also narranted in Book IV, chapters 8-18
Finally the youngest son was killed with more cruelty than his brothers, and their mother Hannah died as well.
The story is also told in the Talmud, although with titles that are more contemporary to the Roman times:
Rab Judah, however, said that this refers to the woman and her seven sons. They brought the first before the Emperor [the Seleucid king] and said to him, Serve the idol. He said to them: It is written in the Law, (Exodus 20:2) I am the Lord your God. So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the second before the Emperor and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, (Exodus 20:3) You shall have no other gods before me. So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the next and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, (Exodus 22:19) He that sacrifices unto the gods, save unto the Lord only, shall be utterly destroyed. So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the next before the Emperor saying, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, (Exodus 20:5) You shall not bow down to any other god. So they led him away and killed him. They then brought another and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, (Deuteronomy 6:4) ) Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the next and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied; It is written in the Torah, (Deuteronomy 4:39) Know therefore this day and lay it to your heart that the Lord He is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is none else. So they led him away and killed him. They brought the next [the last and youngest son] and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, (Deuteronomy 26:17-18) You have avouched the Lord this day . . . and the Lord has avouched you this day; we have long ago sworn to the Holy One, blessed be He, that we will not exchange Him for any other god, and He also has sworn to us that He will not change us for any other people. The Emperor said: I will throw down my seal before you and you can stoop down and pick it up, so that they will say of you that you have accepted the authority of the king. He replied: Fie on thee, Caesar [sic], fie on thee, Caesar; if your own honour is so important, how much more the honour of the Holy One, blessed be He! They were leading him away to kill him when his mother said: Give him to me that I may kiss him a little. She said to him: My son, go and say to your father Abraham, You did bind one [son to the] altar [Isaac during the Akedah], but I have bound seven altars. Then she also went up on to a roof and threw herself down and was killed. A voice thereupon came forth from heaven saying, (Psalms 113:9) A joyful mother of children.--- Talmud, Gittin 57b
Tradition holds that the mother and her seven sons were buried in a cave near the old cemetery of Sefat in Galilee, Northern Israel.
The burial cave of Chanah and her seven sons
(source: Ascent of Safed)
The decree against the Jewish nation has also been recorded and dated in the Chronicles of Eusebius, one of the early Christian scholars, some 300 years after the events. Eusebius surely had access to the Book of the Maccabees as primary sources, along with the work of Demetrios the Chronographer, but his effort was to date the events according to the Greek dating using Olympiads.
Antiochus opposed the Jewish laws, and at first forced the whole country into idolatry, killing those who refused. Then he entered Jerusalem, and after despoiling the temple and the sacred vessels which were used for the worship of God, he set up a statue of Olympian Zeus in the temple. In Samaria he built a temple of Zeus Xenios ["the god of hospitality"] at the top of Mount Garizim, at the request of the Samaritans themselves. But then Mattathias the son of Asamonaeus [Hasmoneus], who was one of the priests, took up arms against Antiochus' officers at the village of Modin, and defended his country's laws with the help of his sons, in the 153rd Olympiad.--- Chronicles of Eusebius, translation by St. Jerome, see text online
The Olympiad is counted by periods of 4 years from the first Olympiad in 776 BCE. So the 153rd Olympiad corresponds to 152 x 4 years from 776 BCE, hence it corresponds to the years 168-164 BCE. This dating is comparable to the Book of the Maccabees which dates the persecution 154 years from the start of the Seleucid Dynasty in 312 BCE.
It was in this context of forced assimilation of Jews into the Greek culture that some works were published in Alexandria, where Jews spoke Greek and not Hebrew, that attempted to bridge the gap between the two opposite cultures. At the time, Ptolemy VI Philometor reigned over Egypt. As Jews were keen to follow the word of Prophets, it was probably thought useful to adapt the Greek texts of Oracles to suit a Jewish public. The Sibylline Oracles didn't fully survive until today in their entirety, and many parts have been re-written over the following centuries, but some fragments are known to be genuine of that period when an attempt was made to gain the Jews of Alexandria into the Greek culture. These fragments show the adaptation of the Greek text into Hebrew concepts of monotheism (contrary to Greek paganism), extracted from the Bible itself (which had previously been translated into Greek). Here is the prologue to this Greek work, that shows the effort to make it acceptable by Jewish standards:
You men, to whom God has given an image shaped by Him in His likeness, why do you vainly err, and walk not in a straight path, remembering ever the immortal Creator? There is one God, sole ruler, ineffable, dwelling in the sky, self-begotten, invisible, who Himself alone sees all things. --- The Sibylline Oracles, Book III, A Prologue, translated by Rev. H.N. Bate, Macmillan, London, 1918
This sort of work had been made possible from the moment the Bible became translated into Greek, which opened up its contents to the scrutiny of other people and cultures, and it will later greatly helped Christianity to develop as well.
Officers of the Seleucid king travelled across the land of Judah to force the people to sacrifice to the idols. When they arrived to the city of Modi'in, Mattathias, the father of five sons, spoke up:
Though all the nations which are under the king's dominion obey him, to fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments, yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances. We will not hearken to the king's words, to go aside from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left. --- Maccabees, Book II, 2-19-22
Mattathias then killed the king’s officer and destroyed the altar that was built for the idol offering.
Mattathias calls for revolt (Gustave Doré, 1868)
In the city of Jerusalem, the word of this revolt spread out and the people who were still in the faith, although secretly, fled into the wilderness of the hills in order to live as free men to follow the religion. Otherwise, Jerusalem was transformed into a pagan city with the Hellenistic supporters sacrifying to a pagan god. The Temple had been turned into a temple to Zeus.
After a first victory by the Maccabees against a Seleucid army (it took place in a wadi at the bottom of the Samarian Hills), the king sent an army against the Jews to fight against them during a Sabbath day as he knew that they would not fight on such day. And indeed they all died. The circumstance had also been recorded by a Greek historian called Agatharchides from Cnide, or Knidos, in Asia Minor. He was contemporous to the event because he lived at the time of Ptolemy VI Philometor (186-145 BCE) and of his successor. In a way to derision, he blamed the Jewish religious practice, which he called superstitions, for their disaster:
There are a people called Jews, and dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem, and are accustomed to rest on every seventh day on which times they make no use of their arms, nor meddle with husbandry, nor take care of any affairs of life, but spread out their hands in their holy places, and pray till the evening. Now it came to pass, that when Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, came into this city with his army, that these men, in observing this mad custom of theirs, instead of guarding the city, suffered their country to submit itself to a bitter lord; and their law was openly proved to have commanded a foolish practice. This accident taught all other men but the Jews to disregard such dreams as these were, and not to follow the like idle suggestions delivered as a law, when, in such uncertainty of human reasonings, they are at a loss what they should do. --- Josephus, Against Apion, 1,22
When the news of this disaster reached Mattathias, he decreed that, should the Jews be attacked on a Sabbath, it will not be a sin to protect their life and therefore they should fight back. This measure has been applied in the Jewish religion since this time with a broader scope, whereas saving a life (so called פיקוח נפש) is more important than the observance of Sabbath.
After a short period, the revolt spread to all the land, the altars were destroyed and the Greeks were attacked from all sides. But Mattathias’ life was coming to an end and he addressed himself to his sons to follow the path of God, as heir ancestors did, and he encouraged them to name their brother Simon Thassi as leader of the clan, their brother Judah Maccabee as their military leader. The name of Maccabee comes from the four letters מ כ ב י acronym of the sentence מי כמוך באלים יהוה which means "Who is like You among the gods, O Adonai".
Judah waged the war against the Greeks, taking city after city. His victories were miracles as the Jews, who had no experienced of warfare nor any real military equipment or training, were able to beat army after army of the world power of the times, the Greek, who had conquered all the Ancient World. Judah and his "people army" knew full well that they were fighting against the odds and only owned their victories to their faith in their God. In an ultimate battle, Judah slained Apollonius and the Greek army routed. A second army came from Syria and Judah destroyed it with a few number of his men, an act which gave him greater reknown and caused fear among the neighbouring people so that no other party would rise against Israel.
Judah Maccabee pursues Timotheus (Gustave Doré, 1868)
Then finally Antiochus himself started to raise a great army to go and crush the Jewish rebels. But his treasure was not sufficient to fund such army. He decided to leave his city of Antioch and go first to Persia to collect the tributes with half of his army. The governor left behind, Lysias, decided nevertheless to go against Israel, so he drove the other half of the Greek army to war.
The Greek army led by their general Nicanor pitched at Emmaus, which is located in the plain, at the start of the Judean hills. They were joined there by the Philistines who were eager not to let Israel rise again. Before this ultimate battle, Judah decided to restore faith and confidence among the Israelites, but Jerusalem was deserted, except for the garrison and Hellenized Jews entrenched behind the built fortications and the Acra fortress, and its Temple was abandoned. The Israelites pitched at the south of Emmaus and Judah told them:
“Arm yourselves, and be valiant men, and see that you be in readiness against the morning, that you may fight with these nations which are assembled together against us, to destroy us and our sanctuary. For it is better for us to die in battle, than to behold the calamities of our nation and our sanctuary. Nevertheless, as the will of God is in heaven, so let Him do.” --- Maccabees, Book II, 3:58-60
The Battle of Emmaus (Gustave Doré, 1868)
The battle was won by the Israelites who destroyed most of the Greek army, the rest fleeing outside Judeah to find shelter. The Greek camp was put on fire. Nicanor died in the battle and the Maccabees exacted their vengeance:
It has been taught: Nicanor was one of the Greek generals; every day he waved his hand against Judah and Jerusalem and exclaimed, ‘When shall it fall into my hands that I may trample upon it?’ But when the Hasmonean Rulers [Maccabees] proved victorious and triumphed over him they cut off his thumbs and his great toes and suspended them from, the gates of Jerusalem, as if to say of the mouth that spake arrogantly, of the hands that were waved against Jerusalem, May vengeance be exacted. --- Talmud, Taanit, 18b This detail is confirmed in the Book of the Maccabees:
Afterwards they took the spoils, and the prey, and smote off Nicanor's head, and his right hand, which he stretched out so proudly; and brought them away, and hanged them up towards Jerusalem. For this cause the people rejoiced greatly, and they kept that day a day of great gladness. Moreover, they ordained to keep yearly this day, being the thirteenth of Adar. Thus the land of Judah was in rest a little while. --- Maccabees, Book II, 8:47-50
The battle of Emmaus was the third victory of the Maccabees against the Seleucids. And there was more to come, as the Seleucids waged one campaign every year to suppress the revolt.
The following year, Lyssius gathered a greater army of 60,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. The Israelite army was of 10,000 men but was not professional in warfare. The Seleucid campaign was short and the army returned north to protect the empire against a new threat coming from the East: the Parthians.
Judah then took the opportunity to go up to Jerusalem, about unopposed, to purify the Temple from its pagan service:
And they saw the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burnt down, and shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest, or in one of the mountains, yea, and the priests' chambers pulled down. And they rent their clothes, and made great lamentation, and cast ashes upon their heads, and fell down flat to the ground upon their faces, and blew an alarm with the trumpets, and cried towards heaven. --- Maccabees, Book II, 4:38-40
They then attacked the Acra fortress to rid the desolated city from foreign rule. They then found some Levites to clean the sanctuary. They pulled down the original altars that had been profaned and placed them in a secret location in the mountains around. They made new holy vessels, and brought back the candlestick and the altar of incense and the table, which had been saved from the Greek hands:
Now on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month, (which is called the month Kislev), in the hundred forty and eighth year, they rose up betimes in the morning. And offered sacrifice according to the law, upon the new altar of burnt-offerings, which they had made. At what time, and what day the heathen had profaned it, even in that was it dedicated with songs, and citherns, and harps, and cymbals. Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping and praising the God of heaven, who had given them good success. And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and offered burnt-offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise. --- Maccabees, Book II, 4:52-56
A miracle took place at this time, because there was no more sanctified oil for the service of the Temple and yet a holy fire started spontaneously upon the altar and continued all the days of the Temple until its destruction by the Romans (Maccabees, Book V, 9). Judah Maccabee then ordered that this date should be celebrated every year from now on and by all subsequent generations. It became the Jewish festival of Chanukkah which means renewal and dedication.
What is [the reason of] Chanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Chanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving. --- Talmud, Shabbat, 21b
The 25th of month Kislev is the date for the festival of Chanukah, but Chanukah is a festival of the Light, the Spiritual Light. This is reflected in four considerations. First, the month of Kislev (כיסלו) is written as Kis-LV: Kis (כיס) a recipient, while LV (לו) is the number 36. And 36 is the symbol of the original Spiritual Light (see explanation in Generation 36). In other words, the festival of Chanukah falls at a time when there was a return of the Light, when the festival has become a recipient for the Light. The second consideration is that the festival of Chanukah lasts 8 days, and Jews burn one candle for each day passed, every day. In other words, a total of 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 = 36 candles are burnt in total. Here again, Chanukah is a commemoration of the original Spiritual Light (36). Thirdly, the number 36 is twice the number 18, which is written חי which means Life: the Spiritual Life brought by the festival of Chanukah brings Life twice, one for the present world and one for the world to come. The last consideration is that the miracle of Chanukah, and the dedication of the Temple, happened in Hebrew year 3597 which corresponded to the end of the 36th century since the Creation.
It is since this event that the Menorah (the Temple candelabre) has become a symbol for the Jewish nation. Because, before this event, the normal Jews could never see the Menorah with their own eyes. But, at the time of the miracle, the Menorah was brought to the court-yard, and the walls around the Temple having been destroyed by the Greeks (to follow the way they did in their temples, open to the ouside), the miracle of the Menorah was visible to all the population of Jerusalem. The Menorah has also become the symbol of the State of Israel as a symbol of renewal of the Jewish nation.
Judah Maccabee at the gates of Jerusalem
(Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Die Bibel in Bildern, 1860)
For a short time before he died, Mattathias was named the High Priest of the restored Temple service. The role will then remain to his sons as they were from the priesthood cast (Cohanim).
But the troubles were not over yet because the other neighbouring nations, enrolled by the Seleucid ruler, rised up against Israel to destroy it. So Judah went to war against them: Idumeans, Ammonites, Gileadites, and more.
The Book of Maccabees tells that, when Antiochus heard the news that the army he sent to Judah was destroyed, he fell sick and died after some days from such sorrow. His 9 years old son, Antiochus “Eupator”, was crowned king in his stead. But his war minister, Lysias, became the de facto ruler of theSeleucid dominion.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Antiochus Epiphanes' nephew, Demetrius Soter, the rightful heir of the Seleucid kingdom, was released from Rome and he returned to Antioch. There he was made king, and he killed Antiochus Eupator and his protector Lysias. Demetrius then sent Nicanor, one of the Seleucid princes and army commanders, and a great hater of the Jewish nation, to wage the war against Judah Maccabee. But on the 13th of the month Adar of the year 161 BCE, the battle of Hadasa ended up with the death of Nicanor and the destruction of the Greek army.
Drachma of Demetrius Soter, Antioch, 161 BCE (photo credit CGB France)
Judah Maccabee realized that Rome was a global power that could not be ignored. They had already conquered the Western Mediterranean region since the destruction of Carthage in 202 BCE and was now turning its eyes towards the Eastern Mediterranean currently ruled by the Greeks, being the Macedonian, the Asian-Syrian (Seleucid) and the Egyptians (Ptolemaic) kingdoms. Rome had forced Antiochus Epiphanes to renounce to his conquest of Egypt and was aiming to end the dominance of Macedonia over the Greek realm. Judah probably perceived that it would be wise to seek for an alliance with Rome in order to get support against the renewed Seleucid threats:
And Judas chose Eupolemus the son of John, the son of Accos, and Jason, the son of Eleazar, and sent them to Rome, to make a league of amity and confederacy with them; and to intreatthem, that they would take the yoke from them; for they saw that the kingdom of the Grecians did oppress Israel with servitude. They went therefore to Rome, (which was a very great journey), and came into the senate, where they spoke, and said, "Judah Maccabeus and his brethren, and the people of the Jews, have sent us unto you, to make a confederacy and peace with you, and that we might be registered your confederates and friends." So that matter pleased the Romans well. --- Maccabees, Book II, 8:17-21
Rome made a covenant with the Jewish state and sent a letter of threat to Demetrius, who had been previously held captive in Rome (in a golden cage), to stop his ambition towards their new ally in the region:
“And if they [the Jews] complain any more against you [Demetrius], we will do them justice and fight with you by sea and by land.” --- Maccabees, Book II, 8:32
A bronze tablet that was once displayed in the Church of San Basilio in Rome (this church no longer exists) proved the new friendship between Rome and the Jewish nation as true. The tablet, which specifically mentionned Judas Maccabee, was already described in a medieval "guide book" called the Mirabilia Urbis Romae that detailed the splendours of Rome to travellers.
Yet, such alliance was probably seen as a sin, in God’s eyes, as it signified that Judah did not put its faith into God’s hands to deliver them from their enemies, as He had done before with Nicanor’s superior army. It did not take long before Demetrius decided to attempt and subdue the Jewish state. He sent a large army with his commander Bacchides who came to besiege Jerusalem, in the first month of the 152nd year of the Seleucid dynasty, in 160 BCE. He took the city and restored Alcimus as High Priest, as he was favourable to Greek policies.
In the war that ensued, Judah was killed in a battle. Out of the four sons of Mattathias, Jonathan and Simon were the only ones being still alive. Jonathan was chosen to lead the Jewish struggle against Bacchides, who adopted the tactics to attack the Jews on Shabbat days. But the Maccabeans defended themselves, even on these days. Bacchides then fortified the main cities to protect their Greek garrisons from the Maccabees.
 It consisted of 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry (Maccabee Book II, 3:39)
 The Scrolls of the Fasts (Megillat Taanit, 25), composed around 66 CE, mentions: On the twenty-fifth of it [month of Kislev] – Chanukkah of eight days, and one is not to eulogize.
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