Judas Maccabees part 1

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, SC)

Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.
Born: 190 BC, Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut, Israel
Died: 160 BC, Judea
Parents: Mattathias
Dynasty: Hasmonean
Successor: Jonathan Apphus
Books: Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee
Siblings: Simon Thassi, Jonathan Apphus, Eleazar Avaran

Judas Maccabeus
Judas Maccabeus (died 160 BC) was the leader of a Jewish revolt against the repressive policies of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the King of Syria.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes had sent the Syrians to Judea to suppress Judaism and supplant it with Greek paganism. The third son of Mattathias, the Hasmonean priest of Modin, Judas received the added name Maccabeus, generally believed to mean "Hammerer," because of the hammer blows dealt by Judas and his small and poorly equipped guerrilla bands of Jewish patriots against the well-equipped and well-trained Syrian army. This marked the first recorded war for religious freedom.
Judas, a remarkable strategist, succeeded in employing surprise attacks, ambush, and quick mobility of his forces in defeating a succession of Syrian generals. After several years of conflict, Judas drove out his foes from Jerusalem, except for the garrison in the citadel of Acra. Judas then proceeded with a group of faithful priests to cleanse the Temple of its pagan gods and restore the Sanctuary. On the twenty-fifth of the Jewish month of Kislev, 165 BC, the golden Menorah was rekindled, and the Temple was solemnly rededicated. As the festival was called, Chanukah ("Dedication") is still celebrated each year for eight days with the kindling of lights in commemoration.
Antiochus died in 163. Judas ventured to attack the Acra citadel. Lysias, who had assumed the regency, counterattacked and defeated Judas at Bet Zecharia (162). Judas retreated to the Temple Mount but could not hold out because of an acute food shortage.
Lysias, however, needed a breather as well to deal with Philip, the regent appointed by Antiochus before his death. He, therefore, agreed to a wave of peace (162) in which the Jews received complete freedom of worship. Lysias defeated Philip, only to be overthrown by Demetrius, the true heir to the Syrian throne. Demetrius appointed Alcimus (Jakim), a Hellenist, the as high priest, a choice the Hasidim (Pietists) might have accepted since he was of priestly descent.
Alcimus's treacherous assassination of 60 priests led Judas to continue to fight for political independence to secure his people's religious liberty. Demetrius dispatched Nicanor, a trusted general, with a strong force against Judas (161). Nicanor was defeated in several encounters and died in the battle of Adassa, in which Judas scored a brilliant victory. The triumphal day, the thirteenth of Adar was ordained as an annual festival.
Judas solicited help from Rome, but a new general, Bacchides, attacked him at Elesea with a formidable force before it could come. Judas's soldiers lost courage and fled, leaving their leader with only 800 men. They were utterly routed, and Judas fell in battle (160). However, the conflict against foreign rule continued intermittently for almost three centuries.
Who was Judas Maccabeu?
ANSWER: Judas Maccabeus was a priest who led the Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in Israel in the second century BC. When the Old Testament closes, the people of Israel have returned from the Babylonian Exile, and the work of rebuilding has begun. Under Nehemiah, the wall of Jerusalem is rebuilt. Ezra begins to call the people back to devotion to Yahweh. The Temple has also been rebuilt, although it does not compare favorably to the splendor of Solomon's Temple (Ezra 5). In the time of Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, the Temple is functioning again with sacrifices being offered. However, the people were not zealous for the Lord and offered blemished animals.

Between Malachi and the coming of John the Baptist, about 400 years pass. While there was no official prophetic word during that time, there was still a lot going on. Judas Maccabeus is from this period, sometimes called the "silent period" because there was no prophetic voice. It is also called the "Intertestamental Period" because it covers the time between the Old and New Testaments.

The Old Testament closes roughly 400 BC. Alexander the Great conquered the known civilized world and died in 323 BC. His empire is then distributed to his generals, who consolidate their territory and dynasties. Ptolemy, one of his generals, ruled in Egypt. Seleucus, another of his generals, ruled over a territory that included Syria. These generals founded dynasties that were often at war with each other. A look at a map will confirm the precarious position of Israel, located as it was between the territories of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.

Ptolemaic rule of Israel (Palestine) was tolerant of Jewish religious practices. However, the Seleucid dynasty eventually won control of the area and began to curtail Jewish religious practices. In 175 BC, the Seleucid King Antiochus IV came to power. He chose the title Epiphanes, which means "god manifest." He began to persecute the Jews in earnest. He outlawed Jewish religious practices (including the observance of food laws) and ordered the worship of Zeus. His ultimate act of desecration was to sacrifice a pig to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC. Things were set up for Judas Maccabeus and his rebellion.

Loyal Jewish opposition had been an undercurrent all along, but Antiochus' overt act of desecration brought it to the surface. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, led the organized resistance and his five sons, John Gaddi, Simon Thassi, Eleazar Avaran, Jonathan Apphus, and Judas Maccabeus. Mattathias started the rebellion by preventing a Jew from sacrificing to a pagan god and then killing an officer of the King. He escaped with his family to the hills, where many other faithful Jews joined him. From there, they conducted a guerilla war against the Seleucids. Upon Mattathias's death in 166 BC, his son Judas Maccabeus took command of the rebellion. He saw himself as a leader like Moses, Joshua, and Gideon.

Under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, the rebellion continued successfully, and the Jews were able to capture Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple in 164 BC. (It is from this event that the festival of Hanukkah comes.) Judas Maccabeus took the war to Galilee to reclaim all Jewish territory. In 164, Antiochus Epiphanes died, and his son and successor Antiochus Eupator agreed to peace and allowed the resumption of Jewish practices. However, the war resumed shortly after that, and Judas sought and received help from the fledgling power of Rome to finally throw off Seleucid control. Judas Maccabeus died in about 161 and was succeeded by his brother Jonathan. Finally, peace was made with Alexander Balas, the Seleucid King, under Jonathan's leadership, in about 153.
Even though Judas Maccabeus neither started the rebellion nor saw it to its completion, he is considered the central figure. The name Maccabeus is derived from the Hebrew word for "hammer," He is often referred to as "Judas the Hammer." After his death, Maccabeus (or Maccabee) became the family name, so his brothers and even his father are referred to as "the Maccabees" (also called the Hasmoneans), and the Revolt is referred to as "the Maccabean Revolt."

The history of the rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus is recorded in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews and the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Date Of Birth:
c. 190 BC.

Date Of Death:
160 BC.
killed in battle

Place Of Birth:

Best Known As:
The Jewish warrior who instituted Hanukkah
Judas Maccabeus led the Jewish people in recapturing their Temple from Syrian occupying forces in 164 BC, according to the ancient Greek books known as 1 and 2 Maccabees. The uprising was started in 167 BC by Judas's father, the priest Mattathias, against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian ruler of what is now Israel-Palestine. Judas continued the Revolt after Mattathias's death, eventually retaking the desecrated Jerusalem temple. After restoring and dedicating it, Judas "and all the assembly of Israel" decided the event should be remembered annually "with joy and gladness for eight days," now observed each December as Hanukkah (Hebrew for "to dedicate"). Judas fended off enemy attacks in the ensuing years, liberated captive Jews in Galilee, evaded a kidnapping attempt, allied with Rome, and died fighting Syrian forces. Judas Maccabeus should not be confused with Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.
Extra Credit:
The nickname?Maccabeus? Probably meant? The hammerer? Is Judas also sometimes called Judah Maccabee? The Maccabees, also known as Hasmoneans, included Mattathias and several generations of descendants, starting with Judas and his brothers, John, Simon, Eleazar, and Jonathan. Is their story told in G.F. Handel's famous operatic oratorio? Judas Maccabeus? (1746)? For complex reasons, the books 1 and 2 Maccabees appear in Catholic and Orthodox Christian bibles, and the? Apocrypha? Appended to some Protestant Christian bibles, but not in Jewish ones? Filmmaker Mel Gibson was rumored in 2004 to be considering a Maccabee movie in the wake of his successful The Passion of the Christ. However, his next project turned out to be Apocalypto, set in the ancient Mayan civilization (scheduled release: December 2006).

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