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The Revolt of the Maccabees

by B. F.

Illustration done by B. F.
(A menorah on the remains of the destroyed temple.)

The Jewish people as a whole wouldn't be the same without the Maccabees. Without their bravery and loyalty to their G-d, the Jewish religion might have died. It was the Maccabees' revolt that saved the Jewish people. The historical rebellion of the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans, which took place near modern day Israel after the Jews were released from the Babylonian Exile, can be broken down into three periods. These periods can be referred to as the pre-rebellion, rebellion, and post-rebellion.

The Pre-Rebellion

During this period the Ptolemies and the Seleucids controlled what was formerly Alexander the Great's empire. According to Kleckley and Kemerling, the Ptolemies focused their energy on improving their country, while the Seleucids tried to convert everyone in their country to the religion of the Greeks. The Jews who lived in Egypt and Jerusalem were ruled by the Ptolemies. However, in the year 198 BCE, the Seleucids took over Jerusalem and oppressed the Jewish people which ended their religious freedom. The king of the Seleucid Empire was Antiochus IV, whom the Jews referred to as Epiphanes. Along with bringing the religion of the Greeks, Antiochus plundered the temple to fund a war against the Ptolemies.

Some of the ways that Antiochus tried to take away the Jews' religious freedom was:

  • he outlawed circumcision
  • altars to Greek idols were placed in every Jewish town
  • those who didn't convert were put to death
  • he sacrificed unclean animals in the temple in Jerusalem, and
  • he forced all the Jews to worship him as their god

The Rebellion

The rebellion was started by an old Jewish priest in 167 BCE in the town of Modin. A Greek official tried to make him give a sacrifice to a Greek God, but the old man refused. One of the Jews who had converted quickly jumped to the occasion. The old priest, disgusted, killed the official and the converted Jew.

That old priest's name was Mattathias. After Mattathias killed the two men, he jumped up and was said to say, "Follow me....every one of you who is zealous for the law and strives to maintain the covenant" (I Maccabees 2:27). Mattathias and his five sons waged war on the Seleucid troops.

Illustration done by B. F.
(Mattathias killing the converted Jew.)

His five sons were:

  • John
  • Eleazar
  • Simeon
  • Jonathan, and
  • Judah

After Matthathias's death, a year after the rebellion had begun, command was shifted to his son Judah. Because of his great fighting ability, Judah was nicknamed Maccabeus, "The Hammer." Exactly three years after the Greeks desecrated the temple, the Hebrews re-conquered, purified, and rededicated it. This day was the 25 of Kislev, 165 BCE, and marks the day that Jews began the festival of Chanukah.

Other than the wonderful stories of how the little bit of oil lasted the Jews eight days, the holiday of Chanukah celebrates:

  • the defeat of Antiochus
  • the eight days that the temple was rededicated, and
  • the Jews regaining their freedom of religion

The Post-Rebellion

Of Mattathias's sons, Judah was the first leader, then his brother Jonathan, and then Simeon. All together, the three brothers ruled for about thirty years. Simeon's son, John Hyrcanus I, took over after him. He ruled for another thirty years. John Hyrcanus I was replaced by his eldest son, Judah Aristobulus I, for about a year. When Judah Aristobulus died, his brother Alexander Yannai took over and married his widow, Salome Alexandra. This was required by Jewish law. He also ruled for about thirty years. He managed to restore the country to the size it was when the original twelve tribes had settled there. Salome Alexandra took control for about nine years when Alexander Yannai died. She had two sons. The older son was named Hyrcanus II and the younger one was named Aristobulus II. When she ruled, she tried to create a stricter observance of the Torah. After her, the power shifted to her two sons. Although, after a very long dispute between the two men, a man named Herod took control of the country. Being an Edomite, he ended the Maccabean's rule over Judea.

To get more details about the Maccabean's rule over Judea go to: <>

The Maccabees' successful revolt against Antiochus' antisemitic persecution was ended about a hundred years later by their own self-destruction. Their downfall was due to greedy family members who wanted the country for themselves. If it weren't for the Maccabees, Judaism might have been just something you learned about on the internet. If it had not been for them standing up for what they believed in, the Jewish religion and the Hebrew people may have been blotted out by the Paganism of the Greeks.

Works Cited