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The Maccabees (Hebrew: מכבים‎ or מקבים, Makabim or Maqabim; Greek: Μακκαβαῖοι, /makav'εï/) were a Jewish rebel army who liberated parts of the Land of Israel from the rule 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 Israel and reducing the influence of Hellenism.


In the 2nd century BCE, the land of Israel lay between Egypt and the Seleucid empire. Both Egypt and the Seleucid empire were states descended from the break up of Alexander the Great’s Greek empire. Since the rule of Alexander in 336–323 BCE, a process of Hellenization had spread through the near East. When Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 215–164 BCE), became ruler of the Seleucid Empire in 175 BCE, Hellenizing Jews had been long-established in Israel. They had built a gymnasium, competed internationally in Greek games, "removed their marks of circumcision and repudiated the holy covenant"[1]

Conflict over the appointment of the High Priest and corruption contributed to the causes of the Maccabean Revolt. The High Priest in Jerusalem was Onias III. His brother Jason, who favoured the Seleucids, bribed Antiochus to make him High Priest instead. 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.[2]

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".[3] 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 king's motives are unclear. He may have been incensed at the overthrow of his appointee, Menelaus,[2] he may have been responding to a 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.[4]

The revolt

Israel under Judah Maccabee

Jonathan's conquests

Simon's conquests

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 Jewish collaborators, of whom there were many. The Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the villages, circumcised children and forced Jews into outlawry.[4] 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.

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.[5] 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 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.[4]

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[2] and king of the Jews[4][6].

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 Holy Maccabees
Wojciech Stattler's "Machabeusze" ("The Maccabees"), 1844
Born 2nd century BCE, Judea (modern-day Israel)
Died 167-160 BCE, Judea
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast August 1

The name Maccabee[7] 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.[8] 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!"[9]

Holy Maccabean Martyrs

Seven Jewish brothers, their mother and their teacher are known in Christianity as the Holy Maccabean Martyrs or Holy Maccabees, although they are not said to be of the Maccabee family. They are so named from the description of their martyrdom in 2 and 4 Maccabees 2 Maccabees 7.

According to one tradition, their individual names are:

  • Habim
  • Antonin
  • Guriah
  • Eleazar
  • Eusebon
  • Hadim (Halim)
  • Marcellus
  • their mother Solomonia and
  • their teacher Eleazar.[10]

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Maccabean Martyrs on August 1, the first day of the Dormition Fast. The Roman Catholic Church includes them in its official list of saints, assigning them 1 August as their feast day. From the time of the Tridentine Calendar until 1960, they were mentioned through a commemoration within the feast of St. Peter ad Vincula. When, among other second feasts of a single saint, Pope John XXIII suppressed this feast of Saint Peter, the Maccabees continued to be only commemorated, but this time within the Mass of the feria. Some continue to use this calendar of John XXIII, or indeed an older one, but the General Roman Calendar officially in force since 1969 has omitted this commemoration.[11] The Holy Maccabees are still recognized as saints and martyrs.[12] and as such may be venerated by all Catholics everywhere on their feast and at other times.

Modern perception

The descendants of Mattathias

The author of the First Book of Maccabees regarded the Maccabean revolt as a rising of pious Jews against the Seleucid king who had tried to eradicate their religion and against the Jews who supported him. The author of the Second Book of Maccabees presented the conflict as a struggle between "Judaism" and "Hellenism", words that he was the first to use.[4] Modern scholarship tends to the second view.

Most modern scholars argue that the king was intervening in a civil war between traditionalist Jews in the countryside and Hellenized Jews in Jerusalem.[13][14][15] According to Joseph P. Schultz, modern scholarship "considers the Maccabean revolt less as an uprising against foreign oppression than as a civil war between the orthodox and reformist parties in the Jewish camp."[16] In the conflict over the office of High Priest, traditionalists with Hebrew/Aramaic names like Onias contested with Hellenizers with Greek names like Jason and Menelaus.[17] Other authors point to possible socio/economic factors in the conflict.[18] What began as a civil war took on the character of an invasion when the Hellenistic kingdom of Syria sided with the Hellenizing Jews against the traditionalists.[19] As the conflict escalated, Antiochus prohibited the practices of the traditionalists, thereby, in a departure from usual Seleucid practice, banning the religion of an entire people.[20] Other scholars argue that while the rising began as a religious rebellion, it was gradually transformed into a war of national liberation.[21]

See also


  1. 1 Maccabees, i, 15
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Oesterley, W.O.E., A History of Israel, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1939.
  3. I Maccabees, i, 30-32
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Nicholas de Lange (ed.), The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, London, Aurum Press, 1997, ISBN 1 85410 530 2
  5. Cohen, Shaye J.D., From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Second Edition. Westminster John Knox Press, 2006)
  6. Josephus' Jewish War 1.14.4: Mark Antony " …then resolved to get him made king of the Jews… told them that it was for their advantage in the Parthian war that Herod should be king; so they all gave their votes for it. And when the senate was separated, Antony and Caesar went out, with Herod between them; while the consul and the rest of the magistrates went before them, in order to offer sacrifices [to the Roman gods], and to lay the decree in the Capitol. Antony also made a feast for Herod on the first day of his reign;"
  7. Latin: Maccabaeus, Greek: Makkabaios, from Hebrew maqqeb et, hammer (Oxford English Dictionary).
  8.  "The Machabees". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  9. Exodus 15:11
  10. The Seven Holy Maccabean Martyrs
  11. "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1969), p. 132
  12. "Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  13. Telushkin, Joseph (1991). Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. W. Morrow. p. 114. ISBN 0688085067. 
  14. Johnston, Sarah Iles (2004). Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide. Harvard University Press. p. 186. ISBN 0674015177. 
  15. Greenberg, Irving (1993). The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. Simon & Schuster. p. 29. ISBN 0671873032. 
  16. Schultz, Joseph P. (1981). Judaism and the Gentile Faiths: Comparative Studies in Religion. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 155. ISBN 0838617077. "Modern scholarship on the other hand considers the Maccabean revolt less as an uprising against foreign oppresion than as a civil war between the orthodox and reformist parties in the Jewish camp" 
  17. Gundry, Robert H. (2003). A Survey of the New Testament. Zondervan. p. 9. ISBN 0310238250. 
  18. Freedman, David Noel; Allen C. Myers, Astrid B. Beck (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 837. ISBN 0802824005. 
  19. Wood, Leon James (1986). A Survey of Israel's History. Zondervan. p. 357. ISBN 031034770X. 
  20. Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews.
  21. Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings, By Louis H. Feldman, Meyer Reinhold, Fortress Press, 1996, p. 147

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Maccabees. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.