Home » Apocrypha Stuff » The Build of The Maccabean Revolt Part II: From Alexander’s Spilt Empire to Mattathias’ Revolt

The Build of The Maccabean Revolt Part II: From Alexander’s Spilt Empire to Mattathias’ Revolt

The Build of The Maccabean Revolt Part II:[1]

Alexander’s split Empire (301-198 BC) 1 Maccabees 1.8-9; The Letter of Aristeas; 3 Maccabees 1.9-11,24

In 323 B.C. Alexander the Great died, he had no real heir to keep his empire together it wasn’t until 315 BC after seven years that his four generals, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Seleucus took over[2].  Of the four only two matter to Biblical History, the Kingdom of the Ptolemies and the Selecuids[3].  After about forty years of struggling for who would have the land, the Near east had been split into two families, one headed by Ptolemy I (Lagus) holding Egypt and who started the Ptolemies,  further north Seleucids I (Nicator) the lands of the Seleucids included Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor, the Seleucids between the two laid Judah[4].

During the Kingdom of the Ptolemies, Judea was more or less ruled by the High Priest along with a council of Elders, the High Priest in a way combined both the political and religious leadership under his one title[5].  During this time the Simon I 300-287 was High Priest during this time, and is highly praised by Josephus who claims he helped to greatly enhanced the High Priesthood and is also known as Simon the Just.[6]

Ptolemy’s rule over Judea started off as a rather harsh one, although he seemed to have soften and even gave a place of prominence to them at times, his son Philadelphus continued the kinder treatment of the Jews[7].

As a side note during this time the Jewish community of Alexandria evidently flourished[8].  Alexandria in itself was made a sort of Hellenistic capital by Ptolemy I and his son[9].  Thus a translation of the Hebrew Scripture began to be needed, everywhere outside Judea Hellenizing flourished[10].   As the Jewish people in Dispora lost their mother tongue and the need grew greater, when about 250 B.C. The Torah was translated into Greek[11].

When Ptolemy III became involved in the second and third Syrian war at some point he requested a tribute from the temple, something which Onias II refused to honor, in time this forced his nephew, Joseph to come and demand that Onias honor this agreement[12].  In the end Onias II loses a part of the High Priest’s power that is over finical issues, where it seems to have been given to Joseph[13].  In one way Jospeh gains this power by telling Ptolemy III that he would double the tribute coming from Palestine and Southern Syria earning his rule for twenty-two years (240-218 BC)[14]. In this way he becomes not only a tax collector, a “ruthless one,” it isn’t until the Maccabean revolt that his family loses power[15].

By the fourth Syrian war (221-217), Ptolemy IV and Antiochus III were battling with Antiochus coming out on top, but when he reached Palestine he was forced to retreat, here we are told that Ptolemy IV began to celebrate across his territory.  During this time when he gets to Judea, he goes to desecrate the temple, and even tries to enters the Most Holy Place[16]. However he fails.

Antiochus III gain of Jerusalem (195-174) 2 Maccabees 3; Sirach 50.1-21;

This conflict between the two kingdoms would last over two dynasties and for a hundred years[17].  Around 195 BC Antiochus III (also called the Great) defeated Ptolemy V and gained Judea from the Ptolemies, ending the Ptolemic 100 year hold on Judea[18].  We don’t know a lot concerning Antiochus III’s treatment of the Jews, it doesn’t seem to be too harsh, according to Josephus, he seems to have helped the Jews in repairs due to the wars[19].  The High Priest during this time, Simon II (most likely Onias II’ son) seems to have helped with the said repairs of the temple,

Seleucus IV who came to the throne in 187 to 176 BC also seems to have treated the Jews relatively fair[20].  There is one record in 2 Maccabees where Seleucus IV had his chancellor, Heliodorus come and try to take money from the temple for unknown reasons, Heliodorus fails in this[21].  Seleucus would later be killed by this Heliodorus who would also free Antiochus IV from his imprisonment in Rome[22].

The Corruption of the High Priesthood (174-170 BC) 1 Maccabees; 1.11-15; 2 Maccabees 4.7-5.14

Onias the III was the High Priest, who was strongly attached to a pure Judea when Antiochus IV became King, while his brother, Jason (formerly known as Joshua) was in an ironic twist the head of the Hellenistic party[23].

Jason, Onias’s brother came to Antiochus IV and offered the king money to be made High Priest, and later money also to help make Jerusalem a Hellenized city[24].  Jason promised to in effective build a gymnasium, and sought to allow the Judeans to be able to earn rights similar to other citizens of Antioch[25].

When Jason took the High Priesthood from Onias III it marked a grave time indeed, for the traditional way of getting the title through hereditary notion would now be placed aside as first the Seleucid kingdom, and later the Romans would instead choose to elect their own High Priest[26].  Jason became High Priest in 174 BC and when he gained his position began Hellenizing Jerusalem[27].  It is recorded in 2 Maccabees that “He set aside the royal concessions granted to the Jews through the mediation of John, father of Eupolemus (that Eupolemus who would later go on an embassy to the Romans to establish a treaty of friendship with them); he abrogated the lawful institutions and introduced customs contrary to the law.” [28]

In essence there was sort of disdain to the custom of their forefathers, as young Jewish men would go to gymnasium in the manner of the Greeks, the priest would forsake their roles, and it even went so far that the men would undergo a surgery which would hid their circumcision[29].  These Jews would be called “Antiochites,” by Antiochus IV in 170 B.C. during one of his visits.[30] This whole event furthered the gap between Orthodox Jews and Hellenized ones, with the former following Onias and the latter Menelaus[31].

Three years into his administration, Jason would be replaced by a man named Menelaus in 171 BC, again paying Antiochus for the price.  Menelaus seems to have been worst then Jason, even selling off vessels from the temple[32].  Moreover Menelaus wasn’t from the line of Aaron and broke more than Jason did in obtaining his position[33].  The appointment of Jason had outraged Judea, the appointment of Menelaus only made it worst causing even riots[34].

Jason would fight back for the high priesthood, and a bitter conflict came, it wouldn’t come to an end until Antiochus stepped in, and this would lead to him pillaging the temple and putting thousands to death[35].  Antiochus looked upon this whole affair as a insult to himself, and wished to show all of Jerusalem their error, thus his pillaging (which Menelaus would even help in)![36] In the end Jason would be place into Exile, and Antiochus IV would reconfirm Menelaus as High Priest[37].

Antiochus IV and his Persecutions! (167 BC) 1 Maccabees 1.10-64 2 Maccabees 6.1-11,18-7.42

As noted already during the whole switching High Priest, Antiochus came and plundered the temple.  Antiochus’ plundering of not only the Jewish temple is something he was evidently well known for, as Polybius the Greek History, talks of Antiochus IV’s great plundering[38].  Antiochus would partly due to his failure; a second time to take Egypt would also bear a great hatred for the Jews[39].  Besides the plundering Antiochus would later send in Apollonius in 167 BC to quell the rebel opposition in Jerusalem and to fortify the Akra, in this pagan altars of all sort was set up throughout Judea which the Jews had the option of either sacrifice to the foreign god or death[40].

Under Antiochus Epiphanes the Jewish people suffered it seemed more than they had under their previous rulers[41].  Many Jews would die during this time, as 2 Maccabees would relate rather than fall into fall worship of a false god[42].  Of special note, Antiochus would December 6th of that year do the most heinous of things, when he both place a statue of Zeus in the temple and also burnt a pig upon the Altar of burnt sacrifices[43].  This would be called by some the “abomination of desolation[44].”

The Akra was a Hellenistic city founded by Jason[45].  The Akra was around the old city of David,  where it would be fortified by Antiochus [46].  Who would have the Akra garrisoned with Syrian troops to try and keep the Jewish people in Check[47].    The Akra would long be a problem for the Maccabees, though it wouldn’t be fully dealt with until 142-141 BC[48].

Mattathias’ Stands Up (167-166 BC) (1 Maccabees 2; l AJ 12.6)

From the upheaval that was brought on with the debate over Hellenism and the Orthodox beliefs, which gave way to the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes lead to the revolt by Mattathias and his sons[49].  When Antiochus’ officer came to Modin, and request that Mattathias as a leader to the people of the village show worship to Zeu, Mattathias refuses, and in the spirit of Eleazar of old slew not only the King’s commissioner, but also a Jew who had come up to offer a fault sacrifice.

When Mattathias enters into the story we see him already as an elderly man, but one who is not only a priest, but also a leader of sorts for his village, that is Modin[50].  Modin, which was a small village, was located around 20 miles from Jerusalem, “on the western fringe of the Judean highlands,” it is present day “el-Medieh[51].  Mattathias’ family was of the priestly family of Joarib, their family name of Hasmoneans would be what Judas’ brothers are known by later.

Mattathais’ act was in a sense the start of the Maccabean revolt, a call for the people to revolt[52].  Moreover it would seem that his revolt would be different from the others which had appear prior, due in part to the fact that he and those who surrounded him would fight even on the Sabbath,  seeing that if they did not, that no Jew would then be left to fight[53].  After Mattathai’s act, he and his sons would latter escape into the hills, where the rebel forces would grow[54].

This band of rebels would be joined by a group known as the “Hasidim,” who it seems would later become the well known Pharisees of the New Testament[55].  Likely the Hasidim’s sect had really gotten its power during Jason’s full scale Hellenization of Jerusalem[56]. The Hasidim’s main objective seemed primarily to uphold the Orthodox Worship, and also to remove all Hellenistic influence[57].  Moreover the Hasidim differ from the Maccabean revolters in that they would not fight upon the Sabbath[58].

Mattathais would lead the revolt for only year before his death, due to old age, and in 166 BC, Judas Maccabeus would take over in leading the revolt[59].

Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabees  3.1ff, 2 Maccabees 8.1ff    (1 Mac3.4)

Judas’ surname is Maccabeus, which perhaps means hammer, although this is uncertain[60].  Another suggestion is that Maccabeus stands for the first letters of a Hebrew sentence which were perhaps a motto for the group, the sentence being “Who is like unto Thee among the mighty, O Lord[61].”  Judas was able to take the ragtag army of his train his men to some quite formidable Guerrilla warriors and was to be victorious over the Seleucid armies and provide some early victories.  It should be noted that Judas’ men by all rights should not had gained the victories which they would, for they were fighting battled harden soldier, (Antiochus had, as already noted, tried to take Egypt twice), and Judas’ men would had been quite poorly equipped compared to their enemies[62].

Part of the Success of Judas seems to be his natural leadership skills which allowed for him to grow the Maccabean army[63].  Some, more modern Historians, wonder how much of Judas sought to fight purely for religious reasons (as was the traditional view), or how much he also sought the political power (which his brothers would also receive) latter on[64].  Though, the first book of Maccabees shows Judas generally as hero, filled with “Chivalry, bold and power… sacrificing his good sand his blood in a noble cause[65].”


[1] Please excuse the length of this particular post, I combined several Sunday Schools worth of study into one post.  Also note, this post and the one prior on the Maccabean Revolt, are based on my notes, that I used for Sunday School, and at times, there’s may seem like missing material, I probably said in the class, but didn’t have it in my notes.  Just check the various sources for more complete info.

[2] Hubert Inman Hester, The Heart of Hebrew History : A Study of the Old Testament, Rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1962), 319.  And Walter C. Kaiser, A History of Israel : From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 460.

[3] Addison G. Wright, Roland E. Murphy, and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A History of Israel,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1239.

[4] Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, rev. David O’Brien (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1986), 353.

[5] Wright, 1239.

[6] R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970),  314.

[7] Hester, 319.

[8] Wright, 1239.

[9] Werner Keller, The Bible as History, 2nd Revised Edition (New York: Bantam, 1983, 343.

[10] Wright, 1239.

[11] Keller, 343.

[12] Walter C. Kaiser, A History of Israel : From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 462.

[13] L.L Grabbe, “Jewish History: Greek Period,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background : A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 571.

[14] Kaiser, 462.

[15] Wright, 1239-40.

[16] Kaiser, 463.

[17] Wood, 354.

[18] Keller, 344.

[19] Wight, 1240,Hester, 321

[20] Hester, 321.

[21] Grabbe, 572.

[22] Wright, 1240.

[23] Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, First Division, Vol. I. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890), 1:202.

[24] Grabbe, 572.

[25] Schürer, 1:203.

[26] Wood, 346.

[27] Harrison, 318.

[28] 2 Maccabees 4.11 NAB

[29] Schürer, 1:203.

[30] Kaiser, 465.

[31] Harrison, 317.

[32] Grabbe, 573.

[33] Wood, 356.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Harrison, 319.

[36] Schürer, 1:205

[37] Wood, 356.

[38] Keller, 347

[39] Wright, Murphy, and, Fitzmyer, 1240.

[40] Wood, 357

[41] Keller, 347-8

[42] Schürer,  1:208

[43] Wood, 357

[44] Wright, Murphy, and, Fitzmyer, 1240.

[45] Wood, 357

[46] Schürer,  1:206

[47] Wright, Murphy, and, Fitzmyer, 1240.

[48] Schürer,206

[49] Wood, 357

[50] Ibid.

[51] Keller, 348

[52] Ibid.

[53] Wood, 358

[54] Keller,  348

[55] Wood, 358

[56] Wright, Murphy, and, Fitzmyer, 1240.

[57] Wood, 358

[58] Wright, Murphy, and, Fitzmyer, 1240.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Keller, 348

[61] Wood, 358

[62] Keller, 348

[63] Wright, Murphy, and, Fitzmyer, 1240.

[64] Wood, 361.

[65] Schürer, 1:213.

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1 Comment

  1. Great post. It filled in some gaps for me, after reading a novel based on the premise of Antiochus returning in modern day as a messianic character. http://createspace.com/3376099 He hides his true identity from everyone except a few inside people who help in his resurrection. The modern-day descendants of Judas Maccabeus catch on to Antiochus’ presence behind a world peace movement that originates at Mt. Nemrut, Turkey (where the Seleucids built their Throne of the Gods). Maccabean history is a big part of the storyline. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you!

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