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Maccabean Revolution under Judas Maccabeus Leadership

Early Victories of Judas (167-166 BC) 1 Maccabees 3.1-26, 4.1-25; 2 Maccabees 8.1-7, 8.21-29, 34-36

The early phase of the Maccabean war, saw relative successes within the Highlands of Judah[1].  Within the early years, the Antiochus hadn’t thought much of rebellion which Mattathias has started; sending at first only “inferior generals,” and small units of soldiers[2].  Syria also had other enemies to worry about, more important than some small providence[3].  Nevertheless it shouldn’t be forgotten that these early victories of Judas’ were still remarkable, considering that though Syrian hadn’t sent its brightest generals, they still knew how to fight better than Judas and his men[4].

Before fighting any real Syrian force, Judas was able to take out several auxiliary units which were under the command of some local Syrian commander[5].  The Maccabean forces would win battles at Modin, Beth-Horon, and Emmaus, against such men as Seron, who was “the supreme commander of Coele-Syria,” and also Gorgias, one of Lysias’ generals[6].  At Beth-Horon, was where Seron earn his defeat, Seron was just a local commander, who was trying to make a name for himself, but ended up getting killed[7].

Though these losses weren’t a huge deal to the Seleucid Empire, they meant a great deal for the revolt, raising not only moral, but more equipment and finances[8].

Syrian’s Defeat at Bethzur (165 BC) 1 Maccabees 4.26-35; 2 Maccabees 11.1-12

At these losses, Antiochus soon discovered that he had a full fledge revolt in his hand.  Thus Antiochus would now order that Lysias, being made governor, to go out to battle[9].  At an encounter at Bethzur, south of Jerusalem (about eighteen miles), the Maccabeans would win again Lysias’ force, who at the time were under the command of Nicanor and Gorgias[10].  At Lysias defeat, the Syrians retreated from Judea, they would not bother the Maccabeans until after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, which would be two or three years later[11].  At this point Lysias would retreat to Antioch, and would be unable to receive any military aid from Antiochus, who was busy in Parthia and Armenia taking care of another revolt[12].

Jerusalem Reclaimed, Hanukkah Celebrated (165 BC) 1 Maccabees 4.36-61; 2 Maccabees 10.1-8

Within three years, Judas would retake Jerusalem, (around December in 165 BC), this would also bring Antiochus to retract his decree to wipe out the Jews[13].  While Lysias was in retreat, and while Antiochus was busy, Judas took this time to retake the capital[14].  In Judas attack upon the city he was able to retake everything in the city, save for the Akra citadel[15].

In retaking Jerusalem, Judas would also restore the practices which had been neglected, namely that the altar for the Burnt Offering as rebuilt, as well as sacrifices continuing[16].  In cleansing the temple, Judas would have to remove altars and statues, of pagan gods, such as the Altar to Jupiter, or the statues of Zeus, and in its place he would have to restore a new altar to Yahweh[17].  Around the 25th of December Judas and his men had finished cleansing the temple, and rededicated for worship; it would begin to be celebrated as the “feast of the Dedication,” or Hanukkah[18].

Intervening war (165-163 BC)

For the following two years, Judea was for the most part under Judas’ control, during which time he regrouped and strengthened his force for the next Syrian invasion which would surely come[19].  “Judas next proceeded to make war on several neighboring peoples who were sympathetic with the Syrians. He defeated the Idumeans in the south, later capturing Hebron, and then crushed the Philistines. He crossed the Jordan to administer defeat to the Ammonites as far north as Damascus. With the close of these campaigns he had gained possession of much of Palestine[20].”

The peace from Syrian forces which had come after the capture of Jerusalem was not long to last, at the death of Antiochus IV, Lysias returned with a large force[21].  At Bethlehem, Judas suffered a grave defeat by Lysias forces, forcing him to retreat against the truly powerful force[22].  Now knowing that he couldn’t defeat this force, Judas returned to Jerusalem which Lysias soon placed under siege[23].

Peace for Judea? (162-161 BC) 1 Maccabees 6.55-63, 7.21-25; 2 Maccabees 14.1-14

Soon reports of trouble at Antioch came to Lysias forcing him to retreat, but before leaving the region, Lysias came to the Jews and sought to create a peace treaty[24].  (Lysias desired to be able to return to quickly to Antioch to defend against a rival)[25].  The various laws which had been placed to prohibit the right worship of Yahweh, were removed, as well as Menelaus, his title being taken, and later his life[26].  A Hellenist, by the name of Eliakim, or his Greek name Alcimus, became the New High Priest, which the Maccabees opposed[27].

Besides the religious freedom no punishment was to come, and only the walls around Jerusalem removed, moreover, there was to be set up a “provisional council in Jerusalem,” which counted among it rank Maccabean Commanders, Scribes, and Hasidim elders[28].  Now that a sense of peace (at least religiously) had been restored many of the Jews seemed ready to finish fighting[29].  Though they were free to worship as they pleased, the Jews were still under the yoke of Seleucids politically, something which Judas and those who followed him, now fewer, felt was left unfinished[30].

As Judas feared, the treaty would not be kept, and the conflict would come again, as the new High Priest, Alcimus would kill a number of the Hasidim, though, this time the Maccabean’s forces were severely cut as the Hasidim had left them, leaving Judas with only eight hundred men[31].

Death of Nicanor (160 BC) 1 Maccabees 7.26-32, 39-50; 2 Maccabees 14.15-19, 20-37

Judas and his men would return to back to their guerilla warfare tactics.  At this time they would come up against Nicanor, which would also be the last set of victories of Judas. [32] Nicanor at first tried to trick Judas by offering false peace in hopes of capturing him, but Judas caught wind of trick and it failed.[33] This first battle against Nicanor would take place at Capharsalma, where Judas defeated him. [34] At this point, Nicanor would return to Jerusalem where he would treat the priest there with contempt, though they had treated him with respect; he threatened them to give him Judas and his men, or that the temple would be destroyed.[35]

The next battle would take place near Beth-Horon, and this time the defeat was so well, it ended in Nicanor’s death. [36] When Nicanor feel in the battle, his men dropped their weapons and ran, but the Jews chased after them and the army was utterly destroyed.[37] This victory happened on March 28, 160, which became known as Nicanor Day, which celebrated Judas’ defeat of the general. [38] It would seem that Judea was safe once again, but more Syrian forces were on their way.[39]

Judas seeing that he needed more to really be free from Syria, Judas sought Rome’s help.[40] He went to gain this help, by seeking a treaty with Rome, which in late 161 BC, he received, this treaty with Rome would ultimately bring about its becoming a providence in 63 BC.[41]

Death of Judas (160 BC) 1 Maccabees 9.11-22

Angered at the death of Nicanor, Demetrius sent a large army commanded by Bacchides to defeat Judas.[42] These forces appeared to have originally been meant to help Nicanor, though they were too late, still they would soon become the last army which Judas would fight.[43] A great deal of Judas’ men would flee, leaving only 800 and him, still Judas would try to fight on, only to be out numbered and killed.[44] This battle would take place in April of 160 BC, only two months after the victory against Nicanor.[45] Near Beroea and Elasa which is north of Jerusalem, Judas would meet his end on the battlefield against Bacchides.[46]

The Roman senate had sent to a letter, which didn’t do any good, warning to Demetrius not to attack Judas and his men.[47] The Roman treaty, was an order, in which Demetrius was to keep stop all hostile acts against the Jews who were Roman allies.[48]


[1] Werner Keller, The Bible as History, 2nd Revised Edition (New York: Bantam, 1983, 348-9.

[2] Kaiser, 472.

[3] Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, rev. David O’Brien (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1986), 358.

[4] Keller, 349.

[5] Wood, 359.

[6] Walter C. Kaiser, A History of Israel : From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 472.

[7] Wood, 359.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Kaiser, 472.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Hubert Inman Hester, The Heart of Hebrew History : A Study of the Old Testament, Rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1962), 324.

[12] Harrison, 320.

[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] Harrison, 320-1.

[15] Kaiser, 472.

[16] Keller, 349.

[17] Kaiser, 472.

[18] Hester, 324.

[19] R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 321-2.

[20] Hester, 324.

[21] Kaiser, 472.

[22] Harrison, 322.

[23] Hester, 324.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Kaiser, 472.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Harrison, 322.

[28] Kaiser, 472.

[29] Grabbe, 571.

[30] Hester, 325; Kaiser 472.

[31] Hester, 325; Kaiser, 473.

[32] Wood, 360.

[33] Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, First Division, Vol. I. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890), 1:228-229.

[34] 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), 1241

[35] Schürer, 1:229.

[36] Wright, Murphy, and Fitzmyer, 1241

[37] Schürer, 1:229.

[38] Wright, Murphy, and Fitzmyer, 1241

[39] Harrison, 322.

[40] Schürer, 1:231.

[41] Wood, 361.

[42] Schürer, 1:232.

[43] Harrison, 322.

[44] Wood, 361.

[45] Schürer, 1:232.

[46] Wright, Murphy, and Fitzmyer, 1241.

[47] Harrison, 322.

[48] Schürer, 1:232

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