03.04.20 167 B.C. The Maccabean Revolt; Hanukkah – 25 Years of Military Battles and Guerrilla Wars Begin
The Maccabean Revolt was a revolt led by orthodox Jews against their Syrian-Greek dictators. However, at this point it is important to clarify the name “Maccabean.” There are two traditions concerning its origin. One states that the leader of the revolt was given the nickname, “Maccabeus” or “Maccabee,” in Hebrew meaning the Hammer. However, the more popular origin of the name is that the priestly family raised a military standard with the initials of their motto that was derived from Genesis 15:11. The verse reads, “Who is like unto you among the gods, O Lord?” The Hebrew words are, Mi Camoka Baelim Jehovah; from which the letters M C B I were derived, creating the name “Macabi” or “Maccabee.” Whenever the name “Maccabee” was mentioned, the Jews were in essence reciting the passage of Moses. It eventually became the surname of the family. But the terms Hasmonean and Maccabean are often used interchangeably.
There is little question that the most significant event of the Inter-Testamental Period was the Maccabean Revolt – an incredible victory of Jewish farmers over a professionally trained Greek army with 32 war elephants. Antiochus had taken his cruel method of conversion to Hellenism into distant villages. When his generals arrived at the village of Modi’in, they discovered the people were ready to revolt. Nonetheless, the soldiers demanded the Jews sacrifice a pig to Zeus. When a Jewish priest named Mattathias refused to carry out the order, another Jew offered to perform the pagan act. Mattathias became so outraged that he killed him, as well as the commanding officer. Thereupon he shouted to his fellow men, “Every one of you who is zealous for the Law and strives to maintain the Covenant, follow me” (1 Macc. 2:27). Those famous words began the Maccabean Revolt and the eventual defeat of Greek domination.
A century and a half later when Jesus was in ministry, the descendants of Mattathias, a/k/a the Hasmonean family were also known as the Sadducees, controlled the temple and were puppets of the Roman political system. A very interesting passage that reads is if it was from a newspaper of that time, is found in the first book of Maccabees:
In those days Mattathias the son of John, son of Simeon, a priest of the sons of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modi’in. He had five sons, John surnamed Gaddi, Simon called Thassi, Judas called Maccabeus, Eleazar called Avaran, and Jonathan called Apphus. He saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem, and said,
“Alas, why was I born to see this?
The ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city,
And to dwell there when it was given over to the enemy,
The sanctuary given over to aliens?
Her temple had become like a man without honor;
Her glorious vessels have been carried into captivity.
Her babes have been killed in the streets,
her youths by the sword of the foe,
What nation has not inherited her palaces
and has not seized her spoils?
All her adornment has been taken away;
no longer free, she has become a slave.
And behold, our holy place, our beauty,
and our glory have been laid waste;
The Gentiles have profaned it.
Why should we live any longer?
And Mattathias and his sons rent their clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned greatly. Then the king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modi’in to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored, and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”
But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the Law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”
When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modi’in, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice and he tore down the altar. Thus, he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.
Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: “Let everyone who is zealous for the Law and supports the covenant come out with me!” And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all they had in the city.
1 Maccabees 2:1-28
When the Jews fled to the hills, the Syrian-Greeks pursued them and attempted to make them surrender, but they refused. However, the Syrian-Greeks knew that the Jews honored the Sabbath and would not work or fight on that day. So they waited and attacked on the Sabbath, and when the massacre was over, thousands lay dead.
When Mattathias and his friends heard of this, they mourned greatly and convinced all of the others that it was better to fight on the Sabbath. Shortly thereafter, Mattathias placed his son Judas who continued with the nickname, “the Hammer,” in charge of the army which fought guerilla warfare. The Greeks countered with a professionally trained army. Accompanied by the Samaritans, they were on the march to kill every Jew they could find. The narrative reflects unequal sides similar to the confrontation between the famous David and Goliath conflict and the astounding victory God gave to the Jews at the Battle of Beth-Horon.
But Apollonius gathered together Gentiles and a large force from Samaria to fight against Israel. When Judas learned of it, he went out to meet him and he defeated and killed him. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled. Then they seized their spoils; and Judas took the sword of Apollonius and used it in battle the rest of his life.
1 Maccabees 2:10-12
This small, but important, victory gave great encouragement to the small band of rag-tag freedom fighters, some of whom only had plowshares for swords. When Seron, the commander of the Syrian army, heard this, he decided to challenge them with a company of thousands. Upon hearing this, Judas was questioned about accepting the challenge, since his men had no food.
Judas replied, “It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from heaven. They come against us in great pride and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us. But we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them.”
1 Maccabees 3:18-22
The battle against Seron, the Syrian, was the first major victory for Judas. His name struck a chord of fear in the hearts of Antiochus and other Greeks. The enemy had a loss of eight hundred men and many more ran to hide in the hills. Upon hearing of the Jewish victories and the many deserters from his army, Antiochus was greatly disturbed. He decided to pay his men a bonus of a year’s salary, but discovered that, because of his mismanagement of the government, he had almost no funds.
Again, the Greeks prepared for an attack. This time Antiochus established a huge army of forty thousand men and seven thousand cavalry. When Judas heard of the coming attack, he gathered the men of Israel together to call upon God for deliverance. The author of First Maccabees preserved for us the details:
So they assembled and went to Mizpah, opposite of Jerusalem, because Israel formerly had a place of prayer in Mizpah. They fasted all that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and rent their clothes. And they opened the book of the Law to inquire into those matters about which Gentiles were consulting the images of their idols. They also brought the garments of the priesthood and the first fruits and the tithes, and they stirred up the Nazirites who had completed their days; and they cried aloud to heaven, saying:
“What shall we do with these?
Where shall we take them?
Thy sanctuary is trampled down and profaned,
and thy priests mourn in humiliation.
And behold, the Gentiles are assembled against us to destroy us;
thou knowest that they plot against us.
How will we be able to withstand them,
if thou dost not help us?”
Then they sounded the trumpets and gave a loud shout. After this Judas appointed leaders of the people, in charge of thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens. And he said to those who were building houses, or were betrothed, or were planting vineyards, or were fainthearted, that each should return to his home, according to the law. Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.
And Judas said, “Gird yourselves and be valiant. Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary. It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary. But as his will in heaven be, so he will do.”
1 Maccabees 3:46-60
As Judas and his homespun soldiers prepared for battle, he spoke words of a future echo of the Lord’s Prayer. He prayed, “But as His will in heaven be, so He will do …” Jesus frequently used terms and phrases that were already in common use by the people, that is, first and always to honor God. As history unfolded, God answered the prayers of Judas.
At daybreak, the Greeks appeared with five thousand infantry, a thousand cavalry, and thirty-two elephants accustomed to war, all with the finest armor, while Judas only had three thousand foot farmer-soldiers without sufficient armor and swords. They were so pathetically ill equipped that only a profound miracle could give them victory. When the enemy came into view, Judas said to his men:
Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. And now let us cry to heaven, to see whether He (God) will favor us and remember His covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today. Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.
When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, they went forth from their camp to battle. Then the men of Judah blew their trumpets and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled into the plain, and all those in the rear fell by the sword.
1 Maccabees 4:6-15
03.04.20.A. A COIN OF KING ANTIOCHUS VI. A rare coin with serrated edge shows the head of Antiochus as Dionysos (right) and a war elephant on the left. Antiochus VI ruled from 145-142 B.C. Internet photograph.
Judas had become a key figure in the salvation of Israel, equal to many of the biblical figures. He had unified the nation as there was a deep passion for freedom and national independence. Men and women were willing to lay down their lives at his command because they knew God was with him. In the following year, however, the enemy was on the march again.
By now the Hellenistic Jews and Samaritans were fighting with the Seleucids against the Hasidim. The number of Greeks with their mercenary soldiers from other countries who were involved is staggering. At times the armies numbered in the tens of thousands. Yet miraculously, Lysias was defeated. He returned to Antioch in Syria, where he attempted to enlist foreign mercenaries and build a larger army.
In the meantime, Judas took his little victorious army to the temple upon Mount Zion where they saw the destruction and lamented. After three years of bloodshed, the Maccabees recaptured the temple. They rebuilt the altar, cleansed the temple and instituted a blameless priest who was devoted to the Mosaic Law. Early on the morning of the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev, (December 14, 164 B.C.) they again offered sacrifices and celebrated the dedication of the temple for eight days.
As the story or legend goes, when the Jews re-entered the temple to cleanse it, there was only enough olive oil to light the temple menorah and keep it burning for one day. But a miracle occurred – the menorah kept burning for eight days. That was enough time to crush fresh olives and press them to extract extra virgin olive oil to resupply the lamps. However, there is no mention of this miracle in the Inter-Testamental writings, and Josephus, near the end of the first century (A.D.) said,
Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days; and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon: but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms….And from that time to this we celebrate this festival and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.
Josephus, Antiquities 12.7.7 (323, 325)
So obviously Josephus was not aware of any miracle, and suggests the possibility that the name “Light” was given to the festival because God had given them a light of hope when all seemed to be hopeless. This was a time of joyous freedom and the Jews praised God for their incredible victory. This celebration has been commemorated as the Feast of Dedication and was celebrated by Jesus (Jn. 10:22-23). Today it is known as Hanukkah, a word derived from the a Hebrew word that means to dedicate. The temple had been cleansed and was operational again, but the war was still not over.
Upon hearing that the Jews had rebuilt their altar and dedicated their temple, the Greeks became angry and killed Jews in nearby communities. They strengthened their forces when the Samaritans and Idumeans joined them. But when Judas Maccabeus heard of this, he made war on them and dealt them heavy casualties. In the meantime, Antiochus went to Babylon to gather funds to again try to kill the Jews. However, when he had heard that Lysias was defeated, he became very discouraged and depressed. Shortly thereafter, he died, and his son Antiochus II became the new king. The entire military episode of the Jewish-Greek conflict was summarized with this statement, which parallels the victories of the Old Testament era.
For it was the day of the Sabbath, and for that reason they did not continue their pursuit. And when they had collected the arms of the enemy and stripped them of their spoils, they kept the Sabbath, giving praise and thanks to the Lord, who had preserved them for that day and allotted it to them as the beginning of mercy.
1 Maccabees 8:26-27
Finally, the lighting of the lamp in the temple on the 24th day of Kislev was seen as a prophetic fulfillment of the words of the prophet Haggai, who in 520 B.C., said this:
18 “Consider carefully from this day forward; from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid; consider it carefully.19 Is there still seed left in the granary? The vine, the fig, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yet produced. But from this day on I will bless you.”
. Metzger, New Testament. 20-21; Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. 206.
. Blaikie, A Manuel of Bible History. 395.
. First and 2nd Maccabees belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works are deemed highly reliable historically. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information.
. 1 Macc. 2:29-38.
. Metzger, Goldstein, and Ferguson. Great Events of Bible Times. 124.
. 1 Macc. 3:22-37.
. Ashes placed on the forehead and torn clothing were cultural signs of deep grief and mourning. Vine, “Ashes.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:39.
. Historians seem to disagree in the size of the military units Antiochus had, but regardless, they greatly outnumbered the Jews.
. 1 Maccabees 6 reports an army of 100,000 infantry and 20,000 calvary, which may have been exaggerated, although larger armies have been verified.
. 1 Macc. 4:52-56.
. 1 Macc. 4:34-61.
. Barabas, “Feasts.” 6:690-92. This was not one of the seven Jewish feasts.
. Franz, “Jesus Celebrates Hanukkah.” 116-19.
. See 02.01.17 “Idumeans.”
. 1 Macc. 5 & 6.
. The prophecy becomes even more amazing when considering that on that day in 1917, General Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem from the Turkish Empire without a shot being fired and not even an injury to a single soldier. Orthodox Jews recognize that event of December 9, 1917, as another fulfillment of Haggai’s prophecy.