What led up to the Maccabean Revolt?
The Maccabees were a Jewish family that led a rebellion against Greece and the influences of Hellenism. It all started when there were efforts to eliminate Judaism and solidify Greek culture in the Palestinian regions. Seleucid soldiers were sent to enforce anti-Jewish edicts around Jerusalem. In the middle of all of this, they met resistance from one local Jewish leader, Matthias, a priest who had five sons (Feldman 371).
Jerusalem, during this time, was in trouble. Hellenistic rules were being forced upon everyone. Anyone who read the Torah was put to death, mothers who insisted that their sons be circumcised were also killed (Goodman 66). The Seleucid soldiers did everything that they could in order to eradicate Jewish traditions and get the entire population to worship their gods. It was not just about land, politics and economic reasons, the Greeks wanted to get rid of the Jewish culture altogether (Schwartz). This meant that they had to enforce their own beliefs and way of life onto the people of Jerusalem, as well as neighboring lands.
It was during this time that Judea laid between the Ptolemaic kingdom and the borders of the Seleucid empire, which was at that time based in Syria (Feldman 371). These were the kingdoms that were formed after the death of Alexander The Great. Before falling under the rule of the Seleucids, Judea was in the hands of Ptolematic rule. The turnover was seen at around 200 BCE, at this time Judea was under Hellenization, thanks to Alexander The Great. While under this rule, there were many Jews who were willing to give up their faith and adopt Hellenistic beliefs. These were mainly the urban upper class who were concerned about their social status. Their main motives were both economic and politically based (Feldman 371). The Jews who did move towards becoming Hellenized built a gymnasium in Jerusalem and competed in the International Greek Games. It was noted that they also separated themselves from the covenant made between God and Moses as they removed all signs of circumcision from their bodies.
Later in the Seleucid rule, Antiochus IV Epophanes became ruler of the empire, and had Judea under his hand. The priest in Jerusalem was Onias III, however his brother Jason had bribed the emperor to make him priest instead (Goodman 66). When Jason became High Priest, he abolished the traditional theocracy, and instead he constituted the land under Greek polis. After much bloodshed, and being removed twice from this position, Jason became High Priest again. The second time around, Antioch pillaged the Jewish Temple and attacked Jerusalem. He also held the women and children of the land captive, According to 1 Maccabees (Goodman 66). The zealous Hellenizing policy was pursued, and owning a Torah became a capital offense. All copies within the land were burned. A lot of Jewish traditions were also banned, including sacrifices, Sabbath day, feasts, among other things.
In the midst of all of this trouble, there was one family that stood up against the Greeks in order to preserve their Jewish traditions (Feldman 371). The person responsible for leading the Maccabeus Revolt was Judas Maccabee, the son of Matthias. Judas is a well known warrior in Jewish history, one that can be seen in par with Joshua, David and Gideon. He sparked the revolt against Hellenization and is responsible for the restoration of Jewish culture in Judea at the time. He, his father and his four brothers were the ones who led this revolt (Goodman 66).
The revolt started when Matthias, a rural priest, refused to worship Greek gods. He turned his back to the Seleucid empire and killed a Hellensitic Jew who went forward to offer a sacrifice to a Greek god in place of the priest. He and his sons fled to the wilderness soon after this event (Feldman 371). However, soon after Matthias’ death, his son Judas led an army against the Seleuicid dynasty.
Was the purpose only to capture, cleanse and rededicate the Jewish Temple?
During the time of Matthias, the purpose of the revolt was merely to drive away the Hellenistic rule and cleanse Jerusalem of idol worship and other things that God frowned upon. They did not want to let go of their culture just because the Greek people forced their own upon them (Goodman 66). The Jewish people part of the revolt wanted to stay in line with the covenant and fight for their Jewish beliefs, in the name of God.
During the time of conquest, there were seen two different types of Jews. There were those who thought that converting to Hellenism was attractive and could help them economically as well as politically, and there were those who did not want to give up their faith just because of persecution (Goodman 66). There were many Jews who abandoned Judaism altogether, and this showed their lack of faith. Many Jews wanted to align themselves with progress, by thinking that siding with the Greek will lead them to a better life. Not all Jews fought with the Maccabees, which made the battle even more amazing. This revolt was led by one family against an entire nation. The Greek were known for their soldiers and armies, however the Maccabees wanted to get their land back, along with their culture and traditions.
Although the mere point of the revolt was restore the land and take it back from Greek rule, later on, the group who won the Jews back wanted to visit other nations in hopes to gather all the Jews and convert them (Feldman 371). During the Maccabean rule, the temple was re-dedicated and the supporters of the Maccabees were divided. Some went on fighting while others did not believe that they had to. At first, it was seen as a war to end religious oppression against the Seleucids. Although after some time, the Maccabees realized how successful they were, and they continued to conquer other lands.
How was Jewish life different after the revolt than it was before?
There are a lot of reasons why Jewish life was different after the revolt as compared to the state of the people before the rebellion formed. During the time of Ptolemaic rule, the Jewish people were still under an emperor who worshipped pagan gods and believed in things that were not in line with the Jewish faith (Goodman 66). During the revolt, there were a number of Jews who received religious freedom. After seeing which Jews would abandon their faith in exchange for economic comfort, it was also as if the people were “cleansed” of those who did not see in line with them. The Jews who lived in Jerusalem at the time lived in rural lands that were mainly agriculturally inclined. After the war, many Jews went on to conquer other lands in the name of their faith.
Although life before the revolt seemed less complicated, the Jews witnessed more freedom after the war. Despite the internal conflict and struggle within the Maccabean party, the influence of the Seleucid empire was defeated (Schwartz). Shortly after this, the agreement with Rome was established, therefore called peace between the two countries. However, when this proved to fail, fighting commenced.
There was a lot of propaganda which cultivated the relations that the people of Jerusalem had with their neighboring countries. This goes in contrast with the Jewish teachings that they should not be like their neighbors who worship idols and give sacrifices to false gods. It was due to the much propaganda on diplomacy that started to lead many Jewish people stray of their beliefs (Schwartz). During this time, there was no fine line between pagan belief and Jewish tradition. There were a lot of Jews who would mix these two beliefs. Therefore, after the revolt, there was a renewing of Jewish tradition and culture. The Temple was cleansed and re-dedicated to the Lord and all unholy things were removed.
The life of the Jews changed after these wars. It was as if they had a renewed voice, and many Jewish people understood that they were fighting for their faith. Although not all of the Jewish people were on the side of the Maccabees, they were still strong and managed to fight for what they had believed in. The revolt proved rapid success, and instead of only being able to cleanse the people within Jerusalem, they were also able to achieve greater things after conquering lands and taking back Jews that were in other countries (Schwartz).
Feldman, Louis H. "Hengel's Judaism and Hellenism in Retrospect." Journal of Biblical
Literature 96.3 (1977): 371-382.
Goodman, Martin. The ruling class of Judaea: the origins of the Jewish revolt against Rome, AD
66-70. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Schwartz, Daniel R. "Maccabees. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature."Berlin-New