The Maccabees, also spelled Machabees (Hebrew: מכבים or
מקבים, Maqabim; Latin: Machabaei or Maccabaei; Greek:
Μακκαβαῖοι, Makkabaioi), were a group of Jewish rebel
warriors who took control of Judea, which at the time was part of the
Seleucid Empire. They founded the
Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled
from 167 BCE to 37 BCE, being a fully independent kingdom
from about 110 to 63 BCE. They reasserted the Jewish religion, partly
by forced conversion, expanded the boundaries of
Judea by conquest and
reduced the influence of Hellenism and Hellenistic Judaism.
3 The revolt
4 Maccabean rule
5 Mention in the Bible
6 Holy Maccabean martyrs
7 See also
9 External links
The Holy Maccabees
Wojciech Stattler's "Machabeusze" ("The Maccabees"), 1844
2nd century BCE
Judea (modern-day Israel)
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
The name Maccabee is often 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.
One explanation of the name's origins is that it derives from the
Aramaic "makkaba", "the hammer", in recognition of Judah's ferocity in
battle. The traditional Jewish explanation is that Maccabee
(Hebrew: מכבים Machabi, מכבים) is an acronym for the
Torah verse that was the battle-cry of the Maccabees, "Mi chamocha
ba'elim YHWH", "Who is like You among the heavenly powers,
Lord!", as well as an acronym for "Matityahu haKohen ben
Yochanan. The correlating
Torah verse Exodus 15:11, The song of Moses
and the Children of
Israel by the Sea, makes a reference to Elim,
with a mundane notion of natural forces, heavenly might, war and
governmental powers. The scholar and poet Aaron Kaminka argues that
the name is a corruption of Machbanai, a leading commando in the army
of King David.
In the 2nd century BCE,
Judea lay between the
Ptolemaic Kingdom (based
in Egypt) and the
Seleucid empire (based in Syria), monarchies which
had formed following the death of Alexander the Great
Judea had initially come under Ptolemaic rule,
but fell to the
Seleucids around 200 BCE.
Judea at that time had
been affected by the
Hellenization initiated by Alexander the Great.
Some Jews, mainly those of the urban upper class, notably the Tobiad
family, wished to dispense with Jewish law and to adopt a Greek
lifestyle. According to the historian Victor Tcherikover, the main
motive for the Tobiads' Hellenism was economic and political. The
Hellenizing Jews built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, competed in
international Greek games, "removed their marks of circumcision and
repudiated the holy covenant".
Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 215–164 BCE) became ruler of
Seleucid Empire in 175 BCE,
Onias III held the office of High
Priest in Jerusalem. To Antiochus, the High
Priest was merely a local
governor within his realm, a man whom he could appoint or dismiss at
will, while orthodox Jews saw the holder of the High Priesthood as
divinely appointed. Jason, the brother of Onias, bribed Antiochus
to make him High
Priest instead of Onias.
Jason abolished the
traditional theocracy and "received from Antiochus permission to
Jerusalem into a Greek polis called Antioch". In turn,
Menelaus then bribed Antiochus and was appointed High
Priest in place
Menelaus had Onias assassinated. Menelaus' brother
Lysimachus stole holy vessels from the Temple; the resulting riots led
to the death of Lysimachus.
Menelaus was arrested for Onias' murder,
and was arraigned before Antiochus, but he bribed his way out of
Jason subsequently drove out
Menelaus and became High Priest
again. Antiochus pillaged the Temple, attacked
Jerusalem and "led
captive the women and children" (168 BCE). From this point
onwards, Antiochus pursued a zealous Hellenizing policy in the
Seleucid satrapies of
Coele Syria and Phoenicia.
The author of the
First Book of Maccabees
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
Second Book of Maccabees presented the conflict
as a struggle between "Judaism" and "Hellenism", concepts which he
coined. Most modern scholars argue that King Antiochus reacted to
a civil war between traditionalist Jews in the Judean countryside and
Hellenized Jews in Jerusalem, though the king's response of
persecuting the religious traditionalists was unusual in antiquity,
and was the immediate provocation for the revolt. 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",
while John J. Collins writes that while the civil war between Jewish
leaders led to the king's new policies, it is wrong to see the revolt
as simply a conflict between Hellenism and Judaism, since "[t]he
revolt was not provoked by the introduction of Greek customs (typified
by the building of a gymnasium) but by the persecution of people who
Torah by having their children circumcised and refusing
to eat pork." 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. Some
scholars point to social and economic factors in the conflict.
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. 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. The motives of Antiochus remain unclear: he may have
been incensed at the overthrow of his appointee, Menelaus, or -
encouraged by a group of radical Hellenizers among the Jews, he
may have been responding to an orthodox Jewish revolt that drew on the
Temple and the
Torah for its strength. Other scholars argue that,
while the rising began as a religious rebellion, it was gradually
transformed into a war of national liberation.
According to 1 Maccabees, Antiochus banned many traditional Jewish and
Samaritan religious practices: he made possession of the
capital offense and burned the copies he could find; sabbaths and
feasts were banned; circumcision was outlawed, and mothers who
circumcised their babies were killed along with their families;
and ritual sacrifice was forbidden. It is said that an idol of
Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and that
Israelites set up altars to
Greek gods and sacrificed "unclean"
animals on them.
Main article: Maccabean Revolt
Judea under Judah Maccabee
In the narrative of I Maccabees, after Antiochus issued his decrees
forbidding Jewish religious practice, a rural Jewish priest from
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
Judas Maccabee led an army of Jewish dissidents
to victory over the Seleucid dynasty in guerrilla warfare, which at
first was directed against Hellenizing Jews, of whom there were many.
Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the villages, circumcised boys
and forced Jews into outlawry. The term
Maccabees as used to
describe the Jewish army is taken from the Hebrew word for
The revolt involved many battles, in which the Maccabean forces gained
notoriety among the Seleucid army for their use of guerrilla tactics.
After the victory, the
Jerusalem in triumph and
ritually cleansed the Temple, reestablishing traditional Jewish
worship there and installing
Jonathan Maccabee as high priest. A large
Seleucid army was sent to quash the revolt, but returned to Syria on
the death of Antiochus IV. Its commander Lysias, preoccupied with
internal Seleucid 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.
According to Rabbinic tradition, the victorious
Maccabees could only
find a small jug of oil that had remained uncontaminated by virtue of
a seal, and although it only contained enough oil to sustain the
Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days, by which
time further oil could be procured.
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 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
Sadducees under later
Hasmonean monarchs such as Alexander
Jannaeus. Those who sought the continuation of the war were led by
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, where the
Gentile population were 'forcibly removed', and the fortress of
Gezer. He 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,
Roman senate renewed its alliance with the
Hasmonean kingdom and
commanded its allies in the eastern Mediterranean to do so also.
Maccabees won autonomy, the region remained a province of
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
Simon was murdered in 134 BCE by his son-in-law Ptolemy, and was
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.
freed from Seleucid rule on the death of Antiochus in
Hasmonean rule lasted until 63 BCE, when the Roman
general Pompeus intervened in
Hasmonean civil war, making it a client
kingdom of Rome. The
Hasmonean dynasty ended in 37 BCE when the
Herod the Great
Herod the Great became king of Israel, designated "King of
the Jews" by the Roman Senate, effectively transforming the
Hasmonean Kingdom into
Herodian Kingdom – a client kingdom of Rome.
Mention in the Bible
The Maccabean story is preserved in the books of the First and Second
Maccabees, which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in
Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. These books are not part of
Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) which came from the Palestinian canon;
however, they were part of the Alexandrian canon which is also called
Septuagint (sometimes abbreviated LXX). Both books are
included in the
Old Testament used by the Catholic and Orthodox
Churches, since those churches consider the books
deuterocanonical. They are not included in the
Old Testament books in
Protestant Bibles since most Protestants consider the books
apocryphal. Multiple references to
Hanukkah are also made in the
Mishna (Bikkurim 1:6, Rosh HaShanah 1:3, Taanit 2:10, Megillah 3:4 and
3:6, Moed Katan 3:9, and Bava Kama 6:6), though specific laws are not
described. The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously
lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud, committed to
writing about 600 years after the events described in the books of
Holy Maccabean martyrs
What are believed to be the Maccabees' relics – kept in the
Maccabees Shrine – are venerated in St. Andrew's Church, Cologne,
Main article: Woman with seven sons
2 Maccabees and 4
Maccabees recount the martyrdom of seven Jewish
brothers, their mother and their teacher. Although these are not said
to be of the Maccabee family, they are referred to in Christianity as
the Holy Maccabean Martyrs or the Holy Maccabees.
According to one tradition, their individual names are Habim, Antonin,
Guriah, Eleazar, Eusebon, Hadim (Halim), Marcellus, their mother
Solomonia, and their teacher Eleazar.
The three Ethiopian books of
Meqabyan (quite distinct works from the
other four books of Maccabees), which are canonical in the Ethiopian
Orthodox Tewahedo Church, also refer to the Maccabee martyrs. The
first of these books states that their father was a Benjamite named
Maccabeus, and that three of the brothers, who are called Abya, Seela,
and Fentos, were captured and martyred for leading a guerilla war
against Antiochus Epiphanes.
From before the time of the Tridentine Calendar, the Holy Maccabees
had a commemoration in the
Roman Rite liturgy within the feast of
Saint Peter in Chains. This commemoration remained within the weekday
liturgy when in 1960
Pope John XXIII
Pope John XXIII suppressed this particular feast
of Saint Peter. Nine years later, 1 August became the feast of Saint
Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori
Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori and the mention of the Maccabee martyrs
was omitted from the General Roman Calendar, since in its 1969
revision it no longer admitted commemorations.
The feast day of these saints is 1 August in both the Eastern Orthodox
Church (for which 1 August is also the first day of the Dormition
Fast) and the Catholic Church.
While comparing the well-known mosaic discovered in Huqoq by Jodi
Magness with the books of Maccabees, Nina V. Braginskaya comes to the
conclusion that the mosaic reflects the symbolic story of the
Antinomianism in the Books of the Maccabees
My Glorious Brothers, novel by Howard Fast
^ Cohn, Marc (2007). The Mathematics of the Calendar. p. 60.
^ Fischer-Lichte, Erika (2005). Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual: Exploring
Forms of Political Theatre. Routledge. p. 195.
^ Latin: Maccabaeus, Greek: Makkabaios, from Hebrew maqqeb et, hammer
(Oxford English Dictionary).
^ See 1
1 Maccabees 2:4
^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "The Machabees". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ a b Scherman, Nosson (ed.) ; contributing editors, Yaakov
Blinder, Avie Gold, Meir Zlotowitz ; designed by Sheah Brander
Tanakh = Tanach : Torah, Neviʼim, Ketuvim : the
Torah, Prophets, Writings : the twenty-four books of the Bible,
newly translated and annotated (1st student size ed., Stone ed.).
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications. pp. 171–172.
^ Exodus 15:11
^ "What does "Maccabee" mean? – Ask the Rabbi". Oztorah.com.
^ a b c d e Tcherikover, Victor Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews,
New York: Atheneum, 1975
^ I Maccabees, i, 15
^ a b c Oesterley, W.O.E., A History of Israel, Oxford, Clarendon
^ De Lange, Nicholas, Atlas of the Jewish World, Oxford: Andromeda,
^ I Maccabees, i, 30–32
^ a b "
Maccabean Revolt - Biblical Studies - Oxford Bibliographies -
^ a b c d e
Nicholas de Lange (ed.), The Illustrated History of the
Jewish People, London, Aurum Press, 1997, ISBN 1-85410-530-2
^ 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 0-688-08506-7.
^ Greenberg, Irving (1993). The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. Simon
& Schuster. p. 29. ISBN 0-671-87303-2.
^ a b Johnston, Sarah Iles (2004). Religions of the Ancient World: A
Guide. Harvard University Press. p. 186.
^ Schultz, Joseph P. (1981). Judaism and the Gentile Faiths:
Comparative Studies in Religion. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press.
p. 155. ISBN 0-8386-1707-7. Modern scholarship on the other
hand 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
^ Gundry, Robert H. (2003). A Survey of the New Testament. Zondervan.
p. 9. ISBN 0-310-23825-0.
^ Freedman, David Noel; Allen C. Myers; Astrid B. Beck (2000).
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
p. 837. ISBN 0-8028-2400-5.
^ Wood, Leon James (1986). A Survey of Israel's History. Zondervan.
p. 357. ISBN 0-310-34770-X.
^ Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings,
By Louis H. Feldman, Meyer Reinhold, Fortress Press, 1996, p. 147
^ I Macccabees. 1:57
1 Maccabees 1:60–61 (New Revised Standard w/ Apocrypha)".
^ I Maccabees, 1, 41-50
^ "Jewish Virtual Library". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved
^ "Talmud, Tractate Shabbat". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved
^ Cohen, Shaye J.D., From the
Maccabees to the Mishnah (Second
Edition. Westminster John Knox Press, 2006)
^ Jews in the Mediterranean diaspora: from Alexander to Trajan
(323 BCE – 117 CE) John M Barclay University of California
press pg 247
^ Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, xlv.12.
^ 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;"
^ Carson, D. A. (2005). Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Wipf and
Stock Publishers. p. 307. ISBN 9781597521185. E. AN
ALEXANDRIAN CANON? Some assert that the Greek translation of the Old
Testament (called the
Septuagint or LXX) offers evidence that the
canon of diaspora Judaism
^ "The Old Testament".
^ Dolanksy, Shawna (23 December 2011). "The Truth(s) About Hanukkah".
^ "The Seven Holy Maccabean Martyrs". Holytrinityorthodox.com.
2007-05-20. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1969), p. 132
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