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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Dreadful Persecution of the Jews by Antiochus:









              2. Mathathias (167–166 B. C.):

              His retreat at Modin; His five sons.


                            Revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes.


                            His victories and death.






              1. Judas Machabeus (166–161 B. C.):

              His name of Machabee; His victories.


                            Rededication of the Temple.


                            The War of Independence pursued with varying success.


                            Alliance with Rome secured; defeat and death of Judas.




              2. Jonathan (161–143 B. C.):

              His election as the successor of Judas Machabeus.




                            Gradual restoration of the Jewish State:

              Decline of the Hellenistic party.


                                          Prestige of Jonathan at home and abroad.


                                          Alliance with Rome and Sparta.


                            The captivity of Jonathan.






              1. Election and First Acts of Simon Machabeus.


              2. National Independence Secured (Beginning of a new era).


              3. Prosperous Administration of Simon: He becomes hereditary sovereign of the Jews.


              4. Successful War against Antiochus VII: Tragic end of Simon (135 B. C.).


§ 1. Revolt against Syria

1. Dreadful Persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes. Two years after his victorious expedition against Egypt spoken of in the preceding chapter, Antiochus IV, bent on taking Alexandria the sole Egyptian city which had withstood successfully the power of his arms, reappeared before its walls with a large army. There, however, he was soon confronted with the Roman envoys who commanded him to leave Egypt. This positive injunction, with which Antiochus Epiphanes had to comply at once, threw him into a paroxysm of rage which he vented upon the Jews whilst returning to his States through Palestine. He dispatched Apollonius, one of his generals, with a body of 22,000 men to inflict upon Jerusalem the treatment he had intended for Alexandria, and his orders were but too faithfully complied with (cfr. 1 Mach. 1:30–42; 2 Mach. 5:24–26). It seems, however, that in thus acting, Antiochus had a further purpose. He wished “to Hellenize Jerusalem thoroughly. The Jewish population which would not yield, was treated with great barbarity; the men were killed, and the women and children sold into slavery. Whoever was able escaped from the city. In place of the Jewish population thus destroyed, strangers were brought in as colonists. Jerusalem was henceforth to be a Greek city. In order that such measures might have enduring effect, the walls of the city were thrown down, but the old city of David was fortified anew and made into a powerful stronghold, in which a Syrian garrison was placed” and from which the pagan soldiers could effectively prevent any one from stealing into Jerusalem and offering sacrifice in the Temple (SCHURER, The Jewish People in the Time of Christ, division I, vol. i, p. 206, English Translation).

It was this Hellenizing policy which soon afterwards caused Antiochus, the fervent worshipper of Zeus Olympius, to issue from Antioch a decree enjoining upon all his subjects the worship of his gods and of no other. This decree was readily complied with by the nations around Palestine, but not so with the bulk of the Jewish population (1 Mach. 1:43, sq.); whereupon, royal letters were sent by messengers to Jerusalem and to all the cities of Juda ordering explicitly the utter destruction of Judaism and the introduction of Greek idolatry. This strict prohibition of whatever was peculiar to or characteristic of Jewish civilization and religion, was extended to all the cities of the Syrian dominions and special commissioners were sent in every direction to enforce the will of the persecutor (1 Mach. 1:53).

The royal commissioner sent to Samaria and Judæa was an old man named Athenæus, who neglected nothing to root out Jewish worship from Jerusalem and the country around. The Temple of Jehovah became the Temple of Zeus Olympius. An altar to that god was erected on the Jewish Altar of Holocausts, swine’s flesh sacrificed on it, and the most impure practices of heathen worship carried on in the sanctuary of the living God. In like manner, in all the cities of Juda pagan altars were set up and heathen sacrifices offered. The observance of all Jewish rites, notably of circumcision and of the Sabbath, was punishable with death. Once a month, a rigorous search was made, and if a copy of the law was discovered in the possession of any one, the copy was torn to pieces or burnt and the owner put to death. Every month, also, in honor of the king’s birthday, the people all had to offer sacrifices and eat swine’s flesh, and in the annual celebrations in honor of Bacchus they were compelled to crown themselves with ivy and join in the procession (1 Mach. 1:54–64; 2 Mach. 6:1–9).

During this dreadful persecution many fled from the cities and hid themselves in the numerous caves of the country, or in the wilderness, “where they lived amongst wild beasts.” Of those who remained in the towns of Juda, a large number apostatized through fear or ambition, whilst many endured martyrdom with heroic courage. Of this last category only a few samples were put down on record, or at least have been preserved to us. Two women who were accused of having circumcised their children were led about through the city with the infants hanging to their breasts, and then thrown down headlong from the walls. A gathering of worshippers were burned alive in a cave, to which they had fled to keep the Sabbath. Eleazar, an old man ninety years of age, and “one of the chief of the scribes,” chose to be beaten to death rather than to let it be believed that he had eaten swine’s flesh, and a mother with her seven sons underwent for the same offence a death preceded by the most revolting and most excruciating torments (1 Mach. 1:65–67; 2 Mach. 6:10; 7).

This cruel and systematic persecution—like every subsequent persecution of the true religion—was a fearful ordeal in which the chosen people were searched and their unworthy elements cast away, whilst many waverers between Judaism and Hellenism compelled to declare themselves selected death with the faith of Jehovah rather than life with the pollutions of heathenism. But under the circumstances of the time, this persecution had a further result. It prevented the Jews, as a nation, from passing quietly, and, as it were, imperceptibly from their national customs and religion to those of their masters, for it put a stop to the insidious manner in which Hellenism was being gradually introduced by unworthy high priests into the Jewish State.

2. Mathathias (167–166 B. C.). Whilst Antiochus and his officers were thus doing their utmost to stamp all trace of Judaism out of Palestine, Divine Providence was preparing in Mathathias and his family the religious and political restoration of Israel. In the beginning of the persecution, this aged priest had removed with his five sons, John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar and Jonathan, from Jerusalem to the mountain town of Modin, some twenty miles distant. There he had watched with religious and patriotic anxiety the fearful inroads of persecution into his country, and every new outrage against Jehovah’s religion and people was a cause of renewed mourning for him and his sons. At length, the royal envoy reached the out-of-the-way town of Modin, and, having succeeded in winning over to idolatry several of its Jewish inhabitants, urged on Mathathias as “the great man in that city” to set the example of compliance with the royal decree, and promised to him and his sons the king’s favor together “with gold and silver and many presents.”

Of course, the venerable priest rejected every offer for him and his family, and when “a certain Jew came in the sight of all to sacrifice to the idols upon the altar of Modin,” in a moment of holy zeal, he slew him upon the altar together with the royal envoy, and pulled down the altar. Then with religious and patriotic enthusiasm he invited all to shake off the heathen yoke, saying, “Every one that hath zeal for the law and maintaineth the Testament, let him follow me.” He then fled with his sons into the mountains south of Jerusalem, whither he was soon followed by numerous Israelites zealous for the worship of Jehovah. The news of this growing revolt soon reached the heathen authorities of Jerusalem, and they at once resolved to crush it by attacking the rebels on the Sabbath, when the Jews, through religious scruple, would not offer any resistance. This plan at first succeeded but too well, and on one single occasion 1,000 Jews were thus slaughtered on a Sabbath day, but at the news of this butchery, Mathathias and his friends wisely resolved that henceforth they should defend themselves on the Sabbath, “lest they should be quickly rooted out of the earth” (1 Mac. 2:1–41).

Soon the Jewish patriots were joined by “the congregation of the Assideans” (that is most likely that party which had been long organized among the Jews to oppose and defeat the efforts of the partisans of idolatry), and also by a number of persecuted worshippers of Jehovah. Thus an army was formed, and under the leadership of Mathathias it carried on a guerilla warfare with the greatest success (1 Mach. 2:42–48). Soon, however, the fatigues of an active campaign proved too severe a task for the physical strength of the venerable Jewish priest, and he succumbed, exhorting his sons to pursue the great work of liberation under Judas as their military leader, and Simon as their prudent adviser (1 Mach. 2:49–70).

§ 2. Religious and Political Restoration

1. Judas Machabeus (167–161 B. C.). Judas, the new Jewish commander, proved worthy of the leadership to which he had been appointed by his dying father. Bold and valiant in action, yet prudent and discreet in counsel, he soon struck with terror the enemies of Israel, and thereby deserved the surname of Machabeus, the more probable meaning of which is the Hammer, like that of Charles Martel, the hero of the Francs. Confident in the help of Jehovah and the valor of his followers, he first surprised by night many towns which held out for the enemies of Israel, and set them on fire; and when next regular armies advanced to put a stop to his ravages, he did not refuse to meet them in the field (2 Mach. 8:1–7). The sacred writer details with manifest delight the manner in which Judas imparted to his warriors his own confidence in Jehovah and his hope of victory, and also the manner in which he proved himself a skilful tactician in presence of outnumbering enemies. He tells us how Apollonius, the late plunderer of Jerusalem, having been defeated and slain by Judas, the deputy-governor of Syria, a man named Seron, and extremely anxious to acquire military renown, was ignominiously routed at Bethoron, a place already famous by the victory of Josue over the southern Chanaanites (1 Mach. 3:10–24; cfr. in the present work, pp. 138, 139). He records also how Judas was victorious in his encounters with large armies headed by the best Syrian generals of the time: Gorgias and Nicanor, and Timotheus, and Bacchides and Lysias (1 Mach. 3:10–4:35; 2 Mach. 8:9–36).

After these glorious exploits, Judas and his fellow-warriors profited by a moment of respite to enter the ruined city of Jerusalem. The wretched condition of the Temple of Jehovah especially claimed their attention: “the sanctuary was desolate and the altar profaned, and the gates burned, and shrubs growing up in the courts as in a forest or on the mountains, and the chambers joining the Temple thrown down.” After lamentation and prayer, the military leader appointed a body of armed men to keep in check the Syrian garrison in the citadel, and then the work of cleansing began. With the help of priests perfectly faithful to Jehovah, the holy places were purified, the great altar of burnt-offering which had been profaned was demolished and gave place to another worthy of God’s worship, new vessels and new furniture were brought into the purified sanctuary, the lamps lighted up, and finally the offering of sacrifice was resumed on the 25th day of the ninth month (Casleu; 165 B.C.). The feast of the re-dedication lasted eight days, and it was decreed that an annual festival, also of eight days, should henceforth commemorate this great event (1 Mach. 4:36–59; 2 Mach. 10:1–8; John 10:22).

To consolidate this work of restoration, there remained to Judas a twofold work. The first, which he carried through with great vigor and success, was the submission of the neighboring tribes, which, alarmed at the progress of the Jews, had taken arms against them (164 B. C.). The second one, of course much more difficult, was the bringing to a successful issue of the war of independence against Syria. For three years Judas pursued this patriotic work with rare energy and perseverance, though with varying success, as might naturally be expected on the part of a general who had constantly to meet such outnumbering enemies. The first year (163 B. C.) was marked by a treaty which granted to the Jews the free use of their own laws and religion under Syrian supremacy, and by the recognition of Judas “as governor of Palestine; and from this year, his accession to the principality is usually dated” (MACLEAR, New Testament History, p. 39).

The next year was less fortunate; hostilities were resumed by the Syrians, and the Assideans in large numbers, deceived by a certain Alcimus, who had secured an appointment to the high priesthood from the Syrian authorities, separated from Judas Machabeus. The position of the latter was therefore very precarious in presence of the large army which had invaded the Jewish territory. Soon, however, after his instalment as high priest, Alcimus revealed his true character and showed himself the leader of the Hellenizing party; whereupon the Assideans joined again the cause of Judas. This re-enforcement allowed the Jewish commander to take the field again against the Syrian general Nicanor, whom he utterly defeated at Bethoron, early in 161 B. C.

It is at this juncture that Judas, anxious to secure the protection of the Romans against the ill-will of the kings of Syria, sent messengers to Rome. The Jewish ambassadors were well received, an alliance offensive and defensive was concluded, and a letter sent by the Roman Senate to the King of Syria, that he should desist from all attacks upon the Jews. Before, however, these transactions could be known in the East, Judas had been defeated and slain on the battlefield at Laisa, and his few faithful soldiers routed (B. C. 161; cfr. 1 Mach. 4:60–9:18; 2 Mach. 10–15).

2. Jonathan (161–143 B. C.). The much lamented death of Judas Machabeus left the Nationalist or Machabean party in a very precarious condition. Throughout the and “the wicked men,” that is, the Hellenists, showed themselves again, were appointed to posts of honor and power, and betrayed the partisans of Judas into the hands of the Syrian general Bacchides. At length, the partisans of Judas understood that their salvation required absolutely the choice of a skilful leader, and in consequence they selected Jonathan as their “prince and captain.” It is evidence to the weakness of the Machabean party at that time, that its valiant commander and his followers found it necessary to withdraw at once east of the Jordan; but fortunately, upon the death of the unworthy high priest Alcimus, Bacchides returned to Syria and gave to the Jews a respite of two years.

After this truce, the Syrian general reappeared in the field upon the promise of the Hellenistic leaders of an easy victory; the reverse took place, however, to the confusion and destruction of these wicked men, and the outcome of a short campaign skilfully conducted by Jonathan was a treaty of peace which left Jonathan practically master of Judæa, “although Jerusalem and many of the stronger towns occupied by garrisons, either of Syrians or apostate Jews, defied his authority” (MILMAN; cfr. 1 Mach. 9:19–73).

This state of things lasted for six years, during which the Hellenistic party became steadily less influential, whilst on the contrary, the Machabeans grew so powerful that at the end of this period their alliance was most carefully courted by Alexander Bales and Demetrius, the two competitors for the Syrian throne. Of the offers of Demetrius, Jonathan accepted the power of entering, repairing and fortifying the Holy City; of those of Alexander, in favor of whom he declared himself, he accepted the title of High Priest. Alexander came victorious out of the conflict for the Syrian throne, and granted to the Jewish high priest the title of Strategus of his country and that of Ruler of a part of the Syrian empire (1 Mach. 10:1–66).

Jonathan in return “remained faithful to his patron even against a new claimant to the crown of Syria. And such was his influence that the latter, on gaining possession of the throne, not only forgave the resistance of Jonathan, but confirmed him in the Pontificate and even remitted the taxation of Palestine on a tribute (probably annual) of 300 talents. But the faithlessness and ingratitude of the Syrian king (Demetrius II) led Jonathan soon afterwards to take the side of another Syrian pretender, an infant whose claims were ostensibly defended by his general, Tryphon” (EDERSHEIM, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. ii, pp 572, 573), and who was crowned in Antioch under the title of Antiochus VI (1 Mach. 10:67–11:58).

Soon after this event and several military exploits (1 Mach. 11:59–74) Jonathan sent ambassadors to Rome, who renewed the former treaty between Judas and the Roman Senate; he entered also into alliance with the Spartans (1 Mach. 12:1–23). New victories crowned his arms, and it seemed at the time as if he was destined to restore his country to complete independence. Soon, however, Tryphon, who was anxious to procure for himself the throne of Syria, considered Jonathan as the chief obstacle to his ambition, secured through treachery his person in Ptolemais and consigned him to a dungeon (1 Mach. 12:24–54).

§ 3. Judæa, an Independent Kingdom

1. Election and First Acts of Simon Machabeus. There was but one voice in the assembly which gathered in Jerusalem at the invitation of Simon Machabeus, to nominate him as the military leader of the nation, and vow to him perfect compliance with his orders. Simon, therefore, lost no time in completing the fortifications of Jerusalem, and in taking possession of Joppe, the principal harbor on the coast of Palestine. Then he advanced in person with a large army against Tryphon, who had invaded the Holy Land. Thereupon, the crafty Tryphon opened negotiations: “Jonathan was detained for a sum of money he owed to the king; if one hundred talents of silver were sent and his two sons as hostages for his peaceable conduct, he would be released.” Simon knew that Tryphon’s words were not to be trusted; yet to make it evident to all he sent the money and the hostages, and Tryphon, as Simon had foreseen, did not surrender Jonathan. He even soon put him to death, and did the same with the young king Antiochus, after which he seized the throne (1 Mach. 13:1–32).

Whilst Tryphon made himself very unpopular by his cruelty, Simon strengthened his fortresses for fear of a further attack and then sent to Demetrius II an offer to recognize him as king, provided he exempted Judæa from all taxation. Demetrius granted this with the greatest readiness, and from this moment a new era began in Israel, that of national independence, so long unknown to the Jewish people. This great work was soon afterwards completed by the capture of the citadel of Jerusalem, that great symbol and stronghold of foreign domination; after which Simon organized fully the Jewish army, placing at its head “John, his son, a valiant man for war” (1 Mach. 13:32–54).

Under the wise rule of this great high priest, the Holy Land enjoyed all the advantages of peace and security. He executed the law with great vigor and impartiality; he repaired the Temple and multiplied its sacred vessels; he kept the fortresses of the land well supplied with provisions and ammunitions, and under his prudent administration the wasted country soon recovered its ancient fertility. The writer of the first book of Machabees speaks with enthusiasm of this prosperous period, the fame of which reached Sparta and Rome, and which secured to Simon such gratitude from the nation at large, that “the Jews and their priests consented that he should be their prince and high priest forever,” with this significant restriction, however, “till there should arise a faithful prophet.” Thus had Simon Machabeus become by popular choice the hereditary sovereign of the Jews, and to all this power, Antiochus Sidetes, eager to secure the favor of Simon in his attempt at recovering his father’s dominions, added the “leave to coin money of his own,” promising him at the same time further favors when he would have reached the Syrian throne (1 Mach. 14–15:9).

Despite, however, the generous manner in which the Jewish prince helped Antiochus to overcome Tryphon, the Syrian monarch proved untrue to his word, and this entailed a war between Syria and Judæa which resulted in the defeat of the Syrian troops (1 Mach. 15:10–16:10).

Simon did not live long after this victory of his arms, for during a tour of inspection through the country, Ptolemy, his son-in-law, and governor of Jericho, caused him to be murdered with his two younger sons towards the close of a splendid banquet to which he had treacherously invited them (1 Mach. 16:14–17).

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