Who was Judas Maccabeus?Judas Maccabeus, also known as Judah Maccabee, was a leader in the Maccabean Revolt from 167 BC to 160 BC. In order to understand the Maccabean Revolt, one must know what happened in the time period between the Old and New Testaments.
At the end of the Old Testament, the Jews were living under Persian rule and had been allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. In 333 BC, the Greek Empire, with Alexander the Great in the lead, conquered Israel and overthrew their Persian rulers. At first, the Jews were granted a measure of religious freedom. However, when Alexander the Great died, the empire was split between four successors and Israel ended up under Seleucid rule. In 175 BC, Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed Jewish religious practice. In 167 BC, he ordered that a pig be sacrificed to the Greek gods in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, thereby desecrating it. A Levite priest, Mattathias from the village of Modi'in, killed the Seleucid officer who brought the order as well as any Jew who would agree to such an unholy act. Thus, Mattathias and his five sons, one of whom was Judas Maccabeus, started this revolt in pursuit of religious freedom.
Mattathias died a year later in 166 BC and upon his deathbed appointed Judas as his successor. Judas was the third born son, but his military prowess made him the obvious choice to lead the rebellion. Judas used guerrilla warfare and surprise attacks to route the Seleucid army and won a string of battles. He defeated Apollonius and then used Apollonius's sword in every battle until his own death. Many Jews who had not yet joined the rebellion flocked to Judas after his victory over Apollonius. These victories using ferocious tactics earned Judas the nickname "the Hammer," or Maccabeus. Originally the name Maccabeus only referred to Judas, but later that name was used to signify all the family.
After several years of conflict, Judas and his men drove the Seleucids out of Jerusalem in 164 BC. Judas then purified and reconsecrated the temple on the 25th of Kislev (December 24th) thus restoring religious service there. This rededication of the temple was accompanied by God performing a miracle making one day's worth of oil burn in the lampstand (menorah) for eight days, just enough time for more oil to be consecrated. This miracle is still remembered and celebrated today with the holiday of Hanukkah.
The Roman Empire ended up defeating the Seleucids and then making peace with Judas and his followers in 161 BC. However, surviving Seleucids did not abide by the peace agreement and instead sent an army to Elasa where they killed Judas and a small army in 160 BC. Judas's death renewed Jewish resistance to foreign rule. After several more years of war led by two of Judas's brothers, Jonathan and Simon, Jews achieved independence. Judas's brothers used an ancestor's name in establishing their own dynasty, the Hasmonean kings, but they could have just as easily been called Maccabean kings. Jewish independence lasted only about one hundred years before the Romans regained control through marriage and political intrigue. It was into this political scene, where Jews remembered living in independence not that long ago, that Jesus the Messiah was born.
Judas Maccabeus is remembered as a fierce warrior in connection with Hanukkah who represents the desire for Jews to practice their religion without foreign rule.
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