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What was the Maccabean Revolt?

The Maccabean Revolt is the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid Empire from 167 BC to 160 BC recorded in the Apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees as well as Josephus's The Jewish Wars. To understand this revolt, one needs to know what happened between the history recorded in the biblical account and these events in 167 BC. After the Persians had conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, Alexander the Great led the Greeks to conquer the Persians and gained control of Jerusalem. Upon Alexander's untimely death, the Greek empire was divided among his four generals. Judea came under the control of the Seleucid Empire, the quarter based out of Syria.

When Antiochus IV came to power in 175 BC, he forbade Jewish religious practice. In 167 BC he defiled the temple in Jerusalem by installing an idol to Zeus and sacrificing pigs upon the altar. Antiochus IV enforced a policy of assimilation to the Greek/Syrian way of life, forbidding circumcision, preventing kosher food restrictions, and requiring that sacrifices be made throughout the land to the Greek gods. When a Seleucid military officer arrived in the rural town of Modi'in to carry out Antiochus's orders, the Jewish priest in that town, Mattathias, vehemently refused and then killed the officer as well as any Jew who would obey such a command. He and his five sons then fled to the Judean wilderness where they were joined by like-minded Jews. Mattathias died there about a year later. His son Judah then led the small army of Jewish dissidents in guerilla warfare, first against other Jews who supported the Greek/Syrian way of life and then against the Seleucid army itself. Judah's militia was known to be swift and fierce, quickly conquering areas and then strictly enforcing Mosaic Law, including destroying Greek altars and forcibly circumcising those they conquered. This brutality earned him the name "Judah the Hammer" or "Judah Maccabeus" in Hebrew. That is how his militia became known as the Maccabees and their uprising as the Maccabean Revolt.

After victory in Jerusalem in 164 BC, the Maccabean army cleansed the temple and reestablished Jewish worship there. This cleansing and rededication of the temple is still celebrated today in the holiday of Hanukkah. Jesus also observed this celebration during His time on earth (John 10:22).

When Antiochus IV died, the Seleucid army was called to return home to Syria. Lysias, the commander of the Seleucid army, therefore agreed to grant religious freedom to the Jews, giving the Maccabees the right to run Judea semi-autonomously as long as they paid tribute taxes to the Seleucid Empire. Thus began the Hasmonean Dynasty, a name finding its origin in Mattathias's ancestor Hasmonaeus. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea in relative independence for the next nearly one hundred years and also continued to conquest the surrounding areas. Ultimately the political intrigue and family infighting among the Hasmoneans led the Romans to eventually gain control of Judea, thus setting the political backdrop against which Jesus was born. People alive in Jesus' day remembered the independence they had enjoyed before the Roman occupation of Judea and they were eager for a new Jewish king to restore their freedom. However, Jesus' mission was not a political one at that time.

Antiochus IV's oppression of Jewish religious practice is only one example in a long and ongoing history of anti-Semitism in the world. The success of the Maccabean Revolt is just one example among many of God preserving a remnant of His people (Isaiah 10:22) in order to accomplish His plan. In this case, the Maccabean Revolt reinstated Jewish religious practice in Judea and left a hunger for the Messiah among the Jews who came after the Hasmonean Dynasty had ended.


Related Truth:

Who were the Hasmoneans?

What is the history of the intertestamental period?

What were Israel's 400 years of silence?

Is Alexander the Great mentioned in the Bible?

Antiochus Epiphanes—Who was he?


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