Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes ascended to the realm in 175BC, and Judaea's good relationship under the previous king deteriorated to the worst of times seven years later. Antiochus desired to raise taxes, and to consolidate his realm by Hellenizing the kingdom. This required that the unique Jewish practices be subordinated in favor of Greek culture, which was steeped in paganism, with practices such as (a) atheism — i.e. there was no one Father-like God of Love, (b) worship of man-made idols was fine, (c) public nudity was natural and wholesome and a tribute to the "gods", (d) having sex with multiple partners was also fine if you could manage it without one person insisting on that male-female "till death us do part" commitment. Man-made pleasure became the ultimate.
In 174BC he appointed Jason as a puppet high priest in Jerusalem, who introduced the gymnasium, a men's centre for nude sport, also a second centre for youths 16 and older. The priests and the elite Jews were attracted to it, thus changing their focus from the Temple to this pagan gymnasium. In 171BC a second puppet high priest, Menelaus, who was not from the high priestly lineage, won Antiochus's approval when he promised more money for the crown, derived from extortion of higher taxes, and then plundering the temple treasury in 168BC. Antiochus also settled foreigners into areas contiguous to Jerusalem, which increased tensions and conflicts between the Jewish people and their pagan neighbors. Many Jews fled Jerusalem and found freedom from Hellenism in the surrounding deserts, villages and countryside towns.
In 167BC, Antiochus issued a decree imposing a death sentence on those who observed the Sabbath or circumcised their children. Having built a fortress for his soldiers south of the Temple, called the Acra, he now placed a statue of Zeus in the Holy Place, and sacrificed a swine to it on the altar in mockery of the Jewish God. Over the next 3 years, many Jews joined a rebellion against Syria under the priestly Maccabee family.
In 164BC, following a guerrilla "hit and run" battle against Syrian General Lysias at Beth Zur, just north of Hebron which was won by Judas Maccabee, the Syrians were routed. At the same time King Antiochus IV died of disease while fighting in Parthia. In the month of Kislev (December) the temple was rededicated to God in the feast of Hanukkah (Dedication).
Judas was now seen by many Jews (unofficially) as their new Leader (and unofficially) High Priest. Antiochus IV's son, Antiochus V, a boy king, now gave permission for Menelaus the official High Priest to be killed, which occurred in 162BC.
However, Demetrius I, son of an earlier king Seleucus IV and nephew of Antiochus IV, appointed Alcimus to be the new High Priest of Jerusalem. He arrived back from Rome in 161BC, and killed this young cousin, Antiochus V, also General Lysias. Demetrius then sent his General Bacchides to Jerusalem, who defeated and killed Judas Maccabee in battle in 160BC.
Judas's brother Jonathan now became the new, unofficial leader, and with his brother Simon waged war against Bacchides.
The puppet high priest Alcimus died in 159BC, while endeavouring to break down the Jewish wall between the Court of the Gentiles and the Inner Court.
In 153BC, during a civil war that had arisen in Syria, Jonathan was pronounced to be official High Priest by a rival claimant to the throne, Alexander Balas, and all hostages that were still held in the Acra were freed. However, that Syrian garrison did remain there a short while longer.
In 150BC, Balas defeated and killed his rival Demetrius I in battle, reigning there four years until he was defeated in a battle with the king of Egypt, in fact his father-in-law. Demetrius's young son, Demetrius II became the new king of Syria and married Balas's wife, Cleopatra. Balas was killed shortly after.
In Judaea in 147BC the port city of Joppa was captured by Jonathan and his brother Simon, and by 143BC they had captured much of the area surrounding Joppa and Jerusalem. But Jonathan was killed after he was kidnapped for ransom by Syrian General Tryphon (even though the ransom was paid by Simon). Tryphon then returned to Syria, becoming a rival to the throne. In Judaea, Jonathan was succeeded by his brother Simon.
Simon and the start of the Hasmonean Dynasty c. 140BC
Simon retained his military control over Judaea and c. May in 142BC, captured the fortress of Acra. At the same time he requested freedom from taxation from Demetrius II, the youth then being about 18 years of age. The request was granted. Over the next few years, the fortress was razed to the ground. The Roman Senate accorded the new dynasty recognition c. 139BC, with a delegation from Simon sent to Rome.
In 135BC Simon was assassinated by a treacherous son-in-law, Ptolemy (son of Abubus), who had been appointed governor of Jericho by the new king of Syria, Antiochus VII, while Demetrius II was being held a prisoner in Parthia.
John Hyrcanus, son of Simon Maccabee, became the new leader in 134BC. In 132BC, Antiochus VII laid siege to Jerusalem. During the siege he allowed a seven-day truce for the Jews to celebrate a religious festival, following which John Hyrcanus opened King David's sepulchre and removed three thousand talents, which he then paid Antiochus to spare the city. Following the peace treaty, a unit of Jewish forces assisted Antiochus briefly in his wars, and for nearly 20 years after Antiochus's death in 129BC, John Hyrcanus refrained from attacking areas under Syria's control. All in all it indicated a renewal of the friendly relations that had begun with Demetrius II.
In 113BC, now freed from Syrian domination, John Hyrcanus set out to enlarge his kingdom at the expense of the crumbling Syrian Empire. He conquered Samaria to the north, having taken parts of Transjordan. When he died in 104BC, his kingdom stretched from the Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, from the Mediterranean Sea in the west well into Transjordan in the east.
Ultimately, one of the final acts of Hyrcanus's life was in his will. Hyrcanus's wife was given control of civil authority after his death, and his son Judas Aristobulus was given the role of High Priest. (However, Aristobulus was not satisfied with this arrangement, so he cast his mother into prison and let her starve.)
The origin of Hanukkah dates back over 2100 years, when a fearless and faithful Jewish family known as the Maccabees stood up against a powerful sovereign bent on eradicating the Jewish way of life. The rest is history.
The Jewish people enjoyed a good relationship with their Greek-Syrian rulers under the reign of Antiochus the Great, beginning in the late 3rd century BC. His son Antiochus Epiphanes ascended to the realm in 175BC, and that relationship deteriorated to the worst of times seven years later.
Antiochus's vision required a cultural shift from the oddity of Jewish temple life and praxis to the customary Greek institutions and environment. One of the bulwarks he instituted against Jewish temple life was that the Temple was rededicated to the Olympian god, Zeus. Swine was sacrificed on the altar and Jews were required to eat pork. Apparently, Antiochus saw militant monotheism as a great threat against his strong-handed rule and desired a more homologous rule and allegiance that would unite his kingdom against his Egyptian southern enemy, the Ptolemies.
Antiochus underestimated the resolve of the bulk of Jewry. The Jewish upper crust and the corrupt high priesthood cult did remain loyal to Antiochus and his Hellenization plan. But the masses of Jewry adhered sharply to their Jewish faith and practices. For the Jews, martyrdom was better than surrendering their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While Antiochus clamped down harder with his Hellenistic program, biblical yearnings and hope arose among the faithful, as they looked toward the "end of days."
When the king's forces came to the town of Mod'in to compel the Jews there to engage in pagan ritual, the priest Mattathias, and his five sons, Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah, led a rebellion against Antiochus. It started with Mattathias killing first, a Jew who approached the pagan altar to sacrifice, and then the Greek soldier who was there to enforce the king's decree.
Along with his sons, Mattathias and the faithful followers fled to the hills to continue the revolt and many gathered around them. Importantly, Mattathias ruled that the Jews could take up arms on the Sabbath to repulse the king's army. The insurgents actually fought a war on two fronts; first, against Antiochus's army, and second against the Jewish collaborators whose Hellenistic practices dominated their culture to the extent that they would not circumcise their males or keep the Sabbath.
Upon Mattathias's death, Judah the Hammer (Maccabee) took the leadership and repeatedly defeated the Syrians, establishing himself as a worthy successor and a respected military leader. Then in the month of Kislev (December) 164BC, after Antiochus's death, Judah and the rebels entered Jerusalem, where the Temple was in ruins, defaced with pagan statues. They purified the Temple and rededicated it, reestablishing the priesthood.
Judah successfully warded off the challenges to Judaism with fidelity to Torah, One God, and Jewish customs. Jewish militant manpower was now centralized around Judah and the Maccabees, increasing their stature, reputation, and number of followers. Judea was in the hands of the Jews and Judah's might was essential in rescuing many of its people from gentile violence in surrounding regions. Upon the death of Judah a series of Maccabean descendants, known as the Hasmoneans, followed, beginning with Judah's surviving brothers and then their descendants. Their rule was fraught with successes and failures.
After enjoying relative independence for 103 years, the Hasmonean dynasty started to spiritually and physically decline through a series of family rivalries, political ambition, greed, debauchery and interference by foreign powers, mainly Rome. In 63BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered the land of Israel, thus ending the Hasmonean sovereignty over the Land, and annexing the territory into the Roman Empire.
The last touch of Hasmonean presence was Mariamne, the second wife of Herod the Great, who ruled Judea from 37BC to 1BC. Ultimately, Herod, sick with paranoia and illusions, — and apparently with strong pressure coming from his sister Salome — caused Mariamne to be put on trial for alleged disloyalty. She was convicted and executed in 29BC. So ended the Hasmonean dynastic power.
Six decades later, Yeshua appeared in the Temple on the Feast of Hanukkah and responded to questions and accusations about his claim to be Messiah. He was there to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees and the preservation of the Jewish people. Although he did not come in the warlike might of Mattathias and Judah, like them, he did come to liberate his people.
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