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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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MACCABEES. The name commonly given to the Jewish family otherwise known as Hasmonæans , who led the revolt against Syria under Antiochus iv., and furnished the dynasty of leaders and rulers in the State thus formed. The family is said to have derived its name from a more or less mythical ancestor Hasmonœus . The chief members of the house were:

1. Mattathias (b.c. 167 166), a citizen of Modin, and of priestly descent. When, in accordance with the policy of Antiochus iv., the royal officer attempted to establish heathen sacrifices in that town, Mattathias refused to conform, killed the officer and a Jew about to offer sacrifices, levelled the heathen altar to the ground, and fled with his five sons to the mountains. There he was joined by a number of other patriots and by ‘the Pious’ (see Hasidæans). After a few months of vigorous fighting in behalf of the Torah, Mattathias died, leaving the conduct of the revolt to his five sons. Of these, Eleazar and John were killed in the succeeding struggle without having attained official standing. The other three were his successors ( 1Ma 2:1-70 ).

2. Judas (b.c. 166 161), called Maccabee , or ‘the Hammerer,’ from which surname the entire family came to be known. Judas was essentially a warrior, whose plans involved not only the re-establishment of the Torah, but also, in all probability, the re-establishment of the Jewish State in at least a semi-independent position. He defeated successively the Syrian generals Apollonius and Seron. Antiochus iv. then sent Lysias, the Imperial chancellor, to put down the revolt, and he in turn sent a large body of troops against Judas, under three generals Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias. Judas called the fighting men of Galilee together at Mizpah, organized them, and at Emmaus surprised and utterly defeated the forces of Gorgias (b.c. 166 165). In the autumn of 165, Lysias himself came against Judas at the head of a great army, but was defeated at Bethzur. Thereupon, in December 165, Judas cleansed the Temple of the Syrian pollutions and inaugurated the re-established worship with a great feast. For a year and a half he waged war on his enemies on the east of the Jordan, while his brother Simon brought the Jews scattered throughout Galilee back to Judæa for safety. His vigorous campaign, however, seems to have alienated ‘the Pious,’ who had seen their ambition realized in the re-establishment of the Temple worship. Lysias returned with a great army, and at Beth-zacharias completely defeated Judas. He then laid siege to Jerusalem, where the citadel was still in Syrian hands. Jerusalem surrendered, but Lysias did not attempt again to disestablish the Jewish faith. He appointed Alcimus as high priest, who was received by ‘the Pious’ as legitimate, although he favoured the Greeks. Judas and his party, however, remained in revolt, and when Lysias returned to Syria, undertook war against Alcimus himself. Demetrius r., who had succeeded Antiochus iv., sent Nicanor to put an end to the rebellion. He was defeated by Judas at Capharsalama, and retreated to Jerusalem, where he threatened to burn the Temple if Judas were not delivered up. This once more brought ‘the Pious’ to the support of Judas, who decisively defeated the Syrians at Adasa, Nicanor himself being killed. Josephus states that at this time Alcimus died and Judas was made high priest. Although this is probably an error, Judas was now at the head of the State. He sent ambassadors to Rome asking for assistance, which was granted to the extent that the Senate sent word to Demetrius i. to desist from fighting the Jews, the allies of the Romans. This international policy of Judas displeased ‘the Pious,’ however, and they deserted him; and before the message of the Senate could reach Demetrius, Judas had been defeated by the Syrian general Bacchides , at Elasa, and killed ( 1M Malachi 3:1 to 1Ma 9:22 ).

3. Jonathan (b.c. 161 143) undertook the leadership of the revolt, only to suffer serious defeat east of the Jordan, where he had gone to avenge the killing of his brother John by the ‘sons of Jambri.’ For a time it looked as if Syria would again establish its complete control over the country. The high priest Alcimus died, and Bacchides, believing the subjection of Judæa complete, returned to Syria (b.c. 160). The land, however, was not at peace, and in the interests of order Bacchides gave Jonathan the right to maintain an armed force at Michmash. The fortunes of the Maccabæan house now rose steadily. As a sort of licensed revolutionist, Jonathan was sought as an ally by the two rivals for the Syrian throne, Alexander Balas and Demetrius i. Each made him extravagant offers, but Jonathan preferred Alexander Balas; and when the latter defeated his rival, Jonathan found himself a high priest, a prince of Syria, and military and civil governor of Judæa (b.c. 150). When Alexander Balas was conquered by Demetrius ii., Jonathan laid siege to the citadel of Jerusalem, which was still in the hands of the Syrians. Demetrius did not find himself strong enough to punish the Jews, but apparently bought off the siege by adding to Judæa three sections of Samaria, and granting remission of tribute. Jonathan thereupon became a supporter of Demetrius ii., and furnished him auxiliary troops at critical times. Thanks to the disturbance in the Syrian Empire, Jonathan conquered various cities in the Maritime Plain and to the south of Judæa, re-established treaties with Rome and Sparta, and strengthened the fortifications of Jerusalem, cutting off the Syrian garrison with a high wall. Joppa was garrisoned and various strategic points throughout Judæa fortified. This steady advance towards independence was checked, however, by the treacherous seizure of Jonathan by Trypho, the guardian and commanding general of the young Antiochus v., by whom he was subsequently (b.c. 142) executed ( 1Ma 9:28 to 1Ma 12:1 ).

4. Simon (b.c. 143 135), another son of Mattathias, succeeded Jonathan when the affairs of the State were in a critical position. A man of extraordinary ability, he was so successful in diplomacy as seldom to be compelled to carry on war. It was greatly to his advantage that the Syrian State was torn by the struggles between the aspirants to the throne. Simon’s first step was to make the recognition of the independence of Judæa a condition of an alliance with Demetrius ii. The need of that monarch was too great to warrant his refusal of Simon’s hard terms, and the political independence of Judæa was achieved (b.c. 143 142). In May 142Samimon was able to seize the citadel, and in September 141, at a great assembly of priests and people, and princes of the people, and elders of the land, he was elected to be high priest and military commander and civil governor of the Jews, ‘for ever until there should arise a faithful prophet.’ That is to say, the high-priestly office became hereditary in Simon’s family. Following the policy of his house, Simon re-established the treaty with Rome, although he became involved in a strenuous struggle with Syria, in which the Syrian general was defeated by his son, John Hyrcanus. Like his brothers, however, Simon met a violent death, being killed by his son-in-law at a banquet ( 1Ma 13:1-53; 1Ma 14:1-49; 1Ma 15:1-41; 1Ma 16:1-16 ).

5. John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135 105). Under this son of Simon, the Jewish State reached its greatest prosperity. Josephus describes him as high priest, king, and prophet, but strangely enough the records of his reign are scanty. At the opening of his reign, John’s position, like that of his father and uncle, was critical. Antiochus vii. (Sidetes), the last energetic king of Syria, for a short time threatened to reduce Judæa again to political dependence. He besieged Jerusalem and starved it into surrender. For some reason, however, probably because of the interference of the Romans he did not destroy the city, but, exacting severe terms, left it under the control of Hyrcanus. Antiochus was presently killed in a campaign against the Parthians, and was succeeded by the weak Demetrius ii., who had been released from imprisonment by the same nation. John Hyrcanus from this time onwards paid small attention to Syrian power, and began a career of conquest of the territory on both sides of the Jordan and in Samaria. The affairs of Syria growing ever more desperate under the succession of feeble kings, John ceased payment of the tribute which had been exacted by Antiochus, and established a brilliant court, issuing coins as high priest and head of the Congregation of the Jews. He did not, however, take the title of ‘king.’ His long reign was marked by a break with the Pharisees, who, as successors of ‘the Pious,’ had been the traditional party of the government, and the establishment of friendship with the Sadducees, thereby fixing the high priesthood as one of the perquisites of that party. John died in peace, bequeathing to his family a well-rounded out territory and an independent government (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XIII. viii x.; BJ i. ii.).

6. Aristobulus I. (b.c. 105 104). According to the will of John Hyrcanus, the government was placed in his widow’s hands, while the high priesthood was given to the oldest of his five sons, Aristobulus. The latter, however, put his mother in prison, where she starved to death, established his brother Antigonus as joint-ruler, and threw his other three brothers into prison. In a short time, urged on by suspicion, he had his brother Antigonus killed, and he himself took the title of ‘king.’ Of his short reign we know little except that he was regarded as a friend of the Greeks, and conquered and circumcised the Ituræans, who probably lived in Galilee. At this time the final Judaizing of Galilee began (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiii. xi.; BJ i. iii.).

7. Alexander Jannæus (b.c. 104 78). After the death of Aristobulus, his widow Alexandra (Salome) released his three brothers from prison, and married the oldest of them, Alexander Jannæus (or Jonathan), making him king and high priest. Alexander carried on still more vigorously the monarchical policy of Aristobulus, and undertook the extension of Judæa by the conquest of the surrounding cities, including those of Upper Galilee. He was essentially a warrior, but in his early campaigns was defeated by the Egyptians. Judæa might then have become a province of Egypt had not the Jewish counsellors of Cleopatra advised against the subjection of the land. The Egyptian army was withdrawn, and Alexander Jannæus was left in control of the country. His monarchical ambitions, however, aroused the hostility of the Pharisees, and Judæa was rent by civil war. For six years the war raged, and it is said that 50,000 Jews perished. The Pharisees asked aid from Demetrius iii., and succeeded in defeating Alexander. Thereupon, however, feeling that they were in danger of falling again into subjection to Syria, many of the Jews went over to Alexander and assisted him in putting down the rebellion. The consequent success of Alexander was marked by a series of terrible punishments inflicted upon those who had rebelled against him. During the latter part of his reign he was engaged in struggles with the Greek cities of Palestine, in the siege of one of which he died, bequeathing his kingdom to his wife Alexandra, with the advice that she should make friends with the Pharisees (Jos [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiii. xii xv.; BJ i. iv.).

8. Alexandra (b.c. 78 69) was a woman of extraordinary ability, and her reign was one of great prosperity, according to the Pharisees, whose leaders were her chief advisers. She maintained the general foreign policy of her house, defending her kingdom against various foreign enemies, but particularly devoted herself, under the guidance of her brother Simon ben-Shetach, to the inner development of Judæa along lines of Pharisaic policy. The Sadducean leaders were to some extent persecuted, but seem to have been able to bring about their appointment to the charge of various frontier fortresses. The death of Alexandra alone prevented her being involved in a civil war (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiii. xvi.; BJ i. v.).

9. Aristohulus II. (b.c. 69 63). After the death of Alexandra civil war broke out. According to the queen’s provision, her eldest son, Hyrcanus ii., who was already high priest, was to have been her successor. In fact, he did undertake to administer the State, but his younger and more energetic brother Aristobulus organized the rebellion, defeated Hyrcanus, and compelled him to surrender. By the agreement that followed, Hyrcanus was reduced to private life in the enjoyment of a large revenue. It was at this time that Antipater, the father of Herod i., appeared on the scene. He was an Idumæan of boundless ambition and much experience. He undertook to replace Hyrcanus on the throne. With the assistance of Aretas, king of Arabia, he organized an army and besieged Aristobulus in the Temple Mount. As the war was proceeding, Pompey sent Scaurus to Syria (b.c. 65). Scaurus proceeded towards Judæa to take advantage of the struggle between the two brothers. Before he reached Judæa, however, both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus referred their quarrel to him. Scaurus favoured Aristobulus, and ordered Aretas to return to Arabia. This decision, however, did not end the controversy between the brothers, and they appealed to Pompey himself, who meantime had arrived at Damascus. The two brothers pleaded their cause, as did also an embassy of the Jewish people, which asked that the monarchy be abolished, and the government by the high priest he re-established. Pompey deferred his decision, and ordered the two brothers to maintain peace. Aristobulus, however, undertook to continue the revolt, fleeing to Alexandrium, a fortress on the Samaritan hills, above the Jordan Valley. At the command of Pompey he surrendered the fortress, but fled to Jerusalem, where he prepared to stand a siege. Pompey followed him, and Aristobulus promised to surrender. When, however, Gabinius, the Roman general, went to take possession of the city, he found the gates closed against him. Thereupon Pompey proceeded to besiege the city. The various divisions of Jerusalem surrendered to him except the Temple Mount. This was captured after a long siege, and at terrible cost (b.c. 63). Pompey went into the Holy of Holies, but did not touch the Temple treasures. He did, however, make Judæa tributary to Rome and greatly reduced its territory. Aristobulus was taken prisoner, and Hyrcanus was re-established as high priest, but without the title of ‘king.’ Great numbers of Jews were taken by Pompey to Rome at this time, together with Aristobulus, and became the nucleus of the Jewish community in the capital. With this conquest of Pompey, the Maccabæan State really came to an end; and Judæa became tributary to Rome (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiv. i iv, BJ i. vi. and vii.).

10. Hyrcanus II. was a weak man, but had for his adviser and major domo Antipater, an exceedingly able man. The State, as re-organized by Gabinius, was attached to Syria and Hyrcanus exercised the function of high priest (63 40). During this time Judæa was swept more completely into the current of Roman history, because of the assistance rendered by Antipater and Hyrcanus to Cæsar in his struggle with the party of Pompey in Egypt. In gratitude Cæsar gave many rights and privileges to the Jews throughout the Roman world. Hyrcanus was, however, not appointed king, but ‘ethnarch,’ and Antipater was made procurator. The walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down by Pompey, were now rebuilt, and various cities taken away by Pompey were restored to the Judæan territory. Hyrcanus, completely under the control of Antipater, supported Cassius in the struggle which followed the death of Cæsar, but in the disturbances following the death of Brutus and Cassius espoused the cause of Antony. At this critical juncture Antipater was killed, and his two sons, Phasael and Herod, were appointed by Antony tetrarchs of the country of the Jews. Antigonus, however, the second son of Aristobulus, with the assistance of the Parthians, captured Phasael, compelled Herod to flee, and seized the State. Hyrcanus was carried away prisoner by the Parthians, and his ears were cut off, so that he could no longer act as high priest.

After Herod had been made king, Hyrcanus was brought back to Judæa, and became a centre of one of the various intrigues against Herod, who had married Hyrcanus’ grand-daughter Mariamme. As a result, Herod had him executed (b.c. 30), on the charge of conspiracy with the king of Arabia (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiv. v. xiii.; BJ i. viii xiii.).

11. Alexander , the elder son of Aristobulus ii., who escaped from Pompey on the journey to Rome, collected an army and headed an insurrection in Judæa (b.c. 57). He was finally defeated, and later during the civil wars was beheaded by order of Pompey as a friend of Cæsar.

12. Antigonus , with his father Aristobulus, escaped from the Romans, and in b.c. 56 headed a revolt in Judæa. Aristobulus retreated to Machærus, but after two years’ siege was compelled to surrender, and went again as prisoner to Rome, where he was poisoned (b.c 49), just as he was setting out to the East to assist Cæsar. Antigonus in b.c. 47 attempted unsuccessfully to induce Cæsar to establish him as king of Judæa in place of Hyrcanus and Antipater. After the death of Cæsar and during the second triumvirate, Antigonus attempted to gain the throne of Judæa with the assistance of the Parthians, and in 40 37 maintained himself with the title of ‘king and high priest.’ At the end of that period, however, Herod i., who had been appointed king by the Romans, conquered Antigonus with the assistance of Rome. Antigonus was beheaded (b.c. 37) by Antony at the request of Herod (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiv. xiv xvi.; BJ I. xiv xviii. 3).

13. Alexandra , daughter of Hyrcanus ii., married her cousin Alexander, son of Aristobulus ii. She was a woman of great ability, and as the mother of Mariamme, wife of Herod i., was an object of bitter hatred on the part of Herod’s sister Salome. She was executed by Herod in b.c. 28.

14. Aristobulus III. , son of Alexander and Alexandra, became a member of the household of Herod after the latter’s marriage with Mariamme. Like all Hasmonæans, he was possessed of great personal beauty and was a favourite with the people. At the request of his sister he was made high priest by Herod (b.c. 35). On account of his popularity, Herod had him drowned while he was bathing at Jericho, in the same year, when he had reached the age of seventeen.

15. Mariamme , daughter of Alexander and Alexandra, was reputed to be one of the most beautiful women of the time. She became the wife of Herod, who loved her jealously. Driven to madness, however, by the scandalous reports of his sister Salome, Herod had her executed in b.c. 29.

Although the direct line of Hasmonæans was thus wiped out by Herod, the family was perpetuated in the sons of Herod himself by Mariamme Alexander and Aristobulus. Both these sons, indeed, Herod caused to be executed because of alleged conspiracies against him, but the Maccabæan line still lived in the persons of Herod of Chalcis and Agrippa i. and ii. (see Herod).

Shailer Mathews.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Maccabees'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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