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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Mac´cabees. The etymology of this word is too uncertain to reward the inquiries made respecting it. As a family, the Maccabees commenced their career of patriotic and religious heroism during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, about the year B.C. 167. At this time the aged Mattathias, a descendant of the Hasmoneans, and his five sons, inhabited the town of Modin, to which place Antiochus sent certain of his officers with instructions to erect an altar for heathen sacrifices, and to engage the inhabitants in the celebration of the most idolatrous and superstitious rites. The venerable Mattathias openly declared his resolution to oppose the orders of the tyrant, and one of the recreant Jews approaching the altar which had been set up, he rushed upon him, and slew him with his own hand. His part thus boldly taken, he called his sons and his friends around him, and immediately fled to the mountains, inviting all to follow him who had any zeal for God and the law. A small band of resolute and devoted men was thus formed, and the governor of the district saw reason to fear that a general insurrection would be the consequence of their proceeding. By a sudden attack directed against them on the Sabbath, when he knew the strictness of their principles would not allow them to take measures for their defense, he threw them into disorder, and slew about a thousand of their number, consisting of men, women, and children.
Warned by this event, and yielding to the necessity of their present condition, Mattathias and his sons determined that for the future they would defend themselves on the Sabbath in the same manner as on other days. The mountain-hold of the little band was now guarded more cautiously than before. Fresh adherents to the holy cause were continually flocking in; and in a few months the party found itself sufficiently strong to make attacks upon the towns and villages of the neighborhood, throwing down the heathen altars, and punishing the reprobates who had taken part with the enemies of God.
By the death of Mattathias, the leadership of the party devolved upon his son Judas Maccabaeus, whose worth and heroic courage pointed him out as most capable of carrying on the enterprise thus nobly begun. Judas lost no time in attacking the enemy. He made himself master of several towns, which he fortified and garrisoned. Apollonius, General of the army in Samaria, hastened to stop the progress of the insurgents. Judas met him on the way, joined battle with him, slew him and routed his army. The same success attended him in his encounter with Seron, general of the Syrians; and it now became evident to Antiochus that the Jewish nation would soon be delivered from his yoke, unless he proceeded against them with a more formidable force. While, therefore, he himself went into Persia to recruit his treasures, Lysias, whom he left as regent at home, sent an army into Judea, composed of forty thousand foot and seven thousand cavalry. This powerful array was further increased by auxiliaries from the provinces, and by bands of Jews, who dreaded nothing more than the triumph of those virtuous men of their own nation, who were struggling to save it from reprobation. So unequal did the forces of Judas appear to an encounter with such an army, that in addressing his followers he urged those among them who had any especial reason to love the present world to retire at once; while to those who remained he pointed out the promises of God as the best support of their courage and fidelity. By a forced march he reached a portion of the enemy encamped at Emmaus, while utterly unprepared for his approach. Complete success attended this bold proceeding. The several parts of the hostile army were successively put to flight, a splendid booty was secured, and Judas gained a position which made even the most powerful of his opponents tremble. Another and more numerous army was sent against him the following year, but with no better success. At the head of ten thousand determined followers, Judas defeated the army of Lysias, consisting of sixty thousand. A way was thereby opened for his progress to Jerusalem, whither he immediately hastened, with the devout purpose of purifying the temple and restoring it to its former glory. The solemn religious rites having been performed which were necessary to the cleansing of the sacred edifice, the Festival of the Purification was instituted, and added to the number of the other national festivals of more ancient date.
Judas had full occupation for his courage and ability in repelling the incursions of those numerous foes who dreaded the restoration of order and religion. But every day added to his successes. Having overthrown the Syrian commanders sent against him, he occupied Samaria, made himself master of the strong city of Hebron, of Azotus, and other important places, taking signal vengeance on the people of Joppa and Jamnia, who had treacherously plotted the destruction of numerous faithful Jews.
Antiochus Epiphanes was succeeded by Antiochus Eupator. At first this prince acted towards the Jews with moderation and tolerance. But he soon afterwards invaded Judea with a powerful army, and was only induced to make peace with Maccabaeus by the fears which he entertained of a rival aspirant to the throne. His caution did not save him. He was put to death by his own uncle, Demetrius, who, obtaining the throne of Syria, made peace with Judas, but took possession of the citadel of Jerusalem, which was occupied by his general, Nicanor, and a body of troops. This state of things was not allowed to last long. Demetrius listened to the reports of Nicanor's enemies, and threatened to deprive him of his command unless he could disprove the accusation that he had entered into a league with Judas, and was betraying the interests of his sovereign. Nicanor immediately took measures to satisfy Demetrius, and Judas saw it necessary to escape from Jerusalem, and put himself in a posture of defense. A battle took place in which he defeated his enemy. Another was soon after fought at Beth-horon, where he was again victorious. Nicanor himself fell in this battle, and his head and right hand were sent among the spoils to Jerusalem But the forces of Demetrius were still numerous. Judas had retired to Laish with about three thousand followers. He was there attacked by overwhelming numbers. Only eight hundred of his people remained faithful to him on this occasion. Resolved not to flee, he bravely encountered the enemy, and was speedily slain, regarding his life as a fitting sacrifice to the cause in which he was engaged.
Simon and Jonathan, the brothers of Judas, rallied around them the bravest of their companions, and took up a strong position in the neighborhood of Tekoa. Jonathan proved himself a worthy successor of his heroic brother, and skillfully evaded the first attack of Bacchides, the Syrian general. For two years after this, the brothers were left in tranquility, and they established themselves in a little fortress called Bethtasi, situated among the rocks near Jericho. The skill and resolution with which they pursued their measures rendered them formidable to the enemy; and the state of affairs in Syria some time after obliged Demetrius to make Jonathan the general of his forces in Judea, and to invest him with the authority of governor of Jerusalem. To this he was compelled by the rivalry of Alexander Balas; but his policy was too late to secure the attachment of his new ally. Jonathan received offers from Alexander to support his interests among the Jews, and the high-priesthood was the proffered reward. The invitation was accepted; and Jonathan became the first of the Hasmonean line through which the high-priesthood was so long transmitted. Alexander Balas left nothing undone which might tend to secure the fidelity of Jonathan. He gave him a high rank among the princes of his kingdom, and adorned him with a purple robe. Jonathan continued to enjoy his prosperity till the year B.C. 143, when he fell a victim to the treachery of Trypho, who aspired to the Syrian throne. He was succeeded by his brother Simon, who confirmed the Jews in their temporary independence; and in the year B.C. 141 they passed a decree whereby the dignity of the high-priesthood and of prince of the Jews was rendered hereditary in the family of Simon. He fell a victim to the treachery of his son-in-law, Ptolemy, governor of Jericho; but was succeeded by his son, the celebrated John Hyrcanus, who possessed the supreme authority above thirty years, and at his death left it to be enjoyed by his son Aristobulus, who, soon after his accession to power, assumed the title of king. This dignity continued to be enjoyed by descendants of the HHasmonean family till the year B.C. 34, when it ceased with the downfall of Antigonus, who, conquered by Herod and the Romans, was put to death by the common executioner.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Maccabees'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/m/maccabees.html.