views updated May 29 2018


HASMONEANS (Gr. ʾΑσαμωναίος; Heb. חַשְׁמוֹנָאִים), title for Maccabees in Josephus (Ant., 12:263), Mishnah (Mid. 1:6), and Talmud (Shab. 21b), but nowhere occurring in the Book of Maccabees. Josephus derives the name from the great-grandfather of Mattathias, Asamonaios. Probably the name is to be connected with the village of Heshmon (Josh. 15:27). It has also been suggested to connect the name with Hushim (i Chron. 8:11) or the place Hashmonah (Num. 33:29, 30). The Hasmoneans headed the rebellion against the Seleucid kingdom, established an autonomous Jewish state, annexed the most important regions of Ereẓ Israel, and absorbed a number of neighboring Semitic peoples into the Jewish people. These achievements were not only of major importance to Jewish history, but also left their impact on humanity as a whole. The successful rebellion of the Hasmoneans assured the continued existence of the Jewish religion and contributed to the decisive influence of monotheism in Western culture and history. Through the policy of the Hasmoneans, initiated after the rebellion, the Jewish people ceased to play a marginal role in history and exercised influence for generations to come.

The Hasmoneans were a priestly family, probably one of those which had moved from the territory of Benjamin to the lowlands of Lydda in the last days of the First Temple. They belonged to the Jehoiarib division of priests, who lived in *Modi'in on the border of Samaria and Judea. When the restrictive edicts of Antiochus were extended to the country towns and villages of Jewish Palestine, *Mattathias b. Johanan, then the head of the family, raised the banner of revolt in Modi'in, uniting under his leadership all those who were opposed to Antiochus' policy. After Mattathias' death in 167/166 b.c.e., his son *Judah Maccabee, a military genius, succeeded him as leader of the revolt. He scored a number of victories against the Seleucid army, and achieved the conquest of Jerusalem and the purification and rededication of the Temple in 164 b.c.e. (see: *Ḥanukkah). Judah continued to strive for the autonomy of Judea. He won additional victories against the Seleucid forces and in 161 b.c.e. established an alliance with Rome. Though Judah's death in battle slowed down somewhat Judea's progress toward independence, his brothers Jonathan and *Simeon continued his policy, taking advantage of the waning political star of the Seleucid dynasty to strengthen their own influence and to extend the borders of Judea. They annexed the districts of Lydda, Ramathaim, Ephraim, and the Ekron region, conquered Jaffa port, and seized control of the fortresses of the Acra in Jerusalem and Beth-Zur. The appointment of *Jonathan Apphus, the youngest son of Mattathias, to the high priesthood in 152 b.c.e., made this office one of the Hasmoneans' main sources of power. In 143–142 b.c.e., Demetrius ii recognized the independence of Judea, and in 140 b.c.e. a decree was passed by the Great Assembly in Jerusalem confirming Simeon as high priest, ruler, and commander of the Jewish people and making these offices hereditary. Simeon's son, John *Hyrcanus (134–104 b.c.e.), continued the territorial expansion. He conquered Idumea, Samaria, and portions of Transjordan, and forcibly converted the Idumeans

to Judaism. The internal crisis produced by a rift between the Hasmoneans and the Pharisees began during his reign. John's heir, *Aristobulus i (104–103 b.c.e.), was the first Hasmonean to arrogate to himself the title of king. Aristobulus continued the policy of conquest, compelling the Itureans in the north to become proselytes. During the reign of his brother, Alexander Yannai (103–76 b.c.e.), who succeeded him, the Hasmonean state reached the zenith of its power. The whole of the sea coast, from the Egyptian border to the Carmel, with the exception of Ashkelon, was annexed to Judea. Yannai also extended his rule over some of the Greek cities of Transjordan and strove to establish absolute authority as king and as high priest. It was his latter capacity which brought him into open conflict with the Pharisees. Yannai's wife, Salome Alexandra (76–67 b.c.e.), continued her husband's foreign policy, but reached an understanding with the Pharisees on internal affairs. Pompey's annexation brought the independence of the Hasmonean state to an end. Though the Romans allowed *Hyrcanus ii, the oldest son of Alexander Yannai, to remain high priest and ethnarch, they abolished the monarchy and also detached large areas from Judea. Much had been gained, however – Judea proper, as well as Galilee, Idumea, many parts of Transjordan, the coastal plain and the coastal belt remained Jewish in character and culture for a long time as a result of the Hasmoneans' policy. The last to attempt to restore the former glory of the Hasmonean dynasty was *Antigonus Mattathias, with the help of the Parthians. His defeat and death in 37 b.c.e. at the hands of the Romans brought the Hasmonean rule to

a close, and prepared the way for Herod. Herod, however, at the height of military success had strengthened his position by betrothal to the granddaughter of Hyrcanus ii, Mariamne, whom he subsequently married. The popularity of his sons by her, Alexander and Aristobulus, and of their grandson (Herod Agrippa i) was due to their Hasmonean descent. (See Chart: Hasmonean Family).

[Menahem Stern]

In the Arts

A vast number of literary works have been inspired by the heroism of Mattathias and the embattled Maccabees and by the martyrdom of Hannah and her Seven Sons, as recounted in the Apocrypha. In 1722 Antoine Houdar de La Motte published his French lyrical tragedy Les Machabées, but it was not until the 19th century that the subject achieved wider popularity among writers. I.B. Schlesinger's Hebrew epic Ha-Hashmona'im (1816) was followed by Die Mutter der Makkabaeer (Vienna, 1820), a late historical drama by the German visionary Zacharias Werner, and by a more conventional tragedy, Alexandre Guiraud's Les Machabées, ou le Martyre… (Paris, 1822). Interest in the theme first reached a peak in the mid-19th century with dramas including Die Makkabaeer (1854) by Otto Ludwig, J. Michael's Die Hasmonaeer (1856; with music by V. Lachner), and a traditional Jewish interpretation of the story by Leopold Stein (1810–1882), also entitled Die Hasmonaeer (1859). Three later treatments of the subject were poems by Seligmann *Heller entitled Die letzten Hasmonaeer (1865); The First of the Maccabees (1860), a historical novel by the U.S. Reform pioneer Isaac Mayer *Wise; and Minnie Dessau Louis' Hannah and Her Seven Sons (1902). In the Far East, Joseph *David (Penker) produced The Maccabeans (1921), a drama in Marathi. Between the world wars, the Brazilian novelist Antonio Castro published A Judéa e os Macabeus (1930) and Izak *Goller wrote Modin Women (1931), one of his plays on biblical themes. Under the impact of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the birth of the State of Israel, several Jewish writers returned to the heroic theme of the Hasmonean revolt. Abraham Lavsky published a Yiddish historical novel, Di Khashmonayim Helden oder di Makkabeyer (1941); the U.S. author Howard *Fast wrote the novel My Glorious Brothers (1948). Of these, Fast's was easily the outstanding and best-known work. A work on a related theme was the Israel author Moshe *Shamir's historical novel Melekh Basar va-Dam (1954; The King of Flesh and Blood, 1958), which dealt with the career of the later Hasmonean ruler Alexander Yannai. Innumerable plays and stories devoted to the Ḥanukkah festival have been written for children, including many by Jewish authors and religious leaders in the United States.

The Maccabean wars have proved somewhat less attractive to artists. Maccabeans, a painting by the Austrian artist Jehuda Epstein, shows the beginning of the Jewish revolt. Boris *Schatz sculptured a heroic figure of Mattathias, formerly in the Royal collection, Sofia, Bulgaria. Gustave Doré produced dramatic engravings of Mattathias' call to arms and of the heroic death of Eleazar, brother of Judah, who was crushed by an elephant which he slew in battle (i Macc. 6). Another episode (i Macc. 9) – the battle of Jonathan and Simeon against Bacchides, a friend of the Syrian king, as transmitted by Josephus – was treated by the 15th-century French artist Jean Fouquet in his illuminations to the Jewish War and Antiquitiesof the Jews. Jonathan Maccabee appears on tapestries woven in Brussels in the 15th century, of which three portions have been preserved, showing Jonathan's coronation and receipt of gifts from other kings. A subject more commonly treated was the story of the seven martyred brothers, "Maccabees" only by association with the Apocryphal books (ii Macc. 7), who preferred torture and death to being compelled to eat the flesh of swine. This became very popular in medieval Europe: the seven "Maccabean Martyrs" were canonized, Christians holding them to represent the Church Militant, while Antiochus symbolized the Antichrist. A church of the Seven Holy Maccabees stood in Lyons, France, and there was a chapel of the Maccabees in the cathedral of Saint Pierre, Geneva. Artists represented the Martyrs with amputated hands, together with Hannah, their mother. The Virgin with seven swords sometimes appears beside the figure of the latter. The theme also occurs in an eighth-century fresco at Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome, in medieval illuminated manuscripts, on the 13th-century southern portal of Chartres Cathedral, and in a 15th-century painting attributed to the Maître de Saint-Gilles (Amiens Museum). In the late Renaissance Jacopo Bassano painted the same subject.

In music there were a few compositions about the Hasmoneans dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of which only Ignaz Seyfried's melodrama Die Makkabaeer (c. 1835) was of significance. Anton *Rubinstein's opera Die Makkabaeer (première in Berlin, 1875), for which Solomon *Mosenthal wrote the libretto after Otto Ludwig's drama, had only a brief stage career, yet it became a source of pride for East European Jewry. The aria Leas Gesang became a favorite at musical recitals and it was also arranged for instrumental combinations. Together with Der heilige Sabbath it can be found in the Lider-Zamelbukh edited by S. Kisselgoff (1911), with the text translated into Yiddish by A. Rivesman and into Hebrew by Saul *Tchernichowsky (no. 83–4). A comparison with the ḥasidic dance Ladier Chabadnitze (no. 62) in the same collection shows where the roots of the melody lie. Michael *Gnessin'sMakkavei, a Russian "symphonic movement" for soloists, choir, and orchestra, was written after the composer's visit to Ereẓ Israel in 1922 and was first performed in 1925. Handel's oratorio Alexander Balus (1777; première in 1748), with libretto by Thomas Morrell, touches on the Maccabean theme.

The theme of the Seven "Maccabean" Martyrs also achieved a degree of popularity from the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th, inspiring an opera by Johann Wolfgang Franck (1679) and oratorios by various composers, including Attilio Ariosti (1704), Francesco Conti (1732), and Antonio Sacchini (1770). In Johann Heinrich Rolle's Thirza und ihre Soehne (1781), the story is ostensibly about Christian martyrs, but the characters and content are identical with the history of the Maccabees. A later example is Vittorio Trento's opera I sette Maccabei (1818).

The "Story of Hannah" has a permanent and honored place in the religious folksong traditions of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Jewry and it is generally sung by women on the Ninth of Av. The songs are in the vernacular and their poetical and musical form resembles the historical ballads of the various surrounding gentile cultures; only the tradition as such is the common "Jewish" element. The poems are not infrequently found in manuscripts or printed booklets of kinot, but the tradition is basically oral and it probably occurs throughout the vast area from North Africa to Persia and from the Ladino-speaking communities of Greece and Turkey to the Yemen.

See also *Judah Maccabee in the Arts.

[Bathja Bayer]


E.J. Bickerman, The Maccabees (1947); R.H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times (1949), 5–45; W.R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus (1956); V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959); M. Stern, Ha-Te'udot le-Mered ha-Ḥashmona'im (1965); Schuerer, Hist, index, s.v.Asmoneans; Meyer, Ursp, 2 (1921), 205–78; B. Maisler (Mazar), in: Yedi'ot ha-Ḥevrah ha-Ivrit la-Ḥakirat Ereẓ Yisrael ve-Attikoteha, 8 (1941), 105–7. add. bibliography: E.J. Bickerman, "The Maccabean Uprising: An Interpretation," in: J. Goldin (ed.), The Jewish Expression (1976), 66–86; M. Hengel, Jews, Greeks and Barbarians (1980); F. Millar, "The Background to the Maccabean Revolution…," in: Journal of Jewish Studies, 29 (1978), 1–12; I. Shatzman, The Armies of the Hasmoneans and Herod (1991); D. Mendels, The Land of Israel as a Political Concept in Hasmonean Literature (1987); idem, The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism (1992); D. Amit and H. Eshel, The Days of the Hasmonean Dynasty (1995).


views updated Jun 27 2018

Hasmoneans. Name given to the Maccabees in the Talmud. The Hasmoneans were a priestly family who led the rebellion against the Selucid kings in the 2nd cent. BCE and established an autonomous Jewish kingdom.