Judah Maccabee

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JUDAH MACCABEE , one of the great warriors of history, who laid the foundation of the future Hasmonean state. Judah, the third son of *Mattathias the Hasmonean, assumed leadership of the revolt against *Antiochus Epiphanes in accordance with the deathbed disposition of his father. No suggestion that has been put forward to explain the meaning of his name (Heb. מַכַּבִּי or מַקַּבִּי (Gr. Μακκαβᾶιος)) or those of the other Hasmonean brothers is satisfactory. His exceptional military talent made him the natural choice as military commander of the rebels, and the author of i Maccabees is unstinting in praise of his valor. Because of the disparity between the contending forces during the first days of the revolt, Judah's strategy was to avoid any involvement with the regular army of the Seleucids, but to attack the enemy from ambush, in order to give them a feeling of insecurity. Already at the beginning of the struggle he succeeded in defeating a small Syrian force under the command of *Apollonius, who was killed. Judah took possession of his sword which he used until his death as a symbol of vengeance. More important was his success in battle against Seron, "the commander of the Syrian army." The choice of the neighborhood of Beth-Horon as the field of battle and the coordination of the limited forces at his disposal testify to Judah's outstanding tactical skill, but his military talent was revealed in all its brilliance in the third battle, near Emmaus. This time he faced regular forces led by *Gorgias, an experienced officer. This force had not been dispatched by Antiochus, who at the time was in the northern provinces of his kingdom, but by Lysias, whom the king, on the eve of his departure for the east, had appointed as regent of the western sector of the kingdom and tutor to the young crown prince, the future Antiochus v Eupator. By forced night march, Judah succeeded in eluding Gorgias, who had intended to attack and destroy his enemy in their camp. He then made a surprise attack upon the Syrian camp near Emmaus while Gorgias was searching for him in the mountains. The Syrian commander had no alternative but to withdraw to the coast. This defeat convinced Lysias that he must prepare for a serious and prolonged war. He accordingly assembled a new and larger army and marched to meet Judah. Once again, however, the Jewish commander succeeded in overcoming the numerically superior enemy in a great battle near Beth-Zur. This victory opened up the road to Jerusalem, which Judah entered at the head of his army; he purified the defiled Temple and instituted a festival of eight days on the 25th of Kislev of the year 148 of the Seleucid era corresponding to 164 b.c.e., which became a permanent festival, *Ḥanukkah. It was the first step on the road to ultimate independence.

Hard upon these events came news that the enemies of the Jews had attacked the sparse Jewish settlements in Gilead, in Transjordan, and in Galilee. Judah immediately went to their aid. His brother, Simeon, sent to Galilee at the head of 3,000 men, successfully fulfilled his task and transplanted a substantial portion of the Jewish settlements, including women and children, to Judea. Galilee, however, does not apparently seem to have been evacuated of its Jewish population, since two generations later, when John Hyrcanus conquered it, he found it largely inhabited by Jews. A more difficult task was undertaken by Judah and his younger brother Jonathan, who were compelled to engage in fierce fighting with the Arabian tribes before they could rescue the Jews concentrated in fortified towns in Gilead. At the conclusion of the fighting in Transjordan, Judah turned against the Edomites in the south, captured and destroyed Hebron, and, after marching against the coastal land of the Philistines, returned to Judea with much booty. Judah now laid siege to the Syrian army garrison in the *Acra, the fortress of Jerusalem. In response to desperate appeals from the besieged – who included not only Syrians but also hellenized Jews – Lysias the regent, together with the young king Antiochus Eupator (Antiochus Epiphanes having died in the meantime in the east) came out to do battle at the head of a powerful army. Lysias skirted Judea as he had done in his first campaign, entering it from the south, and besieged Beth-Zur. Judah raised the siege of the Acra and went to meet Lysias, but was defeated in a battle near Bet Zekharyah and withdrew to Jerusalem. Beth-Zur was compelled to surrender and Lysias reached Jerusalem, besieging Judah on Mount Zion. The defenders found themselves in dire straits; their provisions were exhausted, it being a sabbatical year. The situation changed unexpectedly, however; news reached the Syrian camp that Philip, commander in chief of Antiochus, having been appointed regent by the monarch before his death, was about to enter Antioch and seize power. Lysias thereupon decided to propose a peaceful settlement to the Jews based on the restoration of religious freedom, i.e., the repeal of the edicts of Antiochus Epiphanes.

The order of events thus far has followed i Maccabees. According to ii Maccabees, however, the order is: Judah's victory over Gorgias and Nicanor, his conquest of Jerusalem, the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, the purification of the temple, the rise to power of Antiochus Eupator, and the wars with the neighboring peoples. Only after these does ii Maccabees give the details of the first campaign of Lysias, as a result of which peace was established between the Jews and the Syrians. It continues with the wars between the Jews and their neighbors, and finally relates the second campaign of Lysias against Judah and the subsequent signing of a peace treaty. With this the war for religious freedom came to an end, but it did not bring peace. In place of war against the external enemy, an internal struggle now took place between the nationalist party led by Judah and between the Hellenist party. Changes in the situation in Syria led to a strengthening of the Maccabees and a weakening of the Hellenists among the people. Demetrius i, who fled from Rome in defiance of the Roman senate, appeared on the scene in Syria. Lysias and the young Antiochus Eupator were brought captive before him and put to death. In view of the happenings in Judea and the strengthening of the nationalists, the Hellenist party turned to the new king with a request for help. The delegation was led by Alcimus, a priest who did not, however, belong to a high priestly family. He complained to Demetrius of the persecution of the Hellenist party in Judea and was granted his request to be appointed high priest under the protection of the king's army. Demetrius sent to Judea a new army led by Bacchides, and Alcimus accompanied him as high priest. The *Hassideans, taking it for granted that the religious war was over, received him cordially, but Alcimus, acting in Judea with an iron hand, had 60 of them executed. This again changed the internal situation in Judea in favor of the nationalist party. Judah wreaked havoc among the followers of Alcimus, so that after Bacchides' return to Antioch, Alcimus was again compelled to seek help from the Syrians. Demetrius dispatched a new army with *Nicanor at its head, but Nicanor's plan to seize Judah by guile failed and the war was renewed. The decisive moment came in a battle near Adasa, on the 13th Adar, 161 b.c.e., in which Nicanor was killed and his army destroyed. The annual "Day of Nicanor" was instituted to commemorate this brilliant victory.

Judah then sent a delegation to Rome headed by Eupolemus son of Johanan and Jason son of Eleazar (the fact that their names were Greek and their fathers' Hebrew is noteworthy), with the request for an alliance. The outcome of the mission was less than Judah had hoped for, the Romans committing themselves only to such obligations as were in their own interests. The letter dispatched by the senate to Demetrius, forbidding him to act in a hostile manner against the Jews, failed to exercise any influence on him, for on receipt of the news of Nicanor's defeat he dispatched a new army commanded by Bacchides. This time the Syrian forces were numerically so superior that most of Judah's men left the field of battle and advised their leader to do likewise and to await a more favorable opportunity. Despite this, Judah decided to try his fortune once more. His final battle was near Elasa (so far unidentified). The outcome was inevitable: Judah and those who remained faithful to him were killed. His body was taken by his brothers from the battlefield and buried in the family sepulcher in Modi'in. Virtually all that is known about Judah Maccabee is contained in the Books of the Maccabees (in the Apocrypha) and in Josephus, largely dependent on this source.

[Abraham Schalit]

In the Arts

As warrior hero and national liberator, Judah Maccabee has inspired many writers, and several artists and composers. In literature, however, he makes an unexpectedly late appearance, little of significance having been written before the 17th century. William Houghton's Judas Maccabaeus, performed in about 1601 but now lost, is thought to have been the first drama on the theme; however, the earliest surviving literary work is El Macabeo (Naples, 1638), a somewhat bombastic Castilian epic by the Portuguese Marrano author Miguel de *Silveyra. Two other 17th century works were La chevalerie de Judas Macabé by the French dramatist and tragedian Pierre du Ryer (c. 1600–1658) and the anonymous neo-Latin "melodrama" Judas Machabaeus (Rome, 1695). Interest in the subject only revived in the 19th century, with Giuda Macabeo, ossia la morte di Nicanore… (1839), an Italian "azione sacra" on which Vallicella based an oratorio. One of the best-known literary works on the theme was Judas Maccabaeus (1872), a five-act verse tragedy by the U.S. poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In verse rising at times to a Miltonic grandeur, Longfellow shows how Antiochus, bent on forcibly hellenizing the Jews, finds a compliant tool in the high priest Jason. Act ii retells the tragic Apocryphal story of Hannah ("Máhala") and her seven sons, the resolute Judah first appearing only in Act iii. A Hebrew version of Longfellow's play was published by J. Massel in 1900. Two later 19th-century interpretations of the story were Judas Makkabaeus, a novella by the German writer Josef Eduard Konrad Bischoff which appeared in Der Gefangene von Kuestrin (1885); and The Hammer (1890), a book by Alfred J. Church and Richmond Seeley. Several Jewish authors of the 20th century also turned to the subject. They include Jacob Benjamin Katznelson (1855–1930), who wrote the poem Alilot Gibbor ha-Yehudim Yehudah ha-Makkabi le-Veit ha-Ḥashmona'im (1922); the U.S. novelist Howard *Fast (My Glorious Brothers, 1948); the Yiddish writer Moses Schulstein, who wrote the dramatic poem "Yehudah ha-Makkabi" (in A Layter tsu der Zun, 1954); and Jacob *Fichmann, whose "Yehudah ha-Makkabi" is one of the heroic tales included in Sippurim le-Mofet (1954). Many children's plays have also been written on the theme by various Jewish authors. During World War ii the Swiss-German writer Karl Boxler published his novel Judas Makkabaeus; ein Kleinvolk kaempft um Glaube und Heimat (1943), the subtitle of which suggests that Swiss democrats then drew a parallel between their own national hero, William Tell, and the leader of the Maccabean revolt against foreign tyranny.

In art, during the Middle Ages, Judah Maccabee was regarded as one of the heroes of the Old Testament. He figures in a tenth-century illuminated manuscript of the Libri Maccabaeorum (Leyden University Library); and the late medieval French artist Jean Fouquet painted an illustration of Judah triumphing over his enemies for his famous manuscript of Josephus (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). A painting by Rubens of Judah Maccabee praying for the dead is of special interest. In ii Maccabees 12:39–48 there is an account of an episode in which Judah's troops found stolen idolatrous charms on the corpses of Jewish warriors slain on the battlefield. He therefore offered prayers and an expiatory sacrifice for these warriors who had died in a state of sin. During the Counter-Reformation the passage was used by Catholics against Protestants in order to justify the doctrine of purgatory. Accordingly, Rubens painted the scene for the Chapel of the Dead in Tournai Cathedral. This painting is now in the Nantes Museum. In the 19th century, Paul Gustave Doré executed an engraving of Judah Maccabee victoriously pursuing the shattered troops of the Syrian enemy.

In music, almost all the compositions inspired by the Hasmonean revolt are primarily concerned with Judah. The first of distinction – and still the outstanding work – was Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, which had its première in London in 1747. This work, with libretto by Thomas Morrell, had been written for the celebrations following the Duke of Cumberland's victory over the Scottish Jacobite rebels at the battle of Culloden (1746); and its heroic and martial spirit was set off, but in no way lessened, by the doleful and lyrical passages of the composition. The oratorio's most famous chorus is "See, the conqu'ring hero comes." Handel's Judas Maccabaeus was often performed in Ereẓ Israel, and the "conqu'ring hero" melody has become a Hanukkah song.


Schuerer, Gesch, index; Schuerer, Hist, index; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, index; J. Wellhausen, Israelitische und juedische Geschichte (18973). 252ff.; Niese, in: Hermes, 35 (1900), 268–307, 453–527; E. Meyer, Ursprung und Anfaenge des Christentums, 2 (1921), 205ff.; Avi-Yonah, in: Sefer Yoḥanan Levi (1949), 13–24; W.R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots and Josephus (1956), index; v. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), index; E. Bickerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees (1962), 112ff.; E.R. Bevan, Jerusalemunder the High Priests (19202), 69, 88–99; C.R. Conder, Judas Maccabaeus and the Jewish War of Independence (1879); S. Zeitlin, The Rise and Fall of the Judaean State, 1 (1962), index. add. bibliography: E.J. Bickerman, "The Maccabean Uprising: An Interpretation," in: J. Goldin (ed.), The Jewish Expression (1976), 66–86; F. Millar, "The Background to the Maccabean Revolution…," in: Journalof Jewish Studies 29 (1978), 1–12; 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).

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