Factors Leading to the Maccabean Revolt (Part 2)

Antiochus IV EpiphanesIn 168 B.C. Antiochus made a second campaign into Egypt with the intention of annexing it to his own kingdom. This time things were not to go as well as he had planned. His army was met by a delegation from the Roman senate led by Popilius Laenas.  Popilius presents Antiochus with a letter from the Senate ordering him out of Egypt or face the wrath of Rome. Antiochus asked for time to consider the letter, so Popilius drew a circle around him on the ground and told him not to leave the circle until he made his decision.  Humiliated, Antiochus was forced out of Egypt.

On his way back through Palestine to Syria, he learns of the uprising in Jerusalem caused by the competing high priests. Jason had picked this time to make his attempt to regain the office of High Priest based on a rumor which said Antiochus had been killed in battle (1 Macc 1:16-19). Antiochus waited until the Sabbath then sends his general Appolnius and some mercenaries into Jerusalem.  They slaughter men, women and children indiscriminately and burn much of the city.

Antiochus fortified the citadel heavily, imposed a heavy tax on the city for the rebellion, and confiscated land.  He occupies the city with foreign troops and Hellenistic sympathizers. 1 Mac 1:35-36 calls these “people of pollution” who defile the sanctuary.  But this text also says these foreigners became a “great menace,” using the noun παγίς, often translated “snare” or “trap.” The word is often used for a trap laid by an enemy, as in LXX Psalm 56:7 (ET 57:6) or Jeremiah 5:26. The Greek invaders are certainly a danger, but the real danger for the writer of 1 Maccabees is the temptation to surrender to the Gentiles and forsake the covenant.

The most shocking example of this is the action of Menelaus the High Priest. As he would have in any other captured city, Antiochus combined the worship of Yahweh with Zeus. Within the temple itself Antiochus sacrificed to Zeus, supported by the high priest and the Hellenistic Jews.

1 Maccabees 1:37-40 On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. 38 Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers; she became strange to her offspring, and her children forsook her. 39 Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert; her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into a reproach, her honor into contempt. 40 Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory; her exaltation was turned into mourning.

There were two “paths of resistance” in the Maccabean revolt. One could take up arms, as Judas and his brothers did, or one could resist passively and be martyred for the faith.

1 Maccabees 1:62-65 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.

For the writer of 1 Maccabees, violence was indeed the answer.

13 thoughts on “Factors Leading to the Maccabean Revolt (Part 2)

  1. This is a very powerful and difficult situation we as Christians are called to a different standard when we choose to follow Christ. To live as Christ, can be accomplished in many cultures and societies. The question that is shown through the trials of the Maccabeans is where are the lines of the influence that lead the Jews to idolatry. That is a question that Christians need to ask themselves in modern society more and more. Even though it is not that common for people today to be worshiping Zeus, now more than ever people are carrying precious metal trinkets (cell phones) that allow them to see things from around the world. If we tried to explain to people during the Maccabean revolt what cell phones and other technology was they would probably quickly see it as an idol. So where is that line between being in this world and not being of it, and fighting a good fight as Paul calls us to? 1 Maccabees 1:62-65 tells of the martyrs that did not fight and died, when do we fight and when do we simply stand our ground?

    • You’re certainly right in that there are idols that exist in our world even today. Though we don’t necessarily worship these idols and regard them deities we place them as the most important things in our lives and revolve everything else around them. Some of the idols we have today existed even before Christ came to the world. Most prominently are the pursuits of money, power, and pride. Jason is a clear example, during this period, of someone placing wealth and power above all other priories in life.

    • Thanks for your post Ben. In response to your question “So where is that line between being in this world and not being of it, and fighting a good fight as Paul calls us to?”, I am not sure there is a line between these two things. In my eyes, they are one and the same. I’m assuming your reference to Paul’s calling is 2 Timothy 4, correct? If so, I think he is using “fighting the good fight” metaphorically. He is not referring to Christians actually fighting. The questions about whether or not Christians should resist violently or be martyred is a hot debate. I tend to fall more on the non-violent resistance side, simply because human nature very quickly turns “righteous anger” into intent for selfish gain. When people reference Matthew 21 and say that Christians should act out of “righteous anger”, I am not sold that this is an ability humans have. Jesus can have anger that is fully righteous, because he himself was fully righteous. As I said before, anger that begins as “righteous” can very quickly be twisted. Martyrdom should never be our plan B (I know, easier said than done) because scripture is clear that to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

  2. I think that it is a little interesting, and smart, on Antiochus’ part to wait until the Sabbath to go in and neturlize/ quell the uprising because he knew that on the Sabbath the Jews would be unable to resist or fight back due to Jewish Law. I feel like the main kind of, situation that the Jews are continually facing is the pressure from Hellenistic influences to conform and trying to stay faithful to God and not stray away from Him. All around this just seems like a really hopeless situation. Either the Jews can fight for what they believe in and die that way or they can go along with it and ‘resist passively’ and die that way. It must have been extremely hard to have faith during this difficult time and they were probably constintly wondering, where was God?

  3. To me, the power struggle of the high priests and even Antiochus’ pride, seems to constantly put Jerusalem in the form of a rag doll being fought over by dogs. The city is merely a vessel for authority to get what they want, or at least try to get what they want. Thanks to Menelaus, temple worship was stained with a blend of “reverence” for Yahweh and Zeus. For the Jews, there was like Megan said, very little hope. The Jews had began believing that Antiochus’ rage and persecution was punishment from God…that Yahweh was furious with their incorporation of a Hellenistic culture. Tomasino says, “The Lord brought Antiochus Epiphanes against them to chastise the nation for its double-mindedness and infatuation with Hellenism” (Tomasino, 135). I cannot imagine the internal distraught that the Jews were facing during this abomination. Be bold or passive, and die either way.

    Tomasino, Anthony J. Judaism Before Jesus. Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2003.

  4. It’s interesting to see the different powers that come into play throughout this intertestamental time period, and how certain powers are more forceful in their need to conquer and convert. The Jews had a very difficult time trying to remain true to their faith with the ever-growing pressure from Hellenism. Like what was stated in a previous post, it is clear that the writer of Maccabees is very biased towards the rebellion against the Seleucids, and advocated for the Hasmonean dynasty. In reality, most Jews did not “burn with zeal”, but rather passively accepted their fate by their willingness to die for their faith. “In 1 Maccabees there seems to be an assumption that our only hope of an”afterlife” is in gaining glory and a good name, so that our descendants will sing our praises” (Tomasino, 234). This assumption plays into the idea of glorified martyrdom, however, this just wasn’t the case.

  5. What I would like to discuss is the overall impact that Antiochus had in shaming Jewish religion and customs. As mentioned within the blog as well as in 1:37-40, the amount of disrespect Antiochus had for the Jewish religion was apparent. When Antiochus contaminated the Jewish Temple it brought me back to the example mentioned in class of Pompey in the Psalms of Solomon. Specifically, when Pompey entered the Jewish Temple. When Pompey did this he was talked about for years, as being this horrible person for entering the Temple. It was interesting that Pompey obtained this amount of scrutiny similar to that of what be obtained by Antiochus and even Menelaus. More disregard came about when Antiochus consistently took bribes for a majority of things such as making Menelaus his High Priest, despite the fact that he knew this was wrong (Tomasino 132). Antiochus had an agenda, and that agenda was to fulfill his needs even if it meant completely destroying Jewish culture in the process.

  6. There are indeed many factors that led to the Maccabean revolt the key of which was the horrid sacrifice on the altar. This event alone likely turned many Jews from passively submissive and annoyed with Hellenism to actively hating and wanting it removed from Israel. It could also be pointed out that what led to this sacrifice on the altar was the fact that Antiochus IV Epiphanies was raised as a hostage in Rome for a time therefore influencing his beliefs especially in the area of enforcing a unified state religion.

  7. This sounds like a very difficult situation that the Jews were put in during this time period, do we fight for our lives or do you become martyrs for your faith. I do not know what one I would choose but am encouraged to see that all of them did not give into temptation. I feel like today Christians are being persecuted, or even more taken advantage of, but nothing like it was during the Maccabean revolt. It is sad to see what power and money can do to someone. I like what you said Ben about being careful with idols that we could possibly be worshiping today. Any second of the day I could tell you where my phone was (in my pocket, on the table). I probably spend more time on my phone, thinking about the phone then praying or reading the bible. Does this count as an idol? I would give my phone up for God in a heartbeat yet I use it more than I practice my faith. Is it a tool or an idol? It was very sad to see in Maccabees 1 37-40 how the author described the defilement that they were experiencing. That must have been very awful to watch and experience.

    • “I probably spend more time on my phone, thinking about the phone then praying or reading the bible.” That is probably true for most Americans, older folks included. I now some grandmas that are always on their phones! (I assume they are reading this blog most of the time)

  8. I cannot imagine being in the position of the Jews during this time period. It would be extremely difficult to watch one’s own people being martyred for their faith and I find it to be a wonderful example that several of the Jews were willing to die for what they believed in. It is even more offensive, though strategic, that Antiochus waited until the Sabbath to destroy Jerusalem, which likely influenced action on the side of the Jews. Much like part one of this post, this post reminded me that as Christians, we will face many trials in this life, but we are called to love God and others through it all. Psalm 34:19 tells us that “many are the afflictions of the righteous…” It’s sad to read about how much Antiochus disrespected the Jews, but is ultimately relatable in a post-Christian culture. He clearly regarded wealth and power as more important than religion, accepting bribes for the position of High Priest (Tomasino, 2003). Reading about this period should prompt us to ask ourselves how we would respond in such scenarios.

  9. I think it is interesting that the position of high priest played such a big role in the Maccabean Revolt. So much of the Jews’ problem stems from the fights for the position of high priest. Hellenization was also an issue that played into the Maccabean Revolt, as was the desecration of the temple, but the struggle for the position of high priest was still behind even parts of these other reasons. Antiochus attacked Jerusalem to settle the fights caused by those fighting to be high priest. Antiochus probably thought he had a genius strategy to wait to attack until the Sabbath, but I think most people today would agree that it was rather cruel, quite unfair, and rude. Unfortunately, this left Jews with two basic options in the Maccabean revolt, as explained on page 41 in the notes. They could violate their customs and traditions by breaking the Sabbath and taking up arms to fight in order that they may keep their religion, or they could hold on to the values of their religion and rest on the Sabbath and be martyred. Many chose to keep their faith and died as a result. I think it is sad that in order to defend themselves and their faith, they had to break some of the rules of the faith they were fighting to defend. It is interesting to wonder what I would have done. Do you fight for what you believe in if it means breaking what you believe in to do so, or do you just resist and possibly die, without fighting at all?

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