Factors Leading to the Maccabean Revolt (Part 2)

Antiochus IV EpiphanesIn 168 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes 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. Much of this history is found in Daniel 11:21-35.

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 IV Epiphanes 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.

20 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?

  10. None of us have experienced turmoil or chaos like the Jews during this period. I simply cannot comprehend what the “average” person went through EVERY SINGLE DAY. You watch your neighbor being martyred for their faith and yet many of them continued to die for what they believed in! It must have been hard and I honestly, like most “Christian Americans, do not know if I could handle it. Frankly, that should be a wake-up call, that Faith and how we live by it every day needs repair. It is too easy for a church-going American to not pick up a Bible or say a prayer until the next Sunday service. That is sad! We have access to a Bible on our phones and we are scared to use it in public! Imagine what a Jew could have done with that tool back in these times!

    It needs to change, we are all God’s people and thus should act like it every day. Sure, you may disagree with people on different things, but that does not mean going straight to bloodshed as we see “in Jerusalem caused by the competing high priests” (Long, p.2) or the Romans crushing the rebellion and in “AD 70 destroyed Jerusalem and the temple” (Strauss, p. 154). Power hungry. That is all these people were after and guess what. People have not changed a bit. People still want more or to see others suffer for their gain. It is our sinful nature and the only one who can save us from drowning is Jesus Christ; who not enough people are willing to die for.

  11. After reading this, I got hit with the question of “would I be willing to do this?” I think that this is an incredibly difficult situation that a lot of Christians are put in all throughout history. A question that is asked is what the Jews are influences that lead them to idolatry and away from their faith. This can be taken as another question I need to continually ask myself is what “what influences am I allowing in my life that I am letting change me and get in the way of my faith?” John 14:6 talks about how we as believers need to be in the world not of the world. How can we in this world get rid of all idolatry, whether it be our phones, sports, work, etc. How can we get rid of it and have our sole focus be on Him alone? Back to my question would I be willing to take up arms and fight with Judas and his brothers, would I be willing to be martyred for my faith and not give up my faith at the face of death. I would like to say I would resist and stay strong in my faith. However, we can say one thing and in the face of the circumstances entirely change what we’ve told ourselves for so long.
    A question I am going to work on personally that I mentioned is, what are my idols that I am holding onto and allowing to get in the way of my faith? I need to focus on this more and make sure that my mind is securely set on Christ as my only real NEED rather than feeling the need and importance of all these little truly insignificant things.

  12. After the actions of Menelaus, the Jews were faced with a choice to make, they would either have to change and become more like the Hellenistic Jews, and adapt to Greek life, or they could rebel against the rule of Antiochus, for in their eyes he had defiled everything they held sacred. “For the writer of 1 Maccabees, violence was indeed the answer” (P.Long). Antiochus had taken hold of this city and abused the people within the city in nearly every metric. This is an example of a rebellion of a people that has had what they know and have come to expect taken from them. In the face of Hellenization being forced upon the Jews they made the decision that they believed to be right to rebel against the powers over them in a righteous battle. I find it interesting that this ear waged by the Maccabees was not only successful but is famous in Jewish culture and still celebrated during Hanukkah as a great Jewish victory over Hellenism. Its impressive that the Jews were able to muster an army that could defeat the Syrian forces in Jerusalem. “Judas developed the Jews into an effective guerrilla army and repeatedly defeated the Syrians in battle” (Strauss). It is incredible how far the Jews were willing to go to defend their way of life, and their city, and even more admirable in how effective they were at doing it. This group of people would rather die than see their religion and culture being besmirched by foreign influence, bringing with it an entirely new way of life that would take root.

  13. What I find most fascinating within this article is that the High priest combined the worship of Yahweh and Zeus together. Not only were there many political moves, but there were also many things put into place to sway the Jews into Hellenistic views and beliefs. According to Britannica, Zeus is “the god of the sky in ancient Greek mythology. As the chief Greek deity, Zeus is considered the ruler, protector, and father of all gods and humans.” In this, he is considered to be the ruler of heaven. He had many children, fought against and with gods against other beings, betrayed and seduced gods, and even ate his wife according to some myths. Taking a look into the characteristics of who Zeus was, I wanted to take a look into the principles of Greek religion during the time period and what general beliefs were accepted. The Greek gods were full of flaws in order to relate to humans. I also question how the concept of sin plays a role in Greek mythology, as it’s such a crucial aspect for God Yahweh – the very concept of sin is completely separated from God. Zeus and several other Greek gods were sinful and full of laws. The way that worship was done, how God interacts with His people, and the very foundation of each religion are so cosmically different that it’s hard to imagine how the two were combined, as well as the implications it had for the faith of those who followed. This isn’t necessarily to say that Jews that were Hellenized were sinful and without God, as some continued to follow God and put Him above the religious aspects of Greek culture. However, the concept of combining the two Gods in worship is fascinating to me

    “Zeus.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

  14. The Maccabean Revolt is a very real-life rebellion that according to Strauss, was “one of the bleakest moments in Jewish history, out of this came one of the brightest periods of Jewish independence” (Strauss 128). This whole rebellion stemmed from Hellenistic influences and control over what was once a Jewish community, commanded by Antiochus Epiphanes. The thing that I like most about this blog post that was asked near the end would be if something goes against your way of thinking and your lifestyle, would you just conform to the new society even though that was not the way you were raised; or would you bear arms and stand on what you believe in, even if death and war are at stake. P.Long does a great job at tying this in near the end of the blog post stating “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” (P.Long). This is one of the main reasons why there was a revolt in the first place, according to Strauss, “Pious Jews realized that Antiochus’ actions threaten their national and religious existence” (Strauss 128). This is extremely applicable in today’s modern society, because everyone wants to keep up with the Jones, following every social media trend and so on. Risking as well as setting aside their Christian virtues and devotions in efforts just to fit into something that does not matter and is completely against what God has planned for mankind.

  15. “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.”(Long, 1) I think that this would be not only a stressful thinking but terrifying. We as Christians know that we should follow Christ no matter what but a lot of us haven’t had to make a decision nearly as difficult or scary as that. The decision would be surrender or to be killed for your faith. I think often we forget to be faithful that we can be expressive about our faith and don’t have to hide it. We don’t have to be worried about being martyred for our faith and it hasn’t always been that way. Like I mentioned in the blog post before the things leading up to the Maccabean revolt was a hunger for power. People were willing to do whatever it took for people to follow them including killing them. Sadly we often focus too much on worldy things like power, for us it could be clothes, popularity, money. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” I think this verse is very powerful because it says right there in the Bible that you will never be satisfied with worldly possessions, the only way you can be truly satisfied is through Jesus Christ.

  16. We learn that in the second Campaign, Antiochus had intentions of having his own kingdom. He soon realized that this plan of his was to not go as smoothly as he thought. He was given a letter demanding him to leave Egypt or pretty much be taken by the romans. I have no clue why he thought he would have time to just roam around and think about what he wanted to do. They literally made him sit in a watched area until a decision was made. Fast forward, Antiochus ended up placing heavy taxes on the city for the malicious rebellion. When we go to church we know that we aren’t going there to worship a pastor or minister. We are still glorifying God at the end of the day. Christians know that no matter the circumstances we should be following in the footsteps of Christ. The need for more will always be an issue. I literally cannot stand to see how greedy people can be. The revolt really was based on power and the need to be in control. It’s so sad to say but a lot of people are so stuck on being in control and over things that they miss the true meaning of life. We should be doing what God has called us to do. That is the devil’s work. There is no way people should be willing to die over money or power.

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