Judas Maccabaeus : Restoration of The Jewish Commonwealth – Beacon Lights of History, Volume II : Jewish Heroes and Prophets by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume II : Jewish Heroes and Prophets by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume II : Jewish Heroes and Prophets

Abraham : Religious Faith
Joseph : Israel in Egypt
Moses : Jewish Jurisprudence
Samuel : Israel Under Judges
David : Israelitish Conquests
Solomon : Glory of The Monarchy
Elijah : Division of The Kingdom
Isaiah : National Degeneracy
Jeremiah : Fall of Jerusalem
Judas Maccabaeus : Restoration of The Jewish Commonwealth
Saint Paul : The Spread of Christianity

Beacon Lights of History, Volume II : Jewish Heroes and Prophets
John Lord

Topics Covered
Eventful career of Judas Maccabaeus
Condition of the Jews after their return from Babylon
Condition of Jerusalem
Fanatical hatred of idolatry
Severe morality of the Jews after the captivity
The Pharisees
The Sadducees
Synagogues, their number and popularity
The Jewish Sanhedrim
Advance in sacred literature
Apocryphal Books
Isolation of the Jews
Dark age of Jewish history
Power of the high priests
The Persian Empire
Judaea a province of the Persian Empire
Jews at Alexandria
Judaea the battle-ground of Egyptians and Syrians
The Syrian kings
Antiochus Epiphanes
His persecution of the Jews
Helplessness of the Jews
Sack of Jerusalem
Desecration of the Temple
His piety and bravery
Revolt of Mattathias
Slaughter of the Jews
Death of Mattathias
His gallant sons
Judas Maccabaeus
His military genius
The Syrian generals
Wrath of Antiochus
Desolation of Jerusalem
Judas defeats the Syrian general
Judas cleanses and dedicates the Temple
Fortifies Jerusalem
The Feast of Dedication
Renewed hostilities
Successes of Judas
Death of Antiochus
Deliverance of the Jews
Rivalry between Lysias and Philip
Death of Eleazer
Embassy to Rome
Death of Judas Maccabaeus
Judas succeeded by his brother Jonathan
Heroism of Jonathan
His death by treachery
Jonathan succeeded by his brother Simon
Simon’s military successes
His prosperous administration
Succeeded by John Hyrcanus
The great talents and success of John Hyrcanus
The Asmonean princes
Pompey takes Jerusalem
Accession of Herod the Great
He destroys the Asmonean princes
His prosperous reign
Foundation of Caesarea
Latter days of Herod
Loathsome death of Herod
Birth of Jesus, the Christ

Judas Maccabaeus : Restoration of The Jewish Commonwealth

DIED, 160 B.C.

After the heroic ages of Joshua, Gideon, and David, no warriors appeared in Jewish history equal to Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers in bravery, in patriotism, and in noble deeds. They delivered the Hebrew nation when it had sunk to abject submission under the kings of Syria, and when its glory and strength alike had departed. The conquests of Judas especially were marvellous, considering the weakness of the Jewish nation and the strength of its enemies. No hero that chivalry has produced surpassed him in courage and ability; his exploits would be fabulous and incredible if not so well attested. He is not a familiar character, since the Apocrypha, from which our chief knowledge of his deeds is derived, is now rarely read. Jewish history resembles that of Europe in the Middle Ages in the sentiments which are born of danger, oppression, and trial. As a point of mere historical interest, the dark ages that preceded the coming of the Messiah furnish reproachless models of chivalry, courage, and magnanimity, and also the foundation of many of those institutions that cannot be traced to the laws of Moses.

But before I present the wonderful career of Judas Maccabaeus, we must look to the circumstances which made that career remarkable and eventful.

On the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity there was among them only the nucleus of a nation: more remained in Persia and Assyria than returned to Judaea. We see an infant colony rather than a developed State; it was so feeble as scarcely to attract the notice of the surrounding monarchies. In all probability the population of Judaea did not number a quarter as many as those whom Moses led out of Egypt; it did not furnish a tenth part as many fighting men as were enrolled in the armies of Saul; it existed only under the protection afforded by the Persian monarchs. The Temple as rebuilt by Nehemiah bore but a feeble resemblance to that which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed; it had neither costly vessels nor golden ornaments nor precious woods to remind the scattered and impoverished people of the glory of Solomon. Although the walls of Jerusalem were partially restored, its streets were filled with the débris and ruins of ancient palaces. The city was indeed fortified, but the strong walls and lofty towers which made it almost impregnable were not again restored as in the times of the old monarchy. It took no great force to capture the city and demolish the fortifications. The vast and unnumbered treasures which David, Solomon, and Hezekiah had accumulated in the Temple and the palaces formed no inconsiderable part of the gold and silver that finally enriched Babylonian and Persian kings. The wealth of one of the richest countries of antiquity had been dispersed and re-collected at Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, and other cities, to be again seized by Alexander in his conquest of the East, then again to be hoarded or spent by the Syrian and Egyptian kings who descended from Alexander’s generals, and finally to be deposited in the treasuries of the Romans and the Byzantine Greeks. Whatever ruin warriors may make, whatever temples and palaces they may destroy, they always spare and seize the precious metals, and keep them until they spend them, or are robbed of them in their turn.

Not only was the Holy City a desolation on the return of the Jews, but the rich vineyards and olive-grounds and wheat-fields had run to waste, and there were but few to till and improve them. The few who returned felt their helpless condition, and were quiet and peaceable. Moreover, they had learned during their seventy years’ exile to have an intense hatred of everything like idolatry,–a hatred amounting to fanatical fierceness, such as the Puritan Colonists of New England had toward Catholicism. In their dreary and humiliating captivity they at length perceived that idolatry was the great cause of all their calamities; that no national prosperity was possible for them, as the chosen people, except by sincere allegiance to Jehovah. At no period of their history were they more truly religious and loyal to their invisible King than for two hundred years after their return to the land of their ancestors. The terrible lesson of exile and sorrow was not lost on them. It is true that they were only a “remnant” of the nation, as Isaiah had predicted, but they believed that they were selected and saved for a great end. This end they seemed to appreciate now more than ever, and the idea that a great Deliverer was to arise among them, whose reign was to be permanent and glorious, was henceforth devoutly cherished.

A severe morality was practised among these returned exiles, as marked as their faith in God. They were especially tenacious of the laws and ceremonies that Moses had commanded. They kept the Sabbath with a strictness unknown to their ancestors. They preserved the traditions of their fathers, and conformed to them with scrupulous exactness; they even went beyond the requirements of Moses in outward ceremonials. Thus there gradually arose among them a sect ultimately known as the Pharisees, whose leading peculiarity was a slavish and fanatical observance of all the technicalities of the law, both Mosaic and traditional; a sect exceedingly narrow, but popular and powerful. They multiplied fasts and ritualistic observances as the superstitious monks of the Middle Ages did after them; they extended the payment of tithes (tenths) to the most minute and unimportant things, like the herbs which grew in their gardens; they began the Sabbath on Friday evening, and kept it so rigorously that no one was permitted to walk beyond one thousand steps from his own door.

A natural reaction to this severity in keeping minute ordinances, alike narrow, fanatical, and unreasonable, produced another sect called the Sadducees,–a revolutionary party with a more progressive spirit, which embraced the more cultivated and liberal part of the nation; a minority indeed,–a small party as far as numbers went,–but influential from the men of wealth, talent, and learning that belonged to it, containing as it did the nobility and gentry. The members of this party refused to acknowledge any Oral Law transmitted from Moses, and held themselves bound only by the Written Law; they were indifferent to dogmas that had not reason or Scriptures to support them. The writings of Moses have scarcely any recognition of a future life, and hence the Sadducees disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead,–for which reason the Pharisees accused them of looseness in religious opinions. They were more courteous and interesting than the great body of the people who favored the Pharisees, but were more luxurious in their habits of life. They had more social but less religious pride than their rivals, among whom pride took the form of a gloomy austerity and a self-satisfied righteousness.

Another thing pertaining to divine worship which marked the Jews on their return from captivity was the establishment of synagogues, in which the law was expounded by the Scribes, whose business it was to study tradition, as embodied in the Talmud. The Pharisees were the great patrons and teachers of these meetings, which became exceedingly numerous, especially in the cities. There were at one time four hundred synagogues in Jerusalem alone. To these the great body of the people resorted on the Sabbath, rather than to the Temple. The synagogue, popular, convenient, and social, almost supplanted the Temple, except on grand occasions and festivals. The Temple was for great ceremonies and celebrations, like a mediaeval cathedral,–an object of pride and awe, adorned and glorious; the synagogue was a sort of church, humble and modest, for the use of the people in ordinary worship,–a place of religious instruction, where decent strangers were allowed to address the meetings, and where social congratulations and inquiries were exchanged. Hence, the synagogue represented the democratic element in Judaism, while it did not ignore the Temple.

Nearly contemporaneous with the synagogue was the Sanhedrim, or Grand Council, composed of seventy-one members, made up of elders, scribes, and priests,–men learned in the law, both Pharisees and Sadducees. It was the business of this aristocratic court to settle disputed texts of Scripture; also questions relating to marriage, inheritance, and contracts. It met in one of the buildings connected with the Temple. It was presided over by the high-priest, and was a dignified and powerful body, its decisions being binding on the Jews outside Palestine. It was not unlike a great council in the early Christian Church for the settlement of theological questions, except that it was not temporary but permanent; and it was more ecclesiastical than civil. Jesus was summoned before it for assuming to be the Messiah; Peter and John, for teaching false doctrine; and Paul, for transgressing the rules of the Temple.

Thus in one hundred and fifty or two hundred years after the Jews returned to their own country, we see the rise of institutions adapted to their circumstances as a religious people, small in numbers, poor but free,–for they were protected by the Persian monarchs against their powerful neighbors. The largest part of the nation was still scattered in every city of the world, especially at Alexandria, where there was a very large Jewish colony, plying their various occupations unmolested by the civil power. In this period Ewald thinks there was a great stride made in sacred literature, especially in recasting ancient books that we accept as canonical. Some of the most beautiful of the Psalms were supposed to have been written at this time; also Apocalypses, books of combined history and revelatory prophecy,–like Daniel, and simple histories like Esther,–written by gifted, lofty, and spiritual men whose names have perished, embodying vivid conceptions of the agency of Jehovah in the affairs of men, so popular, so interesting, and so religious that they soon took their place among the canonical books.

The most noted point in the history of the Jews in the dark ages of their history, for two hundred years after their return from Babylon and Persia, was the external peace and tranquillity of the country, favorable to a quiet and uneventful growth, like that of Puritan New England for one hundred and fifty years after the settlement at Plymouth,–making no history outside of their own peaceful and prosperous life. They had no intercourse with surrounding nations, but were contented to resettle ancient villages, and devote themselves to agricultural pursuits. They were thus trained by labor and poverty–possibly by dangers–to manly energies and heroic courage. They formed a material from which armies could be extemporized on any sudden emergencies. There was no standing army as in the times of David and Solomon, but the whole people were trained to the use of military weapons. Thus the hardy and pious agriculturists of Palestine grew imperceptibly in numbers and wealth, so as to become once more a nation. In all probability this unhistorical period, of which we know almost nothing, was the most fruitful period in Jewish history for the development of great virtues. If they had no heathen literature, they could still discuss theological dogmas; if they had no amusements, they could meet together in their synagogues; if they had no king, they accepted the government of the high-priest; if they had no powerful nobles, they had the aristocratic Sanhedrim, which represented their leading men; if they were disposed to contention, as so many persons are, they could dispute about the unimportant shibboleths which their religious parties set up as matters of difference,–and the more minute, technical, and insoluble these questions were, the fiercer probably grew their contests.

Such was the Hebrew commonwealth in the dark ages of its history, under the protection of the Persian kings. It formed a part of the province of Syria, but the internal government was administered by the high-priests. After the return from exile Joshua, Joachim, and Eliashib successively filled the pontifical office. The government thus was not unlike that of the popes, abating their claims to universal spiritual dominion, although the office of high-priest was hereditary. Jehoiada, son of Eliashib, reigned from 413 to 373, and he was succeeded by his son Johanan, under whose administration important changes took place during the reign of Artaxerxes III., called Ochus, the last but two of the Persian monarchs before the conquest of Persia by Alexander.

The Persians had in the mean time greatly degenerated in their religious faith and observances. Magian rites became mingled with the purer religion of Zoroaster, and even the worship of Venus was not uncommon. Under Cyrus and Darius there was nothing peculiarly offensive to the Jews in the theism of Ormuzd, which was the old religion of the Persians; but when images of ancient divinities were set up by royal authority in Persepolis, Susa, Babylon, and Damascus, the allegiance of the Jews was weakened, and repugnance took the place of sympathy. Moreover, a creature of Artaxerxes III., by the name of Bagoses, became Satrap of Syria, and presumed to appoint as the high-priest at Jerusalem Joshua, another son of Jehoiada, and severely taxed the Jews, and even forced his way into the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the Temple,–a sacrilege hard to be endured. This Bagoses poisoned his master, and in the year 338 B.C. elevated to the throne of Persia his son Arses, who had a brief reign, being dethroned and murdered by his father. In 336 Darius III. became king, under whom the Persian monarchy collapsed before the victories of Alexander.

Judaea now came under the dominion of this great conqueror, who favored the Jews, and on his death, 323 B.C., it fell to the possession of Laomedon, one of his generals; while Egypt was assigned to Ptolemy Soter, son of Lagus. Between these princes a war soon broke out, and Laomedon was defeated by Nicanor, one of Ptolemy’s generals; and Palestine refusing to submit to the king of Egypt, Ptolemy invaded Judaea, besieged Jerusalem, and took it by assault on the Sabbath, when the Jews refused to fight. A large number of Jews were sent to Alexandria, and the Jewish colony ultimately formed no small part of the population of the new capital. Some eighty thousand Jews, it is said, were settled in Alexandria when Palestine was governed by Greek generals and princes. But Judaea was wrested from Ptolemy Lagus by Antigonus, and again recovered by Ptolemy after the battle of Ipsus, in 301 B.C. Under Ptolemy Egypt became a powerful kingdom, and still more so under his son Philadelphus, who made Alexandria the second capital of the world,–commercially, indeed, the first. It became also a great intellectual centre, and its famous library was the largest ever collected in classical antiquity. This city was the home of scholars and philosophers from all parts of the world. Under the auspices of an enlightened monarch, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the version being called the Septuagint,–an immense service to sacred literature. The Jews enjoyed great prosperity under this Grecian prince, and Palestine was at peace with powerful neighbors, protected by the great king who favored the Jews as the Persian monarchs had done. Under his successor, Ptolemy Euergetes, a still more powerful king, the empire reached its culminating glory, and was extended as far as Antioch and Babylon. Under the next Ptolemy,–Philopater,–degeneracy set in; but the empire was not diminished, and the Syrian monarch Antiochus III., called the Great, was defeated at the battle of Raphia, 217. Under the successor of the enervated Egyptian king, Ptolemy V., a child five years old, Antiochus the Great retrieved the disaster at Raphia, and in 199 won a victory over Scopas the Egyptian general, in consequence of which Judaea, with Phoenicia and Coele-Syria, passed from the Ptolemies to the Seleucidae.

Judaea now became the battle-ground for the contending Syrian and Egyptian armies, and after two hundred years of peace and prosperity her calamities began afresh. She was cruelly deceived and oppressed by the Syrian kings and their generals, for the “kings of the North” were more hostile to the Jews than the “kings of the South.” In consequence of the incessant wars between Syria and Egypt, many Jews emigrated, and became merchants, bankers, and artisans in all the great cities of the world, especially in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Egypt, where all departments of industry were freely opened to them. In the time of Philo, there were more than a million of Jews in these various countries; but they remained Jews, and tenaciously kept the laws and traditions of their nation. In every large city were Jewish synagogues.

It was under the reign of Antiochus IV., called Epiphanes, when Judaea was tributary to Syria, that those calamities and miseries befell the Jews which rendered it necessary for a deliverer to arise. Though enlightened and a lover of art, this monarch was one of the most cruel, rapacious, and tyrannical princes that have achieved an infamous immortality. He began his reign with usurpation and treachery. Being unsuccessful in his Egyptian campaigns, he vented his wrath upon the Jews, as if he were mad. Onias III. was the high-priest at the time. Antiochus dispossessed him of his great office and gave it to his brother Jason, a Hellenized Jew, who erected in Jerusalem a gymnasium after the Greek style. But the king, a zealot in paganism, bitterly and scornfully detested the Jewish religion, and resolved to root it out. His general, Apollonius, had orders to massacre the people in the observance of their rites, to abolish the Temple service and the Sabbath, to destroy the sacred books, and introduce idol worship. The altar on Mount Moriah was especially desecrated, and afterward dedicated to Jupiter. A herd of swine were driven into the Temple, and there sacrificed. This outrage was to the Jews “the abomination of desolation,” which could never be forgotten or forgiven. The nation rallied and defied the power of a king who could thus wantonly trample on what was most sacred and venerable.

Two hundred years earlier, resistance would have been hopeless; but in the mean time the population had quietly increased, and in the practice of those virtues and labors which agricultural life called out, the people had been strengthened and prepared to rally and defend their lives and liberties. They were still unwarlike, without organization or military habits; but they were brave, hardy, and patriotic. Compared, however, with the forces which could be arrayed against them by the Syrian monarch, who was supreme in western Asia, they were numerically insignificant; and they were also despised and undervalued. They seemed to be as sheep among wolves,–easy to be intimidated and even exterminated.

The outrage in the Temple was the consummation of a series of humiliations and crimes; for in addition to the desecration of the Jewish religion, Antiochus had taken Jerusalem with a great army, had entered into the Temple, where the national treasures were deposited (for it was the custom even among Greeks and Romans to deposit the public money in the temples), and had taken away to his capital the golden candlesticks, the altar of incense, the table of shew bread, and the various vessels and censers and crowns which were used in the service of God,–treasures that amounted to one thousand eight hundred talents, spared by Alexander. So that there came great mourning upon Israel throughout the land, both for the desecration of sacred places, the plunder of the Temple, and the massacre of the people. Jerusalem was sacked and burned, women and children were carried away as captives, and a great fortress was erected on an eminence that overlooked the Temple and city, in which was placed a strong garrison. The plundered inhabitants fled from Jerusalem, which became the habitation of strangers, with all its glory gone. “Her sanctuary was laid waste, her feasts were turned into mourning, her Sabbath into a reproach, and her honor into contempt.” Many even of the Jews became apostate, profaned the Sabbath, and sacrificed to idols, rather than lose their lives; for the persecution was the most unrelenting in the annals of martyrdom, even to the destruction of women and children.

The insulted and decimated Jews now rallied under Mattathias, the founder of the Asmonean dynasty.

The immediate occasion of the Jewish uprising, which was ultimately to end in national independence and in the rule of a line of native princes, was as unpremeditated as the throwing out of the window at the council chamber at Prague those deputies who supported the Emperor of Germany in his persecution of the Protestants, which led to the Thirty Years’ War and the establishment of religious liberty in Germany. At this crisis among the Jews, a hero arose in their midst as marvellous as Gustavus Adolphus.

In Modin, or Modein, a town near the sea, but the site of which is now unknown, there lived an old man of a priestly family named Asmon, who was rich and influential. His name was Mattathias, and he had five grown-up sons, each distinguished for bravery, piety, and patriotism. He was so prominent in his little city for fidelity to the faith of his fathers, as well as for social position, that when an officer of Antiochus came to Modin to enforce the decrees of his royal master, he made splendid offers to Mattathias to induce him to favor the crusade against his countrymen. Mattathias not only contemptuously rejected these overtures, but he openly proclaimed his resolution to adhere to his religion,–a man who could not be bribed, and who could not be intimidated. “Be it far from us,” he said, “to forsake law and ordinances. We will not hearken to the king’s words, to turn aside to the right hand or to the left.”

When he had thus given noble attestation of his resolution to adhere to the faith of his fathers, there came forward an apostate Jew to sacrifice on the heathen altar, which it seems was erected by royal command in all the cities and towns of Judaea. This so inflamed the indignation of the brave old man that he ran and slew the Jew upon the altar, together with the king’s commissioner, and pulled down the altar.

For this, Mattathias was obliged to flee, and he escaped to the mountains, taking with him his five sons and all who would join his standard of revolt, crying with a loud voice, “Let every one zealous for the Law follow me!” A considerable multitude fled with him to the wilderness of Judaea, on the west of the Dead Sea, taking with them their wives and children and cattle. But this flight from persecution speedily became known to the troops that were quartered on Mount Zion, a strong fortress which controlled the Temple and city, and a detachment was sent in pursuit. The fugitives, zealous for the Law, refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath day, and the result was that they all perished, with their wives and children. Their fate made such a powerful impression on Mattathias, that it was resolved henceforth to fight on the Sabbath day, if attacked. The patriots had to choose between two alternatives,–to be utterly rooted out, or to defend themselves on the Sabbath, and thus violate the letter of the Law. Mattathias was sufficiently enlightened to perceive that fighting on the Sabbath, if attacked, was a supreme necessity, remembering doubtless that Moses recognized the right of necessary work even on the sacred day of rest. The law of self-defence is an ultimate one, and appeals to the consciousness of universal humanity. Strange as it may seem, the Sabbath has ever been a favorite day with generals to fight grand battles in every Christian country.

Mattathias, although a very old man, now put forth superhuman energies, raised an army, drove the persecuting soldiers out of the country, pulled down the heathen altars, and restored the Law; and when the time came for him to die, at the age of one hundred and forty-five years,–if we may credit the history, for Josephus and the Apocrypha are here our chief authorities,–he collected around him his five sons, all wise and valiant men, and enjoined them to be united among themselves, and to be faithful to the Law,–calling to their minds the noted examples from the Hebrew Scriptures, Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, David, Elijah, who were obedient to the commandments of God. He did not speak of patriotism, although an intense lover of his country. He exhorted his sons to be simply obedient to the Law,–not, probably, in the restricted and literal sense of the word, but in the idea of being faithful to God, even as Abraham was obedient before the Law was given. The glory which he assured them they would thus win was not the éclat of victory, or even of national deliverance, but the imperishable renown which comes from righteousness. He promised a glorious immortality to those who fell in battle in defence of the truth and of their liberties, reminding us of the promises which Mohammed made to his followers. But the great incentive to bravery which he urged was the ultimate reward of virtue, which runs through the Scriptures, even the favor of God. The heroes of chivalry fought for the favor of ladies, the praises of knights, and the friendship of princes; the reward of modern generals is exaltation in popular estimation, the increase of political power, the accumulation of wealth, and sometimes the consciousness of rendering important services to their country,–an exalted patriotism, such as marked Washington and Cromwell. But the reward which the Jewish hero promised was loftier,–even that of the divine favor.

The aged Mattathias, having thus given his last counsels to his sons, recommended the second one, Simon, or Simeon, as the future head of the family, to whose wisdom the other brothers were to defer,–a man whose counsel would be invaluable. The third brother, Judas, a mighty warrior from his youth, was appointed as the leader of the forces to fight the battles of the people,–the peculiar vocations of Saul and of David, for which they were selected to be kings.

On the death of Mattathias, mourned by all Israel as Samuel was mourned, at the age of one hundred and forty-five, and buried in the sepulchre of his fathers at Modin, Judas, called “The Maccabaeus” (“The Hammer,” as some suppose), rose up in his stead; and all his brothers helped him, and all his father’s friends, and he fought with cheerfulness the battles of Israel. He put on armor as a hero, and was like a lion in his acts, and like a lion’s whelp roaring for prey. He pursued and punished the Jewish transgressors of the Law, so that they lost courage, and all the workers of inquity were thrown into disorder, and the work of deliverance prospered in his hands. Like Josiah he went through the cities of Judah, destroying the heathen and the ungodly. The fame of his exploits rapidly spread through the land, and Apollonius, military governor of Samaria, collected an army and marched against a man who with his small forces set at defiance the sovereignty of a mighty monarchy. Judas attacked Apollonius, slew him, and dispersed his army. Ever afterward he was girded with the sword of the Syrian,–a weapon probably adorned with jewels, and tempered like the famous Damascus blades.

Seron, a general of higher rank, the commander-in-chief of the Syrian forces in Palestine, irritated at the defeat and death of Apollonius, the following year marched with a still larger army against Judas. The latter had with him only a small company, who were despondent in view of the great array of their heathen enemies, and moreover faint from having not eaten anything that day. But the heroic leader encouraged his men, and, undaunted in the midst of overwhelming danger, resolved to fight, trusting for aid from the God of battles; for “victory,” said he, “is not through the multitude of an army, but from heaven cometh the strength.” This resolution to fight against overwhelming odds would be audacity in modern warfare, which is perfected machinery, making one man with reliable weapons as good as another, and success to be chiefly determined by numbers skilfully posted and manoeuvred according to strategic science; but in ancient times personal bravery, directed by military genius and aided by fortunate circumstances, frequently prevailed over the force of multitudes, especially if the latter were undisciplined or intimidated by superstitious omens,–as evinced by Alexander’s victories, and those of Charles Martel and the Black Prince in the Middle Ages. The desperate valor of Judas and his small band was crowned with complete success. Seron was defeated with great loss, his army fled, and the fame of Judas spread far and wide. His name became a terror to the nations.

King Antiochus now saw that the subjection of this valiant Jew was no easy matter; and filled with wrath and vengeance he gathered together all the forces of his kingdom, opened his treasury, paid his soldiers a year in advance, and resolved to root out the rebellious nation by a war of extermination. Crippled, however, in resources, and in great need of money, he concluded to go in person to Persia and collect tribute from the various provinces, and seize the treasures which were supposed to be deposited in royal cities beyond the Euphrates. He left behind, as regent or lieutenant, Lysias, a man of royal descent, with orders to prosecute the war against the Jews with the utmost severity, while with half his forces he proceeded in person to Persia. Lysias chose Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias, experienced generals, to conduct the war, with forty thousand foot and seven thousand horsemen, besides elephants, with orders to exterminate the rebels, take possession of their lands, and settle heathen aliens in their place. So confident were these generals of success that merchants accompanied the army with gold and silver to purchase the Jews from the conquerors, and fetters in which to make them slaves. A large force from the land of the Philistines also joined the attacking army.

Jerusalem at this time was a forsaken city, uninhabited, like a wilderness; the Sanctuary was trodden down, and heathen foreigners occupied the citadel on Mount Zion. It was a time of general mourning and desolation, and the sound of the harp and the pipe ceased throughout the land. But Judas was not discouraged; and the warriors with him were bent upon redeeming the land from desolation. They however put on sackcloth, and prayed to the God of their fathers, and made every effort to rally their forces, feeling that it was better to die in battle than see the pollution of the Sanctuary and the evils which overspread the land. Judas succeeded in collecting altogether three thousand men, who however were poorly armed, and intrenched himself among the mountains, about twenty miles from Jerusalem. Learning this, Gorgias took five thousand men, one thousand horsemen, under guides from the castle on Mount Zion, and departed from his camp at Emmaus by night, with a view of surprising and capturing the Jewish force. But Judas was on the alert, and obtained information of the intended attack. So he broke up his own camp, and resolved to attack the main force of the enemy, weakened by the absence of Gorgias and his chosen band. After reminding his soldiers of God’s mercies in times of old, he ordered the trumpets to sound, and unexpectedly rushed upon the unsuspecting and unprepared Syrians, totally routed them, pursued them as far as to the plains of Idumaea, killed about three thousand men, took immense spoil,–gold and silver, purple garments and military weapons,–and returned in triumph to the forsaken camp, singing songs and blessing Heaven for the great victory.

Many of the Syrians that escaped came and told Lysias all that had happened, and he on hearing it was confounded and discouraged. But in the year following he collected an army of sixty thousand chosen footmen and five thousand horsemen to renew the attack, and marched to the Idumaean border. Here Judas met him at Bethsura, near to Jerusalem, with ten thousand men, now inspirited by victory, and again defeated the Syrian forces, with a loss to the enemy of five thousand men. Lysias, who commanded this army in person, returned to Antioch and made preparations to raise a still greater force, while the victorious Jews took possession of the capital.

Judas had now leisure to cleanse the Sanctuary and dedicate it. When his army saw the desolation of their holy city,–trees growing in the very courts of the Temple as in a forest, the altars profaned, the gates burned,–they were filled with grief, and rent their garments and cried aloud to Heaven. But Judas proceeded with his sacred work, pulled down the defiled altar of burnt sacrifice and rebuilt it, cleansed the Sanctuary, hallowed the desecrated courts, made new holy vessels, decked the front of the Temple with crowns and shields of gold, and restored the gates and chambers. Judas also fortified the Temple with high walls and towers, and placed in it a strong garrison, for the Syrians still held possession of the Tower,–a strong fortress near the mount of the Temple.

When all was cleansed and renewed, a solemn service of reconsecration was celebrated; the sacred fire was kindled afresh on the altar, thousands of lamps were lighted, the sacrifices were offered, the people thronged the courts of Jehovah, and with psalms of praise, festive dances, harps, lutes, and cymbals made a joyful noise unto the Lord. This triumphant restoration was celebrated three years, to the very day, from the day of desecration; it was forever after–as long as the Temple stood–held a sacred yearly festival, and called the Feast of the Dedication, or sometimes, from its peculiar ceremonies, the Feast of Lights.

The successes of Judas and the restoration of the Temple worship inflamed with renewed anger the heathen population of the countries in the near vicinity of Judaea; and there seems to have been a general confederacy of Idumaeans,–descendants of Esau,–with sundry of the Bedouin tribes, and of the heathen settled east of the Jordan in the land of Gilead, and of Phoenicians and heathen strangers in Galilee, to recover what the Syrians had lost, and to restore idol worship. Judas had now an army of eleven thousand men, which he divided between himself and his brother Simon, and they marched in different directions to the attack of their numerous enemies. They were both eminently successful, gaining bloody battles, capturing cities and fortresses, taking immense spoils, mingling the sound of trumpets with prayers to Almighty God,–heroes as religious as they were brave, an unexampled band of warriors, rivalling Joshua, Saul, and David in the brilliancy of their victories. All the Jews who remained true to their faith in the districts which he overran and desolated, Judas brought back with him to Jerusalem for greater safety.

Only one misfortune sullied the glory of these exploits. Judas had left behind him at Jerusalem, when he and Simon went forth to fight the idolaters, a garrison of two thousand men under the command of Joseph and Azarias, leaders of the people, with the strict command to remain in the city until he should return. But these popular leaders, dazzled by the victories of Judas and Simon, and wishing to earn a fame like theirs, issued from their stronghold with two thousand men to attack Jamnia, and were met by Gorgias the Syrian general and completely annihilated,–a just punishment for military disobedience. The loss of two thousand men was a calamity, but Judas pursued his victories, finally turning against the Philistines, who at this point disappear from sacred history.

In the meantime King Antiochus, who, as already stated, had gone on a plundering expedition to Persia, was defeated in the attempt, and returned in great grief and disappointment to Ecbatana. Here he heard that his armies under Lysias had been disgracefully beaten, and that Judaea was in a fair way to achieve its independence under the heroic Judas; and, worse still, that all the pagan temples and altars which he had set up in Jerusalem were removed and destroyed. This especially filled him with rage, for he was a fanatic in his religion, and utterly detested the monotheism of the Jews. So oppressed with grief was this heathen persecutor that he took to his bed; and in addition to his humiliation he was afflicted with a loathsome disease, called elephantiasis, so that he was avoided and neglected by his own servants. He now saw that he must die, and calling for his friend Philip, made him regent of his kingdom during the minority of his son, whom he had left at Antioch.

The Jews were thus delivered from the worst enemy that had afflicted them since the Babylonian captivity. Neither Assyrians nor Egyptians nor Persians had so ruthlessly swept away religious institutions. Those conquerors were contented with conquest and its political results,–namely, the enslavement and spoliation of the people; they did not pollute the sacred places like the Syrian persecutor. By the rivers of Babylon the Jews had sat down and wept when they remembered Zion, but their sad wailing was over the fact that they were captives in a strange land. Ground down to the dust by Antiochus, however, they bewailed not only their external misfortunes, but far more bitterly the desecration of their Sanctuary and the attempt to root out their religion, which was their life.

The death of Antiochus Epiphanes was therefore a great relief and rejoicing to the struggling Jews. He left as heir to his throne a boy nine years of age; but though he had made his friend Philip guardian of his son and regent of his kingdom, his lieutenant at Antioch, Lysias, also claimed the guardianship and the regency. These rival claims of course led to civil wars between Lysias and Philip, in consequence of which the Jews were comparatively unmolested, and had leisure to organize their forces, fortify their strongholds, and prepare for complete independence. Among other things, Judas Maccabaeus attacked the citadel or tower on Mount Zion, overlooking the Temple, in which a large garrison of the enemy had long been stationed, and which was a perpetual menace. The attack or siege of this strong fortress alarmed the heathen, who made complaint to the young king, called Eupator, or more probably to the regent Lysias, who sent an overwhelming army into Judaea, consisting of one hundred thousand foot, twenty thousand horse, and thirty-two elephants. But Judas did not hesitate to give battle to this great force, and again gained a victory. It was won, however, at the expense of his brother Eleazer. Seeing one of the elephants armed with royal armor, he supposed that it carried the king himself; and heroically forcing his way through the ranks of the enemy, he slipped under the elephant, and gave the beast a mortal wound, so that it fell to the ground, crushing to death the courageous Maccabaeus,–for the brothers of Judas, worthy compatriots and fellow-soldiers with him, were also called by his special name; and although the family name was Asmon, they are famous as “the Maccabees.”

This battle however was not decisive. Lysias advanced to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. But hearing that Philip had succeeded in gaining authority at Antioch, he made peace with Judas, and hastily returned to his capital, where he found Philip master of the city. Although he recovered his capital, it was only for a short time, since Demetrius, son of Seleucus, who had been sojourning at Rome, returned to the palace of his ancestors, and slaying both Lysias and the young king, reigned in their stead.

With this king the Jews were soon involved in war. Evil-minded men, hostile to Judas (for in such unsettled times treachery was everywhere), went to Antioch with their complaints, headed by Alcimus, who wished to be high-priest, and inflamed the anger of King Demetrius. The new monarch sent one of his ablest generals, called Bacchides, with an army to chastise the Jews and reinstate Alcimus, who had been ejected from his high office. This wicked high-priest overran the country with the forces of Bacchides, who had returned to Antioch, but did not prevail; so the king sent Nicanor, already experienced in this Jewish war, with a still larger army against Judas. The gallant Maccabaeus, however, gained a great victory, and slew Nicanor himself. This battle gave another rest for a time to the afflicted land of Judah.

Meanwhile Judas, fearing that the Syrian forces would ultimately overpower him, sent an embassy to Rome to invoke protection. It was a long journey in those times. A century and a half later it took Saint Paul six months to make it. The conquests of the Romans were known throughout the East, and better known than the policy they pursued of devouring the countries that sought their protection when it suited their convenience. At this time, 162 B.C., Italy was subdued, Spain had been added to the empire, Macedonia was conquered, Syria was threatened, and Carthage was soon to fall. The Senate was then the ruling power at Rome, and was in the height of its dignity, not controlled by either generals or demagogues. The Senate received with favor the Jewish ambassadors, and promised their protection. Had Judas known what that protection meant, he would have been the last man to seek it.

Nor did the treaty of alliance with Rome save Judaea from the continued hostilities of Syria. Demetrius sent Bacchides with another army, which encamped against Jerusalem, where Judas had only eight hundred men to resist an army of twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse. We infer that his forces had dwindled away by perpetual contests. His heart of hope was now well-nigh broken, but his lion courage remained. Against the solicitation of his companions in war he resolved to fight; gallantly and stubbornly contested the field from morning to night, and at last, hemmed in between two wings of the Syrian foe, fell in the battle.

The heroic career of Judas Maccabaeus was ended. He had done marvellous things. He had for six years resisted and often defeated overwhelming forces; he had fought more battles than David; he had kept the enemy at bay while his prostrate country arose from the dust; he had put to flight and slain tens of thousands of the heathen; he had recovered and fortified Jerusalem, and restored the Temple worship; he had trained his people to be warlike and heroic. At last he was slain only when his followers were scattered by successive calamities. He bore the brunt of six years’ successful war against the most powerful monarchy in Asia, bent on the extermination of his countrymen. And amid all his labors he had kept the Law, being revered for his virtues as much as for his heroism. Not a single crime sullied his glorious name. And when he fell at last, exhausted, the nation lamented him as David mourned for Jonathan, saying, “How is the valiant fallen!” A greater hero than he never adorned an age of heroism. Judas was not only a mighty captain, but a wise statesman,–so revered, that, according to Josephus, in his closing years he was made high-priest also, thus uniting in his person both spiritual and temporal authority. It was a very small country that he ruled, but it is in small countries that genius is often most fully developed, either for war or for peace. We know but little of his private life. He had no time for what the world calls pleasures; his life was rough, full of dangers and embarrassments. His only aim seems to have been to shake off the Syrian yoke that oppressed his native land, to redeem the holy places of the nation from the pollutions of the obscene rites of heathenism, and to restore the worship of Jehovah according to the consecrated ritual established in the Mosaic Law.

The death of Judas was of course followed by great disorders and universal despondency. His mantle fell on his brother Jonathan, who became the leader of the scattered forces of the Jews. He also prevailed over Bacchides in several engagements, so that the Syrian leader returned to Antioch, and the Jews had rest for two years. Jonathan was now clothed with honor and dignity, wore a purple garment and other emblems of high rank, and was almost an acknowledged sovereign. He improved his opportunities and fortified Jerusalem. But his prosperous career was cut short by treachery. He was enticed by the Syrian general, even when he had an army of forty thousand men,–so largely had the forces of Judaea increased,–into Ptolemais with a few followers, under blandishing promises, and slain.

Simon was now the only remaining son of Mattathias; and on him devolved the high-priesthood, as well as the executive duties of supreme ruler. He wisely devoted himself to the internal affairs of the State which he ruled. He fortified Joppa, the only port of Judaea, reduced hostile cities, and made himself master of the famous fortress of Mount Zion, so long held in threatening vicinity by the Syrians, which he not only levelled with the ground, but also razed the summit of the hill on which it stood, so that it should no longer overlook the Temple area. The Temple became not only the Sanctuary, but also one of the strongest fortresses in the world. At a later period it held out for some time against the army of Titus, even after Jerusalem itself had fallen.

The Maccabees From the painting by Antonio Ciseri

Simon executed the laws with rigorous impartiality, repaired the Temple, restored the sacred vessels, and secured general peace, order, and security. Even the lands desolated by the wasting wars with several successive Syrian monarchs again rejoiced in fertility. Every man sat under his own vine and fig-tree in safety. The friendly alliance with Rome was renewed by a present to that greedy republic of a golden shield, weighing one thousand pounds, and worth fifty talents, thus showing how much wealth had increased under Judas and his brothers. Even the ambassadors of the Syrian monarch were astonished at the splendor of Simon’s palace, and at the riches of the Temple, again restored, not in the glory of Solomon, but in a magnifience of which few temples could boast,–the pride once more of the now prosperous Jews, who had by their persistent bravery earned their independence. In the year 143 B.C., the Jews began a new epoch in their history, after twenty-three years of almost incessant warfare.

Yet Simon was destined, like his brothers, to end his days by violence. He also, together with two of his sons, was treacherously murdered by his son-in-law Ptolemy, who aspired to the exalted office of high-priest, leaving his son John Hyrcanus to reign in his stead, in the year 136 B.C. The rule of the Maccabees,–the five sons of Mattathias,–lasted thirty years. They were the founders of the Asmonean princes, who ruled both as kings and high-priests.

With the death of Simon, the last remaining son of Mattathias, this lecture properly should end; yet a rapid glance at the Jewish nation, under the rule of the Asmonean princes and the Idumaean Herod, may not be uninteresting.

John Hyrcanus, the first of the Asmonean kings, was an able sovereign, and reigned twenty-nine years. He threw off the Syrian yoke, and the Jewish kingdom maintained its independence until it fell under the Roman sway. His most memorable feat was the destruction of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim, which had been an eye-sore to the people of Jerusalem for two hundred years. He then subdued Idumaea, and compelled the people of that country to adopt the Jewish religion. He maintained a strict alliance with the Romans, and became master of Samaria and of Galilee, which were incorporated with his kingdom, so that the ancient limits of the kingdom of David were nearly restored. He built the castle of Baris on a rock within the fortifications that surrounded the hill of the Temple, which afterward was known as the tower of Antonia.

On his death, 105 B.C., Hyrcanus was succeeded by his son Aristobulus,–a weak and wicked prince, who assassinated his brother, and starved to death his mother in a dungeon. The next king of the Asmonean line, Alexander Jannaeus, was brave, but unsuccessful, and died after an unquiet and turbulent reign of twenty-seven years, 77 B.C. His widow, Alexandra, ruled as regent with great tact and energy for nine years, and was succeeded by her son Hyrcanus II. This feeble and unfortunate prince had to contend with the intrigues and violence of his more able but unscrupulous brother, Aristobulus, who sought to steal his sceptre, and who at one time even drove him from his kingdom. Hyrcanus put himself under the protection of the Romans. They came as arbiters; they remained as masters. It was when Judaea was under the nominal rule of Hyrcanus II., driven hither and thither by his enemies, and when his capital was in their hands, that Pompey, triumphant over the armies of the East, took Jerusalem after a desperate resistance, entered the Temple, and even penetrated to the Holy of Holies. To his credit he left untouched the treasures accumulated in the Temple, but he demolished the walls of the city and imposed a tribute. Judaea was now virtually under the dominion of the Romans, although the sovereignty of Hyrcanus was not completely taken away. On the fall of Pompey, Crassus the triumvir plundered the Temple of ten thousand talents, as was estimated, and the fate of Judaea, during the memorable civil war of which Caesar was the hero and victor, hung in trembling suspense. I will not enumerate the contentions, the deeds of violence, the acts of treachery, and the strife of rival parties which marked the tumultuous period in Judaea while Caesar and Pompey were contending for the sovereignty of the world. These came to an end at last by the dethronement of the last of the Asmonean princes, and the accession of the Idumaean Herod by the aid of Antony (40 B.C.).

Herod, called the Great, was the last independent sovereign of Palestine. He was the son of Antipater, a noble Idumaean, who had ingratiated himself in the favor of Hyrcanus II., high-priest and sovereign, and who ruled as the prime minister of this feeble and incapable prince. By rendering some service to Caesar, Antipater was made procurator of Judaea, and appointed his son Herod to the government of Galilee, where he developed remarkable administrative talents. Soon after, he was raised by Sextus Caesar to the military command of Coele-Syria. After the battle of Philippi, Herod secured the favor of Antony by an enormous bribe, as he had that of Cassius on the death of Caesar, and was made one of the tetrarchs of the province. In the meantime his father, Alexander, was poisoned at Jerusalem, and Antigonus, son of Aristobulus, who had gained ascendency, cut off the ears of Hyrcanus, and not only deprived him of the office of high-priest, but usurped his authority. Herod himself proceeded to Rome, and was successful in his intrigues, being by the favor of Antony made king of Judaea. But a severe contest was before him, since Antigonus was resolved to defend his crown. With the aid of the Romans, Herod, after a war of three years, subdued his rival and put him to death, together with every member of the Sanhedrim but two. His power was cemented by his marriage with Mariamne, the beautiful sister of Aristobulus, whom he made high-priest.

The Asmonean princes were now, by the death of Antigonus, reduced to Aristobulus and the aged Hyrcanus, both of whom were murdered by the suspicious tyrant who had triumphed over so many enemies. In a fit of jealousy Herod even caused the execution of his beautiful wife, whom he passionately loved, as he had already destroyed her grandfather, father, brother, and uncle. Supported by Augustus, whom he had managed to conciliate after the death of Antony, Herod reigned with undisputed authority over even an increase of territory. He doubtless reigned with great ability, tyrant and murderer as he was, and detested by the Jews as an Idumaean. He reigned in a state of magnificence unknown to the Asmonean princes. He built a new and magnificent palace on the hill of Zion, and rebuilt the fortress of Baris, which he called Antonia in honor of his friend and patron, Antony. He also erected strong citadels in different cities of his kingdom, and rebuilt Samaria; he founded Caesarea and colonized it with Greeks, so that it became a great maritime city, rivalling Tyre in magnificence and strength. But Herod’s greatest work, by which he hoped to ingratiate himself in the favor of the Jews, was the rebuilding of the Temple on a scale of unexampled magnificence. He was also very liberal in the distribution of corn during a severe famine. He was in such high favor with Augustus by his presents and his devotion to the imperial interests, that, next to Agrippa, he was the emperor’s greatest favorite. His two sons by Mariamne were educated at Rome with great care, and were lodged in the palace of the Emperor.

Herod’s latter days however were clouded by the intrigues of his court, by treason and conspiracies, in consequence of which his sons, favorites with the people on account of their accomplishments and their Asmonean blood, were executed by the suspicious and savage despot. Antipater, another son, by his first wife, whom he had chosen as his successor, conspired against his life, and the proof of his guilt was so clear that he also was summarily executed. In addition to these troubles Herod was tormented by remorse for the execution of the murdered Mariamne. He was the victim of jealousy, suspicion, and wrath. One of his last acts was the order to destroy the infants in the vicinity of Jerusalem in the vain hope of destroying the predicted Messiah,–him who should be “born king of the Jews.” He died of a loathsome and excruciating disease, in his seventieth year, having reigned nearly forty years. His kingdom, by his will, was divided between the children of his later wife, a Samaritan woman,–the eldest of whom, Archelaus, became monarch of Judea; and the second, Antipas, became tetrarch of Galilee. The former married the widow of his half-brother Alexander, who was executed; and the latter married Herodias, wife of Philip, also his half-brother.

Archelaus ruled Judaea with such injustice and cruelty, that, after nine years, he was summoned to Rome and exiled to Vienne in Gaul, and Judaea became a Roman province under the prefecture of Syria. The supreme judicial authority was exercised by the Jewish Sanhedrim, the great ecclesiastical and civil council, composed of seventy-one persons presided over by the high-priest. The Sanhedrim, under the name of chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people, now took the lead in all public transactions pertaining to the internal administration of the province, being inferior only to the tribunal of the governor, who resided in Caesarea.

Meanwhile the long expectation of the Jews, especially during the reign of Herod, of a promised Deliverer, was fulfilled, and one claiming to be the Messiah appeared,–not a temporal prince and mighty hero of war, a greater Judas Maccabaeus, as the Jews had supposed, but a helpless infant, born in a manger, and brought up as a peasant-carpenter. Yet he it was who should found a spiritual kingdom never to be destroyed, going on from conquering to conquer, until the whole world shall be subdued. With the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, in which we see the fulfilment of all the promises made to the chosen people from Abraham to Isaiah, Jewish history loses its chief interest. The mission of the Hebrew nation seems to stand accomplished; the conception of one, holy, spiritual God was kept alive in the world until, in “the fulness of time,” the mighty Romans subdued and united all lands under one rule, drawing them nearer together by great highroads; the flexible Greek language gave all peoples a common tongue, in which already the Hebrew Scriptures had been familiarized among scholars; the life and teachings of Jesus entered with vital power into the heart and brain of those devoted followers who recognized him as the Christ,–the revelator of the universal fatherhood of the One true God; and thenceforward Christianity becomes the great spiritual power of the world.

Saint Paul : The Spread of Christianity

Beacon Lights of History, Volume II : Jewish Heroes and Prophets