When the Persians ruled, the Jews enjoyed a good life because they were allowed to worship their own set of religious practices. The Persians even let them travel about the Persian Empire for the sole purpose of converting people to Judaism. However, things became very different when Alexander the Great from Macedon came on the scene in 331 BC. He conquered the Persian Empire and believed that he had truly liberated the Jews from the Persians.
In the beginning, the Jews felt that they had gained their independence once again and possibly even have their own king, but they soon found out that Alexander had different plans. His goal was to make Israel a part of his own empire. When Alexander died in 323 BC, Israel did indeed become a part of Alexander’s lands, which was then ruled by one of his generals , Seleucus.
The Jews were then subjected to the Seleucid king Antiochus IV’s plans in 168 BC to have them worship Greek gods instead. He even sacrificed a cow in honor of Zeus on the altar in the Temple. This infuriated the Jews and with the help of the Maccabee family, they staged a revolt that allowed them to gain their independence from the Seleucids. Hanukkah is a holiday that has ties to this battle during the rebellion. This is when the Jews established a fresh independent state of Israel.
Nearly 100 years later, the tides would then turn in 65 BC, as the Romans were successful in taking over Israel under the leadership of general Pompey, who then continued to ruled over the Jews. To learn more about the Maccabees, consider the eight facts listed below that may shed a bit of light on their existence:
1. In 167 BCE, a Seleucid named Antiochus became the trigger of the revolt of the Maccabees. The rebellion came as a response to the decrees issued in Judea that forbid the practice of the Jewish religion. A rura Jewish priest by the name of Mattathias rallied the people together to refuse the worship of Greek gods. With the help of his five sons, he led the revolt. One year later, Mattathias would die and his son Judah would take his place as the lead of the Jewish dissidents.
2. The Revolt of the Maccabees lasted from 167 BCE to 160 BCE.
3. In one of the many single battles that took place with the revolt, the Maccabean forces gained a reputation in the eyes of the Syrian army because of their use of guerrilla warfare.
4. Once victory was theirs, the Maccabees made their way to Jerusalem, where they cleansed the Temple and reestablished Jewish worship. Jonathan Maccabee was made High Priest at the time.
5. After their victory, internal unrest emerged. The Maccabees became divided as to what they should do next. Some believed that they should continue to fight and possibly establish themselves more strongly in other regions since they had enjoyed such success against the Seleucids. However, those who followed the goal of Mattathias saw the war as a way to fight for their religious freedom. Once they ended the oppression of the Seleucids, fighting was no longer seen as an option. Conflict erupted and a division took place: the Pharisees and Sadducees.
6. Judah Maccabee was one who was interested in continuing the war in an attempt to gain national recognition and identity. When he died in battle in 160 BCE, his younger brother (Jonathan), a High Priest at that time, took over as commander of the army.
7. During Jonathan’s time in charge, he established treaties with a variety of foreign states. This resulted in angering others who were more interested in gaining religious freedom rather than gaining political power.
8. When Jonathan died in 142 BCE, the last surviving son of Mattathias (Simon), took over. Simon is responsible for founding the Hasmonean dynasty. While Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BCE, the Hasmonean dynasty didn’t actually end until 37 BCE.