Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes ascended to the realm in 175BC, and Judaea's good relationship under the previous king deteriorated to the worst of times eight years later. Antiochus desired to raise taxes, and to consolidate his realm by Hellenizing the kingdom. This required that the unique Jewish practices be subordinated in favor of Greek culture, which was steeped in paganism, with practices such as (a) atheism — i.e. there was no one Father-like God of Love, (b) worship of man-made idols was fine, (c) public nudity was natural and wholesome and a tribute to the "gods", (d) having sex with multiple partners was also fine if you could manage it without one person insisting on that male-female "till death us do part" commitment. Man-made pleasure became the ultimate.
In 174BC he appointed Jason as a puppet high priest in Jerusalem, who introduced the gymnasium, a men's centre for nude sport, also a second centre for youths 16 and older. The priests and the elite Jews were attracted to it, thus changing their focus from the Temple to this pagan gymnasium. In 171BC a second puppet high priest, Menelaus, who was not from the high priestly lineage, won Antiochus's approval when he promised more money for the crown, derived from extortion of higher taxes, and then plundering the temple treasury in 169BC. Antiochus also settled foreigners into areas contiguous to Jerusalem, which increased tensions and conflicts between the Jewish people and their pagan neighbors. Many Jews fled Jerusalem and found freedom from Hellenism in the surrounding deserts, villages and countryside towns.
In 167BC, Antiochus issued a decree imposing a death sentence on those who observed the Sabbath or circumcised their children. Having built a fortress for his soldiers south of the Temple, called the Acra, he now placed a statue of Zeus in the Holy Place, and sacrificed a swine to it on the altar in mockery of the Jewish God. Over the next 3 years, many Jews joined a rebellion against Syria under the priestly Maccabee family.
In 164BC, following a guerrilla "hit and run" battle against Syrian General Lysias which was won by Judas Maccabee at Beth Zur, just north of Hebron, the Syrians were routed. In the month of Kislev (December), the temple was rededicated to God in the feast of Hanukkah (Dedication). At the same time King Antiochus IV died from bowel disease (according to
In 162 BC this boy king set out with General Lysias to retake Jerusalem. Menelaus, who was then living in Syria, was travelling with them, looking to retake his position as high priest. General Lysias pointed him out to the king as the source of all their problems with the Jews, and Menelaus was executed instead at Beroea (Aleppo). Following an unsuccessful attack upon Jerusalem, a temporary peace treaty was made between Syria and the Maccabees.
However, Demetrius I, son of an earlier king Seleucus IV and the nephew of Antiochus IV, appointed Alcimus to be the High Priest of Jerusalem. He arrived back from Rome in 161BC, and killed his young cousin, Antiochus V, also General Lysias. Demetrius then sent his General Bacchides to restore Alcimus in Jerusalem, defeating and killing Judas Maccabee in battle in 160BC.
Judas's brother Jonathan now became leader of the rebellion, and with his brother Simon waged war against Bacchides.
The Syrian puppet high priest Alcimus died in 159BC, while endeavouring to break down the Jewish wall between the Court of the Gentiles and the Inner Court.
Next in 153BC, as a result of a civil war that had arisen in Syria, Jonathan was pronounced to be High Priest in Jerusalem by a rival claimant to the Syrian throne, Alexander Balas, and all hostages that were held in the Acra were freed. However, the Syrian garrison remained in Jerusalem a short while longer.
In 150BC, Balas defeated and killed the rival king Demetrius I in battle. He reigned four years until he was defeated in a battle with the king of Egypt, in fact his father-in-law. Demetrius's young son, Demetrius II became the new king of Syria and married Balas's wife, Cleopatra, with Balas being killed shortly after.
Meanwhile in Judaea in 147BC the port city of Joppa was captured by Jonathan and his brother Simon, and by 143BC the two had captured much of the area surrounding Joppa and Jerusalem. But Jonathan was killed after being kidnapped for ransom by Syrian General Tryphon (despite the ransom being paid by Simon). Tryphon then returned to Syria, becoming a rival to the Syrian throne. In Judaea, Jonathan was succeeded by his brother Simon.
Simon and the start of the Hasmonean Dynasty c. 140BC
Simon retained his control over Judaea and c. May 142BC, captured the fortress of Acra. At the same time he requested freedom from taxation from Demetrius II, the youth by now about 18 years of age. The request was granted. Over the next few years, the Acra fortress was razed to the ground. The Roman Senate accorded the Jewish dynasty recognition c. 139BC, when a delegation from Simon was sent to Rome.
In 135BC Simon Maccabee was assassinated by a treacherous son-in-law, Ptolemy (son of Abubus), who had been appointed governor of Jericho by a new king of Syria, Antiochus VII, while the previous king Demetrius II was being held a prisoner in Parthia.
John Hyrcanus, son of Simon Maccabee, became the new leader in 134BC. In 132BC, Antiochus VII laid siege to Jerusalem, during which he granted a seven-day truce for the Jews to celebrate a religious festival. Following the festival John Hyrcanus opened King David's sepulchre and removed three thousand talents, which he paid to Antiochus to spare the city. After this peace treaty, a unit of Jewish military forces assisted Antiochus for a brief time, and for nearly 20 years after Antiochus VII died (in 129BC) John Hyrcanus refrained from attacking any area that was part of Syria. All in all it indicated a renewal of the friendly relations that had begun with Demetrius II.
In 113BC, now at peace with Syria, John Hyrcanus set out to enlarge his kingdom at their expense. He conquered Samaria to the north, having successfully taken parts of Transjordan. When he died in 104BC, his kingdom stretched from the Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, from the Mediterranean Sea in the west well into Transjordan in the east.
Ultimately, one of the final acts of Hyrcanus's life was in his will. Hyrcanus's wife was given control of civil authority after his death, and his son Judas Aristobulus was given the role of High Priest. (However, Aristobulus was not satisfied with this arrangement, so he cast his mother into prison and let her starve.)
After enjoying relative independence for 103 years, the Hasmonean dynasty started to spiritually and physically decline through a series of family rivalries, political ambition, greed, debauchery and interference by foreign powers, mainly Rome. In 63BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered the land of Israel, thus ending the Hasmonean sovereignty over the Land, and annexing the territory into the Roman Empire.
The last touch of Hasmonean presence was Mariamne, the second wife of Herod the Great, who ruled Judea from 37BC to 1BC. Ultimately, Herod, sick with paranoia and illusions, — and apparently with strong pressure coming from his sister Salome — caused Mariamne to be put on trial for alleged disloyalty. She was convicted and executed in 29BC. So ended the Hasmonean dynastic power.
Six decades later, Yeshua appeared in the Temple on the Feast of Hanukkah and responded to questions and accusations about his claim to be Messiah. He was there to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees and the preservation of the Jewish people. Although he did not come in the warlike might of Mattathias and Judah, like them he did come to liberate his people.
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