Judas Maccabeus is the Patron of the Maccabee Society. His name in Hebrew יהודה המכבי (pronounced Yhudhah Ha-Makabi) means “Judah the Hammer.” He died in 160 BC.
His Childhood and Family
Judah was the third son of Mattathias the Hasmonean, a Jewish priest from the village of Modiin.
In 167 BC, Mattathias and his five sons Judah, Eleazar, Simon, John, and Jonathan initiated a political rebellion against the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who since 175 BC had issued decrees that forbade religious practices instituted by Moses.
After Mattathias died in 166 BC, Judah assumed leadership of the revolt in accordance with the deathbed disposition of his father. His success in war earned him the name Ha-Makabi or “the Hammer.”
Judah’s success relates to his choice of guerrilla warfare against the Seleucid armies.
Battle of Nahal el-Haramia
At the battle of Nahal el-Haramiah, he defeated a small Seleucid force under the command of Apollonius, governor of Samaria, who was killed. Judah took possession of Apollonius’s sword and used it until his death as a symbol of vengeance. After Nahal el-Haramiah, Jewish recruits flocked to the Maccabean cause.
Judah routed a larger Seleucid army under the command of Seron near Beth-Horon, largely thanks to a good choice of battlefield.
Battle of Emmaus
Judah proceeded to defeat the Seleucid forces led by generals Nicanor and Gorgias. This force was dispatched by Lysias, whom Antiochus left as viceroy after departing on a campaign against the Parthians. By a forced night march, Judah succeeded in eluding Gorgias, who had intended to attack and destroy the Jewish forces in their camp with his cavalry. While Gorgias was searching for him in the mountains, Judah made a surprise attack upon the Seleucid camp and defeated the Seleucid at the Battle of Emmaus. The Seleucid commander had no alternative but to withdraw to the coast.
Liberation of Jerusalem in 164 BC
After his defeat at Emmaus, Lysias assembled a new and larger army and marched with it on Judea from the south via Idumea. Judah dispersed his foes from Jerusalem, except for the garrison in the citadel of Acra. He purified the defiled Temple of Jerusalem and on the 25th of Kislev (December 14, 164 BC) restored the service in the Temple. The reconsecration of the Temple became a permanent Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, which continued even after the Temple was destroyed in AD 70.
Upon hearing the news that the Jewish communities in Gilead, Transjordan, and Galilee were under attack by neighboring Greek cities, Judah immediately went to their aid. Judah sent his brother, Simeon, to Galilee at the head of 3,000 men; Simeon proceeded to successfully fulfill his task, achieving numerous victories and transplanted a substantial portion of the Jewish settlements, including women and children, to Judea.
Judah defeated the Transjordanian tribes and rescued the Jews concentrated in fortified towns in Gilead. The Jewish population of the areas taken by the Maccabees was evacuated to Judea. At the conclusion of the fighting in Transjordan, Judah turned against the Edomites in the south, captured and destroyed Hebron and Maresha. He then marched on the coast of the Mediterranean, destroyed the altars and statues of the pagan gods in Ashdod, and returned to Judea with much spoils.
Judah laid siege to the Seleucid garrison at the Acra, the Seleucid citadel of Jerusalem. The besieged, who included not only Syrian-Greek troops but also Hellenistic Jews, appealed for help to Lysias, who effectively became the regent of the young king Antiochus V Eupator after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes at the end of 164 BCE during the Parthian campaign. Lysias together with Eupator set out for a new campaign in Judea. Lysias skirted Judea as he had done in his first campaign, entering it from the south, and besieged Beth-Zur. Judah raised the siege of the Acra and went to meet Lysias.
In the Battle of Beth-Zechariah, south of Bethlehem, the Seleucids achieved their first major victory over the Maccabees, and Judah was forced to withdraw to Jerusalem. Beth-Zur was compelled to surrender and Lysias reached Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. The defenders found themselves in a precarious situation because their provisions were exhausted, it being a sabbatical year during which the fields were left uncultivated. However, just as capitulation seemed imminent, Lysias and Eupator had to withdraw when Antiochus Epiphanes’s commander-in-chief Philip, whom the late ruler appointed regent before his death, rebelled against Lysias and was about to enter Antioch and seize power.
Lysias extended a peaceful settlement, which was concluded at the end of 163 BC. The terms of peace were based on the restoration of religious freedom, the permission for the Jews to live in accordance with their own laws, and the official return of the Temple to the Jews.
The Roman-Jewish Alliance
The Roman-Jewish Treaty was an agreement made between Judah Maccabee and the Roman Republic in 161 BC according to 1 Maccabees 8:17-20 and Josephus. It was the first recorded contract between the Jewish people and the Romans.
Death of Judas Maccabeus
In the Battle of Elasa, Judah and those who remained faithful to him were killed. His body was taken by his brothers from the battlefield and buried in the family sepulchre at Modiin. The death of Judah Maccabee in 160 BC stirred the Jews to renewed resistance. After several additional years of war under the leadership of two of Mattathias’ other sons Jonathan and Simon, the Jews finally achieved independence and the liberty to worship freely.
Legacy of Judas Maccabeus
Judas Maccabeus and the men that fought with him have been revered as men who fought valiantly to defend the customs, tradition, and God-given religion of their ancestors and people. We now live in a time similar to that of the Maccabean men. Our culture, tradition, customs, laws, and religion are mocked and restricted. It is time to fight for a restoration of all things under Christ.
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