1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maccabees
MACCABEES, the name (in the plural) of a distinguished Jewish family dominant in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C. According to 1 Macc. ii. 4, the name Maccabaeus (Gr. Μακκαβῖος–? Heb. מקבי) was originally the distinctive surname of Judas, third son of the Jewish priest Mattathias, who struck the first blow for religious liberty during the persecution under Antiochus IV. (Epiphanes). Subsequently, however, it obtained a wider significance, having been applied first to the kinsmen of Judas, then to his adherents, and ultimately to all champions of religion in the Greek period. Thus the mother of the seven brethren, whose martyrdom is related in 2 Macc. vi., vii., is called by early Christian writers “the mother of the Maccabees.” The name is used still more loosely in the titles of the so-called Third, Fourth and Fifth Books of Maccabees. It is now customary to apply it only to the sons and descendants of Mattathias. As, however, according to Josephus (Ant. xii. 6. 1), this brave priest’s great-great-grandfather was called Ḥasmon (i.e. “rich” = magnate; cf. Ps. lxviii. 31 ), the family is more correctly designated by the name of Hasmonaeans or Asmoneans (q.v.). This name Jewish authors naturally prefer to that of Maccabees; they also style 1 and 2 Macc. “Books of the Hasmonaeans.”
If Maccabee (maqqābi) is the original form of the name, the most probable derivation is from the Aramaic maqqābā (Heb. מקבת, Judg. iv. 21, &c.) = “hammer.” The surname “hammerer” might have been applied to Judas either as a distinctive title pure and simple or symbolically as in the parallel case of Edward I., “Scotorum malleus.” Even if māqqāba does denote the ordinary workman’s hammer, and not the great smith’s hammer which would more fitly symbolize the impetuosity of Judas, this is not a fatal objection. The doubled k of the Greek form is decisive against (1) the theory that the name Maccabee was made up of the initials of the opening words of Exod. xv. ii; (2) the derivation from מכבי = “extinguisher” (cf. Isa. xliii. 17), based by Curtiss (The Name Machabee, Leipzig, 1876) on the Latin spelling Machabaeus = Μακκαβῖος, which Jerome probably adopted in accordance with the usage of the times.
The Maccabaean revolt was caused by the attempt of Antiochus IV. (Epiphanes), king of Syria (175–164 B.C.), to force Hellenism upon Judaea (see Seleucid Dynasty; Hellenism). Ever since the campaigns of Alexander the Great, Greek habits and ideas had been widely adopted in Palestine. Over the higher classes especially Hellenism had cast its spell. This called forth the organized opposition of the Ḥasīdīm (= “the pious”), who constituted themselves champions of the Law. Joshua, who headed the Hellenistic faction, graecized his name into Jason, contrived to have the high-priesthood taken from his brother Onias III., and conferred upon himself, and set up a gymnasium hard by the Temple. After three years’ tenure of office Jason was supplanted by the Benjamite Menelaus, who disowned Judaism entirely. Antiochus punished an outburst of strife between the rivals by plundering the Temple and slaying many of the inhabitants (170 B.C.). Two years later Jerusalem was devastated by his general Apollonius, and a Syrian garrison occupied the citadel (Akra). The Jews were ordered under pain of death to substitute for their own observances the Pagan rites prescribed for the empire generally. In December 168 sacrifice was offered to Zeus upon an idol altar (“the abomination of desolation,” Dan. x. 27) erected over the great altar of burnt-offering. But Antiochus had miscalculated, and by his extreme measures unwittingly saved Judaism from its internal foes. Many hellenizers rallied round those who were minded to die rather than abjure their religion. The issue of an important edict ordaining the erection of heathen altars in every township of Palestine, and the appointment of officers to deal with recusants, brought matters to a crisis. At Modin, Mattathias, an aged priest, not only refused to offer the first sacrifice, but slew an apostate Jew who was about to step into the breach. He also killed the king’s commissioner and pulled down the altar. Having thus given the signal for rebellion, he then with his five sons took to the mountains. In view of the ruthless slaughter of a thousand sabbatarians in the wilderness, Mattathias and his friends decided to resist attack even on the sabbath. Many, including the Ḥasīdīm, thereupon flocked to his standard, and set themselves to revive Jewish rites and to uproot Paganism from the land. In 166 Mattathias died, after charging his sons to give their lives for their ancestral faith, and nominating Judas Maccabaeus as their leader in the holy campaign.
The military genius of Judas made this the most stirring chapter in Israelitish history. In quick succession he overthrew the Syrian generals Apollonius, Seron and Gorgias, and after the regent Lysias had shared the same fate at his hands he restored the Temple worship (165). These exploits dismayed his opponents and kindled the enthusiasm of his friends. When, however, Lysias returned in force to renew the contest, Judas had to fall back upon the Temple mount, and escaped defeat only because the Syrian leader was obliged to hasten back to Antioch in order to prevent a rival from seizing the regency. Under these circumstances Lysias unexpectedly guaranteed to the Jews their religious freedom (162). But though they had thus gained their end, the struggle did not cease; it merely assumed a new phase. The Ḥasīdīm indeed were satisfied, and declined to fight longer, but the Maccabees determined not to desist until their nation was politically as well as religiously free. In 161 Judas defeated Nicanor at Adasa, but within a few weeks thereafter, in a heroic struggle against superior numbers under Bacchides at Elasa, he was himself cut off. Even this, however, did not prove fatal to the cause which Judas had espoused. If in his brother Jonathan it did not possess so brilliant a soldier, it had in him an astute diplomatist who knew how to exploit the internal troubles of Syria. In the contest between Demetrius I. and Alexander Balas for the throne, Jonathan supported the latter, who in 153 nominated him high priest, and conferred on him the order of “King’s Friend,” besides other honours. After the accession of Demetrius II. (145) Jonathan contrived to win his favour, and helped him to crush a rebellion in Antioch on condition that the Syrian garrisons should be withdrawn from Judaea. When, however, Demetrius failed to keep his word, Jonathan transferred his allegiance to Antiochus VI., whom Tryphon had crowned as king. After subjugating the territory between Jerusalem and Damascus, he routed the generals of Demetrius on the plain of Hazor. But as the Maccabees had now in the name of the Syrians cleared the Syrians out of Palestine, Tryphon’s jealousy was aroused, and he resolved to be rid of Jonathan, who, with all his cunning, walked into a trap at Ptolemais, was made prisoner and ultimately slain (143). The leadership now devolved upon Simon, the last survivor of the sons of Mattathias. He soon got the better of Tryphon, who vainly tried to reach Jerusalem. Allying himself to Demetrius, Simon succeeded in negotiating a treaty whereby the political independence of Judaea was at length secured. The garrison in the Akra having been starved into submission, Simon triumphantly entered that fortress in May 142. In the following year he was by popular decree invested with absolute powers, being appointed leader, high priest and ethnarch. As these offices were declared hereditary in his family, he became the founder of the Hasmonaean dynasty. The first year of his reign (Seleucid year 170 = 143–142 B.C.) was made the beginning of a new era, and the issue of a Jewish coinage betokened the independence of his sovereignty. Under Simon’s administration the country enjoyed signal prosperity. Its internal resources were assiduously developed; trade, agriculture, civic justice and religion were fostered; while at no epoch in its post-exilic history did Israel enjoy an equal measure of social happiness (I Macc. xiv. 4 seq.). Simon’s beneficent activities came, however, to a sudden and tragic end. In 135 he and two of his sons were murdered by Ptolemy, his son-in-law, who had an eye to the supreme power. But Simon’s third son, John Hyrcanus, warned in time, succeeded in asserting his rights as hereditary head of the state. All the sons of Mattathias had now died for the sake of “The Law”; and the result of their work, so valorously prosecuted for over thirty years, was a new-born enthusiasm in Israel for the ancestral faith. The Maccabaean struggle thus gave fresh life to the Jewish nation.
After the death of Antiochus VII. Sidetes in 128 left him a free hand, Hyrcanus (135–105) soon carved out for himself a large and prosperous kingdom, which, however, was rent by internal discord owing to the antagonism developed between the rival parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Hyrcanus was succeeded by his son Aristobulus, whose reign of but one year was followed by that of his brother, the warlike Alexander Jannaeus (104–78). The new king’s Sadducean proclivities rendered him odious to the populace, which rose in revolt, but only to bring upon itself a savage revenge. The accession of his widow Salome Alexandra (78–69) witnessed a complete reversal of the policy pursued by Jannaeus, for she chose to rule in accordance with the ideals of the Pharisees. Her elder son, Hyrcanus II., a pliable weakling, was appointed high priest; her younger son, the energetic Aristobulus, who chafed at his exclusion from office, seized some twenty strongholds and with an army bore down upon Jerusalem. At this crisis Alexandra died, and Hyrcanus agreed to retire in favour of his masterful brother. A new and disturbing element now entered into Jewish politics in the person of the Idumaean Antipater, who for selfish ends deliberately made mischief between the brothers. An appeal to M. Aemilius Scaurus, who in 65 came into Syria as the legate of Pompey, led to the interference of the Romans, the siege of Jerusalem by Pompey, and the vassalage of the Jews (q.v.). Hyrcanus II. was appointed high priest and ethnarch, without the title of king (63). Repeated but fruitless attempts were made by the Hasmonaeans and their patriotic supporters to throw off the Roman yoke. In 47 Antipater, who curried favour with Rome, was made procurator of Judaea, and his sons Phasael and Herod governors of Jerusalem and Galilee respectively. Six years later the Idumaean brothers were appointed tetrarchs of Judaea. At length, in 40, the Parthians set up as king Antigonus, sole surviving son of Aristobulus. Thereupon Phasael committed suicide in prison, but Herod effected his escape and with the help of the Romans seated himself on the throne of Judaea (37 B.C.). Through the execution of Antigonus by M. Antonius (Mark Antony) the same year the Hasmonaean dynasty became extinct.
Literature.—1 and 2 Macc. and Josephus are the main sources for the Maccabaean history. For references in classical authors see E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (1901, p 106 seq.). Besides the numerous modern histories of Israel (e.g. those by Dérenbourg, Ewald, Stanley, Stade, Renan, Schürer, Kent, Wellhausen, Guthe), see also Madden, Coins of the Jews (1881), H. Weiss’s Judas Makkabaeus (1897), and the articles in the Ency. Bib., Hastings’s Dict. Bible, the Jewish Encyclopedia. Among more popular sketches are Moss’s From Malachi to Matthew (1893); Streanes’ The Age of the Maccabees (1898); Morrison’s The Jews under Roman Rule (“Story of the Nations” series); W. Fairweather’s From the Exile to the Advent (1901); E. R. Bevan’s Jerusalem under the High Priests (1904); F. Henderson’s The Age of the Maccabees (1907); also, articles Jews; Seleucid Dynasty. (W. F.*)