Simon, the last Hasmonean brother
The End of an Era
After two years of relative peace, the troubles began again. They comprised of tedious and exhausting civil wars between the forces of the Hebraic Jews and the Hellenists, and even more tedious and exhausting trouble among the rulers and usurpers of the throne in Syria. King Demetrius, on the advice of the Hellenists, sent Bacchides to fight with Jonathan again, but both warriors were tired of the endless skirmishes. Surprisingly, they made a pact of peace and an exchange of prisoners. Some sources say that Bacchides was so fed up with the endless plots of the Hellenistic Jews that he seized and killed fifty of their leaders. At any rate, he left Judea alone and Jonathan ruled for some years, making deals with the various Greek-Syrian leaders and changing sides as needed. He also kept the treaties with the Romans, started by Judah Maccabee. But at such times, nothing lasts for long, and eventually he was ambushed and killed. Simon, the last of the brothers, took his place as the Commander of the Jews.
Simon was no longer a young man, but even though he really lost the wish to fight, he had no choice. Helped by his sons, now grown men and able commanders in the army, he completed the liberation of Judea, accepted the position of high priest and governor, and solidified the peace treaties with both the Syrians and the Romans. He ruled quite successfully for seven years, from 142 B.C.E. to 135 B.C.E. Again, the good times would not last. His son-in-law plotted against him and succeeded in murdering him and two of his sons.
Could Anyone Take Judah Maccabee's Place?
The shock of Judah's death reverberated throughout Judea. Today, it is hard for us to understand the depth of despair his followers, and particularly his brothers, succumbed to. They could not bring themselves to select a new High Priest. They did not have anyone whose charisma could create such fury, such fearlessness, that the army could win a battle against a force ten times their number, so they did not choose a commander in chief. And worst, they lost a guiding light, a symbol of freedom. The three brothers could perhaps be great leaders, but none of them had this undefined quality of a demigod, a mythological hero that Judah had even during his life time.
And so the war for freedom changed into something else. Many Jews were still willing to sacrifice their lives to free themselves from the Greek-Syrians, but the Hellenistic faction grew much stronger. A severe famine that followed Judah's death did not improve the people's mood. At times like that, people's faith is severely tested, and a large number of Jews lost theirs and deserted to the Greek-Syrians whose
lifestyle certainly had an appeal of comfort and ease that did not exist under the strict rules of the Hebraic Jews. General Bacchides knew this was the time to act, and he gathered many of the Jews who had given up the customs of their country and had chosen the kind of life common to other nations. Cleverly, he entrusted to them the government of Judea. Had it stayed like that, it would have been easy to understand and even accept. But the Hellenist Jews chose to do something truly horrible and unexpected.
A landscape in the Judean hills
The End of the Beginning
With his brother dead, surrounded by the enemy, Judah decided to retire to Jerusalem and prepare for a siege, defending the temple and the city against the Greek-Syrians. This was not his preferred way to fight since the Jews were better at the open field, where their fury could destroy the enemy. The limited space in the city dampened their spirit. Also, it was the worst time for them to be stuck in a long siege, since it was the “seventh year” in agricultural terms. During the seventh year the land lied fallow and nothing grew on it. This was one of the laws that were kept very scrupulously. From King James Bible: “But the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie still; that the poor of your people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your olive yard.” In addition to charity, it was a very sound and sustainable agricultural habit. But no matter how good it was in principle, Judah and his army had very limited provisions.
Antiochus went to Bethsura, near Jerusalem, and in a very short time took it and placed his own garrison there. This position gave him an easy reach to Jerusalem, and he started his siege. The forces were more or less matched. Antiochus set his artillery with engines and instruments to cast fire and stones, and pieces to cast darts and slings. But for every war engine he utilized, the Jews used another against it. They fought hard, but time was on Antiochus’s side, since the supplies were beginning to run very low indeed and the Jews experienced true famine. Many of Judah’s men managed to run away back to their homes, and the situation became desperate.
Death at the straits of Beth Zechariah
Naturally, no one believed it would last. How could it? Nevertheless, the nations around Judea began to feel uneasy about the victories of the Jews. They were concerned to such an extent that they resolved their own petty enmities and decided to join forces, and once and for all put a stop to Judah and his growing army. Judah fought them all, and won every time – and the list of his victories is
astounding. The Idumeans at Acrabattene lost many men and tremendous spoils. The Sons of Bean were besieged, their towers burned, and everyone inside the city was killed. The Ammonites’ commander, Timotheus, a man celebrated throughout his brilliant military career, was defeated, and Judas seized their city, Jazer, destroyed all the men, and took the women and children into captivity. He returned to Judea with the spoils.
The nations regrouped under Timotheus, and gathered around the area of the Gilead; they had an enormous army. They attacked the Jews that were on the borders, but many Jews managed to escape to the garrison of Dathema. Afraid for their lives, they sent an urgent message to Judah to come and save them since Timotheus was marching toward them. At the same time, more news arrived that the inhabitants of Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon banded together with renegade Jews and foreigners living in the Galilee and were ready to march on it as well. Judah had to save the Jews of the Galilee and the Gilead, but leaving Judea unattended was unthinkable. After much thought and consultations with his brothers and the other commanders, he decided that he had a big enough army to attempt fighting on both fronts, and still protect Judea, if he planned it carefully. First, he commanded his brother Simon to take three thousand chosen men, and go rescue the Jews of Galilee. Judah imself would go to the land of Gilead, accompanied by another brother, Jonathan, and eight thousand soldiers. He left Joseph ben Zacharias and Azarias, two commanders he trusted, to oversee the rest of his forces and keep Judea safe. One thing had to be clear – under no circumstances would Joseph and Azarias provoke a fight. They were allowed only defense.
Judah Maccabee Recaptures the Temple
When people talked of sounding the trumptes (such as the trumpets that destroyed the walls of Jerich) they meant the ram horns, as depicted in this picture. It is still used on the Jewish high holidays.
They were three thousand men; they had no horses and certainly no elephants. “Ill-armed by reason of their poverty,”Josephus emphasizes. So badly equipped that Judas found it necessary to repeat that they would win even if their fought with no clothes on their naked bodies. They believed him and followed him, but in truth they had no chance whatsoever to win. They needed a miracle – and what happened next might be considered a very real one. Against all reason or logic, the celebrated General Gorgias made a tactical mistake.
Instead of simply marching against the scruffy guerillas, Gorgias separated his soldiers into two groups. He took five thousand foot soldiers and one thousand cavalry soldiers, and employing some renegade Jews as guides, decided to attack Judah’s camp at night and simply slaughter everyone. Arriving there, he saw the camp was empty, and assumed they had escaped to the mountain, to conduct their guerilla
campaign from there. Naturally he went further to seek them.
Judah Maccabee and the Impossible Battles
While Antiochus Epiphanes was wasting his time in the pursuit of money that would allow him to conquer the unconquerable, back in Judea the old Hasmonean lion, Mattathias, said his last goodbyes, and the young lion, Judah Maccabee, rose to take his place. While not too many people could have stepped into Mattathias shoes, Judah Maccabee was eminently suitable for the job. He shared his father’s religious zeal that could override any other emotion – for example, as noted in the previous segment, both men were comfortable killing their own countrymen who succumbed to the Hellenistic lure. To this was added military genius that cannot be overemphasized. With absolutely no resources, he managed to defeat the Greek-Syrians again and again, winning battles against established armies that had ten times more soldiers and weapons than he did.
Part of his success depended on his uncanny ability to hypnotize his troops into fearlessness similar to his own. After an impossible victory against Apollonius, the governor of Samaria, where Judah killed Apollonius and symbolically adopted his sword as his own weapon, Seron, the governor of Coel-Syria, decided to attack him. Seron inflated his army by not only adding mercenaries, but many Jews who objected to the Hasmoneans. Then he marched on and camped by the village of Bethoron, not far from where Judas and his soldiers camped.
Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes in his later years
If you plan to murder, rape, and pillage on a large scale, you must make sure you have a balanced budget. Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes did not. It presented a serious problem, since the king was about to tackle Judah Maccabee. He was tired of the incompetence of his generals, who could not squash this gnat, this Jewish guerilla and his band of scruffy men, so he decided to engage the enemy himself. I will not weary you (yet) with all the battles Judah and his brothers already won, but I assure you that the number of soldiers he managed to destroy was inconceivable. Antiochus could not understand how it happened, partly because he was away, engaged in other battles when these events took place, and partly because he did not understand the nature of the Hasmonean revolt at all.