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The Maccabees uprising , field of view on the great Knesset menorah

The Maccabees were the leaders of a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire and the indigenous groups it supported. After their victory they established the royal and high priestly family of the Hasmoneans and fought for a hereditary rule over the Jews for a hundred years (165 BC to 63 BC). The Jewish Hanukkah festival goes back to the events of that time.

The Maccabees Revolt

The history of the uprising

Even if the sources, above all the two Maccabees and Flavius ​​Josephus , interpret the rise of the Maccabees as a Jewish struggle for freedom against the Macedonian rule, the events from 168 to 164 BC can still be understood. Chr., Also interpret as civil war . The reports in the Bible and with Flavius ​​Josephus describe the events from the point of view of the later victors and are therefore, as recent research has shown, only partially trustworthy. In this conflict, those Jews, who were supported by the Macedonian Seleucids, faced another group that saw itself excluded from power and eventually rose by force under the leadership of the Maccabees.

In the third century BC The Seleucids and Ptolemies fought bitterly for control of Palestine, resulting in the formation of a pro-Seleucid party and a pro-Ptolemaic party within Judaism, led by the Oniads and the Tobiads , respectively. Even at this time, parts of the Jewish elite seem to have adopted the Greek way of life, even if the biblical report suggests otherwise: traditional priest schools and Hellenistic institutions such as gymnasium and ephebeion coexisted in Jerusalem at that time. The Tobiade Hyrkanos was finally driven out by his domestic political opponents and retired to today's Jordan, where he had his own sanctuary built for Yahweh. When the Seleucid king Antiochus III. around 200 BC In the 5th century BC , when the Ptolemies finally defeated the Ptolemies and finally took Koilesyria from them, the Jewish priestly state also came under Seleucid suzerainty. The kings soon became involved in the internal Jewish power struggles: During the reign of Antiochus IV , who had great need for taxpayers' money, a Hellenized Jew named Jason, brother of the then high priest Onias III, turned to the king to get him the post of the high priest. This office had become hereditary, probably under Egyptian influence, and was also politically very influential. Jason replaced his brother in office after promising Antiochus an increase in annual tributes. He and his party apparently pushed hard for the Hellenization of Jerusalem and the Jewish elite.

But the power struggles did not abate. 172 BC Another Hellenized Jew named Menelaus, who did not belong to the high priestly dynasty of the Oniads, bought the high priesthood from Antiochus IV and expelled Jason. It was also he who repeatedly allowed Antiochus, who was particularly burdened by reparations payments to Rome, to plunder the Jerusalem temple treasures .

When Antiochus in 168 BC BC was on a campaign against Egypt and the rumor arose that he had fallen, Jason returned to Jerusalem and tried to regain his old position by force. Antiochus, returning from Egypt, interpreted this as a revolt against his rule, conquered Jerusalem and, according to the Bible, built a fortified military settlement, the Akra (Greek for "fortress"), near him. In addition, according to the Bible, he forbade the practice of the Jewish cult in the city, which he perhaps regarded as a symbol of resistance, and converted the Jerusalem temple into a sanctuary for Zeus : as part of an Interpretatio Graeca , the god YHWH , who was nameless to the Greeks, now became probably equated with Zeus. But this denied the uniqueness of the Jewish god, which provoked many conservative Jews. The Jewish cult practice was apparently not replaced by the Greek one, but rather by a Western Semitic one, in which God was worshiped not through a cult image but in the form of a holy stone. In doing so, the Seleucids are likely to have complied with the wishes of many locals, while others were provoked.

Antiochus, who was primarily concerned with pacifying the eternal trouble spot that Palestine had become due to the internal Jewish conflicts, relied on those members of the local elite who wanted to rule over their fellow citizens with his support and demanded as a sign of the Loyalty probably also sacrifices for the royal family, as in the Seleucid Empire at least since Antiochus III. was common practice ( ruler's cult ). However, the fact that pork was also sacrificed was provocative in the eyes of many people. It is unclear whether the initiative for this really came from Antiochus, or whether it was his supporters in Jerusalem who were behind the action.

The beginning of the uprising - Judas Maccabeus

The religious edict of Antiochus IV provoked the old elites, who were now excluded from power, even more, but also aroused the displeasure of the rural population , which was hardly affected by Hellenism . Many aristocrats who were enemies with the ruling Seleucid party therefore withdrew to the countryside and incited the population, who suffered from the high tax burden. After one of these aristocrats, a Jewish priest named Mattatias of the Hasmonean dynasty , was asked to sacrifice for Antiochus in his hometown Modiʿin , he stabbed a Jew who was about to make the sacrifice and slew the Seleucid messenger ( 1 Makk 2, 26  EU ). Then he retired to the desert with his sons and some loyal followers. His act marked an open break with the Seleucids.

When he died a year later, his son Judas , nicknamed Maccabeus (from Aramaic Makkaba , the hammer) took over the leadership of the uprising. Using guerrilla tactics , he succeeded in defeating several small armies of the Seleucids, while Antiochus IV himself was waging a war in the east of his empire. Judas also led campaigns in areas of neighboring tribes, which, however, probably did not yet have the character of campaigns of conquest. The conflict was highly religious because, in order to distance themselves from their Jewish enemies, the Maccabees presented themselves as radical Jews and carried out extensive forced circumcision .

Eventually, Judas even managed to take Jerusalem and cleanse the desecrated temple again. This event is still commemorated today during the Hanukkah festival . His struggle benefited from the fact that Antiochus IV. Died and a fight for the guardianship of his young son Antiochus V broke out among his generals . This fight ended, however, when Demetrios , a nephew of Antiochus IV, returned from Rome, had his little cousin murdered and himself ascended the Seleucid throne. He continued the war against the Maccabees and supported the Jewish opponents of the Maccabees. When Judas 160 BC Died in the fight against Demetrios' general Bakchides, this was a heavy blow to the cause of the rebels.

Seleucid Thrones and Triumph of the Maccabees - Jonathan and Simon

After Judas' death, his brother Jonathan became the leader of the uprising. He benefited from the fact that Demetrios I was no longer the undisputed ruler of the Seleucid Empire, but was threatened by the usurper Alexander Balas . Both pretenders to the throne now turned to Jonathan and tried to get him to their side with concessions. Alexander Balas even made him high priest. The usurper was finally able to prevail, but shortly afterwards succumbed to Demetrios' son Demetrios II. The fight for the throne was now continued by him and General Diodotos Tryphon , which further strengthened Jonathan’s position. This did not change either when Tryphon was able to capture Jonathan in Akko through betrayal and had him murdered. With Simon , the last of the Mattatias sons became leader of the revolt and high priest. Simon finally succeeded in eliminating the last symbol of Seleucid rule in Judea with the Akra . Under his son John Hyrcanus I , there were again fights with the Seleucid king Antiochus VII . Ended with a peace treaty. After that, the Seleucids were soon too weak to pursue an active policy outside of Syria. Without their support, the internal Jewish resistance against the Maccabees collapsed.

Judea under Judas Maccabeus
Judea under Jonathan
  • Situation in 160 BC Chr.
  • Conquered territory
  • Conquests of Simon

    Judea after the uprising

    After the death of John Hyrcanus I, the dynasty was continued by his son Aristobulus I , who assumed the title of king for the first time and combined this with the office of high priest. Now they opened up to those influences that had been demonized as un-Jewish during the war; Thus the kingship of the Hasmoneans bore clear features of the Hellenistic monarchy, but combined them with theocratic elements. The Hasmonean Empire pursued an active policy of conquest, which apparently also included forced conversions of the surrounding tribes to Judaism, and could continue until the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BC. To preserve its independence. The ruling dynasty, which from 63 BC Was only allowed to provide the high priests, found 37 BC. With the capture of Jerusalem by the Idumean Herod , a member of the family who was only married, her end.

    Maccabees or Hasmoneans?

    The name Maccabees is derived from Maccabees (from Aramaic Makkaba , the hammer), the nickname of the Mattatias son Judas , and is mostly used to denote members of this family during the time of the uprising. For the royal dynasty, which they founded, the name Hasmonean has become common, which is derived from the name of an ancestor of Mattatias , a certain 'Ασαμωνα .ος. The founding of the dynasty goes back to Simon, who assumed the offices of high priest and ethnarch of Judea in 141 BC. Were conferred by a popular assembly, which became hereditary among his descendants ( 1 Makk 14,41-49  EU ). His grandson Aristobulus I later also assumed the title of king, but not all of his descendants wore it. The descendants of the other Maccabees are to be distinguished from this dynasty, for example the historian Flavius ​​Josephus traced his descent back to Jonathan, the high priest and Maccabees.


    Death of Mattathias (1 Makk 2:50) and self-sacrifice of Eleazar (1 Makk 6:46). Relief around 1360 on the choir stalls in Bremen Cathedral

    The history of the Maccabees is presented in the deuterocanonical or apocryphal Old Testament books 1. Maccabees , 2. Maccabees and 4. Maccabees (the third book of Maccabees , despite its name, does not deal with the Maccabees). These sources used Flavius Josephus , the n. Chr in the 1st century. Lived, in his History of the Jewish War (gr. Ἱστορία Ἰουδαϊκοῦ πολέμου πρὸς Ῥωμαίους , lat. De bello Iudaico ) and Jewish Antiquities lat (. Antiquitates Judaicae , also under entitled Jewish Archeology known).

    The reception of the Maccabees story in literature and art of the Christian Middle Ages is only weak. Iconographic evidence focuses on Bible illustrations. The relief (fig.) On the choir stalls of Bremen Cathedral remained a special case. From the early 14th century onwards, Judas Maccabeus was part of the canon of the Nine Heroes, idealized in words and images . The Maccabees Shrine, a goldsmith's work from 1506/1527 in the St. Andrew's Church in Cologne, represents a discussion of the subject from a humanist perspective . It supposedly contains the bones of the 7 Maccabees and their mother. The representations on the shrine tell of the cruel martyrdom of the 7 brothers ( 2 MakkEU ), which is placed in parallel with the Passion of Christ.

    The subject was dealt with literarily and musically by

    Today many Jewish sports clubs around the world bear the name Maccabi in memory of the exploits of the Maccabees.

    The Catholic and Orthodox Churches venerate the seven brothers as saints (Memorial Day on August 1st).


    • Bezalel Bar-Kochva: Judas Maccabaeus. The jewish struggle against the Seleucids. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, ISBN 0-521-32352-5 .
    • Johannes Christian Bernhardt: The Jewish Revolution. Investigations into the causes, course and consequences of the Hasmonean survey (= Klio supplements. New series, volume 22). De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2017, ISBN 978-3-05-006481-9 .
    • Elias Bickermann : The God of the Maccabees. Investigations into the meaning and origin of the Maccabean uprising. Schocken, Berlin 1937 (English translation: Brill, Leiden 1979, ISBN 90-04-05947-4 ).
    • Klaus Bringmann : The persecution of the Jewish religion by Antiochus IV: A conflict between Judaism and Hellenism? In: Antike und Abendland Volume 26, 1980, pp. 176–190.
    • Thomas Fischer : Seleucids and Maccabees. Contributions to the history of the Seleucids and the political events in Judea during the 1st half of the 2nd century BC Chr. Brockmeyer, Bochum 1980, ISBN 3-88339-138-7 .
    • Andreas Hartmann: royalty and priestly rule. Sole rule in Judea during the Hasmonean period. In: Stefan Rebenich (ed.): Monarchische Herrschaft im Altertum , De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-11-046145-9 , pp. 341–361.
    • Sylvie Honigman: Tales of high prices and taxes. The books of the Maccabees and the judean rebellion against Antiochos IV. University of California Press, Berkeley 2014, ISBN 978-0-520-27558-4 .
    • Tessa Rajak: Hasmonean Kingship and the Invention of Tradition. Models of Jewish Kingship. In: Tessa Rajak (ed.): The Jewish Dialogue with Greece and Rome (= work on the history of ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Vol. 48). Brill, Leiden 2001, ISBN 90-04-11285-5 , pp. 39-60
    • Markus Sasse: History of Israel in the Second Temple Period. Historical events, archeology, social history, religious and intellectual history. 2nd Edition. Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2009, ISBN 978-3-7887-1999-9 .
    • Steven P. Weitzman: Surviving sacrilege. Cultural persistence in jewish antiquity. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2005, ISBN 978-0-674-01708-5 .
    • Friedrich Avemarie, Predrag Bukovec, Stefan Krauter, Michael Tilly (eds.): The Maccabees. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-16-153861-2 .

    Web links

    Wikisource: The Jewish War in German  - Sources and full texts


    1. Jan Assmann : Martyrdom, violence, immortality. The origins of a religious syndrome. In: Jan-Heiner Tück (Ed.): Dying for God - Killing for God? Religion, martyrdom and violence. Herder Verlag, Freiburg i. Br. 2015, ISBN 978-3-451-34264-6 , pp. 122-147 ( [1] on
    2. See Johannes Christian Bernhardt : The Jewish Revolution. Investigations into causes, course and consequences of the Hasmonean uprising De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2017, ISBN 978-3-05-006481-9 , for example p. 468.
    3. See Bernd Schipper : History of Israel in antiquity . Munich 2018, p. 101.
    4. Menahem Stern : The Time of the Second Temple . In: Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people. Volume 1: From the beginning to the 7th century . Munich 1978, pp. 229-273, here p. 251.
    5. See Stern 1978, p. 253. According to recent research, however , the Akra had already been established under the Ptolemies; see. Schipper 2018, p. 99f.
    6. See Schipper 2018, p. 106: "Contrary to what is shown in the Bible, Antiochus' measures. IV. Were not primarily oriented towards religious policy. He was not concerned with the containment of the Jewish religion or the abolition of the Yahweh cult, but about pacifying a constant source of unrest. "
    7. 1. Makk. 1.57.
    8. Stern 1978, p. 257.
    9. Jan Assmann: Martyrdom, violence, immortality. The origins of a religious syndrome. In: Jan-Heiner Tück (Ed.): Dying for God - Killing for God? Religion, martyrdom and violence. Herder Verlag, Freiburg i. Br. 2015, 122–147, here: p. 136.
    10. Menahem Stern: The Time of the Second Temple . In: Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people , Volume 1: From the beginnings to the 7th century . Munich 1978, pp. 229-273, here p. 259.
    11. Menahem Stern: The Time of the Second Temple . In: Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people , Volume 1: From the beginnings to the 7th century . Munich 1978, pp. 229-273, here p. 262.
    12. Menahem Stern: The Time of the Second Temple . In: Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people , Volume 1: From the beginnings to the 7th century . Munich 1978, pp. 229-273, here p. 265.
    13. Menahem Stern: The Time of the Second Temple . In: Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people , Volume 1: From the beginnings to the 7th century . Munich 1978, pp. 229-273, here p. 267.
    14. ^ Kai Trampedach : Between Hellenistic Monarchy and Jewish Theocracy. The Contested Legitimacy of Hasmonean Rule. In: Nino Luraghi (Ed.): The Splendors and Miseries of Ruling Alone. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2013, pp. 231–259.
    15. Flavius ​​Josephus, Jüdische Antiquities 11,111; 12.1 and more.
    16. Klaus-Dietrich Schunck:  Maccabees / Maccabees books . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 21, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1991, ISBN 3-11-012952-3 , p. 736.
    17. Flavius ​​Josephus, Vita 2.
    18. Dieter Richter : The story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers (2 Makk. 7) in the Western tradition , in: Avemarie (see lit.), pp. 361–378.
    19. A good overview of the entire history of reception is provided by: Hans Kloft : Die Maccabees - History and Memory , in: From Magna Graecia to Asia Minor. Festschrift for Linda-Marie Günther, Wiesbaden, 2017. pp. 350–364.