It’s always intriguing to hear one’s own religious stories through an objective, historical filter.
Several years ago, my favorite podcast, “In Our Time,” focused on Judas Maccabeus, or Judah Maccabee. While I knew the basic plot — Antiochus tried to ban Judaism and the Maccabees resisted — my Chanukah celebrations have been focused more on sufganiyot and latkes. Here’s some of what I learned (which you may already know!).
After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided — the Seleucids in the north and the Ptolemies in the South. Judea was caught between two warring superpowers, but eventually came under Seleucid control.
According to Greek historian Polybius, Antiochus IV who adopted the title “Epiphanes,” was mocked as “Epimanes,” which means “the mad one.”
There were different divisions of Jewish priests, and some welcomed the Hellenist ways. Many Jews were already Hellenized. The trigger to the story was when Mattityahu, a priest from the Jehoairib tribe, stabbed a priest who was prepared to offer a sacrifice on an altar outside of Jerusalem (sacrifices were only permitted in the Temple).
The Maccabees provided leadership in a guerilla war against the Seleucids that was already underway.
Following the rededication of the Temple, Judah continued fighting, and began acting like a head of state. He was a military genius, and the Hasmonean empire, which he founded, was the only Jewish state between King David and 1948.
Had the Maccabees been unsuccessful, Judaism might have ceased to exist, which means Christianity and Islam would never have been founded, making the Maccabean revolt a largely unrecognized watershed moment for global civilization.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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