In this scholarly article, we are going to look at a brief history of those who were referred to as the Maccabees.
Before we answer the question, who were the Maccabees, we are going to look at the meaning of Macabee in Hebrew.
After that, we will move on to see who is Judas Maccabeus, and what did he do in the Maccabees era.
What does Maccabee mean in Hebrew?
Maccabee has its origin in Aramaic and is usually a name given to boys, but the real meaning of Maccabee is “hammer”.
Also possibly from a Hebrew phrase meaning “Who is like unto thee among the gods, oh Lord!”
This was the surname of a group of Jewish leaders who overthrew Syrian rule in the century before Christ. It is during this struggle that the Hannukah story took place.
Who were the Maccabees?
For more than two hundred and fifty years after the Jews returned from exile, the Ptolemaic Kings had permitted them to practice their religion freely.
And for that reason, the Jews were able to observe the Mosaic law as Ezra taught it to them.
But when Antiochus the Fourth, the Seleucids king of Syria came to the throne in 175 BC, he pressed the Jews to surrender their ancient religion and follow Greek ways.
But when the Jews resisted his policies, riots, and massacres began.
The Jewish religion was forbidden and the Greek religion was enforced.
Prostitutes were brought into the temple, and Jewish ceremonies, especially circumcision, were prohibited.
The most offensive of all was when the Torah was openly burnt.
Who is Judas Maccabeus and what did he do?
In 163 BC, the rebellion against the Seleucid’s rule greatly broke out and was led by an aged priest named Mattathias, alongside his four sons.
Judas Maccabeus was their leader, and together they are known as the Maccabees. Meaning “men who fought violently”.
In 141 BC, the Jews gained a complete victory over their Seleucid enemies, and for the first time since 586 BC, Israel again became an independent nation.
But her freedom lasted for only eighty years because, in 63 BC, the civil war in Palestine paved the way for the Romans to establish their authority over her.
Thus, Israel was semi-independent for nearly sixty years, since her rulers were appointed by Rome.
In 37 BC, Herod, known as Herod the Great, became King with Rome’s approval. And it was during his reign that Jesus was born.
After Herod’s death, the kingdom was divided among his sons.
Archelaus received Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Herod Antipas received Galilee and Perea. While Phillip received the area Northeast of Galilee.
In AD 6, Archelaus was deposed and sent to exile because of misconduct. His area became a Roman province and was governed by Roman procurators.
From AD 26 to 36, the procurator of Judea was a Roman known as Pontious Pilate.