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December 06, 2021

The Story of the Maccabees

It was 167 BC, Mattathias the Hasmonean was a Jew and he was furious. The king who reigned over the region had sent his officers to Mattathias’s hometown in Judea. The officers were trying to force Mattathias, his five sons, and their neighbors to perform sacrifices to their gods. When another Jew stepped forward to make the sacrifice, Mattathias killed him on the altar. The king’s officer was next. Finally, Mattathias tore down the altar. The Hasmonean Revolt was born. Over a century earlier, Hellenistic forces had taken control of Judea and forced their culture and religion upon the people. According to the first book of Maccabees, one of the Hellenistic kings defiled the temple, forbade circumcision, and even set up altars to his gods. Some Jews went along with the changes. Others, like Mattathias, fought to remain faithful to the Law. The revolt is also known by the name Maccabee, after the most renowned of Mattathias’s sons, Judah the Maccabee (which means “Judah the hammer”). When Mattathias died, two years into the revolt, his sons carried on. In the end, the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and regained their freedom. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the restoration of the temple. The family of Mattathias and Judah ruled until the rise of the Herods in 63 BC. The Maccabean revolt was seared into Jewish memory. It shaped the way first-century Jews thought about foreign powers and faithfulness to the Law.

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