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    Judah the Maccabee

    Judah was the son of a kohen, Mattit’yahu (Mattathias) the Hasmonean of Modin, whose grandfather was Shimon Chashmonai. Chashmon may be from a place-name, Chashmon, a Judean city in the Negev (Joshua 15:27).

    Judah, the military leader and strategist in the struggle against the Syrians, was nicknamed Maccabee because his military ability was like Makkav, a hammer, or because his war cry was Mi Kamocha Ba’elim HaShem, the initials of which are M-K-B-I.

    At first avoiding open battle, Judah used small bands of men to harass the enemy and destroy the heathen altars. His success in Shomron (Samaria) forced the Syrians to give battle in the pass of Bet-Horon, north-west of Jerusalem.

    The Syrians now decided to take Judah seriously, but to little avail. Antiochus’ general, Nicanor, led 47,000 men into Palestine; Judah’s 3000 men, divided between him and his brother Elazar, defeated the enemy at Emmaus.

    Another Syrian force under Lysias came up from the south but Judah defeated them at Bet-Tzur, south-east of Jerusalem. The Maccabee group now recaptured the Temple on 25 Kislev.

    Most of the Judeans supported the Maccabees. Those who favoured appeasement were temporarily silenced as Judah continued his campaigns.

    He did not, however, always win. When he besieged Accra, a Syrian fortress in Jerusalem, an army of 120,000 (and 32 elephants) was sent against him; Judah was defeated, Elazar was killed, and Jerusalem was once again a tributary of Syria.

    When a hellenist priest from the appeasement party – Alcimus – became Kohen Gadol (high priest), Jewish protest led to another revolt, which was aided by dissension amongst the Syrian Greek leaders themselves; despite Nicanor and another large force, Judah won a decisive victory at Bet-Horon and entered into a defensive alliance with Rome (I Macc.8:31).

    Antiochus had died and Demetrius, who had usurped the Syrian throne, sent a massive army into Palestine. Judah was left with only 800 men and the Romans were too late to save him. In 160 BCE he was killed in battle and his body was buried at Modin by his troops.

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