THE PRECEDING POST – WHICH EXPLAINS THE MEANING OF THE RETURN FROM BABYLONIAN EXILE – “THE STORY OF THE REPATRIATION IN THE BIBLE; ANOTHER STORY OF GOD’S GREAT LOVE (FROM 538 B.C. ONWARDS)” WAS POSTED ON THIS BLOG ON OCTOBER 10, 2013.
“After the reforms of Esdras [Ezra] and Nehemias [Nehemiah] the loyalty of the people of Jahweh seemed to have been established. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. The true worship of Jahweh had been reinstituted in the rebuilt Temple at Jerusalem. The people could feel that once again they were the people of God and that God was with them. It is only natural to suppose that this feeling was associated with the hope that the glorious promises of God would be fulfilled, especially the promise that through them God would establish a glorious kingdom on earth and lead the nations of the world to worship at the Temple.
RELATIVE FREEDOM UNDER PERSIAN RULE
But still the nation, the people of God, remained subject to the domination of the Persian rulers. After the efforts of Esdras and Nehemias and until the period of the Macchabees, the history of God’s Chosen People is for the most part shrouded in historical silence. Except for an unsuccessful rebellion under Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-337 B.C.), there is no evidence to show that the people did not remain politically submissive to the Persian rule. The fact that the Persian rulers allowed the free worship of Jahweh may account for this relatively peaceful period.
THE APPEARANCE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT
In the fourth century before Christ a new factor appeared on the political horizon. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, began his reign in the summer of 336 B.C. After consolidating his rule in Greece, Alexander set out in 334 to conquer the empire of Persia. In a series of victories Alexander defeated Darius III, the great king of Persia, and assumed control of the Persian kingdom in 330 B.C. After the death of Alexander in 323 his empire was divided among the more powerful of his generals. Egypt and Palestine fell to the rule of the Ptolemies. Thus the Chosen People came under the domination of the rulers of Egypt.
THE CHOSEN PEOPLE’S JAHWEH WORSHIP UNDER THE PTOLEMIES
The Ptolemies respected the religious views and practices of the Jews and the Jews seem to have been content with their rule. But in the meanwhile a new threat appeared. In the year 200 (or 198) Antiochus III the Great (223-187 B.C..) Defeated Ptolemy IVPhilopator and took over control of Syria and Palestine. Antiochus belonged to the family of the Seleucids, who had gained possession of the Mesopotamian portion of the empire of Alexander. After the reign of Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 B.C.), Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), another son of Antiochus the Great, succeeded to the throne.
THE GREEK GODS AND CULTURE ARE FORCED ON GOD’S PEOPLE
Antiochus IV was an ardent Hellenist, that is, he was anxious to spread Greek culture throughout his kingdom. The most stubborn resisters to the process of Hellenisation were the Jews, with their worship of Jahweh. Antiochus was determined to succeed in the Hellenisation of the Jews.
A MORE GREEK-FRIENDLY HIGH PRIEST IS PUT IN PLACE BY ANTIOCHUS IV
About 173 Antiochus IV deposed Onias III, high priest at Jerusalem, and made Jason, a brother of Onias, high priest in his place. Jason had already manifested to Antiochus a willingness to cooperate in the Hellenisation of Jerusalem. His efforts were aided by the Tobiads, an influential family at Jerusalem. The people, however, were not friendly to these plans and Jason did not have the courage to wipe out the worship of Jahweh in the Temple at Jerusalem.
ANTIOCHUS ENTERS THE TEMPLE AND ERECTS THERE A STATUE OF ZEUS
In the year 168 Antiochus entered Jerusalem himself and took from the Temple the golden lampstand, the altar and other furnishings. In 167, at his orders, the ‘Abomination of desolation’ was erected in the Temple. The ‘Abomination’ was probably a statue of Jupiter Olympus. The sacrifices to Jahweh were stopped and a Greek altar was erected and pagan sacrifices were offered there. Altars were also set up throughout the countryside and sacrifices were offered there also. Participation in pagan sacrifices and festivals was made obligatory on all.
THE HASIDEANS, FORERUNNERS OF THE PHARISEES, FORMED TO UPHOLD BELIEFS
Unfortunately many Jews gave up their faith and participated in this pagan worship. Others, however, of a sterner mould left the cities and retired to the country or the desert where it was possible to retain their ancient religious beliefs. These devout followers of Jahweh were known as the Hasideans, that is, the ‘Pious’. They were the forerunners of the later Pharisees.
THE JEWISH FUGITIVE
Among those who remained faithful to the true religion was a certain Mathathias, a priest. He lived at Modin, a village nineteen miles northwest of Jerusalem. When asked to sacrifice to idols he killed the royal official who made the demand and fled to the desert with his five sons.
THE SUBSEQUENT JEWISH UPRISING
This courageous act proved to be the beginning of a successful rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty. Faithful followers of Jahweh rallied to the cause of Mathathias and his sons. On the death of Mathathias the military leadership of the movement passed to Judas, his third son. Judas, called Macchabaeus, in 164 reached an agreement with Lysias and Antiochus V Eupator by virtue of which the Temple was restored to the faithful Jahwists.
THE INSTITUTION OF THE JEWISH FESTIVAL HANUKKAH
Exactly three years after its profanation by Antiochus IV the Temple was rededicated to Jahweh. Judas ordered that a yearly festival should be celebrated to commemorate the victory of Jahwism. This festival is known as the Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights.
THE HIGH PRIEST HENCEFORTH IS GIVEN CIVIL AS WELL AS PRIESTLY AUTHORITY
This victory of Judas Macchabaeus was neither complete nor permanent. At Jerusalem itself there remained a strong faction favourable to Hellenism. The Greek monarchs at Antioch still desired absolute rule over the Jews. The struggle therefore continued. In 160 Judas himself was killed. His youngest brother Jonathan assumed military leadership of the Jahwist party.
The intrigues and wars between the various claimants to the throne at Antioch aided the Macchabees to achieve their aims. Jonathan was made high priest in 152 by Alexander Balas, one of the claimants to the Seleucid throne. In 142 Simon Macchabaeus became military leader and high priest. In 140 the people themselves regularised the high priesthood of Simon and the civil and priestly authority were united in one person.
CIVIL WAR AMONG THE JEWS
Under John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, the territory subject to the Macchabaean family was enlarged until it approximated the kingdom of David. But the Jahwistic spirit which had animated the efforts of the original Macchabaean brothers weakened when a stable dynasty was established. Matters came to a head during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.).
Alexander was the first of the descendants of the Macchabees to call himself ‘king’. He spent most of his reign in a series of military campaigns designed to extend his kingdom. He found himself in strong opposition to the Pharisees, the descendants of the Hasideans. The Pharisees objected to the exercise of the high priesthood by a man whose hands were continually stained with the blood of war. This opposition led to civil war.
PEACE WITH THE PHARISEES
In the course of the war both Alexander and the party of the Pharisees appealed to foreign intervention. This represented a complete about-face from the ideals for which the original Macchabees had fought. Before his death Alexander saw the necessity of coming to terms with the Pharisees, who represented the wishes of the majority of the people. At his request Alexandra, his wife, who succeeded to the throne, made peace with the Pharisees.
THE ROMAN SENATE AND THE TRIUMVIRS ESTABLISH HEROD AS KING IN 37 B.C.
During her lifetime she made her son Hyrcanus high priest. But after her death her other son, Aristobolus, seized both the kingship and the high priesthood from Hyrcanus. The cause of Hyrcanus was supported by Antipater, an Idumaean general of Alexander Jannaeus.
The remaining history of the Macchabaen dynasty unfolded under the evil star of Antipater and his son Herod.
THE EVIL STAR OF ANTIPATER AND HEROD
Both of the latter were astute politicians and they gained the support of the new power in the East, the power of the expanding Roman state. The struggle for power in the Promised Land ended in 37 B.C. when the Roman Senate and the Triumvirs established Herod the Great as king.
THE CHOSEN PEOPLE NOW LIVE UNDER ROMAN RULE
Thus the splendid achievements of the first Macchabees ended in the imposition of an Idumaean king over the Chosen People by Rome, a foreign power. And thus, it would seem, the dream of the people was not yet to be fulfilled. The kingdom of God on earth was not yet established at Jerusalem. When would the hopes of the nation come to pass?” (To be continued)
– By Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959