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Judaean coin, showing  a bunch of grapes.

1 Maccabees 3

The First Book of Maccabees describes the struggle of the Jews for religious, cultural, and political independence against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his successors, who were Greeks and sympathized with the hellenization of Judah. Although it can not be denied that the book is biased, it is certainly not the worst of all historical studies from Antiquity. The third chapter of 1 Maccabees is offered here in the Revised Standard version; an introduction and the first chapter can be found here.

Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Antiochus IV Ephiphanes
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Then Judas his son, who was called Maccabeus, took command in his place. All his brothers and all who had joined his father helped him; they gladly fought for Israel.
He extended the glory of his people.
Like a giant he put on his breastplate;
he girded on his armor of war and waged battles,
protecting the host by his sword.
He was like a lion in his deeds,
like a lion's cub roaring for prey.
He searched out and pursued the lawless;
he burned those who troubled his people.
Lawless men shrank back for fear of him;
all the evildoers were confounded;
and deliverance prospered by his hand.
He embittered many kings, 
but he made Jacob glad by his deeds,
and his memory is blessed for ever.
He went through the cities of Judah; 
he destroyed the ungodly out of the land; 
thus he turned away wrath from Israel.
He was renowned to the ends of the earth;
he gathered in those who were perishing.
But [the Seleucid general] Apollonius gathered together Gentiles and a large force from Samaria to fight against Israel. When Judas learned of it, he went out to meet him, and he defeated and killed him. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled. Then they seized their spoils; and Judas took the sword of Apollonius, and used it in battle the rest of his life.

Now when Seron, the commander of the Syrian army, heard that Judas had gathered a large company, including a body of faithful men who stayed with him and went out to battle, he said, "I will make a name for myself and win honor in the kingdom. I will make war on Judas and his companions, who scorn the king's command."

And again a strong army of ungodly men went up with him to help him, to take vengeance on the sons of Israel. When he approached the ascent of Beth-Horon, Judas went out to meet him with a small company. But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas, "How can we, few as we are, fight against so great and strong a multitude? And we are faint, for we have eaten nothing today."

Judas replied, "It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great pride and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them."

When he finished speaking, he rushed suddenly against Seron and his army, and they were crushed before him. They pursued them down the descent of Beth-Horon to the plain; eight hundred of them fell, and the rest fled into the land of the Philistines. Then Judas and his brothers began to be feared, and terror fell upon the Gentiles round about them.

His fame reached the king, and the Gentiles talked of the battles of Judas. When king Antiochus heard these reports, he was greatly angered; and he sent and gathered all the forces of his kingdom, a very strong army. And he opened his coffers and gave a year's pay to his forces, and ordered them to be ready for any need. Then he saw that the money in the treasury was exhausted, and that the revenues from the country were small because of the dissension and disaster which he had caused in the land by abolishing the laws that had existed from the earliest days. He feared that he might not have such funds as he had before for his expenses and for the gifts which he used to give more lavishly than preceding kings. He was greatly perplexed in mind, and determined to go to Persia and collect the revenues from those regions and raise a large fund.

He left Lysias, a distinguished man of royal lineage, in charge of the king's affairs from the river Euphrates to the borders of Egypt. Lysias was also to take care of Antiochus his son until he returned. And he turned over to Lysias half of his troops and the elephants, and gave him orders about all that he wanted done. As for the residents of Judah and Jerusalem, Lysias was to send a force against them to wipe out and destroy the strength of Israel and the remnant of Jerusalem; he was to banish the memory of them from the place, settle aliens in all their territory, and distribute their land.

[Spring 165] Then the king took the remaining half of his troops and departed from Antioch his capital in the one hundred and forty-seventh year [Seleucid Era]. He crossed the Euphrates river and went through the upper provinces. Lysias chose Ptolemy the son of Dorymenes, and Nicanor and Gorgias, mighty men among the friends of the king, and sent with them forty thousand infantry and seven thousand cavalry to go into the land of Judah and destroy it, as the king had commanded. So they departed with their entire force, and when they arrived they encamped near Emmaus in the plain.

When the traders of the region heard what was said to them, they took silver and gold in immense amounts, and fetters, and went to the camp to get the sons of Israel for slaves. And forces from Syria and the land of the Philistines joined with them.

Now Judas and his brothers saw that misfortunes had increased and that the forces were encamped in their territory. They also learned what the king had commanded to do to the people to cause their final destruction. But they said to one another, "Let us repair the destruction of our people, and fight for our people and the sanctuary." And the congregation assembled to be ready for battle, and to pray and ask for mercy and compassion.

Jerusalem was uninhabited like a wilderness;
not one of her children went in or out.
The sanctuary was trampled down,
and the sons of aliens held the citadel;
it was a lodging place for the Gentiles.
Joy was taken from Jacob;
the flute and the harp ceased to play.
So they assembled and went to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem, because Israel formerly had a place of prayer in Mizpah. They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and rent their clothes. And they opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the Gentiles were consulting the images of their idols. They also brought the garments of the priesthood and the first fruits and the tithes, and they stirred up the Nazirites who had completed their days; and they cried aloud to Heaven, saying, "What shall we do with these? Where shall we take them? Thy sanctuary is trampled down and profaned, and thy priests mourn in humiliation. And behold, the Gentiles are assembled against us to destroy us; thou knowest what they plot against us. How will we be able to withstand them, if thou dost not help us?"

Then they sounded the trumpets and gave a loud shout. After this Judas appointed leaders of the people, in charge of thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens. And he said to those who were building houses, or were betrothed, or were planting vineyards, or were fainthearted, that each should return to his home, according to the law. Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.

And Judas said, "Gird yourselves and be valiant. Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary. It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary. But as his will in heaven may be, so he will do."

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Latest revision: 18 October 2006


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