Magazine article The New American

The Seleucid War against the Jews: Hanukkah, Which Is an Event of Both Historical and Religious Importance, Recalls a Time When Jews Fought Battles to Be Able to Continue to Practice Their Religion, and Won

Magazine article The New American

The Seleucid War against the Jews: Hanukkah, Which Is an Event of Both Historical and Religious Importance, Recalls a Time When Jews Fought Battles to Be Able to Continue to Practice Their Religion, and Won

Article excerpt

Judas Maccabaeus, "The Hammer of the Jews," gazed out at his camp. The last indigo of the night sky was giving way to the gathering orange glow that presaged the new day. It was not auspicious.

About him were 3,000 picked men, the flower of Jewish might, skilled warriors all, dedicated to protecting the Jews and defending faith and tradition against the pagan Greeks.

The gathering warmth of the sun couldn't chase away the chill in Judas' veins, for before him lay the greatest enemy army he had yet faced. The enemy camp was rousing from its restless slumber. Martial sounds began to reverberate through the dry air. Men, by their thousands, gathered shields, while the occasional glint of light darted from the swaying iron tips of ferocious spears, soon to be deployed by the enemy troops in fearsome phalanx formation.

The enemy general, Bacchides, began to position his troops, and the full scale of the terrifying threat became apparent to the gathered Jewish army. Judas' troops, brave and skilled and resolute, were outnumbered at least five to one. A murmur of fear moved through the ranks. The most fearful, seeing the approach of certain death, melted away into the hills.

"We should withdraw and live to fight again," came the cry of those who remained.

In righteous indignation, Judas, feeling the hot passion of righteousness chasing the chill from his veins, whirled on his men.

"Up! Let us face the enemy," he growled at his flagging forces.

"We are too few," they cried back in fear. "We have no strength for anything but to escape with our lives."

Judas, a lion, a dragon among mere men, let loose his ferocity. "Let not the sun ever see such a thing, that I should show my back to the enemy!" he roared. "Although this be the time that will bring me to my end, and I must die in this battle, I will rather stand to it courageously, and bear whatsoever comes upon me, than by now running away, bring reproach upon my former great actions, or tarnish their glory."

Rallied, the Jewish phalanx drew together while the fearsome general Bacchides arrayed his forces, with horsemen on the wings, phalanxes arrayed with archers and skirmishers to the front of the line.

The Jewish forces, small in number but immense of heart, drew likewise to their line of battle. With a pounding of shields and the blare of the trumpeter came a great shout, first from the Greek lines as they rushed to join battle. Then, the blood cry of the Jewish forces answered, and with Judas leading, the bravest of all men, the flower of Judea, fell upon the gathered horde of the enemy.

Background to Rebellion

The final battle of Judas Maccabaeus against the Seleucid Greek general Bacchides was symbolic of the greater encounter, and indeed war, of the tiny Jewish population of Judea against the overwhelming cultural, social, economic, and military power of the Hellenistic empires left in the wake of Alexander the Great's conquest of the known world.

By 200 B.C., the most significant of these were the Ptolemaic Empire ruling in Egypt and the Seleucid Empire ruling most of the Near East from Antioch. These fought each other, both in diplomacy and war, in a "Great Game" to hold on to power, wealth, and territory against the rising colossus of Rome in the West.

The Seleucids, in particular, would be the first to feel the fire of Rome. Antiochus III, or "The Great" as he had legitimate reason to prefer, had extended the reach of his empire from the Aegean in the West as far East as the frontier of modem Afghanistan and into India. Ever the expansionist, he invaded Greece in 192 B.C. but was pushed out by the Romans. They pursued him into Asia Minor, where they fought again at the Battle of Magnesia. There Antiochus assembled an impressive array of military might, drawn from all the provinces of his vast empire. These largely were in support of his primary infantry force. …

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