The Hellenistic and Seleucid Periods
After its descriptions of the activities of Nehemiah and Ezra, the Hebrew Bible falls silent with regard to records of events set in subsequent years. (See ‘Alexander's Empire and its Aftermath’ for comments on what was happening in the lands surrounding Judah/Yehud.) Eventually the story is taken up in the Books of Maccabees which form part of the collection variously known as the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books.
Alexander the Great and his successors fostered the spread of Greek culture (Hellenism). After Alexander's death in 323, his empire was split and Judah/Yehud initially came under the control of the Ptolemies of Egypt. Subsequently it came into the hands of the Seleucids, in the time of Antiochus III (the Great) (223–187). It was the attempt of one of his successors, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), to proscribe the practice of Judaism and force the Jews to adopt a thoroughgoing Hellenism that sparked off the Maccabean revolt. Antiochus Epiphanes plundered Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple. Instructions were given for pagan altars to be set up throughout the land. On 25 Chislev (December) in 168 or 167, pigs were offered as sacrifices on the altar of Zeus which had been erected in the Temple (1 Macc. 1 ). This period of oppression and persecution of the Jews is the probable context of the Book of Daniel.
An elderly priest named Mattathias, of the family of Hasmon, refused to sacrifice a pig at Modein, and fled with his five sons to the hills, where they were eventually joined by others who wished to remain loyal to their faith (1 Macc. 2: 1–48 ). After the death of Mattathias, his son Judas, known as Maccabeus (‘the Hammerer’) led those who were in rebellion. They achieved victories over armies led by Apollonius (1 Macc. 3: 10–12 ) and by Seron, ‘the commander of the Syrian army’ (1 Macc. 3: 13–25 ). This was followed by the defeat of a large force raised by Lysias, who had been left in charge of affairs west of the Euphrates while Antiochus was raising revenue in the east, and which had camped near Emmaus. A plan by a section of the army, led by Gorgias, to enter Judas' camp was foiled, and the enemy were routed and pursued to Gazara, the plains of Idumea, Azotus, and Jamnia (1 Macc. 3: 38–4: 25 ). The following year, an army reputed to be even larger was defeated at Bethzur and Lysias was forced to withdraw to Antioch (1 Macc. 4: 26–35 ). This provided the opportunity for the Temple to be cleansed, and it was rededicated on 25 Chislev 165 or 164 (1 Macc. 4: 36–59 ). Judas also fortified Jerusalem and Beth‐zur (1 Macc. 4: 60–1 ). Subsequently Judas defeated the Idumeans at Akrabattene, entered Ammon, and captured Jazer (1 Macc. 5: 3–8 ). He was then able, with his brother Jonathan, to go to the help of persecuted Jews at Dathema in Gilead, while another brother, Simon, went to the assistance of Jews in Galilee, pursuing the enemy as far as Ptolemais, then taking Jews from Galilee and Arbatta into Judah (1 Macc. 5: 9–23 ). Judas and Jonathan crossed into Transjordan and campaigned against various cities in the Gilead region including, according to 1 Maccabees 5: 26 , Bozrah, Bosor, Alema, Chaspho, Maked, and Carnaim. He also campaigned in Idumea—taking Hebron—and in the land of the Philistines (1 Macc. 5: 65–8 ).
After the death of Antiochus IV, Judas attacked the Seleucid garrison in Jerusalem, but he suffered defeat at Beth‐zechariah, and Beth‐zur surrendered to the enemy (1 Macc. 6: 18–63 ). After the brief reign of Antiochus V, Demetrius I became king, chose Bacchides to deal with Judas and his brothers, and appointed Alcimus as high priest (1 Macc. 1: 1–11 ). Bacchides was unsuccessful and withdrew, and subsequently Nicanor was sent to quell Judas' opposition. Nicanor, however, was killed in battle at Adasa (1 Macc. 7: 26–50 ). Later Demetrius sent Bacchides a second time, and in the ensuing battle at Elasa, near Beth‐horon, in 161 or 160, Judas fell (1 Macc. 9: 5–22 ).