Between the Testaments

By Dr. B. H. Carroll
Late President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminar, Fort Worth, Texas
Edited by Dr. Ronald D. Lesley for Fundamental Baptist Institute

A Class on Biblical History


Lesson # 6

THE MACCABEES

164 B.C.-65 B.C.

 

We have about 100 years of exciting history to consider in this chapter. Our last chapter closed with Judas Maccabees in power, and with Menelaus, the renegade Jew, as high priest appointed by the Syrian king. Menelaus, having been driven out by Judas, made an appeal to the king at Antioch, and a number of the Jew8 sided with him—those who had gone into copying the Greek spirit. He went to the king at Antioch and told him that Judas had driven out all his friends and was taking the country away from the Seleucids at Antioch, whereupon the Syrian king sent against Judas the old general, Lysias, who had served under Antiochus Epiphanies, with a great army. They went down on the east side of the Jordan and around the Dead Sea, and came up on the south. It was a very strong army. Judas, at that time besieging the stronghold in Jerusalem still held by a garrison of the Syrian king, had to rush hurriedly to meet this vast invasion with a very inferior force, about 3,000 men. Many of the 3,000 advised him not to fight - that it was impossible for 3,000 Jews to overcome such a host as stood opposed to him. The battlefield was at Beth-Zecharias. But Judas fought anyhow—he always fought.

A great many elephants were in the army of Lysias, and one of them being larger than the others and having more gorgeous trappings, was supposed by Eleazar to carry the commander-in-chief, Lysias So he dashed forward alone and got under the elephant and, stabbing upward, killed him. But the elephant in falling crushed Eleazar and killed him. Judas was defeated and fell back on Jerusalem. Lysias, when he got in eight of Jerusalem and saw how formidable were the preparations made by Judas, and being very much disturbed by the fear of the increasing Roman power, advised Antiochus to make peace, and so peace was made on the condition that the Jews were forever after to be free in their religion, but remain subject to the Syrian government.

This peace secured the main thing for which the war was undertaken by Judas’ father, Mattathias, and the Pharisees from this time on were opposed to the war. That is, they cared very little about political freedom. They were willing enough to be subordinate to another government if they were allowed to retain their religion. And about this time the renegade, Menelaus, died. From this time on the war between the Maccabees and Syria was a political rather than a religious war.

Just about this time the right heir to the throne at Antioch, Demetrius I, surnamed Soter, came to Antioch, dethroned the son of Antiochus Epiphanes, and killed him and Lysias, the general. Now comes to the front Alcimus—a man as bad as Menelaus or Jason. He wants to be high priest. He is thoroughly filled with the Hellenistic spirit, and in favor of Syrian domination. Demetrius appoints him high priest, and sends John Bacchides with an army to install him in office. The Pharisees thought they could accept him as high priest, inasmuch as he was a descendant of Aaron, in spite of the warning of Judas. But Alcimus, with Bacchides and his army to help him, killed a portion of the noblest of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in cold blood. Judas comes and drives out Alcimus, who makes a second appeal to Demetrius. Demetrius sends another great army to meet this great host of Syrians at the battle of Capharsalama, in Joshua’s old battlefield at Beth-horon. Judas twice overwhelmingly defeats the Syrian general, kills him, and brings such spoils to Jerusalem as had not been seen for years.

Just at this time Judas began to be depressed in mind, thinking how often be had to fight great armies with only a handful of men, so he made an appeal to Rome—which was a mistake on his part. Woe to the nation that ever appealed to Rome!  He made an appeal to Rome and sent an embassy empowered to enter into a treaty of alliance with Rome, and also with Sparta in Greece. That treaty was made, but Judas was dead before the news came. The following is the treaty, from page 45 of 1 Maccabees:

Good success to the Romans, and to the people of the Jews, by land and by sea forever; the sword also and enemy be far from them. If there comes first any war upon the Romans, or any of their confederates throughout all their dominion, the people of the Jews shall help them with victuals, vessels, money, or ships, as it bath seemed good unto the Romans; but they shall keep their covenants without taking anything therefor. In the same manner, also, if war come first upon the Jews, the Romans shall help them with all their hearts, according as the time shall be appointed them; neither shall victuals be given them that take part against them, or weapons, or money, or ships, as it hath seemed good to the Romans, but they shall keep the covenants, and that without deceit. According to these articles did the Romans make a covenant with the Jews. Howbeit if hereafter the one party or the other shall think meet to add or diminish anything, they may do it at their pleasures, and whatsoever they shall add or take away shall be ratified. And as touching the evils that Demetrius doeth to the Jews, we have written unto him, saying, wherefore hast thou made thy yoke heavy upon our friends and confederates, the Jews? If therefore they complain any more against thee, we will do them justice, and fight with thee by sea and by land.

Now that is what is called a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive. An embassy had been sent to Sparta as well as to Rome, and here is the most singular document of history that came from the Spartans:

Areus, king of the Lacedaemonians, to Onias, the high priest, Greeting: it is found in writing that the Lacedaemoniana and the Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham: now, therefore, since this has come to our knowledge, ye shall do well to write unto in of your prosperity. We do write back again unto you that your cattle and goods are ours, and that ours are yours. We do commend, therefore, our ambassadors to make report unto you on this wise.

If I had that king of the Spartans before me, I would ask for a sight of the document proving that the Spartans, like the Jews, were the descendants of Abraham. I would like to see how he makes out his case. I cannot do it. That is a singular claim.

Let us now consider the death of Judas, which took place before the knowledge of the Roman treaty came to him. Demetrius had sent a still greater army under Bacchides, and sent back Alcimus, the high priest. Judas met him at Eleasa; Judas had 3,000 men, but Bacchides had 22,000 men. The men of Judas’ army could not stand to face such a multitude and they went home and left him with only 800 men. He said, "It is not for me to flee; what if I am killed, I perish for my country." Never did 800 men make a braver fight than they made at Eleasa; but the little Jewish force was destroyed, except a very few, and Judas was killed. His brothers, Simon and Jonathan, rescued the body and buried it in the family cemetery, beside the aged father and the other brother that had fallen. That was in 161 B.C.; Jonathan was then made both high priest and commander-in-chief. We have seen two of Mattathias’ sons pass away—Judas and Eleazar. Jonathan is now the commander-in-chief, and about this time Alycimus died.

I must now refer to an event, one of the most important in the inter-biblical period. It took place 160 B.C.: Onias IV, the son of the good and pious Onias, whom Antiochus had killed, went to Egypt. He was entitled to the priesthood, but he did not believe there would ever be any chance to have regular worship at Jerusalem, so he asked the Ptolemies to have a temple built in Egypt. He read to him a verse from Isaiah (19:19): "In that day shall there be an altar to Jehovah in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Jehovah." Onias quoted that passage from Isaiah, and a temple was erected at Leontopolis, or On, that stood as long as the Temple at Jerusalem. So now there are three temples: one at Jerusalem, the Samaritan temple, still standing, and the temple over in Egypt.

The next important event is that Bacchides, finding out that Jonathan was as wise as Judas, and that the people were going to stand by him, made a treaty of peace with Jonathan, agreeing that Jonathan should take the office of high priest which the Jews had conferred upon him.

We now come to another very important event. In 153 B.C., Alexander, a son of Antiochus Epiphanes, claimed to be the legitimate ruler of Syria, and opposed Demetrius. Both of them, Demetrius and Alexander, began to make bids for Jonathan’s help. Jonathan is now the arbitrator of the war—he has the ball at his feet and keeps it rolling between these two, and each one keeps raising his bid as to what he would do if Jonathan would lead the Jews to support him. Jonathan accepted the proposition of Alexander. To further strengthen himself, Alexander entered into a treaty of peace with Ptolemy, king of Egypt. This treaty was based upon a marriage between Alexander and Cleopatra, the daughter of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. But Ptolemy begins to change his policy of friendship toward Alexander, wishing to make himself ruler of the kingdom of the Seleucids. To this end he negotiates a treaty with Demetrius, the contestant for the throne of the Seleucids against Alexander, and promises to take his daughter, Cleopatra, away from Alexander and give her to Demetrius. I wonder how the woman felt in being swapped off that way— first to one man, then to another, for political reasons. The daughters of kings have a hard time of it on the marriage question, since they are disposed of for political reasons without regard for their own will or affections.

I have not the space to continue the history of the Maccabees in detail. It is sufficient to say that Jonathan, who succeeded Judas, was not only a great general, but a great diplomatist. He maintained his treaties of peace with the Romans and Lacedaemonians; he won many important victories and established himself thoroughly in the affections of the people, and enlarged the territory d his country.

The tragic termination of his life was on this wise: A certain Trypho, minister and general of Alexander, began to aspire to be king at Antioch himself, and knowing that the most formidable adversary in his way was Jonathan and the Jewish army, he ensnared Jonathan under false pretenses to visit at Ptolemais. Jonathan accepted the invitation, taking with him only a thousand men. As soon as they entered the city the gates were closed, the thousand men were killed and Jonathan placed in prison. Jonathan’s brother Simon raised an army to rescue his brother, and Trypho, dreading the result of an engagement, proffered to restore Jonathan for an immense sum of money, and provided that Jonathan’s sons be left with him as hostages. Simon sent the money and the boys. Trypho kept the money and put Jonathan to death. Simon then succeeded Jonathan as both high priest and commander-in-chief. We find his great history set forth in detail in the first book of Maccabees. He brought the Jews into great prosperity; he expelled the Syrian garrison from the tower in Jerusalem, and occupied Joppa as a seaport. The territory of the Jews was greatly enlarged. If Judas was the hero of the Maccabees, and Jonathan was the diplomatist, surely Simon was the great statesman. I have not space to tell of all his great deeds, but will give from the first book of Maccabees a pleasing bit of his history:

Then did they till their ground in peace, and the earth gave her increase, and the trees of the field their fruit. The ancient men sat all in the streets, communing together of good things, and the young men put on glorious and warlike apparel. He provided victuals for the cities, and set in them all manner of munition so that his honorable name was renowned unto the end of the world. He made peace in’ the land, and Israel rejoiced with great joy. For every man sat under his vine and fig tree, and there was none to fray them; neither was there any left in the land to fight against them; yea, the kings themselves were overthrown in those days. Moreover, he strengthened all his people that were brought low. He searched out the law, and every dissenter of the law and wicked person he took away. He beautified the sanctuary and all the temple, and, multiplied its vessels. [He is the last of the Maccabean brothers. His brother John was killed by the Arabians.]

We now relate the tragic termination of Simon’s life. His son-in-law, Ptolemy, was a governor of Jericho, and this son-in-law aspired to occupy the priesthood and the generalship held by Simon. He invited Simon to visit him. Simon went and took his wife, his eldest son, Judas, and his youngest son, Mattathias, with him. His most illustrious son, John Hyrcanus, was, fortunately, not with him. Ptolemy infamously murdered

Simon and the two Sons, and John Hyraces came with an army to punish him. Ptolemy led John’s mother out on the walls and threa1~ied to put her to death if John did not retire from his position. His mother implored him to storm the place and not to mind her being killed. But he could not stand to bring his mother to death, and turned away. Then Ptolemy killed the mother anyhow and fled the country. I am sorry that we have no record of his being hanged.

John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, is now made the high priest and commander-in-chief, and under him Judea wonderfully enlarged its territory. He destroyed the Samaritan temple and the city so that one could not tell where the city ever stood. He invade Edom, the home of Esau, and annexed it to Jacob. Little did he think that in thus uniting Esau with Jacob he was arranging unwittingly for the placing of an Edomite on the throne of Judea, Antipas, an Edomite, was made local governor of Edom, to be succeeded by his son Antipater, whose policy will be considered in the last chapter on this inter-biblical period. John was now at the height of his power and influence, but a quarrel was developed between him and the Pharisees.

I here stop t. make some explanation of the three Jewish sects—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Pharisees were derived from the scribes. The scribes originated with Ezra, and the Pharisees were a development of the scribes. They held as binding the written Bible and the oral traditions. The oral traditions, as they claimed, were handed down from Moses, and afterward were embodied in the Talmud. Now, there are some good things about them. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, in the immortality of the soul, in the existence of angels; they kept alive the hope of a coming personal Messiah. But they became intense ritualists and formalists.

Now, the Sadducees. The word means simply Zadokites, that is, they claim to be the followers of the high priest, Zadok, away back yonder in Solomon’s time. As the Pharisees were derived from the scribes, the Sadducees were derived from the priests. The Sadducees rightly held to the written Bible only, and rejected all traditions. But they were skeptics; they did not believe in angels, nor in spirits, nor in the immortality of the soul, nor in the resurrection of the body. In the next place, they were simply a political party; they believed in religion as an institution, but not as an inspiration. Like many politicians now that think they should hold on to religion to keep the people under control, but do not believe in it for themselves.

The Essenes were neither a political nor an ecclesiastical party. They were rather a monastic order. They abjured marriages; they were vegetarians; they would not eat any meat, and would not let a woman come into the settlement at all. They perpetuated themselves by adopting children and training them to be monks. They would not go into trade nor commerce, and, like the Quakers, would not take an oath. They were the Pharisees gone to seed. They prayed, but, like the ancient Persians, they prayed toward the sun and not toward the temple.

I have not space to relate in detail the illustrious deeds of John Hyrcanus. He was the last great Maccabee. The illustrious members of the family were as follows: Old Mattathias, who led in the rebellion against Antiochus Epiphanes; the great Judas, who succeeded him; Jonathan, who followed Judas; Simon, who followed Jonathan; and John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, who followed his father. John Hyrcanus died about 105 B.C. His eons were the first to crown themselves as kings. There were none of them equal to or worthy of the five great Maccabees whose names have been given above. While the sons of John were ruling, Rome comes upon the scene and history rapidly develops until the coming of our Lord.

QUESTIONS

1. What the name and extent of the period discussed in this chapter?

2. At what point did the last chapter close?

3. Describe the occasion of the battle at Beth-Zecharias.

4. Tell of the death of Eleazar, the brother of Judas.

5. What prompted Lysias to advise Antiochus to make peace with Judas, and what is the result of the peace?

6. From this time on, what the nature of the war between the Maccabees and Syria?

7. Tell how Demetrius I became king at Antioch.

8. Whom did he appoint to be high priest, and why did the Pharisees accept him?

9. What outrage was committed by this high priest which caused Judas to drive him out of Jerusalem?

10. What the occasion of another invasion of Judea by the Syrians? Describe the battle of Capharsalama.

11. What two noted embassies were sent out by Judas?

12. Give the treaty between the Romans and the Maccabees.

13. Give the transcript of the letter from the Lacedaenionians.

14. Describe the battle of Eleasa and the death of Judas.

15. Who succeeded Judas as high priest and commander-in-chief?

16. Give the history of the temple in Egypt at Leontopolis.

17. What new claimant for the throne at Antioch?

18. Describe the third marriage between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, and the ultimate result.

19. Tell of the tragic death of Jonathan, and who succeeded him.

20. What the fate of John, the brother of Simon?

21. What the relative excellencies of Judas, Jonathan, and Simon?

22. Give the quotation from 1 Maccabees showing a pleasant part. of the history of Simon.

23. Give an account of the tragic death of Simon.

24. What the great achievement of John Hyrcanus, son of Simon?

25. Give some account of the three Jewish sects—the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes.

26.  About what time did John Hyrcanus die?

27. Which one of his sons first became king of the Jews?

28. What may we say of the Asmonaean kings in comparison with the five preceding Maccabees?

Material By Dr. B. H. Carroll
Late President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminar, Fort Worth, Texas
Edited by Dr. Ronald D. Lesley for Fundamental Baptist Institute


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