3. The Maccabean Revolt
Palestine at the Time of John Hyrcanus I (135/134 - 104 BCE)
Showcase 3: Palestine at the Time of John Hyrcanus I (135/134 - 104 BCE)

There had been repeated disputes over Palestine between the Ptolemies, the kings of Egypt, and the Seleucids, who ruled Syria, Mesopotamia, and Iran bordering to the north. After the 5th Syrian War (202 – 195 BCE), Judaea finally came under Seleucid rule (Polybius, Hist. 28.1.2-3).

When the Seleucid king Antiochus III (223-187 BCE) took possession of Jerusalem after the battle of Paneas around 200 BCE (Josephus, AJ 12131-133), tension within the ruling class of Jewish society grew. A main cause for this Jewish internal conflict was the growing power struggle for the office of high priest between the Jewish aristocratic families of the Tobiads and the Oniads. The first decades under Seleucid rule proceeded otherwise relatively quietly. This changed radically when king Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE) began to interfere in the internal affairs of Jerusalem (Fig. A.).

The conflict was exacerbated by the increasing Hellenization of the Jewish community, which was promoted by the reform efforts of Antiochus IV. At the beginning of his reign, Antiochus IV instated the Oniad Jason in the office of high priest, who – with the support of the pro-Seleucid fraction – was attempting to transform Jerusalem along the lines of a Greek polis. Whether this Hellenization process was deliberately initiated and carried out by Antiochus IV is unclear, in any case he provoked the so-called Maccabean revolt, which led to the establishment of a Jewish kingdom. The events, however, are difficult to reconstruct, and the accuracy of tradition is often contested. Both a possible ban on Jewish religious practices by the Seleucid ruler (1 Maccabees 1:44-50), as well as the conversion of the Jewish temple into a place for the worship of Zeus on the 6th of December in 167 BCE (2 Maccabees 5:62) have been seen as the immediate causes for the uprising.