1st Maccabees, Lesson 2: Events Leading Up to the Maccabean Revolt

Zeus (610x351)Historical Backdrop: 1:1-9

Read 1 Maccabees 1:1-9

These verses give the background, as a review to the reader, for the events that will follow.  This book was written for Jews, and so it should not surprise us when it uses Old-Testament terminology.  For instance, “Kittim” points back to the capital of Cyprus (Genesis 10:4 and 1 Chronicles 1:7).  It was also a term that also referred to Greeks in general.  The writer is simply expecting his readers to know this from the Old Testament. 

The Ptolemies, based in Egypt, loosely ruled over Judea from about 300 to 198 BC.  Then the Seleucids, based in Persia, annexed Judea under the rule of Antiochus III.  This set the scene for Antiochus IV.


The Jewish Hellenizers: 1:11-15

Read 1 Maccabees 1:11-15

–          What was the motivation for those who were trying to Hellenize (make more Greek-like) Judea?


–          Discuss the ways some of the Jews became more and more like any other citizens in the Seleucid Empire.

  • Followed what “ordinances” and ignored what “holy covenant”?
  • Built a “gymnasium” and “made foreskins for themselves” (literal translation).


NT Tie-In:  1 Corinthians 7 mentions living the faith where God has placed you.  So, if you were raised and a Jew and circumcised, Paul said, “Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision” (1 Corinthians 7:18).  That expression hails back to 1st Maccabees when many Jews tried to become Greeks.  With that one statement, the Apostle Paul and Pastor Sosthenes let the readers know that the Church having Gentiles does not mean that those who were raised Jewish have to try to become Greeks.  If one knows 1st Maccabees, it lets him know the strong force behind that statement. 


Antiochus IV Visits and Plunders Jerusalem: 1:16-28

Read 1 Maccabees 1:16-19

In 169 BC, we know that Antiochus invaded Egypt and captured much land.  He didn’t go all the way to Alexandria, but he did install his nephew (Ptolemy VI) as ruler, who was married to a Seleucid.  That, in effect, merged the two kingdoms into one.  


Read 1 Maccabees 1:20-28

The Jewish Temple not only had many sacred vessels of monetary value (because of the precious metals used) but also served as a bank where wealthy people could store their money and possessions (2 Maccabees 3:10-11).  According to Polybius,[1] Antiochus IV routinely plundered temples for wealth.  So, what Antiochus did in Jerusalem was not unique.

–          Based on the description in 1st Maccabees, what part of the Temple did Antiochus not plunder?


–          How would the items taken have affected worship (the Table for the Bread of the Presence, the golden censers, the curtain)?


The writer for 1st Maccabees then switches to poetry, a lament, to make the point of what happened in more than an intellectual way.  The poetry uses parallelism, to repeat the effect of what had happened a second time using different words and ideas.

He wrote about Antiochus IV:

He defiled himself with blood

   and spoke with unbridled arrogance.

Deep sorrow came upon Israel

   and nobles and elders groaned in bitter grief.

Virgins and young men lost their vigor

   and the beauty of the women was lost.

Every bridegroom sang a dirge

   and every bride grieved in her chamber.

Even the land trembled for its inhabitants

   and all the house of Jacob was clothed in shame.

–          In his poetry, is the writer of 1st Maccabees using hyperbole?


–          But what does he want you as the reader/hearer to take in from the poetry?


Antiochus Occupies Israel: 1:29-40

Read 1 Maccabees 1:29-40

–          Discuss what took place within Jerusalem.


The writer breaks into another poetic lament to describe what had happened within Jerusalem:

The citadel became an ambush against the Temple

   and a constant source of evil against Israel.

On every side of the sanctuary, they shed innocent blood

   and they defiled the holy place.

Because of them, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were forced to flee

   and she became the abode of strangers.

She became a stranger to her offspring

   and her children abandoned her.

Her Temple was as desolate as a desert

   and her feasts were turned into times of grief:

Her Sabbaths into a mockery

   and her honor into contempt.

As her glory had once been, so was now her dishonor

   and her exaltation was turned into grief.

–          How does the poetry help convey the changes taking place within Israel?


NT Tie-In: In Matthew 24 (and Mark 13), Jesus told about the coming destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  Jesus compared it to the “abomination of desolation spoken by the Prophet Daniel” (Matthew 25:15).  Yet, when we go back to Daniel and read about that “abomination,” we find that Daniel was speaking of a future event (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11).  That “abomination” took place during the time of the Maccabees.

Daniel foresaw the Jerusalem Temple’s desecration by the Gentile ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC.  Antiochus burned Jerusalem, plundered the Temple of its sacred articles, and erected an idol to the Greek god Zeus within the Temple (1 Maccabees 1:31, 37, 54).  Jesus used this earlier “abomination” as a point of comparison.  The readers of Matthew’s Gospel would know about that event because they knew the book of 1st Maccabees, which was an Old Testament book in the Septuagint.  Jesus took that “abomination” and projected it forward to announce the Roman army’s destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

Then in Matthew 24:16, Jesus said, referring to Jerusalem’s destruction, “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”  According to the Church Father Eusebius, in his Church History (340 AD), Christians living in Jerusalem fled to Pella, east of the Jordan River, before 70 AD.  For the astute hearer of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words bring to mind Zechariah 14.  The Prophet Zechariah saw a day of judgment for Jerusalem, when the faithful were told to “flee” the city (Zechariah 14:5).  Similarly, in 1 Maccabees 1:37-39 and 2:27-28, the righteous had to evacuate Jerusalem and Modein (covered in the next lesson) in times of crisis.


Antiochus Imposes Paganism: 1:41-64

Read 1 Maccabees 1:41-50

–          What did Antiochus decree?  Why?


–          How did many of the Israelites respond?


Read 1 Maccabees 1:51-53

–          What happened to the faithful remnant?


Read 1 Maccabees 1:54-61

–          How bad did conditions get?


Read 1 Maccabees 1:62-64

–          Yet, how did the faithful act when persecution increased?


–          What would be the equivalent in New Covenant terms of:

  • Stopping burnt offering and sacrifices
  • Leaving sons uncircumcised
  • Incense was offered in a pagan context
  • Scrolls of the Law (the Scriptures) were burned



[1] Polybius was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period, known for his work, The Histories, which covered the period from 264 to 146 BC.


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