What is the Real Story of Hanukkah?
To read the Introduction to this 8 Part series please click below
Q. Describe the course of the war?
A. In the early days of the revolt Judah was mindful of the superiority of Seleucid forces, especially during the first two years of the revolt, Judah’s strategy was to avoid any engagement with their regular army, and to resort to guerrilla warfare, in order to give them a feeling of insecurity.
Upon hearing the news that the Jewish communities in Gilead, Transjordan, and Galilee were under attack by neighboring Greek cities, Judah Maccabee immediately went to their aid. Judah sent his brother, Simeon, to Galilee at the head of 3,000 men; Simeon proceeded to successfully fulfill his task, achieving numerous victories and transplanted a substantial portion of the Jewish settlements, including women and children, to Judea. He personally led the campaign in Transjordan, taking with him his brother Jonathan. After fierce fighting, he defeated the Transjordanian tribes and rescued the Jews concentrated in fortified towns in Gilead. The Jewish population of the areas taken by the Maccabees was evacuated to Judea.At the conclusion of the fighting in Transjordan, Judah turned against the Edomites in the south, captured and destroyed Hebron and Maresha. He then marched on the coast of the Mediterranean, destroyed the altars and statues of the pagan gods in Ashdod, and returned to Judea with much spoils.
Throughout the war Judah’s guerrilla warfare strategy enabled Judah to win a string of victories. At the battle of Nahal el-Haramiah (wadi haramia), he defeated a small Seleucid force under the command of Apollonius, governor of Samaria, who was killed. Judah took possession of Apollonius’s sword and used it until his death as a symbol of vengeance. After Nahal el-Haramiah, recruits flocked to the Jewish cause.
Judah then laid siege to the Seleucid garrison at the Acra, the Seleucid citadel of Jerusalem. The besieged, who included not only Syrian-Greek troops but also Hellenistic Jews, appealed for help to Lysias, who effectively became the regent of the young king Antiochus V Eupator after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes at the end of 164 BCE during the Parthianc ampaign. Lysias together with Eupator set out for a new campaign in Judea. Lysias skirted Judea as he had done in his first campaign, entering it from the south, and besieged Beth-Zur. Judah raised the siege of the Acra and went to meet Lysias. In the Battle of Beth-zechariah, south of Bethlehem, the Seleucids achieved their first major victory over the Maccabees, and Judah was forced to withdraw to Jerusalem. Beth-Zur was compelled to surrender and Lysias reached Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. The defenders found themselves in a precarious situation because their provisions were exhausted, it being a sabbatical year during which the fields were left uncultivated. However, just as capitulation seemed imminent, Lysias and Eupator had to withdraw when Antiochus Epiphanes’s commander-in-chief Philip, whom the late ruler appointed regent before his death, rebelled against Lysias and was about to enter Antioch and seize power. Lysias decided to propose a peaceful settlement, which was concluded at the end of 163 BCE. The terms of peace were based on the restoration of religious freedom, the permission for the Jews to live in accordance with their own laws, and the official return of the Temple to the Jews. Lysias defeated Philip, only to be overthrown by Demetrius, son of the late Seleucus IV Philopator; returned from years as a hostage in Rome. Demetrius appointed Alcimus (Jakim), a Hellenist Jew, as high priest, a choice the Hasidim (Pietists) might have accepted since he was of priestly descent.
Q. Did the Jews finally win this war?
A. Yes. Judah routed a larger Seleucid army under the command of Seron near Beth-Horon, largely thanks to a good choice of battlefield. Then in the Battle of Emmaus, Judah proceeded to defeat the Seleucid forces led by generals Nicanor and Gorgias. This force was dispatched by Lysias, whom Antiochus left as viceroy after departing on a campaign against the Parthians. By a forced night march, Judah succeeded in eluding Gorgias, who had intended to attack and destroy the Jewish forces in their camp with his cavalry. While Gorgias was searching for him in the mountains, Judah made a surprise attack upon the Seleucid camp and defeated the Seleucid at the Battle of Emmaus. The Seleucid commander had no alternative but to withdraw to the coast.
The final defeat at Emmaus convinced Lysias that he must prepare for a serious and prolonged war. He accordingly assembled a new and larger army and marched with it on Judea from the south via Idumea. After several years of conflict Judah drove out his foes from Jerusalem, except for the garrison in the citadel of Acra.
In Part 3 of this series on Hanukkah, we will explore what happened after the successful Maccadean revolt
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for history, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory.
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