The Maccabees fought both the foreign Seleucids and homegrown Hellenism.
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One of the main causes of social and religious fragmentation in the Second Temple period was the issue of foreign influence: how much Hellenism was too much? What was normative Judaism? While these questions occupied the local populace, one of the major "foreign influences," the Hellenist Seleucids, launched a campaign in 167 B.C.E. meant to eliminate Judaism and solidify the domination of Greek culture and religion in Palestine. When Seleucid soldiers attempted to enforce anti-Jewish edicts in Modi'in (about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem), they met resistance from a local leader, Mattathias. The following article describes the revolt directed by Mattathias and his five sons (Jonathan, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and Yohanan--the Maccabees). It is reprinted with permission from A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People edited by Eli Barnavi and published by Schocken Books.
Inner and Outer Enemies
The revolt launched by the priest Mattathias and later led by his third son, Judah Maccabee, was both a civil war and a war against an outside enemy. The company of Greek officers who arrived at Modi'in intending to enforce the king's ordinances addressed Mattathias first, for he was held in high esteem by the villagers. They ordered him to begin the sacrificial offerings to the pagan idols, promising that in return he and his sons would be admitted to the circle of the king's "friends."
Mattathias refused outright. He killed a Jew who obeyed the command and then one of the king's men. His flight to the mountains, together with his sons and his friends, marks the beginning of the uprising. Thus it appears that the revolt was directed first of all against those Jews who were willing to submit to Greek custom. Only then was it directed against the foreign occupier, the Syrian ruler who was forcibly imposing his culture upon the Jewish population and plundering the Temple and the land.
How the Rebels Fought
Our information about the rebellion is derived mainly from texts which eulogize Mattathias's dynasty (I Maccabees) and in particular the figure of Judah, depicted as a lion of the desert (II Maccabees). We know much less of the Hassideans, the "pious," who fought alongside Mattathias's sons. What is obvious, however, is that one cannot win a war armed solely with religious purity. Compromise was essential from the beginning as, for example, Mattathias's decision to fight on the Sabbath.