Maccabean Revolt

The Maccabees fought both the foreign Seleucids and homegrown Hellenism.

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Maccabee diplomacy did not exclude propaganda. The Book of Daniel glorified the kingdom of the "saints" which would follow the four succes­sive kingdoms of the beasts. Judith and Esther, heroines of the recent past, were depicted as the daughters of the bold prophetess Deborah, while Judah himself was presented as an incarnation of Joshua--judge and conqueror of the land.

The Revolution is Successful

The revolt achieved rapid success. At the end of the year 164 BC, the first Festival of Light (Hanukkah, [or] "inauguration ") was celebrated in a Temple purified of all pagan cults. (It is only through this festival that the revolt was transmitted to rabbinical posterity. The history of the revolt was retained only in Greek texts later preserved by Christian authors.)  Until 141 BC, however, a Seleucid garrison remained in the citadel (Acra) of Jerusalem, protecting by its very presence those Jews who wished to maintain the Hellenistic way of life.

Meanwhile, the Jewish state was consolidating its achievements: "purifying" the land by imposing the circumcision of all infants, eliminating "arrogant spirits," and capturing enemy cities such as Caspin on the Golan, and even tolerant Scythopolis (Beth‑Shean). The frontiers of the state were enlarged to include, even before its independence, the whole of the Land of Israel. Jonathan, and later Simeon [Maccabee], were recognized by the Seleucids as high priests and even as governors. But the Maccabees' vision, the revival of the era of the Judges, was still but a distant dream.

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Pierre Vidal-Naquet

Pierre Vidal-Naquet was (1930-2006) a scholar of ancient Greece who teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales in Paris.