Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; loving devotion and faithfulness go before You. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.
What do righteousness and justice have to do with history? Today we will look into this more deeply as we look into the revisionist history of today and yesteryear.
One of the most important underlying facts of the Church is that Jesus was born to Mary a little over 2,000 years ago. Whether it was 4 BC, 5 BC or O is not the question of this particular article. The question should be that Jesus was born to Mary a devoted servant of God and a practicing Jewish woman. Mary was raised in the temple. She was taken there at the age of three and lived until she was twelve years old.
The question this article addresses is this: Would there have been a Temple in existence at this time if there had not been a revolt against the Greek forces who were trying to take away all of the Jewish customs and have the Jews convert to the Greek religion.
The death of Alexander the Great of Greece in 323 BCE led to the breakup of the Greek empire as three of his generals fought for supremacy and divided the Middle East among themselves. Ptolemy secured control of Egypt and the Land of Israel. Seleucus grabbed Syria and Asia Minor, and Antigonus took Greece. The key here is that all of these Generals were Greeks from Macedonia and their Empires would reflect a very Hellenistic culture for the entire time of their existence. The Seleucid Kings quickly solidified power and from their power base of Antioch (named after the Seleucid King) slowly stretched their Empire eastward as it reached the entire Middle East to present-day Afghanistan and India.
Just like all other empires the Seleucid Empire grew and slowly contracted. As the contraction process was basically a slow and painful process, many of the Seleucid Kings put forth reactionary policies to try to stop this contraction. Finally in what amounted to be one of their last stands against this contraction. The King put forth a great many laws that would require all non-believers to worship the Greek Gods.
The Jews found themselves between a rock and hard place. On the south, they had the Egyptians (ruled by the Ptolemy family of Greek origin) and North they had the Seleucid family. The Land of Israel was thus sandwiched between two of the rivals and, for the next 125 years, Seleucids and Ptolemies battled for this prize- the homeland of the Jews. The Seleucid finally won in 198 B.C. when Antiochus III defeated the Egyptians and incorporated Judea into his empire. Initially, he continued to allow the Jews autonomy, but after a stinging defeat at the hands of the Romans, he began a program of Hellenization that threatened to force the Jews to abandon their monotheism for the Greeks paganism.
Antiochus backed down in the face of Jewish opposition to his effort to introduce idols in their temples, but his son, Antiochus IV, who inherited the throne in 176 B.C. resumed his father's original policy without accepting the Jews or allowing them to keep their beliefs. Antiochus IV wanted to play hardball with the Jews. He knew that his power was waning and it would be only a matter of time before the Romans would covet his empire and would not be able to defend it unless it was unified and strong. Antiochus IV thought that this unity would come in a common belief system and imposed this belief system upon the Jews.
A brief Jewish rebellion only hardened his views and led him to outlaw central tenets of Judaism such as the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the holy Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews. Any one of these would be enough to set people off, but Antiochus IV figured that he could handle it. However, was he wrong. Wrong, wrong, WRONG.
Though many Jews had been seduced by the virtues of Hellenism, the extreme measures adopted by Antiochus helped unite the people. When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BCE the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation. This was not just a simple religious revolt- it was a religious movement to take back their own religion. They wanted to purify the religion from the pagan customs that had crept into their daily life and practices.
The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for "hammer," because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. Jews refer to the Maccabees, but the family is more commonly known as the Hasmoneans.
Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Hanukkah.
It took more than two decades of fighting before the Maccabees forced the Seleucids to retreat from the Land of Israel. By this time Antiochus had died and his successor agreed to the Jews' demand for independence. The once-mighty Seleucid army could not put down this local religious revolt and the empire went into the last throws of complete death.
In the year 142 BCE, after more than 500 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate. When Mattathias died, the revolt was led by his son Judas, or Judah Maccabee, as he is often called. By the end of the war, Simon was the only one of the five sons of Mattathias to survive and he ushered in an 80-year period of Jewish independence in Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called. The kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon's realm and Jewish life flourished.
The Hasmoneans claimed not only the throne of Judah but also the post of High Priest. This assertion of religious authority conflicted with the tradition of the priests coming from the descendants of Moses' brother Aaron and the tribe of Levi. It did not take long for rival factions to develop and threaten the unity of the kingdom. Ultimately, internal divisions and the appearance of yet another imperial power were to put an end to Jewish independence in the Land of Israel for nearly two centuries. This time it was Rome and this time it would be almost 2000 more years before an independent country of Israel would again exist. The importance of the Maccabees can not be overestimated here. No Maccabees, no revolt, no revolt no Mary or the Temple. No Mary no Jesus. By this time, a person should be able to see a true picture of the importance of the Maccabees.
Now, with this importance, how come we do not hear anything about this in the Church? The Protestants and Jews have relegated the Maccabees to a position outside of the Bible and put much of their hard work outside the thoughts of the common person. Why?
The exclusion of the Books of the Maccabees can be traced to the political rivalry that existed during the late Second Temple Period between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Basically the Rabbi class versus the Temple Priest class.
The Sadducees, a priestly class in charge of the Temple, openly rejected the oral interpretations that the Pharisees, the proto-rabbinic class, openly promoted. The Maccabees were a priestly family, while the rabbis who may have determined the final form of the biblical canon at Jamnia were descended from the Pharisees. Is it possible that the exclusion of the Books of Maccabees was one of the last salvos in the battle between the Pharisees and Sadducees? This could easily explain why the Jewish Council at Jamnia rejected the Books of The Maccabees. This Council rejected the early Christian inclusion of the Maccabees into their Bible. The interesting thing about this friction is that the Jews rejected the Books but kept the Holiday. The Catholics accepted two of the books (First and Second Maccabees) but rejected the holiday and some of the Eastern Catholics- the Maronite Church, for example, starts their Liturgical Year each with the renewal of the Church and renewal of the Temple. The second one is to pay homage to the work that Maccabees did in overthrowing the Pagan influences inside of the Temple. We can learn a great deal from the Maronite Catholic Church. They practice what we all should practice and do- pay respect to our history and learn from it. You can not have a holiday if you reject the book and you should have some remembrance for the efforts that Maccabees played against the Greeks.
Can we learn from history? Yes, we can learn from history. The problem is that we need to remember what properly happened and why. This is what is getting harder and harder to do every day. Praise be to God Always. Amen