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Catholic Dictionary




Son of the priest Mattathias and leader of the Jewish army; he delivered his people from the Syrian yoke in a war of independence. He sent messengers to Rome to secure an alliance between the Jews and Romans. The alliance was successfully made, but before the news reached the east, Judas was defeated and slain in 161 B.C. on the battlefield of Elasa. When he died "All Israel wept and mourned him deeply, and for many days they repeated this dirge, 'What a downfall for the strong man, the man who saved Israel singlehanded'" (I Maccabees 9:20-21). The two books of Maccabees, so called because they contain the history of the Jews under Judas Maccabeus, are part of the Catholic canon of the Scriptures but are omitted (or considered apocryphal) in the Protestant Bible. The exploits the Judas Maccabeus are the subject of a famous oratorio by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759).