Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Catholic Dictionary




A family that controlled the course of jewish history from 166 to 63 B.C. and secured some measure of religious freedom and political independence during those troubled years. The Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who dominated Palestine was determined to wipe out Judaism and force Hellenistic culture on the Jews (I Maccabees 1). When he resorted to the crowning indignity of introducing pagan sacrifices to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem, the priest Mattathias launched open rebellion, refusing to conduct heathen sacrifices and killing an apostate Jew who agreed to do so. Mattathias and his five sons had to leave Jerusalem, but the struggle had only begun. After the father died, his son, the great Judas Maccabaeus, took over leadership (I Maccabees 2) and re-entered Jerusalem victoriously and purified the Temple (I Maccabees 3-9). He eventually died in battle, but his brother, Jonathan, continued the struggle for eighteen years (I Maccabees 9-12). He was followed by a third brother, Simon, who finally achieved political freedom in 142 B.C. But intrigue and violence never ceased; both Jonathan and Simon were murdered. It was not until the reign of John Hyrcanus, Simon's son, that Judaea became the dominant power in Palestine (I Maccabees 13-16). Several other Maccabees followed (Aristobulus I, Alexander Jannaeus, Alexandra, and Aristobulus II), but increasing internal dissension weakened the government. Finally Roman legions besieged Jerusalem in 63 B.C., took over control, and the Jewish kingship was abolished. The Maccabee dynasty became extinct after a tempestuous century of violence. The history of this heroic struggle is told in detail in the First Book of Maccabees. The Second Book of Maccabees is a more rambling account that parallels the first seven chapters of the First Book but covers only fifteen years.