The Hasmonean Revolt
Led by a priest named Mattathias from the small town of Modi'in, and armed with weapons forged by the blacksmiths of the mountain villages, the Jews rebelled in 167 BCE against the Seleucid Kingdom. The revolt was motivated first by the decrees against the practice of Judaism and later by a desire for national independence. At first the rebels fought a guerilla war, and the leadership passed from Mattathias to his sons, outstanding among whom was Judah, known as the Maccabee. The Temple was liberated, purified and rededicated in 164 BCE, in remembrance of which the festival Chanukah has been celebrated ever since. In the year 163 the Seleucids revoked the policy of religious persecution and a settlement was made. This was however broken by a new Seleucid ruler, and after several desperate battles and a great deal of political treachery Judea achieved its independence in 142 BCE under Simeon, one of Matthathias' sons.
The family, known as the Hasmoneans, assumed both the religious and the temporal leadership of the people and Simeon, at a great assembly in Jerusalem in 140 BCE was appointed ethnarch i.e. civil ruler, high priest and commander in chief of the army; later the family assumed royal prerogatives. A series of alliances was made with Rome, the growing world power, and Simeon's son, John Hyrcanus, became king of an independent and much larger Judea. Idumea, a neighbouring state was annexed and the whole population converted to Judaism. They soon became an inseparable part of the Jewish nation and their upper classes began to occupy important positions in the government and society of the Hasmonean kingdom, a fact which was to have important consequences later. John Hyrcanus also undertook military operations in Transjordan and opened up the way for the conquest of Galilee, the northern part of Eretz Israel.
This expansionist policy was followed by his successors, particularly Alexander Yannai (103 - 76 BCE) under whom all the foreign cities of the country were taken. The Hasmonean conquests thus eradicated the main political impact of Hellenism from the territory of Eretz Israel. At its beginning the Hasmonean dynasty was borne along a tide of religious-national enthusiasm, but already at an early stage it was evident that its supporters were not all of one complexion. One example, is the Hassideans, who stood for the traditional Jewish values, but who had hardly any common language with the priestly aristocracy that joined the Hasmonean dynasty. In John Hyrcanus' day a breach had occurred over that issue between the Pharissess, the successor group to the Hassideans, and the Hasmoneans.
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