In which Mattathias hates his state and enjoys his family: Part Two
This section opened with an autobiographical piece by Mattathias, the elderly father of a priestly family in the small country-town of Modi'in, north-west of Jerusalem. The perspective was his thoughts immediately prior to the great historical events in which he was not only a witness but a major participant. When the rumours that were circulating about the intention of the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus IV, to outlaw the Jewish religion and to impose the compulsory worship of the Greek gods, were proved to be founded in fact, a revolt broke out. This of course was the Maccabee revolt that Mattathias himself led initially, that revolt whose ultimate success we celebrate every Chanukah.


The first Book of Maccabees tells the story. Here is its description of the outbreak of the revolt.

Then the king's officers who were forcing the people to give up their religion, came to the town of Modi'in, to make them offer sacrifice. And many Israelites went to them, and Mattathias and his sons gathered together to offer sacrifice as the king commanded, on the altar in Modi'in. And Mattathias saw him and was filled with zeal, and his heart was stirred, and he was very properly roused to anger, and ran up and slaughtered him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king's officer who was trying to compel them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he showed his zeal for the Law...

Then Mattathias cried out in a loud voice in the town and said; "Let everybody who is zealous for the Law and stands by the agreement come out after me." And he and his sons fled to the mountains and left all they possessed in the town.

Then many seekers for uprightness and justice went down into the wilderness to settle, with their sons and their wives and their cattle, because their hardships had become so severe. And news reached the king's agents and the forces that were in Jerusalem, in the City of David, that men who had disregarded the king's order had gone down to the hiding-places in the wilderness. And they pursued them in force and overtook them, and pitched their camp against them and prepared to attack them.

1 Maccabees ch. 2

The revolt and subsequent war had several phases and it took a full generation until full independence had been gained and Seleucid influence was formally ousted from Judah.

The first and most famous stage took some three years from the time of the initial revolt to the rededication of the Temple (167 b.c.e. - 164 b.c.e.). It is this latter act that is the focal point of the Chanukah celebration. It is then that we remember the revolt and victory of the Hasmonean forces under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, the senior of the five Hasmonean brothers who succeeded their father, Mattathias, after the initial outbreak of revolt.

The three years were filled with a number of different victories against the Syrian-Greek forces and their Jewish sympathisers, the last and greatest of which, at Emmaus, just north-west of Jerusalem, opened up the way through to the city that had served as a stronghold of Seleucid troops over the past three years. During these years, the Temple had been turned into a pagan Temple with sacrifices being made to the principal Greek gods, while a large statue of Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon of gods was stood near the altar, apparently bearing a decided resemblance to the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes.

It was after retaking the majority of the city, that the Maccabees and their supporters could rip down the idol and cleanse and purify the Temple area. They now offered sacrifices to God. Thus ended the first phase of the rebellion.

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We suggest here an exercise in journalistic perspectives.

  • To start with, the story needs to be told. For older groups the two books of Maccabee might be worth studying (look for the version in "The Apocrypha" edited by Edgar Goodspeed, and choose parts of the first four chapters of the first book, and from chapters six to ten of the second book).
    For younger groups, or less textually comfortable groups, we suggest preparing six particaipants to represent Mattathias and his five sons. Between them they should tell the story from the background to the revolt (draw on the autobiographical piece at the beginning of this section) down to the rededication of the Temple. The suggestion is to keep to the historical story as recounted in the books of Maccabee and flesh this out with 'personal reminiscence'rather than to concentrate on the 'miracle of the oil' story which appears in the later Talmudic literature.
    In either case, the participants should be told to keep careful notes on everything that is said or read.
  • After this, the group should be divided into a number of sub-groups each representing a different newspaper. The task of each group is to prepare part of a newspaper on the subject of the events that they have just been told.
    The suggested groups from which the groups should be chosen are:
    • A Secular Nationalist Pro-Maccabee Jewish Newspaper
    • A Religious nationalist Pro-Maccabee Jewish Newspaper
    • A Hellenistic Anti-Maccabee Jewish Newspaper
    • A Diaspora "Zionist" Jewish Newspaper
    • A Seleucid Nationalist Newspaper
    • A Liberal Western Secular Newspaper
    • A Hardline Socialist Newspaper An International Sports Newspaper
  • The groups should be given considerable time for their task and should stick to their task but use as much imagination as possible. Each of their newspapers can of course have different sections and different correspondents. The proceedings can be enlivened by particular people involved (the Maccabee brothers, Antiochus or his generals, some of the Jewish martyrs, Menelaus the high priest - all of whom would have to be prepared beforehand) giving open press conferences.
  • At the end of the proceedings, each newspaper should present its product, reading parts in front of everyone, and explaining its general view of the whole Maccabee rebellion.
  • The products should then be hung up so that everyone can go round for a few minutes and compare results.
  • There should now be a general discussion about perspectives in the press and how important it is to understand 'where a newspaper is coming from' before you swallow its opinion and its interpretation of events.

Two alternative extra endings

First Alternative

  • One extra possibility, having gone through the previous exercise, is to compare the reports in the major Jewish sources that deal with the events surrounding the Chanukah story, namely the first and second books of Maccabees.
    Suggested texts; First Maccabees selections from ch.4
    Second Maccabees selections from ch.8;+ ch.10 vv 1-9
    A close reading of the text will reveal that in First Maccabees (which appears to be an eye-witness report by people involved in the events in Judah) the historical style is what might be called rational secular history reporting on a religious/national revolt.
    Opposed to that we have Second Maccabees (which states itself to be an abridgement of a longer diaspora account of the revolt written by a man called Jason from Cyrenaica in North Africa) and here the historical style is very different. Here, in addition to all the other protagonists from First Maccabees we have an active part played all along the line by God, which creates a totally different literary flavour.
  • Read both accounts and try to get the group to be aware of the distinctions in the works and to account for the difference. What were the purposes of the two authors? Were they both eye-witness accounts? Is one likely to be more the product of diaspora? etc.

    Second Alternative

    Having concluded the first activity on newspapers, progress to an analysis of 'Israel coverage' in the local Jewish and non-Jewish press.




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16 Jun 2005 / 9 Sivan 5765 0