Historical context of the life of Jesus Christ

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Hasmonaean rule

As mentioned earlier, the Seleucids, who now had jurisdiction over Judaea thoroughly promoted hellenization and under their rule, and especially with the connivance of the upper and middle classes, the religion of Israel and a whole way of life would have disappeared forever. This, however, was not to be.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Seleucid was ruler by the time the Maccabaean revolt started. During all this time, the high priests had come from the descendants of Aaron as a hereditary post with no outside interference in the choice for this office. Everything changed with Antiochus Epiphanes as the position suddenly ceased to be hereditary.

Jason, who was brother to Onias III, the high priest bribed Antiochus IV Epiphanes and was made high priest while Onias was exiled. Jason was thoroughly pro-Hellenic and increased still further the pace of hellenization. He himself was later deposed by a certain Menelaus, also with the help of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. A dangerous precedent had been set. There were now three people contending the post of high priest.

Some years later, having been defeated in Egypt, Antiochus IV Epiphanes returned to discover that Jason in his absence had returned to depose his protégé Menelaus. Outraged, he besieged the Temple and massacred all those who refused to co-operate with him. He banned all manner of Jewish religious worship in the country and ordered that all shall worship the Greek gods. To make matters worse, he ordered that a pagan altar be built upon the existing altar of burnt offering in the Temple. This action, known as the “abomination of desolation” was the last straw for the majority of Jews who saw no other way out of this desecration but to resist. The Maccabaean revolt had begun.

The Maccabaean revolt started with a local Jewish priest called Mattathias and his five sons. Instead of obeying the order of a local officer to offer pagan sacrifices, they refused and killed the officer. They later gathered other people around them in their open revolt against the Seleucid rule.

When Mattathias died, Judas, one of his sons took his place and was especially famous for his victories against the Seleucids and for his appellation the Maccabee. Judas succeeded in instituting some degree of normalcy and managed to rededicate some of the Temples that had been desecrated to the pure worship of God.

He had to wage a bitter struggle against some of his own people who were pro-Hellenic. Most of these people had been deposed by him and as such they sought an opportunity to avenge themselves against him. This opportunity came in the persons of Alcimus, a pro-Hellenic local priest and a new ruler by the name of Demetrius I Soter.

Alcimus and his supporters sent a representation to Demetrius I Soter complaining bitterly about how they had been treated by Judas and his supporters. Alcimus was appointed high priest and was installed by force of arms. In the ensuing struggle, even Judas the Maccabee lost his life.

He was succeeded by his brother Jonathan, but eventually he fell and was succeeded by another one of the brothers Simon. With Simon now as high priest and political head of state, the rule of the Hasmonaeans had begun. Simon achieved total independence for his country from the Seleucids and was declared as Prince, and his position was made hereditary by an act of law.

A series of successions followed, not by any means peaceful until we reach the time of Antigonus, the last Hasmonaean ruler. The time of Antigonus unfortunately coincided with that of Herod the Great, who after having been declared king of Judaea by Caesar Augustus took arms against Antigonus and eventually defeated him. This completed his installation as king of the Jews in Jerusalem, even though he hailed from Idumaea, a country to the south of Judaea.

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