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Judea at the time of the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans)

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Bible and History.

Around 200 BCE, Judea, which had been ruled by the Lagids in Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great, came under the control of the Seleucid kings.

During the reign of Antiochus IV, beginning in 175 BCE, relations between Judeans and Seleucids deteriorated.

Jerusalem was unsettled by dissensions between those in favour of opening up to Greek culture and those with more conservative ideas, while the priestly elite was divided by power struggles. Antiochus IV believed that these difficulties were the first signs of a revolt and crushed it with great brutality: in 167 BCE, he desecrated the sanctuary, banned traditional Jewish practices, established rites for the Greek gods, and killed all those who resisted his rule.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Daniel alludes to this period of persecutions in chapter 11 in these words: “Some of the wise shall fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed” [Dan. 11.35 (NRSV)].

This crisis situation saw the emergence of the Maccabean family, which came from Modin and was later known as the Hasmoneans. According to the Books of the Maccabees [which are found in the Greek Septuagint Bible and not in the Hebrew Bible], Judas Maccabeus and his brothers took up arms against the Seleucids. In December 164 BCE, Judas captured Jerusalem and the Temple which he then purified. This event gave rise to the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which is still celebrated today.

At the death of Judas in 160 BCE, his brother Jonathan took over as leader of the revolt and later became the high Priest of Judea.

Simon, another of Judas’ brothers, was the next to become the leader in 143 BCE. By this time, Judea was a very small territory but Simon succeeded in taking and fortifying the port of Joppa (now Jaffa) and the Fortress of Gazara.

In 134 BCE, John Hyrcanus succeeded his father Simon as High Priest. Taking advantage of disputes between pretenders to the Seleucid throne, from 112/111 BCE onward he launched a series of wars of conquest. John Hyrcanus captured the mountainous region of Samaria and in particular the city of Shechem, where he destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim, which rivalled the temple at Jerusalem.

He annexed the territory of Idumea, with the Greek city of Maresha at its centre, to Judea.

In the years of 104/103 BCE, Aristobulus I, son of John Hyrcanus, conquered Galilee where there was already a Jewish population.

Finally, another son of John Hyrcanus, Alexander Jannaeus, officially became King of Judea in 103 BCE, and extended the Hasmonean Kingdom as far as Gaza to the southwest, the Golan region to the north and Galaaditis to the east.

In the early 1st century BCE, the Hasmonean dynasty ruled over a considerable area, which some historians have compared to the Biblical kingdom of David. But in 63 BCE, the Roman General Pompey conquered Jerusalem and the Hasmonean Kingdom came to an end. From now on, Judea remained within the orbit of Rome.