Dec 19, 2006

The History of Hanukkah V

(Start with part one first.)

Daniel: But the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.

In 168 BC, a patrol of soldiers entered Modi’in, a small village located in the countryside to the northwest of Jerusalem. They went to the central marketplace of the town where they erected an altar. The soldiers then assembled all the men of the town. The priest and elder of Modi’in, Mattathias, was among them.

(Enter Mattathias and sons.)

A descendant of the revered Hasmonean family of Levites, Mattathias stood with his five sons: Jonathan, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and John and lamented: "Alas! Why was I born to see this, the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city, and to live there when it was given over to the enemy, the sanctuary given over to aliens? Her temple has become like a person without honor; her glorious vessels have been carried into exile. Her infants have been killed in her streets, her youths by the sword of the foe. What nation has not inherited her palaces and has not seized her spoils? All her adornment has been taken away; no longer free, she has become a slave. And see, our holy place, our beauty, and our glory have been laid waste; the Gentiles have profaned them. Why should we live any longer?"

Then Mattathias and his sons tore their clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned greatly.
The soldiers led forth a pig, which they had brought with them and asked who was the most respected among the villagers. Mattathias was identified.

The commander of the patrol addressed him: "You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts."

Mattathias did not move. He knew that making the sacrifice would be an act of honoring the Greek gods as well as disobeying the Jewish dietary law. He knew that if he made the sacrifice, each of the other Jews would also have to eat the meat or be executed. Mattathias’ choice was clear. He answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left."

There was a tense silence while everyone waited to see what would happen next. Another Jew was the one to break that stillness. “I will do as you bid,” he said to the commander. “I will follow the king’s orders.” He approached the animal. The soldiers stood at attention next to the altar while the Jews watched hopelessly. Mattathias could not control his rage. Suddenly he rushed forward, snatched the commander’s sword, and killed his fellow Jews. And then he turned on the commander and killed him too. The force of his action spurred his sons and the other villagers to attack. The soldiers had no time to collect themselves. They were all killed.

This was not a joyous occasion for the villagers. They knew that when the patrol didn’t return to headquarters, another would be sent to investigate. They had to flee. Mattathias called out, “Every one of you who is zealous for Law and supports the covenant, come with me.” His sons and other supporters took as much of their own food and equipment as they could. And they took their farm animals and weapons of the dead soldiers. But they left much behind –all the comforts of their homes, many of the family remembrances they treasured, and the life they knew in the village. They could make no other choice: They feared the power of Antiochus and his army.

Mattathias fled with his followers to the mountains where they felt they could hide easily. No army was sent to track them down. Maybe it seemed unlikely that they could make any more trouble. Maybe it was because the Jews of the village of Modi’in weren’t important leaders or well recognized in Jerusalem. Whatever the reason, it was a big mistake for Antiochus.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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