Map of Israel under the Maccabees

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Land of Israel under the Maccabees map

312 B.C. - The eventual rulership of Israel by the Maccabees is first made possible in 323 B.C. It is in this year that Alexander the Great dies. His vast empire is soon split up among his four generals, one of which is Seleucus Nicator. Seleucus begins the Seleucid Empire in 312 B.C. Over time the empire expands to include Judea (in Israel) and Jerusalem.

175 B.C. - An aggressive campaign to force Greek culture (Hellenizing) into the lives of those in Judea (Israel) is undertaken by Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Jewish religious practices are forbidden.

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167 B.C. - Mattathias, a Jewish priest serving in Israel, starts a revolt against his Seleucid overlords by refusing to worship the Greek gods. Mattathias dies about a year later. One of his five sons, Judas, becomes military chief of the rebellion. Judas would later be known as Judas Maccabaeus (or Judah the Maccabee), which translated means "Judah the Hammer." Judas was called "the hammer" as recognition of his ferocity in battle.

164 B.C. - Judas Maccabeus (who will start the Hasmonean dynasty of rule) leads a group of dissidents to victory over Antiochus' military. Judas enters Jerusalem and religiously cleanses the Temple. On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev the Temple was re-dedicated. Please see our article on Hanukkah for more information. The Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty of influence over Israel and Judah will last roughly 130 years. Antiochus' death occurs toward the end of 164.

160 B.C. - Judas Maccabeus dies in battle.

147 B.C. - Judea in Israel gains its independence.

63 B.C. - Roman troops, led by Pompeius, occupy Judea in Israel. Jerusalem falls.


A line in the sand

It is possible that Antiochus IV Epiphanes gave rise to the common phrase "a line in the sand." The modern definition of this phrase refers to a point beyond which a decision and its consequences are permanently decided and irreversible.

In 168 B.C. Rome sent an envoy named Gaius Laenas to Antiochus to try and prevent a war between them and the Seleucid Empire. Upon Gaius' arrival Antiochus tries to stall for time after being confronted with Rome's demands. Gaius, aware of his delaying tactics, draws a circle in the sand around Antiochus and tells him, "Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate."

Gaius' phrase leaves little doubt that the Roman Empire would wage war against Antiochus if he did not immediately commit to leaving Egypt. Antiochus wisely decides to withdraw his troops and not to go to war.

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