Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
Maccabees The name commonly given to the Jewish family otherwise known as HasmonÃ¦ans , who led the revolt against Syria under Antiochus iv., and furnished the dynasty of leaders and rulers in the State thus formed. The family is said to have derived its name from a more or less mythical ancestor HasmonÅ“us . The chief members of the house were:
1. Mattathias (b.c. 167 166), a citizen of Modin, and of priestly descent. When, in accordance with the policy of Antiochus iv., the royal officer attempted to establish heathen sacrifices in that town, Mattathias refused to conform, killed the officer and a Jew about to offer sacrifices, levelled the heathen altar to the ground, and fled with his five sons to the mountains. There he was joined by a number of other patriots and by ‘the Pious’ (see HasidÃ¦ans). After a few months of vigorous fighting in behalf of the Torah, Mattathias died, leaving the conduct of the revolt to his five sons. Of these, Eleazar and John were killed in the succeeding struggle without having attained official standing. The other three were his successors ( 1Ma 2:1-70 ).
2. Judas (b.c. 166 161), called Maccabee , or ‘the Hammerer,’ from which surname the entire family came to be known. Judas was essentially a warrior, whose plans involved not only the re-establishment of the Torah, but also, in all probability, the re-establishment of the Jewish State in at least a semi-independent position. He defeated successively the Syrian generals Apollonius and Seron. Antiochus iv. then sent Lysias, the Imperial chancellor, to put down the revolt, and he in turn sent a large body of troops against Judas, under three generals Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias. Judas called the fighting men of Galilee together at Mizpah, organized them, and at Emmaus surprised and utterly defeated the forces of Gorgias (b.c. 166 165). In the autumn of 165, Lysias himself came against Judas at the head of a great army, but was defeated at Bethzur. Thereupon, in December 165, Judas cleansed the Temple of the Syrian pollutions and inaugurated the re-established worship with a great feast. For a year and a half he waged war on his enemies on the east of the Jordan, while his brother Simon brought the Jews scattered throughout Galilee back to JudÃ¦a for safety. His vigorous campaign, however, seems to have alienated ‘the Pious,’ who had seen their ambition realized in the re-establishment of the Temple worship. Lysias returned with a great army, and at Beth-zacharias completely defeated Judas. He then laid siege to Jerusalem, where the citadel was still in Syrian hands. Jerusalem surrendered, but Lysias did not attempt again to disestablish the Jewish faith. He appointed Alcimus as high priest, who was received by ‘the Pious’ as legitimate, although he favoured the Greeks. Judas and his party, however, remained in revolt, and when Lysias returned to Syria, undertook war against Alcimus himself. Demetrius r., who had succeeded Antiochus iv., sent Nicanor to put an end to the rebellion. He was defeated by Judas at Capharsalama, and retreated to Jerusalem, where he threatened to burn the Temple if Judas were not delivered up. This once more brought ‘the Pious’ to the support of Judas, who decisively defeated the Syrians at Adasa, Nicanor himself being killed. Josephus states that at this time Alcimus died and Judas was made high priest. Although this is probably an error, Judas was now at the head of the State. He sent ambassadors to Rome asking for assistance, which was granted to the extent that the Senate sent word to Demetrius i. to desist from fighting the Jews, the allies of the Romans. This international policy of Judas displeased ‘the Pious,’ however, and they deserted him; and before the message of the Senate could reach Demetrius, Judas had been defeated by the Syrian general Bacchides , at Elasa, and killed ( 1M Malachi 3:1 to 1Ma 9:22 ).
3. Jonathan (b.c. 161 143) undertook the leadership of the revolt, only to suffer serious defeat east of the Jordan, where he had gone to avenge the killing of his brother John by the ‘sons of Jambri.’ For a time it looked as if Syria would again establish its complete control over the country. The high priest Alcimus died, and Bacchides, believing the subjection of JudÃ¦a complete, returned to Syria (b.c. 160). The land, however, was not at peace, and in the interests of order Bacchides gave Jonathan the right to maintain an armed force at Michmash. The fortunes of the MaccabÃ¦an house now rose steadily. As a sort of licensed revolutionist, Jonathan was sought as an ally by the two rivals for the Syrian throne, Alexander Balas and Demetrius i. Each made him extravagant offers, but Jonathan preferred Alexander Balas; and when the latter defeated his rival, Jonathan found himself a high priest, a prince of Syria, and military and civil governor of JudÃ¦a (b.c. 150). When Alexander Balas was conquered by Demetrius ii., Jonathan laid siege to the citadel of Jerusalem, which was still in the hands of the Syrians. Demetrius did not find himself strong enough to punish the Jews, but apparently bought off the siege by adding to JudÃ¦a three sections of Samaria, and granting remission of tribute. Jonathan thereupon became a supporter of Demetrius ii., and furnished him auxiliary troops at critical times. Thanks to the disturbance in the Syrian Empire, Jonathan conquered various cities in the Maritime Plain and to the south of JudÃ¦a, re-established treaties with Rome and Sparta, and strengthened the fortifications of Jerusalem, cutting off the Syrian garrison with a high wall. Joppa was garrisoned and various strategic points throughout JudÃ¦a fortified. This steady advance towards independence was checked, however, by the treacherous seizure of Jonathan by Trypho, the guardian and commanding general of the young Antiochus v., by whom he was subsequently (b.c. 142) executed ( 1Ma 9:28 to 1Ma 12:1 ).
4. Simon (b.c. 143 135), another son of Mattathias, succeeded Jonathan when the affairs of the State were in a critical position. A man of extraordinary ability, he was so successful in diplomacy as seldom to be compelled to carry on war. It was greatly to his advantage that the Syrian State was torn by the struggles between the aspirants to the throne. Simon’s first step was to make the recognition of the independence of JudÃ¦a a condition of an alliance with Demetrius ii. The need of that monarch was too great to warrant his refusal of Simon’s hard terms, and the political independence of JudÃ¦a was achieved (b.c. 143 142). In May 142Samimon was able to seize the citadel, and in September 141, at a great assembly of priests and people, and princes of the people, and elders of the land, he was elected to be high priest and military commander and civil governor of the Jews, ‘for ever until there should arise a faithful prophet.’ That is to say, the high-priestly office became hereditary in Simon’s family. Following the policy of his house, Simon re-established the treaty with Rome, although he became involved in a strenuous struggle with Syria, in which the Syrian general was defeated by his son, John Hyrcanus. Like his brothers, however, Simon met a violent death, being killed by his son-in-law at a banquet ( 1Ma 13:1-53; 1Ma 14:1-49; 1Ma 15:1-41; 1Ma 16:1-16 ).
5. John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135 105). Under this son of Simon, the Jewish State reached its greatest prosperity. Josephus describes him as high priest, king, and prophet, but strangely enough the records of his reign are scanty. At the opening of his reign, John’s position, like that of his father and uncle, was critical. Antiochus vii. (Sidetes), the last energetic king of Syria, for a short time threatened to reduce JudÃ¦a again to political dependence. He besieged Jerusalem and starved it into surrender. For some reason, however, probably because of the interference of the Romans he did not destroy the city, but, exacting severe terms, left it under the control of Hyrcanus. Antiochus was presently killed in a campaign against the Parthians, and was succeeded by the weak Demetrius ii., who had been released from imprisonment by the same nation. John Hyrcanus from this time onwards paid small attention to Syrian power, and began a career of conquest of the territory on both sides of the Jordan and in Samaria. The affairs of Syria growing ever more desperate under the succession of feeble kings, John ceased payment of the tribute which had been exacted by Antiochus, and established a brilliant court, issuing coins as high priest and head of the Congregation of the Jews. He did not, however, take the title of ‘king.’ His long reign was marked by a break with the Pharisees, who, as successors of ‘the Pious,’ had been the traditional party of the government, and the establishment of friendship with the Sadducees, thereby fixing the high priesthood as one of the perquisites of that party. John died in peace, bequeathing to his family a well-rounded out territory and an independent government (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XIII. viii x.; BJ i. ii.).
6. Aristobulus I. (b.c. 105 104). According to the will of John Hyrcanus, the government was placed in his widow’s hands, while the high priesthood was given to the oldest of his five sons, Aristobulus. The latter, however, put his mother in prison, where she starved to death, established his brother Antigonus as joint-ruler, and threw his other three brothers into prison. In a short time, urged on by suspicion, he had his brother Antigonus killed, and he himself took the title of ‘king.’ Of his short reign we know little except that he was regarded as a friend of the Greeks, and conquered and circumcised the IturÃ¦ans, who probably lived in Galilee. At this time the final Judaizing of Galilee began (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiii. xi.; BJ i. iii.).
7. Alexander JannÃ¦us (b.c. 104 78). After the death of Aristobulus, his widow Alexandra (Salome) released his three brothers from prison, and married the oldest of them, Alexander JannÃ¦us (or Jonathan), making him king and high priest. Alexander carried on still more vigorously the monarchical policy of Aristobulus, and undertook the extension of JudÃ¦a by the conquest of the surrounding cities, including those of Upper Galilee. He was essentially a warrior, but in his early campaigns was defeated by the Egyptians. JudÃ¦a might then have become a province of Egypt had not the Jewish counsellors of Cleopatra advised against the subjection of the land. The Egyptian army was withdrawn, and Alexander JannÃ¦us was left in control of the country. His monarchical ambitions, however, aroused the hostility of the Pharisees, and JudÃ¦a was rent by civil war. For six years the war raged, and it is said that 50,000 Jews perished. The Pharisees asked aid from Demetrius iii., and succeeded in defeating Alexander. Thereupon, however, feeling that they were in danger of falling again into subjection to Syria, many of the Jews went over to Alexander and assisted him in putting down the rebellion. The consequent success of Alexander was marked by a series of terrible punishments inflicted upon those who had rebelled against him. During the latter part of his reign he was engaged in struggles with the Greek cities of Palestine, in the siege of one of which he died, bequeathing his kingdom to his wife Alexandra, with the advice that she should make friends with the Pharisees (Jos [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiii. xii xv.; BJ i. iv.).
8. Alexandra (b.c. 78 69) was a woman of extraordinary ability, and her reign was one of great prosperity, according to the Pharisees, whose leaders were her chief advisers. She maintained the general foreign policy of her house, defending her kingdom against various foreign enemies, but particularly devoted herself, under the guidance of her brother Simon ben-Shetach, to the inner development of JudÃ¦a along lines of Pharisaic policy. The Sadducean leaders were to some extent persecuted, but seem to have been able to bring about their appointment to the charge of various frontier fortresses. The death of Alexandra alone prevented her being involved in a civil war (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiii. xvi.; BJ i. v.).
9. Aristohulus II. (b.c. 69 63). After the death of Alexandra civil war broke out. According to the queen’s provision, her eldest son, Hyrcanus ii., who was already high priest, was to have been her successor. In fact, he did undertake to administer the State, but his younger and more energetic brother Aristobulus organized the rebellion, defeated Hyrcanus, and compelled him to surrender. By the agreement that followed, Hyrcanus was reduced to private life in the enjoyment of a large revenue. It was at this time that Antipater, the father of Herod i., appeared on the scene. He was an IdumÃ¦an of boundless ambition and much experience. He undertook to replace Hyrcanus on the throne. With the assistance of Aretas, king of Arabia, he organized an army and besieged Aristobulus in the Temple Mount. As the war was proceeding, Pompey sent Scaurus to Syria (b.c. 65). Scaurus proceeded towards JudÃ¦a to take advantage of the struggle between the two brothers. Before he reached JudÃ¦a, however, both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus referred their quarrel to him. Scaurus favoured Aristobulus, and ordered Aretas to return to Arabia. This decision, however, did not end the controversy between the brothers, and they appealed to Pompey himself, who meantime had arrived at Damascus. The two brothers pleaded their cause, as did also an embassy of the Jewish people, which asked that the monarchy be abolished, and the government by the high priest he re-established. Pompey deferred his decision, and ordered the two brothers to maintain peace. Aristobulus, however, undertook to continue the revolt, fleeing to Alexandrium, a fortress on the Samaritan hills, above the Jordan Valley. At the command of Pompey he surrendered the fortress, but fled to Jerusalem, where he prepared to stand a siege. Pompey followed him, and Aristobulus promised to surrender. When, however, Gabinius, the Roman general, went to take possession of the city, he found the gates closed against him. Thereupon Pompey proceeded to besiege the city. The various divisions of Jerusalem surrendered to him except the Temple Mount. This was captured after a long siege, and at terrible cost (b.c. 63). Pompey went into the Holy of Holies, but did not touch the Temple treasures. He did, however, make JudÃ¦a tributary to Rome and greatly reduced its territory. Aristobulus was taken prisoner, and Hyrcanus was re-established as high priest, but without the title of ‘king.’ Great numbers of Jews were taken by Pompey to Rome at this time, together with Aristobulus, and became the nucleus of the Jewish community in the capital. With this conquest of Pompey, the MaccabÃ¦an State really came to an end; and JudÃ¦a became tributary to Rome (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiv. i iv, BJ i. vi. and vii.).
10. Hyrcanus II. was a weak man, but had for his adviser and major domo Antipater, an exceedingly able man. The State, as re-organized by Gabinius, was attached to Syria and Hyrcanus exercised the function of high priest (63 40). During this time JudÃ¦a was swept more completely into the current of Roman history, because of the assistance rendered by Antipater and Hyrcanus to CÃ¦sar in his struggle with the party of Pompey in Egypt. In gratitude CÃ¦sar gave many rights and privileges to the Jews throughout the Roman world. Hyrcanus was, however, not appointed king, but ‘ethnarch,’ and Antipater was made procurator. The walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down by Pompey, were now rebuilt, and various cities taken away by Pompey were restored to the JudÃ¦an territory. Hyrcanus, completely under the control of Antipater, supported Cassius in the struggle which followed the death of CÃ¦sar, but in the disturbances following the death of Brutus and Cassius espoused the cause of Antony. At this critical juncture Antipater was killed, and his two sons, Phasael and Herod, were appointed by Antony tetrarchs of the country of the Jews. Antigonus, however, the second son of Aristobulus, with the assistance of the Parthians, captured Phasael, compelled Herod to flee, and seized the State. Hyrcanus was carried away prisoner by the Parthians, and his ears were cut off, so that he could no longer act as high priest.
After Herod had been made king, Hyrcanus was brought back to JudÃ¦a, and became a centre of one of the various intrigues against Herod, who had married Hyrcanus’ grand-daughter Mariamme. As a result, Herod had him executed (b.c. 30), on the charge of conspiracy with the king of Arabia (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiv. v. xiii.; BJ i. viii xiii.).
11. Alexander , the elder son of Aristobulus ii., who escaped from Pompey on the journey to Rome, collected an army and headed an insurrection in JudÃ¦a (b.c. 57). He was finally defeated, and later during the civil wars was beheaded by order of Pompey as a friend of CÃ¦sar.
12. Antigonus , with his father Aristobulus, escaped from the Romans, and in b.c. 56 headed a revolt in JudÃ¦a. Aristobulus retreated to MachÃ¦rus, but after two years’ siege was compelled to surrender, and went again as prisoner to Rome, where he was poisoned (b.c 49), just as he was setting out to the East to assist CÃ¦sar. Antigonus in b.c. 47 attempted unsuccessfully to induce CÃ¦sar to establish him as king of JudÃ¦a in place of Hyrcanus and Antipater. After the death of CÃ¦sar and during the second triumvirate, Antigonus attempted to gain the throne of JudÃ¦a with the assistance of the Parthians, and in 40 37 maintained himself with the title of ‘king and high priest.’ At the end of that period, however, Herod i., who had been appointed king by the Romans, conquered Antigonus with the assistance of Rome. Antigonus was beheaded (b.c. 37) by Antony at the request of Herod (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . xiv. xiv xvi.; BJ I. xiv xviii. 3).
13. Alexandra , daughter of Hyrcanus ii., married her cousin Alexander, son of Aristobulus ii. She was a woman of great ability, and as the mother of Mariamme, wife of Herod i., was an object of bitter hatred on the part of Herod’s sister Salome. She was executed by Herod in b.c. 28.
14. Aristobulus III. , son of Alexander and Alexandra, became a member of the household of Herod after the latter’s marriage with Mariamme. Like all HasmonÃ¦ans, he was possessed of great personal beauty and was a favourite with the people. At the request of his sister he was made high priest by Herod (b.c. 35). On account of his popularity, Herod had him drowned while he was bathing at Jericho, in the same year, when he had reached the age of seventeen.
15. Mariamme , daughter of Alexander and Alexandra, was reputed to be one of the most beautiful women of the time. She became the wife of Herod, who loved her jealously. Driven to madness, however, by the scandalous reports of his sister Salome, Herod had her executed in b.c. 29.
Although the direct line of HasmonÃ¦ans was thus wiped out by Herod, the family was perpetuated in the sons of Herod himself by Mariamme Alexander and Aristobulus. Both these sons, indeed, Herod caused to be executed because of alleged conspiracies against him, but the MaccabÃ¦an line still lived in the persons of Herod of Chalcis and Agrippa i. and ii. (see Herod).
Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
two apocryphal books of Scripture, containing the history of Judas and his brothers, and their wars against the Syrian kings in defence of their religion and liberties, so called from Judas, the son of Mattathias, surnamed Maccabaeus, as some authors say, from the word מכבי , formed of the initials of מיאּ?כמכה באלים יהוה , "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?" Exodus 15:11 , which was the motto of his standard; whence those who fought under his standard were called Maccabees, and the name was generally applied to all who suffered in the cause of true religion, under the Egyptian or Syrian kings. This name, formed by abbreviation according to the common practice of the Jews, distinguished Judas Maccabaeus by way of eminence, as he succeeded his father, B.C. 166, in the command of those forces which he had with him at his death; and, being joined by his brothers, and all others that were zealous for the law, he erected his standard, on which he inscribed the above mentioned motto. Those, also, who suffered under Ptolemy Philopater of Alexandria, fifty years before this period, were afterward called Maccabees; and so were Eleazar, and the mother and her seven sons, though they suffered before Judas erected his standard with the motto from which the appellation originated. And therefore, as these books, which contain the history of Judas and his brothers, and their wars against the Syrian kings, in defence of their religion and liberties, are called the first and second books of the Maccabees; so that book which gives us the history of those who, in the like cause, under Ptolemy Philopater, were exposed to his elephants at Alexandria, is called the third book of the Maccabees; and that which is written by Josephus, of the martyrdom of Eleazar, and the seven brothers and their mother, is called the fourth book of the Maccabees.
The first book of the Maccabees is an excellent history, and comes nearest to the style and manner of the sacred historians of any extant. It was written originally in the Chaldee language, of the Jerusalem dialect and was extant in this language in the time of Jerom, who had seen it. From the Chaldee it was translated into Greek, from the Greek into Latin.
Theodotion is conjectured to have translated it into Greek; but this version was probably more ancient, as we may infer from its use by ancient authors, as Tertullian, Origen, and others. It is supposed to have been written by John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, who was prince and high priest of the Jews near thirty years, and began his government at the time where this history ends. It contains the history of forty years, from the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes to the death of Simon, the high priest; that is, from the year of the world 3829 to the year 3869, B.C. 131. The second book of the Maccabees begins with two epistles sent from the Jews of Jerusalem to the Jews of Egypt and Alexandria, to exhort them to observe the feast of the dedication of the new altar erected by Judas, on his purifying the temple. The first was written in the 169th year of the era of the Seleucidae, that is, B.C. 144; and the second, in the 188th year of the same era, or B.C. 125; and both appear to be spurious. After these epistles follows the preface of the author to his history, which is an abridgment of a larger work, composed by one Jason, a Jew of Cyrene, who wrote in Greek the history of Judas Maccabaeus, and his brethren, and the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes, and Eupator his son. The two last chapters contain events under the reign of Demetrius Soter, the successor of Antiochus Eupator, and contain such varieties in their style, as render it doubtful whether they had the same author as the rest of the work. This second book does not by any means equal the accuracy and excellency of the first. It contains a history of about fifteen years, from the execution of Heliodorus's commission, who was sent by Seleucus to fetch away the treasures of the temple, to the victory obtained by Judas Maccabaeus over Nicanor; that is, from the year of the world 3828 to the year 3843, B.C. 157.
There are in the Polyglott Bibles, both of Paris and London, Syriac versions of both these books; but they, as well as the English versions which we have among the apocryphal writers in our Bibles, are derived from the Greek. For a farther account of Judas Maccabaeus, and of his brothers, whose history is recorded in the first and second books of the Maccabees, and also by Josephus, we refer to the article JEWS. The third book of the Maccabees contains the history of the persecution of Ptolomy Philopater against the Jews in Egypt, and their sufferings under it; and seems to have been written by some Alexandrian Jew in the Greek language, not long after the time of Siracides. This book, with regard to its subject, ought to be called the first, as the things which are related in it occurred before the Maccabees, whose history is recorded in the first and second books; but as it is of less authority and repute than the other two, it is reckoned after them. It is extant in Syriac, though the translator did not seem to have well understood the Greek language. It is in most of the ancient manuscript copies of the Greek Septuagint, particularly in the Alexandrian and Vatican, but was never inserted into the vulgar Latin version of the Bible, nor, consequently, into any of our English copies. The first authentic mention we have of this book is in Eusebius's "Chronicon." It is also named with two other books of the Maccabees in the eighty-fifth of the apostolic canons. But it is uncertain when that canon was added. Grotius thinks that this book was written after the two first books, and shortly after the book of Ecclesiasticus, from which circumstance it was called the third book of Maccabees. Moreover, Josephus's history of the martyrs that suffered under Antiochus Epiphanes, is found in some manuscript Greek Bibles, under the name of the fourth book of the Maccabees. This book, ascribed to Josephus, occurs under the title, "Concerning the Empire or Government of Reason;" but learned men have expressed a doubt whether this was the book known to the ancients as the fourth book of the Maccabees.
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
After the expulsion of Antiochus Epiphanes from Egypt by the Romans, he gave vent to his indignation on the Jews, great numbers of whom he mercilessly put to death in Jerusalem. He oppressed them in every way, and tried to abolish altogether the Jewish worship. Mattathias, an aged priest, then residing at Modin, a city to the west of Jerusalem, became now the courageous leader of the national party; and having fled to the mountains, rallied round him a large band of men prepared to fight and die for their country and for their religion, which was now violently suppressed. In 1 Maccabees 2:60 is recorded his dying counsels to his sons with reference to the war they were now to carry on. His son Judas, "the Maccabee," succeeded him (B.C. 166) as the leader in directing the war of independence, which was carried on with great heroism on the part of the Jews, and was terminated in the defeat of the Syrians.
Webster's Dictionary 
(1): ( n. pl.) The name given later times to the Asmonaeans, a family of Jewish patriots, who headed a religious revolt in the reign of Antiochus IV., 168-161 B. C., which led to a period of freedom for Israel.
(2): ( n. pl.) The name of two ancient historical books, which give accounts of Jewish affairs in or about the time of the Maccabean princes, and which are received as canonical books in the Roman Catholic Church, but are included in the Apocrypha by Protestants. Also applied to three books, two of which are found in some MSS. of the Septuagint.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
From the initials of Judas Maccabeus' motto, Μiy Κamowka Βe - 'Εlohiym Υahweh , "who is like unto Thee, Jehovah, among the gods?" ( Exodus 15:11.) Books of the Apocrypha: interesting as giving a Jewish history of many events which occurred after the sacred Canon closed with Malachi; especially the heroic and successful struggle of the Maccabees for Judah's independence against the Old Testament antichrist and persecutor, Antiochus Epiphanes, of whom Daniel 8; Daniel 11 foretells. (See Canon ; Bible; Daniel; Jerusalem )
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature 
Mac´cabees. The etymology of this word is too uncertain to reward the inquiries made respecting it. As a family, the Maccabees commenced their career of patriotic and religious heroism during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, about the year B.C. 167. At this time the aged Mattathias, a descendant of the Hasmoneans, and his five sons, inhabited the town of Modin, to which place Antiochus sent certain of his officers with instructions to erect an altar for heathen sacrifices, and to engage the inhabitants in the celebration of the most idolatrous and superstitious rites. The venerable Mattathias openly declared his resolution to oppose the orders of the tyrant, and one of the recreant Jews approaching the altar which had been set up, he rushed upon him, and slew him with his own hand. His part thus boldly taken, he called his sons and his friends around him, and immediately fled to the mountains, inviting all to follow him who had any zeal for God and the law. A small band of resolute and devoted men was thus formed, and the governor of the district saw reason to fear that a general insurrection would be the consequence of their proceeding. By a sudden attack directed against them on the Sabbath, when he knew the strictness of their principles would not allow them to take measures for their defense, he threw them into disorder, and slew about a thousand of their number, consisting of men, women, and children.
Warned by this event, and yielding to the necessity of their present condition, Mattathias and his sons determined that for the future they would defend themselves on the Sabbath in the same manner as on other days. The mountain-hold of the little band was now guarded more cautiously than before. Fresh adherents to the holy cause were continually flocking in; and in a few months the party found itself sufficiently strong to make attacks upon the towns and villages of the neighborhood, throwing down the heathen altars, and punishing the reprobates who had taken part with the enemies of God.
By the death of Mattathias, the leadership of the party devolved upon his son Judas Maccabaeus, whose worth and heroic courage pointed him out as most capable of carrying on the enterprise thus nobly begun. Judas lost no time in attacking the enemy. He made himself master of several towns, which he fortified and garrisoned. Apollonius, General of the army in Samaria, hastened to stop the progress of the insurgents. Judas met him on the way, joined battle with him, slew him and routed his army. The same success attended him in his encounter with Seron, general of the Syrians; and it now became evident to Antiochus that the Jewish nation would soon be delivered from his yoke, unless he proceeded against them with a more formidable force. While, therefore, he himself went into Persia to recruit his treasures, Lysias, whom he left as regent at home, sent an army into Judea, composed of forty thousand foot and seven thousand cavalry. This powerful array was further increased by auxiliaries from the provinces, and by bands of Jews, who dreaded nothing more than the triumph of those virtuous men of their own nation, who were struggling to save it from reprobation. So unequal did the forces of Judas appear to an encounter with such an army, that in addressing his followers he urged those among them who had any especial reason to love the present world to retire at once; while to those who remained he pointed out the promises of God as the best support of their courage and fidelity. By a forced march he reached a portion of the enemy encamped at Emmaus, while utterly unprepared for his approach. Complete success attended this bold proceeding. The several parts of the hostile army were successively put to flight, a splendid booty was secured, and Judas gained a position which made even the most powerful of his opponents tremble. Another and more numerous army was sent against him the following year, but with no better success. At the head of ten thousand determined followers, Judas defeated the army of Lysias, consisting of sixty thousand. A way was thereby opened for his progress to Jerusalem, whither he immediately hastened, with the devout purpose of purifying the temple and restoring it to its former glory. The solemn religious rites having been performed which were necessary to the cleansing of the sacred edifice, the Festival of the Purification was instituted, and added to the number of the other national festivals of more ancient date.
Judas had full occupation for his courage and ability in repelling the incursions of those numerous foes who dreaded the restoration of order and religion. But every day added to his successes. Having overthrown the Syrian commanders sent against him, he occupied Samaria, made himself master of the strong city of Hebron, of Azotus, and other important places, taking signal vengeance on the people of Joppa and Jamnia, who had treacherously plotted the destruction of numerous faithful Jews.
Antiochus Epiphanes was succeeded by Antiochus Eupator. At first this prince acted towards the Jews with moderation and tolerance. But he soon afterwards invaded Judea with a powerful army, and was only induced to make peace with Maccabaeus by the fears which he entertained of a rival aspirant to the throne. His caution did not save him. He was put to death by his own uncle, Demetrius, who, obtaining the throne of Syria, made peace with Judas, but took possession of the citadel of Jerusalem, which was occupied by his general, Nicanor, and a body of troops. This state of things was not allowed to last long. Demetrius listened to the reports of Nicanor's enemies, and threatened to deprive him of his command unless he could disprove the accusation that he had entered into a league with Judas, and was betraying the interests of his sovereign. Nicanor immediately took measures to satisfy Demetrius, and Judas saw it necessary to escape from Jerusalem, and put himself in a posture of defense. A battle took place in which he defeated his enemy. Another was soon after fought at Beth-horon, where he was again victorious. Nicanor himself fell in this battle, and his head and right hand were sent among the spoils to Jerusalem But the forces of Demetrius were still numerous. Judas had retired to Laish with about three thousand followers. He was there attacked by overwhelming numbers. Only eight hundred of his people remained faithful to him on this occasion. Resolved not to flee, he bravely encountered the enemy, and was speedily slain, regarding his life as a fitting sacrifice to the cause in which he was engaged.
Simon and Jonathan, the brothers of Judas, rallied around them the bravest of their companions, and took up a strong position in the neighborhood of Tekoa. Jonathan proved himself a worthy successor of his heroic brother, and skillfully evaded the first attack of Bacchides, the Syrian general. For two years after this, the brothers were left in tranquility, and they established themselves in a little fortress called Bethtasi, situated among the rocks near Jericho. The skill and resolution with which they pursued their measures rendered them formidable to the enemy; and the state of affairs in Syria some time after obliged Demetrius to make Jonathan the general of his forces in Judea, and to invest him with the authority of governor of Jerusalem. To this he was compelled by the rivalry of Alexander Balas; but his policy was too late to secure the attachment of his new ally. Jonathan received offers from Alexander to support his interests among the Jews, and the high-priesthood was the proffered reward. The invitation was accepted; and Jonathan became the first of the Hasmonean line through which the high-priesthood was so long transmitted. Alexander Balas left nothing undone which might tend to secure the fidelity of Jonathan. He gave him a high rank among the princes of his kingdom, and adorned him with a purple robe. Jonathan continued to enjoy his prosperity till the year B.C. 143, when he fell a victim to the treachery of Trypho, who aspired to the Syrian throne. He was succeeded by his brother Simon, who confirmed the Jews in their temporary independence; and in the year B.C. 141 they passed a decree whereby the dignity of the high-priesthood and of prince of the Jews was rendered hereditary in the family of Simon. He fell a victim to the treachery of his son-in-law, Ptolemy, governor of Jericho; but was succeeded by his son, the celebrated John Hyrcanus, who possessed the supreme authority above thirty years, and at his death left it to be enjoyed by his son Aristobulus, who, soon after his accession to power, assumed the title of king. This dignity continued to be enjoyed by descendants of the HHasmonean family till the year B.C. 34, when it ceased with the downfall of Antigonus, who, conquered by Herod and the Romans, was put to death by the common executioner.
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
A body of Jewish patriots, followers of Judas Maccabæus, who in 2nd century B.C. and in the interest of the Jewish faith withstood the oppression of Syria and held their own for a goodly number of years against not only the foreign yoke that oppressed them, but against the Hellenising corruption of their faith at home.
- Maccabees from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- Maccabees from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- Maccabees from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- Maccabees from Webster's Dictionary
- Maccabees from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- Maccabees from Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
- Maccabees from The Nuttall Encyclopedia