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Maccabees 12-15: Jonathan’s Death and the Reign of Simon

Beit SheanAfter the death of Jonathan in 143 B.C.E., the Hasmonean state was ruled by Simon. He succeeded in expelling the Seleucids from the citadel and in gaining an official charter from the Seleucid ruler, making Judea truly independent. Especially important are the royal documents of Seleucid provenance confirming this status which were preserved in 1 Maccabees.

12-39 Then Trypho attempted to become king of Asia 5 and put on the crown, and to raise his hand against Antiochus the king. 6 40 He feared that Jonathan might not permit him to do so, but might make war on him, so he kept asking to seize and kill him, and he marched forth and came to Beth-Shan. 7 41 Jonathan went out to meet him with forty thousand picked fighting men, and he came to Beth-Shan. 42 When Trypho saw that he had come with a large army, he was afraid to raise his hand against him. 43 So he received him with honor and commended him to all his friends, and he gave him gifts and commanded his friends and his troops to obey him as they would himself. 44 Then he said to Jonathan, “Why have you wearied all these people when we are not at war? 45 Dismiss them now to their homes and choose for yourself a few men to stay with you, and come with me to Ptolemais. I will hand it over to you as well as the other strongholds and the remaining troops and all the officials and will turn around and go home. For that is why I am here.”

46 Jonathan trusted him and did as he said; he sent awayhis troops, and they returned to the land of Judah. 47 He kept with himself three thousand men, two thousand of whom he left in Galilee, while a thousand accompanied him. 48 But when Jonathan entered Ptolemais, the men of Ptolemais closed the gates and seized him, and all who had entered with him they killed with the sword. 8

49 Then Trypho sent troops and cavalry into Galilee and the Great Plain to destroy all of Jonathan’s soldiers. 50 But they realized that Jonathan had been seized and had perished along with his men, and they encouraged one another and kept marching in close formation, ready for battle. 51 When their pursuers saw that they would fight for their lives, they turned back. 52 So they all reached the land of Judah safely, and they mourned for Jonathan and his companions and were in great fear; and all Israel mourned deeply. 53 And all the nations round about them tried to destroy them, for they said, “They have no leader or helper. Now therefore let us make war on them and blot out the memory of them from among men.”

13-25 And Simon sent and took the bones of Jonathan his brother, and buried him in Modein, the city of his fathers. 26 All Israel bewailed him with great lamentation, and mourned for him many days. 27 And Simon built a monument over the tomb of his father and his brothers; he made it high that it might be seen, with polished stone in front and back. 28 He also erected seven pyramids, opposite one another, for his father and mother and four brothers. 29 And for the pyramids he devised an elaborate setting, erecting about them great columns, and upon the columns he put suits of armor for a permanent memorial, and beside the suits of armor carved ships, so that they could be seen by all who sail the sea. 30 This is the tomb which he built in Modein; it remains to this day. 31 Trypho dealt treacherously with the young king Antiochus; 9 he killed him 32 and became king in his place, putting on the crown of Asia; and he brought great calamity upon the land. 33 But Simon built up the strongholds of Judea and walled them all around with high towers and great walls and gates and bolts, and he stored food in the strongholds.

14-16 It was heard in Rome, and as far away as Sparta, that Jonathan had died, and they were deeply grieved. 17 When they heard that Simon his brother had become high priest in his place, and that he was ruling over the country and the cities in it, 18 they wrote to him on bronze tablets to renew with him the friendship and alliance which they had established with Judas and Jonathan his brothers….

25 When the people heard these things they said, “How shall we thank Simon and his sons? 26 For he and his brothers and the house of his father have stood firm; they have fought and repulsed Israel’s enemies and established its freedom.” 27 So they made a record on bronze tablets and put it upon pillars on Mount Zion.

This is a copy of what they wrote- “On the eighteenth day of Elul, in the one hundred and seventy-second year, which is the third year of Simon the great high priest, 28 in Asaramel, in the great assembly of the priests and the people and the rulers of the nation and the elders of the country, the following was proclaimed to us-…

35 “The people saw Simon’s faithfulness and the glory which he had resolved to win for his nation, and they made him their leader and high priest, because he had done all these things and because of the justice and loyalty which he had maintained toward his nation. He sought in every way to exalt his people. 36 And in his days things prospered in his hands, so that the Gentiles were put out of the country, as were also the men in the city of David in Jerusalem, who had built themselves a citadel from which they used to sally forth and defile the environs of the sanctuary and do great damage to its purity. 37 He settled Jews in it, and fortified it for the safety of the country and of the city and built the walls of Jerusalem higher.

38 “In view of these things King Demetrius confirmed him in the high priesthood, 39 and he made him one of the king’s friends and paid him high honors. 40 For he had heard that the Jews were addressed by the Romans as friends and allies and brethren, and that the Romans had received the envoys of Simon with honor.

41 “And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise, 42 and that he should be governor over them and that he should take charge of the sanctuary and appoint men over its tasks and over the country and the weapons and the strongholds, and that he should take charge of the sanctuary 43 and that he should be obeyed by all, and that all contracts in the country should be written in his name; and that he should be clothed in purple and wear gold….”

46 And all the people agreed to grant Simon the right to act in accord with these decisions. 47 So Simon accepted and agreed to be high priest, to be commander and ethnarch of the Jews and priests, and to be protector of them all. 48 And they gave orders to inscribe this decree upon bronze tablets, to put them up in a conspicuous place in the precincts of the sanctuary, 49 and to deposit copies of them in the treasury, so that Simon and his sons might have them.

15-1 Antiochus, the son of Demetrius the king, 10 sent a letter from the islands of the sea to Simon, the priest and ethnarch of the Jews, and to all the nation; 2 its contents were as follows- “King Antiochus to Simon the high priest and ethnarch and to the nation of the Jews, greeting. 3 Whereas certain pestilent men have gained control of the kingdom of our fathers, and I intend to lay claim to the kingdom so that I may restore it as it formerly was, and have recruited a host of mercenary troops and have equipped warships, 4 and intend to make a landing in the countryso that I may proceed against those who have destroyed our country and those who have devastated many cities in my kingdom, 5 now therefore I confirm to you all the tax remissions that the kings before me have granted you, and release from all the other payments from which they have released you. 6 I permit you to mint your own coinage as money for your country, 7 and I grant freedom to Jerusalem and the sanctuary. All the weapons which you have prepared and the strongholds which you have built and now hold shall remain yours. 8 Every debt you owe to the royal treasury and any such future debts shall be canceled for you from henceforth and for all time. 9 When we gain control of our kingdom, we will bestow great honor upon you and your nation and the temple, so that your glory will become manifest in all the earth.”

4. All texts from the Apocrypha taken from theRevised Standard Version Apocrypha(New York- National Council of Churches, 1957).

5. That is, to take control of the Seleucid Empire.

6. Antiochus VI.

7. Beth Shean, south of Lake Tiberias in northern Israel.

8. Jonathan was killed shortly afterwards, late in 143 B.C.E. or early in 142.

9. Antiochus VI was killed at age seven in 142 B.C.E. after ruling from 145 B.C.E.

10. Antiochus VII Sidetes, younger brother of Demetrius II, reigned 138-129 B.C.E.

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