To their brethren, the Jews of Egypt, those of Jerusalem and Judaea send brotherly greeting and good health. God speed you well, the covenant he made with his true worshippers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, never forgetting; reverent hearts may he give to all of you, brave and generous to perform his will; with law and precept of his enlarge your thoughts, and send you happiness; may he listen to your prayer, and be gracious, and in the hour of peril never forsake you! Take courage, then; we in this land are praying for you. Time was, in the hundred and sixty-ninth year, when Demetrius was a-reigning, we ourselves were writing to you in the midst of suffering and alarms. Much had we to undergo, when Jason would betray his own country, his own people; here was the gateway burnt to the ground, here were innocent lives forfeited. Cried we upon the Lord, and all our prayers were answered; burnt-sacrifice and bloodless offering were made, lamps lighted, and loaves set forth in the temple as of old! Look to it, then, you make bowers and keep holiday in this month of Casleu. Written in the hundred and eighty-eighth year.
The common folk of Jerusalem and Judaea, their council of elders, and I, Judas, to Aristobulus, of the anointed priestly race, that was master of king Ptolemy, and to the Jews of Egypt, greeting and health. Great thanks we owe to God, that from the extreme of peril has delivered us; ay, though we had such a king for our adversary, as could bring in hordes of men from Persia, both us and our holy city to subdue. What became of him, think you, the general that marched away into Persia with a countless army at his heels? He met his end in the temple of Nanea, through guile of the priests that served it. Thither Antiochus had come with his friends, putting it about that he would wed the goddess, and laying claim to a great part of her treasures under the title of dowry. The priests, then, had the money laid out in readiness; into the precincts he came, with a meagre retinue, and they, now that Antiochus was within, shut the temple gates. Thereupon, letting themselves in by their secret door, they killed the general and his company with throwing of stones, cut them limb from limb, and threw them down headless to the populace without. Blessed, upon every account, be this God of ours, that denies protection to the sinner! We, then, on this twenty-fifth day of Casleu, mean to solemnize the purification of the temple, and hold ourselves bound to notify you of it, so that you too may keep holiday, with making of bowers...
... And of the fire imparted to us, when Nehemias offered sacrifice at the rebuilding of temple and altar. Long ago, when our fathers were being carried off into the Persian country, such priests of the true God as held office in those days took away the fire from the altar, and hid it down in the valley, in a pit both deep and dry, so well guarding their secret that none might know where it was to be found. Years passed, and God's will was that Nehemias should come back, holding the Persian king's warrant. Nehemias it was that had search made for the fire, and by the grandsons of those very priests that hid it; but they made report, fire they could find none, only a puddle of water And what did Nehemias? He would have some of the water drawn and fetched to him; with this water, once the sacrifice was laid on the altar, both the wood and the offerings themselves must be sprinkled. Sprinkled they were, and when the sun shone out, that till now was hidden by a cloud, all at once a great fire blazed up, astonishing the beholders.
To prayer fell the priests all around, while sacrifice was done, Jonathan to lead them, and the rest answering; to prayer fell Nehemias, and this was the manner of his praying: Lord God, that all things made, the terrible, the strong, the just, the merciful, King gracious as none else; none else so kindly, none else so just, as you, the almighty, the eternal! Israel from all peril you deliver, you did make choice of our fathers, and set them apart for yourself. For the whole nation of Israel receive our sacrifice; all are yours; your own domain keep inviolate. Bring home the exiles; captives of the heathen conquer or set free; to the despised, the outcast grant redress; let the world know what a God is ours! Crush the oppressor, the tyrant that so mishandles us, and to your own sanctuary, as Moses foretold, your own people restore!
Then, till the sacrifice was consumed, the priests went on with their singing of hymns; and when all was finished, Nehemias would have them drench great stones with the water that was left. Thereupon, a flame broke out from them, but died away when the altar fires blazed up again over yonder. The news travelled, till the Persian king himself was told how water appeared where exiled priests had hidden the fire, how, with this water, Nehemias and his company had bathed the sacrifice. Good heed he gave to the matter, and after due examination fenced the ground in with a shrine, in witness of what befell there. Largesse the priests had, and many were the gifts passed from hand to hand, when the truth of the matter was proved. As for the place, Nehemias himself called it Nephthar, which means Purification; but the vulgar call it Nephi.
You shall also find it set down in the dispositions made by the prophet Jeremias, that he bade the exiles rescue the sacred fire, in the manner aforesaid. Strict charge he gave them, the Lord's commandments they should keep ever in mind, nor let false gods, all gold and silver and fine array, steal away their hearts; with much else to confirm them in their regard for the law. And here, in this same document, the story was told, how a divine oracle came to Jeremias, and he must needs go out, with tabernacle and ark to bear him company, to the very mountain Moses climbed long ago, when he had sight of God's domain. A cave Jeremias found there, in which he set down tabernacle and ark and incense-altar, and stopped up the entrance behind him. There were some that followed; no time they lost in coming up to mark the spot, but find it they could not. He, when they told him of it, rebuked their eagerness; Nay, said he, the place must remain ever unknown, till the day when God brings his people together once more, and is reconciled; then, divinely, the secret shall be made manifest. Then once again the Lord's majesty shall be seen, and the cloud that enshrines it; the same vision that was granted to Moses, and to Solomon when he prayed that the great God would have his temple on earth; Solomon, the master of wisdom, that in his wisdom offered sacrifice to hallow the temple he had made.
Prayed Moses, prayed Solomon, and fire came down from heaven to consume the burnt-sacrifice...
... Uneaten, Moses said, the victim for fault, and so the fire must consume it...
... No other mind had king Solomon, that for eight days would continue his dedication feast.
With all this, dispositions Nehemias made, records Nehemias kept, are in full agreement. He it was founded a library, and there collected histories of king and prophet, and of David himself; dispatches, too, the kings had sent, and inventories of gifts made. And now Judas in his turn has recovered all such records as were lost to us through the late wars, and they are here in our keeping; would you be in possession of these, you have but to send and fetch them.
Meanwhile, we notify you by these presents of that cleansing ceremony we mean to perform; do us the courtesy to keep holiday on your part. See what deliverance God has sent to his people, restoring to us our common domain, our sovereignty, our priesthood, our temple's sanctity! Think you not he will fulfil, ere long, the promise made in his law; take pity on us, that are scattered wide as heaven, and on this hallowed soil reunite us? What meant they else, those great perils overcome, that sanctuary purified at last?...
Speak we of Judas Machabaeus and his brethren, and how the great temple was purified, and the altar hallowed anew; of the battles they fought against Antiochus, called the Illustrious, and Eupator, that was his son. Speak we of heavenly manifestations, sent to encourage the champions of Jewry, till at last, though so few, they won back their country, and put the hordes of heathendom to flight. Speak we of that temple, the most famous in all the world, by their means recovered, of a city set free, of forgotten laws re-established, and how the Lord, in his great complaisance, shewed them mercy. All this, the argument of five books Jason of Cyrene wrote, we have been at pains to abridge within the compass of a single volume.
What would you? There be books a many, and they are hard put to it that would trace the course of history, for the abundance of the matter therein comprised. And my aim was, if a man would read, read he should and with relish; would a man study, without great ado he should be able to commit all to memory; and so I would serve every man's turn. But for me, that undertook the business of abridgement, think you it was light labour? Nay, here was a task all watching and sweat; yet shoulder the burden I would; host that prepares a banquet must work for other men's pleasure, and earn nothing but their thanks. Full information would you have about this or that, I remit you to my author; for myself, I will be true to my own pattern of shortness. When a house is first in building, the architect must needs bestow pains on every part of it; not such the painter's care, he will pick out the surfaces that are most apt for adornment. And so, methinks, it is here; to expatiate, I to digress, to indulge curiosity on every point, is for the arch-historian; your epitomist will ask leave to study brevity, and let long disquisitions be. And now, to our matter! Here is preface enough; it were ill done to draw out the preamble, and leave our story cramped for room.
Time was, the holy city was a home of content; ever the laws of it were well kept; such a high priest they had, Onias, a devout man, and one that hated evil. In those days, king and chieftain held the place much in reverence, and with rich gifts endowed the temple; did not Seleucus, king of Asia, defray all the cost of maintaining its sacrifices? Yet one citizen there was, Simon the Benjamite, the temple governor, that had lawless schemes afoot, do the high priest what he would to gainsay him. And at last, when overcome Onias he might not, what did he? To Apollonius he betook himself, the son of Tharseas, that was then in charge of Coelesyria and Phoenice, and gave him great news indeed; here was the treasury at Jerusalem stocked with treasures innumerable, here was vast public wealth, unclaimed by the needs of the altar, and nothing prevented but it should fall into the king's hands.
No sooner did Apollonius find himself in the royal presence than he told the story of the rumoured treasure; and at that, the king sent for Heliodorus, that had charge of his affairs, and despatched him with orders to fetch the said money away. This Heliodorus set out on his journey without more ado, under colour of making a progress through the towns of Coelesyria and Phoenice, but with the king's business still in mind. And when he reached Jerusalem, and there received a gracious welcome from the high priest, he made no secret of the information he possessed, or of his errand, and he would know the truth about these moneys. A plain account the high priest gave him; some were moneys deposited on trust, for the maintenance of widows and orphans; there were some, too, belonging to Hyrcanus son of Tobias, a man of repute. The information was maliciously laid, nor did the whole sum amount to more than four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold. Men had reposed their confidence in a city and a temple renowned throughout the world, for the high opinion they had of its sanctity; and should he play them false? It was not to be thought of. But Heliodorus stood upon the terms of his commission; delivered to the king the money must be, there was no other way of it.
So the appointed day came, when he would visit the temple and take order in the matter; what a stir there was then in the city! Priests, in their sacred vesture, cast themselves down before the altar, and cried out upon heaven; would not he, whose law enjoined safe-keeping, keep property safe for its rightful owners? And for the high priest himself, the very aspect of him was heart-rending; such a change of look and colour betrayed his inward feelings; grief and horror were stamped on his features, and to all that saw him he seemed a broken man. Folk streamed out of their houses in droves, to make public intercession over the affront that should be put on the holy place; sackcloth about their waists, the women thronged the streets, and maids that might not go abroad must yet run to the housetops, or peer out at windows, to see Onias pass. Heavenward they raised their hands, each one of them, in prayer; and pity it was to see how common folk about him were sharing the high priest's agony of suspense.
Here, then, was a whole city praying Almighty God, no loss might befall the men who had trusted them; and here was Heliodorus carrying out his design, already arrived at the treasury with his body-guard in attendance. All at once the spirit of God, the omnipotent, gave signal proof of its presence; daunted by the divine power they trembled and stood irresolute, these ministers of wrong. What saw they? A horse, royally caparisoned, that charged upon Heliodorus and struck him down with its fore-feet; terrible of aspect its rider was, and his armour seemed all of gold. Two other warriors they saw, how strong of limb, how dazzling of mien, how bravely clad! These stood about Heliodorus and fell to scourging him, this side and that, blow after blow, without respite. With the suddenness of his fall to the ground, darkness had closed about him; hastily they caught him up and carried him out in his litter; a helpless burden now, that entered yonder treasury with such a rabble of tipstaves and halberdiers! Here was proof of God's power most manifest. There he lay, by heaven's decree speechless and beyond hope of recovery; and all around men were praising the Lord, for thus vindicating the honour of his sanctuary. In the temple, where all had been anxiety and turmoil until heaven showed its almighty power, all was rejoicing and contentment now.
It was not long before friends of Heliodorus were entreating Onias to call down mercy from the most High, on one that was now at death's door. This was anxious news for the high priest; what if the king should suspect the Jews of foul play? Offer sacrifice he did for the man's recovery, and with good effect. He was yet at his prayers, when those two warriors, in the same brave attire, stood by Heliodorus again; Thanks you owe, they said, to the high priest Onias; at his instance, the Lord grants you life; God's scourge you have felt, God's wondrous power be ever on your lips. And with that, they were seen no more. Be sure this Heliodorus offered God sacrifice; ay, and made vows a many for his preservation, and thanked Onias besides; then he marched his army back to the king. Everywhere he testified how great a God was this, what strange things his own eyes had witnessed; and when the king himself asked what manner of emissary he should next send to Jerusalem, Why, said he, some enemy of yours, some rebel that plots against the kingdom. Escape he with his life, I warrant he will come back to you soundly beaten. Past doubt, there is some divine influence haunts yonder place; watch and ward he keeps over it, that has his dwelling in heaven, to be the plague and the undoing of all who come that way upon an errand of mischief.
Such is the tale of Heliodorus, and of the treasury's preserving.
And now, what must Simon do, the same that had drawn men's eyes to his country with stories of treasure, but fall to slandering Onias? Onias it was, by his way of it, had egged Heliodorus on, and been the author of the mischief. So true a patriot, that well loved his race, well guarded the divine law, and he must be branded with the name of traitor! The feud grew worse, till at last there were murders done, and Simon's faction answerable for it. Here was the public peace much endangered; here was Apollonius, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenice, adding fuel to the flame of Simon's malice; what marvel if Onias had recourse to the king? Little enough it liked him to bring an ill name on his fellow-citizens; yet common good of the Jewish folk he must needs have in mind; how should quiet times return, or Simon's madness be cooled, unless the king took order in the matter?
But king Seleucus was done with life now, and the throne passed to Antiochus, called the Illustrious. And here was a brother Onias had, called Jason that coveted the office of high priest. This Jason went to the new king, and made him an offer of three hundred and sixty talents of silver out of its revenue, besides eighty from other incomings. Let leave be granted him to set up a game-place for the training of youth, and enrol the men of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch, he would give his bond for a hundred and fifty more. To this the king assented; high priest he became, and straightway set about perverting his fellow-countrymen to the Gentile way of living. Till now, the Jews had followed their own customs, by grace of a royal privilege it was John that won it for them, father of that Eupolemus, who afterwards went in embassage to Rome, to make a treaty of alliance. But Jason would abrogate these customs; common right should be none, and great wrong should find acceptance instead. This game-place of his he did not scruple to set up in the very shadow of the Citadel, and debauch all that was noblest of Judaea's youth.
Mischief in the bud, think you, when such alien Gentile ways came in? Nay, here was flower and fruit of it; and all through the unexampled villainy of one man, this Jason, that high priest was none, but rather an arch-traitor. Why, the priests themselves had no more stomach for serving the altar; temple scorned, and sacrifice unheeded, off they went to the wrestling-ground, there to enter their names and win unhallowed prizes, soon as ever the first quoit was thrown! What glory their fathers had handed down to them! And fame such as the Greeks covet was all their ambition now. Alas, here was a perilous contest awaiting them; Greek fashions they would follow, and Greeks would be, that ere long should have Greeks for their enemies ay, and conquerors. There is no breaking God's laws without paying the price; time will show that. When the quinquennial games were being held at Tyre, in the king's presence, this vile Jason it was sent some of his wretches with a gift of three hundred silver pieces to do honour to Hercules. True it is, the bearers of them asked they should not be spent on sacrifice, but on some other need that was more befitting; yet Jason's meaning was, Hercules should have them, and if they went to the building of the fleet, it was thanks to Jason's envoys.
Afterwards, Apollonius the son of Menestheus was despatched to Egypt, for the enthroning of king Ptolemy Philometor. Well Antiochus knew that he was disaffected towards the royal policy, and there was his own safety to be considered... He passed on to Joppe, and so to Jerusalem, where Jason and the whole city welcomed him in state, with carrying of torches and great huzza'ing. And so he led his army back to Phoenice.
Three years later, Jason would send to the king certain moneys, together with a report on affairs of moment; and for this errand he chose Menelaus, brother to that Simon we have before mentioned. Access thus gained to the king's person, Menelaus was careful to flatter his self-conceit; then, outbidding Jason by three hundred talents of silver, diverted the high-priestly succession to himself. Back he came to Jerusalem, with the royal warrant to maintain him, yet all unworthy, with a tyrant's cruel heart, more wild beast than high priest. Thus was Jason supplanted, that had supplanted his own brother, and was driven to take refuge in the Ammonite country; as for Menelaus, he got the office he coveted, but never a penny paid the king of all he had promised, however urgent Sostratus might be, that was in command of the citadel. For all exaction of tribute this fellow was answerable; and so it fell out that both of them were summoned to court, Menelaus leaving his high priesthood to his own brother, Lysimachus, and for Sostratus... he became governor of Cyprus.
It befell at this very time that the men of Tharsus and Mallus made an insurrection; so little it liked them that a gift should be made of their cities to Antiochis, the king's paramour. Post-haste the king went off to appease them, leaving one of his courtiers, Andronicus, to be viceroy. Here was Menelaus' opportunity; he had gold ornaments with him, that he had stolen out of the temple, and now, giving some of these as a present to Andronicus, he sold the rest at Tyre and other cities in the neighbourhood. Of these doings, one man had clear proof, and thereupon denounced him: Onias, that had now taken refuge in Daphne sanctuary, close by Antioch. What did Menelaus? He gained the ear of Andronicus and demanded that Onias should pay for it with his life. So the viceroy himself paid Onias a visit, swore friendship and overcame his suspicions; then, when he had left sanctuary, without scruple of conscience put him to death. Here was great matter of indignation, and not among the Jews only; the very heathen took it amiss, so great a man should meet so unworthy an end. No sooner was the king back from Cilicia than the citizens of Antioch, Jew and Gentile both, assailed him with complaints about the murder of an innocent man; whereat Antiochus himself was heartily grieved, ay, and moved to tears of pity, such memories he had of Onias well-ordered, honourable life. Anon he fell into a rage, stripped Andronicus of his purple, and would have him led away all through the streets, till he reached the very spot where he had lifted his impious hand against Onias. There the sacrilegious wretch perished, by the divine vengeance worthily requited.
Meanwhile, word had gone abroad at Jerusalem, how Lysimachus was ever robbing the temple, by Menelaus' contrivance. Great store of gold was lost already; but now there was a rising of the common folk against Lysimachus, whose numbers and their rage increasing, he was fain to put some three thousand men under arms, with one Tyrannus at their head, that was far gone in years, and no less in folly. Lysimachus it was that first resorted to violence; but the rabble, when they saw what he would be at, caught up stones or stout clubs for the attack, and some of them pelted him with cinders. When they had wounded some of his retinue, and felled others to earth, the rest took to their heels; and there, close beside the treasury, this robber of the temple was done to death.
And next, they must implead Menelaus himself on the same charge. Three envoys from the council of elders brought the whole matter before the king, when he visited Tyre, and Menelaus was as good as lost. What did he? With the promise of a great bribe he secured the good word of Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes; Ptolemy it was waylaid the king, as he rested from the heat in a covered walk of his, and put him from his purpose. So now Menelaus, that was at the root of all the mischief, must go scot free, and his unhappy accusers, that might have cleared themselves easily enough before a court of bloodthirsty Scythians, with their lives must pay for it. Here were men come to plead for their own city, their own people, their own temple treasures, and must they be hurried off to undeserved punishment? Even the Tyrians thought shame of it, and in princely fashion gave them burial. So, through the avarice of the great, throve Menelaus still, and his wickedness went from bad to worse, to his countrymen's undoing.
At this time Antiochus was preparing once more for a campaign against Egypt. And all about the city of Jerusalem, by the space of forty days together, there were strange sights appearing. High up in air, horsemen were seen riding this way and that, in vesture of gold, and spears they carried as if they went to battle; now riding in ordered ranks, now engaged in close combat. In long array they moved past, shields and helmeted heads and drawn swords; flew javelin and flashed golden harness, a whole armoury of shining mail. No wonder if the prayer was on all men's lips, good not ill such high visions might portend.
And now a false rumour went abroad, Antiochus had come by his death. Jason's ears it reached, and all at once, with full a thousand men at his back, he delivered an assault upon the city. Let the townsfolk man the walls as they would, at last it fell, and Menelaus must take refuge within the citadel. As for Jason, he fell upon his own fellow-countrymen, and that without mercy. His own flesh and blood to vanquish, what was this but shameful defeat? Ay, but to him friend was foe, were there spoil for the winning! Yet high priesthood he got none; disappointed of his scheming, back he must go to the Ammonite country, and there, marked down for death by king Aretas of the Arabians, fled from city to city. An outlaw, hated and shunned by his kind, of a whole land, of a whole race, the common foe, he was driven out into Egypt; and so making his way to Lacedaemon, as if to find refuge there by right of kinship, died miserably. In exile he died, that had brought exile on so many; cast away without dole or tomb, that left so many tombless; in a strange land unburied, that might have rested in his fathers grave.
Here was news to make the king doubt whether the Jews were loyal to him, and back he came from Egypt in a great taking of rage. He occupied the city, and that by force of arms; then he bade his troops go about killing, with no quarter for any they met; let a man but shew his face on the housetop, he must be slaughtered with the rest. Fell young and old alike; children with their mothers must die, nor maidenhood was spared, nor helpless infancy. By the end of three days, eighty thousand had been massacred, forty thousand held as prisoners, and as many more sold into slavery.
Nor might all this content him; with Menelaus for his guide, that was traitor to faith and folk, what must he do but make his way into God's temple, holier in all the world is none? What, should those sacred ornaments, dedicated by kings and peoples for the more splendour and worthiness of it, be caught up in his impious hands, pawed and defiled by his touch? Surely he had taken leave of his wits, this Antiochus; how should he know that this sanctuary, for once, would lack the divine protection? And only because, for a little, God's anger was provoked by sins of the men that dwelt there! Free had they been from the meshes of such guilt, Antiochus, too, should have been greeted with a drubbing, as Heliodorus was, the man king Seleucus sent to rob the treasury, and should have learned to leave his rash purpose. But what would you? People it was God chose, and city for people's sake; chastisement that fell on the people, city must rue, and anon share its good fortune. He, the omnipotent, the ruler of all, would leave Jerusalem forlorn in his anger, would raise her to heights of glory, his anger once appeased.
Antiochus, then, came away from the temple a thousand and eight hundred talents the richer; and back he went to Antioch, all at reckless speed; he had a mind to sail his fleet over the plain, march his troops across the sea, his heart so swelled with pride in his doings. As for the Jewish folk, he left viceroys of his own to harry them; in Jerusalem Philip, that was a Phrygian born, and outdid his own master in cruelty; at Garizim Andronicus and Menelaus, heaviest burden of all for the folk to bear. But he would do worse by the Jews yet or why did he send out Apollonius, the arch-enemy, and a force of twenty-two thousand, to cut off manhood in its flower, women and children to sell for slaves? This Apollonius, when he reached Jerusalem, was all professions of friendship, and nothing did until the sabbath came round, when the Jews kept holiday. Then he put his men under arms, and butchered all that went out to keep festival; to and fro he went about the streets, with armed fellows at his heels, and made a great massacre.
Meanwhile Judas Machabaeus, and nine others with him, went out into the desert, where they lived like wild beasts on the mountainside; better lodge there with herbs for food, than be party to the general defilement.
Not long after, the king despatched one of the senators at Antioch, with orders he should compel the Jewish people, custom of their fathers and law of their God to forsake. The temple at Jerusalem must be profaned, and dedicated now to Jupiter Olympius; as for the temple on Garizim, the Samaritans were to call it, as well they might, after Jupiter the god of strangers. What a storm of troubles broke then upon the commonwealth, most grievous to be borne! All riot and revelry the temple became, once the Gentiles had it; here was dallying with harlots, and women making their way into the sacred precincts, and bringing in of things abominable; with forbidden meats, to the law's injury, the very altar groaned. Sabbath none would observe, nor keep holiday his fathers kept; even the name of Jew was disclaimed. Instead, they went to sacrifice on the king's birthday, though it were ruefully and under duress; and when the feast of Liber came round, make procession they must in Liber's honour, garlanded with ivy each one. And now, among all the neighbouring cities, a decree went out, wherein the Ptolemies were the prime movers; all alike should constrain the Jews to do sacrifice, and those that would not fall in with Gentile ways, with their lives must pay for it.
Here were sights to be seen most pitiable. Two mothers there were, denounced for the circumcision of their own sons; what, think you, befell them? Both must be driven through the streets, with the children hung about their breasts, and cast headlong from the battlements! At another time, Philip had information that certain Jews were meeting in caves near at hand, to keep the sabbath there without remark. Not one of these would lift a hand to help himself; so great care they had of the day's observance, and all were burned to death.
Reader, by these tales of ill fortune be not too much dismayed; bethink you, all this came about for the punishment of our race, not for its undoing. A mark of signal favour it is, when the Lord is quick to chastise, nor lets the sinner sin on unreproved. See how he deals with other nations, waiting patiently to take full toll when the hour comes for judgement! Not so with us; for our guilt he will not delay reckoning, and claim strict vengeance at last. Towards us, his mercy is inalienable; chastise us he will with adversity, but forsake us never. So much, reader, for your warning; and now go we back to our history.
Here was Eleazar, one of the chief scribes, a man of great age and of noble features, being required to eat swine's flesh; but though they held his mouth open they could not force him to eat. He would rather die gloriously than live defiled; on he went, of his own accord, to the place of torture, scanning every step of the path that lay before him. He must endure all in patience, rather than taste, for love of life, the forbidden meat. Old friends among the bystanders, out of misplaced kindness, took him aside and urged him to let meat of some other kind be brought, which he could taste without scruple; he could pretend to have obeyed the king's will by eating the sacrilegious food, and his life should no longer be forfeit. Such kind offices old friendship claimed; but he thought rather of the reverence that was due to his great age, of his venerable grey hairs, of a life blamelessly lived from childhood onwards. True to the precepts of God's holy law, he answered that they would do better to send him to his grave and have done with it. It does not suit my time of life, said he, to play a part. What of many that stand here, younger than myself, who would think that Eleazar, at the age of ninety, had turned Gentile? To gain a brief hour of this perishable life, shall I play a trick on them, shall I disgrace this hoary head of mine and bring down a curse on it? Man's sentence here I may avoid if I will, but God's almighty hand, living or dead, escape I may not. Let me take leave of life with a good grace, as best suits my years, bequeathing to men younger than myself an example of courage; meeting, with ready resolve, an honourable death, for the sake of laws holy and august as ours are. And so without more ado he was led away to his torturing; his executioners were in a rage, that but now had been gentle with him; pride, they would have it, spoke here. And this was the last sigh he uttered, as he lay there dying under the lash, Lord, in your holy wisdom this you well know; I might have had life if I would, yet never a cruel pang my body endures, but my soul suffers it gladly for your reverence. Thus he died, not only to those younger men he spoke of, but to our whole race, leaving the pattern of a brave and honourable death.
Seven brothers there were, that lay under arrest, and their mother with them; these too were tortured at the king's command, to see if whip and thong would not make them eat swine's flesh, for all their scruples. And thus spoke out one of them in the name of the rest: Why do you put us to the question? What secret would you learn? Of this be sure, we had rather die than break the divine law given to our fathers. The king, in a rage, would have fire-pan heated, and caldron of bronze; heated they were, and then he passed judgement upon this same spokesman. Tongue of him should be cut out, scalp torn off, hands and feet mutilated, while mother and brethren stood by to see it; then, so maimed, he was for the fire; they should roast him alive in a caldron. Long time he suffered, and there stood the rest with their mother, each heartening other to die bravely; God sees true, said they, and will not allow us to go uncomforted. Did not Moses prophesy as much, even in his song of remonstrance, He will comfort his servants?
So died the first, and now the second must make sport for them. When the hair was torn from his head and the skin with it, they asked, Would he eat, or must his whole body pay for it, limb by limb? And he answered in good round Hebrew, eat he would not; whereupon he, in his turn, suffered like the first. Ay, miscreant, he said with his last breath, of this present life it lies in your power to rob us; but he, who is ruler of the whole world, he, for whose laws we perish, will raise us up again, and to life everlasting. And now they had their will with the third, who was no sooner bidden than he put forth tongue and hands very courageously; Heaven's gift these be, he said, and for God's law I make light account of them, well assured he will give them back to me. Well might they marvel, king and courtiers both, at one so young. that recked so little of his sufferings. Such was the manner of his passing; the fourth, too, when with like tortures they assailed him, died with these words on his lips: Man's sentence of death, what matters it, so there be hope in God, that shall raise up the dead? For you, resurrection to new Life shall be none. And when the fifth was put to the question, he looked Antiochus in the face, thus warning him: Mortal, at your own whim free to govern your fellow men, think not God has abandoned this race of ours! Wait but a little, and good proof you shall have of his sovereign power, such torment you and yours awaits. So they came to the sixth, and this was his dying utterance: Never flatter yourself with vain hope; speed we amiss, it was our own doing, that sinned against our God. Strange be his dealings with us, yet think not you to defy God unpunished.
And here was the great marvel of all, by honest folk ever to be kept in mind, that the mother of seven children should be content to lose them all in one day, for the hope she had in God's mercy. What generosity of mind was this, that could temper her womanly feelings with a man's thoughts! One by one, in the speech of her own country, she put heart into them; Into this womb you came, she told them, who knows how? Not I quickened, not I the breath of life gave you, nor fashioned the bodies of you one by one! Man's birth, and the origin of all things, he devised who is the whole world's Maker; and shall he not mercifully give the breath of life back to you, that for his law's sake hold your lives so cheap?
What should Antiochus do? Here was defiance of his authority, here were tones of remonstrance that liked him little. The youngest son lived yet; for him, what encouragement, what royal assurances of wealth and happiness! Would he but leave the law of his fathers, he should be the king's friend, and have weighty matters entrusted to him. But yield the boy would not; till at last the king beckoned the mother apart; mother of son should be the saviour yet. Much ado he had to win her, but she agreed at last, counsel her son she would. And a fine trick she played on the bloodthirsty tyrant, leaning over her son and counselling him in her own native speech, to this effect: Nine months in the womb I bore you, three years at the breast fed you, reared you to be what you are; and now, my son, this boon grant me. Look round at heaven and earth and all they contain; bethink you that all this, and mankind too, God made out of nothing. Of this butcher have you no fear; claim rightful share among your brethren in yonder inheritance of death; so shall the divine mercy give me back all my sons at once.
Before ever she had finished speaking, the boy cried out, What dallying is this? To the king's law I own no allegiance; rule I live by is the law we had through Moses. Arch-enemy of the Jewish race, think you to escape from God's hand? Grievously if we suffer, grievously we have sinned; chides he for a little, the Lord our God, he does but school, does but correct us; to us, his worshippers, he will be reconciled again. But you, miserable wretch, viler on earth is none, would you vent your rage on those worshippers of his, and flatter yourself with vain hopes none the less? Trust me, you shall yet abide his judgement, who is God almighty and all-seeing. Brief pains, that under his warrant have seised my brethren of eternal life! And shall not you, by his sentence, pay the deserved penalty of your pride? As my brethren, so I for our country's laws both soul and body forfeit; my prayer is, God will early relent towards this nation, while you do learn, under the lash of his torments, that he alone is God. And may the divine anger, that has justly fallen on our race, with me and these others be laid to rest!
No wonder if this last, that so baffled the king's rage, was more barbarously used than all the others; yet kept he ever his confidence in the Lord, and made a clean end of it. And at length, when all her sons were gone, it was the mother's turn to die.
Enough! Of idolatrous sacrifice and inhuman cruelty you shall hear no more.
Now turn we to Judas Machabaeus and his company. Secretly they made entry into the villages, from where they summoned both kinsman and friend of theirs; ay, and rallied many more, that were yet true to the Jewish faith, till they had mustered an army of six thousand men. And ever they besought the Lord, he would look with favour on a race down-trodden, have pity on a temple defiled by the heathen. Their city was like to be razed to the ground; would he watch the ruin of it unmoved? Would he be deaf, while bloodshed cried out for vengeance? Cruel murders of innocent childhood, his own honour dragged in the dust, would he not mark all this, and be roused to indignation?
By this, the divine anger had given place to clemency; and to all the heathen round about Machabaeus and his company were an infliction past bearing. On village or town of theirs he would fall suddenly, and burn it to the ground; by seizing some point of vantage, once and again he put their forces to the rout; going about these forays at night-time for the most part, till the fame of his valour spread far and wide. What was to be done? Here was a man that grew ever in strength, and still his enterprises throve. At last Philip was fain to send dispatches, calling on Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenice, to further the king's business. And he, without more ado, chose one of his best friends, Nicanor son of Patroclus, and sent him out to exterminate the Jewish race altogether. For which purpose, he armed full twenty thousand men, a rabble of all nations; and Gorgias should be at Nicanor's side, a soldier that had much experience in the wars.
Nicanor's purpose it was, to sell the Jewish people for slaves, and thereby reimburse the king for a tribute of two thousand talents he must needs pay to Rome. So, before aught else was done, he sent word to the towns on the sea-coast, crying a sale of Jewish captives, and offering them at ninety for the talent; so little did he guess what divine vengeance was to overtake him. No sooner did Judas hear of Nicanor's coming, than he gave warning of it to the Jews who bore him company. Some of these, cowardly souls that put no trust in God's awarding, took refuge in flight; the rest made shift to sell all the goods they yet had, crying out upon the Lord to deliver them from such an impious wretch as would sell them first, and conquer them after. Themselves if he nothing regarded, let him remember at least the covenant made with their fathers; the renown, too, of that holy name they bore!
As for Machabaeus, he called together the seven thousand that followed him, and warned them they should make no terms with the enemy, nor be affrighted by a great rabble of men coming against them in so ill a cause. Courage! he said; bethink you of the sanctuary their insults have outraged, of a city wronged and mocked, of immemorial traditions overthrown! What gives them confidence? Weapons of war, and their own daring. Ours to trust in his omnipotence, who with a single nod both these our adversaries and the whole world besides can undo. He put them in mind, moreover, of God's signal mercy shewed to their forefathers; how Sennacherib's army perished, a hundred and eighty-five thousand strong; how they fought the Galatians at Babylon, with Macedonian allies whose heart failed them at the encounter, and six thousand Jews, alone but for heaven's aid, made havoc of a hundred and twenty thousand men, much to the common advantage. With such words as these he put heart into them, till they were ready to die for law and country's sake.
And now he put the several commands of his army in charge of his brethren, Simon, Joseph and Jonathan, entrusting one thousand five hundred men to each; Esdras was bidden read aloud from the sacred writings, and the watchword was given, God's Aid. And with that, out went Judas at the head of his army, and engaged the enemy. Such help the Almighty gave them, they cut down more than nine thousand men; and the rest of Nicanor's disabled forces must needs take to their heels. All the money that had been paid for their enslaving fell into Jewish hands, and they gave the enemy chase far and wide, only time hindering them; the sabbath was coming on, and pursue further they might not. Arms and spoils of the fallen they gathered in, and so fell to keeping the sabbath, blessing the Lord for the deliverance he had sent that day, the first refreshing dew of his mercy. The sabbath day over, they gave a share of the spoils to crippled folk, orphans and widows; they and theirs should have the rest. And when this was done, they made public intercession, beseeching the Lord, that was so merciful, to be reconciled with his servants for good and all.
Other invaders they slew, twenty thousand of them and more, under Bacchides and Timotheus; and when they seized their high fortresses, and had spoil to divide in plenty, once more cripples and orphans and widows, and the aged folk too, must have a share to match their own. Weapons of war they gathered with all care, and bestowed where they were most needed; it was the rest of the spoil they carried back to Jerusalem. At this time they slew Philarches, that had been of Timotheus' company, a man stained with crime, and many ways a persecutor of the Jewish people. There was Callisthenes, too, that had burnt down the gates of the sanctuary; when all Jerusalem was rejoicing over the victory, he took refuge within doors, and they burnt the place down about his ears; he too was served right for his godless doings. As for Nicanor, that was the arch-villain of all, and would have sold the Jews to a thousand slave-dealers, the very men whose lives he held so cheap had now, by divine aid, humbled him to the dust. Robe of office he must lay by, and slink by country ways all unattended to Antioch. A fine homecoming, this, with the loss of a whole army! Where were the Jewish captives that should have paid off the tribute to Rome? He was fain to confess, now, that the Jews had God himself for their protector, and, would they but keep his laws, there was no conquering them!
Antiochus himself, at this time, had a sorry home-coming from Persia. He had made his way into the city they call Persepolis, thinking to plunder its temple and of itself have the mastery; but the common folk ran to arms and routed him. So he was a man defeated and disgraced when he reached Ecbatana, and there news came to him of how Nicanor had fared, and Timotheus. And now, in a great taking of rage, he would make the Jews suffer for the ignominy of his own defeat; on, on his chariot must be driven, and never a halt in the journey, with the divine vengeance ever at his heels. Had he not boasted, Jerusalem was his goal, and he would bury the Jewish race under the ruins of it?
The Lord, Israel's God, how should aught escape his scrutiny? The words were barely uttered, when he smote Antiochus with such a hurt, there was neither remedying nor discovering it. A deadly griping it was that took him, with cruel torment of the bowels; fitting reward for one that had often tortured his fellows, and to the marrow, in unexampled fashion. Even so, he would not leave his wicked purpose; with pride undiminished, still breathing out fiery threats against the Jewish folk, he pressed forward on his errand, till of a sudden, in full career, down fell he from his chariot, and never a limb but was racked grievously by the fall. What a living proof was this of God's power, when he was struck to earth, and must finish his journey by litter, one that boasted, till now, he could rise beyond man's measure, the sea's waves govern, and weigh mountains in the balance! Bred worms at last in that sinful body, and he lived yet, though miserably enough, to see his own flesh rot away, till his own men could not bear the foul stench of him; it was but yesterday the very stars seemed within his reach, and never a man now would carry so foul a burden.
What marvel, if the swelling pride of him ebbed away, and heaven's judgements brought him to himself? With every moment his anguish grew, and the foul breath of his disease was past his own bearing. Alas, said he, to God all must bow; mortals we are, and god ourselves we may not. Nay, he made suit to the Lord, vile wretch though he were, hoping all in vain to win mercy. Forgotten, his haste to lay Jerusalem in ruins, and make a cemetery of it; a free city it should be thenceforward. Grudge the Jewish folk burial, give their carrion to bird and beast, make an end of them, children and all? Nay, such high privileges they should have as the townsfolk of Athens itself. And for that sacred temple he had stripped bare, with choice gifts he would enrich it, furnishing it as never before, and defraying, from his own purse, all the cost of its sacrifices. Stay, he would become a Jew himself, would go the rounds of earth, proclaiming everywhere the divine power!
But all to no avail; the vengeance of God, well earned, had overtaken him, and find relief he might not. So now, despairing of that, he wrote to the Jews in very humble fashion, as here follows. To his loyal Jewish subjects Antiochus, their king and general, sends greeting, health, and happiness! Thrive you and yours, and fare prosperously, I am well content. For myself, I am in ill case, yet think ever kindly of you. On my way home from Persia, so grievous a distemper has fallen upon me, needs must I should take order for the public safety. Despair I will not; there is good hope yet of my recovery. But this thought weighs with me; when he went a-campaigning in the high countries, my father gave out who was to succeed him; should aught go amiss, and ill tidings come, every governor in his own province must know his duty without fear of confusion. And here be princes all about, I know it well, waiting upon events and ready to go with the times. Heir to the throne, then, I needs must designate. Again and again, when I set out for the high countries, I entrusted my son Antiochus to the general care. And now this written commission I have sent him... As you love me, then, bethink you of those benefits you have received, both publicly and in private; keep faith, each and all of you, with me and with my son. I doubt not he will shew himself his father's true heir, ever courteous, and kindly, and easy of approach.
So died he, wretchedly enough, the murderer, the blasphemer, out in the hill-country far away from home. Cruel the blow that struck him down, as he had ever been cruel in his dealings. His body was brought home again; Philip, his foster-brother, came back with it, and then took refuge in Egypt with Ptolemy Philometor, so little he trusted the young prince Antiochus.
Meanwhile, God aiding, Machabaeus and his followers had recovered both temple and city. Down came the altars Gentile folk had set up in the open streets, down came the shrines, and the temple was purged of its defilement. They made a fresh altar, struck fire from flint, and offered sacrifice again after two years' intermission; rose incense, burned lamp, loaves were set out on the sacred table once more. Then, bowing down to earth, they made petition to the Lord, never again such calamity might overtake them; sin if they did, himself in his great mercy should chastise them, not hand them over into the cruel power of blasphemous enemies. It so fell out, that the temple was purified on the twenty-fifth day of Casleu, the very time of its profanation by the Gentiles. Eight days of rejoicing they kept, with such ceremonies as belong to the feast of Tent-dwelling; it was a feast of tent-dwelling indeed they had kept a while back, when they lodged like beasts among the hill-side caverns! Now that God had made the way clear for his temple's cleansing, what wonder if they set up in his honour branches, and green boughs, and arbours of palm? What wonder if a decree was passed, by common consent, all Jewry should keep the festival year by year?
Now the story is told, how Antiochus called the Illustrious came by his end, turn we to his son, Antiochus Eupator, that was born of a very ill father; record we in brief the history of his reign, and the hazards of war that went with it. Upon his accession, this king entrusted all the business of the realm to one Lysias, commander of the forces in Phoenice and Coelesyria. With Ptolemy, that was called Macer, we are concerned no more; fain would he have made amends to the Jews for the wrong done them, and kept their friendship, but for that very reason he was denounced to Eupator by his courtiers. He was a traitor, they said, twice over, false to his trust, when Philometor left him in charge of Cyprus, and now weary of his new allegiance to Antiochus the Illustrious! Whereupon he put an end to his own life by poison. When Gorgias was given command of the district, he was for ever making war on the Jews, with mercenaries to aid him; and there were natives of the country besides, well entrenched in their strongholds, that gave welcome to deserters from Jerusalem, and so fanned the flames of enmity.
And now the followers of Machabaeus, after prayer made for the divine assistance, delivered an attack upon the Edomite strongholds. These, by a very courageous assault, they occupied, and cut down all they met, putting not less than twenty thousand men to the sword; but there were two fortresses yet remaining, into which the survivors threw themselves, well provided with means of defence. Machabaeus himself went off to fight other battles of greater moment, leaving Simon, Joseph and Zacchaeus, with a strong force under their command, to carry on the siege. And here the avarice of Simon's men was their undoing; for a bribe of seventy thousand silver pieces, they allowed some of the defenders to escape. Machabaeus no sooner heard of it, than he summoned the leaders of the people, and arraigned the guilty men in their presence; what, would they sell their brethren's lives, by letting the enemies of their race go free? So he put these traitors to death; and for the strongholds, he conquered both of them at a blow, so carrying all before him by force of arms, that more than twenty thousand of the defenders perished.
But Timotheus could not be content with one defeat at the hands of the Jews; he would bring in hordes of foreign soldiery, and cavalry from Asia, threatening Judaea with slavery. At his coming, the party of Machabaeus fell to prayer; earth on their heads, sackcloth about their loins, they lay prostrate at the altar's foot, entreating the Lord he would espouse their quarrel, and their foes should be his; the law had promised it. Then, this supplication made, they took up arms and marched out, leaving the city far away in their rear, nor ever halted till they were close to the enemy's lines. Soon as the dawn broke, they engaged; on the one side, all trust in the Lord, valour's best pledge of victory and fairer times; on the other, naught but human eagerness to inspire courage. Hard went the day, and, so it seemed to the enemy, heaven itself took part. Five horsemen came riding, with splendid trappings of gold, to lead the Jews onward; and two of these served Machabaeus for escort, covering him with their shields to keep all hurt away from him. With shaft of theirs, lightning of theirs, dazzled and dismayed, the enemy fell to earth; twenty thousand and five hundred of them perished that day, besides six hundred of the cavalry.
As for Timotheus, he took refuge in Gazara, a strong fortress that was under the command of Chaereas. Four days together, Machabaeus and his men eagerly pressed on the siege of it; but the defenders were confident in its strength; loud their defiance was, and very blasphemous the words they uttered. Stung by these taunts, twenty warriors of Machabaeus company made a bold attack on the wall as the fifth day was dawning, and, by the fierceness of their onslaught, made shift to climb it; others, following at their heels, fell to burning tower and gateway alike, and made a bonfire of the blasphemers. For two whole days they ransacked the fort, and at last came upon Timotheus in his hiding-place; so they made an end of him, his brother Chaereas and Apollophanes perishing with him. When all was over, they sang hymns of praise and gave thanks to the Lord, that had done marvellous things for Israel, and granted them victory.
It was but a short respite they had; Lysias, a kinsman of Antiochus that was regent and managed his affairs for him, was not a little concerned over these happenings, and he marched on Judaea at the head of eighty thousand men, with all the cavalry he could muster. Here was a city worth the capture, for Gentile folk to dwell in; here was a temple that would yield a fine spoil, as temples did everywhere; a priesthood, too, that might be put up for sale year after year. Of all this he bethought him, never of God's avenging power; blindly he trusted in his foot-soldiers by the ten thousand, his horsemen by the thousand, in his elephants that numbered four score. Upon marching into Judaea he first reached Bethsura, that stood in a narrow pass five furlongs away from Jerusalem, and laid siege to the citadel of it.
What did Machabaeus and his fellows, when they learned that the siege of the fortress was already begun? Most piteously they besought the Lord, amid the tears of a whole populace, a gracious angel he would send out for Israel's deliverance. Then they armed for battle, Machabaeus himself the first of all, as he summoned the rest to share with him the hour of danger, for the relief of their brethren. So, in good heart, they set out together, and before they left Jerusalem a vision came to them; of a rider that went before them in white array, with armour of gold, brandishing his spear. How they blessed God's mercy, all of them, at the sight! How their courage rose, a match for all it should encounter, men or wild beast or walls of iron! They marched on, ready for battle, sure now of a heavenly champion, and of the Lord's favour; and when they charged the enemy, they were very lions for valour. At their onslaught, fell eleven thousand of the foot, fell a thousand and six hundred of the horse; and the whole army took to its heels, for the most part wounded and disarmed; Lysias himself, ingloriously enough, turned and fled.
Yet good sense he lacked not; great loss he had sustained, and, let the Hebrews continue to rely for aid upon divine Omnipotence, he saw there was no conquering them. So he wrote, offering to conclude honourable terms with them, and secure them the king's friendship. As for Machabaeus, he consented to what Lysias asked, having no thought but for the common good; and the written terms he proposed to Lysias in the Jewish people's name received the royal assent.
The letter sent to the Jews by Lysias was after this manner: Lysias, to the people of the Jews, all health! Your envoys, John and Abesalom, handed me a written petition, and desired that I would give effect to the terms of it. All that needed to be known, I have made clear to the king's grace, and he has granted what grant he could. Doubt not I will be a good suitor in your cause hereafter, so you abide loyal to the king's interest. Meanwhile I have given a verbal message to your envoys and mine, which they will impart to you. Farewell. Given on this twenty-fourth day of Dioscorus, in the hundred and forty-eighth year.
And of the king's own letter, the tenour was this: King Antiochus, to his good cousin Lysias, all health! Now that our father has found his place among the gods, it is for us to see that our subjects live at peace, and go quietly about their business. But of one nation, the Jews, we hear that they resisted our father's will, who would have had them conform to the Greek way of living; to their own tradition they hold fast, and their plea is, we should grant them the enjoyment of their rights in the matter. And whereas we would have this nation live peaceably like the rest, we enact and decree that their temple should be restored to them, and that they should follow the custom of their forefathers. Do us the kindness, then, to send word and give them assurance of this; our will made known, let them take heart, and order their own affairs contentedly.
To the Jews themselves the king wrote as follows: King Antiochus, to the elders and people of the Jews, all health! Thrive you as well as ourselves, we are well content. Menelaus has brought us word, you would fain have free intercourse with the men of your race who dwell in these parts; and we hereby grant safe conduct to all of you that would travel here, up to the thirtieth day of Xanthicus... That the Jewish folk may eat what food they will, use what laws they will, according to their ancient custom; and if aught has been done amiss through inadvertence, none of them, for that cause, shall be molested. We are sending Menelaus besides, to give a charge to you. Farewell. Given on the fifteenth day of Xanthicus, in the hundred and forty-eighth year.
The Romans, too, wrote to them after the manner following; Quintus Memmius and Titus Manlius, envoys of Rome, to the Jewish people, all health! The privileges Lysias has granted you in the name of his royal cousin, we hereby ratify. Other matters he has remitted to the king's decision; take counsel among yourselves, and let us know at once what your mind is, if you would have us order all to your liking. Even now we are on the road to Antioch; write speedily, to let us know how you are minded. Farewell. Given on the twenty-fifth day of Xanthicus, in the hundred and forty-eighth year.
So all was agreed upon; Lysias was for the court again, and the Jewish folk went back to their farms. But neither rest nor respite might they have while Timotheus and Apollonius, son of Gennaeus, were left at their posts; Hieronymus, too, and Demophon, and Nicanor that ruled in Cyprus.
This was a very foul deed done by the men of Joppe; they fitted out certain vessels of theirs, and would have the neighbouring Jews go aboard, with their wives and children, for all the world as if there were no grudge between them. It was the common wish of their fellow-citizens; how should the Jews gainsay it? They were lovers of peace, and cause for suspicion had none. Yet once they were on the high seas, they were cast overboard and drowned, a full two hundred of them. Such tidings of cruel murder done upon men of his own race, Judas could not hear unmoved; mustering his followers, and calling upon God, that judges aright, to speed him, he marched out against the slayers of his brethren; at dead of night he burned down their wharves, and set all the ships ablaze, nor any man that escaped the fire but was put to the sword. This done, he left them, but threatening he would return, and leave none alive in Joppe. He had word, too, that the men of Jamnia meant to do the same by the Jews in their part; so he fell on Jamnia, too, by night, and burnt both wharves and ships there; the light of that blaze was seen at Jerusalem, thirty miles off...
Nine furlongs they had marched, on to their way to meet Timotheus, when an Arab force engaged them, of five thousand foot and five hundred horse. Stern was the encounter, but with God's help they won the day; and the defeated remnant of the Arabs asked Judas for quarter, promising a grant of pasture-lands, with other advantages. And, beyond doubt, they could be many ways serviceable to him; so he made terms with them. They swore friendship, and the Arabs went back to their tents.
A city there was called Casphin, moated and walled about for its defence, and held by a rabble of many races; this, too, Judas attacked. Such trust the defenders had in the strength of their ramparts, and their plentiful supplies of food, they carried themselves recklessly, hurling taunts at Judas, with blasphemies and other talk little fit to be uttered. But Machabaeus to that King made appeal, who needed neither engine nor battering-ram, in Josue's day, to bring Jericho down in ruins; a fierce attack he delivered upon the walls, and, so God willed, became master of the city. The slaughter in it was past reckoning; there was a pool hard by, of two furlongs breadth, that seemed as if it ran in full tide with the blood of slain men.
It needed a march of ninety-five miles to bring them to Charax, where the Jews were whom they call Tubianaeans. Yet could they not come up with Timotheus; he had retired, with nothing achieved, leaving a strong garrison in one of the forts there; which garrison of his, ten thousand strong, was destroyed by two of Machabaeus' captains, Dositheus and Sosipater. Machabaeus himself, with six thousand men at his heels, divided into companies, pressed on against Timotheus, that had a hundred and twenty thousand foot, and two thousand five hundred horse, under his command. At the news of Judas coming, Timotheus was fain to send on women, children, and stores, to Carnion, an impregnable fortress and one difficult of approach, so narrow the pass was. And now the first of Judas' companies came in sight, and with it the presence of the all-seeing God. What fear fell upon the enemy, how they scattered in flight, stumbling over their own fellows, wounded by the point of their own swords! And all the while Judas pressed them hard, the scourge of ill-doers; thirty thousand of them that day he slaughtered. As for Timotheus, he fell into the hands of another force, under Dositheus and Sosipater; of these he begged earnestly for his life, telling them of Jewish hostages in his keeping, their own fathers and brothers, that would get no quarter if he came by his death. Many were the pledges he gave, covenanting for the restoration of these hostages, and at last, for love of their brethren, they let him go free.
Judas went on to Carnion, where the enemy lost twenty-five thousand men, routed and slain; thence to Ephron, a fortified city, where stout warriors of many different breeds manned the walls most valiantly, well provided with engines and weapons. Yet strength is none can hold its own against the Omnipotent; to him the Jews made appeal, and so took the city, killing twenty-five thousand of the defenders. And thence to Scythopolis, at seventy-five miles' distance from Jerusalem; but here the Jews themselves bore witness, how kindly their neighbours used them, and how honourably they carried themselves even in troublous times. Thanking all such, and desiring them they would continue their good offices towards the Jewish folk, the army returned to Jerusalem, to keep the festival of the Weeks.
Then, after Pentecost, they marched away to meet Gorgias, that was in command of Idumaea; it was but a muster of three thousand foot and four hundred horse. Battle was joined, and some few Jews fell. As for Gorgias, one Dositheus, a great warrior that was in Bacenor's company of horse, kept close on his heels and would have taken him alive; but one of the Thracian horsemen fell upon him and cut off his arm at the shoulder, so Gorgias escaped safe to Maresa. A long fight Esdrin's company had of it, and were full weary, when Judas called upon the Lord to succour them and lead them onwards, battle-hymn and battle-cry raising in his own language; and so he put Gorgias' army to the rout.
And now, recalling his men from the pursuit, he made his way to the city of Adollam; the week had gone round, and here, duly cleansed from defilement, they kept the sabbath. Next day, with Judas at their head, they went back to recover the bodies of the slain, for burial among their own folk in their fathers' graves; and what found they? Each of the fallen was wearing, under his shirt, some token carried away from the false gods of Jamnia. Here was defiance of the Jewish law, and none doubted it was the cause of their undoing; none but praised the Lord for his just retribution, that had brought hidden things to light; and so they fell to prayer, pleading that the sin might go unremembered. Judas himself, their gallant commander, gave public warning to his men, of fault they should evermore keep clear, with the fate of these transgressors under their eyes. Then he would have contribution made; a sum of twelve thousand silver pieces he levied, and sent it to Jerusalem, to have sacrifice made there for the guilt of their dead companions. Was not this well done and piously? Here was a man kept the resurrection ever in mind; he had done fondly and foolishly indeed, to pray for the dead, if these might rise no more, that once were fallen! And these had made a godly end; could he doubt, a rich recompense awaited them? A holy and wholesome thought it is to pray for the dead, for their guilt's undoing.
It was in the hundred and forty-ninth year news came to Judas that Antiochus Eupator was marching on Judaea in great force. Lysias was at his side, that was lord protector and managed the affairs of the realm, and with him were a hundred and ten thousand foot, five thousand horse, twenty-two elephants, and three hundred scythed chariots. Menelaus, too, must be of their company, and ever it was treacherous advice he gave to Antiochus; not that he cared for his country's safety, but he had designs upon the high priesthood still. And hereupon the King of all kings brought this guilty wretch into ill favour with his master Antiochus, who (upon Lysias averring, here was the true source of all their misadventures) would have him apprehended and put to death according to the custom of the place where they were quartered. There is here a tower fifty cubits in height, rising sheer above a heap of ashes that surrounds it; from its walls the author of sacrilege is thrust forward to his death by the common impulse of the bystanders. This, then, was the doom of Menelaus; by this law the law-breaker met his end, and lay there unburied. A fitting reward, this, for one that had done so many outrages upon God's altar; fire of it and ashes of it are sacred, and it was by ashes Menelaus went to his death.
Yet still the king pressed forward on his mad career, as if he would prove himself a worse enemy of Jewry than his father; and Judas, when the news came to him, bade the people entreat God night and day he would come to their rescue, as ever he was wont hitherto. Here was great peril, they should be deprived at one blow of law, of country, and of sanctuary; would he allow blaspheming Gentiles to lord it again over his people, that had but now won a little breathing-space? Entreat the Lord they did, and with one accord, for his mercy; wept they and fasted, and kept on their knees for three days together. Then Judas gave them the word to arm, and himself called the elders to a council; his plan was, he told them, to march out and engage the king before he could reach Judaea and overpower the city, and the issue of it he would leave to the Lord's good pleasure. So, committing all to God, the world's creator, and bidding his men fight bravely, even to the death, for law, temple, city, country and kinsmen, he pitched his camp at Modin. The watchword he gave them was, Victory lies with God; and now, choosing out the best of his fighting men, he made a night attack upon the royal quarters. Four thousand men they slew in the camp, and the greatest of all the elephants, with the crew that rode him, and so went back in triumph, leaving the camp all confusion and dismay.
After this daybreak victory, won under God's protection, the king had taste enough of Jewish valour, and set about to reduce the strongholds by policy. And first he would deliver an attack upon Bethsura, a fortress of the Jews, but ever he was thrown back and repulsed with great loss, so well did Judas supply the garrison with all they needed. There was one Rhodocus in the Jewish army that betrayed secrets to the enemy, but, upon enquiry made, he was apprehended and put under arrest; so the king was fain to parley with the defenders of Bethsura, and, upon agreed terms, the siege of it was raised. Thus did he try conclusions with Judas, and had the worst of it; news came to him besides that Philip, whom he had left in charge at Antioch, was levying revolt against him. So, in great consternation of mind, he must needs throw himself on the mercy of the Jews, submitting under oath to the just terms they imposed on him. In token of this reconciliation, he offered sacrifice, paying the temple much reverence and offering gifts there; as for Machabaeus, the king made a friend of him, and appointed him both governor and commander of all the territory from Ptolemais to the Gerrenes. When he reached Ptolemais, he found the citizens much incensed over this treaty made, and angrily averring the terms of it would never be kept; until at last Lysias must go up to an open stage, and give his reasons whereby he calmed the indignation of the people, and so returned to Antioch. Such was the king's march upon Judaea, and such his homecoming.
Three years later, came tidings to Judas and his company that Demetrius, son of Seleucus, was on the throne. This Demetrius, with a body of resolute followers and with ships to support him, had landed at Tripolis, in a part of the country well suited to his purpose, and had wrested the whole kingdom from Antiochus, and from Lysias his general.
Now turn we to one Alcimus that had been high priest formerly, but had wilfully incurred defilement in the days when folk began consorting with the Gentiles. Little hope was left him, he should live to present himself at the altar again; and now he had recourse to king Demetrius, in the hundred and fiftieth year. He came with gifts, a gold crown and a palm branch, and wreaths that had been better employed in the service of the temple. No word said he on the first day of his arriving; but ere long opportunity was given him of carrying out his impious design. He was called into counsel by Demetrius himself, and asked what resources the Jews had, or what purposes in view that gave them such confidence. And this was his answer: It is the faction of the Assideans, with Judas Machabaeus at their head, that will ever be fanning the flames of war, and moving revolt, and destroying the peace of the realm. You see here a man robbed of the high priesthood, his rightful inheritance. And the cause of my coming is, first, the loyalty I have to the king's own interest, but not less, the love of my own fellow-countrymen; by the false aims of a faction the whole of our race is brought into utter misery. Do but satisfy yourself, my lord king, that all is as I have said, and then, with that kindliness the world knows so well, take order concerning the country and its inhabitants. No peace the commonwealth may have, while Judas lives.
Such was the opinion he gave, and the courtiers, that had little love for Judas, fell to egging Demetrius on; he, with all haste, despatched one of his generals to Judaea, Nicanor, that was in command of the elephants. His orders were, to take Judas alive, to disperse his company, and of our glorious temple to make Alcimus high priest. The Gentiles whom Judas had chased out of the country flocked, now, to Nicanor's side, confident that the miserable ruin of the Jews would be the foundation of their own prosperity. As for the Jews, when they heard Nicanor was on the march, with all this rabble of alien folk, they cast earth on their heads and betook themselves to prayer. Was it not God's appointment, his people he should evermore preserve? Was he not wont to protect them with signal marks of his favour? And now orders came to them from their leader; they must be on the march. Their mustering-place was a fortress called Dessau, to which Simon, Judas brother, had withdrawn after a brush with the enemy, who daunted him by the suddenness of their advance.
But Nicanor had heard much about the valour of Judas men, and how nobly they fought in their country's quarrel; no wonder if he shrank from the arbitrament of the sword, and sent envoys to meet them, Posidonius, Theodotius and Matthias, with an offer of terms. After a deal of negotiation, Judas referred the matter to the general voice, and all were agreed upon accepting the offer of friendship. So the day was fixed for a secret conference to be held between them; thrones of honour were brought out and set ready, and you may be sure Judas had armed men posted in waiting, to forestall any sudden treachery on the enemy's part; but their parleys ended happily enough. Nicanor was now lodged in Jerusalem, and did there no manner of hurt; all the rabble he had brought with him were dispersed to their homes. Towards Judas he shewed unaffected friendship, such a liking he had taken for the man; ay, and encouraged him to take a wife and beget children; so Judas married, and took his ease, and ever he lived on close terms with Nicanor.
And what of Alcimus? Little it liked him to see all this good-will between the two of them, and their treaty-making; to Demetrius he betook him, and charged Nicanor with disaffection; was he not purposing to hand over his command to Judas, a traitor against the realm? Vile accusations, that threw Demetrius into a great taking of fury; he wrote to Nicanor, he was very ill content with the peace made, and would have Machabaeus sent to Antioch in chains without more ado. Here was Nicanor left in great confusion of mind; it went against the grain with him to cancel the treaty with Judas, that had nothing wronged him, yet run counter to the king's will he might not. So he began looking for an opportunity of carrying out his orders; and Machabaeus, remarking that a coolness had sprung up, and their meetings were less courteous than hitherto, made sure this behaviour of his boded no good. Whereupon he gathered some of his company, and went into concealment.
So Nicanor found himself quite outwitted; and he must needs make his way into the high and holy precincts of the temple, where even then the priests were offering their accustomed sacrifice. Judas, he said, must be handed over to him; and when they, upon oath, denied all knowledge of his hiding-place, what did Nicanor? He pointed to the temple, and swore that if Judas were not handed over to him in chains he would raze yonder sanctuary to the ground, demolish the altar, and consecrate its precincts anew to Bacchus. With that, he left them; and the priests, lifting up their hands to heaven, called upon the God that was ever the champion of their race, with such prayer as this: Lord of all, that need of your creatures have none, your will it was to have your dwelling-place among us! Holy you are, and of all holy things the master; this house, that was so lately cleansed of its defilement, keep you for ever undefiled.
It was this Nicanor that received information against one of the elders at Jerusalem, named Razias, a true patriot and a man of good repute; for the love he bore it, men called him the father of the Jewish people. Long time this man had held to his resolve of keeping aloof from the Gentiles, ready to put life and limb in jeopardy, so he might persevere. And now, as if to give public proof of hatred towards the Jews, Nicanor sent five hundred men to take him alive; shrewder blow was none he could deal them, than to beguile such a man as this. And when this great company set about to force an entry into his dwelling, breaking down the door and calling out for firebrands, cut off from all escape, what did Razias? He thrust a sword into his own body, counting it better to die honourably than to fall into the hands of sinners, and suffer outrage unworthy of a free-born man. The hasty blow missed its aim; and now, with a rabble of men pouring in through the doors he made gallantly for the outer wall, and never hesitated to cast himself down, there in the heart of the crowd. You may be sure they made room for his coming, and he fell on the very joints of his neck; yet, breathing still, he rose to his feet undaunted; blood streaming from his mortal wounds, he made his way through the press of men, till he stood on a sheer rock above them. And there, for now he had no blood left in him, he laid hold of his own entrails, and with both hands cast them into the crowd beneath, calling upon the Lord, giver of life and breath, to restore these same to his body; and so died.
When Nicanor was told, Judas was in the Samaritan country, he would have pressed home the attack against him, there and then, on the sabbath day. But the Jews gainsaid him; for there were Jews that fought, unwillingly enough, under his orders. What, said they, would you fight beast-fashion without mercy? This holy day respect you needs must, in his honour that is God all-seeing. Why, where is he then, said the impious wretch, this God who would have sabbath kept? In the heavens? In heaven he is, sure enough, they answered, the living Lord our master, that gave orders the seventh day should be observed. So be it, said he, and I am your master on earth, and my orders are, To arms, and despatch the king's business! Yet carry out his design they would not.
Such an empty braggart was this Nicanor, he thought to make a single victory of it, over all the Jews at once; Machabaeus on his side kept ever his confidence, yet with the sure hope, God would bring him aid. And for his men he had the same encouragement; let them never be daunted by the onslaught of the heathen, but rather bethink them of heaven's mercies in time past, and look to God Omnipotent for victory. Of the law and the prophets he spoke to them and reminded them of their old battles, till all were eager for the fight; nor was it enough to arouse their ardour; he shewed them, too, how treacherous the heathen had proved, and how forsworn. Thus it was his care to arm them, not with shield or spear for their defence, but with excellent words of good cheer.
A dream of his he told them, most worthy of credence, that brought comfort to one and all. And what saw he? Onias, that had once been high priest, appeared to him; an excellent good man this, modest of mien, courteous, well-spoken and from his boyhood schooled in all the virtues. With hands outstretched, he stood there praying for the Jewish folk. Then he was ware of another, a man of great age and reverence, nothing about him but was most worshipful; who this might be, Onias told him forthwith: Here is one that loves our brethren, the people of Israel, well; one that for Israel and for every stone of the holy city prays much; God's prophet Jeremias. And with that, Jeremias reached forward to Judas, and gave him a golden sword; This holy sword take you, he said, God's gift; this wielding, all the enemies of my people Israel you shall lay low.
A most noble harangue, and one very apt to rouse the emulation of his followers, and to stiffen their courage. No wonder if they resolved they would put it to the touch, and manfully engage the enemy; valour should decide all. Was not the holy city, was not the temple itself in jeopardy? For wives and children, for brethren and kindred, their concern was less; of the perils they dreaded, profanation of the temple was first and foremost. And what of those who were left in the city? No common anxiety they felt for these others that were going into battle. Now was the hour of decision; the enemy was at the gates, drawn up in full array; here were the elephants, here was the cavalry, posted at points of vantage. Judas, when he saw the number of his assailants, how manifold were their appointments, how fierce the temper of the beasts, was fain to lift hands heavenward, and to the Lord make his appeal; the Lord, that is wondrous in his doings, and at his own pleasure crowns right, not might, with victory. And this was the manner of his praying: Lord, in the days of Ezechias you did send your angel, and take toll of a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of Sennacherib! Ruler of heaven, some friendly angel of yours this day escort us; dread and dismay let your outstretched hand inspire, to the confusion of yonder blasphemers that levy war on your holy people! And so he brought his prayer to an end.
By this, Nicanor's army was coming forward to the attack, with blowing of trumpets and with songs of battle. But Judas and his company went to meet them calling still upon God for his succour; and ever while hand fought, heart prayed. Such joy had they of God's present assistance, they cut down a full thirty-five thousand of the enemy; when they let be, and returned in triumph from the pursuit, news greeted them Nicanor himself had armed for the fight, and lay there dead. What a cry was then raised, what a stir, what hymns they sang, in the speech of their own country, to God Omnipotent!
And Judas? Not for nothing had he devoted body and soul, this long while, to the service of his fellow countrymen! Nicanor's head, and one of his arms cut off from the shoulder downwards, he bade them carry to Jerusalem; and there he called the tribesmen together, ranged the priests about the altar, and sent his summons to the heathen that garrisoned the citadel. Head and hand he shewed them of the godless Nicanor, the hand that was stretched out so boastfully against the holy temple of the Almighty, bidding them cut the blaspheming tongue in pieces and cast it to the birds, nail the rash hand to the temple's face. None but praised the Lord of heaven at the sight; Blessed be the Lord, they cried, that has kept his house undefiled still! As for Nicanor's head, Judas hung it at the top of the citadel, to be a clear and evident token, how God gives aid. And all with one consent made a decree, never should that day pass unobserved; they would keep holiday on the thirteenth of the Syrian month Adar, which is the eve of Mardochaeus feast.
Such was the history of Nicanor; and since that time the city has been in Jewish possession. Here, then, I will make an end of writing; if it has been done workmanly, and in historian's fashion, none better pleased than I; if it is of little merit, I must be humoured none the less. Nothing but wine to take, nothing but water, your health forbids; vary your drinking, and you shall find content. So it is with reading; if the book be too nicely polished at every point, it grows wearisome. So here we will have done with it.