Once again the Children of Abraham were in peril… but not for the reasons you might think.
The king of Babylon had allowed their return to Israel, and even allowed the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. One empire defeated another and soon Alexander the Macedonian came. His visit foreshadowed things to come.
An apostate sect known as the Samaritans had long challenged a core element of Jewish belief; the three-part revelation of Torah (Mystical, Oral, and Written). They had come to the point of militating for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the wholesale murder of the Priests and Levites. Alexander, on his way to leveling Gaza and engaging the Egyptians, was about to do their bidding.
Learning of this, a High Priest donned garments reserved for the holiest event of the year; conducting ritual sacrifices, on behalf of the entire people on Yom Kippur. He and a group of dignitaries went out to meet Alexander in a small town.
Upon their approach, even Alexander’s commanders expected the great slaughter to commence, but instead Alexander dismounted and bowed down to the Priest. Alexander explained that before commencing his long series of campaigns a man came to him in his dreams, looking exactly as this man, and had advised him in ways critical to his subsequent success.
The High Priest told Alexander that they had no intent to undermine him and only asked that the Jewish people be allowed to worship G-d in the ways they were intended and to live in peace. Alexander agreed and was taken on a tour of the Holy Temple, and all of the functions explained. The Samaritans had failed.
But, then Alexander, believing the panoply of gods to be essentially meaningless and interchangeable, and more than a bit impressed with himself, declared that he wanted a giant statue of himself erected in the Temple.
Horrified, but wise, the High Priest gently explained that they could not do that within the Temple, as it would deny the fundamental precept that Hashem Elokeinu is G-d and that there is nothing and no one else. Instead, the High Priest suggested that every male child born in to the Priests’ families during the next year be named Alexander. That way Alexander’s name would live on and be known even better than by a mere statue.
As was the practice, Alexander left administrative control of his conquered lands to his generals. These Syrian-Greeks came to be known as the Seleucids. They, in turn sought out local leaders to act on their behalf in day-to-day affairs. In Israel, the Seleucid Generals worked through the High Priest. There were a series of appointed Seleucid Generals, and a series of High Priests.
Sadly, this dual-loyalty relationship corroded the integrity of the Priesthood. Likewise, the material wealth, power, and sophistication of the Syrian-Greeks seduced the Jewish People, away from their Covenant with G-d. They increasingly emulated the Syrian-Greek, culture, appearance, and even worship. When a High Priest who might oppose this evolution arose, he was replaced, and/or murdered.
Ultimately, in greed and power-lust, a true madman arose to rule. He was named Antiochus. He styled himself Antiochus Epiphanes, seeing himself as a god in the form of a man.
A series of edicts followed. Observing the Sabbath was prohibited. Possession, much less study from, of a Torah Scroll was a capital offense. Brit Milah (ritual entry into the Covenant of the Jewish People with G-d) , aka circumcision was banned. If a circumcised male child was found, both the child and its parents were put to death.
Temple sacrifices; the focal point of communal interface with G-d at his “place” on Earth, was banned. The Temple itself was defiled and filled with idols. The monies used to support the Holy Temple services and the families whose job it was to conduct them, not to mention the destitute, and infirm, had been seized.
These things were entirely approved of by the vast majority of now thoroughly assimilated Jews. A Greek gymnasium had been erected in Jerusalem. Nude athletics were commonplace. The veneration of physical beauty was now elevated and the purification of the soul, in service to G-d, was despised.
At towns throughout the land Jews lived as Greeks and worshiped as Greeks. The G-d of Israel was for bumbling rustics and dying old people.
Once, a Syrian-Greek patrol was out looking for renegades who continued to worship at tiny rural altars to Hashem Elokeinu, the True G-d. They found such a place and demanded that they both stop and that instead they worship as the Greeks. A young man rushed to abide and started to sacrifice to the Greek gods.
Witnessing this was one of those “old rustics”, a Hasmonean named Matityahu ben Yonatan. The weight of his world upon him, in an uncontrollable rage, he drew his sword, slew the young man and many of the Syrian-Greek patrol. He loudly declared, “All those who stand for G-d, follow me.”
A revolt against one of the mightiest empires on earth, and more importantly, against the spiritual suicide of his people, had begun.