“When Alcimus had said this, the rest of the king’s friends, who were hostile to Judas Maccabeus, quickly inflamed King Demetrius still more. He immediately chose Nicanor, who had been in command of the elephants. He appointed him governor of Judea. He sent him off with orders to kill Judas Maccabeus and scatter his troops. He was to install Alcimus as high priest of the great temple. The gentiles throughout Judea, who had fled before Judas Maccabeus, flocked to join Nicanor. They thought that the misfortunes and calamities of the Jews would mean prosperity for themselves.”
Once again, this is similar but not quite the same as 1 Maccabees, chapter 7. There is no mention of Bacchides here. Instead the leader of the troops and the governor of Judea was Nicanor. Apparently, Nicanor had been in charge of the elephants that seem to have been a big deal in the Syrian army. He may also have been with King Demetrius I when he was in jail in Rome. Now this meant that there was a separate governor for Judea whose sole purpose was to kill Judas Maccabees and disperse his troops. Alcimus was officially made the high priest. The gentiles in the area were happy so that they eagerly joined with Nicanor. The assumption of the gentiles was a zero sum game that if the Jews were in trouble, it would be better for them.
“When King Demetrius heard that Nicanor and his army had fallen in battle, he sent Bacchides and Alcimus into the land of Judah a second time. He sent the right wing of the army with them. They went by the road that leads to Gilgal. They encamped against Mesaloth in Arbela. They took that town and killed many people. In the first month of the one hundred fifty-second year they encamped against Jerusalem. Then they marched off and went to Berea with twenty thousand foot soldiers and two thousand cavalry.”
Now we are back to the problem of King Demetrius I and Judas Maccabeus, since the preceding chapter 8 seems to be an insertion to show how the Romans had been kind to the Jews. With the defeat of Nicanor, the king went back to his faithful duo of Bacchides and Alcimus, who was still the chief priest in Jerusalem in 160 BCE. Gilgal was between Jericho and the Jordan River. This duo camped at Mesaloth and destroyed it. It might have been close to Samaria. Then they went out to Berea, perhaps a town about 10 miles north of Jerusalem called el-Birch. Anyway, they had a large army of 20,000 foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalry.
“Then Bacchides withdrew from Jerusalem. He encamped in Beth-zaith. He sent and seized many of the men who had deserted to him. He killed some of the people and threw them into a great pit. He placed Alcimus in charge of the country. He left him with a force to help him. Then Bacchides went back to the king.”
Bacchides left Jerusalem and went about 3 miles away to Beth-zaith, which is different from Beth-zur and Beth-zechariah. They were all very close to each other outside of Jerusalem. For some reason, he killed some of the people who deserted to him. Maybe this means people who wanted to desert from him. Anyway, he put their bodies into a great pit. Then he put Alcimus in charge of the country with a large force and went back to see King Demetrius I in Antioch.
“Then a group of scribes appeared in a body before Alcimus and Bacchides to ask for just terms. The Hasideans were first among the sons of Israel to seek peace from them. They said.
‘A priest of the line of Aaron has come with an army.
He will not harm us.’
Alcimus spoke peaceable words to them. He swore this oath to them.
‘We will not seek to injure you or your friends.’
So they trusted him. However, Bacchides seized sixty of them. He killed them in one day, in accordance with the word which was written.
‘The flesh of your faithful ones and their blood,
They poured out all around Jerusalem.
There was none to bury them.’
Then the fear and dread of them fell upon all the people. They said.
‘There is no truth or justice in them,
They have violated the agreement and the oath that they swore.’”
The Hasideans may be the same group of warriors mentioned in chapter 2 of this book that joined with Judas’ father Mattathias. However, here they are portrayed as a group of ascetic scribes who were willing to live under Syrian rule as long as they were permitted to keep the Mosaic Law. These Hasideans may have developed into the group of Essenes in the 1st century CE. They saw Alcimus and recognized him as a descendent of Aaron, so that they did not fear him. Alcimus even swore under oath that he would not injure them. However, Bacchides took 60 of them and killed them. Somehow this was the fulfillment of a written word. The word is not the Mosaic Law, but from Psalm 79, which maybe from this same time period. This is part of a lament that the blood of the bodies was on the streets as unburied victims. Now, everybody became fearful, because this group with Bacchides and Alcimus could not be trusted. They had broken their word or oath, by killing 60 of these peaceable men.
“King Demetrius chose Bacchides, one of the king’s friends, who was the governor of the province Beyond the River. He was a great man in the kingdom who was faithful to the king. King Demetrius sent him, and with him the ungodly Alcimus, whom he made high priest. He commanded him to take vengeance on the Israelites. Thus they marched away and came with a large force into the land of Judah. He sent messengers to Judas and his brothers with peaceable but treacherous words. However, they paid no attention to their words, for they saw that they had come with a large force.”
King Demetrius I chose the governor of the Province Beyond the River, which had its headquarters in Samaria from the old Persian days. This province extended west of the Euphrates River to Egypt. Bacchides was also a faithful friend of the king who brought with him the renegade Alcimus. Somehow, this non-Jewish person made Alcimus a high priest of the Jews, which did not make much sense. His orders were to take vengeance on the Israelites with a large force. However, Bacchides sent peaceable words to Judas Maccabeus and his brothers. Judas and his brothers were not fooled. They saw them as treacherous since Bacchides came with a large armed force.