“Besides Gorgias, the Idumeans, who had control of important strongholds, were harassing the Jews. They received those who were banished from Jerusalem. They endeavored to keep up the war. But Judas Maccabeus and his men, after making solemn supplication and beseeching God to fight on their side, rushed to the strongholds of the Idumeans. Attacking them vigorously, they gained possession of the places. They beat off all who fought upon the wall. They slaughtered those whom they encountered. They killed no fewer than twenty thousand.”
Once again, this conflict can be found in 1 Maccabees, chapter 5, where there was some burning, but without the number of people who died. The Idumeans were the people from Edom who continuously harassed the Jews. The supporters of the banished high priest Menelaus had fled here. Here, Judas Maccabeus and his men prayed to God that he might be on their side as they rushed the strongholds of the Idumeans. Then they attacked and took the strongholds, as they killed 20,000 Idumeans, quite a slaughter.
“Philip saw that the Judas was gaining ground little by little. He saw that he was pushing ahead with more frequent successes. Thus he wrote to Ptolemy, the governor of Coele-syria and Phoenicia, to come to the aid of the king’s government. Ptolemy promptly appointed Nicanor son of Patroclus, one of the king’s chief friends. He sent Nicanor in command of no fewer than twenty thousand gentiles of all nations to wipe out the whole race of Judea. He associated with him Gorgias, a general and a man of experience in military service. Nicanor determined to make up for the king the tribute due to the Romans, two thousand talents, by selling the captured Jews into slavery. He immediately sent to the towns on the seacoast, inviting them to buy Jewish slaves. He promised to hand over ninety slaves for a talent, not expecting the judgment from the Almighty that was about to overtake him.”
This Philip was in charge of Jerusalem. He wrote to Ptolemy, who was the governor of Coele-syria, along the Phoenician coast, for aid. Ptolemy sent him Nicanor and Gorgias, a general. This is slightly different from 1 Maccabees, chapter 3. There it was Lysias, the governor from Antioch who sent Ptolemy with Nicanor and Gorgias to Judea with 40,000 troops, not 20,000 as here. There was no mention of taking Jewish slaves and selling them in 1 Maccabees. Here Nicanor believes that he can get 1 talent for 90 Jewish slaves, so that they can pay the Roman tribute. It is not clear if this is a gold or silver talent. Obviously, he was not expecting divine revenge.
“Now while Judas and Jonathan were in Gilead and their brother Simon was in Galilee before Ptolemais, Joseph son of Zechariah, and Azariah, the commanders of the forces, heard of their brave deeds. They heard about the heroic wars they had fought. So they said.
‘Let us also make a name for ourselves.
Let us go and make war on the gentiles around us.’
They issued orders to the men of the forces that were with them. They marched against Jamnia. Gorgias and his men came out of the town to meet them in battle. Then Joseph and Azariah were routed. They were pursued to the borders of Judea. As many as two thousand of the people of Israel fell that day. Thus the people suffered a great rout because, thinking to do a brave deed, they did not listen to Judas and his brothers. They did not belong to the family of those men through whom deliverance was given to Israel.”
While all this success of Judas and his brothers were happening, the folks back in Jerusalem got antsy. The leaders there, Joseph and Azariah, despite being told by Judas to stay in Jerusalem, decided to do battle with the people of Jamnia, south of Jerusalem. This was probably not too far from Jerusalem, but it is difficult to locate. Anyway, the reverse of what had happened to Judas and his brother happened. Gorgias came out to do battle and killed 2,000 Israelites as they fled back to Judea. The author once again notes that since they did not belong to the family of Judas, the people who will be called Hasmoneans, they could not deliver Israel from its enemies. Only the relatives of Judas could do that.
“Then Judas and his force turned back from pursuing them. He said to the people.
‘Do not be greedy for plunder.
There is a battle before us.
Gorgias and his force are near us in the hills.
But stand now against our enemies!
Afterward seize the plunder boldly.’”
When they turned back from pursuing their enemy, Judas reminded them that the battle was not over yet. He told them not to be greedy for plunder because Gorgias and his forces were still in the surrounding hills. They should stand and fight now. Then afterwards they could seize the plunder.
“Lysias chose Ptolemy son of Dorymenes, Nicanor, and Gorgias, able men among the friends of the king, as leaders. He sent them with forty thousand infantry and seven thousand cavalry into the land of Judah to destroy it, as the king had commanded. Thus they set out with their entire force. When they arrived, they encamped near Emmaus in the plain. When the traders of the region heard what was said to them, they took silver and gold in immense amounts. They went to the camp to get the Israelites for slaves. Forces from Syria and the land of the Philistines joined with them.”
Lysias, who was in charge now that the king had left for Persia, named 3 people to lead the charge in Judah, Ptolemy, not the king of Egypt, Nicanor, and Gorgias. These 3 friends of the king had 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry to destroy Judah. They camped near Emmaus, about 25 miles west of Jerusalem. Somehow the traders wanted to get Israelite slaves. This Syrian force had other Syrians and those pesky Philistines with them also.