“This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor. From that time on the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I too will here end my story.”
This is a very personal remark by the biblical author. This is the end of the story of Nicanor, therefore the end of this story. This was the turning point. As far as this author knows, this was the day of independence, the defeat of Nicanor in 161 BCE. Jerusalem was then a Hebrew city from that time forward, at least until the writing of this author. This then seems like a story of Jewish or Jerusalem independence. What happened after this was not a concern of this author.
“Thus Nicanor in his utter boastfulness and arrogance had determined to erect a public monument of victory over Judas and his forces. But Judas Maccabeus did not cease to trust with all confidence that he would get help from the Lord. He exhorted his troops not to fear the attack of the gentiles. Rather, they should keep in mind the former times when help had come to them from heaven. They were now to look for the victory which the All powerful would give them. Encouraging them from the law and the prophets, he reminded them also of the struggles they had won. He made them the more eager. When he had aroused their courage, he issued his orders. At the same time he pointed out the perfidy of the gentiles and their violation of oaths. He armed each of them not so much with confidence in shields and spears as with the inspiration of brave words. He cheered them all by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief.”
Nicanor was so confident that he wanted to create a public monument of his victory over Judas Maccabeus that not yet happened. On the other hand, Judas Maccabeus was confident that his help would come from the Lord. He told his troops not to feat the attack of the gentiles. They should remember the former times when help came from heaven. Victory would come from the all powerful God. He encouraged them by reading from the Law and the prophets and all their struggles. The troops became more eager to fight as their courage was aroused. Judas also pointed out the lying and the violations of the gentiles. They had confidence in their shields and spears, but his troops would have confidence in the inspired words of God. He cheered them all by talking about a visionary dream.
“A certain Razis, one of the elders of Jerusalem, was denounced to Nicanor as a man who loved his compatriots. He was very well thought of. For his good will, he was called father of the Jews. In former times, when there was no mingling with the gentiles, he had been accused of Judaism. He had most zealously risked body and life for Judaism. Nicanor, wishing to exhibit the enmity which he had for the Jews, sent more than five hundred soldiers to arrest him. He thought that by arresting him, he would do them an injury. When the troops were about to capture the tower, they forced the door of the courtyard. They ordered that fire be brought and the doors burned. Being surrounded, Razis fell upon his own sword. He preferred to die nobly rather than to fall into the hands of sinners and suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth. But in the heat of the struggle he did not hit exactly. The crowd was now rushing in through the doors. He courageously ran up on the wall. He bravely threw himself down into the crowd. But as they quickly drew back, a space opened and he fell in the middle of the empty space. Still alive and aflame with anger, he rose up. Although his blood gushed forth and his wounds were severe, he ran through the crowd. Standing upon a steep rock, with his blood now completely drained from him, he tore out his entrails. He took them with both hands and hurled them at the crowd, calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again. This was the manner of his death.”
Wow, what a gruesome description of the death of Razis! Razis was a well respected Jewish elder, sometimes referred to as the father of the Jews. He was accused of Judaism because he would not mingle with the gentiles. Nicanor wanted to make an example of him so he sent 500 troops to arrest him. So far this does not sound outlandish. Then when they got to his house, they decided to set fire to his door to get in. Then Razis was surrounded and decided to kill himself with a sword, a common Roman practice, rather than die in disgrace. However, in the heat of the excitement with the 500 troops running at him, he somehow missed killing himself but merely cut himself. So Razis ran to the top of the wall. He wanted to hurl himself into the crowd, but they stepped back and he fell into an empty space. Now as he was angry and still alive, he ran through the crowd of troops until he got to a sharp rock. The blood was gushing out all over the place. Somehow he tore out his own intestines and threw them at the crowd. This was some weird scene. Here then is the main point. He cried to the Lord of life to give them back to him. Of course, he died. Somehow this father of Judaism believed that his intestines would be restored in some kind of afterlife, a resurrection. This is one of the few times that we have a Jewish attempted suicide.
“When this agreement had been reached, Lysias returned to the king. The Jews went about their farming. But some of the governors in various places, Timothy and Apollonius son of Gennaeus, as well as Hieronymus and Demophon, and in addition to these Nicanor the governor of Cyprus, would not let them live quietly and in peace.”
Everything was settled with Antioch and the Seleucid Empire. However, there were others who would not leave the Jewish people live in peace. Timothy had already arrived on the scene, and had already been killed off earlier in chapter 10 of this book. This appears to be a different Apollonius, who was the brother of Timothy. Nicanor had already fought with the Jews. Here he was called the governor of Cyprus. The others are even more difficult to identify.
“About that time, as it happened, King Antiochus had retreated in disorder from the region of Persia. He had entered the city called Persepolis. He attempted to rob the temples and control the city. Therefore the people rushed to the rescue with arms. King Antiochus and his army were defeated. The result was that he was put to flight by the inhabitants as he beat a shameful retreat. While he was in Ecbatana, news came to him of what had happened to Nicanor and the forces of Timothy. Transported with rage, he conceived the idea of turning upon the Jews the injury done by those who had put him to flight. He ordered his charioteer to drive without stopping until he completed the journey. But the judgment of heaven rode with him! In his arrogance he said.
‘When I get there,
I will make Jerusalem a cemetery of Jews.’”
A similar story can be found in 1 Maccabees, chapter 6, where the beginning of the story is the same. Some of the details are different. The town with the temple was called Elymais in 1 Maccabees, but magnificent former capital Persepolis here. Instead of returning to Babylon in 1 Maccabees, here it is the summer capital of Persia, Ecbatana. In 1 Maccabees, it is Lysias who seemed to be in charge, while here it appears to be Nicanor and Timothy. However, there is a major difference in the reaction of King Antiochus IV. In 1 Maccabees, when King Antiochus IV heard the news about the Jewish victory, he was depressed and fell sick. He then had deathbed repentance for all that he had done to the Jews. Here instead of that, he got angry and wanted to make Jerusalem a Jewish cemetery. However, it is later in this chapter that he has his deathbed repentance. On top of that, there are more details about his illness here.
“With these words Judas Maccabeus filled them with good courage. He made them ready to die for their laws and their country. Then he divided his army into four parts. He appointed his brothers also, Simon, Joseph, and Jonathan, each to command a division, putting fifteen hundred men under each. Besides, he appointed Eleazar to read aloud from the holy book. He gave the watchword.
Then, leading the first division himself, he joined battle with Nicanor.”
Judas Maccabeus had filled his 6,000 troops with courage as they were ready to die for their laws and their country. He divided his army into 4 parts among his brothers. There was Simon, who will become the high priest from 142-134 BCE. Then there was Joseph or as he was called in 1 Maccabees, chapter 2, John. This John died in 1 Maccabees, chapter 9, at the hands of the Nabateans. Jonathan is perhaps the next most famous as he succeeded Judas and was the high priest from 160-142 BCE. Eleazar here is asked to read the holy book of scripture. There might have been an attempt to put this Eleazar with the Eleazar of chapter 6 of this book. However, in 1 Maccabees, chapter 6, Eleazar died at the battle of Beth-zechariah, killing an elephant. Interesting enough, the cry “God’s Help!” was found in one of the 1st century Qumran War Scrolls for those returning from war. There might be a connection here.
“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.
“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.
“Now Nicanor went out from Jerusalem. He encamped in Beth-horon where the Syrian army joined him. Judas encamped in Adasa with three thousand men. Then Judas prayed and said.
‘When the messengers from the king spoke blasphemy,
Your angel went out.
He struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand of the Assyrians.
So also crush this army before us today.
Let the rest learn
That Nicanor has spoken wickedly against the sanctuary.
Judge him according to this wickedness.’”
Nicanor went to Beth-horon where he met up with his Syrian army. Beth-horon was on the border between the old territories of Benjamin and Ephraim, north of Jerusalem. Judas was camped at Adasa was about 7 miles north of Jerusalem with about 3,000 men. Judas prayed that the angel of God would come down as he had done in 2 Kings, chapter 19, against the Syrian King Sennacherib who had also mocked Yahweh. He explicitly mentioned the amazing 185,000 Assyrians who died that night. Judas made the comparison between that event and what was happening to him.
“After these events, Nicanor went up to Mount Zion. Some of the priests from the sanctuary and some of the elders of the people came out to greet him peaceably. They wanted to show him the burnt offering that was being offered for the king. But he mocked them. He derided them. He defiled them. He spoke arrogantly. In anger he swore this oath.
‘Unless Judas and his army are delivered
Into my hands this time,
Then if I return safely
I will burn up this house.’
He went out in great anger. At this, the priests went in and stood before the altar and the temple. They wept and said.
‘You choose this house to be called by your name.
This house is to be for your people.
This house is a house of prayer and supplication.
Take vengeance on this man and on his army!
Let them fall by the sword!
Remember their blasphemies!
Let them live no longer!’”
Nicanor went to Jerusalem. Actually some of the priests and elders greeted him peacefully. Remember that Alcimus was the high priest and friend of King Demetrius I. They wanted to show him that they had made burnt offerings in his honor. However, Nicanor turned on them as he mocked them, derided them, and defiled them. Arrogantly and angrily, he said that unless they delivered Judas to him, he was going to burn down the Temple. Then he left in anger. The priests then wept praying that this was the house of God for his people. God should take vengeance on this man and his army since he had blasphemed this Temple. He should not let him live.