DAVID VS. GOLIATH
When we arrive at the third battle, there is a paradigm shift. Josephus and I Maccabees, which gave only a few sentences to the first two battles, dedicate long passages to describing the third battle, the Battle of Emmaus. The first change is in the direct involvement of Antiochus IV whose anti-Semitic decrees ignited the revolt in the first place. He intends to participate personally but gets called to more urgent matters in the east, appointing Lysias, Antiochus’ right-hand man and his son’s tutor. Lysias assigns the job of stamping out Judah Maccabeus and his zealots to Generals Nicanor and Gorgias and between 20,000-47,000 troops.
They decide not to be lured into the hills or to ascend to Beit Horon but to fight Judah on their own terms in an open plain. They encamp near Emmaus, near both supply lines from the coastal plain and their allies there. They attract lots of people to their camp who expect to profit from selling Jews as slaves after the expected rout.
When you stand on the overlook in Park Canada (you can write me for directions) after driving past the spring which was obviously important to an army of thousands, you can see the entire battle site.
Judah encamped by Mitzpeh, thought by most to be the site of today’s Nebi Samuel. The description in I Maccabees reflects biblical language and surely conjured connections to biblical heroes for those reading the book when it first came out. The Greek generals saw Judah’s fires on the hilltop and decide to surprise the Jewish troops at night. Most of the Greek army stays at Emmaus, but 6000 soldiers under the command of Gorgias start sneaking up the ascent under the cover of darkness.
You can follow their path by driving up Route 443 to Nebi Samuel.
A night surprise attack is such a good idea that Judah has it as well and, leaving the fires burning as a decoy, his troops leave Mitzpeh to attack the Greek troops using the back way – down the Kiryat Yearim ridge.
From Nebi Samuel, descent back to Park Canada on Route 1, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
Gorgias arrives in Mitzpeh to find it empty. His troops start searching the hills for Judah Maccabeus and his supporters.
When Judah gets to Emmaus, he surprises the remaining troops under Nicanor, who all retreat towards their allies on the coastal plain. Judah does not follow them into hostile territory, instead setting their camp on fire and waiting for Gorgias to return.
Gorgias sees the fires in the camp below and knows there is trouble. He avoids confrontation and retreats to the coastal plain as well.
From here on out, Judah Maccabeus is seen as a force to be reckoned with and not a minor nuisance. We see here Judah behaving as David when he stood before Goliath, able to assess a situation and think out of the box to achieve victory.