JEWISH AMERICAN OR AMERICAN JEW?

With recent tragedies in Jewish communities around the world, this question of Jewish identity is very current.  These same themes were relevant in Judea of 2200 years ago as well.  The Jews in Judea at the time of Judah Maccabeus’ wars were going through a crisis of identity.  How much Greek culture should they adopt?  How did their allegiance to the Greeks mesh with their faith?

We see in earlier battles that Greek armies used Judean roads, marching past Judean towns – even Modiin, Judah Maccabeus’ hometown – with passive approval by the resident Jewish population.  Even after the re-dedication of the Temple, Jewish sympathizers to the Greek government return to serve there in the capacity of priests.  The events leading up to, and in the aftermath of the 7th battle, the Battle of Adasa, will change Jewish Judean’s outlook towards the Greeks.

General Nicanor, incensed at his loss at Capharsalma, threatens to burn down the Temple unless the priests hand over Judah Maccabeus.  He wanted to flex his political muscle and show the populace the price for shunning the Greek laws and ways.  This was probably shocking to the priests in the Temple who had supported the Greek government.

In order to finish the Judean resistance once and for all, the Seleucid government arranged for reinforcements to join Nicanor.  Nicanor, himself, went to meet them at Beit Horon, once again using this main road and ensuring that it was open for these extra troops.  Judah went and set up his camp in the open plain of Adasa, confident from his previous victory.  There are many theories as to where exactly Adasa is and there is no clear obvious choice.  Because of the centrality of the Beit Horon Ascent in the narrative, the battle most likely occurred close to Jerusalem, where the terrain opens up and there is sufficient plain to wage a proper battle.

Nicanor attacked and was killed in the course of the battle.  When Nicanor’s troops saw him dead, the Greeks soldiers became afraid and fled back down the road towards the coastal plain.

Judah Maccabee trumpets jerusalem
Judah Maccabeus, also the trumpeters and Jerusalem Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, woodcut 1860

Judah Maccabeus sounded trumpet blasts and the Jews came out of the villages along the road and killed the Greek troops during their retreat.  Only a few days or weeks prior, these same villagers had given the troops safe passage on this same road.  Now, their Jewish identities came out strongly against the Greeks.  This series of events shows how the Jews struggled with this conflict.

Judah Maccabeus took Nicanor’s head and hand and tacked them to the wall of Jerusalem facing the Temple.  Was this to serve as a warning to the Greeks that this would be their fate when speaking and raising their hand against the Temple?  Or was it a sign to the Jews in the Temple to be wary and guard their Judaism against outside influences?

The day of the Battle of Adasa, the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar, is declared as a joyous holiday by Judah Maccabeus to be celebrated every year.  Why would this battle deserve a holiday and not the other battles?  Judah Maccabeus declares two holidays surrounding his campaigns: one on Kislev 25 – Hanukkah – and one to celebrate the victory of Adasa on Adar 13 – the Day of Nicanor.  Hanukkah recalls the restoration of the Temple service.  The Day of Nicanor is a change in mindset.  After being tricked into complacency by the lure of Greek culture, the Jews see the Greeks for what they are – anti-Semites  – and recommit to their Judaism.

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