MATTATHIAS

MATTATHIAS
MATTATHIAS, priest from the village of Modi'in, and first leader of the uprising of the hasmoneans against antiochus IV Epiphanes (167 B.C.E.). A number of discrepancies appear regarding the genealogy of Mattathias, and it is not certain that he was a native of Modi'in. According to I Maccabees 2:1 Mattathias was "the son of Johanan, son of Simeon, a priest of the family of Joarib" (יְהוֹיָרִיב; cf. I Chron. 24:7) who "moved away from Jerusalem and settled in Modi'in." Josephus twice alludes to Mattathias' background. In Antiquities 12:265 he is described as "living in Modi'in in Judea… the son of Johanan, the son of Simeon, the son of Asamonaius, a priest of the family of Joarib, and a native of Jerusalem." In Wars 1:36 Mattathias is called simply "son of Asamonaius, a priest of a village called Modi'in." It appears that the name "Asamonaius" or "Hasmonean" is a family title, although later rabbinic tradition regards "Hasmonai" as a particular person e.g. "…'neither did I abhor them' (Lev. 26:44) – in the days of the Greeks, when I raised up for them Simeon the Righteous and Hasmonai and his sons, and Mattathias the high priest" (Meg. 11a; some variants however omit "Hasmonai and his sons"). The anachronistic description of Mattathias as high priest is also found in tractate Soferim (20:6, ed. M. Higger (1937), 346), and was inserted into the special prayer recited on Ḥanukkah. Although a number of minor differences exist, the general descriptions of Mattathias' activities, transmitted by Josephus and in I Maccabees are fairly similar. A company of Greek officers arrived at Modi'in with the intention of forcibly implementing the king's ordinances regarding sacrifices to idols. As Mattathias was held in high esteem by the villagers, he was ordered to begin the sacrificial offerings. When Mattathias refused, another Jew proceeded to fulfill the officer's command. Mattathias then attacked and killed both that Jew and the Greek officer at hand (named Appeles in Jos., Ant.; Bacchides in Jos., Wars), and together with his sons and a number of similarly minded fellow countrymen sought refuge in the desert and mountains of Judea. One such group of fugitives was attacked on the Sabbath. Refusing to defend themselves on the day of rest, the group, numbering about 1,000, was almost totally annihilated. This led Mattathias to decree that defensive military action is permissible on the Sabbath (cf. M.D. Herr, in: Tarbiz, 30 (1961), 243–4). Both I Maccabees and Josephus further attribute to Mattathias the circumcision of all those uncircumcised children brought up under the influence of enforced Hellenization. Mattathias led the rebellion for only one year, and before his death appointed two of his five sons to continue as leaders of the revolt: judah maccabee was declared military commander and Simeon the hasmonean counselor. Of Mattathias' other three sons, johanan b. mattathias and eleazar b. mattathias both met violent deaths during the early years of the uprising while jonathan , who succeeded Judah, was killed by treachery in 161 B.C.E. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Buechler, in: REJ, 34 (1897), 69–76; B. Niese, Kritik der beiden Makkabaeerbuecher (1900), 44–47; E. Bickerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees (1962), 96ff.; Schuerer, Hist, 29–30; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 3 (19502), 13–19; W.R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots and Josephus (1956), index. (Isaiah Gafni)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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