The Near East during the Time of the Maccabees

After Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., his empire was divided among his generals, including Ptolemy and Seleucus. Initially the land of Israel came under the rule of Ptolemy, but by 200 B.C. it had fallen under Seleucid control. The Seleucid Empire originally controlled all of Alexander’s domain east of the Mediterranean coast except for Israel, but over time the Parthians broke away and established their own empire. At the same time the Roman Empire was expanding its rule across the Mediterranean world as well. These increasing threats surrounding the Seleucid Empire led Antiochus IV Epiphanes to impose a strict policy of hellenization through his empire, likely in an effort to solidify power over his diverse domain. Non-hellenistic religious practices such as circumcision and Sabbath observance were forbidden, pagan practices such as sacrificing swine and eating pork were mandated, and copies of the Hebrew scriptures were banned and destroyed (1 Maccabees 1; 2 Maccabees 6-7). Eventually the harsh policies of Antiochus IV fomented open rebellion by faithful Jews under the leadership of Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons in 167 B.C., who established a largely independent kingdom over the land of Israel (1 Maccabees 2; 2 Maccabees 8). The Romans eventually affirmed an alliance with the Maccabean leaders and encouraged other nations in the region to do the same. The map shown here displays this complex political world of the Near East around 90 B.C., shortly before the Romans absorbed the Seleucid Empire and the Maccabean Kingdom in 63 B.C.

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