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William Shepard


At this time there was a Jewish priest named Mattathias, who dwelt at a city called Modin. He had five sons, John, who was surnamed Gaddis, Simon, surnamed Mathes, Judas, surnamed Maccabeus, Eleazar, surnamed Auran, and Jonathan, surnamed Apphus. Mattathias lamented to his children the sad state of affairs in Judea, and the ravage of Jerusalem and the temple, and he told them it was better for them to die for the laws of their country than to live a shameful life of obedience to their conqueror.

Some of the officers of the king came to Modin to oblige the inhabitants to do what was commanded by him. And because Mattathias was a leading man among them, and the father of a large family, they desired him to begin the sacrifices to false gods. Mattathias said he would not do it, and even if all the others obeyed the commands of Antiochus, he would not obey them, nor would any of his sons obey them.

But another of the Jews came up and sacrificed as Antiochus had commanded. And Mattathias, in great anger, drew his sword and ran at the Jew and killed him. His sons also drew their swords and fell upon the king's soldiers and slew them. Mattathias overthrew the altar to the idol, and cried out in a loud voice,—

"If any one be zealous for the laws of his country and for the worship of God, let him follow me."

Then he and his sons fled to the desert, and a great number of Jews followed him, with their wives and children, and took up their dwelling in caves. The Syrian generals gathered up their forces and marched against them. They surprised one thousand of the Jews in a cave, and attacked them on the Sabbath-day, and, as the Jews would not fight on that day, they were put to death without any resistance. After this, Mattathias and his followers determined that although they would not attack an enemy on the Sabbath, they would hold it lawful, nevertheless, to defend themselves against an attack; since if they did not do this the enemy would always choose that day to fall upon them and kill them, and it would not be long before they were all destroyed.

Mattathias and his men lay hidden in their caves, and every now and then, as opportunity offered, they would come out and pour down upon the towns that were near them, kill the Syrian soldiers, overthrow the heathen altars, and oblige the wicked Jews who had obeyed their conquerors to return to the worship of the true God. The fame of the great deeds of Mattathias was carried all over the land, and men and women from all parts of Judea hastened to the desert to join him. So Mattathias got a great army about him, and after he had been their general for one year he died. With his dying breath he exhorted his sons to continue the good work he had begun, and he told them to choose as his successor his third son, Judas Maccabeus, because he was strong and brave and would lead the army to victory.