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Alexander the Great stone bust of white man with long curly hair

Alexander the Great (before the Maccabees)

Alexander and the Jews

Under the Persians the Jews did very well. They were able to worship their own God, and even to travel around the Persian Empire converting people to Judaism. But in 331 BC Alexander of Macedon conquered the Persian Empire and “liberated” (as he called it) the Jews from Persian rule.

Alexander of Macedon
Persia and the Jews
The Persian Empire
All our West Asia articles

Under the Hellenistic Seleucids

At first the Jews thought that they would be independent again and choose their own king, but it soon turned out that Alexander was making Israel part of his own empire. After Alexander died in 323 BC, Israel became part of the empire of Alexander’s general Seleucus.

The Hellenistic Kingdoms

The Maccabees lead a revolt

Maccabean coin from about 100 BC, showing a menorah with 7 branches.

Maccabean coin from about 100 BC, showing a menorah with 7 branches.

In 168 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV tried to make the Jews worship the Greek gods instead of their own. He sacrificed a cow to Zeus on the altar in the Temple. The Jews were very upset and, led by the Maccabee family, they revolted and gained their independence from the Seleucids. Our holiday of Hanukkah is tied to this rebellion. It remembers a time when the Jews recaptured control of the Temple, and wanted to relight the Temple lamps, but because the war was still going on, they didn’t have enough oil to keep the lamps going. The Maccabees set up a new independent state of Israel. They made all the Jews obey the Jewish religious laws, even Jews who did not want to, so not all the Jews were happy under the Maccabees either.

What is animal sacrifice?
More about Greek religion
Where does Hanukkah come from?
Hanukkah projects
A dreidel project

The Roman general Pompey: a white man, middle-aged, with no beard

The Roman general Pompey

What happened to the Maccabees?

But the Maccabees were not strong enough to fight off bigger empires that wanted to control the Eastern Mediterranean and Israel. In 65 BC, about a hundred years later, the Romans under their general Pompey took over Israel and ruled the Jews.

The First Jewish Revolt
The Second Jewish Revolt

Bibliography and further reading about the history of Judaism:


Jews under Roman rule
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