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History & Archeology

First evidence of Maccabean Revolt against Greeks Uncovered

Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Naama Sukenik from the laboratory of organic materials at the Antiquities Authority takes out the wool fabric. Photograph- Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Just in time for Chanukah, Israeli archeologists uncovered a rare wooden box, found in the Judean Desert, containing a small hoard of 15 silver coins, dated to the days leading up to the Maccabean Revolt. Israel Antiquities Authority said that the box offers evidence for a dramatic moment in the history of the Jewish people: the rebellion against the Syrian Greeks, the establishment of self-rule in Israel, and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the Second century BCE.

Jewish children learn all about the Maccabean revolt and how the five sons of Matityahu the High Priest led the Jewish people to victory over what was at the ti,e the world’s greatest power. And the Jewish religion teaches that after the Temple was liberated, the Menorah remained lit for eight straight days; even though, there was only oil enough for one day. The lighting of Menorah’s on each of the eight days of Chanukah is performed in memory of this.

But what really happened during the course of the war that lasted on and off for many years. We only really have the four books of the Maccabees for any historical accounts of what happened back then. But these are not even included in the Jewish Bible.

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So, this is why the discovery of this box is important.

Israel Antiquities Authority

The coins: Photo Shai Halevy, Israel Antiquities Authority

The box was hidden in Muraba‘at Cave in the Darageh Stream Nature Reserve about 2,200 years ago, and it was discovered in excavations carried out there last May. The coin hoard has since been researched, and it will be exhibited to the public over Hannukah in the Hasmonean Museum in Modi‘in, in the context of Israel Heritage Week that takes place on Hannukah.

The rescue excavation was carried out in Muraba‘at Cave in March–May 2022 in the framework of the Judean Desert Excavation and Survey Project run by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, in cooperation with the Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage. Among the many finds, the unique lathe-turned wooden box was discovered in a crack in the cave.

When the lid was removed, it turned out that the upper part of the box was full of packed earth and small stones. Below this earth layer, a large piece of purple woolen cloth was found, covering the 15 silver coins that were arranged with pieces of sheep’s wool in the lower part of the box.

The coin hoard, cleaned in the Israel Antiquities Authority metal finds laboratory, comprised a homogeneous group of silver tetradrachma coins, minted by Ptolemy VI, King of Egypt. Ptolemy VI reigned over Egypt at the same time as his uncle Antiochos IV Epiphanes (“the Wicked”) reigned over the Seleucid Kingdom, including Judea. The three earliest coins in the hoard were minted in 176/5 BCE, and the latest coin dated to 171/0 BCE. The name “Shalmai” in Aramaic script was found secondarily incised on one of the coins.

Based on the date of the latest coin in the hoard in 170 BCE, the year when the hoard was hidden can be fixed to the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt, and the war declared against Antiochos Epiphanes IV decrees against the Jewish religion, or to the events that led up to the Revolt.

According to Dr Eitan Klein, who studied the coins together with Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority numismatic expert, explained “It is interesting to try to visualize the person who fled to the cave and hid his personal property here intending to return to collect it. The person was probably killed in the battles, and he did not return to collect his possessions that awaited almost 2,200 years until we retrieved it. This is an absolutely unique find, presented the first clear archaeological evidence that the Judean Desert caves played an active role as the stage of the activities of the Jewish rebels or the fugitives in the early days of the Maccabean Revolt, or the events that led up to them.

According to Dr. Klein, the Books of the Maccabees describe the dramatic events of the times that would have led people to hide their possessions in the Judean Desert, until the danger passed. One explanation could be the plundering of the Jerusalem Temple treasures by Antiochos IV, and the destruction of the Jerusalem city wall in the years that led up to the Hasmonean Revolt. Another explanation could be the religious decrees imposed on the Jews in 167 BCE. The First Book of Maccabees records that groups of Jews fled to hiding places in the desert due to the decrees imposed on the Jews: “ Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there: they, their sons, their wives, and their cattle, because evils pressed heavily upon them. And it was reported to the king’s officers, and to the troops in Jerusalem in the city of David, that men who had rejected the king’s command had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness. Many pursued them and overtook them; they encamped opposite them and prepared for battle against them on the sabbath day…. and they died, with their wives and children and cattle, about a thousand persons.” (I Maccabees 2:29–37).



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