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Judas Maccabaeus

The Victory of Judas Maccabaeus

François-Joseph Heim (1787-1865). Musée Magnin. Dijon. Ca. 1820-1825.

When Mattathias died, his place was taken by his son Judas, known as Maccabaeus. All his brothers supported him and they fought for Israel. Judas Maccabaeus from 166 BC to 160 BC defeated Apollonius and then also Seron, commander of the Syrian troops. A new Syrian force of King Antiochus led by Ptolemy son of Dorymenes was then sent to Israel, led by Nicanor and Gorgias. Judas Maccabeus went with his army to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem. He then gave battle to the Syrians near Emmaus. The gentiles were defeated. Then Lysias attacked Israel but he was defeated also.

Judas Maccabaeus now purified the Temple at Mount Zion by blameless priests. They pulled down the altar of burnt offerings that had been profaned and deposited its stones in a suitable place on the Hill of Dwelling to wait for the appearance of a Prophet who should give a ruling about them. They took unhewn stones and built a new altar. They thus restored the holy place. Then they built new high walls and strong towers around Mount Zion.

Judas Maccabaeus had to fight many battles, against the sons of Esau of Idumaea, against the gentiles of Gilead, against the people from Ptolemais, Tyre and Sidon. Judas and his brother routed their enemies but a large army of Jews led by Joseph son of Zechariah and also led by Azariah was defeated near Jamnia by Gorgias. Judas defeated however the Edomites and he destroyed Azotus.

King Antiochus died in Elymais of Persia and his son Antiochus Eupator succeeded on him. This King Antiochus V and Lysias marched upon Israel. The king fought with his armies and blockaded Judaea and besieged Mount Zion, Jerusalem. But Lysias saw that the army was growing weaker every day. So he persuaded King Antiochus to make peace with the Jews and the Assyrians withdrew, not without having demolished the walls that encircled Jerusalem.

Demetrius son of Seleucus came to Syria. He gave battle to Antiochus and captured Lysias and Antiochus. They were killed by the army and Demetrius ascended on the throne. Demetrius now sent Bacchides and Alcimus to fight the Israelites. These generals occupied Israel and did many wrongs.

Judas had been abandoned by the Hassidaeans, but when he heard of what Alcimus was doing in Israel, he took vengeance on the ones that had deserted him and he prevented their free movement about the country. The king then sent Nicanor, one of his cruellest generals, with a large army to Israel, ordering to exterminate the people. Judas gave battle to Nicanor near Caphar-Salama and defeated him. Nicanor went to Jerusalem to ridicule and defile the priests there. After that, a new army came from Syria but also that new army of Nicanor was crushed by Judas. Judas cut off Nicanor’s head and the right hand that the general had stretched out in insolence at the altar of Jerusalem.

Judas then sent Eupolemus son of John of the family of Accos, and Jason son of Eleazar to Rome to make a treaty of friendship and alliance with these people. The Senate of Rome approved of the alliance.

Demetrius sent Bacchides and Alcimus a second time into Judaea with a strong army. Judas gave battle to them at Beer-Zaith. The battle became desperate and very many casualties fell on both sides. Also Judas Maccabaeus fell however, and so died one of the greatest generals of Israel since Joshua.

François-Joseph Heim was a French painter born in 1787. He studied first in Strasbourg, and then in Paris. He was a gifted young artist and won several prices at the Academy of Paris. In 1807 he received a scholarship to continue to learn painting in Rome. After his return, he became a member of the Academy in 1829 and a professor in 1831. He made many historical and religious paintings. He made portraits of the establishment and of Parisian celebrities. He made paintings for official institutes. He was appointed a painter of the Institute of France and drew many portraits of its members. He worked for the Louvre and for the senate of Paris. He was a fine painter but not a great painter and he was squeezed between the masters of the Neo-Classical period and the new styles that were in the making. In between, there was turmoil and criticism and Heim was one of the focus artists of the times. He developed a romantic presentation of scenes for which he was only late in his life a little more appreciated. He exhibited much however in the official Salon exhibitions of Paris. He could live well of his art because he was so much linked to the circles of the Parisian establishment, and he accommodated with his art these people well.

There may be some confusion about the painting called the ‘Victory of Judas Maccabaeus’ in the Musée Magnin in Dijon. The picture holds that title on labels found on the rear of the frame and it was annotated as being a sketch in small format of a larger painting for which Heim received a Medal of Honour at the official exhibition of Paris in 1855. An art critic, J.-P. Cusin, saw in this picture one of the better drawings of Heim but thought it to be one of sketches made for a picture presented by Heim at the Salon of 1824, ‘The Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans’, which is now in the Louvre museum F40 . This last conjecture may be the right one because we find Roman standards among the attacking soldiers and the charge of the cavalry seems to be directed not only against an army but also to confront mountains or the base of fortifications. In the upper left corner, men seem to be falling down upon the assailants as they threw themselves down from mountain or ramparts. If we believe the title on the label, it remains difficult to discern which of the battles of Judas Maccabaeus is represented. He was a great general, won many battles and he was a fighter as victorious as Joshua, one of the heroes of Israel’s history. Judas Maccabaeus won a first battle against a Samarian army led by Apollonius and Judas routed those troops, killing Apollonius and taking his sword. In his second battle he also won with few men against a large Syrian army led by Seron, and Judas most probably fought with his countrymen, who were no professionals and he could not have had mercenary soldiers. The Israelites fought the larger army at the descent of Beth-Horon and since the odds were very much against Judas Maccabaeus, this might have been his greatest victory and hence the subject of the painting of François-Joseph Heim. From then on, Judas Maccabaeus became famous as a general; he was thought to be invincible and the numbers of his fighting men grew so that the Bible could state, ‘His name resounded to the ends of the earth, he rallied those who were on the point of perishing G38 .’

François-Joseph Heim painted a picture of such a battle, in which a powerful army of cavalry attacks or is attacked by an apparently weaker force of less well armed men. In both of the interpretations of the painting, the men that fight with light arms and without armour must be the Israelites. They cling like flees to their enemy, to the horses, and draw their opponents down. The battle takes place near a river - and also in another story of a battle of Judas Maccabaeus there is mention of a river – and the fight happens on the slopes of a mountain. God interfered in many fights of the Israelites and we see Jews holding only short swords fall down on the attackers as if they were angels from the skies. Heim painted the fierce melee of the warriors, in the heath of battle. He shows attackers and defenders in a frantic intermingling of men and horses. There are two kinds of men in this chaos: the horse-riders in armour and the lightly clad men. These last appear as if they had just come from their fields, from their lands or profession to defend their homes. They cling to the attackers bare-handed even, to draw them down. Such wild frenzy of figures was of course very Romantic in history painting. Heim obtained well and completely the expression of the violent movement of the crowd and of the chaos of close combat. He painted prancing horses, men falling, hands and arms outstretched, mix of lines of bodies and horses clashing, water splashing under hooves, men jumping and grasping and swimming and getting out of the river. Still, Heim managed to bring some structure in the chaos by his use of light since the central rider alludes to a pyramid structure. The horse is white. It draws therefore all attention first and the light area also is in the form of the pyramid, a traditional robust structure of composition around which chaos of lines and of colours can be painted, but which keeps by its lighter tones of hues a focus area in the picture. François-Joseph Heim also applied rapid, broad brushstrokes in places and he painted colours more vigorously in certain areas to underscore the rapidity of movement there. He gave a fine sense of space by gradually diminishing the height of his figures and by subduing his hues on the figures towards the far upper left, an effect of aerial perspective.

François-Joseph Heim succeeded well in depicting the heath of a battle of Judas Maccabaeus – or the siege and victory of the Roman army against Jerusalem. The painting does not show which side is on the winning hand: the heavy cavalry or the lightly-armed harassing men. But he did hint at interference from Yahweh by painting the Israelites as if they dropped down from heaven on the attackers of their territory and beliefs. Heim’s message was that defenders of the homeland, even if less in numbers and less well armed can still win from larger forces by zeal. After 1815, the defeat of Waterloo, France had no Grande Armée anymore but Heim seemed to suggest that France could still be invincible when only all men were called to defend their homeland.


Jonathan and Simon took their brother Judas and buried him in his ancestral tomb at Modein. Jonathan then became leader and high priest of the Jews (160 BC – 143 BC). Their brother John was killed by the sons of Amrai of Medeba, but Jonathan and his brother Simon avenged his blood. Bacchides built fortifications in some of the Judaean towns. Alcimus ordered the demolition of the sanctuary of Jerusalem but he suffered a stroke and died. Bacchides then returned to the king and Judaea was left in peace for two years. Jewish renegades now however argued on a plan to call back Bacchides, to arrest Jonathan and his friends, who were living in peace and confidence. But Jonathan and his brother Simon got wind of the plan, put the renegades to death and retired to Beth-Bassi in the desert. Jonathan and Simon defeated Bacchides there. Bacchides was furious but on Jonathan’s proposal he made peace with the Israelites and went back to his own country, never to return. Israel had peace now and Jonathan ruled as a Judge from out of Michmash.

Alexander son of Antiochus Epiphanes raised an army and occupied Ptolemais. Demetrius marched off to do battle with Alexander and he asked Jonathan to raise an army to help him. Also Alexander sent a letter for Jonathan’s help. Jonathan rejected Demetrius’ offer, remembering all the great wrongs this king had done to Israel, and he favoured Alexander. Alexander raised a large army, advanced upon Demetrius, defeated and killed him. Alexander married Cleopatra daughter of Pharaoh Ptolemy of Egypt and Jonathan was invited to the wedding and dressed in purple as a guest of honour.

But Demetrius II son of Demetrius returned from Crete to the land of his ancestors. Demetrius made Apollonius governor of Coele-Syria. Jonathan and Simon defeated Apollonius at Azorus, much to the joy of King Alexander. Alexander gave Jonathan rights over Ekron and over the adjoining lands.

King Ptolemy of Egypt, Alexander’s father-in-law came with a large army hoping to take possession of his son-in-law’s territories. He became an ally of Demetrius, gave his daughter to this Demetrius and he broke with Alexander. Ptolemy entered Antioch and assumed the crown of Asia. King Ptolemy thus reigned supreme. Alexander had to flee to Arabia and Zabdiel the Arab cut off his head and sent it to Ptolemy. Some time later King Ptolemy died and Demetrius became king.

Jonathan meanwhile mustered his men to besiege the citadel of Jerusalem that was held by renegades. Demetrius was angered at this and left with a strong army. He entered Ptolemais. Jonathan went to face the king there and King Demetrius favoured Jonathan and Israel, relieving the three Samaritan districts and Judaea from taxation. In Antioch later, the citizens rebelled against Demetrius. Jonathan sent a strong force to help the king and Demetrius could regain control. But soon he changed his attitude and broke all the promises he had made to Jonathan.

Trypho, one of Alexander’s followers, put the boy Antiochus, son of Alexander, on the throne. The troops of Demetrius rallied to Antiochus and made war on Demetrius. Jonathan and Simon became allies of Antiochus and they fought battles against Demetrius’ armies in Galilee. Jonathan was victorious.

Jonathan sent a new mission to Rome to confirm and renew his friendship with the Romans and he did the same with Sparta.

Jonathan and Simon won many battles and Jonathan heightened the walls of Jerusalem and rebuilt the city.

Trypho’s secret ambition was to overpower Antiochus and become king of Asia himself. But he feared Jonathan. Trypho came with a large army to Beth-Shear. Jonathan had assembled a large army also so that Trypho grew afraid. So he called on Jonathan and told him he would hand Ptolemais to him and take the road for home. Jonathan trusted him, dismissed his troops and entered Ptolemais with only a thousand men. As soon as he had entered the town the people of Ptolemais closed the gates, seized Jonathan and put all those who had entered to the sword.

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Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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