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RESTORATION OF THE JEWISH COMMONWEALTH.
AFTER the heroic ages of Joshua, Gideon, and
David, no warriors appeared in Jewish history equal to Judas Maccabæus and his brothers in bravery, in patriotism, and in noble deeds. They delivered the Hebrew nation when it had sunk to abject submission under the kings of Syria, and when its glory and strength alike had departed. The conquests of Judas especially were marvellous, considering the weakness of the Jewish nation and the strength of its enemies. No hero that chivalry has produced surpassed him in courage and ability; his exploits would be fabulous and incredible if not so well attested. He is not a familiar character, since the Apocrypha, from which our chief knowledge of his deeds is derived, is now rarely read. Jewish history resembles that of Europe in the Middle Ages in the sentiments which are born of danger, oppression, and trial. As a point of mere historical interest, the dark ages that preceded the coming of the Messiah
furnish reproachless models of chivalry, courage, and magnanimity, and also the foundation of many of those institutions that cannot be traced to the laws of Moses.
But before I present the wonderful career of Judas Maccabæus, we must look to the circumstances which made that career remarkable and eventful.
On the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity there was among them only the nucleus of a nation : more remained in Persia and Assyria than returned to Judæa. We see an infant colony rather than a developed State ; it was so feeble as scarcely to attract the notice of the surrounding monarchies. In all probability the population of Judæa did not number a quarter as many as those whom Moses led out of Egypt; it did not furnish a tenth part as many fighting men as were enrolled in the armies of Saul; it existed only under the protection afforded by the Persian monarchs. The Temple as rebuilt by Nehemiah bore but a feeble resemblance to that which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed; it had neither costly vessels nor golden ornaments nor precious woods to remind the scattered and impoverished people of the glory of Solomon. Although the walls of Jerusalem were partially restored, its streets were filled with the débris and ruins of ancient palaces. The city was indeed fortified, but the strong walls and lofty towers which made it almost impregnable were not again restored as in the times of the old monarchy. It took no great force to capture the city and demolish the fortifications. The vast and unnumbered treasures which David, Solomon, and Hezekiah had accumulated in the Temple and the palaces formed no inconsiderable part of the gold and silver that finally enriched Babylonian and Persian kings. The wealth of one of the richest countries of antiquity had been dispersed and re-collected at Babylon, Susa Ecbatana, and other cities, to be again seized by Alexander in his conquest of the East, then again to be hoarded or spent by the Syrian and Egyptian kings who descended from Alexander's generals, and finally to be deposited in the treasuries of the Romans and the Byzantine Greeks. Whatever ruin warriors may make, whatever temples and palaces they may destroy, they always spare and seize the precious metals, and keep them until they spend them, or are robbed of them in their turn.
Not only was the Holy City a desolation on the return of the Jews, but the rich vineyards and olivegrounds and wheat-fields had run to waste, and there were but few to till and improve them. The few who returned felt their helpless condition, and were quiet and peaceable. Moreover, they had learned during their seventy years' exile to have an intense hatred of everything like idolatry, - a hatred amounting to fanatical fierceness, such as the Puritan Colonists of New England had toward Catholicism. In their dreary and humiliating captivity they at length perceived that idolatry was the great cause of all their calamities; that no national prosperity was possible for them, as the chosen people, except by sincere allegiance to Jehovah. At no period of their history were they more truly religious and loyal to their invisible King than for two hundred years after their return to the land of their ancestors. The terrible lesson of exile and sorrow was not lost on them. It is true that they were only a “remnant” of the nation, as Isaiah had predicted, but they believed that they were selected and saved for a great end. This end they seemed to appreciate now more than ever, and the idea that a great Deliverer was to arise among them, whose reign was to be permanent and glorious, was henceforth devoutly cherished.
A severe morality was practised among these returned exiles, as marked as their faith in God. They were especially tenacious of the laws and ceremonies that Moses had commanded. They kept the Sabbath with a strictness unknown to their ancestors. They preserved the traditions of their fathers, and conformed to them with scrupulous exactness; they even went beyond the requirements of Moses in outward ceremonials. Thus there gradually arose among them a sect ultimately known as the Pharisees, whose leading pecul