To understand Jewish wars you must go
back to the days when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Jews and took over control of the
kingdom of Judah.
Thereafter,. in 332 BC, Alexander the
Great of Macedonia, who defeated the Persian Empire and took control of that Empire, which
extended deep into Asia, including Judah. However Alexander died in 323 BC and the lands
he conquered from Egypt to Asia Minor in the west to India in the east, were divided among
the Macedonian generals.
Two of those generals are of interest
to us here. The Ptolemies controlled Egypt, and the Seleucids were based in Syria
Seleucus, who had been apportioned
the area of Babylon, crowned himself King and extended his area of control into Syria,
establishing a new capital at Antioch on the Mediterranean in the north-west corner ---)f
In 198 BC, Antiochus III, took over
Palestine from the Ptolomies and made it part of the Seleucid Empire.
The policy of domestic and autonomy
of the Jews and Judea was maintained when the Seleucids under the Antiochus III until the
accession of on Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 175
BC. He determined that the imposing
of Greek culture and religion on the population would ensure common loyalty and uniformity
of practice throughout his Empire. This was the method he proposed to adopt in order to
weld his subject peoples together, thereby unifying his Empire. The instrument for unity
would be Hellenism. This process was carried not only for religious and social needs, but
for political purposes.
The King assumed the authority to
appoint the Jewish High Priest, who was the spiritual leader of Jewry, and a split between
the "Hellenized" Jews and those who remained true to their tradition and faith
caused a rebellion to break out in Jerusalem.
Antiochus was withdrawing from a
siege of Alexandria in Egypt when he heard the news of the rebellion. He dispatched a
force under his General Apollonius to deal with the situation in Judea.
The Seleucid troops engaged in a
massacre of the Jewish population in Jerusalem. They burned, pillaged and broke into the
Temple, stealing many of the precious vessels. Thereafter the Temple was converted into a
Hellenist Shrine dedicated to the Olympian Zeus. A sacrificial offering of a pig crowned
the profane action of desecration.
A fortress known as the Acra or
Citadel was constructed on the hill facing the Temple and a permanent Seleucid garrison
was stationed here.
In a campaign to wipe out the
influence of Jewish rights and customs, Jews were forbidden under penalty of death to
congregate in prayer; to observe the Sabbath and religious festivals; carry out
circumcisions; or adhere to dietary laws.
The revolt of the Maccabees begin in
the village of Modiin, which is northwest of Jerusalem and in the foothills. An altar had
been set up in the village and Mattathias, a Jewish Priest, was ordered to perform a
sacrifice at the Alter and eat a pig's flesh with his five sons. When Mattathias did not
move from his spot one of the assembled Jews moved forward to the altar to obey the order
and perform the sacrifice. Mattathias thereupon rushed forward in a fury, slew the traitor
and killed the Leader of the Greek group coming to enforce the sacrifice. His sons led the
village against the Greek unit and wiped it out. Thus began the revolt of the Maccabees.
At this point, Mattathias led the
people into the hills and they set up a guerrilla group to defend them and to develop a
course of revolt. They numbered about 200 of which only 50 were able bodied men and they
lacked any military training whatsoever.
They trained themselves for guerrilla
warfare, using farm tools as weapons and developed an effective intelligence gathering
organization under Judah, the middle son of Mattathias. Mattathias died in the first year
of the revolt. The Greek army was well trained, organized in both heavy and light
infantry, heavy and light cavalry, chariots, elephant units and artillery units operating
ballistas (engines for hurling huge stones). The Greek troops enjoyed both superiority in
man power and arms and were trained for set piece battle in the conventional fighting
The stage was set then for a battle
of a superior invading army versus a indigenous guerrilla force working in a land which
they knew very well; being motivated by their beliefs and reglious freedom; using the
traditional guerrilla warfare methods of attacking Greek patrols, and running back into
the people where they could not be detected. As is often the case between guerrillas and a
set military force, the guerrillas soon became more dominant to the point when the
Seleucid garrison in Jerusalem was cut off, and at that time Apollonius, who was governor
and commander of the forces in the region, who was based in Samaria, decided to intervene.
The usual method of battle by the
Greeks at this time' was the creation of a phalanx. This was a tactical formation of heavy
infantry, drawn up in close order, with shields and javelins in a tight mass, men standing
shoulder to shoulder and advancing on the opponent. The bodies usually were sixteen ranks
wide and sixteen ranks deep, and on a flat piece of ground standing shoulder to shoulder
was a very effective tactic.
The phalanx was protected on the
flanks by cavalry and the other light forces were skirted about the main force. The
weakness of this organization was that it was cumbersome and did not include the element
of surprise since the method of fighting was to for each army to stand in full view of the
other before the battle. However, deploying a battle ready phalanx was slow and tedious
and allowed the more disciplined and larger force to usually win.
In 166 BC Apollonius forces moved
along the mountain watershed from Samaria towards Jerusalem. He took the direct
Samarian-Jerusalem route and passed along the Gophna area. The invading force numbered
about 2000 men, whereas the Jewish force was about 600. However, they used the terrain to
their advantage. The site chosen was three or four miles from Gophna, at a point where the
road narrows to a defile that winds up hill for more than a mile. The enemy was
approaching in a columns of four, so the Jews decided to block the march and push the
Greek troops into a situation that would force them to fight on their flanks and not be
able to use the phalanx.
The defile would thus become a trap with bowmen on each
side and a sealing force at the front and rear of the defile.
Greeks marched in two units of about 1,000 men each with the Commander Apollonius riding
in between. The forces were tightly bunched up in a compact group, with the men actually
bumping the man in front. At the southern end of defile the sealing unit fell upon the
front of the Greek column and the main body, unaware of what was happening in front,
pressed forward into the defile. At this point, both the east and west sides of the defile
were shown to have large numbers of Jews fighting the Greeks and finally they went with
all of them into the defile, the northern end of the defile was blocked by Jews fighting
the Greek column. The Greeks were trapped under devastating fire from both east and west.
Apollonius, leading the second unit, was killed by the murderous fire from both hills. The
entire force was destroyed and its weapons and equipment fell into the hands of Jews.
During this period of time,
approximately 164 to 167 BC, Judah Maccabee led the Jews in a rebellion against the Greeks
and was able to free Judea from the Greek control. He set up a Jewish state and reopened
the Jewish Temple and restored his brother, Jonathan as High Priest. For the first time in
several hundred years the Jews were an independent nation once again.
However, it was not long until
Pompey, a Roman General, came to Palestine and removed the High Priest named John
Hyrcanus. The family of John Hyrcanus became the Leader of a new Jewish ruling class which
lasted up to the coming of the Romans, at which time the Romans placed as the Ruler of
Judea King Harod, who was not a Jew, but on the basis of the politics with Emperor
Augustus and the giving of substantial gifts, was made the Ruler of that part of the Roman
During this period of time, Harod did
create a great deal of building, including building a new Jewish Temple, as well as a
fortress called the Antonia, named after his friend Mark Anthony.
During this time Harod had
substantial dealings with the Romans going to Rome, taking his sons there and was a close
friend of the Caesars who controlled Rome. He also built the city of Caesarea and made it
the Capital and a seaside resort.
During this time Harod had great
difficulty dealing with his sons, and developed a highly paranoid attitude toward everyone
around him, believing that many were trying to poison him. He ordered that his son,
Antipater, be slain and thereafter he died in 4 BC, about the time of the birth of Jesus
At this point, the Romans turned the
kingdom of King Harod into a Roman colony and established a Roman governor over the area
of Judea. one of those governors was Pontius Pilot, who is remembered as being a
persecutor of Jesus of Nazareth. By the time of the Emperor Nero the Roman Governor was a
man named Gessius Florus I The person who was appointed over Gessius Florus was a man
named Cestius Gallus, who was president or ruler over the province of Syria, and in AD 65
some three million Jews came to Jerusalem to celebrate the pass over. This was in the
twelfth year of the government of the Emperor Nero. Indeed Florus was using all of the
techniques he could to inflame the Jews and get them to revolt. Indeed Gessius Florus
tried another way to get the Jews to revolt; he contacted Cestius to send a Tribune to
review the situation with the Jews. The Tribune, named Neopolitanus, met with King
Agrippa, who was returning from Alexandria in Egypt. At that time he met with the High
Priest, the Sanhedrim and other leading Jews, who were lamenting the barbarous treatment
that they had received from Florus, the Roman Governor.
The Jews wished to send Ambassadors
to Nero against Florus; but King Agrippa counseled them against accusing Florus. King
Agrippa told the Jews that "but as for war, if it is once begun it is
not easily laid down again, nor
born without calamities
coming therewith." He then pointed out the power of Rome in the world, stretching from
Cadiz in Spain through France and Gauls, to the Germans, and finally to the Britonsains
and pointing out that the Romans would no doubt destroy the Jewish uprising.
However, the war started by a
Galilean named Manaham, who broke into the armory of King Harod at Masada and secured
weapons and began the revolt against the Romans.
Manaham was caught and was tortured
at a place called Ophla., In Caesarea, some twenty thousand Jews were killed in the
opening days of the war.
As the battle was waged, Cestius
was in great difficulty and was unable to overcome the Jews with the troops that he had.
At this point, he then sent Ambassadors to Nero asking for reinforcements to destroy the
In 66 AD Nero chose as the man to
lead the destruction of the Jewish revolt an old General by the name of Vespasian.
Vespasian was equal to the task and had been at war most of his life. -He had along ago
been involved in the West and had destroyed the Germans and the Britons as well. In deed,
in the vein of Claudius, who was the predecessor to Nero, Vespasian was claimed to have
fought thirty battles with the enemy. Nero recognized that Vespasian's age gave him sure
experience, great skill, and that he had his two sons held as hostage to-assure his
Vespasian was to take command of
the army in Syria and perhaps there was some interposition of providence, which was paving
the way for Vespasian's to be Emperor. Vespasian sent his son Titus to Achaia, where he
had been with Nero to Alexandria, to bring back with him the fifth and tenth legions while
he himself went toward Syria. Vespasian then organized his army and marched into Galilee
and took the City of Gadara and moved on to Jotapata. After a long siege this City was
taken as well.
At this time Josephus was a General
of the Jews and involved in the fight with Vespasian in Galilee. He is the one who
subsequently wrote the history of the war of the Jews, which was to celebrate Vespasian's
victory. It is interesting to note that during this time the commander of the 10th Legion
was a man named Trajan, who after the reign of Vespasian and his sons, became Emperor of
As Vespasian moved south he took
Joppa and Tiberius. Finally from the City of Emmaus, he moved south to the City of Gamala,
and after undermining a tower in the walls of the city, he was able to take the City, and
moved forward with Titus, his son, to the siege of Jerusalem. However, as he began the
siege of Jerusalem, providence intervened once again. Vespasian heard of the death of Nero
and the ascension to the Emperorship of Galva and Otho and Vitellius, each of whom reigned
for about three or four months. Vespasian was named Emperor by his troups in AD 69, and
reigned through AD 79 with his two sons, living through what is called the "Flavian
Age", through AD 96.
Vespasian left the siege of Jerusalem
to his son Titus and started to return to Rome. During this period of time he had killed
more than a million Jews and the Jewish nation was scattered throughout the World.
After Vespasian was proclaimed
Emperor by the soldiers in Judea they were followed by the soldiers in Egypt and
throughout the eastern empire, making him the new Emperor. Vespasian's government of Rome
was substantially different from those who had been before him. It was observed that he in
order to secure his success distributed his officers and places upon justice and to those
who best deserved them. He sailed from Antioch to Rome and replaced Viteltelius as
The description in Flavius Josephus'
book of the besieging of Jerusalem and the destruction of that City is a chronicle of
horror and of a systematic destruction of the Jews as a people, while he breached the
three walls surrounding the City. Finally the siege was completed and the Temple was
burned and the City itself was turned into a plowed field.
During this time Jews would sally
forth from the City trying to collect food. One of the techniques used by Titus was to
crucify some 500 Jews before the City. Those who came out seeking food were very often
caught and had their hands cut off and then sent back to the Generals within the City
Here Titus destroyed the City. His
men looted most every thing within the City, including those who had swallowed gold coins
had their stomachs cut open. Finally the Tower of the Antonia was besieged by the Romans
and ultimately taken. A great slaughter occurs as a result thereof. The entire City,
including the Temple, is destroyed and the Romans and Ensigns are carried into the City
and great numbers of Jews are sold into slavery.
Caesar then gave the order that the
rest should be taken alive and sold as slaves into the Egyptian mines and this was the
last time that the Jewish nation had existed until the year 1948.
Israel became a Nation in 1948 as a
result of the Western Leader and Harry S. Truman. There have been a number of conventional
wars since such time by the Arabs to destroy the State of Israel.
These wars occurred in 1948, 1956,
1967 and finally in 1973, just before Yom Kippur, was the last attack by Egypt and Syria
on Israel. On the eve of the High Holy Day the Israeli army had 450 men manning sixteen
forts along the Suez Canal. Behind them were three hundred tanks of the Sinai division and
about fifty artillery pieces. Opposite them, posed to cross the Canal, was an Egyptian
army numbering one hundred thousand men, thirteen hundred-fifty tanks, two thousand
artillery pieces and heavy motars.
On the Golan Heights on the border
of Syria, the Israeli forces were out-numbered 8 to 1 in tanks and the disparity in
infantry and artillery was even greater. The Israelis were caught by surprise due to a
failure of intelligence and the stupidity of General Eli Zeira. Finally, some ten hours
before the outbreak of the war, there was a mobilization of reserves, which constituted
two-thirds of Israel's army. The existence of the Nation was at stake.
The conditions have changed from
1967 to 1973 by the introduction of Sam Missiles by the Egyptians which curbed Israeli air
operations near the Suez Canal. Further, the Egyptian military had been 'purged of the
political appointees and had fifteen thousand Soviet advisors, down to battalion level, as
well as shoulder operated anti-tank weapons given to the infantry.
At the Suez Canal, within the first
twelve hours of the start of the war, the Sinai division had extended two- thirds
of its tanks. The Egyptians were slowed down and the reserves moved up to join the fight.
On the Golan Heights the battle was a conventional tank vs tank encounter, against over
whelming odds. But by the end of the war, the Israeli forces had crossed the Suez Canal
and were standing at the gates of Damascus.
interesting to note that from 1948, 1956, 1967, 1970 and 1973, the size of the armies
became larger, but with the exception of the 1982 battle between Israel and Syria, no
further conventional battles between Israel and its neighbors have taken place.
The last war
which we will discuss is the terrorists attacks which have happened in the last two years.
Here the army is not a conventional force, but suicide bombers. The people who are
attacked are civilians. The intent is not the conquering of land, but the disruption of
the people. This type of war will also be solved when those who conduct the attacks are
The last time
the Jews controlled land in Palestine was before the invasion by Vespasian and Titus. From
that point on, up to 1948, the land was occupied by others: Romans, Muslims, Turks, and
the English. When the United Nations created the State of Israel a war broke out in 1948.
There were wars in 1967, 1973
and currently in Israel are terrorist attacks, which is the last of the wars.
We are all familiar with the fact of
the suicide bombings of civilians by people who are being sheltered in Syria and Lebanon,
Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Yet, still it is interesting that in the providence of God, that
the Jews have survived all of the wars and are still in the land of Palestine.
Will they remain so in the future?
We, of course, are unable to say, but we hope that the word of God is ultimately
RICHARD W. STRONG
International Jerusalem Post of October 10, 2003,
Works, translated by William Whiston, A.M.
Published by Kregel Publications in 1974.
Battles of the Bible, by Chain Herzog and Mordechai Gichon
Copyright 1997. Published by Stoddart Books.
Ancient History by Philip Van Ness
Myers, Revised Edition
Copyright 1904. Published by Ginn &