The High Priest Alcimus and the Campaign of Nicanor
(2 Maccabees 14.1-362 15.1-36)
1 In the year 151, Demetrius son of Seleucus left Rome and with a few men landed at a town on the Mediterranean coast, where he proclaimed himself king. 2 As he was making his way to the royal palace of his ancestors, the soldiers arrested Antiochus the Fifth and Lysias, planning to take them to Demetrius. 3 When Demetrius heard about it, he said, “I don't want to see them.” 4 So the soldiers killed them, and Demetrius took the throne.
5 Then all the godless traitorous Jews led by Alcimus, who wanted to be High Priest, went to Demetrius. 6 They brought accusations against the other Jews and said, “Judas and his brothers have killed everybody who supported you, and they have driven us out of our country. 7 We advise you to send someone whom you can trust to go and inspect all the damage done to our property and the king's territory and to punish Judas, his brothers, and all who support them.”
8 King Demetrius chose one of his advisers, a man by the name of Bacchides, who was the governor of Greater Syria. He was an important man in the empire and loyal to the king. 9 He was sent along with the godless Alcimus, whom the king had appointed High Priest; Alcimus had orders to take revenge on the Jews. 10 They left Antioch and arrived in Judea with a large army. Bacchides tried to trick Judas and his brothers by sending to them messengers with offers of peace. 11 But when Judas and his brothers saw what a large army they had brought, they did not believe what the messengers said.
12 A group of teachers of the Law came to Alcimus and Bacchides, asking for justice. 13 These devout and patriotic men were the first of the Jews to try to make peace with Alcimus and Bacchides. 14 They trusted Alcimus, who was a priest descended from Aaron, and they thought he would not cause them any harm. 15 Alcimus assured them of his peaceful intentions and solemnly promised that no harm would come to them or their friends. 16 But as soon as they began to trust him, he arrested 60 of them and put them all to death on the same day. As the scripture says,
17 “The blood of your faithful people was poured out,
their bodies were scattered around Jerusalem,
and there was no one left to bury the dead.”
18 When this happened, all the people were afraid of Alcimus and Bacchides, and they said, “They don't know what truth or justice means. They gave their solemn word and then broke it!” 19 Bacchides left Jerusalem and set up his headquarters at Beth Zaith. He ordered the arrest of some of the faithful Jews and even many of the renegades who had willingly joined him; he had them killed and thrown into a deep pit. 20 Bacchides put the country under the control of Alcimus, left troops there to help him, and returned to the king.
21 Alcimus then began his struggle to establish himself as High Priest. 22 Every troublemaker in the country joined him. They gained control of the land of Judea and caused great difficulties for the Jews. 23 Judas saw that the trouble Alcimus and his men had caused was even worse than the damage done by the Gentiles. 24 So he went around the whole country of Judea taking revenge on all the men who had willingly joined Alcimus and preventing them from leaving the towns and going into the country. 25 When Alcimus saw that Judas and his men were growing more powerful and when he realized that he would not be able to stand against them, he returned to the king and accused them of great crimes.
26 Then the king sent Nicanor, one of his most honored officers, who hated the Jews, with orders to exterminate them. 27 Nicanor came to Jerusalem with a big army. He tried to trick Judas and his brothers by sending peace offers. He said, 28 “There need not be any quarrel between you and me. I will come to you with a small escort for a friendly private conversation.” 29 When he came to Judas, they exchanged polite greetings, but Judas' enemies were ready to kidnap him. 30 When Judas learned that Nicanor's visit was part of a plot against him, he was afraid and decided not to meet him again. 31 Nicanor realized that his plan had been discovered, so he left Jerusalem to meet Judas in battle near Capharsalama. 32 About 500 of Nicanor's men were killed, and the rest of the army escaped to the fort in Jerusalem.
33 Some time later Nicanor went to Mount Zion. Some of the priests left the Temple and, along with some of the leaders of the people, went to welcome him with words of peace and to show him the burnt offering that was being sacrificed on behalf of the king. 34 But he ridiculed them and made them ceremonially unclean by spitting on them. He spoke proudly 35 and angrily threatened them with an oath, “Unless Judas and his army are surrendered to me immediately, I will burn this Temple down as soon as I return after my victory.” And he left in a rage.
36 The priests went into the courtyard and stood facing the altar and the Temple. They started weeping and prayed, 37 “Lord, you chose this Temple to bear your name and to be a place of prayer and intercession for your people. 38 Now, take vengeance on this man and his army; let them die in battle. Remember how they spoke evil of you, and let none of them survive.”
39 Nicanor left Jerusalem and set up his headquarters at Beth Horon, where the Syrian army joined him. 40 Meanwhile, Judas set up camp at Adasa with 3,000 men. There Judas prayed, 41 “Lord, the Scriptures tell us that when a king sent messengers to insult you, your angel went out and killed 185,000 of his soldiers. 42 Now, in the same way, crush this army before us today and let everyone know that Nicanor is being punished because he insulted your holy Temple. Punish him as his wickedness deserves.”
43 The armies met in battle on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and Nicanor's army was defeated. Nicanor himself was the first to be killed in the battle, 44 and when his soldiers saw that he was dead, they threw down their weapons and fled. 45 The Jews pursued them all day long from Adasa to Gezer. As they followed, they kept sounding the call to battle on the trumpets, 46 and from all the surrounding villages of Judea people came out and attacked the fleeing enemy from the sides. This forced them back toward the Jews who were chasing them, and all of the enemy were killed in the fight. Not one of them survived.
47 The Jews took the loot and then cut off Nicanor's head and his right arm, which he had extended so arrogantly. They brought his head and his arm to be put on display outside Jerusalem. 48 There was great rejoicing among the Jews. They set that day aside as a special day of celebration, 49 and decreed that the thirteenth day of Adar should be observed as an annual day of celebration. 50 There was peace in the land of Judea for a little while.