IN this time of almost unparalleled distress a remarkable family came into notice. They were sometimes called the Asmonaens, from Asmonaes, one of their ancestors, but are more commonly known as the Maccabees.

The father of the family was Mattathias, who with his five sons dwelt at Modin, a city lying westward from Jerusalem, and near the seacoast. He plainly told the officers of Antiochus that he should never engage in pagan worship, or in any way prove unfaithful to his God. Seeing a Jew about to offer sacrifice to the heathen gods, he fell upon him, like Phineas of old, and killed him on the spot. "Collecting his family and other likeminded persons, he withdrew to the mountains of Judea, occupied the same caves and fastnesses which David had held nearly a thousand years before, and bade defiance to Antiochus and his armies. One body of his followers, to the number of a thousand, had taken refuge in a cave, where they were attacked on a Sabbath by a Syrian troop; and deeming it unlawful to resist on that day, every man, woman, and child was put to death. 

Hearing of this, Mattathias and his friends held a council, and after deliberation, came to the conclusion that resistance to such attacks on the Sabbath was lawful."

These times afford some of the most noble examples of martyrdom on record. Eleazar, a scribe ninety years of age, was commanded to eat swine's flesh; but rather than commit such an abomination, he chose to suffer torture and death. A mother and her seven sons received a similar command, but one of the lads declared that he would rather die than obey such a requirement. His persecutors then proceeded to cut out his tongue, and hew off his fingers and toes. 

In this condition he was thrown into a great vessel on the fire, while his mother and brothers, who were obliged to witness his torture, constantly encouraged one another to be faithful. 

One by one the other brothers met the same fate, the mother standing by, and exhorting them to meet death bravely, and not to accept the offers of wealth and honor that were made them on condition of their complying with the demands of Antiochus. After witnessing the death of all her sons, the mother suffered the same inhuman cruelty that had been inflicted upon them.

The Maccabees were alike undaunted by threats and by tortures. Their followers constantly increased in number; and although Mattathias died, his son Judas nobly filled his place as leader. They defended themselves against the Syrians through three successive campaigns. 

One of these was undertaken by Antiochus in person. "But the same loathsome disease which afterward cut off Herod, attacked and destroyed him while breathing out threatenings and slaughter against his foes. A civil war having broken out in Syria, peace was at last concluded. Judas Maccabees became governor of Palestine, and though fresh troubles broke out speedily, a new era may be said to have begun." 

The temple was rededicated, and the priests resumed their services. The Syrians, however, soon invaded the country again, and Judas was at last compelled to apply to the Romans for help. Judas fell in battle before assistance could reach him, and the command devolved upon his brother Jonathan, who, taking advantage of the plots then going ON for the Syrian throne, obtained a formal recognition of his authority. In a short time he was treacherously murdered, and was succeeded by his brother Simon, who, by applying to the Romans and studying their interests, obtained a large share of power. The sovereignty was made hereditary to the family of Simon, and he was succeeded by his son, John Hyrcanus. The bitter contentions between the Pharisees and Sadducees caused no little commotion at this time. "At last, two rival Maccabees, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, grandsons of John Hyrcanus, contended for the dignity, and a civil war ensued in Judea. Meanwhile the Romans, under Pompey, had extended their victories into Syria, and Hyrcanus and Aristobulus both submitted their claims to Pompey's decision. Hyrcanus was preferred. Aristobulus attempted to defend Jerusalem against Pompey, but in vain. After a three months' siege the city and temple were taken.