Reprinted from Gush Shalom
WHEN I was 15 years old and a member of the Irgun underground (by today's criteria, an honest-to-goodness terrorist organization), we sang "(In the past) we had the heroes / Bar Kochba and the Maccabees / Now we have the new ones / The national youth..." The melody was a German military marching song.
Why did we look for heroes in the remote past?
We were in desperate need of national heroes to emulate. For 18 centuries, Jews had not fought. Dispersed throughout the world, they saw no reason to fight for emperors and kings who mostly persecuted them. (Though some of them did. The first authentic hero of the new Zionist entity in Palestine was Josef Trumpeldor, one of the few Jewish officers in the Czar's army, who lost an arm in the 1905 Russian-Japanese war and was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Palestine.)
So we found the Maccabees, the Zealots and Bar Kochba.
THE MACCABEES, in whose honor we celebrated Hanukka this week, revolted against "the Greeks" in 167 B.C. "My Glorious Brothers" Howard Fast called them in his famous novel.
Actually, "the Greeks" were Syrians. When Alexander the Great's empire was divided between his generals, Seleucus acquired Syria and the countries to the East. It was against this mini-empire that the Maccabees rose up.
It was not only a national-religious struggle against a regime which wanted to impose its Hellenic culture, but also a cruel civil war. The main struggle of the Maccabees was against the "Hellenizers," the cultured modernist Jewish elite who spoke Greek and wanted to be part of the civilized world. The Maccabees were fundamentalist adherents of the old-time religion.
In today's terms, they were the ISIS of their time. But that is not what we learned (and what is being taught today) in school.
The Maccabees (or Hasmoneans, their dynastic name) set up a Jewish state, the last one in Palestine, that lasted for 200 years. Unlike their successors and imitators, they had a lot of political acumen. Already during their rebellion they made contact with the up-and-coming Roman republic and secured its help.
Yet the Maccabees won by a quirk. Their revolt was a very risky adventure, and they owed their eventual victory to the problems that beset the Seleucid empire.
The irony of this story is that the Hasmonean kings themselves became thoroughly Hellenized and adopted Greek names.
THE NEXT great rebellion started in the year 66 AD. Unlike the Maccabee revolt, it was a totally mad affair.
The Zealots belonged to diverse competing groups, who remained disunited to the bitter end. Their rebellion, called "The Great Revolt," was also a fanatical national-religious affair.
At the time, messianic ideas filled the air in Palestine. The country absorbed religious influences from all directions -- Hellenic, Persian, Egyptian -- and mixed them with the Jewish traditions. It was in this feverish atmosphere that Christianity was born and the Book of Job and other later books of the Hebrew Bible were composed.
With the Messiah expected any moment, Jewish fanatics did something that now seems incredible: they declared war on the Roman Empire, which was then at the height of its power. As if Israel today would declare war on the US, China and Russia at the same time -- something even Binyamin Netanyahu would think twice about doing.