The light of liberation

BY ED FELIEN

Jews were always revolting.

When they revolted against the Persian King Nebuchadnezzar around 600 BC he carried the leaders of the rebellion off to Babylon. In exile for 70 years they studied in one of the great libraries of the ancient world and came up with their own written history, the Torah. When they returned to Israel they built a temple and established the outlines of their religion.

Ownership of Israel changed hands as the fortunes of the great powers waxed and waned.

When the Persian Empire faded Israel was taken over by the Egyptians around 200 BC.  As long as they were free to practice their religion, the Jews were content to ignore the passing of foreign armies. By 170 BC there were two Jewish factions. The traditionalists sided with Egypt and the moderns sided with Syria. The traditionalists won and they expelled the moderns to Syria where they convinced the Syrian king to invade Israel. In 167 BC the Syrians destroyed the Temple, sacrificed pigs to Zeus on the altar and outlawed the practice of Judaism. When one of the modern Jews wanted to make a pagan sacrifice on the altar, the priest Mattathias killed him. When a Syrian official tried to intervene, Mattathias killed him as well.  And the Maccabee Revolt began.

In 156 BC the Maccabees successfully organized an army in the countryside, marched into Jerusalem, drove out the Syrians and rededicated the Temple. The miracle of the menorah—when the oil lasts eight days—happens at that rededication.  The flame became the symbol of resistance.

By 33 AD (or CE for Common Era) Israel was under Roman rule, and foreigners were once again defiling the Temple. Jesus was part of a group of Zealots who wanted to purify the Temple. After three years of organizing a rebellion in the countryside they marched on Jerusalem and drove the Romans and their collaborators out. But this was a short-lived protest movement. Jesus and some of his supporters were rounded up and crucified for the crime of rebellion against Rome.

But this didn’t end the movement. Jews continued to resist until 70 AD when the Romans crushed the rebellion and destroyed the Temple. The Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, is all that remains.

Jews and Christians alike should celebrate the driving out of Syrian oppressors, and they should honor the liberation struggle of Jesus and the Zealots.

The story of Muhammad’s march to Medina follows much of the same outline, but that is a story for another season.

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