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Simon Maccabeus

SIMON MACCABEUS (sī'mŭn măk'a-bē-ŭs). The second son of the priest Mattathias. He was surnamed Thassi and was the older brother of Judas Maccabeus. With his father and brothers he fought against the Syrians. At his father’s death, he was made the adviser of the family. Eventually, as the last surviving member of the family, he succeeded in defeating the Syrians. He was acknowledged by the Jews as high priest, captain, and leader, and was authorized to wear the purple. In 135 b.c. he was murdered by his son-in-law while visiting the cities of his dominion.

SIMON MACCABEUS, or Simon the Maccabee, was the third and last son of Mattathias to rule over Judaea following the Maccabean revolt. Simon succeeded his brother Jonathan and ruled from 142-135 b.c. Under Judah (or Judas, the Gr. form of the name), religious freedom was gained after the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Judas and his party wished to achieve full political freedom, although he died before it was attained. When Jonathan became ruler, the Hel. party was driven out and the Maccabees were in firm control. Under Simon the Jews became wholly independent of the Seleucid Syrian Empire.

The Syrian Empire was divided by two factions. The rivals were a ruler named Demetrius, and Trypho who was tutor and regent for the young King Antiochus. The ambitious Trypho caused the young Antiochus (VI) to be murdered and had himself crowned king.

Simon was loyal to Demetrius, but he pledged loyalty on condition that Demetrius recognize the freedom of the Jews. Demetrius, who had already lost power in the S of his kingdom, granted remission of all outstanding taxes to the Jews, and exempted them from paying tribute thereafter. This meant that Judea was now politically free. Documents were no longer dated according to the Seleucid era, but according to the year of Simon as “High Priest and Prince of the Jews.”

Although Demetrius did not have power to bestow favors on Simon, since Trypho was still in power in Syria, Simon was able to take advantage of the Syrian civil war to enlarge his holdings. Gazara (Gezer), W of Jerusalem, commanded a mountain path essential to commerce between Jerusalem and the port city of Joppa, already in Jewish hands. Simon conquered Gazara and expelled its Gentile inhabitants, settling there “men who observed the law” (1 Macc 13:43-48).

Simon was able to take the citadel in Jerusalem from the Syrian garrison, which had to capitulate because of famine. As long as the Syrians controlled the citadel, Jerusalem was not truly free. The taking of the citadel in May, 142 b.c., had great symbolic as well as strategic value. Enemy soldiers no longer had a foothold in Judea.

Simon is also noted for his administration of justice and the reestablishment of Jewish law in the land. Peace was finally achieved, and attention could be given to the beautifying of the Temple and the establishment of a viable civil government.

Mattathias and his sons came to power in a popular uprising against the Syrian rulers. They had no legitimate right to the throne, but under Simon legitimacy was granted. In the third year of his reign, in September 141 b.c., a great assembly declared Simon to be high priest, military commander, and civil governor “forever until there should arise a faithful prophet” (1 Macc 14:41). Simon’s priesthood and rule were declared legitimate and hereditary. The Hasmonaean, or Asmonaean dynasty came into being. The terms of the decree were engraved on bronze tablets and set up in the court of the Temple.

At about this time, Simon sent an embassy to Rome in order to gain recognition from the Rom. senate. The embassy brought as a gift to Rome a golden shield weighing one thousand minas. The Rom. senate granted the Jews unrestricted possession of their territory and sent information on the contents of the senatorial decree to the kings of Egypt, Syria, Pergamum, Cappadocia, Parthia and numerous smaller independent states of Greece and Asia Minor. Evildoers who had fled from Judea were ordered delivered up to the Jewish high priest.

Simon had renewed difficulties closer to home, however. Demetrius II was taken prisoner by the Parthian King Mithridates I in 138 b.c., and his father Antiochus VII fought against the pretender Trypho. Antiochus sought the favor of the Jews, confirmed the privileges granted by his predecessors, and expressly gave them the right to coin money.

Antiochus landed in Syria, gained the victory over Trypho, who fled, but was killed soon after during a siege at Apamea. With Trypho dead, Antiochus took a hard line toward the Jews. He repudiated his promises and demanded the surrender of Joppa, Gazara, the Jerusalem citadel, and other places which Simon had taken. If Simon wished to keep the places occupied, he was to pay one thousand talents. Simon refused to yield, offering only one hundred talents. Antiochus sent an army against Simon who sent his son Judas and John against the Syrian invaders. Judas was wounded, but John was successful in routing the enemy. John returned as victor to Jerusalem.

Simon, like his brothers, died a violent death. His son-in-law Ptolemy, military commander of the Jericho area, wanted the supreme power for himself, and planned to kill Simon and his sons. In February of 135 b.c. Simon visited the fortress of Dok, near Jericho, as Ptolemy’s guest. During a great feast, Ptolemy had Simon, with two sons, Mattathias and Judas, slain. A third son who was not present, John Hyrcanus, survived to become the next ruling high priest.


H. Bevenot, “Prolegomena to the Maccabees,” BS, LXXXXI (1924), 31-54; E. R. Bevan, “Syria and the Jews,” Cambridge Ancient History, VIII (1930), 495-533; B. Kanael, “The Beginning of Maccabean Coinage,” IEJ, I (1950), 170-175; E. Schürer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus (1961 reprint), 56-66.