Have excavations uncovered the hometown of the Maccabees, heroes of Hanukkah’s Maccabean revolt?
Modi’in was the hometown of the Maccabees, the heroes of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid king who ruled over Judea. Have excavations conducted within the modern Israeli city of Modi’in—20 miles northwest of Jerusalem—finally exposed the Jewish village that the Maccabees called home? The finds discovered at the site of Umm el-‘Umdan in modern Modi’in are described in “Modi’in: Hometown of the Maccabees” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
When King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple and forbade circumcision and Sabbath observance, the Maccabees led a successful rebellion in the 160s B.C.E.—the Maccabean revolt—that is still celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah. In the November/December 2008 issue of BAR, Andrea M. Berlin and Geoffrey B. Waywell describe the Maccabean revolt:
The [Maccabean revolt was] led by Mattathias’s eldest son, Judas, known as the Hammer because of his military prowess. When he was killed, he was succeeded by his brother Jonathan, who assumed the office of high priest as well as the political leadership, but he was soon captured and murdered. Jonathan was succeeded by his brother Simon, who likewise assumed the office of high priest, although the Maccabees were not of a high priestly family.
Read Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn’s coauthored article on excavations near the Western Wall in Jerusalem and explore the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city in the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City.
Excavations conducted in the past decade at Umm el-‘Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of Columns”) by authors Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn (recently deceased) revealed a previously unknown synagogue—featuring eight imposing columns—likely built during the reign of King Herod. But what about earlier? What was at Umm el-‘Umdan during the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt?
Directly beneath the Herodian synagogue lies a smaller synagogue constructed during the Hasmonean period, and beneath this was a structure securely dated to the end of the third or beginning of the second century B.C.E. According to the excavators, this structure must have been contemporaneous to the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt. While this Early Hellenistic building influenced the location and shape of the two synagogues built atop it in subsequent centuries, the excavators believe that there is not enough information at the time to conclude that the Early Hellenistic building was also a synagogue.
For more evidence confirming Umm el-‘Umdan’s Jewish identity in antiquity as well as a discussion of the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew name Modi’in and the Arabic name Umm el-‘Umdan, see “Modi’in: Hometown of the Maccabees” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on March 22, 2014.
Andrea M. Berlin and Geoffrey B. Waywell, “Monumental Tombs from Maussollos to the Maccabees,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2007.
Hershel Shanks, “Inscription Reveals Roots of Maccabean Revolt,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2008.
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