According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, “Israeli archaeologists digging under a road” in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Ha-Yovel neighborhood “have uncovered the remains of an agricultural community that could yield new information on the lives of” average people living “before and after the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty around 2,200 years ago.” This agricultural settlement appears to have been active both before and after the rise of the Hasmoneans to power. The Hasmoneans came to power in 164 BCE, upon re-dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Times of Israel reported that archaeologists have so far found “a perfume bottle, wine press, bread oven and the remains of houses and agricultural buildings. Archaeologists also found a hand-made lead weight with […] the letter “yod,” the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the equivalent of the English letter “y.”” Daniel Ein Mor, the chief archaeologist for the site, told Haaretz, “We discovered rock foundations in the buildings, pointing to a huge investment. The quality of the construction is excellent, so I wouldn’t be surprised if future findings reveal it is even something bigger.

Mor reported to Israel Hayom, “Up to now we have discovered very few sites that date back to the early period of the Hellenistic era in this area, which served as the agricultural periphery of Jerusalem. Very little is known about the materials used and the history of the residents of Jerusalem and its environs during the third and fourth centuries before the Common Era and before the Hasmonean revolt took place. The site that was discovered recently will help us understand how residents lived in this area at that time.”

It is believed that the Maccabean Revolt relied mainly on farmers. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “The farmers adhered closely to the Torah, especially to the precepts pertaining to the land, such as the year of release. Josephus relates that John Hyrcanus was forced to raise his siege of Ptolemy’s stronghold because of the scarcity of food occasioned by the sabbatical year.” This would explain one of the reasons why the Maccabees chose to flee into the countryside after the Seleucid Greek officer who demanded that Mattiyahu Maccabee sacrifice a pig on a pagan alter was killed off.

A book titled Maccabees, Zealots and Josephus by William Reuben Farmer relates, “Jewish nationalism was firmly rooted in the farming population of the rural areas. […] To some extent Jewish nationalism was an expression of the conservative rural reaction to the more extreme cultural changes taking place in urban centers, including Jerusalem. […] Leadership for the Holy War […] in the Maccabean period came from priestly circles in the rural areas bent on reforming the national life and assuring the correct observance of cultic rites in the Jewish Temple. These cultic rites, especially the great agricultural festivals, were of great importance to the Jewish farmer, whose relationship to his land was a covenant relationship.”

Indeed, aside from the religious desire to preserve the Jewish heritage, Jewish farmers in the Maccabean era also had economic reasons to rise up against the Seleucid Greeks. When Antiochus IV came to the throne, the Seleucids were beholden to pay a heavy monetary tribute to Rome since his predecessors had lost some key battles against the Romans and were forced to sign the Peace of Apemea. As a result, the burden of taxation in Israel under Seleucid rule was much stronger than it was under the Ptolemy rule that predated it.

By Rachel Avraham

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