Judas Maccabeus, also known as Judah Maccabee, was a Jewish guerilla leader who led the war for a time to free Judaea from the rule of the Seleucids (Syrians). The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV had attempted for several years to impose Greek culture on the Jewish people in Judaea, and in 168 BCE finally invaded Jerusalem and desecrated the Jewish Temple; a year later he rededicated the Temple to Zeus. Judas' father Mattathias started the war soon after by attacking a Jew who was about to sacrifice to the Greek Gods, killing a Seleucid officer standing by, and fleeing with his family to the countryside. Many joined them, and the resistance movement was born.

When Mattathias died in 166 BCE, Judas Maccabeus took over leadership of the resistance. Judas saw himself as a divinely ordained leader, following in the footsteps of Moses and Joshua. He soon proved to be a skilled general, defeating four Seleucid armies in quick succession. In December 164 BCE Judas captured Jerusalem and reconsecrated the Temple; this event led to the Jewish holiday of Chanukah.

It should be noted that Judas Maccabeus was not exactly angelic in his warfare. Judas demonstrated a willingness to kill all the males in any city that he conquered; however, while this would go against modern civilized rules of warfare, such actions were standard at the time, and indeed, were carried out by the Seleucid generals as well.

Antiochus IV died in 164 BCE, and the Seleucids offered to grant religious freedom for the Jews in exchange for peace; however, Judas chose to continue the war, hoping to free Judaea politically as well as religiously. Judas Maccabeus was killed in battle two years later, but his younger brothers took over leadership of the Jewish army, eventually winning Judaea for the Jewish people.

On a final note, "Maccabee" was a title of honor bestowed on Judas and later applied to his entire family. It can be translated in several different ways, including "Hammer" and "Extinguisher."

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