Megilat Hachasmona’im, known also as Megilat Antiochus, has come down to us
in both Aramaic and Hebrew. The Hebrew version (see Siddur Otzer Yisrael) is
a literal translation from the Aramaic original, which was composed probably
in the seventh century and published for the first time in Montoba in 1557.
During the Middle Ages this Megillah was read in the Italian synagogues on
Chanukah just as the Book of Esther is read on Purim. It still forms part of
the liturgy of the Yemenite Jews. Saadyah Gaon attributed its authorship to
the five sons of Matityahu.

Per translation by Phillip Birnbaum, 1974 with some modifications.

The Greek monarch Antiochus was a powerful ruler; all the kings heeded him.
He subdued many provinces and mighty sovereigns; he destroyed their castles,
burned their palaces and imprisoned their men. Since the reign of Alexander
there had never been a king like him beyond the Euphrates. He erected a
city on the seacoast to serve as his royal residence, and called it
“Antioch” after his own name. Opposite it his governor Bagris founded
another city,
and called it “City of Bagris” after himself. Such are their names to this

In the twenty-third year of his reign, the two hundred and thirteenth year
after the Temple had been rebuilt, Antiochus determined to march on
He said to his officers: “You are aware that the Jews of Jerusalem are in
our midst. They neither offer sacrifices to our gods nor observe our laws;
abandon the king’s laws to practice their own. They hope moreover for the
day when kings and tyrants shall be crushed, saying: ‘O that our own king
reign over us, that we might rule the sea and the land, so that the entire
world would be ours.’ It is indeed a disgrace for the royal government to
them remain on the face of the earth. Come now, let us attack them and
abolish the covenant made with them: Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and
circumcision.” The
proposal pleased his officers and all his host.

Immediately king Antiochus dispatched his governor Nicanor with a large body
of troops. He came to the Jewish, city of Jerusalem and massacred many
he set up a heathen altar in the Temple, concerning which the G-d of Israel
had said to his faithful prophets: “There will I establish my residence
In that very place they slaughtered a swine and brought its blood into the
holy court. When Yochanan ben Matityahu heard of this deed, he was filled
rage and his face changed color. In his heart he drew a plan of action. He
then made himself a dagger, two spans long and one span wide, and concealed
it under his clothes. He came to Jerusalem and stood at the royal gate,
calling to this gate-keepers: “I am Yochanan ben Matityahu; I have come to
before Nicanor.” The guards informed Nicanor that the high priest of the
Jews was standing at the door. “Let him enter!” Nicanor said.

Yochanan was admitted to Nicanor, who said: “You are one of the rebels
who-rebel against the king and do not care for the welfare of his
government!” Yochanan
replied: “My lord, I have come to you; whatever you demand I will do.” “If
you wish to do as I please,” said Nicanor, “then take a swine and sacrifice
it upon the altar. You shall wear royal clothes and ride the king’s own
horse; you shall be counted among the king’s close friends.” To this,
answered: “My lord, I am afraid of the Israelites; if they hear that I have
done such a thing they will stone me. Let everyone leave your presence, so
as not to inform them.” Immediately Nicanor ordered everybody out.

At, that moment Yochanan ben Matityahu raised his eyes to heaven and prayed;
“My G-d and G-d of my fathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, do not hand me
over to this heathen; for if he kills me, he will boast in the temple of
Dagon that his god has handed me over to him.” He advanced three steps
Nicanor, thrust the dagger into his heart, and flung him fatally wounded
into the court of the Temple. “My G-d,” Yochanan prayed, “do not count it a
that I killed this heathen in the Sanctuary; punish thus all the foes who
came with him to persecute Judea and Jerusalem.” On that day Yochanan set
and fought the enemy, inflicting heavy slaughter on them. The number of
those who were slain by him on that day totaled two thousand seven hundred.
returning, he erected a column with the inscription: “Maccabee, Destroyer of

When king Antiochus heard that his governor Nicanor had been slain, he was
bitterly distressed. He sent for wicked Bagris, the deceiver of his people,
told him: “Do you not know, have you not heard, what the Israelites did to
me? They massacred my troops and ransacked my camps! Can you now be sure of
your wealth? Will your homes remain yours? Come, let us move against them
and abolish the covenant which their G-d made with them: Shabbat, Rosh
and circumcision.” Then wicked Bagris and his hosts invaded Jerusalem,
murdering the population and proclaiming an absolute decree against Shabbat,
Chodesh, and circumcision. So drastic was the king’s edict that when a man
was discovered to have circumcised his son, he and his wife were hanged
with the child. A woman gave birth to a son after her husband’s death and
had him circumcised when he was eight days old. With the child in her arms,
went up on top of the wall of Jerusalem and cried out: “We say to you,
wicked Bagris: This covenant of our fathers which you intend to destroy
shall never
cease from us nor from our children’s children.” She cast her son down to
the ground and flung herself after him so that they died together. Many
of that period did the same, refusing to renounce the covenant of their

Some of the Jews said to one another: “Come, let us keep Shabbat in a cave
lest we violate it.” When they were betrayed to Bagris, he dispatched armed
who sat down at the entrance of the cave and said: “You Jews, surrender to
us! Eat of our bread, drink of our wine, and do what we do!” But the Jews
to one another: “We remember what we were commanded on Mount Sinai: ‘Six
days you shall labor and do all your work; on the seventh day you shall
It is better for us to die than to desecrate Shabbat.” When the Jews failed
to come out, wood was brought and set on fire at the entrance of the cave.
About a thousand men and women died there. Later the five sons of Matityahu,
Yochanan and his four brothers, set out and routed the hostile forces, whom
they drove to the coast; for they trusted in the G-d of heaven.

Wicked Bagris, accompanied by those who had escaped the sword, boarded a
ship and fled to king Antiochus. “O king,” he said, “you have issued a
decree abolishing
Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision in Judea, and now there is complete
rebellion there. The five sons of Matityahu cannot be defeated unless they
are attacked by all the combined forces; they are stronger than lions,
swifter than eagles, braver than bears. Be pleased to accept my advice, and
do not
fight them with this small army lest you be disgraced in the sight of all
the kings. Send letters to all your royal provinces; let all the army
without exception come with armored elephants.” This pleased king Antiochus.
He sent letters to all his royal domains, and the chieftains of various
arrived with armored elephants. Wicked Bagris invaded Jerusalem for the
second time. He broke through the wall, shattered the gateway, made thirteen
in the Temple, and ground the stones to dust. He thought to himself: “This
time they shall not defeat me; my army is numerous, my hand is mighty.”
the G-d of heaven did not think so.

The five sons of Matityahu went to Mizpeh in Gilead, where the house of
Israel had been saved in the days of Shmuel Hanavi. They fasted, sat in
ashes and
prayed to the G-d of heaven for mercy; then a good plan came to their mind.
These were their names: Yehudah, the firstborn; Shimon, the second;
the third; Yonatan, the fourth; Elazar, the fifth. Their father blessed
them, saying: “Yehudah my son, I compare you to Yehudah the son of Yaakov
who was
likened to a lion. Shimon my son, I compare, you to Shimon the son of Yaakov
who slew the men of Shchem. Yochanan my son, I compare you to Avner the son
of Ner, general of Israel’s army. Yonatan my son, I compare you to Yonatan
the son of Shaul who defeated the Philistines. Elazar my son, I compare you
to Pinchas the son of Elazar, who was zealous for his G-d and rescued the
Israelites.” Soon afterwards the five sons of Matityahu attacked the pagan
inflicting severe losses upon them. One, of the brothers, Yehudah, was

When the sons of Matityahu discovered that Yehudah had been slain, they
returned to their father who asked: “Why did you come back?” They replied:
brother Yehudah, who alone equaled all of us, has been killed.” “I will join
you in the battle against the heathen,” Matityahu said, “lest they destroy
the house of Israel; why be so dismayed over your brother?” He joined his
sons that same day and waged war against the enemy. The G-d of heaven
into their hands all swordsmen and archers, army officers and high
officials. None of these survived. Others were compelled to seek refuge in
the coastal
cities. In attacking the elephants, Elazar was engulfed in their dung. His
brothers searched for him among the living and the dead, and could not find
him. Eventually, however, they did find him.

The Jews rejoiced over the defeat of their enemies, some of whom were burned
while others, were hanged on the gallows. Wicked Bagris was included among
those who were burned to death. When king Antiochus heard that his governor
Bagris and the army officers had been killed, he boarded a ship and fled to
the coastal cities. Wherever he came the people rebelled and called him “The
Fugitive,” so he drowned himself in the sea.

The Hasmoneans entered the Sanctuary, rebuilt the gates, closed the
breaches, and cleansed the Temple court from the slain and the impurities.
They looked
for pure olive oil to light the Menorah, and found only one bottle with the
seal of the Kohen Gadol so that they were sure of its purity. Though its
seemed sufficient only for one day’s lighting, it lasted for eight days
owing to the blessing of the G-d of heaven who had established His Name
Hence, the Hasmoneans and all the Jews alike instituted these eight days as
a time of feasting and rejoicing, like any festival prescribed in the Torah,
and of kindling lights to commemorate the victories G-d had given them.
Mourning and fasting are forbidden on Chanukah, except in the case of an
vow which must be discharged. Nevertheless, the Hasmoneans did not prohibit
work on this holiday.

>From that time on the Greek government was stripped of its renown. The
Hasmoneans and their descendants ruled for two hundred and six years, until
the destruction
of the Beit Hamikdash.

And so the Jews everywhere observe this festival for eight days, beginning
on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. These days, instituted by Kohanim, Levites
Sages of Temple times, shall be celebrated by their descendants forever.

The Al-mighty Who performed for them a miracle and wonder, may He perform
for us miracles and wonders. And we should see the fulfillment of what is
(Michah 7:15) “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt I will show it

  • treppenwitz pinged this post.
  • Published 26 Kislev 5767 - 16 December 2006 at 23:56