The originator of the Maccabean rebellion. His genealogy is given as follows in the First Book of Maccabees, the most authentic source: "Mattathias, the son of John, the son of Simeon, a priest of the sons of Joiarib, from Jerusalem; and he dwelt at Modin" (I Macc. ii. 1). Josephus ("Ant." xii. 6, § 1) traces the genealogy back for one generation further, mentioning Asamoneus (= Hasmonæus) after Simon. But this Hasmonæus should not be considered as Mattathias' great-grandfather, but merely as a distant ancestor of the whole house, since only so is it comprehensible why both Greek and rabbinical sources of the following period call the whole house that of the Hasmoneans. The fact, moreover, that the names John and Simeon recur in the family in the very next generation after Mattathias, while the name "Hasmonæus" is not found in historic times, is a proof that the first bearer of this name belongs to antiquity.Distinguished from Hasmonai.
The rabbinical sources have a different account. In the Seder 'Olam Zuṭa, which, it is true, is not very reliable, Mattathias is given as the direct son of Hasmonai; and elsewhere also Hasmonai appears as a historic person who is very much in evidence. Thus, in Soferim. xx. 8 occurs the reading: "Mattithiah, son of Johanan the high priest, and Hasmonai and his sons." The conjunction "and" must originally have stood also in the liturgical formula fixed for the Ḥanukkah feast, so that Mattathias and Hasmonai are to be regarded as two independent heroes who lived in the same period and who were probably relatives. In the Talmud, Hasmonai is even mentioned before Mattathias (Meg. 11a). A midrash to Deut. xxxiii. 11, quoted by Rashi, mentions the children of Hasmonai, among them Eleazar; as does also Jellinek "B. H." vi. 2. Hasmonai thus appears in these passages in the place of Mattathias.
The rabbinical sources never mention all of Mattathias' sons together, but only one at a time, sometimes Eleazar (who, according to most of the authentic sources, took only a subordinate part), sometimes John (who also is unimportant in the books of the Maccabees and in Josephus), and sometimes Judas. The First Book of Maccabees and Josephus enumerate the sons of Mattathias as follows: John Gaddis or Caddis (Johanan Gadi), Simon Thassi, Judas Maccabeus, Eleazar Avaran, and Jonathan Apphus. The Aramaic-sounding cognomens, which have not been fully explained, were probably given them by their father, with reference to contemporary events or to the respective characters of the sons themselves. The Second Book of Maccabees mentions still another brother, between Simon and Jonathan, called Joseph; but that is probably only a corrupt reading for "Johanan."Refuses to Sacrifice to Idols.
Mattathias belonged to the priestly tribe of Joiarib (comp. I Chron. xxiv. 7); the name is badly preserved in Josephus. From the statement that he was from Jerusalem, but resided in Modin, it is certain that he actually officiated in Jerusalem. The rabbinical sources which make him high priest are mistaken. Mattathias was already old when the religious persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes broke out. The king's soldiers under Apelles, who is mentioned by Josephus but not in the Book of Maccabees, came to Modin, a small city in Judea. They set up an altar to the heathen god, and ordered Mattathias, as the most influential citizen, whose example would be followed, to sacrifice in accordance with the king's command. But Mattathias said: "Though all the nations that are under the king's dominion obey him, . . . yet will I, and my sons, and my brethren, walk in the covenant of our fathers" (I Macc. ii. 19-20). And when a certain Jew was about to obey the command, Mattathias, who was filled with holy wrath, killed the offender and destroyed the altar, while his sons cut down the king's officer. Thereupon Mattathias called out: "Whoever is zealous for the Law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me." His countrymen, abandoning all their possessions, followed him and hid in the mountains and desert places. Others, who had hidden themselves before, joined them. When Mattathias learned that the pious oneswould rather be cut down by the king's soldiers than defend themselves on the Sabbath he commanded them to fight, when necessary, on that day. This practise, says Josephus, was continued in later days. It is evident from this that Mattathias had authority in religious matters also.
From his hiding-place he scoured the neighboring districts of Judea, drove out small bands of the king's troops, punished the renegade Jews, destroyed the heathen temples and altars, and brought children, who through fear had not been circumcised, into the covenant of Abraham. Josephus, whose account otherwise agrees with that of I Maccabees, differs from it in stating that Mattathias reigned one year and then became ill. Also in "B. J." (i. 1, § 3) Josephus speaks of Mattathias as a prince chosen by the people. According to both authorities, Mattathias before his death urged his sons and the people to continue steadfast in the defense of their ancestral religion. Of his sons he designated Simon as counselor and Judah as general. He died in 146 of the Seleucid era (166
- Grätz, Gesch. ii.2 322-325:
- Niese, Kritik der Beiden Makkabäerbücher, pp. 44-47 (reprint from Hermes, 1900, vol. xxxv.);
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 202;
- Wellhausen, I. J. G. 4th ed., p. 257, note 1, Berlin, 1901;
- Krauss, in R. E. J. xxx. 215.
- For the sources of Josephus see Büchler, ib. xxxiv. 69-76.