Son of Patroclus, and general and friend of Antiochus Epiphanes, who in 165 B.C. sent him and Gorgias with an army against the Jews (I Macc. iii. 38; II Macc. viii. 9). In anticipation of an easy victory, he had brought 1,000 slave-dealers into the camp, to whom he intended to sell the captive Jews; but when Gorgias was defeated by Judas Maccabeus, Nicanor was obliged to flee in disguise to Antioch (II Macc. viii. 34-36). He is identical with the Nicanor whom Josephus ("Ant." xii. 5, § 5) calls governor of Samaria. He may also be the Nicanor who was master of the elephants (II Macc. xiv. 12) and who was sent four years later by King Demetrius I. against the Jews, whom he is said to have hated (I Macc. vii. 26).

The battles of this Nicanor are related differently in the three sources, I and II Maccabees and Josephus. Although there is complete agreement in the statement that Nicanor approached Judas in a friendly way, he, according to I Macc. vii. 27, sought thereby to vanquish his opponent by treachery, whereas, according to II Macc. xiv. 28, he marched against Judas unwillingly and only at the king's command. The latter passage gives a detailed account of his threat to destroy Jerusalem and to turn the sanctuary into a temple of Dionysus unless Judas were delivered to him by the priests, who declared under oath, however, that they were ignorant of his hiding-place (comp. I. Macc. vii. 33-38). According to II Macc. xiv. 17, Nicanor also joined battle with Simon, the brother of Judas, but this whole narrative (ib. xiv. 12-30) seems unhistorical except for the statement that he was defeated at Capharsalama by Judas (I Macc. vii. 32). The contrary assertion of Josephus ("Ant." xii. 10, § 4), that Judas was defeated at Capharsalama and fled to the castle at Jerusalem, is shown to be incorrect by the mere fact that the citadel was then in possession of the Syrians, and could not, therefore, have served as a refuge for the Jews.

With new reenforcements from Syria, Nicanor advanced from Jerusalem upon Beth-horon, while Judas encamped opposite him at Adasa. There a decisive battle was fought on the 13th of Adar, 161, in which Nicanor was totally defeated; he himself was slain and every man in his army was killed. In celebration of this complete victory the Jews instituted the 13th of Adar as a holiday (I Macc. vii. 39-50; II Macc. xv. 1-36; Josephus, l.c. xii. 10, § 5). With this important event the author of II Maccabees closes his book.

"Nicanor Day" is also mentioned in the rabbinical sources (Meg. Ta'an. xii.; Ta'an. 18b; Yer. Ta'an. ii. 13 et seq., 66a), which give an amplified and highly colored account of the mutilation of Nicanor's body; this is likewise mentioned in both books of the Maccabees, but not in Josephus. According to II Macc. xv. 36, Nicanor Day is one day before Mordecai Day, or Purim. Since this day was the fast-day of Esther, and therefore the direct opposite of a feast-day, the Palestinian teachers effected a compromise by placing the fast-day of Esther after Purim, while Nicanor Day was celebrated as appointed (Soferim 17). There is no trace of its celebration later than the seventh century.

Later rabbinical sources are very confused in regard to Nicanor. According to the "Megillat Antiochus" (in Jellinek, "B. H." v.), he was slain by Johanan, the son of Mattathias. The Hebrew "Yosippon" (ch. xxiv.) confuses the general Nicanor with the alabarch Nicanor, after whom a gate of Jerusalem was named.

  • Derenbourg, Hist. p. 63;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., iii. 564;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 218.
G. S. Kr.
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