Battle of Beth Zechariah

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The Battle of Beth-Zechariah was fought between the Jewish Maccabeans and Seleucid Greek forces during the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in 162 BCE.


In 164 BCE, Judah Maccabee crushed the numerically superior Greeks under Lysias at the Battle of Beth Zur and restored the temple in Jerusalem. However, Seleucid forces still controlled the Acra, a strong fortress within the city that faced the Temple Mount and served as a symbol to remind the Jews that their land was still occupied. Taking advantage of bitter rivalry between Lysias and the recently deceased emperor's regent, Philip, Judah laid siege to the fortress in 162 BCE[1]. However, Lysias did the unexpected and left Antioch and his dispute with Philip and took the field against the Maccabean army.

With an army of about 50,000 infantry and thirty war elephants, along with cavalry and chariots, Lysias approached Jerusalem from the south and besieged Beth-zur, eighteen miles from the city. Judah lifted his own siege on The Acra, and led his army south to Beth-Zechariah. The Jewish force of about 20,000 positioned itself on the high ground across the road to Jerusalem — directly in the path of the Syrian-Seleucid army[2].


As told in 1 Maccabees 6, after capturing Beth-Zur, Lysias' force marched on Beth-Zechariah, with war elephants and light infantry at the helm of the main attack and heavy cavalry anchoring the flanks on high ground. In the centre rear marched the shock troops—the heavy infantry—in phalanx formation. Judah did not defer to his usual guerrilla tactics because he felt that his past success with them was cause for the Syrians to expect a non-traditional defence. He therefore used traditional field tactics and fought the Syrians in their own fashion. The result was a defeat for the Jews.

The war elephants unnerved Judah's troops. As the Jews began to break for the rear, the Maccabee's younger brother, Eleazar Horan, attempted to show his fellow men that the elephants were vulnerable. 1 Maccabees 6:43-47 tells how, charging into the mouth of the Syrian assault, he spotted a large elephant bearing the royal seal. Eleazar cast himself under the animal and thrust his sword into its soft belly. The elephant died immediately and fell onto Eleazar, killing him. This show of bravery was not enough to rally the Jewish forces, which collapsed under the heavy pressure of the Greek phalanx.

Lysias marched north to Jerusalem and laid siege to the rebel forces there. However, before he could restore total Seleucid control of the city, he was called back to Antioch to engage his enemy, Philip, for control of the empire. Before he left, he agreed to a compromise allowing the Jews to follow their customs and to worship as they pleased.

Eleazar's heroism was commemorated in a Hanukkah coin issued by the Bank of Israel in 1961.

The town of Elazar was named after the Maccabean, since it is on the road to Beit Zur (near present-day Karmei Tzur and the Arab town of Halhul). The small Arab hamlet of Hirbeit Zakariya (sitting on an ancient Byzantine site), and the large single oak tree of Alon Shvut, are the location of ancient Zakariya.


  1. ^ "Judah Maccabee". Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  2. ^ Tropper, Amram (2017). "The Battle of Beth Zechariah in Light of a Literary Study of 1 Maccabees 6:32–47". Hebrew Union College Annual. 88: 7. doi:10.15650/hebruniocollannu.88.2017.0001. JSTOR 10.15650/hebruniocollannu.88.2017.0001.


  • 2 Maccabees, Chapter 6.