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Battle of Beth Zechariah

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Title: Battle of Beth Zechariah  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hanukkah, Campaignbox Maccabean Revolt, Battle of Emmaus, Eleazar Avaran, Battle of Beth Zur
Collection: Battles of the MacCabean Revolt, Wars of Ancient Israel
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Battle of Beth Zechariah

Battle of Beth-Zechariah
Part of the Maccabean Revolt
Date 162 BCE
Location Beth-Zechariah, near modern day Alon Shvut, West Bank
Maccabean army Seleucid Empire
Commanders and leaders
Judas Maccabeus
Eleazar Horan  
Est. 20,000 infantry Est. 50,000 infantry, 30 war elephants, more than 5,000 cavalry

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


In 164 BCE, Judas Maccabeus 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, Judas laid siege to the fortress in 162 BC. 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. Judas 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.


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 center rear marched the shock troops—the heavy infantry—in phalanx formation. Judas 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 defense. 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 Judas' 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.

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