After king Antiochus became ruler of the Seleucide Empire in 175 BCE, he started in Israel a policy of intense hellenization, banning traditional Jewish practice. He issued his decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice, such as banning sabbath and
feasts, circumcision and Jewish animal sacrificing. A rural Jewish priest from Modiin, Mattathias the Hasmonean, sparked the revolt against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship the Greek gods. Mattathias killed a Hellenistic Jew who had stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Mattathias' place. He and his five sons fled to the wilderness of
Judah. After Mattathias' death about one year later in 166 BCE, his son Judas
Maccabee led an army of Jewish dissidents to victory over the Seleucid dynasty in guerrilla warfare, which at first
was directed against Hellenizing Jews, of whom there were many. The Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the villages, circumcised boys and forced Jews into outlawry. The term Maccabees as used to describe the Jewish army is taken from
the Hebrew word for "hammer".
The revolt itself involved many battles, in which the Maccabean forces gained notoriety among the Syrian army for their use of guerrilla tactics. After the victory, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleansed the Temple, reestablishing traditional Jewish worship there and installing Jonathan Maccabee as high priest.