In 162 BCE, one of the most interesting Battles of the Maccabees took place. This battle is known as the Battle of Bet Zekharya. Heroes and Heroism have appeared a lot in Jewish history, and this particular battle gave birth to the heroism of Elazar Maccabee. Today, we will be discussing what happened during the Battle of Bet Zekharya and how Elazar Maccabee was called a lionhearted hero during his time.

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The Battle of Bet Zekharya

Battle of Bet Zekharya

1698 illustration of Eleazar fighting an elephant at the battle by Jan Luyken | (c)


Though this battle ended up with the Maccabeeas ultimately losing, there was a specific scene of immense tenacity and courage that left a deep-rooted impact on not only the memory of the Maccabean revolution, but in art history as well due to the dramatic and awe-inspiring turn of events.

Bet Zekharya is a place that is located not too far from Jerusalem where the Maccabees came from. When they reached a place just between Bet Zekharya and Bet Tzur, they ran into the Syrian-Greek army commanded by lysias who was marching to Jerusalem and planning to attack the south. Lysias was already made aware that a frontal attack would not work and so they proceeded to reach Jerusalem by passing through Idumea. The confrontation elicited an intense battle where the Maccabees were ultimately forced to retreat.


Elazar Maccabee And His Act of Heroism

During the battle, the Syrian-Greek army was seen to be using war animals, such as large elephants, and infantry. Elazar had noticed that one of the war elephants was equipped in royal armor and particularly larger than the others. He put two and two together and assumed that an important military leader was on it. Thus, Elazar decided to sacrifice his life to save his people by charging the war animal while killing enemies along the way. As soon as he reached the elephant, he courageously stabbed it in the belly and killed it. Unfortunately, the elephant fell down on Elazar Maccabee and ultimately ended his life. Though the Maccabees temporarily lost, Elazar’s heroic act has kept him alive in Jewish history today and has helped him become the very epitome of self-sacrificing heroism. This very scene has been interpreted and portrayed in a lot of renowned Christian and secular paintings throughout history.