The Maccabean resistance movement resulted in a very short period of Jewish independence from the Seleucid empire. More importantly, it culminated in the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty. That is, Judas Maccabeus’ brother Simon established a monarchical throne over Judea. Despite their heroic attempts to establish Judean independence, the Hasmonean dynasty later became a puppet monarchy for the Romans. Ultimately, the power-grabbing ways of the Maccabees turned them into domestic oppressors and, eventually, complete failures, conceding authority back to foreign rulers. The Herodian dynasty replaced the Hasmoneans about 30 years before Jesus’ birth. Half Judean and half Arab, Herod and his sons proved disastrous for the people of Palestine while under Roman rule.
Undoubtedly, Jesus knew the story of the Maccabees growing up (it’s what Hanukkah celebrates). He knew their harrowing feats and their reclamation of independence. Nevertheless, the grand stories of the Maccabees must have seemed far off to a young Galilean boy living under the harsh, violent rule of the Herods. Additionally, the very presence of the Herodian dynasty operating under Roman authority proved the Hasmoneans’ ultimate failure. This is important. Jesus, growing up in Nazareth, would have been, by his social and geographic location, under the oppression of the Herodian dynasty. Herod Antipas, one of Herod the Great’s three sons and Rome’s puppet in Galilee, built his capital city the next town over from Nazareth and named it Sepphoris. This lavish city possessed the finest Roman amenities, and it was built on the backs of Nazarene peasantry. As in all empires, the wealthy enjoyed bounty and comfort while a stone’s throw away, the poor suffered in destitution.
Some of these wealthy elite clung tightly to their positions (Herodians and Sadducees). For them, Hasmonean capitulation to and continued cooperation with Roman rule was a windfall. Others formed strict, sectarian communities to completely avoid imperial domination (Qumran community or Essenes). Some attempted to reproduce the Maccabean revolt (Zealots). Still others demanded strict Torah observance (Pharisees).
Every one of these groups acted the way they did, not simply because they were religious groups but, because they saw it as an appropriate political response to the problem of foreign rulers in the promised land. Every group taught various beliefs about how to cope or how to resist the occupation, including beliefs about what would happen to those who followed G-d properly in the face of foreign domination. Jesus enters onto this scene by starting a populist movement in the poor districts of Galilee.
Out of the various social locations, political activities, and religious belief structures of the plural Judean groups, each established certain doctrines about the resurrection. Like Daniel and 2 Maccabees, the resurrection promised new life to those who lived properly under the rule of foreign oppressors, and it promised punishment to the “nations”. Those who showed themselves to be faithful to G-d without cooperating with the powers earned a second life. That is why the Sadducees, a group of wealthy elite men who controlled the temple, did not believe in the resurrection. They saw cooperation with Rome to be
perfectly acceptable. Why then would G-d vindicate them as the faithful people of G-d against the foreigners? The Essenes separated themselves far from the rest of the world, and they considered this to be the proper response to foreign occupation. The resurrected would be those who kept themselves totally pure from the empire. The pharisees launched a reform movement stressing Torah observance. Torah observance proved who the true Israel was and would determine who resisted the empire properly. The resurrection proves on all accounts to be a belief centered on political resistance against the foreign rulers (whether they be Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman).
The 1st century Judean groups invested their time in identifying who truly constituted the true Israel in the face of national domination. The final word from G-d at the resurrection would prove who was correct.