PHOTO ASAF PERETZ, COURTESY OF THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY
In 1 Maccabees, Jerusalem is the epicenter of the Hasmonean rise to power. This makes sense for many reasons, but the main one is that by the time the book was written around 110 BCE, the Hasmonean kingdom was a reality with Jerusalem as its capital. The backstory of how this came to be was, naturally, fundamental to the author’s narrative. In that backstory, Simon’s conquest of the Seleucid citadel known as the Akra is the pivot, the launchpad for everything that comes next.
Recent discoveries in the City of David align with key aspects of the textual account. At the top of the western slope of the ridge, overlooking the Central (Tyropean) Valley, excavators found a massive wall and tower, a structure with an evident military function, datable to the late 160s BCE. The excavations showed that this structure was partially demolished in the late 140s. Following shortly upon this demolition, the tower was refortified by a huge defensive glacis, which affirmed the continued necessity of military architecture. These discoveries mesh with the text, offering illustrations of the initial construction of the Akra by the Seleucids along with Simon’s conquest and his (or his successor’s) rebuilding.
Yet while archaeology affirms the details of what happened in Jerusalem, it also shows us something else: Jerusalem was a small part of a much larger story. The city lay at the edge of a large stage, a bit player in a big power drama. The real stars were the Ptolemies and Seleucids; their actions drove the plot. The Hasmoneans were minor characters until the last act.