Hebrew word(s) of the week: Hashmona’im/makabbim, Hasmoneans/Maccabees

The Hasmoneans and Maccabees are almost synonymous names for the family that liberated the Holy Temple and all Judea from the Hellenistic (Greek) pagan influence. There are several explanations for both names. Hasmoneans may be derived from a forefather of the family named Hashmonay, or may have originated in the village Heshmon (Joshua 15:26).

Similarly, the Maccabees are named for Judah — the third son of Mattatyahu (Mattathias), “God’s Gift” — whose nickname was MaKaBY, an acronym of the verse (slogan) Mi Kamokha Ba-elim Adonay (Yah) “Who is like You, O Lord.” Or an acronym of Mattatyahu Kohen Ben Yohanan. More probably, Judah’s nickname was Maqqabi (with quf), “Hammer-man,” related to Hebrew maqqevet* “workmen’s hammer” (used also as a weapon, as by Yael who used it to kill Sisera; Judges 4:21). 

*From n-q-v, “to pierce a hole.” “Hammer” could also be a metaphor; compare Karl Martell (“Hammer”), the Frankish warrior.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.