5. One of the Ancient World’s Weirdest Deaths
Judas Maccabeus besieged the Temple Mount fortress, but a Seleucid army of 50,000 men, accompanied by 30 war elephants, marched to its relief. So he lifted the siege and marched out with 20,000 men to intercept the enemy. Unfortunately, Judas abandoned the guerrilla tactics that had won him victories and served him well until then. Instead, he lined up his men to meet the Seleucids in formal battle. It was a mistake. Judas’ forces proved no match for the Seleucid heavy infantry phalanx, professional cavalry, and armored war elephants that especially unnerved the Jewish defenders.
The Jews began to panic and break in fear of the pachyderms, so Eleazar Maccabeus tried to encourage his comrades by demonstrating the elephants’ vulnerability. He charged at the biggest pachyderm he could find, got beneath it, thrust his spear into its unarmored belly, and killed the beast. He did not get to savor his success for long, however: the dying elephant collapsed on top of Eleazar and crushed him to death. His comrades, appalled by his bizarre demise, did not rush in to emulate him, and the courageous demonstration did not keep the Jewish army from breaking soon thereafter.