The historical events surrounding the story of Chanukah are a little different than what we are told as children. The real story of Chanukah involved complicated upheavals both internally within the Jewish population of Judea and externally as part of the ever changing relations with the Syrian Greeks.
The influence of the Hellenists, the Jews who adopted the Greek culture and religion which included some of the Temple priests, was serious enough to severely threaten the continuation of the Jewish monotheistic and moral based religion. This existential threat was so severe that many saw the end of Judaism as imminent.
The Greek ruler Antiochus the Fourth who was entangled in wars in Egypt saw in the Jews a source of constant rebellion and was determined to eliminate Judaism once and for all. He turned Jerusalem into a complete Greek city, turned the Temple into a shrine for Zeus and forbade the Jews from practicing any Jewish laws. The Hellenists, were now in complete control of the entire country. The Jews who remained loyal to their heritage lost all hope for redemption. When Judah Maccabee gathered there with a very limited number of loyal followers, his rebellion against the Geeks seemed impossible to win.
Due to his guerrilla warfare genius, Judah managed to chase the Greeks out of a limited area surrounding the Temple. This took three months to accomplish. As we all know, he cleansed the Temple and rededicated it to G-D. However, by no means was this a complete victory against the Greeks and their vast Jewish Hellenists allies. Therefore the celebration of Chanukah is a remembrance of the re-dedication of the Temple and not of a decisive victory over the mighty Greek army.
Following the capture of the Temple by Judah many more Jews who began to believe that complete victory was possible with the help of G-D, joined the rebels. Judah gained a substantial number of loyal soldiers and a three year war against the Greek Invaders began.
First order of things was to send soldiers to protect Jews in the east side of the Jordan river as well as the Jews in the Galilee and the Mediterranean shores from local non Jews who with the help of the Hellenists wanted to eliminate Judaism.
In order to put a stop to Judah’s successes, the Greeks sent their best general, Lisias, along with a huge army to face Judah’s rebels. The major battle that ensued was a decisive win for the enormous Greek army. The Jewish rebels dispersed everywhere and the rebellion was just about over at that point.
A blockade was put on Judah and a few of his loyalists who retreated to the Temple area. Everything seemed to be lost. With the expected death of Judah and the rest of the Maccabees the end of Judaism in Judea seemed to be a sure thing.
This is when the Chanukah miracle really happened. Lisias suddenly faced a bitter political rival Philipus who was advancing toward the Greeks with a huge army in order to declare himself the Greek emperor. Lisias then retreated immediately from Jerusalem, left most of Judea and signed a peace agreement with Judah.
This peace agreement did not last too long. Another Greek general, Bacchides attacked Judah and his army and in a decisive victory he eliminated most of the rebels and killed Judah himself. This was the end of Judah Maccabee’s revolt against the Syrian Geeks. Therefore unlike common belief, Judah Maccabee was unable to successfully rebel against the Greeks.
Jonathan, Judah’s younger brother waited two years for the right opportunity to try and rebel again. Jonathan was a brilliant statesman and a great general. He knew how to take advantage of the political bickering among the Syrian Greek generals who all wanted to become emperors. With winsome and brilliant political maneuvers, offering loyalty to specific influential Greek generals, he managed to re-assemble his own Jewish army and to liberate, piece by piece, areas of Judea which were under Hellenist, Greek and other idol worshippers' influence. Jonathan was eventually murdered at the hands of Hellenists in Jaffa.
Simon, the last of the Maccabee brothers continued the task started by his brother Jonathan of the retaking of Judea from the local Greek and Hellenistic population. His successes aggravated the new Greek emperor, Antiochus the 7th who sent yet again army to help the Hellenists and to stop Simon from expanding their control over Judea. Yet again a battle took place between Antiochus’ army and Simon. This time the Maccabees won and the Greek army retreated out of Judea.
At this point the Greek Emperor Antiochus the 7th realized that losing so many soldiers for control over a small piece of land called Judea was not worth the effort. In addition the international power of Greece was diminishing against the rising power of Rome.
Therefore the Maccabees’ eventual victory was the result of the Maccabees stand fast effort to free Judea. With a little luck or perhaps a miracle and with hard fought battles along with brilliant political maneuvers they managed to gain an independence for Judea for the next 80 years, only to end at hands of their deceiving old ally, Rome.