1 and 2 Maccabees

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

1 and 2 Maccabees

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The Apocrypha ends with two89 different accounts of the Jewish struggles against the Hellenization programme of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, from the beginnings of Antiochus' reign in 167 to the death of Simon Maccabeus in 134 bce. 1 Macc. 1: 1–9 sets the scene with a brief synopsis of Alexander's conquest of the Persians, and the division of the empire after his death, when ‘evils were multiplied in the earth’, until the rise of Antiochus: ‘And there came out of them a wicked root, Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the king’ (1: 10). Against his enforced Hellenization of Jewish culture, with the assistance of ‘wicked men’ who wish to make a covenant with the heathen (1: 11), there emerged the Maccabean revolt (1: 11–64). It was begun by Mattathias who, announcing his fidelity to ‘the covenant of our fathers’, killed the royal commissioner and a Jew who was sacrificing on the altar at Modein (2: 19–28)—a political assassination recalling that of Phinehas (2: 26; Num. 25: 6–13). Mattathias and his five sons, John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar, and Jonathan, flee to the mountains and from there fight against the enemy; reversing where possible the cultural impositions of the conforming Jews (2: 28–48). In the process they were forced to allow fighting on the sabbath (2: 32–41). Such a breach of the traditional sabbath law may also be seen as the triumph of Greek cultural practices over traditional Jewish ones—and highlights problems of reading the Maccabean struggle simply in terms of a dichotomy between Greek and Jewish values. Another example of creeping Hellenism occurs in 1 Macc. 12: 20–3 where there is a correspondence between Onias, the Jewish high priest, and Arius I, king of the Spartans, in which the latter acknowledge their kinship with the Jews, both being ‘of Abraham's blood’. This unlikely story is important enough to be repeated by Josephus,90 a renegade Jew who, in 70 ce, survived a suicide pact with fellow Jewish rebels against the Romans, and lived to write a Greek history of the Jews. Whether this represents what one critic has described as an attempt to write ‘a ticket of admission to the Hellenic club’91 is more doubtful. Given Maccabean ideology, it seems more likely that the Jews were trying to bring the Greeks within their own traditions rather than subordinating themselves to Hellenism.92 But clearly, for all the overt Jewish resistance, biblical thought was increasingly being permeated by Greek influences.

Chapter.  1155 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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