The book of 1 Maccabees clearly favors the revolution against the Seleucid and the Hasmonean dynasty. In fact, it is “a thoroughgoing pro-Hasmonean . . . perhaps even Sadducean, tendency interpenetrates the entire work” (Fischer, 4:441) and the “author of 1 Maccabees identifies unreservedly with the rebels and their leaders.” (Efron, 47; Sievers, 2).
The Maccabean revolt was God’s will since the Hasmoneans liberated Judean from foreign rule. For example, in 5:62 the early Hasmoneans are described as “those men into whose hands salvation of Israel was given.” Those who disobey the Hasmoneans are killed in battle (5:55-62).
The founder of the dynasty, Matthias, is described as “burning with the zeal of Phineas” (2:26) when he first rallies people to rebel against the Seleucids. Phineas was the priest who killed a man and prostitute who dared to flaunt their sin before the tabernacle in Numbers 25:7. Even his last words to his sons, Matthias urges his sons to emulate Phineas, David, Caleb, Joshua, Elijah and other great heroes of the Hebrew Bible. It is no surprise that many of these models expressed their zeal for the Lord with violence.
Judas Maccabees is cast as a leader in the tradition of the great military leaders of the Hebrew Bible. In 3:4 Judas is compared to a lion (“his deeds were like a lion, a lion’s cub roaring for prey”), an allusion to Gen 49:9, “Judah is like a lion’s cub” (σκύμνος λέοντος in both texts). In the prophecy of Balaam Israel is described as a lion’s cub crouching for prey (σκύμνος in Num 23:24 and 24:9).
In 3:8 Judas is compared to Joshua in that he drove the ungodly out of the land (Josh 2:3). This compares to the prophetic evaluation of Othniel in Judges 3:7-10 – the spirit of the Lord came upon him and he drove out the enemies of the land. That Judas “gathers those who are perishing” (1 Macc 3:9, συνήγαγεν ἀπολλυμένους) may be an allusion to Isaiah 11:12 where the root of Jesse himself will raise a banner in the land and gather (συνάξει) in all of the scattered of Israel (τοὺς ἀπολομένους Ισραηλ).
Judas is most often identified with David. In 3:10-12, the writer briefly explains how Judas came to have the sword of Apollinius. This story seems remarkably parallel to David, who early in his career captured the sword of Goliath and made use of it later in his time as a mercenary. In 3:16-23 Judas makes a speech which is reminiscent of David against Goliath (1 Sam 17, cf. 1 Mac 12:15, 16:3). The situation is in fact analogous since Judas leads a small army of Jews against the larger Greek force. Judas says that the size of the army does not matter since “strength comes from Heaven” and that his army is fighting “for our lives and our laws.”
As a result of this speech, the Jewish army crushes the Greeks and pursues them to Beth-horon and into the territory of the Philistines. The verb “to crush” (συντρίβω) is used in the LXX in Deut 28:7, the blessings of the covenant: “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you.” In Joshua 10:10 the word is used to described the defeat of the Gibeonites, who are “crushed” and “chased . . . by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon.” In this story great hailstones rain on the Gibeonites, killing more men than the army of Joshua and the sun and moon stand still (Josh 11). The story in Joshua concludes with the words “for the Lord fought for Israel” (Josh 10:14), precisely the same point Judas makes in 1 Mac 3:19-21.
It seems clear the writer of 1 Maccabees is intentionally modeling Judas Maccabees after David and other heroes of the Hebrew Bible. Like any good political propaganda, 1 Maccabees wants the reader to think of the hero of the story in epic terms drawn from the sacred literature Israel. But is Judas really a king like David, or a conqueror like Joshua? Why choose these two particular examples from the Hebrew Bible? What is the book of 1 Maccabees saying about the Hasmonan dynasty?
Bibliography: Joshua Efron, Studies on the Hasmonean Period. (Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 39. Leiden: Brill, 1987); Fischer, Thomas. “Maccabees, Books of,” ABD 4:440-50 (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992), Joseph Sievers, The Hasmoneans and Their Supporters: From Mattathias to the Death of John Hyrcanus I. (Atlanta: Scholars, 1990); Williams, David S. The Structure of 1 Maccabees, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Monograph Series ; 31. Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1999.