1 Maccabees and the Legitimacy of the Hasmoneans

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).

judas-maccabeesThe 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.


14 thoughts on “1 Maccabees and the Legitimacy of the Hasmoneans

  1. “Apollonius now gathered together Gen- tiles and a large force from Samaria to fight against Israel. When Judas learned of it, he went out to meet him, and he defeated and killed him. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled. Then they seized their spoils; and Judas took the sword of Apollonius, and used it in battle the rest of his life” (3:10-12). Clearly, there are some distinctions between the story of Judas and David, as you stated. However, Is Judas really the same as King David or Joshua? Although some sections of 1 Maccabees display similarities, it could be that Judas is simply given characteristics of other stories in order to make the story appealing. I think both of those examples were chosen because both consisted of heroic characteristics. At the end of 1 Maccabees, three generations of Ma􏰀athias’s family had fought for Judea’s independence from the Seleucids and had established a ruling dynasty, the Hasmonean dynasty (1556).

  2. Judas Maccabees was a figure representing restoration in the nation of Israel by conquest. The historical connotation of Maccabees is (naturally) the Maccabean revolt. It seems that Judas himself is portrayed more as a conquerer than a king in the book. 1 Maccabees chapter three in particular talks about the might of Judas Maccabees in battle. He’s portrayed almost as a war hero. “He bound on his armor of war and waged battles, protecting the camp by his sword” (1 Maccabees 3:3). The righteous war hero persona is projected far more than that of a king. Ironically, this may have been a reflection on the very culture Judas Maccabees sought to drive out of Israel. The Greeks had an elaborate series of myths concerning their gods and war heroes, so the narrative style of 1 Maccabees could be a reflection on this aspect of Greek culture.

  3. I think that the writer of I Maccabees probably thought that the Maccabean revolt was the start of the glorious revival of Israel talked about in the Old Testament. After the revolt, they were a free nation again and could potentially prosper into a powerful nation like they once were. If this was going to come to fruition, however, they would need a righteous high priest and king to lead the nation in serving God. In this way, Matthias was a zealous priest like Phineas who would cleanse the nation from the immorality of Hellenism. On the same note, Judas, like Joshua, was a conqueror who took Palestine from the ruling pagans. Judas also was going to bring Judah into another golden age just as David had done.

  4. To the Pharisee and the Essenes, the Hasmonaean priest-kings were an insult to the long-standing line of separation of kingship and priesthood. To both groups, the “Hasmoneans illegitimately combined both offices” (Strauss 104). They did not view this change as a good or beneficial thing to Jewish culture or way of life. However, the Sadducees arose as a supporter of the Hasmonean priesthood. This background to the divide in social groups over Hasmonaean sets the stage for the New Testament when it comes to the social class divide. The groups disagreed immensely on their view of Hellenization and Hasmonean leadership. Not only was the divide felt among the social groups but also between Jew and Samaritan as Strauss says in chapter four. John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim which led to the social tension between Jew and Samaritan that is brought up when Jesus meets the Women at the well in John Chapter 4. The actions of the Hasmonean dynasty left an impact on Jewish culture leading up to Jesus’ ministry that is important to understand to have the full picture of the social dynamic of the ancient Greco-Roman world.

  5. By painting Judas Maccabees in a parallel picture to other Biblical hero characters such as David, Phineas, Caleb, Elijah (and so on), the author of 1 Maccabees clearly communicates favor towards the Maccabean revolt. Judas is demonstrated to be a war hero, especially in 1 Maccabees 3:3, “He extended the glory of his people. Like a giant he put on his breastplate; he bound on his armor of war and waged battles, protecting the camp by his sword.” The image we get here is a strong defender. King David was initially an underdog character in the Bible, rising from the position of a young shepherd to eventually become king. Mattathias, with whom the Hasmonean revolt began, and his son Judas also came from humble beginnings. Mattathias was a priest and likely a “gentleman farmer,” living in Modein (Tomasino, 2003). Like David, the Hasmonean revolt grew from humble beginnings, but delivered a nation in the end (another reason that the author may have drawn a parallel to King David). By comparing Judas to war heros, Judas is portrayed as a war hero himself.

  6. I think that Judas was a little bit of both, King like David and conqueror like Joshua. There were several instances where Judas was able to portray both situations when it came to battle with others. I believe that the characteristics taken from both spectrums, King like David and conqueror like Joshua help show that Judas was like both people. The Maccabean Revolt is an example of this. The Hasmonean Dynasty caused issues for the Jews, it created almost like a social class of people. The Jews did not want to give up some of their beliefs and adopt to the Greeks, but depending on the status you were in is how much you were willing to give up. It seemed as though the lower Jews were less likely to give up their beliefs, probably because they had nothing to gain from following the greeks. This obviously caused tension with both the Greeks and the Jews within their own cities. Eventually things calmed down but it definitely took some time and a big battle before that happened.

  7. The revolt I believe gave a new found hope that they would become the powerful nation that they had been prior to being taken over years prior. However due to the crazy situations given while in the revolt many people faught for power and gained it so that there was nothing good to come from it. Yes the revolt gave them much freedom and posibilities to move forward but would be held back due to lack in leadership. I belive this is yet another example in the world, that it is a sinful world and that it is very dificult to obtain power and righteous action. Having individuals in power would have needed to be righteous people with a servents heart but all they recieved through this was selfish and greedy individuals.

  8. Going through this section of history and seeing the correlation that the writer of 1 Maccabees is so interesting. I did not realize how much they referenced to other characters in the Bible, but mainly Kind David through things like the connection with the sword, the speech, and creating an army. Knowing that the writer of 1 Maccabees was clearly in favor of the Maccabean revolt, I think that it is safe to say that the two stories may not have been exact, but there are some clear connections that they had made that I think allowed an understanding and a comfort to the people reading it. As for the purpose in choosing the Bible’s examples that 1 Maccabees did, I think that they choose them because they were stories that made Israel feel powerful and a part of God’s chosen people. I think that this really just resembles the story as a whole they wanted to be back to a place where they weren’t under a ruler, they are under their God and His will for His people. The story of 1 Maccabees goes pretty quickly into the idea that “enough is enough” with the start of the story when Mattathias says his speech about not following the desires of the envoys. One of the quotes, “I and my sons will remain true to the Lord!” (Tomasino, 142), really shows that message that they are willing to take on this battle for the freedom of their people again.

  9. There is a lot to think about when it comes to the stories of Judas Maccabees. The accounts of what he did are very interesting to read about since they are very heroic, but they are similar to heroic stories found in the Old Testament with leaders like David. Like the blog talked about, Judas Maccabees is compared to David, which may have been the inspiration for some of the stories about Judas Maccabees. He is also compared to Joshua, who was able to conquer many places with the help of God. I think that it is very interesting that Judas was compared to these two men. When I read the Bible, I see a lot of references to Moses and Elijah. These were two great men who did a lot of remarkable things. I would think that Judas would want to be compared to them because they seemed to have been very important to a lot of the Jews in the New Testament, not that David and Joshua were not. However, I can understand why David and Joshua were the two that Judas Maccabees was compared to because they did a lot in the military side of things which is similar to Judas. Even though the stories of Judas Maccabees are not in the canon of many Bibles, I think that it is still beneficial to read what the stories have to say about him because there are a lot of connections to the canonical Bible that can be found about him.

  10. The author of 1 Maccabees was much more concerned with presenting the Hasmonean dynasty in a positive manner than offering honest accounts of the historical events preceding and during the Maccabean revolt. The rebellion itself began when Matthias, a levitical priest, killed a Jewish man and a royal officer who was offering a pagan sacrifice in the temple, proclaiming that he was burning with the “zeal of Phineas”. This is a reference to Numbers 25:7, where the high priest Phineas killed a man and a prostitute who was profanely worshiping in the tabernacle. Following this reference, Matthias urges his sons to emulate great Biblical heroes in their rebellion against foreign rulers.
    This use of typological comparison is frequently used in 1 Maccabees in relation to Judas Maccabees, who is described similarly to King David, Joshua, and a lion among other things. The author of 1 Maccabees purposely uses this imagery to present Judas Maccabees as a righteous liberator who will triumph over his opponents and defend the Jewish laws and traditions against their oppression. Specifically, the reference to David is an attempt to solidify Judas as a legitimate military and political leader, since David defeated his enemies and expanded his united kingdom across the region. Additionally, the use of Joshua may evoke some images of the Exodus narrative, as while Moses led them out of Egypt, Joshua was given the role of leading Israel into the promised land. The author of Maccabees may be paralleling this narrative with Judas Maccabees to argue that he will facilitate the Jew’s reentrance into Israel and conquer any enemies in his path. Either way, 1 Maccabees use of great Biblical characters being paralleled with Judas is a propagandist attempt to present the Hasmonean dynasty in an extremely positive light.

  11. From the outside looking in, the book of 1 Maccabees really lines Judas Maccabeus with the story of Israel we see throughout the Old Testament. There are some specific ties into descriptions of Judas that relate directly to heroes like Joshua or David and I think it’s not at all a coincidence that this is the case. First of all, the devout people of Israel greatly respect those men, hence why they are considered Israelite heroes. The author is trying to promote Judas to the same people that respect them, so it may be purely strategic to portray him as one and the same. In fact, it sounds very Joshua/David-like to do what Judas is described doing in 1 Macc. 3:8, “He went through the cities of Judah; he destroyed the ungodly out of the land; thus he turned away wrath from Israel.” This puts whatever Judas and whatever he stands for in the same category as these men; thus he must be a man of God and people of God should follow his movement. It reminds me of today when a politician is running for office and they are portrayed as someone who cares about all the same issues as you, fighting for America and whatever rights you believe in. Now you start to develop a bias for that person just because it looks like they are on your side already. This could be true or not, but it is how they are being portrayed and I think it’s similar to how Judas is being portrayed in 1 Maccabees here; thus the reason for drawing ties to heroes like David, Joshua, Caleb, etc.

  12. The book of 1 Maccabees shows the Hasmonean Dynasty as being a part of God’s will. “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” (Long, 3). Essentially, the book of 1 Maccabees is in favor of the Hasmoneans over the Seleucids. Judas Maccabees, the leader of the Maccabeans, is portrayed as being similar to Joshua, who drove the people who were considered ungodly out of the land in Joshua 2. This comparison seems to enhance the idea that the Hasmonean Dynasty was part of God’s will like what is being portrayed in 1 Maccabees. However, Joshua is not the only person who Judas was compared to. Judas was also compared to David. In 1 Maccabees 3, he is compared to David because he obtained the sword of Apollinius while in the Bible, David obtained the sword of Goliath. It is evident that 1 Maccabees paints Judas to be a noble and righteous hero like the ones that can be found in the Bible. Modeling Judas after people like Joshua and David enhances the story that 1 Maccabees is trying to sell: The Hasmonean Dynasty was the superior group who were led to victory by God.

Leave a Reply