Is There a Messiah in 1 Maccabees?

If the writer of 1 Maccabees positioned Judas as David-revisited, it would be unlikely that he would look forward to a future messiah. The book represents a staus quo sort of Judaism, and is “opposed to the Pharisees, the apocalypticists, and the many sectarians in Judea itself” (Fischer, “Maccabees,” 4:442). There is no “return of Judas” theme in 1 Maccabees. His successor Jonathan is enthroned as a king in purple and gold (10:59-66) and as high priest (10:18-21). The writer makes it quite clear that the “yoke of the gentiles was removed” under the leadership of Jonathan (13:41). 1 Maccabees might be described as having a completely realized eschatology because hope for an eschatological age are entirely fulfilled in the Hasmoneans.

Image result for judah maccabee the hammerAs outlined in a previous post, Judas is patterned after the great heroes of the Hebrew Bible. But the brief hymn of praise in 3:3-9 may go beyond even the historical characters found in the biblical material. Goldstein suggests this section is derive from Isaiah 11:12 and 12:5 (Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 245). Judas gathers the people to the Land and thereby makes his name known throughout the world. There are, however, no exact linguistic parallels between 1 Mac 3:9 and Is 12:5.

In the hymn of praise for Simon (14:4-15), it the Hasmonean dynasty which has established peace in the land and provided the needs of all of the people. Simon is even praised for restoring the temple to glory (14:15). In 14:8, the people described as tilling the land in peace. This is part of the blessings for covenant obedience (Lev 26:4, cf. Deut 28:12) as well as a promise from the prophets concerning the messianic age. Zechariah 8:12 and Ezek 34:27 promise a time of unprecedented prosperity when God restores the people to the land. Since the author of 1 Maccabees is describing the period of Simon in “messianic” terms, there is little need for a coming, future messiah to restore prosperity to the Land.

In 1 Maccabees 14:9, old men are pictured as sitting in the streets talking of good things. This may allude to the messianic age as a time of great rejoicing. For example, in Zechariah 8:4 old men and women in the streets as a symbol of peace. But 1 Maccabees 14:9 describes young men putting on “splendid military attire,” while Zech 8:5 describes children as playing in the streets. It is possible the Hebrew שׂחק, which normally means “to play,” was taken by the author of 1 Maccabees in the same sense as 2 Sam 2:14, to fight (HALOT 4 for bibliography). In this case, the verse might be taken as “children are play-fighting in the streets.”

In either case, the image of if a time when old men and children can rest from work because of the peace and prosperity of the day. While Zechariah sees this as a part of a return from captivity and messianic age, the writer of 1 Maccabees sees the peace as accomplished in Simon. In 14:10 Simon is described as supplying everyone with food and defense, something Goldstein sees as patterned after the kings of great Israel (1 Kings 9:15-19, 2 Chron 8:3-6, 26:6-15; see Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 491). If a king was to be judged as a “good king” in Chronicles, he undertook building projects which defended the land. Like Judas, Simon’s fame spreads throughout the world.

The reign of Simon is described as a time when “all the people sat under their own vines and fig trees, and there was none to make them afraid” (14:12), a metaphor drawn from several passages in the Hebrew Bible. As early as 1 Kings 4:25, the peace brought by David’s reign is described as a time of safety, when each man sat under his own vine and fig tree. This image is repeated in Isa 36:16, although it is on the lips of the Assyrians when they promise to make peace if the Israelites surrender. More significant are Micah 4:4 and Zech 3:10 where the metaphor appears in clearly eschatological contexts.

In the messianic age there will be peace and safety and all will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree. The Hasmoneans claim to have created a kingdom of peace and safety. Whether they did or not is beside the point, perhaps 1 Maccabees could be described as “alternative facts” which support the script the new dynasty wants to use to support their power.

What should we make of this re-application of prophecy to a more or less secular political dynasty? It is not too difficult to think of several modern (recent) examples of this kind of propaganda in American politics. What is the theological damage to Second Temple period Judaism if the Hasmoneans are re-interpreting prophetic texts to support their regime? That answer may be instructive as we see this sort of thing happening in contemporary contexts.

3 thoughts on “Is There a Messiah in 1 Maccabees?

  1. It is clearly dangerous to re-interpret scriptures in order to fit into current events and other regimes. Interpreting prophecies does take a certain amount of human reason, but it can clearly go too far. Many times people have certain things in mind and then look to the scriptures to confirm those things instead of reading and studying the scriptures and then seeking to apply them. I touched on it a bit in the end of my paper, but one example is the use of prophetic scripture (usually in Revelation) to persecute people in modern times whose ideology doesn’t line up. The whole “Trump/Obama is the anti-Christ”, “Islam is the beast” and such seems to be much more grounded in human wisdom than Godly wisdom. People seek to support their narrative instead of genuinely looking for answers, much like we see from the Hasmoneans.

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