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.

Judas Maccabees Messiah

As outlined in a previous post, the writer of 1 Maccabees patterned Judas 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.

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

  1. In this blog on the contents of 1 Maccabees, there seems to be a common theme of peace and hope mentioned. While it seems that there is mention of various parts of the study of last things, there seems to be little mention of the Messiah or simply the coming of a Savior. The Hasmonean dynasty was basically a time of struggle for political independence/intrigue (Strauss, p. 102 & 103). It is because of this long-term challenge that the Hasmoneans adopted the Hellenistic ways and became more distant from reality. I think that we can compare this to anything happening in society today, specifically 2020. This example of the change in the Hasmoneans’ mindsets, is similar to that of people in today’s society. COVID-19 is a big deal, but misinformation is inevitable. Nonetheless, modern people follow the media and government, assuming that the government’s way is reality. However, misinformation is spread and people begin to believe lies.

    It is always so interesting to me to read the Bible, learn the contents of the old manuscripts, and being able to make parallelisms to Christianity and within the world today. While 1 Maccabees may not directly mention the Messiah, it seems to me that there is still mention of the hope and peace throughout trials and challenges, that is meant to come when the Lord returns to this world.

  2. reading the bible is good to do, but if we want/need to apply certain passages to today’s lives, then we need to first look at the context. we need to first know who were the main target audience when the letter or book was written in. then we need to look at the demographic of who we are reading about. then the geography of the place and location in that time. after knowing all of that, then we need to know the translation of the original language, so either Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. after knowing all of the above, then we can start knowing how to apply said passages to our lives today. a great example of this is the passages of Jeremiah 29:11. we all know it, “for i know the plans for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” although this is a great passage to keep having hope in God, this was written to the Jews during the time of Exile in Babylon. we cannot directly apply this to our daily lives because we are not Jews in exile in Babylon.

    could something been taken out of context for 1 Maccabees, possibly. we see it in how the kids play or play-fight in Zachariah and then seeing the kids getting prepared for war in 1 Maccabees. we need to read carefully and understand the context first and then applying it to our lives

  3. This blog post mentioned several examples that the Maccabees pulled from the Bible. I often find it interesting when accounts like this pick and choose certain aspects of the Bible and attempt to mirror it. The title of this blog post is “Is There a Messiah in 1 Maccabees?” To add on to the discussion, if there was a Messiah, it would be mentioned several times. They would be proclaiming this Savior to everyone who reads it. They only person who makes his name known is Judas. The writer characterizes Judas as a hero. However, it is not in the messianic way. He is described more as the hero of the physical war than the spiritual war.
    One question asked in this blog post is what is the theological damage? I think this can be dangerous. If the Hasmoneans did re-interpret the texts to support their own agenda, they possibly twisted or changed certain passages. This would give them the ability to leave out vital information. If someone re-interpreted the Bible and left out everything about Jesus and how to be saved it would change everything about our Christian faith. While I do not think that the Hasmoneans did something that drastic, it is interesting to consider.

  4. My concern over the accuracy of 1 Maccabees has greatly increased since reading this article. I can see some parallels between the messiah foretold in the Old Testament and what the sons of Matthias accomplished. There is the freeing of Israel from foreign rule, and the combination of Priest and King (which I believe is prophesied about). However, the major problem is that the Maccabees are not David’s descendants. There is also another issue: the peace didn’t last. Whatever lies there were about the Hasmonaean dynasty being a messianic one was fully crushed when Rome took over and put Herod, and Edomite in charge. Thus, when we enter the scene of the Gospels everyone is looking for the messiah still, whatever “Pro-Hasmonean Propaganda” of f 1 Maccabees was, the Romans had rendered useless. If I was going to apply this lesson of false prophecy fulfillment to today I’d say, “the prophecy isn’t fulfilled, unless it is completely fulfilled. There should be none of this Hasmoneans acting like the House of David business.”

  5. Throughout the chapter and this post there were many examples that the Maccabees pulled from texts. it is interesting when they choose particular aspects of the Bible and attempt to mimic or re-apply it. I think that if there was a Messiah talked about, it would be mentioned. They would be proclaiming this Savior to everyone who interprets. They only person who makes his name known is Judas. This is not considered the Messianic way of life.
    what is the theological damage? If the Hasmoneans did re-interpret the texts to support their own views, they reconstructed or changed certain scripture, then this would give them the ability to leave out valuable information. The idea and discussion of hope and peace throughout their challenges and encounters. The re-application and changed scripture can be very misleading and brings the question of if this is creditable at all; it is very damaging. It is ok to base old ways for future aspects but to mimic or use as if it is your own scripture is not the best way to lead a society or even yourself. An example for instance is the topic of certain state rights and laws, instead of looking at social media for answers to these problems, actually finding out the real details and reasons behind some of these laws we may not agree with it is in our best interest to follow with grace and compassion in everything we do and not let media or anything else steer our attention away from what is solely right and wrong.

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