silver-tetradrachm-hasmonean-coin-bIn 140 B. C. the people declared Judas Maccabees’ brother Simon as high priest as well as the commander of the army and gave him the title ethnarch (head of the nation). This office was conferred “forever, until a trustworthy prophet shall arise” (1 Macc 14:41).

According to 1 Maccabees 14:4-15 the Hasmonean dynasty 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 working the land in peace, reminiscent of the blessings for covenant obedience (Lev 26:4, cf. Deut 28:12). But this scene of peace and agricultural prosperity is drawn from the prophets and their expectation of the eschatological age. Zechariah 8:12 and Ezek 34:27, for example, 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 too is an allusion to the prophets.  Zechariah 8:4 has old men and women in the streets as a symbol of peace.  1 Mac 14:9 goes on to describe young men putting on “splendid military attire,” while Zechariah 8:5 describes children as playing in the streets. Goldstein sees an allusion to Isaiah 52:1, 61:10, but it is possible the Hebrew שׂחק (śḥq), which normally means “to play,” was taken by the author of 1 Maccabees in the same sense as 2 Sam 2:14, “to fight.”  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).  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 clear 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.

Undoubtedly this description of Simon is propaganda, but it is biblical propaganda. Describing the Hasmonean dynasty in terms reminiscent of the dreamed of eschatological kingdom is designed to put Simon on the best light possible. But that Simon’s propaganda should draw on these particular images from the Hebrew Bible indicates some (many?) in the second century B.C. were looking to the restoration of a kingdom as anticipated in the prophets.