Simon the Hasmonean Messiah? – 1 Maccabees 14:4-15

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.

7 thoughts on “Simon the Hasmonean Messiah? – 1 Maccabees 14:4-15

  1. I found it rather easy to see a connection between the time period of the Maccabean revolt and the eagerness for a coming Messiah. Many Jews undoubtedly thought of the hope of God fully restoring their kingdom and in many ways it had begun to be restored though never having a king. The only thing left was for a king in the line of David to come and reign. The messianic prophecies would have fit right into these hopes and dreams. It fit so perfectly that when Jesus did come everyone just expected him to become king even to the point that they might have forcibly made him king if Jesus didn’t avoid it. One might wonder even in our lives if we will finally see the triumphant return with Jesus as king especially if we saw a restoration of the temple in Jerusalem.

  2. I feel like the Bible teaches that the end is where all the coolest stuff is at. After Israel had fallen from glory, people looked forward to the Day of the Lord when Israel would be restored and glorified. Today we look forward to Heaven where we will spend an eternity with God. The people in the Hasmonean period saw all of the corruption and immorality of the world and God to step in and finally change something. I also think that this was the same general mindset that led to the popularization of apocalyptic literature after the Hasmoneans proved to be corrupt.

  3. Simon gained political independence and established the Hasmonean dynasty (Strauss, 2007). Simon did well for a period of time. During this time there were also power struggles and political intrigue that ultimately led to Simon’s assassination (Strauss, 2007). It is interesting to note that Simon has an overall good imagine of peace during his reign. This is biblical propaganda as they made Simon out to be and a keeper of peace in his time. We can reference some of these beliefs and actions from his time to the restoration of the kingdom. It talks about individuals and families sitting under their vine and fig tree (Long, 2017). This is the symbolism of peace and calm time as individuals are well-taken care of. Any children being in the street is the symbolism of joy and care-free time, where the worry of safety is not an issue. To think about this in light of the Lord coming back in the present times is amazing to think about. There are so many issues and oppression in the world today. It is easy to think we are unsafe like school shootings, pandemics, or diseases. To be at peace in these symbolic instances is a good thought for the eternal future. World hunger is an issue and to think we have all that we physically need is amazing, and again and eternal restoration.

  4. this is probably where the Jews would have thought that the Promised Messiah would be like when we start to read the New Testament. thanks to Judas and Simon Maccabees, they have set a bar of what to expect when the Messiah comes. they expect for the Messiah to come in war prepared and overthrow whatever governing region was controlling Jerusalem at the time. when Jesus arrived, He came in with peace and bowing to authority. He even helped out a Roman centurion with his servant, which Rome was the governing region at this time. the people got mad that Jesus would befriend someone who they considered their enemy. they didn’t see Jesus as the Promised Messiah because of His actions He did on earth. Jews today are still looking for the Messiah while the Gentiles and some converted Jews have already seen and/or believe in the Messiah and that’s Jesus.

  5. The points made in this article definitely point to an idea of Simon as some type of Messiah. I think it isn’t necessarily wrong to think that either as there is something to learn about the true Messiah from these things. It is a “type” of Christ. These things that are notable about Simon, his life and accomplishments show us something of Christ, his ministry, and work done for His chosen people. Simon did these things, but Jesus completed them on a higher, broader level. We see the anticipation and excitement of the people regarding a savior. They wanted help economically, politically, and to gain freedom. These were things that many were disappointed with in Jesus. They had high hopes for someone to come and do the things that Simon did for them. They wanted to be restored to their land, but Jesus was here for greater purposes. He restores his people to the greater Kingdom, to a deeper freedom from sin and death and hell. He brought that peace and safety that they sought, but in a different form, one that they could not appreciate at the time because it was not what they had envisioned. Jesus provides true peace, as described in Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Isaiah 53:5 reinforces this truth “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed”. Lastly, Romans 15:13 speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to be with us on earth since he now resides in heaven with the Father. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”. He is the true Messiah, who brings the rest, the peace, the hope that the people want and need. All people have this innate desire for something more, something bigger than self to live for to and to save them from the hurt and evil of the world. Jesus is that Messiah, it could not be satisfied in the work of Simon. Simon points to the greater High Priest who can provide for, take care of, and satisfy those needs.

  6. The Hashmonai family seemed to fit the Messianic bill. According to 1 and 2 Maccabees, they were zealous Jews looking to liberate Judea from its Gentile oppressors, and restore Israel’s relationship with the Lord. Much like how the author of Hebrews describes Jesus as our high priest, Simon Hashmonai was declared to be the king and high priest. Of course, no Hasmonean dynasts fulfilled Messianic prophecies, but I suppose an argument could be made for a typological connection between the Hasmoneans and the coming Messiah. I can’t help but wonder if the Maccabean revolt laid some of the groundwork for the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Even with the miraculous and liberating work of Judah and Simon Hashmonai, neither were the Messiah. It seems reasonable that the Jews were on the lookout for a Messiah who was even more powerful, zealous, and strategically gifted than the Hasmoneans. Thus, Jesus seemed weak in comparison. No Messiah worth their salt would preach about turning the other cheek, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and love being more important than the Law.

    Considering Simon benefitted from much “messianic propaganda,” it seems the Jews had their hearts set on what sort of Messiah they were hoping for. When the real Messiah came – and when he looked different than they expected – they rejected him. Would we do the same? If Jesus returned and rejected our beliefs and opinions, would we find a way to convince ourselves that he was not the true Jesus? Would we harden our hearts? Or are we willing to submit our will to the Father’s?

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