You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Second Temple Period’ category.
1 Enoch 83-90 follows a long section of the astronomical speculations, although it is related to chapter 82 as a continuation of Enoch’s dialogue with Methuselah (83:1). These two chapters serve as an introduction to the Animal Apocalypse, a slightly veiled allegory of history up to the Maccabean period.
Enoch received these visions before he was married and still living with his grandfather, Mahalalel (Gen 5:12-17). After Enoch receives a vision the coming flood (83:2b-2), he relates his dream to his grandfather Mahalalel. This is Enoch’s first vision, and like Samuel and Eli (1 Sam 3), Enoch requires guidance from his grandfather to understand the vision.
Within the world of the story, the vision refers to the coming flood. But the description goes beyond Genesis 7 to convey “a picture of cosmic collapse and annihilation” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 349). As is typical in the Enoch literature, the imagery of the flood is conflated with the ultimate judgment of God.
1 Enoch 83:3-4 I saw in a vision the sky being hurled down and snatched and falling upon the earth. When it fell upon the earth, I saw the earth being swallowed up into the great abyss, the mountains being suspended upon mountains, the hills sinking down upon the hills, and tall trees being uprooted and thrown and sinking into the deep abyss. (OTP 1:61)
Mahalalel explains that sin is so great the earth must “sink into the abyss” (primordial chaos), but there is a possibility God would allow a remnant to remain on the earth. He therefore counsels Enoch to pray for the earth (83:6-9), which he does (83:10-11, 84:1-6). Enoch first praises God and acknowledges his greatness (83:2-4). These two verses resonate with many texts in the Hebrew Bible, although it is remarkably similar to Daniel 2:37-38 (describing Nebuchadnezzar) and Daniel 7:14 (describing the rule of the Son of Man), but also Isaiah 66:1-2 (heavens as God’s throne, the earth as his footstool).
1 Enoch 84:2 Blessed are you, O Great King, you are mighty in your greatness, O Lord of all the creation of heaven, King of kings and God of the whole world. Your authority and kingdom abide forever and ever; and your dominion throughout all the generations of generations; All the heavens are your throne forever, and the whole earth is your footstool forever and ever and ever.
These intertextual allusions to canonical books (as well as using the form of a biblical Psalm) create the image of a biblical prophet interceding on behalf of a people about to face the justice and wrath of God. Like Moses, David or Daniel, Enoch confesses the people of his generation ought to be destroyed for their wickedness (although he blames the angels, 84:5).
Enoch’s request on behalf of the present generation. Even if the angels must come under judgment, Enoch prays that God would allow a remnant of humans survive the devastation. He asks God to raise up the righteous and true flesh “as a seed-bearing plant” (84:6). Within the world of the story of 1 Enoch, this refers to the world after the flood and the family of Noah as a righteous family to repopulate the world. Noah is called a “preserved seed” (1 Enoch 10:3; 65:12; 67:3).
But the image of a plant which survives the coming judgment also resonates with the righteous remnant in Isaiah 6:13. For the writer of this apocalypse, the final judgment is still in the future. The prayer is that God will once again preserve the righteous remnant in that coming apocalyptic judgment.
It is very difficult to date with certainty any section of 1 Enoch, but if these two chapters were originally an introduction to the Animal Apocalypse (which follows in 1 Enoch 85-90), then the historical context of the righteous remnant in the present generation the Maccabean revolt and the righteous ones who remained faithful to the Law when tested by Hellenists.
But is this prophetic speech created to support the Hasmoneans (as the righteous ones struggling against the Greeks), or the Hasadim as they struggled against the later Hasmonean kings? Defining the “righteous remnant” seems to be a regular feature of apocalyptic literature (in the ancient world or today).
A feature of apocalyptic which is drawn from the Hebrew Bible is the belief God will intervene in history to destroy the evil attacking the faithful. The nation of Israel always understood God as their defender. There is a great deal of “warrior language” in the Old Testament, it is God that fights on behalf of the nation. In addition to this, Israel always understood God to be their king.
The book of Daniel describes the judgment of the final nation to oppress Israel.
Daniel 7:9–10 (NRSV) As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. 10A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
After the books are opened the final beast is killed and burned with fire (7:11) and the “little horn” which oppressed God’s people will be destroyed. The dominion once granted to the kingdoms of the earth will be rescinded. The Ancient of Days will grant that authority to a son of man who will come on the clouds of heaven. This kingdom will never pass away or be destroyed (7:14, 7:26-27).
A similar judgment scene appears in 1 Enoch 50-52. James VanderKam calls this section a “Scenario for the End Time” because all of the powerful beings will be humiliated “in those days.” They will delivered into the hand of the Chosen One like grass to the fire or lead to the water. The image of grass being taken to a fire at the time of the harvest is used by Jesus in several parables (for example, the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The reason they are delivered for judgment is that they have denied the name of the Lord of Spirits and his Messiah.
1 Enoch 50 describes the renewal of the righteous from their time of weariness. This includes a judgment in which the sinners receive evil and the righteous receive good. The righteous are to be saved through the “name of the Lord of Spirits” who will lead people to repentance. This chapter stresses the justice of the judgment of the Lord of Spirits – “oppression cannot escape him.” Those who are under his judgment no longer receive mercy (verse 5).
Chapter 51 is in many ways the most important chapter in the Similitudes since it deals with the resurrection of the dead. The context is eschatological (“in those days,” parallel to the judgment in 50:1). Sheol will give up all the dead and the “Elect One” will sit on his throne and pick out of the risen dead the holy ones (50:1-2). The elect will sit on the throne of the Lord (51:3) and hear wisdom from the mouth of the Elect One. After this resurrection, the “mountains will skip like rams” and the whole earth will rejoice (51:5). This is an allusion to Psalm 114:4 and the messianic age. Verse four possibly connects the resurrection of the dead to the rising of the Elect One.
1 Enoch 51:4-5 In those days, mountains shall dance like rams; and the hills shall leap like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on that day the Elect One has arisen. And the earth shall rejoice; and the righteous ones shall dwell upon her and the elect ones shall walk upon her.
In both Daniel and 1 Enoch, an oppressed people look forward to God’s righteous and fair justice. They believe they are the ones who will be vindicated and those who have oppressed them will face a fiery judgment. In both cases the righteous will rewarded with a kingdom ruled by a representative of God (a son of man, an elect one) and that kingdom will never end. Both example look forward to God delivering his people from their oppressors once again.
Does this kind of apocalyptic judgment offer real hope to the oppressed? This seems like good news for the oppressed, but is there any hope for salvation or any chance of repentance for the oppressor? Is apocalyptic literature simply saying, “Endure to the end and you will be rewarded”? Is there active resistance as in 1 Maccabees?
The problem western pop-Christianity has re-defined apocalyptic to refer only to “the end of the world as we know it.” Some students want to read Revelation as if it was in the same genre as The Book of Eli or The Road. Those two films are excellent examples of the modern genre of post-apocalyptic. Some disaster has happened which has nearly wiped out most of the world forcing a tiny community of surviving humans to struggles against extinction.
But that is not at all what the genre of apocalyptic was in the Second Temple Period. From about 250 B.C. to about A.D. 250, the genre of apocalyptic flourished. Both Jews and Christians wrote apocalypses in order to deal with the rapidly changing world. These books look at the recent past and current events using spectacular imagery in order to
provide hope for the future. In this sense, a story like The Book of Eli functions the same way since despite the almost universal evil in the world, there is some hope a the end of the story that humans will survive and create an ideal community.
David Noel Freedman once said apocalyptic is “born of crisis – from the start it was underground literature, the consolation of the persecuted” (Journal for Theology and Church 6 : 173). Christian and Jewish apocalyptic reflects a crisis of faith. The world is evil and most people are living ignorantly in the darkness. Evil is oppressing the small minority of righteous. Yet this literature always ends with the hope of God’s justice. The righteous will be rewarded and the evil oppressors will be condemned.
In the introduction to his recent collection of essays on apocalyptic literature, John Collins sketches recent attempts to define apocalyptic, settling on “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world” (Apocalypse, Prophecy and Pseudepigraphy, 4). This definition preserves both the revelatory aspect of apocalyptic, but also some eschatology which many think is the whole purpose of apocalyptic.
But can apocalyptic be a kind of protest literature? Do the visions of Daniel, the quintessential apocalyptic book in the Hebrew Bible, offer protest against the empire (whether Babylon, Persia, the Greeks or later the Romans)? If apocalyptic was popular during the Hasmonean dynasty and the advent of the Romans, how did books like 1 Enoch offer both comfort and protest against “the evil powers of this world”?
If 1 Maccabees can be described as pro-Hasmonean propaganda, the Psalms of Solomon vilify the Hasmoneans as corrupt law-breakers who have brought the might of Rome down upon Israel. The eighteen psalms are preserved in both Greek and Syriac manuscripts from the tenth century A.D. but were likely written in Hebrew and date much earlier than the surviving manuscripts since the Psalms were used by the author of 2 Baruch. The psalms refer to an invasion of the land, so they may be dated as early as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but Pompey (in 63 B.C.) and Titus (in A. D. 70) are also possibilities. R. B. Wright gives a range of dates from 70 to 45 B.C. for the dateable Psalms, but since some do not have events which can be dated, they may come from another period and were added to the collection when it reached its final form.
As Brad Embry summarizes, the Psalms of Solomon are “masterfully wrought defense of the Jewish faith in a time of crisis.” Given the range of dates suggested for this literature, this crisis of faith is the failure of the Hasmoneans to rule like proper sons of David. Rather than rule as righteous kings from the Hebrew Bible, they are more like Manasseh or even Antiochus himself!
For example, Psalm 4 condemns of those who sit in the council but are “far from the Lord” and provoking the Lord to anger. This person is eager to take the home of the poor person and to scatter the orphans.
Psalms of Solomon 4:1-2 Why are you sitting in the council of the devout, you profaner? And your heart is far from the Lord, provoking the God of Israel by lawbreaking; Excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone, he who is harsh in words in condemning sinners at judgment.
The word council is συνέδριον (synédrion), translated Sanhedrin in the New Testament. This ruling council has provoked the Lord (4:1 and 4:21). The verb παροργίζω is often used as an explanation for why a great calamity has fallen on Israel. For example, in LXX 2 Kings 23:26, Manasseh provoked the Lord to anger, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. In Daniel 11:36 (OG) with reference to the Antiochus’s action in the temple, provoking the Lord to anger. In t.Levi 3.10, the word refers to the sons of men insensitive to spiritual things and “keep sinning and provoking the anger of the Most High.”
Verses 14-22 is a harsh condemnation of these hypocrites. The writer pronounces curses on the hypocrites (using a series of aorist passive optative verbs), invoking the Lord to make the lives of these people miserable. For example, verse 18, “May his old age be in lonely childlessness until his removal.”
PsSol 4:20-22 Let crows peck out the eyes of the hypocrites, for they disgracefully empty many people’s houses and greedily scatter (them). 21 They have not remembered God, nor have they feared God in all these things; but they have angered God, and provoked him. 22 May he banish them from the earth, for they defrauded innocent people by pretense.
In contrast to the fate of the hypocrite, the final three verses of the Psalm are a confession in faith in a beatitude form, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord in their innocence, the Lord will save them” (PsSol 4:23-25). The one who is innocent will be saved from these arrogant people.
The writers of the Psalms of Solomon do not see the descendants of the Hasmoneans as the fulfillment of the prophetic hope for a good, righteous shepherd king in the tradition of David. Their protest is against the current regime (whatever the date) is in the tradition of prophetic condemnations of Manasseh in the Hebrew Bible.
How does the contrast between the ideology of 1 Maccabees or 2 Maccabees differ from that of the Psalms of Solomon? Does reading the other Psalms in this collection provide additional evidence of this diversity in the Second Temple period?
Bibliography: Bradley Embry, “The Psalms of Solomon and the New Testament: Intertextuality and the Need for a Re-Evaluation.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (2002): 99-136.
1 Maccabees is clearly in favor of the revolution against the Seleucid and the Hasmonean dynasty. It is “a thoroughgoing pro-Hasmonean” (Fischer, 4:441). For the author of 1 Maccabees, the 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.” Later Christian readers are accustom to hear salvation (σωτηρία) as “salvation from sin,” the noun regularly refers to liberation from enemies in the Septuagint. For example, in LXX 1 Sam 2:1, Hannah can “I rejoice in your salvation” because her “mouth derides my enemies.” LXX 1 Samuel 11:9, Saul tells the people of Jabesh-Gilead they will “have their salvation” by noon the next day. He is referring to a military campaign to rescue them from the Ammonites.
More significant, 1 Macc 6:62 uses a divine passive, ἐδόθη, salvation “was given.” Daniel 7 uses this passive form of the verb “to give” a number of times to indicate the sovereign God has granted something to another. For example, in 7:14 the son of man is given authority to rule. God grants to the son of man that authority. The writer of 1 Maccabees is therefore not attributing the rescue of Israel from their enemies to the military might of Judas, but rather to God.
Judas’s father Matthias provides the spark for the Maccabean revolt. Matthias was a priest in Jerusalem who left the city because of the ruin of Zion. The noun (σύντριμμα) refers to destruction of Jerusalem, as in Lamentations 4:10. The temple itself has lost its glory (ἄδοξος), recalling the loss of the Ark of the Covenant in 1 Sam 4:22(Ἀπῴκισται δόξα Ισραηλ).
Later, Matthias is described as “burning with the zeal of Phinehas” (1 Macc 2:26) when he first rallies people to rebel against the Seleucids. Phinehas was the priest who killed a man and prostitute who dared to flaunt their sin before the tabernacle in Numbers 25:11. This violent response to a flagrant sin is the immediate model for the Maccabean revolt: the sons of Matthias are willing to kill other Jews who have willfully broken the covenant.
Even his last words to his sons, Matthias urges his sons to emulate Phinehas, David, Caleb, Joshua, Elijah and other great heroes of the Hebrew Bible.
1 Maccabees 2:51 (NRSV) “Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name.
Most of the heroes of the Hebrew Bible Matthias urges his sons to emulate expressed their zeal for the Lord with violence, but some passively resisted the empire and were willing to die. He mentions Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael who “believed and were saved from the flame” (2:59). Although they were saved, these three men were willing to die rather than bow to the image of the Empire (Dan 3:18). According to Matthias, Daniel was rescued from the mouth of the lions “because of his innocence” (1 Macc 2:60).
The Hasmoneans were therefore the next generation of great hero from the Hebrew Bible. The book consciously places them in the line of Phineas, Joshua, and David.
But Matthias’s speech says there are other ways to resist the Seleucids than armed rebellion. Some Jews did passively resist and were will to die. This last point may have some traction in discussions of how Christians used 1 Maccabees in the early church when they were being persecuted. No one “burned with zeal” and attacked the Roman pagans, but many went to their deaths like Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, willing to be executed rather than give up their faith in Jesus.
In 168 B.C. Antiochus made a second campaign into Egypt with the intention of annexing it to his own kingdom. This time things were not to go as well as he had planned. His army was met by a delegation from the Roman senate led by Popilius Laenas. Popilius presents Antiochus with a letter from the Senate ordering him out of Egypt or face the wrath of Rome. Antiochus asked for time to consider the letter, so Popilius drew a circle around him on the ground and told him not to leave the circle until he made his decision. Humiliated, Antiochus was forced out of Egypt.
On his way back through Palestine to Syria, he learns of the uprising in Jerusalem caused by the competing high priests. Jason had picked this time to make his attempt to regain the office of High Priest based on a rumor which said Antiochus had been killed in battle (1 Macc 1:16-19). Antiochus waited until the Sabbath then sends his general Appolnius and some mercenaries into Jerusalem. They slaughter men, women and children indiscriminately and burn much of the city.
Antiochus fortified the citadel heavily, imposed a heavy tax on the city for the rebellion, and confiscated land. He occupies the city with foreign troops and Hellenistic sympathizers. 1 Mac 1:35-36 calls these “people of pollution” who defile the sanctuary. But this text also says these foreigners became a “great menace,” using the noun παγίς, often translated “snare” or “trap.” The word is often used for a trap laid by an enemy, as in LXX Psalm 56:7 (ET 57:6) or Jeremiah 5:26. The Greek invaders are certainly a danger, but the real danger for the writer of 1 Maccabees is the temptation to surrender to the Gentiles and forsake the covenant.
The most shocking example of this is the action of Menelaus the High Priest. As he would have in any other captured city, Antiochus combined the worship of Yahweh with Zeus. Within the temple itself Antiochus sacrificed to Zeus, supported by the high priest and the Hellenistic Jews.
1 Maccabees 1:37-40 On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. 38 Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers; she became strange to her offspring, and her children forsook her. 39 Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert; her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into a reproach, her honor into contempt. 40 Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory; her exaltation was turned into mourning.
There were two “paths of resistance” in the Maccabean revolt. One could take up arms, as Judas and his brothers did, or one could resist passively and be martyred for the faith.
1 Maccabees 1:62-65 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.
For the writer of 1 Maccabees, violence was indeed the answer.
Early in his reign, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was involved in a dispute over the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Onias III was the legitimate High Priest. His pro-Hellenism brother Jason traveled to the newly established Antiochus and bribed the king to be appointed as High Priest (1 Mac 1:13-15, 2 Mac 4:7-15). In order to please Antiochus, Jason pledge to build a gymnasium near the temple and encourage the Jews to become more “Greek.” The gymnasium was popular, even among some of the priests who left their duties to play in the games, which were dedicated to Hermes.
As offensive as these things were to the orthodox Jews, for some the Hellenization did not go far enough. For this reason, Menelaus (with the support of the Tobiad party) went to Antiochus and offered the king a larger bribe (300 more talents than Jason) for the office. Antiochus immediately declared Menelaus High Priest and sent Syrian troops with him in order to oust Jason from Jerusalem. Menelaus was not even of a priestly family and was only interested in the priesthood for political power and wealth. “Apparently, religion was to Antiochus nothing but a tool, a convenient means to an end” (Seow, Daniel, 183).
Menelaus had some serious problems as well. Since most of the Jews did not support him as high priest, he had trouble raising the money to pay Antiochus his bribe. As a result he was forced to sell temple items to pay bribes to the king’s agent Andronicus.
Onias III protested: Menelaus was not the real high priest and had no authority to sell anything from the temple, let alone to pay bribes to a Gentile king! Andronicus was not impressed with his protest and had the true high priest killed (2 Mac 4:33-38, many would include Dan 9:26-27 here as well; For those who assume a second century date for Daniel, this is the “cutting off of the anointed one” in Daniel 9).
2 Maccabees 4:33-35 When Onias became fully aware of these acts, he publicly exposed them, having first withdrawn to a place of sanctuary at Daphne near Antioch. 34 Therefore Menelaus, taking Andronicus aside, urged him to kill Onias. Andronicus came to Onias, and resorting to treachery, offered him sworn pledges and gave him his right hand; he persuaded him, though still suspicious, to come out from the place of sanctuary; then, with no regard for justice, he immediately put him out of the way. 35 For this reason not only Jews, but many also of other nations, were grieved and displeased at the unjust murder of the man.
Menelaus’s robbing of the temple caused riots against his priesthood. Lysimachus, Menelaus brother, led troops against the rioters and killed 3000 people, but was himself killed in the battle. Menelaus was called into account by Antiochus, but managed to bribe his way out of trouble.
2 Maccabees 4:43-50 Charges were brought against Menelaus about this incident. 44 When the king came to Tyre, three men sent by the senate presented the case before him. 45 But Menelaus, already as good as beaten, promised a substantial bribe to Ptolemy son of Dorymenes to win over the king. 46 Therefore Ptolemy, taking the king aside into a colonnade as if for refreshment, induced the king to change his mind. 47 Menelaus, the cause of all the trouble, he acquitted of the charges against him, while he sentenced to death those unfortunate men, who would have been freed uncondemned if they had pleaded even before Scythians. 48 And so those who had spoken for the city and the villages and the holy vessels quickly suffered the unjust penalty. 49 Therefore even the Tyrians, showing their hatred of the crime, provided magnificently for their funeral. 50 But Menelaus, because of the greed of those in power, remained in office, growing in wickedness, having become the chief plotter against his compatriots.
The situation in Judea is one of political chaos as two men vie for the office of High Priest. Their motivation is not to lead Judea in worship, but to obtain wealth and power. Menelaus in particular is portrayed in 2 Maccabees as violent and greedy, willing to do whatever was necessary to maintain his power.
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.
As 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.
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).
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.” 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.
The conflict between the Hellenists and the Hasidim came to a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), leading to the Maccabean revolt. Antiochus IV had been in Rome as a hostage because of his father’s military defeats. Before his death Seleucus Philopater had sent his son to Rome in exchange for his brother Antiochus IV. This twelve years spent in Rome influenced the young Antiochus greatly.
After leaving Rome Antiochus went to Athens where he served as chief magistrate until Seleucus IV Philopater was murdered by Heliodorus. Heliodorus ruled as regent for Demetrius, the second son of Seleucus IV. When Antiochus IV heard of his brother’s death and that Heliodorus had seized the throne, he arranged financial support King Eumenes II of Pergamum. When he arrived in Syria, Antiochus began to flatter and bribe everyone involved in arbitrating the dispute over who should be king.
Although he was finally named king, Antiochus took over a troubled kingdom. The Seleucids were nearly out of money and continually harassed by Rome to the west and the Parthinians to the east. Antiochus dealt with the first problem by robbing temples and shrines throughout the kingdom, including Jerusalem. In order to develop some stability in the kingdom, he encouraged Hellenism throughout the kingdom, usually by adding Zeus to the local pantheon.
Antiochus angered the Jews by appointing high-priests who had bribed him for the office. He appointed Jason as high-priest in 175 in exchange for a bribe (which was larger than the bribe offered by Onias III, the high-priest appointed by Antiochus’ predecessor.) Three years later, Jason was replaced by Menelaus, an enemy of Onias III, who happened to offer an even larger bribe to Antiochus. Both Jason and Menelaus were extremely lax with respect to Jewish law; Jason even petitioned Antiochus to re-found Jerusalem as a Greek city-state with the name Antioch and built a gymnasium at the foot of the temple mount.
Jason attacked Menelaus in Jerusalem, forcing Antiochus to put down the rebellion with a show of force. Antiochus responded to this Jewish in-fighting by outlawing distinctive Jewish religious practices and began a program of persecution of the Jews with the intent of insulting and offending the Jews in every way possible. This included sacrificing a pig to Zeus in the Temple, the “abomination that causes desolation” from Daniel 9.
Antiochus is often described as a “Hellenistic zealot” who sought to impose Hellenism on the “faithful” Jewish people. That is the impression one gets from reading 1 Maccabees, but the book is not necessarily “objective history.” There is really no evidence that indicates Antiochus was any more Hellenistic that any other Greek ruler, nor was his method of suppressing the Jewish nationalistic feelings particularly extreme by the standards of the day.
While these outrageous actions of Antiochus were the direct causes of the Maccabean revolt in 164 B.C.E., the tension between completely Hellenized Jews (Menelaus and Jason) and somewhat Hellenized Jews (Onias III, and the later Hasmoneans) was present in the period prior to Antiochus’ offensive actions.
There will be a range of responses from the Jews to the highly offensive policies of Antiochus and his political descendants, from the armed rebellion of the Maccabeans to passive martyrdom of the seven brothers in 4 Maccabees. Some groups withdrew from society to study their sacred Scripture (the Essenes, some Pharisees), others developed elaborate apocalyptic hopes for God’s immediate intervention. Others give up any resistance to the empire and ally themselves with the emperor who commits abominations.
What is remarkable is these are still the kinds of options available to modern Christians in a post-Christian America. What are the dangers of joining the empire, what are the risks of speaking out against the “abominations”? How can the various responses to Antiochus be a guide (or a warning) to Christian responses to present anti-Christian governments?