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Third Maccabees is perhaps best remembered for God’s dramatic actions rescuing the Jews from Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-205 B.C.). Josephus narrates a similar story, but dates it to the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon (169-116 B.C., Contra Apion, 2.52-55). The story narrated by 3 Maccabees is fanciful, but as Livia Capponi comments, the intention of the author was “to offer a testimony to the courage and firmness of the Egyptian Jews even in the face of death” (293).
Although he Jews maintain a respectful attitude toward the king, Philopater is enraged when the Jews refuse to obey his demands (3 Macc 3:1-10). Philopater commands that Jews be rounded up and arrested. The Jews are not honest, Philopater argues, because “they accepted our presence by word, but insincerely by deed, because when we proposed to enter their inner temple and honor it with magnificent and most beautiful offerings, they were carried away by their traditional arrogance, and excluded us from entering; but they were spared the exercise of our power because of the benevolence that we have toward all” (3:17-18, NRSV).
The decree was read “to the heathens” at public feasts, but the Jews reacted with great mourning. Jews are “dragged away” in iron bonds to Alexandria. The chapter is filled with tragic descriptions of old men led off in chains and virgin brides are taken away from their bridal chambers. They are taken to Alexandria and brought to the hippodrome to be made a public example for those who might defy the king.
The king intends to kill the Jews he has taken captive by charging five hundred elephants (5:1-51). He ordered the elephants to be driven into a frenzy with a mixture of wine and frankincense, but when the appointed hour came, God caused the king to fall asleep so that he never gave the order to kill the Jews. Philopater is enraged and intends to kill the Jews the next day. Again, the whole town turns out for the spectacle, but when the time comes for the king to give the order, the Lord made his mind go blank and he threatens to toss his friends to the elephants instead. Finally the king himself drives the crazed elephants toward the Jews, who are praying, weeping and embracing one another in full expectation of their deaths.
At this moment, a priest named Eleazar prays to God, asking God’s will to be done (6:1-15). If that means dying, then let it be, but God ought to act for his own glory and “let the Gentiles cower today in fear of your invincible might, O honored One, who have power to save the nation of Jacob” (verse 13, NRSV). As Eleazar finished his prayer the heavens open and two angels descend, visible to all but the Jews (6:16-29). So awesome was their appearance the king began to shudder and he repented of his plans to destroy the Jews. He commands the guards to “release the children of the almighty and living God of heaven, who from the time of our ancestors until now has granted an unimpeded and notable stability to our government.”
These dramatic events are narrated as a kind of theological drama. The hand of the Lord is against Philopater and he cannot harm the Jews as he once intended. But like the three young men in Daniel 3, the Jews gathered in the hippodrome are more than willing to die rather than obey the orders of the king. Eleazar’s speech alludes to both the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 and Daniel’s refusal to pray to Darius in Daniel 6 (3 Macc 6:6-7). He also refers to God’s rescue of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) and God’s rescue of Jonah. In all four biblical cases, there is no human way for the person to be saved. They are only rescued by the “most high, all conquering God who governs all creation” (3 Macc 6:2).
As I suggested in a previous post, this book was written after Rome took control of Judea. The story of a large number of Jews resisting the king’s demand to give up their ancestral traditions may have encouraged those who sought to upset Roman rule in the years leading up to the first Jewish rebellion.
Bibliography. Livia Capponi, “‘Martyrs and Apostates: 3 Maccabees and the Temple of Leontopolis’”, in Hellenistic Judaism: Historical Aspects, Henoch 29.2 (2007), 288-306.
When Philopater visits Jerusalem wants to offer sacrifices at the temple in order to make his new subjects “feel secure” (1:6-16). He is greatly impressed by the Temple and wants to enter the Holy of Holies. But the priests explain this is forbidden even for the Jews. Philopater insists that as king he is above this law. The priests cry out and tear their cloths and pray that Almighty God would stop Philopater from this plan. The whole city joins in the mourning for the plan of the king, praying to God to stop the king from his “sacrilegious plan.” He refuses to be persuaded and the chaos grows in intensity (1:17-29).
The High Priest Simon makes an impassioned prayer asking God to stop this “wicked and corrupt man” who is “reckless in his effrontery” (2:1-20). He believes God is testing the people as he has done in the past and the priest is determined that the people will not fail this time. Simon’s prayer recalls other times when the wicked were destroyed (the giants, Sodom, Pharaoh). The High Priest begs the Lord not to punish the Jews for this defilement (v. 17). The Lord responds to this prayer by severely thrashing Philopater and paralyzing him (2:21-33). His bodyguards were amazed at this and pull his body out of the Temple.
Philopater recovered but was not humbled by this punishment: “he by no means repented, but went away uttering bitter threats” (v. 24). He returned to Egypt where he was “even more extravagant in his wickedness.” He sought ways to bring shame on the nation of Israel. He required the Jews to sacrifice to Dionysus and even to tattoo themselves with an ivy leaf over their hearts to show devotion to Dionysus. The Jews are to be taxed heavily and reduced to the level of slavery.
While there were some Jews who gave into these demands in order to advance themselves in society, “The majority acted firmly with a courageous spirit and did not abandon their religion; and by paying money in exchange for life they confidently attempted to save themselves from the registration” (3: 32, NRSV). The latter half of this verse is an indication there were some Jews who did attempt to capitulate to the Ptolemies.
There is very little in these events which is historical. The writer has combined elements of the abominations of Antiochus IV with Pompey’s entry into the Temple in 63 B.C. The writer created a biblical prayer and placed in the mouth of the last of the great High Priests, Simon. Although it is impossible to connect these events to any one actual event, the writer tells his generation that God will act as he has done in the past to deal with the current empire, Rome.
There are several indications the writer has Rome in mind in this text. First, it was Pompey who entered the Holy of Holies in 63 B.C. The author of 3 Maccabees pushes this sacrilege back more than a hindered years.
Second, during the Roman period Jews in Egypt were required to register in a census (λαογραφία, laographía). This tax was first introduced by Augustus, required the men of Alexandria aged 14 to 62. Those who were Greek citizens and “members of the gymnasium” were exempt. Some Jews could be considered Greek citizens by virtue of their education and were considered “Greek” for purposes of this taxation. This registration and marking (2:28-29) may be in the background of the Mark of the Beast in Revelation 13.
Third, when Simon lists other times the Lord has defeated the enemies of God’s people, he begins with “giants who trusted in their strength” (2:24). The word translated “strength” is a rare word in the LXX, ῥώμη, which is a homophone for Rome.
The writer of 3 Maccabees is therefore creating a theologically driven story to encourage readers struggling against another oppressive Empire. Just as God has acted in the past to rescue his people (whether this is Antiochus or Pompey or the present evil emperor), so too will he act again to rescue those who are “those who are downcast and broken in spirit” (2:20).
Third Maccabees book opens rather abruptly with the news of Philopater IVs victory over Antiochus III at the battle of Raphia (1:1-5). Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203) was a weak and indecisive king, initially not defending his territory until the Antiochus III was in Egypt. When he did act, he was relentless. When the two armies met at Raphia in 217 B.C. Antiochus III had 62,000 men, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants; Ptolemy had a nearly equal force of 70,000 men, 5000 cavalry, and 73 elephants (Polybuis, Histories, 5.79). Antiochus lost 17,000 men in this battle and Ptolemy annexed Palestine.
The peace Ptolemy made with Antiochus III turned out to be a mistake since Antiochus would recover and shift the balance of power in favor of the Seleucid dynasty. Ptolemy IV escaped an assassination plot when a Jew named Dositheos replaced the king with an “insignificant man” who was killed instead of the king.
What is interesting is the description of Dositheos as a Jewish person who later “changed his religion and apostatized from the ancestral traditions” (μεταβαλὼν τὰ νόμιμα καὶ τῶν πατρίων δογμάτων). The noun νόμιμος refers to a statute or law (LXX Lev 3:17, for example) rather than the Torah itself. It is the word used 1 Maccabees when the Seleucids suppress traditional Jewish practices (1:14, 42, 44), similar to 3 Maccabees 3:2. These are ancestral traditions since they come from the “decrees of the fathers.”
Dositheos alienates himself from these ancestral traditions using ἀπαλλοτριόω. This word has the sense of being an outsider or a stranger. It is used in LXX Hosea 9:10 to describe the Israelites who shamefully worshiped the gods of Baal-peor and became detestable like the thing they loved.” This may be a significant intertext since the response to the apostasy at Baal-peor was the zealous action of Phineas, a model for Matthias at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt (1 Macc 2:26, 54). The verb also appears in LXX Jeremiah 19:4 with reference to profaning the sanctuary. In LXX Ezekiel 14:5-7 the house of Israel has become estranged from God because they worshiped idols.
Although it is unlikely Paul has this particular text in mind, he does use the same sort of language to describe Gentiles in Ephesians. Gentiles were alienated from God (4:18) and the “commonwealth of Israel” (2:12), separated by the law of commandments (τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν) and decrees (ἐν δόγμασιν). As a Second Temple period Jewish writer, Paul describes the Gentiles in the same way the writer of 3 Maccabees describes Dositheos.
By giving up ancestral practices which set him apart as a Jew, Dositheos has made himself a stranger and an outsider both to Israel and to God. His estrangement is demonstrated by preserving the life of Philopater, who will defile the Temple and outlaw ancestral traditions (3 Macc 3:2).
The warning to the reader in this opening paragraph that to apostatize from the ancestral traditions has far reaching implications. In the case of Dositheos, he preserved the life of a man who will defile the Temple. He becomes a stranger and an alien to his God and his people as a result.
How would this warning be understood by Diaspora Jews in the Roman world?
This “historical romance” was written in Greek sometime after the battle of Raphia (217 B.C.) and before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The book seems to know the additions to Daniel and possible the Letter of Aristeas as well, so it is probable the book was written in the first century B.C. The book may also have used 2 Maccabees, there are parallels in vocabulary and style. The book is often included in texts on the Apocrypha. The book is misnamed, since it does not contain a history of the Maccabean period, nor is it a continuation of the other two Maccabean books. The book concerns an incident unrelated to the Maccabean family, and is titled Ptolemaica in some manuscripts (deSilva, 306).
Some scholars date the book to the reign of Caligula because of his desire to place an image of himself in the temple in A.D. 40. This sort of fictional “reaction” to Caligula is told in the guise of a similar crisis of the not-too-distant past. The problem with this view is there nothing explicit in the text which points to Rome or Caligula as the real point of the book.
A third possibility is the book was written in response to the shift from Egyptian to Roman control of Egypt in 24 B.C. The civic status of the Jew in Egypt was in question at that time, therefore the author creates a story as a comment on the beginning of Roman rule in Egypt. The evidence for this is a hint in 2:28 to a Roman poll tax.
This is a very thin argument and cannot serve as a final proof of the date of the book either. As Anderson says in his introduction, the real problem with each of these theories is that the book does not read like a “crisis document.” It lacks nearly every important characteristic of the apocalyptic response to a crisis (judgment, retribution, overthrow of the present age by God himself).
3 Maccabees may have been written as a defense of Diaspora Jews written to a Judean Jewish audience (Williams, 17). Since they live outside the land, they are considered to be “still in exile” and are therefore still under God’s judgment. The book demonstrates that God hears the prayers of the Diaspora Jewish community and preserves them in persecution, as he did during the Jewish community in Judea during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. It is possible the Jews in Jerusalem looked down on the Jews living outside the land. The Jew of the Diaspora has as close of a connection to God as of the Jewish living in the land.
The book certainly addresses the problem of apostasy in the Diaspora since the Jews who have renounced their faith in the book are judged harshly. A major theme of the book is the boundary between the Jew and the Gentile. When Gentiles appear in the story, they are prejudiced, lawless and abominable. Even in Egypt Jews are warned to keep their distance from Gentiles and to avoid apostasy at all cost.
The context of the Caligula decree seems to make the most sense, but there does not seem to be enough time for a book like this to be written and circulated to make much of a difference in that situation. It is possible the author has in mind “generic” persecution, since a number of Greek and Roman generals sought to enter the temple. Pompey did in fact enter the Holy of Holies without any judgment. It is possible the book was written after Pompey as a sort of “what should have happened” story.
The study of this book is valuable to the student of the New Testament because it describes the Jews as unwilling to compromise their faith even in the Diaspora. When Ptolemy threatens to enter the sanctuary the whole population of Jerusalem join in the protest, but it is a protest to God to step into the situation and stop Ptolemy himself. God is “the God, who oversees all things, the first Father of all, holy among the holy ones” (NRSV), therefore he can act and do what he needs to in order to defend himself.
Paul’s encounters with Jews in Asia Minor, for example, indicate that most Jews were keeping the law and not particularly interested Paul’s encouragement of Gentiles to “convert” partially by believing Jesus is the Messiah and not keep the Law. Here in this book those Jews who chose to “following their own bellies” and reject the Law in order to gain favor with the King are killed in the climax of the story. It is little wonder Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law often resulted in riots and physical abuse (2 Cor 12).
Bibliography: David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 304-322; David Williams, “3 Maccabees: A Defense of Diaspora Judaism,” Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995), 17-29.
In 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.
In New Testament studies it is somewhat commonplace to say the Jews at the time of Jesus were expecting a messiah who was a military leader or a Davidic king. In popular preaching this is usually stated without any sort of evidence. There is some reason to think at least some Jewish people in the first century had this view of the messiah, although it was not the only way to think about the messiah in the first century.
This semester I have been teaching a class on the Second Temple period as well as a series of Bible studies in the Gospel of Mark. When I was preparing to teach Mark 10:32-34 for this week, I ran across a potential allusion to the military activity of Judas Maccabees in the Gospel of Mark. I am sure someone what noticed this before, but let me offer this as an illustration of how reading Second Temple period literature helps to illuminate the New Testament.
In Mark 10:32, Jesus is “going before” his disciples. Mark makes it clear Jesus is leading the way up to Jerusalem. Although Jesus has traveled with his disciples in previous stories, this is the first time he has been described as “going before” them. The word is occasionally used to described a military maneuver (2 Macc 11:10), but with the sense of advancing in a battle rather than to describe a general leading his army into battle.
The verb (προάγω) appears in a very important Second Temple text in 2 Maccabees 10:1, Judas Maccabees and his followers up to Jerusalem to recover the Temple after Antiochus had desecrated it. But the writer of 2 Maccabees says it was the Lord himself who was leading them up to the temple (a participle of προάγω, προάγοντος αὐτοὺς).
2 Maccabees 10:1–2 (NRSV) Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; 2 they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts.
When Judas and his followers reach the Temple, they “recover the Temple and the city.” Judas and his followers purified (καθαρίζω) the sanctuary and initiated the proper worship in the Temple which had been cut off three years before by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This rededication of the Temple is the climax of a series of stories in 2 Maccabees since Judas has achieved what he set out to do when he came to Jerusalem.
Mark may be intentionally presenting Jesus as acting like Judas Maccabees. For the first time in the Gospel of Mark Jesus is going up to Jerusalem and Jesus himself is leading the way. Before he arrives he will be hailed as the son of David (10:47) and welcomed as the one who comes in the name of the Lord (11:9). The next pericope in Mark begins with the curse of the fig tree (11:12-14) followed by the Temple action (11:15-19). Although the Temple action is symbolic, Jesus is driving out those who are not using the Temple properly. Again, popular preaching calls this a “cleansing of the Temple” even if that word is not used in Mark 11.
This connection of Judas Maccabees may also explains the amazement and the fear of the other followers of Jesus. Perhaps the disciples are amazed that Jesus is leading the way to Jerusalem in this way. Since James and John ask to sit on the right and left hand when “Jesus comes in his glory” (10:37), it is possible the disciples think this is the time the Kingdom will be restored to Israel.
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?
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.