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1 Maccabees: Chapter 1

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1After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated a Heb Syr: Gk lacks this line. Compare 49.15 King Darius of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) 2He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. 3He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. 4He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him.

5After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. 6So he summoned his most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. 7And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died.

8Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. 9They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their descendants after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth.

10From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred thirty‐seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. a This title is included in the Gk text.

11In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” 12This proposal pleased them, 13and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. 14So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

16When Antiochus saw that his kingdom was established, he determined to become king of the land of Egypt, in order that he might reign over both kingdoms. 17So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet. 18He engaged King Ptolemy of Egypt in battle, and Ptolemy turned and fled before him, and many were wounded and fell. 19They captured the fortified cities in the land of Egypt, and he plundered the land of Egypt.

20After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty‐third year. b Other ancient authorities read work He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. 21He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. 22He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. 23He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. 24Taking them all, he went into his own land.

He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance. 25 Israel mourned deeply in every community, 26 rulers and elders groaned, young women and young men became faint, the beauty of the women faded. 27 Every bridegroom took up the lament; she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning. 28 Even the land trembled for its inhabitants, and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame.

29Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position; 35they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great menace,36

for the citadel a Heb Syr: Gk lacks this line. Compare 49.15 became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel at all times. 37 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.

41Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42and that all should give up their particular customs. 43All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50He added, a Heb: Gk the Father of my lord “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

51In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. 52Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.

54Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty‐fifth year, b Gk her they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, 55and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. 58They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. 59On the twenty‐fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers' necks.

62But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64Very great wrath came upon Israel.


j Heb Syr: Gk lacks this line. Compare 49.15

g This title is included in the Gk text.

a Other ancient authorities read work

b Heb: Gk the Father of my lord

a Gk her

Text Commentary view alone

Introduction: From Alexander to the Revolt ( 1:1–64 )

( 1:1–10 )

1 Maccabees opens with a short introductory passage about Alexander the Great, whose exploits are concisely and negatively described (vv. 1–4 ). The author's conception of history is very similar here to Dan 11:2–4 . Both saw Alexander's conquest of the East as the inception of a new destructive era in the history of mankind, which culminates in the religious persecution of the Jewish cult. This approach depicts the Hellenistic regime in general as an ungodly phenomenon, and is in line with, and probably influenced by, the general Eastern (Egyptian, Babylonian, Iranian, and Indian) anti-Hellenic world-view (Rappaport 1993 ). v. 1 , ‘Kittim,’ a generic word for peoples who arrived from the west. It derived from the name of the city Kition in Cyprus. Here it designates Greece. ‘Darius’ is Darius III, the last Achaemenid king of Persia (336–331 BCE) who was defeated by Alexander. vv. 2–3 , on Alexander's conquests there is ample literature (See ABD i. 146–50). In general terms Alexander is the prototype of Antiochus IV (Dan 11:36–7 and see on v. 10 ). vv. 5–6 , generally speaking this description is correct, though Alexander's empire was neither divided by him nor according to his will. Alexander did reign for about twelve years (336–323 BCE). vv. 8–9 , the author is mainly interested in Antiochus IV, and refers to the intermediate period (323–175 BCE) in an extremely concise way. Nevertheless, he stresses that Alexander's successors ‘caused many evils on the earth’. That is, the chain of wickedness is continuous from Alexander to Antiochus IV. v. 10 , Antiochus IV is linked here directly with Alexander, though there was no blood relationship between them. This linkage is expressed also in Daniel's visions of the horns (esp. 7:7–8 ; but also 8:8–9 ). This conception of Hellenistic history is eastern and based on anti-Hellenic, moralistic, religious, social, and cultural views of the changes that occurred in the Near East with the fall of the Persian empire. ‘Hostage in Rome’, Antiochus IV was sent by his father Antiochus III as a hostage to Rome after the Roman victory in the battle of Magnesia (190 BCE). He was replaced in 176 BCE by his nephew, Demetrius, and gained the kingship in 175 after his brother, Seleucus IV, was murdered.

The year 137, according to the Seleucid era, is approximately 175 BCE.

( 1:11–15 )

The author does not tell us how the Hellenistic party in Judea came into being. He condenses it all around a ‘manifesto’ and certain acts ascribed to them. He also avoids mentioning any of their leaders by name. Almost all we know about the Hellenizers and their leaders comes from 2 Macc 3–5 . v. 11 , ‘renegades’, Greek paranomoi, lit. ‘those who do not abide by the law (Torah)’, a common designation in 1 Maccabees for the Hellenizers. It may also reflect such nouns as pārîzîm, which Dan 11:14 uses to describe them. ‘Many’ (Heb. rabbîm) does not signify the majority but an undefined big number.

‘Let us go…upon us’ sounds like their manifesto, strictly opposed to common Jewish self-perception. v. 13 , ‘went to the king’, this was not a single act by the Hellenizers, but a repetitive one. We are told in 2 Macc 4:7 that Jason met with Antiochus IV soon after his accession and obtained from him the high priesthood and permission to establish a gymnasium and an ephebeion and to enrol the men of Jerusalem as Antiocheans (2 MACC 4:9 ). This permission is understood by many scholars as sanction for a Greek polis, called Antioch-in-Jerusalem (to distinguish it from other Antiochs). See Bickerman (1937 ), developed by Tcherikover (1959: 161), and accepted by others (Hengel 1974; le Rider 1965: 409–11). v. 13 , the concise narrative does not define in clear terms the constitutional changes that took place in Judea, but observation of the ordinances of the Gentiles gives an indication. v. 14 , ‘gymnasium’, there is no doubt that the foundation of the polis Antioch-in-Jerusalem caused a most shocking intrusion into the traditional Jewish lifestyle. Especially abhorrent to Jewish sensitivities the performance naked of sporting activities that took place there. v. 15 , as a result of exercising in the nude there came about the phenomenon of uncircumcision, which necessitates surgical intervention. This was an extreme act of repudiation of allegiance to Judaism, circumcision being considered the primary sign of being a Jew (Gen 17:11 ).

( 1:16–19 )

Antiochus IV's invasion of Egypt is a famous event in Hellenistic history. Here it is merely a hinge on which the author suspends Antiochus' invasion and plunder of the Jerusalem temple (vv. 20–8 ). For Antiochus' expeditions to Egypt see Rappaport (1980: 66–8 (Heb.)).

( 1:20–8 )

It seems that Antiochus entered Jerusalem three times: the first time on an inspection tour, when he was received favourably by the populace and Jason (in 172 BCE, 2 Macc 4:22 ); the second time after his first invasion of Egypt (in 169 BCE); and the third time after his second invasion of Egypt, from where he was repulsed by a Roman delegation (in 168 BCE, see 2 Macc 5 ). The second visit to Jerusalem (169 BCE) after the first invasion of Egypt is the one described here; see Rappaport (1980 ). The absence of any mention of the Hellenized high priests Jason and Menelaus, who play a prominent role throughout the account in 2 Maccabees, should be noticed. This is intentional, as a kind of damnatio memoriae, to erase the names of the wicked from Jewish memory. v. 21 , the entrance of Antiochus IV into the temple was a breach of Jewish law, since Gentiles were not allowed inside. Cf. 3 Macc 1:10–2:24, and 2 Macc 3 . vv. 21–3 , Antiochus stripped the temple of its more sacred and valuable objects, mainly those of gold and silver. It was known, as were many other temples, for its riches gathered from obligatory taxes, donations, official contributions, and private deposits. ‘Hidden treasures’, in addition to the various expensive vessels, there were in the temple other deposits kept in secret places for security. These were either discovered, or divulged by priestly treasurers co-operating with Menelaus' party. The author does not give any reason for this confiscation. It may have had the co-operation of the Hellenized high priest Menelaus, who was perhaps in arrears in paying his tributes, or it may have been caused by the avarice of the king. The common explanation that Antiochus was short of money because of the huge indemnities (12,000 talents) his kingdom still had to pay to Rome is not valid, since this debt was already paid. See le Rider (1993: 49–67). vv. 24–8 are the first poetic passage, but such passages abound in 1 Maccabees. This literary device is not rare in biblical historiography. Naturally it was intended to bear to the reader a certain message.

( 1:29–40 )

This passage deals with measures taken by the Seleucid government to crush Jewish opposition to Menelaus' regime, prior to the religious persecutions. 2 Macc 5 supplies more details for the period of approximately two years that elapsed between Antiochus' second visit to Jerusalem (169 BCE) and the religious persecution (167 BCE). These include another visit of the king to Jerusalem (a third one, see above) and the appointment of Philip the Phrygian (2 Macc 5:22 ) as governor of Jerusalem. v. 29 , ‘collector of tribute’ may reflect a Hebrew phrase in the original lost version of 1 Maccabees: sar hammissîm, may have been wrongly translated into Greek as archōn phorologias (officer for tribute collection) rather than ‘officer of the Mysians’, i.e. of soldiers or mercenaries from Mysia, a region in Asia Minor. The name of this officer is given in 2 Macc 5:24 , Apollonius. For the rate of taxes in Judea see 1 Macc 10:29–30 . v. 30 : the fact that the Seleucid officer entered Jerusalem ‘deceitfully’ is one of the arguments for the supposition that the city was in the hands of a pre-Maccabean opposition to Menelaus. 2 Macc. 5:25 specifies that Apollonius took advantage of the sabbath to enter the city. See Tcherikover (1959: 188–9). vv. 31–2 , Apollonius' behaviour in Jerusalem strengthens the impression that he took the city from the rebels' hands, not from Menelaus and his supporters. These rebels are not mentioned here probably because the pre-Maccabean period is in general abridged by the author, and he endeavours to concentrate on the Maccabean family, and avoid any distraction which might put them off-centre.

v. 33 , ‘citadel’, two questions concern the building of the citadel (akra) in Jerusalem: what was its function, and where exactly was it located? In addition to its function in suppressing the Jewish opposition to the regime, it seems that it was (or became) a stronghold for the Hellenizers. Its location depends on the location of the ‘city of David’ (as understood in the Second Temple period) and on various archaeological–topographical considerations. See Bar-Kochva (1989: 445–65). v. 34 , ‘renegades’ may signify the Hellenizers, in addition to the Seleucid military force. v. 35 : see 1 MACC 9:52 about storage of food in fortresses for the purpose of subduing the population. vv. 36–40 , in this poetic passage, we learn about the flight of residents from Jerusalem (v. 38 ), on which cf. 2 MACC 5:27 and 2:1 .

( 1:41–53 )

The religious persecution ordered by Antiochus IV is an unprecedented historical event. The main difficulty in explaining the king's policy is that polytheists were generally tolerant in religious matters, and we have no real analogy elsewhere to the events in Judea. Moreover, what we encounter in Judea is not only the prohibition of a certain cult, but a violent compulsion to transgress its religious laws. There is no consensus at present on an explanation of this problem, yet two suggestions which may contribute to our understanding of it have been proposed. One is that the initiative for the persecution came from Menelaus' circle, either as an ideologicalrepressive act (Bickerman, 1937; 1979 ) or otherwise. The second is that a revolt in Judea, led presumably by religious leaders, preceded the persecution, which was aimed to subdue it (Tcherikover 1959: 197). For more expanded discussion and bibliography see ABD iv. 437–9. vv. 41–3 , no such ordinance by Antiochus IV is preserved, and no evidence of interference in religious matters is known elsewhere in the Seleucid empire. ‘All the Gentiles’ is didactic, and in line with the message of the book, see 1 MACC 2:19–22 . According to Hellenistic royal procedures an order by Antiochus IV must have been issued, though it is not preserved. Otherwise Antiochus III's letter (Ant. 12 §§ 138–44), which confirmed the ancestral laws of Judea, would be binding. To invalidate it, there must have been some enactment by Antiochus IV, the contents of which may be reflected in the following verses. vv. 44–50 , the compulsion that the Jews must transgress their customs, not merely refrain from the observance of them, has no precedents. vv. 51–3, cf. Esth 1:22; 3:13; 8:11; 9:21, 31 .

( 1:54–61 )

The ‘fifteenth day of Chislev’, that is ten days before the profanation of the altar (v. 59 ). ‘A desolating sacrilege’ (Gk. bdelygma hermōseōs), evidently represents siqqûṣ mĕšômēm in the lost Hebrew original version (cf. Dan 11:31 ) but what it was materially is unclear: a pagan altar placed on the temple's altar (cf. v. 59 ); an effigy of Zeus or of the king; or a sacred stone (bêt-᾽ēl; Phoenician, bettilu). See Bickerman (1979: ch. 4); Rowley (1953); Hengel (1974: 294–5); Millar, (1993: 12–15) (who doubts Bickerman's supposition). vv. 56–7 , books of the law, i.e. Torah scrolls. It seems to be the first known historical occurrence of the burning of books. It also shows the centrality of the Torah in Jewish religion, which was well understood by the persecutors. v. 59 , ‘twenty-fifth day’, of the month of Chislev. Some commentators suggest that it was a special day (Abel 1949; Dancy 1954 suggest the birthday of Antiochus), but this view has no basis here or in 2 Macc 6:7 , nor elsewhere. vv. 60–1 , this horrible event was chosen by the author as an example of the cruelty of the persecutors. It is mentioned also in 2 Macc 6:10 , where other events, probably not all of them historical, are told (cf. 2 Macc 6–7 ).

( 1:62–4 )

v. 62 , as many were misled by the Hellenizers (1 MACC 1:10 ), so many stood firm in Jewish tradition (cf. Dan 11:33–4 ). A decisive question in the confrontation within Jewish society was which side would be more persuasive and turn the many into a majority. v. 63 , this is the first time that a case of martyrdom is mentioned in 1 Maccabees but see another at 2:29–38 . Dan 11:33–4; 12:2–3 and 2 Macc (esp. ch. 7) are even more concerned with this theme. The Jewish martyrs, especially the ‘Maccabean’ martyrs of 2 Macc 7 became models of martyrdom for Christianity (Doran 1980; Bickerman 1951: 63–84).

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