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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Legitimacy of the Hasmoneans

The purpose of 1 Maccabees is clear: it defends the legitimacy of the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled over the Jews in Palestine for about one hundred years until Herod the Great ended their rule. The members of this dynasty, who assumed both religious and political leadership in the Jewish community, were not without their opponents. After all, they ruled as kings when many Jews believed that the only legitimate political leaders ought to be descendants of David. As a priestly family the Hasmoneans were not members of David's tribe (Judah) let alone his family. The Hasmoneans functioned as high priests even though they were not descendants of Aaron as required by tradition. The principal opponents of the Hasmoneans were the Hasidim (the Pious Ones) who were the spiritual ancestors of the Essenes and the Pharisees.

The Hasidim saw themselves as careful observers of the law but held the Hasmoneans to be illegitimate interlopers as religious and political leaders. First Maccabees tried to show that the Hasmonean dynasty owed its origin to a revolutionary movement that had zeal for the Torah at its heart. According to 1 Maccabees, the Hasidim were not always very prudent in their self‐styled devotion to the Torah. In their concern to have a high priest from the family of Aaron, they accepted a collaborator who betrayed them ( 7, 8–18 ). The author of 1 Maccabees considered the victories that God granted the Maccabees to be a sign from God pointing to the legitimacy of the Hasmonean dynasty. The book asserts that the most prudent approach was for the Jews to accept the dynasty until a “true prophet” will arise to say that God wishes otherwise ( 14, 41 ). This is precisely what most of the Jewish people and their leaders did ( 14, 28 ).

First Maccabees reflects a type of pragmatism that was incompatible with the religious zealotry of the Hasidim. For example, 1 Maccabees 8 is lavish in its praise of the Romans. This shows that the Hasmoneans were willing to compromise with foreigners when circumstances made it necessary. In Jesus' day, the Sadducees adopted this same position and later so did the early church (see Rm 13, 1–7 and 1 Pt 2, 13–17 ).

First Maccabees was not content with establishing the legitimacy of the Hasmonean dynasty on purely religious grounds. It shows that the major political powers of the day recognized the Hasmoneans as the political leaders of the Jewish people. It cites several Seleucid documents to the effect ( 10, 18–20; 10, 25–45; 11, 30–37; 13, 31–40; 15, 2–9 ). Both the Spartans ( 12, 5–23 and 14, 16–23 ) and the Romans (8, 1–32; 12, 1–4; 14, 16–19) also acknowledged the Hasmoneans as the leaders of the Jewish people.

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