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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Historiography.

1.

Style and Composition: 1 Maccabees is composed in a style and with a vocabulary similar to biblical historiography. It has compositional biblical elements such as poetic passages (including some prayers) interwoven with the narrative, a testament ( 2:49–70 ), documents (more than are usually found in the Bible, but see the documents in Ezra and the unhistorical correspondence of Hiram and Solomon, in 1 Kings 5:17–23 ), and speeches. The Bible is behind many passages in 1 Maccabees, either as explicit citations (e.g. 7:16–17 ), or implicitly (e.g. 5:48 ), or as historical exemplary precedents (e.g. 2:49–64 ). See Dimant (1988 ). In addition 1 Maccabees adopts biblical geographic and ethnic vocabulary, though most of it is anachronistic. The adoption of names such as Moab, Ammon, Philistines, Canaan, or sentences reminiscent of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, are used not only as literary conventions, but also serve an ideology that compares or assimilates Judas's wars to those of yore. The attachment of 1 Maccabees to the biblical heritage is expressed also by the citation of biblical exempla and precedents, which abound (e.g. 2:51–60 ). The author's views about God's interventions with humans is also similar to that of biblical historiography (see 1 MACC c.2). Though rooted in this tradition, 1 Maccabees is also a creation of its author's time. His treatment of non-Jewish history is much more ample than in the Bible, although he is Judeocentric as well. In this respect he resembles more the apocalyptic attitude of Daniel than that of the rest of biblical historiography, though the two books belong to completely different genres.

2.

The author of 1 Maccabees utilized various sources in his book.

  • (1) Documents: the documentation in 1 Maccabees begins with the treaty between Rome and Judea, and goes on well into Simon's days. The documents from an earlier period cited in 2 Macc 11 apparently came from another source, probably unknown to the author of 1 Maccabees. It is probable that 1 Maccabees' documentary source was a Hasmonean archive in which the earliest document was the Roman-Judean treaty. This archive may be identical to that of the temple, which from the time of Jonathan's appointment as high priest was under Hasmonean administration, and may have been kept in the temple's treasury ( 14:4–9 ).

  • (2) Oral information: living close to Hasmonean circles—probably a member of court—a generation or less after the most recent events reported in his book, the author of 1 Maccabees was able to collect information from participants or eyewitnesses of various events, and to integrate it into his composition. Some of the oral testimonies could be also hearsay about previous events kept by leading families.

  • (3) Written sources: from where the author got his knowledge, especially about Seleucid history, is hard to tell. Was it oral information from informants at home in Hellenistic history (such as the Hasmonean diplomats)? Or had he at his disposal a written survey, in either Hebrew or Greek? We cannot tell. Yet, like his contemporaries the author(s) of Dan 7–12 , he was interested enough in non-Jewish history to obtain the information he shared with his readers. Some of it is almost common knowledge ( 1:1–9 ), and some more specific (Trypho's rise to power; Demetrius II's fall into captivity, etc.).

  • (4) Parallel sources: for most of the period this book covers, it is the sole extant source. Josephus (Ant. 12 § 241–13 § 214) depends almost solely on it, up to 1 Macc 13:42 . The main source to corroborate that part of the narrative covering Judas's revolt from its beginning to his last victory over Nicanor (approx. 165 to Adar 162 BCE) is 2 Maccabees. Apart from this we have only a little information about Judea at this time from pagan sources (see Stern, 1974–1984 ; Diodorus, no. 63 (34–35. 1.3–4); Timagenes, no. 80; Pompeius Trogus, via Justinus, no. 137 (Justinus, 36. 3.8); Tacitus, no. 281 (Historiae, 5.8. 2–3), and scanty Talmudic references (see 1 MACC 7:5 ).

  • (5) Chronology: the dates given in 1 Maccabees, mostly according to the Seleucid era, raise certain problems because of the difficulty of fitting them all into one system, since the Seleucid calendar did not begin on the same date throughout the Empire (Bickerman, 1968: 71). There is no consensus about the system(s) used in 1 Maccabees, or about the use of any system in a consistent way. For a review of the problem and earlier literature on it, see Grabbe (1991 ).

  • (6) Creative writing: current and earlier Quellenforschung, though vital for any historiographical enquiry, can divert attention from the writers and historians themselves. 1 Maccabees is a work by a talented historian who composed a historical narrative out of various ingredients, not all of which we can identify. His narrative is coherent, sometimes chronological, sometimes thematic (cf. ch. 5 , on wars with the neighbouring peoples). It is supported by documents (most of them authentic) and highlighted by the author's interventions or passages woven into his narrative. Some of them are poetic passages, either written by him or based on suitable sources. His history is human, in the sense that it is activated by human actions, virtues or vices, wise or unwise, and God's share in it is either a post factum conclusion of what has already happened, or is shown by the motivation of the actors on the scene.

The author's talents served a political cause, as explained above (1 MACC c.3). Needless to say it diminishes the veracity of his narrative, along with his other apologetic aims and his Judeocentric attitude. Nevertheless he succeeded in producing a historical narrative of high quality, although because the original language was lost, it can only partially be appreciated by us.

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