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

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Commentary on 1 Maccabees

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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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