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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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The Revolt under Mattathias ( 2:1–70 )

( 2:1–14 )

When the religious persecutions became extremely severe, Mattathias and his family appeared on the stage. The dynastic inclination of 1 Maccabees is clear. It whole-heartedly supports the Hasmoneans, and especially Simon's branch. Former rebels are not mentioned and martyrs are appreciated ( 1:63 ), but their example was not followed up (below). ‘Joarib’, the first priestly division among the twenty-four divisions of priests (see 1 Chr 24:7 ). ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Modein’, it seems that the opulent family of Mattathias was well-established both in Jerusalem and in Modein, where their landed property was. (For doubt about their relation to Jerusalem see Goldstein (1976 ).) Modein was a village in the region of Lydda, which belonged to the eparchy of Samaria (see 1 MACC 10:30 ). vv. 2–5 , we do not have an explanation for the nicknames of Mattathias's sons. For Judas's nickname, Maccabeus, several proposals have been made, such as that its origin was the Hebrew word makkebet (hammer), but though attractive, this view is baseless. vv. 6–14 , a lament in poetic form on the dreadful lot of the holy city.

( 2:15–18 )

The decrees of Antiochus are about to be forced on the inhabitants of Modein, beyond the frontier of Judea, at the outskirts of the territories populated by Jews. The persecution is executed by the Seleucid government, through its military forces. Co-operation from the local population, either voluntary or compulsory, is expected. The government encountered the first active opposition to its policy in Modein from Mattathias and his sons. vv. 17–18 , the speech of the king's officers is evidently a rhetorical piece which stresses the obedience of all others (Jews and Gentiles) to the king's decrees.

( 2:19–28 )

vv. 19–22 , Mattathias's speech is totally opposed to the king's men's speech. Its central point is unconditional faith in God. vv. 23–6 , Mattathias's speech could have been terminated by a martyrological conclusion, but at this point the parting of the ways between martyrdom and zealotry comes out clearly. Mattathias prevents by force the breach of the Torah, being ready not only to die but to kill for it. At this moment the Maccabean revolt breaks out. v. 26 , ‘Phinehas’, the priest who acted bravely and decisively when the people of Israel sinned in the plain of Moab (Num 25:8–13 ) was the model of zealotry. vv. 27–8 , the first step of the rebels was to leave the populated area and find shelter in the wilderness. Commentators have assumed that it was in the Judean desert that Mattathias and his followers sought refuge (as with Jonathan and Simon after Judas's death (1 MACC 9:33 ). Recently it has been suggested that at this stage of the revolt the Maccabees' base was in the desert of Samaria, not far from the thickly populated Jewish area of southern Samaria (see J. Schwartz and Spanier 1991 ).

( 2:29–41 )

Mattathias's position was taken up against those who co-operated with the persecutors or acquiesced to them. Here the case of martyrdom is dealt with, and though the author's attitude is sympathetic to the martyrs, martyrdom is shown to be no alternative to Mattathias's zealotry. v. 29 , the ideological affiliation of those who went to the desert is unknown. Proposals identifying them with the Hasideans, with the Essenes (proto-Essenes), or with the maskîlîm of Daniel, though possible, cannot be substantiated. ‘Wilderness’, see J. Schwartz and Spanier (1991 ). v. 32 , ‘sabbath’, that Jews refrained from fighting on the sabbath was known to pagans and sometimes ridiculed by them (see Josephus, Ant. 12 § 6; CA i. 209–10), as well as used by them to their advantage (the above reference; 2 Macc 5:25 ). v. 37 , ‘heaven and earth testify for us’, note that the meaning of the Greek for ‘martyr’ is ‘witness’. No mention is made of afterlife, which is an important motif in 2 Maccabees. vv. 39–40 , Mattathias and his supporters are sympathetic to those who died in the caves, but disagree with their ideology. They fear for their own lives and are not expecting an eschatological deliverance or resurrection of the dead (cf. Dan 12:2–3 ). This signifies a major difference between the Hasmoneans and various contemporary nascent Jewish sects. v. 41 , the decision by Mattathias's party, to take arms and fight even on the sabbath, raised voluminous discussion. On what authority was this decision based? What was the preceding situation? How could Jewish mercenaries (and there were many) serve in imperial armies if they did not fight on the sabbath? Was this an ad hoc decision or a permanent and valid legal one? How did it fit with Jewish law and especially with more recent hălākâ? See Bar-Kochva (1989: 474–93); Goodman and Holladay (1986: esp. 165–71); Johns (1963 ).

( 2:42–8 )

The first military act on the part of Mattathias was in Modein ( 2:1 ). A second stage in the revolt was when it spread over Judaea (but outside Jerusalem). v. 42 , we learn about a growth in the number of Mattathias's supporters. An organized group joined him—the Hasideans (lit. ‘the pious’). Scholars differ about their identity. Are they related to those who died in the caves, having changed their attitude to the revolt as a consequence of this horrible event? Or do they belong to the maskîlîm in Daniel, who decided to appeal to arms at the call of Mattathias? Or are they a sect of their own, and if so, when did they come into being? How are they related to the later sects—Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes/Qumranites? See Davies (1977 ). D. R. Schwartz (1994: 7–18) prefers a variant reading of this phrase, ‘a company of Jews’ instead of ‘a company of Hasideans’, which is the current reading. See also 1 MACC 7:12–18 . ‘Mighty warriors’ fits both readings: if we take it with Hasideans, it fits the conception of ‘sect’ (not a very suitable term in any case) or ‘order’ with some military flavour (cf. some Dead Sea scrolls, esp. War Scroll); if with Jews, it signifies the military prowess of those who joined Mattathias. v. 43 , ‘fugitives’, those who lost their property and domicile, and were an important source of recruitment for the rebels. Cf. J. W. 2. 588. v. 46 , ‘circumcised all the uncircumcised’, the intention, in line with the destruction of altars (v. 45 ) is to undo what was done by the persecutors; ‘forcibly’, might mean against the orders of the Seleucid government, or, in the case of Hellenized families, without their consent. The first explanation is preferable.

( 2:49–70 )

The following testament of Mattathias in poetic rhyme brings to mind Jacob's blessing of his sons in Gen 49 . It exposes the author's views and his attitude towards the ruling Hasmonean family, and the ideology and atmosphere at the royal court. vv. 51–60 , this section is a series of illustrious examples from biblical history relevant to the actual situation and recommended by Mattathias to his sons. Phinehas, a model of zealotry, is given a special highlight (‘our ancestor [father]’; and see v. 26 above); David's inheritance of kingship is interpreted by commentators as either an indication that the book was written before Hyrcanus I's sons put the crown on their heads (i.e. not after 103–104 BCE), or as a criticism of Hasmonean royalty. With Elijah the word ‘zeal’ (or its derivatives) is repeated again, and the last are the ‘saved martyrs’ whose acts are told in the contemporary book of Daniel. See Dimant (1988: 394–5). v. 65 , ‘Simeon … he shall be your father’, this is explicit propaganda for the Hasmonean dynasty, which indeed was founded by Simeon. To strengthen its legitimacy it is related here to the testament of Mattathias, the ancestor of all the family. v. 66 , Judas's military talent and task is stressed here, but in line with the message of v. 65 . Though Judas was the leader of the revolt till he fell on the battlefield (165–160 BCE), he is ranked here as second to Simeon. His appointment as leader of the revolt was surely because of his military talent and/or experience, about which we know nothing. v. 70 , 146 ES is 166 BCE; ‘tomb of his ancestors at Modein’ demonstrates clearly that the Hasmonean family had its roots in Modein, though it does not mean that they could not also have been involved in the political life in Jerusalem (see on v. 1 ).

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