The first and second books of the Maccabees describe the revolt of the Jews in Judea against the Seleucid Empire in the second century bce. They are two separate works, as 2 Maccabees is not the sequel to 1 Maccabees but an independent telling of the same events. Both works, in different ways, deal with the problem of how Jews were to maintain their own cultural and religious identity within the larger empire of the Seleucids. Both works show how friction grew between the inhabitants of Judea and the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes, until he decided to outlaw the practice of Judaism within Judea, leading to the profanation of the Temple in Jerusalem. In response to this attack on their culture and religion, various groups of Jews rose up in revolt, spearheaded by the Maccabean family. First Maccabees begins with the actions of Antiochus IV against the Jews and the profanation of the Temple, and it focuses on the first generation of the Maccabees, sometimes called the Hasmoneans, from the father Mattathias through his sons Judas, Jonathan, and Simon. During this time, the Temple was retaken and purified, and the independence of Judea was proclaimed in 142/41 bce. The narrative ends with the death of Simon in 135/34 bce. The narrative of 2 Maccabees is preceded by two letters addressed by the Jews in Judea to the Jews in Egypt, requesting that the Egyptian Jews celebrate the Feast of the Purification of the Temple—i.e., the Feast of Hanukkah. The first letter is dated to 124 bce, while the second purports to be written in the time of Judas Maccabeus. The narrative portion of 2 Maccabees begins in the reign of Antiochus IV’s predecessor, Seleucus IV. It provides more details about events leading up to the oppression of Judea in Jerusalem, highlights the martyrdom of Jewish resisters, and concentrates on the figure of Judas Maccabeus. The account ends while Judas is still alive after the defeat of the Seleucid commander Nicanor in 161 or 160 bce.


The Ancient Near Eastern Setting. Once the dust had settled from the battles over who would inherit Alexander the Great’s conquests, three major powers had emerged in the eastern Mediterranean: the Macedonian Empire, the Ptolemaic Empire based in Egypt, and the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid Empire was the true heir to the Achaemenid, or Persian, Empire. It stretched from the western coast of Asia Minor to present-day Afghanistan and was the largest of the Hellenistic kingdoms. The Seleucid Empire also lay claim to Coelesyria, which the Ptolemaic Empire had controlled since 301 BCE. Size brought its own problems, and the Seleucid kings would see their territory whittled away during the third century bce. In the west, partly as a result of the Celtic invasions in Asia Minor in 278–277 BCE, various states in Asia Minor arose—Bithynia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and the Attalids at Pergamum. In the east, Bactria and Parthia seceded. Although the Seleucid kings kept an interest in their Iranian possessions, no doubt for reasons of military defense, they did not maintain as strong an influence as in Syria and Mesopotamia. Antiochus III reasserted Seleucid authority in Iran during his expedition there (212–205/4 BCE), for which he assumed the title "Great King," but Parthia and Bactria remained unconquered, and Seleucid control of eastern Iran remained rather superficial. Antiochus III also sought to restore Seleucid control over western Asia Minor and marched into Coelesyria in 202 BCE. He seized control of Coelesyria, Phoenicia, and Palestine with a decisive victory over the Ptolemaic forces at Panium in 200 BCE.

Antiochus’s attempt to restore the Seleucid kingdom to its former glory failed, however, for a new player had entered the power game in the eastern Mediterranean. Rome, however hesitatingly and clumsily, was emerging as the dominant force. By its victories over Philip V of Macedonia at Cynoscephalae in 197 bce, over Philip’s son Perseus at Pydna in 168 bce, and finally over the Achaean League in 146 bce, Rome gained complete control of Macedonia and Greece. Antiochus III also fell before the Romans at Magnesia in 190 bce, and the subsequent Treaty of Apamea in 188 bce took away most of his possessions in Asia Minor and saddled him with a heavy indemnity. When Antiochus IV attempted to extend Seleucid influence into Egypt, the Roman envoy C. Popillius Laenas delivered to him the senate’s order that he leave Egypt, and he did so in humiliation. Rome was the dominant power in the East from the second century on. The weaker party in any dispute would appeal to Rome, and Rome’s representatives were frequently in the East investigating conflicts and advising the senate on solutions.

The Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires would continue, however, although wracked by dynastic struggles between rival claimants to the throne. The Seleucid Empire ended when Pompey the Great annexed Syria in 64 bce; the Ptolemaic Empire formally lasted longer, ending when Cleopatra VII committed suicide in 30 bce. While weak, these empires could still muster impressive forces. Antiochus VII Sidetes invaded Judea in 135/34 bce, besieging Jerusalem and reinstating Seleucid rule, if only for a brief time. Later, about 112 bce, John Hyrcanus could not resist the incursions of Antiochus IX Cyzicenus. When Alexander Jannaeus, king of Judea 103–76 bce, tried to extend his territory west to the port of Ptolemais (Akko) early in his reign, he was decisively defeated by Ptolemy IX Soter II (Lathyrus); later, about 88 bce, he was defeated by the Seleucid monarch Demetrius III Eucaerus.

Judea. When Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemaic forces at Panium in 200 bce, he forthwith gained control of the small city-state of Judea. Judea had been ruled by the Ptolemies for over a century, but the details of its administration remain very hazy, since the sources at our disposal are not concerned with these sociopolitical questions. Following is a discussion of the main narrative sources used to search out life in pre-Maccabean Jerusalem.

(1) First Maccabees provides almost no details of Judean life before the revolt. It does mention that there were some anonymous "renegades" who wanted Jews to conform to the way of life of the nations round about and so had a gymnasium built in Jerusalem (1 Macc 1:11–15).

(2) Second Maccabees provides more details about the high priests in Jerusalem and their role in the building of a gymnasium. It gives names and events not otherwise recorded.

(3) The Jewish historian Josephus, writing at the end of the first century ce, provides information about Jerusalem in the pre-Maccabean period in his works The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. The latter work in particular includes citations of official letters by Seleucid rulers about the Jews. It also contains a narrative about one Jewish family, the Tobiads, which is usually called the Tobiad romance. This story tells of the rise to prominence of Joseph the Tobiad, who took over the role of tax collector for the Egyptian Ptolemies from his uncle, the miserly high priest Onias. Josephus tells the story in a most confusing way, but some scholars believe that they can glean some historical data from this fanciful account and date the events to the rule of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–221 bce). According to this story, the seven oldest sons of Joseph fought against their younger half brother, Hyrcanus, and this rivalry was in part responsible for the Seleucids’ intervening in Judah to offset the Ptolemaic connections of Hyrcanus.

(4) The last part of the canonical book of Daniel also recounts the events preceding and during the reign of Antiochus IV in the visions of Daniel 7–12. The events are cast in the form of a symbolic vision, with the kings of the south, the Ptolemies, waging war against the kings of the north, the Seleucids. The exact significance of some of the references is unclear.

(5) The first book of Enoch, a pseudepigraphic work (portions of which have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls), also recounts in symbolic form the history of Israel up to the time of the Maccabees (1 Enoch 83–90). Here the symbols are of animals fighting against one another.

(6) The work of Jesus ben Sira, a teacher in Jerusalem around 190–170 bce, evidences a deep concern for the role of wisdom in creation. True wisdom comes from God, and Ben Sira identifies divine wisdom with the Torah, or Law of Moses (Sir 24:8–29). He places great emphasis on proper worship in the Temple.

From these various sources, then, scholars attempt to piece together a sense of what life was like in Judea in the third century bce, and what happened there.

From a decree found in Josephus, we know that Antiochus III affirmed the right of the Jews to live according to their ancestral religion. He also mentioned that the Jews had a "council" (γερουσία gerousia), but we do not know precisely who its members were (probably wealthy aristocracy) or how they were chosen. Although Antiochus does not mention the high priest in his letter, the Greek historian Hecataeus of Abdera, who wrote around 300 bce, stated that the high priest was a leading figure in civil as well as religious matters. Hecataeus’s work is reported by a later Greek writer of the first century bce, Diodorus Siculus. In his idealized picture of the Jews, Hecataeus wrote that Moses appointed priests to be "judges in all major disputes, and entrusted to them the guardianship of the laws and customs. For this reason the Jews never have a king, and authority over the people is regularly vested in whichever priest is regarded as superior to his colleagues in wisdom and virtue. They call this man the high priest, and believe he acts as a messenger to them of God’s commandments."5

Ben Sira (50:1–21) also lavishes praise on the high priest of his own day, Simon son of Onias, and notes how Simon built the walls of the temple enclosure and fortified the city against siege. The Tobiad romance has the high priest in charge of paying tribute to the Ptolemies, although the point of the story is the transfer of this power to a non-priest, Joseph the Tobiad. Scholars have deduced from this that the high priest was the only authority in Judea, but we do not know whether the Ptolemies or the Seleucids installed another imperial functionary alongside the high priest.

Nothing much changed through the transfer of power from the Ptolemies to the Seleucids. However, the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans in 190 bce put the Seleucid Empire under a heavy indemnity. The description of the attempt by Seleucus IV, Antiochus’s successor, to obtain money from the Jerusalem Temple as told in 2 Maccabees 3 should be seen in the light of the Seleucid emperor’s need for money to keep up payment of that indemnity. More important, the author of 2 Maccabees recounts how Jason, the brother of the high priest Onias III, outbid his brother to take from him the office of high priest (2 Macc 4:7–10). We do not know if previously every high priest had to pay for reinstatement at the advent of a new ruler, but the accession of Antiochus IV saw the bestowal of the high priesthood on the highest bidder. The narrative of 2 Maccabees in particular forces us to consider the competition and rivalries among various groups in pre-Hasmonean Jerusalem. Following is a highlight of important areas for the reader to keep in mind while working through 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Factions in Jerusalem. In any discussion of the causes of the rebellion in Judea, one has to remember that the small state of Judea (traveling about twenty miles in any direction from Jerusalem would take one outside its territory) was ruled by wealthy priestly and lay families. At times, this situation is described as an ideal one: "the holy city was inhabited in unbroken peace and the laws were strictly observed" (2 Macc 3:1 NRSV). The high priest is described by Sirach as being surrounded by the whole congregation, lifting up their hands and voices in unison and harmony as they worshiped God (Sir 50:1–21). Such an idyllic picture is, however, rudely countered by the descriptions of factional fighting and murder committed by one group against another (see, e.g., 2 Macc 4:3).

Several influential families can be identified from the sources: the Oniad family of Zadokite high priests, Onias III and Jason (2 Macc 3:1; 4:7); the Bilgah family, Simon, Menelaus, and Lysimachus (2 Macc 3:4; 4:23–29); the Hakkoz family, John and Eupolemus (1 Macc 8:17; 2 Macc 4:11); the Jehoiaribs, i.e., the Hasmonean family; the family of Jakim, Alcimus (1 Macc 7:5); and the Tobiads. Although the Tobiads, who were lay leaders and not priests, do not appear at all in 1 and 2 Maccabees, Josephus in one account describes how the sons of Tobias urged Antiochus IV to invade Jerusalem.7 It is also important to keep in mind that other wealthy lay families vied for power and prestige in Judea. As for the priestly families, it seems significant that the chronicler, in the lists of ancestral houses of the priests apart from the high priest Zadok, mentions the other four families (1 Chr 24:7, 10, 12, 14). Hakkoz’s descendants were barred from the priesthood after the return from exile because their family name could not be found in the genealogical entries (Ezra 2:61–63), but their presence in the list in Chronicles as well as their diplomatic activity in the second century bce (2 Macc 4:11; 1 Macc 8:17) attests to their continued prominence. From the narrative in 2 Maccabees, one can see how the Bilgah family seized the opportunity offered by the split in the Zadokite family between Onias and his brother Jason and how the Hakkoz family sided with the Hasmoneans, while Alcimus of the family of Jakim pursued his own quest for power. Thus the causes of the Maccabean revolt must be seen as having arisen from the competition between ambitious families in the small city-state of Judea.

There are other signs that all was not well in Judea. The discoveries at Qumran have shown that discontent was present in the third century bce. In 1 Enoch 1–16, part of a pseudepigraphic work dated to the third century bce, a story similar to that of Gen 6:1–8 is told of how angels from heaven brought sin and pollution upon the earth. The story is paradigmatic for the way the author of 1 Enoch and his community viewed their world as one of disorder and confusion. Later, in the second century bce, the author of the book of Daniel depicted the history of the world from the Babylonians to the Greeks as chaotic and bestial (Daniel 7). Within Judaism itself there was dissension over the cultic calendar as seen in the book of Jubilees, which favors a solar instead of a lunar-solar calendar. There was debate over other legal questions as well, if 4QMMT found at Qumran is to be dated early. Even the traditionalist Ben Sira includes in his work a prayer for the deliverance of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation from foreign oppression (Sir 36:1–22). Within both 1 and 2 Maccabees we also meet a group called the Hasideans (1 Macc 2:42; 7:13; 2 Macc 14:6). We do not know who they were, but their choice of name—"pious," "loyal ones"—suggests that they thought others were not so pious and loyal as they. The Damascus Document also hints that members of its exclusivist group were found throughout Judea. Clearly, not everyone thought that all was well in Judea.

Persecution by Antiochus IV. The accounts of the persecution enforced by Antiochus IV Epiphanes differ in 1 and 2 Maccabees. Here is a schematic outline of the events: The two accounts are basically the same, but with important differences that will be discussed in the commentary. Both accounts agree that some Jews built a gymnasium and that Antiochus IV imposed a cult on Jerusalem. The characterization of Antiochus IV differs in both. In 1 Maccabees, Antiochus IV is arrogant from the start and seeks to impose a unified worship and behavior throughout his empire. In 2 Maccabees, he is at first portrayed neutrally, then as sympathetic, but finally as enraged against the Jews. Second Maccabees shows that the cult was imposed after a series of disturbances and uprisings in Jerusalem, and it places much of the blame on the unruly passions of the emperor. On the other hand, 1 Maccabees states that the cult was imposed because the emperor wished all nations to be the same and to give up their particular customs (1 Macc 1:41–42). Antiochus is thus portrayed in 1 Maccabees as zealous in the spread of Hellenization, of striving to conform everyone to Greek customs, while in 2 Maccabees he is shown initially as encouraging the adoption of Greek customs by some Jews.


Figure 1: A Synoptic Chart of Antiochus’s Persecution

It must be said that Antiochus IV was not a Hellenizing zealot. He certainly wanted to keep the Seleucid Empire together, but all evidence suggests that he encouraged the maintenance of local customs and traditions and did not seek to suppress them. We should see as rhetorical polemic, therefore, the statement in 1 Macc 1:41 concerning a decree to force all peoples to abandon their customs. However, we should also be sensitive to the pressure there must have been to learn the ways of the Seleucids. The Seleucid monarch was extremely powerful, and it would have been in the best interests of rulers within his empire to be on good terms with him. What we find is that during the reigns of Antiochus III and Antiochus IV a number of older cities were recognized as poleis (πόλεις), i.e., Greek cities, and were renamed. Obviously this was thought to be a beneficial step for the cities concerned—indeed, a goal to strive for.

The high priest Jason must have thought so, because he had Jerusalem renamed as Antioch-at-Jerusalem (2 Macc 4:9, 19) and built a gymnasium, an exercise and educational establishment that every "decent" Greek city was supposed to have. One must also recognize, however, that we know almost nothing about what this process of renaming entailed. Did the renaming of an ancient city like Jerusalem as Antioch-at-Jerusalem necessarily signify the adoption of a new constitution? Was the gerousia under Antiochus III different from that under Antiochus IV and his successors? Earlier scholars argued that, theoretically, if not in practice, a new constitution was adopted, but the minimal evidence seems to support the continuance of older customs. In addition, nothing indicates that citizenship in Antioch-at-Jerusalem was limited to wealthy friends of Jason. As for the gymnasium, we simply do not know what its curriculum was; evidence from what took place in Athens should be applied cautiously to Jerusalem, since each city controlled its own educational process. What we do know is that the people in the gymnasium would have been taught to speak Greek, as well as to carry out the exercises and sports that any well-reared Greek citizen would have learned. The emperor would certainly have had interpreters available, but the ability to become a member of the club by partaking in gymnastic exercises and by conversing in Greek would no doubt have made for a more amicable relationship with the powerful monarch. Moreover, the renaming of Jerusalem around 175 bce and the building of a gymnasium brought about no local upheaval, even though the author of 2 Maccabees sees it as the start of the Hellenization and the religious factionalism it produced (2 Macc 4:11–17).

The trouble developed following a series of events. Factional war broke out between the high priest Menelaus and the former high priest Jason while Antiochus IV was campaigning in Egypt. Antiochus’s reaction to this revolt was to enter Jerusalem by force, massacre the population, and pillage the Temple (2 Macc 5:1–21). Antiochus appointed overseers in Jerusalem and over the Samaritans (2 Macc 5:22–23). Later, there were two more missions against Jerusalem, one by Apollonius, captain of the Mysians (1 Macc 1:29–35; 2 Macc 5:24–26), and one by Geron the Athenian, to compel the Jews to abandon their laws (1 Macc 1:44–51; 2 Macc 6:1–2). Since these missions were probably not mere whims, it seems safe to conclude that the populace of Jerusalem and Judea was considered by the Seleucid authorities to be restless and that the decision to stamp out forcibly the practice of Judaism was the final step in a series of unsuccessful attempts to settle affairs in Jerusalem. Indeed, the persecution was limited to Judea, Samaria (2 Macc 6:2), and neighboring Greek cities (2 Macc 6:8–9). Jews in other major cities of the Seleucid Empire, such as Antioch, were not, so far as we know, affected.

The persecution aimed at every aspect of Jewish observance. Torah scrolls were burned, circumcision was forbidden, and the sabbath was not to be observed. Jews were forced to participate at pagan festivals and compelled to eat pork. Observance of Torah was outlawed under threat of death. The Temple was profaned and turned into a temple for pagan festivals.

A great deal of energy has been spent trying to pinpoint exactly which cult was imposed upon Jerusalem by Antiochus IV. The sources tell us that the temple was dedicated to Zeus Olympios (2 Macc 6:2), that a desolating sacrilege and an altar were placed on top of the altar of burnt offering in the temple courtyard (1 Macc 1:54, 59; 4:43–44), and that both the king’s birthday and the feast day of the god Dionysos were celebrated monthly (2 Macc 6:7). There may also have been temple prostitutes (2 Macc 6:4). The term "desolating sacrilege" (βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως bdelygma erēmōseōs, 1 Macc 1:54) is the same as that found in Dan 9:27; 11:31, where the Hebrew (שׁקוצים משׁמם šiqqṣm mĕšōmēm) is a play on the name "Baʾal Shamen," or "Lord of Heaven," the Syrian counterpart of Zeus Olympios. Based on this, some scholars have argued that the cult was Syro-Canaanite, assuming that one cult substituted for another. However, 1 Macc 1:47 speaks of many altars, sacred precincts, and shrines for idols, and 2 Macc 10:2 details that altars had been built in the public square of Jerusalem and also that there were sacred precincts. Rather than the imposition of the worship of one god in place of Yahweh, it seems that the worship of many gods, including Dionysus and Zeus Olympios, took place. Thus regular paganism, characterized by the worship of many gods and goddesses, was introduced.

Antiochus IV would later change his mind and revoke the persecution (2 Macc 11:27–33), but the enigma still remains as to why he started a policy so at variance with the usual workings of the Hellenistic world, wherein states normally respected the existing gods and cultic practices of the various cities. Antiochus III and Seleucus IV had supported the cult in Jerusalem. Scholars have attempted to find a specific answer to the problem. Suggestions that Antiochus was either crazy or a zealous Hellenizer do not explain why only this small area of his kingdom was affected. Goldstein has suggested that Antiochus IV, a former hostage in Rome, was attempting to set up an empirewide Antiochian citizenship similar to Roman civic and religious programs, but his ingenious theory lacks supporting data. Other scholars have sought an explanation from within the factions in Jerusalem. E. Bickermann argued brilliantly that the initiative for the persecution came from the "Hellenizers" in Jerusalem, who wanted to reform Judaism and remove the barriers that separated Jews from Gentiles;10 the persecution of opponents would have followed Jewish models of persecution such as that carried out by Jehu (2 Kings 9–10). V. Tcherikover did not follow the notion of a Reform Judaism, but stressed that the Hellenizers were an upper-class elite, whereas the common people were staunchly anti-Hellenistic. He speculated that the people, led by the legal and spiritual leaders, the scribes, attempted to throw out both Jason and Menelaus; it was their pious revolt that led to Antiochus’s persecution and the installation of a Syrian military colony, which set up its own worship in the Jerusalem Temple. Goldstein agreed with both Bickermann, in holding that the religion imposed was a kind of polytheistic Judaism, and Tcherikover, in that the religion was brought in by Antiochus’s military colony in Jerusalem, a colony made up of Jewish soldiers who followed that kind of practice.12 K. Bringmann stressed that, while Menelaus created the new religion in line with the Syrian military colony, Antiochus issued the orders primarily to consolidate his own power and to provide a stable source of revenue.

I have emphasized that Antiochus IV, when he gained the Seleucid throne in 175 bce, quickly knew that the Ptolemies were eager to renew hostilities to regain Coelesyria. The Ptolemies would have invaded in 180 bce if Ptolemy V Epiphanes had not been assassinated. Once his widow had died in 176 bce, the new government did little to conceal its hostile intentions and, in fact, finally attacked in late 170 or early 169 bce. In this atmosphere of hostility on his southern border, Antiochus IV would have wished to have a region favorable to him and so acceded to Jason’s request to rename Jerusalem. The gymnasium with its attached ephebium would have trained young men in military exercises for possible use as auxiliary forces. When Antiochus IV was rebuffed from Egypt by the Romans in 168 bce, he may have felt even more strongly the need for a secure southern border and hence the imposition of paganism in Judea. However, I would not wish to hold that Antiochus was guided only by political concerns, as one cannot easily separate religion and politics in the ancient world. Rather, Antiochus IV may have heard stories that the Jews had a misanthropic attitude toward other nations, as stated even in the positive account of Hecataeus of Abdera, who wrote that "as a result of their expulsion from Egypt, [Moses] introduced an unsocial and intolerant mode of life." Antiochus may have decided that this aspect of religious polity had to be suppressed. Why this institution of paganism required the burning of the books of the Law, the prohibition of circumcision, and the end of the daily offering in the Temple remains an enigma. Given the meager quality of our sources and their highly polemical stance, scholars will continue to debate and put forward explanations.

The Sequel to the Revolt. The last event recorded in 1 and 2 Maccabees is the death of Simon Maccabeus in 135/34 bce. It is hinted that he was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus, who would rule from 135/34 to 104 bce. After repulsing the attempted coup of his brother-in-law Ptolemy, John was forced to submit to Seleucid forces under Antiochus VII Sidetes and to pay tribute. After Antiochus died in 129 bce while campaigning against Parthia, the Seleucid throne remained weak, and John Hyrcanus seized the opportunities offered by this Syrian weakness. During the course of his thirty-year reign, the territory of Judea expanded enormously to the east, north, and south. Early in his career, John captured two fortified towns in Transjordan: Medeba and Samoga. Then he turned north and captured Shechem and Mount Gerizim; he also subdued the Samaritans and destroyed their temple. Then he marched south to Idumea and captured its two main cities, Adora and Marisa. Late in his reign, he conquered the Macedonian colony at Samaria and also captured Scythopolis. The details of how John accomplished this expansion are debated, in part because the dating of a document preserved by Josephus is disputed. Does it belong early in John’s reign at the time of Antiochus VII or later, during the reign of Antiochus IX? If later, then John Hyrcanus’s forces are seen to be weak and unable to resist Seleucid attacks. We know that John Hyrcanus hired mercenaries, but how many and how effective a fighting force are unknown.16 Could he have successfully controlled the area he is said to have conquered without some support from the native populations? Hyrcanus was certainly the strong man of the area, but how were the forcibly circumcised Idumeans so compliantly integrated into the Jewish way of life? Although facing some internal opposition in his thirty-year reign,18 Hyrcanus succeeded in forging a Jewish state such as had not existed from pre-exilic times. Josephus lavishly praises him and states that he was the only person to unite in himself the roles of ruler, priest, and prophet.

Hyrcanus’s son, Aristobulus I, ruled for one year (104–103 bce). He continued the policy of expansion and appropriated Galilee. Aristobulus is said by Josephus to have transformed the government into a kingdom and to have put the diadem on his own head.20 His successor, his brother Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 bce), was continually embroiled in foreign and domestic wars. Josephus gives a list of the territory conquered by Alexander: northern Transjordan; most of the coastal cities as far north as Caesarea, Idumea, Samaria, and Galilee—a kingdom almost as large as Solomon’s. Such a major territorial expansion raises questions about the identity of those persons introduced into the new realm. Aristobulus is said to have forced inhabitants of Galilee who wished to remain in the country to be circumcised and to live according to the laws of the Jews.22 During the expansion under Alexander Jannaeus, the city of Pella is said to have been razed because its inhabitants would not promise to accept and practice the ancestral customs of the Jews. These statements raise the question of what being a "Jew" meant. Did it mean merely that the conquered cities were to be under the control of the king of Judea? Or did it mean, as the requirement of circumcision suggests, that the conquered population was to be treated as resident aliens in the land, following the commands of Exod 12:48; 22:20; and throughout Deuteronomy? What was their status vis--vis the citizens of Judea? Who would determine that all the male inhabitants of every village were circumcised? The incorporation of so many towns with different cultural traditions would have sparked a debate over what it meant to be a Jew—a native-born citizen of Judea, or one who was circumcised and followed the requirements of the resident alien, or someone who was circumcised and followed all the Torah?


War dominates these books. They include stories of incredible courage under torture, as in the stories of Eleazar and the mother who encouraged her seven sons to die rather than transgress the Mosaic Law (2 Macc 6:18–7:42). There are stories of great daring, as in the story of another Eleazar who attempted to attack and kill the king and so end the battle. Eleazar fought through the ranks of the opposing army and killed an elephant on which he thought the king was riding, even though he knew that it would mean his own death, sacrificing his own life for those of his comrades and his nation (1 Macc 6:43–46). The story of Razis (2 Macc 14:37–46) shows a man ready to die rather than be captured, a mentality that was much admired in the ancient world. As Euripides the Greek playwright said, "Not death is evil, but a shameful death." There are stories of night raids and tactical maneuvers, the stuff of which thrilling movies are made.

But woven into these accounts is a much more disquieting thread, for we find stories in which whole towns are razed. Throughout the accounts of the battles against neighboring cities in Gilead runs the refrain "and killed every male by the edge of the sword" (1 Macc 5:28 NRSV; see also 1 Macc 5:35, 51). Cities are burned to the ground. In one grisly scene, the army of Judas as well as the men, women, and children they are bringing back to Judea walk over the bodies of their slain enemies (1 Macc 5:51). In another scene, a lake near a town seems to be running over with the blood of those slain by the Maccabean forces (2 Macc 12:13–16). The delight in the destruction of human life seems almost palpable.

These stories imitate those found in the book of Judges. In trying to understand the ethics of violence in the books of the Maccabees, the analysis that Susan Niditch has made of the war accounts in the Hebrew Scriptures is very informative. Niditch categorizes some of the narratives of the destruction of whole cities, in particular the killing of human beings, as narratives that portray the Israelites as instruments of God’s justice, requiting the sins and misdeeds of their opponents. We see just such an attitude in the books of the Maccabees, as the Gentiles are consistently depicted as attempting to destroy the Maccabean forces without provocation (1 Macc 5:1; 2 Macc 12:2). Such an attitude also lies behind the ethnic cleansing that Simon pursues as he forces the inhabitants of Gazara and Beth-zur to leave; in the case of Gazara, he purifies the city (1 Macc 13:43–47; 11:65–66). The campaigns are also seen as purifying God’s land of idol worship.

There are other instances in the books of Maccabees that fit Niditch’s category of the ideology of expediency, an ideology in which force is used to instill terror. When the citizens of Antioch rebel against King Demetrius, Jonathan brutally suppresses the uprising as his troops fan out through the city and kill about one hundred thousand persons (1 Macc 11:41–51). Here Jonathan is portrayed as using brutal tactics to stop the revolt quickly. His tactics succeed, and he wins great renown.

For those who have been reared in the just-war tradition, which justifies waging war only as a last resort and prohibits attacking innocent civilians and annihilating defeated enemies, these stories do not provide an example that we would wish to follow. The books of the Maccabees are replete with judgments on their opponents as barbarous, godless, and sinful. There is no attempt to see the opponents as fellow human beings. War and the defeat of the enemy are glorified. In reading these stories, then, we have to realize that they tell us a great deal, not about how we ought to behave, but about what kind of group produced them. As Niditch states, "the more stable a group or person is, the surer they are of their identity, the less likely they are to be warlike, and the less rigid and totalistic their war ideologies are likely to be." We can begin to understand that the communities out of which these books came felt themselves to be under attack and knew that their existence depended on building up their own self-esteem by denigrating their opponents. When we read these books, then, we can empathize with the protagonists in their struggles and seek to understand their point of view, but without sympathizing with their war practices and their demonization of their enemies. What reading these books should do is strengthen our commitment to explore ways to implement policies that embody the perspective of just-war theory. We should not be anesthetized by these stories of slaughter, but resolve that war and violence should be the last resort to settle conflicts, and that conflict will never make us forget that our enemies are human. If wars and conflicts result from insecurity and a sense of injustice, we must work to bring social justice and fair treatment to all nations and peoples. We must strive to bolster the self-image of all.

The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees also force readers to confront the problem of self-defense versus pacificism, particularly in the narrative of Jews who, despite attempting to live their lives in solitude, are hunted down and killed (1 Macc 2:29–41). Within this narrative, the right to defend oneself and one’s country is strikingly affirmed. What we have to remember in reading these books is that there were no constraints on the emperor’s will. If he wanted to, he could order the execution of all who opposed his will. The non-violent techniques used by Gandhi in India and by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States worked to a certain extent because both India under British rule and the United States are societies in which the rule of law constrains what leaders and police can do. Such techniques would have been of no avail in the Seleucid regime. To preserve one’s own heritage and culture when threatened, one had to defend oneself. There was no escape. These books on war, therefore, while they affirm the right of a society to defend itself by recourse to war, do not address the question of the right of an individual in today’s society to object conscientiously to serving in the military. That is another issue.

Finally, these books about war and events of the public arena reflect a male perspective. Women appear even less than in works like the Iliad. We learn that Jonathan and Simon had sons, but no mention is made of their wives. When women do appear in the stories, it is in the role of mother, as in the martyrdom stories (1 Macc 1:60; 2 Macc 6:10; 7), or as an image to describe social upheaval with the women leaving their houses and being seen in the streets (2 Macc 3:19–21). These are very male-dominated works.


How to harmonize the dates given in the books of Maccabees has long puzzled commentators. Chronology in the study of Judaism is always complicated by the fact that the lunar-solar calendar was never perfect, being off by about ten days. Moreover, when trying to chart the events recounted in 1 and 2 Maccabees, scholars have been faced with inconsistencies between the two books (e.g., while 1 Macc 6:20 dates Lysias’s second expedition to 150 of the Seleucid era, 2 Macc 13:1 dates it to 149 of the Seleucid era). Further confusion sets in when we realize that there were two systems for calculating the dates of the Seleucid era, which was held to begin from the conquest of Babylonia by Seleucus I. One system started the year following the Macedonian calendar, which began in the autumn, and so year 1 of the Seleucid Macedonian system would correspond to the time of autumn 312 to autumn 311 bce. The second system, following the Babylonian calendar, started the year in spring, and so year 1 of the Seleucid Babylonian system would be from spring 311 to spring 310 bce. The author of 1 Maccabees uses the Jewish names of the months (1:54; 4:52; 7:43, 49; 14:27; 16:14) and places the Festival of Booths in the seventh month (10:21), presuming a system beginning in spring. However, he dates the death of Antiochus IV to the year 149 of the Seleucid era (6:16), whereas the Babylonian cuneiform tablets, which also use a calendar that begins in spring, date Antiochus’s death in 148 of the Seleucid era. Scholars have outlined three solutions to keep all the dates in balance and maintain the basic reliability of the sources:

(1) There is one system of dating in 1 Maccabees that begins in autumn 312. According to this chronology, the suppression of Jewish worship would have begun in 168 bce, and the Temple would have been purified in December 165 bce. One problem for this solution is found at 10:21, where the Feast of Booths is said to occur in Tishri, the seventh month, presupposing a calendar beginning in spring.

(2) There are two systems of dating in 1 Maccabees, one for internal Jewish events, like festivals, that begins, like the Seleucid Babylonian system, in spring 311 bce, and one for external events, such as the dates for Seleucid expeditions, that is based on the Seleucid Macedonian system, which began in autumn 312 bce. According to this chronology, Antiochus’s persecution would have begun in 167 bce, and the Temple would have been purified in December 164 bce.

(3) There are two systems of dating in 1 Maccabees, as in theory 2, except that the calendar for dating internal Jewish events would have begun in spring 312 bce. According to this system, the suppression of Jewish worship would be dated to 168 bce and the purification of the Temple to 165 bce.

Deciding upon one from among these theories is exceedingly complex. Bickermann’s theory, theory 2, is the one most widely accepted and the one followed in this commentary. Most scholars hold that the author of the epitome in 2 Maccabees followed the Seleucid Macedonian system.


First Maccabees opens with a prologue that speaks of Alexander the Great and his exploits (1 Macc 1:1–10), but the narrative covers events from sometime after the accession of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 175 bce until the death of Simon Maccabeus in 135/34 bce. Furthermore, the book is structured around the Hasmonean family. After a description of the apostasy of some from Judaism and the subsequent persecution when Antiochus tries to force all peoples to abandon their native customs (1:41), the narrative focuses on the patriarch Mattathias and his three sons—Judas, Jonathan, and Simon—as they lead the fight against those who wish to do away with their ancestral religion.

Style. Although 1 Maccabees gives the appearance of a straightforward narrative, it is not so straightforward as it seems. The author intersperses various documents into the narrative to provide the proper aura of documentation required to foster belief in the historical correctness of the account. (The authenticity of some of these documents has been disputed. See the Overview of 1 Macc 8:1–32 and Commentary on 1 Macc 10:22–45; 12:1–23 for details.) Yet this is a narrative interspersed with traditional poetic passages and whose syntax imitates that of narrative sections of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is, then, a narrative that consciously aims at incorporating its story into the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is not a retelling of Hebrew Scriptures as, for example, the pseudepigraphic book of Jubilees, which recounts the primeval history of humanity and the history of God’s chosen people up to the time of Moses, or as the Temple Scroll from Qumran, which restates much of the legislation from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Rather, 1 Maccabees perceives the events it tells as another reenactment of the events of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is seen in the way the author views the execution of the Hasideans in 7:16 as being in accordance with the words of Ps 79:2–3—that is, the author sees the words of the psalm actualized in the events of his own day. This view of present-day events reflecting the Scriptures can be compared to the way the Qumran covenanters and the authors of the Gospels interpret the psalms and the prophets as talking about events in their own history. The author has not written a simple presentation of facts, but has woven a highly textured narrative.

That the syntax of 1 Maccabees reflects the narrative sections of the Hebrew Scriptures can be seen in the opening sentence, which begins as so many Hebrew narratives (e.g., Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 2 Samuel) begin and is then followed by a string of clauses all connected by "and." In addition, the Greek of 1 Maccabees is filled with Semitisms much like those in the LXX. There are also places in the text where one can understand what is going on if one presupposes that an original Hebrew text has been misunderstood or mistranslated (e.g., 9:2; possibly 3:37; and the enigmatic transliteration at 14:27). All this has led scholars to posit that 1 Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew and that our present text is a translation, while the original Hebrew text is missing. The Greek translator follows closely the translation style of other portions of the Hebrew Scriptures, so that one can often reconstruct what the original Hebrew text would have looked like. As the discoveries at Qumran have shown, writings in Hebrew were plentiful at this time, and so a writing in Hebrew should not surprise us.

The author also at times shows the inner connections of incidents by inserting literary linkages. For example, at 1 Macc 3:37, the author states that Antiochus IV was going through the upper provinces and then repeats the phrase at 6:1, thus binding Antiochus into the whole first series of actions and successes of the Hasmoneans. The same technique of intercalation is used to set the alliance of Jonathan with Rome between two attacks by commanders of Demetrius (11:63; 12:24). The author also carefully places in the narrative the documents that show the growing prestige and power of the Hasmoneans.

Even though the original text of 1 Maccabees was probably written in Hebrew, one should be aware of what a careful job the Greek translator has done. He shows considerable awareness of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, but also is able to show connections in his choice of Greek phrasing and sections. For example, the use of the same root for the verb and the noun at 2:42 and 7:12 ("there united [συνήχθησαν synēchthēsan] … a company [συναγωγή synagōgē ]"; "there appeared [ἐπισυνήχθησαν episynēchthēsan] … a group [synagōgē ]") and the repetition of the same phrases throughout 7:1–25 bind the section together (see also 9:58–73). It is, for the most part, a thoughtful translation.

Worldview. That the author of the books of Maccabees wrote in Hebrew in imitation of the style of the Hebrew Scriptures was no accident. The author consciously set out to show how the Maccabean revolt closely followed ancestral traditions. Particularly noteworthy is the way the author has spliced the narrative with poetic compositions that echo traditional psalms of lament and rejoicing. Just as the author of the Gospel of Luke used hymns in the opening chapters of his work to give his Gospel a traditional flavoring, so too did this earlier author. The author also models his heroes on biblical antecedents. Mattathias’s opening act of rebellion explicitly echoes that of Phinehas in Num 25:6–13. Mattathias, as he lies dying, gives his testament, as Jacob had done (Genesis 49), and commissions his sons just as Moses had commissioned Joshua (Deut 31:7–23; Josh 1:6–9) and David had commissioned Solomon (1 Chr 22:13; 28:20). The Maccabeans are also related to the former judges of Israel. The most explicit reference to these judges is at 9:73, where Jonathan is said to "judge" Israel; Jonathan’s election to succeed Judas also shows the influence of Jephthah’s election (Judg 10:18; 11:6–11). The structural principle of the book of Judges is that when the Israelites do what is wrong in the eyes of the Lord, they are punished, but when they cry out, the Lord raises up someone to deliver them, and the land is at peace while that judge lives (Judg 2:16–18; 3:7–11). That same principle is operative in 1 Maccabees. Judas turns away God’s anger (3:8) as he becomes the savior of Israel (9:21), under whom the land is at peace—if only for a while (7:50). When the land is in great distress after Judas’s death, Jonathan is chosen to lead the people, and he succeeds so well that the sword no longer hangs over Israel (9:73). When destruction again threatens after Jonathan’s capture, Simon takes command, and soon the country is at peace again (14:4). The ideology of the Judges also appears in the way towns are put under the ban and whole towns and their inhabitants are destroyed (5:28, 35, 44). Judas acts toward Ephron in accordance with the regulations of Deut 20:10–15 (1 Macc 5:45–51), and Simon’s ethnic cleansing of Gazara/Gezer (1 Macc 13:47–48) attempts to follow the command not to have any covenant with the inhabitants of the land and to tear down their altars (Deut 7:1–6; Judg 2:1–2). The author of 1 Maccabees also frequently uses the term "foreigners" (ἀλλοφύλοι allophyloi) to describe the Gentiles (3:41; 4:12, 22, 26, 30; 5:15, 66, 68; 11:68, 74), a term often found in Judges and 1 Samuel.

It is also important to note how the Jewish enemies of the Hasmoneans are characterized: They are the lawless (1 Macc 2:44; 3:5–6; 7:5; 9:23, 58, 69), the workers of lawlessness (1 Macc 3:6; 9:23), sinners (1 Macc 2:44, 48, 62), and impious persons (1 Macc 3:8; 6:21; 7:5–9; 9:73). More significantly, they are "renegades" (παράνομοι paranomoi; see 1 Macc 1:11; 10:61; 11:21), a term used to describe those who would lead Israel astray (Deut 13:12–15), to characterize those who attacked and raped the Levite’s concubine and so started a civil war (Judg 19:22), and to describe the followers of Jeroboam, who brought on the split of David’s kingdom (2 Chr 13:7). The author of 1 Maccabees uses only these labels to describe the Jewish opponents of the Hasmoneans—with one exception, Alcimus. Except for the high priest Alcimus, the enemies’ names would be forever forgotten if not for 2 Maccabees. The author thus uses labels effectively to emphasize that the Hasmonean party is right and its enemies wrong, to set up a strong us/them dichotomy.

The author of 1 Maccabees thus frames his narrative in biblical imagery. His heroes have been raised up by God to defend the people, just like the judges before them. The Hasmoneans are skillfully portrayed as upholding the traditional ancestral faith while their enemies are destroyers of the social fabric, those who bring in foreign ways. The opposition to foreigners extends to the Seleucids and to the Ptolemies, but not to the Romans. The Romans are portrayed as trustworthy and loyal, whereas the Ptolemies and the Seleucids are consistently untrustworthy. This may evidence a proper lack of knowledge of the Roman way of handling affairs, but it also shows how the author is willing to view in a favorable light anyone who does not attempt to wrest away Israel’s independence, for this is the aim of the author—to celebrate the gaining of independence—and this is what he means by proclaiming the Hasmoneans the family through whom deliverance was given to Israel (5:62; cf. 13:41–42).

Date. It is not known who wrote 1 Maccabees, when or where it was written, or when it was translated into Greek. Since Josephus seems to base his account on the Greek version, it must have been translated sometime before the end of the first century ce. The fact that it was written in Hebrew, as well as the accuracy of some of its geographical data, suggests that it was composed in Israel. Its style of writing suggests someone well-versed in the traditional Scriptures of Israel. The erudite echoing of the Hebrew Scriptures suggests someone from the scribal class, or someone educated by a teacher like Sirach.

Scholars have consistently used two factors in determining a date for 1 Maccabees: its pro-Hasmonean stance and its concluding sentence, which refers to the annals of the high priesthood of John Hyrcanus (who ruled until 104 bce). Bar-Kochva has suggested that the author, by the vividness and accuracy of his descriptions of the battles of Judas, must have been an eyewitness to the events and was, therefore, writing early in the reign of John Hyrancus. However, a vivacious writing style and accurate geography can be achieved by others besides eyewitnesses. Most scholars have combined the above two factors to suggest a date late in Hyrcanus’s reign or just after his death. S. Schwartz has argued, however, that the pro-Hasmonean stance of the author and his keeping of foreigners at arm’s length are in conflict with what we know happened during the lengthy reign of Hyrcanus and his successors, when whole groups were incorporated into the area controlled by Hyrcanus. (For details on the reign of John Hyrcanus, see the section "Historical Background," above.) Schwartz therefore proposed a date early in Hyrcanus’s reign, before such assimilation began. Schwartz’s point is well taken, but the conclusion to the book still sounds as it if were written after the death of John Hyrcanus; thus Schwartz proposes that it was added later. I would suggest that one should look more carefully at the assumption that the work is pro-Hasmonean. It clearly approves the gaining of independence, describes the Hasmonean founders as biblical heroes, and claims that they were the family through whom deliverance came to Israel. It is striking, however, that the author portrays Simon as having died while drunk at a banquet, which need not have been mentioned. There is also contrast between the utopian picture of Roman government in chapter 8 and the one-man rule imposed by Simon (14:41–45). Therefore, 1 Maccabees may be seen as a critique of the developments that had taken place under Hyrcanus and his successors, opposing the assimilation of non-Jews (which Schwartz points to), and the increasingly regal life-style of the Hasmoneans. Thus it is plausible to date 1 Maccabees to shortly after the death of John Hyrcanus.


The events recounted in 1 and 2 Maccabees were, and are, celebrated in the Jewish community with the Feast of Hanukkah. In that festival, God’s miraculous deliverance of the covenant people from their oppressors is remembered. The message of Hanukkah has been meaningful to a community that has sought to preserve its traditional beliefs and customs in an often hostile environment. Such a community could always look back and recall how the Seleucid kings had tried to stamp out Judaism, but were prevented from doing so by God’s working through the Maccabees. In this way, the community could be reassured that it would never be deserted by God. Particularly symbolic of that deliverance is a story found not in 1 and 2 Maccabees, but in the later rabbinic tradition. This story recounts how the Jews, when they retook the city of Jerusalem and were preparing to reinstate proper worship in the Temple, found only one jar of oil for the temple lamps, which would have lasted but a single day. Miraculously, that one jar kept the lamps lighted for eight days. Enemies had tried to snuff out Judaism, but it had survived. This tradition also extolled the martyrdom accounts, particularly that of the mother and her seven sons (2 Maccabees 7), which was expanded by naming the mother Hannah and by the addition of more grisly torments for the martyrs. Much later, the heroism of the Maccabees in resisting oppression and defending their own culture and religion was especially meaningful in the nineteenth-century Zionist movement.

Early Christian communities also found the message of 1 and 2 Maccabees congenial. Not only could this record of events be used to validate the book of Daniel as prophetic and true, but also the story of a community faithful to God’s commandments in the face of an idolatrous oppressor resonated with the life situation of many Christians in the Roman Empire. The books were particularly recommended for their martyrdom accounts. The feast of the Maccabean martyrs was celebrated at Antioch in Syria; at Carthage in North Africa, center of a Christian community determined not to be polluted by the contagion of the outside world, the martyrs were extolled. The great Christian thinker of the third century ce, Origen of Alexandria, wrote to exhort Christians to undergo martyrdom: "What dead person could be more deserving of praise than he who of his own choice elected to die for his religion? This is what Eleazar did, who welcoming death with honor rather than life with ignominy, went up to the rack to die of his free choice" (see 2 Macc 6:19). The characters in 1 and 2 Maccabees still provide examples of endurance to what one believes in, even if that endurance means death.


Bar-Kochva, Bezalel. Judas Maccabeus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. A fascinating analysis of the battles in 1 Maccabees by a military historian of the Hellenistic period. Essential reading for these battle scenes.

Bickerman, Elias. The God of the Maccabees: Studies on the Meaning and Origin of the Maccabean Revolt. SJLA 32. Leiden: Brill, 1979. A ground-breaking work, first published in German in 1937, on the background of the persecution.

Bringmann, Klaus. Hellenistische Reform und Religionsverfolgung in Juda: Eine Untersuchung zur jdisch-hellenistische Geshichte (175–163 v. Chr). Gttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1983. Bringmann stresses the political and economic factors at play in the intervention by Antiochus IV.

Doran, Robert. Temple Propaganda: The Purpose and Character of 2 Maccabees. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 1981. This work places 2 Maccabees in its literary and historiographical setting.

Geller, M. J. "New Information on Antiochus IV from Babylonian Astronomical Diaries," BSO(A)S 54 (1991) 1–4. Provides in handy format the diary entries pertinent to the Maccabean revolt.

Goldstein, Jonathan A. 1 Maccabees. AB 41. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976.

———. 2 Maccabees. AB 41A. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983. An erudite commentary whose comments on particular verses are worth consulting, but which is marred at times by overarching theories.

Grabbe, Lester L. Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian. 2 vols. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992. A survey of all the relevant materials; includes a bibliography.

Harrington, Daniel J. The Maccabean Revolt: Anatomy of a Biblical Revolution. Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1988.

Momigliani, Arnaldo. "The Second Book of Maccabees," CP 70 (1975) 81–88. Makes the festivals in 2 Maccabees central to its explanation.

Mrkholm, Otto. Antiochus IV of Syria. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1966. Important for reconstructing a more balanced view of Antiochus IV.

Schrer, Emil. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 bc–ad 135). 3 vols. Revised by G. Vermes, F. Millar, M. Goodman. Edinburgh: Clark, 1973–87. An excellent reference book.

Sievers, Joseph. The Hasmoneans and Their Supporters: From Mattathias to the Death of John Hyrcanus. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991. A sensible attempt to reconstruct the history of this turbulent period.

Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1961. First published in Hebrew in 1931 and later revised, this book contains a wealth of information. It and Bickerman’s book still guide most scholarly treatments.

Outline of 1 Maccabees

I. 1 Maccabees 1:1–2:70, Mattathias

A. 1:1–64, The Persecution

1:1–10, Introductory Scene

1:11–15, The Apostasy

1:16–28, The Visitation of Antiochus IV

1:29–40, The Occupation of Jerusalem

1:41–64, The Imposition of Paganism

B. 2:1–70, The Career of Mattathias

2:1–14, The Family of Mattathias

2:15–28, The Actions at Modein

2:29–48, The Exploits of Mattathias

2:49–70, The Death of Mattathias

II. 1 Maccabees 3:1–9:22, Judas Maccabeus

A. 3:1–9, Hero of His People

B. 3:10–26, Judas’s First Victories

3:10–12, Victory Against Apollonius

3:13–26, Victory Against Seron

C. 3:27–4:35, Major Seleucid Counterattacks

3:27–37, The King’s Decision

3:38–4:25, The Battle Against Nicanor and Gorgias

3:38–60, Preparations for Battle

4:1–25, The Battle at Emmaus

4:26–35, The Campaign of Lysias

D. 4:36–61, The Cleansing of the Temple

E. 5:1–68, Wars with Neighbors

5:1–8, Battles in Idumea and Ammon

5:9–54, Battles in Galilee and Gilead

5:55–62, The Failure of Joseph and Azariah

5:63–68, Further Successes

F. 6:1–17, The Death of Antiochus IV

G. 6:18–63, Attacks Under Antiochus V Eupator

6:18–31, The Pre-Invasion Events

6:32–47, The Battle at Beth-zechariah

6:48–54, The Siege of Jerusalem

6:55–63, The End of the Assault by Antiochus V Eupator

H. 7:1–25, The Expedition of Bacchides and Alcimus

7:1–7, The New King, Demetrius

7:8–20, The Incursion of Bacchides

7:21–25, The Inability of Alcimus to Rule

I. 7:26–50, The Rule of Nicanor

7:26–32, The Treachery of Nicanor

7:33–38, Nicanor Threatens the Temple

7:39–50, The Death of Nicanor

J. 8:1–32, The Relationship with Rome

8:1–16, An Idealized Description of the Romans

8:17–32, The Exchange of Letters

K. 9:1–22, The Death of Judas

III. 1 Maccabees 9:23–12:53, Jonathan

A. 9:23–73, Jonathan’s Rise to Power

9:23–31, The Succession of Jonathan

9:32–49, Early Campaigns of Jonathan

9:50–53, The Strategy of Bacchides

9:54–57, The Death of Alcimus

9:58–73, The Last Expedition of Bacchides

B. 10:1–12:53, Jonathan’s Rule

10:1–14, Jonathan and Demetrius I

10:15–21, Jonathan and Alexander Epiphanes

10:22–45, The Reaction of Demetrius I

10:46–66, Jonathan and Alexander

10:67–89, The Uprising of Demetrius II

11:1–19, The Coming of Ptolemy VI

11:20–53, Demetrius II

11:20–37, Demetrius’s Rise to Power

11:38–53, The Rule of Demetrius II

11:54–74, Jonathan and Antiochus VI

12:1–23, The Relationship with Rome

12:24–38, Further Campaigns for Antiochus VI

12:39–53, The Capture of Jonathan

IV. 1 Maccabees 13:1–16:24, Simon

A. 13:1–30, Simon Replaces Jonathan

13:1–11, Simon Takes Command

13:12–24, Trypho’s Invasion

13:25–30, Jonathan’s Tomb

B. 13:31–14:3, Judea Gains Independence

13:31–42, The Removal of Tribute

13:43–53, Further Acquisitions by Simon

14:1–3, The Capture of Demetrius

C. 14:4–49, The Praise of Simon

14:4–15, Hymn of Praise

14:16–24, Diplomacy with Rome and Sparta

14:25–49, "The Great Assembly"

D. 15:1–16:10, Further Seleucid Threats

15:1–14, The Rise of Antiochus VII Sidetes

15:15–24, Continued Roman Support

15:25–36, Antiochus’s Change of Heart

15:37–16:10, The Expedition of Cendebeus

E. 16:11–22, The Death of Simon

F. 16:23–24, Conclusion

1 MACCABEES 1:1–2:70



1 Maccabees 1:1–10, Introductory Scene


The opening verses of 1 Maccabees locate the events the author is going to narrate within the larger framework of history. The passage is in some sense one long sentence, since the ten verses are a series of main clauses all connected by the particle "and" (καί kai). The end of the passage is indicated by the repetition of the phrase "came out of"; just as Alexander came out, so also Antiochus came out. This grammatical style reflects Hebrew syntax, and the opening words of 1 Maccabees ("and [he] came out" [καὶ ἐγένετο kai egeneto]) are the same as those found at the beginning of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 2 Samuel in the LXX. The work is thus squarely placed in the Jewish historiographical tradition.

1:1. Alexander began his journey of conquest from Pella, the capital of Macedonia, in the spring of 334 bce. The author has Alexander leave the land of the Kittim, a word used variously in the Old Testament. At Gen 10:4 and 1 Chr 1:7, the Kittim are the descendants of Yavan and thus Japheth. Jeremiah 2:10 locates the sites of the Kittim as one extreme of the world, while Ezek 27:6 has them as trading partners of Tyre. In these two passages the Kittim are often identified with Cyprus; Josephus similarly identifies the Kittim as being from Kition, a Phoenician city on the island of Cyprus. Balaam predicts in his fourth oracle that ships shall come from Kittim and oppress Asshur and Eber (Num 24:24). Here again the Kittim are a maritime force, and Eber might be interpreted as the Hebrews (see Gen 10:21–24). Perhaps deriving from this use, Kittim became a term in later apocalyptic texts to designate a far-off people who will wage war. At Dan 11:30, the Kittim are the Romans, who shame Antiochus IV, and in Jub. 24:28–29 they are an ultimate enemy who will confront the accursed Philistines. In the Pesher on Habakkuk from Qumran, the Kittim have dominion over Israel and appear to be the Romans; in the War Scroll from Qumran, they are the last world power to oppress God’s people. Elsewhere in 1 Maccabees, Perseus, king of Macedonia, is described as being the king of the Kittim (1 Macc 8:5). Thus, although the author of 1 Maccabees calls the Macedonians "Kittim," one may suggest that this term is no neutral geographical indicator but that even in 1 Maccabees the term carries the overtones of an oppressive world power.

Alexander’s success was enormous. He first defeated a Persian army led by satraps at Granicus in northwest Asia Minor (in spring 334 bce), then one led by King Darius himself at Issus in southeast Asia Minor in autumn 333. From there he moved to conquer the Syrian coast (332) and occupy Egypt in the winter of 332/331 bce, before returning to defeat decisively King Darius at Gaugmela in northern Iraq in late 331. Darius fled to the Median capital of Ecbatana while Alexander occupied Babylon and Persia. Darius hastily retreated further, but was finally arrested and killed by his own satraps. The last Achaemenid was dead, and Alexander was master of Asia. But he was still not content; he pushed on through present-day northern Iran and Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Punjab valley before turning back; he died at Babylon on June 10, 323 bce. While he may not have conquered the ends of the earth—his western ambitions remained unfulfilled—Alexander had united a formidable empire, inaugurating the Hellenistic world.

1:2–4. At v. 2, Alexander is said to have slain "the kings of the earth." In fact, Alexander was usually not cruel to those he defeated, except in the case of the usurper Bessus. The author of Maccabees describes the normal behavior of victors (cf. 2 Kgs 25:6–7). After Alexander’s conquests, the land is said to be at peace, a phrase found frequently in 1 Maccabees (7:50; 9:57; 11:38, 52; 14:4). It is used here to describe the absence of war. The phrase is used in the Hebrew Scriptures as well, particularly in the book of Judges. After the Israelites had repented of worshiping other gods, the Lord sent them deliverers in the persons of Othniel and Ehud, who defeated the enemies and left the land at "rest" (see Judg 3:11, 30), and under the good king Asa, the land was said to have been "at rest" (2 Chr 14:1). The phrase as used here, however, seems to fit better the context of its use at Zech 1:11, where the angels of the Lord who have patrolled the earth report that the whole earth is at peace, a peace that is oppressive to Israel.

The greatness of Alexander’s success is said to have "lifted up" his heart. In the Hebrew Bible, this phrase symbolizes arrogance, as when King Jehoash of Judah, who became too cocksure, went to battle against the king of Israel and was defeated (2 Kgs 14:10; 2 Chr 25:19). Obadiah predicts doom to Edom, whose proud heart has "lifted it up" (Obad 3). Daniel so characterizes the king of the south, Ptolemy IV, after his early victory over Antiochus III, whereas Antiochus ultimately prevails over Egypt (Dan 11:12). Thus the phrase "his heart was lifted up" is a hint that something bad is going to happen to Alexander.

All the countries must pay tribute. The phrase again echoes the LXX (Josh 19:48a; Judg 1:28–31, 33, 35) and encapsulates the loss of independence of all the various conquered peoples.

1:5–9. At the height of his power, Alexander is suddenly struck down. Many stories circulated as to the cause of Alexander’s death. Some claim that Alexander was poisoned. Others relate that he died after drinking too strong unmixed wine.38 Plutarch and Arrian report that his death came after a feverish sickness and discount other suggestions. The author of 1 Maccabees does not detail how Alexander died, but the suddenness of the event at the height of his power suggests divine judgment (cf. the oracle of Isaiah against Babylon [Isa 14:5–21] or that of Obadiah against Edom [Obad 1–4]). The death of Antiochus IV was also seen as divine punishment. The same language ("to fall sick" [ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τῆν κοί την καὶ ἔγνω ὅτι ἀποθνῄσκει epesen epi tēn koitēn kai egnō hoti apothnēskei] lit., "to fall on his bed," "perceive/realize that he was dying") is used to describe Antiochus IV when he hears the news of the victorious Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc 6:8–9).

First Maccabees depicts Alexander as dividing his kingdom among his followers. This is similar to what is found in the late work of Ps-Callisthenes, who portrays Alexander, on his deathbed, writing a will. Diodorus reports that when asked to whom he left the kingdom, Alexander said, "To the strongest."41 By contrast, the author of 1 Maccabees links the rulers of his own day with that proud ruler. He describes an orderly transition of power, whereas, in fact, there were many long, hard-fought campaigns among rival leaders. Only in 306 bce did Antigonus and his son Demetrius, who then ruled jointly over much of Greece, Asia Minor, and Syria, assume the diadem, and they were followed in this a year later by Ptolemy and Seleucus.

1:10. "A sinful root" comes forth from these kings. By using the term "root" (ῥίζα rhiza), the author intimates the beginning of future troubles. (The same image is used at Isa 14:29, when King Ahaz of Judea dies.) Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the youngest son of Antiochus III, "the Great." After the Romans decisively defeated Antiochus III at the battle of Magnesia (190 bce), this youngest son was handed over to the Romans as a hostage. Antiochus III was succeeded in 187 bce by his older son, Seleucus IV. Around 176, the Romans exchanged Antiochus for Seleucus IV’s son Demetrius. On Seleucus IV’s death in 175 bce, Antiochus seized the opportunity to gain control of the kingdom in place of his brother’s son. "The one hundred thirty-seventh year" of the Seleucid kingdom would be 176–175 bce; a cuneiform king-list from Babylon presents Antiochus IV as the immediate successor of Seleucus IV in September 175. The reference to Antiochus as a hostage in Rome intimates that there are other powers in the world besides the successors of Alexander and looks forward to the favorable description of the Romans in chapter 8.

1 Maccabees 1:11–15, The Apostasy


1:11–13. After the prologue, with its emphasis on the arrogance and sudden death of Alexander the Great, the detailed narrative opens with an account of apostasy. These verses again are filled with biblical allusions. "Certain renegades" echoes Deut 13:12–15, which describes certain renegades who lead astray the inhabitants of a town by saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (Deut 13:13 NRSV). The civil war against the Benjaminites started when "certain renegades" attacked and raped the concubine of a Levite (Judg 19:22). The division between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah started because "certain renegades" encouraged Jeroboam to defy Solomon’s son Rehoboam (2 Chr 13:7). The theme of being like the nations is also linked to wrongdoing in the Bible (Exod 34:15; Deut 7:2–4; 1 Sam 8:4–8). Second Kings 17:7–18 gives a long reflection on why the northern kingdom was captured by Assyria, the primary reason being that the Israelites followed the ways of the nations round about them. At 1 Macc 1:15, the Judeans "abandoned the holy covenant" (διαθήκης ἁγίας diathēkēs hagias; a verb found with this meaning at Deut 13:10, 13; 32:15; Josh 22:18–19, 23, 29) and join with the Gentiles (lit., "yoke themselves" [ἐζευγίσθησαν ezeugisthēsan]; see Num 25:3; Ps 106:28, where Israel yoked itself to Baal of Peor). They "sold themselves to do evil" (ἐπράθησαν τοῦ ποιῆσαι τὸ πονηρόν eprathēsan tou poiēsai to ponēron) as the Israelites of the northern kingdom had done before them (2 Kgs 17:17) and also the wicked King Ahab (1 Kgs 21:20, 25).

1:14–15. The renegades built a gymnasium. Second Maccabees 4:7–17 fills out the details of this undertaking. The educational, social, and physical exercise complex that composed the gymnasium was the hallmark of a Greek city, and so building one in Jerusalem signaled a rejection of traditional Jewish customs. They "removed the marks of circumcision," an operation first described at some length by a Latin author, Celsus. The apostle Paul also suggests that such an operation was possible: "Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision" (1 Cor 7:18 NRSV). Since the Greek ideal of beauty viewed circumcision as a mutilation, and since the custom was for athletes in Greek games to compete in the nude, some strove to remove the marks of circumcision. It is unlikely, however, that all the Jews, including priests, who exercised in the Jerusalem gymnasium underwent this operation. Other contemporary descriptions of the apostasy (Dan 11:32; 2 Macc 4:7–17; Jub. 30; 1 Enoch 90:6–9) make no mention of it. The literal translation, "made foreskins for themselves," shows that the author of 1 Maccabees has wrought a trenchant metaphor to describe his opponents as complete apostates, acting against the covenantal regulation: "This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.… Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (Gen 17:10, 14 NRSV).

1 Maccabees 1:16–28, The Visitation of Antiochus IV


1:16–19. The war between the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic empires began when the guardians of Ptolemy VI Philometor moved to invade Seleucid territory and recapture Syria and Palestine (late 170 or early 169 bce). Antiochus IV reacted swiftly and won a decisive victory near Pelusium, on the Mediterranean coast near the border of Egypt. Antiochus seems to have tried to install his sister’s son, Ptolemy VI, in power, with himself as Ptolemy’s regent. The author of 1 Maccabees describes Antiochus IV, however, as being as ambitious as Alexander the Great to extend his empire and to gain plunder.

1:20–24a. No reason is given by the author for this sudden violent attack on Jerusalem in the autumn of 169 bce. No doubt the author wishes it to be seen as the result of the Judeans’ forsaking of the covenant, although he also accuses Antiochus IV of arrogance. In 2 Macc 5:1–26, the attack of Antiochus is placed after his second invasion of Egypt and is seen as being caused by factional fighting within Jerusalem, which Antiochus understands as a rebellion against his authority. The Babylonian astronomical diaries recount that in November/December 169 Antiochus IV confiscated funds from the Esagil (temple) in Babylon. Polybius also writes that Antiochus sacrilegiously pillaged the temples. The desecration of the Jerusalem Temple must be seen, therefore, as part of a policy of Antiochus IV to gain additional monies. The actions as described in 1 Maccabees, however, do seem to go beyond simply taking funds from a temple.

Antiochus IV "entered the sanctuary"—i.e., the inner courts of the Temple, not the holy of holies. According to 3 Macc 1:9–12, a king was allowed to enter the sanctuary, but not the holy of holies. Antiochus took away the altar of incense (see Exod 30:1–10), the lamp stand (see Exod 25:31–40), the table of showbread (see Exod 25:23–30), the incense dishes, and the libation bowls (see Exod 25:29). The curtain referred to seems to be the curtain before the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant had stood (Exod 26:31–35). Thus, while Antiochus IV is not said to have himself entered the holy of holies, taking the curtain would have been seen as an act of desecration (cf. Mark 15:38, where, at the death of Jesus, the curtain is torn from top to bottom). "The crowns" refers to decorations on the Temple, as at 4:57, and perhaps to the clasps of gold on the curtains, as at Exod 36:13. "The hidden treasures" perhaps was money left in the Temple on deposit. Antiochus IV, known to Greek historians such as Polybius as having sought to restore his fortunes through robbing various temples, did a thorough job at Jerusalem.

1:24b–28. The narrator here breaks into poetic format, with parallelism between the constituent parts—for example, "shed much blood"/"spoke with arrogance"; "land"/"house of Jacob." Just as traditional imagery was often used in the narrative, so also this poem, in traditional lament format, draws on traditional style. One might compare it with the way the author of the Gospel of Luke uses hymns in the opening chapters to create an atmosphere of traditional piety. The author of 1 Maccabees, by the use of such a traditional format, thus shows respect for tradition and arouses sympathy for the presentation among hearers or readers.

1 Maccabees 1:29–40, The Occupation of Jerusalem


Antiochus IV had been able to conquer Egypt so successfully in his first campaign in part because Rome was engaged in fighting Perseus, king of Macedon, who was defeated on June 22, 168 bce. When the opposition to Antiochus IV in Egypt proclaimed Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and Cleopatra to be joint rulers, Antiochus’s protg joined with them. So Antiochus once again laid siege to Alexandria. But this time the Romans intervened, and the Roman ambassador C. Popillius Laenas came before Antiochus to deliver an ultimatum for him to withdraw all his forces from Egypt and Cyprus. Antiochus had to submit to the superior power of Rome and ignominiously return to Syria. An Egyptian priest, Hor, had recorded a dream he had that Antiochus and his army would leave Egypt by July 30, 168 bce, and his dream was confirmed by events.

1:29–31. The expression "a chief collector of tribute" is usually interpreted in the light of 2 Macc 5:24, where this figure is identified as Apollonius, captain of the Mysians. The Greek translator might easily have misread the Hebrew "chief collector of tribute" (שׂר המוסים śar hammsm) as "captain of the Mysians" (שׂר המיסים śar hammsm).

The sending of a force to strengthen the city of Jerusalem would seem to fit in with the strategic necessity of defending Antiochus’s southern border with Egypt. This strengthening of Jerusalem, however, is described as oppression by the author of 1 Maccabees. As the text now stands, Antiochus’s intent is to collect tribute, just as Alexander had taken tribute (1:4), and an official comes with a large force, just as Antiochus IV had invaded Egypt before plundering it (1:17, 19). The enemies of the Jews are described as using peaceable words to work deceit (this negative description of enemies is found elsewhere in 1 Maccabees; e.g., 7:10, 15, 27–30; 10:46; 11:2–3). The author of 2 Maccabees intensifies the heinousness of the deed by having the invasion take place on a sabbath. Many inhabitants are slaughtered, and the city is looted, burned, and left defenseless by the destruction of its walls (cf. Jer 51:58).

1:32. There is a sudden change from the third-person singular to the third-person plural. The third-person plural can be used in place of the passive tense, or it may be that the large force mentioned in v. 29 is considered not collectively now but as being made up of individuals. (This latter phenomenon is seen in 2 Kgs 25:5 LXX: "the army [sing.] of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook him.")

The women, children, and livestock are groups distinct from the fighting males. When the tribes of Reuben and Gad wished to stay in the land of Jazer and Gilead and not cross over the Jordan, Moses allowed them to leave their little ones, their wives, their flocks, and all their livestock behind, but all men armed for war had to cross over to help conquer the promised land (Num 32:25–27; cf. Deut 3:19). Exodus 20:17 and Deut 5:21 classify women and livestock as possessions. Taking away the women and children ensures that the city will not reproduce itself and survive; taking the livestock removes the means of sustenance. The combination of women, children, and livestock, therefore, represents the life of a town.

1:33. According to 2 Macc 5:5, this whole operation was motivated by an attempt by the former high priest Jason to gain control of Jerusalem after hearing a false rumor that Antiochus IV had died. Although the destruction of its walls would strip the city of its defenses, in order to provide some security "the city of David" was fortified and became the occupying force’s citadel. There was a citadel in Jerusalem in Persian times, which seems to have been located north of the temple area (Neh 7:2), and this citadel had apparently been destroyed prior to the time of Antiochus IV. According to 2 Macc 4:12, there was, indeed, a citadel in Jerusalem before the persecution of Antiochus IV. This citadel seems to have been within the city of David (2 Macc 5:5), since Jonathan later built a barrier between the citadel and the city (1 Macc 12:36). In 1 Macc 1:33, "citadel" parallels the fortified "city of David," and so it should perhaps be taken in the more general sense of "stronghold," rather than referring to the citadel within the city.

1:34–35. In the citadel was stationed "a sinful race, perverse men." The two phrases are in apposition. "Perverse men" refers to 1:11, with the biblical resonance of renegades and apostates from Judaism. "A sinful nation" is found at Isa 1:4 in a bitter reproach against a rebellious Israel:

Ah, sinful nation,

people laden with iniquity,

offspring who do evil,

children who deal corruptly,

who have forsaken the Lord,

who have despised the Holy One of Israel,

who are utterly estranged! (NRSV)

Those living in the citadel, therefore, would seem to be Jews who did not rebel against Antiochus IV. They are characterized as a "snare," using a term by which Joshua had described the nations left in the land (Josh 23:13), and with which Hosea (5:1) and Jeremiah (5:26; cf. Ps 119:110) had described sinners within Israel.

1:36–40. The author again breaks into a poetic lament, wherein the verses evidence strong parallelism. The language echoes Lam 5:2: "Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens," as well as the oracle against Jerusalem uttered by Amos: "I will turn your feasts into mourning,/ and all your songs into lamentation" (Amos 8:10 NRSV; cf. Lam 5:15–18). It stresses the gap between those who now dwell in Jerusalem and true Israelites, connects these events with the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 bce, and depicts the author as the true upholder of Israelite tradition.

1 Maccabees 1:41–64, The Imposition of Paganism


The author now describes the measures undertaken by Antiochus IV to impose control over Judea, measures that meant the abolition of the observance of the law in Judea. The author of 1 Maccabees states that these measures were part of a general plan to homogenize all the peoples (v. 41). Antiochus’s effort may be seen as hubris against God, with perhaps an allusion to Gen 11:6, where God sees that humans are one people and one language and are conspiring to act against heaven, and so scatters them. The same kind of homogenizing effort is also found in Daniel 3, where Nebuchadnezzar is said to have set up a golden statue and to have commanded all "peoples, nations, and languages" to worship it. Antiochus IV was the first Seleucid king to use the title "god manifest" (Ἐπιφανής θεός Epiphanēs theos); from his depictions on coins, he appears to have had a particular devotion to Olympian Zeus, rather than to Apollo, as had been customary among the Seleucids. Daniel 11:37–38 speaks of Antiochus’s honoring the god of fortresses (Zeus Olympios) rather than "the gods of his ancestors, or to the one beloved by women" (NRSV; Tammuz); it is also suggested that Antiochus considered himself greater than these other gods. However, there is no evidence that Antiochus IV attempted to stamp out the customs and traditional religious observances of other nations; in fact, he seems to have promoted local customs. Such a move by Antiochus IV to abolish the religious practice of a people would have been deeply at odds with the usual practice of the time, whereby ancient states respected the existing gods and cultic practices of differing localities.

Nevertheless, Antiochus is consistently portrayed as instigating the abolition of Jewish observances. Both biblical and extra-biblical sources indicate that the attack on Jewish observances emanated from Antiochus himself. At Dan 11:30–31, he is said to "take action against the holy covenant" (NRSV) and to send forces to profane the Temple. The first-century bce historian Diodorus Siculus relates how Antiochus VII Sidetes was told by his friends:

Antiochus, called Epiphanes, on defeating the Jews had entered the innermost sanctuary of the god’s temple, where it was lawful for the priest alone to enter. He found there a marble statue of a heavily bearded man seated on an ass, with a book in his hands. He supposed it to be an image of Moses, the founder of Jerusalem and organizer of the nation. Moses was the person who had ordained for the Jews their misanthropic and lawless customs. Since Epiphanes was shocked by such hatred directed against all mankind, he had set himself to break down their traditional practices.

This incredibly untrue depiction evidences some of the anti-Jewish nonsense circulating about the Jews. Later, in a letter to Lysias, his guardian, Antiochus V reversed this prohibition against Judaism (see 2 Macc 11:23–25), which he attributes to his father.

The letters of the king (v. 44) complete the agenda of the renegades mentioned in v. 11—to follow after other customs (1:11; cf. Deut 13:2). The text makes clear that this meant the abandonment of all that was distinctive of Judaism—Jewish festivals, daily offerings, sabbaths, circumcision, kosher laws—but it is not clear exactly what replaced them. Elias Bickermann suggests that the religion was a Hellenistic reform of Judaism, whereby the worship of the God of the Jews was replaced by the cult of Ba’al Shamen ("Lord of the Heavens"); the desolating sacrilege in 1 Macc 1:54 is a translation of the term at Dan 11:31 (חשׁקוץ משׁומם haššiqqṣ mĕšmēm), which is a pun on the word Shamen. Jonathan Goldstein suggests that the divine triad of Zeus, Athena, and Dionysus was worshiped.47 However, these suggestions remain highly speculative. What we do know is that (1) the Temple was dedicated to Zeus Olympios (2 Macc 6:2); (2) unlawful sacrifices were made on the altar of burnt offering (1 Macc 1:59; 2 Macc 6:5); (3) other altars were placed in the cities of Judea (1 Macc 1:54) and in the agora of Jerusalem (2 Macc 10:2); (4) feasts of Dionysus were celebrated, as was the king’s birthday (2 Macc 6:7); (5) pigs were sacrificed, as was frequently done in Greek religious practices. We do not know whether cultic statues were set up, although later writers make this claim. The proliferation of altars and the various festivals suggest that, rather than the cult of one particular deity or trio of deities, what was established was the worship of various gods and goddesses.49

1:45. "Burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings" refer to the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings that were to be offered daily, on sabbaths, and on feast days (see Numbers 28–29). "To profane sabbaths" was to become guilty of death (Exod 31:12–17; cf. Neh 13:17–18; Ezek 20:13, 16).

1:46–49. The term "priests" (ἄγιοι hagioi) literally means "holy ones" (Latin manuscripts read "holy things"). What is being described is the elimination of the distinction between clean and unclean, which is so much a part of the Torah. The sanctuary is no longer the only holy place (Lev 17:1–9; Deut 12:2–14), the most holy place in Israel (Ezek 45:3), but there are to be other altars and other offering places, and the offering of swine and other unclean animals signifies the end of the kosher laws of Leviticus 11. The prohibition of circumcision made a Jewish male’s body uncovenanted (Gen 17:11). Thus the distinguishing marks of the religious culture of Judea—sacred time, sacred space, sacred food, and sacred body—were eliminated (the language "to make themselves abominable" reflects the language of Lev 11:43–44; 20:25–26).

1:50. The change from indirect speech to direct speech heightens the sense of immediacy and impending threat. The Greek word for "command" (ῥῆμα rhēma) is frequently found in the Greek translation of the Bible for what God says in the Torah (e.g., Lev 17:2; Num 30:1 [LXX 30:2]; Deut 12:32 [LXX 13:1]; 28:58; 31:9).

1:51. The opening words of v. 41 are repeated. This verse further describes the way in which Antiochus’s decree was to be implemented.

1:52–53. Many of the people are said to follow the king’s order (v. 42) to forsake their ancestral tradition. At Dan 11:30, Antiochus is said to "pay heed to those who forsake the holy covenant" (NRSV; cf. Prov. 28:4: "Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law struggle against them" [NRSV]). Just as the successors of Alexander caused many evils on the land (1:9), so also did those who now forsake the law.

Only those who resist the king’s command deserve the name of "Israel." Where they fled is not specified, but more than 150 cave complexes have been discovered in the Judean foothills, southwest of Jerusalem. Hewn into the chalk rock, parts of these cave complexes are connected by low and narrow passages. The entrances to the various segments of the complex could be blocked and defended from the inside; there were water installations, areas for storage rooms, and means of providing ventilation. These complexes would have been fully operational at the time of the Jewish revolts against Rome in 66–70 and 132–135 ce, but they were also in use, if not quite so elaborately, during the Hellenistic period. As Amos Kloner states, "The warrens appear to have been of local design and execution, and their integration within and around settlements points to their extensive use during the Hellenistic and Roman periods." (The hiding places are also mentioned at 1 Macc 2:29–31.)

1:54–59. The fifteenth day of Chislev, the ninth month in the Jewish calendar, would be about the middle of December. The author of 2 Maccabees as well as the author of 1 Maccabees would date the removal of this sacrilege on the 25th day of Chislev (1 Macc 4:52, 54; 2 Macc 10:5). The author of 2 Maccabees follows the schema whereby punishment and reward fall on the same day, and so connects the profanation of the Temple with the feast of Antiochus’s birthday (25 Chislev), rather than with the actual erection of the abomination of desolation. The book of Daniel speaks of the removal of the daily burnt offering (Dan 8:11) and the setting up of the desolating abomination (Dan 9:27; 11:31). The erection of altars throughout the towns of Judea and the burning of incense in the streets signify the ways in which all the community of Judea was to be involved in this transformation. Demosthenes says that one should fill the streets with the savor of sacrifice, and a decree from Asia Minor in the late second century bce speaks of both the official sacrifice and the household sacrifice to honor the goddess Artemis on her feast day. One might compare the action of King Josiah against such practices (2 Kgs 23:4–20).

The word for "books" (βιβλία biblia) in v. 56 is the same word used for "letters" in v. 44. Perhaps the author suggests that the "books"—that is, letters—of the king replace the "books" of the law. The burning of the book of the law might be compared to the cutting and burning of Jeremiah’s scroll by King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36).

1:60–63. The author has chosen to highlight the execution of women here not only to show the cruelty of the persecutors, but also to symbolize the attempt to destroy the traditions of the Jews (cf. 2 Macc 6:10). Since it is through women that a people continues, the gruesome sight of babies and mothers executed together strongly signifies the stamping out of a people.

In v. 62, the language is that of war and siegecraft. Interestingly, the resistance of those who do not obey the king’s command is signified by their not eating unclean food. The same concern occurs in the book of Daniel, where Daniel and his companions, captives in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, refuse to eat the royal rations of food and wine so as not to defile themselves (Dan 1:8–16). When Antiochus IV defiles sacred spaces and sacred times, some Jews do not allow their "covenanted" bodies to be breached by ingesting unclean food. The result of both actions—the womens’ actions to covenant their sons and the men’s to not eat unclean food—is the same: death.

1:64. The time of wrath upon Israel is recognized by Mattathias (1 Macc 2:49) and is taken away by the actions of Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc 3:8). The author here follows a pattern whereby the sins of Israel bring on the wrath of God, but their repentance prompts God to send a deliverer. The pattern of sin/repentance/deliverance is strongly expressed in Judg 2:11–14; 3:7–10. The "wrath of the Lord" is also prominent in the accounts of the reasons for God’s punishment and exile of Israel (2 Kgs 17:7–18) and Judah (2 Kgs 21:14–15; 22:16–17; 23:26–27).


Wars, with their attendant violence and oppression, are not merely about geographical boundaries. Perhaps even more, wars concern questions of cultural identity. We may never know exactly what prompted Antiochus IV to attempt to stamp out the ancestral religious traditions of Judea in 167 bce. He may have wanted to eliminate any opposition in an area near the border with Egypt, or he may have been venting his anger at being humiliated by the Romans on an available target. Why these motives entailed systematic destruction of the religion of Judea is unclear. The author of 1 Maccabees has presented the conflict as a question of self-determination and does not mention the Roman setback to Antiochus IV in Egypt. Rather, Antiochus is portrayed as a powerful monarch who tries to impose his will on a much smaller nation. The Jews, who stood firm, are depicted as wishing to maintain their cultural traditions. Several issues arise as one ponders this narrative.

1. The question of minority rights immediately comes to mind as one reads the account of the oppression of the Jews under Antiochus. Within a large, multi-cultural nation, how are the rights and ethnicity of the minority to be respected and protected? The issue is exemplified particularly when one discusses religion in the public schools. If the holy days of the majority group are discussed in school by a teacher (e.g., Christian feasts, like Christmas), should the teacher not also discuss the holy days of other religions, like Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism? If prayer were to be allowed in public schools, should the prayers of all religious groups be said along with those of the religion of the majority? The issue becomes particularly acute when an element of a minority’s religious practice seems to run counter to the majority culture. If peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, is sacred to Native American worship, can the majority culture decide the use of this substance should be prohibited because it is a drug? What if a religious group practices animal sacrifice? Should they be allowed to perform a sacrifice in public? How far does the majority need to go to respect minority rights?

2. The author of 1 Maccabees paints Antiochus IV as a hubristic propagandist for his own gods and so demonizes him. All war propaganda does the same. The Germans during World War I were called "pillaging, raping Huns." All communists became tarred with the slogan "Better dead than Red." Politicians regularly accuse their opponents of being "socialist" or, inversely, "fascist." Such a temptation to demonize and to ostracize opponents as "the other" is always present when conflict or disagreement arises, but it is a tendency that should be resisted. The rhetoric of violence, of estrangement, must be eschewed if common ground is to be found among all peoples. Successful diplomatic negotiations may, in fact, hinge on treating one’s opponent with respect.

3. The author of 1 Maccabees skillfully uses language to portray the Maccabees as righteous upholders of traditional Jewish religion and contrasts their opponents as evil to draw boundaries around who is a "real" Jew. The members of any group will not always agree with each other on everything, but the rhetoric can quickly escalate into polarized language whereby one group hurls anathemas at the other. Are Sunni Muslims true Muslims, or are only Shiites true Muslims? Does one group have a monopoly on salvation? Can one Christian group agree to disagree with another without setting up barriers between them? When discussing such questions, we must not neglect to determine what are the social causes of division. Ecumenical dialogue almost requires as a prerequisite a social stability that brings with it the confidence to allow others to be different.


1 Maccabees 2:1–14, The Family of Mattathias


2:1–5. The vague time reference "in those days" does not allow one to specify when Mattathias decided enough was enough—before the plundering of Jerusalem by Apollonius (1 Macc 1:29) or after? Before the decrees of the king (1:41) or after? Before the erection of the abomination of desolation (1 Macc 1:54) or after? Modein, seven miles east of Lydda and seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, lay in the mountains. It is described later as the ancestral home of Mattathias and his family (1 Macc 2:70; 9:19). This makes all the more intriguing the notice that Mattathias resided in Jerusalem and that he was not there only on priestly duty for an appointed cycle (cf. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:8). What does such information tell us about Mattathias’s social status, wealth, and relationship to those other priests, who participated in the gymnasium at Jerusalem (2 Macc 4:14–15)? No data are available to answer these questions, but one can safely assume that Mattathias was not an ignorant country priest. According to 1 Chr 24:7, the house of Jehoiarib, whom the writer of 1 Maccabees names Joarib (v. 1), had the first of the twenty-four priestly courses in the temple service. The surnames of the five sons of Jehoiarib/Joarib remain enigmatic; "Maccabeus" most likely means "Hammerer."

2:6–13. Mattathias breaks into a lament similar to the laments found in Mic 7:1 and Jer 4:31. The language also echoes that of Lam 2:11; 3:48; 4:10, as well as that of the personal lament of Jer 15:10–21. In place of the phrase "to live there," many Greek manuscripts read "and they sat there," where the sense would be of someone sitting among ruins (cf. Lam 1:1; Hag 1:4).

Since it is unusual to compare a building to a man, some manuscripts read "people" instead of "temple." Cities are frequently personified and said to be ashamed (e.g., Nah 3:1–17; Jer 50:11–12). The language of honor and shame was also used in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 bce (Jer 51:51). The parallel line in v. 9a speaks of the taking away of the Temple’s glorious accoutrements. One might see the image of a properly outfitted man versus a man in hand-me-down clothing (cf. Lam 4:1–2, 7–8).

The poetic parallelism of 9bc is clear: infants//youths; killed//by the sword. The pride of a city is its children. A city renews itself through the children of its citizens; without them a city dies. The image of fainting children and slain youth is poignantly expressed in the laments over the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 bce:

The young and the old are lying

on the ground in the streets;

my young women and my young men

have fallen by the sword;

in the day of your anger you have killed them,

slaughtering without mercy.

(Lam 2:21 NRSV; cf. 2:11)

The author continues using traditional images of war, looting, and slavery in vv. 9–11.

Like earlier writers, the author of this lament mourns over the wasted beauty of the city (v. 12). "Our holy and beautiful house,/ where our ancestors praised you,/ has been burned by fire,/ and all our pleasant places have become ruins" (Isa 64:11 NRSV; cf. Lam 1:10; Dan 11:31–32). From the first-person singular of v. 7, the lament moves to the first-person plural as Mattathias’s lament becomes that of the faithful Israelite.

2:14. The donning of sackcloth is another traditional ritual act of mourning. Jacob put on sackcloth when he thought that his son Joseph had been killed by wild animals (Gen 37:34), and David ordered his men to put on sackcloth when he heard of Abner’s death (2 Sam 3:31). The author of 1 Maccabees, by this concatenation of traditional images, metaphors, and ritual action, paints Mattathias as a staunch upholder of ancestral custom.

1 Maccabees 2:15–28, The Actions at Modein


2:15–18. Although Mattathias and his sons left Jerusalem, they could not escape the decrees of the king (1:51). The scene stresses the separation of Mattathias and his sons from those who actively support the king’s program. Nevertheless, the king’s officers address Mattathias respectfully as a powerful clan leader and suggest that others follow his lead. In return, Mattathias and his family will obtain the privilege of membership in the royal court (1 Macc 10:65; 11:27) and wealth.

2:19–22. Mattathias answers by contrasting his kinsfolk’s unswerving devotion to the covenant with the apostasy of all others. The author uses traditional language, not "turning aside … to the right hand or to the left," the language Moses had used when he instructed the Israelites to follow the path of God’s commandments (Deut 5:32–33). Those who have "chosen to obey [the king’s] commandments" have forgotten what Moses said and brought on the curses written in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut 29:25–28).

2:23–26. Mattathias’s attachment to his ancestral traditions is further demonstrated by his action toward an apostate Jew, recalling how Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, acted during the wandering of the Israelites in the desert (Num 25:6–15). The Israelite males had been led astray by their non-Israelite wives to worship other gods, and one Israelite male defiantly brought a Midianite woman to his tent in the sight of Moses. In retribution, Phinehas speared both the man and the woman (Num 25:1–8). Through his zeal, Phinehas averted a plague on Israel, and a perpetual priesthood was granted to him and his descendants (Num 25:8–9, 12–13; Ps 106:28–31; Sir 45:23–25). By using this model, the author of Maccabees suggests not only that Mattathias is the real priestly descendant of Phinehas, but also that the action of Mattathias will avert the persecution of the Jews and that his descendants will be duly rewarded.

2:27–28. The hills to which Mattathias and his sons flee are probably those to the northeast of Modein, near Gophna and bordering on Samaria. Second Maccabees 5:27, with no mention of Mattathias or Modein, portrays Judas Maccabeus as fleeing to the wilderness. He and his sons leave everything they own (v. 28) rather than "leave" the law and the ordinances (v. 21).

1 Maccabees 2:29–48, The Exploits of Mattathias


After Mattathias’s dramatic revolt comes a discussion of what he achieved. First, however, is told the story of another group who wished to have no part in the changes to their ancestral traditions. Will Mattathias behave like them?

2:29–38, The Seekers After Righteousness and Justice. The Judean wilderness was a traditional hiding place (see 1 Sam 23:14, where David hides from Saul). It also came to symbolize the place where Israel had covenanted with God (see Jer 2:2–3; Hos 2:14–15). First Maccabees describes the group that flees there in traditional terms, usually given in the order "justice and righteousness" (see, e.g., Jer 22:15; 23:5; Ezek 18:27; 33:14, 19; 45:9). Zephaniah 2:3 exhorts the people to do justice and seek righteousness and humility so that they might perhaps be hidden on the day of the Lord’s wrath. Qumran covenanters were exhorted in their Community Rule to do truth and righteousness and justice. In a description of God’s renewing the land, the Isaianic tradition foretells that justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness in the fruitful field (Isa 32:16).

In contrast to Mattathias and his followers, who left everything behind in the city, this group takes all the elements of social living with them—sons, wives, and livestock (note how for this patriarchal author wives came after sons, but at least before livestock). "Troubles" here refers to the evil being done in the land by those who have forsaken the law (1 Macc 1:52–53). This effort to set up an alternate social existence is opposed by the people in Jerusalem, the city of David, which has now become the center of apostasy (1:33–40; 2:18; for more on the hiding places, see Commentary on 1:53).

The seekers after righteousness choose to die "in their innocence" (ἐν τῇ ἁπλότητι ἡμῶν en tē haplotēti hēmōn). The same word is found concerning Daniel (1 Macc 2:60) and has the overtones of integrity and sincerity (1 Chr 29:17; Wis 1:1). Those who sought justice (v. 29) are destroyed unjustly. "Heaven and earth" are frequently invoked to witness covenant violations (Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1; Isa 1:2). The total annihilation of humans and livestock recalls the tradition of the ban (Josh 6:21; 1 Sam 15:3; 22:19); it is also similar to the victory stele of Mesha, the ninth-century bce king of Moab. A variation on this story is told in 2 Macc 6:11. There the group assembles for sabbath worship and is not said to have left on a permanent basis; this account states that all were burnt to death. Another similar story is found in the Testament of Moses 9. There Taxo, from the tribe of Levi, upon witnessing the evils that have come upon the nation, exhorts his seven sons never to transgress God’s commandments and advises them to fast for three days and then to go into a cave in the open country and wait to die rather than submit to apostasy. The mind-set is that one should flee from all contact with contagion and sin, and the only way to avoid them completely is to commit suicide.

2:39–41, The Response of Mattathias and His Friends. The language of v. 39 reflects the ritual mourning for the dead (as in 1:25–27), establishing a rhetorical bond between Mattathias and his group and those seekers of righteousness who had died. Mattathias is consciously depicted as surrounded by his friends, in contrast to the king and his closest companions, called the king’s friends (see, e.g., 1 Macc 2:8; 3:38; 6:10). The language of v. 40 catches the sense of a group caught in a quandary and coming to a decision in a time of crisis ("each said to his neighbor" as at Judg 6:29; 10:18; 2 Kgs 7:3, 9; Jdt 7:4; 1 Macc 3:43). The community aspect of the decision is further enhanced by the reference to "brothers," by the use of the first-person plural, and by the repetition of "our." One might also note how the singular for "life" is used—not "for our lives," but "for our life," as though the community has one life. The result is a community-based decision that, in these particular circumstances and in order to maintain the community’s existence, defensive warfare on the sabbath will be allowed. Bar-Kochva has cogently pointed out that previously there had not been any ban against warfare on the sabbath, otherwise Jews could not have served in Hellenistic armies (as they certainly did). Nonetheless, the emphasis in both this and the previous passage is on defense on the sabbath in particular (2:32, 34, 38, 41), not just on any day; there were many who opposed any kind of warfare on the sabbath. The pseudepigraphic book of Jubilees states that anyone who made war on the sabbath should die, a position maintained by some into the first century ce. Allowing oneself to be killed by refusing to fight on the sabbath was considered a pious act. Both the emphasis on this being a community-based decision and its rhetorical placement (between the preceding pious opponents of Antiochus and the succeeding attachment of the Hasideans to Mattathias) illustrate the author’s attempts to link the Hasmoneans to the most Torah-observant traditions.

2:42–48. The Deeds of Mattathias. These verses describe the consequences of Mattathias’s action in killing the king’s officer and fleeing to the hills (cf. 1 Macc 2:24–28). The connecting particle "then" (τότε tote; the same word is used to start v. 29) suggests that the decision to resist even on the sabbath brought in these supporters—i.e., the decision to defend oneself on the sabbath is ratified by important members of the community.

2:42–43. A group called the Hasideans now join Mattathias and his followers. Some manuscripts read "Judeans," but "Hasideans" appears the preferable reading (Ἀσιδαῖοι [Asidaioi] reflects the Aramaic חסידיא [ḥăsdayyāʾ] and the Hebrew חסידים [ḥăsdm ], "pious," "loyal ones"). The author of 1 Maccabees, in discussing the execution of some Hasideans (7:12–17), quotes Ps 79:2 (where the Hebrew term [ḥăsdm ] is found) to describe their fate. The transliteration suggests that the Hasideans were a well-known group, but their exact identity has evoked much scholarly discussion. Are they to be connected with "the wise ones" of Dan 11:33 or with those described allegorically in 1 Enoch 90:6–9? Are they to be linked to the Essenes or to the Pharisees? The term "Hasidean" itself draws upon traditional terminology, where those loyal to God are referred to as ḥăsdm. In 2 Macc 14:6, Judas Maccabeus is said to be the leader of the Hasideans, whereas here and at (1 Macc 7:13) the Maccabees are distinguished from them. The phrase translated "mighty warriors" (ἰσχυροὶ δυνάμει ischyroi dynamei) is also used to describe Judas Maccabeus in his fitness to lead the army after Mattathias’s death (2:66). The word has overtones of leadership when it is used in 1 Chronicles to describe the heads of ancestral houses (1 Chr 5:24; 7:2, 5, 7, 9, 11). This quality of leadership is also evident in 1 Macc 7:13, where the Hasideans are said to be first among the sons of Israel. The Hasideans are thus a distinguished people, and their willingness to offer their own lives for the sake of the law responds to Mattathias’s call to all who are zealous for the law to follow him (2:27). In 1 Maccabees, then, the Hasideans are neither pacifist nor apocalyptic, but important folk devoted to the law. Besides them come others. The translation "to escape their troubles" (cf. 2:29) must be seen in the light of 1:52–53: the group is fleeing from the evil in the land.

2:44–48. Describing the rebels as an army may be a trifle grandiose, but they were an effective fighting force that set out to redress what had taken place. The phrase "sinners and renegades" echoes the terms used of the group stationed in the Akra (1:34). The survivors of this counter-attack now fully join the Gentiles, as they had sought to do early (see 1:11–15). Mattathias destroys the pagan altars built in the towns around Judea. Mattathias also undoes the king’s ban of circumcision (1:48). The pursuit of the "sons of arrogance" (author’s trans.) recalls the arrogance of Antiochus IV (1:21, 24). Just as the king tried to make Israel forget the law (1:49) and destroyed the books of the law (1:56–57), so also Mattathias now rescues the law. Mattathias’s actions recall those of Judith, who, before cutting off the head of the Assyrian commander Holofernes, prayed, "Now indeed is the time for aiding your heritage" (Jdt 13:5 NAB). "Gain the upper hand" is literally "did not give horn to the sinner." The horn is a traditional symbol of strength (cf. 1 Kgs 22:11; Ps 148:14). Sirach complains that the kings of Judah abandoned the law and gave their horn to others and their glory to a foreign nation (49:4–5).


This account of the exploits of Mattathias emphasizes how he and his friends overturn the damage done to ancestral traditions by the arrogant decrees of Antiochus IV. The narrative evinces solidarity with those who went down into the wilderness and were executed, but has Mattathias and his group choose another course in order to prevent complete annihilation of their cause. As such, the narrative forces us to ask questions about the proper use of violence. The rebels who went down to the desert certainly had not planned a guerrilla campaign, or they would not have taken along their families and livestock. They simply wanted to be left alone. Would they have defended themselves if attacked on a day other than the sabbath? Although the narrative does not give us the answer, wanting instead to emphasize the heinous nature of the crime, it nonetheless raises the issue of pacifism. (For further reflections, see the section "The Ethics of Violence" in the Introduction, 16–18.)

1 Maccabees 2:49–70, The Death of Mattathias


As did other great leaders in giving farewell addresses, Mattathias gathers his sons to deliver his last will and testament (cf. Jacob, Genesis 49; Moses, Deuteronomy 33; Joshua, Joshua 23; Samuel, 1 Samuel 12; and David, 1 Kings 2). The death of Mattathias contrasts with that of Alexander the Great (1:6–9). Whereas Alexander’s successors brought evil upon the land, however, Mattathias’s sons will bring a renewal of ancestral traditions.

2:49–50. The same formula used of Jacob (Gen 47:29) and David (1 Kgs 2:1) is used here: "When the days drew near for x to die.…" The arrogance of Antiochus has been mentioned before (1:21, 24), as has the "anger" toward Israel (1:64). Mattathias entreats his sons that just as he had burned with zeal (2:24–26), so also must they act.

2:51–60. In Mattathias’s exhortation of his sons to give their lives for the covenant, the author of 1 Maccabees provides a list of the great actions of the past. Covenants or treaties made between two parties usually followed a standard structure: a list of the stipulations of the treaty, requirements for the deposit and public reading of the covenant, and the list of witnesses to the covenant. The covenant would usually begin with a historical prologue, which would describe the previous relationships between the two parties, particularly the benevolent acts of a suzerain toward his vassals or the rebellion of a vassal or his ancestors against the suzerain. This historical element is well represented in the covenant scene of Joshua 24, and it provides the opening framework for the book of Deuteronomy, a work steeped in covenantal concerns that is, on some level, a testament of Moses before his death. At Deut 32:7–14, Moses appeals to the people to remember how God had acted properly toward them, and that they had been unmindful of the rock that bore them, forgetful of the God who had birthed them (Deut 32:18). Joshua also recounts to the people all that they have seen God do and encourages them to observe the commandments (Josh 23:2–6). The list in 1 Maccabees urges the sons to remember how God had acted faithfully toward covenant partners in the past, when those partners had acted faithfully in return. Mattathias’s list of those persons worthy of imitation is interesting both for who is included and who is not. Contrasted with the list of famous men in Sirach 44–50, Mattathias omits, among others, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Solomon, Elisha, Isaiah, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The author of 1 Maccabees thus lists a select group of heroes—and no heroines.

2:52. The author links the testing of Abraham, when he is commanded to slay his son Isaac (Genesis 22), with the present situation, drawing especially on the phrase from Gen 15:6, where Abraham’s faith in God is credited to him as righteousness. Because of this verse, Abraham became a paradigm of faithfulness (cf. Rom 4:3). The book of Jubilees lists many tests in which Abraham was found faithful (Jub. 17:17–18), beginning with a famine in the land of Chaldea and his rejection of idol worship. Pseudo-Philo also has a story in which Abraham in Chaldea is thrown into a fiery furnace because he rejects idols. The testing of Abraham parallels the situation the Maccabees now find themselves in.

2:53. Joseph’s rejection of the attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) is retold in Jub 39:1–10. There Joseph resists because "he remembered the Lord and the words which Jacob, his father, used to read" (Jub 39:6). Joseph, through his gift of dream interpretation, becomes lord of Egypt in Gen 41:40–45. With this example, the author of 1 Maccabees suggests that faithfulness leads to exaltation and rule.

2:54. Phinehas has already been cited as the model for Mattathias’s zeal (1 Macc 2:26). Here Mattathias claims to be a descendant of Phinehas and thereby sets the stage for later Hasmonean claims to high priestly station (see also Sir 45:23–26).

2:55. "Because he fulfilled the command" might also be translated "when he had completed the task." Joshua was commissioned by Moses (Num 27:18–23) and by God (Josh 1:2–9), and his role is glorified in Sir 46:1–7. After Joshua conquered the promised land and divided it among the Israelite tribes, he gathered all the tribes at Shechem and made a covenant with the people to turn away from other gods and to serve Yahweh alone. Although Joshua is not explicitly called a "judge" (κριτής kritēs) in 1 Maccabees, elsewhere he is reported to have made "statutes and ordinances" (חק ומשׁפט ḥōq mišpāṭ; LXX νόμον καὶ κρίσιν nomon kai krisin; see Josh 24:25), and he is the first leader mentioned in the book of Judges (1:1–2:10). He is put on the list because he conquered the land, and, as mentioned in the Introduction, the author of 1 Maccabees draws heavily on the language and ideology of the book of Judges.

2:56. Caleb, along with Joshua, reported positively about the land he and others were sent to spy out (Numbers 14). Caleb and Joshua were the only representatives allowed to enter the promised land. Caleb, of the tribe of Nun, settled around Hebron (Josh 14:6–15). The author of 1 Maccabees again ties reward to the land to faithful discharge of duty. (Sirach speaks of Caleb and Joshua opposing the assembly to prevent them from sinning [Sir 46:7–10]).

2:57. That David was rewarded because he was "merciful" (ἔλεος eleos) seems out of place in this list. Perhaps one should see behind eleos the Hebrew word denoting acts of covenant faithfulness (חסד ḥesed). As such, eleos would reflect what David said in his song of thanksgiving (2 Sam 22:21–25). David’s trust in God is clearly stated in his fight against Goliath (1 Sam 17:45–47). That David’s dynasty would last forever is promised in 2 Sam 7:13–16 (see also Psalm 89; Sir 47:2–11). Although John Hyrcanus would later lay claim to the title of king, the author of 1 Maccabees does not bestow such a title on any of the Hasmoneans, but gives them only the title "leader" (ἡγούμενοσ hēgoumenos, 14:35).

2:58. Elijah, the great miracle-working prophet of the ninth century bce, appeared when King Ahab of Israel began to worship the Canaanite storm god Baal. Baal was believed to bring life-giving rain to restore fertility to the land. Elijah showed the futility of worshiping Baal by proclaiming that Yahweh would bring a drought on the land; in a dramatic contest with the priests of Baal, Elijah proved that Yahweh is the real bestower of health and fertility (1 Kgs 17:1–18:46). Elijah proclaimed his zeal for God at Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19:1–14) where Yahweh appeared to him not in a mighty wind or an earthquake or fire, but in a whisper, assuring Elijah that there were others in Israel who had not worshiped Baal (1 Kgs 19:11–18). In keeping with Elijah’s fiery confrontation with the storm god Baal, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire during a whirlwind (2 Kings 2).

2:59–60. In Daniel 3, when King Nebuchadnezzar made a huge golden statue that he commanded all peoples and nations to serve, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jewish captives of the Babylonians (Dan 1:6–7), refuse to worship the idol. They are denounced to the king and thrown into a fiery furnace, in which they are miraculously preserved. This miracle prompts Nebuchadnezzar to honor the God of the Jews and to promote them in Nebuchadnezzar’s service.

In Daniel 6, envious opponents plot to destroy the innocent and praiseworthy Daniel through his obedience to his God. Accordingly, they require that everyone in the whole kingdom worship only the king, Darius, for thirty days. When Daniel ostentatiously disobeys the command, he is thrown into a den of lions, but is saved by an angel of God. Daniel’s accusers are forthwith gobbled up by the lions, the king himself honors Daniel’s God, and Daniel prospers.

One might suggest reasons why these models were chosen. Abraham is the father of the Jews. Joseph and Joshua rose to important positions, whereas Caleb received an inheritance in the land. Phinehas and David represent the two major institutions in Israel: priesthood and monarchy. Elijah was victorious against idol worship, and Daniel and his three companions overcame the commands to worship idols of Persian kings, the forerunners of the Seleucid rulers.

2:61–64. The author uses traditional sentiments to draw a conclusion from the historical examples: "Do not put your trust in princes,/ in mortals, in whom there is no help./ When their breath departs, they return to the earth;/ on that very day their plans perish" (Ps 146:3–4 NRSV; cf. 1 Sam 2:4–5; Ps 26:1; Isa 14:14–21). An exhortation to abide by the covenant follows on this conclusion. When Moses was about to die, he summoned Joshua and used the same exhortation, so that Joshua would lead the people into the promised land (Deut 31:7, 23; Josh 1:5–9, 18).

2:65–68. Mattathias now plans for the future, and the author shows in some sense the organization of the rest of the book, in inverse order, around Judas and Simon. Interestingly, Jonathan is not mentioned, nor is he given a hymn in the narrative, as are Judas (3:3–9) and Simon (14:4–15).

2:65. The most praise is given to Simon, here called Simeon. He replaced Mattathias as leader of the family and is described with the attributes of a leader ("wise in counsel"), somewhat like the ideal leader described in Isa 9:6. This Simeon contrasts with Simeon, the son of Jacob, into whose council Jacob hopes never to come (Gen 49:6), whereas Simon is lauded as a wise leader (14:4–15).

2:66. Judas is to be the commander in chief. Instead of "battle against the peoples," one might translate "battle for the tribes," on the analogy with 1 Macc 3:2, where the same syntax is used in "fight for Israel." Judas is to be the standard bearer in fighting on Israel’s behalf.

2:67–68. The final injunctions of Mattathias, in a chiastic pattern, are intended to unite the Torah observers and to urge them to take vengeance on their enemies, the Gentiles. The language resonates with that of Moses’ final injunctions (Deut 32:43–47), as well as with the words of the divine warrior at Isa 59:18: "According to their deeds, so will he repay;/ wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies" (NRSV). The conflict is set up between the Jewish people and the Gentiles, and it brings to a fitting close this introduction to the body of the work; the first chapter was concerned to point out the attempt to eradicate Jewish ancestral traditions by the Gentiles, and the second the response to that attempt.

2:69–70. Again using traditional language, the death of Mattathias is described in a way similar to the description of Jacob’s death (Gen 49:28–29, 33; 50:10). Mattathias is "gathered to his ancestors," as were Moses (Deut 32:50), the generation of Joshua (Judg 2:11), and the husband of Judith (Jdt 16:22); the phrase also occurs in the prediction of the death of the good king Josiah (2 Kgs 22:20) and in the story of Bel and the Dragon (Bel and the Dragon 1). The mourning of all Israel, here for Mattathias, is recorded also when all Israel mourns over the defiled sanctuary (1 Macc 4:39) and at the deaths of Judas (1 Macc 9:20) and Jonathan (1 Macc 13:26).


As we read of the determination of Mattathias to resist with force the attack on Judaism by Antiochus IV, we might pause to consider the long tradition in the West concerning "just" warfare. Under what conditions should one go to war, and how should one conduct oneself in war? Moral and legal standards have been set up as to whether force should be used in a given instance. In considering what these standards may be, one might ponder these questions:

(1) Who has the authority to declare war? One answer might be that only the legally constituted ruling authority, such as the United States Congress or the United Nations.

(2) What circumstances lead to the outbreak of war? The presumption should be that a nation will not go to war. We should in no way seek to harm our neighbor. A nation should not embark on war for any reasons of revenge or self-aggrandizement, but to right some injustice, to defend itself, and to restrain wrongdoing. War is permissible to protect innocent life, to secure basic human rights, and to ensure that one can lead a decent existence. Those who go to war should have as their aim the restoration of peace. Thus nations should choose war only as a last resort after every other avenue to ensure peace or to right the wrong has been exhausted. Whoever goes to war should have a reasonable hope of success, for otherwise lives will be endangered and lost for no purpose.

(3) What is acceptable conduct toward armed belligerents and toward unarmed civilians? Under no circumstances, according to just-war theory, can unarmed civilians be targeted. If attacked, one should attempt to restrain but not to annihilate the enemy. This criterion becomes increasingly difficult to observe once the possibility of nuclear warfare appears.

When we look at the actions of Mattathias and his sons in the light of these criteria, we see that they were undergoing a massive attack on their standard of living and on their cultural existence. The author has gone out of his way to exaggerate the evil intention of Antiochus IV to eradicate Judaism. By describing the massacre of the seekers after righteousness, the author shows that there was no alternative; one could not even opt out of society. The high priest, not Mattathias, was the leader of Judah, but the high priest is not shown as being directly opposed to the actions of Antiochus IV (see 2 Maccabees 4). The author of 1 Maccabees thus grants Mattathias a different kind of leadership from that of the high priest. Major members of society, the Hasideans, rally behind Mattathias’s leadership. More important, Mattathias is cloaked in the mantle of divine authority, since his actions are so closely linked to those of the divinely inspired Phinehas. While this obviates the problem of Mattathias’s not being a duly appointed leader, the narrative also poses other problems. Many persons may lay claim to divinely inspired leadership, but how is one to judge the validity of their claim?

The narrative also raises questions about how a war should be conducted. When Mattathias is depicted as forcing all citizens of Judea to be circumcised (1 Macc 2:46), this action could be interpreted as going beyond the limits set by the requirements for just conduct in war. Within our own day, the development of weapons of mass destruction, of missiles that can be sent long distances and not always with pinpoint accuracy, forces us to wonder whether any war can ever be just according to the traditional criteria of just war. Will not such weapons of mass destruction inevitably cause the deaths of civilians?

1 MACCABEES 3:1–9:22

Judas Maccabeus



3:1–2. The author stresses that Judas is the son of Mattathias. Following the death of his father, Judas assumes the role of leader of the resistance to Antiochus’s policy. He is joined by all who had rallied to his father.

3:3–9. Whereas in the first two chapters the author used poetry to describe the distress of Israel, he now uses poetry to laud Judas.

3:3–6. The text first emphasizes that Judas fights for his people, not for himself. Judas is described in bigger-than-life terms, as he singlehandedly defends the camp. The traditional image of the warrior is that of a lion, used of Judah (Gen 49:9), God (Isa 31:4; cf. Hos 5:14; 11:10; Amos 3:4–8), and the enemies of Israel (Jer 4:7; 5:6). Given the references in the poem to Jacob/Israel (3:7–8), as well as the previous resonances between Jacob and Mattathias in giving their last will and testament, the linkage with Judah seems strong. The image of "burning" the troublers of Israel reflects also the wrath of divine judgment (Isa 66:15; Obadiah 18). "Those who troubled his people" are probably Jews (see 7:22). The phrase recalls Elijah, who, when King Ahab called him the troubler of Israel, responded that it was not he but Ahab who troubled Israel (1 Kgs 18:18). Achar (i.e., Achan), who violated the holy war conditions by taking booty from what had been consecrated to God at the capture of Jericho (Joshua 7), is also called the troubler of Israel (1 Chr 2:7). Judas’s actions here resemble those of Mattathias (2:47).

3:7–8. Verse 7 has a play on words between "embittered" (ἐπίκρανεν epikranen) and "made glad" (εὔφρανεν euphranen). Judas embittered (epikranen) many kings, but he made glad (euphranen) Jacob. Judas’s destruction of the ungodly from the land of Judah recalls the campaigns of Joshua when he conquered the promised land (Joshua 10–11). Just as the description of the renegades at 1 Macc 1:11 recalls Deuteronomy 13, so also Judas’s destruction of the ungodly (v. 8) alludes to Deuteronomy 13, which commands Israel to destroy anyone advocating idol worship. The anger of the Lord, which had fallen on Israel (1:64; 2:49), is "turned away," as the author again relies on traditional language (see Num 25:4; 2 Chr 12:12; 29:10; 30:8; Ps 106:23; Ezek 10:14; Dan 9:16; Hos 14:4; Zech 1:2).

3:9. Judas’s renown stretches to the ends of the earth, as will Simon’s (14:10). Israel, which had been driven into hiding (1:53), is now brought back. The gathering-in of those who had been dispersed is a theme found earlier (e.g., Isa 11:12; 27:13, where God is going to bring back the people who have been dispersed to other lands).


1 Maccabees 3:10–12, Victory Against Apollonius


Apollonius, who has not been mentioned before, appears abruptly without introduction. At 10:69, the governor of Coelesyria is called Apollonius. In 2 Maccabees, three people are named Apollonius: Apollonius of Tarsus, son of Menestheus, who was the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia (2 Macc 3:5; 4:4); Apollonius, the captain of the Mysians (5:24); and Apollonius, son of Gennaeus, a local governor (12:2). Josephus identifies the Apollonius of 1 Macc 3:10 as the governor of Samaria. The author of 1 Maccabees makes no effort to identify Apollonius further, which might suggest that he was well-known or that "Apollonius" is recognized as a Greek name.

This Apollonius was able to muster a fighting force from the district of Samaria, most probably from people of Gentile origin who had settled there (cf. 2 Kgs 17:24–41). Here is a clear instance in which "Israel," for the author of 1 Maccabees, refers not to the geographical northern kingdom, but to those persons whom he considers to be the followers of ancestral tradition—specifically, those who have joined with the Maccabees.

No details of where the encounter took place are given; most likely it was an ambush as against Seron, somewhere between Shechem and the Gophna Hills. (Cf. the summary account of Judas’s exploits at the start of his career in 2 Macc 8:5–7.) The author describes the event like a single combat between Judas and Apollonius, much like the fight between David and Goliath (1 Sam 17:40–54), when David took the sword of Goliath (1 Sam 17:51) and the Philistines were routed.

1 Maccabees 3:13–26, Victory Against Seron


3:13–14. Seron, although described as the commander of the Syrian army, was most likely one of the commanders of the mercenary garrisons in the region. He commanded a more formidable fighting force than Apollonius had. Seron decides, on his own initiative, to put down Judas’s uprising and so gain a reputation.

3:15. Seron’s army comprises "godless men." In 1 Maccabees, "godless" (ἀσεβής asebēs) usually refers to those Jews whom the author considers apostates (3:8; 6:21; 7:5, 9; 9:25, 73). They have joined Seron’s force, and their aim is the opposite of Mattathias’s exhortation to his sons (2:67).

3:16. The public road Seron takes up the steep ascent to the mountain plateau—about twelve miles northwest of Jerusalem, between the villages of Lower and Upper Beth-horon—is extremely treacherous because of its winding narrowness, and yet not as bad as other possible routes from the west to Jerusalem. It lies near the Gophna Hills, where Judas and his forces were concentrated.

3:17–22. The objection of Judas’s troops to fighting against this large army may result from their long wait in ambush, but the author of 1 Maccabees phrases the whole exchange in traditional language. The stipulations for waging war in Deuteronomy 20 emphasize that Israel should not fear enemies with larger forces, for God is with Israel (Deut 20:1–4). This theme is dear to the author of Deuteronomy, as seen at Deut 7:7–8, where God states that Israel was chosen not because it was more numerous than any other people, but because God loved Israel, and at Deut 9:1–3, where God promised that the Israelites would defeat the more powerful nations in the promised land because God would be with them. This remains an important theme throughout the deuteronomic history. The phrase "to save by many or by few" echoes the words of Jonathan, the son of Saul, as he initiates the first victory of the Israelites over the Philistines (1 Sam 14:6). It is also reminiscent of the story of Gideon in Judges 7, where with a drastically reduced number of troops so that Israel would not claim credit for the victory, Gideon prevails because God fights with him. (See also the prayer of Judith before she sets out to confront Holofernes [Jdt 9:7–11], and her song of victory after killing him [Jdt 16:11].) Unlike the OT examples, however, the author of 1 Maccabees avoids using the terms "Lord" and "God" and uses "heaven" as a substitute.

The author contrasts the aggression of the enemy against the whole community with the defensive nature of Judas’s own stance to preserve the ancestral traditions (vv. 20–21). The author thus has Judas claim that he fights in a just cause. God is portrayed as the divine warrior, as in the Song of Moses (Exod 15:3, 7).

3:23–24. The surprise attack brings the desired result. The estimate of 800 slain is modest compared to other battles. "The land of the Philistines" refers to the Hellenized cities on the southern coastal plain, although they were no longer so called. Sirach uses the term "Philistine" to refer to a nation his soul detests (Sir 50:26), so the phrase probably carried pejorative connotations as a non-Israelite area.

3:25–26. The fame of Judas expands, just as God promised to the Israelites in the desert that the nations would tremble at the report of Israel’s deeds (Deut 2:25), and as the fame of David spread to all lands after his defeat of the Philistines (1 Chr 14:17).


1. The author, using traditional language, themes, and poetry, continues to portray the Maccabees as being steeped in, and upholders of, their traditional religion. He also seeks to show that they are not terrorists, but freedom fighters. As such, they claim that God is on their side, working through them to restore rightful worship. The symbiosis of divine and human action is particularly clear where the verb "crush" (συντρίβω syntribō) is used to describe God’s action in v. 22 and to describe the act committed upon Seron, following Judas’s attack, in v. 23. Judas is portrayed as a hero for his nation to emulate. One can only admire the courage of Judas and his small band as they fight to maintain their right to worship their God. Such constancy in the face of attack is admirable. However, we must also learn to be cautious when confronted with such a heroic figure. The inherent glorification of warfare, of the warrior as the hero to be emulated and imitated, rather than uplifting those who seek to redress a situation through mediation and arbitration, can lead to a glorification of violence in society. We must constantly remind ourselves that the presumption should always be against warfare, against the taking of life. So, although Judas and his followers fought against extermination of their culture, their actions must be seen as a last resort when all other efforts for peace had failed, and must not lead to a glorification of violence. One should hope that a well-trained army would never need to be so used.

2. The claim "God is with us" brings its own problems. German soldiers in Hitler’s army went into battle with "God is with us" inscribed on their belt buckles. Such an attitude raises the stakes, since it polarizes a situation into us versus them, where only one side can be right and no room is left for mediation and arbitration. Religious and political leaders need to be extremely cautious in so invoking the deity as to demonize their adversaries. One can see the problem in the way Judas is portrayed as searching out lawbreakers, burning those who troubled his people, and destroying the ungodly out of the land (1 Macc 3:5, 8). Who determines what is ungodly? The zeal of Judas here prefigures that of the Inquisition in tracking down heretics, or of those who sought out "witches" in Puritan Massachusetts. Judas has gone over from defensive action, from acting so as to be able to serve God in his own way, to offensive action, destroying anyone who does not agree with his interpretation of how the law should be obeyed. Even though we may be inspired by Judas’s constancy in faith, nevertheless we must be wary of adopting all the attitudes encapsulated in the narrative.


1 Maccabees 3:27–37, The King’s Decision


According to the author of 1 Maccabees, the Jewish uprising is the determining factor of all the policies of the Seleucid king. In reality, the small Jewish revolutionary force was no match for the Seleucid army. Even the author of 1 Maccabees must admit that, whenever the Seleucid army is fully directed against Judea, it is victorious (1 Macc 6:33–54; 9:1–17). In fact, Antiochus IV mustered his forces to take effective control of the eastern satrapies, and not because of the revolt led by Judas, which was dealt with by Lysias, a subordinate. The Parthian kingdom began to expand gradually under Mithridates I of Parthia (175–138 bce), so that at the death of Antiochus IV (164 bce), it covered the whole of Iran and subsequently Mesopotamia. Antiochus’s expedition, if not directly against the Parthians, was designed to hold together the Seleucid kingdom.

3:27–28. Antiochus’s reaction is typical of Seleucid kings and their allies, who are frequently described as becoming angry (5:1; 6:28; 9:69; 11:22; 15:36). They are not as in control of their emotions as a wise leader should be. Often pay was given in advance to encourage and boost the soldiers’ morale, but a year’s pay would be very unusual. By connecting it to the expedition against Judea, the author heightens the importance of Judas’s uprising.

3:29. The Seleucid Empire, through the Treaty of Apamea in 188 bce, had lost its provinces in western Asia Minor and was forced to pay a heavy indemnity. The final payment of the indemnity had been made in 173 bce and was no longer a consideration by the time of the events of this chapter, which occurred after 166 (2:70). Nevertheless the empire was still without funds and sorely needed to shore up its treasury in whatever way it could. The Seleucids, starting with Antiochus III, had tended to use temple funds to replenish their own depleted resources. Antiochus IV was lavish in his expenditures, and no doubt he found temple treasuries a convenient target from which to refill his coffers. In fact, Antiochus IV died shortly after attempting to despoil the sanctuary of Artemis in Elam.61 The author of 1 Maccabees associates the depletion of funds with the interference of Antiochus IV in changing the laws of all the nations (1:41), although, as mentioned previously, there is no evidence that Antiochus made any such change outside of Judea.

3:30. Antiochus IV was munificent toward the Greek temples in Delos, Athens, and elsewhere. Polybius tells us that "in the sacrifices he furnished to cities and in the honors he paid to the gods he surpassed all those who had been kings before him. This is shown by the temple to Olympian Zeus at Athens and the statues around the altar at Delos." Polybius in particular stresses Antiochus IV’s extravagance, saying that he would suddenly give unexpected presents to people he had never met before.63

3:31. "Persia" refers to the entire territory of historical Persia. The author of 1 Maccabees thus connects the king’s decision to go to Persia with the expense needed to outlay an expedition against the Jewish uprising, and so enhances the latter’s importance.

3:32–33. The "royal lineage" is not necessarily a blood relationship, as "kinsman of the king" was a title given to a high-ranking courtier (see 2 Macc 11:1). Lysias was appointed regent and deputy to the king in the western districts. Antiochus V Eupator, who at this time was about seven or eight years old, was co-regent with his father in case anything happened on the eastern expedition (see 2 Macc 9:23–25).

3:34. Antiochus IV would almost certainly have taken elephants, an important part of his army, on the eastern expedition. Theoretically, the Treaty of Apamea forbade the Seleucids to possess war elephants. The Greek text, in giving the impression that all the elephants remained with Lysias, underscores the importance of the confrontation with Judas. Presumably, Lysias would have much to worry about in administering the Seleucid Empire, but the author highlights the events in Judea.

3:35–36. The author dramatizes Antiochus’s command about Judea with the blanket order to destroy all the residents of Judea and Jerusalem. Earlier the author had stressed that Antiochus had strong support from many in Judea (1:52) and that a Seleucid garrison had been established in Jerusalem (1:33–35). Antiochus clearly did not want to destroy those supporters. Rather, the author reflects the perception of Judas’s band that this was a life-and-death struggle for the survival of their culture, a perception that builds on the fate of the seekers after righteousness (2:38). The irony is that Lysias is sent to stamp out the strength of Israel, while the reader knows that this strength is from heaven (3:19) and thus cannot be stamped out.

Antiochus IV is said to intend to set up military settlements in Judea, thus abolishing the polis of Antioch-in-Jerusalem (2 Macc 4:9, 19), as well as revoking any privileges that had previously been bestowed on the citizens of Judea. The author of 1 Maccabees makes no mention of such a polis or of such privileges. Either he did not know of them, or he wanted to erase them completely from memory. The author once again emphasizes only the dire straits that Judea was placed in, as well as the tyrannous character of Antiochus IV.

3:37. Antiochus IV left on his eastward march in 165 bce. Opinions differ as to whether it was in early or late summer; the answer depends on whether the co-regency of his son Antiochus V, which lasted eighteen months, began when Antiochus IV left for Persia or a little earlier. Also, the exact date of Antiochus IV’s death is unknown; his death became known in Babylon sometime between November 20 and December 18, 164 bce.

1 Maccabees 3:38–4:25, The Battle Against Nicanor and Gorgias

1 Maccabees 3:38–60, Preparations for Battle


3:38–41, On the Seleucid Side. 3:38. To emphasize the importance of this battle, the author of 1 Maccabees reports that Lysias, the deputy king, oversaw the arrangements appointing a triumvirate to lead the Seleucid forces against Judas. The author of 2 Maccabees, on the other hand, states that Philip, the Seleucid official in charge of Jerusalem (2 Macc 5:22), appealed for help from Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, who appointed Nicanor, leader of a large army, with Gorgias as his deputy (2 Macc 8:8–9). The more circumstantial account in 2 Macc 8:9–36, with its well-defined chain of command (rather than a triumvirate), is more likely. Nicanor, as one of the king’s first friends (2 Macc 8:9), may have governed one of the important coastal regions. Gorgias later became governor of Idumea after the purification of the Temple (2 Macc 12:32).

3:39. The figures seem exaggerated. Second Maccabees reports that the army comprised only 20,000 soldiers (2 Macc 8:9), a number that may reflect the battles of David against the Arameans (2 Sam 10:6, 18). Such a large cavalry force would not have been of much use in the hills of Judea.

3:40. Emmaus, literally "Ammaus," is about 20 miles west-northwest of Jerusalem. According to 1 Macc 9:50, Emmaus lay within the province of Judea. At the eastern edge of the Aijalon Valley, this position controlled the western entrances to Jerusalem and provided easy access to the rear. It was a fertile land with good water supply, and so it was an excellent choice for a camp for a long period.

3:41. Merchants were used as contractors in Hellenistic army camps, but the authors of 1 and 2 Maccabees (2 Macc 8:11) stress the enemy’s evil intentions by relating that they were slave traders. Also, since Nicanor’s force came from Syria, it has been suggested that they were joined by forces from Idumea, not Syria. The original Hebrew may have read "Idumea" (אדם ʾĕdm) rather than "Syria" (ארם ʾărām). This is bolstered by the fact that the defeated enemy will flee to Idumea (1 Macc 4:15).

3:42–60, On the Jewish Side. 3:42. Judas and his brothers learn of the large force massed to attack. The phrase "misfortunes had increased" (ἐπληθύνθη τὰ κακά eplēthynthē ta kaka) recalls the era of chaos immediately following Alexander’s death (1:9). The term "final destruction" (ἀπώλειαν καὶ συντέλειαν apōleian kai synteleian) refers to Antiochus’s commands to dismantle Judea and turn it into a military colony (vv. 35–36). Although the Israelites had frequently sinned against God in previous times, God had not made an end of them (Jer 4:27; 5:10, 18; Ezek 11:13–21). Hope thus remains for the beleaguered forces of Judas.

3:43–44. The same emphasis on community, signified by each speaking to the other, is also found at 2:40. The members of each group exhort those of the other to fight, just as Joab had exhorted his brother Abishai when they were surrounded by their enemies (2 Sam 10:11–12; 1 Chr 19:12–13). The exhortation also echoes the promise of Amos that the fallen booth of David will be raised up (Amos 9:11), as well as the hope expressed in Jeremiah that God will build up the people and not tear them down, plant them and not pluck them up (Jer 24:6; 42:10). Preparations for war must be paralleled by prayer and petition.

3:45. The author breaks into a lament over Jerusalem, perhaps as an explanation for why the troops assembled at Mizpah (v. 46). Note the parallel style, typical of the poetry of the Hebrew Bible.

3:46. Mizpah has been identified with a site eight miles north of Jerusalem. It was here that the Israelites assembled to punish the tribe of Benjamin for the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 20–21). Here, also, Samuel assembled all the people to repent and fast, and God aided the Israelites in winning a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam 7:5–11). Since Jerusalem cannot be seen from Mizpah, the term "opposite" may be used loosely as, for example, at 1 Macc 6:32, where Beth-zechariah is said to be "opposite" Beth-zur, even though the two sites are ten kilometers apart. Or "opposite" could translate the Hebrew word נגד (neged), which can mean "like," "comparable to" (cf. Gen 2:18, 20). Mizpah is not far from the Beth-horon ascent, and so an army could easily retreat into the Gophna Hills from this site.

3:47. Fasting, putting on sackcloth, sprinkling ashes on the head, and tearing clothes are all traditional mourning customs. Although often elements of mourning past events or catastrophes, such deeds also were signs of repentance intended to avert divine punishment for past misdeeds—see, for example, the reactions of Ahab, when he heard Elijah’s prediction of how his dynasty would fall (1 Kgs 21:27); the whole community of Israel, before confessing their sins and those of their ancestors (Neh 9:1); and the king of Nineveh, when he heard Jonah’s prophecy (Jonah 3:5).

3:48. This verse is extremely difficult to translate. The NRSV translation, "to inquire into those matters about which the Gentiles consulted the likenesses of their gods," not only is difficult to justify grammatically, but also suggests an analogy between the Torah and idol worship that the author of 1 Maccabees would have been unlikely to make. Some Greek manuscripts read, "about which the Gentiles sought to write/paint on them the images of their idols," indicating that books of the law that had been defiled were unrolled to remind God of the iniquities that had been performed (1:56–57). This variant reading, although attempting to make sense of the text, is not easy to justify. Public mourning is often accompanied by public reading of the Torah in adherence to the covenant (Neh 9:1–3). But no mention is made of such painting in 1 Macc 1:56–57. Neither does this reading do justice to the Greek preposition περί (peri), which means "concerning." Moreover, a book or scroll is unrolled so that it can be read. A better translation of this verse would be: "They unrolled the book of the Torah concerning those things about which they were inquiring, namely, the Gentiles and the likenesses of their idols." This would mean that the assembled congregation read those sections of the Torah that told how the Gentiles and their idols were to be dealt with (e.g., Deuteronomy 4; 7). The reading of the law may also be compared with the consultation of the Lord before battle (Judg 20:18; 1 Sam 23:2; 2 Sam 5:19, 23).

3:49. The priestly vestments mentioned here are those used for service in the Temple (Exod 28:40–43; 39:1). The War Scroll from Qumran suggests that the vestments the priests wore for battle could not be brought into the Temple, and so distinguishes between two sets of vestments. First fruits, which may have included the firstborn of clean animals (see Exod 13:12–15; 34:22–26; Lev 23:17–20; Deut 12:6–18), were obligatory offerings brought during the Second Temple period around the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Tabernacles. First fruits and tithes were the portion of the priests and Levites (Exod 23:19a; Num 18:13; Deut 18:4) and, by the second century bce, normally would have been offered only at the Temple in Jerusalem. Mizpah is thus depicted here as an alternate Jerusalem, since Jerusalem was defiled and under the control of the Seleucids and their followers.

There were different kinds of tithes: some were allotted to the sanctuary (Lev 27:30–33), some to the Levites (Num 18:21–24), and some to the offerers themselves to eat in the presence of the Lord (Deut 14:22–28). God had promised through the prophet Malachi that if the people gave tithes to the sanctuary, God would bless them with fruitfulness (Mal 3:10), and Tobit is described as diligently obeying the law about tithing and even surpassing it to the extent of giving a second and a third tithe (Tob 1:6–8; see also the mention of tithes and first fruits in 2 Chr 31:5–12; Neh 12:44; 13:5, 10; Jdt 11:13).

The mention of the Nazirites is another indication that Mizpah is considered a substitute for Jerusalem. At the end of their vows, Nazarites had to present themselves at the Temple in order to show that their obligations had been discharged by cutting their hair and offering a sacrifice (Num 6:13–20).

3:50–53. Once again, the author of 1 Maccabees breaks into poetry, here a community lament and prayer for help, echoing the language of 1:39–40; 2:12; 3:35; and 3:45. The appeal for help is found frequently in the psalms (e.g., Pss 20:2; 35:2; 38:22; 62:7; 94:17; 108:12; 121:1–2).

3:54. Trumpets were to be sounded before going to war "so that you may be remembered before the Lord your God and saved from your enemies" (Num 10:9 NRSV).65

3:55–57. The division of the army (v. 55) follows the example of Jethro’s advice to Moses (Exod 18:21, 25) and Moses’ actual division of the people (Deut 1:15), but it differs from the account of Judas’s division of the troops in 2 Macc 8:22. Since the division is not used in describing the strategy of the battle, the author is portraying Judas as a traditionalist, a portrayal that continues with the description of his actions in v. 56, which are based in the regulations of Deuteronomy (Deut 20:5–8). The movement of the camp should be seen as in tandem with the action of Gorgias (1 Macc 4:1–5), not as preceding it. Judas left Mizpah, and Gorgias set out for Mizpah independently of each other. By leaving Mizpah, Judas resolved to use the element of surprise, even without the advantage of Gorgias’s leaving the camp.

3:58–60. Judas’s speech reflects the one that the priest is assigned to give to the Israelites before going to war (Deut 20:2–4). The Qumran War Scroll also recounts a speech by the priest, wherein the phrase "be courageous" (lit., "be powerful sons") is found (see also 2 Sam 2:7; 13:28). Judas encourages his soldiers with the same sentiments found at 1 Macc 2:7. The description of the strength of the Seleucid forces, followed by the move from a defensive posture at Mizpah to a more offensive move toward the enemy’s camp, leads to this rather despairing assessment of the outcome: Better to die fighting (v. 59). Nevertheless, Judas ends with a strong conditional statement: "One never knows, God might help us and we could win" (see v. 60). The author thus keeps the reader in suspense as to what will happen.

1 Maccabees 4:1–25, The Battle at Emmaus


4:1–5. The Seleucids decide to try a surprise night assault against the assembly at Mizpah, about which the Syrians have been informed. The Syrians were guided through the Judean hills by scouts from the Jerusalem citadel, probably Jews who were not of Judas’s persuasion. In his hubris, Gorgias thinks the Jews are fleeing, but to the contrary, Judas is preparing to attack.

4:6–18. Judas’s forces, which number 3,000 men (cf. 7:40; 9:5), are outmatched more than thirteen to one. Judas’s forces are not fully equipped, in contrast to the heavily armed Seleucid forces. Judas’s rallying cry, using the language of Deut 1:21, again recalls that of the priest before battle (Deut 20:3–5; the prayer of the priest before battle in the Qumran War Scroll also alludes to the defeat of Pharaoh [1QM 11:9–10]). Judas prays that their cry will be heard, just as the prayer of the suffering Israelites in Egypt was heard by God, who remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:23–24). Further, when David defeated Goliath, it was known in all the earth that "there is a God in Israel" (1 Sam 17:46 NRSV). Thus with his appeal to the faith of his troops and the tactical advantage of attacking from the hills, Judas wins a convincing victory and puts the enemy to flight.

4:15. Gazara, about four and one-half miles northwest of Emmaus, was the closest Seleucid fort (1 Macc 7:45). If Gorgias’s forces included Idumeans (see Commentary on 1 Macc 3:42), some of the force retreated homeward. Azotus is biblical Ashdod, whose territory extended to near Gazara (1 Macc 14:34). The flight, therefore, was to the north, the south, and the east.

4:16–18. Having won the battle, Judas and his troops regroup. Second Maccabees 8:26, however, gives an alternate reason for their stopping the pursuit: The next day was the sabbath (probably due to that author’s desire to emphasize Judas’s Torah observance).

4:19–22. Returning from the plateau around Mizpah, Gorgias and his expeditionary force see from the burning camp that the battle is over. Judas had exhorted his soldiers not to be frightened (4:8), but that is now the reaction of the enemy. The author also suggests that Judas’s army was as ready for battle as ever, and this fierceness results in the enemy’s flight.

4:23–25. Once all danger is past, the Israelites are free to plunder the enemy camp. The riches have been brought in part by slave traders (3:41). Blue and purple are the famous "Tyrian" dyes. The pair "blue and purple," like "silver and gold," is found frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the rich furnishings of the Temple (e.g., Exod 25:4; 35:23, 25, 35). In this case, these colors probably refer to the outer clothing of the infantry and the cavalry. Polybius described the cavalry of Antiochus IV, as they paraded in the festival of Daphnae, as wearing purple outer garments, some of which were golden and adorned with figures. The Israelites celebrate their victory by marching home (presumably to Mizpah) to the sound of hymns (Pss 106:1; 107:1; 136:1; cf. 2 Chr 20:21). The battle account is thus framed liturgically by the penitential service (3:47) and this chant of victory. The author’s closing comment draws once more on traditional language (Exod 14:13; 1 Sam 11:13; 19:5; 2 Kgs 13:5).


1. The author has emphasized through his liturgical frame for the whole battle around Emmaus the importance of prayer and repentance if one is to succeed. The forces of Judas are seen as totally devoted to God’s law, and this inner conviction drives them to victory. In contrast, the Seleucid forces are given no inner resolve; they are simply obeying the vengeful orders of the king and, with their slave traders, are hoping to gain wealth. In our own time we have seen how hard it is even for the most advanced military power to defeat an army that is driven to defend its own homeland. The narrative here in 1 Maccabees makes us reflect on how a major military power should use its power in the world. Antiochus IV’s pique at being rebuffed is clearly not a model for any commander in chief to follow. Nor is the decision to utterly annihilate one’s opponent, no matter how great the provocation may be. Rather, greatness is shown not by excessive use of force, but by benevolent treatment. Only the really strong can afford to be gracious. The message of this narrative should be that one should not try to impose solutions, but should try to gather all parties together to see if, by patient diplomacy, disagreements can be resolved.

2. The Seleucid Empire encompassed a great deal of territory and many different cultures and races, and it finally broke apart as different regions sought independence. How can one nation allow its diverse cultural groups the freedom to express their own individual spirit, to maintain their own cultural identities, and yet not cause the nation to so split apart that it cannot hang together? How can the diverse groups learn to respect each other’s traditions and cultures? This problem has been present since the growth of nationalism in the nineteenth century. If one tries to suppress cultural differences and create a homogeneous society, eventually the dam holding back these repressed feelings will break. One solution for such divisions might be for us all to try to learn more about one another’s traditions and cultures. We need to seize every opportunity to teach children, youth, and adults about the many religious traditions that make up the fabric of society, and so to bring them to understand other perspectives and not ignorantly reject them as "other."

1 Maccabees 4:26–35, The Campaign of Lysias


4:26–27. The plans of Antiochus (3:34–36) and his deputy Lysias are frustrated, as Lysias admits here; Antiochus makes the same admission at 6:8. This theme of "man proposes but God disposes" runs throughout the book.

4:28–29. The phrase "the next year" raises questions. If one dates Antiochus’s march to the eastern satrapies in late 165 bce, then this decision would have occurred in late 164 bce. This length of time is surprising, and the author of 1 Maccabees makes no attempt to fill in the gap. From letters preserved in 2 Maccabees 11, however, we learn that Antiochus IV, at the prompting of the high priest Menelaus, offered amnesty to the Jews in March 164 bce, by which they could enjoy their own laws as formerly (2 Macc 11:27–33). Lysias and Ptolemy Macron seem to have been brokers to the peace terms (2 Macc 11:16–21; 2 Macc 10:12). These peace negotiations would have taken place during this time covered by the phrase "the next year." The author of 1 Maccabees makes no mention of these negotiations because he insists on painting his Jewish enemies, as well as Lysias and Antiochus, as implacably opposed to Judas and true Judaism. Why the negotiations failed is not known. The increase in Judas’s forces from 3,000 in 4:6 to 10,000 in 4:29, even allowing for inflated figures, suggests that Judas had used the time to recruit.

According to the author, Lysias assembles an even larger force of infantry than does Ptolemy, but with fewer cavalry (3:38), no doubt anticipating a battle in the Judean hills. Lysias also chooses a new route. Instead of the approach from the west, he moves into the Judean hills from the southeast, through Idumea and Mt. Hebron. Beth-zur, where they encamped, was on Judea’s southern border with Idumea (1 Macc 4:61; 14:33) and has been identified with Khirbet el Tabeiqa. (According to 2 Macc 11:5–6, Lysias besieges Beth-zur.)

4:30–33. Judas’s prayer first remembers and thanks God for past victories before asking for help in the present situation. The word for "Philistines" (αλλοφύλοι allophyloi, v. 30) is the same as the word for "foreigners" in v. 26, so the examples of David (1 Samuel 17) and Jonathan (1 Sam 14:1–15) are appropriate in a battle against armies invading the land. In the requests for help (vv. 31–33), Judas calls his group "your people Israel," "those who love you," and "all who know your name," whereas his opponents remain unnamed, a generic enemy. Judas calls on the divine warrior to instill fear into their enemy, and they will praise God as did Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 15).

4:34–35. "Rout" (τροπή tropē) should be translated "reversal." If 5,000 soldiers had fallen, presumably there would have been a panicked retreat, but Lysias is here described as withdrawing in an organized way (2 Macc 11:16 describes a panicked flight). In reality, Lysias, as vice regent, may have received news of Antiochus IV’s death and decided to return to Antioch to act as regent for Antiochus V. This is not suggested by the author of 1 Maccabees, who records the king’s death after the purification of the Temple.

The Maccabees are shown to be ready (cf. 4:21), cast in a heroic mode as prepared to die with honor. They stand in marked contrast to the shameful behavior of their enemy, who turn and run (4:35). Their action corresponds to the prayer of Judas that the enemy be ashamed of their troops and cavalry (4:31–32). A further contrast is made between Judas and his men, who fight for their country, and those who fight for money with no inner conviction (4:35). The very brevity of the battle scene, as compared to the lengthy prayer of Judas, suggests that the author is hazy about the details.



After his victories, Judas goes up to Mt. Zion. The victory march to God’s holy mountain is part of an ancient mythic pattern describing the battles of the divine warrior, as exemplified in the great hymn of victory at Exodus 15. The Temple is where God dwells, the connecting point where heaven and earth meet, a stabilizing force for the maintenance of the proper order of creation. With the Temple desecrated, the world of the Jews was askew; therefore, it was essential that the Temple be reconsecrated and the world put right.

4:36–37. The enemies have been crushed by the divine warrior (v. 30; cf. Exod 15:3). The term "dedicate" or "renew" (ἐγκαινίζω egkainizō) is used to describe Solomon’s dedication of the Temple (1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Chr 7:5 LXX), the dedication of the Temple under Ezra (Ezra 6:16–17), Asa’s repair of the altar (2 Chr 15:8), and Nehemiah’s dedication of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 12:27). The expression "go up" (ἀναβαίνω anabainō) is the language of the psalms (Pss 24:3; 121:4). The wholeness of the community is emphasized as all the army goes up. So, too, when Solomon dedicated the Temple, all the people of Israel assembled (1 Kgs 8:1–5).

4:38. The author refers to the desecration described earlier (1:31; 2:12). He draws on descriptions of a defeated city to heighten the emotional effect: Micah had foretold how the temple mount would become a wooded height (Mic 3:12), and Isaiah graphically depicted the desolate state of a destroyed land (Isa 34:13–15). The author moves from the outer court, with its altar, to the inside of the Temple, with its courts and chambers (1 Chr 9:23–24; 28:11–18).

4:39–40. The mourning ritual is described as it was at 1 Macc 2:70; 3:47. The trumpets are to be blown to serve as a reminder before God (Num 10:1–10). The scene is reminiscent of the restoration of temple worship under Asa (2 Chr 15:8–15), when trumpets and horns were blown as the people renewed their covenant.

4:41. The citadel, called the Akra, overlooked the sanctuary from the south (see 1:33). It was still under the enemy’s control, and thus troops were required to protect the priests purifying the Temple.

4:42–43. The purity required of priests is described in Leviticus 21. Priests are to delight in the law, as God delights in covenant faithfulness (Mic 7:18; for a statement of such delight, see Psalm 118). The defiled stones were part of the desolating sacrilege (1:54; cf. Jer 32:34), like the stones in a leper’s house (Lev 14:40); thus they had to be put in a place that must be avoided if one is to remain ritually pure.

4:44–46. The altar of burnt offering could not be treated like the altars of idols (Deut 12:2–3). It was sacred and yet desecrated. So, just as the remaining parts of the bull used for a purification offering are still sacred, even though they have absorbed the sanctuary’s impurities and must be put in a clean place (Lev 4:11–12), so also the altar can be kept on the temple hill—a clean place—until a prophet determines what should be done (see 14:41; Deut 18:15, 18–19).

The phrase "until a prophet arises" has sometimes been given an eschatological interpretation because of phrases found in the Qumran literature: "[the men of holiness] should not depart from any council of the law … but shall be ruled by the first directives which the men of the Community began to be taught until the prophet comes and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel." In the Damascus Document from Qumran, there seem to be two moments, for God raised up "the Teacher of Righteousness," but one still had to wait until there arose "he who teaches justice at the end of days." This last figure may be identified with the eschatological high priest, the Messiah of Aaron,70 since part of the role of priests was the teaching of the law (Deut 33:10). Since the phrase at 1 Macc 4:46 (and 14:41) echoes the language of Deut 18:15, there is no need to read it as eschatological. It is also similar to the phrase found at Ezra 2:63 (= Neh 7:65), "until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim" (NRSV), which has no eschatological meaning. Thus the author of 1 Maccabees expects the proper restoration of a normal functioning community, and such communities have a prophet. The phrase at 1 Maccabees envisions that when God sends a prophet, as God had promised for every generation (Deut 18:15–19), the prophet will solve all the knotty problems. The author longs for the restoration of the time when the full functioning community of Judah had priests, kings, and prophets, with the prophet functioning as a counterweight to the power of the king (see 1 and 2 Kings). It is interesting that the author of 1 Maccabees speaks of a prophetic figure rather than a priest or a teacher; perhaps it may hint at the author’s view of his own role.

4:47–51. The altar is rebuilt according to the regulations found in Exodus and Deuteronomy (Exod 20:25; Deut 27:5–6). The temple furnishings, stripped away by Antiochus IV (1 Macc 1:21–24), are restored according to the stipulations of Exodus 25–27.

4:52–55. On December 14, 164 bce, the birthday of Antiochus IV (see 1:59; 2 Macc 6:7), the daily offering was resumed (Exod 29:38–42). When Daniel had asked how long the prohibition on the regular burnt offering would last, the angel had responded, "For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings" (Dan 8:14 NRSV), or 1,150 days, about three and a half years, which corresponds roughly to the extent of the desecration of the sanctuary, according to 1 Macc 1:54–4:55. The correspondence of time was taken as an indication that God was behind the action. The rejoicing is similar to that at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr 5:11–14) and at the dedication of the city wall by Nehemiah (Neh 12:27). Under Judas, deliverance prospered (3:60) and is confirmed in the restoration of the temple worship.

4:56–59. The Feast of Dedication is patterned after the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:33–36) and the dedication of the Temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8) and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29). Mention of burnt offerings (Lev 6:8–13), sacrifices of well-being (Leviticus 3), and thanksgiving offerings (Lev 7:11–15) is also made at Hezekiah’s restoration of worship (2 Chr 29:31–35). The Temple is restored to its former glory, and the disgrace is removed (cf. 1:39–40). Judas, his brothers, and "all the assembly of Israel" (all true believers) determine that this feast should be an annual celebration.

4:60–61. The author concludes this section by describing the defensive measures taken to ensure that the Gentiles would not repeat what they had done at Jerusalem (1:31; 3:45, 51), or attack from the south (4:29). The refortified walls are not those of the whole of Jerusalem, but of the temple mount itself. The Akra remained in enemy hands.


Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the first Temple in Jerusalem shows an awareness that if heaven and earth cannot contain God, still less could the Temple that Solomon had built (1 Kgs 8:27). Yet a community requires a place to gather in order to worship together. When a church building or other place of worship is destroyed by a hurricane or by a fire, the community rallies around the congregation and starts to find ways to rebuild. We all need a familiar place, familiar songs and practices. Whenever there is a change in liturgy, opposition arises, as in the sixteenth-century Year of Grace rebellion in England and the opposition to the Second Vatican Council decision to replace Latin with the vernacular in Roman Catholic worship. Some worshiping communities still prefer the resonances of the King James Version of the Bible to more accurate contemporary translations. People like what is familiar, what is traditional. That is how the community is accustomed to meeting God. The reintroduction of purified worship in the Temple reflects that same human tendency, for religion is not just intellectual—the whole person is involved. That means that we are moved by the hymns and the familiar gestures and words of prayer, by the familiar sights and sounds, the traditional stories. Through such human interaction, the religious culture is transmitted from one generation to another.



This section deals with raids across the Jordan, into Galilee, to the south, and in the coastal plain. The attacks are said to be in response to the hostile posture of neighboring peoples, a hostility that parallels that encountered by the Israelites when they entered the land (Josh 9:1–2; 11:1–5), as well as the resistance to rebuilding the Temple after the exile (Ezra 4–5). Psalm 48:4–7 speaks of the panic of kings gathered together against Zion when they behold the Temple as a symbol and focus of the people’s commitment to the covenant worship.

1 Maccabees 5:1–8, Battles in Idumea and Ammon


5:1–2. The neighboring Gentiles become angry, as Antiochus IV had been angered (3:27), and their plan, like his (3:35), is to destroy the Jews. This time, however, the efforts are directed not at the strong Judas, but at the weaker Jews living in foreign domains.

5:3–5. First, Judas moves against the Idumeans. The "descendants of Esau" are described in the book of Jubilees as being angry with Esau for reconciling with Jacob (Genesis 35), and they attack Jacob and his sons (Jubilees 37–38). The reference to the descendants of Jacob (v. 2) conjures up this ancient rivalry with Esau. Akrabattene may refer to the area southwest of the Dead Sea, the ascent of Akrabbin (Num 34:4). Josephus, however, mentions an area called Akrabattene in Samaria, near the region of Gophna. It is unknown exactly who the sons of Baean are. Baean is the name given in the LXX to one of the towns of Moab (Num 32:3). Could it, therefore, refer to the Moabites? One might recall how Joshua warned the Israelites about not joining to the nations round about, for they would then be a snare and a trap (Josh 23:11–13), and that the daughters of Moab had led Israel astray (Num 25:1–3; Ps 106:28–39). Whatever group is meant, one should note how the language here is that of the ban, the vow to complete destruction, which one finds in Numbers and Joshua.

5:6–8. In 1 Maccabees, Timothy seems to be a local ruler of the Ammonites, whereas in 2 Maccabees (8:30–33; 9:3; 10:24) a Timothy is said to be a high Seleucid official (2 Maccabees seems to have exaggerated the importance of Timothy). Jazer (Num 21:32) was near Heshbon in the Transjordan. If Akrabattene is situated in Idumea, then Judas is pictured as making a counterclockwise movement from Idumea through Moab to Ammon, following the course laid out in the book of Numbers. Such a parallel may explain the use of the ancient names. (See Reflections at 5:63–68.)

1 Maccabees 5:9–54, Battles in Galilee and Gilead


The action now moves to the north, with Judas and his brothers rescuing Jews from their Gentile neighbors and bringing them back to Judah.

5:9–20. The Attack of the Gentiles and Judas’s Response. 5:9–13. Gilead is the region east of the Jordan. The location of Dathema is uncertain (4:29 places it a night’s journey from Bozrah). The language of destruction is the same as that used by Antiochus IV (3:35). The situation of the Jews in Gilead is depicted in terms similar to that of the Gibeonites in Josh 10:1–11. The land of Tob was southeast of the sea of Galilee, in northern Gilead, from whence Jephthah the judge came (Judg 11:3; cf. 2 Sam 10:6, 8). However, the text literally reads "in the lands of Toubias," which refers to southern Gilead.

5:14–15. The messengers come "with their garments torn," a sign of having traveled a long distance (cf. Josh 9:3–15, where the Gibeonites tricked Joshua into thinking that they had traveled a long distance by wearing such clothing). Torn clothes could also be the sign of messengers bringing bad news, as when the news of the capture of the ark by the Philistines was brought to Eli (1 Sam 4:12), or when Saul’s death was reported to David by a man "with his clothes torn and dirt on his head" (2 Sam 1:2 NRSV).

"Galilee of the Gentiles" (Isa 9:1; 8:23 MT) refers to the seacoast towns of Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon. The term used for "Gentiles" (ἀλλόφυλος allophylos) often signifies "Philistines" in the LXX.

5:16–20. The Maccabees are constantly portrayed as consulting the people (2:41; 4:44). The great assembly resonates with the crowd that gathered at the dedications of the Temple under Solomon (1 Kgs 8:65; 2 Chr 7:8), Hezekiah (2 Chr 30:13), and Ezra (Ezra 10:1), as well as Nehemiah’s assembly to stop the oppression of the Jewish poor (Neh 5:7). The term "assembly" (ἐκκλησία ekklēsia) translates a basic Hebrew term (קהל qāhāl) that signifies the community of Israel. At this assembly, Judas divides his forces to deal with the emergencies facing the people. Presumably Azariah is one of those "leaders of the people" whom Judas had appointed (3:55).

When a prohibition like the one Judas makes in v. 19 is given, the reader knows that eventually it will be broken. It is broken at 5:55–62.

5:21–23. The Conflict in Galilee. Simon’s activity is quickly summarized but glorified highly. The number of dead corresponds to the force under Simon’s control (v. 22). Ptolemais is also known as Acco or Acre. Arbatta is otherwise unknown; a Narbatta lay south of Mt. Carmel in the neighborhood of Caesarea, and perhaps this is meant here. The return (v. 23) is almost liturgical in character, as the men, women, and children all return to Judea with merriment and festivity. In the book of Isaiah, the ransomed of the Lord are described as returning to Zion in the same way (Isa 51:11).

5:24–44. Judas in Gilead. In contrast to Simon’s activity, which is described in a very summary fashion, Judas and Jonathan are given much more attention.

5:24–27. The Nabateans at this time were nomadic traders based in southern Transjordan. While the author suggests that Judas was on friendly terms with them, 2 Maccabees records a battle before peace is reached (2 Macc 12:11–12). The cities (v. 26) are located east and north of the River Yarmuke in Transjordan. They are described in terms reminiscent of the description of the towns of the promised land (Num 13:28). The Jews are to be destroyed, as had been threatened earlier by Antiochus IV (3:35) and the Gentiles in Gilead (5:9).

5:28–44. The author now proceeds to list victories of Judas against the Gentiles of Gilead. All the towns listed in v. 26, except for Alema, are dealt with. The string of victories here recalls those of Joshua (Josh 10:28–43). Judas burns towns with fire as Joshua burned Jericho (Josh 6:24) and Ai (Josh 8:28), and takes their spoils. Note the repetition at vv. 28, 35, and 51, where the destruction of three different centers is told in basically the same terms.

5:31. The townspeople of Dathema, under threat of annihilation, cry out to God. A similar phrase is used of the people of the Philistine city Ekron when the ark of the covenant is put in its midst and causes death and pestilence among the inhabitants (1 Sam 5:12). The trumpets sound the alarm as directed (Num 10:6), and the great shout adds to the din of warfare, as one side tries to intimidate the other. (See 1 Sam 4:5–6, where the great shout that goes up from the Israelites’ camp when the ark of the Lord is brought to it frightens the Philistines.)

5:33–34. The division of the army into three companies occurs frequently in the OT: Gideon divided his forces into three (Judg 7:16), as did Abimelech (Judg 9:43), Saul (1 Sam 11:11), and David (2 Sam 18:2). The War Scroll from Qumran also divides the Sons of Light into three arrays against the Sons of Darkness. Battle and prayer are combined as before when the Israelites had assembled at Mizpah against the invasion of Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias (3:43–54). In Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, he asked that when the Israelites went out to battle and prayed facing Jerusalem and the Temple, God would hear them (1 Kgs 8:44–45; 2 Chr 6:34–35). Thus "to cry out in prayer" may refer to a battle cry like the one in Judg 7:18, " ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’ " (NRSV), or to a watchword like that at 2 Macc 13:15, "God’s Victory" (NAB). Once again, the number of dead corresponds to the number of Judas’s men.

5:35–36. These verses describe a series of victories told in shorthand as Judas deals with the besieged towns of Gilead. The location of Maapha is unknown; it may refer to Mizpah of Gilead.

5:37–44. The battle against the last city, Carnaim, is described here. Timothy is introduced as someone whom the reader has already encountered, suggesting that he is the Timothy of 5:6. His force is described as numerous, with Arabs as mercenaries. The enemy looks for a sign to see whether Judas and his forces are eager to fight. A similar tactic is used by Jonathan, the son of King Saul, when he sees God’s hand behind the answer that the Philistine guards give to him. He knows that God has given them into his hand when they tell him to come up to them, rather than come down to Jonathan themselves (1 Sam 14:6–15). As in Jonathan’s case, fear comes upon the enemy of Judah, a fear sent by God as requested in the earlier prayer at Mizpah (4:32). Judas stations "officers" (γραμματεῖς grammateis), the same term used in Deut 20:5–9; Josh 1:10; 3:2 LXX. The enemy "were defeated" (συντρίβω syntribō), literally "were crushed" (3:22–23; 4:10, 14, 30, 36), one of the author’s favorite words (cf. its use at Exod 15:3 LXX).

"Carnaim" literally means "horns," a symbol of strength. Karnaim is mentioned by Amos (6:13) and has been identified with the town Ashteroth-karnaim, mentioned in Gen 14:5. According to 2 Macc 12:26, there was a temple of Atargatis/Astarte at Carnaim.

The term "could stand before" (ὑποστῆναι hypostēnai) is the same verb used earlier to mean "to resist" (5:40). Thus Timothy’s prediction at that point proves true.

5:45–54. The Return to Jerusalem. 5:45–51. Ephron was nine miles east of the Jordan River, opposite Beth-shan. The scene described in these verses recalls two events from the Israelites’ march through this region. Judas’s request for his people to peacefully pass through the land is similar to Moses’ petitions to the king of Edom (Num 20:14–17) and to the king of the Amorites (Num 21:21–22). However, since Judas cannot bypass Ephron, as Moses had the kingdom of Edom, Judas destroys it, as Moses conquered the Amorites (cf. Deut 20:10–15). Ephron is "razed" (ἐκριζόω ekrizoō; lit., "uprooted"), the same verb used by Zephaniah to declare that Ekron would be uprooted (Zeph 2:4 LXX). The final image of the whole group of men, women, and children marching over the corpses is particularly grisly and triumphalistic.

5:52. Beth-shan (Scythopolis) was west of the Jordan. Note how 2 Macc 12:29–31 stresses the goodwill of the citizens of Scythopolis toward the Jews.

5:53–54. The triumphal return to Zion again parallels the victory march of the Divine Warrior (Exod 15:1–17), as at 5:23. The return is the in-gathering of the people prayed for at Ps 106:47. The language parallels that of Isaiah 35; 51:9–11. The fact that no one had died was seen as a sign of God’s care and of the sinlessness and purity of the troops, as compared with the exodus generation, whose warriors had all perished because of their lack of trust in God’s power to defeat their enemy (Numbers 13–14; Deut 1:34–36; 2:16). (See Reflections at 5:63–68.)

1 Maccabees 5:55–62, The Failure of Joseph and Azariah


The reversal suffered by Joseph and Azariah is in stark contrast to the success of Judas and Simon. They rashly seek to make a name for themselves as Seron (3:14) and David had (2 Sam 8:13; 1 Chr 17:8). Jamnia was also a center of opposition to the Jews (2 Macc 12:8–9).

The same word (ἐτροπώθη etropōthē, "reversal") used to describe the conquest of Carnaim is used here to tell of the reversal of Joseph and Azariah (v. 61). Just as the Israelites did not listen to Moses, but went up to fight against the inhabitants of the promised land (Num 14:40–45; Deut 1:41–44), so also Joseph and Azariah do not listen to Judas and his brothers. And just as God raised up judges to deliver Israel (Judg 2:16–18), so also Judas and his brothers are to bring deliverance (v. 62). The contrast between the two groups recalls the revolt of Korah against the authority of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Numbers 16). The phrase "not belong to the family" (οὐκ ἦσαν ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος ouk ēsav ek tou spermatos; lit., "not of the seed of") is found at Num 16:40 to state that only direct descendants of Aaron shall approach to offer incense before the Lord. Here, it indicates that the Maccabees have been divinely appointed to bring deliverance to Israel. (See Reflections at 5:63–68.)

1 Maccabees 5:63–68, Further Successes


5:63–64. Just as David’s fame increased (1 Sam 18:30), so also does that of Judas and his brothers, as foretold in the hymn to Judas (3:9).

5:65–66. Judas had previously fought against the sons of Esau (5:3) and then traveled counter clockwise northward on the eastern side of the Jordan. Now he fights against them in the south and travels clockwise to the coastal plain. Marisa lies to the west of Hebron.

5:67–68. These priests, like Joseph and Azariah (v. 61), seek to do brave deeds as had Judas and Simon (5:56). They act "unwisely" by not heeding the determination of the assembly (v. 16). Judas, on the contrary, is completely successful (3:6). He follows the commands of Deuteronomy (Deut 7:5, 25; 12:3) in dealing with idols, just as Hezekiah (2 Chr 31:1) and Josiah (2 Chr 34:3–7) had done.


This chapter with its stories of the battles against neighboring peoples is chilling. As well as being intended to destroy idols, justification for the war is provided in that the Gentiles started the persecution of the Israelites. The actions of Judas and his followers, however, go far beyond any criteria for just conduct of war. In their first engagement, they put their enemies under the ban (5:5), the vow to total destruction. This language is kept up through the repetition of "killed every male by the edge of the sword; then he seized all its spoils and burned it with fire" (5:28 NRSV; cf. vv. 35, 51), as well as the burning of idols (5:44, 68). The tradition of putting one’s enemies under the ban is one of the most troubling ethical issues in the OT.

The Hebrew Scriptures have been the inspiration for concern for the weaker members of a society—for widows, orphans, and children (Exod 22:21–24)—and passages from the Bible have inspired those who seek social justice for the oppressed. Passages such as Amos 5:24 have become slogans for advancement: "Let justice roll down like waters,/ and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (NRSV). The exodus story of liberation from slavery has been used by African American slaves and by liberation theologians as a model for the plight and the hope of the oppressed.

Yet there is a tradition of violence within the Bible, a tradition used by the Puritans in the American colonies to inspire the colonists to extirpate the Native Americans. How is one to reconcile the respect for life shown in the Bible with the command by God to annihilate every living thing, both humans and animals (1 Sam 15:3)?

Susan Niditch, in exploring these issues, describes two uses of the ban. The most difficult instances to understand are those when the Israelites pledge their enemies as a sacrifice to God in exchange for God’s leading them to victory (see, e.g., Num 21:2–3). Niditch suggests that such passages must be put within a sacrificial context, in which human beings are the most precious offering to God. This practice of human sacrifice is condemned by the dominant threads of the OT (Deut 12:31; Lev 18:21), but not by threads within Israelite culture itself. A number of scholars have suggested that child sacrifice was part of a state-sponsored cult within ancient Israel until the reforms of the Judean king Josiah in the seventh century bce.

The second group of traditions about the ban are those that treat the ban as evidence of God’s justice, a way of uprooting the sources of impurity and idolatry that might infect Israel. When Achan transgresses God’s covenantal demands and takes some of the things devoted to the Lord, he and his family are put under the ban and destroyed, in order to eradicate that sin from Israel’s midst (Joshua 7). In 1 Maccabees, the destruction of the Gentiles is seen as punishment for their determination to wipe out Israel (1 Macc 5:1–2, 9, 27). Although Judas does not kill every breathing thing (cf. Josh 10:28, 30, 32, 35–37, 39, 40; 11:11, 14) but only every male, one must still note what this implies. In that culture, the father was believed to provide the seed, whereas the mother provided the matter. By killing every male, Judas was destroying that city’s race. In addition, no mention is made of the women and girls, although Num 31:15–18 provides that young girls who had not yet slept with a man be kept alive and assimilated into the Israelite camp. What will happen to these defenseless women in the towns of Gilead after the Maccabees leave? Although the author of 1 Maccabees insists that Judas and Simon bring back not only the Jewish men but also their wives and children (5:23, 45), the enemies’ wives and female children are not worth discussing. The most horrifying image is that of 5:51, where the returning men, women, and children are depicted as walking over the corpses of their enemies.

Whether or not the actions in 1 Maccabees happened in precisely the way described, what is important to note is the way language is being used to engender an implacable hostility toward one’s enemy—they are to be exterminated. This is how one is to deal with neighbors.

What steps can one take to break down such prejudicial attitudes? One must first teach against the dehumanizing of one’s enemy, and decry those elements of one’s tradition that do so. Rather than seeing one’s own racial, religious, or sexual group as having the right to impose its views and behaviors on all others, one must seek out those elements of commonality that unite diverse groups. We must not resort to ethnic cleansing or social ostracism, wherein certain groups are excluded from entering "our" domain. Rather than accepting the position that "whoever is not with me is against me" (Matt 12:30 NRSV; cf. Luke 11:23), we might take the position that "whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40 NRSV; cf. Luke 9:50). Rather than restricting the command to love one another (cf. John 13:34), one might extend the notion of neighbor to include the hated "Samaritan" (see Luke 10:25–37).



The news of the death of Antiochus IV was announced in Babylon in November–December 164 bce, before the cleansing of the Temple. The author of 1 Maccabees, however, places Antiochus’s death after the Temple has been purified and after Judas and Simon have defeated neighboring peoples and brought back threatened Jews to Judah and Mt. Zion. By modeling the narrative on Joshua’s conquest of the land, the author suggests that Judas and his group have cleansed the land along with the Temple. Thus Antiochus defiled both the Temple and the land, whereas Judas restored both. Then, appropriately, the persecutor dies while repenting of what he had done. Such a reward for dastardly deeds fits well with the scheme of Deuteronomy, which presumes that the good flourish but the wicked suffer (Deut 7:11). (For other accounts of Antiochus’s death, see Dan 11:40–45; 2 Macc 1:13–17; 9:1–29; Polybius 31.9; Appian Syriaca 66.)

6:1–4. The author uses exactly the same language as at 3:37 to describe Antiochus’s journey to the eastern satrapies, and so he sees this section as a fitting conclusion to the events narrated in between. Elymais (Elam) was properly the mountainous country west of Persia. The temple attacked by Antiochus was that of Artemis/Aphrodite/Nanaia. Strabo narrates how Mithradates I of Parthia (175–138 bce) later attacked this same temple. Nowhere else is it mentioned that Alexander visited this temple of Artemis. He would not simply have left weapons behind, but would have dedicated them to the goddess. Whereas Alexander is shown to be respectful of this temple and Artemis worship, Antiochus is disdainful. A battle need not have taken place, since the citizens’ readiness to fight may have caused a retreat, just as Gorgias retreated (4:21–22).

6:5–7. Before reaching Babylon, Antiochus receives reports that Judas has undone his design. The message is a summary of 1 Maccabees 3–4. The phrase "been routed" recalls the defeat of the army led by Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias (4:1–25). Lysias’s campaign (3:28–35) is mentioned; the "plunder" that Judas captured is recalled (3:12; 4:23). The strength of the Jewish army reminds the reader that Judas’s forces had grown from 3,000 (4:6) to more than 11,000 (5:20). The phrase "torn down the abomination" recalls the purification of the Temple (4:43–47; the rebuilding of the fortification was described at 4:60–61). In effect, all of Antiochus’s plans have been thwarted.

6:8–13. Antiochus’s reaction to news from Judea has changed from anger (3:27) to perplexity and discouragement (4:27) and now to astonishment and fear (6:8). The author of 1 Maccabees, since his map of the world centers on Judea, views Antiochus IV’s death as caused by his failure in Judea. While the Jews rejoice (4:58; 5:54), Antiochus lies in distress, finally realizing that he is dying (v. 9).

Unlike Mattathias’s last words, which looked to the future (2:49–68), Antiochus’s last words are repentance of past deeds. Antiochus’s reflections on the complete reversal of his fortunes use images like those in Psalm 42 (1 Macc 6:11), a prayer for help. Antiochus was in fact a benefactor through his building projects and support of traditional customs in other parts of his empire and the Mediterranean world. His policy toward Judea was an aberration of his normal behavior.

The repentance ascribed to Antiochus IV (vv. 12–13) is similar to that ascribed to the wicked Judean king Manasseh in the Prayer of Manasseh, an apocryphal composition from around the first century bce. Manasseh, portrayed in the Bible as the most wicked king of Judah (2 Kgs 21:1–18), is said to have repented of his sins while in exile and to have composed a prayer of entreaty (see 2 Chr 33:18–19, even though 2 Chronicles does not provide the prayer). The present apocryphal prayer fills that gap. Antiochus is seen to repent of his misdeeds (1:20–28; 3:35). He is said to die in a "strange land." Persia did lie in his own kingdom, but the author stresses the pathos of his death: To die away from one’s homeland and one’s ancestors was to be cut off from a proper resting place. (A similar fate befalls the high priest Jason in 2 Macc 5:9–10.)

6:14–17. In contrast to the description of Alexander’s properly providing for his succession by dividing his kingdom (1:6), Antiochus is described as leaving behind a mess. He names Philip as ruler of the kingdom and guardian of his son without any mention that he had appointed Lysias over half his kingdom and as guardian (3:32–33) and had left him half the forces. The following division within the kingdom is therefore placed at Antiochus’s feet. The author seems unaware that Antiochus’s son was already co-regent and suggests rather that Lysias’s action in elevating him to rule is improper.

The date given for Antiochus’s death, the 149th year (163 bce), is wrong according to the Babylonian reckoning of the Seleucid era, which counted from March–April 311 bce and according to which Antiochus IV died in the year 148. If the Seleucid era is reckoned according to a Macedonian form that began in September–October 312 bce, Antiochus would have died in the year 149. Scholars have suggested, therefore, that dates for events of royal Seleucid history are given in 1 Maccabees according to the Macedonian form of the Seleucid era.


Antiochus IV is described as having died bitter and disappointed. The author of 1 Maccabees states that Antiochus had thought on a grand scale of uniting all his kingdom as one people, all having the same customs (1 Macc 1:41–42). It was a plan on the magnitude of Napoleon’s or Hitler’s or of the uniting of European nations under one command. But such a vision of unity was ultimately a vision of uniformity, achieved at the expense of diversity and freedom. Yet one must also recognize the value of striving for unity, of seeking to avoid the conflicts and tensions that arise out of difference. Diversity also carries responsibility, the need to respect the values and traditions of others, the need not to strive to homogenize everything or to maintain that everything and everybody who does not agree with you is wrong. Unity that respects diversity is a worthwhile goal, but one hard to keep in sight. A start can be made by fighting not to be led, or rather misled, by stereotypes.



The death of Antiochus IV did not bring any respite, according to the author of 1 Maccabees, from attacks from the Seleucids. The letter preserved at 2 Macc 11:22–26, if written at the accession of Antiochus V, would suggest that amnesty was granted at the death of Antiochus IV. The author of 1 Maccabees allows for no such respite, however. The Hasmoneans are depicted as pursuing their goal of winning independence from the Seleucid monarch.

1 Maccabees 6:18–31, The Pre-Invasion Events


6:18. The citadel remains under enemy control, manned primarily by the Seleucid garrison. They continue to harass the Jews in the temple area (cf. 4:60–61) and are involved in other actions aimed at defeating the Hasmoneans.

6:19–20. The Gentiles round about had determined to destroy the race of Jacob in their midst (5:1–2), and likewise Judas resolves to destroy the Gentile group within Judea. The author emphasizes the community aspect of the assembly—all the people (i.e., the true Israelites) are gathered to participate in the siege. The siege probably began in spring 162 bce, "in the one hundred fiftieth year," according to the Babylonian reckoning of the Seleucid era, which the Jews used to date their annual events; this year spanned April 162 bce to March 161 bce. The "siege towers," possibly a stage for artillery machines, may have been spoils from earlier victories.

6:21–27. The siege prompts a delegation to the new king. The "ungodly Israelites" are the opposite of those who had joined Mattathias (3:2) and like those who accompanied Seron. Note that no names are given; they are simply categorized as the godless. The author of 1 Maccabees opens the speech of the ungodly like a complaint found often in the psalms: "How long will you fail to do justice and to avenge our kindred?" (v. 22; cf. Pss 13:1–2; 74:10; 94:3). The speech contains phrases used earlier to describe this group (1:43–44). The godless are said to follow "strange" (ἀλλότριος allotrios) customs (1:44); those who were "found" (εὑρίσκω heuriskō) not doing so were "put to death" (ἀποθνῄσκω apothnēskō; 1:50, 57). Now they complain that their countrymen "have become hostile" (lit., "were estranged" from us), that they "have put to death" as many as they "have caught" (lit., "found"). In this context, these Jews complain that they, who followed strange customs, have been turned into strangers and what they had done to Jews who kept the tradition is now being done to them. They have lost their inheritance because they have become strangers/foreigners/aliens.

Verses 25–26 provide a summary of the events described in chapter 5, wherein the forces under Judas are seen as moving outside the territorial limits of Judea and attacking forces in Idumea, Galilee, and Gilead. What is justified in 1 Maccabees 5 as a defensive measure to protect oppressed Jews is described by their enemies as offensive warfare; the fortifying of Beth-zur and Mt. Zion (4:60–61) is seen as preparation for battle. The difference in perception shows how actions can be misinterpreted, particularly when there is suspicion, and lead to the breakdown of any negotiations. Verse 27 is a prophecy of what will happen under Simon, who will establish control over Joppa, extend the borders of his nation, and gain control of the citadel and evict those who dwell within it (13:11, 43–50; 14:5–6).

6:28–31. Antiochus V Eupator was actually only about eleven years old at this time, and Lysias remained in control. The author repeats the language describing Antiochus IV (3:27) to hint at the troubles to come. The size of the army assembled is enormous—larger than was possible for the Seleucid army. The exaggerated size of this army highlights the seriousness with which Judas is now being taken and the increased danger to Judas’s army. The army takes the same southern route that Lysias had taken previously (4:29). The "engines of war" (see 6:20) are siege devices. According to this account, Beth-zur will not be captured until after the battle of Beth-zechariah (vv. 49–50). It is unlikely, however, that the Seleucids would have marched toward Jerusalem and left a fortified city at their rear to harass them. (Indeed, 2 Macc 13:18–25 describes a series of battles at Beth-zur, but no attack on Jerusalem.)

1 Maccabees 6:32–47, The Battle at Beth-zechariah


6:32–39. Judas encamps his troops at Beth-zechariah, about six miles north of Beth-zur. Lysias thus marches his army out to meet them (vv. 33); the author provides a vivid description of their march (vv. 35–39). The war elephant was the centerpoint for each formation, its flanks defended by one thousand infantry, with five hundred cavalry protecting the infantry. Each formation/phalanx thus operated independently (v. 36); the role of the cavalry was to protect the phalanxes (v. 38). The infantries’ armor and shields provide a blazing sight (v. 39).

6:40–47. 6:40–42. As the valley narrowed, troops had to be assigned to secure the ridges. The orderly advance ensures that no gaps would appear in the phalanx that could be exploited. In spite of the impressive appearance of Lysias’s army, Judas and his army attack (v. 42), killing six hundred Seleucid soldiers. Those who fall are probably the advance group whose role would be to locate ambushes.

6:43–46. Judas’s brother Eleazar (see 2:5), in an act of bravery, kills the royal elephant; it is highly unlikely that a Seleucid king would be riding on the elephant. Eleazar, like Judas himself (3:6; 9:21), dies to save his people and wins proper fame, as contrasted to Joseph and Azariah (5:57). Eleazar’s action reflects the ideal warrior, the virtue of self-sacrifice for the cause.

6:47. The author does not state outright that Judas was defeated, but only that the Jews "turned away" (ἐκκλίνω ekklinō) in flight. The same Greek verb is used in Num 20:21 LXX to describe how Israel turned away from Edom when the Edomites, refusing to give the Israelites passage through the land, confront them heavily armed. The same verb is found also at Deut 20:3, where the Israelites are exhorted not to turn away from their enemies. This strategic withdrawal, where discretion is the better part of valor, perhaps intimates that the main body of the Seleucid army was not engaged. (In 2 Macc 13:22, Judas wins a victory over Lysias.)

1 Maccabees 6:48–54, The Siege of Jerusalem


The king now starts to undo what Judas had accomplished (see 4:60–61): He captures Beth-zur and besieges Jerusalem; the terms used for the siege devices are the same as for those Judas had used against the citadel (6:20).

Because of the "sabbatical year," when the land was not worked (Exod 23:11; Lev 25:3–7), the Jews had not been able to set aside enough provisions and thus are unable to withstand the siege (vv. 49, 53). Such food shortages most likely occurred in the year following the sabbatical year. Moreover, the refugees brought from Galilee and Gilead (5:23, 54) had helped to deplete the supplies before the new harvest after the sabbatical year could be gathered in. This section ends with a traditional way of breaking off after a battle (cf. Judg 9:55; 1 Sam 26:25).

1 Maccabees 6:55–63, The End of the Assault by Antiochus V Eupator


6:55–57. The confusion that the author had seen as being brought on by the death of Antiochus IV (1 Macc 6:14–17) now begins to manifest itself as a power struggle between Antiochus IV’s generals. Whereas the author has been emphasizing that the Jews had no provisions (6:49–53), suddenly Lysias claims that the reason for pulling out is that the Seleucid army is low on food. Perhaps the sabbatical year had affected the besiegers’ ability to find provisions for the large army locally. Lysias does not explicitly refer to the advance of Philip, but his listeners must have known even from the vague phrasing that something important was afoot. Josephus specifies that Lysias’s speech, given by order of the king, intentionally misrepresents the true reason for their withdrawal.

6:58–59. The expression "let us come to terms" (δῶμεν δεξιάς dōmen dexias) is literally, "give the right [i.e., good] hand." This is the first mention of peace negotiations in 1 Maccabees. From the correspondence collected in 2 Macc 11:16–38 (particularly vv. 27–32), one can deduce that peace negotiations had already been initiated during the reign of Antiochus IV. No mention is made of these overtures in 1 Maccabees, however, possibly because they involved Jewish groups other than the Maccabees. For the author of 1 Maccabees, only the Maccabees count as Jews; other groups are either naive (1 Macc 7:12–18) or part of the "godless." Lysias seeks to reverse the decrees of Antiochus IV (1:41, 44).

6:60–63. Lysias’s proposal pleases the king, who guarantees it with an oath (cf. 8:21), but who then proceeds to break this sacred promise once the Jews have evacuated the temple mount. The Seleucids have already been depicted as deceitful (1:30), and the narrative will continue to show them to be untrustworthy (7:10–18, 27; 11:2). The wall Judas Maccabeus had built around the sanctuary (4:60) was destroyed, but there is no mention that the temple service restored by Judas was interfered with. Lysias returns home and defeats Philip.


The Seleucids are shown as finally being forced to negotiate with the Hasmoneans when news reached them that they were under threat from another quarter. The advice of Lysias to come to terms and let the Jews live under their own laws is good advice. However, the Seleucids feel that they are in a position of strength and so are not bound by the negotiated terms. We must reflect on how each of us is bound by contracts made, and how we too should feel bound to honor such contracts, which have been negotiated in good faith, even if later conditions change. Should not a company honor the retirement benefits it has promised to its employees? Are not employees required to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay? Negotiations have to be entered into in good faith, and once completed must be respected.



This section is held together by certain repetitions of phrases and plays on words that are important to note. Alcimus and others bring charges against the people (v. 6), and Alcimus returns to the king and brings charges against Judas and his followers (v. 25). When Alcimus is commanded to take "vengeance" (ἐκδίκησισ ekdikēsis) on the sons of Israel (v. 9), the group of scribes "seek just peace terms" (v. 12; ἐκζητῆσαι δίκαια ekzētēsai dikaia), and the Hasideans, first among the sons of Israel, say that Alcimus "will not harm" (οὐκ ἀδικήσει ouk adikēsei) the people (v. 14). Alcimus swears that he "will not seek evil" (οὐκ ἐκζητήσομεν κακόν ouk ekzētēsomen kakon, v. 15). The execution of the Hasideans is thus the first step in the fulfillment of the king’s command and is followed by other damage on the sons of Israel (v. 23). In response, Judas takes vengeance on those who had deserted him (v. 24). This section is thus a unity.

1 Maccabees 7:1–7, The New King, Demetrius


7:1. Demetrius I Soter, the son of Seleucus IV and nephew of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had been a hostage at Rome under the terms of the Treaty of Apamea. When he perceived the crisis in leadership after the death of Antiochus IV, he asked permission of the Roman senate to return. When permission was not granted, he slipped out of Rome with the help of the historian Polybius. He landed at Tripolis in 162 bce (2 Macc 14:1–2). In Syria, he apparently won the support of the army and settlers as a legitimate member of the Seleucid family over Lysias, regent to the young Antiochus V. The Roman senate did not at first recognize Demetrius, and it kept up contact with rebellious elements in the Seleucid Empire. Timarchus, the satrap of Babylonia, and his brother Heraclides, satrap of Media, did not recognize Demetrius; Ptolemaus, satrap of Commegene, also led a revolt. Timarchus was not defeated until late 161 or early 160 bce. It is within this context of Demetrius’s attempt to gain control over a fragmenting Seleucid Empire that one must place the events of chapter 7.

7:2–4. Having taken control of the country, Demetrius marches on the royal palace at Antioch, 170 miles north of Tripolis. By executing Antiochus and Lysias, Demetrius consolidated his position, as Solomon had done when he came to power and had a rival son of David executed (1 Kgs 2:12–46).

7:5. As frequently in 1 Maccabees, trouble comes to the Jews from within their own ranks (1:1; 6:21; 9:23, 38), although later on these groups have no effect on the king (10:61; 11:21–25). So far in the narrative, the role of the high priest has not been an issue (as it will be in 2 Maccabees 4–5), although we have learned that Mattathias and his family are priests (2:1), that some priests fought unwisely (5:67), and that Judas chose blameless priests who cleansed the sanctuary and restored sacrifice (4:42–53). According to the narrative, proper temple worship had been in place since then; therefore, there must have been a high priest in place to celebrate the annual feast of Yom Kippur, although that high priest is not named. According to 1 Maccabees, Alcimus is appointed high priest by Demetrius I; at his death in 159 bce, no mention is made of his replacement until the appointment of Jonathan in 152 bce. Many more high priests are named in 2 Maccabees: Jason, 175–172 bce; Menelaus, 172–163 bce; Alcimus, possibly from 163 bce. The writer of 2 Maccabees also reports that Alcimus was already high priest before the time of Demetrius I Soter (2 Macc 14:3), whereas the writer of 1 Maccabees claims that Alcimus went to Demetrius requesting to be high priest (1 Macc 7:5). As the high priest seems to have been appointed by the king and required reappointment by a new king (2 Macc 4:7–10, 24), the contradiction may be more apparent than real. However, the question remains as to who carried out the duties of high priest in the Temple restored by Judas.

7:6–7. The delegation’s complaint is similar to the one voiced to Antiochus earlier (6:22–27). The word used here for "ruin" (ἐξολεθρεύω exolethreuō) is from the same root used at 3:8 to describe how Judas had "destroyed" the ungodly out of the land.

1 Maccabees 7:8–20, The Incursion of Bacchides


7:8–11. Just as Lysias chose Ptolemy to lead an expedition against Judas (3:38), so also Demetrius chooses Bacchides, governor of the Trans-Euphrates province, between the Euphrates and Egypt. It is not clear whether this expedition was prior to or concomitant with Demetrius’s move against Timarchus, who invaded Mesopotamia and planned to cross the Euphrates and invade Syria. The text as it stands suggests that Alcimus is commanded to take vengeance. The primary purpose of the expedition, however, seems to be to establish Alcimus’s religious and political authority as high priest (v. 20). The action seems to take place in Jerusalem (see 7:19).

Like the chief of the Mysians (1:29–30), Bacchides speaks deceitfully, but Judas is wary of capture (7:10–11).

7:12–18. The Hasideans. 7:12. Unlike Judas, some Israelites are convinced by Bacchides’s overtures. The term translated "scribe" (γραμματεῖς grammateis) is found only once elsewhere in 1 Maccabees (5:42) and is there translated "officers," following the usage of the Pentateuch when referring to commanders of the army and public officials (see Num 11:16; Deut 20:5, 8–9; Josh 1:2; 8:33; 23:2; 24:1). In this context of negotiations for just terms, this is probably the proper nuance here as well. As opposed to its English denotation of a scribe’s being a writer or intellectual, the term "scribe" used in this context should be seen as connoting a leader of the community, a role that would not exclude fighting.

7:13–14. The translation of v. 13 should read: "The Hasideans were the first [or leaders] among the sons of Israel, and they were seeking peace from them." The Hasideans are described in 2:42 as mighty warriors and a group who gathered with Judas, using language similar to that describing the group of scribes/officers who gathered with Alcimus and Bacchides. The Hasideans are leading members of the Israelite community who trust the words of Alcimus. There is thus presented a difference of opinion between Judas and the Hasideans over what strategy to employ. Judas’s stance, for the author of 1 Maccabees, is one of uncompromising hostility toward the Seleucids, whereas the Hasideans believe that accommodation can be made. What exactly were the terms the Hasideans were proposing? Given that Judas does not trust Bacchides and Alcimus because they have come with a large force (7:11), perhaps Judas and the Hasideans differed over whether an occupation army should be in the land. The Hasideans feel they can trust the peaceful words this time (in contrast to what happened in 1:30), because an Aaronide priest is negotiating with them. The author of 1 Maccabees suggests that not everyone who says he or she is a Jew, even if a priest, is to be believed, but only those who adhere to the party of Judas and his followers. The thrust of the passage, then, is less against the Hasideans than it is against Jews like Alcimus.

7:15. Alcimus speaks "peaceable words" and promises no harm to the Hasideans. Peaceable words and oaths, however, have led to trouble before. The chief of the Mysians had spoken peaceable words to the residents of Jerusalem and had then attacked them (1:30). Antiochus V had negotiated a peace treaty with the Judeans, but had then broken his oath (6:61–62).

7:16. As the reader might expect from earlier examples, Alcimus goes back on his oath, seizing and killing sixty of the Hasideans. A similar execution of Jewish leaders was carried out by the Babylonians at the fall of Jerusalem in 586 bce (2 Kgs 25:18–21; Jer 52:24–27).

7:17. The fate of the Hasideans is said to fulfill Ps 79:2–3. Note that "faithful ones" (חסידים ḥăsdm) is the same word that the NRSV translates as "your faithful" in Ps 79:2, and so a linguistic connection is being made between the people who have been killed and the words of the psalm. The author of 1 Maccabees has therefore related the text of the Hebrew Scriptures to a contemporary event. He saw his own times as being under the guidance of God, and in this his reading of the Hebrew Scriptures is formally similar to that of the Qumran covenanters, but without a sense that he is living in the end times. Note also the similarity to the lament sung after the citadel was built in Jerusalem (1:37).

7:18. The people "fear and dread." In the book of Judith, fear and dread of Holofernes fall upon the people of the cities on the coastlands when they hear how he has destroyed the cities of Syria (Jdt 2:28). In contradistinction to God, who does all things in faithfulness and justice (Ps 111:7; Prayer of Azariah 5 [Dan 3:28 LXX]), Alcimus acts wrongly and breaks the ordinance and the oath (6:62).

7:19–20. Beth-zaith lay south between Jerusalem and Beth-zur. What Bacchides did at Beth-zaith is told very cryptically. Instead of "deserted," the Greek used here (αὐτομολέω automoleō; see also v. 24) should be translated, "those who made peace with him" (cf. Josh 10:1–4; 2 Sam 3:8 LXX; 2 Sam 10:19). The action of Bacchides thus duplicates that of Alcimus in breaking agreements made, as Bacchides kills those who had made peace with him. Bacchides no doubt thought that he was executing justice on war criminals, whereas the author of 1 Maccabees stresses the act’s perfidy. The expression "he slaughtered them into a great pit" pre-supposes some action of throwing the corpses into a pit (cf. Jer 41:7). His job of pacification done and Alcimus installed as high priest and dependent on the king’s support, Bacchides returned to the king.


The narrative here centers on the question of trust. Whom can one trust? When does trust move over into gullibility? The Hasideans trusted the Aaronide high priest Alcimus to their doom. But their trust was misplaced; they should have learned to be more suspicious as we readers have learned to be from the author’s depictions of the actions of the chief of the Mysians (1:30) and Antiochus V (6:61–62). In the United States, for instance, people have become increasingly suspicious and cynical toward their leaders, both religious and political. The exposs of the excesses of televangelists and the prosecution of some pastors and priests for sexual abuse have forced us to be more concerned and alert to signs of abuse of power. Within the political realm, the ramifications of Watergate still linger. Yet the paranoia of paramilitary groups who see their government as evil reminds us that a society cannot survive without some degree of trust among its citizens. We must be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16 NRSV), trusting yet wary.

1 Maccabees 7:21–25, The Inability of Alcimus to Rule


7:21–23. To say that Alcimus "struggled" (ἀγωνίζομαι agōnizomai) to hold the high priesthood conveys the wrong nuance. It might be better to say that Alcimus fought or strove for the high priesthood. Here one begins to sense that the struggle has now become over who will have the political authority of the high priest as chief of state. The breakthrough will come when Jonathan achieves a modicum of independence (10:15–21). Alcimus is joined by "troublers of the people." In the opening hymn of praise to Judas, he is said to have burned those who troubled the people (3:5). Exactly what they did to the people is unspecified. Earlier, apostates had done evil in the land (1:52) in the context of religious persecution, but that is not mentioned here. The author tells us only that the damage done was great, using language previously applied to the captain of the Mysians (1:30), and that it exceeded the damage done by the Gentiles. The hatred characteristic of civil war can be seen here, as parties engaged in a civil war often resort to dehumanizing their opponents more than they would strangers.

7:24. The destructiveness of civil war continues as Judas now attacks those who had made peace with Bacchides and Alcimus. This group has been caught in the middle; some of its members were seen by Bacchides as war criminals, while Judas sees them as traitors to "the cause." One can perhaps sense that this group who had accepted Alcimus and submitted to the Seleucids was quite large, as Judas is reduced to guerrilla tactics and acts as Mattathias had done by going around within the borders of Judea (2:45), avoiding the cities.

7:25. As a wrestler tests the opponent’s strength, so Alcimus and Judas strive with each other. The author suggests that Alcimus was losing. Although Alcimus is said to bring "malicious charges" against Judas and his followers, it is more likely that Alcimus called for reinforcements to stamp out harassment from Judas’s band.


1 Maccabees 7:26–32, The Treachery of Nicanor


"Nicanor" was a fairly common name, and so this is unlikely to be the same Nicanor mentioned in 3:38, or the Nicanor who helped Demetrius flee from Rome. The author of 2 Maccabees states that this Nicanor had been in charge of the Seleucid elephant force (2 Macc 14:12) and repeats the charge that Nicanor hated the Jews (14:39; however, the account in 2 Macc 14:11–36 is quite different). Nicanor’s mission, "to destroy the people," is the same command given to Lysias (3:35, 39). Like Bacchides and Alcimus (7:10), Nicanor is described as having a larger force and yet first trying deceit (v. 27–28). The attempt to capture Judas is described very sensationally; Judas almost succumbs to Nicanor’s treachery, but somehow learns of his plan (vv. 29–31). When the ruse fails, Nicanor tries an open assault (v. 31). The exact location of Caphar-salama is unknown, but it probably lies between Jerusalem and the Gophna Hills. Nicanor suffers a minor setback and retires to the citadel in Jerusalem (v. 32). No description of the battle is given, nor is there any indication of losses on Judas’s side.

1 Maccabees 7:33–38, Nicanor Threatens the Temple


7:33. Nicanor now devises a new strategy and goes up to the Temple. The priests and elders come out from the temple court (which Nicanor could not enter) to greet the Seleucid commander peaceably (cf. v. 29), with no deceit in mind. Alcimus presumably was still with the king. The temple worship had included sacrifices on behalf of the ruling king from early Second Temple times (Ezra 6:10).

7:34–35. Nicanor openly shows his hostility by acting arrogantly as Antiochus IV had done on entering the sanctuary (1:21–24). The author uses the language of the psalms (Ps 44:13; 80:6) to describe how Nicanor mocks the priests, and he also notes that Nicanor defiles the priests, as Antiochus IV had ordered the sanctuary to be defiled (1:46). Nicanor’s threat to destroy the Temple echoes the destruction of the First Temple (2 Kgs 25:9; 2 Chr 36:19; 1 Esdr 1:55; 4:45; 6:16).

7:36–38. The undefiled priests go into the inner court of the priests and pray. Their prayer recalls those of earlier times. When he dedicated the First Temple, Solomon had prayed that God would listen to the people whenever they turned to God (1 Kgs 8:22–53). When Jerusalem and its God were mocked by the Assyrian commander, King Hezekiah of Judea rent his clothes and sent his priests to Isaiah the prophet to ask him to pray for the people (2 Kgs 19:1–7; see also Isa 10:7–19). The author of 1 Maccabees has placed this assault of Nicanor in the context of an attack against God’s Temple. As such, one knows the outcome: He will be destroyed.

1 Maccabees 7:39–50, The Death of Nicanor


7:39–40. Nicanor seems to have requested reinforcements, possibly from some troops on the coastal plain, like those of Seron (3:13). Nicanor went to meet them at the ascent of Beth-horon, the route Seron had taken to Jerusalem (3:16). Judas has 3,000 men, the same number who fought with him at the battle of Emmaus (4:6), which also took place near the Beth-horon ascent; however, this number was considerably fewer than the forces he had mustered in other campaigns (see 5:20). The exact location of Adasa is unknown, but it seems to lie near the top of the Beth-horon ascent.

7:41–42. The prayer before battle, which is ascribed to Judas, picks up on the reference in the priest’s prayer to the blasphemies of Nicanor by remembering how Sennacherib’s army had uttered similar blasphemies when the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem in 701 bce (2 Kgs 18:14–35). In that encounter, the angel of the Lord is said to have struck down the Assyrians, and the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib, is said to have died soon after (2 Kgs 19:35–37). Judas asks for the same result to be meted out to Nicanor. The author of 2 Maccabees refers to the same biblical precedent when recounting the two battles against the two Nicanors (2 Macc 8:19; 15:22).

7:43–46. The battle is not described in great detail, specifying only the date, the defeat of Nicanor’s army, and the fact that the divine vengeance falls first on the blasphemer. The Seleucid soldiers fled to Gazara (cf. 4:15), the closest Seleucid fort to the west. The trumpets alerted the men in the nearby villages to block the paths of the retreating army down the steep Beth-horon descent (cf. Num 10:6; Judg 3:27). Just as the entire army of Sennacherib had been destroyed (2 Kgs 19:35; Isa 37:36), so also all of Nicanor’s army is killed.

7:47. Nicanor’s body is dismembered in retaliation for this blasphemy (note the more colorful description at 2 Macc 15:30–35). One might compare the treatment of the bodies of the Athenian commanders Nicias and Demosthenes. The general assembly of the Syracusans condemned them to death, and their bodies were thrown out before the gates of the city and offered for a public spectacle. The treatment of this slain king recalls such incidents from Israel’s past: King Saul’s body was fastened to the wall of Beth-shan (1 Sam 31:10); David brought Goliath’s head to Jerusalem (1 Sam 17:54); Holofernes’ head was hung from the parapet of Bethulia (Jdt 14:1, 11); and seven descendants of Saul were impaled at Gibeon on the mountain before the Lord (2 Sam 21:6, 9). The author of 1 Maccabees specifies that Nicanor’s body is kept outside Jerusalem, so as not to defile the city.

7:48–50. The joy and festivity following the victory are similar to those at the dedication of the Temple (4:58–59). Surprisingly, the author does not mention that the Feast of Purim falls on 14 Adar. Since Adar falls around March, the battle took place either in March 161 or March 160. The account concludes with a formula known well from Judges (3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28), which will be used again (9:57; 11:38, 52; 14:4). Although in Judges the formula speaks of the rest having lasted for many years, here it is only for a few days, because the Seleucid threat remained.


This narrative shows how the Seleucids with their underling Alcimus tried to impose their rule by using scare tactics in killing former opponents and by threatening to wipe out the most sacred Jewish institution: the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet the narrative also shows how such methods were ineffective. When given the chance, the people rose up from their villages and pursued the enemy (7:46). When a people are determined to resist, no amount of coercion can overcome them. They may be cowed for a while, but eventually they will rise up. The collapse of the Soviet Union is a contemporary illustration of this fact. For so long, it appeared that the peoples of the Soviet Union would always be under the thumb of the Soviets. Yet, given the chance for freedom, the people took it. Times of transition are also times of uncertainty, and there have been excesses in the attempts of the former Soviet states to forge independent nations, just as one might deplore the vengeance wreaked on Nicanor by dismembering him. But this narrative reminds us that might does not make right, and until a group can be led to see that what is being proposed for them is for the good of them all there will be resistance. A minority, no matter how well-intentioned and how confirmed in their own belief that what they are doing is God’s will, should not attempt to force through legislation with which the majority is not in agreement. Rather, they must debate their ideas in the open forum, in order to explain and attempt to persuade others to their views. Coercion never pays in the end.



The formulaic phrase at the end of chapter 7 allows the author space before discussing the reaction of Demetrius to the news of Nicanor’s defeat; note how 8:1 and 9:1 both begin with "And Judas/Demetrius heard.…" The author describes here the delegation Judas sent to the Romans and draws a utopian picture of the Roman state. Josephus preserves the text of a letter of the consul Gaius Fannius (Roman consul in 161 bce) on behalf of the Jewish envoys to the officials of the island of Cos. Whatever the questions surrounding the exact tenor, language, and status of the letter preserved at 1 Macc 8:23–32 (Was it a treaty between equal nations, or was it diplomatic recognition by Rome of Judas and his supporters?), the author of 1 Maccabees sees it as a significant document to which he constantly refers (12:1–4; 14:16–19, 24; 15:15–24). Judea is seen as an independent nation among other nations. In this connection, it is interesting to note how the Jewish historian Eupolemus, who may be identical with the ambassador Judas sent to Rome (8:15), records letters of friendship from King Solomon to Vaphres, to the kings of Egypt, and to Souron, king of Tyre and Sidon and Phoenicia. In this way, Solomon’s status as equal to that of the Tyrians and the Egyptians is proclaimed. Here in 1 Maccabees, the independent status of Judea is evidenced by its ability to interact on an equal plane with other nations; one can see how the goal of the author of 1 Maccabees is the independence of Judea.

What is also striking about this discussion of the Romans is its utopian picture of them; they are generous to their friends, devastating to their foes. The Romans have been exalted, yet they are not proud (8:13–14). Their constitution is a mixture of egalitarian, aristocratic, and monarchic features. While the description of the Roman constitution in 1 Maccabees is not as detailed as that of Polybius, it does contain a hint of a suggestion as to what is the best kind of government. A utopian description is, of course, also a critique of other systems. First of all, it is a critique of a monarchic form of government, such as that of the Seleucids, the inherent instability of which is shown in the dynastic infighting after the death of Antiochus IV. The description of the Romans, victorious in all their battles as was Alexander the Great, also contrasts with the puffed-up arrogance of Alexander (1:3) and Antiochus IV (1:22–24). But does this utopian description also critique the later Hasmonean rulers? Jonathan and Simon both wear purple and crowns (10:20; 14:43) and Simon is to be leader and priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise (14:41), not a ruler for one year only. Simon appoints all the officials (14:42); there appears to be no group, like the Roman senate, to balance his power.

1 Maccabees 8:1–16, An Idealized Description of the Romans


8:1–2a. As mentioned earlier, Timarchus, the rebel satrap of Media, had obtained a decree from the senate, recognizing him as king, by which the Romans sought to undermine the position of Demetrius I. Judas is thus acting very shrewdly. One would like to know exactly how Judas came to know about the Romans—through Jews who had visited them? Through mercenaries? The book of Daniel (11:18, 29–30) shows knowledge of Roman intervention in Seleucid affairs, but 1 Maccabees mentions nothing of Antiochus IV’s humiliation in 168 bce at the hands of the Roman legate C. Popillius Laenas, who forced Antiochus to leave Egypt.

The Romans are described in terms of their integrity, strength, and "brave deeds." The same phrase is used to describe the actions of Judas, Jonathan, and Simon (5:56), forging a link between the Hasmoneans and the Romans.

8:2b–4a. The author puts forward first a list of the victories of the Romans, starting from the far west to the east. "The Gauls" is most probably a reference to the tribes of Cisalpine Gaul who lived in what is today northern Italy and who were subdued by Rome over a period from 200 to 180 or possibly 175 bce. These wars against the Gauls and the Ligurians were the first major step toward the Romanization of a sizeable piece of the Italian peninsula. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca had conquered much of southern and southeastern Spain in 237–229 bce, and so Spain was to become the scene for battles between Carthage and Rome in the Punic Wars. The victory under Scipio Africanus in 206 led to the annexation of two provinces soon after. These provinces proved turbulent, but Rome continually expanded its position. War erupted again in the 150s, and resistance finally was quelled in 133 bce. It is noteworthy that the author of 1 Maccabees says that the Romans’ goal in subduing Spain was to get control of the gold and silver (v. 3); the silver mines in Spain, particularly those near Cartagena and in the Sierra Morena, made possession of this territory extremely profitable.

8:4b. The reference to kings who came against the Romans may be an imprecise description of the great Carthaginian generals Hamilcar, Hasdrubal, and Hannibal, or it may introduce the following list of rulers to the east of Rome. The Romans had imposed indemnity payments (yearly tribute) on Philip V of Macedonia, one thousand talents to be paid over ten years and of fifteen thousand talents on Antiochus III.

8:5. The Romans are said to have been attacked by aggressive kings, a statement that does not adequately account for Roman ambition and expansion.

King Philip V of Macedon (238–179 bce) was defeated after the Second Macedonian War (200–197 bce) by the Roman consul Flaminius at Cynoscephalae in Thessaly. Perseus, son of Philip and king of Macedonia (179–168 bce), fought the Third Macedonian War (171–168 bce) but was defeated by the Roman consul Aemilius Paullus at Pydna in 168 bce. The author of 1 Maccabees magnifies the exploits of the Romans by suggesting that other rulers on the same scale as Philip and Perseus had come against Rome in the past and had been defeated as well.

8:6–8. The author next moves closer to home by recounting the Romans’ victory over Antiochus III, father of Antiochus IV, whose Seleucid kingdom was called Asia. Named "the Great" because, like Alexander, he had made incursions into India and Arabia, Antiochus III recovered the coastal territories of Asia Minor in 197/96 bce. In 196 bce, he crossed over to Thrace, bringing him into conflict with the Romans. In the ensuing war, he was defeated in 190 bce at Magnesia ad Sipylum, just north of Smyrna in Asia Minor. The Romans did not take Antiochus III prisoner; instead by the Treaty of Apamea in 188 bce he had to pay a high indemnity and evacuate all territory north and west of the Taurus Mountains. Much of this territory was incorporated into the kingdom of Eumenes II of Pergamum. The treaty required twenty hostages between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, and the future Antiochus IV was one of them. After the peace of Apamea, the Seleucids no longer had the possibility of acquiring major influence in western Asia Minor or in Europe. Their empire still stretched from the Taurus Mountains to eastern Iran, but they no longer had control in India or in the Greek state of Bactria. In his expedition to the east (212–208 bce), Antiochus III regained the formal recognition of Seleucid supremacy by the Parthian ruler Arsaces II, but Parthia remained fairly independent. Antiochus III also seems to have restored Seleucid administration in Media. The author of 1 Maccabees is, therefore, incorrect in speaking of Antiochus III’s giving up of India, Media, and Lydia; in fact, he gave up all pretensions to Lydia. As to all western Asia Minor, India was not his to give, and he maintained control of Media. Perhaps the author is referring to the general fact that the enormous Seleucid Empire was difficult to control and frequently on the verge of losing territory.

8:9–10. The war of the Achaean league with Sparta in 146 led to war with Rome; the Achaeans were defeated by the Roman consul Lucius Mummius that same year, and democracy ceased to be the accepted form of government. In particular, Corinth was completely destroyed, and Mummius auctioned the women and children into slavery, broke down the walls, and confiscated the armaments of any city that had fought against Rome. Pausanias, writing in the second century ce, mentions that even in his day the Romans still sent out a governor of Achaia. Thus the description by the author of 1 Maccabees is generally correct, but quite anachronistic for the time of Judas.

8:11–13. The author here gives a summary statement concerning the Romans: Those who oppose them are defeated; those who are friends are protected. As such, the reference could be to Carthage and the islands taken from it as well as to the Greek islands. The universal scope of Rome’s domination is emphasized.

8:14–15. In Rome during this period, only victorious generals were allowed to wear a diadem and purple-colored clothing, which were royal prerogatives, during triumphal celebrations. Senators wore a broad purple upright stripe stitched to or woven into the fabric of their tunics.

The number of senators was about 300 until Sulla in 81 bce doubled the number. It is not known where the author got the number 320—by adding the magistrates to the 300 senators, or possibly an analogy to the Jewish Sanhedrin. The senate did not meet daily but only when summoned by the magistrates.

8:16. Usually, there were two consuls, and only in an emergency would a single dictator be appointed. It has been suggested that the author of 1 Maccabees concluded that there was only one consul because sometimes only one magistrate’s name was mentioned in documents (see, e.g., 1 Macc 15:16). The author has put forward an idealized mixed blend of aristocracy and monarchy. The claim that there was no envy or jealousy among the Romans neglects the competition among leading families, the legislation passed in 181 bce against bribery in elections, and the numerous prosecutions of leading figures.

1 Maccabees 8:17–32, The Exchange of Letters


8:17–20. As he had done before (4:42), Judas takes the initiative. Eupolemus, from the priestly clan of Hakkoz (1 Chr 24:10), was the son of the man who had won concessions from Antiochus III (2 Macc 4:10); it is possible to identify him with the Eupolemus who wrote in Greek "On the Kings of Judea," fragments of which survive. Nothing is known about Jason, son of Eleazar. It is noteworthy that both have Greek names.

"The yoke" (ζυγός zygos) was a frequent metaphor for servitude and slavery (see Gen 27:40; Lev 26:13; Isa 9:4; 10:27; 14:5, 25, 29; Ezek 34:27). In the ceremony of the red heifer, the heifer must never have been used for profane work—i.e., have been under a master—before being used in the ritual (Num 19:2). Thus Judas asks not to be enslaved but to be a friend of the Romans (8:11–12). The Roman historian Livy recounts that at the end of Rome’s war with Perseus "the Macedonians and Illyrians were to be free, so that it might appear to all peoples that the arms of the Roman people do not bring servitude to freemen but rather freedom to slaves."

The ambassadors open their address by referring to the "people" (πλῆθος plēthos) of the Jews, rather than to the "nation" (ἔθνος ethnos; cf. 8:23; 12:3) or "people" (δῆμος dēmos; see 1 Macc 8:29). Plēthos sometimes translates the Hebrew "congregation" (קהל qāhāl; see Exod 12:6; 2 Chr 31:18), but one should note how it had just been used in 8:15 to refer to the Roman people.

8:21–22. The Romans had not yet recognized Demetrius I as king and may have been glad to further embarrass him. Only a very general statement of Roman agreement is made. There is no mention of an execration or oath, which would have been a necessary part of a formal treaty. No doubt the original document was inscribed on bronze tablets and kept at Rome. Verses 31–32 suggest that this is a letter that is being copied, although the full form of a letter is not present. The copy was presumably written in Latin or Greek, translated into Hebrew in the first edition of 1 Maccabees, and then translated into Greek for the extant text of 1 Maccabees. One should not expect to be able to reconstruct the exact wording of the document.

8:23–30. After the introductory wish for well-being come parallel clauses requiring that each come to the aid of the other, although the clause "as the occasion may indicate" (vv. 25, 27) allows for a wide range of interpretation. The phrase "without receiving any return" (v. 26; lit., "taking nothing") parallels "without deceit" (v. 28) and probably should be understood to mean "not accepting any bribes." Any changes had to have the consent of both parties.

8:31–32. The letter concludes by quoting another letter of the Romans to Demetrius I; the imagery is similar to that of 2 Chr 10:10–14. The Romans never followed up on the threat. Did events move too rapidly for them? Or did they use the loophole provided by the condition "as the occasion may indicate"? Whenever the senate decided that Rome could exploit a situation to its own advantage, the senate would act. Roman policy was guided by political considerations, rather than by questions of law and morality, as, for example, the Seleucids found out when the Romans unilaterally added to the Treaty of Apamea that the Seleucids could not make war on Egypt. Finally, whatever the Maccabees might have thought, the relationship they had forged with the Romans was most probably not a treaty between equals. After defeating the king of Macedonia and the Seleucid king, the Romans became the dominant power in the world. Rome most likely granted the Maccabees a friendship pact, which gave Judah the appearance of being protected by Rome but did not necessarily mean that the Romans would indeed intervene to protect nations subject to other kings—although such a pact could provide the pretext for going to war with those kings. In fact, such a friendship pact was de facto an acknowledgment of Roman suzerainty.

Nevertheless, the author of 1 Maccabees sees this document as a major step toward independence from the Seleucids and keeps referring to it (12:1, 3–4; 14:18, 24).


To someone who knows the future relations between Rome and Judea, this chapter is particularly poignant and ironic. That reader knows that the Romans took control of Judea under Pompey the Great in 63 bce and—after the failure of Herod the Great’s son Archelaus in 6 ce—ruled Judea as a province. The Jews revolted against the Romans twice, first in the great revolt of 66–73 ce and then in the revolt of Bar Kochba in 132–135 ce. Both times they were defeated and crushed. In the first revolt, the Temple in Jerusalem was burned and destroyed and not rebuilt. This destruction of the Temple led to a major restructuring of Jewish life and traditions, for the Temple had been where God had met the people and where the sacrifices commanded in Leviticus had been performed. No longer would those sacrifices be offered to God.

No doubt the Roman juggernaut would eventually have taken control of the Near East. One can see in the subsequent history of the Seleucid monarchs how Rome meddled in order to gain advantage. This early attempt by the Jews to gain the support of this powerful backer was advantageous in the short term, but disastrous for the long haul. If one allies oneself with a stronger partner, will such a move eventually lead to some loss of one’s own independence? What compromises and concessions might one have to make in order to stay in union with such a partner? But if one does not have powerful allies, will one’s independence be lost anyway? These questions beset the countries of Europe as they inched their way toward the creation of the European Economic Community, but they are also part and parcel of ordinary federal and local economic issues. Will a merger of school districts mean the loss of control over curricular issues? Will a business merger take someone out of the decision-making process? Yet, if one does not merge, can one have a viable school offering a sophisticated curriculum, or a business that can really compete? The old adage that there is unity in diversity should be kept in mind. Strength comes through acknowledging the diverse talents that each person, each community, and each nation brings. It is when unity means conformity that strength fails.



Chapter 9 centers on the second expedition of Bacchides to Judea. It opens with Demetrius sending Bacchides and Alcimus a second time, and ends with Bacchides deciding not to come again (v. 72). In between come the deaths of Judas and Alcimus and the rise of Jonathan, who will combine in himself their positions as leader and high priest. At the beginning of the chapter, Judas and his followers are in control of Jerusalem, except for the citadel; at the end, Jonathan is in Michmash.

9:1. Bacchides and Alcimus were first sent to Judah shortly after Demetrius had come to power (1 Macc 7:5–25). Alcimus must have remained at the court of Demetrius during the governorship of Nicanor.

"The right wing" (δεξιὸν κέρας dexion keras; lit., "the right horn") in battle formation refers to the right flank of the army (9:12). We cannot be exactly sure what it refers to here. Metaphorically, it could mean the strongest part of the army. In 161 or 160 bce, Demetrius had defeated Timarchus, the rebellious satrap of Media, and so was free to move against Judas.

9:2. The geography of this verse is difficult to reconstruct. As written, the Seleucid army is encamped at a town called Mesaloth in Arbela, but scholars have suggested that "Mesaloth" is a misunderstanding of the Hebrew word for "public roads" (מסלות mĕsillt). Bacchides would thus have camped at a crossroad. Arbela was identified by Josephus with Arbela in Galilee, and some scholars have followed him and consequently emended "Gilgal" to "Galilee." Other scholars have wondered why Bacchides would carry out a campaign in Galilee, from which the Jews had been evacuated (5:23), when his object was Judas and his force in the Judean hills. Thus Bar-Kochva has suggested that "Arbela" should be corrected to "Mount Beth El" (הר בית־אל har btʾ-ēl), the high plateau north of Ramallah, and the "Gilgal" refers to the road that ran from the ancient Gilgal near Jericho to a small village, Beth ha-Gilgal, on the mountain plateau. Bacchides would thus have tried a new tactical approach, coming neither from the west as Seron (3:16), Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias had done (3:40), nor from the south like Lysias (4:29; 6:31), but from the east.

9:3–4. On the Seleucid Babylonian calendar, the date of this campaign would be April/May 160 bce. Bacchides is advancing from the north toward Jerusalem. Berea is most likely to be identified with a small town about ten miles north of Jerusalem, near Ramallah.

9:5–6. Elasa most probably should be identified with Il’asa, southwest of Al Bira and about half a mile distant from it. Three thousand is the number of men Judas had against Gorgias (4:6) and Nicanor (7:40). Those who were too frightened to go into battle were supposed to have left the army already, according to regulations (see Deut 20:8), but these soldiers are terrified by the "huge number of the enemy forces," and they desert the camp, dropping off like leaves. The same verb, "drop," is used at Isa 64:5 in a confession of sin: "We have all withered like leaves,/ and our guilt carries us away like the wind" (NAB). It is also used at Deut 28:40 as an image of what will happen to an unfaithful people: "You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off" (NRSV). Judas’s army was reduced to the number of men that he had had in the battle against Seron (3:24): eight hundred men.

9:7–10. The author of 1 Maccabees begins to forecast the outcome of the battle. The word so often used in 1 Maccabees to depict the defeat of enemies (3:23; 4:14, 36; 5:7, 21, 43; 7:43) is now used to say that Judas is "crushed" (συντρίβω syntribō) in his heart, and the language of exhortation, "Do not lose heart" (Deut 20:3 NRSV), is reversed here as Judas is feeling shaken (v. 8). It is interesting to compare the confident tone of Judas’s earlier speeches. In earlier battles, his supporters had also complained of the scarcity of soldiers, but Judas had stressed that size had nothing to do with victory (3:17–22). Judas also had insisted it was better to die than to see misfortune, but that everything depended on God’s will (3:59–60). Even though he had retreated before, as after the battle of Beth-zechariah (6:47, 54), now Judas follows the heroic ideal: death with glory rather than life without it. The phrase "if our time has come" resonates with the lament of someone feeling without hope: "Our time has come, our days are filled up, our time is at hand" (Lam 4:18 LXX). It also is attuned with Gen 6:13 LXX: "The time of every human has come before me, for the earth is filled with injustice by them, and behold, I will destroy them and the earth." Thus the phrase foretells the end; no mention of help from heaven is made, for the author knows none will come.

9:11–13. The cavalry takes position on the two wings, while the "slingers and archers" skirmish ahead of the phalanx formation in two parts. The author mentions the length of the battle to stress the bravery of the doomed Israelites.

9:14–18. The Seleucid phalanx had moved forward first to engage the Jewish infantry and would have carried the day, so Judas was forced to attempt an assault on the position where he assumed Bacchides would be and perhaps win the day by killing the enemy commander. The author of 1 Maccabees states that the right wing of the Seleucid army is crushed, but Bacchides seems to have strategically withdrawn so that Judas and his cavalry could be caught in the pincer movement. They retreat as far as "Mount Azotus." Mount Azotus is unknown, and the city of Azotos/Ashdod is in the coastal plain. Scholars have suggested that the Greek translator read אשׁדוד (ʾašdd) rather than אשׁדות (ʾăšēdt), meaning "slopes." The slopes of the mountain could then refer to the area around Beth El. The Seleucid left wing follows after Judas. No explicit mention is made of Bacchides and the right wing’s turning about, but Judas now seems to be caught in between. The author notes how, after desperate fighting, Judas himself falls, as befits a warrior. At the loss of their commander, the rest of the Jewish army flee.

9:19–22. Since the Jews had dismembered Nicanor’s body (7:47), it is unlikely the Seleucid forces would have magnanimously allowed Judas’s brothers to collect his body. However, the author provides no details of a fight over his body. Josephus speaks of a truce, but this does not seem based on reliable information. It is also unclear how Jonathan and Simon would have been able to provide a proper burial without any interference from the now victorious Seleucid forces. The author, however, stresses the continuity of generations: Jonathan and Simon, Judas’s successors, are described burying him using a phrase similar to that which was used when Mattathias was buried (2:70) and which will be used of Jonathan (13:25–27). "Buried in the tomb of one’s ancestors" is a phrase similar to ones used of Jacob (Gen 47:30), of Gideon (Judg 8:32), and of Samson (Judg 16:31). Judas is shown not to have been dishonored, as Saul had been (1 Sam 31:8–10), for to be buried away from one’s ancestral land was a cause for shame (1 Kgs 13:22). Just as Mattathias had been mourned (2:70), so also is his son. The dirge to Judas resembles the one intoned over Saul and his son Jonathan (2 Sam 1:19, 25, 27), and resonates with the paean to Judas at the beginning of his career, where it is said that deliverance prospered through him (3:6). All Israel is said to grieve, emphasizing the significance of Judas’s role for the nation, although not all Jews mourned his passing. On v. 22, scholars have pointed to the formula found often in the books of Kings: "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon?" (1 Kgs 11:41 NRSV). Scholars have debated whether the author implies that he based his work on written or oral sources. One should note a significant difference, however, between this verse and the formula in the books of Kings: The acts of the various kings have been written down. This confession of being unable to record all the deeds of heroes at their death was a common classical literary device. The author of 1 Maccabees thus does not seem to refer to ancient records, as in the books of Kings, but rather glorifies the magnitude of Judas’s exploits.


What had Judas actually accomplished? At his death, he was not in control of Jerusalem, his forces had been drastically reduced, and the early story of Jonathan (9:33–49) shows him, despite the author’s best efforts, to be nothing but a guerrilla on the run, desperately seeking to avoid capture. Yet Judas’s fame lives on despite his failures. One might compare the end of his life to that of King Saul in 1 Samuel 31. Saul, too, saw his bid for independence from the Philistines end in disaster. Saul, too, is lamented by David in "The Song of the Bow" (2 Sam 1:19–27), which is cited by the author of 1 Maccabees with reference to Judas. Yet Saul’s failures are emphasized, while Judas’s victories are stressed. History, of course, is written by the victors. The dynasty of David continued, while Saul’s line failed. Judas’s brothers continued after him and founded the Hasmonean dynasty. Their struggle for independence against all odds was rewarded, and it is perhaps the hope of ultimate victory that is so important a part of the story of Judas: He began something that did not die with him. The early Zionists would look back to Judas and the Hasmoneans as their heroes, for they had fought on, and when one died, another was there to take his or her place. Judas’s was a movement that could not fail, for it depended not on him alone but on the vision that his father had sparked in many minds.

1 MACCABEES 9:23–12:53



Jonathan is an enigmatic yet crucial figure in the Maccabean revolt. Leader of the rebel groups for seventeen or eighteen years, twice as long as Judas, he became high priest and a figure to be reckoned with in Seleucid dynastic politics. Yet, unlike Judas and Simon, he is not mentioned in Mattathias’s last will (2:65–66), nor does he receive a poem to laud or lament him.


1 Maccabees 9:23–31, The Succession of Jonathan


9:23. As in Judges, 1 Maccabees envisions a pattern whereby once a judge dies, Israel sins, is punished, and then another judge is raised up (Judg 2:11–23). In 1 Maccabees, whenever there is a break in the action, the lawless and renegades stir things up again (7:5; 9:58; the language here resembles that of Ps 92:7). When Mattathias first rose up, the surviving renegades had fled to the Gentiles, and Mattathias had free rein within the borders of Israel (2:44–46). Judas is praised for confounding lawless evildoers and destroying the ungodly out of the land (3:6–8). Now, at the death of Judas, the sinners come forward again in the borders of Israel.

9:24. This verse is frequently used as an argument that most Jews deserted Jonathan’s cause, because the government controlled the food supply and thus could entice people to its side. Given, however, the unusual meaning this would give to "country" (χώρα chōra) as well as the penalty of sterility of the land as punishment for sin in the OT (Deut 11:16–17; 1 Kgs 8:35–40; Jer 12:4; Sir 39:29), one should not exclude the possibility of the author’s suggesting that the famine symbolizes the rule of the godless over the land.

9:25–27. Bacchides keeps up the pressure against Judas’s followers. Note how the author maintains the anonymity of Bacchides’ lieutenants and simply classifies them as godless. There is a connection between Bacchides’ making sport of/scoffing at the friends of Judas and the treatment of the prophets, who were scoffed at by the unfaithful "until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy" (2 Chr 36:16 NRSV). The author of 1 Maccabees sees his time as an era without prophets (4:46; 14:41). Did he envision his era as extending from the time of Haggai and Zechariah or Malachi? "Prophet," of course, encompasses much more than foretelling the future. A prophet is the interpreter of God’s law (4:46), but Moses, Joshua, and the judges were also called prophets (Sir 46:1; Prologue to Sirach). The trouble is not as magnified as at Dan 12:1 or Mark 13:19 in speaking of the tribulation before the end of the world.

9:28–31. Unlike Judas, who was appointed by his father (2:66), Jonathan is elected to the post of ruler (cf. Judg 10:18; 11:6–11). But the same formula of succession that was used for Judas (3:1) is used for Jonathan.

1 Maccabees 9:32–49, Early Campaigns of Jonathan


This period, from the death of Judas to the death of Alcimus, which is said to be thirteen months long (9:3, 54), is one of acute distress for Jonathan and his small band. They are forced to hide near a waterhole in the wilderness of Tekoa, about fifteen miles southeast of Jerusalem. The chronology of the following events is not very exact. The attack on the Jambrites is framed by two references to Bacchides (vv. 34, 43) that are very similar. The first serves to locate Bacchides on the east bank of the Jordan, where he and his army can entrap Jonathan in Transjordan on his way back from Medeba to Judea (vv. 43–49).

9:35–42. The situation had become so desperate that Jonathan sent away his brother and, presumably under the heading "the multitude," all those not able to fight, like women, children, and the elderly (v. 35). They are to travel with all their baggage (cf. 1 Macc 5:13, 45) across the Jordan to their friends, the Nabateans (1 Macc 5:25). The wagon train was intercepted and Jonathan’s brother John was killed (v. 38) by a tribal group, the Jambrites, from the area around Medeba, a town near the northeastern tip of the Dead Sea (v. 36). We do not know whether this action was in concert with Bacchides, or just another tribal raid. No connection is made between this group and the Nabateans. When a wedding is arranged between the Jambrites and some other tribal group (v. 37)—exactly what "Canaan" and "Nadabath" refer to is uncertain—Jonathan and his group ambush the wedding party and kill many of the Jambrites to avenge the death of John; they also regain much baggage (vv. 38–40) the Jambrites had taken from them. Jonathan and his group then slink back to the safety of the marshes of the Jordan valley (v. 42). The reader gains a sense from this narrative of the shrinking size of the followers of Jonathan. Even toward the end, Judas had been followed by three thousand men (9:5), but Jonathan’s group can win a victory only by ambushing a wedding party, not a terribly noble feat.

9:43–49. Moving on the sabbath, either to catch the Jews off guard or to take advantage of their piety (cf. 2:29–41), Bacchides sets out to trap Jonathan’s guerrilla band on the banks of the Jordan, between the river and the marshes of the Dead Sea (v. 45). The author tries to make the most of this sorry engagement by giving Jonathan a pre-battle speech (vv. 44–46) similar to that of Judas at 3:18–22. Jonathan tries to embolden his men by stating that Bacchides acted in a cowardly way and by exaggerating the number of Seleucid dead (vv. 47, 49). Jonathan, in fact, was lucky to escape alive.

1 Maccabees 9:50–53, The Strategy of Bacchides


After his return to Jerusalem, Bacchides strengthens key areas. Jericho would control the Jordan valley and Emmaus the way to the plain. Beth-zur, Gazara, and the citadel (v. 52) were already fortified. The other cities lay north of Jerusalem in northern Judea and southern Samaria, as if to deny the rebels access to those parts of Judea where Judas had been so successful. Bacchides’ strategy seems to have been to control those areas with several garrisons and to force the cooperation of leading citizens through taking their sons as hostages. Since Bacchides’ attempt is to harass "Israel" (the author’s term for true believers), these leading citizens were no doubt different from the "godless" who had been put in charge of the country (9:25), and the fortifications would have been used to strengthen the latter’s position.

1 Maccabees 9:54–57, The Death of Alcimus


9:54–56. In 159 bce, Alcimus, the high priest appointed by Demetrius, died. The Temple area had been rebuilt quickly under Judas (4:43–49), and Alcimus was probably doing some renovations and upscaling the repairs begun by Judas. Such building activity suggests that the activity of Jonathan had been severely curtailed and that the decline in warfare had led to an economic upswing. During this work, Alcimus died. The author of 1 Maccabees attributes the cause of his death to the action of God, as the passive verb "was stricken" implies. The sense of just deserts is shown as Alcimus, who had given orders that something be done to God’s house, now cannot set his own house in order. The author gives the worst spin on what Alcimus was intending: Instead of renovation, Alcimus was breaking down the wall that separated the court of the priests from the rest of the Israelites, breaking laws of separation between the sacred and the profane (Ezek 42:13–14; 44:4–27). By mentioning the work of the prophets, the author may be referring to the work of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). It is also noteworthy that the Jewish writer Eupolemus has Solomon build the Temple according to the command of Nathan the prophet.

9:57. This verse shows how little we know of what was going on in Judea. On Alcimus’s death, Bacchides went back to the king. Surely Bacchides would have left someone in charge of the now fairly pacified country. But no mention is made of any such ruler, nor are we told who became high priest until Jonathan’s appointment in 152 bce (1 Macc 10:21). Josephus holds that no one was high priest after Alcimus. Such a length of time with no high priest to officiate Yom Kippur seems quite unusual, even if, for example, the high priest Menelaus was probably unable to perform the ritual while Judas controlled the Temple in 163 bce (1 Macc 4:42). The author of 1 Maccabees gives us no information about the high priestly office before Alcimus (a proper anti-hero for him) or until Jonathan’s appointment, so there likely may have been a high priest about whom we know nothing.

The reason why Bacchides left the country may have had nothing to do with the death of Alcimus. Demetrius I was involved in 159/58 in an attempt to oust Ariarathes IV from Cappadocia and support his rival, Orophernes. So Bacchides’ main force may have been needed back in Antioch. After his departure from Judea, the pressure against Jonathan eased (cf. 7:50). Even with the garrisons still in place (vv. 25, 50), the author sees the absence of the Seleucid forces under Bacchides as bringing rest to the land (v. 57). This period must have been extremely important for Jonathan and his followers, for this respite of two years seems to have allowed them to regroup.

1 Maccabees 9:58–73, The Last Expedition of Bacchides


As earlier (7:5–7), the peace is disrupted by the lawless, who conspire to bring Bacchides back to capture Jonathan and his followers. The Greek has a play on words in vv. 57–58: The land was "quiet" (ἡσύχασεν hēsychasen), and Jonathan was living in "quiet" (ἡσυχίᾳ hēsychia). Throughout this section, in fact, the author repeats similar words: "plan" (βουλή boulē, vv. 60, 68); "plotted," "counseled" (βουλεύομαι bouleuomai, vv. 58, 69); "consulted," "counseled" (συμβουλεύομαι symbouleuomai, vv. 59, 69); "capture," "seize" (συλλαμβάνω syllambanō, vv. 58, 60–61).

9:60–61. Although Bacchides is said to have come with a large force, it is clear from his later failure to capture Bethbasi that it was not the force with which he first came to Judea (7:10). This is also evident from the way he tries to get Jonathan first through allies who were already in place in Judea. The sequence of events is difficult to reconstruct. The NRSV has Jonathan’s men kill fifty leaders of this "treachery" (lit., "evil"). This translation presumably understands the last phrase as referring to those who had tried to capture Jonathan. But the Greek has no change in subject from v. 60, where Bacchides’ allies are told to seize Jonathan, and v. 61, where the same verb is used to describe the seizure of the fifty leaders; Jonathan is not mentioned until v. 62. Therefore, the reader may presume that Bacchides’ allies tried to seize Jonathan, but when they couldn’t, they seized instead fifty men from the countryside whom they credited with being associated in some way with the damage Jonathan was doing (cf. 7:6–7). These fifty might then be compared to the sixty Hasideans who had sought to make peace with Bacchides and Alcimus (7:12–18).

9:62–64. Bacchides had made the country north of Jerusalem too difficult for Jonathan to pass through because of the garrisons stationed there, so Jonathan retreated south as he had done before (9:33), although not as far. Bethbasi lay about a mile and a quarter southeast of Bethlehem, on the way to Tekoa and the Jordan valley. The author tries to magnify the strength of Bacchides’ forces, but Bacchides needed to supplement his detachment with his allies in Judea.

9:65–68. The course of the siege is confused. The NRSV suggests that Jonathan leaves Bethbasi with a small force, fights against some otherwise unknown nomadic tribes, and then turns back to attack Bacchides—a rather circuitous route to raise the siege. The text is difficult to reconstruct; one is not sure whether to read singular or plural verbs. The main problem lies in the verb "struck down" (ἐπάταξεν epataxen, v. 66). The sense of the passage would seem to be that Jonathan slipped away from the siege to gain allies, as those in the citadel had done against Judas’s siege (6:18–27). Jonathan had friends among the Nabateans, if not among the Jambrites (9:35), as had Judas before him (5:25), and so he may have gone for reinforcements to Odomera and the people of Phasiron, and "placed" them beside him (ἐπέταξεν epetaxen), a verb attested by some Greek manuscripts. At v. 67, then, Jonathan’s small group, plus his reinforcements (not "he" as in the NRSV), begins to attack Bacchides’ forces from the rear while Simon sallies out from the town and crushes Bacchides’ group. Bacchides had relied on his allies in Judea, but they had been no help. The ability of Jonathan and Simon to mount such a counteroffensive shows their use of the two years to increase in numbers and their fighting ability; it also brings into view Jonathan’s diplomatic skills.

9:69–72. Bacchides’ reaction to defeat is anger. Is it a blind rage? Or has Bacchides become aware that it is not Jonathan who is disturbing the peace in Judea, but these "lawless" ones? Is it, in fact, a signal of peace toward Jonathan? That is how Jonathan understands it, and his penchant for making agreements is made apparent. Whereas Judas had refused the offers of peace made by Bacchides (7:10–11) and Nicanor (7:27–30), Jonathan now takes the initiative. The returned captives are not the hostages in the citadel (9:53; 10:6) but others possibly taken during this last campaign. The words of Bacchides in v. 71 echo the words of Alcimus to the Hasideans (7:15).

9:73. In almost idyllic terms, the author depicts the period after Bacchides’ departure. It recalls Isa 2:4: "He shall judge between the nations,/ and shall arbitrate for many peoples;/ they shall beat their swords into plowshares,/ and their spears into pruning hooks" (NRSV). Jonathan returns to settle at Michmash in the rugged hills about seven miles north of Jerusalem, where King Saul had settled (1 Sam 13:2) and that was settled at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (see Ezra 2:27; Neh 7:31; 11:31). Like the judges and the kings, Jonathan governs the people ideally by rooting out the godless. Of course, the citadel and the other garrisons were still in power and Jonathan probably did not undertake any more military activity lest the Seleucid forces return. What one would like to know is what Jonathan was doing from 157 bce to 152 bce, when 1 Maccabees resumes the narrative. When Jonathan is next heard of, Demetrius wishes him to become his ally—that is, he considers Jonathan able to supply him with auxiliary forces. When Bacchides had used his allies in Judea (9:60, 63), they had been bested by Jonathan’s forces, and the reader should not forget that Judas’s forces had faced a Seleucid phalanx and fought them all day long (9:12–13). Jonathan probably kept this reserve of battle-hardened troops battle trim, ready for any developments. Neither are we told anything about how Jonathan actually lived. We do not know whether he or his men took part in the temple liturgy, although when Jonathan becomes high priest no mention is made of sweeping changes in the way the ritual was carried out. How would one have distinguished between followers of Jonathan and other Jews? Was the distinction based more on allegiance to certain patrons, but raised to the level of theological absolutes to maintain loyalty and the ability to fight a civil war?


The narrative reinforces the sense that the only factor capable of holding the country together was the movement under Jonathan. No matter how hard the Seleucid forces pressed Jonathan, no matter what harassment Bacchides inflicted on the people, no matter how many fortresses were erected to control the people, Jonathan’s opponents had no effective leadership. Alcimus could have been a rallying point for the opposition; he clearly was energetic and pushed a program of restoration after the devastations of the war. Yet he died too early to be of any real use to them. His death is seen by the author of 1 Maccabees as divine retribution, as evidence once again that God was on the side of the Maccabees. When Bacchides tried to raise a force from those opposed to Jonathan, he found they were ineffective. Here again one sees the importance of dedicated single-mindedness on behalf of one’s cause. Jonathan won out because he was willing to stay longer, endure longer, and put his life on the line. When a local population stiffly resists foreign oppression and seeks to maintain its own way and culture, its stubborn resistance will win out and it likely will not be defeated in the end.


1 Maccabees 10:1–14, Jonathan and Demetrius I


10:1–2. After five years of relative stability, external factors once again threaten the land. Demetrius I had not made many friends; his failure in Cappadocia (157–154 bce) had won him enemies in Asia Minor, his harsh treatment of his subjects led Antioch to revolt (which he suppressed with even harsher measures), and he had made an enemy of Ptolemy Philometor by trying to gain control of Cyprus in 155/54 bce. A pretender to the Seleucid throne, Alexander Balas, who claimed to be the son of Antiochus IV, went to Rome and in 152 bce gained permission from the senate to claim the throne of his ancestors. Before October 152 bce, Alexander arrived in Ptolemais, where the garrison went over to his side. One is not sure whether there were several battles between the two or only one before Demetrius’s defeat and death in the summer of 150 bce. In 1 Maccabees the contest between the two kings is taken up again at 10:48, and only one battle is described. In between is collected a series of documents from Demetrius and Alexander Balas, bidding for the services of Jonathan. Questions have been raised about the authenticity of these documents, particularly whether they are exact reproductions of the contents. One can wonder where the letters would have been kept, and how the author of 1 Maccabees could retrieve them from archives, which most likely did not have the same degree of organization as today’s libraries. On the other hand, we do have from the ancient world collections of documents, such as the Zenon papyri, that have been preserved and have come down to us.

10:3–6. As Ptolemais lay south of Antioch but north of Jerusalem, Demetrius may have hoped to harass Alexander from the rear. The author of 1 Maccabees portrays Demetrius as conscious of the wrongs he has done against the Jews, just as Antiochus IV had been (6:12), and willing to do anything to save his throne. Jonathan’s military accomplishments are well-known, even after a lapse of five years. Jonathan is here raised to the position of leader of a vassal state, ally of the Seleucid throne and with the authority to raise and equip an army. It is a remarkable achievement to rise from a rebel in hiding to head of the nation in seven years. The hostages had been taken to keep the countryside from helping Jonathan (9:53). Now that Jonathan is to be an ally of the Seleucids, there is no need to keep them.

10:7–9. Jonathan makes the most of the occasion by having Demetrius’s letter (which is not extant) read aloud publicly in Jerusalem; one wonders how the listeners knew the letter was genuine. Jonathan’s authority to muster troops would have affected the citadel, as Judas had already shown a desire to attack it (6:19–20). Nevertheless, in spite of their misgivings, the troops in the citadel respect the king’s wishes, even though Jonathan has shrewdly not yet formally responded to Demetrius’s offer.

10:10–14. Like Judas, who had restored the Temple (4:47–51), Jonathan sets out to restore and refortify Jerusalem, which had been decimated by Lysias. He uses the kind of stone King Josiah is said to have used to rebuild the Temple (2 Chr 34:11). Jonathan is now so powerful that the Gentile garrisons Bacchides had established (9:50–52) flee, except for some apostates left in Beth-zur. Their plight, however—holed up in Beth-zur—is the reverse of what they had done to the Israelites when they were in power (1:52–53). In fact, the citadel remained intact, and the garrisons seem to have remained (11:41; 12:45). Perhaps some deserted or were recalled to help Demetrius against Alexander Balas.

1 Maccabees 10:15–21, Jonathan and Alexander Epiphanes


10:15–16. The bidding war for Jonathan’s services begins. As a new player on the block, Alexander has to learn about Jonathan; one wonders from whom he had heard that Jonathan was such a valiant warrior in such glowing terms. "Friend of the king" was not the highest-ranking title in the Seleucid hierarchy. Mattathias had been asked to be one (2:18), and the author of 1 Maccabees seems to feel that it is an important title (3:3; 6:14, 28; 7:8).

10:17–20. The flattering letter that Alexander writes Jonathan, calling him "brother" (ἀδελφός adelphos), a title reserved for the highest dignitaries, is not written in good Greek. The phrase "man of valor" (ἀνὴρ δυνατός anēr dynatos, v. 19) is used frequently in the LXX (see Ruth 2:1; 2 Kgs 5:1; 15:20; 24:14; 1 Chr 5:2; 12:21). The letter does contain evidence that the Seleucid ruler, even if at that point a pretender to the throne, appointed Jonathan to the high priesthood. Jonathan’s appointment is thus legitimate, and he becomes the official political and religious leader of Judea. Along with the letter, Alexander sends Jonathan "a purple robe and a golden crown." Friends of the king customarily wore a purple robe, and priests in the Hellenistic period wore purple robes and gold crowns.

10:21. Jonathan dons the sacred vestments (Exod 28:1–5) on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (October), 152 bce, during the Festival of Booths (Lev 23:33–36, 39–42; Deut 16:13–15). It is interesting that this occurs just five days after the celebration of Yom Kippur, when the high priest’s presence was most required for the ritual atonement of the people (Leviticus 16). However, Jonathan may be playing on the symbolism of the festival whereby the people of Israel are reminded how God brought them out of the land of Egypt (Lev 23:43), and during which the law is to be read aloud every seventh year (Deut 31:10–13). The Festival of Booths was the first festival celebrated on the return from exile (Ezra 3:1–5), and it was the festival celebrated by Ezra (Neh 8:13–18). According to 2 Maccabees, the festival of Hanukkah at Judas’s purification of the Temple was associated with the Festival of Booths (2 Macc 1:9; 10:6).

What is perhaps most striking is the very brevity with which this important event is recounted; the narrator immediately proceeds to describe the recruiting of troops and the securing of arms. The only religious act attributed to Jonathan is a prayer in battle (11:71), not a specifically high-priestly deed. Could this lack of emphasis be due to opposition to Jonathan’s being high priest? Some scholars have suggested that the wicked priest of the Qumran documents is Jonathan, but such specificity is hard to obtain from these texts. What v. 21 does suggest is that Jonathan has taken the proposals from both Demetrius and Alexander without allying himself with either.

1 Maccabees 10:22–45, The Reaction of Demetrius I


10:22–24. Demetrius acts as if he has not already written to Jonathan (10:3–6). Demetrius’s style reflects Hebrew syntax: "they may be with me to a help" (v. 24 author’s trans.).

10:25–45. In contrast to the previous two letters (10:3, 18), Demetrius now addresses one "to the nation of the Jews." While it does mention the high priesthood (v. 32), it does not name Jonathan at all. This had led some scholars to hold either that the letter does not belong in its present context, or that in fact Demetrius thought that he could gain the allegiance of Jews who may have been opposed to Jonathan and his supporters.

10:26–28. Demetrius claims that the Jews have remained loyal to their treaty with him. Is this a rhetorical ploy, or does the letter belong in another context? Does the treaty refer to Bacchides’ agreement (9:71) or to the general framework of a suzerain-vassal treaty? A treaty bound both parties. In its present context, the term "enemies" (ἐχθροί exthroi) refers to Alexander, but one should recall that there were frequent uprisings against Demetrius. Does this offer of immunities and gifts betray a note of desperation?

10:29–33. Comparison with a similar letter of Antiochus III indicates that the phrase "payment of tribute" probably should be understood as a head tax or a poll tax. The mention of a "salt tax" (v. 29) may indicate that the Jews originally delivered to the king a quantity of salt, for which later a payment in cash was substituted. Note, however, that Demetrius II later relinquishes claims to the salt pits (1 Macc 11:35). "Crown levies" were at first presents to the king from his subjects, but later became compulsory upon his accession—and whenever he required them. A tax rate of one-third to one-half of a crop was extremely high and would have been very oppressive to the local economy. Would the Seleucids have so punished their supporters among the Jews? The three districts (v. 30) are named in the letter of Demetrius II (11:34). Verse 31 is difficult, but probably should read that Jerusalem was to be exempted from tithes and revenues, rather than that Jerusalem’s tithes and revenues were to be free from taxation. Relinquishing control of the citadel (v. 32) was a major concession by Demetrius. No wonder the inhabitants of the citadel had earlier been afraid, as Jonathan now has a legitimate claim on the citadel. The release of all Jewish slaves throughout the entire Seleucid kingdom without compensation (v. 33) and cancellation of all customs and tolls on their way back to Judea are highly magnanimous and highly improbable.

10:34–35. Demetrius further proclaims that, before and after holy days, Jews are to be exempted from customs and tolls and that they are not to be involved in legal affairs, in order to enable them to go to Jerusalem to celebrate their festivals (cf. v. 63). The list of festivals is similar to that at Ezek 45:17; thus it suggests Jewish input into the content of the letter. The limit of three days refers to a journey of three days, and thus may specify the distance within which one was required to bring the actual tithes in the form of crops or animals, and not to turn it into money. It would thus be interpreting Deut 14:24, a specification also found at Qumran in the Temple Scroll.

10:36–37. Jews served under both the Ptolemies (e.g., the Jewish generals Onias and Dositheus) and the Seleucids.103 The Jews in the army are presumably to be kept in special detachments in which they could follow Torah regulations. Would this include keeping the sabbath? The end of v. 37 suggests that Jews had been able to follow their ancestral traditions in Judea since the beginning of the reign of Demetrius I.

10:38–43. The three nomes lay near the area that had been the stronghold of Maccabean opposition. The high priest is recognized, as in v. 32, as the political leader of the Jewish nation. According to v. 1, Ptolemais was currently under the control of Alexander Balas. What exactly is being referred to in vv. 41–42 is difficult to reconstruct. One cannot be sure whether government officials have been withholding payments (so NRSV), or whether the priests have been using money given for sacrifices to fund other activities. What is clear is that Demetrius is being quite generous to the Temple. Again, in v. 43, what the king is actually allowing is hard to piece together. He seems to be granting to the Jerusalem Temple and its precincts the right of asylum for debtors, although the term for "asylum" is not used. The NRSV translation suggests that such refugees are to be forgiven their debts and get off scot-free. The Greek text is difficult, and perhaps what is being allowed is that the property of the refugees is not to be confiscated, rather than that their debts are forgiven.

10:44–45. The king further promises to pay out of his own budget the cost of rebuilding the Temple, the walls around Jerusalem, and all the walls of towns in Judea. Darius had agreed to shoulder the cost of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 8), but Demetrius goes beyond that. The usual conclusion to a letter is missing.

1 Maccabees 10:46–66, Jonathan and Alexander


10:46–47. As Demetrius had worried, the Jews remember the wrongs done by him (v. 5) and do not trust his words; they are unlike the Hasideans, who had trusted Alcimus, sent by Demetrius (7:16). Again, the first offer of Demetrius (10:3–9) is ignored.

10:48–50. The sequence of events here is difficult to reconstruct. The NRSV follows one group of manuscripts that suggest that there was one decisive battle in which Alexander’s army prevails and Demetrius dies. In another group of manuscripts, Alexander’s army is routed, and Demetrius pursues and prevails, only to fall in battle.104 This final battle took place sometime in the summer of 150 bce.

10:51–58. The author of 1 Maccabees seems not to know that Ptolemy had helped Alexander in his bid for power in order to avenge himself on Demetrius for attacking Cyprus (see Commentary on 10:1–14). The syntax of Alexander’s letter (vv. 52–54) follows Hebrew structure; it contains no flowery phrases and gets right to the heart of the matter. Ptolemy’s daughter, Cleopatra Thea, is presented as the medium through which relations between two males take place when Ptolemy offers her in marriage to Alexander (v. 54). Ptolemy’s response uses basically the same words (vv. 55–56). Neither letter has the opening greeting formula or the closing date. Ptolemais, on the seacoast, was easily reached from Egypt. The wedding took place in late summer 150 BCE.

10:59–60. Jonathan is invited to Ptolemais to meet Alexander. One can perhaps see why the author of 1 Maccabees gives the correspondence between Alexander and Ptolemy such prominence, for now the author, by having Alexander write to Jonathan to meet him, as Ptolemy had written to Alexander to meet him, puts Jonathan on the same playing ground as the Ptolemaic and Seleucid monarchs. Jonathan is also equated with the two kings as he travels "with pomp" (v. 60; cf. v. 58). One wonders how they communicated. Did Jonathan know some Greek, or did they use interpreters?

10:61–66. This time the scoundrels from Israel do not succeed in turning the king against Jonathan, as they had in the past (6:21–27; 7:5–7). Jonathan is granted immunity and is raised from the rank of friend to that of a "first friend." He becomes the military and political ruler in Judea.

1 Maccabees 10:67–89, The Uprising of Demetrius II


10:67–68. Demetrius I, before he finally engaged Alexander in battle, had sent his two sons, Demetrius and Antiochus, to Asia Minor. Alexander, after some initial popularity, had proved to be an inept ruler with little control over his empire. Around 148/47 bce, he lost the two important satrapies of Media and Susiane. In 147 bce, Demetrius, little more than thirteen years old, landed in Phoenicia with an army of mercenaries. Alexander, who had resided at Ptolemais, moved to Antioch, perhaps to check any attempt by Demetrius II to gain the capital.

10:69–73. Not much is known of what exactly transpired after Demetrius’s arrival in "the land of his ancestors" (v. 67) except what is told here. The governor of Coelesyria, Apollonius, goes over to Demetrius’s side and is confirmed in his position. Jonathan, however, remains loyal to Alexander (see v. 47). Apollonius takes up position on the coastal plain at Jamnia. Technically Apollonius is Jonathan’s superior, and the reference to Jonathan as high priest (v. 69) underlies this difference in status. The Hebrew syntax of the message he sends to Jonathan (vv. 70–73) and the way it is tied in to the battle description suggest that the author of 1 Maccabees wrote what he thought Apollonius should have said. Apollonius sends a warrior’s taunt and boast to Jonathan, emphasizing that it would be a disgrace for him to fight such a puny adversary, recalling how Goliath had mocked David (1 Sam 17:42–44) and how the experienced fighter Abner does not wish to fight his less experienced foe Asahel, but when forced to kills him (2 Sam 2:18–23). Apollonius contrasts Jonathan, a hill-person, with his own city forces on the plain. It is a taunt that was made earlier by the Arameans against Israel (1 Kgs 20:23–30). The statement that there would be "no stone or pebble" (v. 73) recalls the David and Goliath episode as well (1 Sam 17:40–49). The reference to ancestral defeats may allude to Judas’s defeats at Beth-zechariah (6:47) and Elasa (9:18), but the use of "ancestral" (πατήρ patēr) suggests rather the Philistine defeat of the Israelites (1 Sam 4:1–11) and the defeat of Saul (1 Sam 31:1–7). One should also note the contrast between Apollonius’s cavalry and Jonathan’s forces, which are predicted to be unable to withstand such a mobile force. The battle description will maintain this contrast between cavalry and infantry.

10:74–76. Upon receiving this message, Jonathan first moves to secure Joppa, on the edge of his territory. It was strategically important to secure as a buffer to prevent attack from the rear on his way toward Apollonius.

10:77–85. Apollonius, knowing that Jonathan has responded to his taunt and that Apollonius is cut off from Demetrius’s forces by Jonathan’s capture of Joppa, seeks out the more advantageous position around Azotus than the rougher country of Jamnia (v. 77). He sets a trap so that Jonathan’s flanks and rear will be vulnerable (v. 79), but Jonathan’s skirmishers uncover them (v. 80). The battle is described: Jonathan’s infantry are encircled and Apollonius’s cavalry shoot arrows at them. In this description, Jonathan’s infantry stands fast (v. 81) while the cavalry grows tired, the exact opposite of Apollonius’s taunt. Note that the word translated "his men" is literally "people" (λαός laos, vv. 80–81), perhaps to emphasize the national quality of Jonathan’s group.

Several details are missing from this picture. Where is Jonathan’s cavalry (cf. Judas in 9:11–17)? It would be very foolish for a commander not to have cavalry to protect the flanks and rear of his infantry. Nor are we told what kind of cavalry Apollonius had. Did he deploy super-heavy cavalry, the cataphracts, which were heavily armed, as well as skirmishing mounted archers? The archers would try to make breaks in the infantry formation; the cataphracts would attack infantry but were not too effective against a fully defensive phalanx and because of their heavy armor would tire easily. It appears that Jonathan and Simon kept up a circular defensive posture with their shields up and their long pikes extended, so that the heavy cavalry troops could not penetrate and the arrows could be deflected. By afternoon the cavalry, both heavy and light, were tired (v. 81). Simon then drew out his infantry from the defensive into an offensive line (v. 82). They attacked Apollonius’s phalanx and crushed it (v. 83). The cavalry could not stand in the plain and scattered and fled to Azotus (Ashdod). But Jonathan and his forces followed and plundered and burned Azotus and the surrounding towns; he also burned the temple of Dagon "and those who had taken refuge in it" (this temple is known from 1 Sam 5:1–5).

10:86. No mention is made of Apollonius’s fate, but with his support for Demetrius II gone, the town of Askalon supports Alexander’s cause and welcomes Jonathan with great pomp (cf. vv. 58–60).

10:87–89. Alexander had now been relieved of a threat to his south and, realizing the importance of Jonathan’s support, raises his status still higher; "King’s Kinsman" is a higher rank than first friend (v. 65). Jonathan can now fasten his purple cloak with a golden buckle. Ekron lay on the road from Jerusalem to the coast and was a clear extension of Jonathan’s sphere of influence.


The dynastic rivalry between different claimants to the Seleucid throne gave Jonathan the opportunity he needed. Only when the Seleucids were weak could the small state of Judea hope to gain its independence. Jonathan, with a battle-hardened following, was a strong man whom neither side could ignore. He was able to play hard-nosed politics as he strove to gain every advantage from his position. Playing both ends against the middle is a dangerous game, however. One has to make sure that one knows with whom one is dealing and not rely on anyone too much.

Jonathan’s wheelings and dealings in international politics raise the issue of what role moral issues should play in such affairs. Jonathan was out for all he could get, although he did harbor resentment against Demetrius I for his early treatment of Jonathan (10:46). But is this a model for the way individuals or states should behave? Should one be concerned only for what one can get? Should one not be concerned also for what is happening to others or to other states? Is national interest to be defined only in terms of what is good for one’s own nation? Are there not some issues that transcend narrow boundaries? Certainly we should be concerned about human rights, about genocide, about the starvation of millions. Yet implementing such policies is extremely difficult and must be carefully considered. Issues of morality should be aired and raised in policy discussions, not treated as naive and out of place.

Thinking only of one’s own national gain in such circumstances as Jonathan found himself in can bring short-term benefits, but long-term loss. When one of the parties wins control, then the victor may not look so kindly on promises extracted under duress.

1 Maccabees 11:1–19, The Coming of Ptolemy VI


Chapter 11 continues the account of Jonathan’s exploits outside the borders of Judea, as well as his attempts to oust the final Seleucid garrisons from within Judea. Jonathan’s prominent position among the various Seleucid claimants to the throne is again emphasized, as is his trustworthiness compared to that of both the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.

11:1–3. Ptolemy VI Philometer, father-in-law of Alexander Epiphanes, intervened in the dynastic struggle, probably early in 145 bce, since the final decisive battle and Ptolemy’s subsequent death occurred in midsummer 145 bce. The image of his troops being as numerous as sand on the seashore is a familiar one (Gen 22:17; Josh 11:4; Dan 3:36 LXX). The author of 1 Maccabees, who favors Alexander Epiphanes because of Jonathan’s alliance with him, portrays Ptolemy as a treacherous land-grabber. Other historians state that Ptolemy really came to help Alexander, but turned against him either because he saw Alexander’s incompetence or because of an attempt on Ptolemy’s life by Alexander’s minister Ammonius (see v. 10). The author describes Ptolemy as being deceitful, like the Seleucids before him (see 1:30; 7:10). Some of the southern coastal towns may have been friendly toward Demetrius II, as Jamnia, Joppa, and Azotus had been (10:69, 75, 83), and so Ptolemy’s garrisoning of them may have been a prudent action. The author of 1 Maccabees interprets the action as a sinister move against the trusting Alexander.

11:4–7. Earlier, people had tried unsuccessfully to persuade a king to turn against Jonathan (10:61), and the same happens here. Despite the people’s attempt to disparage Jonathan for the damage he had wrought in Azotus, Ptolemy greets Jonathan "with pomp." Since the destruction of Azotus had been the result of a battle with the forces of Demetrius II (10:83–85), Ptolemy could not openly break with Jonathan without seeming to side against Alexander. The river Eleutherus lay two hundred miles north of Joppa, far north from Judea.

11:8–12. Seleucia by the sea was the port of Antioch. Here Ptolemy’s break with Alexander is made clear. The author of 1 Maccabees puts all the blame on Ptolemy VI for now, using his daughter as barter with Demetrius II, just as he had offered her to Alexander (10:54–56). We are not sure where Demetrius and Alexander were. Josephus records that Demetrius landed in Cilicia, and 1 Maccabees places Alexander there also (11:14), whereas Diodorus Siculus locates Alexander in Antioch at the time of Ptolemy’s about-face.

11:13. After he had made an alliance with Demetrius II, which promised him the rule of his father’s kingdom (11:9), it seems unlikely that Ptolemy would actually seize control. According to Diodorus Siculus, Antioch was in an uproar at Ptolemy’s turnaround. The people revolted against Alexander’s supporters, but did not want Demetrius II, and so they offered the crown to Ptolemy, which he declined. Rome had rejected Antiochus IV’s attempt in 168 bce to unite the Seleucid Empire and Egypt, and the author of 1 Maccabees had earlier stated that Antiochus IV wished to be king of Egypt (1:16). Now that the Achaean League had been defeated in 146 bce, Rome was dominant in the region, and so Ptolemy may have been satisfied with the ceding of Coelesyria and Palestine by Demetrius.

11:14–19. Ptolemy and Alexander join in battle near Antioch at the river Oenoparas. Alexander is defeated and forced to flee; Arabia here would refer to the northern desert, east of Damascus. Ptolemy is severely wounded in the battle, and dies soon after, leaving Demetrius the sole victor. Yet he cannot stop Ptolemy’s army from returning to Egypt, so he seizes Ptolemy’s war elephants, orders the garrisons in the coastal cities exterminated, and refuses to cede Coelesyria and Palestine. He became king in 145 bce.

1 Maccabees 11:20–53, Demetrius II

1 Maccabees 11:20–37, Demetrius’s Rise to Power


11:20–22. Jonathan takes advantage of the struggles in Syria to mount an attack on the citadel, as Judas had done at the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (6:18–20). Once again, as always at the beginning of each new king’s reign (1:11; 10:61; see also 6:21–27; 7:5–7), opponents, labeled as lawless renegades, rise up to cause trouble. Demetrius II’s response is the same as that of earlier monarchs (3:27; 6:38). He moves south to Ptolemais, the former stronghold of Alexander, where Jonathan had met Alexander (10:60). Whereas previous monarchs had straight-away sent an army to enforce their will, Demetrius II’s insecure hold of the throne is shown by his writing a letter to request that Jonathan stop the siege and to ask for a meeting. The word for "meeting" (ἀπάντησις apantēsis) can have both a positive and a negative (i.e., "battle") connotation, so Jonathan’s decision to go is risky.

11:23–24. Wisely, Jonathan keeps in play the bargaining chip of the siege of the citadel and goes to meet the king, surrounded by leaders of the nation, to show that he has strong national support. He is armed with gifts, which the king could well use. Jonathan’s tactics prevail.

11:25–27. Just as Alexander had not listened to complaints against Jonathan (10:61–65), so too neither does Demetrius II. He confirms Jonathan in the high priesthood (cf. 10:20) as one of the king’s chief friends (cf. 10:65), and possibly with the privilege of levying troops (10:6) and the offices of general and governor of the province (10:65).

11:28–29. Jonathan and Demetrius work out a deal. No mention is made of lifting the siege of the citadel, but this too must have been part of the bargain (see 11:41). Judea will not be completely free from paying tribute (cf. 13:39), but only from the levies specified in the appended letter.

11:30–32. The opening greeting of Demetrius’s letter to Lasthenes links Jonathan with the nation of the Jews (cf. 10:18, 25). According to Josephus, Lasthenes, from Crete, was the leader of a mercenary army that Demetrius had engaged in his attempt to take the throne. The honorific title "Father" may signify that Lasthenes was a high-ranking minister in the royal court.

11:33–36. Demetrius’s relationship with the nation of the Jews is depicted in terms of treaty obligations. The Jews have kept their obligations, and now Demetrius is conferring his benefits. Jonathan keeps control of "the three districts," an area outside the borders of Judea (see 10:38). The exemptions Demetrius II allows are similar to those that Demetrius I is said to have allowed (10:30–32). What is interesting is the way recipients of the exemptions are described: "all those who offer sacrifice in Jerusalem" (v. 34). Is this similar to the release from tolls (10:34–35) and to the tax-free status of Jerusalem (10:31)? Or is the nation of the Jews now being defined as those who sacrifice in Jerusalem? Demetrius promises that these grants shall last forever (v. 36), a promise he will soon revoke.

11:37. This verse seems to return from the letter to Lasthenes to the one to Jonathan and the nation of the Jews. The grant is to be set up in a conspicuous place as a memorial. (Cf. the setting up of the stone of witness by Joshua after the people complete their covenant with God [Josh 24:24–27].) Demetrius I had already been said to have declared Jerusalem holy (10:31).

1 Maccabees 11:38–53, The Rule of Demetrius II


11:38. This section is framed by the refrain "the land was quiet before him" (11:38, 52), but the appearance of that phrase almost guarantees something is going to disturb the peace. Historians report that Demetrius or his chancellor was cruel to the citizens of Antioch. When Demetrius dismisses the regular troops, but keeps the mercenaries, he finds himself embattled on two fronts—from the unemployed soldiers and the harassed citizens of Antioch, and from supporters of another pretender to the throne, the son of Alexander.

11:39–40. Originally, Trypho’s name was "Diodotus." "Trypho" means "magnificent," "luxurious." He is probably to be identified with the Diodotus who was a former general of Alexander and who, together with Hierax, attempted to crown Ptolemy VI as king (cf. 1 Macc 11:13) rather than have Demetrius II rule. Since coins with the image of Antiochus VI date from the year 167 of the Seleucid era (or 145 bce), these events must have taken place soon after Alexander’s death in midsummer of that year. As reported in 11:16, Alexander had fled after his defeat to the desert east of Damascus. Although he was killed, his young son Antiochus was not; he is in the guardianship of Imalkue the Arab (v. 39). Trypho reports "what Demetrius had done" and urges Imalkue to relinquish Antiochus to him so that he might be set up as king in his father’s place.

11:41–51. Jonathan, always the opportunist, saw in Demetrius’s difficulties a chance to gain back what he had just bargained away: control of the citadel, as well as the removal of all Syrian garrisons (v. 41). Demetrius, in no position to haggle, yields, promising greater blessings. In return, Demetrius requests Jewish troops, which Jonathan quickly sends (vv. 43–44), to help counteract the unrest in Antioch. These troops prove invaluable to Demetrius. In vicious street fighting, the Jewish soldiers pacify the city of Antioch (vv. 45–48). While 1 Maccabees does not mention the action of the king’s mercenaries in these events, the Greco-Roman historian Diodorus Siculus does not mention the Jews, and so one can sense the nationalistic flavor of the accounts. The author of 1 Maccabees extols the glory of the victory—the Jews have won wealth and a name for themselves by defeating civilians (v. 51).

11:52–53. The Jews had saved Demetrius II from one threat, but another, in the form of an army led by Trypho, is about to appear. This time, the Jews will not help. While Jonathan and the Jews have kept their goodwill toward Demetrius, he has not kept his word to them. Demetrius follows in the tradition of the Seleucids (6:62; 7:27–29) and the Ptolemies (11:1, 12), who could not be trusted. We cannot be sure of exactly what way Demetrius treated Jonathan harshly. Josephus states that Demetrius demanded taxes from Judeans going back to the time of the "first kings," but the phrase in 1 Maccabees usually refers to hardships in battle (9:7, 68; 10:46; 15:14). Given the short time frame in which these events happened, the phrase may signal that Demetrius II is acting like his father, Demetrius I (10:46).


The people of Antioch had genuine grievances against Demetrius II—he had treated them very harshly—but the author of 1 Maccabees makes no mention of it and rather has Jonathan act as Demetrius’s enforcer to crush any resistance to his rule. The author is only too eager to tell of the Jewish people’s misfortunes, but those of other nations do not concern him. Rather, he glories in the triumph of Jonathan’s army over civilian fighters.

While it is important to be proud of one’s religious and ancestral traditions, one must never lost sight of the basic humanity that unites us all. Does the advancement of one’s own national interests above all other concerns ultimately benefit one’s own nation? Moral factors must also be brought into play. In fact, one can see how none of Jonathan’s manipulations won him respect. As soon as Demetrius had no use for Jonathan, Demetrius rejected him. A policy based solely on what is good for you, and not on what is best for others as well, is bound to fail.

These same concerns apply in the area of social policy. One should seek social justice, not simply what is best for oneself. We must not forget that tax codes, with their economic implications, also make moral statements about the kind of people we want to be thought of as. Our education and health policies reflect how we treat people, how we would want to be treated if we were they. As the great Rabbi Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who am I? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" Thus individualism, who am I, must be balanced by concern for others; we must not be only for ourselves. And we should start behaving that way now, not at some distant time.

1 Maccabees 11:54–74, Jonathan and Antiochus VI


11:54–56. The first army Demetrius sends against Trypho is defeated. Gaining strength, Trypho wins control of Chalcis and then, in 145/44, forces Demetrius to leave Antioch and move to Seleucia or Cilicia. The author of 1 Maccabees reports a single battle in which Demetrius is defeated and forced to flee, making no mention of his destination (v. 55).

11:57–59. Antiochus VI, son of Alexander Balas and Cleopatra Thea, is only two years old, but official letters must be sent in his name. As at the accession of a new king, Jonathan’s position as high priest needs to be reconfirmed, as does his control over the four districts that Alexander had given to him (the three of 11:34 plus possibly Akrabattene on the eastern boundary of Judea and Samaria or maybe Ekron [10:89]). Jonathan is enrolled as a Friend of the new king with the prerogatives of a Kinsman (10:89). Jonathan’s brother Simon is made a Seleucid appointee, as governor of the coastal area from Syria to Egypt. The Hasmoneans thus become integrated into the Seleucid administration, ironically fulfilling what the "renegades" had sought to do. One wonders if the author of 1 Maccabees was aware of the irony.

11:60–62. Jonathan loses no time in using his position and Simon’s position to traverse the province of Trans-Euphrates—the province west of the Euphrates—both gaining the allegiance of the cities to Antiochus VI and consolidating his own power. Askalon had received him beforehand (10:86), but Gaza has to be subdued (v. 61). Jonathan acts in a way similar to the way Bacchides, the earlier Seleucid general, had acted in Judea (9:53); he takes hostages to ensure the people’s compliance. He ranges from Gaza in the southern coastal area to Damascus, well north and to the east of the Ladder of Tyre.

11:63. Demetrius II still controls the coastal region north of Tyre, and some of his forces come into Galilee while Jonathan is north in Damascus. Their mission was probably not, as the NRSV translates the end of v. 63, "to remove him from office," but to turn him away from his mission of consolidating the hold of Antiochus VI in the area from Gaza to Damascus.

11:64–66. Jonathan, last mentioned as being in Damascus (v. 62), marches south to meet Demetrius’s army (v. 64). The easiest way to Kadesh was to travel south to Lake Gennesaret and then north through the plain of Hazor to Kadesh (see v. 67). Either Simon had been left behind in Judea, or he was now left behind while Jonathan marched north from the lake. Bacchides, deputy of Demetrius I, had fortified Beth-zur with troops and stores of food (9:52). Simon’s successful siege of Beth-zur anticipates his siege of the citadel (13:49–50). Capture of the town prevents it from becoming a base of attack from the rear.

11:67–74. The enemy forces have time to prepare for the battle, and so they choose a site that allows them to set an ambush. As Jonathan’s troops march out, they are caught in the trap, which, except for the bravery of a few, would have succeeded (v. 71). Nothing more is known about the family of Chalphi than that Judas son of Chalphi was one of the two men who did not desert Jonathan. Mattathias son of Absalom was the other; this may be the Absalom who was one of the ambassadors sent to Lysias (2 Macc 11:17). Jonathan, in the midst of the battle, performs the ritual of mourning (cf. Josh 7:6–9)—tearing his clothes, putting dust on his head, and praying—before returning to the fray. This time, he is successful and overruns the enemy’s camp. Jonathan has fulfilled his mission of securing the area for Antiochus VI, and so he returns to Jerusalem.


The price for advancement in the Seleucid power structure now appears. Jonathan has to behave as Bacchides had done by taking hostages to maintain order. He has to continue fighting so as to maintain his position and Simon’s status as governor. In some ways, we become what we do. Jonathan had set out to gain respect within the Seleucid power structure, and in so doing he became a Seleucid functionary. When planning what we are to do, we should, like chess players, look ahead to see the consequences of our choices.

1 Maccabees 12:1–23, The Relationship with Rome


Just as Judas is said to have used the respite after his victory over Nicanor to contact the Romans (1 Maccabees 8), so also Jonathan, now that the southern coastal area has been subdued, renews diplomatic relationships with Rome and initiates contacts with other nations. Serious questions have been raised about the authenticity of the Spartan correspondence, though some scholars maintain that it is genuine. What is interesting to note is the very different circumstances under which Judas and Jonathan wrote. In Judas’s time, the Seleucid kingdom was united under Demetrius I, while during Jonathan’s career Demetrius II and Antiochus VI were fighting for the throne. Judas operated within Judea, while Jonathan had a well-equipped army traversing the province of Trans-Euphrates. Judas was a rebel from the Seleucid king; Jonathan was his Kinsman and Simon one of his governors. Jonathan is depicted as a respected member of the club, meeting with kings (10:60; 11:6) and forming alliances with them. The author of 1 Maccabees wants to put Jonathan on the world stage, and thus heighten the importance of Jonathan and the Jewish nation.

12:1–4. This section is enclosed between two encounters with commanders of Demetrius (11:63; 12:24). The friendship with Rome is a reference to Judas’s earlier agreement (see 8:17–32). As noted in the Commentary on 8:17–32, such a friendship pact did not oblige the Romans to intervene but did give them an excuse to do so and might make a Seleucid king hesitate before acting, although Demetrius I had not done so. The brevity of the description of the Roman mission has led some scholars to suggest that it is simply a doublet of Simon’s later embassy (15:15–24).

One wonders what "other places" the author of 1 Maccabees had in mind in v. 2. The very vagueness suggests that he had no information but the letter to Sparta to go on, but that he wishes to place Judea on a level with other nations. The Spartans had left the Achaean League and so had not been party to its defeat but had remained on good terms with Rome. Perhaps Sparta’s relationship with Rome is the reason behind the attempt of the Jews to forge a kinship relationship with the Spartans, who would then speak to Rome on their behalf. However, the text of 1 Maccabees says nothing of this and simply speaks of Jonathan’s wishing to become an ally and friend with other nations. Such a move seems to imply more than a hope for deterrence against any future Seleucid monarch; rather, it seems to be part of a strategy for complete independence. It should also be considered in the light of the "creative" history whereby many nations sought to enhance their prestige by connecting their heroes to the mythical heroes of Greece. Within the Jewish tradition, for example, Cleodemus Malchus has the sons of Abraham accompany Heracles to Africa, and Tacitus reports that the name "Jew" derives from Mt. Ida in Crete, thus forging a Cretan origin for the Jews.119

12:5–18. 12:5–6. Jonathan’s letter to the Spartans follows. The Jewish senate was mentioned in a letter of Antiochus III, but precisely what its membership was is unknown. Most probably it was composed of priests and leading members of the local aristocracy.

12:7–8. Jonathan reminds the Spartans of a letter that was sent from Onias to Arius. The Greek manuscripts give the name of the Spartan king as "Darius," while v. 20 names him Arius. The king referred to is probably Areus I (c. 312–265 bce), rather than Areus II (262–254 bce), who died as a child. Onias is probably the Jewish high priest Onias I (c. 320–290 bce). Areus I had his hands full in combatting the encroachments of Macedonia, and the reader may wonder why he would seek an alliance with Judea. The letter quoted in vv. 20–23 does not explicitly speak of the formation of such an alliance. It is concerned, rather, with kinship and so with hospitality and diplomatic support. Such concerns could be the basis for forging an alliance.

12:9–10. Without the usual epistolary well-wishing, Jonathan gets to the reason for sending the letter: "to renew our family ties and friendship with you" (v. 10). The phrasing of these verses seems to present a backhanded compliment—i.e., "We don’t really need you, but let’s not become estranged." This may be an apologia against those who do not think Judea should become entangled in foreign alliances.

12:11–12. The wording of these verses is what is normally found at the beginning of letters, as the letter writer expresses care and concern for the addressees. The phrasing is similar, for example, to the opening well wishes of letters of Paul: "I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you" (Phil 1:3–4 NRSV; cf. Rom 1:9).

12:13–15. Jonathan alludes to the "many trials and many wars" the Jews have faced. It is unclear who the "other allies and friends" he refers to were (v. 14). Again, these verses seem like a backhanded compliment—i.e., "We don’t really need allies." As such, it seems directed more at a Jewish than a Spartan audience. The role of prayer recalls 3:18–23, 53; 9:46.

12:16–18. These verses introduce the two ambassadors who deliver the letter to the Spartans: Numenius and Antipater. Their trip to Sparta is described later (14:22); in addition, Numenius will be sent to Rome by Simon (14:24). Jonathan requests a reply to his letter.

12:19–23. Jonathan includes here a copy of the letter that was sent to Onias. In the letter, Arius alludes to a writing that suggests that the Spartans and the Jews "are brothers and are of the family of Abraham" (v. 21). Scholars would dearly love to have the writing to which Arius refers. It is interesting that the Greek historian Herodotus states that the progenitors of the Spartan royal house came from Egypt, and Hecataeus of Abdera holds that the Greek hero Danaos, whose descendants populated the Peloponnese, and Kadmos, the founder of Thebes, left Egypt when Moses led the Israelites out.122 As mentioned earlier, Cleodemus Malchus had linked the descendants of Abraham with Heracles, and the Spartan kings were said to be descendants of Heracles. However the connection was made, it most probably would have been through figures of primeval history. The reference to livestock and property (v. 23) seems more appropriate to groups living alongside one another (cf. Gen 34:23). It may be a concretely phrased formula to express kinship and friendship through the fact that both parties hold something in common, even though neither would use the other’s possessions without consent.

1 Maccabees 12:24–38, Further Campaigns for Antiochus VI


12:24–32. 12:24–25. The commanders of Demetrius’s armies return, a "larger force than before," to launch a second campaign. Their first campaign against Jonathan had ended in defeat (11:63–74). Previously the commanders had advanced south as far as Kadesh in Galilee. This time, Jonathan marches north before they can enter Judean territory (v. 25). Hamath was in the Orontes valley, well north of Jerusalem. This would seem a long way for Jonathan to go to make sure that his opponents did not enter Judea. Since he had not gone beyond the Eleutherus River earlier (11:7), since Simon’s rule was over the Ladder of Tyre (also south of the Eleutherus), and since the enemy is said to flee across the Eleutherus River (v. 30), the reader should therefore see the confrontation as having taken place at the southern border of the region of Hamath, near the traditional northern limit of Israel’s territory (see Num 34:8; Josh 13:5; 1 Kgs 8:65; 2 Kgs 14:25; Ezek 47:15).

12:26–32. Just as Gorgias had prepared a night assault on Judas (4:1), so also the commanders of Demetrius plan a night raid on Jonathan’s army. Their planned surprise attack, as well as their tricky retreat with no fighting, reinforces the sense that Jonathan’s force is invincible.

Jonathan pursues them, but they elude him and cross the Eleutherus. So Jonathan turns "aside against the Arabs who are called Zabadeans" and conquers and plunders them (v. 31). The Zabadeans lived about thirty miles northwest of Damascus. Perhaps there is a connection between these people and the Zabdiel who murdered Alexander Balas (11:17). Jonathan is once again in control of the whole region of Coelesyria.

12:33–38. While Jonathan controls the north, Simon makes sure the southern coastal area remains quiet. Jonathan assembles the elders as Judas had assembled the people (6:19). Jonathan’s military preparations, therefore, are seen as not arbitrary but the result of common consent. Jonathan’s fortification of strategic areas in Judea, as well as Simon’s installation of garrisons at Beth-zur (11:65–66), at Joppa, and at Adida, near Lydda between the coastal plain and the hill country of Judea, seems to be part of a well-orchestrated plan to secure, perhaps to enlarge, the territory of Judea against all comers. Secure in his control of the area of Coelesyria, Jonathan once again tackles the problem of the citadel in Jerusalem, the remaining vestige of Seleucid authority over Judea (11:20–21, 41). He strengthens Jerusalem’s walls and repairs "the section called Chaphenatha" (v. 37) and seeks to starve out the inhabitants of the citadel, as Bacchides had successfully done to the sanctuary (6:51–54). The eastern valley referred to is the Kidron Valley.

1 Maccabees 12:39–53, The Capture of Jonathan


12:39–40. Jonathan has aimed at securing Jerusalem and Judea from all attack, and a further goal seemed the complete independence of Judea from Seleucid control. While Jonathan is carrying out these operations, Trypho has been busy in northern Syria. He controls Antioch and most of its hinterlands, and the coastal cities of Aradus, Orthosia, Byblus, Berytus, Ptolemais, and Dora. Demetrius II retained Seleucia, Sidon, and Tyre. With Demetrius so contained, Trypho feels he needs to curtail Jonathan’s power. The author of 1 Maccabees, however, implies that the reason for Trypho’s treacherous attack is his ambition to be king in Antiochus’s place and that Jonathan, as a loyal subject of Antiochus VI, would not allow this (v. 39). Beth-shan (i.e., Scythopolis) is strategically placed in the Jordan valley. It appears as if Trypho was coming through the Plain of Esdraelon from Ptolemais, as that is where Trypho takes Jonathan (12:45, 48). Trypho may have known that the western and southern approaches—Joppa, Adida, Beth-zur—were well fortified.

12:41–48. The author plays on the double meaning of "to meet" (ἀπαντάω apantaō), which can imply a meeting either in war or in friendship. When Jonathan comes to meet Trypho with a large, experienced force (v. 41), Trypho is forced to meet him in feigned friendship (vv. 42–45). Jonathan is used to being courted with gifts and promises (see chap. 10), so Trypho’s actions would seem legitimate. Jonathan is already a Friend and Kinsman of Antiochus VI (11:57–58), and Trypho cunningly lets him think he is on the same level as Trypho. Jonathan should have been suspicious of Trypho’s offer to hand Ptolemais over to him, since the people of that city had been hostile to the Jews (5:15, 22). But Jonathan had once before been honorably received in Ptolemais by Alexander Balas, father of Antiochus VI (10:59–65), and even when threatened by Demetrius II there Jonathan had been able to emerge unscathed (11:22–28). One is not sure what the other strongholds mentioned were, but Trypho’s offer of these cities and troops proved too tempting. When he enters the town, the people close the gates, seize him, and kill all the men with him. The reader of 1 Maccabees knows by now that one should never trust a Seleucid official (1:30; 7:16).

12:49–52. The two thousand troops left in Galilee, presumably in the Plain of Esdraelon through which one would travel from Ptolemais to Beth-shan and which separated Galilee from Samaria, successfully deter the forces Trypho has sent to capture them, and they return to Judea. Realizing that Jonathan has been captured, they conclude that he is dead along with his companions; they do not know that Trypho has captured him alive. As all Israel mourned at the deaths of Mattathias (2:70) and Judas (9:20), so now Jonathan is mourned. Great distress came upon Israel after Judas’s death (9:27); now fear comes to Israel at what might happen.

12:53. The nations surrounding Judea react to news that the Jews’ leader and helper (cf. 9:30) is gone by trying to "destroy them." The message once again is driven home that one should be suspicious of one’s neighbors and of the Seleucid Empire.


Jonathan is a fascinating character. He was much more successful than Judas in gaining effective control of Judea and in widening its borders. He rose from being a rebel on the run to a high-ranking official in the Seleucid bureaucracy, and his army was feared by his enemies. Yet for some reason he got no respect. His name is omitted when Mattathias entrusts the fight to his sons (2:65–66), and he is not given a hymn of praise as Judas and Simon are (3:3–9; 14:4–15). Much of his activity in rallying and organizing the people is passed over, and yet the years he spent judging the people (9:73) must have been crucial for the success of the revolt. Jonathan remains a shadowy figure, even though he brings Israel into the arena of international politics. Perhaps there is too much of the diplomat about Jonathan and not enough of the dashing warrior for the author. Yet it is precisely that ability to negotiate a settlement that brings such success and prosperity to Israel. One of our great temptations is to romanticize war. But war destroys and maims and kills and embitters lives. War must be the last resort after all attempts to arrive at a peaceful solution have failed. Jonathan, in this light, might be someone to emulate.

Yet he also is a figure to warn us how not to behave. When he does use force, he uses it to compel submission (11:61), as an instrument of repression. Jonathan’s ambition, his desire to wear purple and the gold buckle, to be on speaking terms with Rome and Sparta, to extend the territory of Judea beyond its borders, is what we must be wary of. That ambition is what brought Jonathan down. Trypho saw that Jonathan was greedy for power, and so he tempted him with the offer of more to make Jonathan let down his guard. Then he pounced and caught Jonathan in his trap. That longing for more has started so many wars and led to the downfall of so many people. "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim 6:10 NRSV). To resist seeking more at the expense of others is a hard lesson to learn.

1 MACCABEES 13:1–16:24




This section deals with the replacement of Jonathan by the last surviving Maccabean brother, Simon. Simon has been associated with Jonathan since the death of Judas (9:19, 32, 37, 62–67; 10:82; 11:59, 64–66; 12:33, 38), sharing in his exploits. Now he is to fulfill the prophecy of his father Mattathias (2:65) and become a father to Israel. But first Jonathan has to die, and so this section describes the treachery of Trypho, his murder of Jonathan, and Jonathan’s burial.

1 Maccabees 13:1–11, Simon Takes Command


13:1–3a. Ever since Bacchides had gone back to his own land (9:69), Jonathan had been able to secure Judea and fight outside the land. Now, as before (3:10, 13, 35–36; 5:1–2; 6:27; 7:8, 26; 9:1), forces are massed to invade Judea. As before, the people are afraid as they see all the promises of Seleucid kings broken. It is not clear whether Simon had been at Adida (12:38) all this time, or with the troops that Jonathan had sent back (12:46). Frequently Jonathan and Simon had divided the operations between them (11:65; 12:32–33), and this had strategically been an important division of labor. The author emphasizes, as earlier with Judas (3:3) and Jonathan (9:73), that the people are with Simon.

13:3b–6. Simon exhorts the people by recalling the past and making that the basis for his future actions, as Mattathias had recalled the deeds of the ancestors in times of distress (2:51–64; cf. the speeches of Mattathias [2:19–22] and Judas [3:58–60]). Simon at this point thinks his brother Jonathan is dead. The reasoning behind v. 5 seems to assume the deuteronomic theory that death is punishment for sin. But if such good men as his father and brother died, then it must not have been because of their sin; times of distress had come upon Israel, and no one could be good enough to escape death.

13:7–11. Simon’s speech is effective, and he is unanimously chosen leader in place of Jonathan. Simon knows that Trypho will attack, and so he completes the fortification of Jerusalem that Jonathan had begun (12:35–37). He already has a garrison in Joppa (12:33–34) but now decides to make sure that no uprising against it will take place, and the inhabitants are summarily thrown out of their city. As Joppa lay on the coast to the west of Adida (12:38) and the Beth-horon ascent (3:16), Simon was strengthening the western approach to Judea. Jonathan son of Absalom, who leads the troops to Joppa, is the brother of Mattathias, who stood by Jonathan when he was caught by an ambush (11:70). This may be the same Absalom who served as one of the ambassadors sent earlier to negotiate peaceful terms with Lysias (2 Macc 11:17).

1 Maccabees 13:12–24, Trypho’s Invasion


This section is bounded by Trypho’s entering (v. 12) and leaving the land (v. 24). For the first time we learn that Jonathan is still alive, and the drama arises as to what his fate will be.

13:12–13. Rather than approach Judea from the north through the Plain of Esdraelon, Trypho chooses to take the coastal route but does not first attempt to take Joppa. Jonathan is not dead but is being held prisoner by Trypho. Simon’s army encamps at Adida.

13:14–16. With that force at Joppa behind him and Simon’s army in front, Trypho decides to try deceit, a typical Seleucid trick, according to the author (e.g., 1:30; 7:10, 27). Trypho claims that Jonathan owes money, perhaps taxes that the high priest should have collected or a fee for being granted the high priesthood (cf. 2 Macc 4:7, 24). Trypho also asks for two of Jonathan’s sons as hostages. Hostage taking was a typical tactic: Antiochus IV (1:10; 8:7) had been a hostage in Rome, and Bacchides (9:53) and Jonathan (11:62) had taken hostages also. This is the first time we know that Jonathan was married.

13:17–19. The author of 1 Maccabees states that Simon recognizes that Trypho’s request is a ploy. Yet he consents to pay lest, according to the author, he be seen as conniving at Jonathan’s death and so gaining the leadership of Israel. The author does not mention that the sons of Jonathan might have been a potential source of opposition to Simon as leader and that, in agreeing to Trypho’s demands, Simon might not have been too unhappy to have them out of the way. We do not know how old the two boys were, nor are we told what subsequently happened to them. Perhaps Trypho killed them when he killed Jonathan (v. 23). As expected, Trypho breaks his word (v. 19), just as Bacchides (7:18) and Demetrius II had done before him (11:53).

13:20–24. Trypho now attempts to invade the land. Simon keeps his army between the coastal plain and the hill country, and so forces Trypho to go south through Idumea to try a southern assault, as Lysias had done (4:29; 6:31). Adora was about five miles southwest of Hebron. Since to get to Jerusalem from there Trypho would have had to pass Beth-zur (where Simon had stationed a garrison [11:65–66]), the men of the citadel, isolated and in need of provisions (12:36), may have offered to act as guides for Trypho, as they had for Gorgias and his cavalry (4:2). The wilderness referred to may be the wilderness of Tekoa (9:32). When the weather prevents Trypho’s surprise attack, he moves across the Jordan to Gilead, thus making a circular tour of the land of Judea. The snowfall suggests winter, so, given the date in 13:41, this must have taken place during the winter of 143/42 bce. The location of Baskama (v. 23) is unknown. Trypho’s invasion has been frustrated, and he, like Bacchides (9:69), leaves Judea, which would now be at peace under Simon as it had been previously under Jonathan (9:73).

1 Maccabees 13:25–30, Jonathan’s Tomb


Simon buries Jonathan, and "all Israel" mourned his death (v. 26). The monument Simon erected over the family tomb was large, showy, and presumably quite expensive. Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Onomasticon (under the entry for Modein) of the early fourth century ce, wrote that it was still standing in his time. It has not survived, and its description in 1 Maccabees is not detailed enough so that one can reconstruct it. On a platform of hewn stones, Simon placed a row of seven pyramids ("alongside" [κατέναντι katenanti], rather than "opposite" one another as in the NRSV, v. 28)—one each for his parents and four brothers and possibly one for himself; or perhaps seven is seen as a particularly potent number. Surrounding the pyramids were huge columns bearing trophies of arms and carved ships. Pyramids are usually associated with Egypt, but they were found in Italy and later in Jerusalem. Trophies of suits of armor were common among the Greeks, and the Romans adopted the custom by the mid-second century bce. In Jerusalem, the so-called tomb of Jason has graffiti seemingly representing a naval battle. No one is sure why the non-seafaring Jews would put carved ships on a monument for the Maccabees. Was it part of regular decorative practice? Or does it suggest that the control of the seaport Joppa now gave the Jews access to the sea? What the monument clearly attests is the pretension of the Hasmoneans to display their wealth and power.


1 Maccabees 13:31–42, The Removal of Tribute


13:31–32. Exactly when Trypho came to the throne and had Antiochus VI murdered is a vexed question. The last coins of Antiochus are dated 142/41, which seems to be closest to the time line of 1 Maccabees (13:41 refers to 170 Sel Bab, or 142–141 bce). Other ancient authorities, however, date Antiochus’s murder to 139 bce. Trypho assumed the title Autokrator, and dated his coins not by the Seleucid era but by his own regnal years. Since Trypho was not descended from the Seleucids, he wanted to show his break with Seleucid tradition. His accession to the throne increased the chaos in the Seleucid realm.125 "Asia" refers to the Seleucid Empire (8:6; 12:39).

13:33–38. Simon kept increasing the defenses of Judea begun under Jonathan and decided to reconcile with Demetrius II. However, there is no explicit request for reconciliation, and the wording of these verses implies that Simon has been on Demetrius’s side all along and is asking for relief (cf. 7:6–7). The term for "relief" (ἄφεμα aphema) covers both tax relief (v. 37) and pardon (v. 39). The appended letter from Demetrius, however, speaks of Simon’s having sent a gold crown and a palm branch to Demetrius (vv. 36–37), a clear recognition of kingship (cf. 2 Macc 14:4), as well as a peace offering, but the author of 1 Maccabees does not portray Simon as asking for peace with Demetrius II.

As before (11:23–37), Demetrius II shows a willingness to use tax concessions to win friends. He was, in fact, not in control of the southern part of his empire, and so could afford to be generous.

The greeting (v. 36) is different from that of Demetrius’s previous letter (11:30), mentioning "the priests" and ranking Simon as a "friend of kings" (cf. 11:20; 11:27, 54).

Simon had formally recognized Demetrius II as king, as Jonathan had done (11:24). This is the first indication that Simon had also succeeded Jonathan as high priest. There is no mention here of Demetrius’s confirming Simon as high priest, except in the greeting of the letter. Demetrius’s previous concessions (11:34–36) had been canceled (11:53). Although Demetrius II in fact would not have been able to destroy the strongholds Simon had built (v. 38), given that he was still at war with Trypho, this concession is a legal victory for Simon.

13:39. The verb translated "pardon" (ἀφίημι aphiēmi) is the same root as the words "release from tribute" in v. 37. Demetrius neatly glosses over Simon’s and Jonathan’s support of Antiochus VI. One is not sure whether the taxes mentioned here are more general than the ones remitted earlier (10:34; 11:35) or whether Jerusalem served as the place where all the taxes in Judea were collected.

13:40. Demetrius’s request for Jews to join his bodyguard is not surprising. Jews are well-known for their military prowess, and Demetrius I had recruited Jewish soldiers for his army and allowed them to follow their own laws (10:36–37). In addition, troops sent by Jonathan had been instrumental in saving Demetrius II earlier (11:45–51).

13:41–42. Scholars debate exactly when the events in these verses took place, some placing them before 170 Sel Bab (i.e., before June 142), while others place it later. Clearly, the people (and the author) view Demetrius’s concessions as the equivalent of granting them independence. The phrase "the yoke of the Gentiles" is a familiar image of the punishment that Israel would suffer if it disobeyed God’s laws (Deut 28:48; Lam 1:14). The prophets had foretold that God would remove the yoke of their oppressors (Isa 9:4; 10:27; 14:25; Jer 30:8; Ezek 34:27). Within 1 Maccabees, the yoke is the oppression of the Greeks (i.e., the Seleucids [8:18]), begun when the renegades yoked themselves to the Gentiles (1:15). Simon, who had already been named a commander by Antiochus VI (11:59) and leader by the people (13:7), is now officially recognized as high priest. Although the narrative refers to "the first year of Simon," the Seleucid dating system continues to be used (13:51; 14:1, 27; 16:14).

1 Maccabees 13:43–53, Further Acquisitions by Simon


Simon continues the policy of extending his control. Bacchides had fortified Beth-zur, Gazara, and the citadel (9:52). With Beth-zur already taken (11:65–66), Simon now turns his attention to the two others.

13:43–48. Gazara (Gezer), an important site on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa, had a Seleucid garrison (4:15; 9:52) and was strategically situated on a hill surveying the coastal plain. Although Judas had already constructed "siege engines" (μηχανή mēchanē, 6:20), the weapon now used by Simon is an advanced Hellenistic siege device (ἑλεόπολις heleopolis). As earlier at Beth-zur (11:65–66), Simon allows the inhabitants to live while turning them into war refugees (v. 47). Simon does not engage in the practice of the ban as Judas had done (e.g., 5:28, 35) but contents himself with cleansing the city and repopulating it with devout Jews (v. 47), just as Josiah had cleansed the land and the Temple (2 Chr 34:3–8). Gazara had a good water supply and fertile land, so Simon was able to reward his supporters, as well as gain a base for operations in the coastal plain. Archaeologists have uncovered an elaborate system of cisterns in Gazara, suggested to be Jewish ritual bathing "pools" (מקואות miqwāʾt), but the suggestion is far from certain. A Greek inscription found at Gazara reads: "Says Pampras: may fire pursue Simon’s palace." Although the date and exact reference of the inscription are unsure, if dated to Simon’s time, this curse may have been written by one of Simon’s prisoners of war (cf. 14:7).

13:49–53. The citadel at Jerusalem, originally built by Antiochus VI in 169/68 (1:33), had housed a Seleucid garrison and served as a haven for Jews opposed to the Maccabees. Those trapped there, who had been under siege since Jonathan’s time (almost two years, 143 to 141 bce; see 12:36), now sue for peace. Almost exactly the same words are used to describe the outcome of this siege as the one at Gazara (cf. vv. 45–48 with v. 50), but the celebration is described more fully (v. 51). The author also parallels the capture of the citadel by Simon to the capture of the sanctuary by Judas (cf. 4:41–61; cf. also 4:36 with 13:51), and both events are to be celebrated yearly (v. 52). With the threat of foreign troops gone, the southern fortifications of the Temple can be repaired, and Jewish troops can occupy the citadel. We learn that Simon has a son who (literally) was a man (v. 53), i.e., not simply come of age, but someone who had reached warrior status (cf. 5:63). While Simon lives in Jerusalem, his son, commander of the army, lives at Gazara (Gezer), watching the coastal plain and guarding the western entrance to Judea.


The author captures the mood of the followers of Simon at the recapture of the citadel. Here is proof positive that the yoke of the Gentiles had been removed, that Israel had gained its independence. This was a time to remember and to celebrate, just as the Fourth of July is a day for all U.S. citizens to rejoice in the gaining of their independence. Yet independence brings with it consequences for others. The joy of the Israelites contrasts starkly with what must have been the despair of those evicted from their homes in Gazara and their forced relocation. The cleansing of Beth-zur, Gazara, and the citadel and their repopulation by those who observed the law echo the injunctions to Joshua to clear the promised land of its former inhabitants and the call of Ezekiel to cleanse the land of uncleanness.

Should injunctions for ethnic cleansing be followed? Humans in conflict situations feel a need to draw sharp boundaries between themselves and other groups. We are the pure ones; we must have no part with you. In times of insecurity, communities pull the wagons into a circle to defend their own group, however defined, against all others. The only way to stop this only too human reaction is to somehow build each group’s sense of security and well-being so that no one will react defensively but all will realize that problems can be worked out through mediation rather than by recourse to violence. Humans must learn to cooperate and respect each other’s cultural and religious differences. Otherwise, there will be no end to conflict. Such attempts at reconciliation will be extremely difficult, as often atrocities are committed by both sides. To forgive is hard to accomplish when one cannot forget the past. Perhaps one way to do so is to think of the future, of the children who will come after us. Do we want them to continue the feuding? Or do we want them to learn to live in peace?

1 Maccabees 14:1–3, The Capture of Demetrius


The situation in the Seleucid Empire was at a stalemate, with Demetrius II, Trypho, and Simon each controlling his own area. Trypho had sought Roman support, but the Romans, while accepting his gifts, had them inscribed with the name of Antiochus VI, whom Trypho had murdered. According to the author of 1 Maccabees, Demetrius tries to break the deadlock by going to Mesopotamia, which had remained loyal, to secure help. Demetrius’s action was more likely an attempt to push back the Parthian forces that had invaded Seleucid territory (according to cuneiform tablets, Mithradates I [Arsaces] ruled in Babylon and Seleucia on the Tigris in July 141 and in Uruk by October 141). Demetrius left in autumn 141/40 bce (172, according to the Seleucid Macedonian calendar), and was at first successful, since Persis, Elymais, and Bactria helped his effort. However, in Media he was defeated and captured in 140/39 bce. His bold hope not only to help the eastern provinces but also to create an army strong enough to come back and defeat Trypho failed. Mithradates treated Demetrius honorably, settling him in Hyrcania and marrying him to one of his daughters.



The rest of chapter 14 is given over to the praise of Simon. First comes a eulogy (vv. 4–15), comparable to that at the beginning of Judas’s rule (3:3–9), followed by praise of Simon by Rome and the Spartans (vv. 16–24), and finally the decree of the people in honor of Simon (vv. 25–49).

1 Maccabees 14:4–15, Hymn of Praise


The rule of Simon is described idyllistically and abounds in allusions to Hebrew Scriptures.

14:4. Like Judas (7:50) and Jonathan (9:57), Simon provides rest to the land, just as the judges had (Judg 3:11, 30; 5:31). Whereas those in the citadel had sought evil against the people (6:18), Simon seeks the good of the nation.

14:5–7. Simon’s wartime exploits are celebrated, starting with his capture of Joppa during Jonathan’s reign (12:33). The phrase "to crown all his honors he took Joppa for a harbor," literally "with all his glory," should be understood from the context as referring to Simon’s troops (cf. Isa. 8:7, where the king of Assyria and all his glory are to come against Israel). Promises of enlarged territory in response to Torah obedience (v. 6) are found in Exodus (34:24) and Deuteronomy (19:8–9). Verse 7 highlights Simon’s victories over the three main fortresses (11:65–66; 13:43–50) as well as the campaigns in which he must have gathered many captives. His Torah faithfulness is again stressed (v. 7b; cf. 11:66; 13:48, 50), and so he finds that no one resists him (cf. Deut 7:17–26; 11:25; Josh 1:5).

14:8–15. Once Simon’s exploits in war have been praised, affairs in Judea are described in idyllic terms; these verses echo other descriptions of peace in the OT. The elderly can sit in the streets, reminiscing (v. 9; cf. Zech 8:4–5). The people are free to farm their land without fear of enemy attack or looting, and without having to pay oppressive taxes to outsiders (v. 8; 13:41–42), and the land’s productivity flourishes (vv. 8, 10; Lev 26:3–5; Zech 8:12–13; cf. Ezek 34:25–31). The mourning and lamentation, such as followed Antiochus IV’s sacking of Jerusalem (1:25–28), where the elders groaned and the young men became faint, are reversed. Just as Judas’s renown went to the ends of the earth (3:9), so too does Simon’s as his actions of defense and provisioning (13:33) are recalled. Just as Solomon brought safety to the land (1 Kgs 4:25), so too does Simon (v. 11). As the prophets Micah (4:4) and Zechariah (3:10) had foreseen, people sit under their own vines and fig trees (v. 12). Simon is the perfect picture of a just ruler (v. 14a), as envisioned by Ps 72:4 and Isa 11:3–4. Simon’s destruction of the ungodly (v. 14b) again mirrors Judas (3:8). In particular, Simon adds to the work of Judas by restoring the sanctuary (4:49), as he wipes out the wrongs done against it under Antiochus IV, who had dishonored the Temple and taken away its glorious vessels (2:8–13).

1 Maccabees 14:16–24, Diplomacy with Rome and Sparta


14:16–19. The authenticity, chronology, and meaning of the events in these verses pose great difficulty. The author’s Judeocentrism is evident in his claim that Rome and Sparta were deeply grieved at Jonathan’s death. It is unlikely, however, that the Romans would take the initiative to write to a client state, such as Judea, without the formality of an embassy; the text of a letter from the Romans is not given, although they are said to have renewed their alliance with Judea (14:18). The reference to bronze tablets recalls those sent in Judas’s time (8:22). As a result, Simon sends an ambassador to Rome with a gift to confirm the alliance (14:24), a Roman answer is received (15:15–21), and Demetrius II is said to confirm Simon in the high priesthood, because the Romans had received the envoys of Simon with honor (14:38–40). It seems more likely that Simon did follow in the steps of Judas and Jonathan in seeking an alliance with Rome; the letter of 15:15–21 is probably the result of that embassy. Demetrius has already recognized Simon as high priest in an earlier letter written sometime in 142 bce (13:36–40). Simon would not have had time to send an embassy to Rome after Jonathan’s death (probably in the winter of 143/142 bce, when no sailing could take place) and receive a reply before Demetrius wrote that letter preserved in 13:36–40. Perhaps Demetrius only needed to know that Simon had sent ambassadors to Rome.

14:20–23. As at 12:5, 16–17, the Spartan correspondence is linked with an embassy to Rome. "Rulers" (ἄρχοντες archontes) is a very generic title and does not suggest which specific officials are in view. Jonathan’s letter to the Spartans had mentioned a council of the Jews in its address (12:6), but it is not mentioned here. The ambassadors (v. 22) are the same as those sent by Jonathan (12:16). Verses 22–23 seem to indicate that this letter was in response to an embassy sent by Simon.

14:24. As noted above, this embassy of Numenius was probably prior to the renewal of friendship by both Romans and Spartans. A mina weighs 431 grams, so the shield would have weighed 431 kilograms, approximately 862 pounds, a significant gift.

1 Maccabees 14:25–49, "The Great Assembly"


The decree to memorialize the Maccabees by recording their deeds on bronze tablets to be put on "pillars on Mount Zion" (v. 27) is depicted as a spontaneous outpouring of thanks by the people. Its preface (vv. 27–28) and its concluding arrangements concerning publication follow the basic usage in contemporary honorific inscriptions. After the preface comes a historical rundown of the achievements of the Hasmoneans (vv. 29–30)—particularly Simon (vv. 31–40)—and this is followed by the resolution of the people (vv. 41–43), which was binding on them all (vv. 44–45).

14:25–26. The people’s response seems to refer to v. 19, or may simply be a response to all that Simon achieved in chapter 13. The word used for "people" here (δῆμος dēmos) reflects official inscriptional usage (cf. its usage in the correspondence with Rome and Sparta [8:29; 12:6; 14:20–23; 15:18]). Throughout the decree, the usual term for "people" (λάος laos) is used. In his lament over what was happening to Israel, Mattathias had said that Jerusalem was "no longer free, she has become a slave" (1 Macc 2:11 NRSV). The people now recognize that Mattathias’s descendants have redressed that lament and that they have given back to Israel its freedom.

14:27–28. The Preface. The date is September 140 bce. The first year of Simon’s high priesthood was 170 Sel Bab (142/41), so the third would be 172 Sel Bab (140/39 bce).

Why the translator did not translate Saramel or Asaramel is unknown. The text has been interpreted both as a place name, "the court of the people of God" (reflecting Hebrew חצר עם־אל [ḥăṣarʿam-ʾēl ]), or as a title for Simon, "prince of the people of God" (שׂר עם־אל śarʿamʾēl). Both have difficulties; the place name is not usually given after the date in such documents; one does not know how the preposition "in" (ἐν en) could be placed before a title.

The opening words of the decree (v. 28) make a distinction between various groups. Throughout the decree itself the basic grouping is "the Jews and their priests" (v. 41) or "the people and priests" (v. 44). The opening words mention also "the rulers of the nation and the elders of the country" (v. 28). The book of Ezra distinguishes between rulers and elders, reflecting a distinction between Jerusalem and the rest of the country (Ezra 10:8, 14). The wording of the decree, then, emphasizes that all important groups were included (as at Ezra 10:1). The decree was probably drafted by the nation’s leaders and then read aloud to the people.

14:29–40. The Exploits of the Hasmoneans. 14:29–30. The author gives a very bland description of the tumultuous events under Antiochus IV with no specific mention of the actions of Mattathias or Judas; recall Judas’s speeches (3:20–21, 58–59) as well as Mattathias’s last will (2:49–50). Verse 29 recalls that Judas and his brothers were honored in Israel and among the Gentiles (5:63). Jonathan (v. 30) is mentioned as immediate predecessor of Simon in the high priesthood (10:20). His murder by Trypho is glossed over by the biblical expression "[he] was gathered to his people" (v. 30; cf. Gen 25:8, 17; 49:33; 2 Kgs 22:20).

14:31–34. Recorded on the bronze tablets is the invasion of Trypho (13:1–20). No mention had previously been made of Simon’s using his own money either as ransom for Jonathan (13:15–19) or for the gold shield sent to Rome (14:24), but no doubt the booty taken in various campaigns had increased his wealth. Certainly the monument to his family at Modein (13:25–30) attests to his fortune. It is almost de rigueur in honorific texts to tell of personal wealth spent on public benefactions. Verses 33–34 provide a summary of Simon’s build-up of Judea’s defenses and fortification of towns of Judea (13:33), and of Beth-zur (11:65–66), Joppa (12:33–34; 13:11), and Gazara (13:43–48).

14:35. The people’s response to Simon’s actions is recorded. In the narrative of 1 Maccabees, the people had made Simon their leader (13:7–9) before Jonathan’s death and before the events listed above, except for capturing Beth-zur and Joppa. The decree may suggest that there was another public assembly after Jonathan’s death at which Simon was appointed high priest as well. Normally, as with Jonathan (10:20–21), the high priest was appointed by the Seleucid king. Simon is praised for his righteousness and faithfulness (cf. 1 Sam 26:23; 1 Macc 2:52).

14:36–37. The author concludes this list of Simon’s achievements by mentioning, in the place of emphasis, the capture of the citadel (13:49–52). The descriptions of the actions of those in the citadel reflect 1:34–37; 6:18.

14:38–40. In the narrative of 1 Maccabees, Demetrius II writes to Simon as high priest (13:36) and is portrayed as being only too happy to have an ally against Rome, with no mention of a threat from the Romans. Had Simon sent an embassy to Rome after Jonathan’s death in the winter of 143 bce and before Demetrius’s letter in 142 bce? The Jews were called friends and allies by the Romans (8:31), but not brothers, as they had been by the Spartans (12:7; 14:20).

14:41–49. The Offices of Simon. This section is framed by two occurrences of the verb "to be pleased," "to agree," "to resolve" (εὐδοκέω eudokeō): (1) at v. 41, the Jews and the priests "agreed"/"resolved" and (2) at v. 46, all the people "agreed"/"resolved." The verb is also found at v. 47, where Simon agrees to be high priest, commander, ethnarch, and protector. Some scholars think that the decree ends in v. 45, while others see the provisions for publication in v. 48 as showing that the decree runs through v. 49. It has even been suggested that v. 41 refers to a different, more restricted group of leaders than all the people of v. 46; if that is the case, one would then have an approval of Simon by influential leaders distinct from his final approval by the people. What one has in vv. 42b–43 is a specification of what it means for Simon to be leader, high priest, and commander, and v. 46 resumes what was said in vv. 41–45. At v. 42b begins a string of five clauses all beginning with "in order that," "for the purpose that" (ὅπως hopōs).

14:41–42a. "High priest" and "leader" are the same titles given to Simon in 13:42. The grouping "the Jews and their priests" reflects the use of "Jews" in v. 40 and the fact that the following offices Simon holds are related to the sanctuary and so affect the priests in a particular way. The twofold grouping reflects the dual role of Simon as high priest and commander. "Forever" (αἰών aiōn) certainly means that Simon will be high priest for his lifetime (the same expression is used in Exod 21:6 to describe how a slave who prefers to stay with his slave wife rather than go free will have his ear pierced and then serve his master "for ever," i.e., for life). The expression may suggest hereditary holding of the position, but not necessarily. Simon’s descendants are not mentioned, whereas Aaron’s are when the priesthood is given to them as a perpetual ordinance (Exod 29:9). The promise of the land made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel was explicitly enjoined to their descendants forever (Exod 32:13), and God promised David that his dynasty would rule forever (2 Sam 7:12–13). The condition "until a trustworthy prophet should arise" was mentioned earlier in connection with what to do with the polluted stones of the altar (4:47). The author is aware that the events recounted occurred after the prophets ceased to appear (9:27), and so may reflect less an opposition to Simon than a hope for further restoration. The role of the "trustworthy prophet" has been variously interpreted: (1) The prophet is to replace Simon. (2) The prophet is to decide whether Simon is fit to be ruler. (3) Only a prophet, not an assembly of people and priests, has the right to appoint a ruler, as the trustworthy prophet Samuel (1 Sam 3:20) had anointed Saul and David (1 Sam 10:1; 16:13). Most scholars seem to agree that the prophet will decide whether Simon is fit to be a ruler, but the recognition by the priests and the people of their own limitations may be more likely. (See Commentary on 4:46.)

14:42b–43. The specification of what the titles "leader" and "high priest" entail is given in a string of purpose clauses that outline Simon’s rights; as high priest and governor, he is the one in charge of the sanctuary and the one who controls appointments. He has the power to break any opposition to him by appointing his own men to important positions. What goes for the sanctuary applies also to Simon’s power to have his own appointees in defense and administration. After this first clause comes a repetition of the opening words of the clause, which probably should be omitted as a simple reduplication. Second, Simon is to be obeyed by everyone, so that any opposition to his will would be seen as illegal. Third, Simon’s authority extends to all aspects of civil and criminal law, since his name is required on every contract. Fourth, purple dress and a gold buckle were noble prerogatives (10:89; 11:58).

14:44–45. These verses spell out Simon’s powers in negative terms. Not only can no one oppose Simon’s decrees, but also the right of assembly is taken away. The word for "convene" (ἐπισυστρέψαι episystrepsai) here has a pejorative connotation at Num 16:42 (17:7 LXX), where it refers to the rebellious assembly of the congregation against Moses and Aaron; at 2 Kgs 15:15, the noun form is used to describe the conspiracy of Shallum against King Zechariah; at Ps 64:2 (Ps 63:2 LXX), the noun form is used to describe the plots of the wicked against the pious. The phrase "liable to punishment" means the death penalty at Lev 20:9, 11–13, 16, 27.

14:46–49. Just as the people had made Simon leader and high priest (v. 35), so also now they agree to hand over to Simon the just-mentioned rights (v. 46). Simon agrees to the job under the conditions outlined (v. 47). Jonathan had been "ruler" (ἄρχων archōn) of the people (9:30; 12:53), but now Simon is "ruler" (ἐθνάρχης ethnarchēs) of the nation (cf. Esth 3:12), which comprises all Jews, people and priests (cf. v. 41). No mention is made of putting the bronze tablets on pillars (vv. 48–49). They are simply to be made conspicuous. The treasury here refers to the temple treasury (see 2 Macc 3:6). God thus becomes a witness to this bargain between the people and Simon. Similar provisions are found in inscriptions for copies of the document to be displayed publicly and for a copy to be sent to the honoree.

Some scholars have suggested that the public statement of the unlimited powers given to Simon suggests that in fact Simon did not really have such unopposed power and that he had to face opposition in trying to place his own followers in power in the sanctuary and throughout the country from those already entrenched in those positions. No doubt there was opposition to Simon’s rise to such heights of power. However, to see hints of opposition in this document requires that one assume that the condition of waiting for a trustworthy prophet is a limitation of Simon’s power, not that of the Jews and their priests, and also that one argue from the document’s silence whereby Simon is not declared king and no reference is given to his freeing Judea from taxation. Arguments from silence are not particularly convincing, however, especially since there is no hint in 1 Maccabees that Simon wants to be king. Some scholars have also worried as to why Simon waited until his third year before having such a decree drawn up. The author of 1 Maccabees, however, places the decree after the removal of Demetrius II from power (14:1–3) and suggests by this arrangement that it was only then that Simon could so publicly proclaim his quasi-independent position of ethnarch.

With this decree in honor of Simon, the book of 1 Maccabees seems to reach a climax. The wrongs of chapters 1 and 2 have been righted, and Judea is free from the yoke of the Gentiles and under its own ethnarch. The paeans to Judas (3:3–9) and Simon (14:4–15) round out the grand exploits of the Hasmoneans. Antiochus IV had polluted the Temple, outlawed Jewish religion, and installed a citadel in Jerusalem. In contrast, Judas had cleansed the Temple and restored ancestral religion, and Simon had rid Jerusalem of the citadel. Both of these deeds were celebrated with songs and music (4:52–59; 13:51–52). The testamentary hymn of Mattathias (2:49–68) had foretold the pre-eminence of these two men.


1. The description of life under Simon is utopian and idyllic, fulfilling the prophets’ promises of the good life to come. The land is at peace, each person under his or her own vines and fig trees. The law is observed. But this harmonious picture in the hymn of praise hides some problems. Those who disagree with Simon’s notion of what Torah observance means are characterized as renegades and outlaws. The extension of the borders of Judea brings with it the expulsion of non-Jews from their homes and property. Success in war means the capture and enslavement of enemies. Thus success for some means loss for others. Behind the glory of empire lies the misery of slaves. The division of society into the haves and the have-nots is a critical issue.

When we read this picture of an ideal society, we must look at our own societies and ask whether each citizen has what he or she needs to live a full and prosperous life. Our concern must be that each citizen be given the opportunity to use the talents given to him or her to the best advantage. We must not rest until the inadequacies due to poor housing, insufficient health care, and lack of proper educational opportunities are done away with. We must strive to see that all people can have productive, fulfilling jobs that provide a decent wage to support their families. Our societies must not consist of two tiers of citizens, with the poor and unfortunate neglected. The ideal society must be one in which social justice reigns, in which we shall all be brothers and sisters, no matter what our racial or ethnic heritage or income level.

2. The second reflection that this chapter awakens is the contrast between the utopian picture of the hymn and the political structure envisioned by the decree. The decree makes clear the authoritarian nature of Simon’s rule. He accumulates all positions of power to himself, and his edicts are to be obeyed. If it is true that he supplied the towns with food (14:10), it was at the cost of the people’s independence. He controlled the legal apparatus as well as the police force (14:42–43). The reader may be reminded of some contemporary governments that promise food and jobs for everyone—but the promise carries also the heavy hand of the authoritarian police that went with it. What must be sought is a way to keep such promises without imposing a stifling governmental structure. What is first needed, of course, is a division of powers. The separation of the legislative from the executive and the judiciary branches of government is crucial. But one must also be concerned about the freedom of the press, a freedom to investigate unhindered. Such a freedom must not be compromised by the organs of the press being under the control of a few wealthy people who might wish to propagate a particular point of view. So, as always, we must be vigilant to see that our freedoms are preserved. But freedom brings a responsibility to work to make a better, more just society.


1 Maccabees 15:1–14, The Rise of Antiochus VII Sidetes


As the narrative is framed in 1 Maccabees, the reader might think that Antiochus VII was the son of Demetrius II, who was defeated and captured by Trypho (14:3). Rather, he is the son of Demetrius I and the brother of Demetrius II. Antiochus, surnamed Sidetes because he had been raised in Side in Pamphylia, determines again to take up the fight against Trypho. At the time Antiochus had been living in Rhodes. His letter to Simon (15:2–9) is probably one of many such letters sent to local leaders for support of his cause against Trypho.

15:1–2. The term "priest" could mean priest par excellence, i.e., high priest as in the following verse. The title "ethnarch" picks up on the title used at 14:47 and recognizes the quasi-independent status of Judea. Antiochus already claims the title "king" in his greeting.

15:3–5. The term "scoundrels" (λοιμοί loimoi, v. 3) literally means "plague" but is applied in Greek literature to subversive persons (it is used earlier at 10:61 and also at 15:21). Does it refer only to Trypho or also to Antiochus VI and Alexander Epiphanes? Antiochus blames all the troubles of the Seleucid Empire on Trypho (cf. the complaint against Judas at 7:7). It is not known from where he got the money to recruit "a host of mercenary troops" and to equip warships. To encourage Simon’s help, Antiochus confirms the tax exemptions and gifts (v. 5) granted by Demetrius I (10:38–43) and by Demetrius II (13:37–40).

15:6. Antiochus grants Simon the right to mint his own coinage in Judea. Other cities in the Seleucid Empire could issue coinage, but being granted the privilege evidenced the increased status of Judea. No coins from Simon’s time are extant, so we do not know whether he actually exercised this privilege.

15:7. Exactly what "freedom" Antiochus means to grant Jerusalem is vague. At 10:31, Demetrius I had made Jerusalem holy and free from taxation. Perhaps the same is meant here. Demetrius I had given Jonathan the right to prepare weapons (10:6), and Demetrius II had granted permission to gain control of the strongholds (11:42).

15:8–9. Demetrius II had also promised that the grants would not be cancelled from this time on (11:36), and he promised glory (11:42), but then had reneged (11:53).

15:10–14. Since Trypho controlled much of the coastline, Antiochus found it difficult to enter the kingdom. However, Demetrius II’s wife, Cleopatra Thea, who was besieged by Trypho at Seleucia, let Antiochus land. She also married him, since Demetrius II had since married a Parthian princess. The year 174 (v. 10) in the Seleucid Macedonian calendar system was 139/38 bce. Antiochus was proclaimed king and defeated Trypho in northern Syria. Trypho withdrew to Dor, a powerful fortress on the Phoenician coast, where Antiochus besieged him (vv. 11–13). The phrase "not to go out or go in" (v. 14) is repeated at 15:25, when the siege of Dor is picked up again.

1 Maccabees 15:15–24, Continued Roman Support


The author of 1 Maccabees tends to interpolate some events within others, often using frame language to connect the narrative; e.g., Antiochus’s actions (3:37) are recounted (6:1); the defeat of Nicanor (7:43–49) is repeated (9:1) and frames Judas’s embassy to Rome; Jonathan’s battles against the commanders of Demetrius II (11:63–74; 12:24–32) frame Jonathan’s embassy to Rome. So here Antiochus’s siege of Dor (15:14, 25) frames the Romans’ letter of alliance to Simon. The people’s decree stated that Demetrius II had heard that the envoys of the Jews had been accepted with honor (14:40), so Simon’s delegation probably was sent soon after Jonathan’s death. In fact, Lucius, the consul, wrote the same letters to King Demetrius, which must have been before the failure of Demetrius II’s campaign against Parthia became known. The only consul named Lucius between 142 and 137 bce was Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus, consul of 142 bce. It seems, then, as if this letter should be dated earlier than the time of Antiochus VII Sidetes. However, the author of 1 Maccabees, by positioning the response of the Romans here, concludes the list of honors accorded to Simon that began with a letter from Rome (14:16–18). The author also provides a break between the positive attitude of Antiochus VII toward the Jews and the negative one he adopts from v. 27 on.

15:15. Numenius was last mentioned at 14:24 as being on his way to Rome. It was common practice to send a copy of a letter to a person mentioned in the letter.

15:16. The common Roman practice for letter writing was for the writer to fully identify himself or herself, using not only the family name but also any official title he or she held. The addressee is Ptolemy VIII Euergetes (146–116 bce), whom a Roman commission headed by Scipio Aemilianus had visited in 140/39 bce. Polybius, the Greek historian who probably accompanied Scipio, found the Greek and Jewish population of Alexandria virtually wiped out by Ptolemy’s purges after his return to power.129

15:17–21. "Friends and allies" was the same phrase used when Judas set up an alliance with Rome (8:20); Jonathan is said to have renewed these ties (12:3). Verse 19 repeats much of what had been set out in the letter the Romans had sent in reply to the embassy that Judas had sent to them (8:24–28). The gold shield mentioned (v. 18) is the one described earlier (14:24). By accepting the shield (v. 20), the Romans signify the renewal of the relationship. Note that the Jews present a gift to the Romans but that none is given in return, so the relationship is not that of equals. The request that Rome’s allies hand over "fugitives" (λοιμοί loimoi, v. 21; see "scoundrels," 10:61) is similar to the requirement of Antiochus III by the Treaty of Apamea to deliver up to Rome’s allies any of their deserters. Augustus later gave the same privilege to Herod.131

15:22–24. The list of recipients first names kings (v. 22) and then countries (v. 23; cf. 15:15). The mention of Demetrius II indicates that the letter must have been written before news of his capture by the Parthians; Attalus II was king of Pergamum (159–138 bce); Ariarathes V, king of Cappadocia (163–130 bce); Arsaces (i.e., Mithradates I), king of Parthia (c. 171–138/37 bce). "The Sampsames," most probably to be identified with Samsun on the Black Sea, was called "Amisos" by the Greeks. Myndos was near Halicarnassus on the southwest coast of Asia Minor. Sicyon was a city near Corinth. Caria and Lycia lay in the mountainous region of southwest Asia Minor, and Pamphylia lay in the middle of the southern coast of Asia Minor. Samos, Rhodes, and Cos are islands off the southwest coast of Asia Minor. Halicarnassus was a city lying within Caria; Phaselis, a city within Lycia; Side, a city within Pampylia. Aradus, the main city of north Phoenicia, was situated on an island off the coast. Gortyna was an important city in southern Crete. Cnidus, a city, lay on a long peninsula at the southwest corner of Asia Minor. The island Cyprus at this time was under Ptolemaic control, as was the great North African city of Cyrene, to the west of the Egyptian delta.

1 Maccabees 15:25–36, Antiochus’s Change of Heart


15:25–27. The narrative picks up where it ended before the report of the embassy to Rome (v. 14). But whereas before Antiochus VII had been so friendly to Simon, now his attitude has changed. Simon sent reinforcements as well as money to help the king defray his expenses (v. 26), but such gifts also signified the recognition of Antiochus VII as king. However, Antiochus insults Simon by not accepting (v. 27) his gifts, in contrast to Rome’s acceptance of the golden shield (15:20). Since the troops of the Seleucid Empire had rallied to Antiochus (15:10) and his main enemy Trypho was trapped, Antiochus no longer had need of Simon’s friendship. Just as Demetrius II had changed his attitude when his troubles disappeared (11:52–53), so also now Antiochus changes his, continuing the Seleucids’ record of deception.

15:28–31. Athenobius, "the king’s Friend" (v. 28), is unknown outside of 1 Maccabees. Simon is not invited to talk with Antiochus, but to a lower level delegation. The message contains no courteous address, but starts right away with claims. Two main points of honor for Simon had been his control over Joppa as an opening to the sea (14:5, 34) and his cleansing of Gazara (13:43–48; 14:7, 34) and of the citadel (13:49–52; 14:7, 36–37). It is interesting that the citadel is here called a "city"; at 1:33 it encompassed the city of David, distinct from Jerusalem. In addition to the three cities mentioned, Simon also held Ekron (10:89), Adida (12:38; 13:13), and four other districts (11:34, 57). Whereas earlier the author of 1 Maccabees states that the citadel (14:36), Seleucid forces (1:30), and Jewish renegades (7:22) did great damage in Jerusalem and Israel, he now reports that Antiochus claims that Simon has done so to Seleucid territory (v. 29). Simon thus is classified with those forces against whom Antiochus VII intended to fight (15:4). A single indemnity of one thousand talents (v. 31) was high, but not beyond the reach of the Hasmoneans. Jonathan had promised three hundred for the districts of Samaria (11:28), and the golden shield sent to Rome would have cost a small fortune.

15:32a. Antiochus VII had promised to increase Simon’s glory (15:9), but when Athenobius saw Simon’s present glory, he was amazed. One might compare his reaction to that of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon’s magnificence (1 Kgs 10:4–5), or to the incident in which King Hezekiah displayed Jerusalem’s wealth to Babylonian envoys (2 Kgs 20:12–19).

15:32b–35. Antiochus VII had claimed that he was acting to regain control of the kingdom of his ancestors (15:3–4), and likewise now Simon reacts to Antiochus by claiming that he also only took back control of the inheritance of his ancestors (v. 33). He replies only to the charge about the citadel, and not to Antiochus’s vague mention of many places (v. 29). Simon does not attempt to argue that Joppa and Gazara lie within the ancestral inheritance, but reports that they cause great damage to Judea, not Judea to them (15:29), and offers a tenth of the king’s demand.

15:36. Athenobius returned "in wrath" to Antiochus to report Simon’s reply. The anger of the king usually means trouble (3:27; 6:28)—and an expedition against Judea.


What is interesting in this narrative is how Simon seems to go against basic rules of behavior of a subordinate to a superior. The wisdom teacher Sirach admonished his pupils, "Among the great do not act as their equal" (Sir 32:9 NRSV; cf. 13:11). The book of Proverbs recommends: "Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence/ or stand in the place of the great;/ for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’/ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble" (Prov 25:6–7 NRSV). Simon’s action in voluntarily sending men and abundant supplies to Antiochus VII in his siege of Dor could be taken as his acting as an equal to the king. Yet Simon’s ostentatious display of wealth to the king’s representative and then his refusal to pay what the king demanded only served to infuriate his superior. Simon acted unwisely and seems to have had the same weakness for gaining respect that Jonathan had had. The same ostentation had led Simon earlier to erect an enormous monument to his family. Simon had "made it"; he had risen from being the third son in a family from the outskirts of Judea to being the ruler of Judea, and he wanted everyone to acknowledge his success. He wanted respect. The lesson we have to learn from his actions is that we need to instill such self-confidence in all of our children that they will not need the outward trappings of success, but will be happy and content in being who they are. On the level of foreign affairs, strong nations must learn to be indulgent to smaller nations who are so concerned about their status and honor. The stronger nation must shows its strength, not by saber rattling, but by granting the proper respect that all nations should expect from one another.

1 Maccabees 15:37–16:10, The Expedition of Cendebeus


15:37. Trypho managed to escape the noose around Dora and flee to Apamea, his hometown, by way of Ptolemais and Orthosia, a port north of Tripolis. There, besieged once more, he took his life. It is to be noted that 1 Maccabees leaves Trypho at Orthosia and does not record his death.

15:38–41. While Antiochus VII goes north in pursuit of Trypho, he arranges to gain control of the southern coast. He, like Demetrius I (7:8–9), Demetrius II (10:69; 11:63; 12:24), and Trypho (12:40), knows that the power of the Jews must be curtailed. Cendebeus is given the office that Simon had held (11:59). Cendebeus was to fortify Kedron (v. 39), about four miles southeast of Jamnia and about eight or nine miles southwest of Gazara; it has also been identified by some scholars with Nihson, just over two miles southeast of Gezer, but such a base would be close to the mountains and almost twelve miles from Jamnia. With this fortified base, Cendebeus could sally out to attack the western routes to Jerusalem.

Cendebeus first invades Jamnia (v. 40), as Apollonius had done (10:69). From there he provokes Israel by raiding the land, taking captives, and murdering. His forces must not have been large enough to mount a full-scale assault in the now well-fortified Judea, but he concentrated on drawing the Jewish forces into the plain, as Apollonius had done (10:71–73). Kedron provided a base closer to the areas occupied by the Jews for quick, harassing incursions (v. 41). The continuing raids produce their desired effect and provoke the Hasmoneans to venture onto the plain.

16:1. John is in command of Gazara, which overlooks the plain. His garrison may not have been strong enough on its own to take on Cendebeus’s forces, but he was aware of what Cendebeus "kept doing" (συνετέλεσεν synetelesen), not "had done," as in the NRSV, because the verb is in the imperfect. (The same verb is used elsewhere in 1 Maccabees to describe complaints; e.g., 8:31; 10:5; 11:40.)

16:2–3. Here the reader learns that Simon had another son besides John: Judas. Nothing is known of the mother as, in this warrior book, family life is not considered. Simon’s opening words recall earlier statements about him and Judas (3:6; 13:3; 14:26, 36), as well as the claim that deliverance was given to Israel exclusively through this family (5:62). The statement "I have grown old" (v. 3) usually comes before the last testament and blessing (Isaac, Gen 27:1–2; Joshua, Josh 23:2; Samuel, 1 Sam 12:2; Tobit, Tob 14:3). The Greek "Heaven’s mercy" (ἔλεος eleos, lit., "the mercy") is a substitute for naming God (3:44; 4:24), just as "heaven" is substituted for God (3:19, 50; 4:24). Just as Jonathan had replaced Judas (9:30) and Simon had replaced Jonathan (13:8), so also Simon’s sons will replace him. The text has the singular "my brother," which seems to be a translation mistake; the Hebrew word אחי (ʾḥy) without vowels can be read either "my brother" or "my brothers" (the same mistake seems to be present at 13:8). However, the reader might recall how Mattathias, in his dying speech, mentioned only Judas and Simon (2:65–66) and that now two young men, Judas and John, replace the two old men, Judas and Simon. Help from heaven has been a constant theme in 1 Maccabees (see 3:19, 50, 53, 60; 4:24; 12:15).

16:4. The Greek reads "he picked" (ἐπέλεξεν epelexen), but the subject here is most likely John, as in v. 1. Jonathan had also had 40,000 hand-picked warriors (12:41) when he went to meet Trypho. Cendebeus’s strategy suggests that his was not a force of the full strength of the Seleucid army. Cavalry is mentioned for the first time on the Jewish side, perhaps in response to the description of Cendebeus’s force, but earlier battles such as that at Elasa presuppose the use of cavalry (9:11–17). John and Judas do not take the direct route back to Gazara, but first go north to Modein. We are not told why. Perhaps he wished to avoid Seleucid raiding parties or to have Adida and Modein behind him and Gazara to his left as he went down the plain. To start marching from so far to the north seems to preclude choosing the route as a surprise tactic. The appearance of Modein here makes a nice reprise to the opening days of the Maccabean revolt (2:1).

16:5–8a. The description of the battle leaves much to be desired. As written, it seems as if the Seleucid forces were apprised of their movements and that the two forces met in the plain not far from Modein. In that case, the stream would most likely by the Wadi Aijalon, rather than the Sorek near Kedron, which would have required the Israelites to have marched about fourteen miles before arriving at the battle scene. John, as Judas had done before him (5:41–43), fearlessly leads his soldiers across a stream. The Greek literally says "he divided the people" (διεῖλεν τὸν λάον dieilen ton laon, v. 7), so that the sense of the engagement of the whole community is conveyed. John’s tactics are determined by the size of the enemy’s cavalry. Usually the cavalry units were on the wings of the infantry, but John must have realized that his cavalry was no match for cavalry that was either too numerous or too well armed. He decides to place his cavalry among, not "in the center of," the infantry. Perhaps his plan was to divide his forces into several mobile units to attack the more massed phalanx of the Seleucids; perhaps he had noted that the enemy’s phalanx was stretched wide because of the plain, and he used the cavalry within the infantry to force gaps in the enemy’s phalanx. One does not know what the enemy’s cavalry was doing. The author says only that the trumpets were sounded (1 Macc 5:33 [Num 10:8]) and that the enemy was routed, almost as though the trumpets decided the battle, as at Jericho (Joshua 6).

16:8b–10. The grammar of these verses is a little confused, as subjects of verbs are left out. It seems as if the Seleucid forces fled to the fortress, i.e., Kedron, which Cendebeus had been ordered to fortify (15:39). But during the pursuit Judas is wounded, and so John pursues alone until Cendebeus reaches Kedron. Others keep going until they reach the watchtowers positioned within the limits of Azotus (Ashdod). In the mosaic map of Judea found at Madeba, towers are depicted in the open country between Azotus and Jamnia. What John burned is unclear: Was it Azotus, the last-mentioned city, which previously Jonathan had burned (10:84)? Or does "it" really refer to "the towers"? Or does "it" refer to Kedron? The author does not say that John pursued to Azotus or that the escapees fled to Azotus, but only to the towers within the limits of Azotus, whose borders reached to Gazara (14:34). As for "it" being a mistake for an original "them," one can more easily explain why a later copyist would have corrected the text from an unusual "it" to "them" rather than the other way around. One would then need to suppose that a translator mistook the original ישׂרפה (yiśrĕpehā, "he burned it") and read ישׂרפם (yiśrĕpēm, "he burned them"). If "it" does refer to Kedron, it is likely that the author meant that John destroyed Cendebeus and those who took refuge in the fortress. Whatever the case, John followed the usual Maccabean practice of burning the town before returning to Judea. Later, John is said to be in Gazara (v. 19), so it is not clear whether he went back to Jerusalem before disbanding the army.



After an interval of three years, in the winter of 134 bce, Simon’s son-in-law, Ptolemy, son of Abubus, attempted a coup. He knew that Antiochus VII was opposed to Simon (15:27, 36, 38–39) and perhaps that Antiochus was preparing to invade Judea, which he did a few months later, when he ultimately captured Jerusalem. This victory of Antiochus VII is not mentioned in 1 Maccabees, a loose end left untied.

16:11–12. The fertile plain of Jericho is now securely in Hasmonean hands. One should note how Simon had kept powerful positions within the family. We learn here that Simon had at least one daughter besides his four sons; the author also indicates that Ptolemy was related by marriage to the family through whom deliverance was given to Israel (5:62). The wealth of Simon has already been indicated (15:32).

16:13. As Alexander’s heart had been lifted up (1:3), so now is Ptolemy’s. He wishes to control the country, as Simon had done. And like Nicanor, who had sought to take Judas and his brothers deceitfully and so destroy the people (7:26–27), and typical of the Seleucids, Ptolemy uses deceit "against Simon and his sons, to do away with them." In particular, note how Ptolemy VI sought to get control of the Seleucid kingdom by treachery (11:1).

16:14. On a tour of inspection to determine how the country was being administered, Simon visits Jericho. The eleventh month of the Sel Bab year 177 would have fallen in January/February of 134 bce. Winter would have been a good time to visit the warm area of Jericho, as summer is much too hot there.

16:15–17. Dok was a small fortress near Jericho that some scholars have identified with the top of the Mount of Temptation. Ptolemy commits one of the cardinal sins in the Greco-Roman world by breaking the law of hospitality. Once one had eaten or drunk with a guest, one was bound to treat that guest properly. On the contrary, Ptolemy prepares an ambush and kills the drunken Simon and his sons, repaying good with evil (cf. Ps 7:4). According to Josephus, Ptolemy did not immediately kill Simon’s sons and wife but waited until later, when besieged by John. We cannot be sure which version is true, although Josephus’s account is highly emotional and sensational. This discrepancy alerts us to the fact that ancient historians differed in their accounts of how leaders died—Alexander the Great was variously depicted as killed by poisoning, by carousing, or by a fever (see Commentary on 1:5–9). Given this tendency of ancient historians to create a death that they thought was appropriate, it is interesting that the author of 1 Maccabees reports that Simon and his sons get drunk at a great carousal and then are killed. Josephus, more discreetly, writes that Simon dies at a banquet, which a discerning reader would know included heavy drinking. Did the author of 1 Maccabees feel obliged to tell the truth no matter what? He did not feel so obliged in describing the death of Antiochus IV because of disappointment and regret over what Antiochus had done in Judea (6:8–13). How would the author of 1 Maccabees have come by his knowledge of Simon’s death?

The motif of being killed by one’s enemies while one is drunk is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. In 1 Kgs 16:8–10 it is used to describe the death of Elah, king of Israel. In Judith (12:10–13:10), Holofernes gets drunk at his own banquet, with dire results. The wisdom tradition in Judaism is against drunkenness:

"It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

it is not for kings to drink wine,

or for rulers to desire strong drink;

or else they will drink and forget

what has been decreed,

and will pervert the rights of all

the afflicted.

(Prov 31:4–5; cf. 23:29–35 NRSV)"

Why would the author of 1 Maccabees insist, then, that Simon was drunk? Does he feel that this is the only way Simon could be overcome? But even this answer gives the picture of an old man taking part in the all-male ritual of drinking to excess, possibly with courtesans available. Such a picture of excess reinforces the image of magnificent extravagance conveyed in the "splendor of Simon" (15:32). The family of Mattathias is shown as indulging in the luxuries and extravagances of the wealthy.

16:18–22. Just as Alcimus had needed help from the Seleucids to control the country (7:20), so also Ptolemy now seeks help. "To turn over to him the towns and the country" resonates with what Antiochus VII had demanded (15:28–31). However, "country" in this context would refer to the territory of Judea (7:7, 20; 11:64; 12:25; 13:34; 14:6), just as the phrase "the country and the towns in it" (14:17) clearly refers to Judea. So Ptolemy had more in mind than placating Antiochus’s demands; he intended to submit Judea again to Seleucid control. With such a goal, Ptolemy seems to bring the reader back to the beginning of the narrative, when renegades from Israel wanted to make a covenant with the Gentiles (1:11).

Ptolemy acts quickly to control the land. He needs to control Jerusalem and the temple mount, which Simon had fortified and where he had lived (13:52). Ptolemy also needs to win over the army leaders by bribes (16:11); most important, he needs to do away with John to complete his plan (16:13). The author emphasizes that John acts in self-defense, as opposed to Ptolemy’s treachery.



The ending tells us that John ruled successfully, so Ptolemy’s rebellion did not last long. According to Josephus, John reached Jerusalem ahead of Ptolemy’s men and gained control of the city. At that, Ptolemy retreated to Dok, where John besieged him. John is said to have abandoned the siege because a sabbatical year was coming on. Ptolemy fled to Zenon, the ruler of Philadelphia (Amman) in Transjordan. That same year, Antiochus VII invaded Judea and besieged John in Jerusalem. After a lengthy siege marked by surprisingly indulgent behavior from Antiochus, who allowed a truce so that the Feast of Tabernacles could be celebrated, John and Antiochus VII reached a settlement in Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem were demolished and coins of Antiochus were minted. Later John accompanied Antiochus on his expedition against the Parthians (130/29 bce). Only after Antiochus’s death on this campaign could John exert his own power. The independence of Judea depended on Seleucid weakness. None of this, however, is reported by the author of 1 Maccabees. He leaves Jerusalem free and independent.

Many questions remain unanswered in this narrative: How will Antiochus VII react to the death of his general Cendebeus? What will happen to the treacherous son-in-law? Does the author presuppose that the reader knows what happens? Why does he end at this point and choose this ending? No mention is made, as had been for Mattathias (2:70), Judas (9:20–21), and Jonathan (12:52; 13:26), that all Israel bewailed Simon’s death. Rather, the author ends with a formula, so different from that at Judas’s death (9:22) but so similar to that found throughout the books of Kings (e.g., 1 Kgs 14:29; 16:27; 2 Kgs 14:15, 18, 28; 20:20) and used of all rulers, both good and bad. One suspects that the author is hinting that the Hasmoneans have become a ruling family with all that it entails—wealth, a bureaucracy (responsible for writing the high priest’s annals), and family intrigue. The heady days of the opening revolt against the Seleucids have been replaced by Hasmonean institutionalization.


The narrative of 1 Maccabees seems to end where it had begun. As the "lawless renegades" had sought Seleucid intervention at the beginning of the story to bring about their control of Judea, so now within the Hasmonean family there are strife and fighting for control of Judea, and one side seeks the support of the Seleucids to gain control. Is the teaching of Ecclesiastes right? Is all vanity? And is there nothing new under the sun (Eccles 1:2, 10)? Perhaps. The author certainly reminds us that nations rise and fall, that rulers come and go, that "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

But that is not the total message of the book, for the author also acknowledges that the Maccabees had been the family through whom God had wrought deliverance in Israel. He emphasizes that God does act faithfully to the people if they attempt to follow God’s commandments. Torah faithfulness, a longing to serve God at the Temple and at the place God has chosen, vibrates throughout the book. One may question whether today one should follow the same war tactics as Judas and his brothers did; one may be dismayed at the open acceptance of ethnic cleansing as a means to follow God’s commandments. But one cannot question whether the Maccabees fought according to their own convictions to keep alive the worship of the God of Israel. For that, their name will be remembered.


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