Sunday, December 7
1 Maccabees 3: Judas Maccabeus continued the revolutionary activities of his father (verses 1-6), becoming the scourge of the Seleucid kings (verse 7): Antiochus IV Epiphanes (verse 27), Antiochus V Eupater (6:28), Demetrius I Soter (8:31; 9:1). Like Jephthah (Judges 11:3), David (1 Samuel 22:1-2), and Romulus (Plutarch, "Romulus" 7.1; 9.2), he became the rallying center for many oppressed and desperate men (verse 8), and his reputation spread very far (verse 9), certainly to Rome (verse 26; 8:20).
It was clearly the intention of Maccabeus to isolate Jerusalem, in order to cut off the citadel of Acra from its supply line from Antioch. The next three battles represent attempts by the Seleucid forces to relieve that siege. The first effort was made by Apollonius, a general and the governor of Samaria (Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.5, ¤ 261, 264; 12.7.1, ¤ 287). Maccabeus completely routed this enemy (verses 10-11). Like David with respect to Goliath (1 Samuel 17:51; 21:9), he took the sword of Apollonius as his own (verse 12).
When word of the defeat of Apollonius reached Seron, the Seleucid commander of Coele-Syria, he took steps to suppress the Maccabean rebellion. This was the second Seleucid attempt to relieve the siege of the Acra. Judas Maccabeus attacked this force as it was marching up the steep ascent at Beth-Horon and defeated it (verses 13-26). Maccabeus was able to do this because of the aid of "heaven" (verses 18-19). We observe here that the word "heaven" is habitually employed by the author of 1 Maccabees in order to avoid using the names "God" and "Lord"; indeed, like the author of the Hebrew text of Esther, he never uses these divine names in this book.
Humanly speaking, the victories of Maccabeus were rendered possible in no small part by other geopolitical developments of the day. First, Antiochus IV was obliged to pay an annual tribute to Rome, an obligation that tended to keep him low on funds. Second, he had his hands full with military threats to the east, from the Armenians and the Parthians. His revenues were habitually strained (verses 27-31).
Unable to deal personally with Maccabeus because of his larger military responsibilities to the east, Antiochus appointed Lysias his vice-regent over the western half of the Fertile Crescent (verse 32) and the caretaker of his son, the crown prince, Antiochus V Eupater (verse 33), at that time only seven years old. Beginning in the year 165 (verse 37), therefore, Maccabeus would have to deal with Lysias, who took over the command of one half of the Seleucid army (verses 34,37).
In a third attempt to relieve the Maccabean siege of the Acra at Jerusalem, Lysias promptly dispatched this force against Maccabeus (verses 38-40). It camped at Emmaus, "which was seven miles from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:13), to the northwest. Slave merchants were invited to the camp (verse 41; 2 Maccabees 8:1-11) with the assurance that there would be plenty of captured Jews for the international slave trade. The revenues from these transactions would be used to pay the army and the annual tribute to Rome.
Because the Seleucid forces still held the citadel in Jerusalem (verse 45; cf. 1:36), Maccabeus gathered his opposing army at Mizpah, eight miles north of Jerusalem and to the east of the enemy (verse 46). Here they prayed "to heaven" (verse 50).
Following the procedures outlined in Deuteronomy 20:5-8), Maccabeus diminished his army (verse 56) and moved it southwest, to stand between Emmaus and Jerusalem (verse 57). Here they awaited "the will of heaven" (verse 60).
Monday, December 8
1 Maccabees 4: The JewsÕ move to the south of Emmaus had outfoxed the Seleucid generals. One of them, Gorgias, had taken a large force and, guided by scouts from the Acra in Jerusalem, marched east to Mizpah, where he believed Maccabeus to be encamped (verse 1-5). This seriously diminished the Seleucid forces at Emmaus.
At daybreak Maccabeus, offers an exhortation that recalled a similar dilemma when the forces of Moses had been outnumbered by Pharaoh at the Red Sea (verses 8-11). Maccabeus then led his force of three thousand northward on the Seleucid camp at Emmaus. They soundly defeated the enemy, which fled to Gezer (Gazara) and other ancient Philistine cities near the coast (15). To keep his force intact, and because the Sabbath was imminent (cf. 2 Maccabees 8:25-26), Maccabeus restrained his army from pursuing them (verse 18). Instead, he took his force to Emmaus itself, to await the return of Gorgias from Mizpah. Gorgias, having marched his exhausted men through the night, all the way to Mizpah, only to discover that Maccabeus was not there, now turned back and marched back west to Emmaus. There they saw the smoke rising from their burning camp and fled westward to join the other remnants of the Seleucid army in Philistine territory.
Maccabeus and his men then despoiled the camp at Emmaus, including the money and resources of the slave merchants who had come there to purchase them as captives (verse 23)!
The defeated Seleucids returned to Antioch to break the bad news to Lysias (verse 26), who decided to try his luck again the next year, 164 B.C. This time, avoiding the narrow mountain passes that had already thrice been the undoing of his forces, Lysias brought his forces down the coastal plain to Marisa. This coastal plain was inhabited mainly by Sidonians who had moved down from the north and Idumeans who had moved up from the south. When he reached Marisa, Lysias hooked back northeast to Beth-Zur (modern Khirbet et-Tubeiqah), some twenty miles south of Jerusalem (verse 29). Here was a Jewish fortress guarding the southern passes of the Holy Land against the Idumeans (that is, the Edomites). Lysias proceeded to invest this fortress.
Maccabeus came with ten thousand troops to relieve the siege (2 Maccabees 11:5-7), but this was hardly a force large enough for the task. Greatly outnumbered, Maccabeus prayed, recalling in his prayer the great odds faced by David and Jonathan in days of old (verses 30-33). The prayer was efficacious, and Lysias suffered a great defeat (verse 34). He returned to Antioch, raised a larger army (verse 35), and resolved to attack Maccabeus again at a later date (as he will do in 6:31).
Meanwhile, the author of 1 Maccabees, skipping other events of 164 (such as the death of Antiochus IV), jumps ahead to December of that year, to narrate the purification (verses 36-51) and rededication (verses 52-61) of the Temple. While this work was being done, it was necessary to hold at bay the Seleucid forces who still occupied the Acra in Jerusalem (verse 41). While much of the year must have been occupied with the TempleÕs purification, the rededication itself took place on December 14, 164 B.C. (verse 52), and three days later, on the third anniversary of the TempleÕs defilement, the first sacrifices were offered on the new altar (verses 53-54; Josephus, Antiquities 12.7.6, ¤ 319).
Judas Maccabeus then decreed an annual feast to commemorate this dedication of the Temple (verse 59). Like the feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 13:33-36) and HezechiahÕs dedication (2 Chronicles 29:17), this feast would last for eight days. It is traditionally called "Dedication," or Hanukkah, and was well known to Jesus (cf. John 10:22).
This year Hanukkah begins on Saturday of next week, the 20th of December, the day on which we finish reading 1 Maccabees.
Tuesday, December 9
1 Maccabees 5: To this chapter there are narrative parallels in 2 Maccabees 8:30-33; 10:14-23; 12:2-45.
Although back in Antioch Lysias, still recovering from his defeat, was willing to leave the Jews unmolested for the time being, Gorgias and some other officials were less reluctant to press their claims, or at least were glad to look the other way when local popular resentment against the Jews flared up. Recent Jewish victories were prompting local gentiles to oppress the Jewish minorities who lived among them. (This reaction must sound familiar to modern ears. Sometimes it seems that every Jew in the whole world is held responsible for every political decision and every military action in the Holy Land.)
Against these persecutions Maccabeus and his men fought back. These battles included incursions against the Idumeans (verses 3-5, 65), the Ammonites (verses 6-8), the Gileadites (verses 9-13,24-54), the Phoenicians and other gentiles in Galilee (verses 13-23) and Philistia (verses 55-64,66,68). These battles, which apparently took place in 163 B.C., eventually grew into a true war for independence.
The mention of defense against the Idumeans at the end of the previous chapter prepared for the opening narrative of this chapter (verses 3-5). This people, forced from their own traditional territory by the incursions of the Nabateans, were settled in several places in the Holy Land. One of these was the city of Acrabetene. In response to the revolutionary activities of Judas Maccabeus, these Idumeans began to oppress the Jewish minority that lived among them. He was overly successful, as it were, even assimilating these descendants of Esau; from this group would eventually emerge Herod the Great, who would become the king of the Jews themselves.
Although the actual sequence of these battles is difficult to determine, it does seem that some of them took place simultaneously. Thus, it appears that while Judas Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan took some of the Jewish forces across the Jordan to attack the Gileadites (verse 24), their brother Simon undertook the attacks in Galilee (verse 17). While these two developments were in progress, Maccabeus left two lieutenants, Joseph and Azarias, in charge of the forces in Judea, warning them not to make any further attacks in his absence (verses 18-19). These two, however, emulating the deeds of Maccabeus and his brothers, disobeyed (verses 56-58,67), with disastrous results (verses 59-61).
Wednesday, December 10
1 Maccabees 6: The author of this book is narrating events that happened in different places, sometimes quite far apart. News of these events required a certain amount of time to reach elsewhere. Consequently, in 1 Maccabees there is a certain tendency to narrate events, not when they happened, but when news of them reached back home. In this respect the order of narrative tends to differ from that in 2 Maccabees, where the stories are more likely to be told in the order in which they happened.
For example, take the purging and rededication of the Temple in 164. After defeating the forces of Lysias that year (1 Maccabees 4), Maccabeus promptly undertook the purification of the Temple precincts. That process required several months, and, as we saw, the Temple was not rededicated until December of 164. In order to keep the whole story intact, however, the author told all of it at once, skipping over other things that happened during that year. Then he went on, in chapter 5, to tell of several battles that took place in the ensuing year. By the end of that chapter, then, we have reached, more or less, the end of the year 163 B.C.
Now, however, at the beginning of the present chapter, the author jumps back to tell of things that happened in distant Persia in the autumn of the year 164 B.C., specifically the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Because of the time lapse required for that news to reach western Syria, however, this narrative backtracking is entirely reasonable. It reflects the actual experience of those about whom he is writing. Those living in western Syria may not have learned the news until much later. Down in Jerusalem they may not have learned it until well into 163. Hence, the author does not relate that event until after telling the other things that happened in 163, which formed the substance of the previous chapter.
Moreover, not until the death of Antiochus IV became known back in Antioch did the throne legally pass to his son, Antiochus V Eupater, who was still a small boy. This reign probably did not start until well into 163.
The death of Antiochus IV (verse 16) is also narrated by Polybius (31.9). The king had arrived at Ecbatana when he learned of the serious setbacks sustained by the Seleucid forces at the hand of Maccabeus (verses 5-11; 2 Maccabees 9:3). This city is identical with Aspanda, also known as Isfahan. Polybius tells us that Antiochus died at Tabae, which is near Isfahan.
Just before his death Antiochus deputed a certain Philip to return to Antioch, bearing the news of his death, and with the charge to raise his son (verses 14-15). Philip will not arrive until the end of this chapter, when it will become clear that Philip believed himself authorized to assume vice-regency in place of Lysias (verses 55-56,63; 2 Maccabees 13:23; Josephus, Antiquities 12.9.7, ¤386). However, long before Philip arrives back in Antioch with the army, Lysias has placed Antiochus V Eupater on the throne.
Perhaps it was some rumor of these events, with their suggested promise of political instability, that prompted Judas Maccabeus to begin new initiatives against the Seleucid forces. Beginning on October 11, 163 (a year after Antiochus IV died), he began a siege of the Acra fortress in Jerusalem that lasted until September 29, 162 (verses 18-19). Hard pressed by Maccabeus, the forces in the Acra, along with some renegade Jews, appealed to Lysias to send military help from Antioch (verses 21-27).
This appeal led to LysiasÕs second campaign against Maccabeus. His seriousness in this effort was evident by his procurement of mercenaries, battle elephants, and chariots (verse 29). As before, he marched south along the coastal road, where the chariots and elephants could be deployed at their best on level ground. He then turned his forces northeast, as earlier, to establish a siege at Beth-zur. Such a siege would be particularly effective at that time, because it was a sabbatical year when the fields lay fallow (verses 49,53; cf. Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:3-7). Consequently, there would be not ample reserves of food.
Making foray by night, Maccabeus came around behind the forces of Lysias at Modin, but his endeavor to press his advantage by attacking Beth-Zechariah proved disastrous. His army was no match for the elephant force and the chariots on level ground. Meanwhile, LysiasÕs army, to prepare the elephants for battle, had intoxicated them with the fermenting pulse of grapes and mulberries (verses 31-34). The most memorable scene in this battle concerned Eliezer Avaran, the brother of Maccabeus, who died while slaying an elephant (verses 40-46). Maccabeus, soundly routed, withdrew to the fortified Temple in Jerusalem (verses 47-48).
Deprived of food, the Jewish forces at Beth-zur surrendered (verse 49), permitting Lysias to turn his attention to the army Maccabeus positioned behind the enclosure wall of the fortified Temple. Just as this force was about to fall, word reached Lysias that Philip had returned from Persia to Antioch at the head of a large army (verse 56). He made easy terms for the Jews in the Temple to capitulate, granting them assurances of religious freedom (verses 58-61; 2 Maccabees 11:22-26). Violating his own truce, however, he destroyed the enclosure wall of the Temple before returning to Antioch to face Philip (verse 62).
Thursday, December 11
1 Maccabees 7: The Seleucid kingdom had more than the Jews to worry about. Up till now Maccabeus has been dealing chiefly with Antiochus IV and his vice-regent Lysias. In the present chapter, however, we come to a change of regime.
As we have seen, the young boy Antiochus V Eupater succeeded his father when the latter died in Persia in October of 164 B.C. That succession was much resented by an older brother, Demetrius, who believed that he had a greater claim to the throne. Demetrius, however, was at the time a hostage in Rome (which insisted on maintaining a number of such hostages in order to keep the Seleucid kingdom in line), and the Roman Senate had no intention of letting return to Antioch to push his claims. Instead, the Senate recognized the younger brother, Antiochus V Eupater, as the legitimate king. RomeÕs probable reason for this recognition was the sense that the younger boy would be easier to handle. Rome control over the eastern part of the Mediterranean at the time was not yet as complete as it would soon become.
In the year 161 Demetrius escaped from Rome and journeyed to Tripoli (verse 1; 2 Maccabees 14:1), where he declared himself the rightful heir to the Seleucid throne. The account of his flight was written by Polybius (312.11-15), who was very much involved in the intrigue of it.
Rather quickly Demetrius received the support of the people and especially of the army. His younger brother and the ministry Lysias were subsequently executed (verses 2-4), and Demetrius I Soter (161-150) assumed the Seleucid throne. Rome, its hands full elsewhere, did not challenge the assumption.
Demetrius did not feel obliged by any treaty made by Lysias, so when he was approached that year by Alcimus, a Jewish priest who wanted to be the high priest in Jerusalem, he was quite open to taking sides against Maccabeus (verse 5). With respect to the office of the high priesthood (the highest office in Judaism, since there was no Jewish king any more), there had been several changes during the years of the Maccabean revolt, and it appears that this Alcimus had become high priest under the truce terms of 163 (2 Maccabees 13:4-8; Josephus, Antiquities 12.9.7, ¤385). During the ensuing two years, nonetheless, Maccabeus had deposed him because of his connivance the earlier defilement of the Temple (2 Maccabees 14:3). Alcimus complains to Demetrius about this (verse 6). Responding to the complaint, Demetrius dispatches the governor Bacchides with an army, to subdue Maccabeus (verse 9)
Some of the Hasidic followers of Maccabeus, deceived into believing the mission of Bacchides and Alcimus to one of peace (verses 10-15), were slaughtered (verse 16).
Establishing his camp at Beth-zaith, Bacchides put Alcimus in charge of the province and returned to Antioch (verses 19-20). Although Alcimus endeavored to advance his authority (verses 21-22), he was resisted by Maccabeus (verses 23-24) and asked for more assistance (verse 25).
In response Demetrius sent out a force under the leadership of Nicanor, who had escaped from Rome with him (Josephus, Antiquities 12.10.4, ¤402). Having been earlier humiliated by the armies of Maccabeus (3:38Ñ4:45; 2 Maccabees 8:8-29), this Nicanor had plenty of reason to hate the Jews (verse 26). Having failed to deceive and capture Maccabeus (verses 27-30), he lost a battle to him at Capharsalama (verses 31-32). (A more elaborate and detailed account of these incidents is available in 2 Maccabees 14.)
After a bitter trip to Jerusalem (verses 33-39), Nicanor pitched his camp at Beth-horon, where he was joined by more Syrian troops (verse 39). Maccabeus, meanwhile, camped seven miles southeast at Adasa (verse 40), where he gave himself to prayer (verses 41-42). Nicanor was killed in the battle at Adasa, where Maccabeus, with only three thousand men, defeated the Seleucid army in March of 160 (verse 43). Until the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70, the day of this Jewish victory over Nicanor was annually celebrated as a feast (verse 49).
Friday, December 12
1 Maccabees 8: Several times in this reading we have had occasion to observe the shadowing presence of Rome, a maritime and military power growing in the west. In the second century before Christ, after its defeat of Carthage in the Second Punic War (218-201), Rome moved to extend and consolidate its gains throughout the Mediterranean world. The author of 1 Maccabees, in order to provide a background and context for the rest of his narrative, especially in order to explain the appeal that Judas Maccabeus made to Rome in 161, now briefly chronicles the some of Roman history in the second century.
Maccabeus was apparently the first to sense an affinity between things Jewish and things Roman (verse 1), an affinity that would in due course find its proper expression in the Christian Church.
After the defeat of the Carthaginian forces in 201, Rome went north and conquered Cisalpine Gaul (verse 2), through which, one recalls, Hannibal had led his army, including his elephants, at the beginning of the Second Punic War. The Romans then came south and took over the mineral wealth of Spain (verse 3), which had thitherto been under the control of Carthage. (Indeed, we remember that Hannibal had first assembled his vast army in Spain, before taking them up into Gaul and over the Alps.) The Romans came east, under Titus Quinctius Flamininus, to defeat Philip V of Macedonia in the Battle of Cynoscephalae in Thessaly in 197. In 168 the Roman general Aemilius Paulus defeated PhilipÕs son, Perseus, at the Battle of Pydna in Macedonia (verse 5).
Coming to the more immediate context of the book, our author speaks of the battles of the Romans against the Seleucids. In 192 Antiochus III had gone into Greece to help the Aetolians against Rome. He was driven out of the Greece the following year, and the Seleucid fleet was crushed by the Romans at Myonnesus in 190. That same year the Romans, under Lucius Scipio, crossed into Asia Minor and further defeated Antiochus at the Battle of Magnesia (verse 6). In the subsequent peace treaty of Apamea in 188 (verse 7), the Seleucid kings were bound to pay annual tribute to Rome and to leave hostages (including the future Antiochus IV) under the guard of the Roman Senate. It was this defeat that inspired the Armenians and Parthians to attack the Seleucid kingdom further east, requiring Antiochus IV to make his fateful journey recorded earlier in this book. All of these events formed the background of the Maccabean history.
In verse 8 one suspects an early textual corruption. Since neither India nor Media were involved in the Treaty of Apamea, it is reasonable to surmise that the text originally referred to "Ionia, Mysia, and Lydia." These lands, all in Asia Minor, were taken from the Seleucids and given to King Eumenes II of Pergamum, who had sided with Rome in the war against Antiochus III.
Greek and Macedonian independence came to an end in 146 when their coalition, the Achaean League, was crushed by the Romans under the leadership of Lucius Mummius. Although that battle did not take place for another 15 years, the author of 1 Maccabees speaks of it here (verses 9-10) in order to complete the theme on which he is engaged. We have observed several instances of this narrative habit in 1 Maccabees.
Judas Maccabeus was impressed, not only by RomeÕs great military prowess (verses 11-13), but also by its politics. Rome was a republic, governed by the Senate and the annual appointment of consuls (verses 14-16). This favorable impression of republican government on the mind of Maccabeus represents our earliest recorded intuition of the now demonstrated compatibility of Biblical religion with democratic political forms.
In 161 these considerations prompted Maccabeus to seek the aid of Rome against the Seleucid overlord (verses 17-20). Rome, receiving his delegation favorably, established its first treaty with the Jews. This treaty (verses 23-30) was preserved on bronze tablets on the Capitoline Hill (Josephus, Antiquities 12.10.6, ¤416). (It is a matter of no little irony that very close to this site still stands the Arch of Titus, erected to memorialize RomeÕs destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.) The chapter closes with menacing words to Demetrius, warning him to keep his hands off the Jews.
Saturday, December 13
1 Maccabees 9: Maccabeus did not live to see the results of his appeal to Rome, because Demetrius, eager to avenge the death of Nicanor (7:43), sent an even larger force against the Jews, and in the ensuring battle Maccabeus perished. (Instead of "Galgala" in verse 2, read "Galilee.") This force began a siege of Jerusalem in May of 160 (verse 3), but its primary intent was to kill or capture Maccabeus. Learning, therefore, that Maccabeus had moved to Eleasa (verse 5), the Seleucid army marched ten miles north to Berea to face him (verse 4). Seeing the approach of this large force, most of the followers of Maccabeus deserted, leaving him with an army of only eight hundred to fight against twenty-two thousand (verse 6).
Maccabeus decided to attack the right and stronger wing of the army that came against him from two sides. It was led by Bacchides himself (verses 11-15). This left his rear vulnerable to the enemyÕs left wing, which closed and killed him (verses 16-18). Bacchides was satisfied with this result, and the body of Maccabeus, recovered by truce (Josephus, Antiquities 12.11.2, ¤432), was buried at Modin (verse 19).
With the loss of Maccabeus the Jewish revolution lapse for a while, but in due course the cause was revived under the leadership of his brother, Jonathan, whose history is narrated in this next part of the book, up to 12:54.
Oppression by apostate Jews with the connivance of the Seleucids, along with a famine, prompted Jonathan to take up again the sword of revolt (verses 23-31). Like Maccabeus earlier, Jonathan led his men into the wilderness, making such incursions against their enemies as seemed necessary (verses 34-42). Ambushed and trapped by Bacchides in the marshes of the Jordan, JonathanÕs army fought back and attained victory (verses 43-49). Bacchides, impressed by JonathanÕs exploits, garrisoned several cities against him (verses 50-53).
In May of 159 the high priest Alcimus tried his hand at liturgical innovation by tearing down that Temple wall which separated the Jews from the Gentiles (verse 54). This was a very significant action, implying a repudiation of the idea that the Jews were called to be a separate and holy people. For this sin, the high priest was punished (verses 55-56). Meanwhile, Bacchides returned to Antioch (verse 57), and two years of calm ensued.
Twice in 157 the foes of Jonathan unsuccessfully plotted his capture (verses 58-67). Bacchides, frustrated by all this, took out his anger on JonathanÕs enemies, who had urged him to undertake such thankless ventures (verses 68-69). Jonathan himself took this as an opportunity to sue for peace; prisoners were exchanged (verses 70-73), and the oppression stopped for five years. During this time new troubles broke out for the Seleucid throne up in Antioch.