Sunday, December 14
1 Maccabees 10: Rome, having entered into treaty with the Jews, as we have seen, was apparently losing patience with Demetrius. Consequently, when there arose a rival for the throne at Antioch in 152 (verse 1), a certain Alexander Babas, Rome was favorably disposed. This Alexander, claiming to be the son of Antiochus IV (and therefore half-brother to Demetrius), assumed his alleged fatherÕs surname, Epiphanes. Finding sufficient supporters of his claim, he established himself at Ptolemais and promptly won the favor of the governments of Cappadocia, Pergamum, and Egypt. Everyone knew, after all, that Demetrius himself had come to power only by killing his own younger brother, Antiochus V, only nine years earlier, and he had gained precious few friends since then.
Now Demetrius gathered an army to assault Alexander at Ptolemais (verse 2), and he how found himself in need of the aid of Jonathan, whom he had hitherto treated rather badly (verses 3-5). To encourage the latter to join him in his new crisis, he permitted the Jews to raise an army and released various hostages that were in captivity (verses 6-9). perceiving the political weakness of Demetrius, Jonathan took advantage of the occasion by restoring the defensive works at Jerusalem (verses 10-11), whereupon his local enemies, sensing the danger to themselves, took to their heels (verses 12-13).
Familiar with the geopolitical dynamics of Coele-Syria, Alexander surmised that he could win Jonathan to his own side. His efforts at diplomacy in this matter were considerable (verses 15-17); he began by addressing Jonathan as "brother" (verse 18), appointing him high priest in place of Alcimus (verse 20). Accordingly, Jonathan assumed the high priesthood at Jerusalem in October of 151 (verse 21).
This may have been the occasion at which Jonathan lost the support of some of the Hasidim. These latter, who had joined the Jewish revolutionary movement earlier and had continued in their support of Jonathan, regarded the long-deposed and exiled Onias V as the legitimate high priest. It appears that JonathanÕs assumption of the high priesthood, to the neglect of that earlier claimant, prompted some of them their support of Jonathan and to separate themselves from the political life of most Palestinian Jews. These eventually became known as the Essenes, spoken of by both Philo and Josephus, and many of their writings, discovered in the twentieth century, form the corpus often referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Word of AlexanderÕs diplomatic overtures to Jonathan had to reach the ears of Demetrius, who was mindful of the many reasons why Jonathan might favorably receive them. He quickly took diplomatic steps of his own (verses 22-25). Pretending not to know that JonathanÕs loyalties already lay with Alexander (verse 26), he promised the Jews tax reductions (verses 29-31), control over the Acra citadel in Jerusalem (verse 32), the further restoration of hostages (verse 33), various revenues from the royal treasury (verses 39-41,44-5), restoration of looted wealth (verse 42), and the right of political sanctuary in the Temple (verse 43).
For their particular irony in this list, two items are especially worthy of notice: (1) Without even mentioning his name, Demetrius tacitly acknowledges JonathanÕs assumption of the high priesthood (verse 32), and (2) some of the promised revenues must come from territory actually held by Alexander (verse 39). That is to say, if Jonathan wants the promised cash, he must turn on Alexander and take it!
Anyway, the effort was wasted. Jonathan and his followers had thrown in their lot with Alexander and were not about to back down (verses 46-47).
In the brief description of the ensuing battle (verses 48-50, it is significant that Alexander, not Demetrius, is called "king" (verse 48). Demetrius died in combat, and the kingdom was transferred to Alexander in 150 B.C. That very year, Alexander took care to establish cordial relationships with Egypt, which had for so long been threatened, and even attacked, by the Seleucids. This, he was determined, would be a new era in the region. Accordingly, he asked for the hand of Cleopatra Thea, the daughter of Pharaoh Ptolemy VI Philometor. Jonathan, the new high priest at Jerusalem, was invited to the wedding and met both of these kings at Ptolemais. He was granted further promotions by Alexander (verses 51-66).
Though Demetrius had perished in the battle of 150, he left a son, Demetrius II, who fled to Crete. This latter returned to claim his fatherÕs throne in 147 (verses 67-68) and appointed Apollonius to be his general and governor in Coele-Syria (verse 69). This is the same Apollonius who had aided the escape of the elder Demetrius from Rome in 161 (Polybius 31.11-15). Knowing Jonathan to be the major supporter of Alexander in the region, Apollonius provoked him to war (verses 70-73). Jonathan, assisted by his brother Simon, defeated these newly arrived forces in a series of battles (verses 74-86) and came to even greater repute at the court of Alexander (verses 88-89).
Monday, December 15
1 Maccabees 11: Ptolemy VI Philometor, notwithstanding his daughterÕs marriage to Alexander, betrayed his friendship, endeavoring to annex some or all of his territory, at least Coele-Syria, to the Egyptian throne (verses 1-3,8,13). Taking advantage of a campaign that required Alexander to be away in Cilicia (verse 14), he made his move on Seleucid territory. He even offered his daughter, already AlexanderÕs wife, in marriage to Demetrius II, the other claimant to the Seleucid crown (verses 9-12). Jonathan, apparently unaware of PtolemyÕs true intend, received him cordially (verses 5-7).
Learning of this perfidy, Alexander reacted swiftly (verse 15), but in the ensuing battle Ptolemy prevailed. Alexander, seeking refuge in Arabia, was murdered (though his small son was taken in as a refugee in Arabia), and his severed head was sent back to Ptolemy (verse 17). The latter, however, wounded in their recent battle, died three days later (verse 18). The garrisons that Ptolemy had posted throughout various cities of Syria, particularly along the coast, were attacked and fled back to Egypt.
These developments, all in 145 B.C., left Demetrius II as the sole active claimant to the Seleucid throne (verse 19). Though he had hardly done anything that would warrant the title, he henceforth called himself Nicator, "the Conqueror." Meanwhile Jonathan, perceiving where the best interests of the Jews lay, at least for a while, made his peace with this "Conqueror."
He considered, however, that this would be a fine time to get rid of the Seleucid citadel in Jerusalem, which the Seleucids had constructed so many years ago and had supplied during all that time (verse 20). He established a siege of the place, there. Confronted on the point by Demetrius II, Jonathan played a bold hand, outwardly submitting to the king, but still deliberately maintaining a siege of the fortress (verses 21-25). This procedure was successful (though not the siege itself), and Jonathan was further honored by Demetrius (verses 26-27). Perhaps the king simply hoped that Jonathan would be a useful ally in the years to come (verses 28-37). It was surely also the case, however, that Demetrius II knew of the recent treaty of friendship between the Jews and Rome.
It was not long before new troubles began brewing. Demetrius II, now that he held the firm the throne at Antioch, decided to cut expenses. Accordingly, he dismissed his regular army, retaining only his Cretan forces and some other island mercenaries (verse 38; Josephus, Antiquities 13.4.9, ¤129). The dismissed troops formed an unruly rabble, ripe for rebellion.
This tense situation was exploited by one Tryphon, a military leader who had several times changed sides during the preceding troubles. He now changed sides again. Aware that the young son of the deceased Alexander was living as a guest in Arabia, he determined to use him in order to foment rebellion and the overthrow of Demetrius (verses 39-40). The name of the young prince was Antiochus.
Even while Tryphon was negotiating these matters, rebellion broke out at Antioch, and Demetrius II sought the help of Jonathan in suppressing it. The Jewish contingent sent to Antioch for that purpose joined with the Cretans and other mercenaries to win the day for the cause of Demetrius (verses 43-51).
In return for this favor, Demetrius promised to close down the Seleucid citadel in Jerusalem and to remove other garrisoned forces throughout Judea (41-42). Alas, he reneged on that promise and also backed away from his earlier pledge to reduce taxes (verses 52-53; Josephus, Antiquities 13.5.3, ¤143).
Growing impatient with Demetrius, Jonathan decided to throw in his lot with the rebellion of Tryphon. The latter, winning over the masses of the army that Demetrius had dismissed, announced the new king, Antiochus VI Epiphanes Dionysius, and Jonathan determined to join in this new venture (verses 54-59). He knew, of course, that he would have to face the wrath of Demetrius, and he proceeded to raise an army to meet him (verses 60-62). He defeated the forces of Demetrius in a very dangerous and close battle in 144 B.C. (verses 63-74).
Tuesday, December 16
1 Maccabees 12: Since Sparta had not been part of the Greek confederation (Achaean League) defeated by the Romans in 146 (cf. notes on 8:9-10), this city state in the Peloponnesus rose to a new prominence in the eastern end of the Mediterranean basin after that battle. Now, two years later, Jonathan determined that Sparta would be a good friend for the Jews to have, so thither he sent messengers to make the proper overtures for this purpose (verses 2,5-23; Josephus, Antiquities 12.4.10, ¤225-227; 13.5.8, ¤167).
The Arius and Onias referenced in JonathanÕs message to Sparta are King Arius I of Sparta (309-265) and the Jewish high priest Onias I. The earlier correspondence referenced in this message to the Spartans, therefore, is to be dated about 300 B.C. Its preservation in this letter of 144 bears strong testimony to the ancient maintenance of official archives. (There are several similar examples of this in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.)
The surprising ascription of Abrahamic lineage to the Spartans, making them blood relatives of the Jews (verse 21), was apparently accepted by the Spartans at face value (cf. their response in 14:20).
The same delegation that Jonathan sent to Sparta also journey to Rome, because he had in mind to renew those friendly relations with Rome that his brother, Judas Maccabeus, had initiated (verses 1,3). The Roman senate, nourishing its own designs for the future of the Middle East, responded favorably (verse 4).
The context for JonathanÕs diplomatic missions is provided in verses 24-34. The military commanders of Demetrius II, rankle by their recent defeat at JonathanÕs hands (11:11:24-38),came against him with a superior force. He and his brother Simon, however, thoroughly routed them.
Late in 144, Jonathan, still irked by that garrisoned Seleucid fortress in Jerusalem, determined to isolate it from the rest of the city (and prevent its provisioning) by the erection of a large earth mound (verses 35-36). This project became part of a larger program of fortifications, in both Jerusalem and the rest of Judea (verses 37-38).
Meanwhile, Tryphon, who had contrived to bring Antiochus VI to the throne only months earlier (11:38-40), was nourishing yet higher personal ambitions. These included the assassination of the young king (verse 39). Knowing that Jonathan would honor the pledge of support that he had given the young king, Tryphon decided that Jonathan must be eliminated from the geopolitical scene (verse 46). He deceived the latter into a meeting where Jonathan was taken prisoner and his companions were slain (verses 40-48).
Tryphon presumed that the Jews, thus bereft of their leader, would be helpless to resist (verse 53). In addition, the Jews believed Jonathan himself to have been slain (verse 52). All things weighed, the year 144 ended badly.
Wednesday, December 17
1 Maccabees 13: All of Simon ThassiÕs brothers are now dead or captured: John (9:36,42), Eliezer (6:46), Jonathan (12:52, and Judas Maccabeus (9:18). In this chapter he succeeds Jonathan in the high priesthood and assumes the leadership of the Jewish people. Moreover, because of the steady deterioration of the Seleucid empire, his leadership would prove to be the most successful among the sons of Mathathias.
There were now (142 B.C.) two factions vying for the throne of the Seleucids, one led by Demetrius II and the other by the very young Antiochus VI. Moreover, Tryphon, a chief general of the latter, was in rebellion against him. This de fact created three factions. Each of these factions controlled a certain amount of territory and population within the large Seleucid empire.
As the preceding chapter closed, Tryphon prepared to attack the Jewish forces still loyal to Antiochus VI. Simon determined to act quickly, in advance of that expected assault (verses 1-2). Having rallied his Jewish forces with an exhortation that reminded them of their purpose and recent history (verses 3-6), Simon was promptly chosen as their new leader (verses 7-9).
Simon quickly fortified Jerusalem (verse 10) and placed a garrison at Joppa on the coast (verse 11; Josephus, Antiquities 13.6.4, ¤202). Tryphon, holding Jonathan as a captive, made his move (verse 12). He first demanded and received a ransom for Jonathan, and then defaulted on the arrangement (verses 15-19). He next moved toward Jerusalem.
Since SimonÕs forces, camped at Adida (verse 13), blocked the direct northern and western accesses to Jerusalem, Tryphon attempted the same fishhook approach that we have seen two other times in this book (4:29; 6:31). He came down the coastal plain and then, his army positioned southwest of the city, he moved up northeast to hit the city from the south. This time, however, Simon had perceived his plan and was ready for him. He moved his own forces south to Adara, four miles southwest of Hebron (verse 20). Tryphon was stymied, as Simon always managed to maneuvered his force so as to stand between him and Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, things were growing desperate for the garrison in the citadel at Jerusalem, which was loyal to the Seleucid throne. It was long blockaded by the retaining mound that Jonathan had earlier raised around them (12:36), and now a heavy snow deprived it of help by TryphonÕs army (verse 22). The latter, now completely frustrated, murdered Jonathan and ended the campaign (verses 23-24).
Simon, recovering the body of Jonathan, placed in an impressive family tomb that he had constructed at Modin (verses 25-30; Josephus, Antiquities 13.6.6, ¤211-212). Writing nearly five centuries later, Eusebius of Caesarea said that portions of that memorial were still extant.
With respect to the events narrated in the rest of this chapter, and taking into consideration the treatment of these events in Josephus (Antiquities 13.7.1, ¤218), Livy (Perichoae 55), and Diodoros (Historical Library 33.29), the following sequence seems reasonable:
First, Antiochus VI was deposed by Tryphon in 142, after he returned from his unsuccessful efforts to attack Jerusalem.
Second, in the following year, the Jews, now reconciled to Demetrius II (verses 34-41), finally captured the Seleucid citadel in Jerusalem (49-50). Simon entered the citadel on June 4, 141. It had stood impregnable since the year 167.
Third, in 140 Demetrius II invaded Media, where he was captured in 139 (14:1-3).
Fourth, Trypho, seeing no adult rival to his ambitions, corrupted the physicians of the young Antiochus VI (only ten years old) to poison him, whereupon he openly claimed the Seleucid throne (verses 31-32).
After his driving off of Tryphon in 142, Simon became not only the JewsÕ high priest, but also their general (strategos) and governor (hegoumenos) (verse 41). Allying himself with Demetrius II once again, and taking advantage of the ensuing confusion throughout the Seleucid territory, he began a new era in Jewish history. The chapterÕs final verse introduces SimonÕs son, John Hyrcanus, destined to be one of the most famous names in that history.
Thursday, December 18
1 Maccabees 14: Well to the east of the events we have been considering, King Mithridates I of the Parthians (known as Arsaces VI [171-138] in his own family dynasty) had invaded Seleucid territory, including Babylonia. Accordingly, Demetrius II began a counterattack in 140. Though originally successful in this endeavor, Demetrius was taken captive by the emissaries of Arsaces during an armistice in 139 (verses 1-3). He would be kept as a respected prisoner for the next decade, returning from captivity in 129 but assassinated four years later.
Meanwhile, back in Judea, Simon, consolidating his gains (verses 4,8-13), built up the port of Joppa for international trade (verse 5), extended the borders of his rule (verses 6-7), established justice (verse (14), provided for the worship in the Temple (verse 15), and renewed the treaties with Rome and Sparta (verses 16-24). An official decree expressed these accomplishments (verses 25-49). The date of this decree was September 14, 140 B.C. (verse 27).
Friday, December 19
1 Maccabees 15: With the removal of Demetrius II from the scene for the next ten years, there now appears his brother, Antiochus VII (139-129). This Antiochus has not been mentioned before, because his father, Demetrius I, had sent the young man to live elsewhere, chiefly Pamphylia and Rhodes, in order to keep him safe during what was (it should be obvious by now) a very dangerous and unsettled period.
The idea of his return apparently came to him from his sister-in-law, Cleopatra Thea, who wanted him to marry her and carry on the dynasty. For those of our readers who are keeping score, let us mention that this would be CleopatraÕs third marriage (cf. 10:7-58; 11:12).
Cleopatra was making other preparations for his return. She managed to gain the loyalty of some of TryphonÕs army, and these forces she put at the disposal of Antiochus VII. With these, along with mercenaries from elsewhere, Antiochus defeated Tryphon (verse 10; Josephus, Antiquities 13.7.1-2, ¤221,223) and then besieged him at the coastal city of Dor, south of Mount Carmel (verses 11-14).
It was at this point that the Roman legate arrived (verse 15), bearing a letter from the consul, Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus, a letter addressed first of all to Pharaoh Ptolemy VIII (verse 16) but also to a much larger group (verses 22-23). This letter (verses 17-21) described the special respect with which the Romans regarded Simon and the Jews.
Did this letter anger Antiochus VII? One wonders, in view of what then ensued. Antiochus rebuffed the soldiers and other help that Simon sent to him at the siege of Dor (verses 25-26) and then proceeded to break faith with him about their earlier agreements (28-32). In spite of SimonÕs protestation and conciliatory remarks (verses 33-35), the Seleucid court remained resolute (verse 36).
The wily Tryphon, while all this was going on, made his escape from Dor by ship and sailed to Orthosia (verse 37). He would eventually be apprehended at Apamea and put to death (Josephus, Antiquities 13.7.2, ¤224).
Meanwhile, the new Seleucid regime, confident of its power and ability to do so, prepared further to harass Simon and the Jews (verses 38-41).
Saturday, December 20
1 Maccabees 16: Simon, who had been preceded in the high priesthood by two of his younger brothers, was about sixty years old (verse 3), so he decided to appoint two of his sons, Judas (perhaps named after his uncle Maccabeus) and John Hyrcanus, to lead the Jewish army against the Seleucid enemies. In the ensuring battle (verses 4-8), which was won by the Jews, Judas was wounded (verse 9). The defeated Seleucids fled southward, toward the Gaza Strip, where John completed the rout (verse 10).
Now we hear of another Ptolemy, this one a captain and son-in-law to Simon (verses 11-12), who had big ambitions and devious plans of his own (verse 13). In September of 134 B.C. he invited his father-in-law and two of his brothers-in-law, Judas (now recovered from his wounds) and Mathathias (named for his grandfather), to visit him at the fortress of Dok, some five miles northwest of Jericho. There he murdered all three (verse 16).
Knowing that he would now have to face the avenging wrath of John Hyrcanus, Ptolemy appealed for help from Antiochus VII and various Jewish military leaders whom he thought he could win over to his cause (verse 18). He likewise dispatched a band to assassinate John Hyrcanus, but the latter, being warned (verse 21), was ready and turned the tables on them (verse 22).
This book thus ends with the beginning of the high priesthood of John Hyrcanus in the autumn of 134 B.C. (verses 23-24). It is summarized in a style reminiscent of the Books of Kings.