Scattered Ramblings on II Maccabees

For my write up today on The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume Two: The Hellenistic Age, I’ll focus on the book of II Maccabees.

On pages 294-295, Jonathan Goldstein defines a difference between I Maccabees and II Maccabees:

“The author of I Maccabees was an ardent partisan of the Hasmoneans.  He believed that the Hasmonean dynasty was the stock to whom God had granted the privilege of bringing permanent victory to the Chosen People.  Jason of Cyrene, the author of the lost work of which the history in 2 Maccabees is an abridgement, approved of only one Hasmonean, Judas Maccabeus.  As viewed by Jason, the others were incompetent and even wicked.”

On page 529, Paul Hanson states: “A whole group of writings from the period after the Seleucid persecutions is characterized by fidelity to the Torah and orthodoxy in regard to Temple praxis, but is open in varying degrees to Hellenistic forms of expression.  In contrast to Sirach and I Maccabees, this group of writings stands at a greater distance from Sadducean thought, and in closer relation to the mileau of the Pharisees, sometimes explicitly defending their doctrines (for example, resurrection) against the criticism of the Sadducees (compare 2 Maccabees and the Psalms of Solomon).”  My impression of what Hanson is saying is that II Maccabees is closely related to the Pharisees’ mileau, for II Maccabees defends the resurrection.

On page 427, Mathias Delcor goes into the teaching of II Maccabees.  Whereas I Maccabees presents the Hasmonean Mattathias allowing Jews to defend themselves on the Sabbath, II Maccabees affirm that “the holy Law (6:23, 28) cannot be transgressed, even in the interests of legitimate self-defense (5:25; 6:6; 15:3).”  In II Maccabees, heavenly forces take part in the Maccabean struggle, whereas I Maccabees is less extravagant when discussing heavenly intervention.  I wonder how the Sabbath absolutism squares with the Pharisees, for even Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees allowed people to lift an ox from a ditch on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5), and so at least those Pharisees were not absolutist.

Delcor also states the following about II Maccabees’ teaching:

“The issue in the struggle is in fact one not of this world.  It could be said that what Judas is working toward is the enjoyment of the kingdom of the saints, of which Daniel speaks.  The enjoyment of the good things God has promised is transferred to another world by belief in the resurrection (7:14, 36).  But, while awaiting the achievement of this, all the saints work together for the coming of the kingdom.  Prayer, ritual sacrifice, and the willing sacrifice of one’s own life acquire a significance which is not limited to the present generation (7:32-38; 12:39-45; 15:11-16).”

Is Delcor’s point that II Maccabees is saying that Judas is helping to usher in the eschatological Kingdom of God, or merely that the Jews’ good deeds will receive rewards in the afterlife?  If it’s the former, then how would II Maccabees account for the failure of the Kingdom of God to arrive in the time of Judas?  In terms of the date of II Maccabees, the book ends with the death of the Seleucid general Nicanor, with Judas still being alive.  So was the book written before the death of Judas in battle?  The problem here, for Delcor, is that the book claims to be about Judas and his brothers, and so Delcor thinks that there must be more to II Maccabees than has survived—-presumably narrating the events after the time of Judas.  Delcor dates II Maccabees “towards the end of the second century B.C.E., but earlier than I Maccabees” (page 463), which is after the death of Judas (in 160 B.C.E.).  Was Jason (on whose account II Maccabees was based) a Pharisee?  According to Delcor, we do not know much about Jason, except that “he was a member of the Jewish community in Cyrenaica”, which is in Lybia.  But perhaps II Maccabees came to be prominent in Pharisaic circles, whether or not Jason was a Pharisee.

Delcor states that the rabbis did not care for the Hasmoneans, for the Pharisees opposed John Hyrcanus, and Alexander Janneus crucified many Pharisees.  Hyrcanus ruled in the end of the second century B.C.E., which is when Delcor dates II Maccabees.  That could explain why II Maccabees dislikes the Hasmoneans, with the lone exception of Judas the Maccabee.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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