Angela Hunt. Judah’s Wife. Bethany House, 2018. See here to buy the book.
Judah’s Wife is Book 2 of Angela Hunt’s The Silent Years series, which is about the years between the events of the Old Testament and the events of the New Testament. Whereas Book 1 was about Cleopatra, Book 2 is about the Maccabean revolt. The “Judah” of the title is Judah the Maccabee, who led the revolt against the Seleucid occupiers of Jerusalem.
Here are some thoughts:
A. Leah in the book is the wife of Judah. For a long time, she is upset with Judah’s participation in the war. She grew up under an abusive father, so she detested violence. She comes to embrace that Judah is fighting for God and the people of Israel, but she had some initial concerns that seemed to be legitimate yet ultimately unaddressed: Judah’s gratuitous slaughter of people and the exultation that he had in warfare.
B. The book itself was rather conflicted in how it handled the Maccabees’ violence. On the one hand, it sought to downplay it or to justify it. In I Maccabees 2:24, the pious priest Mattathias, filled with zeal for God, kills a Jew who is about to sacrifice on a pagan altar. In Hunt’s retelling, that was an accident. And, when Judah is killing Hellenes, he says that he is doing so in self-defense. On the other hand, there are times when the book is honest about the religious motivations for the Maccabees’ violence.
C. The book could have been clearer in the beginning about who the Hasidim were. At the beginning, it seemed to imply that the Hasidim were those devoted to the Law of Moses, which would presumably include the Maccabees. Later, the Hasidim are portrayed as a specific religious group of people, who are distinct from the Maccabees and even disagree with Hasmonean policy. The portrayal of them as a specific group is more consistent with I Maccabees.
D. The Hasidim disagree with Judah’s attempt to form an alliance with the Romans, believing that he should trust in God alone. As far as I can recall, that is not a theme in I-II Maccabees. But it did enhance the book. The Hebrew Bible itself, particularly in the Book of Isaiah, addresses the dilemma of trusting God for security as opposed to making alliances, so it would not be surprising if Judah the Maccabee wrestled with this issue. Moreover, this theme added a foreboding element to the book, as the Romans would be the future occupiers of Israel. It reminded me of the end of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: this looks like a reasonable policy, but are we sure this will end up well?
E. The portrayal of Leah’s father was somewhat contradictory, or so it seemed. On the one hand, at the beginning of the book, he was portrayed as a devout Jew who attended synagogue and observed the Sabbath. On the other hand, he was depicted as a Hellene, one who admired the Greeks and sought to curry their favor. Maybe his religiosity at the beginning was his way of gaining influence with his fellow Jews.
F. Some issues were resolved, and some were not. One woman gained a sense of her purpose. The other struggled to believe in God—-even though she despised the Hellenes—-and, from my recollection, her faith struggle was never resolved.
G. Overall, the Hellenes were depicted negatively. The book may have been better had it explored their position a little more. Some scholars have speculated that some of the Hellenes actually sought to reconcile Hellenistic culture with their understanding of biblical religion (i.e., follow Abraham rather than the Torah, which came later, or treat Zeus as another manifestation of the one true God). There was one positive Gentile character, who had a wry admiration for the Jews. He was refreshing, yet the book made somewhat of a stretch when it depicted him being willing to stick his neck out for the Jews, or to take risks with his own life on their behalf.
H. Related to (G.), the book would have been better had it included the story of II Maccabees 12:40-45, in which Jewish soldiers fighting on the side of the Maccabees are carrying idols with them. Judah suspects that this is the reason that they fell in battle, and he prays for God to forgive them so they can enter a good afterlife. This raises profound theological issues, and it highlights the complex motives of people involved in the conflict.
I. The book ended on a sad, yet hopeful, note. The Books of Maccabees themselves are sad, because the Maccabean protagonists die violently. Hunt, to her credit, does not shy away from that. Whereas the end of the Cleopatra novel had a Breaking Bad series finale feel, the end of Judah’s Wife had an ending of Braveheart feel.
J. Hunt does not include the Hanukkah tradition about the lights that burned for eight nights because it is unhistorical. At the same time, she seems to presume that I Maccabees is more historical than II Maccabees, yet she uses stories from II Maccabees. The story of Antiochus on his deathbed being willing to become a Jew (II Maccabees 9:17) is seen by many scholars as wishful thinking on the part of the author, and its historicity is doubted because there are different stories in I-II Maccabees about how Antiochus died (I Maccabees 1:8-16; II Maccabees 1:13-16; 9:5-27); then there is Daniel 11:45, which, if one accepts that is about Antiochus, presents another scenario of his death. To her credit, Hunt admitted that she sometimes drew from unhistorical stories to enhance the book.
K. Hunt states in the appendix that I-II Maccabees is non-canonical and uninspired. She would have done better to have noted that there are Christian communities that deem the books to be canonical.
Overall, the book is well-written. The search for purpose was an inspiring aspect of this book, as was the portrayal of Judah as a reluctant hero who boldly stepped forward for his people.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.