1) Now Gorgias took five thousand infantry and a thousand
picked cavalry, and this detachment set out at night 2) in order to fall upon the camp of the
Jews in a surprise attack. Some from the citadel were his guides.
Citadel”, as you will remember, is Jerusalem’s fortress, garrisoned and
fortified as a military hub for Antiochus.
To the Jewish perspective, it was a bit like Minas Anor transformed into
3) Judas heard of it and himself set out
with his soldiers to attack the king’s army at Emmaus 4) while these forces were still
scattered away from the camp.
COMMENTARY: So one side’s would-be surprise attack
becomes the mask for the other side’s surprise attack! And how did Judas hear of it in the first place,
I wonder? Could it be that not all of
those in “The Citadel” were on the side of the Greeks?
5) During the night Gorgias came into the camp of Judas,
and found no one there; so he sought them in the mountains, saying, “They are
fleeing from us.”
nice, egotistical conclusion! Which
leads to wearing his men out clambering up and down slopes, in full armor,
poking into every nook and cranny, all night long.
6) But at daybreak Judas appeared in the
plain with three thousand men; furthermore they lacked the helmets and swords
doesn’t say that they had no helmets or swords, but they didn’t have as many as
they wanted. In situations like this a
guerilla force hopes to arm itself off
of the enemy (and in fact Che Guevara, in his book on guerilla warfare, details
how those with few arms can win more weapons for their unarmed comrades with
every kill, and they in turn can get more arms, etc.) In any case, Judas isn’t where the enemy
expected, he’s not surprised, and although ill-equipped, his men aren’t the
7) They saw the army of the Gentiles, strong, breastplated, and flanked with cavalry, and
made up of experienced soldiers.
of course, is the polite word for non-Jews.
In any case, pointing out the breastplates means that Judas’s force
probably didn’t have many of those, either.
This is one of those moments where the Jewish forces could’ve gotten
demoralized quickly. And once you’ve
lost morale, weak or strong, you’ve lost the battle. So Judas has to bolster them up in a
hurry. And as you will see, he delivers.
said to the men with him: “Do not fear their numbers or dread their attack. 9) Remember how our ancestors were saved
in the Red Sea, when Pharaoh pursued them with an army.
COMMENTARY: For those of you not raised in the Abramic
Traditions, this refers to a time when the Jews were fleeing slavery in
Egypt. The Pharaoh of the time sent an
army to stop them. Then Moses, their
prophet-leader, called on God to save them and struck the sea with his
snake-staff (a staff that could, at his will, become a snake.) The waves parted and the people fled on land
between two walls of water. The chariots
of Pharaoh followed, but as soon as the last Jew reached the other shore the
waves closed again and drowned the pursuing army.
There has been some dispute as to where this happened, or whether it was
actually the Red Sea or the Reed Sea (a marshy area elsewhere) But there is a rock ridge in the Red Sea that
powerful winds sometimes can bare. Even
if this was what happened, it would still be a miracle of timing; that the
waves parted precisely when the Children of Israel were trapped on that beach,
and that they closed again precisely when the army took off after them. I have seen plenty enough miracles of timing
to know that God likes to work this way.
now let us cry to Heaven in the hope that he will favor us, remember the
covenant with our ancestors, and destroy this army before us today. 11) All the Gentiles shall know that there is One who redeems
and delivers Israel.”
the Bible one sees a recurring theme of God letting things get really nerve-wrackingly
close to disaster before stepping in spectacularly at the last minute, so that
everyone can see clearly Who’s responsible for the rescue. And I’ve seen things work out that way time
and again in everyday life. On the one
hand, I consider it one of God’s most annoying habits (I might as well say it;
He knows what I’m thinking anyway.) On
the other hand, it does inspire me to hold on when no help seems forthcoming,
out of long experience with God’s brinkmanship.
And people with hope can survive much more, much longer, than people
12) When the foreigners looked up and saw
them marching toward them, 13)
they came out of their camp for battle. The men with
Judas blew the trumpet, and 14)
joined the battle. They crushed the Gentiles, who fled
toward the plain. 15) Their whole rear
guard fell by the sword, and they were pursued as far as Gazara and the plains of Idumaea, to Azotus and Jamnia.
About three thousand of their men fell.
five miles northwest of Emmaus—not usually a big deal in terms of distance, but
quite a jog if you’re fleeing for your life in a heavy breastplate after a
night of clambering all over mountains looking for guerillas. Azotus, AKA Ashdod, is in the southwest,
Jamnia (Jabneel) is due west. In other words,
they broke ranks and scattered every which way but east where the Maccabees
16) When Judas and the army returned from
the pursuit, 17) he said to the
people: “Do not be greedy for plunder; for there is a fight ahead of us, 18) and Gorgias and his army are near us on the mountain.
But now stand firm against our enemies and fight them. Afterward you can freely
take the plunder.”
he’d allow them to grab swords and helmets, but nothing more than they need to
finish the job, till they finish what they started. Considering how heavy gold and silver can be,
he advises them well.
19) As Judas was finishing this speech, a
detachment appeared, looking down
from the mountain.
portion of an army separated off to do a specific task. In this case these were probably the last of
those looking for rebels in the mountains.
Remember, they had no means of communication with the rest of the army,
and the mountains would have muffled the sound of battle.
20) They saw that their army had been put
to flight and their camp was burning. The smoke they saw revealed what had
21) When they realized this, they
completely lost heart; and when they also saw the army of Judas in the plain
ready to attack, 22) they all fled to
the land of the foreigners.
you lose morale, your strength doesn’t matter anymore. “Land of the Foreigners” refers to Philistine
23) Then Judas went back to plunder the
camp, and they took much gold and silver, cloth dyed blue and marine purple,
and great treasure.
blue and Royal Purple are called that because only kings could afford them (and
eventually sumptuary laws codified into law for a time that only kings should afford them.) It’s also called marine purple because it
comes from the murex, an aquatic snail.
The process of extracting dye from snails was so carefully guarded a
secret that people are still trying to discover the precise technique.
24) As they returned, they were singing
hymns and glorifying Heaven, “who is good, whose mercy endures forever.” 25) Thus Israel experienced a
great deliverance that day.
generations of subjugation, the old hymns about the mercy of God enduring forever
are starting to have meaning to their ears again.
26 But those of the foreigners who had escaped went and
told Lysias all that had occurred. 27) When he heard it
he was disturbed and discouraged, because things had not turned out in Israel
as he intended and as the king had ordered.
king’s gone off to try and get what he needs to pay off the royal debt that he’s
incurred in this enterprise. It would
not do to have to tell him that Lysias wasted every dime of that debt on
strategies that didn’t work.
28) So the following year he gathered
together sixty thousand picked men and five thousand cavalry, to fight them.
the costs of the campaign continue to mount.
29They came into Idumea and camped at Beth-zur, and Judas met them with ten thousand men.
COMMENTARY: Beth-zur is a strategic point on the border
between Judea and Idumea. The
discrepancy in the sizes of their forces makes this all the more embarrassing.
30) Seeing that the army was strong, he prayed thus:
are you, Savior of Israel, who crushed the attack of the mighty one by the hand
of your servant David and delivered the foreign camp into the hand of Jonathan,
the son of Saul, and his armor-bearer.
this case he’s referring to the aftermath of the famous battle between teenage
David and the giant Goliath, where David struck Goliath down with a
slingshot-strike to the head: a tale of the weak overcoming the strong now
known to people beyond the Abramic religions, and just what his soldiers need
reminded of, in this prayer doing double-duty as a pep-talk for the men. You will see, over and over, that Judas has a
story for every occasion; this reinforces the power of tradition, which is
almost always supported by the power of Story.
This matters because 1 and 2 Maccabees is all about pitching those who
keep their traditions against those who discard them.
(And what stories bolster your traditions?
Do you find strength in them?)
This also gives me a moment to digress for a mini-Deuterocanonical moment. The original Catholic version of the David
and Goliath story, based on the Septuagint manuscripts, described Goliath as
standing four cubits and a span tall--the equivalent of 6’9” (2.06 meters for
you folks in other countries.) That’s
impressive when the average height for men at the time was 5’5”, but by no
means freakish. I have friends taller
than that (not many, but I do) and my Dad came close.
Then Luther went with the older Masoretic Text, which
put him at six cubits and a span. That
would put him at 9’4”, or 2.97 meters.
He reasoned that the text had been corrupted downward by skeptics,
diminishing the impressiveness of David’s achievement and the wonders of the
However, the Dead Sea Scrolls had an account still older than either of these,
and in Hebrew, reconfirming the 6’9” height.
Apparently the corruption of time inclined people to exaggerate rather than
to diminish Goliath.
31) Give this army into the hands of your
people Israel; make them ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. 32) Strike them with cowardice, weaken the
boldness of their strength, and let them tremble at their own destruction. 33) Strike them down by the sword of those who love you,
that all who know your name may sing your praise.”
alone can turn the battle his way, so He asks God, who speaks to hearts, to
take care of this for him.
34) Then they engaged in battle, and about
five thousand of Lysias’ army fell in hand-to-hand fighting. 35) When
Lysias saw the tide of the battle turning, and the increased boldness of Judas,
whose men were ready either to live or to die nobly, he withdrew to Antioch and
began to recruit mercenaries so as to return to Judea with greater numbers.
it’s a win! Judas seized the morale for
the day and Lysias had to withdraw. 2
Maccabees, at this point, says that peace negotiations took place between
Lysias and Judas. I can see how both
might be true, if Lysias wanted to cover all of his bases—knowing that he didn’t
really have the funds to pay off the mercenaries. And it is unwise to fail to pay your
mercenaries, because they’re fully equipped to pillage your town for what they’re
owed. If, on the other hand, Judas
failed to keep up his side, it could help to have a back-up plan, and persuade
the mercenaries to plunder Judea for their wages.
Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go
up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”
moment they’ve been waiting for! The Sanctuary
would mean not just the Temple, but also the entire grounds around the Temple,
and all of its courts, walls, and auxiliary buildings. It’s like the difference between the Vatican
and St. Peter’s Basilica within the Vatican.
37) So the whole army assembled, and went
up to Mount Zion.
that they’re in the neighborhood.
Hopefully they got some rest first, but maybe their longing couldn’t
38) They found the sanctuary desolate, the
altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a thicket
or on some mountain, and the priests’ chambers demolished.
heartbreaking this would be! Think about
the place that you consider most sacred, most precious, or most beloved in your
entire life. Think of finding it in a
similar state, with the rudest misuse rendered to the very heart of it. Sacrificing pigs on their altar, to a deity
other than what they intended, would be like somebody carving obscenities all
over whatever you find most holy, only even worse than that. Not a sight for battle-weary men!
39) Then they tore their garments and made
great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes 40) and prostrated themselves. And when the signal was
given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.
doing penance because they and their nation let this happen, by not resisting
sooner the steps that led to this escalation.
41) Judas appointed men to attack those in
the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary.
hate to be on the receiving end of that attack!
Not with soldiers half-blinded with tears of rage and grief and
literally out for blood. As for Judas
purifying the sanctuary, he is a Levite and qualified.
42) He chose blameless priests, devoted to
think that would go without saying. But
the Hasmonean priesthood, mixing politics with religion as it did (and, after
the death of Judas Maccabee, frequently switching sides on which Seleucids they
supported, once reconquered) stirred up a lot of controversy that needed
43) these purified the sanctuary and
carried away the stones of the defilement to an unclean place.
stones of the defilement would be the altar built on top of the original Jewish
altar, which had received sacrifices to foreign deities. The Bible dictates that the altar in the
temple must be made of undressed stone, so probably the conquerors used this
natural core to bolster more Greek-looking cut and finished stones.
I can only speculate what the “unclean place” might be. Maybe simply a more secular area. Maybe somewhere ritually impure, like a
graveyard or a pig sty.
44) They deliberated what ought to be done
with the altar for burnt offerings that had been desecrated. 45) They
decided it best to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the
Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. 46) They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple
mount, until the coming of a prophet who could determine what to do with them.
the thought that anyone would come in and actively desecrate their altar was so
unthinkable that they had no provision for reconsecration. Learning from their experience, the Catholic
church has a ritual specifically for reconsecrating desecrated churches; sadly
it has seen much use over the years.
Just in my own small people’s history I know of instances when Yaquis
were trapped inside churches and murdered by the Mexican government. It became such a thing that habitually, now, I’ve
noticed that Yaqui men tend to sit near the church door while their wives and
children sit up front—a holdover, no doubt, from the days when Mass needed
They can’t just chuck the stones out. This had been their altar for nine centuries,
and possibly much, much longer (the site might well have been sacred long
before the official temple was built on it.)
History builds up in things and places in a way hard to describe.
I have to say that I’m curious and intrigued about those stone set aside,
waiting for a prophet to say what to do with them! I couldn’t find out anything more about
them. Where are they now? Will a prophet show up and say what needs
done? And what a leap of faith to rest assured
that this will happen!
47) Then they took uncut stones, according
to the law, and built a new altar like the former one.
intrigued by that requirement for uncut stones—stones the way that God shaped
them. This shows a closeness to nature
and a preference for God’s wild Creation over things tamed, polished and
reshaped according to the whims of humankind.
People today too often think of nature as belonging to Paganism, but
here the Pagans were the people whose altars favored artifice. I would like to see uncut stone used in
church today, but I won’t hold my breath.
48) They also repaired the sanctuary and
the interior of the temple and consecrated the courts. 49) They made new sacred vessels and
brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50) Then they
burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these
illuminated the temple. 51) They also put loaves on
the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had
are all necessary set-ups for the Temple, as described in Exodus.
52) They rose early on the morning of the
twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Kislev, in the year
one hundred and forty-eight,
14, 164 BC.
53) and offered sacrifice according to the
law on the new altar for burnt offerings that they had made.
a tremendous relief that must have been for them, after all that they had been
54) On the anniversary of the day on which
the Gentiles had desecrated it, on that very day it was rededicated with songs,
harps, lyres, and cymbals.
COMMENTARY: God often speaks through the timing of when
it becomes possible for things to happen.
I also like how the sacred power of music enters into the rededication.
55) All the people prostrated themselves and adored and
praised Heaven, who had given them success.
is a moment well worth recording as scripture, regardless of the controversies.
56) For eight days they celebrated the
dedication of the altar and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of
deliverance and praise. 57)
They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold
crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests’ chambers and furnished
them with doors. 58) There was great
joy among the people now that the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
seems like an excellent place for a happy ending! But we have twelve more chapters to go, and I
really don’t know what to expect in the rest of them. Like I said, I’m studying only one step ahead
of every chapter. The Catholic Church
really should teach this stuff on the secular level.
59) Then Judas and his brothers and the
entire assembly of Israel decreed that every year for eight days, from the
twenty-fifth day of the month Kislev,
the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and
gladness on the anniversary.
thus we have the institution of the eight days of Hanukkah, which 2 Maccabees
will cover in more detail. So yes,
reading Maccabees matters—a crucial story in the history of the Jewish people,
influencing political decisions to this very day, not to mention creating the
environment into which Jesus was born.
60) At that time they built high walls and
strong towers around Mount Zion, to prevent the Gentiles from coming and
trampling it as they had done before. 61)
Judas also placed a garrison there to protect it, and
likewise fortified Beth-zur, that the people might have a stronghold facing
For generations now the Jewish people had, by degrees, come to accept
conquering armies as the divine penalty for their infidelity. Now they begin to shift away from that idea,
since it’s hard to imagine a deity wanting to see His own temple desecrated and
mocked. Now they start to view
conquerors as simply evildoers with their own agendas, who need resisted. This shift led to the uneasy politics of