1) When the nations round about heard that the altar had
been rebuilt and the sanctuary restored as before, they were enraged.
because a successful rebellion on their neighbor’s part means that they’re
vulnerable to attack. And a restored
temple has huge strategic value when you weigh the power of the morale boost it
gives. People who feel that God will
take their side are darn near unstoppable.
And if He really does take their side, they really are.
Part of their rage might also be envy that Judah’s getting away with what other
nations didn’t, and remorse that they didn’t rise up to defend their own
religion projected onto those who did.
Human beings resent other people doing whatever we secretly suspect we
should have done.
And part might be justifiable fear.
Judas by now has built a reputation for being about as subtle as the
hammer he’s named for, smashing whoever and whatever gets in his way.
2) So they decided to destroy the
descendants of Jacob who were among them, and they began to kill and eradicate
they kill the innocent out of the fear that these might turn violent against
them out of solidarity with their kin. But
probably these nations wouldn’t even have registered on Judas’s radar if they’d
left their own Jews alone. And those
Jews who sided with the Maccabees would simply have left to join him. Instead, these people let their fear make
what they feared come true.
This rings true for me in these troubled times, when so many Americans want to
cast out our Muslim neighbors, or put restrictions on them incompatible with
our constitution, things that make the lies of fanatics seem like truth. If we don’t take care, we make our own
Judas attacked the Edomites at Akrabattene in Idumea, because they were
blockading Israel; he dealt them a heavy blow, humbled and despoiled them.
is also, of course, an act of war. The
text literally said “Sons of Esau” which seems like a nice bookend for “descendants
of Jacob”, except that it brings up the story of how Jacob, younger twin to Esau,
stole Esau’s heritage by trickery, and is meant here as a taunt. I don’t know about the rest of the world at
that time, but the ancient Mediterranean nations saw trickery as admirable.
4) He also remembered the malice of the
Baeanites, who had become a snare
and a stumbling block to the people by ambushing them along the roads.
scholars of the Conference of Catholic Bishops site from which I draw my texts
identify both the Edomites and Baeanites as Idumeans. Different branches?
5) He forced them to take refuge in
towers, which he besieged; he put them under the ban and burned down their
towers along with all who were in them.
seems to me too harsh a penalty for highway robbery, but I come from an era in
which the Geneva Convention forbade the use of flamethrowers as weapons. As for “putting them under the ban”, this
says to me that he would have ignored the Baenites if they hadn’t aggressed
against his people, but now he’s going to treat them like Greeks and
6) Then he
crossed over to the Ammonites, where he found a strong army and a large body of
people with Timothy as their leader. 7) He
fought many battles with them, routed them, and struck them down.
COMMENTARY: The aforementioned scholars say that this,
plus verse 8, really should go between verses 36 and 37, but the writer’s
getting ahead of himself. Nobody among
the scholars seems to know for sure who Timothy is.
8) After seizing Jazer and its villages, he returned to
a town on the road between Jordan and Amman.
Which means that Judas Maccabee has gone from liberating his own
territories to invading others, thanks to the invitation extended by their
aggression against Jews in their midst.
We will see how that came about in future verses that should have been
9) The Gentiles in Gilead assembled to destroy the
Israelites who were in their territory; these then fled to the stronghold of
is somewhere east of Jordan, a day’s journey from Bozrah, but archaeologists
haven’t found it yet.
10) They sent a letter to Judas and his
brothers saying: “The Gentiles around us have assembled against us to destroy
us, 11) and they are
preparing to come and seize this stronghold to which we have fled. Timothy is
the leader of their army. 12)
Come at once to rescue us from them, for many of us
have fallen. 13) All our kindred
who were in the territory of the Tobiads have been killed; the Gentiles have captured their wives, their
children and their goods, and they have slain there about a thousand men.”
now we get the motive belatedly spelled out for us: Judas got a letter asking
for help. This passage has had
tremendous impact on European history, because Kings and other leaders have
used it as justification for conquering any nation that it can claim has
mistreated ex-pats of their nationality (whether true or not.) Even Hitler, who as everybody knows despised
the Jews, nevertheless used this argument in his propaganda to justify his
invasion of most of Europe. And my own nation
used it as a reason to invade Grenada.
The Tobiads were a prominent Jewish family east of the Jordan. Ironically enough, they were leaders of the
Hellenistic Jews that Judas had regarded as traitors. Even more ironically, they were possibly
descendants of Tobias, whom you might remember in our studies of Tobit! Or possibly a Tobiah mentioned as an Ammonite
and an enemy in another Deuterocanonical book, this one by Nehemiah (but if
they were Ammonites, why would they be slain as Jews?) They built their prosperity and power upon
the friendship of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, yet some at least appear, by some
accounts, to have switched sides to support the Seleucids.
And what did it all get them in the end?
14) While they were reading this letter,
suddenly other messengers, with garments torn, arrived from Galilee to deliver
a similar message: 15) that “the
inhabitants of Ptolemais,*
Tyre, and Sidon, and the whole of Gentile Galilee have joined forces to destroy
COMMENTARY: Like bodies, souls can suffer from contagious
diseases. This one spread quite quickly.
16) When Judas and the people heard this, a great assembly
convened to consider what they should do for their kindred who were in distress
and being attacked by enemies.
COMMENTARY: They face a momentous decision. In ancient times this woudn’t have even come
up—except for the temporary visits of merchants, bards, and diplomats, and the occasional
restless individual, folks pretty much stayed in their own territories among
their own people. Then Nebuchadnezzar
had the idea of breaking up nations in his empire by scattering their citizens
widely, in the hopes of homogenizing them and reducing nationalism, thereby
preventing uprisings. Others after him
did likewise. But the upshot was that
instead he created little pockets of ex-pat communities everywhere, sometimes
getting even more nationalistic in order to hold onto their identities.
So what happens when a community gets attacked by those who surround them? Are you still one nation, even beyond your
borders? And does this justify invading
other people’s borders, if they contain cousins of yours in trouble? Does this even apply to assimilated cousins
like the Tobiads?
Whatever they decide here will set a precedent for the rest of history.
17) Judas said to his brother Simon: “Choose men for
yourself, and go, rescue your kindred in Galilee; my brother Jonathan and I
will go to Gilead.”
thus they decided. And so it has been
18) He left Joseph, son of Zechariah, and
Azariah, leader of the people, with the rest of the army in Judea to guard it.
since they’re not out of the woods yet. After
all, Gorgias is still camped nearby.
19) He commanded them, “Take charge of
these people, but do not join battle against the Gentiles until we return.”
COMMENTARY: Judas doesn’t mean don’t defend the city. He just means don’t provoke trouble without
the rest of the army to back you up.
20) Three thousand men were allotted to Simon to go into
Galilee, and eight thousand men to Judas, for Gilead.
that Simon would get the smaller force.
But since he’s the smartest of the brothers, he’s the most likely to put
what he’s got to the best use.
21) Simon went into Galilee and fought
many battles with the Gentiles. They were crushed before him, 22) and he pursued them to the very gate
of Ptolemais. About three thousand of the Gentiles fell, and he gathered their
spoils. 23) He took with him
the Jews who were in Galilee and in Arbatta, with their wives and children and all that they had,
and brought them to Judea with great rejoicing.
at this point their goal is repatriation, not conquest. And yes, Simon managed splendidly with his
For the record, Arbatta, AKA Narbatta, is “probably
south of Mt. Carmel”. More presents lie
in the earth waiting for archaeologists to unwrap them.
Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan crossed the Jordan and marched for three
days through the wilderness. 25) There
they met some Nabateans, who received them peaceably and told them all that
had happened to their kindred in Gilead:
were a kind of Arab known for their merchants and caravans. They built Petra as their capital—that famous
sheltered city carved into rock. Anyway,
merchants were the chief source of news beyond one’s borders, and also likely
to stay neutral in any fight, as they might want to do business with both
26) “Many of them are shut up in Bozrah,
in Bosor near Alema, in Chaspho, Maked, and Carnaim”—all of these are large,
fortified cities— 27)
“and some are shut up in other
cities of Gilead. Tomorrow their enemies plan to attack the strongholds and to
seize and destroy all these people in one day.”
helps to know where the people you want to rescue might be. At first I thought that “shut up” meant
beseiged, but as it turned out they were prisoners there, awaiting execution at
the same time as strongholds elsewhere were attacked.
28) Thereupon Judas suddenly changed
direction with his army, marched across the wilderness to Bozrah, and captured
the city. He put every male to the sword, took all their spoils, and set fire
to the city.
those certain to die took priority over aiding those who at least stand a
chance of defending themselves. Leaving
the noncombatants alive might seem a mercy if not for taking everything from
them and leaving them unable to fend for themselves, which means that the women
and children would all have to become slaves.
But an army of 8,000 needs a lot of provender and generals often relied
on looting to keep supplied.
29) He led
his army from that place by night, and they marched toward the stronghold.
stronghold being Dathema. At this point
they’re sacrificing sleep in order to getting as close to showing up two places
at once as possible.
30) When morning came, they looked ahead
and saw a countless multitude, with ladders and machines for capturing the
stronghold, beginning to attack.
the necessity of the all-night march.
31) When Judas perceived that the struggle
had begun and that the noise of the battle was resounding to heaven with
trumpet blasts and loud shouting, 32)
he said to the men of his army, “Fight for our kindred
today.” 33) He came up behind
them with three columns blowing their trumpets and crying out in prayer. 34) When the army of Timothy realized that it was
Maccabeus, they fled before him, and he inflicted on them a great defeat. About
eight thousand of their men fell that day.
they seized the enemy’s morale. If
Timothy’s army had realized that they were up against exhausted men who had
already fought one battle and had no rest since, they might have stood their
ground and prevailed. But by now the
name of the Maccabees had become a weapon by itself; nobody stuck around to
test their actual mettle.
35) Then he turned toward Alema and attacked and captured it; he killed every male,
took spoils, and burned it down.
COMMENTARY: Some manuscripts say Alema, some Maapha,
which might be Mizpah.
36) From there he moved on and took Chaspho, Maked, Bosor,
and the other cities of Gilead.
cities apparently don’t merit notes as to where they are (beyond being in
Gilead) or what other names they might have.
And, well, “other cities of Gilead” are clean out of the running.
these events Timothy assembled another army and camped opposite Raphon, on the
other side of the wadi.
wadi is a canyon carved by periodic desert flash-floods. Sometimes they’re also all that remains of
prehistoric rivers before desertification set in. Sometimes they still have rivers or streams
in them, which usually flow only part of the year.
38) Judas sent men to spy on the camp, and
they reported to him: “All the Gentiles around us have rallied to him, making a
very large force; 39)
they have also hired Arabians to
help them, and have camped beyond the wadi, ready to attack you.” So Judas went
forward to meet them.
all Arabs were Nabateans interested in keeping trade lines open. These apparently were businessmen of an
altogether different sort—mercenaries, to be exact. (“War is good for business”—Ferenghi’s 34th
rule of acquisition. “Peace is good for
business”—Ferenghi’s 35th rule of acquisition.)
40) As Judas and his army were approaching
the flowing wadi, Timothy said to the officers of his army: “If he crosses over
to us first, we shall not be able to resist him; he will certainly defeat us. 41) But if he
is hesitant and camps on the other side of the river, we will cross over to him
and defeat him.”
we get the specification that this is a flowing wadi. This matters because that means it’s the wet
time of the year, which means that a flash-flood could thunder through it at
any moment. For those of you unfamiliar
with desert flash-floods, deserts usually don’t get gentle rains; those come
from air currents slowed and moderated by forests. Deserts get great, sudden, lightning-flashing
storms that pound down a ton of water all at once and then just as suddenly
end. This can often happen so many miles
away that you don’t even see the clouds, but since the hard-baked soil of the
desert isn’t made absorbent by layers of shed organic matter, all of that water
can come hurtling downslope at a killer speed, ripping up boulders and anything
else in its wake. They have been known
to smash cars to bits, let alone people.
So crossing the usually shallow waters of a wadi river is a gamble. If the Maccabee brothers hesitate, anxiously
weighing the dangers, Timothy can catch them off-balance.
42) But when Judas reached the flowing
wadi, he stationed the officers of the people beside it and gave them this
order: “Do not allow anyone to encamp; all must go into battle.”
don’t worry so much about floods if you believe that God is on your side.
43) He was the first to cross to the
attack, with all the people behind him, and all the Gentiles were crushed
before them. They threw away their arms and fled to the temple enclosure at
Carnaim. 44) But Judas’ troops captured the city and burnt the
temple enclosure with all who were in it. So Carnaim was subdued, and Judas met
with no more resistance.
has to remember that temple enclosures (the areas around a temple) were built
Judas assembled all the Israelites, great and small, who were in Gilead, with
their wives and children and their goods, a very large company, to go into the
land of Judah.
the goal is repatriation.
46) When they reached Ephron, a large and strongly fortified city along the way,
they found it impossible to go around it on either the right or the left; they
would have to march right through it.
is a very large and strategic city, on high ground above two tributaries of the
Jordan River. Not only its size but also
its position made it impossible to go around.
As to why they can’t just go back the way they came, an army passing
through once can be good for business, if they pay for their supplies, but
passing through twice is ruination and might cause unnecessary skirmishes.
47) But the people in
the city shut them out and blocked up the gates with stones.
the downside of a ferocious reputation.
48) Then Judas sent them this peaceful
message: “Let us cross your territory in order to reach our own; no one will
harm you; we will only march through.” But they would not open to him.
can see both sides to this. I don’t know
if I’d trust the Maccabee army, either, with the reputation that they
have. After all, we can’t assume that
the Ephronites know their goals. But
from Judas’s point of view, he’s really trying to be peaceful and diplomatic.
49) So Judas ordered a proclamation to be
made in the camp that everyone should take up positions where they were. 50) When the men of the army took up their
positions, he assaulted the city all that day and night, and it was delivered
into his hand. 51)
He put every male to the sword,
leveled the city, took spoils and passed through it over the slain.
through it over the slain” means that he left them there to rot. The lesson I’m supposed to get from this is
that Ephron should have let them pass through peacefully, and that people
shouldn’t cross the Army of the Lord.
The lesson I’m actually getting is, “Come on, this is exactly the sort
of thing that gives you such a bad reputation, Judas!” Whatever happened to eye for an eye
justice? You know, where you take no
more than what was taken from you? Did
every single man and boy have to die?
I confess that this is probably not what you’d hear from somebody more
qualified to teach about scripture. But
I promise at least that if I don’t believe something, I’m not going to lie and
say that I do.
52) Then they crossed the Jordan to the
great plain in front of Beth-shan; 53)
and Judas kept gathering the stragglers and
encouraging the people the whole way, until he reached the land of Judah.
COMMENTARY: This, on the other hand, I do respect. He understands that at this point he’s not
just marching soldiers, he’s evacuating civilians not trained to cross great
distances on foot, many of whom would have been children (children always
greatly outnumbered adults in the ancient world, many of whom would not make it
to adulthood.) Also they’re carrying or
hauling whatever earthly possessions they had left, in order to make a new life
for themselves in Judah.
54) They ascended Mount Zion in joy and gladness and
sacrificed burnt offerings, because not one of them had fallen; they had
returned in safety.
That much is indeed worth celebrating and thanking God for.
55) In those days when Judas and Jonathan were in the land
of Gilead, and Simon his brother was in Galilee opposite Ptolemais, 56) Joseph, son of Zechariah, and Azariah,
the leaders of the army, heard about the brave deeds and the fighting that they
were doing. 57) They said, “Let us
also make a name for ourselves by going out and fighting against the Gentiles
Exactly what Judas told them not to do.
Judas knows strategy, Jonathan has a reputation for trickery, and Simon
is the wisest of the brothers; these men know what they’re doing. On the other hand, guys who think that war’s
all about the glory and polishing your resume are best left behind, guarding
the women and children; brains aren’t part of their arsenal.
58) They gave orders to those of their
army who were with them, and marched against Jamnia.
Jamnia, AKA Yavneh, capitol of Azotus AKA Ashdod.
59) But Gorgias and his men came out of
the city to meet them in battle.
Oops—it’s occupied by the best and brightest of the Seleucid army!
60) Joseph and Azariah were routed and
were pursued to the frontiers of Judea, and about two thousand Israelites fell
Well, they did make a name for themselves—as idiots whose folly cost
61) It was a great setback for the people,
because they had not obeyed Judas and his brothers, thinking that they would do
COMMENTARY: I can just picture the storyteller raising an
eyebrow to glance at any hot-blooded young men in the audience.
62) But they were not of the family through whom Israel’s
deliverance was given.
that was probably added to bolster the Maccabeean claims to the throne.
63) The valiant Judas and his brothers were greatly honored
in all Israel and among all the Gentiles, wherever their name was heard; 64) and people gathered about them and praised them.
Adding this right after Joseph and Azariah’s debacle rubs it in. THESE are the guys who made a name for
themselves, not you two doofuses!
Judas and his brothers went out and attacked the Edomites in the land toward
the south; he took Hebron and its villages, and he destroyed its strongholds
and burned the towers around it.
Finishing up what he started with the blockaders.
66) He then set out for the land of the
foreigners and passed through Marisa. 67)
On that day some priests fell in battle who had gone
out rashly to fight in their desire to do brave deeds.
Although of a priestly family, Judas is primarily a warrior. He knows that some people need to be
primarily priests, stay off the battlefield, and do what they do best.