Chapter 8

1 Maccabees 8



1) Judas had heard of the reputation of the Romans. They were valiant fighters and acted amiably to all who took their side. They established a friendly alliance with all who applied to them.

COMMENTARY:  And now we get to the crux of the politics around this book.  At the time of this writing, the Romans seemed like saviors from the oppression of the Greeks—until they themselves became oppressors.  So naturally, once it became obvious that Rome was a new problem rather than a solution, the Jewish community dropped the Maccabee books from the Bible as a general embarrassment.  And naturally my church, being based in Rome, put it back.

The author of 1 Maccabees wrote under early Roman rule and had ample motivation to praise the Romans.  This might also have something to do with turning a blind eye to the flaws of Judas Maccabee, who let the Romans in.



2) He was also told of their battles and the brave deeds that they performed against the Gauls, conquering them and forcing them to pay tribute;

COMMENTARY:  Gauls probably means the Celts of northern Italy and southern France, conflated with the Galatians of Asia Minor.  And it seems very strange to this modern reader—especially being of indigenous American descent—that subjugating people and extorting goods from them should count as “brave deeds”. 

(Granted, I’m a hypocrite for admiring Alexander the Great, notorious conqueror, but I admire him not for his conquests but rather for the justice of his laws.  He was the first major leader in history to oppose racism and sexism, and he did so on a grand scale, not in the toddling early stage of a learning-curve that you might expect.  In some ways we still haven’t caught up with his values.)



3) and what they did in Spain to get possession of the silver and gold mines there.

COMMENTARY:  So “brave deeds” also covers frank thievery?  I’m not buying it.



4) By planning and persistence they subjugated the whole region, although it was very remote from their own. They also subjugated the kings who had come against them from the far corners of the earth until they crushed them and inflicted on them severe defeat. The rest paid tribute to them every year.

COMMENTARY:  So if I virtuously engage in “planning and persistence” in thuggery and skullduggery, can I win praise too?



5) Philip and Perseus, king of the Macedonians, and the others who opposed them in battle they overwhelmed and subjugated.

COMMENTARY:  That would be King Philip V of Macedonia and his son, Crown Prince Perseus, with whom the royal line ended.  The Romans decided to punish the last king of Macedonia, for daring to defend his land, by never letting him sleep again.  It took a year for this to kill him.

No, I am not a fan of the Romans.  They held pity to be the basest of emotions.  They did not intend the Colosseum and its bloody spectacles as a concession to decadence, but their idea of its cure—to drive pity from people’s hearts and restore proper Roman values.  From their point of view the compassion of the Christians seemed downright Satanic.

Not that they were always this way.  Their Mars began as a god of the wilds, woods, and nature.  Then he became a god of the fields and farming, imbuing the vigor of the wild into the planted things to insure a good harvest.  Then other Italian tribes, wanting that land, attacked, and Mars became the defender of the fields.  Then they saw him as turning the tables and seizing other people’s fields.  Gradually they forgot that he had ever been anything to them but a war god, and that they had ever been anything but warriors.

This always happens when we reshape our theology to fit whatever we want at the time instead of trying to find out whatever the Creator wants.  An honest reverence for nature would have eventually led from Creation to Creator, with abiding love for God’s handiworks, including love for our fellow human beings (we’ll get into that later in the Book of Wisdom.)  Instead they let their devotion devolve into the worship of one of many variations on the Gimme God, or what I sometimes call the Gumball Machine God—insert prayer or ritual in the coin slot, and out rolls a blessing.  Except it doesn’t work that way.



6) Antiochus the Great, king of Asia, who fought against them with a hundred and twenty elephants and with cavalry and chariots and a very great army, was defeated by them.

COMMENTARY:  That would be the grandfather of the Antiochus with whom this book started, whose empire reached a peak under his rule, until he clashed with the Romans.



7) They took him alive and obliged him and the kings who succeeded him to pay a heavy tribute, to give hostages and to cede...

COMMENTARY:  This was what left Antiochus Epiphanes in such dire financial straits when trying to quell the Maccabean revolt.  And Demetrius was one of those hostages.  The Romans decreed that he owed them 15,000 talents in indemnities.  I have no idea what that adds up to in dollars, but suffice to say it plagued the Seleucids for generations, much like the crippling indemnities imposed upon Haiti for having the temerity to rise up in a slave revolt—a tragedy of injustice with consequences to this very day.



8)...Lycia, Mysia, and Lydia from among their best provinces. The Romans took these from him and gave them to King Eumenes.

COMMENTARY:  Instead of Lycia and Mysia, the original Greek says India and Media.  But modern translators have assumed a scribal error, presumably from cross-referencing other texts.  King Eumenes ruled Pergamum, and prospered in his alliance with Rome—something Judas, no doubt, hoped to emulate.



9) When the Greeks planned to come and destroy them, 10) the Romans discovered it, and sent against the Greeks a single general who made war on them. Many were wounded and fell, and the Romans took their wives and children captive. They plundered them, took possession of their land, tore down their strongholds and reduced them to slavery even to this day.

COMMENTARY:  This happened after the lives and deaths of the Maccabee brothers, so it can’t have inspired Judas.  Why would the writer insert it here?  To warn the reader not to get on the wrong side of the Romans.



11)  All the other kingdoms and islands that had ever opposed them they destroyed and enslaved; with their friends, however, and those who relied on them, they maintained friendship.

COMMENTARY:  That was the hope, at least, that inspired Judas in his next decision, and the propaganda that Rome wanted spread.



12) They subjugated kings both near and far, and all who heard of their fame were afraid of them.

COMMENTARY:  Including, apparently, Judas, though the narrator tries to cloak this in admiration.



13) Those whom they wish to help and to make kings, they make kings; and those whom they wish, they depose; and they were greatly exalted.

COMMENTARY:  So ambition also enters the picture.  Judas needs to bolster his claim to the throne, considering the problem of his lineage.



14) Yet with all this, none of them put on a diadem or wore purple as a display of grandeur.

COMMENTARY:  Not yet.  But humility is always reassuring.



15) But they made for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred and twenty men took counsel, deliberating on all that concerned the people and their well-being.

COMMENTARY:  A novel and intriguing idea for the time—rulership by committee.  And comforting to a people sick of the airs of their conquerors, as parodied in the Book of Esther.



16) They entrust their government to one man every year, to rule over their entire land, and they all obey that one, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.

COMMENTARY:  Two consuls, actually—even better!  A lack of envy or jealousy would be ideal, but human beings being what they are, one should make provisions for keeping such things in check when they inevitably arise.

(For the record, there’s a lot of confusion about these two terms, which in fact mirror each other but are not synonyms.  Envy means “I want what you have, and I hate you for having it!”  Jealousy means, “I will do anything to keep your sticky fingers off of what’s mine!”  Originally God saying “I am a jealous God” stopped at that, of wanting an exclusive relationship with His worshipers.  But the meaning of jealousy has since evolved into a madness so obsessed with possession, and so paranoid about others wanting it, that it destroys the thing possessed.  God is not destructive to those He loves.)



17)  So Judas chose Eupolemus, son of John, son of Accos, and Jason, son of Eleazar, and sent them to Rome to establish friendship and alliance with them.

COMMENTARY:  And thus he gave away Judea.



18) He did this to lift the yoke from Israel, for it was obvious that the kingdom of the Greeks was subjecting them to slavery.

COMMENTARY:  In other words, he didn’t believe that he could hold out indefinitely even against a weakened Seleucid Empire.  Which says several interesting things.  1)  The victories described here are greatly exaggerated, and 2)  He doesn’t actually have a mission from God to deliver Israel and Judea from their enemies.  He has no prophet to guide him.  If God really did back his revolt, he would have felt secure.  His victories come from being a really good general, not from any special divine favor, and he’s got a strategic enough mind to know that the odds are against him in the long run.



19) After making a very long journey to Rome, the envoys entered the senate chamber and spoke as follows:

COMMENTARY:  The famous Roman roads were still in progress at this time.



20) “Judas, called Maccabeus, and his brothers, with the Jewish people, have sent us to you to establish alliance and peace with you, and to be enrolled among your allies and friends.”

COMMENTARY:  And so the propaganda succeeded.



21) The proposal pleased the Romans,

COMMENTARY:  I bet it did!  “Sure, Mr. Squirrel—you can clean the Wolf’s teeth.  He promises not to bite.”



22) and this is a copy of the reply they inscribed on bronze tablets and sent to Jerusalem, to remain there with the Jews as a record of peace and alliance:

COMMENTARY:  The bronze tablets would remain in Rome.  What they sent to Jerusalem would have been a paper copy.



23) “May it be well with the Romans and the Jewish nation at sea and on land forever; may sword and enemy be far from them. 24) But if war is first made on Rome, or any of its allies in any of their dominions, 25) the Jewish nation will fight along with them wholeheartedly, as the occasion shall demand; 26) and to those who wage war they shall not give or provide grain, weapons, money, or ships, as seems best to Rome. They shall fulfill their obligations without receiving any recompense. 27) In the same way, if war is made first on the Jewish nation, the Romans will fight along with them willingly, as the occasion shall demand, 28) and to those who attack them there shall not be given grain, weapons, money, or ships, as seems best to Rome. They shall fulfill their obligations without deception. 29) On these terms the Romans have made an agreement with the Jewish people. 30But if both parties hereafter agree to add or take away anything, they shall do as they choose, and whatever they shall add or take away shall be valid.

COMMENTARY:  In other words, your basic mutual defense pact.  Which would sound good to a little nation with big enemies.  But it also meant that Rome could draft soldiers from Israel/Judea for their endless wars. 

Need I mention that I don't trust treaties?



31) “Moreover, concerning the wrongs that King Demetrius is doing to them, we have written to him thus: ‘Why have you made your yoke heavy upon our friends and allies the Jews? 32) If they petition against you again, we will enforce justice and make war on you by sea and land.’”


COMMENTARY:  So basically Judas has gone over the head of King Demetrius to the boss’s boss.  I suppose it seemed better to be a subject than the subject of a subject.

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