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