1) When Jonathan saw
that the time was right, he chose men and sent them to Rome to confirm and
renew the friendship with the Romans.
COMMENTARY: Thereby assuring that future
generations would curse his name alongside his brother Judas.
2) He also sent letters to the Spartans and other places
to the same effect.
COMMENTARY: Apparently this had a
precedent from long before the Maccabees rose up to extirpate Greek influence. Sparta was the capital of Laconia, but
everybody called the whole batch Spartans more often than Laconians. We have since turned “Spartan” into an
adjective for harshly minimalist conditions, because they were a harsh and
minimalist people, dedicated to the survival of the community rather than
individual fulfillment, strict in their discipline and contemptuous of luxury
as too softening. They excelled in producing warriors. Not so much artists, philosophers, or
innovators. But I’ll give them this
much, they treated women a whole lot better than most Greek societies!
Anyway, right now Jonathan needs warriors. He and his brothers never did get along with
3) After reaching
Rome, the men entered the senate chamber and said, “The high priest Jonathan
and the Jewish people have sent us to renew the friendship and alliance of
earlier times with them.”
COMMENTARY: In other words, Jonathan
wants them to know that he will abide by the same agreement that the last
Romans gave them letters addressed to authorities in various places, with the
request to provide them with safe conduct to the land of Judah.
COMMENTARY: I have to wonder if the
envoys had trouble on the way to Rome, and these letters would make the return
trip much safer. Certainly easier.
5) This is a copy of the letter that
Jonathan wrote to the Spartans: 6)
“Jonathan the high priest, the senate of the nation,
the priests, and the rest of the Jewish people send greetings to their brothers
COMMENTARY: The “senate of the nation”
here refers to the Gerousia, which the Ptolemies first instituted in Israel
before the Seleucid takeover and the Maccabean revolt. It consisted of elders and other leaders in
the community. Eventually it evolved
into the Sanhedrin, frequently mentioned in the New Testament.
7) Long ago a letter was sent to the high priest Onias from Arius, who then
reigned over you, stating that you are our brothers, as the attached copy
COMMENTARY: The letter went out a
century and a half before, from King Arius I of Sparta (309 to 265 BC) to High
Priest Onias I in Jerusalem (323 to roughly 300-290 BC.)
8) Onias welcomed the
envoy with honor and received the letter, which spoke clearly of alliance and
COMMENTARY: Change always becomes more
acceptable if you can find a precedent.
The envoy, according to Josephus, had been named Demoteles.
9) Though we have no
need of these things, since we have for our encouragement the holy books that
are in our possession,
COMMENTARY: Basically what we now
consider the Old Testament. When people
challenge the historicity of Bible references as being “only one source”, they
forget that it in fact consists of many separate “books” later put together
into a single work for convenience. In
fact books as we know them, pages bound together at one edge, were a Christian
invention, something more convenient to leaf through than lots of separate
scrolls. One could make one enormous
book out of may prior works by multiple writers.
Jonathan does several things here in this phrase. First off, he asserts his faith in order to
establish that his alliance with Greeks has nothing to do with embracing their
Paganism or customs, unlike the Hellenized Jews that he and his brothers have
fought for all these years. Second, he
asserts mystical resources in order to bolster the fear that some might have
against double-crossing Jewish warriors.
Third, Greeks respect learning and he wants to remind them that Jews do
likewise. Fourth, he doesn’t want to
come across as a helpless beggar, but as somebody worth allying with.
10) we have ventured
to send word to you for the renewal of brotherhood and friendship, lest we
become strangers to you; a long time has passed since you sent your message to
COMMENTARY: “Aw, we’re just doing it for
old time’s sake! Call us sentimental.”
11) We, on our part,
have unceasingly remembered you in the sacrifices and prayers that we offer on
our feasts and other appropriate days, as it is right and proper to remember
COMMENTARY: Several times, now, I
Maccabees has mentioned praying for the well-being of Pagans without any
condition that they first must convert, or any reference to the prayers being
for their conversion.
12) We likewise
rejoice in your renown.
COMMENTARY: A compliment, a statement of
non-rivalry and, in the context of the preceding sentence, a hint that Jewish
prayers might have had something to do with that “renown” (actually “kabodh”
which combined the idea of fame with wealth.)
13) But many
tribulations and many wars have beset us, and the kings around us have attacked
us. 14) We did not wish to
be troublesome to you and to the rest of our allies and friends in these wars.
COMMENTARY: The real reason behind the
renewal of contact, guised as an explanation for why they fell out of touch.
15) For we have the
help of Heaven for our support, and we have been saved from our enemies, and
our enemies have been humbled.
COMMENTARY: “But we’re not weak! Honest!”
And again, an assertion of faith and access to divine intervention.
16) So we have chosen Numenius, son of
Antiochus, and Antipater, son of Jason, and we have sent them to the Romans to
renew with them the friendship and alliance of earlier times.
COMMENTARY: Interesting—Jews with Greek
names, descended of Jews with Greek names.
He’s sending Hellenized Jews to meet with a Hellenic nation. So Jonathan might extend an olive branch here
to more than just the Spartans. Such men
would be as fluent in Greek as in Hebrew, for one thing. For another, some have speculated that Jason,
mentioned above as Antipater’s father, might have been that same Jason earlier
mentioned as the son of Eleazar.
17) We have also ordered
them to come to you and greet you, and to deliver to you our letter concerning
the renewal of our brotherhood. 18) Therefore
kindly send us an answer on this matter.”
COMMENTARY: Basic generic conclusion.
19) This is a copy of the letter that they
sent to Onias:
COMMENTARY: Verification of the
king of the Spartans, sends greetings to Onias the high priest. 21) A
document has been found stating that the Spartans and the Jews are brothers and
that they are of the family of Abraham.
COMMENTARY: Say WHAT? I tried to find out more about this curious
allegation but at first I could only find a statement that nobody knows what
document he’s talking about. But this
would make a major political difference in the “Greeks are evil” climate if, a
century and a half later, Jonathan could argue that Spartans, at least, aren’t
Later, I did find the information that the Spartans,
for quite some time, did everything they could to stir up the Asiatic nations
against their Seleucid rivals whenever they saw an opportunity. How do you do that with “a people set apart”? Claim to be long-lost family, of course! Which could seem plausible to those who had
permanently misplaced entire tribes after a disastrous diaspora. Ancient spies apparently did their homework.
22) Now that we have
learned this, kindly write to us about your welfare.
COMMENTARY: Literally, he inquired about
their peace. But the word in Greek, much
like the same word in Hebrew, also meant well-being and prosperity, and
possibly contentment. So when Jesus said
“Peace be with you,” he meant more than
just, “May you not be in any conflict.”
23) We, for our part, declare to you that your animals and
your possessions are ours, and ours are yours. We have, therefore, given orders
that you should be told of this.”
COMMENTARY: Um...that would not make me
feel at peace. But the Spartans held all
things in common, so it’s not as sinister as it sounds.
24) Then Jonathan
heard that the officers of Demetrius had returned to attack him with a stronger
army than before.
COMMENTARY: Perhaps all of this
ally-gathering might have made Demetrius feel that something needed done before
his enemies grew too united against him.
25) So he set out from Jerusalem and met
them in the territory of Hamath,
giving them no opportunity to enter his province.
COMMENTARY: Seleucid territory granted
to Jonathan back when they had an alliance, now serving as a buffer-state. Upper Syria.
26) The spies he had
sent into their camp came back and reported to him that the enemy were
preparing to attack them that night.
COMMENTARY: The most likely spies would
be camp-followers, most likely women.
The noncombatants upon which armies depended until modern times, who
nursed wounds, cooked meals, tended beasts, cleaned and repaired clothes, and
sometimes acted as temporary wives, up to and including bearing children on the
march and raising them in a war zone. Some
would have been true wives of soldiers indeed, following their men for the sake
of love, or for fear of having no livelihood if their men had to stay away for
too long. Others would be women who, for
whatever reason, had nowhere else to go.
Exceptionally tough women; the weak ones died along the way.
The spies would have posed as the latter sort, women who had run out of other
options. The soldiers would look down on
them, see them as little more than domesticated beasts, and so the spies would
quickly become invisible so long as they kept up with their chores. Real spies are more often such anonymous background
figures than glamorous James Bond types in flashy tuxedos.
27) Therefore, when
the sun set, Jonathan ordered his men to keep watch, with their weapons at the
ready for battle, throughout the night; and he set outposts around the camp.
COMMENTARY: The most sensible course,
but not one taken lightly, as it could leave the troops exhausted.
28) When the enemy
heard that Jonathan and his men were ready for battle, their hearts sank with
fear and dread. They lighted fires in their camp and then withdrew. 29) But because
Jonathan and his men were watching the campfires burning, they did not know
until the morning what had happened.
COMMENTARY: The writer would prefer the
explanation that they did this out of fear and dread. The whole thing might have been staged to
weaken the Jewish army.
In any case I’d call it a shrewd move. In addition to the fires creating an illusion
of an occupied camp, focusing on a light source in an otherwise dark night
blinds you to anything else going on outside of that light. That’s why I prefer to walk at night without
a flashlight, whenever possible; using a flashlight adjusts your eyes to the
small circle of light before you and makes everything else impenetrable.
30) Then Jonathan pursued them, but he
could not overtake them, for they had crossed the river Eleutherus.
COMMENTARY: This river marks the border
of Hamath. If Jonathan struck the first
blow outside of his own territory, he’d come off as the aggressor and his
allies might turn against him.
31) So Jonathan turned aside against the
Arabians who are called Zabadeans, and he struck them down and plundered them.
COMMENTARY: Huh? He couldn’t go after his intended target so
he beat up somebody else who came handy?
Maybe he had some legitimate grievance against them, and took care of it
while he was in the neighborhood and had an army with him. Or maybe he just needed to replenish his
supplies and had counted too much on plundering the Seleucids to do it. The text does not clarify.
32Then he broke camp, marched on toward Damascus and
traveled through the whole region.
COMMENTARY: The Zabadeans might have
been those Arabs whose descendants now live in Zebdini, on the way to
Damascus. Anyway, Jonathan had to make
this journey to see what other incursions might have happened, especially if
the Seleucids looped around and came back elsewhere. And he had to do it with the army in tow, to
fix anything wrong he found as quickly as possible.
33) Simon also set out
and traveled as far as Askalon and its neighboring strongholds. He then turned
to Joppa and took it by surprise,
COMMENTARY: One of the advantages of
having a brother is that, between you, you could be in two places at once. Simon took the coastal patrol. Somebody had to, since the Greeks had quite a
reputation as a seafaring people.
he heard that its people intended to hand over the stronghold to the supporters
of Demetrius. He left a garrison there to guard it.
COMMENTARY: One would have expected
Jonathan to have left one already, but the one he’d left might have switched
sides. During peacetime, after all, he probably
garrisoned it with locals.
35) When Jonathan
returned, he assembled the elders of the people, and with them he made plans
for building strongholds in Judea,
COMMENTARY: If Joppa is any indicator, a
lot of precautions had slipped during peacetime. Now they had to fix this oversight in a
36) for making the
walls of Jerusalem still higher, and for erecting a high barrier between the
citadel and the city, to separate it from the city and isolate it, so that its
garrison could neither buy nor sell.
COMMENTARY: In other words, to starve
them out. Apparently the Greek garrison
had been coming out for shopping trips in town just like the locals.
37) The people
therefore gathered together to build up the city, for part of the wall of the
eastern valley had collapsed. And Jonathan repaired the quarter called
COMMENTARY: One source says that the
wall collapsed from putting too much weight on it, the workers trying to build
it up in a hurry without widening and strengthening the base. That says volumes about the sense of urgency
about these preparations—and also something about the ultimate delays that
haste can cause.
likewise built up Adida in the Shephelah, and fortified it by installing gates
COMMENTARY: Adida’s high position,
overlooking the plain, made it strategically important. And why didn’t it have gates and bars
already? What’s the good of a wall
around a city if it has a gaping, unpluggable hole in it? But perhaps in times of peace they built the
wall more to keep out sheep than soldiers.
39) Then Trypho sought
to become king of Asia, assume the diadem, and do violence to King Antiochus.
COMMENTARY: The same King Antiochus that
he made his puppet monarch in childhood.
Has the boy grown up enough to have a mind of his own? Coins minted at the time in fact already
showed Trypho wearing the diadem.
Antiochus might have objected.
40) But he was afraid
that Jonathan would not permit him, but would fight against him. Looking for a
way to seize and kill him, he set out and came to Beth-shan.
COMMENTARY: Considering that,
technically, Jonathan had made his oath of mutual protection to Antiochus rather
than to Trypho, I’d call that a reasonable fear.
41) Jonathan marched
out to meet him with forty thousand picked fighting men and came to Beth-shan.
COMMENTARY: With Demetrius testing the
borders, Jonathan might have assumed that Trypho wanted him to show up
42) But when Trypho
saw that Jonathan had arrived with a large army he was afraid to do him
COMMENTARY: Apparently Trypho had
intelligence that Jonathan did not, that King Arsaces IV of Parthia had taken
Demetrius II prisoner in his retreat.
Which also must have influenced Trypho’s power-move. He might have expected to find Jonathan
off-guard with the most obvious enemy taken out of the equation. But Jonathan still anticipated Demetrius
making another try.
43) Instead, he
received him with honor, introduced him to all his friends, and gave him
presents. He also ordered his friends and soldiers to obey him as they would
COMMENTARY: Nothing like gifts and
flattery to set someone up for betrayal.
44) Then he said to
Jonathan: “Why have you put all these people to so much trouble when we are not
COMMENTARY: Trypho might have told him,
at this point, that Demetrius wouldn’t come back to bother them any time soon,
which would make roaming about with an army seem now unnecessary.
pick out a few men to stay with you, send the rest to their homes, and then
come with me to Ptolemais. I will hand it over to you together with other
strongholds and the remaining troops, as well as all the officials; then I will
turn back and go home. That is why I came here.”
COMMENTARY: Such sweet bait! Demetrius I had offered him Ptolemais, and he’d
wanted it ever since. It would have
provided Galilee with a port to the larger ocean.
46) Jonathan trusted
him and did as he said. He dismissed his troops, and they returned to the land
COMMENTARY: Why shouldn’t Jonathan
believe an ally who had stayed true so far?
47) But he kept with
him three thousand men, of whom he left two thousand in Galilee while one
thousand accompanied him.
COMMENTARY: This would be more of an
honor-guard than anything.
48) Then as soon as
Jonathan entered Ptolemais, the people of Ptolemais closed the gates and seized
him; all who had entered with him, they killed with the sword.
COMMENTARY: And the trap springs. A thousand men inside a city would quickly
find themselves maneuvered into narrow streets and alleys where they couldn’t
make use of their numbers. And they were
probably outnumbered anyway. And many of
those outnumbering them probably had positions high on the city walls shooting
arrows down on the trapped men.
Why mention killing them with the sword, then?
A well-placed arrow-shot could kill, but a wholesale barrage more often
wounded, and the weakened or crippled survivors would then have to be
dispatched at swordpoint.
49) Then Trypho sent
soldiers and cavalry to Galilee and the Great Plain to destroy all Jonathan’s men.
COMMENTARY: The Great Plain would be
Beth-Shan, a fine place to surround outnumbered troops.
50) These, upon
learning that Jonathan had been captured and killed along with his companions,
encouraged one another and went out in close formation, ready to fight. 51) As their pursuers
saw that they were ready to fight for their lives, they turned back.
COMMENTARY: Close formation means that
the Jewish army marched close enough together that their upraised shields
formed a solid wall, with their spears braced on top, making them about as
attractive a target as a porcupine. Rows
behind the front row would have spears ready to go over the shoulders of those
ahead of them. One could overcome such a
defensive position only after your own first ranks died to win you an opening.
But it meant more than that. Closed
ranks is a difficult maneuver to coordinate.
A general would not expect leaderless men to manage this by themselves—especially
not with the hierarchical thinking of the day.
Trypho might have assumed that Simon had joined the fight, bringing
In fact Simon had had no such opportunity, and
probably didn’t even know yet that his brother had died—but his actions in
Joppa did place him somewhere on the coast.
Trypho would have known no more than that. He would have had to assume that Simon had turned
up closer than he’d originally thought.
He had no idea, now, what odds he faced, and didn’t want to find out the
hard way that they didn’t favor him.
As I’ve said before, it’s all about which side seizes the morale. If you had assumed that your enemy would have
already lost their morale with their leader (as commonly happened in those
days) and you expected an easy fight, the sight of them standing pat could
suffice to rob you of your own morale instead.
52) Thus all
Jonathan’s men came safely into the land of Judah. They mourned Jonathan and
those who were with him. They were in great fear, and all Israel fell into deep
COMMENTARY: Because losing a leader in
the middle of an unexpected attack really was a big deal, however brave a face
they tried to put on it.
53) All the nations
round about sought to crush them. They said, “Now that they have no leader or
helper, let us make war on them and wipe out their memory from the earth.”
The smell of blood is on the wind.
Especially since both rival powers that Jonathan had been playing off
one another now oppose Israel simultaneously.
And Sparta and Rome lay very far away.