Chapter 16

1 Maccabees 15

1)  John then went up from Gazara and told his father Simon what Cendebeus was doing.

COMMENTARY:  As you’ll recall from last week, he was ransacking the countryside, taking slaves and massacring people, on the new king’s behalf.  It’s hard to imagine today, with our instant communication, how much mischief could go on in a nation before its government even found out.



2)  Simon called his two oldest sons, Judas and John, and said to them: “I and my brothers and my father’s house have fought the wars of Israel from our youth until today, and many times we succeeded in saving Israel. 3)  I have now grown old, but you, by the mercy of Heaven, have come to maturity. Take my place and my brother’s, and go out and fight for our nation; and may the help of Heaven be with you!”

COMMENTARY:  In other words, “I paid my dues—now it’s your turn.”  No generation can leave us a world with all problems solved and all work done.  We can only take up the labor wherever the last generation left off, and hope that somebody picks it up after us.



4)  John then mustered in the land twenty thousand warriors and cavalry. Setting out against Cendebeus, they spent the night at Modein, 5) rose early, and marched into the plain. There, facing them, was an immense army of foot soldiers and cavalry, and between the two armies was a wadi.

COMMENTARY:  This is a problem.  Whoever occupies the lowest ground becomes especially vulnerable to arrows from those on higher ground (or, in this day and age, bullets.)  If the wadi happens to have a river or stream in it, that further complicates the position.

So the question is, who attacks first?  Usually the first move gives the first advantage, but not if one has to go to lower ground to do it.



6)  John and his people took their position against the enemy. Seeing that his people were afraid to cross the wadi, John crossed first. When his men saw this, they crossed over after him.

COMMENTARY:  John opts to take the risk, in leadership by example.



7)  Then he divided his infantry and put his cavalry in the center, for the enemy’s cavalry were very numerous.

COMMENTARY:  I think this means that the infantry took the “Square Formation” around their cavalry.  Normally, the square is hollow, but in this case they wanted to protect their horses for later.  Just matching cavalry against cavalry wouldn’t have worked with the horsemen being so outnumbered.  The Square is one of the best ways to handle an army with a much larger cavalry.

In the ancient version, one row of soldiers kneels on one knee behind their shields with spears stretched out between the shields (only one knee so that they can spring to their feet quickly should they need to shift position.)  Another row stands behind the kneelers, with shields raised to protect both themselves and the heads of the kneelers, again with spears between shields.  Behind them might be a row of archers shooting over their heads.  Having men face all four directions means that the horsemen can’t ride around and get behind the shields.

The enemy has to try to break the square before they can make any headway against the army.  Sometimes they’d do this by charging the corners—the weakest points.  (And why don’t they form into a circle? Because it’s faster and less confusing to order men into the clear-cut geometry of a square; fast and clear matter a great deal because even better than breaking a square is not giving it a chance to form in the first place.)

Another tactic is to try and lure the soldiers with feints to fire off their arrows or guns at the wrong time.  Too soon and they expend ammunition without effect; too late and they risk having a wounded horse topple into the shields, creating a breach. 


  The square has become obsolete in modern warfare as one may break it easily with artillery.



8)  They blew the trumpets, and Cendebeus and his army were routed; many of them fell wounded, and the rest fled toward the stronghold.

COMMENTARY:  As the use of trumpets in warfare was still relatively new, and horse spook from unfamiliar things, the trumpets (or possibly shofars) might have caused the rout.  The verse offers no other explanation as to how the Jewish defensive position got a chance to turn offensive.  In any case, at this point the protected cavalry would come into play in the pursuit.



9) It was then that John’s brother Judas fell wounded; but John pursued them until Cendebeus reached Kedron, which he had fortified.

COMMENTARY:  If he had stopped for his brother’s sake, the fleeing enemy could have rallied and attacked, and none of the wounded would have survived.



10)  Some took refuge in the towers on the plain of Azotus, but John set fire to these, and about two thousand of the enemy perished. He then returned to Judea in peace.

COMMENTARY:  I can’t help but shudder at this ugly way to die!  The idea behind taking refuge in towers is to be able to fight by archery from higher ground and behind protective walls, so it did take courage to approach close enough to set the towers on fire, from which there could have been no escape.  I can only hope that the horses, not being stair-climbers, dodged the end of the battle.



11) Ptolemy, son of Abubus, had been appointed governor of the plain of Jericho, and he had much silver and gold, 12)  being the son-in-law of the high priest.

COMMENTARY:  Connecting these two verses together indicates some nepotism going on.  “He’s the son-in-law of Simon so of COURSE he’s rich, and well-appointed besides.”  It sounds to me like both Simon’s integrity and his wisdom failed him in regards to family.



13)  But his heart became proud and he was determined to get control of the country. So he made treacherous plans to do away with Simon and his sons.

COMMENTARY:  Such an ingrate!  One has to wonder if ambition had more to do with his marriage than love.  (Families arranged marriages in those days, but often sons and daughters would tell their parents who they’d choose if they could.)



14) As Simon was inspecting the cities of the country and providing for their needs, he and his sons Mattathias and Judas went down to Jericho in the one hundred and seventy-seventh year, in the eleventh month (that is, the month Shebat).

COMMENTARY:  That would be sometime in late January or early February, 134 BC by the Temple Calendar.



15The son of Abubus gave them a deceitful welcome in the little stronghold called Dok which he had built. He served them a sumptuous banquet, but he had his men hidden there.

COMMENTARY:  He built Dok upon a cliff three miles (almost five kilometers)northwest of Jericho.  Today the site’s near Ain Duq.



16) Then, when Simon and his sons were drunk, Ptolemy and his men sprang up, weapons in hand, rushed upon Simon in the banquet hall, and killed him, his two sons, and some of his servants. 17) By this vicious act of treachery he repaid good with evil.

COMMENTARY:  What an ignominious end to Simon’s career!  But it would probably have been hard to catch the old warrior flatfooted any other way.



18) Then Ptolemy wrote a report and sent it to the king, asking him to send troops to help him and to turn over to him their country and its cities.

COMMENTARY:  Hoping, no doubt, to be richly rewarded.  But such men don’t realize that such rewards don’t last long.  How could the king ever trust him?



19)  He sent other men to Gazara to do away with John. To the army officers he sent letters inviting them to come to him so that he might present them with silver, gold, and gifts.

COMMENTARY:  If these were mercenaries, they might simply see this as a renegotiation of their contract or a shift in employer.  If they were native Jewish soldiers, he had to be hoping that they were as venal as himself.




20)  He also sent others to seize Jerusalem and the temple mount.

COMMENTARY:  A crucial position to hold, if one wants to become the new ethnarch.



21)  But someone ran ahead and brought word to John at Gazara that his father and his brothers had perished, and “Ptolemy has sent men to kill you also.” 22)  On hearing this, John was utterly astounded. When the men came to kill him, he seized them and put them to death, for he knew that they sought to kill him.

COMMENTARY:  I’m sure it must have been a terrible shock, for his father to have fended off so many foreign enemies, only to fall at the hand of kin!



23) Now the rest of the acts of John, his wars and the brave deeds he performed, his rebuilding of the walls, and all his achievements— 24)  these are recorded in the chronicle of his high priesthood, from the time that he succeeded his father as high priest.


COMMENTARY:  John lived and ruled for thirty years more.  The wording of this anticipates that this part of 1 Maccabees, at least, was written after John’s death.

And here ends 1 Maccabees.  Next week we start the whole tale all over again, from a different perspective and some curious additions, in 2 Maccabees.

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