1) About this time Antiochus sent his second expedition into Egypt.
COMMENTARY: There’s some debate here as
to whether the author has simply skipped the first invasion, or accounted the
invasion of Palestine as the first one (since Palestine was then Egyptian
property.) Whatever the case, he seems
to have combined two pillages of Jerusalem, two years apart, into one. Not without justification, as the second was
kind of a continuation of the first.
2) It then
happened that all over the city, for nearly forty days, there appeared
horsemen, clothed in garments of a golden weave, charging in midair—companies
fully armed with lances and drawn swords; 3) squadrons
of cavalry in battle array, charges and countercharges on this side and that,
with brandished shields and bristling spears, flights of arrows and flashes of
gold ornaments, together with armor of every sort.
COMMENTARY: “Forty” in Biblical writings
simply means “Lots and lots.” I would
extrapolate, then, that “nearly forty days” could mean, “Maybe not so much, but
plenty enough to get our attention.”
Visions of armies in the sky have happened in other times and places,
intriguingly also often wearing golden armor.
The earliest I could track down was a vision of the prophet Elisha, and
the latest the Miracles of Mons in WWI.
So far all examples I’ve seen extend from the Middle East westward all
the way to America, with the most examples in Europe, but lack of mention in
Africa or far Asia might simply reflect my own lack of access to information
about these regions. Sometimes such
battles prophecy earthly battles to come, or battles between good and evil, but
they can also indicate heavenly protection.
4) Therefore all prayed that this vision might be a good
COMMENTARY: They’re hoping for the
heavenly defenders explanation, or at least a battle between good and evil in
which good triumphs. Sadly, it turned
out to be the one option they didn’t want.
5) But when a false rumor circulated that
Antiochus was dead, Jason gathered
at least a thousand men and suddenly attacked the city. As the defenders on the
walls were forced back and the city was finally being taken, Menelaus took
refuge in the citadel.
COMMENTARY: This was that same Jason who
stole the High Priesthood from his brother Onias, who then lost it to his
brother Menelaus. Priests behaving
6) For his part, Jason continued the
merciless slaughter of his fellow citizens, not realizing that triumph over
one’s own kindred is the greatest calamity; he thought he was winning a victory
over his enemies, not over his own people.
COMMENTARY: People in power in all ages
and places should take this to heart.
7) Even so, he did not gain control of
the government, but in the end received only disgrace for his treachery, and
once again took refuge in the country of the Ammonites.
COMMENTARY: Even in the days of
autocrats it has always been hard to rule without at least some degree of
consent from the people. Conquerors
usually bring consent with them in the form of armies and colonists, but even
they have to persuade at least some citizens that they’d be better off with the
conquerors than without. It’s like
playing “Survivor”—you can make it to the final council and still not win, if
you haven’t played a good social game.
8) At length he met a miserable end.
Called to account before Aretas,
ruler of the Arabians, he fled from city to city, hunted by all, hated as an
apostate from the laws, abhorred as the executioner of his country and his
compatriots. Driven into Egypt,
COMMENTARY: King Aretas I of the
Nabateans. It wasn’t that he had any
particular commitment to Jewish law himself, but if somebody would betray his
own God, his own family, and his own people for the sake of ambition, no king
would want him anywhere near the throne.
9) he set out by sea for the
Lacedaemonians, among whom he hoped to find protection because of his relations
with them. He who had exiled so many from their country perished in exile;
COMMENTARY: AKA the Spartans. He wanted to be Greek, so he got his
wish. Except that the only place he found
welcome was in the harshest culture of the entire ancient world.
10) and he who had cast out so many to lie unburied went
unmourned and without a funeral of any kind, nor any place in the tomb of his
would seem an especially fearful end to a Jew.
While Jews have deliberately understated funerary arrangements (only
recently, for instance, accepting unadorned coffins to supplement the shroud,
and only if it is made of wood and has holes in the bottom to hasten returning
to the Earth) the mourning and prayers for the dead are elaborate and
important, to help support the soul’s transition, whatever form it might
take. Depending on which version of an
afterlife the person subscribes to, failure could mean either annihilation or
being stuck in a kind of nowhere, but either way one never gets to join one’s
these happenings were reported to the king, he thought that Judea was in
revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by
COMMENTARY: Very different from the 1
Maccabees account, which gives no reason for the crackdown, making it look like
Antioch was just antisemitic. He still
behaved egregiously, but the institution of absolute monarchy requires a swift
and heavy-handed response to rebellion—too swift, sometimes, to wait for the
facts. Which does not excuse
Antiochus. No mere mortal deserves such
absolute power, especially not at such a price.
12) He ordered his soldiers to cut down
without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their
houses. 13) There was a
massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of
young women and infants. 14) In the space of three
days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and
the same number being sold into slavery.
COMMENTARY: He would order this to not
only crush rebellion, but to scare any other parts of his empire from getting
ideas. The problem is, once the facts
caught up him, it would come out that he slaughtered innocent people with no
rebellious intent, and the attack would backfire. People believed that the gods upheld just
monarchs, but not those who spilled innocent blood. Antiochus would have to deal with increased
rebellions throughout his realm for the rest of his life.
And his attack became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Jews didn’t have any particular impetus
to rebel before this. Now they did.
15) Not satisfied with this, the king
dared to enter the holiest temple in the world; Menelaus, that traitor both to
the laws and to his country, served as guide.
COMMENTARY: Menelaus’s modus operandi
has always been to steal the wherewithal to finance bribery, to permit greater
thefts to finance greater bribery.
Naturally, when faced with a king on a killing rampage, his first
impulse would be to calm him with loot.
16) He laid his impure hands on the sacred
vessels and swept up with profane hands the votive offerings made by other
kings for the advancement, the glory, and the honor of the place. 17) Antiochus became puffed up in spirit,
not realizing that it was because of the sins of the city’s inhabitants that
the Sovereign Lord was angry for a little while: hence the disregard of the
place. 18) If they had not become entangled in so many sins, this
man, like that Heliodorus sent by King Seleucus to inspect the treasury, would
have been flogged and turned back from his presumptuous act as soon as he
COMMENTARY: Normally a Greek would
hesitate to loot anybody’s temple, whether of his own religion or not. But Antiochus’s surprising success in “putting
down a rebellion” (abetted by the fact that nobody had raised arms against him
and were still reeling from Jason’s attack) plus the obvious disregard that
Menelaus had for the sacred objects, would convince him that this deity had no real
power, and the beating of Heliodorus must have been some trick. Perhaps the deity Himself had been a
charlatan’s invention. High Priest Menelaus
certainly seemed to think so.
19) The Lord, however, had not chosen the
nation for the sake of the place, but the place for the sake of the nation.
COMMENTARY: This invokes the immigrant
nature of the Israelites, but it also introduces an important concept: that the
God of Israel is portable. Defeat of a
location does not defeat this God. This
will matter later in the formation of Christianity. The word “Catholic” means “universal” and the
idea behind it was that people of any ethnicity could become Christians.
As the following verse shows, “chosen for” also has the connotation of an
arranged marriage. Marriage metaphors
abound in the Bible.
20) Therefore, the place itself, having shared in the
nation’s misfortunes, afterward participated in their good fortune; and what
the Almighty had forsaken in wrath was restored in all its glory, once the
great Sovereign Lord became reconciled.
COMMENTARY: The land, animistically, can
participate in good fortune or bad, even as a bride suffers or benefits from
the bad or good choices of her spouse.
Antiochus carried off eighteen hundred talents from the temple and hurried back
to Antioch, thinking in his arrogance that he could make the land navigable and
the sea passable on foot, so carried away was he with pride.
COMMENTARY: I have to say, that’s a nice
piece of sarcasm!
22) He left governors to harass the
nation: at Jerusalem, Philip, a Phrygian by birth, and in character more barbarous than the man who
COMMENTARY: The Phrygian Philip was
probably not the same Philip mentioned later as becoming the regent. Antiochus exiled 2,000 Jewish families to
Phrygia, so the Judeans did not think kindly of it.
23) at Mount Gerizim, Andronicus; and besides these, Menelaus, who lorded
it over his fellow citizens more than the others. Out of hatred for the Jewish
the king sent Apollonius, commander of the Mysians, at the head of an army of
twenty-two thousand, with orders to kill all the grown men and sell the women
and children into slavery.
COMMENTARY: Mt. Gerizim was the mountain
held sacred by the Samaritans. So both
Old Israel and Judea faced increased oppression. You might recall Apollonius from 1 Maccabees,
who sweet-talked his way into Jerusalem with words of peace, and then ravaged
25) When this man arrived in Jerusalem, he
pretended to be peacefully disposed and waited until the holy day of the
sabbath; then, finding the Jews refraining from work, he ordered his men to
parade fully armed. 26)
All those who came out to watch,
he massacred, and running through the city with armed men, he cut down a large
number of people.
COMMENTARY: Here we get more detail than
in 1 Maccabees, that he waited for the day when he could get the maximum crowd
of spectators to massacre, when everybody was off work and free to hang out at
27) But Judas Maccabeus and about nine others
withdrew to the wilderness to avoid sharing in defilement; there he and his
companions lived like the animals in the hills, eating what grew wild.
And now we finally get to the title figures of the book!