1) After these
agreements were made, Lysias returned to the king, and the Jews went about
COMMENTARY: The image most often used to
illustrate “Shalom” (often translated as “Peace” but closer to “Contentment”)
is “Every man shall sit under his own fig tree and vine.” The good life, then, is seen as a farm where
you have everything you need, you have no desire for anything that is not
yours, you eat the sweet fruit of your own labor, and you have enough time left
between labors to sit in the shade.
So farming becomes a symbol for peace.
Nobody gets much farming done in a wartorn country. Not only are the men away fighting the
invader, but as I’ve mentioned before, cleared fields make ideal
battlegrounds. Famines often followed
Ironically, soon after the events in the books of Maccabees, Judea will come
under the thumb of an empire that has no such context. Far from equating farming with peace, the
Romans turned their agricultural deity into a war-god. Mars began as a nature god of the wild, and
then of the living things of the farm as well, then wholly agricultural, then
the defender of the fields, then the defender of the people, then a deity of
conquest. By then it had become
fashionable to declare every Roman deity to be equivalent to a Greek deity, and
so Mars became conflated with Ares, but they really had nothing much in common
aside from weaponry.
By the time of Jesus, Romans grew very little of their own food, being an urban
people; food came from other countries.
Ceres replaced Mars in agriculture, on a much lower rung in the patriarchy. (And no, I’m not being politically modern,
here—Romans literally made patriarchy the model for all human institutions.) So to them anybody sitting under his own fig
tree and grapevine, not wanting anybody else’s figs or grapes, had failed to
expand his nation’s territory, power, and slaves, and so deserved to be
2) But some of the local governors,
Timothy and Apollonius, son of Gennaeus, as also Hieronymus and Demophon, to say nothing of Nicanor, the
commander of the Cyprians, would not allow them to live in peace and quiet.
COMMENTARY: Calling Apollonius the son
of Gennaeus makes clear that he’s not the same Apollonius sired by Menestheus,
mentioned elsewhere. Also, this Nicanor
is probably not the same as Nicanor to be mentioned in chapter 14, though I don’t
know why the scholars came to that conclusion.
3) Some people of Joppa also committed
this outrage: they invited the Jews who lived among them, together with their
wives and children, to embark on boats which they had provided. There was no
hint of enmity toward them. 4) This
was done by public vote of the city. When the Jews, wishing to live on friendly
terms and not suspecting anything, accepted the invitation, the people of Joppa
took them out to sea and drowned at least two hundred of them.
COMMENTARY: So now we have another
reason to wage war on Joppa, aside from its strategical advantage of being a
port. Regarding the vote, only landed
citizens could have participated; Jews, as immigrants, would not have known what
the vote actually concerned. They
probably heard, in the invitation, “Your nation has shown itself powerful and
we want to be friends”, when the actual thought might have been, “Your nation
has shown itself powerful so now we’re afraid of you.”
5) As soon as Judas heard of the
barbarous deed perpetrated against his compatriots, he summoned his men; 6) and after calling upon God, the just
judge, he marched against the murderers of his kindred. In a night attack he
set the harbor on fire, burned the boats, and put to the sword those who had
taken refuge there. 7)
Because the gates of the town were
shut, he withdrew, intending to come back later and wipe out the entire
population of Joppa.
COMMENTARY: Matching genocide for
genocide would make sense under the rule of eye for an eye justice, a rule
better than what went before, as it assured that people, in their rage at
wrongs done against them, didn’t escalate vengeance past the initial offense
with every exchange. I know that if somebody gouged out my eye, I’d want to
However, in this case we see why this rule ultimately fails to bring true
justice. The Joppans killed not just the
male Jews of fighting age, but also harmless women and children. So eye-for-an-eye would call for killing not
only those who voted for this massacre, but also the Joppan women and children
who had no vote. We know today just how
wrong that is.
8) On hearing that the people of Jamnia
planned in the same way to wipe out the Jews who lived among them, 9) he attacked the Jamnians by night, setting fire to the
harbor and the fleet, so that the glow of the flames was visible as far as
Jerusalem, thirty miles away.
COMMENTARY: He set fire to the fleets
here and in Joppa to allow no avenue of escape.
One way to break the cycle of reprisals is to make sure that nobody
survives capable of vengeance. Which is
why we ultimately need to find some alternative to vengeance.
the Jews had gone about a mile from there in the march against Timothy, they
were attacked by Arabians numbering at least five thousand foot soldiers and
five hundred cavalry.
COMMENTARY: The writer is vague about
where “there” is. Certainly not Joppa or
11) After a hard fight, Judas and his
companions, with God’s help, were victorious. The defeated nomads begged Judas
to give pledges of friendship, and they promised to supply the Jews with
livestock and to be of service to them in any other way.
COMMENTARY: Livestock was the chief
stock in trade of nomads, and usually what prompted the nomadic lifestyle in
the first place, traveling to different grazing grounds. Indeed, the Israelites began as a nomadic
people, themselves, a wandering nation of shepherds, before settling down in
12) Realizing that they could indeed be useful in many
respects, Judas agreed to make peace with them. After the pledges of friendship
had been exchanged, the Arabians withdrew to their tents.
COMMENTARY: Napoleon Bonaparte once
said, “An army marches on its stomach.”
Supplying the Maccabean forces with fresh meat would be a great
boon! Especially since the nomadic Arabs
could send live animals wherever the army went.
Sure beats dried and over-salted fare that could still go off in the
desert sun when you least expected it.
But the alliance had still more to offer than that. Leather, for one thing, held together the
armor of that era. It suffered
considerable damage on the road and in battle and needed constantly replaced. Leather came from herders.
Leather shoes also mattered a great deal, because soldiers spent most of their
lives on the march. The Romans used to
dock a soldier’s wages if he neglected his footwear with resulting damage to
his feet and impaired worth in combat.
Even as late as the 20th century Che Guevara made the
recruitment of cobblers a priority in the Cuban revolution, and he had much
softer ground to deal with.
And then there was wool. We who can go into a store in any town and
buy clothing can take it for granted, but when you’re on the march, sleeping
often on the ground, frequently engaging in combat, and generally exposing your
clothing to a lot of wear and tear, while your chief source of clothing repair
or replacement—your wife—is miles away, you come to appreciate any assistance
you can get in that regard. Arab women had
perfected the art of making the spinning of wool and the weaving of fabric
Most important of all, however, was the usefulness of
Arab spies. Their mobility recommended
them, and they were less likely to meet spears, when stumbling across Greek
forces, than an army in open opposition.
Simple information like numbers and locations of forces—the sort of
thing that shepherds could easily observe—could turn the tide in a time of zero
13) He also attacked a certain city called
Caspin, fortified with earthworks and walls and inhabited by a mixed population
COMMENTARY: I couldn’t find out anything
about Caspin, aside that it had many, many variations on its name, and several
possibilities as to where it might have stood.
I have no idea what strategic value, if any, it might have had. Maybe its mixed population made Judas fear
where its loyalties might lie.
14) Relying on the strength of their walls
and their supply of provisions, the besieged treated Judas and his men with
contempt, insulting them and even uttering blasphemies and profanity.
COMMENTARY: It shouldn’t surprise the
author too much if some people in a diverse city with many non-Jews would blaspheme
against a religion they don’t personally believe, in the heat of battle. We will, however, see that the Ephronites
resisted the urge to do so and fought with more dignity.
Why do we get such pleasure out of trash-talking our enemies? It doesn’t weaken them any. Quite the reverse; it motivates them to deal
more brutally with us, and boosts their morale to think of wiping that smug
expression off our faces, preferably with a sword. Or if one’s objective is not battle at all,
but winning an argument, it hardens the opposition against listening to
anything we have to say.
Really, where does this instinct come from?
I think we’ve all done it as children, though some of us mature out of
it sooner than others. Usually when I
see a maladaptive behavior, I can find some instinctive purpose behind it, even
if warped from that original intent.
Vengeance, for instance, is a maladaption of the desire to make sure
that somebody else never hurts one again.
Surely something as widespread as trash-talking must have some lost,
primordial purpose from which it has warped.
But I can’t figure out what. It
doesn’t seem to accomplish any desired end.
15) But Judas and his men invoked the aid
of the great Sovereign of the world, who, in the days of Joshua, overthrew
Jericho without battering rams or siege engines; then they furiously stormed
COMMENTARY: Invoking Jericho gave the
soldiers confidence in the face of an imposing barrier to overcome. The writer intends this, in turn, to
similarly inspire the Egyptian Jews.
A city identified as Jericho by 19th century archaeologist Charles
Warren later turned out to not have been occupied at the alleged time of the
Battle of Jericho, and apparently its collapsed walls fell to a much later
Egyptian assault with siege engines.
This has led many to disregard the story of Jericho as a fiction.
I’m open to its historicity, however.
Warren could have misidentified the site. Biblical dates frequently hold more symbolic
than historic significance. We have
hardly scratched the surface of excavatable tells and ruins in the Middle East. And the region is certainly fraught with
enough earthquake faults to make a city’s wall collapsing in time for a battle
And yes, it would still count as a miracle if an earthquake hit Jericho—a
miracle of timing. Besides, the Creator
of the Earth knows all about geology and how best to use it.
16) Capturing the city by the will of God, they inflicted
such indescribable slaughter on it that the adjacent pool, which was about a
quarter of a mile wide, seemed to be filled with the blood that flowed into it.
COMMENTARY: I wouldn’t consider this
something to brag about. But the writer’s
purpose is to say, “We are mighty!” not “We are gentle,” when speaking to a
frightened community on the verge of facing a genocidal massacre, as the
Egyptian Jewish community did at that time.
they had gone on some ninety miles, they reached Charax, where there were
certain Jews known as Toubians.
COMMENTARY: As mentioned before in 1
Maccabees, they lived in the land of Tob.
I can’t help but wonder if they have any connection to Tobit or Tobias.
18) But they did not find Timothy in that
region, for he had already departed from there without having done anything
except to leave behind in one place a very strong garrison.
COMMENTARY: Finding out your enemy’s
location took a whole lot more trouble in the ancient world.
19) But Dositheus and Sosipater, two of
Maccabeus’ captains, marched out and destroyed the force of more than ten
thousand men that Timothy had left in the stronghold.
COMMENTARY: Presumably Dositheus and
Solsipater had a force of their own.
(And yes, further reading does show this.)
20) Meanwhile, Maccabeus divided his army
into cohorts, with a commander over each cohort, and went in pursuit of
Timothy, who had a force of a hundred and twenty thousand foot soldiers and
twenty-five hundred cavalry.
COMMENTARY: These divided cohorts would
have more flexibility than Timothy’s larger but more unwieldy force.
21) When Timothy learned of the approach
of Judas, he sent on ahead of him the women and children, as well as the
baggage, to a place called Karnion, which was hard to besiege and even hard to
reach because of the difficult terrain of that region.
COMMENTARY: These would be the camp
followers, essential to armies before the World Wars developed the ability to
mobilize support personnel. They were
generally women with nowhere else to go; often war refugees, themselves, or
captives, or the daughters of camp-followers, but also women of ruined
reputation who couldn’t get a husband, prostitutes without a pimp, or orphans
without income. Divorced women whose
families wouldn’t take them back could also wind up as camp-followers. They often would attach themselves to
specific soldiers as de facto camp-wives and bear their lover’s children on the
They provided sewing, laundry, cooking, sex, and
especially nursing; without them many a soldier would never have made it home
to his official wife and children. They
were brave and tough and they and their offspring led a hard life. I am glad to hear that Timothy, for all his
faults, took care for their safety.
22) But when Judas’ first cohort appeared,
the enemy was overwhelmed with fear and terror at the manifestation of the
all-seeing One. Scattering in every direction, they rushed away in such
headlong flight that in many cases they wounded one another, pierced by the
points of their own swords. 23) Judas pressed the
pursuit vigorously, putting the sinners to the sword and destroying as many as
thirty thousand men.
COMMENTARY: Panic in the enemy’s forces
gives more advantage than the most impressive weapons. Indeed, the only point of impressive weapons
is to frighten the enemy into surrendering.
But if one can achieve the same end without, all the better. In this case the author ascribes the panic to
the work of God.
Timothy himself fell into the hands of those under
Dositheus and Sosipater; but with great cunning, he begged them to spare his
life and let him go, because he had in his power the parents and relatives of
many of them, and would show them no consideration. 25) When he had fully confirmed his solemn pledge to restore
them unharmed, they let him go for the sake of saving their relatives.
COMMENTARY: This is a terrible and
unethical advantage to press, but very effective. This was the reason that Tokyo Rose was
ultimately pardoned for her treason against the United States, when it came out
that the Japanese government had held her mother and sister as hostages and
would torture them should she fail to comply with the broadcasts that they
wanted her to make. Even so, she managed
to smuggle messages into the broadcasts that the U.S. government later revealed
had given them advantage.
Axis Annie had no such luck. She had
fallen in love with a Nazi. She tried to
argue that this was excuse enough for her misdeeds, but nobody bought it.
26) Judas then marched to Karnion and the shrine of Atargatis, where he
killed twenty-five thousand people.
COMMENTARY: Atargatis was a Syrian goddess,
whom the Greeks identified as equivalent to both their own Artemis and the
Canaanite Astarte, on account of all three being associated with the moon. (How they reconciled virginal Artemis and
promiscuous Astarte, I can hardly imagine!)
Although long considered a mermaid, archaeologists have since determined
that ancient sculptures thought to depict her as fish-bodied in fact had
somebody else in mind, and that the Syrians traditionally depicted Atargatis in
27) After the defeat and destruction of these, he moved
his army to Ephron, a fortified city inhabited by Lysias and people of many
nationalities. Robust young men took up their posts in defense of the walls,
from which they fought valiantly; inside were large supplies of war machines
and missiles. 28) But the Jews,
invoking the Sovereign who powerfully shatters the might of enemies, got
possession of the city and slaughtered twenty-five thousand of the people in
COMMENTARY: The people of Ephron get
respect, unlike the Caspinites. Perhaps
the lack of trash-talk factored in. I
also notice that not all of the people were slain, the number 25,000 being
subtracted from “the people in it.”
Presumably only the combatants met their end.
Then they set out from there and hastened on to
Scythopolis, seventy-five miles
COMMENTARY: The Greeks gave the name
Scythopolis to the Jewish city of Beth-shan.
I would presume it had a lot of Scythians in it. Judas is targeting the multicultural cities.
30) But when the Jews who lived there
testified to the goodwill shown by the Scythopolitans and to their kind
treatment even in times of adversity, 31) Judas
and his men thanked them and exhorted them to be well disposed to their nation
in the future also. Finally they arrived in Jerusalem, shortly before the feast
COMMENTARY: So the enemy here is not
cultural diversity, but cultural hostility.
Where other cultures can live in harmony with their Jewish neighbors,
Judas has no justification for attack and so refrains.
This is what a lot of people don’t get about the Koran. When it promotes violence against non-Muslims,
it’s only talking about doing so when members of those other religions menace
them. That’s why ISIL had to put a lot
of effort and a whole lot of spin into trying to convince Muslims that they
were indeed menaced with bodily harm by non-Muslims. Trash-talking on our part (speaking
personally as a Christian, myself) gave them a lot of material to warp to their
32) After this feast, also called
Pentecost, they lost no time in marching against Gorgias, governor of Idumea, 33) who opposed them with three thousand
foot soldiers and four hundred cavalry.
COMMENTARY: As we’ve discussed before,
this feast simultaneously celebrated the material harvest of the fields that
fed people’s bodies, and the feast for the soul of receiving the long-awaited
In this case Judas would have seen his recent victories as a harvest, and the
closing of a cycle. Now he’s about to
start a new cycle against the crafty and unscrupulous Gorgias.
34) In the ensuing battle, a few of the Jews were slain.
COMMENTARY: Of course this happened in
every battle unless it specifically mentions a miraculous sparing of all. But there’s a reason to specify it here, as
you will see.
35) A man called Dositheus, a powerful
horseman and one of Bacenor’s men,
caught hold of Gorgias, grasped his military cloak and dragged him along by
brute strength, intending to capture the vile wretch alive, when a Thracian
horseman attacked Dositheus and cut off his arm at the shoulder. Then Gorgias
fled to Marisa.
COMMENTARY: Some ancient manuscripts
say, “one of the Toubians” instead of “one of Bacenor’s men”. Was Bacenor a Toubian? Were there political reasons to emphasize Tob
at one time and later political reasons to downplay it? I may never know.
Putting this immediately after the mention of fatalities leads me to speculate
that Dositheus didn’t survive his amputation.
Few did in the days before aseptic medical practices. Even without sepsis, he stood pretty good
odds of bleeding out.
36) After Esdris and his men had been
fighting for a long time and were weary, Judas called upon the Lord to show
himself their ally and leader in the battle.
COMMENTARY: A prolonged battle means
bleeding more morale the longer it lasts, till victory eventually falls to the
most recently refreshed or the most dogged—a crucial time to pray for aid!
37) Then, raising a battle cry in his ancestral language,
and with hymns, he charged Gorgias’ men when they were not expecting it and put
them to flight.
COMMENTARY: They didn’t expect it
because the Jewish forces had seemed so exhausted.
38) Judas rallied his army and went to the city of
Adullam. As the seventh day was approaching, they purified themselves according
to custom and kept the sabbath there.
COMMENTARY: They would have to purify
themselves of the bloodshed. And they
couldn’t bury the dead on the Sabbath.
39) On the following day, since the task
had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of
the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs.
COMMENTARY: Especially urgent in
summer! Well not in summer as we
officially know it today, being before the actual solstice, but in desert
countries in that latitude it starts to get hot around February and by late May
or early June (depending when Pentecost lands that year) it could boil your
brains if you stood uncovered in the sun too long.
40) But under the tunic of each of the
dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids
the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had
COMMENTARY: This would be a warning to
the Egyptian Jews, who had assimilating tendencies. You can’t just hedge your bets and ask for
protection from both rival sides.
41) They all therefore praised the ways of
the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden.
COMMENTARY: Another cautionary tale
about trying to hide what one does.
However, praising God for revealing what is hidden didn’t mean that they
didn’t also mourn, as we shall see.
to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out.
The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they
had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who
had fallen. 43) He then took up a
collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas,
which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this
he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection
COMMENTARY: This is the first mention of
praying and offering sacrifices for the expiation of the dead, and very
important to Catholics. Whether one
accepts the Books of Maccabees as canonical or not, it does show a tradition of
belief in prayers for the dead that predates Catholicism. But there’s more to it than that, as you will
44) for if he were not expecting the
fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for
the dead. 45) But if he did this
with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in
godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. 46)
Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be
absolved from their sin.
This act of praying for the dead became the foundation for a doctrine of
resurrection that set the stage for Christianity. While not universal in the days of Jesus, it
had spread far enough that His disciples could figure out what had happened at
the empty tomb, and see Jesus as the first of many to rise, giving Christianity
its essential character.