The Beginning of the Alliance with the Roman Republic   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Expansion of the Roman Republic in the Second Century B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXIII

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1 Maccabees 8:1-32

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

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The First Book of the Maccabees presents the leader of the Hasmonean Rebellion as being both idealistic and realistic.  Many people are both idealistic and realistic.  Many other people are one or the other.  Unrealistic idealists work against their own goals.  Realists who lack idealism need a moral compass.

One example of Hasmonean realism exists in 1 Maccabees 2:31-48.  Engaging in combat on the Sabbath violates the Law of Moses, a code the Hasmoneans insisted that Jews follow.  Nevertheless,

On that day they came to this decision:  “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kinsmen died in the hiding places.”

–1 Maccabees 2:41, The New American Bible (1991)

Remember that, O reader, when you read a Gospel story in which critics of Jesus and/or his Apostles accuse him or them or allegedly violating the Sabbath.  Recall that relativizing the commandments within the Law of Moses and bowing to reality was already part of the practice of orthodox Judaism prior to the time of Christ.

Consider, O reader, the political situation of Judas Maccabeus and his followers in the Hasmonean Rebellion.  He fought against apostate Jews, as well as King Demetrius I Soter of the Seleucid Empire.  That empire was fracturing.  The Hasmonean Rebellion was just one revolt with which King Demetrius I Soter contended.  Judas Maccabeus and the other Hasmoneans needed allies.  The Roman Republic, furthermore, opposed Demetrius, who had, in violation of orders from the Roman Senate, escaped from Rome, captured the Seleucid throne, and had ordered the execution of Regent Lysisas and the young King Antiochus V Eupator.  The Hasmoneans and the Romans had a common enemy.

The text contains references to Roman victories against King Philip V of Macedonia (197 B.C.E.), King Perseus of Macedonia (168 B.C.E.), and King Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Empire (189 B.C.E.).  One also reads about Roman victories in Spain (late 200s B.C.E.), northern Italy (222 and 191 B.C.E.), and Greece (146 B.C.E.).  The reference to the Roman victory against the Achean League in 146 B.C.E. is an anachronism, given the contemporary setting of 160 B.C.E.

Also, comparing 1 Maccabees 8:16 to the opinions of contemporary and subsequent Roman historians reveals that 1 Maccabees 8:16 is an idealized presentation of the later phase of the Roman Republic.  1 Maccabees 8:1 makes clear, however, that what followed was what Judas Maccabeus had heard.

The treaty (8:23-29) provided for mutual defense and for Jews not to aid enemies of the Roman Republic.  King Demetrius I Soter formally had a new enemy (8:31).  Nevertheless, the Roman Republic did not come through for their allies until 142 B.C.E. (1 Maccabees 14:16-24)–18 years later.

Father Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., explains the geopolitical situation following the treaty of 160 B.C.E.:

There is evidence that the Romans were not very scrupulous about fulfilling their obligations in this kind of treaty.  They usually acted when it best suited their interests.  However, a small constituency like the Maccabees had little to lose from such a treaty.  Its existence might scare off the Seleucids, who would not know whether this might be one of those occasions that might bring about Roman intervention.  It also gave the Maccabees and their supporters the status of speaking on behalf of Israel and so constituting a kind of government.

The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 792

I, writing in 2021 C.E., note the irony and poignancy of 1 Maccabees 8.  I know that Roman general Pompey added Judea to the Roman Republic in 63 B.C.E., after the composition of 1 Maccabees circa 104 B.C.E.  I know about the First Jewish War (66-73 C.E.) and the Second Jewish War (132-135 C.E.), too.  I know about the Roman imperial destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  These facts inform my interpretation of 1 Maccabees 8.

Nevertheless, in the temporal and geopolitical contexts of 160 B.C.E., Judas Maccabeus acted shrewdly, in a combination of idealism and realism.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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