Friday, January 01, 2016

Judas Maccabeus by E.H. Fortier (Book Review #101 of 2015)


Judas Maccabaeus: Jewish Leader (World Leaders Past and Present, Series I)

w/essay on leadership by Arthur Schleshinger

I picked this little book up at Goodwill for 50 cents. I read Maccabees for the first time a couple years ago and like to remember Judah Maccabee every Hanukkah. Most evangelicals have never read Maccabees and don't understand its important connection to the context of the Gospel accounts of Jesus life, especially his attending the Feast of Dedication in John 10. Not knowing the history of Palestine just prior to Jesus is a bit like learning about America today without learning about 1776-- it certainly helps in understanding why things are set up the way they are. Many evangelicals reject Maccabees since they were not part of the Jewish canon without understanding that their exclusion had much to do with the later politics of the Hashmoneans. Most evangelicals believe in the authority of Scripture but don't realize that Maccabees describes what most believe to be the fulfillment of several prophecies in the temple, when an abomination inhabits the temple and desecrates it-- what Antiochus IV precisely did. Fortier, like many critical scholars, claims Daniel was not written until around 165 BC, the time of the Maccabees, because the prophecies contained therein were too accurate a description of Antiochus IV to have been written centuries beforehand.

Hannukah is one of the few celebrations around the events that remains, and Fortier points out that it mostly revolves around the purported miracle (which he claims was added centuries later) rather than the military aspect and Zionism. The story now has importance as the more religious conservative governments of modern Israel "would point to the boundaries of Simon's Judea...to justify in part the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank." Braveheart was a popular movie and many don't realize it was based more on Maccabees than anything that happened in Scotland.

This book was published in 1988 as part of a much larger series on "world leaders" ranging from Kublai Khan to Mother Theresa to Kim Il Sung to Pierre Trudeau. I give the book three stars overall. It's a quick introduction to the history of the area from the Seleucid Empire's control from 321 BC to the Roman conquest of 63 BC. It has plenty of pictures of artifacts and renderings of characters. What it lacks are maps, that would have been helpful.

The book gives some historical background to Maccabees, retells the stories, offers some criticism of 2 Maccabees (which retells 1 Maccabees with more mythological flare of angels and more), and recounts the consequences of the Maccabee revolt and later Hashamonean rule. Judah Maccabee's family stood up to Antiochus' persecutions and blasphemies. Others joined them, eager to purify the country of Hellenism and regain independence. The irony is that after independence was finally won (after Judah's death) in 142 BC, the dynasty began to rule like the Greeks and the nation split between the Hashamoneans and Hasidic Jews who called for religious purification from Hellenistic ways. The memory of Judah Maccabee helped fuel several revolts resulting in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and forced removal in 130 AD. One can understand why certain people looked to Jesus to be a militant Messiah (any connection to the Gospels is not mentioned in the book).

This book helped me understand the events much better. The one thing that is really unclear to me is how the Seleucid troops could hold out in the Acra for so long, 20 years, cut off from Damascus after Judah and his band retook Jerusalem and the Temple (according to Wikipedia, it's only in 2015 that authorities are reasonably certain of its location. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acra_%28fortress%29). There is a basic bibliography included. If you know nothing, then this is a good enough place to start.

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