Skip to comments.Who were the Maccabees, and how did they influence Jewish history? (LDS Caucus)
Posted on 09/25/2007 12:27:55 AM PDT by restornu
The time period between the Old and New Testaments is a blank in our scriptures, yet those 400 years were a very significant period in the Holy Land. In many respects the Holy Land in that era resembled a military chessboard on which two important Greek dynasties, the Seleucids of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt, fought for control after the death of Alexander the Great.
When the dust settled around 200 B.C., the Seleucids, under the leadership of Antiochus III, were the victors. The fundamental cultural and religious differences between these Greeks and their Jewish subjects eventually led to a divisive rift, the repercussions of which are seen in the New Testament. A family that came to be known as the Maccabees had much to do with shaping the political and cultural climate of this New Testament period.
We can learn much about this time period from the Old Testament Apocrypha, a group of ancient texts whose name comes from a Greek word meaning hidden. The early Christian fathers knew of these texts and cited them, 1 but Christian faiths have long been ambivalent about whether they are truly scripture.
While translating the Bible, the Prophet Joseph Smith sought the Lords advice about these texts. He was told that they contain many interpolations by the hands of men and, therefore, it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated (D&C 91:2, 3). But the Lord also declared that these books include many things that are true and whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom (D&C 91:1, 5). 2 Some of the important historical truths we can glean from them are found in their accounts of conflict between the Jews and their Greek rulers before the era of Roman rule.
At the center of the conflict were three main groups: the Jewish high priests; the Seleucid leaders, particularly Antiochus IIIs son, Antiochus IV; and the Jewish Hasmonean family who became famous in history as the Maccabees.
Two texts from the Apocrypha, 1 and 2 Maccabees, help illuminate some of the historical shadows of this period and give us valuable New Testament background.
The High Priests
In Leviticus 21:10 [Lev. 21:10], the Lord designates the high priest as one upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, consecrated to put on the [priesthood] garments. As the presiding officer in the Aaronic Priesthood, he was to be a literal descendant of Aaron and was also required to observe higher levels of purity than others because he was Jehovahs representative among the people. The Lord instructed: [He] shall be holy unto [his] God (Lev. 21:6).
During the reign of Antiochus III, the high priest was Onias III, who had inherited the office from his father and traced his lineage back to Aaron through Eleazar (see Ex. 28:1) and Zadok (see 1 Chr. 6:38). In 2 Maccabees, Onias III is described as a zealot for the laws of the Torah (2 Macc. 4:2).
Like his predecessors, he saw Israels manifest destiny inseparably tied to the Torah and their covenant relationship with Jehovah. Not everyone in Israel marched to the same drum, however. Increasingly, Onias III faced opposition from Hellenistic sympathizerspeople who wished to incorporate Greek cultural and religious practices into their society.
So great was the pressure from these Hellenists that in 175 B.C., the high priests own brother, Jason, deposed him by buying the office from the Greek king, Antiochus IV (see 2 Macc. 4:79).
Jasons actions had three major consequences whose ripples extended into the New Testament period.
First, power over the high priests office was given to foreign political leaders. From this point on, the office would be bought and sold for either money or political favor.
Three years after Jason bought the office (about 172 B.C.), one of his senior officials named Menelaus beat Jason at his own game. While representing him before the king, Menelaus outbid Jason by three hundred talents of silver and became the new high priest (see 2 Macc. 4:2324).
Although we have no record of money exchanges involving later high priests, down to and through the New Testament era, we do see the office being filled by political appointment (see 1 Macc. 7:89). By New Testament times, this was an established practice.
Second, Jasons actions gave rise to the concept of an ex-high priest who could retain considerable influence among at least some of the people.
When Jasons successor, Menelaus, stole some gold vessels from the temple and sold them to neighboring cities (presumably to finance his political bribes), Onias III denounced him publicly (see 2 Macc. 4:2534). Angered by the opposition, Menelaus sent an assassin to Syria to kill the ex-high priest (see 2 Macc. 4:34).
Third, as high priests, Jason and his two immediate successors, Menelaus and Alcimus, instituted Hellenistic reforms. The author of 2 Maccabees records that Jason abolished the lawful way of life and introduced practices which were against the law (2 Macc. 4:11). In particular, Jason established a Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem and actively encouraged the youth to participate in its activities (see 2 Macc. 4:912).
The gymnasium apparently became so popular that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Instead, they despised the temple and neglected the sacrifices, hurrying to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena whenever the opening gong called them. They were disdaining the values and traditions prized by their ancestors, caring above everything for Hellenic honours (2 Macc. 4:1416).
Apparently Jason, as the Jewish high priest, also sent money to be used for sacrifices to the Greek hero Hercules (see 2 Macc. 4:1819). These actions were certainly not in accord with the level of purity and singular dedication the Lord had outlined for his high priests.
Menelaus and Alcimus also embraced Hellenistic practices. Menelaus escorted the Greek king, Antiochus IV, into the temple sanctuary when the king desecrated it and confiscated its riches (see 2 Macc. 5:1516). Alcimus executed a group of 60 Hassideans, a group who campaigned against the incursion of Hellenism (see 1 Macc. 7:1516), and he actively condemned those involved in the Maccabean Revolt (see 2 Macc. 14:310).
In spite of the activities of these high priestsefforts at personal aggrandizementmany of the common people still resisted Greek ideas and culture. It was the foreign policy of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV that ignited the flames of Jewish rebellion.
His vision of a Hellenistic empire (see 1 Macc. 1:4142) had little tolerance for nationalistic loyalties, especially when they were grounded in Judaism. In an effort to bring his Jewish subjects into line with the rest of his empire, the king decreed that it was illegal for any Judean to offer sacrifices at the temple, observe the Sabbath and other holy days, or circumcise a son. The penalty for any infraction was death.
He commanded the Jews to build pagan altars and temples and to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals (see 1 Macc. 1:4450). In Jerusalem, the templethe central symbol of the Jewish religionwas converted into a temple for Zeus (see 2 Macc. 5:1520; 6:12).
But Antiochus underestimated just how deeply Jewish religious feeling undergirded the society. 3 For the most stalwart of Jews, martyrdom was preferable to betraying covenantal obligations. For example, 2 Maccabees records that the aged scribe Eleazar, as well as a mother and her seven sons, submitted to torture and execution rather than eat swine flesh (see 2 Macc. 6:1831; 7:142; and for comparison, Lev. 11:78). This type of resistance led to what is known as the Maccabean Revolt.
In Modin, a small town 17 miles northwest of Jerusalem, a priest named Mattathias, surnamed Hasmoneas, not only refused to offer a sacrifice on a pagan altar but responded to the imperial decree by killing the Jew who attempted to comply, along with the kings representative (see 1 Macc. 2:1526).
Mattathias then fled into the wilderness with his five sons and anyone else who supported his stand (see 1 Macc. 2:2730). 4 The author of 1 Maccabees identifies Mattathiassinitial supporters as the Hasidaeans, a group of stalwarts of Israel, every one of them a volunteer in the cause of the law (1 Macc. 2:42).
These refugee warriors became the nucleus for small pockets of organized resistance against the Greeks and Greek sympathizers.
Although Mattathias only lived one year after initiating the revolt, his ideals and leadership lived on in his sons. A son named Judas (nicknamed Maccabee, the hammer) stepped up the resistance efforts.
Under his leadership the war turned into a full-scale campaign. 5 Judas and his warriors went from a local irritation to a major threat for the Seleucid government. The crowning achievement in Judass military conquests was his recapture of the Jerusalem temple (see 1 Macc. 4:3641; 2 Macc. 10:19).
He oversaw its purification and dedicatory festivities and initiated an annual eight-day festival known as Hanukkah (see 1 Macc. 4:5259; 2 Macc. 10:58).
When Judas eventually fell in battle (see 1 Macc. 9:1122), his brother Jonathan assumed leadership. It was Jonathans finesse as a statesman rather than a military leader, however, that built upon Judas initial military successes and won a measure of self-rule for the Jewish freedom fighters.
Perhaps his most controversial achievement was to attain the appointment as high priest (see 1 Macc. 10:20; 11:27). Though Jonathan was from a priestly family (see 1 Macc. 2:15), he had no legal or religious claim to the high priests role. His appointment was just one more evidence of how the position had devolved from a religious office into a political appointment.
When Jonathan was killed in battle (about 143142 B.C.), his brother Simon came to political and spiritual leadership (see 1 Macc. 13:3642; 14:3543). The highlight of Simons reign occurred when he defeated the Jerusalem citadel, the last symbol of anti-Maccabean power in Jerusalem (1 Macc. 13:4952), and thus achieved the last success of the revolt. 6
Although 1 Maccabees ends with Simon, the Maccabean dynasty continued for another 70 years, until infighting between two of Simons great-grandsons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, resulted in Roman intervention (by Pompey, in 63 B.C.) and subsequent Roman political control of the Holy Land (see Antiquities of the Jews, 14.3.34, in Josephus: Complete Works, trans. William Whiston ).
New Testament Times
There are several very important ways in which the events of 1 and 2 Maccabees affected the New Testament period, when Christ and His Apostles ministered to those who accepted the gospel. 7
1. Simons grandson, Alexander Jannaeus (176103 B.C.), first elevated to political power the family from which Herod the Great would come. Simon appointed Antipater I as governor of Idumea (see Ant. 14.1.3). Herod the Great, Antipater Is grandson, ruled Judea under Roman authority when the New Testament opened at the time of Christs birth (see Matt. 2:118).
Herod continued his familys ties with the Maccabean family. 8 While it was the Roman Senate that had appointed him king of the Jews, he was very much aware of the need for continued support from the Maccabean dynasty. In an effort to consolidate his political power, he married Mariamne, a great-granddaughter of Alexander Jannaeus and thus an heiress to the Maccabean legacy. 9
As one scholar notes, however, Herod saw all the members of the [Maccabean] family as his natural enemies. 10 He was not only responsible for his wifes death (see Ant. 15.7.4), but he also ordered the deaths of the high priest,
Aristobulus III, Mariamnes brother (see Ant. 15.3.3); Hyrcanus II (see Ant. 15.6.14); Mariamnes mother (see Ant. 15.7.8); and his two sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus (see Ant. 16.10.37; 11.27), all because their heritage and popularity with the people posed a threat to his power.
Is it any surprise, then, that this same Herod would order the slaying of all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under (Matt. 2:16) when wise men came searching for Him that is born King of the Jews? (Matt. 2:2).
2. The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees also shed light on the development of Pharisaism. It is generally acknowledged that although their Mosaic-law views probably dated as early as the Babylonian exile, the Pharisees first appearance asa sect cannot be traced further back than the time of the Maccabean Revolt. 11 It was then that we find them first mentioned by name (see Ant. 13.10.5).
It has been suggested that the Hasideans, who initially joined with the Maccabees, were in fact the ideological seed-bed from which the Pharisees sprang. 12 Certainly during the reign of Simon Hasmoneass son, John Hyrcanus, they appear to have been allies and aids to Hyrcanus, probably as lower officials and functionaries in the newly organized Hasmonean rule 13 (see Ant. 13.10.5).
Their close relationship with the Maccabees, however, was short lived. Josephus reports that after a disagreement, Hyrcanus switched allegiance from the Pharisees to the Sadducees and abolish[ed] the decrees (i.e., the oral law) [which the Pharisees] had imposed on the people (Ant. 13.10.6).
It wasnt until the reign of Hyrcanus daughter-in-law, Alexandra (wife of Alexander Jannaeus), that the Pharisees regained a measure of political favor and their oral laws became binding upon the people once again (see Ant. 13.16.2).
Unfortunately, there is no further mention of them until the time of Herod the Great, when their political activities drew Herods ire (see Ant. 17.2.4).
In the New Testament, they play a prominent role. Their oral laws are a major point of contention with the Savior (see Matt. 15:19; Matt. 23:133), and prominent individuals such as Nicodemus (see John 3:1), Gamaliel (see Acts 5:34), and Paul (see Philip. 3:5) are identified among their members.
3. During New Testament times we also see two major, related repercussions on the high priests office as a result of events in the Maccabean period.
The precedent that had been set during Maccabean times when the office of high priest became a political appointment led to the death of the last Maccabean who held that position.
Herod, unable to control the influential office of the high priest because of his strained relationship with the Maccabean family, made a vacancy in the office when he had Aristobulus III put to death. Herod was then free to appoint his own high priest; in fact, during his tenure he appointed a total of seven! According to Josephuss record, Herods successors appointed another 21 before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 (see Ant. 20.10.1).
The New Testament identifies two of these latter appointments; the Roman procurator Quirinius appointed Annas (see Luke 3:2) in A.D. 6. Nine years later, Annas was deposed by Quiriniuss successor, Valerius Gratus. The latter appointed four high priests, the last of which was Annass son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas. 14
Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that after Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken and tried before the high priest.
Matthew identifies this priest as Caiaphas (see Matt. 26:57). John records, however, that before going to Caiaphas, the chief priests and elders took Jesus first to see Annas (see John 18:1314).
This event has puzzled some New Testament readers. Why take Jesus to Annas, who had not been the high priest for a number of years?
The answer is that apparently Annaslike Onias III, who had proved a thorn in the side of the Hellenists after they deposed him years earlierstill wielded significant influence even though he had fallen out of political favor.
The office he had held, established by the Lord as a calling to be passed from father to son, had degenerated into a political prize with significant power, and it was no longer a position of spiritual authority recognized by God.
And as effective as the Maccabees had been in winning concessions for the Jews from foreigners who governed their land, their religious and priestly leadership did not possess the legitimate priesthood authority or the moral leadership of the high priests office that had been lost through unrighteousness.
Gospel topics: priesthood, Old Testament
Notes 1. For a good overview of the use of the Apocrypha by the early Christian Fathers see Apocrypha, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (1997).
2. Drawing upon this revelation, the Prophet Joseph Smith later said, according to Edward Stevenson, that much of the Apocrypha was true, but it required the Spirit of God to select the truth out of those writings (They Knew the Prophet, comp. Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus , 86).
3. The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees clearly represent a Jewish perspective. Greek and Latin authors had a very different view of these events. See Diodorus of Sicily, 34/35.1.15, and Tacitus, Histories V.8.
4. Second Maccabees does not include Mattathiass story, but it does confirm the central importance of his family in the revolt (see 2 Macc. 8:14).
5. Uriel Rappaport, Maccabean Revolt, in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (1992), 4:434.
6. Daniel J. Harrington, 1 Maccabees, in The Harper Collins Study Guide: New Revised Standard Edition, ed. Wayne A. Meeks (1989), 1684.
7. To fill in the gap between the end of the Maccabean record and the beginning of the New Testament, we must turn to the Jewish historian Josephus, whose own record shows clear signs of reliance on First and Second Maccabees.
8. Antipater II zealously supported Hyrcanus II in a dispute over leadership with Hyrcanuss brother Aristobulus II. In fact, Antipater became Hyrcanuss ambassador to seek support from the Roman leader Pompey (see Ant. 14.3.2).
9. Although there is no doubt about the political motivations for this marriage, Herod apparently did love Mariamne (see Ant. 15.7.4).
10. Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, rev. and ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, 4 vols. (1973), 1:297.
11. Schürer, 2:400.
12. John Kampen, The Hasideans and the Origin of Pharisaism: A Study in 1 and 2 Maccabees, Septuagint and Cognate Studies 24 (1988), 21415; and Schürer, 2:397.
13. Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:292.
14. Schürer, 2:230.
[illustration] Joseph and his family fled from Herod the Great, who had come to power through the Maccabean line. (Flight into Egypt, by Robert T. Barrett.)
[illustration] The priest Mattathiass slaying of a Jew who profaned the altar began the Maccabean Revolt.
[illustration] As a result of the Maccabean Revolt, by Christs time the high priest was a political appointee. (The Lord Accused before Caiaphas, by Frank Adams.)
I Have a Question, Ensign, Dec. 1998, 49 Response by Gaye Strathearn, instructor in ancient scripture at Brigham Young UniversityQuestions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy
Thank you for your respect!
“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”
The party from which the Pharisees evolved was most likely the Hasidim, a sect that promoted the observance of rituals and the study of the Torah during the time of Ezra.
Many of the early Hasidim took a vow to separate themselves from the impurities of those living around them (both heathens and less zealous Jews) and to follow a more strict interpretation of the Law. Consequently, theirs was the sect most active in maintaining and enlarging the oral law in addition to the Torah as the source of their religion.
In adapting the old codes to new conditions, they adopted a more figurative interpretation of the Law. They believed in a combination of free will and predestination, in angels, in spirits, in the resurrection of the dead, and in a judgment in the life to come.
Their basic concern was for a persons daily conduct, which they considered more important than temple rites. (See Encylopedia Judaica, 13:363.)
The meaning of the word Pharisee (a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Perushim) is uncertain but probably comes from the Hebrew stem parash, meaning to be separated. The Hasidim, who were deeply dissatisfied with the Hellenizing tendencies of the Judean leadership under the Seleucids, were already separatists at the time of the Maccabean revolt. But the term Pharisees was first applied to the sect under the rule of John Hyrcanus (ca. 110 B.C.) when they were expelled from the Sanhedrin.
However, by the time of the Savior, the beliefs, practices, and attitudes of the Pharisees came to represent those of the vast majority of the people of Judea, who wanted to hold to what they thought were orthodox views at a time of cultural change.
While the Pharisees were primarily from the common people, the Sadducees were from the upper classes: priests, merchants, and aristocrats. The name of the sect, Zedukim in Hebrew, is most probably derived from Zadok, the high priest in the days of King David.
Hence the name Sadducees refers to those who were sympathetic with the Zadokites. (See Encyclopedia Judaica, 14:622.)
The Zadokite family controlled the temple hierarchy down to the time of the Maccabean revolt. Under the Seleucids, the Zadokites were notorious Hellenizers. Therefore, they were cast aside by the Hasmonean leaders, who were determined to restore purity to Jewish culture and religious practice.
The Sadducees also thought they were holding to orthodox views. But unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees rejected the oral law as binding except for that portion which was based strictly on the Torah.
For them, the purpose of keeping the Law was for divine guidance in mortality. Gods law was to be strictly obeyed, but it was not interpretedand enlargedin such minute detail for them as it was for the Pharisees.
No symbolic or allegorical interpretation, a favorite of the Pharisees, was allowed. Therefore, they also rejected what they felt were supernatural beliefs of the Pharisees, including the existence of angels, spirits, and the afterlife and, therefore, the resurrection.
Their theology tended to bring God down to man. The worship they offered God was not unlike the homage paid to a human ruler. They also held in high esteem the sacrificial rituals of the temple.
It was in the power struggle between these two sects that the widespread adoption of formal synagogue worship can be traced. The Pharisees sought to undermine the religious authority of the Sadducees, which was based on their exclusive priestly domination of the temple.
To accomplish this, the Pharisees advocated taking certain ceremonies, previously associated exclusively with the temple, and practicing them in the home.
In addition, formal institutions of worship, the synagogues, were established as places for learning the Pharisaic version of doctrine. It was in this way that learned men of nonpriestly descent began to play a role in national religious affairs.
It was through the synagogue that the Pharisees strove to keep the people separate from the heathen and to bring them to the Torah and God. There they were taught exactly what they must do. In the home, on the street, in the shop and market, every movement of the pious was regulated. (See Elias Beckerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees, Chicago: Schocken Books Inc., 1962 pp. 16066.)
The reasoning was simple: If one is saved by obedience to the Law, then one must obey the Law perfectly in order to be perfect before God.
In order to be obeyed perfectly, the Law must be defined in great detail so that there are no ambiguities. Hence the close regulation of so many details of everyday life.
By the time of the Lord, a feeling of unity between the Pharisees and the people had, for the most part, been achieved.
Though they had no constitutional power, they possessed such an influence that the people supported them even against the king or the high priest.
In this way, their beliefs had political force.
All acts of worship, including temple sacrifices, were carried out according to their interpretation of the ordinances.
Even the Sadducees, whenever they obtained office, were obliged to keep the Pharisaic codes, no matter how irksome, or else find themselves in disfavor with the people. (See Josephus, Antiquities, bk. 11, 10:6.)
In fact, all religious law was administered by a court of seventy elders presided over by a high priest and called the Sanhedrin.
The majority of this court had traditionally been Pharisees. The high priest, however, being a descendent of Zadok, was a Sadducee.
After the Roman conquest of Judea, the position of high priest became a political appointment. As such, the high priest had his own private court to administer civil law.
Very interesting! I’m enrolled at Fresno Pacific Univeristy (Mennonite) and one of the required books is the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments with the Acopcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books - including the Maccabees (1-4). Yahoo!!!!! Can’t wait to read it!!
Challenging History: The Dead Sea Scrollshttp://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/1902099/posts?page=2
A Mysterious Metal
One of the best-kept secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been the discovery of metals in the black ink. That finding was buried in unpublished results, and wasn’t unearthed until 1996.
The presence of metals further points to the scrolls being of medieval origin.
Scientific testing of the scrolls in the early 1950s found silver, manganese, iron and other metals in the black ink used on the scrolls. Scholars tried to downplay the discovery of these metals by saying that some of them, like copper and lead, were byproducts of leaching from a bronze inkwell. Yet silver, manganese and iron are not components in the making of bronze. The 1990s tests also detected the presence of strontium and titanium but could not tell if they were pure. (In its purest form, neither element was isolated until the 1800s.)
The presence of metals also contradicts the scholarly claim that the authors of the scrolls used Dead Sea water for ink, for the salty water contains no titanium, according to a chart of a scientific study from an Ivy League physicist. Scholars tell us that ink spiked with metals came after the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Others tests revealed that cinnabar, a metal, was the prime element used in much of the red ink. Yet in biblical times, cinnabar was extremely expensive. Only King Herod himself could afford it for use as paint - and the authors of the scrolls called themselves “the poor” (a Christian term).
Cinnabar was not commonly used for ink in the Middle East until almost 1,000 years later.
Scholars assume that the cinnabar on the scrolls came from Spain, but it was invented by the Chinese for ink. Arabs put metal in ink and probably borrowed the manufacture of cinnabar ink from the Chinese and made it very inexpensively.
Also, metals are corrosive on leather. After just 200 years, they begin to eat through the inked area. Many medieval texts with iron- or cinnabar-based ink have holes in the manuscripts where the ink was used.
But from the color photos, there are no holes in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the areas of the cinnabar red ink, which suggests the process is just starting - and pinpoints the scrolls on a much shorter timeline.