liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
In my original 3W4DW post I asked for suggestions of topics for me to ramble about, and [personal profile] wychwood asked for the Books of Maccabees:
Could you talk about the Books of Maccabees? Like, are they part of Jewish scripture? What do they mean to you? I read something about them being marginalised as part of a political agenda, but Hannukah has obviously survived - what's up with that?
In short, no, none of the Books of Maccabees are part of Jewish scripture. At least Maccabees 1 and 2 have acquired more importance than most other Apocryphal books because of chanukah, as you Wych points out. To dig into that a bit more, though:

The Jewish Bible is often referred to as the Tanach, sometimes spelled Tenakh. This is an acronym, it stands for Torah, Neviim (prophets) and Ketuvim (writings). Taken together, the Tanach is very similar to the canonical form of the Protestant Old Testament, except with the books in a slightly different order and some minor differences in verse and chapter numbering. The Torah (in its narrow sense) is the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch, the first five books in the OT. These form the absolute central scriptural text, everything else about Judaism traces its origins to these books. The Five Books are what gets written on scrolls and read ceremonially in synagogues. The rest of the Hebrew Bible is considered sacred, but in some ways it's not very central to modern Judaism, it's instructive to read, it's considered Divinely inspired, it's used as part of liturgy, but it's illustrative of the Torah and rabbinic laws can not directly be derived from these sections of the Bible.

Fixing the final canonical form of Tanach happened in the early part of the rabbinic era, when they were already starting to move to a religion based on detailed legal systems ultimately derived from Torah, rather than a Biblical religion in the sense that Christians might understand it. Torah itself was already pretty much fixed by this time; though there are hints of disputes about manuscript variants, it's set almost down to the exact sequence of letters, let alone which books are included. The books of Prophets were also already fixed by the time we have written records of people discussing the constitution of the scriptural canon, though there wasn't quite such a strong system to ensure fidelity of copying. The important thing about Prophets is that they are considered to be written down by people who were directly transmitting God's words. Not all books about people we might think of as prophets are in the Prophets section of the Torah. These books are Joshua through Malachi (but not including Chronicles, which is at the end of the Jewish ordering of the Hebrew Bible).

The controversy arose over the "Writings"; we have records of several debates about whether books had enough holy status to be included in this section. In fact there's a lovely story about R' Akiva arguing in favour of the inclusion of Song of Songs, because it's basically just erotic poetry, but he considered it to have holy status on grounds that more or less amount to literary merit. The ones that actually made the cut are Psalms, Proverbs, Job (which is very Hellenized, by the way), the five so-called megillot which are read separately at particular times in the liturgical calendar ie Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther, three random prophets who are not Prophets namely Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Chronicles, an alternate version of Kings which has somewhat lower status though still holy. There are other books that were written during around the same era as the later books of Writings and in a similar style, which did not make it into our Bible; these ended up being the Apocrypha for Protestants and (some of them?) are included within the Catholic Bible.

Normally the Apocryphal books don't really have any status within normative Judaism, but they are sometimes treated as early collections of midrash, which are teaching stories used to illustrate and expand on Biblical and legal material. Several people have pointed out the similarity between rabbinic midrash and fanfic, because it frequently fills in gaps in the text or fixes perceived theological problems or just explores relationships and backstories of the characters. The books of Maccabees are part of this set of books, or at least Maccabees 1 and 2 are, Maccabees 3 and 4 were, if I remember correctly, probably originally written in Greek and then back-translated into Hebrew, and therefore really never had any possibility of being in the canon.

[personal profile] wychwood is right that the reason for the exclusion of Maccabees is partly political. The Maccabees themselves established the Hasmonean kingdom, a brief period when Judea had political and military autonomy and was ruled over by this dynasty of priest-kings. This was politically unacceptable in early rabbinic Judaism, partly because they were trying to move the seat of power away from the inherited priesthood (let alone any kind of monarchy) and plant it firmly within a quasi-meritocratic intellectual system where scholars, later known as rabbis, ran things. If you think of the debates in the New Testament between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Sadducees were kind of politically aligned with the Hasmoneans and wanted to preserve an inherited priesthood, whereas the Pharisees were busy trying to establish what became rabbinic Judaism. Also because under Roman occupation it was a really bad idea to remind the ruling authorities that Jews had ever had any kind of military or statehood ambitions! So as the rabbis rose into ascendancy, helped along by the destruction of the Temple in the middle of the first century, the Hasmoneans and therefore the books of Maccabees were falling seriously out of favour.

The reason that the books didn't just completely fade into oblivion is, as [personal profile] wychwood is aware, chanukah. Chanukah is the ultimate ironic festival, because it celebrates a movement of zealots who resisted integration into Greek culture by... following the extremely Greco-Roman custom of establishing a new festival to celebrate a military victory. The early rabbis were very unhappy with this, but they were faced with the practical problem that people on the ground were in fact enthusiastically celebrating chanukah, because who doesn't love an 8-day party in the depths of winter? So what they did was to try and spiritualize chanukah in some way, they created a story whereby chanukah wasn't a celebration of a military victory when Judea achieved independence from the occupying Seleucids, but rather a celebration of a temple miracle involving lights continuing to burn even when there wasn't enough fuel.

Chanukah continued to be a minor but popular festival for all of Jewish history. It gained status in modern America and from there spread worldwide mainly because of its proximity to Christmas. For many generations now it's been used as a consolation prize for kids who are left out of the massive partying and present-giving fest that is modern secular Christmas. And misguided attempts at multiculturalism have tried to package chanukah as the "Jewish equivalent" of Christmas. We don't ever formally read the books of Maccabees (unlike reading the megillot at their appropriate seasons), but we do incorporate retellings of stories that have their origins in those books into our celebrations.

The books have also become tied up with the Zionist mythos, which is a topic far too complicated for me to get into when I'm talking completely off-the-cuff like this. But basically for most of the period between the Romans ransacking Jerusalem in the first century and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the story of the Maccabees has been a kind of revenge fantasy for Jews living under more or very often less benign occupying powers, a talisman that one day we'd get an army again and then Christian and Muslim pan-national powers won't be able to push us around any more. By the end of the nineteenth century that fantasy starts looking nationalist and even imperialist, because those were the prevailing cultural trends in late nineteenth century Europe.

What do the books mean to me? Not a whole lot, I have never actually sat down and read trhough even 1 Maccabees. I've just picked up the stories from my general culture, and gone through several rounds of problematizing and reclaiming them over my lifetime. For one thing I'm a thoroughly rabbinic Jew, I am not interested in nationalism based on military power or an inherited priesthood/monarchy. For a second thing I am a thoroughly assimilated Jew, I consider myself very much part of British, European and general Western culture, I have no truck with trying to make Judaism "pure" of outside cultural influences or separating ourselves from our surrounding cultures. Much less of committing acts of violence against Jews who are insufficiently fundamentalist.

So there you go. Brain dump of what I know about the Books of Maccabees. Corrections from people who are more expert in any of this stuff most welcome! Any more topic suggestions, anyone?

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 01:32 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Thank you so much! This is really interesting. You've clarified a lot of things I wasn't entirely sure about.

Apocrypha: to quote the presentation on Maccabees I just did(!),
- Protestant churches mostly restrict to the Jewish canon, divided into 39 books
- Catholics include: Tobit, Judith, Sirach / Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees
- Orthodox have these and further include 3&4 Maccabees, 1&2 Esdras, Psalm 151, Prayer of Manasseh

The political side of things, rabbinical Judaism pushing out the priest-king stories, makes a lot of sense - and is amusing in the sense that the Maccabees books themselves were partly about validating the Hasmonaean claim to the high priesthood, after they essentially usurped it!

I wondered about the "miraculous lights" thing, because it's basically non-existent in the books (at least 1&2, I haven't read the others) - it's all "yay, we saved the Temple!" and then a very brief passing mention of something to do with lamp oil.

If you did want to read them, I personally like M1 much more than M2; M2 is very Temple-focussed, and has some "miraculous" elements I'm not too keen on, plus a few bits of incredibly Catholic theology (prayer for the dead! intercession of the saints! bodily resurrection) which explain why it's in the Catholic Bible. M1 is much more historical, and I found it really interesting the way it ties into things I know of contemporary history - it starts with Alexander the Great, and has a bunch of stuff about Republican Rome, the Ptolemaic dynasty, etc, which I know from very different contexts. Plus, less relevantly to you, it provides some interesting backstory for the Gospels and the state of Judaea around the time of Jesus, which obviously I appreciate!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:00 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Yeah, the light miracle business doesn't get mentioned until at least 3 centuries after the books, which doesn't mean it never happened, it could have been passed down as a folk tradition.

Well, there's a light miracle in 2 Maccabees 1, just not the one we associate with Chanukah! And there's got to be some reason why the festival was known as the Festival of Lights centuries before the earliest attestation of the cruse of oil story...

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:07 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Right! That's very interesting - I was thinking of the Maccabees bits you quoted in your post, but I didn't realise that it was different from the one that [personal profile] liv was thinking of, which is presumably the one traditionally referred to!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:30 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Oh, that's an interesting idea. And so obvious too; how come it never occurred to me? (Answer: because hindsight is always 20/20.)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 03:18 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Oh, heh. Serves me right for linking without rereading the whole post.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:04 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Yes, the "should we fight on the Sabbath?" thing is in 1 Maccabees - particularly interesting because we're told repeatedly that they have "zeal for the Law", and their devoutness (both the Maccabees and their Hasidaean shock troops, in that section) is their defining characteristic otherwise! They're explicitly leading this rebellion in defence of their right to practice the Jewish faith in the traditional way, but... breaking the Sabbath is fine? Even if only defensively (which is the agreement).

2 Maccabees - again, I find it interesting because it ends up feeling kind of incongruous to me; as I said, it's *really* Temple-focussed, and in general really passionate about Temple Judaism, but there are these elements which are central to Catholic - as distinct from Protestant - theology. Seeing these classically Catholic ideas being presented by Judas Maccabeus - well, someone at my presentation said that you almost felt like Catholics had gone and added those bits in later on, and I can see why he did! Like - from 2M chapter 12:

42 The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

Part of this is quoted in the Catholic Catechism, as the original source of the doctrine, even. So, I mean, obviously these are things which made sense in the Jewish context, but I'm not so aware of them there, and they're so familiar to me from my own tradition that I trip over them slightly in this context. I'm more used to thinking of Sheol and the kind of ideas around that that I have from the Psalms and other writings much earlier than Maccabees.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:54 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I think that's really fascinating, that the zealots ended up breaking the sabbath in order to defend their right to practise in a zealous manner.

Well, no; more like to defend their right not to die. Okay, the zealots might have started the war in the first place, but by now not breaking the sabbath would result in mass slaughter, including of civilians (which I think was part of the incident which led to the change in halacha, though I'm operating from vague memory here).

It's really really interesting that part of 2 Maccabees is in the Catechism. And yes, that passage you quote sounds like they're explicitly taking part in the ongoing debate about resurrection which was still smouldering in rabbinic times.

What it sounds to me fascinatingly like is the myth from a thousand years later which led to the institution of the Mourners' Kaddish, because the dead have to be prayed for to release them from Gehinnom. The only difference here is that we're talking about resurrection rather than the afterlife (if that's what "rise again" means).

Most of our eschatology and ideas about the afterlife come from post-Biblical sources

Resurrection in Judaism is decidedly Biblical; it's from Daniel 11... though as that was written during the Hasmonean revolt, it may not be older than the speech [personal profile] wychwood reported in 2 Maccabees.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 03:40 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (reflect)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I agree with all you say, except:

Just that they end up becoming the thing they were fighting against, using a rabbinic-style interpretation of actual Torah laws to come up with practical quasi-halacha that is actually possible for people to keep while almost directing the opposite of what Torah literally says.

The Hasmoneans were not fighting against those who wished to reinterpret Judaism; they were fighting against those who wished to do away with it altogether. Ant. XII.5 (which I referred to elsethread):
Now as the former high priest, Jesus, raised a sedition against Menelaus, who was ordained after him, the multitude were divided between them both. And the sons of Tobias took the part of Menelaus, but the greater part of the people assisted Jason; and by that means Menelaus and the sons of Tobias were distressed, and retired to Antiochus, and informed him that they were desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, and to follow the king's laws, and the Grecian way of living. Wherefore they desired his permission to build them a Gymnasium at Jerusalem. And when he had given them leave, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks. Accordingly, they left off all the customs that belonged to their own country, and imitated the practices of the other nations.
Edited Date: 2013-04-26 03:40 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 11:52 am (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I still think you have way too much faith in Josephus as a historian. This is classic history-written-by-the-victors; the Hasmoneans won, so they distributed propaganda to the effect that the other side were awful terrible people who wanted to do away with Judaism and were loyal to the famously evil Antiochus. Josephus accepted a lot of this stuff really uncritically, plus he was writing with his own slant to curry favour with the Romans, as you have observed.

Good point.

Lighting shabbat candles the exception in the list you mention, with which I otherwise agree, as that came along much later. If you look at the ArtScroll translation of בַּמֶה מַדְלִיקִין, it talks about lighting the Shabbos lights, but the original Hebrew is in the singular: it's just talking about ensuring you have a light in the room where you're eating. Turning this into two candles and reciting a בְּרָכָה over them is well post-Mishnaic, possibly also post-Talmudic.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 06:40 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
The narrative in Maccabees is actually a little stronger than that - while 2M does include a bunch of the squabbling around the high priest candidates and so on, both books claim that the rebellion began in response to a very aggressive campaign of Hellenisation and Jewish repression run by Antiochus Ephiphanes. According to what they say, there was essentially a death penalty being enforced on Jews who wouldn't breach the Law (mothers who circumcised their sons, people who wouldn't eat pork or sacrifice to idols...). Obviously that in itself may be propaganda, but the principal enemy is presented as being the Seleucids, rather than the rival Jewish factions (though they also come in for criticism). So while I think you have a point about "becoming what they fight against" (particularly when you look at the increased Hellenistic influences over the longer run), it's not straightforwardly Maccabees-vs-other-Jews.

Mainly because you can't derive modern Judaism by reading the Bible, it's a rabbinic religion much more than a Biblical one, but Christians don't usually read the Talmud or later commentaries because those are not part of their Scripture.

I think this is an especially interesting point, because it's one that isn't actually that clear to outsiders. Obviously I know that Judaism isn't static, and that it's changed over the last two thousand years as much as Christianity has. But at that same time, like (I suspect) most Christians, most of my knowledge of the Jewish religion does come from the Old Testament, and that really does colour my understanding. I've learned a lot from talking to you, but I'm still always coming across things where reality doesn't match my assumptions based on the Bible *g*.

I do like the idea of Jesus as a Jewish innovator - I think, again, it's easy for Christians to forget how Jewish he was, but it's clear from the Gospels that he was plugged into the kind of arguments that were going on at the time within the Jewish communities, and various of the faction disputes.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-14 01:20 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I know I read a debate, I think it was in 1 Maccabees, about whether they should fight on the sabbath, considering that if they didn't they'd all just be slaughtered because the Greeks would know they would meet with no defence if they attacked them.

Like how Julius Caesar conquered Britain by only attacking at tea-time and on weekends!


(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:11 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Job (which is very Hellenized, by the way)

Oh, do tell? I wasn't aware of this. (It's not, afaiaa, got obvious flags in it like Greek loanwords, like Daniel, for instance, does.)

Normally the Apocryphal books don't really have any status within normative Judaism, but they are sometimes treated as early collections of midrash, which are teaching stories used to illustrate and expand on Biblical and legal material.

Which Apocryphal books are you thinking of as midrash? The Books of Maccabees certainly aren't, and nor is Ben Sira or (IIRC) Tobit (which is probably mythical but is set in a historical (and archaeologically attested) family which, to tie ends together, lost its political hegemony as a result of siding firmly with the hellenisers immediately before the Hasmonaean result). Judith could be regarded as midrash, I suppose. And that about exhausts my knowledge of the Apocrypha.

The early rabbis were very unhappy with this, but they were faced with the practical problem that people on the ground were in fact enthusiastically celebrating chanukah, because who doesn't love an 8-day party in the depths of winter?

I suspect there was a winter solstice festival going on long before the days of the Hasmonaeans. After all, 25 Kislev is celebrated as the date the Temple was reconquered, but shortly after that, it was lost again, and not decisively regained until 13 Adar a year or three later.

What do the books mean to me? Not a whole lot, I have never actually sat down and read trhough even 1 Maccabees.

But, to point out for your non-Jewish readers, nor have most Jews for the majority of our Bible which is not part of our yearly reading cycle!

For a second thing I am a thoroughly assimilated Jew

As an identifying and practising Jew I'd consider you (and myself) acculturated, not assimilated.

Greek Philosophy

Date: 2013-04-26 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I knew that Ecclesiastes (Koheleth) is associated with Epicurus but I was not aware of a connection with Job.

I must admit that I have not studied Job since I was reading it in a school RE class and the teacher discouraged me by saying, "You have chosen a very difficult book."


(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-19 09:05 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (reflect)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Wikipedia claims a date of sixth to fourth century BCE for Job. I'd be surprised if there's any Hellenistic influence in Jewish thought before Judaea got conquered by Alexander the Great. That was in the 330s, so there's just enough overlap there for both hypotheses to be true...

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 02:41 pm (UTC)
pretty_panther: (hp: harmony and the wall)
From: [personal profile] pretty_panther
I don't know a whole lot about the ins and outs of Judaism so this was a real interesting read for me :)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 03:00 pm (UTC)
batdina: (jewish deadhead)
From: [personal profile] batdina
okay, so here's what I was taught about Hanukah (nothing to do with M1 or M2 so far as I understand it).

At the time the temple was retaken, it was well past the proper time of year to observe Sukkot, but since it was an important Pilgrimage holiday, they observed it for its seven (or eight) days, starting on 25 Kislev.

The following year, having observed Sukkot in the proper time, they commemorated the return of the Temple, by creating a thing to do on the eight days that corresponded with the 25 Kislev holiday that they had celebrated the year before. And that's where Hanukah comes from.

I think when I took 2nd Temple history in University and Rabbinical school, I was told that the cruse of oil story was fiction.

On another note: adding candles each night, versus starting with 8 and subtracting them is a Hillel/Shammai debate which takes place, I think in Masechet Shabbat. Hillel says "add light each night" and Shammai says "Subtract light each night". Both of them are therefore accepted practices, but as we know, the law mostly always goes to Hillel so we add light each night.

and now we have exhausted most of my knowledge about Hanukah that doesn't have anything to do with food.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 03:25 pm (UTC)
batdina: bucky barnes the winter soldier (Default)
From: [personal profile] batdina
I think in some communities Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are simultaneous? (Not in mine though.) I know at one point the second day traditions were about covering ourselves just in case we misread the Moon cycles and were starting things either early or late. No clue about Hanukah and its eight days though, except to presume that when they observed the first time, they did eight days so they just kept doing it.

I'm always personally happy to ignore the Maccabees because they were such awful people, retaking the Temple or not. I read the books in a history class, and was suitably unimpressed. I once jokingly called them the Jerry Falwells of Jewish history. But of course, that's precisely the reason we ought to take them more seriously, not dismiss them because they're uncomfortable.

Downgrading of the Maccabees' Reputation

Date: 2013-04-26 05:34 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This whole thread is fascinating.

In addition to the politico-religious conflicts -- "This was politically unacceptable in early rabbinic Judaism..." -- subsequent generations of the Maccabees must have been very unpopular as brutal and bloodthirsty despots. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore (Jerusalem, p. 70), "The Jews nicknamed him [sc. Alexander Jannaeus, 103-76 BCE] the Thracian for his barbarism and his army of Greek mercenaries."


(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-28 04:34 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
topics to ramble about: I would like to hear if there have been any results from the baking experiments you mentioned a while back...

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-13 11:32 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] daharyn
oooooh. fascinating. can't tell ya how much I enjoy reading about exactly these questions of canonicity and where stuff comes from.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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