The First War of National Liberation
The first Book of Maccabees describes the military victory that became part of the story of Hanukkah. But the book did not enter the Jewish scriptural canon, and the rabbinic Hanukkah focuses not on the Maccabees’ military achievement but on the eight-day miracle of the oil. There are differing theories of why the narrative of the holiday changed so dramatically. One view calls attention to the surprisingly contemporary character of the Maccabees’ revolt. Their uprising—in its underlying aim, its particular triggering event, its strategic and tactical methods, and its political complications—can lay claim to being the first war of national liberation. Here we republish Diana Muir Appelbaum’s account of why the Book of Maccabees is so modern and so dangerous. —The Editors
This is the 2,179th anniversary of the world's first war of national liberation. There have been many since. To a surprising extent, such wars have followed the pattern first established by the Maccabees. They, like later heads of independence movements, were leaders of a people conquered and occupied by a great empire. They fought to claim the right of national self-determination.
Resentment of foreign rule may simmer for a long time, but war is often remembered as beginning in a dramatic incident. In Switzerland, this memory belongs to William Tell. He was the national hero who in 1307 refused to bow to a hat belonging to the Hapsburg governor, which was set on a tall pole in the center of Altdorf for the sole purpose of forcing Swiss freemen to genuflect to it. Tell's defiance sparked the fight for Swiss independence.
The story about Tell may be true, but it was not recorded until the 1560s. The Jewish "William Tell" moment occurred in the Year 167 B.C.E., when a priest named Matityahu (Mattathias) refused an order to make a sacrifice to a Greek god. Matityahu's story is better documented than Tell's, since it comes from the Book of First Maccabees (not the later II, III, and IV Maccabees), a text actually written in the Maccabean period.
At the time, the wealthy and powerful Jewish residents of Jerusalem had made a "covenant with the Gentiles": They followed Hellenistic ways, had their circumcisions surgically effaced, and built a Greek gymnasium for training in Hellenistic sports, literature, ethics, and philosophy. But the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes upset the equilibrium, ordering that Jewish texts be destroyed and Jews forced to eat pork and break the Sabbath.
Matityahu, with his sons, fled Jerusalem for his ancestral village of Modi'in. There, a Seleucid officer ordered him to make a public sacrifice to Zeus. Matityahu refused. "I and my sons and our kinsmen," he said, "shall follow the covenant of our fathers."
Other Jews had said as much: "Many Israelites strongly and steadfastly refused to eat forbidden food. They chose death in order . . . to keep from violating the Holy Covenant, and they were put to death." What made Matityahu a great leader was the fact that he refused to accept the necessity of choosing between violation of Jewish law and death. Instead, he chose to vindicate the Jews' right to determine their fate as a nation by organizing an army and driving the Seleucids from the land of Israel.
After Matityahu refused to make the pagan sacrifice in Modi'in, another Jewish man stepped forward to make the sacrifice—and Matityahu "slew him upon the altar." He then killed the Seleucid officer, destroyed the altar itself, and fled with his sons into the hills, shouting, "Everyone who loves the law and stands by the covenant follow me!"
Suddenly we are on familiar ground: the modern war of national liberation. There are no prophets in the book of Maccabees, and no miracles. This is the story of a man and a nation, faced with the awful choice of watching their nation die or risking their own death, who take their fate into their own hands and fight for their right to be governed by Jewish rulers under Jewish laws—the right we call national self-determination.
Most aspects of the Maccabees' ancient war are uncannily familiar. Not the Seleucid army's elephants, of course; but the Greek war machine was beaten by Matityahu's untrained volunteers, just as modern wars for independence often feature well-equipped imperial armies fighting ad hoc forces. Other familiar patterns are also there in I Maccabees. The Jews convened national assemblies, much as modern liberation movements do. They struggled to form a unified command structure. They sought aid from the Seleucids' rival great powers, Rome and Sparta.
The Maccabean war was also just as messy as modern wars of national liberation. The Jews fought against a great empire; but Jews also fought other Jews for principle and power, Jewish Hellenizers against Jews who stood for the ancient covenant.
Despite these ambiguities, the victories won under the leadership of Matityahu and his five sons produced two centuries of autonomous Judean government, giving Jewish intellectuals the time and opportunity to cement an enduring Jewish culture. Without those two centuries of self-government, it is doubtful that Jewish identity would have withstood two millennia during which Jews in Israel lived under foreign occupation and most Jews lived in exile.
The Book of Maccabees is found in the Coptic, Orthodox, and Catholic Bibles; but few Jews have ever read it. Though it was written in Hebrew by a Jew, it survived antiquity only in Greek translation. This is because it is a very dangerous book. To read Maccabees is to risk being persuaded that peoples like the Jews had and have rights to national self-determination. Acting on such an idea, by starting a war of national liberation, is a perilous thing to do.
In August 2009, the government of Sri Lanka finally put down the war of national liberation that the Tamil people had waged against the central authorities for 35 years. As the government drove the losing Tamils from their homes, it kept journalists away, so no one can say how many were killed. Hundreds of thousands now live in exile, and their prospects within Sri Lanka are bleak.
Jewish leaders struggling for a Jewish future in the second and third centuries knew about such consequences. Large-scale Jewish uprisings aimed at national liberation had failed in the years 70, 115, and 132 C.E., with horrific results. Matityahu was well aware that the idea of a right to national self-determination was the most dangerous idea the Jews could possibly have entertained.
Hanukkah, the holiday that celebrates Judean independence, was tamed in later years by focusing on its purely religious aspects. The Book of Maccabees was not added to the Jewish canon. Hebrew copies were not made.
But this incendiary text exists. Pick it up and read it. I dare you.
Diana Muir Appelbaum is an American author and historian. She is at work on a book tentatively entitled Nationhood: The Foundation of Democracy.
Thanks a lot.....
I would add to that list, the Czech Republic. They remember all too well how they were sacrificed to the Nazis under a variety of rationales from the likes of Neville Chamberlain and his supporting chorus. What people may not remember is that the supporting chorus for that shameless act of appeasement was much of the British intelligentsia. Their intellectual (if one can call it that) heirs are found today on the British left in the chattering classes who dominate media discourse there.
SOS - same old stuff from the same old pitiful group of losers.
Another seemingly minor bit of degradation is the conversion of the guttural beginning of Chanukah to Hannukah.
Applebaum's neocon treatise is hilarious.
1.The idea of ‘nation’- let alone national liberation- is a modern European conceit. The (Semitic) Jews/Israelites constitute a people (“AM in Hebrew), an ethnos.
2. In essence, Hanukkah was a civil war fought between Jews, in which the Taliban-leaning element won out.
3. The Hasmonean dynasty was halachically illegitmate, by virtue of its merging kingship with priesthood. Which is why the Rabbis denounced and renounced it.
4. Moreover, during those “2 centuries of self-government,” the Hasmoneans wound up being as Hellenized (and corrupt) as the “wealthy and powerful” Jews – think: the Republican Jewish Coalition of its day- whom the Maccabees fought against.
5. Worse, those 2 centuries of Judean autonomy meant that it was cut off from the cultural and economic developments then engaging the Greek-influenced Mediterranean world, thereby condemning it to backwater status: think, the Appalachia of the Levant. Which is why/how a psychopath like Pontius Pilate winds up being stationed there by Rome- as a dumping ground for wacko officials the Roman Empire was stuck with, but could neither court-martial nor discharge.
The great Greek culture that you celebrate in #5 unfortunately withered on the vine, didn't it, and these days Greek culture means pretty much living off the German taxpayer until pushed into bankruptcy. Thank you very much, but the rabbinic Judaism that survived the decline of Greece and Rome helped sustain the Jewish people until the Zionist movement brought them back to their home again. Not a meager accomplishment, I would say.
Cultural purity was impossible in the period of the Hasmoneans just as it is today. Then, as now, cultural improvements were made Jewish. Judaism has been evolving since Abraham, and the many ceaseless efforts to prevent this evolution have created only cultic sects.
Perhaps the absence of oil (olive oil in the old case I believe) can be philosophically linked to the dependence on oil in the present day.
The purported miracle of the oil is more consistently with technological improvements involving the current trending toward renewable energy.
I'm just thinking here. As to world conquest, I'll leave that to the lineage that extends far back and leads up to Islam in the present day. The goal of global commonality there is doomed to failure.
More to the point: In the acronym RJC, the initials came first, and the words later fleshed out. Actually, RJC is an anagram of its true pedigree, Jews for the Christian Right.
For, according to none other than veteran Republican consultant and (GOP insider) Arthur J. Finkelstein, "The political center has disappeared, and the Republican Party has become the party of the Christian right more so than in any other period in modern history” (November 11, 2004, NYT) .
And who, you might ask, is Finkelstein, and why does his opinion matter? Because he is the pollster who served as the RJC’s exit survey pollster this year!
The RJC is not a Jewish advocacy/defense group that happens to vote Republican; it's a GOP organization that targets Jews for outreach.
In other words, the objective of the RJC is not to raise Republican awareness of a Jewish community consensus on a given issue, but to persuade Jews to accept the Republican consensus. And these days, that "Republican consensus" is Tea Party-centric and beholden to the Christian Right, especially Protestant fundamentalist evangelicals.
For example, if there is one issue that unites American Jewry across the board -- from ultra-Orthodox to Secular Humanist Jews -- it is embryonic stem-cell research; yet, as loyal Republicans, the RJC defended President Bush's veto of this legislation, undertaken at the behest of the Christian Right.
Traditionally, U.S. support for Israel has been bipartisan; however, during the Bush and Obama presidencies, the RJC has deliberately sought to turn it into a wedge issue.
The RJC has never taken issue with GOP and conservative icon Ann Coulter's pronouncement that Jews, in order to be "perfected," should all convert to Christianity.
This alone raises the question of the integrity of the group, and demonstrates its lack of independence from the Republican Party.
Bottom line: the RJC are the Hellenized Jews of today, serving their Sellucid Christian Right masters.
As noted in a recent article in the Philadelphia Jewish EXPONENT, "According to 1 Maccabees, Mattathias’ followers, called hasidim, or “pious ones,” slaughtered assimilated Jews and circumcised male children by force. Fearing for their lives, well-connected Hellenists called upon the Seleucid armies for protection, and it is with the ensuing battle that the well-known version of the Hanukkah story begins."
And "taliban" is the Pashtu word for "students". I guess that means that the Taliban are the Muslim version of Yeshiva buchers!!
I mention this because the enthusiasm expressed to paint the Macabbees as "taliban" is itself historical revision of a wildly political sort. Applebaum "dares" us to read the original sources as best they can be had, the original Hebrew being lost. Therefore I take earlier sources than that cited by Zaslow and Mitnaged.
According to the old text, Antiochus sought to be ruler over both Israel and Egypt, thereby being an "occupier" who sought "empire." This imperialist "plundered" Jerusalem and "took capitve" women and children." And the text of earliest source says that this imperial and foreign power "shed innocent blood." Additionally the opponents of Mattathias are termed "arrogant men." This is the story, which is supposedly not so "clear cut." Of course it is not.
Zaslow quotes from a news article, sourcing it to Jewish Exponent. From the article titled "Hanukkah: The untold story," one reads information his short citation left out by Zaslow perhaps willfully: "Hellenized Jews not only supported the repressive policy, but also helped Antiochus’ men violently enforce it in the traditional Judean villages. In response, when the traditionalists rose up under the leadership of Mattathias, their fury was directed at their Hellenized countrymen." This comes from JNS.org originally, written by Binyamin Kagedan in 2011.
To speak of "the 'Taliban-leaning' extremist element winning out" as does Zaslow suggests that he would side with what Kegedan, Zaslow's source, and the original texts tell us were "Hellenized Jews not only supported the repressive policy, but also helped Antiochus’ men violently enforce it...." Repressive, violent men are not victims in even the modern political stances with which I am acquainted, excepting for the public relations stance of the PLO/PA/Hamas in which "death to Israel" is ignored in favor of criticing Israel today, much as the Hellenized Jews of another day seemed quite willing to serve foreign powers through violence.
Does not such violence suggest that these slaughtered "victims" as anointed by Mitnaged and Zaslow were in fact also violent extremists, but for a different extreme?
As I mention earlier, the attempt to use contemporary political stances is fraught with problems. But all military confrontations are violent and history has declared the victory over the "foreign occupier" by Mattathias’ followers the Jewish perspective, and enshrined it in a festival which has lingered with us for centuries. To now declare Mattathias’ followers to be extremist and "taliban" is neither clever nor scholarly, but most assuredly political in the most modern sense. Why, it is almost Hellenized in the blythe manner in which it was able to write "Yeshiva buchers [butchers]." Schande.
I graciously accept S W's endorsement of the analogy between the Hellenized Jews of first-century Judea and the RJC in America today. Being Germany-based himself, he is in a unique position to kasher the analogy!
What I stated above was that "the attempt to use contemporary political stances is fraught with problems."
Which major Republican or Democrat in the United States may be called "repressive and violent?" I know that American political passions might reach hyperbole, but "repressive and violent" Democrats or Republicans at the national leaderhsip level? The only possible case for this may be made by those directing and conducting ongoing military campaigns in Afghanistan. If this is his argument, then European nations too have troops there. Is this to what Stas C. refers? Certainly he cannot mean a Republican or Democrat billionaire donor working within the current laws of the nation.
Being in a "unique position" I do not endorse Stas C's claim that I accede to his assumptive closing argument. US politics as best I see it from afar is not and cannot be a metaphor for the followers of Mattathias nor the Hellenized Jews of two millenia ago.
Btw, the correct spelling for the adjective is blIthe, not blYthe. BlYthe is a woman's name, as in Blythe Danner, the mother of Gweneth Paltrow.
I also repeat the literal and literary truth from original texts that in the war between the Seleucid Emperor (and his followers) and Mattathias (and his followers) that slaughter occured, and on both sides. Such is war. Which Jew commenting above would have rather that the Seleucids and their Hellenized supporters among the Jews would have won and the Maccabees lost? Which Jew commenting above thinks war can be conducted surgically without collateral damage? Ms. Appelbaum dares us to read the text, not news editorials as our first sources.
I do not understand the complaint from one who writes of my supposed "self-professed expertise" or of my misspelling. Who has not misspelled a word? Who has asserted I have any more expertise than others who contirbute to JID? I have not, and say so herein. As a Jew in Germany, I have never written and will never write of "equal atrocities on both sides." It seems some wish to fabricate my support for their politics, one seeming to be Democrat and another Republican. How odd. How sad. How evident, as I wrote, that "the attempt to use contemporary political stances is fraught with problems."
Having been misquoted by representatives of both American political streams only serves to validate my assertion -- as written above -- "neither of the political parties in the United States serve as my analogy to the Hellenized Jews of the Festival of Hanukkah any more than they are either or both an analogy to the Maccabees."
For all my faults, I try to think Jewishly without placing a priori political affiliation before or above it. In this, I seem to be in a distinct minority.
With regard to misspelling, the issue is the fundamental one of accuracy and discipline- old-fashioned CONSERVATIVE(!) values. Fat-finger typos are one thing, but misspelling, especially in the age of spellcheck, is a telltale sign of carelessness and confusion and even lack of intellectual rigor.
And why say "hubris" instead of "chutzpah." Taka, a shande (the Yiddish word/spelling, as opposed to the German sChande).
Rather than address this, now one complains of the use of German, though Jews in Germany unremarkably speak German today.
Were D. Feith to have rejoined in Hebrew or Jiddische rather than in English, the complaint about language might have more validity. And the word Schande and its variant Shande both do not use Hebrew characters with which Jiddische is actually written, as is Chutzpe. How one transliterates Jiddische is a matter of choice and taste and varying traditions. As to Chutzpe, Feith does not address the JID article's subject nor my comment as included again above.
גאז זאל אפיטן פון ײדישער חוצפה
1."Were D. Feith to have rejoined in Hebrew or Jiddische rather than in English, the complaint about language might have more validity. " This is an English-language website!!
2. Trivializing misspelling is alien to the spirit and practice of authentic Judaism:
a.Is it of so little consequence to S W if RambaM is misspelled RambaN ? lol.
b.If a Torah scroll contains a misspelling, it is automatically disqualified for ritual use. The same holds true for a mezuzah.
c.The daleth of the Shema (Deut. 6:4) is written conspicuously larger than normal, so it will not be confused - i.e., misspelled and therefore mispronounced as- resh. There is a huge theological difference between achad/one and acher/(an)other!! Ditto the case for the ayin in that same verse, lest it become aleph.
3. As for the analogy question, there is indeed an analogy between the Hellenized Jews and Maccabees of the first century, with American politics today:
both Hellenizers and Maccabees are to be found within the same political party, the GOP. The Republicans are currently in the throes of their own civil war, between the Establishment/Big Business wing (Romney, Boehner, Adelson) and the Libertarian/Tea Party/Bible-thumpers (Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Evangelicals), with the former being the Hellenizers and the latter the Maccabees.
Ha-Maskil Mayveen (Sorry, I do not have access to a Hebrew font).
This set of comments has been instructive, for I have learned many uninteresting things.
1) "RJC is an anagram of its true pedigree, Jews for the Christian Right."
2) "The NYT and Tom Friedman and all the rest of that ilk are the Hellenized Jews."
3) "The Taliban are the Muslim version of Yeshiva buchers!"
4) "President Obama endorses the most vilely antisemetic part of the UN by joining the Human Rights Council."
5) "...both Hellenizers and Maccabees are to be found within the same political party, the GOP."
And the greatest quantity of comments? About my misspelling beginning with an unimportant adjective.
"Magein Avraham" means a number of things to me, from the direct translation from the Hebrew, to its appearance in the Amidah, to the honorific title for some historic European rabbis. Its use as a blog name busily playing one side of American politics against another is a fine definition of the verb, to trivialize.
Given that the fine article by Appelbaum was published on 12 December challenging us to again read the text, it is most interesting how many have come to do rhetorical battle with my misspelling, defining it as a "lack of intellectual rigor" and contrasting misspelling an unimportant adjective to the great error should a Torah scroll be found with an error. A week of focusing on misspelling and heated ad hominem mixed with American political accusations, one way and the other.
Somehow I react with sadness that it comes to a commenter willing to trivialize the Shield of Abraham by its misuse, all the while willing to engage as an American Democrat partisan in the same few words. Next time he or she recites the Amidah and comes across these two words, perhaps he or she will think the better of such trivialization as just committed.
My siddur does not have either Democrat or Republican in its text. Whose does?
b. At least the poster of Dec. 21 knew enough about Judaism to employ a learned alias. For all his know-it-all posturing - or perhaps because of it- S W is ashamed to use his real name.
As to the now well-documented and constant reference to American politics -- Republican and Democrat alike -- it demonstrates at least to me that those commenting so heatedly place their political affiliation on a par with their Jewish identity if not above.
The latest assertion states "$heldon Adelson's siddur would have Democrat and Republican in it- if he had one, but he doesn't, and if someone were to gift him one, he would have no need to use it!" I do not know with which congregation this individual affiliates, but the assertion that Bar Akiva -- a moniker, one supposes -- has knowedge of this seems unlikely. Adelsohn is his clear and political target, while Soros was Steve's target. Different sides in American politics have spoken and spoken in opposite fashion.
While I heartily admire the many fine articles of scholarly worth which JID is able to present so regularly, I find it interesting that so many comment streams turn quickly to nothing more than base politics of American brand names: my side is good and your side is evil, with barely a perceptive nod to rabbinic Judaism's centuries by which to further an argument. Assertions more than reasoned argument.
The ad hominem is also demonstration that those wishing to debate have little to offer expect political posturing. Among the culling of ad hominem aimed my way, one reads of my "self-proclaimed expertise" and being a "know-it-all." One reads of my "telltale sign of carelessness and confusion and even lack of intellectual rigor" and that my responses have been "snarky, pretentious, and snide."
While JID as a site manages high-minded, well-written and fair arguments consistently, it seems that to dare to question the politics of comments by Republican partisans and even more by Democrat partisans yields the above as responses.
And on a techincal note: one wrote, "Sorry, I do not have access to a Hebrew font." Actually all the users of this site have Hebrew characters as an extension of their normal Times New Roman font, and these may be found by scrolling down to examine the whole of the font. Not being a know-it-all, I learned this from a friend who is far more informed than am I.
Christians identify messiah with Jesus and define him as G-d incarnated as a man, and believe he died for the sins of humanity as a blood sacrifice. This means that one has to accept the idea that one person's death can atone for another person's sins. However, this is opposed to what the Bible says in Deuteronomy 24:16, "Every man shall be put to death for his own sin," which is also expressed in Exodus 32:30-35 and Ezekiel 18. The Christian idea of the messiah also assumes that G-d wants, and will accept, a human sacrifice. After all, it was either Jesus-the-god, who died on the cross, of Jesus-the-human. Jews believe that God cannot die, andso all that Christians are left with in the death of Jesus on the cross is a human sacrifice. However, in Deuteronomy 12:30-31, G-d calls human sacrifice an abomination, and something that He hates: "For every abomination to the Eternal, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burned in the fire to their gods." All human beings are sons or daughters, and any sacrifice to G-d of any human being would be something that G-d would hate. The Christian idea of the messiah consists of ideas that are just not Biblical according to Jewish belief. Remember that Jesus was Jewish. Remember that there is only one Bible that Jews accept. Making it relevant to the Maccabees, the Greeks (Seleucids) believed in multiple gods. It is okay to live with non-Jews, but it is not okay to believe as they do. My family never had a Christmas tree. We did not celebrate Christmas. Jewish nationalism needs to survive.
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The story is real, and that is why it is so dangerous to publicize to the current Seleucid Axis.