The Book of First Maccabees

An effort to legitimize the Hasmonean dynasty.

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(2) Second Maccabees legitimates the political claims of the Hasmonean dynasty by describing at length the people's assembly that ratified Simon's claim to the high priesthood and the governorship. The Greek Syrians acknowledge Simon's claim by granting him the "purple cloth and the gold clasp," while the Jewish people immortalize their agreement to Simon's rule by engraving the agreement on brass tablets set in pillars on Mount Zion. Yet Simon never claimed to displace David's house, therefore he never took the title "king" and left the agreement as a temporary one "until the true prophet will come." (I Maccabees 14:41)  First Maccabees also emphasizes the international recognition accorded the Hasmonean declaration of independence by quoting no less than nine royal documents from Greek Syria, Rome, and Sparta. (This concern for legitimacy recalls the Zionist concern to obtain the Balfour Declaration, November 2, 1917, and the United Nations recognition on November 29, 1947.)

Interestingly enough, First Maccabees plays down the religious and political civil war that the Maccabees fought with the Zadokite priests and the Hellenizers. Rather it emphasizes the unity of the people around the inspiring religious figure of Judah the Maccabee who is described as a heros (military warrior) and soter (savior of his political community). The true villain is Antiochus IV-- the emperor who seeks to homogenize his empire's many ethnic and religious groups into one loyal Hellenistic kingdom. ("The king ordered all his kingdom to become one people." [I Maccabees 1:44])

Probably the author of First Maccabees supported the Hasmonean court and believed his book continued the biblical tradition of Chronicles.

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Noam Zion

Noam Zion is the Director of Shalom Hartman Institute's Resource Center for Jewish Continuity. He specializes in teaching Jewish Holidays, Bible and Art, and has edited several educational books for the Shalom Hartman Institute.