Notes on 2 Maccabees

1) The reader is not told (but expected to know) that Jerusalem had been given over by treaty from Ptolemy to Seleucid control just before the Maccabean revolt. When the new overlords learn of the riches of the Temple they soon try to take possession of them. We are informed that the Temple was functioning as a kind of bank, and the leading depositor was a man of great standing by the Persian/Parthian name of Hyrcanus (son of Tobias).

2) When Seleucus IV (Philopater) dies and Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) succeeds him, the old high priest Onias III is replaced by his brother Jason who has promised to transfer much of the wealth of the Jerusalem temple to Epiphanes. Jason initiates a bloodbath and the leading Jews of the city petition “God” for help. Jason is soon driven out of Jerusalem and then pursued as a fugitive by King Aretes of Petra. Immediately after King Ptolemy of Egypt is mentioned, “God” is again praised for intervening on their behalf. The implication is that King Ptolemy is in the place of God. Elsewhere in II Maccabees God is referred to as "the King of kings" (13:4).

3) Matthathias, the "father" of Judas Maccabee and his "brothers" is not named in II Maccabees. However, as was made perfectly clear in I Maccabees, only the “family” of Matthathias (Philometer/Mithrodates) was authorized to “save” Israel from the Seleucids. True independence for Jerusalem was not an objective. Jerusalem’s place within “the kingdom” was as a protectorate, first of the Persian ruling family and then of the Ptolemies. After a brief and turbulent period under the Seleucids they sought a return to the Ptolemy fold.

4) II Maccabees associates the coronation of Ptolemy Philometer (as sole ruler in Egypt) with renewed Seleucid hostilities (4:21-22). Philometer may have been co-regent for about five years prior to this. Philometer could have disguised his identity and those of his agents ("sons") when operating within Israel. Nevertheless, Epiphanes was very early convinced that the new Ptolemy was not going to honor the treaty between their predecessors, or had already broken it. Epiphanes made two preemptive strikes on Egypt and Jerusalem in order to confiscate the Temple treasures, said to be 1800 talents (silver?). The invasions of Epiphanes in Egypt are not denied but glossed over in the narrative.

5) There is complete veneration of Onias III, the last priest under Ptolemy rule of Jerusalem. He is removed from office and later killed by the Seleucids. There is complete vilification of high priests appointed under Seleucid authority. Simon, a Benjaminite, was made governor over temple affairs by the Seleucids, but a disagreement arose with Onias over a business matter. During the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, Simon’s brother Menelaus “outbid” Jason for the high priesthood, and then delegated the office to his brother Lysimachus who was stoned to death by a mob. A former high priest, Alcimus, also lobbied Epiphanes to be reinstated. (Compare the temple intrigues of Paul the Benjaminite in Roman times.)

Note: The reforms of Josiah (or those later attributed to him) set a precedent for centralized worship in Judea and Israel. When this policy was put in place in Persian times it led to great wealth for the Jerusalem temple - wealth that inevitably was coveted by despots in the Greek era.

6) II Maccabees is not included in the Jewish Bible. It does not claim to be written by inspiration of God (15:38-39) and has other glaring problems. (For example, the author of the book claims to be writting while Judas Maccabee was still alive, but the end of the book implies that "Hebrews" had been in control of Jerusalem for a very long time.) It was however clearly an inspiration for leading Jews (especially traitors) in the days before the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. This in itself would have been enough for later Hasidic Jews to reject it, along with the Book of Daniel and writings of Josephus. The sack of Jerusalem by Rome (like that of Antiochus Epiphanes) was preceded by thefts and defrauding, disputes over temple wealth and deposits, disputes between the high priests and lower priests, the murder of a righteous priest (James), the murder of a wicked high priest (Ananias), and accused sedition on the part of Hasidic Jews.

7) Only Judas Maccabee is given the status of hero in II Maccabees. The character of Simon brother of Judas Maccabee is impugned. We might expect however that he had married a daughter of Hyrcanus son of Tobias, and that his son John Hyrcanus was named after this prominent father-in-law. An earlier Tobias had been an Ammonite official in the Persian Period and an enemy of the returning exiles (See Book of Nehemiah). John/Gaddi brother of Judas Maccabee is not mentioned in II Maccabees, but is perhaps called Hyrcanus son of Tobias instead.

8) A man name Avaranus is denounced as an old fool, and as one under the thumb of the Seleucids (4:40). In I Maccabees, Avaran is the surname or alternate name of Eleazar brother of Judas Maccabee. Eleazar brother of Judas Maccabee is also called Zaccheus in II Maccabees. His death is not mentioned. However, three other dying-hero figures are described. One is an elderly chief scribe by the name of Eleazar. He is said to have died willingly and as an example to the nation (6:18-31). The second is called Razis, a respected Jewish elder. Rather than be captured and disgraced by Seleucids he pierces himself with a sword, throws himself down from a wall, and then rips out his own guts and dashes them on the ground (14:37-46). Obviously, this motif is borrowed from an even earlier self-sacrificing hero archetype. It is one that finds a ready parallel in the Judas Iscariot of the Gospels and again in Josephus’ account of the Roman attack on Jerusalem.

There was also an attempt to transform Gorgias, governor of Idumea, into a dying-god. A Maccabean mighty man on horseback (Dositheus of the Bacenor regiment) grabs hold of Gorgias and begins to carry him off but is thwarted (12:35). Josephus gives a parallel account in which an Eleazar is snatched up by the Roman mighty man Rufus and hauled away for scourging.
9) As noted above, Aretes “king of all Arabia” appears to be allied with Ptolemy in Egypt (5:8). Judas Maccabee wins over (other?) Arabs also (12:10-12).

10) A city called Scythiopolis, only 75 miles from Jerusalem, is praised for supporting the Maccabean uprising (12:29). This suggests that Scythians were also aligned with the Ptolomies rather than Seleucids. A second reference to Scythians (4:48) indicates that they were sympathetic to the Maccabean cause.