revolutionary vanguard of the Apocrypha

"The Revolt of Mattathias" (1 Macc. 2:24)
by Gustave Doré

From Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, pp. 717–8, on the Maccabees*:

The spark that initiated the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucids was set off by an officer of Antiochus who came to Modin to enforce the new laws. He asked Mattathias, as a prominent Jewish leader, to set a good example and to carry through a sacrifice in the manner required by law. To Mattathias, this was idolatry and he refused.

However, there were other Jews who were not so insistent on the old ways. The Seleucid officer, in asking Mattathias to perform the sacrifice, pointed out that it was being done by the Jews generally:

1 Maccabees 2:18. …fulfil the king’s commandment, like … the men of Juda … and such as remain at Jerusalem…

In this, he was probably telling the truth. In aftertimes, a successful revolution is looked back upon as the rising of a united nation or group, but most of that is the patriotic gilding of memory, and it is not so. In all revolutions, those who ardently pursue the fight to the death are in the minority and there are usually at least as many who are ardently anti-revolutionary, plus an actual majority that is apathetic and will go where they are led (in either direction), if necessary, but who best prefer to be left alone.

Our own Revolutionary War was conducted by a minority of Rebels who faced not only the British, but Tories who were at least equal in numbers to themselves. And most colonists did not incline strongly to either side. And today the Civil Rights movement among Negroes has, as one of its problems, the apathy of most Negroes.

So it must have been that the Jews in the time of Antiochus were by no means all bitterly anti-Seleucid. Many were willing to conform; perhaps even eager, in their pro-Greek views, to do so. Thus, when Mattathias refused the sacrifice, someone else quickly stepped up to perform it, either out of conviction or, perhaps, out of the thought that unless someone did, the entire town would be massacred.

1 Maccabees 2:23. …there came one of the Jews in the sight of all to sacrifice on the altar … according to the king’s commandment.

At seeing this, Mattathias flew into a rage, slew the Jew and the Seleucid officer. That was the Lexington-and-Concord of the Jewish rebellion. Mattathias and his sons had to flee to the hills, and around them they began to collect other rebels.

* These books are "deuterocanonical," meaning that they are part of the Old Testament for Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but not for Jews or Protestants. The King James Bible lists these books in the Apocrypha.


One Response to revolutionary vanguard of the Apocrypha

  1. iceberg says:

    Happy Hanukah! (it begins next week)

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