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The Letter from Judah Maccabee to Aristobulus Is 2

Maccabees i:iob-2:i8 Authentic?*


BEN ZION WACHOLDER
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati
This essay raises anew the question of the authenticity of 2 Mace. 1:10b-2:18, which is or
pretends to be a letter the Jews of Jerusalem sent to their coreligionists in Egypt. This 1

lengthy letter is a fascinating document. In. contrast to the so-called first letter (2 Mace. 1:1-
ioa), which contains the
2

* I express my profound gratitude to John Kampen who edited and helped in the annotation of this paper. His
industry, acute critical judgment and keen insight into the complex problems have added depth and breadth to this
study.
( 1 ) Bibliography on the scholarship concerning this letter can be found in the following: C.L.W. Grimm,
Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen des Alten Testamentes (Hirzel, Leipzig, 1857), v.4, pp. 3,22;
Emil Schrer, Geschichte des jdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (Hinrichs'sche, Leipzig, 2nd edn., 1886), v.2, pp.
583-4, 742-3; . Walter, Der Thoraausleger Aristobulos (Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1964), pp.
XI-XIX; J.G. Bunge, Untersuchungen zum Zweiten Makkaberbuch (Diss, phil., Bonn, 1971), pp. 690-733
(most extensive); C. Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch (Gerd Mohn, Gtersloh, 1976), Series 1, vol. 3 of Jdische Schriften
aus hellenistisch-rmischer Zeit, pp. 194-8.
I also wish to thank Prof. Arnoldo Momigliano as well as Prof. Samuel Sandmel for reading this work in
manuscript and making helpful suggestions. Two additional studies on this letter which should be noted are B. Motzo,
Saggi di Storia e Letteratura Giudeo-ellenistica (Felice le Monnier, Firenze, 1924), pp. 66-101, 128-150 and A.
Momigliano, Prime linee di storia della tradizione maccabaica (Hakkert, Amsterdam, 1968 [1931]).
(2) This first letter is dated 188 S.E. (v. 1 oa) and the body of this letter refers to a previous letter dated in 169 S.E.
(v. 7). Some connect the date of 188 S.E. with the second letter: L. Berthold, Historischkritische Einleitung in
smmtUche kanonsiche und apokryphische Schriften des alten und neuen Testaments (Palm, Erlangen, 1813), v. 3, p.
1058; C.C. Torrey, "Die Briefe 2 Mace. 1:1-2:18," ZA W, v. 20 (1900), pp. 225-42; S. Zeitlin and S. Tedesche, The
Second Book of Maccabees (Harper, New York, 1954), p. 19. Others regard this as the date for one long letter (1:1-
2:18); B. Niese, Kritik der beiden Makkaberbcher (Weidmannsche, Berlin, 1900), PP 915; H. Grtz, "Das
Sendschreiben der Palstinenser an die gyptisch-judischen Gemeinden wegen der Feier der Tempelweihe,"
Monatschrift fr Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums, v. 26 (1877), pp. 1-16,49-60 (see especially pp. 12-16);
and some Catholic scholars (see note 6). Still others divide this first letter into two: R. Lacquer, Kritische
Untersuchungen zum zweiten Makkaberbuch (Trbner, Strassburg, 1904), pp. 56-62; H. B-

89
90

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

message urging the observance of the festival of lighting the lamps


(Hanukkah), the second letter deals with basic questions relating to early
Maccabean history. It allegedly or in fact depicts the mood of expectation soon
after the holy city's liberation, hoping that the messianic ingathering of the
exiles was imminent. The main message of the letter announces the institution
3

of a new festival similar to the one in Esther. The festival has several names:
Purification of the Temple ( ), Booths (), and
Fire (), but not Rededication (-) or Lights (), as it has come
to be called. The letter includes a lengthy history of the appearance of the
4

heavenly fire in the temple in the days of Nehemiah, followed by a claim that
Judah Maccabee had emulated Nehemiah in the collection of sacred books. The 5

title of the epistle names Judah, apparently Maccabee, one of the authors along
with the Gerusia (Council of Elders) in Jerusalem. Granted, it is an interesting
document, but is it authentic or do we have before us a forgery written long
after the events it describes?
Although a much debated issue in the nineteenth century, recent 6

venot, Die beiden Makhaberbcher (Peter Hanstein, Bonn, 1931), pp. 170-1. A recent discussion of the history of the scholarship
on this question can be found in Bunge, Untersuchungen,
34-37
(3) There are three references to the messianic ingathering: 1:27-9, 2:7-8 and 2:18. The importance
of this theme will be discussed further on pp. 42-3.
(4) The problem of the names of the festival needs further investigation as to historical
development. See below, pp. 19-20.
(5) In a recent study, Sid Z. Lei man, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and
Midrashic Evidence (Archon, Ha'mden, Conn., 1976), pp. 29-30, has argued that this passage may be
a description of the closing of the canon of the hagiographa, therefore of the entire Hebrew Bible.
(6) The question of the authenticity of this letter frequently intruded into the debate over the
canonicity of the book as a whole (see bibliography cited in Schrer, Geschichte, note 1 above). Grimm, Handbuch,
p. 23, as well as others argued for the inauthenticity of the letter: J.G. Eichorn, Einleitung in die apokryphischen Schriften des Alten
Testaments (Weid-mannschen, Leipzig, 1795), pp. 255-8; Bertholdt, Einleitung, pp. 1058-9; B.G. Niebuhr, Kleine historische
undphilohgische Schriften (Bonn, 1828-43), v. 1, p. 252; H. Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees (University, Oxford, 1832), p. 147; H.
Wace, The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary (John Murray, London, 1888), v.2, p. 541; H^Willrich, Juden und
Griechen (Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Gttingen, 1895), pp. 678, 77; E. Kamphausen, "Das zweite Buch der Makkaber," in Die
Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments (Mohr, Tbingen, 1900), E. Kautzsch (ed.), v. 1, p. 85; Niese,Kritik pp. 11,15-22;
Lacquer, Untersuchungen, pp. 53 ff; J. Welihausen, "ber den geschichtlichen Wert des zweiten Makkaberbuches im Verhltnis zum
ersten," Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Gttingen, 1905, pp. 117-163; W. Kolbe, Beitrge zur syrischen und jdischen
Geschichte (Kohlhammer, Berlin, 1926), pp. 114-123; J.W. Hunkin, "I and II Maccabees," in A Commentary on Holy Scripture
Including the Apocrypha (Macmillan, .Y., 1928), CG. Gore et al. (ed.), pt. 2, p. 147. CF. Keil responded to the
arguments of Grimm but did not finally
[3] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 91
scholarship is virtually unanimous in regarding this epistle in part or entirely as a
pseudograph. As proof, the commentators cite a number of anachronisms, the chief
7

example of which is the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1:13-17). The account of the
death in the letter is considered false on two grounds. First, the author of the letter pretends
to be writing, according to 1:18a and 2:16, shortly before Kislev 25 of 148 of the Seleucid
era (S.E.) (December 164 B.CE.). Secondly, the report of Antiochus I V's death given in this
letter corresponds to what pagan historians say of the death of Antiochus III, the Great
(223-187 B.CE.) but not with that of

commit himself on the question in his Commentar ber die Bcher der Makkaber (Dorf fling and Franke, Leipzig, 1875), pp. 269 ff.
E.C. Bisseil, The Apocrypha of the Old Testament (Scribner's, New York, 1880), pp. 541-2, and H. Herkenne, Die Briefe zu Beginn des
zweiten Makkaber-buches (Herdersche, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1904), pp. 22-5, advance arguments for the authenticity of the letter.
Some scholars have regarded 1:1-2:18 as one authentic letter dated in 188 S.E.: (See note 2 above) Grtz, Monatschrift, v. 26, pp. 1-16;
Torrey,ZAW, v.20, pp. 225-42, and Niese Kritik (See note 2, above). The major Catholic scholar also argued in this manner: R.P.C.
Lapide, Commentario in Scripturam Sacram (Ludovicus Vives, Paris, 1868). His original commentary appeared two centuries earlier,
however it was reprinted in various authoritative editions in the 19th century. J. Knabenbauer also argued for the authenticity of the
letter from the Roman Catholic perspective in Commentarius in Duos Libros Machabaeorum (Sumptibus P. Lethielleux, Paris, 1907).
(7) E. Bickermann, "Ein jdischer Festbrief vom Jahre 124 . Chr. (II Mace. 1:1-9)," ZNW, . 32 (1933), pp. 233-54, note

especially p. 234; R.H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the
Apocrypha (Harper, New York, 1949), pp. 507-8; Zeitlin, Second Book, p. 19; Walter, Thoraausleger, p.
17; O. Eissfeldt, The O Id Testament: An Introduction (Harper and Row, New York, 1965), Peter
Ackroyd (transi.), p. 581; M. Zambelli, "La composizione del secondo libro dei Maccabei e la nuova
cronologia di Antioco IV Epifane," in Miscellanea Greca e Romana (Rome, 1965), A. Colombini et. al.
(ed.), pp. 246-7; V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (Atheneum, New York, 1975), p.
534, note 6; J.G. Bunge, Untersuchungen pp. 32-114 (inauthentic only in part); M. Hengi, Judaism and
Hellenism (Fortress, Philadelphia, 1973), J. Bowden (transi.), p. 100; A. Momigliano, "The Second Book of Maccabees," Classical
Philology, v. 70 (1975), pp. 81-8, note especially p. 84; J.A. Goldstein, / Maccabees: A new Translation with Introduction and Commentary
(Doubleday, New York, 1976), p. 545; Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 200. There are some commentators who either ignore or do not
come to a decision on the question: D. Schtz, "Erstes and zweites Buch der Makkaber," in Die heilige Schrift in deutscher
bersetzung (Echter Bibel, Wrzburg, 1956), p. 655; J.M. Grintz, "Second Book of Maccabees," Encyclopedia Judaica (Ketter,
Jerusalem, 1971), v. 11, pp. 658-60; N.J. McEleney, "1-2 Maccabees," in The Jerome Bible Commentary (Prentice-Hall, Englewood
Cliffs, 1968), R.E. Brown et al. (ed.), p. 462; R.C. Dentan, "The Second Book of Maccabees," in The Interpreter's One-Volume
Commentary on the Bible (Abingdon, Nashville, 1971), CM. Laymon (ed.), p. 601; J.R. Bartlett, The First and Second Books of the
Maccabees (University, Cambridge, 1973). Other scholars do argue for the authenticity of the letter: Bvenot, Makkaberbcher, pp. 11
ff; F.M. Abel, Les Livres des Maccabees (Gabalda, Paris, 1949), pp. 288 ff.; A. Penna, La Sacra Bibbia Libri dei Maccabei (Marietti,
Rome, 1953), pp. 179 ff.; T. Corbishley, "1 and 2 Maccabees," in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (Thomas Nelson, New York,
1953), D.B. Orchard et al. (ed.), p. 718; K.D. Schunck,Die Quellen des I. und. IL Makhaberbuches (Niemeyer, Halle, 1954), pp. 99 ff.;
F.M. Abel and J. Starcky, Les Livres des Maccabees (Cerf, Paris, 1961), pp. 27 ff.
92

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[4]

Antiochus IV. This false and anachronistic account suffices, according to current
consensus, to characterize the entire letter as an interesting but historically devoid
document.
This study presents arguments against dating the letter in December of 164 B.CE.,
as is generally assumed. It will be demonstrated that the summer or fall of 163 B.CE
seems a more plausible date whether the document is genuine or a pseudograph.
However, the removal of this major objection to the historicity of the letter
necessitates an analysis of the other historically questionable passages. Can it be
that the document is after all authentic in spite of the near unanimity that it is not?
To facilitate the presentation of the arguments, I divide the letter into segments:
1. Address and Salutation (2 Mace. 1:10b)
2. Thanksgiving to God: Opening (2 Mace. 1:11-12)
3. Death of Antiochus IV (2 Mace. 1:13-17)
4. The Festival of the Purification of the Temple (2 Mace. 1:18a, 2:16)
5. Sacred Fire and Furnishings in the Temple (2 Mace. i:i8b-2:i2)
a. Descent of Divine Fire in Nehemiah's Time (2 Mace. 1:180-36)
b. Jeremiah Hides the Fire (2 Mace. 2:1-3)
c. Jeremiah Hides the Tabernacle (2 Mace. 2:4-8)
d. Descent of Divine Fire in Moses' and Solomon's Time (2 Mace. 2:9-12)
6. Offer to Send Books from Judah's Library (2 Mace. 2:13-15)
7. The Festival of the Purification of the Temple (2 Mace. 2:16)
8. Conclusion: Thanksgiving and Messianic Hope (2 Mace. 2:17-18)
i. Address and Salutation (2 Mace. 1:10b) 8

01 " ot The people of Jerusalem and Judaea,


the Council of Elders, and Judah to
* 1 * Aristobulus teacher of King Ptolemy,
scion ofhigh priestly stock, and to the
,' Jews of Egypt: Greetings and good
, health, 1 .

(8) The Greek text utilized for our epistle is that of Robert Hanhart, Septuaginta
Vetus Testamentum Graecum (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Gttingen, 1959), v. 9:2 except for
2:18 where the last word should readinstead of , which appears to be
a misprint; and for another departure from Hanhart's text, see note 25 below.
[5] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 93
Nearly everyone agrees that the Judah referred to here is identical with
Judah Maccabee and that Aristobulus is the Judeao-Greek writer of the
9

same name, extensive fragments of whose works are preserved primarily in


Eusebius of Caesarea as well as in Clement of Alexandria. As stated by 10

ancient and modern historians, King Ptolemy refers to Ptolemy VI


Philometor, who ruled Egypt from 180 to 145 B.CE. Since Judah died in 160 11

B.CE. and Aristobulus presumably flourished in the days of Ptolemy VI, the
letter's address contains nothing anachronistic. These identifications 12

stand, regardless of the problem of the letter's authenticity. 13

Scholars have challenged the validity of the honorific title which addresses
Aristobulus as "teacher () of King Ptolemy." "How," they ask,
"could a professing Jew, such as Aristobulus, have served as tutor of a
xenophobic and antisemitic royal family?" The letter must be a fabrication14

since the Jews of Jerusalem would have known better than to address
Aristobulus by a false title. The counter argument is that too litde is known
about the social status of Alexandrian Jewry in this period. The case of 15

Aristobulus could be an exception even if other Jews had low


(9) The major exceptions are Torrey, ZAW, v. 20, pp. 229-34, and Niese, Kritik (p. 16).
(10) Major studies include L.C. Valckenaer, Diatribe de Aristobulo Judaeo; Philosophe Peripatetico
Alexandnno ( 1845) and Walter, Thoraausleger (see note 1 above). The fragments of Aristobulus are
listed in Walter, pp. 2646. They are collected in German translation by Walter in Jdische Schriften aus
hellenistisch-rmischer Zeit (Gerd Mohn, Gtersloh, 1975), v. 3, bk. 2, pp. 269-79. For the Greek text of Eusebius, see K. Mras, Die
Preparano Evangelica (Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1954), 2 vols. For the text of Clement of Alexandria, see O. Sthlin, Clemens
Alexandrinus (Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1960-72) rev. by L. Frchtel and U. Treu, 3 vols.
(11) WakeZrhoraausleger, pp. 35-40. This is attested in Clements, Stromata I, 150, 1; V, 97, 7; Anatolius, , in
Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. VII, 32, 16; Eusebius, Prep. Evang. IX, 6, 6a. For a discussion of Ptolemy VI, see
Pauly-Wissowa, v. 46, pp. 1702-19.
(12) Walter, Ibid., has a thorough analysis and discussion of the arguments advanced against the
authenticity of the fragments of Aristobulus on pp. 35-123.
(13) Most scholars agree that these two identifications are intended in the work even if it is a
forgery: Grimm, Handbuch, pp. 36-7; Keil, Commentar, pp. 270-1; Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 53-5;
Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 202; Goldstein, I Maccabees, pp. 545 and 549. Starcky and Abel, Livres, p. 29, suggest the letter may
have been written by a priestly contemporary of Judas. Torrey, ZAW, v. 20, pp. 230-4 and Niese, Kritik, pp. 16-9, try to explain away
Judas and talk about Antiochus VII Sidetes.
(14) On the contrary, Ptolemy VI Philometor seems to have had a favorable attitude to the Jews. Evidence for this can be found in
Josephus, Against Apion 2:49 and Jewish Antiquities 12:387-8 and 13:62-73. See also Walter, Thoraausleger, pp. 38-9, J.J. Collins, The
Sybilline Oracles of Egyptian Judaism (Scholars Press, Missoula, 1972), p. 32 and Pauly-Wissowa, v. 46, p. 1712.
(15) H. Willrich,/ttifen und Griechen vor der makkabischen Erhebung (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Gttingen, 1895), p. 163, advances
the case that it would have been impossible for a Jew to achieve this status. The counterargument is stated by Walter, Thoraausleger,
pp. 39-40
94 BEN ZION WACHOLDER [6]
standing. Some hold the view that the Jews of Jerusalem may have overstated
the honor bestowed upon Aristobulus so as to flatter him, thus invalidating the
authenticiy of the title "teacher." Presumably, an epithet such as "teacher of
16

King Ptolemy" would have embarrassed Aristobulus if false, particularly if he


was a prominent man in Alexandria; and presumably the officials of Jerusalem
were well acquainted with his actual position. Nothing in the address to
Aristobulus casts suspicion on the letter's authenticity.
Fragments, incontrovertibly authored by Aristobulus, contain direct addresses
to the king, apparently Ptolemy VI. These writings state that he had responded
17

to Ptolemy's questions concerning the problem of anthropomorphic usages in


Scripture. Walter says that the attributions of Aristobulus to Ptolemy VI are
18

pretentious since a Ptolemaic King would not stoop to debate such matters
with a lowly Jew. Nonetheless it would seem that once one grants a) that
19

Aristobulus himself cited the king and b) that he wrote these words during the
lifetime of Ptolemy VI, two points even Walter accepts as true, the statements20

attributed to the king cannot be branded as false. Who would have dared to
aggrandize himself by quoting a living pharaoh falsely? The fragments attest
that Aristobulus probably did in fact serve as some kind of teacher to Ptolemy
VI. But even if he did not, the authorities in Jerusalem who had read his book
21

were sufficiently impressed to address him as "teacher of King Ptolemy." Thus


whether one accepts this title literally or loosely, the claims by Aristobulus tend
to offer circumstantial confirmation to the title found in the letter's address,
and by extension, give a prima facie genuineness to the letter as a whole.
Other aspects of the letter's address have received little consideration as
they bear on the problem of authenticity. Aristobulus is addressed as a
descendant of the high priestly family. In contrast to Judah, who is placed last
in the list of senders, Aristobulus appears first of the addressees, preceding the
Jews of Egypt. It is difficult to account for such a formulalo) R. Doran, "Studies in the Style and
Literary Character of 2 Maccabees" (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Harvard, 1977), p. 18,
makes this suggestion. Walter also states this argument on p. 36 however then goes on to
discount it. K.H. Rengstorff suggests that he was given this name because he wrote a work of
interpretation of the Pentateuch and dedicated it to the king, suggesting a "teacher" in the
rabbinic sense ("," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament v. 2, p. 151).
(17) See note 11 above. The fragments addressed to Ptolemy are found in Eusebius, Prep.
Evang. VIII, 10, 1-17 and XIII, 12, 1-16.
(18) Eusebius, Prep. Evang. VIII, 10, 1.
(19) Walter, Thoraausleger, pp. 39-40.
(20) Ibid., pp. 35-40.
(21) See note 17 above.
[7] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 95
tion of a caption by a forger, whose purpose supposedly was to exalt the Maccabeans and
their accomplishments. The formulation of the letter's caption would make sense, however,
22

if written in about 163. Judah had at that time not yet attained the prestige gained after his
victory over Lysias and Nicanor, but was serving as the head of the Gerusia, as the council
of elders was then called. Aristobulus, on the other hand, had evidently by then achieved
23

the height of his position within the Egyptian Jewish community. Such a supposition would
account for the fact that Judah's name appears at the end of the senders while that of
Aristobulus is the first of the addressees, followed by two flattering epithets. The wording of
the caption, therefore, tends to confirm the authenticity of the document. There remains the
letter's salutation which, according to Bickerman, did not come into fashion until at least a
century after the pretended date of the letter. But this argument is based on fragile
24

evidence. The
(22) Bunge, Untersuchungen, p. 67. Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 202, rejects this argument.
(23) Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, pp. 201-2, cites "gerusia" as the strongest evidence for the letter being a forgery. On the basis of II Mace.
11:27, he claims that the gerusia was at this time an instrument of the hellenizers and so Judas could not have been associated with it (see also
p. 258). For a full discussion of the letters in II Mace. 11 see C. Habicht, "Royal Documents in Maccabees II," Harvard Studies in Classical
Philology, v. 80 (1976), pp. 1-18.
This assertion is based on one attestation and we do not know if the same body is being referred to in both references. The status of the
gerusia following Judah's conquest of Jerusalem is uncertain. There may have been two gerusias at this time, with Judah as part of the
traditional council of elders ('apt). Pfeiffer, History, note 7 above, p. 509 suggests the authenticity of the letters in ch. 11 may be suspect.
Goldstein,/ Maccabees (p. 81) argues for their authenticity. Zambelli, Miscellanea, p. 246 (see note 7 above), suggests the oiilcial gerusia was
not functioning in 164 B.CE. Bunge, Untersuchungen, notes the reference in our letter is a shift in allegiance for this body, which is identified
with the later Sanhdrin (pp. 65-6).
(24) Bickermann,ZNW, v. 32, p. 234. His argument is based on the work of F.X.J. Exler, The Form of the Ancient Greek Letter: A Study
in Greek Epistolography (Catholic University, Washington, 1923), who limited his study to Egyptian papyri (p. 11). Exler found this formula,
to be very rare even after 60 B.CE. (p. 64) and that it had occurred as early as the 4th
century B.CE. in Athens (p. 107 this letter is printed in a number of collections e.g. A. Deissmann, Licht vom
Osten [Mohr, Tbingen, 1908], pp. 100-1). This formula also appears as part of the salutation in II Mace. 9:19
. Finally, it should be noted that this discussion concerns a
very particular formula and that greetings which include both of these words in other forms are to be found earlier
than 60 B.CE. (C.B. Welles, oyaZ Correspondence in the Hellenistic Period [Bretschneider, Rome, 1966], selections 56-60 date from
163-156 B.CE.). If the letter were a forgery, one would expect the forger to copy a common rather than an obscure form. Even if Bickermann's
case could be proved on epistolographic grounds, the argument would not be decisive since a later scribe could quite easily alter a formula to
resemble one more common in his own time. Bunge, Untersuchungen (pp. 43-6) also rejects the argument of Bickermann, however his
references on p. 44, note 46 are to a different formula.
96

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[8]

formulas of salutation from the second century B.CE. remain largely unknown and too few from Judea
are available to use them as a basis for judging the letter's genuineness. Moreover Bickerman's dating of
the letter in the Augustan age exceeds the papyrlogical evidence, since this formula never attained
common usage in Egypt. Therefore, there is nothing in either the letter's salutation or address to cast
doubt on the epistle's authenticity, and much to confirm it.

2. Thanksgiving to God: Opening (2 Mace. 1:11-12) and 8. Conclusion (2:17-18)

"
.* "
dytc .
6
17

( , "
* ,
cyiov
.

2. 2 Mace. 1:11-12
1:11 Having been saved by God from grave dangers, we thank him greatly for 26

siding against the king.


12. For he drove out those who fought against the holy city.
8. 2 Mace. 2:17-18
17. It is God who has saved all his people and has returned the inheritance to
all, as well as the kingship and the priesthood, and the consecration, 18. as he
promised through the law. For we have hope in God that he will soon have
mercy upon us and will gather us from everywhere under heaven into his holy
place, for he has rescued us from great evils and has purified the place.

The introductory and closing segments of the letter complement each other and
may be discussed as a unit. As understood by modern commentators, the
purpose of these two passages is to inform the Egyptian Jews about the recent
victory over the Syrian enemy. It follows, according to
27

(25) Doran (see note 16 above), p. 18, suggests this emendation in the
Hanhart text as do Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch p. 202, and Abel, Livres, p. 290.
(26) Doran, "Studies" p. 19, suggests CVshould be translated as causative, "inasmuch as,
because."
(27) Grimm, Handbuch, p. 38; Keil, Commentar, p. 285; Willrich, Juden und Griechen (see note 15
above), p. 67; Zeitlin, Second Book, p. 34; Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, pp. 199-200.
[g] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 97
current exegesis, that the author of these lines wrote (if genuine) or
pretended to write (if a fabrication) prior to the reintroduction of the
sacrificial rite on the newly rebuilt altar on the 25th of Kislev of 148 S.E.
This interpretation misconstrues the apparent intent of these lines. As
neither here nor elsewhere in the letter is there any detail concerning the
immense Judaean victory, these two passages seem to take it for granted
that the Jews of Egypt had been previously informed about the exciting
news. These lines emphasize the need to thank God for the salvation,
serving as summary statements of the major theme of the letter. It is this
theme which underlies the purpose for which the letter was written, the
introduction of a new festival as a means of expressing thanks to God for
the salvation accomplished in the recent events.
In fact, all the verbs in these lines indicate that the purification of the
temple had already taken place at the time of writing (actual or pretended)
of the letter: ' have been saved" (1:11); "saved"
(2:17); "drove out" (1:12); "restored" (2:17). The last
reference is of particular significance. It speaks of the inheritance
(), kingship (), priesthood () and
consecration () as having been restored at the time of the letter's
writing. Genuine or false, the document could not have been composed as
28

if it were written prior to the reintroduction of the sacrificial rite, which


took place on Kislev 25 of 148 S.E. Moreover, the apparent purpose of
29

relating the restoration was to claim authority for the proclamation of a


new festival. How could such a claim have been advanced before the
installation of the new altar?
The preceding discussion deals only with the actual or presumed dating
of the document. But surely one could cite 2:18, which speaks of the hope
for the ingathering of the dispersion, as proof of a post-destruction date of
the letter (after CE. 70). In fact, the document contains other references to
this hope. The prayer in 1:24-29 concludes with a reference to this
messianic expectation. 2 Mace. 2:4-8 says that the Mosaic tabernacle and
its sacred furnishings, which were hidden by Jeremiah in Moses' cave, will
be restored to Jerusalem's temple at the time of the ingathering of the
dispersion. By alluding to this messianic redemption, it may be argued, the
pseudographer exposed himself as living two and a half centuries after the
letter's pretended date.
(28) For an interpretation of these references, see Grimm, Handbuch, p. 59; Keil,
Commentar, pp. 301-2; Herkenne, IJri^, pp. 99-103; Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 75-82. See also this paper,
pp. 38-40.
(29) Momigliano, Classical Philology, v. 70, p. 81, leaves open this possibility while Herkenne, Briefe, pp. 63-4,
suggests this is the correct understanding.
98 BEN ZION WACHOLDER [ 1 ]

The references in the letter to the ingathering of the Diaspora do not prove the lateness of the letter.
There are documents which can unim-peachably be dated prior to the destruction of the second
temple, which contain expressions of messianic hope, Mace. 4:36-46 relates that the dismantled
altar which had been polluted, was placed in storage until a prophet would reveal what to do with
the remaining stones. The scrolls found at Qumran contain numerous descriptions of the sanctuary,
in contrast to the current temple, which the writers regard as ephemeral. 2 Mace. 2:17-18 evidently
says that although the inheritance, kingship, priesthood, and the sacred place were returned, the
ingathering of the dispersion was necessary to provide for the messianic restoration of the
sanctuary. There is nothing necessarily anachronistic in the letter's messianic allusions, even if
30

written in 164 B.CE.

3. Death of Antiochus IV (2 Mace. 1:13-17)

" yp
. 14
yp
15
* , ,
,

13. For when the leader reached Persia with a force that seemed irresistable, they were
cut to pieces in the temple of Nanaea by a deception employed by the priests of Nanaea.
14. Under the pretext of going to marry her, Antiochus together with his men came to the
place to secure most of its treasures as a dowry. When the priests of the temple of
Nanaea had set out the treasures and Antiochus with a few men had come inside the wall
of the sacred precinct, they closed the temple as soon as he entered it. 16. Opening the
secret door in the ceiling, they threw stones and struck down the leader and his men,
and dismembered them and cut

(30) In the Apocrypha, we find a number of references to a future eschatological


salvation, however they are not necessarily connected with the image of a Messiah (e.g.
Ben Sira35:i8-36:i7; Tobit 13:1-18; 14:5-7; Baruch 4:30-5; II Mace. 1:27-29; 2:7-8). I Mace.
4:46 and 14:41 contain references to a future prophet, however that must be to Elijah,
the forerunner of the Messiah. In the pseudepigraphic writings as well as in the scrolls
found at Qumran, this future hope becomes focused more distinctly on the figure of a
Messiah, a descendant of David, who will bring about the salvation of Israel. The rabbinic
writings also contain abundant evidence for the anticipated hope of a golden age-to-
come. For a discussion of messianism in rabbinic literature, see E.E. Urbach, The Sages:
Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans, by I. Abrahams (Magnes, Jerusalem, 1975), v. 1, pp.
308-14, 649-692.
[il] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS gg

" off their heads and threw them to the


people outside. 17. Blessed in every
way be our God, who has brought
judgment upon those who have
behaved impiously.
6 . " 6 ,
.
Verses 3-!7 form an integral part of the letter, bridging the preceding
section of thanksgiving for God's salvation of Israel (1:11-12) and the
proposed celebration of a festival of purification (i:i8). The author again 31

alludes to this in the summary. The prominence given to this passage


indicates that the author composed it (or pretended to) shortly after this
unexpected news reached Jerusalem.
To a large extent, the argument advanced for the letter's inauthenticity
rests on this account of Antiochus IV's death: a) it is anachronistic, and b) it
is false. The letter suggests, according to the consensus, that Antiochus IV
had died prior to the proclamation of the new feast, which was celebrated
first on the 25th of Kislev of 148 S.E. (1 Mace. 4:52). This sequence of 32

events appears to diverge from that found in 1 Maccabees, which places


the death of the king after the celebration of the feast. What, however,
seems to impeach the veracity of the letter is a recently discovered
cuneiform tablet which quotes a report that Antiochus died in the East
during the month of Kislev of 148 S.E. It is clear that the author(s) of the
33

letter, allegedly writing before Kislev 25 ofthat year, could not have
received this news. It follows that the purported date of the letter is false.
In addition to its anachronistic nature, the account of Antiochus IV's death
in 2 Mace. 1:13-17 contradicts pagan reports. The king died, according to
Polybius, from madness as he traveled in the East. The story of the 34

assassination while looting a temple, moreover, fits well with


(31) This link is emphasized by the presence of yp in v. 13.
(32) Grimm, Handbuch, p. 23; Niese, Kritik, p. 19; Kamphausen, Apokryphen, p. 85; Lacquer, Untersuchungen, p.
64; Willrich, Juden und Griechen (see note 15 above), p. 68; Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 201.
(33) This tablet is BM 35603 first published by A.J. Sachs and D.J. Wiseman, "A Babylonian King list of the
Hellenistic Period," Iraq, v. 16 (1954), pp. 202-11. The translation of this tablet can be found in Pritchard, ANET (3rd
edn. 1969), p. 567. There is an unfortunate misprint in this text where the lacuna should read Antiochus (IV Epiphanes)
rather than Antiochus (V Eupator).
(34) Polybius, The Histories 31:9; Appian, Syrian Wars 66; Porphyry (Jerome in Daniel 11, 44f, 395); Josephus, Ant.
XII, 354 ff.
OO

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[12]

the ancient versions of the death of Antiochus III the Great, who was slain in the temple Bel of
Elymais. By ascribing this mode of death to Antiochus IV, the author of the letter reveals either his
35

ignorance or his mendacity. Such a treatment does not'add to the letter's integrity.
Neither the charge of anachronism nor the apparent inaccuracy of the report of Antiochus IV's death
impeach in any way the credibility of the document. The account of Antiochus IV's death is
anachronistic only if its author pretends to be writing prior to the rededication of the altar, i.e. before
Kislev 25 of 148 S.E. This supposition rests on a mistaken exegesis of 2 Mace. 1:18a and 2:16, as will
be shown in our discussion of segments 4 and 7. Contrary to the consensus, which supposes that the
letter's internal date is before Kislev of 148 S.E., its actual date appears to be sometime prior to the
36

first anniversary of the temple's purification, probably in the summer or fall of 149 S.E. (163 B.CE.).
This dating appears to be borne out also in the passage which is under discussion. The report does
not claim to relate the news of the king's death, evidently because this was already general
knowledge. Neither does the letter say anything about the Judaean victories, apparently because this
had been reported in a prior leter. What our letter does wish to impart to the Jews of Egypt is the
need to thank God, and that part of this need for gratitude was the disgraceful manner of the king's
death.
Only the dating of the letter in 163 B.CE. (149 S.E.) offers a probable explanation for the
misinformation on Antiochus IV's mode of death, for the problem of the false report remains even if
the letter is a fabrication. Why did the pseudographer, who otherwise seems to have made a major
effort to create an impression of verisimilitude, manufacture an account of a monarch's death that
differed from what was currently believed? It is generally assumed that the letter's fabricator simply
ascribed the mode of assassination of Antiochus III the Great to his son. This, however, is only partly
true. Both Antiochus III, according to Diodorus, and Antiochus IV, according to our letter, were
37

murdered while attempting to loot an Eastern temple. But 2 Mace. 1:13-17 differs in many significant
details from the pagan accounts of Antiochus Ill's demise. The former was
(35) Diod. 28, 3; 29, 15; Justin 32, 2, 1-2; Jerome in Dan. 11,19 (FGrH 260, F32, 10; F47); Strabo 16, 1, 18. See also E. Meyer,
Ursprung and Anfnge des Christentums (Cotta'sche, Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921), v. 2. pp. 219-20; . Will, Histoire Politique du
Monde Hellnistique (323-30 av.J.-C.) (Nancy, 1967), v. 2, pp. 296-8 and O. Morkholm, Antiochus IV of Syria (Gyldendal, 1966), pp.
170-2.
(36) In addition to note 32 above, see J. Wellhausen (note 6, above), especially pp. 118-9; Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 40-3;
Goldstein, I Maccabees, p. 545.
(37) See note 35 above.
[13] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 101
looting the temple of Bel at Elymais; the latter that of Nanaea. Antiochus
IV's alleged pretense to marry the goddess is original with the Maccabean
letter. These differences indicate that the author(s) merely concocted a new
version of a story while using the theme of Antiochus Ill's mode of death. A
pseudographer, who attempted to sell his ware as genuine, would probably
not have fabricated a story that contradicted common accounts. The report
of Antiochus IV's death, therefore, remains problematical even if one
supposes the letter to be inauthentic.
The account of Antiochus IV's death appears less puzzling if it was
written in 163 B.CE., some months after the event had been announced in
Jerusalem. A line in a cuneiform tablet of a Seleucid chronicle probably
reproduces an accurate wording of the stunning announcement: "[Year
148], month Kislimu: it was heard that K[ing] Antiochus
died." This Babylonian chronicle seems to reproduce the indefiniteness of
38

the official account as to how and where the death took place. When this
vague report came to Jerusalem, it must have aroused much speculation as
to what exacdy had happened. It may have been this vagueness which
inspired the rumor that Antiochus IV met his fate in a manner similar to his
father's, while looting a temple, but that the officials were ashamed to
admit to this fact. 2 Mace. 1:13-16 appears to reproduce the details of such
a rumor. The author of the letter need not have been aware of the
39

unreliable nature of the rumor. In other words, the Jews of Jerusalem may
have come to believe their own propaganda. The anecdote of Antiochus IV's
attempt to get hold of Nanaea's treasures by pretending to marry the
goddess was pure fiction, but the letter's author(s) apparently believed this
report as the true cause of the King's death.
External evidence seems to lend support to the view that the version of
Antiochus IV's death in 2 Mace, goes back to early Maccabean times. The
author.of 1 Mace. 6:1-4 fails to allude to the temple of Nanaea, giving
instead Elymais. But the change from Nanaea to Elymais as the locus of the
king's death appears to be an attempt to reconcile the old Jewish version of
Antiochus IV's death with the pagan accounts of the death of Antiochus III.
At any rate, it had become an accepted Jewish belief that Antiochus IV had
met his deserved fate while attempting to loot a sanctuary, a tradition that
evidently goes back to the vagueness of the early royal bulletin announcing
the monarch's mysterious disappearance.
Zeitlin and others cite the usage of in 2 Mace. 1:13 and 16,
(38) See note 33 above.
(39) Herkenne, Briefe, p. 28; Starcky, Livres, p. 27; Goldstein, / Maccabees, p. 545.
102

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[14]

referring to Antiochus IV, as proof for the lateness of the account. The usage of 40

as a synonym to "king" did not allegedly come into vogue until the days of Augustus. But
there is no reason to question the letter's authenticity on account of its usage of
since the term is attested in the sense of leader or guide, according to Liddell-Scott-
Jones, in the second century B.CE. and earlier. In sum, segment 3(2 Mace. 1:13-17)
41

contains a false report of the king's death, but there is good reason to believe that it
could have been penned in 163 B.CE.

4. and?. The Festivalof the Purification of theTemple (2 Mace. i:i8aand2:i6)

" fiyeiv
, ( ,
().
" '
.

4 2 Mace. 1:18a. Since on the twenty-fifth of Kislev we shall sanctify the purification of the temple,
we thought it necessary to notify you (in order that you also may sanctify the feast of booths and
42

the feast of the fire given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and the altar, offered sacrifices).
7. 2 Mace. 2:16. Therefore, since we are about to sanctify the purification, we write to you. Will you
please keep the days.

These two passages form the core of the letter, a request that the Jews of Egypt join
their coreligionists in Jerusalem in the celebration of the new festival of the Purification
of the Temple. The implied date of these lines is crucial for the evaluation of the
credibility of the document.
(40) Zeitlin, Second Book, pp. 104 and 231. Others also note the difficulty involved in the use of
this term rather than (Bvenot, Makhaberbcher p. 172 and Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 202).
(41) H.G. Liddell and R. Scott (rev. by H.S. Jones), A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1940), v. 1, p. 763. In the LXX,
is employed to translate "\ D^tjD (e.g. Jeremiah 47 (40)113; 48 (41)111, 13,
16; 49 (42)11,8; 50 (43)14, 5. This formula also appears in I Mace. 6:57. The Hebrew formula is
employed elsewhere with a specifically^ military meaning as is the term *) in other combinations
(see Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 978). Thus we find the LXX usage of the word
often suggests a military leader or commander. Abel, Livres, (p. 290) suggests this is the meaning
employed in this epistle (see also Bunge, Untersuchungen, p. 72). That Antiochus IV referred to
himself as a military leader can be seen in the letter of II Mace. 9:19 where he refers to himself as
.
(42) The meaning of the term in this context is to "commemorate." See the following discussion.
[15] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 103
Scholars have pointed out that the placement of verse 1:18, following the
account of Antiochus' death, indicates that the proposal to celebrate the new
feast occurred after that event. Yet, the scholars argue, the whole thrust of
both 1:18a and 2:16 appears to indicate that the proposal took place prior to
this stunning news in December of 148 S.E. If there is any question as to the43

new festival, it is often pointed out, it is to be found in 1 Mace. 4:52-61, where


Kislev 25 of 148 S.E. is given as the time of the temple's purification.
Furthermore 1 Mace. 6:1-16 is correct in dating the news of Antiochus* death
after the proclamation of the festival. The report of the letter which reverses
the sequence of these two events must be false. To be sure 2 Mace. 9, like our
letter, mentions Antiochus IV's death before telling of Judah Maccabee's
victorious entry into Jerusalem (2 Mace. 10:1-9), but the account of the king's
agonizing death and his repentance for the sufferings of the Jews is certainly
apocryphal. Is our letter's suggestion then also apocryphal? The conclusion
appears inescapable. The author of our letter wrote long after the events had
taken place and mixed up the sequence, something which a contemporary
would presumably not have done.
In defense of the document, the refutation of the charges against the possible
authenticity of 1:18a and 2:16 rests on the term a crucial word in these
two verses. In the LXX this term usually means to sanctify or dedicate, the
equivalent of the Hebrew . Both the RSV and the NEB render <5 as
44

"we are about to" or "we shall celebrate" the purification of the temple.
Following the accepted septuagint usage of this word, a preferred translation
would be "sanctify" or "dedicate" the purification of the temple, in other words
"sanctify the day of the purification of the temple." 45

(43) For the relevant literature, see notes 30 and 34 above. Goldstein/ Maccabees, (pp. 273-82,
545) also argues against the authenticity of the letter on the basis of Daniel 7 which requires that
the dedication and death of Antiochus take place in a sabbatical year, which was 164/3 according to
his observations. I have dated that sabbatical year in 163/2, see B.Z. Wacholder, "The Calendar of
Sabbatical Cycles during the Second Temple and the Early Rabbinic Period," HUCA, v. 44 (1973), pp.
164, 187; reprinted in B.Z. Wacholder, Essays on fewish Chronology and Chronography (KTAV, N.Y.,
1976), pp. 12, 35.
(44) Lid dell, Scott and Jones, v. 1, p. 18, lists the meanings "hold, celebrate, keep, observe." In LXX
see I Esdras 1:1, 17, 19-22; 5:51; 7:10, 14; Esther 9:14, 19-22; I Mace. 4 59 7 48-9; 13:52; II Mace. 2:12; 6:7-8,
: :

11; 10:8; 12:38; 15:3; III Mace. 6:36.


(45) Keil, Commentar, p. 271, Herkenne, Briefe, p. 69, Kolbe, Beitrge, p. 117, Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 49 ff., Momigliano,
Classical Philology, v. 70, p. 81, and Oentan, Interpre-ter's Commentary, p. 604 all suggest the possibility of the latter interpretation.
Lacquer, Untersuchungen, pp. 57 ff., and Goldstein, / Maccabees, pp. 545-6 argue the opposite. The Greek of this verse is elliptical and
scholars have suggested various reconstructions. Grimm, Handbuch, pp. 42-3, discusses some of the alternatives. Hanhart, Septuaginta,
p. 30, suggests
104

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[16]

According to the common understanding both the purification and its celebration lay still in the future
(real or fictive), i.e. on the 25th of Kislev of 148 S.E. This understanding is surely fallacious. It is
inconceivable that the letter's author(s) meant to say, as is now generally assumed, that we are waiting for
the 25th of Kislev to purify the sanctuary, a date which we intend to celebrate. Such a construction would
have implied that the writer(s) of this letter were satisfied to violate the Mosaic law by refraining from
daily sacrifice until the 25th of Kislev. How could they have predicted that the purification of the
sanctuary would be completed precisely on the assigned day of celebration? 46

The term yeiv here has the meaning of commemoration of the temple's purification which has already
taken place. It follows that the planned Sysivor commemoration of the purification on the 25th of Kislev,
which is specifically mentioned in 1:18a and is alluded to in 2:16, could not be identical with the 25th of
Kislev of 148 S.E., the day when the temple had been deemed purified. Other passages in the letter, namely
1:11-12 and 2:17, speak of the salvation as having occurred in the past. 2:18 concludes the epistle with the
word "purified" (), leaving no doubt that the cleansing of the sanctuary
from the idolatrous pollution was a thing of the past. 1:18a and 2:16 inform the
Egyptian coreligionists that the Jews of Jerusalem intend to commemorate the
purification of the temple by consecrating the 25th of Kislev as a new feast day.
The earliest possible date, therefore, which is implied in 1:18a and 2:16 is
not that day in 148 S.E., but a year later in 149 S.E. (163 B.CE.). AS these lines
speak of the commemoration as an event that was still in the planning stage,
the writing of the letter (in fact or fictive) clearly took place at the earliest in
the summer or fall of 149 S.E. The mention of Judah Maccabee in 1:10a and
2:13-15 proves that the latest date implied in the letter is during the summer
or fall of 151 S.E. (161 B.CE.), prior to Judah's death

thatccxv be included as the direct object of , basing this on the Syriac text. P. Katz, "The Text of 2
Maccabees Reconsidered," ZNW, vol. 51 (i960), p. 12, suggests possible further additions. Bunge,
Untersuchungen, p. 98, suggests the following reconstruction; however it is based on completing the
sense of the phrase and is not intended to be a literal reconstruction of the original:
yr)T () | ( )| . Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 203, suggests that
can be added on the basis of parallel passages in 119,2:16 and 9:6. Esther 9:17 and 22
could also be cited as parallel passages which support this addition. Doran "Studies" (see note 16
above), p. 23, also supports this reconstruction. Clearly my interpretation of this text is not hindered
by these reconstructions and possibly strengthened.
(46) Celebrations planned in advance regularly choose dates which are of historical or calendrical
significance. See Exodus 40:1 and 17.
[ 17] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 105
early in 160 B.CE. Moreover the account of Antiochus IV's death makes it
47

unlikely that our document, if authentic, was composed later than 149 S.E.
when rumors concerning the king's death must have been rampant. Thus
whether the letter is a genuine or fabricated document, its implied date is
summer or fall of 163 B.CE.
The apparent distinction to be found in our letter between the date of the
purification of the temple and the consecration of that day in subsequent
years became obliterated in later standardized accounts of the origins of
Hanukkah. The epitomisi of Jason of Cyrene reports how Judah and his
followers reconquered Jerusalem, tore down the idolatrous altar and built a
new one, reinstituted the sacrificial rite, and proclaimed a new festival on
the very day upon which two years earlier the temple had been profaned (2
Mace. 10:1-8). To explain the length of this new 8 day festival, the author
mentions the feast of Booths, but he seems to be unaware of the real
connection between the new feast and the pilgrimage feast. He seems to
theorize that the link between the old and the new festival was the
recollection of the victorious rebels concerning how they had been hunted
down by their enemies during the preceding festival of Booths. They now
celebrated by carrying palms and other symbols which are associated with
that holiday (2 Mace. 10:7). It is clear that the epitomist linked the
purification of the temple with the proclamation of the festival as a single
event.
The matter is somewhat different in the account of the new festival as
reported in 1 Mace. 4:52-59. Unlike the telescoped account of 2 Mace. 10:1-
9, the author of 1 Maccabees provides some details concerning the events
preceding and following the recovery of the holy city by the pious. But even
here the time of the proclamation of the new festival remains unresolved.
The report begins with a summary of the events preceding the
reintroduction of the sacrificial rite on the 25th of Kislev of 148 S.E. 1 Mace.
4:47-51 relates how Judah and his followers entered the holy city, purified
the temple and dismantled the profaned altar, replacing it with a new one
which conformed to the requirements of the law. This report makes no
mention of any preparations for the introduction of a new festival, as
suggested by the letter in 2 Mace. 1:18a and 2:16. Thus it seems surprising
that 1 Mace. 4:52-60 does describe the rededication of the temple as if it
were part of the proclamation of a new festival: 48

(47) . Schrer, The History ofthefewish People in the Age offesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), rev. and ed. by G.
Vermes and F. Millar (Clark, Edinburgh, 1973), p. 173.
(48) The Greek text is that of W. Kappler, Maccabaeorum Liber I (Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Gttingen, 2nd edn.,
1967).
6

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[l8]

6


, , " , j
2,
. "
. 5

' . 87

. 0
58

, . - 9

' ol
*
'
.
This passage, which forms the basis for the setting of the pretended or actual
time of 2 Mace 1:18a and 2:16, apparently dates the announcement

52. Early in the morning on the 25th day of the ninth month, which is the month
of Kislev, in the 148th year, 53. they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law
directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. 54. At the very
season and on the very day that the gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated
with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. 55. All the people fell on their
faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. 56. So they
celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt
offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. 57.
They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields;
they restored the gates and the chambers for priests, and furnished them with
doors. 58. There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach
of the Gentiles was removed. 59. Then Judah and his brothers and all the
assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of
dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days,
beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
[19] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS I07
of the new festival as part of the rededication ceremonies on Kislev 25 of
148 S.E. A closer reading, however, does not necessarily support such an
interpretation. It should be noted that even if the text actually supports
such a reading, its historicity would be questionable. It would be most
unusual to proclaim a festival prior to the actual event of victory in the
midst of a war or revolution. The account of the proclamation of the feast
of Purim, which was set up to commemorate the enemy's debacle, is typical
of such national celebrations. It is improbable that the rebels, busy with
49

the cleaning of the sanctuary and fearful of the powerful forces of the king,
had either the time or inclination to make the elaborate preparations for
the celebrations mentioned in our passage. Upon closer reading, this
passage suggests that only the restitution of the sacrificai rite which is
described in 4:52-53 took place on Kislev 25 of 148 S.E. What follows
thereafter (4:54-60) appears to reflect a combination of historical insight
and a telescoping of the institution of Hanukkah as a Hasmonean festival.
"At the very season and on the very day" (4:54) is probably a note on the
date of the 25th of Kislev (4:52). Verses 54-58 give the mode of celebration
50

which became customary during the succeeding years. The credit 51

attributed in this decree to the brothers of Judah, who are not mentioned in
other accounts of the dedication, would lend support to the supposition
that we find here presented the official version of the festival of Hanukkah
current in the writer's own day, apparently during the last days of the
second century B.CE. This account, which describes the origin and early
development of the festival of Hanukkah up to the days of John Hyrcanus
(135-104 B.CE.), does not either confirm or deny the statements in the letter
that a festival commemorating the purification of the temple was instituted
sometime in 163 B.CE.
It would seem that the author of the letter in 2 Mace. 1:18 and 2:16
shows an unawareness of the institution of Hanukkah as it is depicted in 1
Mace. 4:52-60. The anonymous author of 1 Mace, describes a fully
developed feast, with sacrifices of thanksgiving, recitations of psalms and
musical instruments. Although he knows of the significance of the temple's
purification (4:43) the writer calls it the festival of Dedication or
Rededication (), a name that was evidendy introduced by the
Hasmonean rulers. The author(s) of the letter, however, knows the new
festival by the primitive name of Purification () of the
(49) Esther 9:16-32.
(50) Compare with Esther 9:22 where a similar echo "in those days" is to be found.
(51) Esther 9:27 (see also w. 20 ff.). Here it is clear that Purim is a festival proclaimed after
the initial event of celebration.
8

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[20]

Temple (2 Mace. 1:18a; 2:16). For Judah and his contemporaries, the
achievement of the pious Jews was not, as is stated in 1 Mace. 4:59, the
dedication of the new altar but the cleansing of the sanctuary from pagan
worship, which necessitated the placing of the old altar in the genizah and
replacing it with a new structure. The nomenclature of the new festival in the
letter (1:18a; 2:16) as compared to that of the Maccabean historian (1 Mace.
4:59) indicates that 2 Mace. i:iob-2:i8 antedates the account found in 1 Mace.
4:52-59.
The relative antiquity of our letter also becomes evident in a comparison of the
new festival's nomenclature as it appears in 2 Mace. 1:18a and 2:16 with that
used in the so-called first letter, specifically in 2 Mace. 1:8-9 The first letter, 52

dated in 188 S.E. ( 124 B.CE.), recalls that in 169 S.E. (143 B.CE.) the Jews of
Jerusalem had written to inform their Egyptian coreligionists of the kindling of
lamps and the setting-out of loaves to celebrate the feast (2 Mace. 1:8). The
reference to the message of 169 S.E. makes sense if it is supposed that at that
time the placing of the loaves was introduced as part of the new festival. In
Josephus' time, the festival was known as Lights (A.J. 12:325). 2 Mace. 1:18 and
2:16 however, when describing the new festival, appear to have no inkling of
the lighting of lamps or the setting out of loaves on the feast which has become
known as Hanukkah, evidently because the second letter (2 Mace. i:ioa-2:i8)
antedates not only the first letter (2 Mace. 1:1-10a) but also the one written in
169 S.E.
Both the letter dated in 188 S.E. and the letter allegedly written in 149 s.E.
assert that the new feast was known as Booths. However the respective
formulations of this name clearly suggest that 2 Mace. 1:18 and 2:16 antedate
1:8. In 2 Mace. 1:18 the author of the letter calls the new festival Booths
apparently because he desires to explain or to account for its unusual length of
8 days. Moreover he does not seem satisfied that he has presented an
adequate justification, so he inserts another name, the festival of fire. Th writer
in 124 B.CE., however, needs no such explanation. He uses the name Festival of Booths of Kislev as if it was
the accepted designation. It follows that 2 Mace. 1:18 was written before 1:9.
5a. Descent of Divine Fire in Nehemiah's Time (2 Mace. i:i8b-^6)
"( 18. (Since on the 25th day of Kislev we
shall sanctify the purification of the
(52) The nomenclature used in this verse has been a problem for commentators: Grimm,
Handbuch, p. 24; Lacquer, Untersuchungen, p. 64; Zeitlin, Maccabees, p. 35; Starcky and Abel,
Livres, pp. 27 ff., 225.
[21]

THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS

IO9

,)
,
. 19 yap ot
,
,
, .
, ,
20


. 21 , ,
. ,
. 22
,
, , ot
23

, ot ,
. * -
, ,
,

temple, we thought it necessary to notify you,) in order that you also may sanctify the
feast of booths and the feast of fire, given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and the
altar, offered sacrifices.
19. For when our fathers were being led captive to Persia, the pious priests of that time
took some of the fire of the altar and secredy hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern, where
they took such precautions that the place was unknown to anyone. 20. But after many
years had passed, when it pleased God, Nehemiah, having been commissioned by the
king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to get it. And
when they reported to us that they had not found fire but thick liquid, he ordered them
to dip it out and bring it. 21. And when the materials for the sacrifices were presented,
Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and what was laid upon
it. 22. When this was done and some time had passed and the sun, which had been
clouded over, shone out, a great fire blazed up, so that all marvelled.

23. And while the sacrifice was being consumed, the priests offered prayerthe priests
and everyone. Jonathan led and the rest responded, as did Nehemiah. 24. The prayer was
to this effect: "O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, who art awe-inspiring and strong
and just and merciful, who alone art King and art kind, 25. Who alone art bountiful,
no

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[22]

, " ,
, ,
, 2
.
27

, ,
, , ! .
.
28

, (
29

. SDot .
81

,
. 82 , ,
. 88 ,
, ,
, , ' ot
, ^ , "
, .
8

who alone art just and almighty and eternal, who dost rescue Israel from every
evil, who didst choose the fathers and consecrate them, 26. accept this
sacrifice on behalf of all thy people Israel and preserve thy portion and make it
holy. 27. Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves
among the Gentiles, look upon those who are rejected and despised, and let the
Gentiles know that thou art our God. 28. Afflict those who oppress and are
insolent with pride. 29. Plant thy people in thy holy place, as Moses said."

30. Then the priests sang the hymns.


31. And when the materials of the sacrifice were consumed, Nehemiah ordered
that the liquid that was left should be poured upon large stones.
32. When this was done, a flame blazed up; but when the light from the altar
shone back, it went out. 33. When this matter became known, and it was
reported to the king of the Persians that, in the place where the exiled priests
had hidden the fire, the liquid had appeared with which Nehemiah and his
associates had burned the materials of the sacrifice,
34. the king investigated the matter, and enclosed the place and made it
sacred. 35. And with those persons whom the king favored he exchanged many
excellent gifts. 36. Nehemiah and his associates called this
[23] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 111
ol 'nephthar,' which means purification,
, but by most people it is called
, naphtha. - .
$d. Descent of Divine Fire in Moses and Solomon's Time (2 Mace. 2:9-12)
9

, f-

, " ,
,
, , "
. "
.
This section contains several rough places, but its general meaning and purpose is
clear. The author(s) of the document attempts to cite precedents for the proposed
53

celebration of an eight-day festival beginning with the 25th of Kislev of 149 S.E.
(163 B.CE.). Current scholarly opinion condemns this section as an incoherent and
clumsy work of a pseudographer. A number of statements are unhistorical: Verse
1:19 asserts that the Jews had been exiled to Persia, in fact to Babylonia; it was not
Nehemiah who rebuilt the temple but Zerubbabel. Scholars have frequently noted
that the digression's main point is stated by implication onlywhen the first burnt
offering was placed on the newly constructed altar on Kislev 25 of 148 S.E., a
heavenly fire consumed it. Paradoxically, the writer seems
54

(53) See note 45 above tor the difficulties ot v. 18. Katz, ZNW, v.51, pp. 12-3, also
discusses textual difficulties in 1:19, 21, 31. B. Risberg, "Textkritische und
exegetische Anmerkungen zu den Makkaberbchern," Beitrge zur Religionswissenschaft,
Stockholm, v. 2 (1914-5), p. 18, notes textual difficulties in v. 34. R. Hanhart, Zum Text des 2. und 3.
Makkaberbuches (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Gttingen, 1961), pp. 28-31, raises textual difficulties in 1:21
and 31. Doran, "Studies" (see note 16 above), p. 27, discusses the difficulties of v. 32.
(54) Grimm, Handbuch, p. 50; Keil, Commentar, p. 289; Starcky and Abel, Livres, p. 29. Bunge,
Untersuchungen, pp. 50-2,104-5, overlooks this point since he makes a total break in

9. It was also made clear that being possessed of wisdom Solomon offered sacrifice for the dedication and
completion of the temple. 10. Just as Moses prayed to the Lord, and fire came down from heaven and devoured
the sacrifices, so also Solomon prayed, and the fire came down and consumed the whole burnt offerings. 11. And
Moses said, "They were consumed because the sin offering had not been eaten." 12. Likewise Solomon also kept
the eight days.
112

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[2 ]
4

unaware that by dwelling on the liquid naphtha he is removing the event from the realm of miracles.
What needs to be determined for the purpose of this paper is whether this section makes better
sense under the supposition that the document is a pseudograph rather than an authentic message or
vice versa. What conceivable purpose did the author(s) of this letter mean to serve by inserting into
an epistle whose main aim was to urge the observance of a new festival a digression concerning a
historical discussion of the heavenly fire? Specifically, the passage consists of three points: a)
Nehemiah recovered fire that had been hidden by preexilic priests, fire from the temple, which had
come down from heaven in the days of Moses and Solomon (1:19-23,36; 2:9-12); b) the prayer of
Nehemiah and Jonathan (1124-32) and c) verification of the facts by the king of Persia (1:33-35). How
do these points advance the aim of the author(s)?
Before treating the question of this long digression on the history of the heavenly fire we need to
consider another problem. 2 Mace. 1:18b attempts to justify the observance of an 8-day festival on
the basis of the two existing models of Sukkoth and Fire. The pilgrimage festival of Booths needs no
elaboration, but what is the evidence with regard to the existence of a feast of Fire? Some scholars
explain the reference to fire as the kindling of lights which became a feature of Hanukkah. The NEB 55

removes the problem with the paraphrase, "so that you also for your part may celebrate a Feast of
Tabernacles, in honor of the fire which appeared when Nehemiah offered sacrifices." These solutions 56

do not clarify this puzzling reference. 57

the middle of v. 18. Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 203, similarly understands the digression to be the discussion of a totally different festival.
(55) Starcky and Abel, Livres, p. 28; Oxford Annotated Apocrypha (RSV), p. 264; NEB Oxford Study Edition (1976), p. 234; Goldstein, I
Maccabees, p. 546. Zeitlin, Second Book, pp. 40-3, suggests this refers to toKwn rra which is mentioned in Mishnah Sukkah 5:1-3. Abel,
Livres, p. 292, makes a similar suggestion. This seems highly unlikely. See the following discussion.
(56) Bartlett, oofc, p. 226, reproduces this reading. Bvenot, Makkaberbcher, p. 173, Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 48-51, 98-105 and
Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 202, suggest a similar interpretation. Bunge, Untersuchungen, bases the reconstruction ()
on the Syriac translation. As seen in the above translation, all these interpretations follow only if a comma
or period is placed after Then begins a new thought and emendations must be
added to complete the sentence. Keil, Commentar, p. 289, and Herkenne, Briefe, p. 69, note the parallelism of the
two genitives and are then unwilling to accept any reconstruction or translation which does not account for this
fact.
(57) Doran, "Studies" (see note 16 above), p. 23, suggests no work up to the present time has adequately
explained the reference to fire.
[25] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 113
Evidence for the existence of such a festival during this period is found in Megillat Ta anit, a pre- c

mishnaic Aramaic treatise, dating back to the pre-destruction period, which states: K'Jn im 58

10*31 vn 10 :nm 10^ ti? KTn DpIJlK 3 "From the first to the eighth
of Nisan not to fast, for the burnt offering was instituted."
Ancient and modern scholars have wondered what precisely this
passage means. The old rabbinic scholion which identifies the occasion
of this feast with a victory of the Pharisees over their Sadducean
opponents in matters of sacrificial financing may present here a
supplementary rather than a primary reason. Some modern scholars 59

tend to assume that this feast celebrates the establishment of the


Mosaic tabernacle in the desert. This seems unlikely however, since
60

none of the other entries in this Aramaic text mention a feast that
relates to Pentateuchal history. The establishment of the daily burnt
offering of Megillat Ta anit, therefore, must refer not to the original
c

founding of the sacrificial rite by Moses on Nisan of the second year


after the Exodus (Exodus 40:17), but to its reestablishment by the
returning exiles after the Babylonian captivity. The post-exilic altar was
completed on Adar 23 (1 Esdras 7:5) in the sixth year of Darius (516
B.CE.). But the inauguration of the new altar, according to traditional
chronology, did not take place until seven days later, after the priests
had sufficient training, on Nisan 1 of the same year. After the
completion of the tabernacle, we find recorded in Numbers 7 various
dedicatory ceremonies in which the tribal leaders participated. It seems
reasonable that the returning exiles, having rebuilt the temple, would
have engaged in similar festivities. Megillat Ta anit seems to attest to c

these celebrations which took place on Nisan 1-8. 61

The statement in 2 Mace. 1:18b that the feast of fire dated back to the

(58) Hans Lichtenstein, "Die Fastenrolle: eine Untersuchung zur jdischhellenistischen


Geschichte," HUCA, v. 8-9 (1931-2), p. 318; S. Zeidin, Megillat Taanit as a Source for fewish Chronology and History in
the Hellenistic and Roman Periods (Dropsie College, Philadelphia, 1922), p. 65. I have here followed the Zeitlin reading.
(59) Lichtenstein, ibid., pp. 290,323-4; Zeitlin, ibid., p. 72. Yigal Yadin, in his comments on the temple scroll found at
Qumran (The Temple Scroll, Jerusalem, 1977, v. 1, p. 110), argues that this semi-festival (see below) was established by
the Pharisees to counter the sectarian view that during the first 7 days of Nisan, the tamid offerings were not brought.
The temple scroll, column 14, line 11, however seems to contradict this view since it prescribes for the first day of Nisan
the tamid as well as the inauguratory offerings.
(60) Lichtenstein, ibid., p. 292; Gustaf Dalman, Aramische Dialektproben (2nd edn., Hinrichs'sche, Leipzig, 1927),
p. 41; J. Wellhausen, Die Phariser und die Sadducer (Bamberg, Greifswald, 1874), p. 59; R. Leszynsky, Die
Sadduzer, (Berlin, 1912), p. 67.
(61) Compare the inauguratory (*^) sacrifices detailed in the recently-discovered temple
scroll, columns 14-5 (see note 59 above).
114

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[26]

days of Nehemiah when the sacrifices were offered on the altar makes sense only in light of
the record in Megillat Ta anit that an eight-day festival commemorating the establishment
c

of the daily burnt offerings in fact existed during the period of the Second Temple. To be 62

sure, the letter is erroneous in ascribing the construction of the Second Temple and altar to
Nehemiah and to a certain unknown high priest Jonathan; Zerub-babel and the high priest
Joshua had performed this task. This anachronistic mention of Nehemiah, however, is a
characteristic of Jewish historiography in general, beginning with Daniel and ending with
Seder Olam and the entire talmudic tradition. 1 Esdras 5:40 in fact names Nehemiah as one
63

of Zerubbabel's associates. The important point here is that the feast of fire mentioned in 2
Mace. 1:18b is not something that was invented by a pseudographer, although a
pseudographer might have used it. Indeed the author of the letter needed the feast of fire to
justify the eight-day length of the proposed feast, since the festival of Booths also used by
the writer did not seem a compelling reason. Why necessarily use the model of Booths
whose total length is eight days and not Passover that lasts only seven days? Another
possible reason for using this additional precedent may be that the festival of Booths is a
feast recorded in the Torah and perhaps could not be duplicated by post-Mosaic authorities.
The eight-day feast of fire, however, seemed a perfect model in that it originated in a later
time-period and was related to the reinauguration of the daily burnt offerings.
Furthermore, there may be a technical aspect to the linking of the newly-proposed festival
with Nisan 1-8. In Judaism, there exists a qualitative difference between a Mosaic festival,
which prescribes total rest from labor, and the observance of a semi-festival, when only
fasting is prohibited. The author of the letter may be stressing two points: a) that this is
another feast commemorating the re-establishment of the daily sacrificial cult, and b) that it
need not be
(62) There is some biblical evidence for this festival. In Ezra 6:15, we read that the house of the Lord was
finished on the 3rd of Adar. This should read the 23rd as in ist Esdras 7:5, which is only 8 days away from the ist
of Nisan. In Exodus 40:17, the tabernacle is inaugurated on the ist day of the ist month (Nisan). In Leviticus
8:33-9:1, we read of the ordination procedure which reaches its completion on the 8th day, which should also be
on the ist of Nisan, according to Exodus 40:11-14. Evidence for the existence of this festival is also found in Seder
Olam, ch. 7; Sifra 42d~43c (Weiss); temple scroll (see note 59 above).
(63) Seder Olam 30; Baba Batra 15a; Sanhdrin 103b. In Sanhdrin 38a and 93b he is identified with
Zerubbabel. The rabbinic view reflects a reading of Daniel whose span embraces both Nebuchadnezzar and the
Persian Kings. The Book of Ezra, which traditionally also embraced Nehemiah and whose authorship was
attributed to Ezra, was read by the ancients as if the author as well as Nehemiah witnessed the rebuilding of the
temple in the days of Zerubbabel. Note a similar error in 2 Mace. 1:19 where the Persians are said to have led
"our fathers" into exile.
[27] THE LETTER FkOM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 115
observed like the pilgrimage feast of booths, but as a semi-feast. The evidence that a feast of
64

fire existed does not necessarily prove the historicity of the document but it does refute the
argument that this reference is to a fictive feast. 65

The author of the letter was not satisfied with a mere allusion to that feast, but goes on to
present legendary episodes of the appearance of the fire in the past. What may have been
the motives of Judah and his colleagues if the letter is genuine, or of its manufacturer if a
pseudograph, for dealing with such matters at great length? A strong case has been made
that this digression represents an independent composition which in the course of time
became attached to the document. This seems unlikely, however. The word for word
66

repetition in 2 Mace. 2:16 of the call for the new festival in 1:18a clearly demonstrates the
epistolographer's (awareness of his) departure from the subject. Having completed the
digression, the epistolographer is resuming his main subject. Presumably, if the excursus
belongs to a writer other than Judah Maccabee and his aides, the entire letter does also.
Now if it is pseudographic, it is difficult to conceive a reason for the insertion of an
extraneous section. Such a hypothesis requires an accounting for the presence of a lengthy
section most of which, if not all, seems superfluous to the epistle's crucial message. In fact, it
is difficult to explain this section as long as the identity of the supposed fabricator remains
unknown. The case is different however, if the document is authentic.
Two considerations tend to favor an early date for the account of the appearance of the
heavenly fire in post-exilic times (2 Mace. 1:19-36). The first is the doctrine which
maintained that the fire on the altar of the burnt offerings could use nly fuel that had its
origin in a heavenly source, i.e., fire taken from any other source made the sacrifice
profane. Lev. 6:6 prescribes that "a perpetual fire (Tan tfK) must always burn on the
67

altar." The divine fire appeared, according to Lev. 9:24, in the midst of public shouts. Lev.
10:1-2 relates that the two oldest sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, died because, contrary to
orders, they introduced profane fire to kindle the altar that was to be used in the
inauguration of the sacrificial
(64) In Megillat Ta anit, both the festival of Nisan 1-8 ( a) and Hanukkah on the 25th of Kislev (gd) are listed in the
c

same class, namely it is forbidden to mourn on both of them.


(65) It also refutes the argument that is a reference to Hanukkah, as well as dealing
with the argument of Zeitlin (see note 55 above).
(66) Grimm, Handbuch, pp. 24-5; Bvenot, Makkaberbcher, p. 170; Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 114-
128; Habicht, 2. Makkaberbuch, p. 200. Starcky and Abel, Livres, p. 27, admit the epistolographer had a source before
him, but that he is responsible for the final form in which we find w. 19-36.
(67) Leviticus 10:1; Num. 3:4; 26:61.
Il6 BEN ZION WACHOLDER [28]
rite. The author of Kings, however, in his account of the Solomonic temple
68

ignored the issue of heavenly fire in the new sanctuary. Not so the
Chronicler who describes how, when Solomon finished his prayer and the
entire people assembled, the heavenly fire descended and consumed the
newly placed offerings (2 Chron. 7:1). What Leviticus ascribes to the
Tabernacle and 2 Chron. 7 to the First Temple, 2 Mace. 1:19-36 does for the
Second. In post-Maccabean or even in late Maccabean historiography this
issue seems sometimes to be ignored again. 1 Mace. 4:36-61 tells that the
victors who purified the temple felt the need to build a new altar of burnt
offerings, but makes no mention of the source of the fire used to kindle the
new altar. 2 Mace. 10:3 asserts that after construction of the new altar, it
became necessary to manufacture fire. This author, in contrast to our letter,
shows no conern about the employment of profane fire in the temple, thus
diverging from the older priestly tradition which required a perpetual
heavenly fire in the temple. Even the rabbinic tradition seems to have been
69 70

concerned only with the purity of the oil rather than with the sanctity of the
fire itself. However 2 Mace. 13:8 does seem to reflect the older concern for
71

the sanctity of the fuel employed for sacrificial purposes. In commenting on


the death of Menelaus, the author explains his death as retribution for his
desecration of the altar "whose fire and ashes were holy." This passage
reflects the older view that the focal point of the temple's sanctity lay in
the divine fire.
Another significant consideration may account for the need felt by the
author of the document to incorporate in a letter whose main message was
the inauguration of a new festival the legend of the heavenly fire. The
people of Judea addressed the letter to Aritobulus, who is called "teacher of
King Ptolemy" (2 Mace. 1:10b). As was stated above, the letter's heading
72

suggests that Judah felt it crucial to persuade Aristobulus, the leader of


Egypt's Jewry, to back him and his rebels who had recently
(68) Seder Olam 7. This occurred on Nisan 1 in the second year after the Exodus, according to the rabbis.
(69) The lack of fire in the second temple, according to Yoma 2 ib, reflects its inferiority compared to the first.
The tradition lists other points of inadequacy, with Zerubbabel's temple missing such items as the ark, Shekinah,
Holy Spirit, Urim and Thummim, anointing ou, tabernacle and its furnishings, Moses' rod, Aaron's rod, manna and
the box which the Philistines used to return the ark (Goldstein,/ Maccabees, p. 547, n. 1). The inferiority of the
second temple is not peculiar to these passages. The entire rabbinic tradition differs with the spirit of our letter.
Unlike our epistle, the author of the temple scroll, and to a lesser extent the rabbis, did not fully recognize the
second temple.
(70) See B.Z. Wacholder, "Messianism and Mishnah: Time and Place in the Early Halakhah," Louis Caplan
Lecture on Jewish Law, Cincinnati, 1978.
(71) Shabbat 2ia-b.
(72) See note 10 above.
[29] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 117

conquered Jerusalem and reintroduced the ancient ritual. The account of the
presence of the heavenly fire m the temple of Jerusalem may have been designed to
please Aristobulus, For the fragments of Aristobulus reveal that he had a passionate
interest in the^descent of the heavenly fire to the earth. In fact, Aristobulus says he
attempted to convince Ptolemy VI Philometor that such a phenomenon had occurred
at Sinai. According to the fragments that are preserved in Eusebius' Preparatio
Evangelica Aristobulus was one of the first, if not the first, of the biblical exegetes
to explain anthropomorphic phrases such as "the hand of God" as mere figures of
speech which did not affect the strictly spiritual and non-corporeal nature of the
deity. An exception to this non-anthropomorphic exegesis of Scripture was
73

Aristobulus' exposition of the divine fire at Mount Sinai as suggested by the


following excerpt (Book 8, 10, 12-17):
74

. ,
* , .
yp " & ,
. yp ',
,
,
, , ,
,
, ,
'
(73) Book VIII, 10, 7-9
(74) See note 10 above for editions. The Greek text follows the Mras edition.

It is said too in the book of the Law that there was a descent of God upon the
mountain, at the time when He was giving the Law, in order that all might behold
the operation of God: for this is a manifest descent; and so any one wishing to
guard safely the doctrine of God would interpret these circumstances as follows.
It is declared that the mountain burned with fire, as the Lawgiver says, because God
had descended upon it, and that there were the voices of trumpets, and the fire
blazing so that none could withstand it.
For while the whole multitude, not less than a thousand thousands, besides those of
unfit age, were assembled around the mount, the circuit of it being less than five
days' journey, in every part of the view around them all as they were encamped the
fire was seen blazing.
So that the descent was not local; for God is everywhere. But whereas
8

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[30]

* .
, ( ' , 8
, * ,
afrrfj . ,
, , ' ,

, ,
*
, ,
, ,
' ,
."
Thus Aristobulus maintained that the heavenly fire did in fact appear at Mount
Sinai. The fact that the correspondents of Judaea addressed him as teacher of
the king (2 Mace. 1:10b) and they offered to send books if so requested (2
Mace. 2:15) suggests that Judah and his secretaries were quite well acquainted
with Aristobulus' exegetical work. In light of Aristobulus' interest in the subject,
the lengthy account of the descent of the heavenly fire in the past and present
in Second Maccabees (1:180-2:12) no longer seems out of place. To be sure,
Aristobulus speaks of the divine fire which had descended at the time of the
giving of the Decalogue

the power of fire is beyond all things marvellous because it consumes


everything, he could not have shown it blazing irresistibly, yet consuming
nothing, unless there were the efficacy given to it from God.
For though the places were all ablaze, the fire did not actually consume any of
the things which grew upon that mountain; but the herbage of all remained
untouched by fire, and the voices of trumpets were loudly heard together with
the lightning-like flashing of the fire, though there were no such instruments
present nor any that sounded them, but all things were done by divine
arrangement.
So that it is plain that the divine descent took place for these reasons, that the
spectators might have a manifest comprehension of the several circumstances,
that neither the fire which, as I said before, burnt nothing, nor the voices of the
trumpets were produced by human action or a supply of instruments, but that
God without any aid was exhibiting His own all-pervading majesty.
[31] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 119
whereas the letter relates the presence of heavenly fire at the inauguration of the sacrificial
rite. One may suppose however, that Aristobulus may have touched on this descent of fire at
the altar since it is also clearly recorded in the Pentateuch. Even supposing he had not, the
author(s) of the letter may not have differentiated between the divine fire which had
appeared at the time when God revealed the Decalogue and the fire when the sacrificial
ritual was inaugurated.
Interestingly, Aristobulus' description of the descent of the heavenly fire may also illumine
that passage of the letter which insists that the contemporary king of Persia verified the
miraculous production of fire out of the thick liquid remaining from the matter hidden by
the priests going into exile (2 Mace. 1:33~35). Perhaps it is not insignificant that the
description of the heavenly fire in Aristobulus' fragment is addressed to Ptolemy whom the
Jewish writer attempts to convince of the veracity of the account. Judah and his colleagues
appear to be making the strongest possible case under the circumstances for the legend that
the fire on the altar of burnt offering had originated in heaven. The claim of verification by
a pagan king ends with an allegation that Nehemiah and his companions became
beneficiaries of the Persian ruler ( 1135). This again may have been to draw a parallel
between Aristobulus and the post-exilic leaders in that both succeeded in spreading the
glory of the Lord among heathen kings.
Students of our epistle have heretofore devoted their exclusive attention to the senders of the
letterthe people of Jerusalem and Judaea, the Gerusia, and Judah (Maccabee). They have
entirely ignored the letter's addressees Aristobulus and the Jews of Egypt (1:10b). The
scholars who have studied Aristobulus' fragments have concentrated on the letter's heading
(1:10b) without ever raising the question of the apparent relationship between Aristobulus'
passionate interest in the descent of the divine fire and the letter's digression into a similar
subject. However if a similarity does in fact exist, it would account for the presence of a
75

lengthy section in the document (2 Mace. 1:19-2:12) for which no explanation has so far
been put forward. More significantly for this study, this explanation of the interest of
Aristobulus and the authors of the letter offers evidence for the authenticity of the epistle as
a whole. It seems inconceivable to suppose that a pseudographer, writing long after Judah
Maccabee and Aristobulus, would have inserted apparently irrelevant passages relating to
the descent of sacred fire into a message devoted to the meaning of the festival of Hanukkah.
Only people who had previously corresponded
(75) Neither Valckenaer, Diatribe, nor Walter, Thoraausleger, mentions this relationship.
120

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[32]

with the leader of Egyptian Jewry, as Judah or his secretaries had, could have been
aware of such information. Paradoxically, the legendary material used to convince
Aristobulus had a degree of historical veracity similar to the veracity of the verses
glorifying the Sabbath which Aristobulus attributed to the classical poets such as
Homer and Hesiod. 76

5b. Jeremiah Hides the Fire (2 Mace. 2:1-3)

6 ,
, ,
2

6 ,
(
. 8
.

) One finds in the records that Jeremiah the prophet ordered those who were being deported
to take some of the fire, as had been told, 2) and that the prophet after giving them the law
instructed those who were being deported not to forget the commandments of the Lord, nor to
be led astray in their thoughts upon seeing gold and silver statues and their adornment. 3) And
with other similar words he exhorted them that the law should not depart from their hearts.

5c. Jeremiah Hides the Tabernacle (2Macc. 2:4-$)

* ,
, ,
. 5 6

.
(76) Eusebius, Prep. Evang. XIII, 12, 9-16; 1-108, 1; VI, 142, 40-144,3.

4) It was also in the writing that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent
and the ark should follow with him; and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had
gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. 5) And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he
brought there the tent and the ark and he sealed up the entrance. 6) Some of those who
followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. 7) When Jeremiah learned of it, he
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, V, 107,
[33] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 121

,
. 7 , ,
gcrccci, .

, ,
, , .

rebuked them and declared: "The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people
together again and shows his mercy. 8) And then the Lord will disclose these things, and
the glory of the Lord, and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of
Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated."
77

Subdivision 5b presents a supplement to the account of Nehemiah's discovery of the


remnants of the fire from the first temple, which 2 Mace. 1:19 says had been hidden by
pious priests prior to their deportation. Now 2:1 reveals the identity of the concealers
Jeremiah and his assistants. Why the author(s) of this letter chose at first to attribute
the saving of the sacred fire to anonymous priests remains problematical. Having
digressed from the subject by mentioning the activity of Jeremiah, the writer could not
restrain himself from reporting another activity by the same prophetJeremiah's hiding
of the Mosaic tent and ark (5c). Both 5b and 5c are distinguished from the main
digression by being cited on the authority of written records (2:1; 2i4). In fact the 78

document cites no
(77) See note 62 above. In Exodus 40:34 ff., Yah weh reveals himself in the manner
mentioned in this verse, immediately after the inauguration of the altar.
(78) There has been continual debate about the cited in 2:1 and the
of 2:4, Grimm, Handbuch, pp. 50-1, Herkenne, Briefe, pp. 85-6, and Abel, Livra, p. 303
find the use v. 1 highly unusual since the apparent sense of the passage is
best understood with (v. 13). Keil, Commentar, p. 295, claims the words are
similar enough in meaning that either could be utilized in this verse. Grimm, andbuch,
p. 51, rejects an earlier suggestion that the 5 refer to the lost canonical
writings of this prophet and instead suggests they were pseudepigraphic. However he
does suggest that must be intended to refer to Holy Scripture (p. 23). The source
of these verses is more problematical than the wording. Corbishley, Catholic Comm., p.
718, McEleney Jerome Biblical Comm., p. 481 and Bunge, Untersuchungen, pp. 105-15 all
look to the "memoirs of Nehemiah" of 2:13 for the source of this section as well as for
1:18-36. This possibility is denied by Keil, Commentar, p. 295, and serves only as a
suggestion for Bvenot, Makkaber-bcher, p. 177. Starcky and Abel, Livres, pp. 29-30, say the source is another
apocryphal writing while Zeitlin, Second Book, pp. 110-1, claims a document which included die legend was probably
also used by the author of Josippon.
122

BEN ZION WACHOLDER

[34]

support for its startling revelations except for the activities of Jeremiah. This special emphasis
on extra-biblical sources which are not named was apparently intended to impress the
correspondents. If the identity of these sources could be unraveled, it may serve as an
independent indication of the date of the document.
Several passages in 5c (2 Mace. 2:4-8) suggest the writing () cited in 2:4 refers to the
work by the Judaeo-Greek historian Eupolemus. Eupolemus served as Judah Maccabee's envoy
79

to Rome in 161 B.CE. (1 Mace. 8:17). He wrote ahistory of the Jews, of which extensive
fragments following the style of the Book of Chronicles remain extant. As was noted above the
80

author of the letter (2 Mace. 2:10-12) stresses the miraculous appearance of the heavenly fire
at the time of the inauguration of the first temple, a view found in 2 Chron. 7:1, but not
mentioned in the parallel account of 1 Kings 8:54. The view expressed in 2 Mace. 2:8 that
Solomon made special provisions for the housing of the Mosaic tabernacle is mentioned in both
Kings and Chronicles. Eupolemus also emphasizes the transport of the desert furnishings into
the Solomonic temple. This section of the letter contains several passages that seem to be
remarkably similar to those of Eupolemus:
1. 2 Mace. 2:4-8 of the letter bears a strong resemblance to a passage of Fragment 2 of
Eupolemus which follows the Judaeo-Greek wirter's account of Solomon's construction of the
temple: 81

(12) Eusebius, Praep. Evang. IX, 34,12-13


When he (Solomon) had completed
, the temple and walls of the city he
went to Selom and offered a sacrifice
, to God, a burnt offering of 1,000
ptov oxen. Then he took the tabernacle
, , and the altar and the vessels, which
* , Moses had made, and carried them to
. (13) Jerusalem and placed them in the
house. 13) And the ark and the
golden altar and the lampstand and

(79) B.Z. Wacholder, Eupolemus: A Study of fudaeo-Greek Literature (Hebrew


Union College, Cincinnati, 1974).
(80) See Jacoby, FGrH 723, F1-5 and for Pseudo-Eupolemus seeFGrH 724, F1-2. For English
translation, see Wacholder, pp. 307-14. A recent German translation is N. Walter, Fragmente
jdisch-hellenistischer Historiker in Jdische Schriften aus hellenistisch-rmischer Zeit (Gerd Mohn, Gtersloher,
1976), v. 1, no. 2, pp. 93-108.
(81 ) The Greek text is from Jacoby who followed the Mras edition of Eusebius (see note 10 above).
[35] THE LETTER FROM JUDAH MACCABEE TO ARISTOBULUS 123

the table and the other vessels he also


, placed there, as the prophet had
. commanded him.
Both Eupolemus, who refers to Solomon's action, and 2 Mace. 2:4-8,
alluding to that of Solomon and Jeremiah, stress that by an oracular
command the tabernacle and its furnishings were safeguarded for
posterity. Both accounts contain two lists of sacred items, which are worth
comparing:
2 Mace. 2 Praep. Evang. IX, 34
4) () 12) tabernacle ()
tabernacle
ark () altar ()
vessels ()
5) () 13) ark ()
tabernacle
ark () altar of gold ( 6
)
altar of ( lampstand ()
incense
table ()
other vessels ( )
)