If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
25 February. 1 Maccabees chapters 8-10
All that I wrote yesterday about warfare in the Bible lands still applies. Judas and Demetrius senior die in battle in this period, as does the Syrian general Nicanor. But the struggle for religious and political control of Judea continues into the next generation. With references to Alexander and Cleopatra (though these are neither Alexander the Great nor the Cleopatra of Shakespearean fame) we are reminded of the great influence of Greece and Egypt in this period. The battles of these centuries before the Christian era were as much about the clash between faith in God and the Greek emphasis on human reason, as they were about political control and military might.
Chapter 8 also brings the Romans into the story, although they don’t seem to appear elsewhere: Rome at this time dominated Western Europe but Greece the East. The treaty between Rome (a large empire) and Judea (a tiny country) seems very unequal, but might be compared to the NATO pact – dominated by the USA, if they withdrew from NATO it would become far weaker as a defensive alliance, but the principle of each member promising to support the others in time of war was the same. The treaty also forbade either side from supporting the enemy of the other with money or weapons, again just as NATO does, which is why today’s war in Syria puts a strain on NATO as different members of that alliance seem to be arming different players in that conflict, and as Britain continues to arm Saudi Arabia in its repression of Yemen at the same time that other NATO countries call for an end to that brutal conflict. History truly does repeat itself.
So where is the spiritual element among all this politics and war? It is hard to see, but is in the background. Jonathan in particular sees himself as a successor to King David and other Jewish leaders of the past, defending not just a people but a religion against the threat of extermination. David had been a rebel leader, later becoming king (and therefore a military commander) but also involved in Temple worship, famously composing many Psalms. That explains what might seem to modern eyes a rather contradictory verse, “Jonathan put on the sacred vestments [i.e. became High Priest] in the seventh month of the year one hundred and sixty, on the feast of Tabernacles; he then set about raising troops and manufacturing arms in quantity” (10:21). In those turbulent times, prayer and fighting were both necessary to save the life and faith of the Jewish people. There are places in the world today where it would be difficult to criticise a similar strategy.