Josephus’s Use of Scripture to Describe Hasmonean Territory Expansion

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MrMacSon
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Josephus’s Use of Scripture to Describe Hasmonean Territory Expansion

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https://jewish-faculty.biu.ac.il/files/ ... kinson.pdf

pp.4-5:


In his War, Josephus begins his history of the tragic Jewish Revolt of 66-70 C.E. with Mattathias to show that his family had created a state that had long been an ally of the Roman Republic (War 1.38). He later expands this earlier narrative of the Hasmonean family in his Antiquities to include Roman decrees that honored the Jews, doing so to show that the Roman Empire had conquered Judea in the First Jewish Revolt of 66-70 C.E. not on account of its military might, but its poor Jewish leadership. The later Hasmonean rulers and Jewish tyrants of the first century C.E., Josephus emphasizes, had severed the longstanding alliance between the Jews and the Romans. This, Josephus was convinced, provoked divine punishment that ended the Jewish state in the first century B.C.E. and again in the first century C.E. His method of recounting these two disasters can partly be traced back to the causal emphasis found in Polybius.

Josephus’s reading of Polybius led him to view individual moral virtue and vice as a driving force of history. Like Polybius and other ancient historians, including the biographer Plutarch, Josephus focuses on personalities and their impact on the historical process. Josephus’s accounts of the Hasmoneans are largely character studies that combine the Greco-Roman tradition of biography with scriptural interpretations. The Hasmoneans, particularly Mattathias, stand out in his books as an example of moral qualities worthy of emulation. Like Polybius, Josephus in his Antiquities presents past events—particularly the history of the Hasmonean state—to understand the present. Both writers believed their accounts could serve as models to guide present and future political activity.

Although Josephus is primarily influenced by Jewish writings, his unique background as a Roman citizen in the heart of the Roman Empire strongly influences both his understanding and presentation of the Hasmonean family. Greco-Roman traditions shape his narrative and his retelling of his sources. As a creative historian, he combined Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions to shape his narratives of the past. Josephus, moreover, did not follow his sources uncritically. The vocabulary in the passages that likely came from 1 Maccabees and other works he consulted, including Scripture, display Josephus’s distinctive vocabulary, showing how he reshaped his materials, by his own interpretive lights, to produce a seamless narrative. His uniqueness as a writer lies in his dual grounding in his Jewish faith as well as in the world of the Greco-Roman culture. This perspective strongly influences his recounting of the lives and history of Mattathias and his sons.


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MrMacSon
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Re: Josephus’s Use of Scripture to Describe Hasmonean Territory Expansion

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pp.7-8:


Mattathias and Judas
.. < . . paragraph p.6 omitted here . . >
Mattathias and his sons fought a nearly twenty-five-year war against the Seleucid Empire. According to the traditional accounts preserved in the extant sources, the Maccabean Rebellion began when Mattathias defied the decree of the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes that banned the observance of Jewish Law. When a man from his village of Modein stepped forward to perform an offering, Mattathias killed him along with the supervising official.
Josephus and his major source, 1 Maccabees, use passages from Scripture to frame this story.

Like the author of 1 Maccabees, Josephus appeals to the story of Phinehas’s murder of the idolatrous Israelites in Numbers 25 as a way of justifying Mattathias’s killing of a Jew from his hometown. In a direct echo of the biblical story, Josephus’s Mattathias cries out, “Whoever is zealous for our country’s laws and the worship of God, let him join me!”21
  • 21 Ant. 12.271. For this story, see Num 25:6-8; Sir 45:23-26; Dąbrowa, Hasmoneans, 17-18; Berthelot, In Search of, 100; Regev, Hasmoneans,107-08.
    For the use of the Phinehas tradition by the Hasmoneans, see J. J. Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence,” Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003): 12-14.
For Josephus, the incident is important for his narration of subsequent Hasmonean territorial conquests as he portrays Mattathias, like Phinehas, purifying the land and his community by eradicating paganism, murdering apostates, and seizing territory towards the eventual goal of creating an independent state. With the land as the major focus for both Josephus and the writer of 1 Maccabees, and with Mattathias’s descendants successfully capturing land to create an independent state, it is unsurprising that both 1 Maccabees and Josephus appeal to biblical conquest traditions.

Josephus draws upon these narrative traditions to depict Mattathias as a modern-day reincarnation of Phinehas; there is, however, a significant difference between his account and that of the biblical story. In Josephus’s narrative, not God, but Mattathias and his son and successor, Judas, control events, liberate Jews, and begin to take possession of the Promised Land. Just as Phinehas was rewarded with a perpetual priesthood for his violence, Mattathias’s successors obtained a special priesthood, in this instance the office of high priest, also achieved through an act of violence. Josephus’s use of the Phinehas tradition may explain his controversial claim that Judas became high priest and held the office for three years. This claim clearly contradicts the chronology of his narrative and poses problems for the later account of the installation of Judas’s brother, Jonathan, as high priest. But Josephus sought to portray Mattathias’s revolt as successful by showing that his violence, like that of Phinehas, was approved by God, resulting in his descendants receiving a special priesthood as well as the land.

At times, the gaps in Josephus’s accounts of the Maccabean Rebellion suggest that he omitted considerable information about the deeds of the early Hasmoneans, a practice most evident in his account of the succession from Judas to Jonathan. It is plausible that Josephus tried to suppress the memory of an unknown high priest who officiated from 159-152 B.C.E. and that he intentionally obscured this in claiming that Judas became the first high priest in his family. The existence of such an anonymous priest would explain why his sibling Jonathan later had to be appointed high priest: if the office had been left vacant, it should have been easier for the Hasmoneans to supplant the line of Zadok with Joiarib. Jonathan may have, however, removed the high priest to take the position for himself, which may account for some of the opposition to his holding this office expressed in the extant narratives. Moreover, this earlier usurpation would explain the difficulties Simon later faced in gaining public recognition from his citizens when he assumed the office of high priest.

Josephus’s accounts of Simon and Jonathan show that his exegetical retelling of Hasmonean history through the lens of Scripture introduces chronological errors into his account ..


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