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Tales of High Priests and Taxes

Tales of High Priests and Taxes: The Books of the Maccabees and the Judean Rebellion against Antiochos IV

Sylvie Honigman
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 568
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    Tales of High Priests and Taxes
    Book Description:

    In the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the ancient world of the Bible-the ancient Near East-came under Greek rule, and in the land of Israel, time-old traditions and Greek culture met. But with the accession of King Antiochos IV, the soft power of culture was replaced with armed conflict, and soon the Jews rebelled against their imperial masters, as recorded in the Biblical books of the Maccabees. Whereas most scholars have dismissed the biblical accounts of religious persecution and cultural clash, Sylvie Honigman combines subtle literary analysis with deep historical insight to show how their testimony can be reconciled with modern historical analysis by conversing with the biblical authors, so to speak, in their own language to understand the way they described their experiences. Honigman contends that these stories are not mere fantasies but genuine attempts to cope with the massacre that followed the rebellion by giving it new meaning. This reading also discloses fresh political and economic factors.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95818-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. General Introduction
    (pp. 1-48)

    The first and second books of Maccabees narrate events that occurred in Judea from the 170s through the 150s and eventually led to the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty: the toppling of the last high priest of the Oniad dynasty, the transformation of Jerusalem into a Greek polis, Antiochos IV’s storming of Jerusalem, his desecration of the temple and his so-called persecution of the Jews, the liberation of the city and rededication of the temple altar by Judas Maccabee, the foundation of the commemorative festival of Hanukkah, and the subsequent wars against Seleukid troops. 1 Maccabees covers the deeds of...


    • METHODOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION: The Modern Semantic Categories of “Religion” and “Politics” and Ancient Societies
      (pp. 51-64)

      The modern Western conception of religion is based on two tenets: First, religion is a separate semantic field endowed with an essence of its own that exists alongside (and is distinct from) the fields of politics, law, science, and culture; this essence is universal—in particular, it is transhistorical and transcultural. Second, this essence consists in a set of beliefs and rites, in which the former (as thoughts, representations) have primacy over the latter (as actions, praxis).¹ Anthropological studies of religion remained predicated on this double premise well into the 1980s. To this day, most literary commentaries of 1 and...

    • 1 2 Maccabees as Dynastic History
      (pp. 65-94)

      For decades, modern scholars have tended to stress contrasts between 1 and 2 Maccabees. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this conviction of their divergences was based on stylistic considerations. The sober style of 1 Maccabees fostered confidence in the reliability of the information it contains. In contrast, the stylistic flourishes of 2 Maccabees and the author’s indulgence in heavenly apparitions earned it scant esteem.¹ A renewed interest in 2 Maccabees was triggered by several innovative literary analyses published in the 1970s and 1980s, which advocated a wholly different interpretation of the work’s nature, based on a greater...

    • 2 Temple Foundation and Royal Legitimacy: A Narrative Pattern and its Message
      (pp. 95-118)

      In his bookTemple Propaganda(1981), Robert Doran made the pioneering proposition that 2 Maccabees is informed by a narrative pattern centered on the temple.¹ In substance, the stories that follow this pattern narrate how a given temple came under threat of the pending assault of enemies, and how it was liberated thanks to the epiphanic intervention of its divine patron.² Greek cities evolved a particular predilection for this sort of story, which in Hellenistic times was used to assist diplomatic efforts to persuade other Greeks to acknowledge the Panhellenic status of their commemorative festivals and to recognize their sanctuaries...

    • 3 Ioudaïsmos as the Legitimate Social Order Founded by Judas Maccabee
      (pp. 119-146)

      As we saw in Chapter 2, the narrative pattern of temple foundation, which in its classical form was linked to native kingship, underwent successive alterations in the Judahite/Judean literary tradition in keeping with changes in the political structure of the region. A first set of changes endorsed the division of power between the governor and the high priest in Persian Yehud, while another reflected the grip on power of the high-priestly dynasty of the Oniads in early Hellenistic times. 1 and 2 Maccabees evince the new set of alterations that responded to the advent of the Hasmoneans, and their account...

    • 4 Royal High Priests and Temple Foundation: The Narrative Pattern and the Hasmonean Political Ordea
      (pp. 147-182)

      Tobias Funke has argued that the figure of Phineas was appropriated by the Hasmoneans to legitimize the connection between priestly and royal prerogatives, and in particular the military privileges,¹ in the office of the Maccabean/Hasmonean high priest.² 1 Maccabees 2:15–26 narrates how the king’s men came to the town of Modein (Mattathias’s place) to coerce the Israelites living there to perform sacrifices. The simile (comparison) that ends the passage (2:26) equates Mattathias’s zealous slaying of the Judean man who dared to make the impure sacrifice with Phineas’s killing of Zimri son of Salom (Num. 25:1–15). This episode from...

      (pp. 183-186)

      Contrary to the prevailing opinion, 1 and 2 Maccabees are parallel and complementary works. Their similarities do not result merely from the fact that they tell the same story, nor from their use of common sources; actually, their parallels concern their very narrative structure, which is put at the service of the same political message.

      The literary forms of the two books combine the same two basic principles of composition.¹ First, the two works are structured by the duplication of the narrative pattern of temple foundation and, next, by the juxtaposition of cyclical time units. In 1 Maccabees these units...


    • METHODOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION: Symbolic Universe, Cultural Codes, and Causal Analysis in 1 and 2 Macabees
      (pp. 189-196)

      The literary analysis of 1 and 2 Maccabees put forward earlier, in Part I, established that both books were written by court historians of the Hasmonean dynasty, each one accordingly employing the appropriate narrative form to encode the idea that not only was the dynasty’s rule legitimate but so was the specific form of rule it adopted, namely the simultaneous exercise of priestly and royal powers.¹ Given that the narrative form and the conceptual message enshrined are closely correlated, it is logical that the two authors chose the same event—the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabee—as the...

    • 5 Hellēnismos: The Social Order of the Wicked Rivals in 1 and 2 Maccabees
      (pp. 197-228)

      As a rule, Roman works of historiography were flagrantly partisan. A classic example is offered by Cicero, who in one of his letters to Lucceius exhorts his friend to write a long-planned book on his career and openly urges the writer to be as prejudiced in his favor as anamicuscan be.¹ It may come as no surprise that lauding the feats of one’s patron or friend inevitably entailed lambasting his social and political rivals. The practice of biased writing was so entrenched that in the Preface to hisAnnals(1.1.3), Tacitus penned the now-famous disclaimer that he would...

    • 6 The “Religious Persecution” in the Light of Ancient Judean Cultural and Narrative Codes
      (pp. 229-258)

      The wave of “religious persecution” imputed to Antiochos IV is without contest the most celebrated episode associated with the history of Judea in Hellenistic times. Th e earliest persecution accounts are found in Daniel 11:29–39, 1 Maccabees 1:41–64,2 Maccabees 6:1–11, and Josephus’sAntiquities(12.248–56) andWar(1.1.32–35), and in the subsequent Jewish tradition its narrative became part and parcel of the celebration of the Hanukkah festival. For historians of the Seleukid empire, this episode remains something of a puzzle. Bickerman famously dubbed it a “unique” event, “the sole enigma in the history of Seleucid Jerusalem,”...

    • 7 The Causes of the Rebellion according to 1 and 2 Maccabees
      (pp. 259-286)

      At this point in our inquiry it has become clear that the modern view of the Judean political arena in the 170s and 160s as being dominated by a struggle between a party of Hellenizers on the one hand and a party of religious traditionalists on the other is the product of an uncritical rationalization of ancient Judean cultural codes, a misperception that arises from mistaking narrative form for content. The ancient authors’ depiction of the factors disrupting the lawful order of things—or in modern terms the causes of the rebellion—is shaped by the culturally determined tenet that...

      (pp. 287-288)

      To reach a full understanding of the extent to which the system of semantic catanation by which pragmatic matters were incorporated into the symbolic sphere of the temple through the mediation of synecdochic items is a wider culture trait, and not the fruit of a personal conservative attitude of a writer within within a given culture, let us try to imagine how a supporter of Menelaos might have recounted the events of Judea in the days of Antiochos IV. In such a work the audinance would expect to find much on Menelaos’s piety and righteous concern for welfare of his...


    • From Literary Analysis to History: A SUMMARY OF THE CONCLUSIONS OF PARTS I AND II
      (pp. 291-296)

      The literary analysis of Part II showed how the accounts of 1 and 2 Maccabees constructed their respective discourses about reality. It argued that their genesis resulted from two fundamental rhetorical elements: their culturally conditioned discursive codes and their political biases. According to the former, the narrative foci of 1 and 2 Maccabees systematically shift toward the aspects of both pious deeds and evildoings that have an impact on the temple, because the temple’s was what was worth remembering, whereas discussing more mundane matters se was not legitimate. However, this slant was applied differently in each work. Whereas either the...

    • 8 Judea and Koilē Syria and Phoinikē under Antiochos III, 200–187 B.C.E.
      (pp. 297-315)

      Flourishing studies on Hellenistic statehood and statesmanship in recent years have considerably enhanced our understanding of what may be called the Hellenistic culture of empire. The term refers not merely to the motivations for conquering and controlling foreign lands but to the modus operandi of the interaction between kings and subject communities. The state of the question emerging in these matters calls for a reexamination of how the Judean polity was incorporated into the Seleukid empire and how the leading Judean families developed their strategies of power within the imperial setting. These issues form the structural backdrop against which the...

    • 9 Seleukos IV Philopator and the Revision of Antiochos III’s Settlement in Judea, 187–175 B.C.E.
      (pp. 316-344)

      No financial settlement was guaranteed to endure indefinitely. As we saw in the previous chapter, Seleukid kings adapted their fiscal requirements to a realistic assessment of the cities’ economic capabilities and granted temporary exemptions in times of hardship. For the same reason, they were equally quick to recognize improvements in the economic situation of subject communities and impose adjustments to their own benefit. A string of administrative, fiscal, and economic reforms appears to have been carried out in the satrapy of Koilē Syria and Phoinikē under Seleukos IV Philopator (187–175 B.C.E.) and in the early years of Antiochos IV...

    • 10 Judea under Antiochos IV Epiphannes: The Reforms, from 175 Until Circa B.C.E.
      (pp. 345-377)

      As we saw in the previous chapter, in the satrapy of Koilē Syria and Phoinikē, Seleukos IV’s reign was marked by a comprehensive administrative and fiscal overhaul, of which the appointment in 178 B.C.E. of Olympiodoros, most probably as provincial high priest, must have been only one aspect. Although some of the reforms may have simply been a routine adjustment of the fiscal exploitation of the region two decades aft er its conquest, the main purpose of the move—as argued in the previous chapter—seemingly was to seize back the provincial tribute that Antiochos III had ceded to Ptolemy...

    • 11 Judea under Antiochos IV Epiphanes: The Suppression of the Rebellion, 169/8–164 B.C.E.
      (pp. 378-404)

      As argued in Chapters 9 and 10, the outbreak of the Judean rebellion may be explained quite classically as a combination of economic (that is, fiscal), political, and geostrategic causes. The economic aspects started from the fiscal reforms initiated by Seleukos IV in 178 B.C.E. and pursued by Antiochos IV in the satrapy of Koilē Syria and Phoinikē. To some extent, these reforms were simply a matter of routine imperial policy. Two decades after the conquest of the region by the Seleukids, it was natural for the royal administration to impose changes to maximize its extraction of economic surpluses from...

  8. APPENDIX A. The Literary Composition of 1 Maccabees
    (pp. 405-408)
  9. APPENDIX B. The Literary Composition of 2 Maccabees 3:1–15:37
    (pp. 409-412)
    (pp. 413-416)
    (pp. 417-512)
    (pp. 513-532)
    (pp. 533-538)
    (pp. 539-554)