The importance of the Romans (1 Macc 8:1-8:11)

“Judas heard of the fame of the Romans since they were very strong. They were well-disposed toward all who made an alliance with them. They pledged friendship to those who came to them since they were very strong. He had been told of their wars and of the brave deeds which they were doing among the Gauls. They had defeated them and forced them to pay tribute. He learned what they had done in the land of Spain to get control of the silver and gold mines there. They had gained control of the whole region by their planning and patience, even though the place was far distant from them. They also subdued the kings who came against them from the ends of the earth, until they crushed them. They inflicted great disaster upon them. The rest paid them tribute every year. They had crushed in battle and conquered Philip, King Perseus of the Macedonians, and the others who rose up against them. They also had defeated King Antiochus the Great, king of Asia, who went to fight against them with one hundred twenty elephants, cavalry, chariots, and a very large army. He was crushed by them. They took him alive. They decreed that he and those who should rule after him should pay a heavy tribute, give hostages, and surrender some of their best provinces, the countries of India, Media, and Lydia. These they took from him and gave to King Eumenes. The Greeks planned to come and destroy them. However, this became known to them. Then they sent a general against the Greeks who attacked them. Many of them were wounded and fell. The Romans took captive their wives and children. They plundered them, conquered the land, tore down their strongholds, and enslaved them to this day. The remaining kingdoms and islands, as many as ever opposed them, they destroyed and enslaved.”

For some reason, the Romans made a big impression on Judas Maccabeus as they were beginning their ascendancy in the Mediterranean world. He knew that the Romans were strong and faithful in their alliances. Then this biblical author presented the great feats of the Romans. First they had conquered the Gauls and the Spaniards, these western territories around 190 BCE and the Punic wars with Carthage in North Africa from the 3rd century BCE. Prior to this time the only thing west was Egypt and Greece. Now Rome and the west made an impression. These Romans had gone and subdued kings from the ends of the earth. The Romans had defeated the last of the Macedonian kings, King Perseus in 168 BCE, the son of King Philip who had had been defeated in 179 BCE. Obviously this author had some sense of history. As noted, King Antiochus V was not killed, but had to give hostages to Rome, one of which was this King Demetrius I. However, he kept Medes, but did give up Lydia and other parts of Asia Minor. King Eumenes was a Cappadocian ruler. The Romans also defeated the Greeks. Although the Roman Empire did not come to its full height for a few centuries, it was well on its way in the 2nd century BCE.

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The reversal of fortunes at Jamnia (1 Macc 5:55-5:62)

“Now while Judas and Jonathan were in Gilead and their brother Simon was in Galilee before Ptolemais, Joseph son of Zechariah, and Azariah, the commanders of the forces, heard of their brave deeds. They heard about the heroic wars they had fought. So they said.

‘Let us also make a name for ourselves.

Let us go and make war on the gentiles around us.’

They issued orders to the men of the forces that were with them. They marched against Jamnia. Gorgias and his men came out of the town to meet them in battle. Then Joseph and Azariah were routed. They were pursued to the borders of Judea. As many as two thousand of the people of Israel fell that day. Thus the people suffered a great rout because, thinking to do a brave deed, they did not listen to Judas and his brothers. They did not belong to the family of those men through whom deliverance was given to Israel.”

While all this success of Judas and his brothers were happening, the folks back in Jerusalem got antsy. The leaders there, Joseph and Azariah, despite being told by Judas to stay in Jerusalem, decided to do battle with the people of Jamnia, south of Jerusalem. This was probably not too far from Jerusalem, but it is difficult to locate. Anyway, the reverse of what had happened to Judas and his brother happened. Gorgias came out to do battle and killed 2,000 Israelites as they fled back to Judea. The author once again notes that since they did not belong to the family of Judas, the people who will be called Hasmoneans, they could not deliver Israel from its enemies. Only the relatives of Judas could do that.