Oct 27, 2009

Those Uncharted Texts of Yore

Have you ever read 3 Maccabees? I didn't even know a third book existed, and there's probably a good reason for it. The book doesn't read like the other two Maccabees -- it doesn't even mention the Maccabees -- and it seems to only carry the name because it relates a scenario in which the Jews are under threat of destruction by a Hellenistic ruler because of their beliefs and practices.

If you have read the text, then it might read hauntingly like a narrative of the rounding up of Jews during the Holocaust. Of course, many of these stories echo the same idea: Jews, persecuted for their adherence and devotion to HaShem and their observances and the holy places, are rounded up and the ruler attempts to kill them by varying means. The interesting thing is that in our stories of old, the kings and rulers never succeed. In the end, the king sees the error of his ways (in this text blaming his advisors for leading him astray, of course). The ancient peoples that attempted to destroy the Jews inevitably met their dooms. Hitler, of course, did not. But the text, as I mentioned, is haunting.

For a multitude of gray-headed old men, sluggish and bent with age, was being led away, forced to march at a swift pace by the violence with which they were driven in such a shameful manner. ... Their husbands, in the prime of youth, their necks encircled with ropes instead of garlands, spent the remaining days of their marriage festival in lamentations instead of good cheer and youthful revelry, seeing death immediately before them. (3 Maccabees 4:5-8)
It is, indeed, interesting how events can become timeless through texts. It reads like something out of an Elie Wiesel book. Except that it was written a few thousand years ago, of course.

I'm not entirely sure why the Maccabees weren't included in the canon, however I can posit a variety of theories with the most likely being that the texts are a little late for the canon. It could also have been something political. What is interesting, however, is that I was reading this text for a course on Ancient (Jewish) Fictions. I don't know how many view this text as a full-on fiction, but rather perhaps a historical fiction that paints a factual and timeless message through semi-warped events.

At any rate, if you haven't read the text, give it a go. You can find it online here.


Daniel Saunders said...

I'm not entirely sure why the Maccabees weren't included in the canon... It could also have been something political.

The sages who assembled the canon didn't like the Maccabees much, partly because they made themselves kings despite already being cohanim, partly because the later Maccabees allied themselves to the Sadducees and persecuted the Pharisees.

I think the Chanukah story gets about three pages out of the whole of the Talmud and even that concentrates on the miracle of the oil and the halakhot of lighting candles, not the rebellion and the Maccabees.

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