An Insight on the Chronology
The Channukah Story
James Scott Trimm
I’d like to share an insight about the chronology of the Maccabean events.
2Maccabees recounts the death of Antiochus Epiphanies (9:1-29) just before it recounts the purification of the Temple (10:1-9).
This appears to contradict 1Maccabees which places his death (6:1-17) after the cleaning of the Temple (4:36-61) in agreement with the account of Josephus.
Having examined it, I believe that the historical chronology is to be found in 1Maccabees and Josephus.
The account in 2Maccabees is not intended to relay the chronology (which was already well known) but to cover one subject at a time. 2Maccabees 9:1 begins with “About that time came Antiochus out of the country of Persia.” Which is the event that took place shortly before the cleaning of the Temple in chapter 10. But in the next verse the book backtracks to an event which had occurred while he was in Persia, and in recounting that event, he follows through to the death of Antiochus before returning to the “present” in 2Maccabees 10:1 with “Now Maccabee and his company, YHWH guiding them, recovered the Temple and the city…”. 2Maccabees 9:2-29 is a parenthetical which is not intended to be placed in chronological order.
This helps us to place the book of Judith in context.
The Apocryphal book of Judith is about a beautiful and devout Jewish widow who saves her city from an invading army. The Elders of her city decide to surrender unless help arrives within five days. Judith leaves and enters the camp of the opposing general. She beguiles him by her beauty but ultimately returns to her city with his head in a bag. This inspires her city to route the invading army. In the end the High Priest comes to her city an honors Judith for her valor.
Many modern critics have accused the Book of Judith of anachronisms and historical inaccuracies. On the surface the book claims to be set “In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh, in the days of Arphaxad who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana”. In fact Nebuchadnezzar was
actually the King of Babylon, not the King of Assyria. In actuality these are all Euphemisms and the book is actually set in the Maccabean era. For example the book of Judith uses Nebuchadnezzar as a euphemism for Antiochus Epiphanies, because both names have a gematria (numerical value) of 423.
In reality the book takes place during the rule of Antiochus Epiphanies over the Selucid Empire of Syria and of Ptolemy VI over Egypt. The story appears in several Midrashim in Jewish literature in which it is set in the Maccabean era. It is commonly recognized in Judaism as a Channukah story.
Judith takes place shortly after the purification of the Temple (Judith 4:3) and before the death of Antiochus Epiphanies (i.e. “Nebuchadeznar”) during the gap between 1Macc. 4:36-61 and 1Macc. 6:1-17.
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