Feast Day of the Maccabees

 

 

Father Z reminds us that in the traditional roman calendar today is the feast of the Maccabees:

 

 

However, in the traditional roman calendar today is the Feast of the Seven Holy Maccabee brothers.  They are listed in the Martyrologium Romanum. Here is their entry:

2. Commemoratio passionis sanctorum septem fratrum martyrum, qui Antiochiae in Syria, sub Antiocho Epiphane rege, propter legem Domini invicta fide servatam, morti crudeliter traditi sunt cum matre sua, in singulis quidem filiis passa, sed in omnibus coronata, sicut in secundo libro Maccabaeorum narratur. Item commemoratur sanctus Eleazarus, unus de primoribus scribarum, vir aetate provectus, qui in eadem persecutione, illicitam carnem manducare propter vitae amorem respuens, gloriosissimam mortem magis quam odiosam vitam complectens, voluntarie praeivit ad supplicium, magnum virtutis relinquens exemplum.

Maybe some of you good readers can produce your flawless English versions for those whose Latin is less smooth.

Who were the Maccabee brothers?

They may be models for our own day, given what is probably coming.

The Maccabees were Jews who rebelled against the Hellenic Seleucid dynasty in the time of Antiochus V Eupator. The Maccabees founded the Hasmonean dynasty and fought for Jewish independence in Israel from 165-63 BC.

In 167 BC, Mattathias revolted against the Greek occupiers by refusing to worship the Greek gods. He killed a Hellenizing Jew who was willing to offer a sacrifice to the Greek gods. Mattathias and his five sons fled to the wilderness of Judea. Later Mattathias’s son Judas Maccabaeus led an army against the Seleucids and won. He entered Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and reestablished Jewish worship.

Hanukkah commemorates this victory.

In the period 167-164 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163) killed and sold thousands of Jews into slavery. He violated the Jewish holy sites and set up an altar to Zeus in the Holy of Holies (1 Maccabees 1:54; Daniel 11:31). The people revolted and Antiochus responded with slaughter. He required under penalty of death that Jews sacrifice to the gods and abandon kosher laws. “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment” (Hebrews 11:35-36). A chief of the scribes, Eleazar, an old man, did not flee. Pork was forced on him, into his mouth, he spat it out and was then condemned to death.

The mother is venerated by the Greeks as St. Solomnis.

St. Ambrose, in his work On Jacob and the Blessed Life recounts Eleazar’s death along with the deaths of seven sons of a mother. The work is filled with Neo-platonic and Stoic themes, especially about virtue theory.

Ambrose goes through all their deaths in detail, making commentary on them for what they meant.

In these scenes recounted by Ambrose from IV Maccabees, the mother, Solomnis, is being forced to watch each of here sons executed in different ways, eldest to youngest.

She urges them not to give in.

Ambrose thus explores the theme of how God chooses the weak and makes them strong.

The ancient “priest” Eleazar should be weak and infirm due to age, but he is a tower of strength. The mother of the seven boys should be weak by nature but is unshakable.  The sons are not to be moved to infidelity, even the youngest.

Here is a taste of Ambrose in De Iacob et vita beata II, 12:

The words of the holy woman return to our minds, who said to her sons: “I gave birth to you, and poured out my milk for you: do not lose your nobility.” Other mothers are accustomed to pull their children away from martyrdom, not to exhort them to martyrdom. But she thought that maternal love consisted in this, in persuading her sons to gain for themselves an eternal life rather than an earthly life. And thus the pius mother watched the torment of her sons … But her sons were not inferior to such a mother: they urged each other on, speaking with one single desire and, I would say, like an unfurling of their souls in a battle line.

Very cool image.  I wonder if that will unsettle a certain writer at the Fishwrap because it is so “militaristic”.  HERE

4

Festivals of Light

 

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.

Josephus

I have always thought it fitting that Christmas and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, are so close together usually on the calendar.  Approximately 160 years before the Coming of Christ, the Jews revolted against the Seleucid Empire.  This was one of the most important struggles in all of human history.    It determined that the Jews would remain a people set apart, worshiping Yahweh, and not become, like so many Peoples before and since, a lost people, blended into larger populations, their god forgotten.  It was this revolt, led by Mattathias, his name meaning “gift of Yahweh”, and his sons, known collectively as the Maccabees, that is told in First and Second Maccabees.  The revolt was successful, but ultimately, through civil wars and the overpowering military might of Rome, the Jews again fell under foreign domination, and Jesus was born into a world ruled by Rome.  However, the revolt established that the Jews would remain a separate people, worshiping their God and safeguarding their faith.  This was an essential element in setting the stage for the coming of Christ. Continue Reading

19

Handel, Judas Maccabeus and Mel Gibson

 

Something for the weekend.  The overture from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus.  Judas Maccabeus is a musical tribute to the revolt of the Maccabees, 167-160, against the attempts by Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes  to forcibly convert the Jews to paganism.  The revolt was not simply against the Selucids, but also against a sizable chunk of the population of Judea who were only too happy to embrace the ways of the Greeks.  Led by Mattathias, the father of Judas and his brothers, collectively known as the Maccabees, the revolt started in 167 BC when Mattathias, in the village of Modein outside of Jerusalem, cut down an official of the Selucid empire who was attempting to cajole Mattathias, a priest of Yahweh, to offer sacrifice to Zeus.  Mattathias and his sons then literally took to the hills, with Mattathias uttering a cry that has rung down the centuries:  “Let him who is zealous for the Law, follow me!”

Mattathias, an old man at the start of the revolt, soon died, and leadership descended to his son Judas.  Fighting a crafty guerilla campaign, Judas and his brothers, against all the odds, established an independent Jewish state.  After the heroic days of the Maccabees, the new Jewish state eventually descended into a fairly squalid series of civil wars, which ultimately led to the Romans under Pompey the Great seizing Jerusalem in 63 BC.  The Romans thereafter ruled Judea through puppet rulers.  Our Catholic Bibles have First and Second Maccabees which retell the heroic saga of the Maccabean Revolt.  This of course brings us to Mel Gibson, who has brought two heroic revolts to the screen and is apparently working on a third. Continue Reading