Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Apostasy in 1 Maccabees

Anyone who is at all familiar with the basic story of the revolt of the Maccabees will not be surprised that the book opens up discussing apostasy. The successors of Alexander, according to the author, "filled the earth with evil" (1 Maccabees 1:9):
In those days [the days of Antiochus Epiphanes] wicked sons came from Israel and persuaded many saying: We will go and make a covenant with the nations round about us, since we have abstained from them many evils have come upon us. And the saying was good in their eyes. And some of the people were pleased and went to the king, and he gave them authority to enact the standards of the Gentiles. And they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the custom of the Gentiles. And they made themselves uncircumcised and apostatized from the holy covenant and joined themselves to the heathen and sold themselves to do iniquity. (1 Maccabees 1:11-15)
So the author sets up the opposition, one can make a covenant with God or with the Gentiles, one cannot keep both. Those who wanted to accommodate the world are depicted as apostatizing from their covenants. Unlike some uses of the verb apostatize in Greek, the apostates are depicted as not revolting against the king, but their covenants. The king, who has already been identified as wicked, gives them authority to do what they want. So, for Maccabees, apostasy may be perfectly compatible with possessing authority. They also have standards, but those standards are those of the Gentiles rather than those deriving from the covenant.

Of course, one of the historical ironies of the Maccabees is that while the Maccabees revolted against a corrupt monarch, they became equally corrupt in their turn. Apostasy is a constant problem.