Alcimus’ Last Command

History and Propaganda in 1 Maccabees 9:54

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism

The note in 1 Maccabees 9:54 that the high priest Alcimus ordered the destruction of the wall of the inner temple court is taken by most scholars as a description of a historical event. This paper, however, suggests that the note should rather be read as part of a pro-Maccabean propaganda which serves to defame Alcimus. It is argued that, from a historical perspective, it was not Alcimus but Judas who was responsible for serious damage at the temple precinct as a result of his unsuccessful military operation against the Seleucid Acra (6:18-54). The author of 1 Maccabees tries to downplay this event and to villainise Alcimus by calling destruction what was actually restoration. The paper ends with a comparison to two other passages in 1 Maccabees (4:44-46 and 5:55-62) which shows that the suggested understanding of 9:54 fits well the strategies of legitimisation and delegitimisation that can be found throughout the book.

  • 4

    Cf. Benjamin E. Scolnic, Alcimus, Enemy of the Maccabees (Studies in Judaism; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2005), 69-70.

  • 9

    Cf. Goldstein, I Maccabees, 391-92.

  • 10

    Josephus, Ant. 12.413 (Marcus, lcl).

  • 14

    Cf. James C. VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 228; Victor Parker, “Historische Studien zu den Hohen Priestern der frühen Makkabäerzeit,” zdpv 124 (2008): 143-70, esp. 157-64; Kay Ehling, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der späten Seleukiden (164-63 v. Chr.): Vom Tode des Antiochos IV. bis zur Einrichtung der Provinz Syria unter Pompeius (Historia, Einzelschriften 196; Stuttgart: Steiner, 2008), 116; and Benedikt Eckhardt, Ethnos und Herrschaft: Politische Figurationen judäischer Identität von Antiochos III. bis Herodes I. (sj 72; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), 170-71, to name just the recent studies.

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  • 21

    My interpretation follows Eckhardt, Ethnos und Herrschaft, 279.

  • 23

    Cf. Mölleken, “Geschichtsklitterung,” 213-15.

  • 24

    Cf. Grabbe, Judaism, 290.

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