Sabbath Observance, Sabbath Innovation: The Hasmoneans and Their Legacy as Interpreters of the Law

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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Both 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees portray the Sabbath law as a central point of contention during the struggle over Judean law and tradition in the second century bce (e.g., 1 Macc 1:41-50; 2 Macc 6:4-6). The Hasmonean family in particular is at times highlighted as holding the Sabbath in high regard (2 Macc 5:27). In every available source, there is no question of the commitment to the inherited traditions concerning the Sabbath. However, in two passages, 1 Macc 2:29-41 and 9:43-53, the Hasmoneans are portrayed as acting in a way supported by few extant writings associated with Judean legal tradition: they engage in battle on the Sabbath. First Maccabees presents this as innovation on the part of the Hasmoneans. Josephus, who summarizes these events based upon 1 Maccabees, even recognizes this decision as the basis for normative practice (Ant. 12.272-277). As several scholars (e.g., Bar Kochva, Weiss, Scolnic) have pointed out, this event could hardly have been the first time in Judean history the issue arose. They argue against this reading of the sources. This paper contends that the plain reading of the texts is correct and 1 Maccabees is being used as the basis for legal practice in Josephus’ writings.

Journal for the Study of Judaism

In the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period




Ibid., 510-11. See also his discussion, at 549, of Plutarch, De Superstitione 8, in which Stern notes that while Plutarch’s understanding of the Sabbath playing a role in the defeat of Jerusalem agrees in principle with Agatharchides, his evaluation may be based on the mistaken impression seemingly prevalent among ancient authors as to the prohibition of fighting on the Sabbath. Stern, glajj, 2:347-407 registers a similar complaint concerning Cassius Dio’s (Historia Romana 37.15.2-17.4) account of Pompey’s sack of Jerusalem. He takes seriously the evidence of 1 Maccabees and Josephus.


Lutz Doering, “Jewish Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Some Issues for Consideration,” in The Hebrew Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Norá Dávid et al.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 449-62, esp. 459.


Aharon Shemesh, Halakhah in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 3-4. The developmental model, which posits older interpretations that are transformed at some point into a newer type of interpretation, is contrasted by Shemesh with a reflective model. This reflective model insists that rabbinic halakah represents disputes that already existed during the Second Temple period. That is, varieties of opinions existed simultaneously on any given subject of Judean law. Shemesh develops this terminology for studying the relationship between the legal interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature, but given the proximity in time and space between this material and that of our study, the shift seems appropriate. Doering, “Jewish,” 459, makes this case explicitly.


Ibid., 21, n. 63.


Bar Kochva, Judas, 474-93; and Bar Kochva, Image, 280-305. The latter argument is focused on just one source, Agatharchides (though in two fragments), but the argument necessarily veers in the direction of the broader question at 292-94.


Ibid., 292.


Bar Kochva, Judas, 402-3. Scolnic, Judaism, 179-215 takes an entirely different approach from Bar Kochva, revealing the variety of interpretations on the Sabbath, but broadly agrees with the conclusions of Bar Kochva, that this is an extraordinary event and a one-time decision. His own contribution is that Mattathias did not intend to reinvent halakah.


Goodman and Holladay, “Religious,” 168-69. The two are reacting to the original Hebrew version of Bar Kochva’s Judas Maccabeus, but the points seem to be identical.


Lutz Doering, “Parallels Without ‘Parallelomania’: Methodological Reflections on Comparative Analysis of Halakhah in the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Rabbinic Perspectives: Rabbinic Literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, 7-9 January, 2003 (ed. Steven Fraade et al.; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 12-42, esp. 15. Doering is himself adapting the comparative method of investigating Qumran halakah developed by Schiffman.


Ibid., 16.


Dancy, Commentary, 86. Goldstein, i Maccabees, 237, concurs. Bar Kochva, Judas, 481, agrees that it is the act of leaving the cave that would have constituted a break with Sabbath observance. Though, he doubts that this is the reason for the refugees’ death.


Dancy, Commentary, 86.


Bar Kochva, Judas, 482. Bar Kochva here specifically employs the language of martyrdom to stress this point.


Ibid., 482.


So also Doran, First, 47.


VanderKam, “End,” 282-83.


See Dancy, Commentary, 86; Goldstein, i Maccabees, 236-37; Bartlett, First, 39; Doran, First, 46; Bar Kochva, Judas, 491; Scolnic, Judaism, 221, for a wide variety of scholars expressing the same opinion.


As noted by Louis Feldman, “Josephus’ Portrayal of the Hasmoneans Compared with 1 Maccabees,” in Josephus and the History of the Greco-Roman Period: Essays in Memory of Morton Smith (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 41-68, esp. 44.


See Doering, Schabbat, 548.


Geiger, Urschrift, 229.


Weiss, “Sabbath,” 383-84.


Ibid., 382.


Bar Kochva, Image, 294-95.


Ibid., 384.


Bar Kochva, Judas, 492; Bar Kochva, Image, 294.


John Barclay, Flavius Josephus Translation and Commentary, Vol. 10: Against Apion (ed. Steve Mason; Leiden: Brill, 2007), xliv, notices the same.


Weiss, “Sabbath,” 379.


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