Is the entire story used by the Maccabees as the basis for their rebillion nothing more than PR? Ha’aretz* reports:
…"The reason for Antiochus’ oppression of the Jewish faith, attack on the Temple and prohibition of the Torah precepts is not explained by the existing historic sources," says Dr. Steven Weitzman, a lecturer of Judaism in the University of Indiana and the author of Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity.
Weitzman analyzes the description of the edicts in the Hanukkah tale, and concludes that the story was concocted by the Hasmonean kings as propaganda intended to legitimize their precarious rule. The Hasmoneans used literary tales dating back to ancient Eastern kingdoms as the basis for their story of Antiochus, he says.
Historians of ancient times agree that religious persecution was not customary among Hellenistic monarchs. Therefore the acts attributed to Antiochus, which every Jewish child learns about in the Hanukkah story, are historical anomalies. "His behavior is completely inexplicable," argues Weitzman.…
"The Maccabees have been considered heroes for so long, that it is hard to imagine that in their time, their rule was extremely controversial. They and their descendants, the Hasmonean dynasty, presented themselves as high priests, but did not belong to a family that held that position for a long time. Neither did they belong to the House of David dynasty, which was supposed to produce kings. Therefore many Jews did not recognize the Hasmoneans as legitimate rulers."
"The story of Antiochus’ edicts is part of the effort to justify the Maccabee’s rule. This is why they described themselves as protectors of the Jewish tradition, a tactic which many rulers and conquerors in the ancient East used to justify usurping power," he says.…
Weitzman is aware that his statements may anger Jews who see the Maccabees as righteous rulers and models of heroic resistance to oppression. "My thesis indicates that the Maccabees may have been very different from their present image," he says.
However, there is also a positive aspect to Weitzman’s study, he says. "I say that the description of Antiochus’ persecution, more than the story of Jewish survival, reflects Jewish imagination and its role in bringing about political change. Hanukkah is a reminder that the stories we tell can create a real change in our life," he says.
And that, I’m afraid, explains much of Jewish history.
[Hat Tip: Danya on Jewschool.]
* Ha’aretz has a stub up instead of the story, even though it was published Saturday. The link above is to the cached version on Google.