Monday, February 9, 2015

2 Maccabees, Chapters 1-5: More of the same

Chapter 1

The Jews in Jerusalem write a letter to the Jews in Egypt reminding them of what happened in 1 Maccabees, but embellishing it so they caught Antiochus in a temple and stoned him to death through a skylight and announcing a new holiday because they recently rediscovered a fire that some priests kept in a pit in Persia that turned into thick water (v. 20) when they went to get it.

Chapter 2

This chapter elaborates on the fire story from the last. Now we find out that Jeremy the prophet got hold of the fire and took it up Moses' mountain along with the tabernacle and the ark. When he gets up there, he finds a cave with a door, where he hides the treasure. He hides it so well his followers can't find it. When they ask him about it, he scolds them that they won't see it again until god forgives his people.

Another prophet, Neemias, made the world's most boring library and filled it with bible scrolls. Judas Maccabeus reclaimed a bunch of temple junk from his enemies, repurified the temple, and fought a bunch of wards. We know all of this thanks to Jason of Cyrene, who wrote five volumes, but mercifully the author here agrees to condense them into one

Chapter 3

For awhile, there is peace, but then a tribal leader, Simon, is put in charge of the temple and falls out with the priest. So he tells the governor of a neighbouring territory that the Israelite treasury is full of gold and silver. The governor reports the story to the king, Apollonius, who sends his accountant to Jerusalem to collect the money. The accountant gets to Jerusalem and just outright asks if the story is true, and the priest confirms it is, but also explains that the money is for widows and orphans. But the accountant has his marching orders, and he takes the money despite the sad faces the priests are making in his direction.

God notices the hubbub and sends an horse with a terrible rider upon him, and adorned with a very fair covering, and he rain fiercely, and smote at Heliodorus with his forefeet, and it seemed that he that sat upon the horse had complete harness of gold. / Moreover two other young men appeared before him, notable in strength, excellent in beauty and comely in apparel, who stood by him on either side, and scourged him continually, and gave him many stripes (v. 25-6) This all causes Heliodorus to faint, and his guards to acknowledge god's power. They convert right there and ask the priest to ask god to restore Heliodorus' health. The priest, fearing he'll get blamed if he sends the accountant back broken, makes a sacrifice and the two young men from the vision reappear and tell Heliodorus to thank the priest for giving him back his health.

Heliodorus does, then goes back to the king and tells him how amazing god is. The king isn't quite ready to give up on the treasure, so he asks who he should send, and Heliodorus says only someone he hates, because no one can penetrate Jerusalem as long as god protects it.

Chapter 4

Simon from the last chapter isn't done spreading rumours about the high priest. This time he says everything that happened to Heliodorus was smoke and mirrors. But then things get out of hand and his men start wantonly murdering people. The priest, Onias, turns to king Apollonius, not to tattle, but for the public good.

Meanwhile, Onias' brother Jason also wants to be high priest, and he's attempting to bribe the king with temple silver so he can get planning permission for a gym, which apparently is a heathen practice. The king, seeing the value of Greek-style exercise, has agreed and some Jews have joined and even started wearing hats, which conservative Jews see as profane.

Furthermore, the priests are leaving because they've fallen in love with the discus, of all things and want to spend all their time practicing. Next, there are some Olympic-style games in Tyrus, and rather like Sochi, Jason sends silver to pay for sacrifices to Hercules, which the messengers disapprove of, so it gets spent on gallies instead.

Jason gets even worse when he welcomes Apollonius to Jerusalem and then takes a trip with him to Phenice. Three years later, Jason sends Simon's brother Menelaus to the king to pay tribute and ask for favours. But instead he wrangles a commission as high priest, even though he's a cruel tyrant with a vicious temper. Jason flees and of course Menelaus doesn't pay the promised tribute.

The king calls him and the local governor to his palace to explain the missing money, and Menelaus puts his brother Lysimachus in charge, which causes rebellion in a territory that has been granted to the king's concubine Antiochis. The king leaves to settle the rebellion down, leaving his deputy Andronicus in charge. Menelaus, left alone with the temple, steals a bunch of gold and gives some to Andronicus and sells the rest on the black market.

The original priest, Onias, tries to retreat into a monastery, but Menelaus persuades him to leave and promptly kills him. When the king gets back, the people bitch about the random killing of priests. The king defrocks Andronicus and kills him. Then the city rebels against Lysimachus and kills him next to the treasury. The whole thing gets blamed on Menelaus, who turns to yet another king Ptolemee and promises to make peace if he'll give him money. He manages to stay in charge even as he's widely hated.

Chapter 5

Antiochus is preparing to go to Egypt, but suddenly a group of horseman appears in the sky dressed in gold and armed with lances and starts having a battle that goes on for 40 days. The people pray this is a good omen, but instead a false rumour spreads that Antiochus is dead. Jason immediately starts assaulting the city and randomly murdering civilians. Eventually he meets resistance and has to go on the lam into Egypt.

The king hears about all this and he thinks Judea is revolting, so he attacks and kills a bunch more people, eventually killing 80 000 people in three days. He also destroys the temple. He leaves bad governors in charge. The only hope is Judas Maccabeus, who hides out in the wilderness, biding his time.

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