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Tilly, Michael


1 Makkabäer.


Freiburg i. Br. u. a.: Verlag Herder 2015. 328 S. = Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Geb. EUR 70,00. ISBN 978-3-451-26822-9.


Doron Mendels

The 1 Book of Maccabees relates within 16 chapters the history of the successful Maccabean upheaval against the Seleucids. The book was probably written in Hebrew but preserved in a kind of popular dialect of koine Greek; it was composed shortly after 135 BCE, namely not too long after the historical events it relates took place. It is a complex composition that was relatively neglected by scholars; not too many worthy commentaries have been written on the book so far. Thus we welcome Michael Tilly first and foremost for providing a much needed new commentary in German, and for his careful and clear text suited for a broader audience, students as well as scholars. One has to admire T. who managed to work under the »restrictions« dictated by the publisher who aims in this series of HThK at a »fachwissenschaftlichen Standard, aber keinen enzyklopädischen Ehrgeiz. Fachwissenschaftliche Einzeldiskussionen werden nur dann geführt, wenn es für die theologische Interpretation bedeutsam ist. Der Anmerkungsapparat wird auf ein Minimum begrenzt, um die Lesbarkeit des Kommentars und einen überschaubaren Umfang zu gewährleisten.« The commentary is written in a clear style and with special attention to the linguistic origins, narratorial techniques as well as some theological issues. Also, judging from the vast bibliography, T. has read an incredible amount of secondary literature, part of which he had in mind when writing the different sections of the commentary. With few exceptions he does not mention scholars by name throughout the commentary. Due to the theological perspective of the series the commentary is yet another typical (excellent) traditional commentary in line with the former generation of commentaries. Yet I believe that in the new generation of commentaries topics such as the following examples should be given more systematic attention, re­gardless of the commentator’s views concerning them.
First, the identity and world view of the narrator deserve much more attention. The commonly accepted notion that the book is a pro-Hasmonean composition probably written by a court histo-rian should be reconsidered. That the book has a positive view of the Hasmonean »dynasty« can be detected in many passages as well as in the poems, a matter that T. of course recognizes. Yet, the book also reveals a streak of criticism towards the Hasmoneans, a criticism which has theological overtones. For instance, that the Hasmoneans take their own decisions is portrayed by the narrator as problematic. God as well as any of his biblical representatives on earth are not consulted by the Hasmonean brothers before taking major decisions such as whether to attack the enemy or fight other fellow Jews, to conclude a treaty with foreign powers, to create a Jewish independent state, etc. Thus it is not accidental that whereas Mattathias dies a natural death, all his sons die in a somewhat clumsy manner because of their irresponsible decisions or wayward behavior. This clearly shows that our narrator on the one hand was an honest narrator (if he was a court historian he could easily omit or rework the stories), yet that he is critical of the Hasmonean brothers at least in some of their deeds.
Why is that so? This stance of our narrator can be seen as part of a central idea that he promotes in 1 Maccabees. Among the main ideas in the book such as the centrality of the Temple, liberation from Seleucid rule, heroic deeds of the Hasmonean brothers, ideas that T. discusses, there is the splashing idea of the status of God and his relationship towards the Hasmonean upheaval and its leaders. In a »Theologischer Kommentar« as the series of Herder is defined, I would have expected some more elaborate comments on the issue of political theology. It is quite obvious that the book has God in the background; this becomes clear from various instances. However, God is not presented as having the role of an active almighty sovereign. He does not intervene in the events and in particular not in the deeds and decisions taken by the Hasmonean leaders. The narrator exemplifies this passivity of God by stating on three different occasions in the book that these deeds are and will continue to be undertaken until a true prophet arises. In other words, the Hasmoneans operate in a time of »exception«, or transition. If the latter concept is compared to the God of the historical narratives of Joshua–2 Kings, then it becomes crystal clear that there is a great difference between 1 Maccabees and those biblical books. In these latter books God is reluctant to appoint a king (1 Samuel 8) and later when kings become active in the history of Israel, He hampers their rule one by one and all the time; at the end He brings about the exile of the remaining Judean dynasty to Babylon. The biblical authors, perhaps unintentionally, created the strong impression that God was reluctant to compete with earthly kings on the ruling of human beings. In contrast, the Hasmonean brothers rule on their own and there is no God »above« them who hampers their rule or in any way causes their downfall because they were »unfaithful« to Him (as this is presented in the Old Testament). But all of the Hasmonean brothers die prematurely and in a slightly clumsy manner, occurrences that are enhanced by the narrator of 1 Maccabees. The message he conveys is quite clear: a rule without God’s active intervention is not all too successful after all; decisions should be taken with some approval of God. Here one can detect yet again a streak of criticism of our narrator towards Hasmonean rule. This of course does not contradict the fact that he was sympathetic to them and their rule in many other aspects.
Second, significant attention should be paid to the role of Hel-lenistic etiquette and values such as gifting, an important token of the developing relationship between the Hasmoneans and the Hellenistic princes and kings. The book starts with a refusal of Matta-thias to receive presents from the Seleucid representative in Modi'in and ends with an extravagant behavior of Simeon who dies as a result of it. In other words, whereas the book starts with a re-fusal to accept gifts from a foreigner, which probably insulted him, throughout the book the Hasmoneans start gradually to partici-pate in this kind of etiquette of the Hellenistic environment. Since the important book of Marcel Mauss, Essai sur le don (1950), the issue of gifting has become fashionable in scholarship, and is help-ful in un­derstanding certain episodes. For instance, the reader of a commentary deserves to be told why Antiochus VII Sidetes first wants Simeon to assist him in the siege at Dor, and then rejects him. One plausible answer can be the mere fact that the Seleucid king discovered that Simeon gifted him too little, in breach of Hellenistic etiquette (he discovered it during the act of gifting and was assured even more when he sent an emissary to assess the wealth of the Hasmonean court) (chapter 15: 25–36).
Third, although T. is quite attentive to the topic of narrative and relies mostly on the book of Gerard Genette (Discours du recit, Editions du Seuil, 1972), a classic on the topic, he remains a minimalist in this respect (for the German audience it would have been useful to cite also Monika Fludernik, Einführung in die Erzähltheorie, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 2006). The strategies of presentation are crucial for an understanding of the text and its politico-theological meaning. Some of the central motifs inter-twined within the narrative, such as peace and false peace, arrogance, bad and good empires, ethics and the issue of the ideal ruler, are extremely important for an understanding of the Sitz im Leben of our narrator. Ultimately, the blocks of themes within the book and their modes of presentation make the 1 Book of Maccabees a book of instruction, providing advice on how to behave in certain instances where several options are laid on the table – a kind of Po-lybian »pragmatike Historia«.
In sum, T. has provided us with a fine commentary in German on 1 Maccabees which is user-friendly, solid, well-founded and contains important insights throughout.