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What Is the Third Book of Maccabees?

March 6 2017

While the first and second books of Maccabees are not part of the Hebrew Bible, they have been read by Jews as well as Christians over the ages, and have been the main source of the Jewish understanding of the Hanukkah story. Third Maccabees, by contrast, has been forgotten by both Jews and most Christians, although it is included in the Orthodox Christian canon. Written after 1 and 2 Maccabees, it tells the story of the prior persecution of the Jews by the 3rd-century-BCE Greek-Egyptian ruler Ptolemy IV Philopator, a few decades before the Maccabean revolt. Philip Long describes the book’s undeniably Jewish message:

Third Maccabees may have been written as a defense of Diaspora Jews for a Palestinian Jewish audience. Since these Jews live outside the land, they are considered to be “still in exile” and are therefore still under God’s [negative] judgment. The book demonstrates that God hears the prayers of the Diaspora Jewish community and preserves them in persecution, as he did for Palestinian Jewry during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It is possible the Jews in Jerusalem looked down on the Jews living outside the land. [The book’s message is that the] Jew of the Diaspora has as close of a connection to God as do the Jews living in the land.

The book [also] addresses the problem of apostasy in the Diaspora since those Jews in the book who renounce their faith are judged harshly. A major theme of the book is the boundary between the Jew and the Gentile. When Gentiles appear in the story, they are prejudiced, lawless, and abominable. Even in Egypt Jews are warned to keep their distance from Gentiles and to avoid apostasy at all cost.

Read more at Reading Acts

More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Diaspora, Egypt, History & Ideas

 

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations