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.

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Read more at Reading Acts

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

 

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform