The Two Books of Maccabees Show a Familiar Israel-Diaspora Divergence

While the first and second books of Maccabees are the basis for the Hanukkah story, the rabbis excluded them from the Jewish canon. The first of these books is a Greek translation of a no-longer-extant Hebrew work; the second, according to its own preface, was composed in Greek and is an abridgment of an earlier work by a Jew living in what is now Libya. Examining the theological differences between the two, Daniel R. Schwartz argues that one represents the attitudes found in the newly independent kingdom of Judea, and the other those of the Diaspora:

For 1Maccabees, Judeans suffer because the wicked Greek kings and the Judeans’ nasty neighbors persecute them, and they are rescued by the valiant efforts of military heroes, the Hasmoneans.

For 2Maccabees, in contrast, Jews suffer because their sins cause God “to hide His face” (as it is put in Deuteronomy 31:17 and 32:20), i.e., to suspend His providence. They are rescued through the death of Jewish martyrs, which serves as an atonement, and so God’s “wrath turns into mercy,” allowing Judah Maccabee to be victorious

For the diasporic 2Maccabees, whose expected readers—like Christians in the Roman empire—could not contemplate military resistance if ever oppressed, martyrdom, in the hope that it would move God to intervene, is the best they could do and, indeed, it is effective. . . . For 1Maccabees, in contrast, martyrs, who are killed due to their adherence to Jewish religion, accomplish nothing; they are part of the problem, not the solution, and are . . . no more than pious fools.

No one in a Judean state, with a Judean army, could subscribe to the assertion of 2Maccabees that the Jewish soldiers who die in battle must be guilty of a sin, for otherwise God might be suspected of injustice (12:40–41). That can be said only by someone living in the Diaspora interested in inculcating belief in divine providence, who had no need to worry that his son might one day have to fight in a Judean army.


More about: ancient Judaism, Israel and the Diaspora, Maccabees

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy