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Heroism in 1 and 2 Maccabees

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Three types of heroism can be identified in 1 and 2 Maccabees: those of the warrior, the martyr and the suicide. While these concepts derive in part from the histories in the Hebrew Bible, they also display affinities with Greek ideas. Greek influence may be traced in vocabulary, in the manner of writing history, and in the emphasis on the motivation of the heroes. Greek history writing however occasionally appeals to universal values, whereas the Maccabaean literature does not look directly beyond the defence of the Jewish way of life. The martyrs were honoured by both Christians and Jews in times of persecution; and, although they never directly appealed to the suicide of Razis, Jews embraced suicide under the threat of torture or forced conversion as a legitimate way of 'sanctifying the name'. The example of Judas and his brothers may have been used to justify the Crusades: it has certainly helped to inspire Zionism and Israeli aspirations.

Affiliations: 1: University of Manchester


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