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5 Maccabees

Late First Century A.D.?

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James Charlesworth writes (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 153-156):

This book is extant in unedited Karshuni (Borg. syr. 28, ff. 412v-482v of A.D. 1581; Par. syr. 3, ff. 92v-116v [?] of A.D. 1695; Vien. or. 1548, ff. 20r-199r of A.D. 1729 [Karshuni or Syriac?]) and Arabic manuscripts (Vat. ar. 468, ff. 718v-759v of A.D. 1579; Vat. syr. 461, ff. 831-888 of A.D. 1667; Leningrad, Collection of Gregory IV. Nr. 3 [?]; and Leningrad, Collection of Gregory IV. Nr. 18, ff. 69-78 of A.D. 1642). The Arabic manuscript listed first was probably (so G. Graf, Geschichte, vol. 1, p. 223) the text behind G. Sionita's edition (in Le Jay's Polyglotte de Paris, 1645. Vol. 9, pp. 1-76 at the end; repr. in Walton's London Polyglotta, 1657. Vol. 4, pp. 112-59). An English translation, unfortunately made "from the Latin version of the Arabic text printed in the Polyglotts," was published by H. Cotton (The Five Books of Maccabees. Oxford: OUP, 1832; see esp. pp. xxx-xxxv, 227-446).

The crucial question regarding this work, which is virtually unknown to scholars, is its date. While Graf (Geschichte, vol. 1, p. 223) suggested it originated in early Melchite circles, Cotton (p. xxxii) and E. Beurlier ("Machabées [Livres apocryphes des]," DB 4, col. 502) concluded that the book was written in the latter part of the first century.

A date in the early Middle Ages appeared likely until the lack of later tendencies and ideas became noticeable, along with the recognition of early expressions (viz., "the third house," 22:9), the mention of the destruction of Jerusalem (9:5, 21:30), and the impossibility of concluding that it is a pasticcio of 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees and Josephus' Antiquities and Wars. It is wise to remain skeptical about the possibility of a late first century A.D. date for the work, although the intrinsic evidence presently appears to point in that direction.

The author of 5 Maccabees used other sources besides the works attributed to the Maccabees and Josephus' writings. Is it possible that this document preserves portions of the books written by Jason of Cyrene, Justus of Tiberias, or Nicolaus of Damascus? This question needs examination along with another; what is the relation between 5 Maccabees and the medieval Hebrew chronicle of Jewish history called Josippon? D. Flusser has completed a critical edition of the Hebrew text, which is now with the printer.

An important link between 5 Maccabees and Nicolaus of Damascus is that both, against Josephus (Wars 1.6, 2) and others (e.g. Hegesippus), claim that Antipater, Herod's father, was not an Idumaean, but a Jew who had come from Babylonia with Ezra (cf. 5Mac 35:1 with Josippon 37).

Is 5 Maccabees an epitome of the Josippon, as Graf contended (p. 223)? It is tempting to dismiss so-called 5 Maccabees from the Pseudepigrpaha and assume it is derived from the late Jewish Josippon. This attribution would solve some problems and explain why specialists of the Pseudepigrapha and of Josippon do not discuss or mention 5 Maccabees (e.g. it is mentioned neither in J. Strugnell's "Josippon," NCE 7, p. 1124, nor in A. A. Neuman's "Josippon and the Apocrypha," Landmarks and Goals. Philadelphia: Dropsie, 1953; pp. 35-59). The acid test is always the sources themselves, and the manuscripts of 5 Maccabees and of Josippon resist a simple explanation of their relationship. 5 Maccabees, moreover, is dissimilar from the Arabic epitomes of Josippon (it is extremely different from the text edited and translated by M. Sanders and H. Nahmad; cf. their "A Judeo-Arabic Epitome of the Yosippon," Essays in Honor of Solomon B. Freehof, eds. W. Jacob, et al. Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1964; pp. 275-99). Since neither the Arabic of 5 Maccabees nor the Hebrew of Josippon was available, Cotton's translation of 5 Maccabees was juxtaposed with J. Wellhausen's translation of Josippon (Der arabische Josippus [Abhand. der Königl. Gesell. d. Wiss. z. Göttingen, Philol.-Hist. Klasse, n. F. 1, 4] Berlin: Weidmann, 1897). The comparison did not suggest that 5 Maccabees derives from Josippon. Any conclusion, however, must be unusually cautious since no reliable edition exists of either text. It is also difficult to conclude that 5 Maccabees is an abbreviated version of Josippon, because it is a longer text yet covers only a portion of the history represented in Josippon, which begins with Alexander the Great and concludes with the capture of Masada in A.D. 73.

Additional evidence that a relationship exists between 5 Maccabees and Josippon is that both interrupt, though with substantial differences, the chronology from Heliodorus to Antiochus IV by inserting an account of the translation of the Septuagint for Ptolemy. A significantly shared feature is the identification of the famous martyr Eleazar as one of the seventy translators.

Without having completed a detailed research on the relationships of 5 Maccabees with the other Maccabean books, with Josephus' two works, and with Josippon, one should not suggest a theory. A tentative hypothesis, which is similar to those suggested by Wellhausen (p. 47) and Beurlier (cols. 502f.), may be proposed: perhaps 5 Maccabees is a late first-century A.D. compilation of early documents, some now lost, and of a few new sections; this compilation was later epitomized along with other texts by the author of the Josippon.

Beurlier (col. 502) thought that the original language of the book is Hebrew. This possibility is enhanced by numerous Semitisms that suggest a Hebrew Vorlage. It is difficult to prove this hypothesis since some of the Semitisms could have been introduced in the transmission of the Karahuni and and Arabic texts. A note in some Arabic manuscripts at the end of the first sixteen chapters, however, reports that this section had been translated from Hebrew.

5 Maccabees is a chronicle of Jewish history from Heliodorus' attempt to rob the Temple treasury in the early decades of the second century B.C. to the death of Herod the Great's two sons about 6 B.C.—with an interpolation relating Eleazar's role in translating the Septuagint, as well as other interesting expansions (viz. the futile prayer of Antiochus Epiphanes, chp. 8). The work is bifurcated internally: the first section, 1:1-16:26, relates the history from Heliodorus to the death of Nicanor which is called "The Second Book of the Maccabees According to the Translation of the Hebrews"; 17:1-59:96, the second section, is the history from the war between the Roman Scipio and the Carthaginian King Hannibal to the murder of the sons Alexander and Aristobulus, which is called "The Second Book of Maccabees" (cf. the preface in the Polyglotte de Paris).

This work is not included in Charlesworth's The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

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