Gary Morrison, «The Composition of II Maccabees: Insights Provided by a Literary topos», Vol. 90 (2009) 564-572
II Maccabees is an unusual text, its composition and content are topics of extensive discussion. This paper identifies a literary construct that we attribute to the epitomiser. Its identification allows us to assign various parts of the text to the same hand giving us more insight into both the text’s composition and the epitomiser’s ability as an historian and writer. Furthermore, the identified literary topos suggests that recent attempts to minimise the extent to which II Maccabees represents any conflict between the Greeks and the Jews, Judaism and Hellenism may need to be reconsidered, some apparent instances of favourable relations between the Jews and other nations (in particular the Hellenes) are not what they seem.
The Composition of II Maccabees 565
have only a loose connection with the text proper (4). Their removal would not
affect the main narrative, although the person who added the second letter (or
perhaps a later hand) has made adjustments to the main text crudely moving
what we currently have as Chapter 9 from just before Chapter 10,9 (5). This
introduces the possibility of several hands reworking the extant narrative; in
fact three are generally accepted: The person who attached the letters and
transposed Chapter 9; Jason of Cyrene who is the named original author; and
the epitomiser, someone who is increasingly being accepted as an author in
his own right and largely responsible for the extant form of the text. As we
turn our attention to the composition of the narrative and literary patterns
within it, our interest (at least initially) must be with this author. What we
know of him or, at least, what is generally accepted is that he was a Jew who
wrote his summary in Greek and was versed in Greek ideological concepts.
He, for example, uses Hellenic idioms for his own purposes. Specifically, he
is the first extant author to use the terms â€˜Hellenismâ€™ and â€˜Judaismâ€™, an
adaptation of the Greek expression to â€˜mediseâ€™ (6). This clear manipulation of
the Greek language and Greek ideology demonstrates the ease in which our
author could move through a Hellenic environment and possibly gives an
indication of the control he had over his work. Even if we postulate that Jason
coined the terms, our epitomiser at least knew enough to maintain them in his
interpretation of the earlier work. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the
summariser may have been responsible for including the letters in Chapter 11
and reworking the narrative to interpret them (albeit partially incorrectly) (7);
while Erich Gruen even highlights the extent of humour in the text (8).
Individual interpretations aside, all these studies suggest literary ability and
control over the text: the summariser it seems is not a mere copyist, but an
author in his own right.
(4) These letters and their connection with the main text are the subject of much debate:
See (e.g.) E. SCHÃœRER, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (eds. G.
VERMES â€“ F. MILLAR â€“ M. GOODMAN) (Edinburgh 1973-1987) III, 533-534; GOLDSTEIN, II
Maccabees, 6, 25-27, 164-166, 540-545; DORAN, Temple Propaganda, 6-12; V. PARKER,
â€œThe Letters in II Maccabees: Reflexions on the bookâ€™s compositionâ€, ZAW 119 (2007)
386-402, esp. 386-388 and notes therein.
(5) This was done to ensure that both the letter and the text have Antiochus IV dying
before the Temple is purified. Other inconsistencies between the letters and text are left
suggesting that the â€˜transposerâ€™ could do little more than â€˜cut and pasteâ€™. See GOLDSTEIN, II
Maccabees, 345-347; V. PARKER, â€œThe Campaigns of Lysias in Judaea: A Test of the
Historical Worth of 2 Maccabeesâ€, Grazer BeitrÃ¤ge 25 (2006) 153-179; PARKER, Letters,
386-402; Contra DORAN, Temple Propaganda, 61-62.
(6) See Herodotusâ€™ description of Greeks who supported the Persian or Median cause:
Hdt. 4,144; 8,30; also Thuc. 3,62 etc. Note also GOLDSTEIN, II Maccabees , 230; Y. AMIR,
â€œThe term Î”Ioudismov" (IOUDAISMOS). A Study in Jewish-Hellenic Self Identificationâ€,
Immanuel 14 (1982) 34-41.
(7) PARKER, Campaigns, 153-179; PARKER, Letters, 386-402. We will conclude by
noting that the hand responsible for reworking the letters in Chapter 11 may actually be
different from the epitomiser, although in no way does this discredit the underlying point
that our author (the epitomiser) is responsible for extensive reworking or writing of the
(8) E. GRUEN, Diaspora (Harvard 2002) 176-180.