Thursday, July 19, 2018

Maccabean martyrs

Heb 11:35 describes a group of people in the OT period who "were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they may rise again to a better life". The only record of this is found in 2 Mac 7, which describes brothers who accept torture at the hands of the Seleucides instead of eating pork and violating Jewish law. Since the context of Heb 11 includes "the men of old [who] received divine approval" (v2), it follows that the books describing the Maccabean martyrs were part of the OT that was used by the author of the letter to the Hebrews", T. Horn, The Case for Catholicism (Ignatius 2017), 66. 

Several holes in Horn's argument:

i) The Maccabean revolt took place during interestamental history rather than OT history. 

ii) It's true, as commentators note, that 11:35 probably alludes to the type of situation described in 2 Mac 7. However, commentators also draw attention to literary allusions to 4 Maccabees. But that's not part of the Catholic canon. So Horn's argument either proves too much or too little for his cause. 

In addition, v38 apparently refers to Jewish legends about the martyrdom of Isaiah. But again, those sources aren't canonical by Catholic standards. So Horn's appeal is a double-edge sword. 

iii) At the time Hebrews was written, the Maccabean revolt was recent history. It only happened about a century prior to Hebrews. Therefore, I think there's no presumption that the author of Hebrews was dependent on 2 Maccabees for his information. We'd expect lots of traditions about the Maccabean revolt to be in circulation a hundred years later. Many Jews had ancestors who participated in that revolt. There'd be family lore about it. 

We need to distinguish between an event and a source. The fact that 2 Mac describes the Maccabean martyrs doesn't entail that that document is the only source of information regarding that event. Consider multiple source material for the American Civil War or WWII. The fact that 2 & 4 Maccabees may be the only extent record for modern readers hardly implies that the 1C Jewish author was limited to the same sources we are.

iv) The author is cataloguing inspirational Jewish heroes and heroines. He goes back to the earliest recorded history (Genesis), then moves forward. He goes beyond OT history to  include intertestamental history because that evokes religious patriotism, which is germane to his theme. We'd expect him to include that illustration, since that would resonant with his Jewish readers. That no more implies the canonicity of 2 Maccabees than a church historian who begins with NT history, but then proceeds to quote the church fathers. 



  2. Some have argued Jude quotes from the Book of Enoch. More clearly, the apostle Paul quotes from pagans (e.g. Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12). I guess it follows the Book of Enoch or these pagan sources are inspired too?