Deliverance: the End of the Prophetic Word From Ezra and I Maccabees

By DiMarkco Chandler:

In this article, I will briefly underscore how deliverance is achieved according to the book of Ezra and in I Maccabees 1-4. I will compare the different modes each book offers and explain how the historical context can account for their differences. I will then seek to explain the meaning behind the concepts and phenomena called: (the end of) Prophecy, Mishnah, Oral Torah, loss of respect for priestly status, Pharisees, and Hellenization.

In the book of Ezra deliverance is achieved from God by the hand of Cyrus, King of Persia, a literal enemy of the Israelites. Jews are content and patient enough to wait on God’s power for the restoration of their community. The book of Ezra reports that Cyrus empowered the Jews to safely return to Jerusalem and also bestowed upon them a significant amount of riches to rebuild their Temple. Throughout Ezra deliverance is achieved in much the same way. Once delivered the Jews celebrate their deliverance by offering burnt offerings morning and evening since they were in constant fear of the people in other countries. The first feast they kept was the feast of Tabernacles, because it was the first major feast after their deliverance. There does not appear to be any special celebration for their liberation. Even when Darius decrees that the Jews should be allowed to continue to build their temple, they only offer a dedication offering once the temple was completed. The text reports that they followed what is written in the book of Moses. Thus, shortly following Darius’s decree the Jews celebrated the Passover at the appropriate time as written in their law.

In contrast, I Macabbees 1-4 describes a completely different approach by the Jews in response to their enemies. In fact, the Jewish counterstrike in I Maccabees was diametrically opposite from usual tendency to wait on God’s initial response. I Maccabees reflects a united Jewish formation committed by any means to the purpose of liberating Jerusalem and the Jewish people from their enemies. In other words, Jews were ready to fight, even on the Sabbath, in order to preserve their Jewish heritage. Once victory was achieved in I Maccabees, it was commemorated by the establishment of a special observance in which the Jews made burnt offering sacrifices for eight days. Thus, it was declared by Judas Maccabees that the dedication should be kept for eight days in the ninth month, on the twenty-fifth day annually.

A careful analysis of these two approaches reveals some interesting distinctions. The most important difference appears to be linked to the historical context and setting. In Ezra the Jews had been displaced from the land that they had once ruled. Many of them were living in foreign lands. Under these circumstances it was more practical to wait on God’s help than to launch a revolt on foreign soil. Furthermore, once the Jews had regained their land and rebuilt their temple, they saw it as their duty to keep with a strict observance of their original celebrations. There was no move to commemorate their return from captivity other than a one-time rededication of the temple out of thanksgiving and fear or God’s judgment.

On the other hand, the historical context in I Maccabees reveals a Jewish community on the run. In this record the Jews are not uprooted, however, they are oppressed, conquered and then forced to observe the religion of the heathen. It is logical that these different circumstances would bring a different Jewish response. The Jewish response was not void of a commitment and recognition of God. On the contrary, it appeared to be more fervent than ever. It seems that since the Jews were not in captivity and since they were being forced to either worship a heathen God of face death on their own soil, that their condition warranted a different approach. Their alternate approach would lack passivity and emphasize a more deliberate method that allowed the use of force and a reliance on God’s strength and Power.

The end of prophecy seems to be wrapped up in the Pirkei Avot 1:1, which states that “Moses received Torah from God at Sinai and then transmitted it to Joshua.” This transmission continues to flow until it reaches the Great Assembly or legislative body. Moreover, in the Baba Mezi’a, it is explicitly stated that because the Torah had been given at Mount Sinai one must go as far as to pay no attention to even a heavenly voice because everything that the Jews needed was given to them through Moses at Sinai.

Mishnah is the oral Torah that was transferred in addition to the written Torah. This concept is explained by the process apparent in the Pirkei Avot. For example, the phrase “Antigonus of Sokho, received the tradition from Shimon Ha-Tzaddik. The text intends to imply that there is information transmitted from Moses that is passed down orally from one teacher to another. This method seems to transcend the priestly position that had traditionally headed religious worship. It is also clear that the master-teacher relationship as demonstrated by the Pharisees had been rooted in the Mishnah model. Additionally, the reasoning found in the Baba Mezia appears to have borrowed from Greek tradition by its very design. Where the text states, “If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven! Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: ‘Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the Halachah agrees with him!’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’ Arguably, there is a commitment to the mechanism of reason at work that was perhaps not present during pre-Hellenistic times. That is my interpretation. How about you? What do you think these passages mean. If you would like to join the conversation, email me at [email protected] I welcome your comments on this interesting matter.