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orion-list The Maccabees and the Roots of the Dead Sea Communities
While reading Moshe Pearlman^Òs 1973 book THE MACCABEES, it struck me how
subtle was his treatment regarding the emergence of the Maccabees.
As the author went through great pains to describe the inevitable
evolution of the Jewish resistance, it became clear that the communities
described by the Dead Sea Scrolls were NOT just religious prayer
societies. The central and village branches of the Dead Sea "assemblies"
might be best seen as an "secret host" of God: a) the sect units were
distributed in villages throughout Judea, rather than focused in just a
few towns; b) based on the principle of frugality in dress and in
"property held in common" (in the same fraternal way that modern military
structures operate); c) and nevertheless in counterpoint with a strong
dose of "chain of command" and hierarchy; d) with annual assessment for
promotion or demotion; e) the use of "secrets" to make sure you were
discussing life-and-death military issues with a trusted "friend" or
"brother"; f) and a strong emphasis on "purity" to make sure God^Òs power
would be able to move freely amongst you and your patriotic forces.
Read some snips of text that is provided below, and in the email that
The Maccabees, by Moshe Pearlman, © 1973, Published by Macmillan
Mattathias and his sons "^Ålaid down the guidelines of future action
against this powerful foe when the resistance force would be larger,
stronger and properly trained - - guidlines which in our own day have
become standard principles of guerilla warfare: Desist from open battle.
Choose the time and place of your encounters, don^Òt leave it to the
Judah of course knew that no single guerilla action could be decisive;
but mounting harassment and attrition might induce the enemny to
reconsider his policies. If compulsory hellenization proved too costly,
made no progress and resulted in loss of Seleucid prestige, perhaps the
Jews would be left free to worship their God and follow their traditional
In the early months, therefore, there was instruction in guerilla tactics
by day and the movement of supplies, contact with intelligence
messengers, and sporadic operations at night. Judah and his brothers
would slip out of their Gophna base after dark, each at the head of a
small guerill band, and proceed to villages where the authorities had
erected a pagan altar. They would enter these villages, destroy the
altars, deal harshly with any who had collaborated with the hellenizers
(probably killing them [see books I and II Maccabees] ), arrange the
circumcision ceremony for male infants who had been left uncircumcised
and rouse the men of the village to join them.
If the villages were too distant for a night^Òs return march, they would
stay in some "safe" hamlet or hide-out and return to base the following
night. [ Being resupplied out of the "army^Òs" common pool of supplies ]
If they observed the approach of a strong enemy contingent, they would
scatter; but if they encountered a small patrol, and the tactical
conditions were favourable, they would strike^Å.
For the villages it was a time of torment. They bore the brunt of
Seleucid retalliation when a hellenizing unit was wiped out nearby, a
pagan alatar was torn down, or infants were found to have been
circumcised. There was a good deal of bloodshed. More painful was the
discovery in their midst - - and execution by the rebels - - of a
collaborator [roots of the Sicarii]. Not everyone was strong in heart.
Quite a number were simple folk concerned largely with survival, and they
may well have seen themselves caught between the imperial trooops and the
[Many] ralled to the cause of active resistance, knowing the possible
price and prepared to pay it. The arbitrary slaughter in Seleucid
reprisals was heavy to bear; but sorrow merged with anger, and anger
fuelled the resolve to fight back. Volunteering swelled, and the
populace, though hard-hit, faithfully kept the rebel base supplied with
^Å they now considered themselves a force of significant potential
harassing power. Their supply lines were organized and they no longer
had to live from hand to mouth; they were adequately maintained by the
Jewish villages, and their ranks were continually strengthened by fresh
volunteers. From their original nucleus of forty or so fighting men,
they had now grown to many hundreds.
^Å.Mattathias felt his days running out^Åhe urged [his sons] to maintain
this noble tradition so that they too would make history: ^ÑBe zealous
for the Law and give your lives for the covenant ^Å^Ò
[More text following....]
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