Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.05.51

Daniel R. Schwartz, 2 Maccabees. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature.   Berlin/New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2008.  Pp. x, 617.  ISBN 9783110191189.  $158.00.  

Reviewed by Frank Shaw, Cincinnati, Ohio (
Word count: 3053 words

The publication of a full-length commentary in English on 2 Maccabees is a rare occurrence (the only other one was a quarter century ago), so the appearance of Schwartz's tome is both needed and welcome. His mentor Menahem Stern had just begun work on a 2 Macc. commentary when he was murdered during the first intifada in 1989, and the task of continuing the project fell to Schwartz. Originally published in Hebrew in 2004, the book has undergone significant changes in the English version. General comments between his translation and the verse-by-verse commentary have been added; the bibliography has been improved and updated; statements only related to modern Hebrew have been dropped; various revisions and corrections have been made, some stemming from reviewers of the Hebrew edition. Important too is Schwartz's claim of an "English translation [that] is not only new but also qualitatively different from the Hebrew one." Here he means it is "freer and, consequently, more idiomatically English" (vii). Naturally the English version will be far more widely read than the Hebrew one.

The work is comprised of four major parts: 1. an introduction of considerable substance subdivided into eight sections (126 pp.); 2. his translation and commentary (387 pp.); 3. 11 appendices (39 pp.); 4. an index of references to ancient and medieval literature as well as inscriptions and papyri, another of names and subjects, and a third of modern authors (57 pp.). An abbreviations list and general bibliography comprise the final section of the introduction and total 29 pages. The most recent entries date to 2007. The only part of the work written by Stern is appendix seven, three pages on the Jewish role in the otherwise unattested battle of the Macedonians and Jews against the Galatians reported at 2 Macc. 8.20.

It does not take the informed reader of the introduction long to realize that Schwartz has several notions which depart substantially from those established in 2 Maccabean scholarship. The first is his belief that the book dates early, close to the events (which date c. 185-161 BCE) that it describes. 2 Macc. is a complex work because it is a précis of a reputed five-volume history (now lost) by an otherwise unknown Jason of Cyrene. This epitome is then prefaced with two letters that take up all of chapter 1 and the first part of chapter 2. Academics have for some time placed the date of the epitomizer in the late second or first century BCE, usually from the reigns of John Hyrcanus (135/4-104 BCE) or Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE). Dating the epitome is partly calculated on determining the time of the letters. As for Jason himself, estimates vary because we know so little about him, but some have long held that he wrote soon after the reported action, even believing he was an eyewitness. Schwartz's accepting this last notion is not novel, but his idea that Jason's work was condensed soon thereafter is. He proposes the following scenario: unnamed "Jerusalemite propagandists" added what is now 10.1-8 (a section on Hanukkah) as well as both prefatory letters "upon the achievement of Judean independence" in 143/142 BCE. Naturally the epitome had to have been already written by then. Schwartz finds support for this view by declaring that the account of Judas' embassy and consequent alliance with the Romans (in 161 BCE) at 4.11 "is fresh in the readers' memories [and] . . . they know of only one such delegation to Rome" (8-15). His view also requires a rejection of the standard reading of "year 188" at 1.10 for the less well-attested "year 148," present in only 2 minuscule MSS (11-12, 143-144, 519-529). All this puts the finished product some 20 years before the earliest date proposed by others for 2 Macc., and thus prior to 1 Macc. as well.

Also radical is Schwartz's view of the work's composition, the related issue of the sources used, and especially to whom the term "author" should be applied. In effect, he chooses to redefine terminology traditional in 2 Maccabean scholarship. The designation "epitomator" is normally employed for the individual who abridged Jason's work, as the book itself indicates (2.23-28). The word "author," while certainly difficult to apply to our text in some passages, is usually reserved for Jason. However, Schwartz argues that because of the epitomizer's reflections at 4.16-17, 5.17-20, and 6.12-17, it is legitimate to look for other intrusions into the synopsis of Jason, and Schwartz believes that when he finds them, they come from sources the summarizer employed in addition to Jason's history. These are the following: the Heliodorus episode (ch. 3); the martyrdoms of Eleazar, the mother and the seven sons (6.18-7.42); Antiochus Eupator's accession, Judas vs. the Idumeans, Judas vs. Timothy (10.9-38); and Lysias at Beth-zur as well as the resulting four quotations of documentary letters (all of ch. 11). Previous scholarship has focused on speculating what Jason's sources were, but Schwartz concentrates on the epitomizer's. For Schwartz then, the epitomator is not merely the real author but even a "craftsman" whose "extensive work on the book went well beyond epitomizing" (37).

This conclusion is intimately related to the matter of 2 Maccabees' composition, namely that when this author/craftsman utilized the proposed new sources, he changed the original sequence of material. Building on seven delineated problems, some of which have long been known (e.g., the courtier Philip's frightened flight to Egypt at 9.29 vs. his suddenly being in charge of the Seleucid government at 13.23; Timothy's being killed at 10.37 but his still being pursued at 12.10), Schwartz contends that the order we see of chs. 9-13 should be understood chronologically as 13, 12, and 9, with most of ch. 10 and all of 11 being inserted after ch. 9, and things being rearranged due to "sloppy editing" once his author/craftsman discovered the sources that were to become those chapters. As a result "he would easily arrive at 9-10-11-13-12." He then changed the order of 13 and 12 for possible reasons that Schwartz admits are not "quite satisfying." Another factor at work here was his author/craftsman's "mistaken impression . . . that Antiochus IV had died by 148 [of the Seleucid calendar]" (32-33, 37). On a conceptual level these notions form the most conjectural part of Schwartz's volume, as the following quotation attests: "let us imagine what our author might have done if . . ." (32).

Beginning with the third subsection of the introduction "Historical Worth and Leading Ideas" the volume stands on firmer ground. The first part documents the continual rise in historical accuracy that 2 Macc. has been accorded in modern scholarship, while the second offers support for Schwartz's contention that the book's basic tenor is diasporan rather than Palestinian--in regard to his author/craftsman as well as Jason. A notable point here is his disagreement with the long-established view that a major interest in 2 Macc. is the Jerusalem temple. Taking cues from the work of Bernard Renaud,1 he prefers to say that the emphasis is rather on the city Jerusalem of which the temple is merely a part, something a diasporan Jew would stress. The final segment of the third subsection reminds readers that, though truly valuable, 1 and 2 Macc. have their individual biases, so each must be used judiciously.

While the brief fourth subsection reviews the consensus that 2 Macc. is both Jewish and Greek, the lengthier fifth covers a needed matter: the character of the book's Greek. Portions of two never-published German dissertations, two short journal articles, scattered comments in Robert Hanhart's textual commentary,2 and one chapter in Robert Doran's Temple Propaganda book3 are the only prior discussions of this matter. Here Schwartz details our work's wide-ranging vocabulary, its abbreviation and brevity, and most substantially its use of confrontations and "lively language . . . to involve the reader emotionally in the heat of the struggles" (76). This last part extends 10 pages.

The sixth subsection "Reception and Text" treats who in antiquity read 2 Macc. and, more importantly, issues of textual criticism. On the first score, he highlights the lack of Jewish interest in our book and assesses the church's attraction to it. For the second matter, the contents merit more than a simple summary. The standard Göttingen edition of Hanhart4 has undergone fairly widespread criticism. In an impressively concise way Schwartz handles several important subjects both conceptually and with specific detail, thus offering a more nuanced position than have others. He understands where each camp is coming from, concurs with the censure that Hanhart was too sparse in his apparatus, but in other ways defends him: Schwartz disagrees with the notion espoused by Peter Katz/Walters5 and G. D. Kilpatrick6 that more credit should be given to the Lucianic readings in 2 Macc., and he is not as eager to accept testimony from the Old Latin as some are (e.g., Abel7). Unfortunately, Schwartz does not comment on the criticism of Hanhart by Christian Habicht8 (recently echoed by Joachim Schaper in the NETS9) that Hanhart relied too heavily on mainly four Greek MSS. Thus while in the main defending many of Hanhart's decisions, Schwartz does not lock himself into them. Indeed our author differs with him at 1.10 (as above), 3.4 (95-96), 5.2-3 (252), 6.2 (537-540), and elsewhere (96 n. 236 contains of list of other such passages).

One is struck with how the English translation reads, especially after Schwartz's buildup that he strove to be both free and idiomatic. On the contrary, the initial impression a reader gets is that it seems formal and outmoded, as the opening words indicate: "To their brethren the Jews in Egypt (from) the Jews in Jerusalem and in the country of Judaea: greetings (and) good peace. And may God be beneficent unto you and remember His covenant . . ." (129). The fact that Schwartz has chosen occasionally to utilize the RSV (261, 344, 353) while the NRSV does not even rate a place on the abbreviations list (101) may also suggest that he is tied to an old type philosophy of translation. Whatever the case may be, the English translation generally reads smoothly and understandably. A check of sample problematic passages yields some fruitful results. Schwartz opts for rendering the knotty ὕδωρ παχύ (lit. "thick water") as "viscous liquid" at 1.20/21 (130) as do Bénevot10 and Goldstein11, something that fits the context of naphtha well (contra Habicht, the LEH lexicon12, and Schaper who offer "marsh water"). At 4.11 he picks up on the humanity present in φιλάνθρωπα by translating "benevolent privileges" (207), a meaning missed in other renderings that have simply "concessions" (NAB, NRSV). Insights in translation appear when dealing with textual problems too; for instance, at 15.11 Judas receives "a trustworthy dream," ὄνειρον ἀξιόπιστον, but then a modifier follows, either ὑπέρ τι according to Hanhart, or the Lucianic reading ὕπαρ τι, "a certain vision," which most follow on the basis of sense. Schwartz's "a dream . . . more trustworthy than anything else" (492) deals with the puzzling and less popular text better than Goldstein's awkward "beyond measure."

The commentary likewise displays a lush depth of learning. Schwartz is more familiar with rabbinic sources than are the majority in modern times who have written on 2 Macc., and he draws regularly on Philo, Josephus, and classical authors; the last is often via Grimm's 1857 commentary which he calls "still the most useful" for such matters (97). Schwartz is widely read in literature published not only in European languages but also in modern Hebrew; the latter has often been, or, without our colleague's contribution, would have likely become, neglected in Maccabean studies. Finally, Schwartz admits that living the life of both a diasporan Jew and one in Israel has contributed to his understanding of our ancient work. Some examples bear these factors out. In the first prefatory letter the prayer is made that God open the recipients' hearts ἐν τῷ νόμῳ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τοῖς προστάγμασι (1.4). This has normally been taken as "to his law and ordinances" (most scholars) or as "by means of" or "with his Law" (Goodspeed13). Speaking of the Hellenistic use of ἐν, Moulton and Milligan call it the "maid-of-all-work,"14 so, given the context, few would think that here it should be understood with its basic meaning "in." Enter Schwartz who so renders it and reminds readers that the phrase appears in the Uva leZion prayer at b. Berakhot 17a, and that a medieval understanding took "the implied physiology quite seriously" (137). Dozens of similar examples from rabbinic material are to be found. His bibliography contains well over 40 entries to modern literature in Hebrew that bear on 2 Macc., and further such sources are common within the commentary (145, 154, 165, et freq.). As for extrapolating his personal experiences within and outside of modern Israel, this cuts two ways, as Schwartz seems well aware (viii). A case in point is his statement that 2 Maccabees' "focus on martyrdom is typically diasporan" (48). Are there other contemporary martyrdoms available so that one can say that in its own world the presentation of the martyrs in 2 Macc. is typical? Such reliance on often considerably later sources and/or personal experience, while surely valuable, also carries the very real danger of anachronism.

Schwartz is current in his scholarship. An outstanding example is his 3-page appendix on the much-mooted contextual meaning of 4.9, registering "the men of Jerusalem as Antiochenes." To this statement Schwartz, following Walter Ameling15 and Nigel Kennell,16 applies the inscription published in 1997 and 2002 of the Attalid letters granting "the Phrygian community of Tyriaion the right to organize itself as a polis," an obviously valuable insight into the debate on our 2 Macc. text (530-532). On page 87 n. 204 we learn that Philip Alexander is now preparing a commentary on 3 Macc. The book is also rich in observations. A good illustration is his finessing the statement of Jan van Henten that 2 Macc. is of Judean origin.17 Schwartz takes this not as others naturally have (e.g., David deSilva18) but as "a formal statement about the book as it is now: formally, it is two letters with an 'attachment.'" He continues, "just as Paul, of Cilician Tarsus, could spend time in Jerusalem, so could our writer" (45 n. 100). Another noteworthy remark is his highlighting the problems of applying the text critical lectio brevior rule when "dealing with a book whose author clearly loved to play with words and pile them on" (93).

Yet even high quality works have their weaknesses and our volume is no exception. On a conceptual level two points come to mind. While certainly intriguing is the notion that our ancient book's emphasis is more on the city than the temple (in fact, there is much to be said on behalf of this idea), still there are some potential problems with the way Schwartz argues his position. He is not averse to overstating his case: "our author is pedantically emphatic about the people being more important than the Temple" (46). How is the one general and brief statement he cites in this vein (5.19), indeed the only such direct sentiment expressed throughout our history, "pedantically emphatic"? Then too 2 Macc. does have considerable focus on the temple which is repeatedly referred to with strong, even superlative, epithets: it is μέγιστον (2.19; 14.31), πάσης τῆς γῆς ἁγιώτατον (5.15), and περιβόητον ["noised abroad, famous"] καθ' ὅλην τὴν οἰκουμένην (2.22). Where is Jerusalem itself referred to in like manner? Exaggeration and the failure to explain adequately what could be viewed as contrary evidence are not keys to winning over critically minded colleagues. Secondly, if the epitomator (his "author") was such a "craftsman," then why did he so clumsily stick in his new source material and furthermore mix it up so that it would have numerous blunders (like the Philip and Timothy inconcinnities) and be easily discoverable to readers like Schwartz, especially when he was arguably the most educated writer in the LXX? How do crafting a book and then committing large-scale "sloppy editing" within it correspond? It will prove interesting to see how scholarship reacts to our colleague's innovative proposals concerning the time, author, sources, composition, and emphasis of this ancient work. Some may conclude that at least a few of his creative solutions to long-standing problems create new difficulties.

One further surprise needs mention: Schwartz's mere single footnote reference (550 n. 98) to the above-mentioned LEH LXX lexicon. This tool has already undergone a revision, and although it has been criticized, it is nevertheless quite useful, especially for gathering statistics on vocabulary. It will not be replaced until Muraoka's lexicon is completed, and that will be true only if Muraoka's contains a similar entry for each word's frequency of occurrence within the LXX. LEH relied on the Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint Studies project (CATSS) begun by Robert Kraft and Emanuel Tov for these data. Several times Schwartz mentions how he slogged through partial surveys utilizing the unwieldy Hatch and Redpath concordance19 (H&R) for statistics on vocabulary (e.g., 67 n. 164, 71 n. 176, 87 n. 201). In at least some of these instances, performing the same or similar tasks with LEH, supplemented by H&R, likely would have expeditiously completed his surveys--the present writer has done so with relative ease for the 2 Macc. chapter in the forthcoming handbook of the LXX (T & T Clark).

Such issues, however, should in no way detract from the significance of the book, for this undertaking by Schwartz is a great boon to students of (i) ancient Judaism, (ii) a significant episode in Jewish-Greek relations, and (iii) the Septuagint. Its importance is difficult to overstate; only the author can fully appreciate the huge task he has accomplished, while the rest of us are genuinely grateful for his courageous candor and industry. For anyone interested in the serious study of 2 Macc. a great impediment has been the dated nature of the major works on it: Goldstein's Anchor Bible commentary is 26 years old; Habicht's JSHRZ volume is aged 33; Abel's tome is now 60. Schwartz's book rectifies this situation and will prove to be the work that all individuals sincerely investigating 2 Macc. will turn to for some time to come, at least until Doran's Hermeneia volume is ready, and probably for a long time afterward.


1.   Renaud, Bernard, "La loi et les lois dans les livres des Maccabées," RB 68 (1961) 58-64.
2.   Hanhart, Robert, Zum Text des 2. und 3. Makkabäerbüches, (MSU VIII; Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961).
3.   Doran, Robert, Temple Propaganda: The Purpose and Character of 2 Maccabees (CBQ Monograph Series 12; Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1981).
4.   Hanhart, Robert, Maccabaeorum libri I-IV.2: Maccabaeorum liber II (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1959; 2nd edn, 1976).
5.   Walters (formerly Katz), Peter, "The Text of 2 Maccabees Reconsidered," ZNW 51 (1960) 10-30; ibid. The Text of the Septuagint: Its Corruptions and Their Emendations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973).
6.   Kilpatrick, G. D., Review of Hanhart (1959, 1961), Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen, 215 Jahrgang (1963) 10-23; reprinted in Sidney Jellicoe, ed., Studies in the Septuagint: Origins, Recensions, and Interpretations (New York: KTAV, 1974) 418- 431.
7.   Abel, F.-M., Les Livres des Maccabées (EBib; Paris: Gabalda, 1949).
8.   Habicht, Christian, 2. Makkabäerbuch (JSHRZ 1.3; Gütersloh: G. Mohn, 1976, 2nd edn, 1979) 192.
9.   Schaper, Joachim, "2 Makkabees," A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), A. Pietersma and B. G. Wright, eds. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 504-505.
10.   Bénevot, H., Die beiden Makkabäerbücher (Die heilige Schrift des Alten Testamentes IV.4; Bonn: P. Hanstein, 1931).
11.   Goldstein, J. A., II Maccabees, AB 41A (New York: Doubleday, 1983).
12.   LEH has now become the standard abbreviation for J. Lust, E. Eynikel, and K. Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (2-vol. 1st ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 1992, 1996; 1-vol. 2nd ed. 2003).
13.   Goodspeed, Edgar J., The Complete Bible, an American Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939).
14.   Moulton, James H. and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930) 209.
15.   Ameling, Walter, "Jerusalem als hellenistische Polis: 2 Makk 4,9-12 und eine neue Inschrift," BZ n. F. 47 (2003) 105-111.
16.   Kennell, Nigel M. ""New Light on 2 Maccabees 4:7-15," JJS 56 (2005) 10-24.
17.   Henten, Jan Willen van, The Maccabean Martyrs as Saviours of the Jewish People: a Study of 2 and 4 Maccabees (Leiden: Brill) 50.
18.   deSilva, David, A., Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 270.
19.   Hatch, Edwin and Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1897-1906; reprint Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983).

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