Martha Shamuni: A Jewish Syriac
Rhymed Liturgical Poem

of the Maccabean Martyrdoms


Dissertation Draft

Chapter 1






By Sigrid Peterson

University of Pennsylvania

© 1999 Sigrid Peterson All Rights Reserved







Robert A. Kraft, Chair

April 26, 1999





1.1.1 The work known here in full title as "The Syriac Poem of the Maccabees" (Syriac Macc, or SyrMacc) [1] is a rhymed Syriac poem of 678 lines published in 1895 by Robert L. Bensly and William E. Barnes. It has been completely neglected by scholars since its publication, although the book where it is found has gained some very modest recognition in the scholarly literature as a source of the Syriac translation of 4 Macc. The poem, a homily known as a memra, is part of a collection of Syriac pieces that refer to a story known in many traditions and texts. The story tells of a mother whose seven sons accepted torture until death, rather than participate in the violations of the Jewish Law that had been ordered by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid King under whom the Maccabean revolution took place (ca 168 BCE). Like the shorter story in 2 Macc 6 and 7, and the longer story in 4 Macc, SyrMacc presents this story together with the story of Eleazar, a lone figure of religious authority and heroic sacrifice.

1.1.2. SyrMacc may be characterized as a rhymed Syriac homily, of probable Jewish origin, [2] deliberately composed of several layers, with some later modifications adapting it for further liturgical use, whether in Jewish or in Christian settings is still unclear. It uses a twelve-syllable metric, a metric which Brock associates most closely with the Christian author Jacob of Serug. [3] In my comparison of SyrMacc with texts ascribed to Jacob of Serug, however, while the metric is similar the use of poetic devices and imagery differ considerably. Very little in the poetry and imagery of SyrMacc is characteristic of classical Syriac literature, either the earliest period, typified by the Odes of Solomon, or the flowering which began with Aphrahat in the early fourth century CE. Instead, analysis of the poetry of SyrMacc is fruitfully pursued by comparison with the development and techniques of Jewish liturgical poetry known as piyyutim.

1.1.3. The oldest layer of Syriac Macc appears to reflect a text that is distinct from, and prior to, 4 Macc in the text evolution process. The term `evolved literature' describes one or more texts which "show clear evidence of being products of a developing process" overseen by

I would note that in the case of SyrMacc that history probably includes forms of the story in Greek and Aramaic that preceed its realization as a poem in Syriac. There are less certain indications that SyrMacc has an earliest form that is also prior to the episodes of Eleazar, and of the mother and her seven sons, found in 2 Macc 6 and 7. Later chapters will consider stylistic features in detail. These include the direct comparison of SyrMacc with 4 Macc and a more speculative discussion of 2 Macc 6.18--7.42, which places the story that combines the episodes of martyrdoms in Antioch, rather than Jerusalem.


1.2.1. This summary of SyrMacc derives from a critical text that W. E. Barnes published early in his career, as a posthumous edition of R. L. Bensly's collation and preparation for publication of three MSS of the Syriac poem, which they termed "An Anonymous Memra," or sermon. My translation and transliteration also rely on this critical text.

1.2.2. There is an introductory section, lines 1-50, which presents us with an anthology of blocks of preliminary material. This material moves from the general to the specific, in the following manner. Lines 1-18 constitute a separate introduction that mentions the "House of Juda the Maccabai" and terms Eleazar, "their father the High Priest." There is a reference to stories of ancient heroes "as Paul told," an allusion to Hebrews 11 (or possibly a similar text ascribed to the Apostle Paul).

1.2.3. Lines 19-40 form another introductory section, with a different rhyme pattern, drawing attention to the feats of endurance of the heroes and heroine of this story. This is probably the original introduction, a judgment based on literary considerations that will be explored below. The section concludes by introducing the hero Eleazar and heroine Shamuni, "the loyal witness, full of hope." [5] The next few lines (41-50) represent a self-description of the author, who is wearing sackcloth and seeking the intercessory help of the martyrs, through constructing this poem of praise for them.

1.2.4. The CNT, which is related in the sequence found also in 4 Macc, begins "in the middle of things" at line 51, with the departure of Seleucus and accession of Antiochus, "full of evils." This would be the result of knowing only the stories of the Hasmonean revolution given in 1 and 2 Macc, without commentary or related historical sources such as Josephus's Jewish War or Antiquities. Neither of the Maccabean histories mentions the lineage of the Seleucid kings, or the fact that Antiochus was the fourth by that name, although 2 Macc uses the epithet "Epiphanes" at least once (4.7).

1.2.5. In lines 51-71, the version of the history of the Hasmonean revolution is not to be found in even one of our other sources, though it can be reconciled with the information we have. From lines 79 through 105 there is a break in the CNT for two speeches, one of Antiochus to Eleazar, and one of Eleazar to Antiochus, a sequence also found in 4 Maccabees, though the speeches differ. The CNT resumes for lines 106-123, and Eleazar is tortured. SyrMacc lacks the ruse proposed by those among the torturers who know Eleazar, which is found in variant versions in both 2 Macc (6.21-23) and 4 Macc (6.12-23). In 2 Macc Eleazar's torturers propose the ruse, while Antiochus Epiphanes offers the strategy in 4 Macc. At the point of death, Eleazar prays aloud, lines 124-132, and dies.

1.2.6. The CNT resumes, lines 133ff., with the summoning of Martha Shamuni and her seven sons, "surrounding her like a crown," and the speech addressed to them by Antiochus Epiphanes (AE), [6] who declares that they must eat food forbidden by the Law, "swine's flesh and polluted sacrifice." He promises great rewards for obedience, and demonstrates the extent of punishment for failure to follow his wishes. The sons respond as one, in a speech that outlines the ideology that underlies this piece, the vision of another plane of reality in which punishment and reward are reversed. The king orders the eldest to be brought forward and tortured.

1.2.7. At this point, lines 205-211, Martha Shamuni speaks briefly to her son, and the following lines, 206-217, detail his torture. At the point of death, the first son delivers a brief and defiant speech to his torturers, lines 226-230, and his torture resumes. His endurance of tortures is a message to his brothers, lines 239-247, and at the end he inherits "the kingdom and light and bridal chamber."

1.2.8. With few exceptions, the same pattern recurs for each of the sons, as follows:

1.2.9. Lines 177-247 narrate events in the sequence also found in 4 Maccabees, except that 4 Macc inserts a standard rhetorical flourish of the sort that begins "they might have replied" before giving a speech attributed to all the sons. The speeches differ between versions, for the most part; the events and actions are generally the same; the sequence is identical.

1.2.10. Breaking the sequence, lines 248-260 provide a paean to the first son, who is here called Gaddi, attributing to him yet a third defiant speech.

1.2.11. Resuming the narrative, there is a section giving the speech of Martha Shamuni to her second son, lines 261-291, in the same rhyme scheme as the next section which resumes the sequence shared with 4 Maccabees, of torture by means of claws, speech at the point of death, and death. Using the same rhyme scheme, SyrMacc inserts an ecstatic commentary on the form of death "on behalf of the law and faith of our fathers," lines 277-280. The poem then resumes the sequence with a speech addressed by the son to "the judge," presumably Antiochus, after which the second son dies. [7]

1.2.12. This segment in parallel sequence is followed, once more, by a paean in the honor of the second son, "Maccabai," praising him for being steadfast, lines 290-300. The rhyme scheme for the paean on the second son is the same as for the first; these sections do not occur in any other known version of the story.

1.2.13. A different end-rhyme signals the next section, beginning once more with a speech of Martha Shamuni, now--lines 304-314--speaking words of encouragement to her third son. The rhyme continues, and events begin to share the sequence we find in 4 Macc. He is challenged to eat and thereby renounce the Law, and responds to his tormentors, announcing he will die with his brothers. The rhyme scheme has continued from 304 through 327. A new rhyme commences, though the shared sequence continues, for lines 328 through 343. In this section the torture commences, systematically breaking his bones, and cutting off or dislocating his limbs. At this point he speaks again, addressing Antiochus.

1.2.14. When he is dead, the text of SyrMacc provides a paean, lines 344-360, calling him "Tharsai" and recounting within it another defiant speech. The paean mentions "Jesus, the Adamantine," a phrase which in Syriac plays on the difference between yeshua, 'Jesus,' and shua, 'rock', two words that differ by the <Syriac>yudh</Syriac>, like the Hebrew yod a fly-speck of a letter, followed by a word meaning "hard." This phrase and its translation will be discussed below in the notes. The paean then attributes delivery to the prayers of the third son, and concludes by calling him "Khosai," spelled differently from various versions of Elchasai. This paean has repeated the rhyme found in the first two.

1.2.15. The repetitious pattern has been established at this point, and the next section (361-405), beginning with an encouraging speech by Shamuni to her fourth son, carries the pattern forward, using two rhyme schemes, divided as before. Following the section that contains the same sequence as 4 Macc, there are both a brief elaboration that is specific to SyrMacc (401-405), and another paean (406-419), now to "martyr Hebron," which is the first of four paeans to offer a difference in end-rh yme. A brief speech is attributed to him, and the hope is expressed that his intercessory prayers will provide help.

1.2.16. Continuing the pattern, Martha Shamuni begins the next section, lines 420-458, by speaking in Hebrew to her fifth son, promising "life and inheritance in the kingdom of heaven," and a "crown of light at the last day." This son confronts the tyrant judge immediately with yet another defiant speech, and proceeds to the torture. Here, although the effect of the torture seems similar in both SyrMacc and 4 Macc, 4 Macc calls it "the catapult," a name unknown to SyrMacc, which describes him as curved backwards like a scorpion. The description of torture is briefer than before; the fifth son speaks again, and dies.

1.2.17. The paean which occurs here, lines 459-475, names the fifth son to dies as "Hebzhon," and attributes to him deliverance from evil for all who follow his example.

1.2.18. Lines 476-524 reestablish the pattern as before. In her encouragement of her sixth son Martha Shamuni addresses him (480) "O beloved of my soul, son of the b/Blessed." In the same passage, "magnificent dwellings of the kingdom" (484) is a similar metaphor to John 14.2, "In my father's house are many mansions (KJV)," and thus Barnes had translated "in the glorious mansions of the kingdom." Sixth Son is scourged, speaks defiantly to the "unjust judge," hears the response of Antiochus, and is tortured on the wheel, speaking brave words of faith all the while. He is brought down from the wheel and is boiled in a cauldron until he dies.

1.2.19. The paean at this point, following the death of Sixth Son, is decidedly unusual. It gives him the name "Bacchos," is the only part of the poem to add the epithets Epiphanes and Antichristos to Antiochus, uses many more Greek words than usual, particularly those ending in -os, and mentions the domain of the demons of Orkos who exact punishment when vows are violated. This paean closes with an extraordinary six lines (540-546) that mention Josephus as the writer of their story, get off a pun on Athanasius, term Sixth Son a contemplative or <Gk>QEWRHTIKO/S</Gk>, and pun again on the martyrdom of Stephen, from the Greek root for `crown.' A stand-alone invocation at the end of the paean (547) asks his intercessions to preserve all the sons of the <Gk>KLHROS</>, `clergy.'

1.2.20. Lines 548-581 tell the longer story of the seventh son. Here the pattern is varied. Shamuni speaks twice, although the same end-rhyme is used until the final speech of the son (582-597). The son's speech hammers home the ultimate fate of the king with a series of -lkha, 2 ms pronominal, endings. A brief closing to this section (598-601) returns to a familiar end-rhyme.

1.2.21. The close agreement in sequence between SyrMacc and 4 Macc ends here; the two recensions continue to have points of contact, but the sequences are more jumbled, and there is a great deal more independent material in 4 Macc, including the only speeches that 4 Macc gives to the mother—while mentioning that she has spoken to each of her sons in turn (4 Macc 14.24). This summary of contents, therefore, applies only to the remainder of SyrMacc. Following the last section of common sequence, treating of the death of Seventh Son, SyrMacc once more provides a paean, calling this last son "Jonadab."

1.2.22. In lines 614-628 we learn of the noble death of Martha Shamuni, followed by a speech addressed to her about her (annual?) commemoration (629-641), which concludes (639-641)

And about this, your amazing account (is told) in all nations and peoples

And congregations/churches in the Four Corners are founded in your name

And your name is reckoned with those `` has purified.

This recalls lines 608 and 609, about the diffusion of the tale of the seventh son, from his paean.

1.2.23. Next there is a paean to Martha Shamuni, lines 642-661, which quotes her speaking to all her sons in Hebrew, while Eleazar endured being tortured to death. She invokes Abraham and the willing sacrifice of Isaac, and promises the "life of the ages." A very similar speech occurs in 4 Macc 16.15-22. This is followed by the concluding speech (662-678) addressing "my brothers," recalling the three youths in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3.8-30) and exhorting them to have "the mind which is above passions," and to be without fear, since if they die for the law they will join Abraham and Isaac in the kingdom.

1.2.24. In the summary above I have not attempted to clarify all points of difficulty, but have instead highlighted some of the interesting oddities of SyrMacc in order to pique the reader’s interest. A different sort of interest attends questions of manuscript transmission.

1.3. TEXTS

1.3.1. Barnes, who posthumously published Bensly’s work on the Syriac Poem of the Maccabees (his "Memra by an unknown hand"), could find only one of the MSS Bensly had used in his critical edition of the piece. The MS that Barnes located is a late 18th or 19th century manuscript from the Malabar coast of India, held by the Bodleian, and is bound together with a commentary on the gospel of Matthew. It is designated in the apparatus as Ms. A.

1.3.2. MSS B and C remain unknown. Of all three MSS, Barnes gives the following account, in the Section entitled OTHER SYRIAC DOCUMENTS DESCRIBING THE PASSION OF THE MACCABEAN MARTYRS:

All of the texts in Bensly-Barnes refer in some way to the commemoration of the day. However, aside from 4 Macc itself, the rest of the texts omit the celebration of the martyrdom of Eleazar. The text I am calling the Syriac Poem of the Maccabees (SyrMacc) is the last one in the collection. SyrMacc is one of two memre that are not explicitly Christian. However, Barnes does not classify this text as Jewish, as he does the other. The first editors gave it the designation "Anonymous Memra." Barnes goes on to say

There are a great many texts of the story of the mother and seven sons; only a few exist which precede her story by an account of the death of Eleazar. [11] Most of the texts of the story of Martha Shamuni are detailed in two sources, Moses Hadas's edition of Third & Fourth Books of Maccabees, [12] and an article by Gerson Cohen in the Mordecai Kaplan Jubilee Volume (Hebrew) and in his collected Studies and Texts (English). [13] Early Church materials related to the commemoration of the martyrs are to be found in Abel's 1949 French edition. [14] In addition, Downey [15] has a number of references on the specific commemoration of the martyrs at Antioch.

1.3.3. The Syriac Poem of the Maccabees has, so far as I have been able to discover, never been discussed; two authors, Gerson Cohen and Robin Darling Young, [16] have looked beyond the Syriac text of 4 Maccabees that forms the other half of the Bensly-Barnes book, and mentioned other "kindred works," but not this poem.


1.4.1. In the Syriac Poem of the Maccabees, the stylistic variation in the text itself indicates the distinction of one part from another, and this is consistent with understanding the text as an historical accretion of layers, an evolved text. [17] The likelihood of the alternative, that a single author produced the poem, arises because of its late date. However, the presence of such features as

tend to indicate multiple sources and hence multiple layers. The use of a single metric throughout, on the other hand, does indicate the unifying hand of an author-editor at some point in the history of the text. That this is probably imposed, rather than natural to the poem, is indicated by the lack of any coherence device that occurs in all sections and ties them together, other than the poem's 12-syllable metric, which is in itself not entirely consistent. By coherence device I mean a signature feature of a poem or prose selection that occurs throughout. It could be a particular word, or form of a word, or an end rhyme or stanza marker, or any other device that is consistently used throughout the text.

1.4.2. The layers of an evolved text can be disentangled and assigned to sources by individual investigators on grounds that are subjective as well as objective, where external comparative information is lacking. However, in the case of SyrMacc, we have a considerable amount of clear-cut, easily distinguished, features, which provide internal evidence that is independent of the content of the poem. As this monograph will demonstrate in excruciating detail below, this evidence comes from such things as the alteration of the rhyming strategy, from a simple morphological rhyme to a rhyme based on the repetition of at least one root letter together with a morphological ending. In sum, different parts of the text demonstrate different authorial and/or editorial purposes.

1.5. Sources

1.5.1. As a result of the observation that comparatively independent layers may exist in SyrMacc, internal comparisons are possible and these comparisons develop information about the text itself. Although very little is known about the world of Syriac Christianity which transmitted the text, the world which may have been responsible for an interpolation here or there, or a final redactional layer which inserted replacement material at one or two points, it is possible to distinguish this "secondary" or later material from other parts of the poem. This can be done primarily by using its literary features as independent predictors of the source for a particular section.

1.5.2. The explicit literary features to which I refer are such things as the nature of the rhyme involved, and whether or not a complex rhyme pattern is involved. The two major styles are a morphological rhyming style, distinguishing the earlier Syriac source, called R, and an intricate rhyming style that resembles the way the Jewish medieval piyyutim were constructed, in materials called P. [18] Each of these sources, R and P, is more easily described as the work of an individual, an author-editor, rather than a group.

1.5.3. Both of the sources seem to have relied on earlier materials. The earlier Syriac author-editor, R, although probably producing the rhymed verse of the earliest Syriac form some time in the third century CE, drew upon materials which u sed language much like that of the Hasmonean era source termed "Eupolemus," quoted by Alexander Polyhistor in the first century BCE and then by Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260-340 CE). [19] This earlier source, R(E), does not show any knowledge of 4 Macc (2d or 3d c. CE). The later source, P, representing the complex use of Semitic rhyme schemes of the paytanim, the Jewish writers of piyyut, 'liturgical poetry,' in the medieval period, does reflect phraseology from 4 Macc, and probably used it as a means of developing his or her evolutionary stage of the text.

1.5.4. Thus, in talking about SyrMacc as it is available to us, we are discussing a range of dates from around 160 BCE to 650 - 750 CE. Material that formed the basis of the R source may be as old as 160 BCE (the early Maccabean/Hasmonean period in Judaea); the interpolated block of material forming the last of the layers in sequence, because of its thorough assimilation of Greek forms, rhymes, and words into Syriac, probably represents sixth or seventh century Syriac, according to Brock’s account of the development of the Syriac language. [20] This block of interpolated material, the (I) stratum, may actually not be the last.

1.5.5. At the end of almost every stanza of similarly ending lines is a sentence that differs from the rest of the block of lines in several ways, not exactly the same each time it occurs. The line varies as to metric, audience addressed, and religious references. For example, one such line (@@) speaks of the martyrs inheriting the kingdom, the light, and the bridal chamber, which suggests a gnostic influence. In many of these lines the critical text of Bensly [21] shows the transcription of two identical symbols which are represented in the first half of the printed version as something like two half parentheses in close conjunction, and in the second half as two yods, Hebrew letters used as a reverent abbreviation for the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God. Barnes's translation does not take this feature into account, and he does not mention it anywhere. This unusual stratum eludes any conventional means of assigning a date at this time, but my suspicion is that it is an addition to the text that accompanied its being used in a commemorative liturgy, thus the designation L. [22] The basis for this guess is the similarity of the single lines, the L stratum, to lines at the ends of stanzas in the Psalms of Solomon, or even Psalms, especially 103 and 104. These lines do bear a distant resemblance to known Jewish liturgies, as introductory lines calling for the pronunciation of blessings by the worshippers. Or, in both Jewish and Christian liturgies they might serve as prompts for a single repeated response.



1.6.1. The question of provenance is a generic one for all materials about the Maccabean martyrs. See my discussion of the Asia Minor Provenance hypothesis for 4 Macc, which is attached here as Appendix 1. [23] The difficulty of determining provenance for an evolved text is implicit in Kraft's discussion of Barnabas and the Didache. [24] According to Alexander Rofé, basically the evolutionary process universalizes those features that might give us particular information about the location and setting of a text, or where it may have been written. [25]


1.6.2. The recovery of a source R(E) which can be shown by independent criteria to match materials known to be first century BCE or earlier, and some of the attendant considerations of narrative elements, does give a tentative determination that this form of the text is from Antioch, in the second century BCE. Several criteria converge to indicate that the author of the source may have been someone like Eupolemus, namely the use of idiomatic <Gk>DE</Gk> or Aramaic <Syr>DYN</Syr> in place of a literal translation of Hebrew literary conventions surrounding the narrative use of the conjunctive `and,’ [26] as well as his conflation of historical events for the sake of narrative, [27] and his particular usage of names of God. [28]

1.6.3. As noted above, in the summary of SyrMacc, the story as told in SyrMacc, 4 Macc, and 2 Macc varies with respect to the presence of Antiochus Epiphanes. In SyrMacc he is a major actor, and appears to be always on stage (the bema, or judgment platform). In 4 Macc he serves as a foil for the pious reason of the protagonists, and in 2 Macc he is suddenly present on the bema in the story of the mother and her seven sons, not in the story of Eleazar. The inclusion of both stories as occurring with Antiochus Epiphanes on the bema could well be the first literary form of the story, if the priestly or levitical authors of 2 Macc wanted to imply that Eleazar was one of their own in Jerusalem. [29]



1.7.1. The text of SyrMacc does not represent a direct translation of an equivalent text in another language, nor is it Aramaic represented in Syriac script. It is what might be called "Syriac Syriac," [30] originally composed in idiomatic Syriac. The author-editors posited above have a masterly command of Syriac, using an intricate end rhyming pattern which is subtly varied by rhymed initial words, and assonance or rhyme for successive midsections of lines, on occasion, as well. The end-rhyme capitalizes on the grammatical structure of Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic with three idiosyncratic scripts in which it has been transmitted. The grammatical structure provides for suffixed indication of person, gender, number, and formal characteristics of verbs, pronouns, and nouns. To some extent, prefixes are also used. However, the lack of case endings, as found in Greek and Latin, together with the use of participal substitutes for different parts of speech, as well as the syntactical flexibility of Aramaic, lead to considerable ambiguity and difficulty in understanding the language. Thus the morphological end rhyming of SyrMacc may have evolved with a practical purpose, that of reducing confusion.

1.7.2 The earliest source material used in the construction of SyrMacc was probably Hebrew or Aramaic (Semitic), primarily because most of the similar materials in poetry were first done in Semitic. That is, assuming that the impulse to set the epic saga of the martyrs in rhyme was part of the earliest source, by no means a foregone conclusion. However, Greek did not typically make use of rhyme until the fourth and fifth centuries CE, when Romanos and others developed the poetic form known as the <Gk>KONTAKION</Gk>. [31] In contrast, Hebrew and Aramaic made good use of assonance and morphological rhymes in the DSS and Pseudepigrapha. One notable example is the passage beginning at Sirach 44, "Let us now praise famous men." [32] Syriac itself provides us with early and rudimentary examples of rhyme in a polytheistic inscription at Edessa dating to the first quarter of the third century, [33] Odes of Solomon, Psalms of Solomon (Fourth Psalm), and Acts of Thomas. [34]

1.7.2. While the poetic features suggest dependence on Semitic models, it is also true that a great deal of Syriac seems to have developed in a bilingual Greek and Syriac environment, according to both Sebastian Brock and Han Drijvers. [35] Diachronically, according to Brock, the Syriac language resisted assimilation to Greek through the sixth century; thus, a text which is heavily laden with Greek words and expressions would tend to be seventh century or later. One section of SyrMacc (525-546) contains this Syriac--Greek assimilation.

1.7.3. That R, one of the author-editors of SyrMacc described above, worked directly from a source in Greek is also possible; there is a shared pattern of narrative language that uses *only* the particle <Gk>DE</>, <Syr>DYN</> that is present in the Greek of 2 Macc, the Syriac of SyrMacc, and the Greek of 4 Macc. This pattern is also characteristic of the Greek prose of Eupolemus, as noted above. It is not certain how early this construction, a post-positive narrative continuation similar to the English word "then," became part of colloquial Aramaic, as well as maintaining its place in Greek.

1.7.4. My sense is that of the three retellings of the stories of the martyrdoms of Eleazar and of the seven sons, at least 2 Macc and SyrMacc R independently used a common Greek source. Such a "common source" is postulated by Jonathan Goldstein, among others, in his Anchor Bible commentaries on 1 and 2 Macc. [36] Then, much later, 4 Macc made use of either the common source (CS) or an archetype of SyrMacc to form the narrative core of its philosophical exercise.

1.7.5. To summarize this last point, one way of understanding how SyrMacc came to be, in the material due to the author-editor R, is that R wrote in Syriac, using materials in both Greek and Semitic. An alternative possibility is that a basic form of the story went through a number of editions in both Greek and Semitic, before it came to be used by R.



1.8.1. Although some of the material embedded in SyrMacc is of ancient origin, the details were condensed and characters collapsed, either in the process of transmission or possibly in the original composition of the earliest source. Did such an event actually take place as narrated? Given other less specific martyr narratives in Maccabean literature, other instances of allegiance to the Torah to death, it seems likely that such scenes did occur, wherever observant Judeans under military rule were forced to abandon Jewish practices or die. It also seems likely that much of the literature about the coming to power of the Hasmonean Dynasty, following the events of 167 BCE, was written within the 100 years of Hasmonean rule, from 163 BCE to 63 BCE. Those works that are most concerned with purity and separation from Gentile food, clothing, and practices, a frequent concern in the oldest layer of SyrMacc, seem to have had their origin in the earlier years of the Hasmonean dynasty, [37] assuming that these concerns reflected issues with Temple desecration, and then with newly gained independence. Texts with these concerns include Jubilees, Daniel, and the Genesis Apocryphon. The nature of the concerns reflected in the text of SyrMacc is, in particular, maintaining purity and separation from idolators. Such a concern gave way later to the elaboration of degrees of purity and separation among Jews themselves. [38] It is also possible that in the evolution of the text of SyrMacc, in some Eastern Diaspora setting or other, some selection in favor of strong separation from Gentiles occurred, and other elements of the text dropped out. However, the text is remarkable for its generally irenic attitude towards all types of Jews. SyrMacc, unlike 2Macc, is harsh only in speaking of the High Priest Jason, [39] who is held to have been the figure who changed Jewish religious practice in order to comply with a program of unification that was either ordered by or was expected to be pleasing to Antiochus Epiphanes.

1.8.2. That is, there is one personification of evil who has sold out the Jewish covenant with God and brought God's wrath on the Jewish people, for whom there must now be the atoning deaths of the martyrs. At this same time, according to Baumgarten’s representation, the urge to rectification by purification and separation became strong enough to generate sectarian approaches to Judaism. As the splitting into pure groups progressed, the evil was no longer embodied in one person, a Jason or an Antiochus Epiphanes, however unusual his or her views, however strong his or her opposition to Jewish religion. Instead, the practices of the others, within Judaism, became the focus of disdain.



1.9.1. This introductory chapter has attempted to present an overview of the Syriac Poem of the Maccabees, an overview which outlines a Syriac Jewish text in rhyme which is intermediate in the text-evolution process between—or perhaps prior to— the martyrs of 2 Macc 6 and 7, and the martyrs as presented in 4 Macc. Subsequent chapters will consider in detail the literary and stylistic features that provide support for the views advanced here.