The Apocrypha’s “The First Book of Maccabees” II: Deceit in the Ancient World—Wooing Israel Like Dating Game Contestants
I’m not big on dating shows, and, to be honest, when I was single, I wasn’t particularly good at dating. I saw right through the dating show contestants, realizing that, for the most part, these people were playing to the audience and also telling the people’s whose hearts they wanted to win whatever would seal the deal—i.e. being fake. I was bad at dating for similar reasons, in part because I disliked the first few rounds where both people (usually, myself included) were one their best behavior, and it wasn’t until a month in where you started to see the “real” person—you know, the facts you needed to judge how far I wanted to take things. My other issue was that I don’t loosen up well—I’m not good spending time on something that will not be serious, and for a lot of people I know, this is what they love about casual dating—all fun and no stakes. To me, something is always at stake, even if it’s just my time.
In politics, participants often woo bodies (be they potential alliances, enemies, even constituents), as if they are dating; however, the stakes are often much higher than finding love. As the Apocrypha’s “The First Book of Maccabees” demonstrates, this mindset has been around or quite some time.
Given how often Israel has come under fire throughout history, it’s interesting to read how so many regimes coveted their alliance, and in this excised Bible book, we read how Jonathan, as Israel’s one-time leader, was wooed by two opposing kingdoms, especially because of his ability to marshal Israel’s considerable forces. It’s also interesting to see which offer appears the most attractive to Jonathan, as you would think he wouldn’t trust either offer. Clearly these men were trying to tell Jonathan what he wanted to hear, and, when given the chance, the offers amount to nothing.
Once Alexander Epiphanes assumes the throne of Ptolemais, his rival King Demetrius prepares for battle. In order to increase his odds of victory, king Demetrius woos Jonathan with the hope of securing his military support. The king gives him power to marshal his own troops, assemble weapons, and receive hostages (10:6). With this gesture, Jonathan fortifies Israel’s defenses. Not to be outdone, King Alexander counters with his own excessive amount of “friendly gestures,” including (among several things) release from taxes and more control over their lives.
Sensing an offer that is too good to be true, Jonathan balks at this offer and selects Alexander.
This alliance works until it doesn’t, meaning until King Demetrius, the son of former king Demetrius, lavishes concessions for Israel, which Jonathan accepts, establishing peace. Who wouldn’t want peace, right? Well, Demetrius then makes the mistake of dismissing his army, which leaves him vulnerable, and when a revolt against his reign surfaces, he appeals to Jonathan for help, who squashes the insurrection, and after he does, Demetrius turns his back on Jonathan.
Given the chance, King Demetrius shows his true colors after the wooing phase is complete.
You’d think Jonathan would be a little sharper—given how many times he and Israel get screwed, but when a new threat arises in the form of Trypho, who was looking to become king of Asia, marches against Jonathan, whom he sees as a serious threat. Knowing that he can’t match Jonathan’s force, he devises a trick and, perhaps hoping for peace, the too-trusting Jonathan agrees to a cordial meeting to discuss terms. There, he falls into the trap and is eventually killed.
You’d think no one would ever want to be in power, given how most of them during this era end up dead, though usually their greed and back-handed ways of dealing with people seal their fate. Perhaps it’s best to continue to read about these people in order for those in power to learn a lesson and be better human beings to those around them—this lesson was as important then as it is now. If only the same lessons could be learned in the dating world, perhaps people would feel able to be themselves without feeling like they had to play a courting game in order to enter into a relationship that may or may not work.