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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
scribes the origin of the Greek translation of the Bible, on the
basis of various technical terms which appear in the bogus docu­
ments which it cites.
Second, the study of the documents led Bickerman to a new
understanding of the Maccabees.
The God of the Maccabees
(Berlin,
1937, in German; a serviceable but inadequate English transla­
tion appeared in 1979) is remarkable not only for its praise of the
Maccabees and the Maccabean martyrs as the saviors o f
monotheism, a message of hope to the Jews of Hitler’s Germany;
not only for its.survey of the pagan, Jewish, and Christian in­
terpretations of the Maccabean revolt from antiquity to the mid­
dle ages, a wonderful demonstration of history as propaganda
and propaganda as history; it was especially remarkable for its
central thesis: The persecution of the Jewish religion by An-
tiochus Epiphanes was inspired and engineered not by Epiphanes
himself but by militant Jewish apostates. The clash between Juda­
ism and Hellenism was not the outcome of the policy of a mad
Hellenistic king — Bickerman stressed that paganism was gener­
ally a tolerant system which did not interfere in the religious life
of its subject nations — but was the result of internal Jewish
tensions. Bickerman saw the extreme Hellenizers as the forerun­
ners of the extreme reformers of nineteenth century Germany,
Jews motivated by a desperate desire to “belong” to contemporary
western society and to take their fellow Jews with them in the
quest. The question raised by Bickerman and his ingenious solu­
tion are still the subject of debate.
The other major contribution of
The God of the Maccabees
was
the discovery of Maccabean Hellenism. Bickerman was the first to
show that the Maccabees were
not
“anti-Hellenistic,” but were
prepared to draw upon the riches of Hellenistic culture so long as
Judaism would be enriched, not threatened, by the process. This
point was brought out even more clearly in
From Ezra to the Last of
the Maccabees
(New York, 1962). The institution of Hanukkah as a
day of celebration, the correspondence between the Maccabees
and the Spartans, and the plebiscite to elect Simon high-priest
(First Maccabees, chapter 14), demonstrate the Maccabean will­
ingness to incorporate the ways of the Greeks. Bickerman ad­
vanced the same thesis for the rabbis of the Talmud. In one article
he showed that the framework of the
Shemoneh Esreh
(the Eigh­
teen Benedictions) is that of a Hellenistic civic prayer, in this case,
the civic prayer ofJerusalem; in another he showed that the chain