The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Josephus, the Reshaping of the Halakhah, and the Tomb of the Maccabees

The topic of this lecture is a study in depth of the Tomb of the Maccabees in Modi’in, described

In the First Book of Maccabees (13:27-29). The first part of the lecture focuses on its architectural setting. I shall argue that although this structure shares many features with monumental tombs erected in Seleucid Syria in the early and middle Hellenistic periods, it was nevertheless the source of inspiration for monumental tombs built in Jerusalem in the Hasmonean and Herodian periods. Looking at the frieze, it is clear that Simon set up not just a tomb but also a monument, similar to a Greek τρόπαιον and later Roman trophaeum, with the purpose of commemorating victories. Although the Tomb of the Maccabees in Modi`in was almost an exception, standing almost alone in the artistic panorama of late Second Temple Judea, and notwithstanding the theater erected in Jerusalem by King Herod, monumental tombs or on civic or religious monumental structures such as porticoes or temples decorated with trophies, were widespread in the Hellenistic and Roman world. The second part of the lecture focuses on the serious discrepancy between the description of the Tomb in the First Book of Maccabees and that given later by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities (XIII, 211-212). Josephus, who was probably well acquainted with the monument, altered the description of the tomb, leaving out the description of the frieze. There are three issues, all interrelated, that can explain this and other differences in the Jewish historian’s account of the structure. The first is Josephus’s view of the Hasmoneans, the second is his interpretation of halacha, or Jewish law, and the third is his attitude toward the use of images in divine or human representation. My main argument here is that Josephus, in writing about the Tomb, was influenced by the sectarian conflicts that erupted in Judea prior to and during his lifetime. I shall argue that Josephus elevated aniconism as the only standard approach to figurative art in existence in mainstream Judaism. This claim explains the differences in his account of the Tomb of the Maccabees. From Josephus` point of view, the Tomb, inasmuch as it was erected before the sectarian violence and the divergent views of halacha, represents a "primeval," monolithic Jewish view of art and figurative expression. Thus, Josephus altered the description of the monument to fit his interpretation of halacha, which was naturally in line with his apologetic view of Judaism.