Most Christians do not realize there is a large gap between Malachi and Matthew. We’ve noticed a blank page or two, but eagerly turn from the Old Testament to the New without much thought. Those blank pages hide four hundred years of turbulent history in the life of the people of Israel. Some Bibles even include additional books to fill in the missing details. I’m not advocating a return to the Apocrypha, but every Christian can benefit from an appreciation of the harrowing tale that stands behind the Maccabean revolt. That history stands behind Jesus’ celebration (and endorsement?) of the Feast of Dedication.
The Maccabean history is helpful in today’s world where increasingly Christianity is marginalized and a pressure is building for us to synthesize our faith with the lifestyle of those around us. Just water down our faith, bend a little here and a little there, and we’re sure to increase our cultural status. A similar challenge faced the Jews who would be true to God in the face of the siren call of Hellenization and Greek influence.
This story of heroic resolve to stand for the faith finds new expression in a debut novel from a scholar who specializes in this time period: Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt (Kregel, 2015). The characters in this fictitious tale grapple with their changing world in different ways. Some give in and accommodate the Greek way of life, ever giving more and ultimately finding that compromise was too costly. Others try to keep roots in both ways of life and ultimately must choose for whom they will stand. Some resist quietly and others spur on a rebellion. Then there are those who give their all: becoming objects of gruesome persecution at the hands of Antiochus IV himself. There are no easy paths to follow, but those were no simple times.
The tale itself is told masterfully and the reader is slowly drawn into the world of the second century B.C. Historical figures find their way into the tale, Antiochus IV makes several appearances, but only after sufficient time to grasp the setting of Jerusalem at that day. The account is believable and the personal touches are compelling. Detailed account of sacrifices in the Temple and personal prayers are sure to inspire devotion in the reader. Historical details are abundant and the author weaves a picture of life in Jerusalem in full color.
The backstory to the rebellion takes most of the attention, along with the personal challenges to accommodate or persevere. But enough of the action is told to satisfy the curiosity of the reader who may know what is coming. Still it made me want to pick up a copy of I and II Maccabees (or is it III and IV Maccabees?).
One feature of the story deserves special attention. The author appears to describe the book of Daniel (in the form we know it today) being written during the Maccabean period. He still has the prophecy tell the future, but not from Daniel’s hand. “The spirit of Daniel” rests on the book’s author. Since other characters betray knowledge of Daniel’s example of faith in the face of apostasy, not every reader will pick up on this point. But it seemed clear to me the author must hold to a late author for at least the visions of Daniel. This point is not vital to the storyline and the conservative who holds to a sixth century B.C. date for the book of Daniel can easily disregard it.
For a first novel the book does not disappoint. At times there were some artificial elements. The Maccabean rebels at one point sound almost like the Covenanters of Scotland. But on the whole the book does a superb job of telling the Maccabean story in a personal and poignant way. I highly recommend it.
About the author
David A. deSilva is trustees’ distinguished professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is the author of over twenty books, including Unholy Allegiances: Heeding Revelation’s Warning; Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance; and Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture.
Bob Hayton has a BA in Pastoral Theology with a Greek emphasis and a MA in Bible from Fairhaven Baptist College and Seminary in Chesterton, IN. He is a happily married father of seven who resides in St. Paul, MN. Since 2005, he has been blogging theology at FundamentallyReformed.com, where he has also published over 190 book reviews. He can also be found occasionally at KJVOnlyDebate.com.