by Alyn Brodsky
Most histories paint the Maccabees as great heroes. Brodsky paints a more complex picture, showing their many faults and excesses. He explains their victories (and those of their subsequent Hasmonaean descendents) more in terms of the ineptitude of their adversaries than their skill. Furthermore, he lays much of the calamitous history of the Jewish people, from the time of the revolt of Maccabees to the fall of the second temple, at their doorstep; either as a direct result of the actions of the Hasmonaeans or as indirect consequences of these actions.
The 500 hundred-year story of the Middle East, from the return of the Jews from their Babylonian exile to the destruction of the second temple, is incredibly complex. Indeed, it is a thousand times more complex than the most complex soap opera ever written. This is a history not only of the Jews of Judea, but also of the Ptolemies and Seleucides (who inherited the empire of Alexander the Great), with additional inputs from the Nabateans, Parthians and finally the Romans. This is a story of intrigue, murder, incest and every other possible vice imaginable. It is the story the conflicts between the Hellenizers and the those who resisted the inroads of Greek culture. It is the story of the conflicts between the Sadducees (who represented Temple Judaism) and the Pharisees (who represented the Rabbinic tradition developed during the Babylonian exile). It is the story of an uncountable number of kings (many with the same names, distinguished only by roman numerals), and schemers of all sorts. You may not agree with Brodsky's thesis that the various dynastic and internal religious conflicts led to untold misery, and eventually to the destruction of the Jewish states that were created during this period, but you will enjoy his telling of the story.