When I read 1 Maccabees I am struck by the author’s description of the Romans in 8:1-16. Rome is praised as doing “brave deeds” against the Gauls and against Spain. In their battles they seem impossible to defeat. All of their enemies are inferior, but the Romans are loyal to their friends. Rome seems like it can do no wrong. In vv. 13-16 he writes the following:
“Those whom they wish to help and to make kings, they make kings, and those whom they wish they depose; and they have been greatly exalted. Yet for all this not one of them has put on a crown or worn purple as a mark of pride, but they have built for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred twenty senators constantly deliberate concerning the people, to govern them well. They trust one man each year to rule over them and to control all their land; they all heed the one man, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.”
The story is set during the life of Judas Maccabeus (d. 161/160 BCE), but written closer to the turn of the century. In 63 CE Pompey the Great sacked Jerusalem, establishing Roman rule over the area. The area would be made into a Roman province until 6 CE. The irony of the author’s praise of Rome in 1 Maccabees is that about a century after the time of Judas, and merely several decades after the composition of 1 Maccabees, Rome would turn out to be less than wonderful and the Jews themselves would be one of those enemies who could not withstand Rome’s might. Also, it wouldn’t be long after Rome began to occupy Judea that Julius Caesar would begin to establish something that looked a lot like the reign of king.