Friday, June 29, 2012

The Hammer by Alfred J. Church (1893)

This story is based on the first book of Maccabees from the Old Testament. It is set during the Macedonian occupation of Judea (around 250 B.C.), a very critical period in Jewish history, and tells the story of a young Jewish man who is first attracted to the "modern" Greek way of life, but eventually joins the Maccabee brothers in their desperate revolt against their Macedonian overlords. The conflict between the cosmpolitan and decadent Greek manner of life, and the customs of traditional Judism is well portrayed.


"...It grew to its height in the early part of the Second Century B.C., along with the increasing influence of Greek civilization in Western Asia. The feeble Jewish Commonwealth was more and more dominated by the powerful kingdoms which had been established on the ruins of the empire of Alexander, and the national religion was attacked by an enemy at least as dangerous as the Phoenician Baal-worship had been in the earlier days, an enemy which may be briefly described by the word Hellenism..."


"...It is not difficult to imagine, for the new erection is nothing more or less than a Circus, built and furnished in the latest Greek fashion, and the spectacle which the crowd has been enjoying, or pretending to enjoy—for it is strange to all, and distasteful to some—is an imitation of the Olympian games... It is no longer the capital of the Jewish nation, but the chief town of an insignificant province in the Greek kingdom of Syria, one of the fragments into which the great dominion of Alexander had split some hundred and fifty years before..."

"...We are but novices, you know; barbarians, I am afraid you will call us. But we hope to improve. You Greeks are wonderful teachers..."

"...And, as he spoke, Cleon looked round the room, which, indeed, was very handsomely furnished in the latest Greek taste..."

"...Jason was the Jewish high priest, the successor of Aaron, of Eleazar, of Jehoiada, of Hilkiah, and as unlike these worthies of the past in appearance, in speech, in ways of thinking, as it is possible to conceive. His costume, in the first place, was that of a Greek exquisite..."

"...The speaker was a young man who had hitherto taken no part in the conversation. He also had a Hebrew name and a Greek. His father, a rich priest who claimed descent from no less a person than the prophet Ezekiel, had called him Micah; but he had followed the fashion, and dubbed himself Menander. Still, Greek ways and habits di not sit over-easily upon him..."

"...But I have never worn it since, and never mean to again. I did design something much lighter and neater, worthy the Greek fashion, but with just a tinge—it would be well to have a tinge—of our own in it..."

"...As he walked slowly back to his palace he felt less satisfied with the Greek fashions, for which he had sacrificed the faith of his fathers, than he had done for many years..."


"...The Syrian King was a young man of about two-and-twenty years, tall, and well made, and not without a certain dignity of presence. His face, too, at first sight would have been pronounced handsome. It was of the true Greek type: the forehead and nose forming an almost uninterrupted straight line. This line, however, receded too much, giving something of an expression of weakness. But for this the features of the young Syrian king might have been described as bearing a singular resemblance to those of the great Alexander..."

"...With one or two not very respectable exceptions, the representatives of the high-class Jewish families were absent. But there were plenty of strangers in the town, and the room was sufficiently full. The trading community was present in force: Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, and even a Greek-speaking Gaul from Marseilles, were present. Rome was represented by two Roman knights, who were doing a profitable business in money-lending, and who had the name of pretty nearly every noble in Syria on their books..."


"...Temples, in which a whole pantheon of gods was worshipped, were to be seen on every hand. The pure and harmonious outlines of Greek architecture could be seen side by side with the bizarre conceptions of Oriental art. If the kings and their Greek subjects worshipped Zeus and Apollo, and, above all, Aphrodité, who had here her famous grove of Daphne, so the Syrian population were faithful to Baal and Ashtaroth..."

"...On the day appointed Oniah, supported by the principal Jewish inhabitants of Antioch and by not a few of the most respectable Greeks..."


"...Athenæus, who liked above all things to be on good terms both with himself and with every one else, felt this very acutely, and he was proportionately delighted when the Syrian King proposed to him that he should go as a teacher, not without a handsome salary, of Greek religion and Greek culture..."


"...The attack was entirely unexpected, for the Greek commander was ill-served by his scouts, and it met with no serious resistance. Almost in a moment the Greek line was broken, and a wild flight commenced. When the fugitives reached the plain they scattered themselves in all directions..."


"...He now made his way to the camp of Nicanor, and told him all that he knew of the position of Judas. The Greek general despatched his lieutenant with a picked force to attack him..."

"... And, rising above, in the City of David, in the very heart of the Jewish kingdom, was the fort of the Greek garrison—the hateful sign of the domination of the heathen..."

"... He told them of the day when Macedonian and Jew had stood side by side against the Gallic invaders of Asia, and of how the Jew had stood firm while the Greek had fled before the fury of the barbarian onset..."


"...Again he has marched to encounter the Greeks, but he has no easy task before him... and he has enrolled in his ranks the remnants of the armies of Seron and Nicanor... The Greeks are fighting for their last stake. If they lose this they are disgraced..."


"... In the first place, to their intense relief, the Greek army marched away, and the Holy City was no more defiled by the presence of the heathen..."


"...A deputation from that party among the Jews which affected Greek habits and Greek practices had been admitted to the presence of the new King. They had accused Judas, the son of Mattathias, of having driven them from their land, and of being an enemy to the sovereignty of the Greeks. Demetrius had listened to their representations, and had conferred the office of high priest on Alcimus, the leader of the malcontents, and had promised to send a force which would instal him in his office, and at the same time take vengeance on Judas and the Chasidim..."


"The new high priest arrived at Jerusalem, escorted by a powerful force under the command of Bacchides. None but absolute renegades were glad to see Greek soldiers again lording it in the streets of Jerusalem... Alcimus and his Greek companions were loud in their professions of good will..."

"...He had served his purpose, acting, it may be said, as a decoy, and, thanks to him, some of the most inveterate enemies of the Greek party had been entrapped. The Greek commander made short work with his prisoners..."

"...On the whole, popular opinion was strongly in Judas's favour. Then came another turn of events. The Greek general, weary of his sojourn among a people that hated him, marched out of Jerusalem..."

"...It was no longer Jew fighting against Greek, but Jew against Jew... Others had a genuine dislike for Jewish severity and a liking for Greek license, and fought for all that, as they thought, made life worth living. But the number of these philo-Greek partisans was but small... when they saw that the sword of Judas was a more immediate danger to his enemies than the sword of the Syrian King, hesitated no longer about joining him. Alcimus found himself deserted by all but a few desperate partisans. The commander of his Greek auxiliaries declared himself unable to give him sufficient help. Accordingly he had no alternative but to give up the unequal contest, and to hurry back to Antioch, where he might lay his complaints before King Demetrius."


"Though Jerusalem was almost wild with joy—and, indeed, so utterly, had the Greek army disappeared that deliverance was complete for the time—Judas's heart was full of sad forebodings... We have to fight not only against the Greek, but against the Jew also..."


"...The little company of Jewish heroes fought as three centuries before Leonidas and his men had fought at Thermopylae. The Greeks came on with the same arrogant confidence in their numbers as did the picked Persian force against the defenders of Greece, and met with a like disastrous repulse. Such was the fury of the Jewish soldiers, such their agility and strength, that they kept the attacking force in check during the whole day. When night approached the Greeks had made, it might almost be said, absolutely no way..."

[Alfred J. Church, The Hammer, New York 1893]

Sources: Heritage-History


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