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The Wars of the Maccabees Hardcover – 20 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (20 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848844751
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848844759
  • Product Dimensions: 25 x 16.2 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 864,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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One of the best features of this book is that unlike many histories of events in the Holy Land the biblical and other Jewish sources (mainly Josephus) aren't take at face value. Instead the author has put a great deal of effort into comparing their version of events with those from a wide range of other sources, and many achievements claimed for the Maccabees don't survive that scrutiny - in particular cities that are meant to have been conquered remain in other hands and some reputations don't really survive the process... This is a good piece of work on an important topic. --History of War Website

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Stephen J. F. Maxfield on 27 Mar. 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book covers a very important period in history from which emerged two new religions: Christianity and Modern Judaism (i.e. without a Temple or animal sacrifices). The sources - the first two books of Maccabees and Josephus are very complex and contradictory but the author guides us through this labyrinth. Being a primarily military history he avoids long religious or political digressions but gives us enough background to understand what was going on without the usual pro-Jewish bias that so often distorts books on this period. Lucid, well writen and informative with some surprises: such as the fact that the Hasmonean kings forcibly converted those captured in Greek cities to Judaism. (So much for all Jews being descendants of Abraham!) So why only three stars? The book is really badly let down by the pathetic maps. Perhaps 20% of the places named in the text are to be found on the maps. This makes following the very complex campaigns really difficult. There are, in fact, four maps but they are so useless it would almost have been better not to have them at all. This is the publishers fault, not the authors, their readers must have pointed out the real need for decent maps. A really shoddy job by Pen & Sword. If you buy this book you will also need a good ancient atlas of Palestine.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 April 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By writing this book, John Grainger took on an almost impossible challenge. This is to summarize 130 years of wars and political conflicts between the Jews themselves and between the Jews and all their neighbours from BC 167 to BC 37 within a single volume in the Pen and Sword collection.

John Grainger has the necessary credentials to write this rather small book, which has only 166 pages of main text. He has written scholarly books on the Seleucids with, in particular, the Roman War of Antiochus III, a book on the hellenistic cities of Phoenicia and one on the Syrian Wars. He therefore has in-depth knowledge of the context within which the Wars of the Maccabees started and shows, time and again, how I and II Maccabees and Josephus, the main sources for this book, used a very narrow perspective and deliberatly distorted the historical facts. So, one of the main qualities of this book is to provide historical context and explain the various actions and expeditions of the Seleucids and Ptolemees to "restore order" in Judea through what was happening in their respective kingdoms.

Another big advantage of this book is to how that, initially, the rebellion was the result of fights between Jewish communities of which there were at least four or five main factions. Some were "hellenizers", accepting the hellenistic culture which dominated across the Middle East, whereas others rejected what was essentially an alien culture that went against a strict interpretation of their religion. At the beginning, at least, the "hellenizers" were in power, seem to have been more numerous and may have been backed by the Seleucid Kings, although the first point is not demonstrated and the second point is never made explicitly.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jim Webster on 29 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
I'm perhaps rating this book slightly higher than the previous two reviewers. I agree entirely with them with regard to the maps, which are frankly pathetic and do let the book down dreadfully.
Another area where I feel the book could have done with more coverage is the nature of the armies of the Maccabees, but I realise that this area may be too speculative.
Still I felt it deserved the four stars because it does help redress the balance and tells the story from a Hellenistic perspective, placing the Maccabees in their time and presenting a coherent picture of the world around them.
The book is short, but I'd hope this makes it more accessible to a wider audience so for me that isn't necessarily a disadvantage
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A worthy effort but with mixed results 2 April 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
By writing this book, John Grainger took on an almost impossible challenge. This is to summarize 130 years of wars and political conflicts between the Jews themselves and between the Jews and all their neighbours from BC 167 to BC 37 within a single volume in the Pen and Sword collection.

John Grainger has the necessary credentials to write this rather small book, which has only 166 pages of main text. He has written scholarly books on the Seleucids with, in particular, the Roman War of Antiochus III, a book on the hellenistic cities of Phoenicia and one on the Syrian Wars. He therefore has in-depth knowledge of the context within which the Wars of the Maccabees started and shows, time and again, how I and II Maccabees and Josephus, the main sources for this book, used a very narrow perspective and deliberatly distorted the historical facts. So, one of the main qualities of this book is to provide historical context and explain the various actions and expeditions of the Seleucids and Ptolemees to "restore order" in Judea through what was happening in their respective kingdoms.

Another big advantage of this book is to how that, initially, the rebellion was the result of fights between Jewish communities of which there were at least four or five main factions. Some were "hellenizers", accepting the hellenistic culture which dominated across the Middle East, whereas others rejected what was essentially an alien culture that went against a strict interpretation of their religion. At the beginning, at least, the "hellenizers" were in power, seem to have been more numerous and may have been backed by the Seleucid Kings, although the first point is not demonstrated and the second point is never made explicitly. The Maccabees and their followers, which were only one of the traditionalist factions, came to dominate largely through their unsavoury methods which would nowadays be portrayed as a reign of terror.

At times, however, the book becomes problematic. While he shows that the Maccabees (in particular Judah, Jonathan and Simon) were far from being the heroes and "freedom fighters" that they are often portrayed to be, he also has very little sympathy for their methods. This is entirely understandable, given that the said methods included burning, beatings, murders on a large scale, forced conversion through circumcision and mass expulsions of opponents, whether Jews or not. There are a few instances where the author might even get a bit carried away by his dislike of the Maccabees. One example is the case where, because two out of three of the ambassadors sent by one of the Maccabees bear Greek names, he infers that a large portion of the population, if not most of it, would have been in favor of the "hellenizers". It is, of course, impossible to draw such a sweeping conclusion. Jews bearing Greek names would be those in contact with the authorities (such as tax collectors) but would also be found among the merchants. It is therefore not surprising that most ambassadors would have Greek names because these would be likely to be among the richest, the Greek-speakers and the most literate among the population, at a time when Greek was the "lingua franca" across the Middle East.

However, the main problem with this book is its size. It is plainly insufficient to present clarly the various - and seemingly constant - conflicts and squabbles that the the vearious strongmen among the Maccabees indulged in. While the first few chapters are very clear, I started to get rather confused when, in addition to the various Maccabee expeditions, the author started to tell the story of the fragmentation of Seleucid power. Moreover, Grainger at times repeats himself, when trying to summarize various points and, at times, indulges in discussions as to where a given town was and where some minor clash or ambush took place, a level of detail which seems at odds with the book's size and the aim to provide a summary.

The small size of the book, much more than the poor quality of the maps, is the major problem with the book (Grainger's history of the Syrian Wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemees runs through several hundred pages, for instance). While it is true, as the other reviewer mentions, that the maps do not show many of the places that are mentioned in the narrative, I do not know to what extent it would have helped the reader even if they had. In addition, the genealogies are not very helpful since they lack dates of reign for the various characters. Finally, I found the narrative rather complex and confusing because it has been condensed so much, and this is despite knowing part of the period already. At times, I even got bored and almost gave up.

So, despite John Grainger's huge effort in delivering such a book, I cannot rate it better than three stars, and I am probably being rather generous when doing so.
Great Read 16 July 2014
By BrotherB - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Really helped me to do my paper on the intertestamental period.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 10 Aug. 2014
By Robert H. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great information on the so called Jews..
0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Wars of Maccabees 5 Oct. 2012
By David - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The content matched our expectations. Haven't completed the book so we are not in a position to prepare a review at this point. Purchasing it from Amazon.com saved us a few $.
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