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Who Lacked Such Armor and Swords As They Would Have Wished

December 1st, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

Judah the Hammer leads his shorn Army into battle

Judah the Hammer leads his shorn Army into battle

Since today is the first day of the eight you might know as Chanuka/xанука/חֲנֻכָּה‎, I decided to stop flaming up the Dancing with the Stars chatrooms just long enough to track down the Old Testament chapters that talk about why exactly we should play with our dreidels.

I give you, then, 1 Maccabees Chap. 4. It is, of course, total warporn, about a battle fought at Emmaus (which I thought was in Pennsylvania—maybe the Mormons are on to something with this whole Jesus-was-in-America thing). You might know that Chanuka celebrates the rededication of the temple “profaned” by the army of Gorgias. How exactly was it profaned? I wish I knew. It was bad enough that the Jews stood around and tore their shirts off, threw themselves to the ground and poured dirt on their heads. I can only think the Gentiles must have pooped on the altar or something.

But the tastiest bits, which come earlier in the story, point to perhaps another of meaning of Chanukah:

During the night Gorgias came into the camp of Judah, and found no one there; so he began to hunt for them in the mountains, saying, “They are fleeing from us.”

But at daybreak Judah appeared in the plain with three thousand men, who lacked such armor and swords as they would have wished.

They saw the army of the Gentiles, strong and breastplated, flanked with cavalry, and made up of expert soldiers.

Judah said to the men with him: “Do not be afraid of their numbers or dread their attack.

Remember how our fathers were saved in the Red Sea, when Pharaoh pursued them with an army.

So now let us cry to Heaven in the hope that he will favor us, remember his covenant with our fathers, and destroy this army before us today.

All the Gentiles shall know that there is One who redeems and delivers Israel.”

You’ll see a few things. One, Judah sounds kind of like a jihadi here. Repeat after me, children: war is not the right way to teach people about God. But secondly, and forgive me if this is just my preoccupation, but this reads a lot like a story that’s really about circumcision. Seriously. Judah faces the Gentiles with three thousand men “who lacked such armor and swords as they would have wished”? Any Jew who has been in a European locker room (I spent a year of high school in Germany) knows that feeling. Gentiles are indeed breastplated and flanked with cavalry, if you know what I mean. Not that Judah was particularly ashamed: he must have been known as Judah the Hammer for a reason.

But still. Given that the Bible is essentially an oral history whose parables and characters changed a bit with each reciting, like a Holy game of telephone, I’m beginning to wonder where this “Gentiles” appellation comes from. Sounds a lot like genitals. Gorgias genitals.

Maybe the sons of Israel were concerned about this whole circumcision thing much earlier than I thought.

Happy Chanukah, everyone.


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