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A Better Story Tyrian Resistance, Hasmonean Valor, and the Authority of Narrative
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New archaeological discoveries from two sites in Israel’s Upper Galilee illuminate the territory and autonomy of the Phoenician city-state of Tyre from the early years of Achaemenid rule until c. 140 BCE – with implications for both the historicity of 1 Maccabees and the literary impetus of its author. The first site is Mizpe Yammim, a Tyrian border shrine and watchtower. The second site is Tel Kedesh, where c. 500 BCE the Tyrian royal house built a huge compound for the collection of agricultural goods; the compound was remodeled and used by the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. The evidence shows that the Achaemenids gave the Tyrian royal house control of the Upper Galilee and its agricultural bounty, but that this disappeared under the Ptolemies and Seleucids, who reduced scions of elite families to provincial functionaries.
Shortly after the middle of the second century, the compound at Kedesh was abandoned in haste and never returned to administrative use. Within a year or two the building’s archive was deliberately polluted by an infant burial; a few years later squatters occupied portions of the building. The author of 1 Maccabees describes a battle c. 143 BCE in which Jonathan chased Seleucid forces to Kedesh – but the juxtaposition of text and archaeological evidence suggest a very different scenario. The building’s abandonment marks the effective end of imperial authority here, while the burial in the archive room suggests that Tyrian administrators took advantage of imperial weakness for their own political liberation. The author of 1 Maccabees, writing at least a generation later, then “borrowed” an episode that properly belonged to Tyrian history in order to create a heroic persona for Jonathan and to support then-current Hasmonean interests in the Upper Galilee, a territory considered to be Israelite by divine right. In overwriting an episode of Tyrian resistance as Judean military victory, he transformed felt geographic destiny into history.