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Scroll of Antiochus

SCROLL OF ANTIOCHUS (Heb. מְגִלַּת אַנְטִיוֹכוֹס) or Scroll of the Hasmoneans (Heb. מְגִלַּת בֵּית חַשְׁמוֹנַאי), popular account of the wars of the Hasmoneans and of the origin of the festival of *Ḥanukkah. The scroll has been handed down in several Aramaic versions, probably dating from the late talmudic period (its Aramaic language indicates the period between the second and fifth centuries C.E. in Palestine). It is first mentioned in the *Halakhot Gedolot (ed. by A. Hildesheimer (1890), 615, cf. also the ed. princ. (Venice, 1548), 141d) which describes it as originating in "the oldest schools of Shammai and Hillel"; unlike the Scroll of Esther, it is not read on the holiday with which it is connected and will be elevated to this position only "when there arises a priest with Urim and Thummim."

Saadiah, in his Sefer ha-Gallui, deals more fully with the scroll. He calls it "The book of the Sons of the Hasmoneans" (כתאב בני חשמונאי) and quotes a sentence which, with minor variations, is also found in the existing version (v. 23 in ed. Filipowski and Gaster); the scroll which he knew was probably also already punctuated and divided into verses. Nissim of Kairouan assigns the scroll an important position in the literature of the Apocrypha; in the introduction to his Seferha-Ma'asiyyot, he promises to relate the entire history of the Jews, "with the exception of that contained in the Scroll of Esther, the Scroll of the Ḥasmoneans (presumably the Scroll of Antiochus) and the 24 books [of the Bible]." Isaiah di Trani reports on the custom of reading the scroll in synagogues on Ḥanukkah (cf. his tosafot to Sukkah 44b (Lemberg, 1868), 31b).

Contents of the Scroll

King Antiochus, who has already conquered many countries, decides in the 23rd year of his reign to destroy the Jewish people, because it adheres to another law and other customs and secretly dreams of dominating the world. He sends to Jerusalem his commander in chief Nicanor, who instigates a massacre there, sets up an idol in the Temple and defiles the entrance hall with pigs' blood. On the pretext of being willing to submit to Antiochus' commands, *Jonathan, a son of the high priest Mattathias, gains a secret audience with Nicanor, and kills him with a sword concealed under his robe; he then attacks Nicanor's army, which is now without a leader, and only a few of the soldiers succeed in escaping and returning by ship to Antiochus. In commemoration of the victory, Jonathan has a pillar erected in the town, bearing the inscription "The Maccabean has killed strong men." Antiochus then sends to Jerusalem a second commander, Bagris; he metes out a terrible revenge upon the town and upon those Jews who have returned to the faith (here the scroll includes the story related in I Macc. 5:37–40 and II Macc. 6:16 of the devout people in the cave who were killed on the Sabbath because they would not fight to defend themselves). Jonathan and his four brothers defeat Bagris, who escapes and returns to Antiochus. He is equipped with a new army and armored elephants and then makes an attack on Judea. Judah Maccabee now appears in the story for the first time; and Jonathan, the third son of Mattathias, henceforth remains in the background. At the news of Bagris' approach, Judah proclaims a fast and calls for prayers in Mizpah (cf. I Macc. 3:46ff.); the army then goes into battle and wins several victories, though it pays for them with the death of its leader. Now old Mattathias himself assumes command of the Jewish soldiers; the enemy is decisively defeated, and Bagris is taken prisoner and burned. When Antiochus is told the news, he boards a ship and tries to find refuge in some coastal town; but wherever he arrives he is greeted with the scornful cry: "See the runaway!" so that finally he becomes desperate and throws himself into the sea. At this same time, the Jews are reconsecrating their Temple; while searching for pure oil for the lamp, they find a vessel bearing the seal of the high priest and dating back to the time of the prophet Samuel. By a miracle the oil, which is sufficient in quantity for only one day, burns in the lamp for a full eight days; and this is why Ḥanukkah, the festival commemorating the reconsecration of the Temple, is celebrated for eight days.

Author of the Scroll

As can be seen from this summary, the author was totally ignorant of the historical circumstances at the time of the Maccabees and made no use of any reliable sources on the period. The following points must be emphasized in connection with the text:

(1) The statement at the end of the scroll that 206 years elapsed between the beginning of the Hasmonean dynasty and the fall of the Second Temple is entirely correct if the time is reckoned from the first year of John Hyrcanus (135 B.C.E.) until the destruction of Jerusalem. This method of dating from the first year of John's reign, which was still being used in the Hebrew business documents of the later talmudic period (RH 18b), was most probably the sole point of reference which made the author of the scroll give 135 B.C.E. as the first year of the Hasmoneans. This incorrect assumption also seems to have been the basis for the legend about the high priest Jonathan, who according to the scroll led the revolt of the Maccabees.

(2) In view of their form and content, the stories about Nicanor, set as they are in the spirit of a later period, are intended to provide information on the festival of Nicanor's Day (13th Adar) rather than to relate events that actually took place during the time of the Maccabees (Meg. Ta'an. 12; Ta'an.18b).

(3) The story of the miracle of the oil, which is also found in talmudic writings (Meg. Ta'an. 9, Shab. 21b), could have originated only at a time when Ḥanukkah had already become a festival lasting eight days; and it serves as a reason for the practice of lighting the candles.

Thus the author of the scroll was aware of customs and recollections which the people of his time still cherished in memory of the Ḥasmonean victory, even though the historically reliable sources were unknown to him. Moreover, the tone of the whole story and the way in which the events of the period are represented are evidence that in his day there was no longer any interest in a political evaluation of the Hasmoneans; all that was important was to explain the origin of certain halakhic prescriptions concerning Ḥanukkah, and the origin of several later customs. Hence it is understandable that the author of the Halakhot Gedolot, as stated above, connects *Megillat Ta'anit with the Scroll of Antiochus and ascribes both works to the schools of Shammai and Hillel. In talmudic tradition (Shab. 13b), the editing of Megillat Ta'anit is attributed to scholars of earlier generations; discussions on questions of halakhah relating to Ḥanukkah are ascribed to the schools of Shammai and Hillel (Shab. 21b), and it was the statements on halakhah which were the main source of interest to talmudic scholars editing the two scrolls.

The Language of the Scroll

The language of the original scroll was Western Middle Aramaic. From the language it can be established that the scroll was composed in Ereẓ Israel and was possibly edited from a language point of view in Babylonia (as was the Targum Onkelos). The scroll is written in a historiographical style; it imitates ancient Jewish sources (i.e., biblical Aramaic, Megillat Ta'anit) and closely follows the historiographical style of the Bible in the Aramaic versions found in the Targums. The language of the scroll was not the spoken language of its author but rather a literary language; even if the author knew, as seems likely, the Palestinian dialect of Aramaic, he nonetheless uses an Aramaic which was very close to the Targum Onkelos.

Editions of the Scroll

The scroll was first edited by H. Filipowski from a manuscript in the British Museum (Sefer Mivhar ha-Peninim u-Megillat Antiochus (1851), 73–100). Besides the Aramaic version, there is also a Hebrew one; but this is only a late translation of the Aramaic text (published by D. Slutzki, Warsaw, 1863, with an introduction and amendments). Jellinek published a second manuscript (Beit ha-Midrash, 6 (19322), 4–8), and J. Taprowera third (Kevod ha-Levanon, 10, pt. 4 (1874), 17–28). The most complete publication is that of M. Gaster, which is based on six manuscripts (Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists, 2 (1893), 17–27); S.A. Wertheimer published another manuscript in Leket Midrashim (Jerusalem, 1903), 13b–18a; a facsimile edition of a European version by L. Nemoy, The Scroll of Antiochus (New Haven, 1952); a critical edition, based upon Yemenite texts provided by super-linear vocalization, by M.Z. Kadari, "The Aramaic Antiochus Scroll," Bar-Ilan, Sefer ha-Shanah, 1 (1963), 81–105, Bar Ilan, Sefer ha-Shanah, 11 (1964), 178–214; the princ. ed. re-edited by I. Joel, KS 37 (1961/62), 132–6. The version given by J.D. Eisenstein (in Oẓar Midrashim (1915), 185–9) is an unaltered reprint of the text by Slutzki. The scroll has been translated into Latin, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Persian.


C. Josephson, Die Sagen ueber die Kaempfe der Makkabaeer (1889); A. Harkavy, Zikkaron la-Rishonim ve-Gam la-Aḥaronim, 5 (1891), 205–9; M. Gaster, in: Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists, 2 (1893), 3–32 (= Studies and Texts, 1 (1925–28), 165–83; 3 (1925–28), 33–44); A. Neubauer, in: JQR, 6 (1893/94), 570–7; I. Abrahams, ibid., 11 (1898/99), 291–9; F. Rosenthal, ibid., 36 (n.s., 1945/46), 297–302; S. Krauss, in: REJ, 30 (1895), 214–9; I. Lé vi, ibid., 45 (1902), 172–5; Schuerer, Gesch, 1 (1901–3 34), 158f.; S.A. Wertheimer, in: Leket Midrashim (Jerusalem, 1903), 13b–18a; A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 1 (19382), xxv, 142–6; 6 (19382), vii–ix, 4–8; S. Tedesche and S. Zeitlin, The First Book of Maccabees (1950), 60; L. Nemoy, The Scroll of Antiochus (1952); A. Shalit, in: Tarbut ve-Sifrut (Dec. 20, 1957); M.Z. Kadari, in: Leshonenu, 23 (1959), 129–45; idem, "The Aramaic Antiochus Scroll," in: Bar Ilan, Sefer ha-Shanah, 1 (1963), 81–105; 2 (1964), 178–214; I. Joel, in: KS, 37 (1961/62), 132–6.