• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Saturday, August 04, 2018

    Reflections on the Books of the Maccabees

    As someone who was brought up as a Protestant, I've never really read the Books of the Maccabees in full before. But in preparation for reviewing the 1962 Brad Harris vehicle, Il vecchio testamento (The Old Testament) I've been reading through it in full. It's been an interesting process so I thought I would share some of my reflections, not so much about the text itself, but more about the wider picture.

    The first thing is that it's interesting reading it in the context of the UK political scene at the moment. The main opposition party over here, Labour, has swung to the left and there has been a growing story about the party's perceived anti-Semitism. This involves actions by some individual actions of current and expelled members of the party, but has also come down their decision not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism. It's the kind of story that would have been dead weeks ago, but which has been given legs by the leadership's failure to properly listen to Jewish leaders about their objections and continue on as if they themselves know best. Nevertheless it's interesting reading the book which obviously details horrific anti-Semitic acts and be reminded that this is something that has a long and terrible history. It is not just being pedantic about wording.

    Secondly, I've restricted my research about the film to an absolute minimum whilst I read the book, so to try and read it with as clean a slate as possible. It does mean that I think of Ross and the Holiday Armadillo episode from Friends a little too much, but hopefully I won't be too distracted.

    What it does mean is that I presently have no idea how much of the book finds its way into the film. For those of you that are similarly unaware of the books, they read a little like the Books of Kings. I'm assuming only certain stories from the books will make it to the film, but it's interesting noticing as I read through thinking, "I can't really see that bit translating well" and so on. At the moment however, the bit I'm reading feels really like the bit that will be included. I guess I could be wrong, but I'm struck by how much a certain section of a book I don't really know leaps out as being a more obviously notable section.

    Lastly, I'm again struck by how ignorant Protestants are about the deuterocanonical books. It's one thing not accepting them as scriptural, but surely that shouldn't mean they are ignored. Sadly it seems like many evangelicals, for example, will read all kinds of pseudo-scriptural rubbish, books of visions people have had etc. and never really discuss what are, at any rate, books that form an important part of the context for the Old and New Testament.

    Following on from that I'd encourage church leaders / scholars to set themselves of reading a book from the 'apocrypha' every so often. This is partly for the reason given above, but there's another important reason: it will take you out of your comfort zone and give you the perspective of those who listen/follow you. Most church leaders / biblical scholars have grown up knowing Bible stories, quotes from Paul and so on. As a result the Bible is a comforting and familiar place. But for those people in their churches that have never got into reading their Bibles, let alone those outside of their churches, this is often not the case. Reading the Maccabees for the first time I felt distinctly not at home.

    It's also a chance to revisit how you treat "scripture", how things in the Bible that might otherwise seem weird, or shocking or bewildering in an unfamiliar book, are all too often overlooked due to familiarity or a desire to smooth things out. I'd recommend taking your time, rather than rushing through (this is why, I suppose I've still not finished the task) to maximise the strange sense of familiarity combine with disorientation. If nothing else it might enable you to enjoy a classic Brad Harris Bible film in a way you might not have otherwise.



    • At 2:06 am, August 10, 2018, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I am not informed enough to speak about the situation in Britain, but here in the US plenty of Jews would strongly disagree that point 7 of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism actually describes anti-Semitism: "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor."

      There's not a demonstration in the US against the crimes of the Zionist colonial-settler project that doesn't include a sizable number of Jews. Almost forty Jews were arrested across the US back in April for participating in nonviolent, direct actions against Zionist violence. The pro-Palestinian movement in the US is full of Jewish voices. Maybe the Jewish leaders in Britain are in a different situation, but he when Jewish "leaders" speak here in support of Zionist violence, they do so in opposition to an ever-growing number of Jews.


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