Thursday, December 07, 2017

Judah the Hammer

PHILOLOGOS: Judah the Maccabee, Judah the Mace-Man. A modest suggestion for a new way of thinking about the original meaning of the word “Maccabee” (Mosaic Magazine).
The derivation of makkabi from makevet or makava certainly makes better sense than any of the contending explanations. What I would take issue with is the assertion made by First and others before him that since a hammer “is not a military weapon,” Judah Maccabee must have been likened to one because of his physical appearance, or else because of his physical power or strength of character.
I agree with Philologos that this is not really a problem. Philologos's solution, that "Maccabee" refers to a hammer in the sense of a mace — hence a military weapon — is possible. But I don't think it is necessary.

Not for the first time I've seen, this problem arises only because scholars sometimes seem incapable of thinking like regular people or imagining language being used the way regular people use it. If you meet someone whose nickname is "The Hammer," you don't think "A hammer is not technically a weapon, so maybe this is about the shape of his head." You think, "I don't want to mess with this guy." It's just a vivid metaphor, something quite common in nicknames.

Think, for example, of "The Rock." A rock is not technically a weapon either, but someone with that nickname is probably a good wrestler.

"The Hammer" makes perfectly good sense as a nickname for Judah, who hammered his enemies on the battlefield.

Cross-file under 'Tis the Season (Hanukkah Edition).

UPDATE (8 December): Perhaps I should have included a link for "The Rock" above. Readers have also written to draw my attention to Thor's hammer and to an early medieval comparison of Charles Martel to a hammer, because he broke his enemies and foreigners in battle.

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