My Glorious Brothers

By: Howard Fast

To all men, Jew and Gentile,

who have laid down their lives

in that ancient and unfinished struggle

for human freedom and dignity

A little more than a century and a half before the birth of Christ, a handful of Jewish farmers in Palestine rose against the Syrian-Greek conquerors who had occupied their land.

For three decades, they carried on a struggle which, in terms of resistance and liberation, has almost no parallel in human history. In a sense, it was the first modern struggle for freedom, and it laid a pattern for many movements that followed.

This tale, which is still celebrated by Jews all over the world as Chanaka, or the Feast of the Lights, I have tried to retell here, considering that in these troubled and bitter times there is both a need for and a value in recalling the ancient consistency of mankind.

Whatever is good in the telling, I owe to the people who march through these pages, those wonderful people of old who, out of their religion, their way of life, and their love for their land, forged that splendid maxim—that resistance to tyranny is the truest obedience to God.

A Prologue

Wherein I, Simon,

Sit in Judgment

On an afternoon in the month of Nisan, which is the sweetest time of the year, the bells were sounded; and I, Simon, the least, the most unworthy of all my glorious brothers, sat down for judgment. I shall tell you of that, even as I write it here, for judgment is compounded out of justice—or so they say—and I can still hear the voice of my father, the Adon, saying:

“On three things life rests: on right, which is set forth in the Law; on truth, which is set forth in the world; and on the love of one man for another, which is set forth in your heart.”

But that is a long time ago, as men think, and my father, the old man, the Adon, is dead, and all my glorious brothers are dead too, and what was plain then is far from plain now. So if I write down here all that took place—or almost all, since a man’s thoughts are loosely woven and not like the hide of a beast—it is for myself to know and to understand, if there is any such thing as knowing and understanding. Judas knew, but Judas never sat, as I sit, over the whole land with the land in peace, the roads open north and south and east and west, the land tilled for the harvest, the children playing in the fields and laughing as they play. Judas never saw the vines so heavy they could not support their load, the barley breaking out like pearls, the grain cribs cracking under their fullness; and Judas never heard the song of women in joy and not terror.

Nor did there ever come to Judas a legate from Rome, as he came to me this day, making the whole long journey, as he put it—and you can decide for yourself when a Roman speaks the truth or when he lies—for one reason: to speak with a man and to grasp his hand.

“And are there no men in Rome?” I said to him, after I had given him bread and wine and fruit, and seen that he was provided with a bath and a room to rest in.

“There are men in Rome,” he smiled, the movement of his thin, shaven upper lip as deliberate as all his other movements, “but there are no Maccabees. So the Senate gave me a writ and ordered me to go to the land where the Maccabee rules and seek him out…” He hesitated here for long enough to count to five; the smile went away and his dark face became almost sullen. “…And give him my hand, which is Rome’s hand, if he offers his.”

“I don’t rule,” I said. “A Jew has no ruler, no king.”

“Yet you are the Maccabee?”

“That’s right.”

“And you lead these people?”

“I judge them—now. When they have to be led, it may be that I will lead them and it may be that someone else will. That makes no difference. They’ll find themselves a leader, as they found them before.”

“Yet you had kings, as I recall,” the Roman said meditatively.

“We had them, and they were like a poison to us. We destroyed them or they destroyed us. Whether the King is Jew or Greek or—”

“Or Roman,” the legate said, that slow, deliberate smile returning.

“Or Roman.”

The silence lasted after that, the Roman and I looking at each other, and I could guess something of what went on in his head. Finally, he said, with a great and deceptive calm:

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