JASON OF CYRENE:
Judæo-Hellenistic historian. He wrote a history of the Maccabean revolt in five books, from which the author of II Maccabees took his data (II Macc. ii. 23), this book being practically an abstract (ἐπιτομὴ; ib. ii. 26, 28) of Jason's work. The author of II Maccabees himself gives a short account of Jason's work, in which he indicates the moral value of reading it.
Jason doubtless presented the events in fine rhetorical language, his style being still easily recognizable in II Maccabees. The four letters incorporated in II Macc. xi. 16 et seq., as well as the legendary stories of the martyrdom of Eleazar and the seven brothers (ib. vi.-vii.), were written probably by Jason himself. Jason no doubt described the occurrences in detail for the purpose of edifying his readers, chiefly Jews, and of confirming them in their faith. This explains why he required five books for a narrative that was compressed into one small book like II Maccabees. The epitome preserved covers a period of fifteen years, from the death of Seleucus IV. to the victory over Nicanor (175-161). The abrupt ending is probably due to the epitomist; for this victory marks no period in the Maccabean uprising.
The many important details in Jason's work prove that he was not far removed from the events; he therefore probably did not make use of written notes, but obtained his information by word of mouth. In any case he wrote his work in Greek, and II Maccabees also is in pure Greek, and is not a translation. The epitomist probably copied many passages outright; but he may also have incorporated material of his own. The two letters in the beginning of the book are not by Jason.
Nothing is known about Jason beyond the references to him in II Maccabees. A Jason of Cyrene who inscribed his name on the temple of Thothmes III. in Egypt (Sayce, "Revue des Etudes Grecques," vii. 297) may be identical with the subject of this article. In this case he must have traveled: and he may therefore have been in Palestine also and have gathered his material on the spot.
Polybius may be regarded as a source used by Jason, though doubtless only for the dates of general history (Willrich, "Judaica," p. 140). It is also assumed that Jason drew upon III Maccabees; e.g., the account of the Dionysus celebration (II Macc. vi. 7) is said to have been taken from III Macc. ix. 29 (Willrich, l.c. p. 165), though this can not be proved. If it is rightly assumed that the Hebrew "Yosippon," or Gorionides, shows traces of Jason's work, as was stated first by Trieber, and, following him, by Willrich (l.c. p. 170), further reference might be found to Jason's lost work. It must have been one of the finest examples of Judæo-Hellenistic literature; and its loss is irreparable. Even Philo did not know Jason's work itself, but only the extract in II Maccabees; it was this epitome therefore that caused the original work to be forgotten so quickly.
- Trieber, Zur Kritik des Gorionides, in Nachrichten der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1895, pp. 401, 408;
- Willrich, Juden und Griechen. ch. ii., Göttingen, 1895;
- idem, Judaica, ch. iv., ib. 1900;
- Schlatter, Jason von Kyrene, in Festschrift der Universität Greifswald, 1899;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 359-364.