New TV Trend or Old

The emerging trend on cable series is the killing off of the lead characters, a development that crosses a boundary of trust of previous generations of television shows. Harken back to the days of “Gunsmoke” and no matter what happened, the lead characters would return week after week. Even JR returned to “Dallas” because his death was only a dream in the next season. Some critics call it a betrayal of an unwritten agreement between the television industry and the viewer. A trust has been broken. Others call this dramatic turn a conscientious reflection back to the viewer of a more reality-based probability of circumstances. Writers and producers are killing off beloved fictional figures, ones with whom the viewers identified.

The story of the Maccabees is also a case of lead characters dying and the plot carrying on to a morally pleasing ending – when we tell the story to the children. The actual source material, Maccabees I and II, is far messier. The father, Mattathias, starts the rebellion by slaying the Jewish idolater. The plot shifts from there to his eldest son Judah taking command of the rebel force and only then are we told that Mattathias has died. Following the story we have already shifted our focus to Judah and we are not unduly upset at the death of his father.

Judah Maccabee prevails and liberates the Temple in Jerusalem. Hurray! They celebrate and rededicate the temple after which the children’s version of the story ends. However, the real story does not end. Judah dies a few months later by the betrayal of an allied army in battle. One by one, the other brothers are killed as well, one in battle and the rest by regicide. Sounds terrible, does it not?

Their sacrifice, their mistakes, failures and successes led to the founding of a more secure dynasty – the Hasmoneans. The unfolding consequences of the Maccabean saga were that the Temple ritual was solidified, a new class of teachers/officials called the Pharisees arose, and the process of selecting the books for the second part of the Bible began. History does not always fit into a plot for a children’s story but the reality is infinitely more interesting.

Maybe this year’s producers are not wrong after all.