Maccabees, Books of

views updated Jun 08 2018


The two books of the Maccabees deal substantially with the same theme: the history of how the Jews, under the inspirational leadership of the Maccabean (Hasmonaean) family, managed to prevail over their Syrian oppressors (the Seleucid Dynasty) and the "Hellenizing party" in Palestine in the second century b.c. (see maccabees, history of). The two books are not two parts of a history, such as 1 and 2 Samuel, but are independent compositions partially covering the same period. They fall under the deuterocanonical division of the Catholic Biblical canon, and are to be distinguished from the apocryphal works known as 3 and 4 Maccabees. [see apocrypha, 1. apocrypha of the old testament.]

First Maccabees

The first book embraces events from 175 to 134 b.c. It is divided into four parts: a prelude, followed by three sections treating the activity of three MaccabeansJudas, Jonathan, and Simon, respectively.

Contents. Part 1 (ch. 12) provides a prelude to the history of the Maccabean revolt. The account moves quickly from the advent of Hellenism in the Near East under Alexander the Great to the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 175 b.c. and the initiation of his program of Hellenization of Judea and consequent religious persecution of the Jews. The prelude concludes with a description of the outbreak of the Jewish rebellion, under the priest Mathathias and his five sons, the Maccabees.

Part 2 (3.19.22) presents the military exploits of Judas Maccabee: his victories over Apollonius and Seron in Samaria and at Bethoron, over Nicanor and Gorgias at Emmaus, and over Lysias at Bethsura. Following the account of Judas's recapture and rededication of the Temple, the author describes the death of Antiochus IV, the inconclusive battles of Judas against the Syrian army

under Lysias and Antiochus V Eupator at Bethsura and Bethzacharam, the death of Lysias and Antiochus V, and the rise of a new King, Demetrius I, to the throne of Syria. This section concludes with the account of Judas's victory over Nicanor in 160 b.c., and of his defeat and death in battle against Bacchides at Laisa (Elasa) shortly afterwards.

Part 3 (9.2312.54) describes the diplomatic and military victories of Jonathan Maccabee (160143 b.c.): his negotiation of a truce with Bacchides, whereby he preserved the battered remnants of Judas's guerrilla army from disintegration; and his later alliance with a new pretender to the throne of Syria, Alexander Balas, who named Jonathan high priest, military leader, and civil governor of Judea. Part 3 concludes with Jonathan's initial support of Demetrius II, his switch to the side of Tryphon and Antiochus VI, and finally his own betrayal and capture by Tryphon at Ptolemais in 143 b.c.

Part 4 (13.116.17) deals with the exploits of Simon, the last of the Maccabean brothers (143134 b.c.): his support of Demetrius II against Tryphon, for which he received almost complete political independence; his initial support of Antiochus VII (successor of Demetrius II), followed by their quarrel; and the defeat of Antiochus's army by Simon's sons, Judas and John. Part 4 concludes with the treacherous assassination of Simon and his two sons, Judas and Mathathias, by Ptolemy near Jericho in 134 b.c. A short subscript relates the escape of Simon's son, John Hyrcanus, who established himself as successor to his father.

Author. Nothing certain is known concerning the identity of the author. His knowledge of Palestinian geography, however, plus his intimate acquaintance with the politics of the period, the military campaigns, the court intrigues, and the Maccabean chieftains, indicate that he was a contemporary of the events about which he has written. His failure to speak of the future life (a doctrine popular among the Pharisees), as well as his tolerant attitude concerning the observance of the Sabbath, suggest that he belonged to Sadducean rather than Pharisaic circles (see sadducees; pharisees). His work reflects a no-table patriotism and a genuine admiration for the Maccabean family.

Language. Although the book was certainly written in Hebrew, and its Hebrew text was still known to Origen and Jerome, only its Greek translation has survived. The Vulgate retains the Old Latin version unrevised, made from a Greek MS much older than our extant Greek MSS and consequently of great value.

Sources. The author includes in his history a number of letters and documents (dispersed among ch. 5 through 15). Although some critics have considered these entries literary creations, most modern scholars defend their authenticity. A few critics consider ch. 13.3116.24 a later addition, on the grounds that Josephus, who follows the first part of the book step by step, does not utilize these last chapters; this view is no longer seriously considered. At most, it can be said that the book was completed by other inspired writers who added the subscript (16.1824) and perhaps added or modified a few other passages. Finally, 1 Mc 9.22 would seem to indicate that the author drew from a "Life of Judas." The reference in 16.2324 may be to some annals in which official acts of the high priests were recorded.

Date. The book was written after the death of Simon Maccabeus in 134 b.c., and if the subscript (16.2324) belongs to the original MS, then it probably was written after the death of John Hyrcanus in 104 b.c. Since the author speaks kindly of the Romans, it is likely that he wrote before 63 b.c., when Pompey the Great conquered Jerusalem and outraged Jewish feelings by entering the Holy of Holies. The book must have been completed, therefore, sometime between 104 and 63 b.c.

Literary and Historical Value. The graphic descriptions of events, the exactitude of the topographical and chronological details, the ease with which the author's presentation of his facts fits the contemporaneous history of the Near East, and the honesty of the author in relating the defeats as well as the victories of his heroes, testify convincingly to the historical value of the composition.

The author, nonetheless, was a man of his times. He is not entirely unbiased, nor is he perfectly objective. Since he writes to glorify the Maccabees as "those men by whom salvation was brought to Israel" (5.62), his viewpoint is that of one who writes history, but the history of a propagandist. After the manner of the ancient historians,

he has no scruples about exaggerating the size of the armies sent against the Maccabees, in order to enhance their victories. Although he records the defeats as well as the victories of the Maccabees, he does not hesitate to play up the victories and play down the defeats. The Maccabean revolt appears in his eyes as a world-shaking event, of importance to Rome and Sparta, and as the pivotal point of Seleucid politics. Despite such imperfections, common to most historians before the modern age of strictly objective history, there is no reason to doubt the substantial historicity of the book.

Religious Value. The absence of the name of God from the book has led many who refuse to acknowledge its inspired character to consider it a purely secular work devoid of religious value. (There are some passages in the Vulgate in which the words "God" and "Lord" appear, but these are missing in the Greek.) Although the author does not use the name of God (probably out of the scrupulous reverence for the name of God so common in late post-Exilic times), he does use numerous paraphrases for God, e.g., "Heaven" (3.1819; 4.10, 40; 9.46; 12.15;16.3), and the personal pronoun "He" (2.61; 3.22; 16.3). His heroes pray before they go into battle (3.4654;4.1011; 7.3738; 9.49; 11.71; 12.11), and the author speaks about God as the savior of Israel (2.61; 3.19; 4.30; 12.15; 16.3). Despite the author's emphasis on the human rather than the divine element in history, there is no doubt that he is deeply penetrated with the truth that it is God who is guiding the history and deciding the fate of His chosen people. He wishes to impress his readers with the virtues of the heroes of the Maccabean resistancelove of God and nation, fidelity to law, and determination to serve God at any cost rather than man. In its implicit invitation to its readers to emulate the religious zeal and generosity of the Maccabees lies the lasting appeal of the book.

Second Maccabees

The second book is not a sequel to 1 Maccabees; it partially covers the same history (176160 b.c.). Prefixed to the book are two "festive" letters (1.110a and1.10b2.19), sent from the Jews in Jerusalem to the Jews in Egypt. Many scholars believe that they were placed there after the composition of the book by some inspired editor because they contain information about the troubles in Palestine during the Maccabean period. The book proper begins with a short foreword, followed by two sections, each ending with an account of the death of a persecutor of the Jews and the institution of a feast.

Contents. Part 1 (2.2033) is a preface explaining the sources used by the author; namely, the five-volume work of Jason of Cyrene, and the principles that guided him in making his epitome.

Part 2 (3.110.9) covers the period from 176 to 164 b.c. The author describes the struggles for the office of high priest (ch. 35), the desecration of the Temple, the persecution of the Jews who refused to give up their faith (ch. 67), the outbreak of the Jewish rebellion under Judas Maccabee, and the winning back and rededication of the desecrated Temple (8.110.9).

Part 3 (10.1015.40) concentrates on the successful military campaigns of Judas Maccabee in the time of Antiochus V and Demetrius I, concluding with Judas's conquest of Nicanor in 160 b.c. and the institution of a new feast, popularly referred to as "the Day of Nicanor."

Author and Language. Nothing is known about Jason, the author of the original five books condensed in 2 Maccabees, except that he was a Jew from Cyrene in North Africa. Less is known about the anonymous author who abridged the books of Jason to form our present 2 Maccabees. Both authors wrote in Greek, but since the main task of the epitomist was to make a choice of episodes from the longer work of Jason, there is no way of determining how much of the Greek style belongs to Jason and how much to his abridger.

Sources. Many authors judge that Jason's main sources were oral. It is likely that he also used documents from the chronicles of the Seleucid Kings. He includes several letters (cf. 9.1820; 11.1517; 11.2729;11.3436) that probably came from the Maccabean archives.

Date. The last event recorded in 2 Maccabees is the death of Nicanor, which took place on March 28, 160 b.c. Since no mention is made of Judas's death, which took place shortly afterwards, it has been suggested that Jason's history was completed in the early part of the year 160 b.c. However, events subsequent to Nicanor's death may have seemed to the writer to be of little value for the purpose of his story. If the letter attached to the composition (1.110a) was sent with 2 Maccabees to the Jews in Egypt at the time of the book's first publication, the year 124 b.c., or shortly before, may be established as the date of completion, since this letter is explicitly dated. Many, however, judge that the book was completed sometime after 1 Maccabees.

Literary Form and Historical Value. This book belongs to that category of historical writing popular in the Hellenistic world known as "pathetic history." It is a type of literature that uses every means to appeal to the imagination and the emotions of the reader: colorful descriptions, rhetorical appeals, exaggerated numbers, prodigious miracles involving celestial manifestations, and a preference in general for the edifying and dramatic in place of a straightforward detailing of events. In a way similar to that of the author of Chronicles, the author idealizes his story, arranges chronology to suit his purpose, and concentrates on certain aspects of the general picture to the relative exclusion of others. The substantial historicity of the events recorded can be vouched for safely on the basis of a comparison with 1 Maccabees and with extra-Biblical sources that treat the same period.

Purpose. The general purpose of the author was to edify and instruct his Egyptian compatriots. This he accomplished by extolling Onias III, Eleazar, the seven martyr brothers and their mother, and Judas Maccabee, and by excoriating such enemies of the Jews as Heliodorus, Antiochus IV, the two wicked high priests Jason and Menelaus, Nicanor, and pagans in general.

There are indications that the author also had a specific purpose in mind. From beginning to end he shows a persistent interest in the Temple, the priesthood, and the Temple feasts. Since a rival temple to the Temple of Jerusalem had been erected at Leontopolis in Egypt under Onias IV, it seems not unlikely that the author of 2 Maccabees wished to wean the Egyptian Jews away from the temple of Leontopolis and to secure their allegiance to the one legitimate Temple in Jerusalem. This consideration leads one to suspect a late date for the composition.

Religious Value. Unlike 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees not only frequently uses the name of God, but the author visualizes God always close at hand, anxious to answer the prayers of His chosen ones. Throughout the book, the activity and intervention of God in the affairs of His people are constantly highlighted. The author stresses the doctrines of resurrection from the dead (7.911; 14.46), the intercession of the saints (15.1116), and the ability of the living to assist the dead by their prayers and sacrifices (12.3946). (see purgatory.) Faith, hope, and sincere love of God pervade the whole book.

Bibliography: a. lefÈvre, Dictionnaire de la Bible suppl., ed. l. pirrot, et al. (Paris 1928) 5:597612. f. m. abel and j. starcky, Les Livres des Maccabées (Bible de Jérusalem (Paris 194854) 12; 1962). j. c. dancy, A Commentary on I Maccabees (Oxford 1954). h. fischel, ed., The First Book of Maccabees (New York 1948). r. h. charles et al., eds., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 2 v. (Oxford 1913) v.1. f. grzyglewicz, "Paradoxes of the First Book of Maccabees," Scripture 4 (1950) 197205. h. w. ettelson, "The Integrity of I Maccabees," Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Science 27 (1925) 249384. e. bickermann, The Maccabees, tr. m. hadas (New York 1947).

[p. f. ellis]


views updated Jun 27 2018


MACCABEE , the additional name given to Judah, son of Mattathias, leader of the revolt against Syria (168 b.c.e.), later referred to as the "Maccabean Revolt." It was no accident that the revolt broke out at a rural location such as *Modi'in and not in Jerusalem itself. It began with the killing of a local who was willing to sacrifice to a pagan idol, and the action was taken by a zealous minor native priest, Mattathias (i Macc. 2:27; cf. 2:42) who subsequently called on those around him to follow the law and "maintain the covenant" and to fight the offensive edicts of Antiochus iv. The object was clearly to return to the religious autonomy Jews originally enjoyed, but the later successes of the revolt dictated otherwise. The name Maccabee is also applied loosely to other members of the family, as well as to the Hasmonean dynasty as a whole. For suggestions as to its derivation, see *Judah Maccabee and *Hasmoneans. The name is also given in Christian tradition to the seven children martyred by Antiochus Epiphanes when they refused to commit idolatry. Shrines to their memory and that of their mother Salome (in Jewish tradition Hannah) were established in many parts of the Christian world (see *Hannah and her Seven Sons).


E.J. Bickerman, "The Maccabean Uprising: An Interpretation," in: J. Goldin (ed.), The Jewish Expression (1976), 66–86; F. Millar, "The Background to the Maccabean Revolution…," in: Journal of Jewish Studies, 29 (1978), 1–12; D. Mendels, The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism (1992); D. Amit and H. Eshel, The Days of the Hasmonean Dynasty (1995).

[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

Maccabees, Books of

views updated May 29 2018

Maccabees, Books of Four historical books, the first two (I and II) of which are included in the Roman Catholic Deuterocanonical books of the Bible and the Protestant Apocrypha. Maccabees I and II are modelled on the Old Testament books of Chronicles and are a valuable historical source. They record the Jewish dynasty of the Maccabees. In 165 bc, Judas Maccabee led a revolt against the Seleucid occupation of Jerusalem. His reconsecration of the temple (165 bc) is celebrated by the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Judas and his two brothers, Jonathan and Simon, were murdered (161 bc, 143 bc, 135 bc respectively) in Judaea's resistance to Syrian domination. Maccabees III and IV are Pseudepigrapha.


views updated May 11 2018

Maccabees Prominent Jewish family that ruled Judaea from 164–63 bc. In 168 bc the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV invaded Jerusalem and in the following year rededicated the Temple to Zeus and eradicated Jewish religious practices. Mattathias, a high priest, and his five sons fled to the mountains and organized a rebellion. After Mattathias' death in 166 bc his son Judas took command and recaptured Jerusalem in 164 bc. This event is celebrated annually as Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Judas Maccabees was succeeded by his brother Jonathan (r.160–143). The family controlled Judaea until 63 bc, when Pompey conquered it.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Maccabee a member or supporter of a Jewish family of which Judas Maccabaeus was the leading figure, which led a religious revolt in Judaea against the Syrian Seleucid king Antiochus IV c.167 bc, as recorded in the Books of the Maccabees (see below). The term is occasionally found in extended use, the earliest of which as applied to the Methodists is recorded by John Wesley.

The Maccabees are four books of Jewish history and theology, of which the first two are included in the Apocrypha.

Maccabees, Books of

views updated May 23 2018

Maccabees, Books of. Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works containing the history of Simon the Hasmonean and Judah Maccabee. 1 Maccabees, originally written in Hebrew, covers the period of Jewish history from the accession of King Antiochus Epiphanes (c.175 BCE) to the death of Simon the Hasmonean in 135 BCE.