Maccabees (books of the Bible)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Maccabees (books of the Bible)

Maccabees, two books included in the Septuagint and placed as the last two books in the Old Testament of the Vulgate; they are not included in the Hebrew Bible and are placed in the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles. First and Second Maccabees are both historical narratives. First Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew and is usually dated c.100 BC It begins with the rebellion of Mattathias (c.167 BC) and ends with the murder of Simon (135 BC). The book relates the struggles of the Maccabees, led by Judas Maccabeus, against Antiochus IV of Syria. The restoration of the Temple under Judas' leadership is described as the high point of his career. The careers of his brothers Jonathan and Simon, both high priests, are also narrated. First Maccabees is the best source for the period of history that it treats; it is careful in citing and dating. It includes an interesting account of the reputation of republican Rome and of Maccabean relations with that power. Second Maccabees was probably composed in Greek late in the 1st cent. BC Claiming to be the condensation of a history of the Maccabees by one Jason of Cyrene, it is a devout treatment of Judas Maccabeus' career and of Jews persecuted at the hands of Antiochus. The book begins with an apparently extraneous letter, from Palestinian Jews to Jews in E Egypt, referring to the feast of the restoration of the Temple in 165 BC A literary preface follows. An account of the troubles leading to the persecution is followed by two accounts of martyrdom. Finally Judas' glorious career is treated in a long passage that includes the horrible death of Antiochus and a vision of Judas. Second Maccabees sheds light on Jewish beliefs of the period—on creation, resurrection, prayers for the dead, and the ability of God's anger to be slackened in the face of suffering by Jewish martyrs. Third and Fourth Maccabees, also found in the Septuagint, were not included in St. Jerome's Vulgate and are usually classified among the Pseudepigrapha.

See studies by J. A. Goldstein (1976, 1983); J. H. Charlesworth, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Vol. II, 1985).

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